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Tainted Saints And Velvet Vices

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“At least bring some of the clothes Auntie Karen knitted for you, dear. Liam will notice if you don’t wear any of those jumpers and I don’t want to upset her. You remember last Christmas, don’t you?”

Louis glanced up from where his head had been hanging over the overflowing trunk sprawled across his bed. “I seriously doubt that Liam cares whether or not I wear those jumpers, Mum,” he said, levitating a large, toppling stack of shirts into his trunk. He traced his finger along the embroidered Hogwarts crest, smiling faintly. “Wish she would just use magic to make them. At least then they might resemble items of clothing.”

“You know very well that it’s the sentiment that counts,” his mother huffed. She peered into the trunk and plucked out a Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes Skiving Snackbox Louis had hidden beneath his new school robes, eyeing it with distaste. “Besides, I hear that Muggle knitting is very tedious. She probably spent weeks making them for you just in time for September the first.”

Louis sighed, stuffing two woollen, mushroom jumpers into his trunk to placate her. He watched his black cat, Abrax—named after his corporeal Patronus, an Abraxan Winged Horse—curl up on one of the hideous jumpers. He knew that his mother’s pestering was her way of channelling her anxiousness about him attending Hogwarts for the first time. He had dreamt about attending for years. He had spent his summers prying details about the school from his friends and had watched them climb aboard the Hogwarts Express every year with a heavy heart.

His parents, both retired Hogwarts professors and who had lost some of their closest friends and family members during the Second Wizarding War, were fiercely protective of Louis, which he reckoned was because he was their only son. All Louis could remember was their whispering of Voldemort’s return, his reign of terror and tragic stories of the needless blood that was spilled. Even though the War had ended seven years previously, Louis knew that they had remained reluctant to allow him to go to Hogwarts. In the back of his mind, Louis knew that they put his safety first but he couldn’t help but feel envious of his friends when they returned every summer with tales of adventures in the castle, midnight feasts with the house-elves and jinxing each other in the hallways, much to Filch’s chagrin.

His parents had schooled him from their quaint house in east Doncaster. The thin walls and mismatched furniture, the fumes from his mother’s Arithmancy Study and the smells of his father’s cooking wafting through the air had characterised his entire childhood. Venturing outside of the house was always a treat, and finding others his age in the neighbourhood was always a challenge. Even despite their decision to home-school him, Louis knew that they had his best interests at heart.

His father taught him the Ancient Runes syllabus from the confines of their basement, while his mother specialised in Potions and Arithmancy, brewing and concocting potions from her small laboratory in the attic where there was a permanent purple hue to the walls from a Sleeping Draught gone wrong years ago. They used practical spells around the house (Scourgify being one of Louis’ favourites) and his parents taught him both Charms and Transfiguration as well so that he ‘received an education that could parallel that taught at Hogwarts’—his mother’s words, not his own. Louis knew, deep down, that despite their efforts, his home-schooling could never quite compare with the experience that the witches and wizards his age had at Hogwarts.

On his seventeenth birthday he had sanguinely asked whether he could attend Hogwarts the following year. After spending all his time at home (and under his father’s watchful eye), Louis had learned to appreciate their concern and dedication but he couldn’t help but hope for a reply for once. The response he received was entirely unexpected, and even the thought of it now, almost a year later, made Louis’ heart soar.

His parents had exchanged a charged look before his father had nodded, prompting his mother to reach under the Christmas tree teeming with baubles and lights to remove a large and neatly-wrapped parcel.

“Your father and I have discussed this a lot, dear, and we think that, now you’re seventeen and have a good magical education under your belt, you can choose whether you want to go to Hogwarts or not,” his mother had said, watching him nervously. She fiddled with the string wrapped loosely around the present. “Of course, if you want us to continue schooling you, we would be more than happy too but—oof!”

Louis had jumped into his mother’s arms, the pair of them collapsing on the overstuffed armchair. He had pressed smothering kisses on her face, shouting his thanks and running wildly around the house in search of a spare piece of parchment to write a letter to Liam. Louis’ father, ever a quiet observer and so unlike Louis, had only shook his head and chuckled.

“Careful, dear,” his mother had laughed. “You’ll squash your present.” She had handed the parcel into Louis’ eager clutches. “This is a little something we’ve compiled so that you won’t feel home-sick next year. Of course, September is months away but, knowing you, you’ll probably begin shopping for your textbooks tomorrow.”

Louis had smiled, heart leaping in his chest as he untied the twine carefully before he had grown impatient and ripped open the package. An array of items had fallen into his lap: his mother’s recipe book which included her famous spiced mince pies, his father’s pocket watch that blared whenever he was particularly late, a self-refilling mug emblazoned with the Hogwarts crest, and a framed photograph of the three of them (‘Louis, aged five, on a broomstick for the first time’ was scrawled on the back). The picture showed his parents on either side of him, joyously shouting words of encouragement. Louis’ cheeks had hurt as he smiled at the collection of items, fingers dancing over the edge of the photograph and the small scratches on his father’s beloved watch.

“Thank you,” he had said. His voice, thick with emotion as the sentimentality of the moment struck him, had betrayed him, cracking over the words.

That day seemed like an unbearably short time ago to Louis. Eight months had passed since then and, on the evening in question, Louis found himself packing the very same items into his trunk. He realised that these would be the mementos of his parents he would treasure the most at Hogwarts.

Louis’ father’s voice alerted him. “And make sure you give our regards to all of your professors,” he shouted from the kitchen. His father’s footsteps trotted up the stairs and Louis watched his smile as he laid eyes on Louis’ half-full trunk sprawled out on his bed. “Lawrence—Professor Saville, that is—will be teaching you Muggle Studies. You remember him, don’t you, Louis? He came to dinner last year when we were working on that Muggle artefacts project.”

“And Minerva of course,” his mother added from where she was directing the various quills and parchment flying across the room.

“Watch it,” Louis muttered when the pointed tip of a quill hit him squarely in the forehead, punctuating a stain of navy ink.

“I think that last time you saw her was during the summer for dinner,” she continued, unperturbed. “She was most impressed by how you transfigured the centrepiece into additional cutlery when the other guests arrived. I’m sure she’s ecstatic to teach you, dear.”

“She doesn’t seem the type to get ecstatic about much,” Louis muttered, futilely rubbing the ink from his face.

“I don’t know what you’re being moody about, dear. Your professors are all going to adore you,” she said, catching sight of the ink stain. She flicked her wand at his forehead and, with an affirmative glance to the mirror, Louis saw that the stain had disappeared.

“Sorry,” he sighed. “I just— I want to be known as myself, as Louis. Knowing some of my professors isn’t exactly going to help me make new friends.” He smiled ruefully. “Apart from Liam, of course, but the Head Boy probably has half the school drooling at his feet and I'll bet he doesn’t even know it.”

She smiled sympathetically, considering him for a moment before rubbing his shoulder.  “Don’t worry, dear. You’ll make friends in no time.”

For some reason, Louis didn’t find her reassurance particularly comforting.

 

*

 

The morning of September the first dawned bright and early, the distant sounds of bells chiming from the local church rousing Louis from his unsettled sleep. He took a moment to smile into his pillow, allowing his competing feelings of dread, anticipation and excitement to fill him up until he jumped from his rickety bed, unable to contain himself. He pulled on his Muggle clothes—faded jeans and a red jumper, the sleeves of which he needed to roll up—with shaking fingers before joining his parents downstairs.

After refusing breakfast at the house because his stomach was in his throat, Louis used the Levitation Charm to topple his trunk into the Vauxhall Astra they had borrowed. His mother handed him a slice of toast with a smear of raspberry jam and he munched on it without properly registering the taste. He climbed inside, pretending not to notice his parents’ whispering as he fidgeted with the stiff collar of his jacket. He slumped back in his seat with a sigh. They set off for London soon afterwards. Passing  the patchwork farms of the countryside before travelling through industrial areas, Louis watched the distance between the houses close and the traffic become more congested. Even the air in London seemed thicker, moist in the most uncomfortable of ways and so unlike the clean, fresh air of his own home. By the time they reached King’s Cross, it was almost quarter to eleven and Louis’ parents were, predictably, frantic.

“Quick, quick!” his father urged, surreptitiously swishing his wand to place Louis’ trunk and a sleeping Abrax onto a cart without attracting the attention of Muggle passers-by. “We can’t have you miss the Hogwarts Express!”

“Well, I suppose you could,” his mother said, pulling Louis into a tight embrace. “At least then we’d have an excuse to keep you at home for another year.” She frowned to herself. “That sounded less strange in my head.”

Louis rolled his eyes but he smiled despite himself. Taking his mother’s hand and giving it a comforting squeeze, he guided her to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, vaguely wondering who was the parent and who was the child in their relationship. The early-morning commuters had long since left so the station was relatively empty, leaving them free to innocuously lean against the wall in turn. Louis pushed his trolley against the bricked wall and watched Abrax and the rest of the cart disappear before he followed.

Louis gaped at the sight before him, torn between wonder and anxiety. Abrax hissed at the smoke from the gleaming train billowing around them and obscuring the throngs of witches and wizards alike crowded there. Shouts and joyous laughter rang through the air. Louis heard calls of “good luck!” and promises to write daily above the thick steam. He heard his parents arrive behind them and spotted a familiar witch with bright-red hair rush over to them. As Louis predicted they would be, his parents, ever-loved by friends, colleagues and former students, were engulfed by the crowd.

Louis made his way along the platform, calling out apologies to oblivious onlookers as he wheeled his trolley through the crowd. He came to a stop at the nearest carriage, students spilling out compartments  and calling to their parents on the platform.  He noticed a boy who looked about his age heaving his enormous trunk into the train with a strained expression.

“Want a hand, mate?” Louis asked.

The boy eyed him curiously, setting his trunk back on his trolley and blowing a loose strand of dark hair out of his eyes.

“I’ve always been a bit shit at charms,” he muttered, watching Louis levitate the trunk and his sleeping owl into the luggage compartment of the train. “Thanks.”

“I’m Louis, by the way. I’m new.”

“Zayn.” His eyes, framed by devastatingly long lashes, trailed up Louis’ form. “You seem a bit old to be in first year,” he said with a wry smile.

“I was home-schooled. My parents were Hogwarts professors and they wanted to teach me instead of sending me there. Still a bit anxious after everything that happened,” he said, trailing off.

Zayn nodded, his smile twisting sympathetically. “So you were able to decide for yourself once you turned seventeen?”

“Yeah. I’ve been wanting to come here for years. My cousin, Liam, never shuts up about it.”

Zayn’s eyes widened and he shifted his feet on the spot, his interest apparently piqued. “Liam? Liam Payne is your cousin?”

Louis watched as Zayn’s eyes scanned the faces nearest to them, as though expecting Liam to suddenly appear at the mention of his name. “Yeah, born just three weeks apart. I’m older.”

Zayn laughed, but his reply was interrupted by the loud, blaring horn of the Hogwarts Express. “We’d better get on,” he shouted instead. “I’ll save you a seat if you want.”

Louis grinned and rushed through the crowd to locate his parents, squeezing past doting witches and dodging a group of wizards he recognised from his father’s dinner parties whose pipe smoke was adding to the fumes along the platform. He spotted his parents at last and his mother’s face lit up, as though it had not only been ten minutes since she had last seen him.

“Louis, sweetheart,” his mother exclaimed when he fell into her warm arms. She embraced him tightly, as though she didn’t want to let go, and pressed a kiss to his forehead. Pulling back, she held him at arm’s length and looked pointedly at him, giving him a stern look. “Now, if you need anything at all don’t hesitate to write to us. Your father and I can’t wait to hear the stories, so make sure to keep us updated. And stay out of trouble. We don’t want to get any letters back from your professors unless they’re to sing your praises.”

Louis smiled into her shoulder, the fabric pressing a mark against his cheek, and felt her tuck a croissant into his shoulder bag. Louis pulled back and rounded on his father who pushed his glasses up his long nose.

“Have a great year, son,” he said. He clapped Louis on the back and sniffed loudly. His eyes glimmered behind his spectacles, though that may have been because they were irritated from the thick smoke encircling them. Louis chose to think that he was, instead, feeling sentimental.  

“Thanks, Dad,” he said with a tight smile.

He nodded once, surveying Louis’ expression before clapping him on the back once more. “Don’t do anything your mother wouldn’t do.”

“Which excludes just about everything fun,” Louis said.

“Exactly the point,” he countered, bright eyes twinkling.

The horn blared a second time and Louis sent one final wave over his shoulder before rushing through the crowds and clambering onto the train. He scrambled past a group of sixth years inconspicuously eyeing him. He smiled at them nervously and found Zayn in a compartment with a boy wolfing down a plate of honey scones. Zayn motioned for Louis to join them through the compartment window.

“Hi mate,” the boy said, a long thread of honey stretching to his scone. “I’m Niall.”

Louis shook his hand and sat beside Zayn in silent awe of how quickly Niall managed to eat the tray of delicacies.

“Isn’t there going to be a feast later on?”

“Yeah,” he said, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket, “but I took a Portkey with a couple of the other Irish lads this morning and didn’t get a chance to have a proper breakfast.”

Zayn rolled his eyes. “By proper breakfast you mean only a dozen sausages.”

The train jolted forwards then, the final shouts of farewell heard as the train journeyed north. They passed the bustling London streets and followed the winding tracks through the countryside, leaving only thick steam in their wake.

“Who’re your parents, then? You said they were Hogwarts professors, right?”

Louis nodded. “Me mum’s Professor Poulston. She taught Alchemy and retired early when I was born. Professor Tomlinson’s my dad. He retired when I was about seven. Taught Ancient Runes.”

Niall’s face lit up in recognition. “I think Ma’ mentioned knowing a Tomlinson at school. That’s cool, mate. Must be wicked having professors for parents. My dad’s a Muggle police officer and my ma’s a Healer.”

“So you’re a half-blood, then?”

Niall’s eyes narrowed, and Louis realised how that might have come across.

“Didn’t mean that in a bad way at all,” Louis said hastily.

Niall smiled, easily placated by his response. “S’fine, mate. Didn’t think you were one of those anyway,” he said. He leaned forward almost conspiratorially. “You just can’t be sure nowadays.”

Louis nodded. “To be honest, I don’t think anyone who truly believes in pure-blood superiority is going to go around screaming it from the top of their lungs. Especially not this soon after... everything.”

Niall grimaced. Louis heard Zayn make a strange noise that sounded close to a derisive, but slightly amused snort. Louis glanced at where Zayn had been flicking his wand between his fingers.

“You’d be surprised,” Zayn said darkly. “My family is pure-blood so most of my relatives were on Voldemort’s side during the War. My parents broke off ties with basically our entire family.  Think some of them still think they can re-start the War without Voldemort.”

“There are people who think like that at Hogwarts?” Louis asked incredulously.

“’Course,” Niall sighed, “but you won’t have to put up with them outside of classes.”

“Or unless you’re forced to share a dormitory with a Slytherin.”

Niall winced. “I forgot about that. Merlin’s pants, I couldn’t imagine anything worse.”

Louis looked between them in question. “Why would you have to share a dorm with a Slytherin if you’re not one too?”

“Last year, the old lioness—that’s McGonagall for you—decided to change things up a bit,” Niall said, taking another bite out of a scone with jam and cream smeared on top. “She said that the division between Slytherin and the other houses had become ‘untenable’ after the War—whatever that means—and started spewing some of that inter-house unity bollocks. Apparently, some snakes did have friends in other houses before the War and they felt bullied or left out.” Niall rolled his eyes. “Basically, she told us all that she’d had the brilliant idea of pairing every sixth and seventh-year student together with someone from a different house, instead of the separate house dormitories we used to have.

“Reckon she thought that we’d be old and mature enough to handle a change like that, and that this would be the perfect moment ‘to start forming better relationships with each other’.” Niall grimaced as he made some air-quotes. “Said we wouldn’t have a choice when we start working at the Ministry or wherever we end up after Hogwarts so we might as well start pretending we’re all best friends now.”

Louis shook his head in disbelief. He had heard countless stories from Liam about the sense of pride of being in house dormitories, sharing with close friends and decorating the walls with banners of your house. “Won’t that make things even more divided, though? Nobody's going to want to be forced to make friends. It’ll just make the whole situation worse, right?”

“You’re preaching to the choir, mate,” Niall said, throwing the last piece of scone into the air and catching it in his mouth, grinning victoriously. “So, what’s going to happen when you arrive? Are you going to get sorted with all the firsties or do you think McGonagall will let you choose a house?”

Louis shook his head. “I don’t know, mate. Both my parents are Gryffindors so it’s pretty likely I’ll be one too. Most of my family are, Liam included,” he said, turning to Zayn who (rather unconvincingly) pretended that this was new information to him.

“Wicked, mate. I’m in Hufflepuff and Zayn’s a Ravenclaw. Given that you’ll probably be in her house, I doubt McGonagall would be cruel enough to line you up with the first years to be sorted.” He chuckled. “You might stand out a bit.”

Niall and, occasionally, Zayn, spent the remainder of the journey exchanging stories about their experiences at Hogwarts, warning Louis about what to expect from certain professors and lessons, which classes were easiest to skive off and which dark corridors were best for some of the more unsolicited activities the older students tended to get up to. Louis tried not to blush at any mentions of those. He wasn’t a prude, but growing up with his middle-aged parents as his primary source of company seemed to place a certain restriction on Louis’ love life.

After that, Zayn filled Louis in on the N.E.W.T courses they had begun the previous year to make sure that he wouldn’t need to lag behind the rest of the class. Louis thought that the work he talked about was quite basic. His parents had taught him material beyond the core coursework. He was pretty sure he’d adjust to the school work quickly—it was the idea of having to fit in with a friend group that made him nervous.

Louis glanced outside as the surroundings changed outside once again. The train crossed mounted bridges over rivers and streams, travelling at a comfortable speed. The sun, which had shone high in the sky when they departed, was slowly setting. A gentle blend of orange and pink hues coloured the sky, farmhouses casting long shadows over the country fields they passed.

Just as Louis was about to ask what their arrival time would be, a cheerful voice called for them to change into their Hogwarts robes and announced that they would soon be arriving. Louis found that he was immediately singled out when he pulled on his plain black robes, the same type worn by the first years who had not yet been sorted. Zayn and Niall both had their house crest emblems embroidered on their chest pockets.

“Don’t worry, mate,” Niall said, noticing Louis fidget with the cuffs of his sleeves. He gave him a very Hufflepuff-esque smile. “You’ll be sorted before you know it.”

The train jolted to a stop a mere half-hour later, sending the three of them tumbling into a pile of limbs, Zayn groaning beneath them as Niall collapsed into a fit of laughter. They disembarked from the train, assured that their pets and trunks would be sent to their respective rooms, and landed on the narrow platform at Hogsmeade Station.

“Firs’ Years this way! Come along now! Firs’ Years over here with me!” a thunderous voice called.

“That’ll be Hagrid, the gamekeeper,” Niall said. He pulled Louis in the opposite direction, past crowds of anxious first years shuffling around an enormous man clad in a moleskin overcoat, to join a larger group at the perimeter of the station. “There it is.”

Louis turned around and gasped at the sight. In the distance, surrounded by steep mountains in the Scottish Highlands with the Great Lake gleaming below, stood Hogwarts. The vast castle boasted of turrets and towers, the small lights of the windows flickering and casting light across the expansive grounds. Though Niall and Zayn climbed up a small hill ahead of him, no longer quite as enraptured by the sight, Louis was unable to tear his eyes off the castle. They arrived at a gathering where Thestrals, their skeletal bodies and leather wings invisible to most students, pulled the carriages. They scrambled to find a carriage and, from a distance, Louis saw Liam’s distinctive outline.

“Liam!” he called, rushing ahead of Niall and Zayn. He watched Liam bang his head against the roof of the carriage as he was climbing inside before whipping around. His face lit up at the sight of Louis.

Liam charged towards and tackled him into a hug. “Lou, mate, good to see you!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t even get a chance to talk to you on the platform. Talked to your mum though. She told me to keep an eye on you.”

Louis sniggered. “As if you could. I see you’ve been bestowed with the title of Head Boy. Should I bow down before you? Or should I kiss your hand, perhaps?”

Liam swatted him away, chuckling self-consciously. “It’s not like that and you know it.”

Louis spotted Niall waving at him, Zayn trailing behind.

“Congrats Liam,” Niall said cheerily, clapping him on the shoulder. “Not that anyone wasn’t expecting it, though. You were obviously McGonagall’s first choice. And besides, it’s not like they were going to make Styles Head Boy.”

The three of them guffawed at the proposition

“Think she’d sooner Gryffindor lose the Quidditch Cup for the next hundred years,” Niall said.

Some of the carriages rolled in the direction of the castle, bypassing the smattering of trees and away from the village of Hogsmeade.

“Come on then, lads,” Niall said, clambering into the carriage. “The sooner we leave, the sooner we get to the feast and the sooner I can dig into all the delicacies that Hogwarts has to offer. Three months is too longer to suffer without treacle tart.”

They arrived at the castle shortly after that and Liam immediately dragged Louis through the corridors to see McGonagall, rambling about the fact that they needed to request that Louis be sorted separately from the first years. He matched them to the top of the Great Hall, Louis marvelling at the ceiling imitating the night sky in tow.

“Professor McGonagall,” Liam said, smiling at the witch, who was adorned with navy blue robes. He gestured proudly to Louis and he felt slightly uncomfortable beneath her rather unnerving stare. “I have my cousin here with me and he’s new to the school as you probably know. Well, of course you know, I just thought I should remind you because I’m sure you’re extremely busy what with organising the new school calendar and all the responsibilities that come with being Headmistress.”

Louis watched with amusement as Liam continued to ramble, watching Professor McGonagall’s expression become weary.

“I just thought you should know that, since it’s his first time here, and he’s going to stand out already, that he should be sorted separately instead of with the rest of the first years.” Liam glanced up hopefully. “If that suits you, of course,” he added.

Professor McGonagall’s thin lips quirked in mild amusement. “Well, Mr Payne, it’s good to see you after the summer holidays, too.”

“Oh!” Liam exclaimed, apparently horror-stricken by his own lack of manners. “I apologise, Professor, I didn’t mean to—”

She held up a hand in silence. “Not to worry, Mr Payne. It’s good to see our new Head Boy so concerned about even one new student. It sets quite an excellent standard for the others.” She turned to Louis, lips pursed. “Welcome to Hogwarts, Mr Tomlinson. I had the privilege of teaching alongside both of your parents. I’m certainly looking forward to ascertain the material they taught you. Knowing your mother Rosalyn, I’m sure she has you very well versed in Alchemy.”

“Thank you,” Louis said faintly. Under her close scrutiny, he felt every piece of information he ever learned disappear as though someone had cast a highly effective Obliviate on him.

“Now, I quite agree that it would be unnecessary to put you through the first-year Sorting Ceremony but rules are rules and you still need to be assigned your house.” She flicked her wand and the Sorting Hat, worn and frayed, soared into her outstretched hand. “The first years will be arriving any moment—assuming Hagrid hasn’t toppled into the lake again—so it would be best to do so now.” She pointed to the small stool at the very top of the Great Hall.

“Right now?” Louis exclaimed, suddenly feeling very hot beneath his robes.

“Yes, now, Mr Tomlinson,” she said impatiently. “Unless you would prefer your cousin to leave?”

“No,” he said, glancing up at Liam. He sat on the wobbly stool. “That’s alright. Liam can stay here.”

Louis closed his eyes and inhaled sharply when he felt Professor McGonagall lower the Sorting Hat on his head.

“Well,” a small, rough voice whispered, “aren’t you an intriguing one. You’re quite daring, I see; very little regard for rules or boundaries. You certainly have a temper on you, haven’t you? And you’ll go to great lengths to get your way. There’s a nobility in your pursuits, though, that’s for sure. And I don’t think Slytherin quite fits with your values, though it would be fascinating to see how well you’d bode there. I suppose, all things considered, it’ll have to be... GRYFFINDOR!”

Louis sighed with relief, his thundering heart slowing down to a less alarming pace. He blinked rapidly in the bright lights when he felt the hat lift from his eyes. He saw Professor McGonagall nod at him approvingly as Liam engulfed him in yet another a tight embrace.  

“You will join the rest of your house for the start of term banquet,” she said before her lips drew into a small smile, her eyes alight behind her spectacles. “I certainly hope you’re good at Quidditch, Mr Tomlinson. Welcome to Gryffindor House.”

The Great Hall soon filled with students and he spotted Zayn and Niall join their respective house tables. Liam sat next to him, describing his summer holiday in Peru where his father, a prominent arithmancer, was working alongside Curse-Breakers in the Amazon Rainforest. Their conversation was periodically interrupted by students greeting Liam and congratulating him on his appointment as Head Boy. Louis was thankful for his cousin for introducing him to each of the students that approached them. Most of them seemed intrigued by Louis whenever Liam mentioned that he was not a transfer student from another wizarding school but that he was home-schooled. Louis hardly had time to talk to Liam, what with being distracted by names and faces that felt like a blur of questions asking him about growing up under his parents’ noses.

After the chatter in the Great Hall began to quieten down, the doors to the Great Hall swung open to reveal Professor McGonagall followed by a long line of petrified first years. She turned around at the top and faced the entire hall with a tight, but not unwelcoming smile. “Good evening to you all and welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We’re going to begin with the Sorting Ceremony now, and then you shall be able to enjoy your feast.”

The first years exchanged looks of horror, scrambling to hide themselves in the group. Louis leaned forwards to get a proper view of the Sorting Hat. The very second Professor McGonagall placed the Sorting Hat on the stool, it burst into song.

Welcome, young first years, you’re new to the show,

I’m the Sorting Hat, you see, I reveal what you know

And the house I assign you will cultivate your talents, allow you to grow.

In wisdom you’ll blossom, in bravery you’ll soar,

By the end of your journey I’ve no doubt some of you will return for more.

In Gryffindor you’ll find the fiercely brave and noble-hearted,

Ravenclaw is where your wisdom will expand and venture into the uncharted,

Why, in Slytherin lie the ambitious and shrewd,

And the dear Hufflepuffs value patience and try to make peace, dissolve feuds.

In your houses you’ll learn far more than just skills,

You’ll form friends, share laughter, tell stories with your quills,

You’ll discover where your talents and allegiances truly lie,

Though I must warn some of you not to allow prejudices to blind your eye.

The Great Hall erupted in applause, a couple of Gryffindor students seated behind Louis standing on their bench to whoop loudly, chanting something very rude.

“Quiet down, now,” Professor McGonagall called sternly, eyes narrowing at the sight of the two Gryffindors. She flicked her wand in their direction and they promptly sat on the benches once again, looking mildly perturbed by her lack of reaction. “When I call your name, you must step forward and I will place the Sorting Hat on your head.”

Louis watched as the list trickled down until the final three students were called. Elizabeth Waters, Penelope Worcester and Kenneth Zebley were sorted into Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor respectively and cheers from each of the houses sounded as they were bestowed with a new member.

Without a moment’s notice, delectable food appeared along each of the house tables. Rosemary roasted potatoes, buttery peas, roast beef drowning in gravy, and spicy chicken wings piled into tall pyramids lined the tables. The students dived forward to fill their plates and Louis followed suit, suddenly reminded of how hungry he really was. He was reaching for a bowl of basil and tomato soup when the double doors of the Great Hall swung open.

Louis craned his neck and followed the source of the sound. A tall boy with dark, tousled hair and a sharp jaw sauntered inside, flicking his wand to extinguish every candle suspended above the Slytherin table. He fell dramatically onto one of the benches before tucking his wand into the pocket of his dark green robes. He glared at the students gaping at him, others sharing incredulous looks.

“Well, what are you staring at?” he demanded.

His voice was devastatingly low and he spoke slowly, articulate despite his sneering tone. It carried across the Great Hall and, apparently, everyone was hanging onto his every word.

Louis heard whispers and exasperated sighs from the Gryffindors around him. He watched Professor McGonagall’s sharp eyes narrow as she hushed the first years to sit with their houses. She marched down the centre of the Great Hall until she came to a stop beside the boy, who was chewing moodily on a slice of steak and kidney pie.

Most of the students were staring at him; some with awe, others with poorly disguised admiration, and a couple with something close to fear. Louis wasn’t quite sure what was so enrapturing about him; he certainly didn’t recognise his face from any of the photographs Liam showed him of his friends from Hogwarts. Louis noticed a girl beside the dark-haired boy nudge his side when she saw McGonagall approaching. The boy smirked at the sight of her and raised an eyebrow.

“And why might you be late, Mr Styles? This is no way to start a new term. I thought you might have learned by now.”

“Did you really think that, Professor? Or were you just humouring yourself?”

The Slytherins around him chortled, others shaking their heads while the boy opposite Styles, wearing a nasty smirk, merely looked entertained.

Her eyebrows shot together. “Ten points from Slytherin House,” she announced loudly, prompting one of the Slytherins beside the boy to groan. “You need to discipline yourself, Mr Styles, or I can very well promise you that you’ll be out of this school before the Quidditch season begins.”

The students in the Great Hall were soon distracted by the arrival of a soaking wet Hagrid who fell into his chair, which promptly collapsed into a pile of wood beneath him. Horace Slughorn, an old portly man and Head of Slytherin, sighed and raised his wand. Hagrid’s overcoat and beard dried instantly, though he still looked dishevelled, his skin a clammy grey colour.

Louis, however, had to tear his eyes from where McGonagall was muttering into the boy’s ear. He looked completely unbothered and she left soon thereafter, sighing to herself. As she took her seat at the head of the Great Hall, she leaned down to whisper into Professor Flitwick’s ear. Louis was about to ask who the arrogant and, frankly, rude boy was, when he was interrupted.

“So, Louis,” Vivian Campbell, a fellow Gryffindor. “How do you think you’re going to fare with all this coursework? N.E.W.T.s are this year, you know.”

Louis was promptly distracted and launched into a conversation with Vivian about the particular demands of Charms and the merits of individualism in Potions. After Louis had chatted to some of the other Gryffindors in his year and had his fill of delicious food, the plates were soon replaced by trays of desserts. Profiteroles overflowing with fresh cream, treacle tart, and pumpkin spice pudding sprang up on the long tables. Louis cut himself a slice of white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake just as Professor Flitwick stood up behind the table, clapping his hands rather loudly to garner the students’ attention.

“While you’re all enjoying the magnificent array of desserts the house-elves have prepared—in particular our Head Chef, Nina—on behalf of Professor McGonagall I have a few announcements to make, one of which I’m sure many of you will be very excited about,” he called.

Louis glanced around and noticed that Professor McGonagall was absent from the table and that she was, instead, marching the dark-haired Slytherin from before back to his seat at the table.

“Firstly, along with our first years, we have a new seventh-year Gryffindor student to welcome: Louis Tomlinson.”

Louis felt his entire face flush as the entire student body was given a valid excuse to crane their necks to get a good look at him. He looked awkwardly at his hands before changing his mind and glancing at where Liam was clapping enthusiastically.

“I hope you’ll all make him feel welcome and have regard to the fact that, despite his age, he too will need help adjusting to life at Hogwarts. On behalf on Ravenclaw House, we would absolutely be—”

“That’s perfectly fine, Filius,” Professor McGonagall interrupted, resuming her seat at the top of the Great Hall with an exasperated sigh. “Now along with this, I would like to remind you all, as always, that the Forbidden Forest is strictly out of bounds and any student found there without accompaniment by a professor will have his or her house docked one hundred points and will be subject to three months of detention with me.” Her eyes lingered on the Styles boy.

“Next, and as I mentioned at the conclusion of last term, we have decided to adjust the living arrangements for sixth and seventh-year students. You will each have your own house common rooms to socialise, of course, but we hope that this new initiative will tackle the inter-house tension of late, especially among our older students who should be setting good examples. Boys and girls will be separate but each student will be placed with someone from a different house to cultivate better attitudes towards co-operation between all students.”

She whipped out her wand and from it sprang a long piece of parchment. “I will assign each of you with a roommate from the same year but from a different house, and the location of each of your living quarters. There will be absolutely no exceptions. If I hear of any misconduct or bullying, the student or students involved will be severely punished.”  

Professor McGonagall proceeded to listlessly read names from the list. The students each had varying reactions; some visibly winced while others seemed genuinely delighted by the prospect of sharing a room with one of their friends. Louis heard Zayn and Niall’s names called together and spotted Niall darting to pull a reluctant-but-relieved Zayn into his arms. Liam’s name was called alongside a Ravenclaw by the name of Joshua Shafiq and they were assigned the best dormitory in the castle, overlooking the tallest mountain peak behind Hogwarts. Some of the Gryffindors sitting near them jeered at this, joking about Head Boy privileges.

As Professor McGonagall called out yet more unfamiliar names—though some surnames he recognised—Louis couldn’t help but feel the weight of anxiety settle on his shoulders. They were rigid beneath his clothes. As his stomach twisted and coiled into uncomfortable knots, he suddenly regretted the enormous dinner he had eaten. Liam placed a consoling hand on his arm.

“Harry Styles,” McGonagall called, tone laced with distaste. She glanced at the list and sighed regretfully. “Will be paired with Louis Tomlinson in the uppermost dormitory in the Right Tower.”

Louis felt the breath knocked out of him. Harry Styles? The very boy who seemed to possess the ability to captivate and instil fear into an entire hall of students was Louis’ new roommate. Suddenly, the prospect of making new friends seemed like a wild fantasy. He glanced at Liam helplessly, feeling the entirely of Gryffindor table grimace and exchange sympathetic murmurs. He heard whispers, some outraged on his behalf, others shocked by his assignment.

 “...imagine being the new boy and having to share with Styles. That’s fucking rough.”

“ ...can’t believe McGonagall would do that to him. He should be given his own dormitory for everyone’s safety.”

“...how does she expect the new boy to share with Styles of all people? He should be the exception, I say. Styles should be put with one of the Slytherins. They all worship the ground he walks on, anyway.”

Liam pulled him into a tight hug that didn’t go unnoticed by McGonagall. “Don’t worry, Lou, I’ll sort this out,” he said, though he didn’t look optimistic.

Once McGonagall had finished reading the list of roommates, she called for silence. Louis slumped against Liam and watched as she rose from her chair, commanding the students’ attention despite her unformidable stature.

“Now, as Professor Flitwick mentioned, we have a rather exciting piece of information that, for some of you whose parents are in the Ministry, will not come as surprise.” She cast her gaze over the four long tables, before extracting her wand from the pocket of her robes. She waved it in a circular motion and an enormous banner reading ‘Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry welcomes Beauxbatons and Durmstrang schools for the Triwizard Tournament’.

The Great Hall broke into gasps and chatter, a couple of students who had already been told about the Triwizard Tournament talking smugly over the cheers.

“Settle down!” she called. “Now, as you’re aware, the last time the Triwizard Tournament was held was ten years ago. We spent most of last year negotiating with the Ministry of Magic to secure Hogwarts as the designated school to host, assured as we were that here would be—relatively—the safest choice.”

A mini firework coloured in yellow and red shot into the air reading ‘Hogwarts to win the Triwizard Cup!’ from the Ravenclaw table.

Professor McGonagall suppressed a smile. “Yes, Miss McLennan, we’re all anticipating Hogwarts to win in this tournament but before we get ahead of ourselves, I must lay down the new rules and regulations decided between the three schools. We came to the following arrangements after some… testing negotiations.”

Professor Flitwick charmed the banner hanging above the long table to depict the badges of each of the houses in the four corners. Professor McGonagall nodded curtly before reading from a piece of parchment.

“Firstly, all eligible competitors must have reached the age of seventeen by the deadline for submission into the Goblet of Fire. Submissions, once made, cannot be rescinded. The Goblet selects the students and those candidates have no choice but to take part, so consider carefully what is at stake before you enter your name. It will be located in the Great Hall for any such students to enter their name tomorrow morning.

"Secondly, the candidates are not to receive any external help, including professors or other students. They are to prepare by themselves. Finally, and most importantly, in accordance with attempts to improve health and safety measures, each of the three schools will propose two candidates. That is, two Hogwarts students will be chosen to work as a team to overcome the Triwizard tasks.” She raised her hand to silence the chatter along the tables. “Students must submit their names individually and the Goblet will choose the best candidates for the Tournament. Best of luck to you all.”

Students from each of the tables stood in unison and battled their way to the double doors at the back of the Great Hall. Louis tentatively watched Liam approach Professor McGonagall. She shook her head before he could even speak.

“I’m fully aware that the situation is unfavourable, Mr Payne, but at least he has the benefit of trying to get along with someone new," she said pointedly. "That would never be possible with any of the students from other houses—the students he already knows. At least give Mr Styles the benefit of the doubt.”

“But Professor, Louis can hardly be expected to get along with—”

“I won’t hear of excuses, Mr Payne. As you very well know, rules are rules and if word gets out that I made an exception for one boy then everyone and their mother will want to swap.” She nodded once before sweeping past them both and out of the Great Hall.

“Thanks for trying, mate,” Louis muttered.

“Don’t worry about it,” Liam said. His mouth twisted into the closest thing to a grimace that his face could manage. “Just don’t take any shit from Styles because he loves walking all over people. But don’t get yourself in trouble either. He’s a sneaky little mink that’ll blame anyone to get away without punishment.”

“You know me, Liam. I’ll always stand up for myself.”

“Yeah, but don’t be a pointless heroic either. Styles is going to try to wind you up, so you have to learn to ignore him sometimes.”

They trundled up one of the tall staircases towards the Right Tower, passing stained-glass windows and portraits depicting everything from fighting scenes between giants, to plump, powdered ladies gossiping about the likely candidates for the Triwizard Tournament.

“Think you’ll put your name in the Goblet, then?” Louis asked as they rounded a dark corridor lined with dim lamps.

“I think so, yeah,” Liam said. “Be a great thing to try out for at least. I reckon it would be alright. If I got picked, that is. I’m good with the physical tasks and duelling aspects so having a partner with me can only help matters for solving all the riddles and clues, you know? Pretty useless with all that stuff.”

Louis hummed. “I’m going to think about it tonight but I probably will, too.”

Liam paused abruptly. “Louis,” he warned. “Your parents... I know what they're like. They are not going to agree to something like that and you know it.”

“Well, they’re not here to make the decision for me. Besides, I probably won’t even be picked. There’s plenty of people I don’t even know here who are much better than me.”

“In what? You know the entirety of the coursework and far more than that, Lou,” Liam said. “Just— give it serious consideration before you do anything. And for Merlin’s sake, don’t let the time your parents find out be when you’re on the front page of the Daily Prophet.”

Louis ruffled Liam’s hair. “Don’t worry about me, Liam.” They came to a stop outside Louis’ assigned dormitory in the Right Tower and climbed up winding staircases (avoiding the step at the very top). “Now go and do your Head Boy duties.”

Liam smiled and waved him off. Louis slumped against the wall, taking a moment of reverie to glance out of the window beside the door to his dormitory. The magnificent view spoke of the Great Lake and the mountains encompassing it. The twinkling lights from the downstairs classrooms shone across the sloping hills leading down to the lake that they had climbed that previous afternoon. To Louis, it felt like a lifetime ago.

He took a deep breath and knocked firmly on the door, expecting Harry to open the door. There was no response, however, so he pushed the door and entered the room, muttering “lumos” to ignite the lanterns on the two bedside lockers.

Two overstuffed chairs, one upholstered in scarlet and gold, the other in silver and emerald green, overlooked a tall window peering over the edge of the lake. Copper lamps cast a warm glow, bathing the room in a soft light. Patchwork quilts covered the two four-poster beds and each of their trunks were set adjacent to the beds. Abrax slinked over to him, purring softly when Louis rubbed between her ears.

“I guess this is home now, right Abrax?”

Louis noticed a second black cat, almost identical to Abrax. She had a distinctive white patch at the end of her tail, however, and her eyes were noticeably darker. She was perched on the bed with the thick, green quilt—Harry’s bed—eyeing Louis suspiciously. Louis approached her, sitting on the edge of Harry’s bed to pet her gently. Despite her initial tentativeness, the cat instantly curled against his side, purring into his robes. Abrax leaped onto the bed, jealous of the attention Louis was paying the other cat, and Louis laughed at his antics, rubbing them both behind the ears. Louis watched them both preen under his attention and felt relieved that the second cat and Abrax tolerated each other. He desperately wanted to fall back on the emerald bedsheets, limbs aching from the long journey cramped in the train carriage and sated after the feast. He knew, however, that Harry was likely to arrive back any minute.

Louis extracted himself from the two cats and changed into the plaid pyjamas folded on his bed. He brushed his teeth and tucked himself under the bedsheets, Abrax and the second cat joining him curled up on his pillow. Although he was exhausted, eyelids heavy and movements languid, he felt it necessary to stay up until Harry arrived back to the dormitory. He didn’t want to leave a bad first impression before falling asleep before he could properly introduce himself, even if it seemed that Styles was an arrogant Slytherin. Though he wasn’t sure Harry could even recognise, let alone appreciate, common courtesy, it felt like the decent thing to do.

In the end, Louis forced himself to write a letter to his parents to keep himself awake. He reached over Abrax and the white-tailed cat and found a blank piece of parchment and black ink. His neat scrawl informed them of his initial thoughts on the castle and the teachers, his place in Gryffindor and the announcement of the Triwizard Tournament. He carefully avoided addressing whether or not he planned to enter his name. Thoughts of being chosen for the tournament flooded his thoughts and send a thrill of excitement through him. It would be a chance for him to leave his mark at the school, prove himself and show his capabilities, not to mention the thousand Galleons prize.

He signed off his name and folded up his parchment, making a mental note to ask Liam where the Owlery was.

The door swung open with a sharp bang. Louis started and his gaze shot to the rickety door. Styles strutted inside, eyes following the intricacies of the dormitory before they landed on Louis.

“Hi, mate,” Louis said, pulling back the bedsheets and clambering out of bed with less grace than he had intended. He held out his hand, ignoring Harry’s upturned lip. “I’m Louis Tomlinson.”

“Styles,” he muttered, “Harry Styles.” His gaze was trained on the inky sky through the window. Louis dropped his outstretched hand.

“You’re a Tomlinson, then?” he said, sauntering over to his bed, tracing the Slytherin crest adorning his pyjamas. “What’s a pure-blood like you doing in Gryffindor?”

Louis’ shoulders tensed and he tightened his jaw. “If you have an issue with non-pure-bloods then I’m requesting a new room right now.”

Harry laughed obnoxiously. “I see why you’re in with the rest of those pointless heroics, then. All too sanctimonious for your own good.” He glanced at where Louis stood with his hands crossed over his chest. “I’m not opposed to non-pure-bloods.”

Louis nodded, eyeing Styles as he crossed the room to return to his bed. He noticed two copper bed warmers hanging on the wall and cast an Incedaguia, a charm that produced hot water into both of the bed warmers. He handed one gingerly to Harry who nodded at him, tucking it beneath his pillow with his left hand.

“How did you do that?” he asked suddenly. Louis immediately wheeled around to follow his line of sight, landing on his own pillow.

“Cassiopeia—she never goes near anyone except me,” he whispered. Styles approached the two cats cautiously, as though afraid to interrupt their sleeping. “How did you do that?” he demanded.

“I don’t know, really, I guess she just liked Abrax and then—”

“If you hexed my cat, I’ll fucking kill you,” Harry whispered darkly.

Louis gaped at Harry, his heart leaping into his throat. “Fuck, no! I swear I didn’t,” he startled. “Why would you even think that?”

He frowned at Louis, eyes scanning his face before nodding, albeit unwillingly. “Abrax, you said? Like the winged horse?”

“Yeah,” Louis breathed. Louis stepped closer to him, relieved that that Harry was opening up to him. “You see, my Patronus is an Abraxan Winged Horse and my father was so delighted that I was able to conjure one that he—”

“I really couldn’t care less.”

Louis’ fists clenched but he stopped himself from retorting as Harry stepped closer to the two cats. He rubbed his knuckles on Abrax’s head before gently picking Cassiopeia up from the bed with his left hand. She immediately curved her body into Harry’s touch, who was stroking along her back and head.

Harry glanced up to find Louis staring at him, open-mouthed at his gentle demeanour. “What the fuck are you staring at?” he hissed, voice low as if he was unwilling to wake the cat cradled in his arm. He sauntered over to his bed and placed her at the end of it.

Louis busied himself with his belongings on his bedside table before getting into bed and turning on his side. Five minutes later, he heard bedsheets rumpling and a heavy sigh. Harry muttered “Nox” and the lights were extinguished.

In the pitch darkness, Louis suddenly felt immensely lonely. He stared at the faint outline of the bathroom door, trying to will himself to fall asleep. His mind, however, was consumed with thoughts of the confusing, infuriating boy who was muttering in his sleep across the room.

Chapter Text

“Don’t be a tart, Liam. Just drop your name in the Goblet tonight,” Louis said the following morning over a tall glass of pumpkin juice and his usual stack of toast. “The worst thing that can happen is that you’re selected. Or not selected, depending on how you look at it.”

“Well I was going to last night but looking at the prospect now...”

“Listen, mate,” he said munching on his toast and mentally noting never to put almond spread and blackberry jam on the same slice again. “I know you and I know that you’ll regret not trying out for it. You’re ridiculously strong and braver than I could ever hope to be. You were basically made for the tournament.”

Liam smiled shyly, shovelling a sausage into his mouth. “Thank you, Lou. Hope you’re selected too. You’d be the brains behind the operation.”

Louis gave him a light shove and ignored the comment. “So, what do you make of the competition? Anyone in particular likely to be selected?”

Liam sighed heavily. “Merlin’s pants, Louis, there’s loads. Half the Gryffindors liken themselves as the next Hogwarts Champion, but they’re all talk. It’s the silent ones you need to watch out for. A couple of Ravenclaws—Kevin Lloyd and Darragh Arden—and a bunch of Slytherins too. All the Hufflepuffs are cheering on Coraline Reid.”

Louis nodded, feeling his odds of being chosen weaken as Liam gushed about the other likely Hogwarts candidates.

“Alright, settle down,” Professor McGonagall called over the chattering students. “Good morning. I hope you all had a restful night’s sleep because today’s events are sure to tire you all out. I certainly hope that our sixth and seventh-year students in particular are adjusting well to the new living arrangements.

“As you all know, classes will begin this morning at nine sharp. Tonight, however, we will be welcoming our guests from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. I expect you all to be on your best behaviour. At the feast, the Goblet of Fire will be placed in the Great Hall for all students over the age of seventeen who wish to submit themselves.”

She flicked her wand and the class timetables on the High Table shot around the room to each student. Louis glanced at Monday morning’s lessons: Transfiguration with the Slytherins, Herbology with the Hufflepuffs and Potions, once again, with the Slytherins.

“They do that on purpose, by the way,” Vivian Campbell said, comparing her timetable with Liam from across the table. “I have Arithmancy with the Slytherins too. Most of the seventh-year Gryffindors were paired with Slytherins as roommates so McGonagall’s trying to replicate that in the timetables to force us to spend more time with each other. Think she wants us all to become friends or some shit. It would probably look good to have a bit of inter-house unity before the Triwizard Tournament.”

Liam nodded. “That makes sense, I suppose. We’ll be seen as a weak competitor if we’re internally divided.”

“That’s all well and good,” Louis huffed, “but don’t expect me to start playing happy families with Styles just to intimidate the Durmstrang students.”

Vivian and Liam nodded in sympathy, exchanging withering looks. “How was he this morning?” Vivian asked kindly.

“A pain in the arse,” Louis grumbled, scooping porridge into his bowl. “I don’t know why I expected differently. He woke me up at four o’clock in the morning because he was shouting in the bathroom, letting out these loud whelps. And I was like, ‘mate, if you’re going to start wanking aggressively in the bathroom, then at least put a charm on the door so I don’t have to endure listening to it.’ And then he opened the bathroom door and shot a hex right at me.”

Liam observed his face carefully. “But... you look fine to me.”

“I blocked it with a Shield Charm,” Louis dismissed easily. He sprinkled brown sugar on his porridge and gesticulated wildly. “But that’s not the point. The point is that he tried to hex me with Mutatio Skullus and I— ”

“You blocked Styles’ hex?” Vivian asked incredulously. “He’s not going to be happy about that.” She raised herself on the bench to look over to the Slytherin table where Harry was eating a slice of marmalade toast and ignoring a bulky Slytherin whispering in his ear.

Louis looked at the Slytherin table, taking delight in the fact that Harry seemed unhappy with the company of the brawny student beside him. Harry twisted around suddenly, as though sensing someone watching him, and glowered at Louis. Louis’ elbow crashed into his bowl of porridge, splattering it over his robes.

Liam chuckled. “You sure you’re not afraid of Styles? You wouldn’t be the first to admit it.”

Louis pushed him away playfully. “Oh, fuck off, Head Boy. Don’t you have rules to follow?” He muttered “Scourgify” and shoved his books into his satchel, marching out of the Great Hall to attend his first lesson.

 

*

 

“The seventh-year Transfiguration syllabus, as you will soon learn, involves some of the most complex magic you will ever encounter,” Professor McGonagall said, pacing the long classroom, her shoes clanking along the marble floors. “As such, I have set aside a few hours a week from my Headmistress duties to teach you, as well as my first-year class, in order to get to know our new students.

“Now, take out your copies of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration and turn to page fourteen. We’re going to pick up from the basic Human Transfiguration we started at the end of last term, dealing with turning humans into inanimate objects. We’ll be dealing with turning humans into armchairs. You’ll be graded together according to your surname.  Sit in pairs as follows: Mr Adams and Miss Birmingham, Miss Bond and Miss Donnelly...”

She continued down the list of names, Louis twisting his wand in his fingers, silently wishing that there was a seventh year with the surname Thomson or Todd; anyone except—

“Styles! You’re with Mr Tomlinson.”

Harry trudged unwilling to Louis’ desk, leaving his group of rowdy friends at the back of the room jeering at Louis. “Why’d you have to sit at the front of the room?” he muttered, pulling his seat out. “Prat.”

“Quiet, Mr Styles,” Professor McGonagall said sharply. “Now, you’ll need excellent wand power, control and concentration for this. Without wands, repeat after me: Cathedra Mutatio.”

A far less enthusiastic reply of Cathedra Mutatio sounded.

“Now, you must make a sharp jabbing motion with your wands, as outlined on page fifteen. Make sure you have a very clear image of a particular armchair in mind; think of the shape, pattern, size. Try to make it reasonably similar to the appearance of your partner, if possible.”

“You mean a flesh-coloured one, Professor?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, O’Callaghan. How you managed to pass you O.W.L.s still baffles me,” she sighed. “What I mean is to take into account their height and demeanour. If your partner is especially tall don’t try to squeeze him or her into a tiny armchair as it will be painful.”

She glanced around the room. “Well? What are you waiting for? Get to it.”

Louis turned to face Harry. He was confident that he’d be able to transfigure Harry—he’d learned the theory before—but he was highly anxious of what Harry might do to him. He felt Professor McGonagall standing behind them, observing.

“You first, Mr Tomlinson.”

Louis stared at Harry, picturing a handsome armchair, fabric a deep shade of green with a polished wood trim. He tried desperately to ignore the narrowed eyes boring into him, daring him to make a mistake. “Cathedra Mutatio,” he said clearly, thrusting his wand forward.

Harry’s face contorted and his body snapped forward, his spine appearing to break in two. His skin became velvety in places, turning a bottle-green shade as his arms hardened into wood. Within seconds, the very armchair Louis had imagined stood before him, looking unnervingly inviting compared with the wooden stool Louis was sat on.

“Very good, Mr Tomlinson,” Professor McGonagall said approvingly. “Now switch him back. Oh! And be prepared to block any curse he tries to aim at you. Human transfiguration into inanimate objects can be quite painful and Mr Styles has never been one to take being transfigured lightly.”

She spotted another student attempting to turn her partner into a rather large sofa and rushed over to her.

“Reparifarge,” Louis said. He watched the faint outline of Harry’s distinctive features be carved from the fabric, the stiff wooden handles becoming limp and lighter in colour and the structure of the chair broke down. Harry, hair dishevelled and wand outstretched, collapsed on the ground, wincing as his weight fell on his right arm.

Flipendo,” he said weakly.

Louis blocked the spell easily. “Is that the best you’ve got?” he laughed. “Flipendo?”

Harry gritted his teeth, pulling himself to his feet. “I’m not landing myself in detention just to give you the satisfaction of being the victim of a Dark hex, Tomlinson.”

“Well, you should’ve thanked me for making turning you into an armchair instead of a Blast-Ended Skrewt. Would’ve been easier to turn you into something vicious since you’re already—”

“That’s enough, Mr Tomlinson!” Professor McGonagall said from the opposite side of the room where she had been helping the girl with her wand motion. “Get into position, Mr Styles, and do the task I asked or it’ll be ten points from both your houses.”

Harry muttered a few choice swear words under his breath. He faced towards Louis, sneering at him. He raised his left arm and made a fast jabbing motion. Louis instantly doubled over, his stomach plummeting as he felt his shoulders stiffen. He cried out as a sharp pain spread across his back.

“Styles, what have you done?”

He heard footsteps marching towards them and an exasperated sigh of “Reparifarge.”

Louis’ body sprang back and the pain dissipated. He stretched, lengthening his back muscles.

“You,” he muttered darkly, pulling out his wand. “You did that on purpose.”

“Put your wand away this instant, Mr Tomlinson,” Professor McGonagall demanded. She rounded on Harry. “What was that? You’re one of the most capable Transfiguration students I teach when you put your mind to it. What happened?”

She glanced down, eyes trained on his wand. “Use your wand hand, Mr Styles. This spell requires strength and precision. Now take a seat both of you and start learning the theory in preparation for you next essay: The Appropriate Instances of Human Transfiguration and its Misuse during the Muggle World War of 1939-1945’. Three roles of parchment due on Wednesday. No excuses.”

They fell into their seats, Harry chewing his lower lip while Louis furiously scribbled notes. The bell for the end of class rung a half-hour later. Louis gathered his belongings, debating whether or not to hex Harry on the way out. He decided against it after seeing him take a sharp intake of breath when his wand in the pocket of his robes dug into his right forearm.

“What happened?” he asked, pointing to Harry’s arm.

“Fuck off,” he muttered, slinging his bag over his shoulder. “I preferred you as an armchair, Tomlinson.”

“Oh, get grip. I’m not asking because I’m concerned, I’m asking because I need to pass this class. We’re graded together so I need to know if you hurting me without apologising is going to be a recurring thing.”

“Your grades will be just fine,” Harry said condescendingly. “You leave me alone and I’ll do the same.”

He strutted out of the class, the students pushing past each other to get out of the classroom instantly making way for him. Louis stared after him, baffled and slightly perturbed by the Slytherin’s demeanour. He shrugged and tried to focus on packing his books hastily into his satchel before leaving the classroom.

 

*

 

After a pleasant introductory lesson for N.E.W.T.-level Herbology in which they extracted fresh Snargaluff pods, Louis wandered back to the castle with Niall and one of the Hufflepuff students he had been working with, Valery Manson. They directed him to the dungeons, Niall warning him about Slughorn’s class favourites and the legendary 'Slug Club'.

Louis opened the door to reveal a dingy dungeon. A small number of students was scattered throughout the dark room, stone walls lined with shelves displaying various jarred creatures and ingredients, as well as some tall piles of old, pewter cauldrons. He spotted Professor Slughorn at the front of the classroom, paying them no heed as he carefully stirred the ingredients in his own cauldron.

“Alright everyone!” he called. “Gather around now. What I’ve prepared for you all today and what you’ll be brewing yourselves is a complex, rather difficult potion called Volubilis Potion. Now, who can tell me what this does?”

“Alters the drinkers voice,” Harry muttered from where he was slouched against the desk at the back of the group.

“Harry, my boy!” Slughorn said delightedly, apparently only now noticing his presence. “Good to see you! You’re quite right too. Volubilis Potion will both end the effects of a Silencing Charm and alter the drinker’s voice quite significantly, depending on how it’s brewed. And I daresay, if I hadn’t known you, I would have taken your deep voice as an indication that you yourself had taken a swig or two of Volubilis Potion.”

Harry smirked, watching Slughorn let out a wheezy laugh, slapping the table at his own joke.

“Now,” Slughorn said, still grinning, “to prepare the potion, you’ll need to keep track of all the colour changes—red to green, then add Honeywater and it’ll turn pink and then orange with heat. Once you do that you’ll need to add mint sprigs to it until it reaches a dark shade of green and then back to pink. Add some stewed Mandrake—the precise measurements here are important. The bright orange colour then changes to blue with some Syrup of Hellebore and, finally, heat it until it reaches a nice pale-yellow colour.”

Louis found Liam among the group and dragged him to the corner of the classroom furthest away from Harry. They had begun discussing everything they already knew about the Triwizard Tournament when Slughorn ambled over to them.

“Tomlinson, is it?” he asked, beaming at Louis’ nod. “Why, I had the absolute pleasure of teaching alongside your parents. Such a wonderful witch and wizard, and your father was quite the high-flyer too. I’d imagine he would have been offered the role of Headmaster at some stage if it took his fancy. Made me feel rather old when your mother took early retirement at mere forty years of age, though. Of course, I’ve been keeping up to date with the academic articles she publishes in Alchemists Weekly but it’s not quite the same as having her around the school.”

Louis chopped mint sprigs as Slughorn continued, detailing stories of his parents that he had heard recounted many times before, all the while nodding encouragingly. Slughorn didn’t leave him space to get a word in edgeways. By the end of the lesson, he had only managed to circulate the room once to keep watch of the other students’ progress. Despite Louis’ best efforts, their potion was an unsightly mustard colour by the end of the lesson.

“Not to worry, my boy,” Slughorn said. “You’ve more to learn yet, no doubt.” He wandered over to each of the work stations, sometimes passing over the cauldrons with a cursory glance, other times complementing the students. He arrived at Harry’s workplace last, one that he shared with a pretty Slytherin with a long, auburn plait. She had a hand on Harry’s shoulder and was smiling smugly when Slughorn approached them. Louis felt a sudden strange urge to hex her.

“Save the best ‘til last, right, Harry? And my, was it worth the wait!” Slughorn exclaimed, peering over the simmering, pale yellow liquid. “Excellent job, my boy, excellent job indeed.”

He strode to the front of the class. “Right, off you go for your lunch. And leave your potions here. We don’t want any voice-altering mishaps on the first day back.”

 

*

 

“Don’t worry about Styles,” Niall said as he, Liam and Louis trudged to the Gryffindor common room later that evening, Abrax slinking along behind them. “He’s always been Slughorn’s favourite. Think he knows his parents well or something. Styles is a pure-blood name, right? And he’s Head of Slytherin House so he’s always going to be a little biased.”

They climbed through the portrait hole and came into a circular room with a crackling fireplace, carved chairs and dim lamps.

“I don’t care about Styles, just need to get away from him for a little while,” Louis said, though he knew that it wasn’t strictly true. He despised him but still felt curious about his hand and how Slughorn seemed to worship him despite his arrogance.  

“Well, you’ll be distracted enough at the feast tonight,” Liam said. “McGonagall mentioned that Durmstrang and Beauxbatons would be arriving tonight. Apparently, she lobbied for the Tournament to start earlier in the year so that there are a few months between the end of the Tournament and the start of our N.E.W.T.s”

“Clever,” Louis said, kneeling in front of the fire to warm his hands. “Who do you think will be Hogwarts champion with you?”

Liam shook his head but looked rather pleased. “I’m not going to be selected, Louis,” he said. “I couldn’t compete with Lloyd or Reid or any of the other students who haven’t confirmed that they’re going to enter. And on top of that, you have to consider the other schools. Beauxbatons have won sixty-two times. And Durmstrang students aren’t intimidated by anything,” Liam sighed.

“Durmstrang hasn’t managed to ever win the Triwizard Tournament, though,” Niall said, pulling out a Wizard’s Chess board.

“Even still,” Liam said. “They’re known to be brutal in the tasks themselves. They learn Dark curses that aren’t even in the books in the Restricted Section. Even if they don’t win, they use them to sabotage the other competitors and make sure that whoever does win gets a hefty number of injuries along the way.”

“It’s basically tradition that they play dirty. Really goes against the whole ‘international magical co-operation thing’,” Niall said, arranging the pawns on the board with perfect precision. “Are you going to put your name forward, mate?”.

Louis remained silent for a moment. Abrax curled herself in his lap, as if she was able to sense his body going rigid and understand his need for comfort. “Yeah,” he said quietly, avoiding Liam’s gaze.

“Have you told your parents?”

Louis pulled two knights who were fighting each other apart on the chess board. “Not yet. I’ll do it before the champions are announced.”

Liam sighed but dropped the subject when Niall threw a chess piece at his chest to get his attention.

 

*

 

When Louis, Liam and Niall arrived downstairs to head to the Great Hall for the feast, they found what looked like the entire school crowded in the Entrance Hall. Many other students could be seen running out into the grounds and bypassing Hagrid’s hut nestled at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Some were gaping, others gasping and pointing to the sky. With wide, disbelieving eyes, Louis craned his neck to catch sight of a pale blue carrosse de Beauxbâtons soaring across the sky. It was drawn by enormous Abraxan Winged Horses, their majestic wings slicing through the wind.

“That’s what you’re named after, Abrax,” Louis said, pulling his cat into his arms. She looked distinctly unimpressed and leaped out of Louis’ arms.

They followed the carriage’s journey as the span of the Abraxan horses’ wings cut through the air thermals. The carriage rounded and swooped down, landing unsteadily on the hilly grounds in the distance.

“Do not run out to the grounds, please,” Professor Flitwick called over the chattering. “Leave them time to freshen up before coming to the castle. Hagrid will need to attend to the horses, too. That means you, McLoughlin. Back into the castle now, please!”

They spotted the door of Hagrid’s cabin swing open on its rickety hinges as Hagrid marched out of his cabin and trundle across the grounds, fixing his spotted tie along the way. A group of third years giggled at the sight.

“I would suggest getting a bit higher if you want a good look at the Durmstrang ship arriving,” Professor Flitwick said to Liam.

Niall tugged on his arm and called Liam’s name, shouting something about needing a better view. They bounded up the stairs to Louis’ dormitory, avoiding the Bloody Baron along the fourth-floor corridor until they arrived at the oak wood door. Louis pushed it open, panting, and saw Harry sitting on his bed, arm of his robes pulled back to expose a dark, gut-wrenching burn across his wrist and forearm. Harry’s eyes darted up and he dropped his sleeve, pointing his wand at Louis. Heart thundering in his chest, Louis only just managed to dodge a purple hex that shot past his head. A loud crash sounded as the hex collided with the opposite wall, sending rubble tumbling down the steps and a cloud of dust to settle in the air.

“What the fuck?” Niall shouted from the bottom of the winding staircase.

“What happened, mate?” Liam called.

“Styles happened,” Louis muttered as he took out his wand and thrust the door open fully. “How did you burn your arm?”

Harry glared at him, baring his teeth. “It’s not a burn and it’s none of your fucking business. Get out,” he ordered.

“What do you mean get out? This is my dormitory as much as it is yours,” Louis said, pushing past him.

“That doesn’t mean you’re entitled to just waltz in here whenever you please,” he snapped. Harry then noticed Niall and Liam ambled into the dormitory, ignoring him. “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Harry muttered.

They rushed over to the window to watch the Durmstrang ship slowly rise from the Great Lake.

“You sure it isn’t a burn?” Louis said incredulously, reading the book on Harry’s bed, the open page entitled ‘Step One: Identifying the Source of the Burn – Tips from St. Mungo’s Hospital Head Healer’.

Harry flicked his wand and the book clasped shut and vanished from his bed. “Stop looking at my stuff, Tomlinson.”

Louis thought back to the way Harry had winced in pain during their Transfiguration class and how he had shouted out in pain in the shower that morning.

“That was why you were whining this morning, wasn’t it? The showers here are scalding hot and the water burned you,” Louis said.

Harry looked like he wanted to protest but suddenly nodded. “Yes, that’s exactly what happened, even though it’s still none of your fucking business. And I don’t whimper.” He scoffed loudly at the mere proposition. “Quite the contrary, Tomlinson, I make people whim—”

“Louis, mate!” Liam exclaimed. “McGonagall’s just gone out to the grounds to greet Vulchanova and Madame Maxime.”

“Tell Payne and that annoying Hufflepuff to leave before I make them,” Harry snapped.

Louis rolled his eyes. He remembered McGonagall’s insistence that Harry use his wand hand for the Cathedra Mutatio spell. “I can show you how to heal that, you know,” he said, trying to convince himself that he was only offering his help because he wanted to pass Transfiguration and not because the burn looked excruciatingly painful. “My mother taught Alchemy and her specialisation was plant alchemy and healing remedies. She showed me how to do it.”

“I don’t need your help, Tomlinson.”

“Because you’re handling the burn just fine on your own, right?”

“Louis, come on,” Niall said, pulling him by the elbow. “Looks like the feast is starting and I want to see the Beauxbatons girls.”

Louis’ eyes remained on Harry’s narrowed ones until he was hauled around the corner and out of sight. He shook his head to free himself of the unusual vulnerability he thought he saw flash in Harry’s eyes, instead following Niall and Liam to the Great Hall eagerly.

“Styles isn’t planning on submitting his name, is he?” Louis asked.

“Ask him yourself. You do live together,” Niall laughed.

Liam nodded gravely. “Definitely. Knowing him, he’ll do it in the dead of night, though. He has too much pride to tell people before the Hogwarts champions are announced in case he isn’t selected. Wouldn’t be surprised if he was though,” Liam said. He worried his lip. “Despite the kind of person he is, he’s dead smart. He might be a first-class knob but he’s one of her best students. McGonagall threatens to suspend him about as many times as Flitwick falls over from the pile of books on his desk.”

“How often is that?”

“About three times a week,” Niall said, chuckling. “Remember that time just before Christmas in fifth year when he wouldn’t talk to anyone. He just, like, sneered at people.”

“Yeah,” Liam said, wincing at the memory. “McGonagall was fucking furious. Threatened to write to his parents when he wouldn’t answer her question, remember? And then he stormed out of the classroom and didn’t go to class for the rest of the day.”

Louis gaped at them. “Why?”

Niall shrugged. “Apparently he stayed at Hogwarts over Christmas and refused to leave his dormitory.”

Louis’ question was cut off when they rounded the corner to the great double doors of the Great Hall. The sign behind the High Table was switched to read: ‘Welcome students and professors of Durmstrang Institute and Beauxbatons Academy of Magic!’ Streamers shot out from behind the sign, the coils of coloured material falling onto the heads of nearby students.

Louis spotted the new students—about twenty overall—who had been chosen as the best candidates to put their names in the Goblet of Fire. The Durmstrang students had sidled over to the Slytherin table, clad in heavy fur coats, while the twelve Beauxbatons students spoke to their Headmistress in rapid French, gesticulating wildly.

The candles hung overhead and Puffapods holding shining beans had been bewitched by Professor Longbottom to send strobes of light onto the jewelled casket covering the Goblet of Fire. Louis caught a few students staring at it with interest, others with unrivalled longing.

Louis noticed Harry enter the Hall, eyes darting around until they landed on the Slytherin table. He rushed over to one of the Durmstrang boys with short black hair and a long nose and tackled him into a hug. The boy turned around, ecstatic and beaming at Harry and Louis could make out their rapid conversation and Harry’s carrying laughter. Louis thought that it was the first time he had seen Harry genuinely happy since he arrived at Hogwarts.

“Settle down, please,” Professor McGonagall called. Louis noticed that she had dressed in magenta robes for the occasion, and her tall hat had small half-moons around the edge.

Once the students had settled into their seats after some minor squeezing and the conjuration of new chairs to accommodate the guests, she spoke again.

“I welcome you all, students and professors alike, to Hogwarts School for the one hundred and twenty-sixth Triwizard Tournament.”

Cheers and applause broke out in the hall.

“We were given the privilege of hosting the Tournament after ten years without its revival, following the tragic death of Cedric Diggory. We begin this as a new chapter, still remembering the pain and suffering endured by competitors and champions but with a hope to ensure that an atrocity such as his death never happens again.” She fixed her glasses and blinked rapidly. “Now, this year’s tournament will be overseen by the Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, Mr Elmer MacFarlan and will, of course, be judged by a panel comprising of myself, Mr MacFarlan, Professor Vulchanova and Madame Maxime. From the Ministry, the Head of International Magical Co-operation, Miss Epsilon Achernar will also be joining us. I will allow our Department Heads to explain the rules now.”

A round of applause followed as MacFarlan and Achernar, who both looked tired and frazzled stepped forward.

“Thank you,” MacFarlan said curtly. “The rules of the Tournament differ in two substantive ways from previous years. Epsie and I have been working ceaselessly to ensure that the tasks remain just as complex and perilous but that there are regulations in place to ensure that any student in danger of imminent death will be saved.”

“Well that’s very reassuring,” Louis heard someone mutter under their breath.

“The first change is that there will be two students selected from each school to compete. We hope that this this will give the Tournament the kind of revival it needs. This change has also given us the opportunity to change things a little this year. These tasks will be very much focused on team-work, putting you in high-intensity situations where you will need to rely on each other. Champions might have to anticipate their partner’s next move before even they themselves know what they’re going to do. It should also be more entertaining for the audience to watch with two of you to support throughout the Tournament. Now, any questions?”

 “Wiz regard to ze Goblet, Meester MacFarlan, shall my students place ze names in pairs or on separate papers?” Madame Maxime asked.

 “An excellent point, Madame,” he said brightly, tipping his hat at her. “Students are required to submit their names individually. Although some of you may think you’re perfectly suited to working alongside your one of your friends, the Goblet will decide the two champions from each school.

“The second change that we think you will all very much appreciate is that as part of the award for this year—along with the glory of winning the Triwizard Cup and a thousand Galleons prize money—both champions will be offered positions as Aurors in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement of their country upon their graduation.”

A smattering of chatter broke out, especially among the Hogwarts students, who knew the high requirements for prospective students to become Aurors. Louis suddenly sat higher in his seat. The thought of becoming an Auror was something he had only ever dreamt of, and the thought that he could be handed an opportunity like that sparked his interest in the Tournament further still.

“That’s quite enough,” Professor McGonagall called as the chatter died down. “We will begin now.”

She stepped gracefully down from the elevated High Table and towards the Goblet of Fire. She tapped the casket three times with her wand. It twisted open with a creak and she plunged her hand inside, taking out a remarkably plain wooden cup. She closed the casket and placed the Goblet on top, exposing the blue-white flames rising and falling from the cup, entrancing its admirers.

“Any student over the age of seventeen wishing to submit themselves as a candidate to represent his or her school for the Tournament must do so within twenty-four hours. Once you submit your name there is no turning back.  If the Goblet chooses you, then you will become one of the school champions. Tomorrow evening, the champions will be selected. I wish you all the best of luck.”

With that, she turned around and piles of mouth-watering foods appeared on the long tables. Louis tucked into a hearty serving of Blanquette de Veau, dipping toasted baguette into the sauce. He listened to Liam complain about the amount of Ancient Runes homework he had to do. Louis silently scoped out the competition. At the Ravenclaw table, where most of the Beauxbatons students sat, there seemed to be not one person who looked particularly confident in their abilities. In the Durmstrang group, however, two muscly twins with cropped hair and permanent scowls seemed to command the entire table’s attention.

“Budge over, mate,” Niall said. He collapsed into the seat beside Louis. “Just found out the likely champions of the other schools. Durmstrang has these two massive lads called Leif and Alexander Larson. Apparently, they’re the real deal when it comes to the Dark Arts. Their family has links with Grindelwald and they rule Durmstrang. Not sure how quick-witted they are, but when it comes to Dark magic, they know it all.”

He bit off a chunk of chicken leg, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Over there,” he said nodding to the Ravenclaw table, “is where three most likely Beauxbatons champions are—Clara Bernard, Victor Linville and Julia Comtois. Clara is pretty much guaranteed her place but nobody’s sure about the other two.”

Louis nodded, surreptitiously glancing at each of them. “I thought that the two candidates who were picked had to be compatible. Doesn’t the Goblet choose people who will work best together? Wouldn’t it be obvious who she was closer she would work best with?”

“Well that is just a rumour about the Goblet,” Niall said knowingly, “but even if it was true, nobody would actually be able to predict who would be chosen along with Clara. You see, Julia is her girlfriend but Victor is her best friend who she’s known since they were very young.”

Louis gaped at him. “How do you know all of this?”

Niall shrugged, slurping his bowl of chicken broth. “I get around,” he said easily.

Louis shook his head in disbelief and looked over at where Harry was seated beside the boy he had embraced earlier. They were laughing together and the boy kept pulling his lip between his fingers, the way Louis often noticed Harry do.

 

*

 

Harry didn’t arrive back to their dormitory until much later that night. Cassiopeia had given up waiting for him and had curled herself against Louis’ side for warmth. When the door creaked open at eleven o’clock, Harry came inside with a bounce in his step and a rare smile colouring his features. When he saw that Louis was awake, however, the smile faded.

“What’re you doing up?” he demanded.

“Couldn’t sleep,” Louis said. The raspy tone of his voice indicated just how exhausted he was. He glanced up to find Harry with his hands clasped behind his back, concealing something. “What’s that?”

Harry hastily flung the bottle in his hands onto the bed.

Accio bottle!”

Harry lunged forward but it was too late. The tall bottle darted into Louis’ outstretched hand.

Louis stared at the bottle in a state of mild disbelief—though he wasn’t sure anything he learned about Harry could surprise him very much. “Why in the name of Merlin were you drinking single malt whiskey?”

“Fuck off,” he snarled. He shuffled his feet and dropped his gaze. “It’s not mine.”

Louis threw it back to him but Harry extended his right arm on instinct and the bottle fell out of his hand. Harry cried out in pain and fell back onto his bed. The bottle crashed on the hardwood floors and the glass broke, the barley-coloured liquid seeping between the floorboards.

Reparo,” Louis muttered, springing out of bed to cross the room. The broken shards of glass arranged back together instantly.

Harry hung his head over his right hand, clutched in his other hand, breathing sharply and unevenly. He barely glanced at Louis when he kneeled beside him. “I don’t want your fucking help, Tomlinson,” he all but shouted.

“Well, you don’t have a choice,” Louis said, though his instincts were screaming at him to get out of this situation. With Harry as furious as he was, logically, staying could only earn him a direct pass to the Hospital Wing. “Trust me, this isn’t how I planned on spending my Monday night but you can’t very well practise the Transfiguration spell without any co-ordination in your right hand and I need to pass that class. And—unlike you—I consider myself a decent human being. I can’t go to sleep with you fucking bleeding to death in the bed beside me.”

“’S not bleeding,” Harry mumbled.

“What was that?”

“It’s not bleeding,” he said loudly, eyes brimming with tears when he finally raised his head. “The bottle you flung at me just hit the burn and the alcohol stung it.” 

Louis caught his eye and noticed how guarded Harry's eyes were. "Just show it to me, Styles, or I won't be able to help.”

Harry sneered at Louis before his eyes turned dark and bore into Louis’ skin, his entire body still hunched over. “If you fucking dare to tell anyone about this, Madam Pomfrey included, I won’t hesitate to make your life a living torture.”

Louis rolled his eyes. “Pull up your sleeve,” he instructed.

Harry yanked back his black sleeve and Louis gulped at the sight. Throbbing red blisters and swelling lined the perimeter of the burn which spanned the length of his forearm and the side of his wrist. The blackened, charred skin at the very centre of his arm looked sickeningly deep. Harry’s fingernails, too, had a blue tint.  

Louis wanted to scream at him, demand where he had suffered such a burn—he knew for certain now that it was not from the Hogwarts showers—but he suspected that he wouldn’t get Harry to open up this way.

“Okay,” he sighed, breathing shakily and absently thinking that the situation was anything but ‘okay’. He knew the precise spell to relieve the pain and end the swelling, but the antidote would require a trip to Slughorn’s Potions Office to source ingredients for the orange healing paste his mother had taught him to make many times before.

“Well?” Harry said, voice defeated, as though he knew Louis couldn’t help him. “Can you heal it or not?”

“For the moment I can stop all the pain you’re in and stop the swelling and blistering from getting worse,” he said. “But I’ll need until to tomorrow to heal it properly.”

Louis noticed Harry’s face contort, as though trying to stifle his relief, before he schooled his expression and merely raising an impressed eyebrow. “Right,” he said, coughing awkwardly. He controlled his face to resemble its usual scowl. “Well, get to it, Tomlinson.”

When he cast the spell, directing the golden light to soothe the swelling blisters and searing hot skin, Harry groaned with relief. Louis startled at the sound but tried to direct his concentration on muttering the spell under his breath— “Remedium Ardeat”. He watched the thin thread of golden light wrap around Harry’s forearm, as though bound by a piece of glowing rope. The blistering skin turned a light pink shade, less inflamed, and the worst of the blistering subsided.

“Is that it?” Louis asked after most of the swelling had stopped. “Do you have burns here too?” He reached over to pull up the sleeve of Harry’s left arm.

Harry yanked back his arm with such vigour that he shoved Louis’ hand away.

Louis rolled his eyes. “Got a Dark Mark to hide, then, Styles?”

As soon as the words left his lips, he regretted saying them. He watched hurt flash across Harry’s face before his features contorted and he pulled himself onto his feet. Harry pulled out his wand in an instant, surprising Louis as he made a quick sweeping motion through the air. Louis barely managed to block the curse on time by whipping out his own wand, and fell back onto his bed from the force of it. Harry stood a few centimetres taller than him, squaring his shoulders.

“Sorry, that was stupid,” Louis said instantly. He threw his fingers into his hair, tugging hard. “I didn’t mean it. Just—sorry.”

“Don’t ever compare me to a Death Eater,” Harry whispered darkly. His eyes were narrowed and his balled fists seemed to shake at his sides. “Think because I’m in Slytherin you’ve got me all worked out? Think you know what I believe just because I tick all the boxes of a Voldemort supporter?”

Louis’ breath caught in his throat as the heat of Harry’s glare struck him. “I told you, I’m sorry. Just forget I said anything.”

 Harry sneered down at him. Nothing Louis said seemed to register with him. “Don’t assume things about me just because I fit your little preconceptions. Just because it’s expected doesn’t make it right.”

 Louis pushed himself off the bed and sighed. “Styles, I said I was sorry, alright? You haven’t done anything to stop people assuming that shit about you, though.”

Harry turned away and suddenly seemed much smaller, his posture deflating and shoulders sagging. “Sometimes people play the part they think they have to perform,” he said, more to himself than to Louis. A strand of hair fell across Harry’s face, covering his eye. “But somewhere along the line the script goes missing. And before you know it, you have to improvise.”

Louis watched him swallow thickly. He felt unnerved at the sight of Harry, turned away from him and trying to justify himself to Louis, using a metaphor for Merlin’s sake. He felt strangely sympathetic.

“That’s the hard part,” Harry whispered. He turned away and breathed sharply. “Because when you’ve been taught how to think and act and believe for so long and then everything is snatched away from you... people don’t tend to like hearing your own thoughts.”

Louis was lost for words, finding that his relayed apology was stuck in his throat. The quiet, almost vulnerable boy across the room was unrecognisable from the arrogant Slytherin he was used to. “I really didn’t mean—”

Harry whipped around and glared at Louis, eyes flashing. He seemed to remember exactly who his company was. “I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” he snarled. Harry turned on his heel and snatched back the hangings from his four-poster without another word.

That night Louis lay awake, eyes fixed on his crimson bedsheets. He knew he shouldn’t have accused Harry of having a Dark Mark. He had tried to reason with himself that the accusation wasn’t unfounded; Harry hadn’t done anything to prove that he wasn’t the self-entitled Slytherin everyone presumed him to be. But he knew that what he said hadn’t been fair, despite Harry’s unexpected reaction.

Harry had looked vulnerable and tired, more so than Louis had ever seen him before. He felt shocked, still, that Harry was so vehemently opposed to Voldemort. Though he hadn’t expected to find a loyal Dark follower in him, Louis knew that Voldemort sympathisers still roamed Britain and that many of them had their origins in Slytherin.

How had Harry come to despise accusations linking him to Voldemort?  Louis recognised the surname Styles; it was a pure-blood name that had a dark notoriety attached to it, the kind of name that evoked particular emotions in people depending on their views. Louis made a note to ask Liam who his parents were. He had a feeling that Harry’s monologue might be more than a personal opinion, that it was a reaction he felt, an emotion that hit close to home which culminated in his outburst. 

The sound of parchment rumpling and a quill scratching caught his attention. Louis huffed and turned on his other side away from Harry’s bed. He somehow felt guilty for thinking about Harry. Why did he even care? Harry had made it quite clear that he wasn’t interested in getting to know Louis beyond what was necessary.

He heard Harry’s feet pad across the hard-wood floors and then the door slammed shut. Somehow, he knew exactly where Harry was going: to put his name in the Goblet of Fire.

Chapter Text

The next morning Louis woke up with fur tickling his cheek.

“Abrax,” he groaned. “Get off.”

He heard Harry stifle a laugh from across the room before he called Abrax’s name and poured nuts into her saucer. Abrax leaped off Louis’ face and he pulled himself into a sitting position. He watched as Abrax rubbed against Harry’s calf before sauntering over to her saucer. He caught Harry watching Abrax with something resembling a faint smile, though perhaps the morning sunlight was distorting his vision. Harry was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and Louis was relieved to see that his burns had healed substantially. There was still charred skin at the centre of the long burn but the redness had subsided and his arm had started to scab over.

“Thanks,” Louis muttered, plucking fur off his bedsheets. He walked over to pet Abrax as she ate her breakfast.

Harry shrugged and turned away. He busied himself with packing his bag with his textbooks and rolling up his Transfiguration essay. “I was feeding her so that you wouldn’t,” Harry said eventually.

“What?”

Harry rolled his eyes and resolutely avoided Louis’ eyes. Louis noticed him fidgeting with the strap of his satchel. “She has a Vitamin E deficiency because you’re feeding her too much fish. She needs different types of protein and nuts to counteract it,” Harry said rather calmly, walking over to the closet and pulling on his robes without so much as a second glance at Louis.

Louis gaped. “What?” he repeated incredulously.

Harry sighed, fixing his jade tie. “At least pretend not to be as thick as you actually are, Tomlinson.”

“No— I mean, how do you know that?” Louis said. He rubbed behind Abrax’s ears. “You drink whiskey, you get mysterious burns that you refuse to tell me about, and you talk to cats now too?”

“I don’t drink whiskey and I don’t talk to cats, you fucking prat,” Harry said. He marched over to his desk and shoved the rest of his books in his satchel before slinging it over his shoulder. “I only told you because I know. If you payed attention to her feeding patterns you would have noticed too.” Harry fixed him with a firm stare. His eyes were dark but a beam of sunlight danced over his pale skin. “Cassiopeia likes her and I’m not going to watch you slowly kill your cat— ”

“I think that’s a little unfair—”

“—and not do anything about it. Cass hasn’t ever taken a liking to any other animal besides Abrax.”

Louis pursed his lips and nodded. Now that made more sense. Harry wasn’t telling him as some kind of strange cat owner-to-cat owner tip but because he wanted his own cat to have a friend. He heard the door shut and shook his head.

Louis made his way down to the Great Hall and found it mostly empty. Only Professors McGonagall and Longbottom sat at the High Table talking quietly. In the centre of the aisle stood the Goblet of Fire, the flames muted in the morning light.

Louis spotted Zayn at the Ravenclaw table and Liam standing awkwardly beside him. Falling into the seat beside Zayn, Louis noticed their matching smiles. Liam seemed to take this as a cue to sit on the other side of Zayn. Louis didn’t think he imagined Zayn’s quiet gasp.

“Hiya, mate,” Liam said brightly. “How’d you sleep? You’ll never guess who I saw last night putting his name in the Goblet.”

“It’s too early for guessing, Liam,” Louis groaned, scooping beans onto a slice of toast.

“Your delightful roommate,” Zayn said with a wry smile. “Apparently he put it in last night.”

“Yeah, I heard him leaving,” Louis mumbled. “Didn’t exactly make it a big secret. How did you know, anyway?”

“He came in when I was leaving,” Liam said. “Looked a bit pissed off but, then again, when doesn’t he?”

Louis didn’t answer the question, instead busying himself with pouring pumpkin juice. “So, you put your name in, did you?”

“Yeah,” Liam said, smiling sheepishly. “Vulchanova was there too with all the Durmstrang lads.”

Louis nodded. “You putting your name in the Goblet, Zayn?”

He shook his head and smiled. “Sounds like unnecessary danger. Think I’ll leave it to you heroics. I’d be happy to help the Hogwarts champions, though.”

“Isn’t that against the rules, though?”

Liam laughed loudly. “Since when have you ever followed the rules, Louis? Besides, everyone gets help.”

Zayn nodded. “It’s basically tradition,” he said earnestly.   

Louis munched on his slice of toast as Liam and Zayn relayed stories they had heard of previous Triwizard Tournaments. He absentmindedly fingered the small piece of parchment in his pocket. He tried to distract himself by listening to them but as the descriptions of the tasks became more gruesome, he couldn’t take it anymore.

“…and then there was that time that all the champions had to go through that obstacle with only one spell and the Hogwarts—”

“I’m going to do it,” Louis said suddenly.

“What?”

“I’m going to do it,” he repeated calmly. “I’m putting my name in there. At least before the rest of the students arrive.”

Liam eyed him warily. “Look, mate, it’s your choice but I really don’t think your mum would want you too.”

“And that’s why I need to do it,” he sighed. “I’m sick of living vicariously through you and the others for so many years, staying at home while you go off to Hogwarts every year. I need to try this for myself.”

Liam looked like he wanted to argue but with one glance at Louis’ determined expression, he closed his mouth. “Good luck then, mate.”

Zayn watched him curiously.

He squared his shoulders, foregoing reticence, and marched straight towards the Goblet, clutching the scrap of parchment in his hand. In the morning light, it seemed far less intimidating than it had last night, the bright flame glimmering in the darkness.

He noticed a sleepy Hufflepuff eye him curiously and a group of third-year Gryffindors cheered loudly when they spotted the gold and crimson crest on his robes. It felt rather anticlimactic.

He glanced behind him and found Liam giving him a thumbs up. He smiled despite himself and crossed the Age Line. He stared in awe at the flames dancing and spilling over the rim of the Goblet. He pulled his lower lip into his mouth and dropped the piece of parchment inside. Sparks flew out of the Goblet and his name shone for a second before it disappeared in the blue flame.

He let out a shaky breath he hadn’t realised he had been holding. From the opposite side of the hall Professor McGonagall caught his eye and nodded once, her expression indecipherable. He smiled nervously and turned around to find Liam clapping loudly. Louis sat down beside him and pinched Liam’s nipple.

“Shut up,” he laughed.

“Oi! Don’t sabotage your fellow Hogwarts champion,” Liam said, swatting Louis’ hand away.

Louis’ eyebrows shot together in concentration. “You think?”

Liam shrugged. “Why not? If the rumours that the Goblet choses the champions based on compatibility are true, then I reckon it could happen.”

They were interrupted by the Durmstrang group, led by Leif and Alexander Larson, arriving in the Great Hall and sitting down at the mostly bare Slytherin table. He caught the taller one—Leif’s—eye. His eyes, a shade of steely grey, roamed across Louis’ body and he wore a slight smirk. Louis looked away pointedly and wiped the crumbs off his jumper.

 

*

 

“Concentrate,” Professor McGonagall called. “I want to see improvement. Remember the sharp jabbing motion or the transfiguration won’t go to completion. Miss Prewett won’t thank you for turning her into a half armchair, Mr Prendergast.”

“Well? Get to it, then,” Harry said.

“It’s your turn,” Louis said. “I did it yesterday, remember?”

Harry sighed and muttered something unintelligible under his breath.

“Would you stop acting like such a wanker for two seconds?” he said exasperatedly. “If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be able to do the spell properly.”

Harry glared at him, eyes darting around to room to see if anyone had overheard. “Shut it, Tomlinson,” he hissed. “I was perfectly capable of handling it without you.”

Louis laughed humourlessly. “Oh yes, it definitely looked like you had the whole thing under control,” he said sarcastically.

“I never asked for your help,” Harry said sharply. “If you think I would ever—”

“That’s quite enough talking over there,” Professor McGonagall called.

Harry settled on glowering at him. He raised his wand and pointed it at Louis, eyes narrowing. He bit his lip sharply, turning it a deep pink. “Cathedra Mutatio.”

Louis’ entire body lunged forward. He felt his back muscles stretch as if he had no vertebra and his shoulders widened painfully. He glimpsed his skin turning a pleasant periwinkle shade before he was distracted by a heavy thump as he felt himself collapse to the ground.

“Very good, Mr Styles,” he heard Professor McGonagall say. “Mr Fawley, you would do well to look at this. You see the fine trimmings along the armchair here and the solid base—that’s a good indication of preparation.”

Louis felt someone prod at his right shoulder.

“I see that theory assignment did you some good then, Mr Styles,” Louis heard her say. “Don’t make me have to assign you extra work a second time.”

He heard Harry mutter something but couldn’t quite make out what it was.

“Very well. Now change him back.”

He heard Harry say “Reparifarge” and felt a sharp pain in his back as his entire body sprang backwards. He felt a pull at his neck and noticed his skin return to its normal pallor. Before he could react, he felt his knees shake and crumble. He fell into something firm and felt an arm around his stomach, holding him from falling. He noticed the dark green fabric covering the arm around his waist and he tried to pull away.

A moment passed where he thought Harry was going to keep him pressed against his chest, until he heard a rough “Get off me, Tomlinson” and he felt Harry shove him. He clambered to his feet, knees still shaky and collapsed into the chair, cheeks burning from embarrassment. Harry yanked his own chair out from under the table and sat down beside him. Professor McGonagall glanced between them with a look of mild curiosity.

“That’s quite enough practice for now,” she called. “Open your books to page seventeen and read about Emeric Switch’s contribution to Human Transfiguration.”

 

*

 

The morning passed quickly and Louis was able to ignore Styles during his Potions lesson as they were dealing with a particularly tricky Shrinking Solution. He caught the boy’s eye on the way out, both of them stopping at the dungeon door before Harry shoved passed him. Louis had rolled his eyes but couldn’t help but dwell on Harry’s moment of hesitation, as though his immediate reaction was to let Louis pass first before he thought better of it.

By the time his final lesson—Herbology—finished, he was looking forward to the feast awaiting them in the Great Hall. It seemed the only thing everyone wanted to talk about was the likely Hogwarts champions.

“You think Amelia and Liam could do it?” a Hufflepuff called Mabel Macmillan asked as they made up the sloping grounds towards the castle.

Niall made a noise of disgust. “Mate, we need Hufflepuff champions in this, not the Head Boy and Girl. Merlin’s saggy balls, what a cliché.”

“Plus, Amelia would rather lose the Triwizard Cup than break a rule,” another boy added.

“What about the Slytherins?” Louis asked, though he wasn’t quite sure why he was concerned about them.

“What about them?”

“Are any of them likely to be picked?”

Niall and Mabel exchanged a look.

“It’s possible,” she said carefully. “It pains me to say it but there are quite a few who would probably be very good; Walker, Meliflua, Styles—you’re rooming with him right?”

Louis nodded.

Mabel made a face of disgust. “Rather you than me,” she said. “Anyway, they’re all likely I suppose. I have to admit that he’s got the skills for it.”

“The Slytherins certainly think so, at least,” Niall sighed.

“But if we’re talking about compatibility, I can’t see any of those snakes being willing to work with another person,” she said. “They’d all be too selfish to share any of the glory.”

Niall glanced over at Louis, watching as he hummed absently. “He’s not giving you too much of a hard time, is he?”

Louis shook his head. “I can handle it. He’s just so fucking intense,” he huffed.

Niall and Mabel burst out laughing, Niall’s loud cackle ringing through the Entrance Hall. “Pretty sure intense isn’t the only way to describe him.”

“Yeah, try arrogant, conceited, rude, dickhead,” Mabel said, listing them off her fingers with ease.

“Maybe I underestimate him,” he laughed. “Don’t know him as well as the rest of you though, so you can’t blame me.”

“Louis,” Niall sighed, clapping his shoulder. “Nobody knows him. At least, not really. He’d probably be the favourite to win if he wasn’t so much of a wanker.”

They made their way into the Great Hall and found that it had been decorated especially for the occasion. The light from the candles above bounced off the golden goblets and the evening sky cast contrasted with the bright glow. He took his seat beside Liam whose knee kept bouncing uncontrollably.

“Y’alright, mate?”

“Yeah, I’m good,” he said, smiling weakly. “It’ll be fine, just fine.”

Louis followed his gaze to the Goblet of Fire, watching the blue flames growing larger, more enthrallingly dramatic. Quite a few other students were watching the Goblet, anticipating the champion selection. He spotted Harry at the Slytherin table beside the Durmstrang boy with short black hair he had hugged the previous day.

“They look cosy,” Louis said.

“Who?”

“Styles and that Durmstrang kid.”

Liam craned his neck to find them at the end of the Slytherin table. They were indeed sitting rather closely together and laughing uproariously.

“Dunno,” Liam said, returning to his creamy potato, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he knew half of Durmstrang. Probably a family friend or something. Why?”

Louis shrugged. “Nothing, just didn’t think Styles had the capacity to actually like another person besides himself.”

Liam laughed loudly and Louis changed topic to avoid thinking about him. The sight of the two of them made him slightly uncomfortable.

They watched the rest of the students hurry to grab the best seats along each of the tables and talked idly about their lessons, despite both of them being distracted by the blue flames in the Goblet. The flames danced and grew higher as the time until the champions were chosen elapsed.

The feast appeared on each of the tables then; rows of beef Wellington and steak and kidney pie, jacket potatoes and corn-on-the-cob, wild salmon and toad-in-the-hole. They tucked in and Louis soon forgot about the heavy weight of anxiety.

By the time they finished their fill of meringues and apple pie with clotted cream, the bewitched ceiling had turned into a dark swirl of clouds and Louis could only spot stars flickering above them.

Professor McGonagall stood up and a hush fell over the Great Hall.  “We will now proceed with what I’m sure is the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the champion selection,” she said.

A thrill of excitement shot through the Great Hall as students giggled and jeered at their friends, whispering frantically and exchanging last-minute bets. Professor McGonagall walked straight to the top of the aisle and stood next to the Goblet. She lifted her hand, arm rigid, and directed her palm to the Goblet.

The Great Hall was plunged into silence as the blue flame sprang up and turned a fiery red before thrusting out two pieces of parchment, both charred at the edges. There was a collective intake of breath.

Professor McGonagall swung her wand and both pieces fell into her hand. “The Durmstrang champions are Alexander Larson and Leif Larson.”

The hall broke out in applause and shouts and chants from the Slytherin table carried across to the top of the Great Hall. Louis turned around to see Alexander—the stockier of the two—followed by Leif who was slightly taller, striding towards Professor McGonagall. Alexander looked resolutely ahead while Leif’s eyes roamed the crowds staring at them. He caught Louis’ eye and the corners of his lips twitched into a small smile.

Vulchanova followed them both, a sleazy smile on his long face, and they were guided into a separate room. The applause from the Durmstrang students didn’t subside until Professor McGonagall called for silence.

She held her outstretched hand out to the Goblet and silence fell around the hall. This time the Goblet seemed to spit flames, light lilac in colour. It took longer for the two pieces of parchment but when they did, Louis heard a quiet hush at the Ravenclaw table next to them. The Beauxbatons students sat at the edge of their seats, some worrying their lips, others smiling reassuringly at their friends.

“The Beauxbatons students are Clara Bernard,” McGonagall said, waiting for the shouts to subside before reading the second name. “And Julia Comtois.” The applause for the second name was distinctly less enthusiastic and accompanied with some murmurs from the Ravenclaw table. Louis clapped politely as the two girls stood up and took each other’s hands, walking the length of the Great Hall to shake Professor McGonagall’s hand. The girl with sleek hair tied into a long plait—Clara—seemed to be whispering into Julia’s ear. Madame Maxime glided along behind them, her hands resting on their shoulders.

When they were brought into the second room a charged silence fell over the Great Hall. Students craned their necks to get a look at the Goblet. Even Professor McGonagall seemed particularly anxious to find out which students would be representing Hogwarts. She turned back to the Goblet and made the same hand movement, eyes narrowing. It took her longer again this time; the flames seemed to swirl and tumble endlessly until finally, one piece of parchment flew into the air.

Professor McGonagall caught the slightly blackened piece and pursed her thin lips. She remained silent. Restless chatter broke out but her eyes remained trained on the Goblet, anticipating the second name.

“Who do you think it is?”

“Merlin, it could be anyone, really.”

“She doesn’t look happy, that’s for sure.”

“Who is it Professor?” a sixth-year Gryffindor called.

“Nobody will be selected until their partner is too,” she said firmly. “And sit down, Miss Doyle.”

A chorus of chatter broke out once more as the blue flames swirled like a whirlpool and a second piece, smaller this time, sprang from the Goblet. Liam gripped his shoulder and smiled nervously.

“It’ll be alright, mate,” Louis said. He turned back to Professor McGonagall who had turned away from the Goblet, both pieces of parchment clutched in her hand.

“The Hogwarts champions,” she called, pausing to relish the silence, “are Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles.”

Shouts, gasps, a smattering of applause, and the crash of a goblet on the floor all erupted at once. Louis’ jaw dropped. He felt himself be pushed to his feet, shocked, and shoved by various hands towards the front of the Great Hall. The Slytherin and Gryffindor tables, it seemed, were overjoyed by the prospect of having one of their own represent their respective houses. Everyone, however—Harry and Louis included—was astounded that they could be picked together.

Louis felt his feet carry him to Professor McGonagall, her face illuminated by the subsiding blue flames. Hands patted his back along the way and he felt someone ruffle his hair. He felt as though he was being dragged by an invisible rope to the front of the hall.

“Congratulations, Mr Tomlinson,” McGonagall said with a rare smile. Louis shook her hand and stood awkwardly beside her as they watched Harry saunter down the Great Hall, his eyes locked with Louis’ and looking very much like he wanted to kill him. It fazed Louis more than he would ever admit.

Harry stopped in front of McGonagall and Louis tried to listen to their quiet exchange but the shouts and applause had grown louder and the two of them were drowned out by the noise. Louis tried to catch Liam’s eye but couldn’t spot him in the mass of Gryffindors hollering and shouting. He saw Niall standing on the Hufflepuff bench fisting the air and chanting his name. Despite everything, he couldn’t help but smile at the sight of them.

“Off you go, inside now,” she said, ushering them into an adjacent room Louis had never been in before.

Louis determinedly avoided Harry’s glare and walked into the cold, tall-ceilinged room. There were cabinets lining the walls and small relics, phials and other instruments he didn’t recognise inside. The other four champions were standing by a roaring fire and they whipped around when they saw Harry and Louis.

“Ah, Mee-nerva,” Madame Maxime said. “We ‘ave been awaiting your arrival for some time now.”

Professor McGonagall spoke quietly with her and Louis stood at the edge of the group, as far away from Harry as he could. Clara and Julia were huddled together, whispering in rapid French. Louis startled when he felt someone stand beside him, making more room beside the fire.

“You seem cold,” Leif said. His voice was deep and his low tone seemed to travel through the room.

Louis smiled and stepped closer to the fire, heating his hands as he tried to grasp exactly what had just happened. He thought back to that morning, when he had put his name in the Goblet. It struck him that he had never really thought the circumstances through. He had pictured himself lifting the Triwizard Cup, just like every student who entered, but he never considered it more than a fantasy. He hadn’t thought he stood a chance. It all seemed so unrealistic, so unlikely, that out of all the eligible Hogwarts students he was chosen and was paired with Harry Styles on top of that.

Professor McGonagall caught his attention, glancing around at each of the champions. Louis didn’t think he imagined the way her eyes lingered sadly on him.

The door swung open then and the Heads of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, and International Magical Co-operation, Mr MacFarlan and Miss Achernar, came in with a flurry of papers and robes.

“Terribly sorry, Minerva,” Achernar said. “Hold up at the Ministry this evening had us all drowning in paperwork.”

“Ah! So, these must be our champions then!” MacFarlan said enthusiastically. He shook hands with each of them, winking unabashedly at Harry and Louis, muttering a small “Hogwarts for the win, eh?”

 “Now, as you’re all aware, you will compete in three separate tasks,” Achernar said, rather more professionally. “These will test your combat abilities, your intellectual strength of mind and, importantly, your teamwork skills”. She pressed her lips into a thin line. “I needn’t remind you that getting external help from another student or professor is strictly forbidden. You must work together exclusively.”

“Ven vill the first task be?” Alexander asked.

“Three weeks from tomorrow,” she said promptly. “It will take place in front of the other students and a panel of judges. You will be armed with your wand only. And each other, of course.”

Louis glanced up to find Harry glaring menacingly at Leif.

“Very good indeed,” MacFarlan said. “I say, I’m looking forward to this first one. It should challenge you all rather immensely and I’m sure you’ll put on quite the show for us judges, too.”

“Elmer!” Achernar chastised. She smoothed the front of her robes and cast her eyes around the six of them. “Now, you will all be required to keep up your studies this year but owing to the rather time-consuming nature of the Triwizard Tournament, you will be exempted from all your exams. Apart from the tasks themselves and some likely press interviews, you’ll also be required to attend The Weighing of the Wands tomorrow.”

“I think that’s it, isn’t it Minerva?”

“Yes, that’s everything. I suggest you all have a good night’s rest. You’ll have classes first thing,” she said, glancing between Harry and Louis, “but the Weighing of the Wands will be during lunch.”

They went their separate ways, Madame Maxime guiding Clara and Julia straight out of the room. Vulchanova stood in front of the Durmstrang twins and muttered something that prompted them both to stomp their feet in unison and make a gesture resembling a salute. They left the room, Louis catching Leif’s eyes wander back to him. He felt slightly unnerved now that he knew he was the competition, though he couldn’t deny that it was a nice change to be noticed by another boy.

“I must get going, Minerva,” Achernar said, stuffing her wand in the pocket of her robes. “Good luck over the next couple of weeks,” she said, nodding to Harry and Louis. Before they could thank her, she had left the room at a quick jog. Louis thought he saw something close to nostalgia cross over Professor McGonagall’s face and wondered whether she was a past pupil of hers.

“Well then boys,” MacFarlan said exuberantly. He clutched Harry and Louis’ shoulders and pushed them together until their shoulders knocked, smiling between them as though he was a proud, if slightly drunken, uncle. “Excited, are we? Ready to get the win for Hogwarts?”

“You know very well that I wouldn’t expect anything less, Elmer,” Harry said, smirking deviously.

MacFarlan led out a roaring laugh. “Harry, my boy, never change! Just like your father, you are. Same looks, same wit, same ambition. How is he, actually?”

Louis felt Harry stiffen beside him.

“I wouldn’t know,” he said eventually, voice empty of emotion.   

“Right, right. Well, give him my best nevertheless. His only son a Slytherin Triwizard champion? I’m sure he’ll be very proud of you for this.”

He turned around and nodded at Louis. “And I had the pleasure of being at school with your mother. Tomlinson isn’t it?”

“Yeah, I’m Louis,” he said, shaking MacFarlan’s hand firmly.

“Excellent, excellent,” the man said to himself. “Well boys, I best be off or old Epsie will have my head.” He flashed a winning smile at Professor McGonagall and followed behind Achernar out the door.

Louis suddenly realised that it was only him, Harry and Professor McGonagall left in the dimly-lit room.

“How are you both feeling?” Professor McGonagall asked kindly, surprising them both.  

Louis smiled self-deprecatingly. “A bit nervous, Professor,” he admitted.

Harry scoffed.

“As if you’re not nervous too, Styles,” Louis snapped.

“At least I’m not being a little bitch about it.”

“Language, Styles,” Professor McGonagall scolded. “That’s five points from Slytherin House.” She looked between them, eyes narrowed, and then sighed exasperatedly. “I shouldn’t have to remind you to keep your temper in check, Mr Styles. You’re not only representing yourself; you’re representing Hogwarts too.”

Harry nodded stiffly.

“Despite your rather obvious differences, you’re going to have to work together,” she said firmly. “The other competitors have probably already picked up on the fact that you couldn’t even stand beside each other. Don’t let them single you two out as easy targets this early in the Tournament.” She sighed and pointed towards the door. “You’d best get back to your respective common rooms. I suspect your houses will want to celebrate their new champions.”

Louis smiled at her and Harry pushed past him. Louis wheeled around followed, trotting behind him.

“Styles! Wait!” he called.

The Great Hall was empty when they returned and the ceiling above them was dark and murky. Harry’s steady footsteps rang loudly as he strode down the centre aisle.

“Wait! Just wait for one fucking minute, Styles!”

Harry whipped around, eyes dark and seething. “What is it, Tomlinson?” he hissed.

“Stop acting like such a prick, would you? I’m trying to talk to you.”

Harry closed his mouth, glowering. “Then talk.”

“Well,” Louis sighed. “I don’t know what that was, and I don’t know why we were put together but we’re going to have to make this work. Whether you like it or not, we’re in this for Hogwarts.”

“Like you could feel anything for Hogwarts. You arrived, what, three days ago?”

Louis pursed his lips. “That doesn’t matter. We were both picked and these tasks are going to be made in a way that forces us to work together. Just— we’re going to have to do that if we want any chance at winning. McGonagall already said the others have singled us out as the weak links—”

“What McGonagall said doesn’t mean shit right now,” Harry said. “The other champions can speculate whatever they want. It’s only winning the tasks that’ll prove otherwise. And that’s what I’ll be doing.”

With that he turned on his heel and strode out into the Entrance Hall.

“What you’ll be doing?” Louis said incredulously. “In case you’ve forgotten, we’re in this as a team. You need me.”

“I don’t need anyone.”

Louis laughed derisively. “Oh, drop the mysterious loner image, Styles. Nobody fucking buys it,” he snapped.

“You know, for someone who’s trying to get me on your side, you sure are doing a terrific job.”

Louis watched Harry saunter past the staircase and towards the tall, oak doors leading out to the grounds.

Alohomora.”

“Where are you going?”

“Keeping tabs on me, now, are you Tomlinson?” Harry said sharply.

“No, I— you know what?” Louis said exasperatedly. “I don’t give a fuck. Just don’t expect me to heal your burns this time.”

Louis marched in the opposite direction, furious. Who did Styles think he was? He couldn’t bring himself to accept a simple offer of truce so that they could make it through the Tournament alive, let alone have a chance of winning. He barged passed the Bloody Baron along the way and stomped up the staircase until he reached the entrance to the Gryffindor common room.

“Fatum placuit,” he muttered to the Fat Lady. The painting swung open and he felt two arms pull him inside. The Weird Sisters’ new song blared and he was met with an onslaught of shouts and cheers from people he had never spoken to before. Streamers and mini fireworks sprang from wands throughout the circular room, some spelling his name, others saying rather rude things about the other Hogwarts champions. He was engulfed by the crowded common room.

“Hi Louis,” one particularly eager girl said, latching onto his arm. “I’m Loretta. I was so thrilled when your name was called. I just knew—”

“Riley,” another boy said, pushing past her and thrusting his outstretched hand in Louis’ face. “Nice to meet you, mate. Pleasure, really. My dad’s talked a ton about your parents and—”

“Congratulations, Louis,” a girl said, pressing her claw-like grip on his arm. “You’ll do it for Gryffindor won’t you? We don’t claim that Muggle-hating Slytherin bastard but we’re rooting for you.”

“I actually don’t think he hates Muggles but—”

“So, you’ve been paired with Styles, huh? There’s a spot of tough luck if ever I saw one,” a second boy interjected, dragging Louis towards the centre of the room where a table teeming with delicacies had been set up. “You’ll need someone to rely on, you know, what with him as your partner—”

“Louis?” a familiar voice called urgently.

“Liam, mate, thank Merlin’s hairy bollocks,” he said, muttering apologies and pushing past a couple of fourth years who had been smiling at him hopefully.

He felt Liam’s strong arm latch onto his waist and he pulled Louis up a short flight of stairs where he could finally hear himself think. It was then that he saw Liam’s sad smile.

“It shouldn’t have been me,” Louis sighed eventually. He sat on the lower step and dropped his elbows on his knees. “You should have been chosen. I don’t know what I was thinking, really.”

“Stop,” Liam said firmly. “It’s not supposed to be about whether or not you should’ve been chosen. You were and Styles doesn’t deserve a partner half as good as you.”

“Oh, sod off, you softie,” Louis laughed. “I can’t even be a Gryffindor champion when most of the people down there only found out I existed half an hour ago.”

Liam smiled despite himself. “I’m sure even the straight Gryffindor lads are going to start drooling at your feet now and slipping you love potions so you’ll take them to the Yule Ball.”

“Bunch of fucking social climbers, the lot of them,” Louis sighed, but his mind was elsewhere. Despite the distractions—the Yule Ball, the photoshoots, the bets and predictions—he kept picturing the tasks that lay ahead of him, imagining himself in some kind of danger and knowing that Harry would save himself over Louis in a heartbeat.

“Mate, it’s going to be fine. I’ll be there, won’t I? And Zayn’s about the smartest person I know and he said he’d help too.”

Louis smiled sadly. “That’s all well and good before the tasks, but Styles is the only person I can rely on during the tasks themselves.”

Liam grimaced. “Just— let’s get back down there and enjoy the attention before—”

“I die in the first fucking task?”

Liam sighed wistfully. “I forgot how dramatic you were.”

 

*

 

Louis hadn’t heard Harry arrive back to their dormitory the previous night, so when he woke up, he was surprised to see him sprawled out on his bed, fully-clothed with Cassiopeia and Abrax both tucked under his arm. The morning light made him look younger, Louis thought, as he pulled on his robes and spent longer than he normally would fixing his hair until it resembled a feathery quiff.

Harry groaned and rolled onto his back, causing Cassiopeia to leap from the bed with a hiss. Harry’s mouth was completely agape and he snored lightly, his chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm.

Louis glanced at his watch and noticed that they only had fifteen minutes until their Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson. He debated leaving Harry to sleep but thought the better of it, reasoning with himself that this was the first step towards something close to a less strained relationship with him.

Louis prodded Harry’s shoulder with his wand. “Styles,” he said. “Wake up, we’ve got DADA in a few minutes.”

Harry’s head turned towards Louis and he seemed to snuggle closer into his bedsheets.

“Styles,” Louis said more loudly. “Wake up.”

Harry murmured something into his pillow. Louis considered using Aguamenti over him but figured he might end up in the hospital wing if he did.

“Wake up, Harry,” he sighed.

Harry jolted awake and startled at the sight of Louis, jumping back and banging his head on the headboard before reaching for his wand. It was only then that Louis realised he had been standing rather close.

“What the fuck?” Harry spat. His tone, devastatingly rough from sleep, made Louis’ insides squirm.

Louis shook his head. “It’s just— DADA starts in ten minutes and I figured I should’ve—”

“Why the fuck didn’t you wake me, you prat,” Harry demanded, pushing himself off the bed and rushing to the mirror.

Louis glared at him, the squirming of his stomach replaced by intense irritation. “That’s what I was doing!”

Harry ignored him and pointed his wand to his chest, smoothing the creases that had gathered from spending the night in his robes. Harry caught Louis’ eye in the mirror as he was combing his fingers through his hair. He raised an eyebrow. “What are you looking at? Piss off.”

Louis rolled his eyes. “Why do I even bother,” he muttered. “I’m going to class. Don’t expect me to wake you again.”

He slung his satchel over his shoulder and stormed out, letting the door slam and rattle behind him.

 

*

 

Louis’ morning lessons passed in a flurry of note-taking and half-listening to his professors droning on about various methods to approach nonverbal defensive charms and the eating habits of Venomous Tentacula. He had to weave in and out of the crowds, grateful for his height for the first time in his life as he went relatively unnoticed when he kept his head down and stuck beside Liam or Niall. By the time lunch rolled around he had almost forgotten about the Weighing of the Wands. He only managed to grab a slice of Yorkshire pudding to take with him before Professor McGonagall was pulling him and Harry by the elbows up four flights of stairs to a small classroom.

They found Leif and Alexander standing beside one of the windows overlooking the Great Lake. Julia was whispering to Clara and seemed visibly upset about something. Louis watched Clara rub small circles on Julia’s hip, over her robes. The three other people in the room—MacFarlan, Achernar and Mr Ollivander—stood together in the opposite corner of the room.

“Ah! Our final two,” Mr Ollivander enthused, nodding between the two of them. “We can begin, then.”

“Terrific!” MacFarlan exclaimed. He winked at Harry and Louis, and gestured to them all to take a seat.

Louis sat between Leif and Clara, leaving Harry to the seat at the end of the row. Mr Ollivander sat primly opposite them, muttering to himself as his eyes swept across them all.

“I believe I sold only two of you one of my own wands,” he said, eyes focusing on Harry and Louis. “Let’s leave you two until last then, shall we? Let’s see… Clara Bernard? May I have your wand?”

Clara looked unwilling to depart with her wand but Julia nudged her and she pressed it into Mr Ollivander’s palm. “Ah, yes, Poplar wood, I see. Rigid. Eleven and a quarter inches; rather long for someone of your stature. And the core?”

“Unicorn tail hair, Meester Ollivander,” she said stiffly.

He nodded to himself. “Not the most powerful of cores for the kind of magic you’ll be using during the Tournament but the wood certainly compensates for that,” he said. His long, thin fingers flitted to the tip of both of the wand before he nodded. “Very well, Miss Bernard.”

Julia went next, followed by Alexander. Louis caught Harry’s eye the second time Mr Ollivander made a slightly snide remark about another wandmaker’s preference. Mr Ollivander reached for Leif’s wand next.

“Aha! Now this is certainly an unusual wand,” he said quietly. “‘One will never fool the cedar carrier,’ as my father used to say often. Very good for Dark magic, indeed. Fourteen inches precisely and a nice flexibility to it, too. The core?”

“Basilisk horn,” Leif said, sitting up straighter in the rickety chair. “Passed down from my grandfather.”

Mr Ollivander observed him curiously for a moment before holding the wand out for Leif. “It’s rather unusually attached to you,” he noted before setting his hands on his lap. He seemed to remember the final two wands he had left and beamed between Harry and Louis. “Which of you would like to go first?”

Harry pulled his wand out of his robes and Mr Ollivander’s sagging cheeks pulled into a smile when he touched the dark wood. “Ah yes, I remember this one rather well. Blackthorn, isn’t it? A rather unusual wood and one traditionally bestowed on warriors. It is a curious feature that the blackthorn bush, which sports wicked thorns, produces such sweet berries after the harshest winters.”

Louis glanced over to watch a tentative smile stretch across Harry’s lips.

“Now, fourteen and a quarter inches long, but then again, you’ve rather large hands. Dragon heartstring, is it?”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said proudly. “From a Hebridean Black. One of the longest ever found off the coast of Scotland seven years ago. He was over thirty-four feet long, apparently.”

Louis wanted to reach across and shake the boy on the opposite side of the room and ask what he had done with the real Harry Styles. The Harry sitting with his long legs planted on the floor, smiling eagerly at Mr Ollivander as he spoke resembled the Slytherin he had woken up that morning in nothing more than appearance.  

“Mr Tomlinson?”

The squeaky voice caught his attention and he thrust his jet-black wand into Mr Ollivander’s hand.

“I remember this one clearly,” he said slowly. “Ebony, rather bendy and certainly the ideal wand for all manners of combative magic. Suited only to the most courageous and single-minded of witches and wizards,” he said, glancing up to catch Louis’ eye. “Eleven and a half inches. Phoenix feather core, if I’m right.”

“Yes, sir, that’s right,” Louis said. He felt Leif shift forward in his chair.

“Excellent,” Mr Ollivander said with a watery smile. He reluctantly handed Louis’ wand back to him. “Why, it’s rather lovely to reminisce on wands sold and passed down through the years.”

“You’re finished, then, Ollivander?” MacFarlan said loudly from where he and Achernar had been talking quietly. “Wonderful. Right, you’d better get back to class before McGonagall has your heads.”

Louis placed his wand back in his robe pocket and felt a tap on his shoulder. Leif stood with his chest puffed out, hands clasped behind his back. Louis absently thought he looked like he was going to salute him.

“Louis?” he enunciated slowly. “Your vand core… it is phoenix feather. Vere I am from, phoenix feather is given only to most powerful vizards from pure-blood line. That is the same in Britain?”

“No,” Louis said shortly. “Phoenix feather wands are available to any witch or wizard. It doesn’t matter if they’re pure-blood or not.”

That seemed to placate Leif. He smiled warmly before glancing over Louis’ shoulder.

“Do you need something, Alexander?” Louis heard Harry ask sharply.

Louis’ whipped around to find Harry scowling between them.

“My name is Leif,” he huffed.

“Harry, Louis—a word?” MacFarlan asked from across the room.

Leif looked between them and shoved his wand into his robes before trudging out of the room.

“What the fuck was that?” Harry hissed to him when the door shut. “Why were you talking to him?”

“He asked me a simple question, Styles,” Louis said, refusing to meet his eye. “It didn’t have anything to do with the Tournament.”

Before Harry could reply, MacFarlan swooped down towards them, eyes gleaming. “So, boys, how are we feeling? Had a good rest to mull everything over?” He didn’t wait for a response before his smile grew wider. “Good, good. I just want you both to know that if you need anything—a bit of guidance, a nod in the right direction—don’t hesitate to go looking for it. I promise you that old Vulchanova won’t hesitate to help his boys, and neither will Maxime. Even if McGonagall’s a bit of a stickler for the rules, doesn’t mean you have to be at a disadvantage.”

“You know me, Elmer,” Harry said with a wicked grin. “Hogwarts has nothing to worry about when it comes to winning. I may not follow all the rules, but at least I have principles.”

MacFarlan’s booming laugh sounded around the small classroom. “Good, good. As long you know that we’re all rooting for you to win, whatever the cost. Take care of yourselves, boys.” He patted both of their shoulders and looked between them, lips stretching into a wide grin.

He left soon after, leaving only Harry and Louis in the classroom.

“Didn’t know you were interested in dragons,” Louis said, avoiding Harry’s eye.

“You wouldn’t be alone in that,” Harry said stiffly. “Why were you talking to Larson?”  

“You heard us, Styles,” Louis said exasperatedly. “He was asking about my wand, not sabotaging us.”

Harry nodded tightly before whipping around and leaving the room. Louis followed behind him.

“So, do you study Care of Magical Creatures then?” he asked, jogging to match Harry’s long strides.

“What is this, the Wizengamot?”

“Merlin’s beard, Styles, it’s a simple fucking question.”

 “No,” Harry sighed eventually. “I— I couldn’t fit it into my timetable.”

You couldn’t fit it into your timetable?” Louis said incredulously.

“’S what I just said, you prat.”

“I don’t believe you,” Louis said, trotting down the stairs behind the other boy and jumping over the final trick step. “You’d never let something like that stop you from doing what you’re passionate about.”

Harry’s footsteps halted and he wheeled around. “What I’m passionate about,” he said slowly, “is not your concern.” He whipped back the sleeve of his robes and glanced the thick-banded watch on his slim wrist. “I’m late for Charms.” With that he stormed down the hallway, glaring at two first years worrying their lips and holding their timetables upside down.  

Louis rolled his eyes. He smiled one of the first years. At least he could show them that not every seventh year in Hogwarts was an unapproachable, arrogant git like Harry.  “Need a hand?” he asked them kindly.

 

*

 

“Now, you two stand at the back… yes, very good. And Miss Bernard, is it? Yes, you sit beside Mr Tomlinson and cross your legs like Miss Comtois. No, the other way. Perfect. Big smiles this time, please, this is for the front page of the Daily Prophet.”

The photographer had become mildly impatient at Harry’s refusal to smile, which meant that he had spent the last ten minutes repositioning them all so that the rest of their bright beams would take the focus off Harry’s permanent and irresolvably stubborn scowl.

Louis was just about ready to throttle Harry. Harry knew that Louis hadn’t finished his Transfiguration essay and that their next lesson was scheduled straight afterwards. Louis guessed that delaying the photoshoot and leaving no time for him to write the last half-foot on the uses of epoximising was Harry’s form of revenge for the previous night. Harry had sauntered into their dormitory to find Liam sitting on his bed. He blamed Louis, naturally, for allowing Liam into their dormitory, but Liam hadn’t escaped without boils erupting all over his skin. Louis had been anticipating Harry’s retaliation against him all morning but, then again, delaying Louis and securing him extra homework seemed a bit tame for Harry.

“Now, I’d like to snap a couple shots of the each of the school champions together, if you will,” the photographer said. “I think the Prophet are doing individual articles on each of the schools. Beauxbatons first, shall we?”

As Julia and Clara were already in a relationship, it was easy work photographing them; they sat, their cheeks pressed daintily together, hands intertwined, their glimmering teeth matching their bright eyes. If Louis didn’t already know the context, he would have guessed they were posing for a wedding photograph.

“Wonderful, ladies,” he called, motioning for Leif and Alexander to take their places. He instructed them to stand shoulder to shoulder, with their hands clasped behind their backs. Neither of them smiled but the similar firm line of their mouths and steely glares were enough to make them look like a team.

The door swung open and a petite woman with a knowing smile waltzed inside. She spotted the photographer who looked like he would rather be swallowed by the rickety floorboards than have to face her.

“Clem, darling. I’ll let you finish up with the others before I get started. You carry on!” she said with a shrill voice. The woman marched over to one of the windowsills and leaned against it, eyes darting to every person in the room.

“Now, last but by no means least: Hogwarts,” the photographer said, somewhat less cheerful than before the woman’s arrival. He raised an eyebrow expectantly between Harry and Louis, who had somehow managed to stand as far away from each other as possible in the small confines of the unused classroom.

Louis dragged his feet over to stand next to Harry, who leaned against the wall, arms folded.

The photographer scrutinised them both, eyes flicking back and forth as though trying to figure out a particularly difficult maths problem. “How about you rest your arm on Mr Styles’ shoulder?” he asked Louis.

Harry snorted derisively. “He’s too short to reach.”

Louis glared at him. “Gives me a better angle to knee you in the bollocks, Styles.”

“Perhaps not,” the photographer sighed. “Mr Styles, could you put your arm around Mr Tomlinson’s shoulders, then.”

Harry glowered but didn’t protest. He tentatively reached behind him and placed his hand on Louis’ shoulder. Louis felt his cheeks heat up. He fidgeted with the cuff of his robes and willed himself to ignore the sensation as Harry’s fingers pressed into his shoulder.

The photographer took his position behind the camera set-up but not a moment passed before he emerged from the black cover. “Do try to look like you can stand each other’s company, boys,” he pleaded.

It was no use, however. They looked contrived and forced and Harry periodically dug his fingers into Louis’ shoulder, as though his arm was spasming, which caused Louis to wince.

“That’s not it, then,” the photographer sighed.

Harry dropped his arm to his side instantly.

“Is it the burn?” Louis asked. “Don’t tell me you managed to make it worse.”

“It’s just flaring up again,” Harry gritted out.

“Clem, darling, this is taking far too long. You know how it is; places to be, people to meet, lives to live. I’m going to go ahead and start with these lovely ladies,” the woman called. Louis noticed her leading Clara and Julia to an adjacent classroom and absently thought that she must be the Daily Prophet journalist.

“You could try the same pose as the Durmstrang lads,” the photographer said eventually. He pointed to where Leif and Alexander were sitting on two desks, speaking to each other in hushed voices.

He positioned them beside each other and instructed them the same way but quickly shook his head. “No, no, that won’t work.”

Louis silently agreed. They looked like a poor imitation of the Larson brothers, but not a fraction as menacing.

“I’m trying to help you boys,” he sighed eventually. “You’re not going to get much support if you don’t look like a team.”

“We don’t need photography shoots to help us win,” Harry muttered under his breath.

Louis whipped around to glance at Harry, his eyebrows drawn together. It was the first time he had referenced to them as a team. Harry, it seemed, had realised that too, if the way he pointedly refused to meet Louis’ eye-contact was any indication.

“By the time I win the first task, nobody will be paying attention to this shit anyway.”

The photographer shook his head. “Boys, if you’re not going to co-operate, you’ll just have to have separate portraits.”

“Fine by me,” Louis said at the same time Harry said “I couldn’t agree more.”

They wrapped up soon after and the two of them, along with Leif and Alexander, were sent into the other room.

“After you,” Leif said, opening the door for Louis.

Louis smiled tightly and went through. It felt rather strange that Leif was acting particularly nice to him. With the rest of the kids his age at Hogwarts, he had only ever had innocent, fleeting summer romances before. If Leif wasn’t his opponent, Louis thought, he would’ve been able to appreciate his flirting. As it was, however, he couldn’t help but feel both wary and suspicious.

They went inside a large room with various armchairs, the walls covered in overflowing bookshelves.

“Harry and Louis!” a voice exclaimed. They were dragged further into the room Louis supposed was the staff room. Louis spotted Clara and Julia storming out, both looking indignant. “Has a lovely ring to it, doesn’t it? Harry and Louis.

“Audrey Sherry-Robinson,” she said with a toothy smile. She fell into one of the patterned armchairs, crossing her thin legs, and indicating for them to do the same. “We’re just going to have a little chat, alright? No need to be nervous. I’m here to show the word the very best versions of yourselves.” Her eyes lingered on Harry.

Louis sat beside Harry on the beige sofa opposite her. He noticed Harry was already irritated but seemed to be making a point of being polite to her.

She extracted her wand from her mahogany robes and produced a frivolous quill and notepad. “So, Harry, how are you feeling about the first task? Nervous?”

Louis snuck a glance at Harry to find him smiling amusedly.

“Not nervous, no,” he said. “I’ve no doubt that I’m going to win this Tournament so I have no reason to be nervous.”

She seems delighted by this piece of information, scribbling frantically on her notepad. “I hear you’re quite the model student. No doubt you’ve been getting help from your favourite professors.”

Harry laughed uproariously. Louis felt rather unnerved by the sound.

“A valid effort,” Harry said eventually, still grinning, “but I’m fully aware that we can’t get any external help besides our teammates.”

“Ah, yes,” she said tartly. “And how are you getting on together?” She smiled deviously between them.

“Perfectly fine,” Harry enthused.

Louis gaped openly at him. He felt Harry snake an arm around his shoulders before he realised what he was doing and tried to arrange his features into something closer to mild surprise.

“Our skill-sets definitely complement each other,” Harry said easily. “Louis’ very talented at Transfiguration. I haven’t seen him duel yet, but I’ve no doubt he excels at it.” Harry turned towards him and smiled stiffly. “We’re looking forward to working together over the next few weeks, for sure.”

She pursed her lips and looked distinctly disgruntled, as though her carefully-formulated plan had been sabotaged by Harry himself. “Thank you, Harry,” she said. “Now, do tell me, how are your parents?”

Harry’s smile fell instantly, his entire face contorting into an expression of rage. He snatched his arm back from Louis’ shoulder and rose to his feet, glaring furiously at her. “If you mention anything beyond my parents’ names, I’ll make sure you’re never commissioned to write for another newspaper again,” he snarled.

Harry leaned down, making a fuss of tying his shoelace, and whispered, “Play along, Tomlinson. I know what I’m doing,” before storming out of the room. The door shook on its hinges and left Louis and the reporter in the strange stillness of the professors’ lounge.

Louis suddenly felt very helpless. Harry’s touch had been firm but fleeting, leaving him disoriented and acutely aware of the woman intently watching his every move. He turned back to her and tried to smile sympathetically. “He gets like that sometimes,” Louis said with a breathless laugh that sounded fake even to his own ears.

“Not to worry,” she said brightly, waving her arm in dismissal. The bangles across her arm shimmered in the weak light. “I expected as much from Macleod Styles’ son.” She leaned forward in her armchair and smiled invitingly. “So, how do you feel about your teammate? Confident you’ll win the first task?”

“Oh—er—yes, very confident,” he said carefully. “Harry’s… a really great teammate. Like he said—”

“Louis,” she sighed impatiently. Louis despised her patronising tone. “There’s no need to lie. He’s gone. You’re perfectly entitled to speak the truth.”

Louis wanted to laugh. As if Harry being in the room or not mattered; either way, an article would be published about his hatred of Harry. If he told the truth, he might as well book himself a permanent hospital bed in St. Mungo’s.

“No, it’s the truth,” he said with more vigour. “Harry’s really great at—er—Potions and everyone says he’s one of the smartest in the year. It’s great to be able to have him as my teammate.”

“And what about you?” she said sourly, regarding his response with readily apparent distaste. “Why did you enter the Tournament? What are you looking for? Fame? Glory?”

“Definitely not fame,” Louis said, slightly startled by the way she had leaned all the way over to observe him more closely. “I suppose I thought it would be a challenge and I guess I wanted to make my mark, being new to Hogwarts and all that. And the prize, of course. Getting to work as an Auror would be really amazing, I’m sure.”

She nodded primly. “Perfect,” she drawled. “That will be all, Louis.” With that she motioned Leif and Alexander over to the couch without paying Louis a second glance.

Louis scurried out of the room, shut the door behind him and ran straight into a hard chest.

Oof!”

He stumbled back and found Harry smirking at him before he schooled his features into his familiar scowl.

“What did you say?” Harry demanded. “Did she ask you the same questions?”

“You can take the wand out of your ass, Styles; I kept up the lie.”

Harry sighed. “Good. What did you say about me?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Louis said, rubbing his head.

Harry didn’t look amused. “Tell me, Tomlinson.”

Louis dropped his hand and tilted his head to the side. “Or what? Going to hex your favourite teammate? The person who ‘compliments your skillset’?”

Harry rolled his eyes rather than reaching for his wand. “Don’t flatter yourself,” he said before marching down the hallway. Louis thought he saw a small smile playing on his face.

“I thought you said nobody would pay any attention to the photoshoots and articles once you ‘single-handedly’ win the first task, anyway,” Louis said. “Why did you bother lying?”

“That interview’s different,” he said shortly.

“How?”

“Read a fucking book, Tomlinson,” Harry sighed. He avoided Louis’ eye, busying himself with checking the contents of his satchel. “Journalists like her are… like vultures. They cling to any tiny, insignificant thing you say and twist it into a story. If we appear like anything less than best friends, she’ll write her whole piece on how Hogwarts are destined to lose.”

“So? That’s not going to change our chances of winning.”

“Not exactly,” Harry muttered. “But it’s almost impossible to salvage a tarnished reputation.”

Chapter Text

The article was published exactly one week later. One of the Hogwarts barn owls swooped down the next Wednesday and dropped the Daily Prophet onto Louis’ lap. The first thing he noticed was that their single portraits hadn’t been used. Instead, a large photograph of Harry’s arm perched over his shoulder, twitching while Louis winced beside him took over the entire top half of the opening page. Harry kept glancing over to him in the photograph, his expression unreadable. Louis poured himself a tall glass of pumpkin juice—though he knew that even the strongest Firewhiskey wouldn’t calm his anxiety—and started reading.

HOGWARTS TO LOSE THEIR WINNING STREAK IN THE TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT? AUDREY SHERRY-ROBINSON UNCOVERS THE RIFTS, THE RIVALRIES AND THE INTERNAL DIVISION BETWEEN THE TWO HOGWARTS COMPETITORS

They are both, quite literally, walking, talking House stereotypes. Despite the attempts of the Hogwarts Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall, to forge unity between the four houses, like notorious Gryffindors and Slytherins, Tomlinson and Styles can’t hide their hatred of each other. Clearly these two Hogwarts Triwizard candidates slipped through the gaps of her plan. (To read more about McGonagall’s disastrous initiatives at Hogwarts since her predecessor, Dumbledore’s, death, see page 5.)

Harry Styles, 18, is a charming boy with quite the anarchic, devil-may-care attitude one might expect of someone of his lineage. The only child of the renowned, if controversial, Macleod and Philippa Styles, he is the epitome of the teenage rebel distancing himself from his parents’ views (though perhaps not their wealth) by entering this dangerous tournament to find his own identity. When I meet him on a showery morning in early September, just three weeks before the first task, he is polite, if distant, with me and shockingly sour to Tomlinson. Speaking only to rebut something the Gryffindor seventh-year says, he sits in the corner of the airy, wallpapered delight that is the Hogwarts Staff Room. Something tells me that there’s more than a pretty face behind this elusive Triwizard competitor. When I ask him about his mental state mere weeks before the death-defying tasks he must endure, he tells me quite plainly that he is confident in his ability to win.

“And what about your teammate?” I ask, already sensing the tension between the two. “Do you think that you will mesh well together to overcome the first task?”

Previously exuding nonchalance, Styles becomes suddenly stiff at the mention of his Triwizard partner and sworn enemy. “I have no doubt that Hogwarts will win the first task,” he tells me. “I will make sure of it with or without his help.”

Naturally, I find this highly intriguing and I probe Tomlinson for further information after Styles merely shrugs in response to the rest of my questions. By this stage in the interview, I can positively see the fumes coming out of the new Gryffindor student’s ears. He was listening to his teammates interview and, quite evidently, did not like what he heard. Styles, since, has wandered to the opposite side of the room and I assure Tomlinson that he is unable to hear our private discussion.

The rumours of their loathing of each other have been escalating since Tomlinson, son of former Hogwarts professors Rosaline and Oberon, whose questionable decision to home-school their son and reject Hogwarts teaching received extensive criticism, joined the school.  

“Do you think you’ll be able to overcome your difficulties to succeed in the first task?” I ask, watching him hang his head in defeat. The youngest, yet speculatively the most underestimated competitor, Tomlinson, 17, certainly doesn’t have high hopes for the upcoming task.

“I don’t know how we’ll do it when he can’t even look me in the eye,” he mourns. I pat his shoulder sympathetically as he details the failed attempts to have a relationship with Styles “just to get through the tasks,” he says. “I used to want us to get past this rivalry but he’s not making it any easier.”

I get the impression that there’s more than just frustration that Styles won’t work alongside him on his part. I ask whether he considers Styles a competitor to the same extent as the other students of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang.

“Oh, definitely,” he tells me solemnly, his candid tone telling me more than words could express. “He’s willing to take me down to achieve all the glory on his own so I need to consider him as a competitor. We’re in this alone.”

I’m also curious about the real reason I suspect Tomlinson joined the school: to avoid following the pre-destined, limited profession that his parents had. I ask him whether he has greater ambitions than teaching in mind. He tellingly avoids the question, muttering something about “achieving more than what people expect of me” and his determination to become an Auror. It’s certain his parents will have a thought or two about their son’s ruthless ambition.

Our time is out, then, and I leave the two seething at each other. Let’s hope the first task doesn’t involve any dragons because I’ve already seen enough mutual distrust and fiery passion for one day.

Louis had hardly finished reading the final sentence, already indignant, when he heard Harry’s ridiculously loud footsteps cross the Great Hall until they stopped behind him.

“Want to make some more noise, Styles?” Louis quipped. “Just to make sure everyone hears how pissed off you are?” He turned around to find Harry standing rigid, his shoulders tense and fists shaking at his sides.

“What is this shit?” Harry all but shouted. He whipped out his wand and although he kept it pointed at the ground, Louis recognised from his stance that he was ready to hex him. “You told me you stuck to the fucking story when I left.”

“I did, you bonehead,” Louis hissed. Half of the Gryffindor table had stopped their conversations to eavesdrop. “And put your fucking wand away. I never said any of that shit. She twisted the story for both of us, in case you haven’t noticed… ‘ruthless ambition,’ my arse.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “Looks like you still managed enough time to weep in her arms about how much of a bully I am, apparently.”

Louis rose up to a fuller height and glowered at Harry. “Well you are a fucking bully, Styles, so that shouldn’t come as too much of a shock.”

Enough!”

They swivelled around and found Professor McGonagall standing before them, looking between them furiously. Her thin lips were almost invisible and her eyes were alert, darting between them both.

“Follow me,” she ordered.

Louis snatched the newspaper and followed behind her, Harry in tow. He ignored the unabashed stares they received from every student in the Great Hall that morning. He had no doubt that by the end of the first lesson, the whole school would know about both the article and their fight.

They rounded concealed corners and went up three flights of stairs and down another two on the opposite side of the castle. By the time they reached the gargoyle entrance to the Headmistress’s office, Louis felt more irked that he hadn’t remembered to bring his slice of marmalade toast than angry about the article. Harry, it seemed, was still fuming.

“Lemon bon-bon,” McGonagall said with an impressively impassive expression.

She brought them through to the small circular office. Louis craned his neck to see the endless portraits of past Hogwarts headmasters and headmistresses lining the walls, the cabinets brimming with various instruments, and the ornate tapestries carved into the ceiling above them.  

“Sit down, both of you,” she said. She spent another minute looking between both of them. “Give me the article, please, Mr Tomlinson.”

Louis handed her the paper and they sat in silence while she read. The portrait on Louis’ right kept arguing with the bearded man above him, making them rather amusing entertainment. He felt Harry’s glare burn the back of his neck.

Professor McGonagall sighed heavily. “Evidently, this is neither of your faults so you can stop pointing fingers at each other immediately,” she said, her gaze lingering on Harry. “I understand this is not a particularly favourable article about either of you, but you’re going to have to move on from it.” She turned squarely to face Harry. “Do not threaten that woman, Mr Styles. I’m not dealing with another complaint about you from the Daily Prophet.”

Harry shifted his position on the upright chair but didn’t counter her.

“Regarding your little scene in the Great Hall,” she sighed. “I expected better of you, Mr Tomlinson, and your behaviour was unacceptable.”

“Yes, Professor,” Louis said, “but he accused me of snitching to that woman when I never—”

“Oh, don’t pretend like you haven’t been waiting for the right time to go crying to somebody about me,” Harry snapped.

“Be quiet, Mr Styles. You very well know that’s not true,” McGonagall said. “I’m deducting fifteen point from both of your houses and giving you both detention with me tomorrow evening. Your punishment should be much more severe but this situation is obviously undesired on both sides of the Galleon.” She sighed exasperatedly. “You need to learn to tolerate each other at the very least and set aside your differences. The first task is in two weeks; you’re supposed to be fighting whatever obstacles the first task presents, not each other.”

 

*

 

The following morning, a handsome tawny owl swooped down and dropped a piece of mail into Louis’ lap for the second time in two days. He knew from the loopy handwriting on the front that it was from his mother; he could only be relieved that it wasn’t a Howler. Louis opened with it reluctance, ignoring the knowing look Liam shot him from across the table.

Louis, my darling,

Just a few lines to let you know that your father and I are constantly thinking about you. As you probably have too, I read this morning’s (to you, yesterday’s) Daily Prophet and was rather upset. I’m sure that awful woman twisted your words as she’s known for doing, and I want to reassure you that no one at home truly believes what that article says.

Naturally, we were both quite shocked and, initially, angry, that you didn’t tell us you were submitting your name to the Goblet (although, as your father just pointed out, we probably should’ve known that you would). We will, of course, be in attendance for the first task and are looking forward to seeing you again. Your father is planning on bringing a set of dress robes for you to wear at the Yule Ball, too (although, between you and me, I question his fashion choices sometimes).

I wanted to be angry, Louis, I really did, but over the last little while after seriously considering it, all I can wish you is luck. You are such a strong, independent boy and I know you’ll be more than capable of handling anything the Tournament throws in your path. If you find yourself doubting your own abilities, or whether you can go on any further, just remember how far you have come.

We also read that you’ll be competing with a Styles. We never really talked much about the Dark supporters during Voldemort’s reign while you were growing up because we didn’t want you to be exposed to those kind of mindsets (and, selfishly, neither of us wanted to dwell on what is now mostly in the past). But, as you’ve probably been told by now, that family is bad news. All I’ll say is stay aware. Put your safety first and always question his motives. His father is known to have a way of manipulating people to get what he wants, and, though he was never proved to have any ties with Voldemort, Macleod certainly wasn’t opposed to his ideals. I know there has to be a certain level of trust between you and Styles in order to succeed in the tasks but don’t let it extend beyond what’s absolutely necessary.

All my love,

Your mother.

Louis slumped back in his seat and tried to ignore the prickling in his eyes.

“You alright, mate? Your parents weren’t too mad, were they?” Liam asked.

Louis smiled rather unconvincingly. His mother’s familiar voice rung in his head and he suddenly craved her presence. “Everything’s good, yeah. Just— strange being away from them this long, y’know?”

Liam smiled sympathetically. “You’ll see them soon, though, won’t you? I’m sure they’ll come to the first task. Not long yet ‘til then.”

“Thanks for the reminder,” he muttered, biting his slice of toast moodily.

 

*

 

Detention that following evening was an arduous task; they had to pair together the O.W.L and N.E.W.T exam results of every student since 1940. According to Professor McGonagall, it was part of the new school policy that an individual reference, including both sets of exam results, be given to the employer of every graduated Hogwarts student. Louis thought she just needed an excuse to force them to work together on a task.

They were sat on the hardwood floor of a small office with a patch of mould on one of the corners, sifting through papers.

“They’re already divided into N.E.W.T.s and O.W.L.s,” Harry said, dropping one stack of files onto the floor. “We’ll keep them divided and put them in alphabetical order first and then pair them at the end.”

“No, that’ll take too long,” Louis said, heaving a pile of duty folders from one of the cupboards. “We should divide them by year and then match them.”

“That’ll take even longer again, you prat.”

“Not like you’ve anything better to do, Styles,” Louis snapped, already dividing a stack of piles by year. Harry had been avoiding any contact with him outside class hours. For the last four nights, he had snuck off after dinner in the Great Hall and wasn’t in their dormitory when Louis woke up. Louis had a vague suspicion he was going to the Forbidden Forest, if the mud on his shoes and the fabric tears he sometimes spotted at the seams of Harry’s robes were anything to go by.

“What I do with my time is none of your business,” Harry said sharply.

“It is if it’s going to affect our chances in the first task.”

They hadn’t received any indication of what the first task could involve yet. Louis knew from past Triwizard Tournaments that the champions sometimes only found out what they were to face minutes before the tasks themselves began.

Harry hung his head over the file he had been staring at. “It is,” he said finally. “At least I think it is.”

Louis snapped out of his musing to raise an eyebrow. “What?”

Harry turned to face Louis, teeth sinking into his bottom lip. “I’m not talking about it here,” he said lowly. He seemed conflicted, lip twisting and eyes narrowed. “Tonight… I’m going again tonight.”

Louis’ eyebrows shot together and he noticed that Harry couldn’t quite meet his eye. “Is this your way of asking me to come with you?”

“For my own benefit,” he snapped. “You need to know what we’re up against so that you don’t fuck it up for me.”

Louis didn’t dignify that with a response, surprised as he was that Harry had offered to help him, help them, even if he had a selfish motive for doing so.

Louis turned his attention back to the enormous stacks that surrounded him. “How about we make this a competition?” he said.

Harry lips quirked into a smile. “Deal.”

“If I win—”

“Like that’s going to happen.”

“—then you have to wear Gryffindor robes for a week,” Louis said.

Harry managed to make his responding smirk rather unnerving. “Fine by me,” he said. “When I win—”

If you win.”

“—then Abrax is staying with me during the Christmas holidays.”

Louis whipped around from where he had been dividing the files between them. “What?” he squawked.

Harry didn’t look up from where his index finger was dancing over one of the sheets. “You heard me,” he said evenly.

Louis grappled with a response. “No,” he said firmly. “You’re not taking my cat with you to whatever dark, evil layer you live in for two weeks.”

“I’m staying at Hogwarts over Christmas,” he said, flicking through a bundle of files lazily.

Louis shook his head. “But… why? What’s in it for you?”

“I don’t have to explain myself, Tomlinson. It’s a bet.”

Louis gaped at him. “Fine,” he said eventually. “But I’m only agreeing to this because I know that I’m going to win.” He didn’t tell Harry that he too was planning on spending Christmas at Hogwarts. He didn’t much fancy going home only to be killed by his parents for entering the Triwizard Tournament.

Harry didn’t respond, merely flicking his wand and dividing the workload evenly between them before diving forward to start. Louis smiled despite himself.

Harry lunged forward straight away, raising an eyebrow when Louis merely flicked through some of the files listlessly. He was interested to read the grades of some people he knew or surnames he recognised, but by the end of the first hour and with a quick glance at Harry’s slowly diminishing pile, he sped up. Harry kept surreptitiously sliding some of the files over to Louis’ side, to which he responded by throwing a crumpled sheet at Harry’s head.

Two hours later, minor sabotaging on both their parts, and a sore back from bending over so long, Harry finished first. Louis huffed, leaning against the countertop.

“Well that was easy,” Harry said smugly. He swished his wand and the neat files flew back into the cupboards lining the walls.

“Cheat,” Louis spat.

“Nobody likes a sore loser, Tomlinson,” Harry said condescendingly, swaggering out of the small office.  

“Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”

 

*

 

After feasting on a particularly delicious dinner of garlic bread and shepherd’s pie, Louis dragged his feet back up to his dormitory, sated and exhausted after a long day. Harry was already there, hunched beside his bed and sifting through his trunk.

“Where are we going, then?” Louis asked.

Harry ignored him, frowning into his trunk.

Louis rolled his eyes and wandered over to his desk, pulling out his Herbology essay on the links between Fanged Geranium and the Muggle War of the Roses. The howling wind outside, the constant sound of items being thrown out of his trunk, and Harry’s muttered swears dulled behind him as he immersed himself in his work.

He was scrawling his conclusion when his quill slipped from his fingers and shot into the air. He wheeled around, indignant comment about to roll off his tongue, when he saw Harry directly behind him. He stood bare-chested, eyebrow raised, with Louis’ peacock feather in his hand.

“What are you doing?” Louis said. His voice sounded foreign to him, breathy and flustered.

Harry eyed him curiously, before nodding to the enormous pile of clothes on his bed. “Looking for something,” he grunted. “We’re leaving as soon as I find it, so get ready.”

“Just use Accio,” Louis said, rolling up his parchment.

“None of my belongings can be summoned.” Harry bended over the pile and threw his clothes and books back into his trunk. The view Louis was given shouldn’t have been as appealing as it was.

“I should have known you’d be the type to curse your own stuff,” Louis said. He tucked One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi back into his satchel and crossed the room, avoiding looking at Harry’s back muscles. He glanced through the circular window beside his four-poster and sighed at the sight of the murky sky and raging wind outside.

“We’re going to the forest, aren’t we?”

Harry pulled on his hooded robes and stuffed something small and pink into his pocket. “Yes,” he said stiffly. “Not another word about this until we’re out of the castle.”

The clock hadn’t struck curfew yet but there were only a few students lingering in the hallways, most having returned to their common rooms. They made their way down the tower and passed the portrait of Edessa Skanderberg who demanded loudly where they were going.

Silencio,” Harry said, jerking his wand.

Louis raised an eyebrow.

“She’s never liked me,” Harry muttered.

Louis snorted. “Join the club, Skanderberg.”

They rounded the corner and continued down the Grand Staircase. They crossed the Entrance Hall and were almost at the great oak doors leading out of the castle when Louis saw a harassed-looking Professor Longbottom walking towards them. He had a long piece of parchment in his hand and seemed to be reading it under his breath.

“Quick,” Louis whispered urgently. He shoved Harry behind a knight in shining armour, wincing at the momentary clatter of metal. He heard Harry grunt and tried to cover it up with a loud, almost obnoxious cough.

“Merlin’s beard, Mr Tomlinson,” Professor Longbottom exclaimed, looking up to find Louis directly in front of him. “Gave me a fright there.”

“Sorry, Professor,” he rushed out. “Just— just on my way back from the library. I was returning a book for that Fanged Geranium essay.”

“Oh, excellent,” Professor Longbottom said with a proud smile. “How are you getting on? I’m sure you’ve got it all under your belt but you know I’m always willing to help in my free time.”

“Thanks, Professor,” he said with his best imitation of a winning smile. “Yeah, all good with me. Never been much interested in Herbology before all this practical work, you know. Mostly learned the theory bits with my dad. We can’t exactly keep Devil’s Snare in our greenhouses or the Muggle neighbours might start asking questions.”

Professor Longbottom smiled sympathetically. “I’d imagine it’s not the same. That’s great to hear you’re enjoying it so far. If you ever need anything, my office door is always open,” he said. He lifted the parchment rather awkwardly. “Best get back to this. Good night, then.”

“Night, Professor,” Louis said on a relieved breath.

Professor Longbottom passed Louis, returning to the piece of parchment and turned to go up the staircase. Louis waited a moment until he was out of sight until he motioned for Harry to come out. Harry emerged from the knight, wand in hand and looking very much like he wanted to hex him.

“Shove me into a knight again and you’ll wake up tomorrow at the bottom of the Great Lake.”

Louis rolled his eyes. “Not one of your best threats, Styles,” he mused. “I quite like swimming, actually.”

Harry knocked him against the nearest wall, unused as he always seemed to be by Louis' reactions. He loomed over Louis, hand attached to Louis’ shoulder. “I mean it, Tomlinson,” he said darkly. “Without me, you’d be going into the first task without a troll’s brain about what to expect. You should be grateful that I’m bringing you with me tonight, so fucking act like it.”

Harry barged past him and to the double doors, thrusting them open. Louis fixed his robes angrily and slumped behind Harry, grimacing at the sight of the sheets of rain falling across the castle grounds.

“They’re not going to like this weather,” Harry muttered to himself. He stomped out into the rain showers and directly into a puddle. Louis followed.

“Where are we going, then?” he shouted over the wind whipping past them as they stumbled down a muddy patch near Hagrid’s cabin.

“Just follow me.”

They crossed the small pumpkin patch and reached the edge of the Forbidden Forest. They whipped out their wands and Harry barrelled forward while Louis teetered on the edge.

Harry turned around, his long, wet hair stuck to his face. “I thought you Gryffindors were meant to value bravery,” he sneered. “Hardly a redeeming quality when you don’t even possess it.”

Louis glared at him and shouldered past him. “You know you can’t expect to look intimidating with hair like that,” he said. “You look like a drowned Acromantula.”

“At least I could take on one,” Harry said. “Not like you could say the same.”

They were more sheltered beneath the thick canopy of trees the further they ventured into the forest. Harry led them down a path with various markings on some of the trees, remaining within sight of the edge of the forest. If Louis strained his eyes, he could still make out the flickering lights of the castle.

They heard a sharp sound and the rustle of leaves. Louis stepped closer to Harry, eyes darting around them. After a moment, they heard the rustle again.

“I’m going to go over and—”

“No,” Harry hissed. “Why, in the name of Merlin, would you approach the danger? Just— walk. I’ll look ahead, you look there.”

Harry gripped the hood of his robes and directed Louis deeper into the forest while he watched the spot where they heard the noise. After ten minutes with no noise apart from the distant howling of the wind, Louis turned back around.

“We’re close,” Harry muttered.

They weaved between the thick trees and dodged the darker crevices of the forest. Suddenly, they saw a sudden flash of orange light in the distance. They edged closer, approaching from the side until they came to a small clearing about fifty feet away. There Louis saw a moss-coloured creature with a long snout crouched in a huge cage.

“It’s a dragon,” Louis whispered, horrified.

Harry narrowed his eyes at him, as though personally insulted by Louis’ tone. “This girl is a Common Welsh Green to be precise. Not nearly as dangerous as some of the others they have a bit further in the forest.”

“What? What others do they have? I thought the last Triwizard Tournament made them fight dragons,” Louis said frantically.

Harry huffed, rolling his eyes. “They have two others: the Ukrainian Ironbelly and the Saudi Scarlet-Tongue.”

“One for each of the teams, then,” Louis said.

They spent the next five minutes quietly observing the Common Welsh Green, curled around herself in the corner of the cage. Her eyes were shut but they could see the steady rise and fall of her chest. Every couple of minutes, she exhaled through her nose, sending a thick cloud of smoke and sparks onto the charred ground around her cage.

“I called her Faunus because she tends to eat sheep,” Harry announced conversationally.

Louis whipped around and found an expression close to awe colouring Harry’s features, his eyes glimmering as he watched the dragon stir in her sleep. Louis desperately wanted to make a snide comment, or question Harry about his interest in dragons, or stomp his foot at how intangible he was. He remained silent.  

“Where are the dragon’s handlers?” he asked.

Harry sighed. “With Diane, I suspect.”

Diane?”

“Dionysus, but I call her Diane,” Harry explained quite contently. “She’s been unsettled the last two days so they spend most time with her.”

“Right,” Louis said, still beyond baffled by Harry’s change of tone. “Can we see her?”

“Are you as thick as you look?” Harry said sharply, returning to his usual demeanour. “I just told you that all the handlers are with her. I can’t risk them seeing either of us.” Harry glanced at his watch. “Besides, I still need to finish practicing the Bird-Conjuring Charm for McGonagall. And so do you, for that matter. From what I saw of your practical work in our last lesson, a troll could have brandished his wand more precisely.”

Louis rolled his eyes and followed Harry back to the school, anticipating snuggling into his warm, toasty bed with Abrax curled beside him.

 

*

 

“So, what do you think the task will involve if we’re not actually going to be fighting the dragons?” Louis asked from his position lying upside down on his bed, revising the chapter on Undetectable Poisons in Advanced Potion Making.

Five days had passed since the night they had visited the Common Welsh Green for the first time, and they had since been twice again. Louis had seen the Ukrainian Ironbelly in the distance on a clearer night. Enormous, metallic grey in colour and boasting of vicious talons, Louis sincerely hoped that they weren’t confronted with him.

Harry finished fixing his tie before responding. “I don’t know exactly,” he said carefully. “I haven’t gotten close enough to see yet.”

“Well then what do you think we’ll be doing?”

“Stop irritating me and read up on McGonagall’s assignment,” Harry snapped. “I don’t fancy you causing my grades to fall because you can’t manage a simple Cross-Species Switch.”

Louis scowled, snatched his book and stormed out of the room, shutting the door with a slam.

Harry had been acting particularly volatile recently; every time they approached treating each other with something less than disdain he would shoot a snide remark or ignore Louis completely.

He grabbed a slice of scrambled eggs on toast before leaving for his Herbology lesson with Niall.

“Heard that Achernar and MacFarlan are comin’ to the school today to give you your clues for the first task,” Niall said as they set their bags in one of the cubby holes in the greenhouse.

“How is it that whenever there’s a rumour, you’re always the first to know?” Louis said, pulling on his dragon-hide gloves. He absentmindedly thought that Harry would probably disapprove of such gloves.

Niall shrugged. “I get around. Besides, you’d better watch out for those Durmstrang lads. I’d bet my left bollock they’ll try to sabotage you two before the competition. Give ‘em a bit of an advantage, you know?”

Louis sighed in agreement as Professor Longbottom handed out their corrected assignments. Despite the ‘O’ in the top corner of his essay and the supportive smile Professor Longbottom sent him, he couldn’t help but feel consumed by the sense of immediacy that accompanied the first task.

 

*

 

“Now, gather around, please,” Achernar said as they left the separate corners they had confined themselves to.

They were congregated in an unused classroom to, as Niall had correctly anticipated, receive their Triwizard clues. 

The champions huddled closer around Achernar. Louis felt Leif sidle in behind him. Someone coughed loudly.

“Alright, everyone, the moment you’ve all been waiting for,” MacFarlan enthused. “As you’ve probably worked out by now we’re here to inform you about your first Triwizard Task.”

“It will take place in eight days at nine-thirty and you will be required to meet us two kilometres north of the Quidditch pitch,” Achernar said. “Don’t bother finding the place before then as it won’t contain any hints as to what your task will involve. Everything has been pre-designed and Professor McGonagall has allowed for a temporary Portkey into Hogwarts to bring the set-up straight here beforehand.”

“Excellent,” MacFarlan said. “Now, for the task itself. It’s going to require sharp perception and, believe it or not, nurturing skills too.”

“Vhy vould we need to nurture?” Alexander grunted. “Is this not a tournament?”

Louis silently agreed with him. He thought back to the way Harry seemed to handle the dragons, cautiously, yet with a gentle nature. Perhaps they would have to mind the dragons, nurture and care for them in a way that would keep them placated despite their aggressive tendencies?

“It is indeed,” MacFarlan said. “This particular task just requires a different kind of thinking.”

“You’re also going to need to pack a small bag of belongings that will, naturally, be searched before you’re admitted into the task,” Achernar said. “You should include only personal essentials like clean clothes and very basic sanitary items. We don’t plan on reducing you to savages without toothbrushes for twenty-four hours.”

“Will we be allowed back to the castle at all during the task?” Louis asked.

MacFarlan and Achernar exchanged a look.

“We can’t disclose that just yet,” she said.

“We’ll take that as a no, then,” Harry said.  

Achernar turned towards him, her usually composed demeanour becoming rigid. She narrowed her eyes and clutched the files in her hand to her chest importantly. “You can deduce what you very well like, Mr Styles,” she said sharply, “but that doesn’t make me want to prove you right or wrong.”

Harry seemed to take a lot from her reaction, smiling knowingly and considering her for so long that MacFarlan looked away awkwardly. Louis couldn’t tear his eyes off the two of them.

“You’ve met my father, I see,” Harry said suddenly.

Achernar looked disgruntled but not particularly surprised by Harry’s response. “We had better get back to the Ministry. Good day to you all and good luck with your preparation.”

She left with MacFarlan, muttering under her breath.

“Well zat was not useful at all,” Clara huffed. “Zey might as well ‘ave told us nothing at all.”

Louis noticed that Leif and Alexander were already in deep conversation, both arguing in their mother tongue. When he turned around, Harry was watching him intently. Louis walked over towards him reluctantly.

“Are you surprised?” Louis asked. “Sounds to me like we’re going to have to care for one of them.”

“Not surprised,” Harry grunted. “Suspicious. It’s too easy.”

Louis hummed, inclining his head to where Alexander was gesticulating wildly. Leif kept pointing to the window, in the direction of the Forbidden Forest.  “Seems those two have figured out about the dragons.”

“I know they have,” Harry said. He stormed out of the room without paying Louis a second glance.

Louis felt like throwing his hands up in exasperation. Whenever they approached something akin to restrained camaraderie, Harry pulled away fiercely from him. It was infuriating and always seemed to leave Louis with an unsettling urge to follow Harry.

 

*

 

The next morning marked one week before the first task. Louis awoke to an empty dormitory as usual, though, for some reason, the sight of Harry’s neat bedsheets and Cassiopeia and Abrax curled on top made him feel strangely empty. He showered quickly before casting a hasty Hot-Air Charm through his hair and pulling on his robes.

The hallways were mostly empty as students above second year and guests had been given permission to visit the village of Hogsmeade. Louis trotted downstairs, thoughts revolving around the prospect of spending a full day with Harry. Despite resolutely ignoring him for the entire previous day to the point where Louis was seriously entertaining the idea of hitting him with a Bat-Bogey Hex, Harry had suggested the previous night that they use the time to research in the library and visit the dragons.

“Morning, Lou,” Liam said as Louis sat beside him at the mostly-empty Gryffindor table.

Louis piled his plate with buttery toast and fried egg. “I’m going to need my sustenance today for dealing with Styles,” he grumbled.

Liam laughed. “I honestly don’t know how you’ve gone this far without him seriously injuring you. You can’t be that good at blocking his spells.”

“Well, maybe I am,” Louis said. He smeared raspberry jam on his toast. “Besides, he doesn’t try to curse me nearly as often as he used to.”

Liam glanced at him with a glint in his eye. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he has a little crush on you.”

Louis scoffed loudly, shovelling a corner of toast into his mouth. “As if,” he said indignantly. “He treats me like Blast-Ended Skrewt dung on his shoe.”

Liam’s eyes widened suddenly and he glanced behind Louis, mouth twisting. Louis ignored him, memories of Harry’s cold dismissal of him the day before consuming his thoughts.

“He may not have hexed me the last couple of days,” Louis said, letting all the instances of Harry’s nasty temperament flood back, “but he’s come close more times than I can count. He’s vile and arrogant and the second we finish this task he’ll go back to being the same prick he was before this tournament.”

“I’ll be in the library, then, Tomlinson.”

Louis whipped around at the sound of a sleep-rough voice; the tone was laced with something close to forced nonchalance. Louis caught the sight of Harry’s slouched, retreating back, his confident strut not quite as confident as usual.

Louis’ heart sunk and he felt a heavy weight of guilt weight down his shoulders. “Styles! Wait!” he called. He dropped his toast, ignoring the curious look Liam gave him and ran along the central aisle of the Great Hall after him. He reached out to grab the sleeves of Harry’s robes but Harry shook him off.

“What is it?” he said impatiently.

Louis watched his upturned lip and his narrowed eyes.

“I— I shouldn’t have said that to Liam about you,” he said quietly.

Harry sneered.  “If you think I give a shit what you think about me then you’re sorely mistaken, Tomlinson,” he said. Louis noticed that the lofty arrogance that Harry usually exuded was faltering, though his voice was steady and spiteful. “I’m putting my dislike of you and every Gryffindor bastard aside so that I can get through this task. I’d appreciate it if you get your head out of your arse and do the same.”

Louis felt the guilt in his chest subside instantly.

Louis rose up on his feet, glowering at him. “That’s fine with me so long as you’d actually listen to me for once,” he shouted. He hadn’t anticipated quite how loudly his voice would echo beneath the high-ceiling of the Entrance Hall but he found the ringing extremely satisfying, despite the attention it would undoubtedly draw. “Believe it or not, we’re supposed to work as a team. This isn’t just about you.”

“Well then stop bitching to Payne and help me so that neither of us get killed next Saturday,” Harry yelled.

Louis opened his mouth to retort before he saw Professor McGonagall storming towards them.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she hissed. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire school could hear you both.”

Louis had the grace to look contrite.

She glanced between Louis’ guilty expression and Harry’s sneering indifference. She sighed with something close to defeat. “I don’t know what you expect me to do,” she said. “You two need to learn to overcome whatever issues you have with each other if you have any hope in succeeding in this task.”

“’Elping your Triwizard candidates, are you, Mee-nerva?” Madame Maxime asked, gliding down the corridor towards them.

Professor McGonagall whipped around. “Certainly not,” she said stiffly. “I was doing quite the contrary.” She turned back to towards them, eyebrows pinched together. “Ten points from Gryffindor for shouting in the corridor and ten points from Slytherin for foul language.”

“But Professor—”

“No buts, Tomlinson,” she said. “Now off you go and make yourselves busy.”

Harry snatched the side of Louis’ robes and dragged him towards the library.

“I can walk perfectly fine on my own,” Louis snapped, slapping Harry’s hand away. Louis marched ahead of him and into the Restricted Section of the library.

“Where do you suggest we start?” Louis asked, staring at the narrow rows brimming with shelves. He flicked his wand and a book entitled A Guide to Dragon Feeding Patterns soared towards him.

Harry pulled out one of the oak chairs and placed his bag on the table. “Not with that, anyway,” he said sharply, plucking it out of Louis’ hand. “We’re not researching dragons in general, Tomlinson. They’re individuals. Those three have specific needs. We’re finding out what makes them tick and then we’ll work from there. That is, if your incompetence doesn’t get in the way too much.”

 

*

 

“I think I found one that gives instructions on how to block fireballs but I don’t know how effective it would be if we got the Saudi Scarlet-Tongue,” Louis called. Despite the fact that it was only him and Harry in the library, Madam Pince hissed “no talking in the library” with particular vigour.

Louis was kneeling on top of one of the tables, reaching up to grab A Comprehensive Guide to Blocking, Deterring and Repelling Curses on one of the taller bookshelves. “You see, there was this thing I read in my Muggle Studies textbook that said that a mad wizard once bewitched a Muggle cannon to shoot fireballs and it was used during one of the Muggle wars. I think there was something about how they blocked the fireballs with a particular curse that dragon-tamers use nowadays— What are you looking at?”

Harry’s eyes shot up from where they were lingering on Louis’ ass. “Don’t flatter yourself,” he said.

Louis scoffed inwardly, secretly pleased that even the great Harry Styles couldn’t resist his magnificent arse.

“I remember Binns droning on about that once too,” Harry continued, unperturbed. “They used Exite Globus Igneus. There’s also wizards who work with dragons who transfigure fireballs too.” He frowned at Louis. “Why’re you even up there?”

“This book doesn’t respond to Accio so you have to get it manually,” he sighed, snatching the book only to fall back on the table. “The more you try to summon it, the harder it resists.”

Harry paused for a moment, apparently debating his response. “Put it back, Tomlinson,” Harry muttered. “General dragon researching is not going to help us in this task; that’s what the Larsons and the Beauxbatons girls will do. We need specificity.”

’We need specificity’,” Louis mocked under his breath. “Fine. What do you suggest then, if you’re the expert?”

“Come here,” Harry said, taking a seat beside the window. Rays of light from the weak sun shone on the oak table where he placed a small stack of books.

Louis trudged over to him and curled into the floral armchair beside Harry.

“This here is a book on Middle-Eastern dragons,” Harry said, passing him a thick-bound book called Habitats, Enclosures and WelfareA Not-So-Typical Manual on Rearing Dragons. “Has a good piece on the eating habits and natural environment of the Scarlet-Tongue. It was badly translated from Arabic to English but you’ll get the gist of what’s being said.”

Louis noticed that Harry’s voice had become oddly mellow, speaking with ease and a gentler tone—one that Louis had never heard Harry use.

“This one is specific to Ukrainian Ironbellies,” Harry said next, handing Louis a book with a long scorch mark on the third page. “Think the wizard who wrote this was a bit of a fanatic. Started acting more dragon-like the longer he lived with them, according to his research partner.

“And this last one,” he said, heaving an enormous book with a strange discoloration onto the table, “specialises in dragon communication.”

Louis raised an eyebrow. “You’re pulling my wand.”

Harry’s calm demeanour instantly became rigid and he glared at Louis. “This isn’t some kind of joke, Tomlinson. Unless you want to get us burned alive next week, you better fucking read this.”

“So, you realise now that this is an ‘us’,” Louis said, pulling the first book into his lap. “That we actually need each other to get through this.”

“Well, considering that it required seven tamers to handle Diane last week, I’d imagine so,” Harry hissed. “I don’t need your spilled blood dirtying my hands just because you’re too incompetent—”

“No talking in the library” they heard from three shelves over.

“—or too proud to listen to what I say.”

Louis looked up to find Harry glowering. “I’m not too proud to read a fucking book, Styles. Just—never mind.”

He felt Harry’s burning stare as he busied himself reading but refused to look up. After a moment, Harry collapsed back into the armchair beside him and began practicing the Bird-Conjuring charm he had become so fond of. With the small trio of robins fluttering and chirping, and the morning sun bathing the illustrations in the books in a weak light, it was rather peaceful.

 

*

 

Two days after their study session in the library, Harry and Louis found themselves in the Forbidden Forest as planned. They snuck behind a Flutterby bush covered in nettles beside the small clearing. The sun was setting and they could make out the evening sky above the canopy of trees. They spotted the Saudi Scarlet-Tongue resting, the land around her crate charred and smoking in places.

“Keep low,” Louis whispered.

“Easy for you to say,” Harry muttered. He glanced up from the bush to check that the coast was clear before ducking down again. “Remember what I said: Diane is particularly vicious and she’s not acclimatising well to being at Hogwarts. Don’t do anything until I tell you to.”

Normally, Louis would protest to being ordered around, but he knew better than to question Harry when it came to dragons. From listening to him that morning explaining about their tendencies, their protective nature and their abilities, he could not only tell that Harry had an encyclopaedia of knowledge about them, but that he was also very passionate.

“Make some noise to alert her but don’t come out yet. She needs to know that there’s something out there before she actually sees you, otherwise she’ll go ballistic.”

Harry rustled some of the Flutterby leaves and stood on the crunchier fallen leaves, nodding for Louis to do the same.

They heard a sharp noise and a rattle of bars.

“Keep going,” Harry urged.

Louis stomped on the ground and Harry tore a branch from the bush and snapped it into smaller pieces.

A deep rumble and the scraping of claws against metal.

Louis felt his pace quicken as visions of an enraged dragon flooded his thoughts. The prospect of approaching the dragon suddenly seemed foolish and like the precise thing that his father had warned against when he had told Louis not to do anything his mother wouldn’t do.

Harry caught his eye, inclining it towards the cage. “Walk out, right, but don’t look at her. Pretend to mind your own business.”

Though every fibre in his body urged him not to, Louis nodded tightly. The assuredness of Harry’s tone absurdly comforted him. They both stepped out from the bush, Louis keeping his eyes trained on the ground and inching closer to the charred ground. Harry yanked him back by the sleeve of his robes.

“Not that far,” he hissed. “Stay away from the burned leaves. It means her range reaches that far.”

Louis gulped, his heart jack-rabbiting in his chest at the realisation that her range had to be close to thirty feet and that he could just as well be burned to a crisp by now if Harry hadn’t pulled him back.

They heard a low, suspicious grumble and the sharp scraping sound of talons.

“Keep making noise and don’t make any quick movements.”

Louis’ hands, clammy and cold, tingled by his sides as he tried to navigate his way. It was rather difficult to walk with his eyes trained to the ground. His heart thumped and he felt his head become light as every possibility of what might happen flooded his thoughts. He was approaching a dragon— willingly.

“Try and stand up straighter,” Harry whispered as they passed each other. “She responds better to confidence, otherwise she’ll think you’re easy game.”

It took another five minutes of making noise, the constant sound of grumbling and rattling of bars behind them, before Harry deemed them ready to look up.

“She knows that she’s trapped and can’t chase anymore so she’s relying on breathing fire now more than she’ll be during the task.”

“Terrific.”

The corners of Harry’s lips quirked into a small smile. “You go first.”

Louis breathed out shakily, making sure to stay out of the dragon’s range, and glanced up. He caught the Saudi Scarlet-Tongue’s eye instantly, the blood-red pupils latching onto him. Louis was suddenly conscious of Harry’s presence behind him, how he was observing his every move. He stood resolutely still, trying desperately to maintain eye contact (while every muscle in his body screamed run!).

The Scarlet-Tongue clicked her teeth, sending sparks out and rounded her scaly body to face him, a thunderous thump sounding as her tail smacked the floor of the cage. Louis glimpsed a flaming red, serpent-like tongue shoot out.

She stared back at him.

“Tomlinson,” he heard Harry say wearily, “step closer to her. She hasn’t reacted yet so that’s a good sign.”

“You look up first,” Louis said, not taking his eyes off her milky irises, injected with throbbing, red veins. Despite Harry’s ambiguous explanation, he had a fair prediction of what might happen if he broke eye contact with the Scarlet-Tongue, one which involved quite a lot of burned skin and a permanent bed at St. Mungo’s.

Harry hummed thoughtfully. “Well, I’m rather enjoying watching you, actually. So I’d rather not for the minute.”

“Styles,” Louis warned.

“She seems quite taken by you, actually,” Harry mused. “I’ve lost all respect for her.”

“Styles, look up now.”

The Saudi Scarlet-Tongue hissed and her long, twisting tongue darted out. She scraped her nails against the cage aggravatedly, eyes flicking between them both.

“She’s just overwhelmed,” Harry said lowly. He stepped closer to Louis. “Stay where you are and don’t lean forward. She perceives that as a sign of aggression.”

Harry shifted closer to him until she no longer needed to glance between the two, her sole focus on Louis again.

“She won’t stop looking at you. I’m going to get your wand for you,” Harry muttered. “Stay exactly where you are and I’ll put it in your hand. Then step closer to her.”

Louis nodded minutely, eyes straining from the intensity of the Scarlet-Tongue’s stare.

Harry reached behind Louis, patting the outside of his robes until he found Louis’ pocket. Louis ignored the flush of his cheeks. Harry plucked his wand out and slowly lifted it into Louis’ raised hand.

The zeal of the dragon’s gaze dulled and her tail dropped sharply.

“Go now,” Harry said.

Louis took a shaky breath, steeling himself, and stepped into the charred area, sidling around the edge.

Harry made a noise of approval. “She’s lowering her body,” he said. Louis thought he heard something close to delight in his voice, leaving him with a strange surge of confidence.

“Keep going before she changes her mind,” Harry urged.

“You better come here too, Styles. If I get killed because of you then I’m taking you with me,” he said through gritted teeth. He shuffled closer to the cage, crossing the blackened tree-stumps and scorched ground. The Scarlet-Tongue closed the gap between her corner and the railing closest to Louis. He teetered beside a half-eaten carcass.

“Keep going!” Harry whispered gleefully. “That just means she’s prepared for you to come closer.”

Louis stepped closer again, inching nearer to the side of the cage. He felt the bizarre urge to start laughing at the delight in Harry’s voice.

The dragon leaped from her hind legs, sending tremors through the cage and Louis startled. He heard Harry step directly behind him.

“Step closer,” Harry said. “I have you covered if she loses her temper.”

Loses her temper?” Louis said incredulously. “This isn’t your Great Aunt Agnes getting annoyed at Christmas when even the best magic won’t salvage her burned turkey, Styles. We’re dealing with a fucking dragon here.”

“You’re worse than fucking Moaning Myrtle,” Harry muttered. “Just keep going. I have absolutely no inhibitions about letting you be burned alive.”

“Then why are you standing right behind me?”

Harry remained silent.

Smiling in satisfaction, Louis walked reluctantly closer to the crate, pausing after each step. He came to a stop five feet away from the corner of the enclosure.

The Scarlet-Tongue seemed to realise this too and let out an almighty roar, shooting a crimson flame directly at him.

Louis fell back, screaming “Exite Globus Igneus!” at the same time a huge body of water, with the power of a breaking dam, erupted from Harry’s wand. The explosion of water quenching the flames rose around them, consuming them in a vast body of smoke. They collapsed back onto the solid ground, groaning, their robes smoking in some parts and soaking wet in others.

“Get off me,” Harry grunted.

Louis pulled himself onto his knees and lifted himself to his feet, wand at the ready. The smoke around them was enveloping them but it seemed the Scarlet-Tongue had stopped breathing fire. He couldn’t see her behind the thick smoke.

“She’s either very angry or very intimidated,” Harry muttered.

“Let’s hope it’s the latter. Remind me why we’re here again?”

Harry accidently banged into him in the mass of smoke. “I said get off me, Tomlinson,” he snarled. “We’re here so that you can get used to being around a dragon so I don’t have to sit through your funeral when I could be preparing for the second task. And maybe pick a shorter fucking spell next time.”

“Well, how about, ‘next time’ you warn me when Diane over there is planning on burning me to ashes so I can prepare my fucking spell choice in advance,” he shouted.

The smoke was starting to rise into the canopy of trees and Louis could make out bloodshot eyes staring through the haze.

“She’s looking at me.”

Harry seemed to perk up at that. “Okay, just— wait for the smoke to clear a bit so I can look at her stance. Don’t break eye contact this time.”

“I never did,” Louis snapped.

The smoke rose until a misty hue was left and there were only wisps of smoke coming off the burns of their robes.

Harry stepped closer, spotting how the Scarlet-Tongue was retreating to the corner of the cage. He watched the way her wings were turned inwards and her gaze was equally as penetrating

“I’ve never seen that before,” Harry whispered.

“Because you’ve had so much experience working with dragons.”

Harry ignored him, stepping nearer to the opposite side of the cage. “She’s responding to you really fucking well.” He whipped around. “Come closer, Tomlinson.”

Louis stepped to his right, still weary.

“Closer to her, not me, you imbecile.”

Louis’ cheeks turned a shade of dusty pink. He muttered something unintelligible about a need for clarification. Harry narrowed his eyes at him.

Louis came close enough to reach out and touch the bar, the Scarlet-Tongue in what looked to be a low, crouched position. “What spell did you use just there?” Louis said, raising his wand as he edged closer.

“Aguamenti Maxima,” Harry muttered. “Basic Charms, Tomlinson.” He observed the Scarlet-Tongue and Louis taking uneven steps closer. “She’s not going to attack.”

Louis nodded. Despite everything, he found comfort in Harry’s words. The firmness of Harry’s tone, though often infuriating, left him confident in Harry’s abilities. He moved close enough to poke the dragon with a long stick. “What do I do now?”

Harry paused. “Introduce me,” he said quietly.

Louis whipped around. “Excuse me?”

A low grumble.

“Maintain eye contact!” Harry hissed.

Louis wheeled back around, finding that the rumbling subsided instantly. “What do you mean, introduce you?”

Harry sighed. “You’re the one she latched onto first. She doesn’t trust you because you’d have to form a proper bond with a dragon for that, but she would consider you a friend rather than a foe should she be attacked.”

“Does she think that’s likely?”

Harry shrugged. “Depends on her lifestyle in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “You need to pull me over to her so that she sees that I’m with you. She’ll automatically latch onto the fact that not only are we together, but that you’re the one in charge.”

Louis almost laughed at the notion of Harry offering himself to be pulled over to meet a dragon. “I’m the one in charge?”

Harry tilted his head condescendingly, simpering mockingly. “Think you can act like you’re the one in charge, princess?”

“Fuck off,” Louis spat between his teeth, the pet name (despite Harry’s despicable tone) having raised the hairs on his arm. If there wasn’t an enormous dragon in their presence, Louis would show Harry exactly how well he could take charge when the situation presented itself. “I’m more than capable of—”

“Eye contact, Tomlinson.”

Louis met the Scarlet-Tongue’s eyes once more, anger still coursing through him at Harry’s patronising tone. She had lowered her head significantly, huffing and sending smoke out of her nostrils. Louis shifted along the edge of the railing until he was close enough to Harry to reach out.

“Just make a big show of bringing me over to her,” Harry muttered. “And have a chat with her.”

“Have a chat? About what? The fucking weather?”

Harry glowered at him. “Explain what’s happening to her,” he said.

Louis yanked the sleeve of Harry’s robes. “Aha!” he called loudly. “Diane! Look who I managed to catch. You’ll have a great big feast tonight!” He lifted Harry’s arm into the air dramatically and made to drag him over to the dragon.

Louis caught Harry trying to stifle a laugh before breaking out in a low snigger. Louis trod on his foot. He pretended to drag Harry closer to the Scarlet-Tongue, whose wings fluttered, but she otherwise stayed resolutely still.

“Stop tugging.”

“You told me that I’m in charge, Styles,” he said earnestly.

“Well, consider this time the last time,” Harry said under his breath.

They closed the gap between themselves and the Scarlet-Tongue.

“Let go now,” Harry said slowly, “and look at me so that I can make eye contact with her. She’ll take that as a good indication that you want her attention on me.”

Louis pursed his lips, parting his gaze with the dragon and turning towards Harry. He heard a low rumble, could feel the slight tremors on the Scarlet-Tongue dropping her foot against the iron base of the cage from such a close distance, even felt a spark fly onto his robes as the dragon exhaled. He watched the side of Harry’s face; his sharp jaw and dark eyebrows, the soot and frayed pieces in his hair, the charred collar of his shirt.

Despite the fact that the dragon was right there, the only thing Louis could focus on was the heat emanating from Harry and the faint smell of charcoal and sulphur encasing them both. Louis leaned over to pick a small twig out of Harry’s hair, or perhaps tuck one of the loose strands behind Harry’s ear to expose his jawline. As his arm was stretched, Louis caught himself at the last second and yanked his arm back instantly. What in the name of Merlin was he doing? Objectively, he knew Harry was astoundingly handsome but fixing his hair? Watching Harry out of the corner of his eye when there was a ferocious dragon beside him? If Niall saw him, he would probably drag Louis to Madam Pomfrey without a second thought.

Suddenly, Harry laughed; a real, hearty, genuine laugh that shot through the still air like a bullet. Louis watched his eyes light up in wonder, his lips parting as he gazed at the Scarlet-Tongue. He caught the way Harry’s expression softened, his features becoming fuller, less rigid and strained.

“This is unbelievable,” Harry said, more to himself than to the other two. “See the ridges on the tongue? Scarlet-Tongues developed that as a mechanism to cope with the extreme heat. Happened over a—”

The sharp crunch of leaves woke Louis from his stupor and caught them both off-guard.

“…saw smoke from here and thought someone was handling it.”

“…surprised that she would get like this again, and with nobody around, too.”

Harry’s panicked eyes met Louis’ as the strong Scottish accent of one of the dragon handlers drew closer. When Louis blinked helplessly, Harry bolted. Louis took a second longer before stumbling over his feet and sprinting behind him.

The Scarlet-Tongue rounded towards the noise, which was emerging from the same direction that Harry and Louis had taken that afternoon. Louis caught a glimpse of her bringing herself to full height, wings inching open until they spanned wide and magnificent.

Harry and Louis darted—Harry leading them—through a dense part of the Forest, their robes catching on sharp branches, ripping and tearing. In the distance, Louis spotted something brighter, fuller.

“Do you know where we’re going?” Louis called, once he knew they were out of earshot of the dragon handlers.

“Obviously,” Harry said, slowing down to a light jog. He let out a huff of breath and panted lightly for a moment. “These trees are the ones at the outskirts of the far side of the Forest, about a mile and a half from Hagrid’s cabin.”

As they came closer to the light source, he saw an enormous moon, a chunk bitten off near the top but otherwise full.

The trees were sparser here, and the small animals scurrying along the track were far less intimidating in the late evening light.

“Think Diane forgives us for abandoning her?” Louis asked as they reached the edge of the forest. He watched Harry smile privately, that private one he could never help whenever Louis called the dragon by her name.

“Absolutely not,” Harry said. “We’ll have to do that all over again tomorrow, except his time I’m making eye contact first.”

“Don’t tell me you’re jealous of a dragon’s affections, Styles,” he said incredulously.

“I’m not jealous,” Harry spat. “I just can’t believe she can actually tolerate you.”

As he turned on his heel, Louis noticed a small smile tugging at the corners of Harry’s lips.

Chapter Text

After changing out of his destroyed robes, Louis wandered down to the Great Hall later that evening to find that most of the students had arrived back from Hogsmeade. The Great Hall was full of bustling students, some still clad in their travelling cloaks and heavy coats, exchanging Honeydukes sweets and Zonko’s products that Filch hadn't managed to snatch from their hands. Louis spotted Zayn and Liam sitting together at the Ravenclaw table, Liam laughing loudly as Zayn smiled around a spoonful of treacle pudding.

“Did I miss dinner?” he asked, collapsing beside Liam.

“Yeah, mate,” Liam said. “Saved you a hunk of cottage pie, though.” He pushed a large slice towards Louis and leaned forward. “So, how was it? I’m sorry I couldn’t warn you about Styles being behind you earlier but I couldn’t even think straight and you were already ankle-deep in your rant.”

Louis waved him off. “’S alright, mate. We actually managed to get some preparation done.”

Liam made a noise of faint surprise. “Really? Do you know what the task’s going to involve, then?”

Louis widened his eyes at him. “Keep your voice down,” he said. A couple of students sitting opposite them kept glancing over, trying to eavesdrop. “I’ll tell you later.”

“I’m just surprised you managed to spend a day with him and come out at the end of it without a visit to the Hospital Wing,” Zayn said.

Louis hummed non-committedly. “Do you know him, Zayn?” he asked quietly, pulling the tall plate of pudding towards him.

Zayn considered Louis’ question before nodding reluctantly. “My family does. He acts very differently around his own family.”

“Like what?” Louis asked. He hoped that Zayn didn’t notice the avid curiosity colouring his voice.

“Still arrogant just… more reserved,” Zayn said carefully. “Doesn’t speak unless absolutely necessary and has a weird relationship with his father. When we were quite young, Styles seemed to worship him and hate him at the same time.”

Louis swallowed his pudding uncomfortably. “Right,” he said quietly. His thoughts kept revolving around that last suggestion that, despite everything he gathered from Harry’s demeanour and reactions whenever his father was brought up in conversation, he still admired him.

Students started getting up from the benches, sated and ready for a quiet night in after their visit to Hogsmeade.

“Where’re you off to now?” Louis asked, folding a piece of pastry crust in a napkin to bring to Abrax and Cassiopeia and slipping it into his satchel.

“Meeting with McGonagall,” Liam sighed.

“Library,” Zayn said. “I have to return a couple of books before Madam Pince skins me alive.”

“I’ll come with you,” Louis said. “I have to get out a few that Styles said I should read.”

Zayn narrowed his eyes. “You’re getting on that well?” His voice was curious rather than accusatory, but Louis still felt sheepish.

“No,” Louis rushed out. “Definitely not. Not at all. It’s just— he knows his stuff for this first task.”

Zayn nodded. “I wouldn’t trust him beyond that if I were you.”

“There’s nothing to worry about there,” Louis said, laughing ruefully.

They passed the tall statues in the Entrance Hall and rounded the corner, passing the Grey Lady emerging from the library.

“So, how long have you been friends with Liam for?” Louis said. He didn’t want to pry but had never heard Liam mention Zayn by name during all the late summer nights when he recounted stories from Hogwarts, and he seemed rather taken by the Ravenclaw.

Zayn smiled. “Only really got to know him last year when we were working together in Potions,” he admitted.

Louis noted a hint of regret in Zayn’s tone. He waved good-bye to him and wandered over to the Restricted Section, the piece of parchment with the books Harry prescribed him written in small, neat cursive.

Making sure not to draw attention to himself, Louis kept an eye out for the grey, fur uniform the Durmstrang students wore to make sure the books he needed to gather weren’t seen by any students from the foreign schools. Louis quickly piled the books Harry had listed into his arms and walked to the general section on magical creatures. The bookshelf was almost empty and every book specialising in dragons was gone.

Louis rushed out of the library, clutching the books to his chest, and ran up three flights of stairs and the winding staircase of the Right Tower until he reached their dormitory, panting heavily. He pushed the door open and saw Harry eating a sandwich moodily on his bed, reading and absentmindedly stoking Cassiopeia.

“They know,” Louis said with a light pant.

Harry didn’t look up, instead turning the page of his book and tickling Cassiopeia’s ears. She purred loudly. Louis felt strangely ruffled by Harry’s disinterest.

“All the general books on dragons are gone,” Louis huffed, throwing the books onto his bed.

Harry glanced over and counted the five books. He laughed darkly. “Of course they are. The Larsons have Vulchanova and I could tell that Clara knew it had something to do with magical creatures the moment Achernar mentioned that we’d have to nurture something as part of the task.”

Louis gaped at him, slightly irked that Harry had failed to mention this crucial piece of information before. “Why are you accepting this so easily, Styles? We hardly have an advantage now.”

Harry rolled his eyes, flicking his wand and sending his book to land on his desk. “The books I told you to get, Tomlinson, are the only ones you’ll need for actual theoretical preparation. The others might know that they’re going to be facing dragons, but it’s not like they know what breed, or where they are, or what they’re like. It’s only knowing particular things about them from actually getting to know the dragons that will probably help us. A book won’t teach you how to understand them individually or how to be perceptive or nurturing.”

Louis fell silent. He nodded stiffly, though Harry had turned his attention to back to Cassiopeia.

“That’s— yeah, you’re right.”

Harry raised an eyebrow.

Louis ignored him and fell onto his bed, opening Protectiveness and Pride: My Year Living Among Common Welsh Greens. He was absorbed in the book, reading until the firewood had burned to a crisp and Harry had fallen asleep. He fed Abrax some crust pieces before he noticed Cassiopeia peer over at them. He sighed and wandered over to her, crouching beside Harry’s bed and opening his palm to feed her too. As her tongue deftly licked the remaining crumbs from his hand, Louis was sure he saw Harry peak an eye open to watch them, his eyelashes shut a little too tightly when Louis glanced up. Louis tried to quash the surprising warmth that spread through his chest.

 

*

 

“Alright! Alright, settle down now,” Professor Slughorn called, beaming at them over his slightly bulging belly. “Now I hope you all revised Golpalott’s laws because you’re going to be mixing antidotes for me today. I have a range of poisons here lined up for you,” he said, pointing to the various vials on his desk. “Now, one person from each pair come up here and select one of the poisons.”

Louis followed the Slytherin girl in front of him and Liam to the front of the classroom and peered over the small bottles. Some of the liquids inside them were bubbling and frothing over, others spewing steam, while one of them looked remarkably like tar. He picked a mossy green coloured one with an attractive sheen.

“Excellent! Now, take a few minutes to examine your potion,” Professor Slughorn said, walking around and nodding at each of their choices. “Then check for the presence of particular ingredients. Once you’ve finished, you can use the remainder of the lesson to brew a basic antidote to cure the major effects of the potion.”

Louis grimaced at Liam, unable to identify the main potion straight away, let alone any ingredients that had been excluded or included. “Well,” he said carefully. “I suppose it contains Hellebore leaves. They’re the exact same shade as that during winter.”

“Yes, good,” Liam said. “And then those glimmer bits at the edges could be unicorn hair.”

They set about conducting tests for certain ingredients and with a quick glance at Advanced Potion-Making, they identified it as a weak brew of Veritaserum with counteracting ingredients combined. Louis set about making an antidote hurriedly in the last ten minutes of class.

“Very well, that’s time up,” Professor Slughorn said. He peered over their bubbling antidote. “And what might you two have brewed for me today, Mr Payne, Mr Tomlinson?”

“An antidote to Veritaserum with Hellebore and Gurdyroots,” Louis said.

“Marvellous,” Professor Slughorn exclaimed, clapping his hands. “I must admit, this one was a little trickier to identify.” He made a note on his clipboard that looked like a clean circular shape. “An excellent job indeed.”

He walked between the other four desks, muttering under his breath about excessive reliance on bezoars.

“Harry! And Cadmus, too!” Professor Slughorn exclaimed, rounding Harry’s desk and peering over the rim of his cauldron. “I was looking forward to this one, m’boy. And what was it that you noticed about this particular potion?”

“It was brewed the same way as Amortentia,” Harry said, glancing at his potions partner, who Louis recognised as Cadmus Meliflua. “Contains Ashwinder eggs and Pearl Dust just like Amortentia and had the same spirals of steam but…”

“Yes, my boy?” Slughorn said eagerly.

“I was expecting a particular scent,” Harry said quietly. Louis thought that he heard a shade of disappointment in his tone. There were titters from a couple of students sitting behind Harry and he whipped around to glare at them. Trying to ignore the way his blood ran cold at the thought of a pretty, faceless Slytherin girl whose scent Harry found so alluring, Louis focused on smoothing the non-existent lines on his robes. The movement apparently caught Harry’s eye because he glanced over at him before dropping his gaze to his cauldron.

“Precisely, Harry, precisely,” Slughorn said, turning around to the rest of the class. “This brew here has the same physical features and almost all of the ingredients of Amortentia, as Harry rightly said. But Bundimun secretion has been added to eliminate the characteristic scent. I daresay you’re disappointed to have to wait until class is over to smell your lucky lady’s hair.” He let out a loud, wheezy laugh. Harry looked distinctly unimpressed. Cadmus snorted loudly and Louis could make out Harry jabbing his elbow into Cadmus’s side.

“Now, then, what was your antidote to the potion, m’boy?”

“I brewed a normal Love Potion Antidote, Sir,” Harry said tightly, “but forewent the Wiggentree twigs because there was no powdered Moonstone to supply the… particular scents.”

“Very good! You certainly have shown quite a talent for this branch of magic,” Slughorn replied. He turned around to the class but seemed to keep his gaze between Harry and Louis. “Now, for homework I want you all to write a two-foot essay on the steps taken by Gunhilda de Gorsemoor in discovering the original cure for Dragon Pox.”

The bell rang and they trundled out of the class, Louis adding up the amount of time he would have to spend on his Potions homework on top of their three-foot Transfiguration essay on concealment of the Gemino Curse.

Louis spotted Harry lingering at his desk and stepped to the side to mutter, “Think that was a hint from old Slughorn about dragons?”

“I’ve no doubt that it was,” Harry said, nodding at something Cadmus said to him before waving him away. “Slughorn has never quite learned the art of subtlety.”

 

*

 

Their escapades to the Forbidden Forest became routine and they divided their time between the three dragons. Harry would take the lead with Faunus, the Common Welsh Green, and Hephaestus, the Ukrainian Ironbelly, while Diane seemed to prefer Louis’ company, leaving Harry to observe them both and take notes. The back of Louis’ neck always seemed to prickle when he sensed Harry watching him interact with Diane, hearing only the scratching of his quill. Louis made his way through the books every night, Harry answering Louis’ questions, albeit unwillingly.

Louis found himself seeing less of the Larson twins and the Beauxbatons girls around the castle. When he wondered aloud about this to Niall during a particularly loud Herbology class when they were dealing with Screechsnaps, the boy nodded.

“Yeah, I noticed that too, mate,” Niall said, stuffing his Screechsnap beneath dragon manure enthusiastically.

“Careful, please, Mr Horan,” Professor Longbottom called. “They’re semi-sentient, you know.”

“Will do, Professor,” Niall called brightly. “Zayn said that he sees the two girls in the library whenever he’s in there, which is a lot. And I haven’t seen the Dummies—sorry, the Durmstrang champions—in ages.”

Louis hummed. “Wonder if they’re checking out the location.”

“Have you been told it yet?” Niall asked.

Louis coaxed two Screechsnaps attached together into the dragon dung. “Yeah,” he said. “Achernar and MacFarlan told us. It’s a little further than the Quidditch pitch. They said that they weren’t setting up before the morning of the task, though.”

“I wouldn’t put it past Vulchanova to have it all worked out for them already. And they’re probably just spending more time on that ship,” Niall said, trying to placate the Screechsnap squirming in his grip. “Just try and focus on yourself, mate. You can’t change what they already know, so just try and prepare as best you can and avoid Styles at all costs.”

 

*

 

The morning of the first task dawned bright and early. Louis opened his eyes long before he was ready to get up and stared at the red hangings with gold trimmings above him, absentmindedly rubbing his thumb over the smooth, velvet fabric. He allowed the nerves to wrack his body for a moment before decidedly shoving the hangings to the side and stepping out of bed. The floorboards were cold beneath his feet. Louis glanced across the room. Harry’s hangings were drawn and Louis couldn’t spot Abrax so he assumed she was sleeping in Harry’s bed. For some reason, that thought reassured him.

Louis ambled into the bathroom, trying to ignore the way his muscles were rigid and his teeth chattered despite the Permanent Heating Charm in their dormitory. He stepped into the shower and closed his eyes under the searing hot water which cascaded over his shoulders. He revelled in washing his hair thoroughly, cleaning every crevice of his body; he knew that it would be his last time washing himself properly until the next day. He wiped the steam on the mirror and confronted his reflection in the mirror. The boy he saw had pink skin from the water but his face was pale and bloodless.

Louis wrapped a towel around his waist and reached out for his wand, directing a Hot-Air Charm over his hair. He stepped out, a cloud of steam emerging from the bathroom with him.

The first thing that caught Louis’ attention was that Harry suddenly sat bolt upright beside his bed, his eyes wandering over Louis’ body carelessly before he looked away and walked over to his side of the room. He pulled on his clothes, taking special care with the remnants of his burn mark.

“Hogwarts are going to win this task.”

That was a change Louis had noticed in the last two days; instead of declaring to everyone that he would win the first task, Harry had elected to say that Hogwarts would win it. Louis had a feeling that it wasn’t an unconscious change.

Louis pulled on the fireproof gloves Harry had ordered for them the previous week and a form-fitting shirt with the Hogwarts crest that had been placed unsuspectingly on his bed.

“Stay still,” Harry grunted, raising his wand at Louis’ chest.

“What’re you doing?” Louis asked, slightly panicked at the fact that Harry was directing a spell at his torso.

“What I meant to do last night,” he said. Harry rapped the tip of his wand smartly on the centre of Louis’ chest. “Specialis Revelio.”

Glancing down hesitantly, Louis found that absolutely nothing had changed, apart from the acid green spark from Harry’s wand. It tickled his skin and he sighed with relief.

Harry did the same to himself and, when nothing happened once again, nodded to himself and slid his wand into his trousers.

Louis slung his small bag over his shoulder and made his way downstairs. “Want to get some breakfast before I start to feel sick again,” he muttered.

Harry nodded tightly. “Come back here straight after. The longer you’re exposed before the Tournament, the bigger the target you are for last-minute sabotaging.”

Though Louis rolled his eyes, as he made his way down the stairs, he silently agreed with Harry. Jogging into the Great Hall, he saw only a few Durmstrang students huddled together and an exhausted-looking Professor Trelawney pouring pumpkin juice into a goblet and spilling most of it onto the table. Louis grabbed two apples and two croissants before hurrying back to their dormitory, suddenly paranoid.

He handed half of his food silently to Harry. “What do we do now?”

Harry seemed to be in conflict about something. He stood up abruptly before sitting back at the edge of his bed primly. “I’m going to the site,” he announced.

Louis stood up in silent agreement, compulsively checking that he had everything with him. There was a sense of foreboding trailing after them both and casting doubt each time Louis thought about the task they were about to confront. They left the dormitory and walked in relative silence across the grounds towards the Quidditch pitch.

“Do you play?” Louis asked suddenly. It felt peculiar asking Harry a question for the sole purpose of finding out more about him; their usual topics of conversation involved dragon habitats or feeding patterns. He tried not to dwell on the fact that he was actually curious about Harry’s answer.

It seemed that the whipping wind, or the fresh air, or perhaps the particular day that it was, prompted Harry to answer rather than sneer or ignore Louis completely. “Yeah, I got on the team in third year. I was Slytherin Chaser. We came second in the Quidditch Cup, only to Hufflepuff. Lucky snitch fifteen minutes into the game ended it. We should have won. We deserved to win.”

Louis smiled and kicked a tall tuft of grass. “Nice to hear that you’re not still bitter about it, then,” he said as the pitch drew closer.

The corners of Harry’s lips lifted.

They marched across the boggier land beside the pitch until they made it to the other side and saw an enormous structure made of a dull concrete, low but almost twice the size of the Quidditch pitch in length. Louis stared with awe and even greater trepidation.

As they came closer, he saw that the entire building was divided into three main sections, with smaller rooms scattered throughout. A second aspect he noticed was that it was surprisingly loud; workers took no heed as they passed, shouting orders to each other, long pieces of wood and scaffolding soaring above their heads, and the last-minute touches being added to the building.

Even before they walked into the main entrance, they could hear two people arguing loudly in French.

“The Beauxbatons girls are here, then,” Louis muttered.

The interior of the concrete enclosure was far more welcoming; cream and honey tones and dark wood surfaces along the hallway. They were led to a large circular room for the champions with dark wood furnishings and a collection of armchairs, bundled in sets of four. Louis presumed that they were to accommodate teachers and family members.

Alexander and Leif stood behind one of the chairs, listening intently to Vulchanova, whose back was turned away from Louis and Harry.

They silently agreed to wait on the opposite side of the room to the Durmstrang champions. They sat in charged silence for a moment. All the fear Louis had effectively dispelled from his thoughts in the days prior suddenly returned and condensed, leaving him frozen. He trained his eyes on his knees and despite every rational fibre in his being urging him not to obsess, he kept playing the flash of flames, the deadly glint in the Scarlet-Tongue’s eye and the deafening fear coursing through him.

Harry dropped his chin on his hands; Louis fidgeted with his robes restlessly, fingers twisting in the dark fabric.

“Would you stop that?” Harry said impatiently, placing a cold hand on Louis’. “I’m trying to think.”

Only then did Louis realise that their hands were touching. He glanced up in surprise, stilled by the smooth skin of Harry’s hand. Harry yanked his hand away with such vigour that Louis thought it would come off its socket. Placing his hands on his lap, Louis ignored the way his heart sunk at the loss of Harry’s touch. Louis pretended to examine the fabric of the armchair, willing himself to focus on the blurring pattern so that he didn’t have to dwell on the feeling of Harry’s skin against his.

Clara and Julia came in half an hour later, collapsing into the armchairs directly opposite Harry and Louis. Clara glowered at them; Julia subtly wiped the tear stains from her cheeks.

Louis was about to politely move to any other seat in the room when he heard Harry bark, “There are twelve other armchairs in this entire fucking room so go sit on one of those.”

The door swung open as Clara rose to her feet. A young Durmstrang girl, a Beauxbatons boy Louis recognised as Clara’s best friend, Liam, and a Durmstrang boy with short, black hair were ushered inside. Clara was distracted and ran to her friend. He saw Harry latch onto that last Durmstrang boy, and vague memories of them sitting together at mealtimes flooded back to Louis.

“Lou!” Liam said loudly, pushing past Harry and the other boy and pulling him into a tight, one-handed hug. “How are you mate?”

“What do you think, Liam?” he snapped. As Liam’s face fell, Louis felt a heavy, guilty thrum in his chest.  He hung his head, muttering, “Sorry, shouldn’t have said that.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Liam dismissed easily. “Sorry, bit of a stupid question now. You’re probably bricking it.”

Louis nodded glumly.

“You’re going to do great, mate. I really believe it. And we’re all rooting for you,” he said, smiling warmly and pulling Louis back in for a hug. “Everyone’s got these ‘Hogwarts For The Win’ chants all lined up and rehearsed and everything.”

Louis smiled weakly. “Thanks, mate.” He glanced at his watch and sighed. “Think mum and dad are coming so you might see them in the stands.”

Liam’s face lit up. “Brilliant,” he said. “Think my mum wants to come for the final too.”

Louis smiled despite himself. He couldn’t imagine anything worse than his favourite aunt Karen sobbing in the stands before the task had even begun; he knew that her worry would rival that of his parents’.

He glanced at where Harry was muttering to the Durmstrang boy, but seemed to be staring intently at Louis at the same time.

“Louis?”

He whipped around at the sound of his mother’s high, relieved voice. Louis saw her wispy hair tied into a knot, the deep plum robes she always wore for special occasions, and the way her face broke at the sight of him. Something warm and familiar bloomed in his chest. Louis rushed over to her, collapsing into her arms.

“Oh, darling, it’s so good to see you,” she whispered against his shoulder. Her grip was tight and steadying, rubbing the tense muscles in his back with ease. “My poor boy, you must be so nervous.”

“I’m fine, Mum, really,” he said, his words muffled against the collar of her robes. He let go of her reluctantly, pulling his father into a hug. “Thanks for coming. I know you said you would but—you know, it’s just—it’s really nice to see you.”

Louis’ father, who had been looking over his shoulder and frowning, directed his attention back to him and smiled. He muttered something into Louis’ mother’s ear and they exchanged a dark look. Louis didn’t have time to dwell on that, however, as he felt Liam brushing past him.

“Hi Auntie R,” Liam said, kissing Louis’ mother’s cheek. He shook Louis’ father’s hand and allowed himself to be pulled into a conversation about Ancient Runes while Louis’ mother insisted that Louis “stay alert, you never know what they’ll throw at you.”

The door swung open again to reveal McGonagall, Achernar and MacFarlan, all looking a little wan.

“Good, good,” Professor McGonagall said distractedly, counting each of the champions. “Alright, we must insist that all apart from the champions and their teachers leave now.” She noticed Louis parents and smiled at them, making a gesture that they would talk outside.

“Stay safe, my sweetheart,” Louis’ mother said, pressing a final kiss to his forehead.

“Trust your instincts,” Louis’ father said, pulling him in for a final hug.

Louis watched their retreating backs, waving absently, and felt a sudden urge to follow them. He felt Harry’s burning stare on him as he turned back to where MacFarlan and Achernar were ushering them closer.

“The tournament itself will begin in half an hour,” MacFarlan said, “but the stands are filling up already so we cast a charm on this area to mute the sound outside so that you aren’t distracted.”

“As we told you the last time, this task will take place over a span of one day and one night,” Achernar said. “Your assigned stations will consist of one small room to sleep and place your belongings, and a large outdoor arena. We can now inform you that you will not be able to leave your stations while you’re busy during the task. Your task will cover a range of obstacles all centred around… dragons.”

Louis nodded, glancing around at the other champions. Despite Achernar’s attempt to convey suspense, Louis noticed that the reveal didn’t come as a surprise to any of them.

MacFarlan plucked a small brown bag from his pocket and held it in his palm. “If any of you payed attention to the logistics of the last Triwizard Tournament, you’ll know what this involves. I must add, however, that we’ve… changed things a little.” He seemed to take great satisfaction from the way Louis and Clara grimaced slightly.

MacFarlan held out the bag. “Inside here are three vicious dragons you will not only have to find and confront, but also nurture in a way that will leave them in both the best possible state and habitat by tomorrow morning: the Common Welsh Green, the Ukrainian Ironbelly and the Saudi Scarlet-Tongue. Now, we’ll let the ladies go first,” he said, extending his palm.

Julia pursed her lips; Clara breathed sharply and pulled out a miniature dragon with a grey coat and long talons—the Ukrainian Ironbelly. Louis breathed a sigh of relief.

MacFarlan smiled at them and turned to the Durmstrang twins. “Right, guests next.”

Leif nudged Alexander, who shoved his hand inside the bag and pulled out a green dragon with long, arched wings. Louis sighed anxiously, torn between relief and anxiety, knowing exactly which dragon was left.

“And the best for last, boys!” MacFarlan exclaimed.

Louis reached into the bag and pulled out a miniature version of the Scarlet-Tongue, the long, lizard-like tongue darting out and scalding his glove.

“Excellent,” Achernar said tightly. “The Common Welsh Green for the Durmstrang champions; the Ukrainian Ironbelly for the Beauxbatons champions; and the Saudi Scarlet-Tongue for the Hogwarts champions.” She whipped out her wand and three pieces of paper sprang from the tip, shooting out of the room. “You’ll have the next twenty minutes or so to prepare and then each pair will be accompanied to your respective stations,” she said, before smiling between them. “Good luck.”

MacFarlan winked at Louis and Harry before catching up with Achernar and waltzing out of the room.

Harry pulled him to their clutter of armchairs and sat him in a rather unsightly maroon-coloured one.

“So, we got Diane,” Louis said.

Harry seemed to prefer pacing in front of him in lieu of answering his questions. “Yes,” he huffed finally. “Listen, Tomlinson, it pains me to say this but I need you to co-operate with me for this task.”

Louis frowned, taken aback by Harry’s abruptness. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do since we were paired together in the first place.”

Harry sighed impatiently. “I don’t— I mean that Diane responds well to you and I need you to listen to my instructions when it comes to her. I can’t afford us losing this task. Got that?”

“Styles, you do know I want to win this just as much as you do, don’t you?” Louis said with a wry smile.

Harry’s pacing halted. He leaned over Louis, his hands placed on each of the armrests, elbows locked. Louis shifted back in the armchair.

“I know,” he muttered, staring intently at him despite the fact that Louis’ gaze was trained on a small, dark stain on the armchair. “Just don’t fuck this up, Tomlinson. And for Merlin and Morgana’s sake, fucking keep eye contact with her until I say to stop.”

 

*

 

A foghorn blared beyond the confining walls of the small room where they were waiting. Harry kept clenching his jaw, eyes glassy and absent. Louis kept scraping his shallow nail beds along his thighs.

“Any minute now,” Harry muttered.

They had been brought to the tiny room fifteen minutes previously and told to wait until a single door opened. It would be their only source of privacy; somewhere to hold their small bags and take turns sleeping.

The door swung open. Louis gulped in the air rushing into the small room before stepping outside. The arena was enormous, covering a rocky terrain with sharp cliffs and small areas of sand, as well as a small lake of murky water. Tall stands surrounding the arena were filled with people shouting and roaring at them, waving banners and calling chants, but they couldn’t hear anything besides the trickle of water and each other’s tentative footsteps.

“They must have—”

“A Silencing Charm,” Harry said, inching closer to him.

Louis nodded, eyes roaming the crowd to find anyone he recognised, but they looked like colourful blurs at such a height.

“The others must have separate arenas, then,” Louis said quietly. “How big is this place?”

“Doesn’t matter now,” Harry muttered. “We need to find Diane.”

They ventured further into the arena, wands poised. Louis surveyed the open space, narrowing his eyes and peeking around the taller rocks. The far end of the arena was dominated by an enormous rock and a sharp cliff behind it.

Harry craned his neck, squinting at the vast sky above them. The arena was uncovered, leaving them vulnerable to the elements. “Maybe… maybe she’s not here yet.”

“Wait,” Louis hissed. “Listen.”

They heard a low, familiar rumble as they approached the steepest cliff behind the jagged rock.

“She’s underneath the cliff,” Harry whispered.

Indeed, they couldn’t see the bottom of the hard vertical cliff, drowned in darkness, and the grumble seemed to come from inside the rocks themselves.

“Think we can Apparate down there?”

“Worth a shot,” Louis muttered, prodding one of the rocks with his foot. It slipped underneath him and fell down the edge. He counted the time it took until he heard a resounding noise. “About three seconds so the drop could be anywhere between thirty and forty metres. There’s definitely a cavern because of the echo.” He glanced behind him to find Harry straining his face, his eyes shut.

“I can’t,” Harry said brusquely. “We’re going to have to get down there another way.”

He joined Louis at the edge of the cliff, grimacing. They skirted along the edge, finding a spot easier to descend. Harry tested the stability of the rocks.

“They’re sharp, so we can cling onto them,” Louis said.

“Yeah, but we’ll still be in a bad position if anything happens mid-way down the cliff.”

“Listen, this is already taking too long,” Louis said impatiently. “We’re supposed to find Diane; that’s part of the task. Let’s just get this over with.”

Incarcerous,” Harry said, pointing at one of the huge boulders. Thick, binding ropes sprung from the end of his wand and coiled at his feet.

Louis raised the ropes and directed them to wrap around their bodies, holding them underneath their armpits and thighs. Though the idea of climbing down the cliff, with the knowledge that Diane could be anticipating them both at the bottom, left his palms sweaty and his heart racing.  He took a steady breath, wand raised, and climbed onto a jagged part of the cliff. The ropes felt tight and uncomfortable around his body, burning his thighs. He clung to the sharper rocks and climbed lower on the rockface. He tried to keep his bare skin from the rocks, but kept having to cling there, leaving small cuts along his forearms.

They ventured further until Louis could hardly make out the top of the cliff, his view obscured by a sharp protrusion.

“I hear her,” Harry said lowly. The faint grumbling was becoming fainter and Louis noticed that the rocks here were charred and smoking in places.

They plunged deeper—as did Louis’ heart and sanity—approaching almost total darkness. Louis tried to still his heart thumping in his chest as he grappled down the cliff.

“Don’t use Lumos,” Louis muttered. He could make out a small body of water below them, touching it with the tip of his shoe.

“How deep?”

“Shallow,” Louis said, stepping into the murky water. He was barely able to make Harry out in the pitch blackness as he loosened his ropes. Louis lifted his foot to step out of the puddle into the dim cavern when he found it stuck. He tugged both feet but the water rose to his ankles, constraining him. He gasped, clutching the cliff on instinct to steady himself. He was panicked, tugging his legs desperately. With each heave, however, the water clung to his shoes.

“I’m stuck,” Louis shrilled. “The water— it’s like it’s solid.”

What?” Harry said in a strangled voice. A pause passed between them, Louis’ sensing a heavy weight settling on his chest, until Harry said in a calm voice “Try to tug your foot out.”

“That’s what got me stuck in the first place,” he snapped. “Just— don’t step into the water. Try to skirt along the edge.”

Harry leaped over the puddle rather ungracefully, stumbling before finding his footing. Louis could only make out his bright eyes and vague outline in the darkness.

Louis directed his wand to his feet. “Ascendio,” he muttered. He felt his feet rise inching out of the water until only the soles of his feet were stuck to the surface. He repeated the spell but his feet stayed firmly attached to the water surface.

“What if—” Harry said quietly. “Let me try something.” He lifted his wand and pointed it in Louis’ general direction, straining his eyes. “Carpe Retractum.”

A long, purple rope shot from Harry’s wand and bound him around his waist. Harry whipped his wand back sharply and the rope yanked him out of the water. He flew straight out and fell straight into Harry, their chests knocking. Harry stumbled and his back collided with the rocky wall. Even in the darkness, Louis could make out the mere inches between their faces.

“What’s with you and tying people up in ropes?” he said, pushing Harry off him firmly. He was briefly thankful that the drowning darkness concealed the deep flush of his cheeks.

“Don’t pretend like you don’t like it,” Harry muttered.

An embarrassing strangled sound escaped Louis lips and he managed to make it sound like an uproarious coughing fit. He didn’t think Harry was convinced.

They ignored each other, stepping around the puddle and deeper into the cave. They were surrounded by darkness but could make out a small ball of light in the distance. The golden light glimmered and seemed to flicker like a lighthouse, guiding them.

“This is ridiculous,” Harry snapped, after tripping over another rock. “I can’t see a thing.”

“Just keep looking at that light source. Don’t use Lumos,” Louis said. “Keep your head up and stop making noise.”

“No, we should be making noise,” Harry said. “That way Diane will hear us coming.”

“I doubt it’s just Diane down here,” he said lowly.

Lumos,” Harry murmured.

The entire cavern lit up, the rocky terrain at their feet, the hollow walls and the ceiling of the cavern that was entirely covered with a swarm of bats. Louis stumbled back as a thousand yellow eyes shot open. Before he could get to his feet a huge swarm swooped down and darted towards them, screeching. They latched onto their faces and clothes, piercing and slashing.

Flipendo!” Louis shouted, a loud bang erupting from the force of the spell. The bats swooping towards him were knocked back, fluttering as though battling a strong wind.

Harry, who had fallen back and was thrashing underneath them.

Flipendo!” Louis repeated with more vigour, pointing his wand at the bats swarming around Harry. The bats were blown back, flapping rapidly before the light from Harry’s wand faded and they retreated back into the cave.

Harry swore loudly, pulling himself to his feet unsteadily.

“What in the name of Merlin’s bollocks were you thinking?” Louis shouted furiously. “I said not to use Lumos and you—”

“Oh, quit complaining, it was an honest mistake,” Harry snapped. “How was I fucking supposed to know there would be bats?”

“In case you’re not aware already,” Louis muttered, rubbing his aggravated skin, “this is the Triwizard Tournament. They’re throwing anything and everything our way to try to trick us.”

“Well, at least I didn’t complain like Moaning fucking Myrtle when you got yourself stuck in that puddle.”

They heard a deafening sound, something between a furious roar and a whimper, and a wave of heat washed over them.

“She’s hurt,” Harry said quietly. “That— that sound is like a cry for help.”

“Come on then,” Louis said.

They clung to the walls of the cavern, edging closer to the source of light until there was a split in the cavern; one turn was enveloped by darkness, the second leading to the light source.

“Did you hear where that was coming from?”

“No,” Harry sighed.

“We could wait until she does it again, but that might take ages.”

Harry nodded. “I think she’d probably stay closer to any source of light.”

“And at least we know there won’t be any bats down here.”

The ‘but there might be something worse’ went unspoken between them.

Louis led them down the tunnel, the ceiling becoming lower and the interior becoming narrower the further they ventured. Rocks jutted out at sharp angles, and the terrain was unsteady at their feet, leaving them to cling to the walls for support. It was horribly confining, though they could make each other out as the entire tunnel was bathed in light.

“I feel like we’re going deeper underground,” Harry said uneasily. “I— this is going downhill.”

“Maybe the tunnel leads to another cave?” Louis said, though even he knew it was a weak argument. “I don’t know, I just don’t like the idea of going down the dark one. At least here—”

A hand grabbed his shoulder.

“Tomlinson,” Harry said sharply.

Louis whipped around and saw Harry staring directly at the light source—a ring of glowing, wispy smoke—mere metres away.

Harry pulled Louis closer to whisper into his ear, eyes trained on the light. “That’s— that’s a Hinkypunk,” he said lowly. “They try to deceive you and send you in the wrong direction. And they can shoot these fireballs if you come close enough.”

Louis’ eyes widened. The light looked inconspicuous but he didn’t think he imagined the way it seemed to change shape the closer they came. “Okay, we’ll just— let’s turn around and go back the way we came.”

Harry nodded silently, turning in the opposite direction.

“Unless that’s the obstacle,” Louis said quietly. “What if we have to get past it to find Diane.”

“I’d rather not risk it. There’s no point trying to get past it if we aren’t certain—”

“But isn’t it worth a shot while we’re here? We’re wasting time by going back the way we came.”

“I’d rather waste time than be assaulted by fireballs,” Harry said decisively.

“But at least we can rule one option out if we go this way,” Louis insisted.

They heard sizzling sound and a fireball the size of a watermelon whizzed past them, skimming Harry’s sleeve, singing it and missing the tips of his hair by millimetres.

“DUCK!” Louis shouted.

A second fireball shot faster than the first, heading straight where Louis’ head had been a second beforehand.

Aguamenti,” Harry muttered, pointing his wand at his sleeve. “Come on, we need to get out of here.”

Louis shoved him out of the way as a third fireball darted at him, banging off the walls of the cave. “Come on, we need to get past it,” he said. “I have a feeling that’s part of the obstacle.”

“I swear to Merlin if you’re wrong about this—”

Exite Globus Igneus!”

The fireball stopped, suspended in mid-air before collapsing into the rock, creating a hissing, fiery crater in the ground.

“Hurry up!”

They jumped over the hollowed fireball and scampered along the detached, rocky ground. Louis dodged the final fireball until they shoved passed the Hinkypunk and rounded the corner. They were instantly surrounded by darkness, but the air in here was swelteringly hot.

“She must be close,” Harry muttered.

They stepped further into the cave, pressing closer together as the gap between the walls became thinner, forcing Harry to walk behind him. Louis became uncomfortably conscious of just how close they were in the stifling heat. The pitch darkness, too, seemed to make him particularly susceptible to missing a step and falling into Harry. He hastily quickened his pace.

“It’s fucking boiling,” Harry muttered, pulling off his outer layer and tying it around his waist. “There has to be something other than just Diane down here.”

By the time they reached the end of the tunnel, they were panting and sweating profusely, shoulders and chests glistening; Harry had even cut off his trousers at the knee.

What?” Harry demanded, kicking the solid wall of rock. “This can’t be the fucking end of the tunnel.”

“Maybe there’s a rock we have to pull or something. Like a concealed door.”

They felt along the walls, patting and prodding the rocks but the wall didn’t budge.

Alohomora,” Louis said desperately. The wall remained firmly intact.

“I refuse to fucking believe that this is the end,” Harry said petulantly.

Louis rolled his eyes, collapsing against the wall. He yelped loudly. “Fuck,” he hissed, leaping away. “That rock— it’s boiling hot.”

Harry wheeled around. He stared at the rock and yanked his wand out of his pocket, pointing it directly at the rock. “Wingardium Leviosa.”

The boulder shifted and shoved the wall constraining it in position, rubble crumbling down until it broke free. Harry made a sharp jabbing motion, lunging forward with his entire body, and the rock retreated back.

They were hit with a wave of scorching heat. Louis’ jaw dropped as he peeked behind the rock. The sight before them was like nothing they had even seen. The cavern was enormous, at least twice the size of the Great Hall and three times as tall. Louis felt his pulse quicken as he saw Diane at the centre of a huge ring of fire, the flames rising higher than her height. She was curled around herself and visibly trembling, even from a distance.

“She’s injured,” Harry said. He lowered himself from the edge of the sheer drop, Louis following.

“Wait!” Louis said suddenly. “Think about this. They would never injure her on purpose. So… either she’s somehow injured herself down here or they artificially injured her.”

“What does it matter?” Harry said sharply. “The objective is obviously to heal her. We’re wasting time talking about it. Just— we need to get closer and extinguish the fire.”

Louis felt a sharp surge of anger at Harry’s dismissiveness. He followed behind him, his mind playing every possible scenario in which Diane might have been injured. They tried to jog closer but the sweltering heat became unbearable, leaving them to amble along.

“How are we supposed to extinguish it?” Louis huffed.

Harry didn’t answer, instead frowning at the flames, scanning something inside them. “She didn’t make them,” he said under his breath.

“What?”

“Diane didn’t make them,” he repeated. “They’re not her flames. There’s— I think those are Salamander fires.”

Louis turned around and watched the soaring flames, straining his eyes. Indeed, he could see glowing red shells of hundreds of Salamanders at the base of the flames. He glanced behind him and found Harry sitting on the ground, hunched over and directing his wand in a strange circular motion.

“What’re you doing?”

Harry ignored him, eyebrows pinching together as he concentrated on something in front of him. Louis crouched beside him and saw that he was carving something into the stone itself.

“There,” he sighed eventually. He glanced up at Louis’ confused expression. “It’s a list of Salamander uses. Salamander blood is really useful in remedies and potions.”

“You think they’re there on purpose? For us to use to heal her?”

Harry pulled himself to his feet, wiping a layer of sweat off his forehead. “I don’t know. Just— don’t extinguish the fire. We’re going to have to find a different way to get to her,” he said eventually.

They didn’t dare edge closer to the flames, instead observing the fire. Louis noticed Harry wince and fidget with his wand every time the Scarlet-Tongue grumbled in pain.

“If we quench the Salamander fires,” Louis said after minutes of fruitless observation, “they die instantly, right?”

Harry nodded stiffly as Diane let out another cry, curling more tightly around herself.

“What if we somehow take a couple of Salamanders out of the fire and collect their blood—enough to make whatever potion you think will cure Diane—and then extinguish it?”

Harry pursed his lips, huffing through his nose. “Yes,” he said eventually, “that could work. But I have no idea what’s wrong with her.”

“What’s the most amount of Salamander blood you’d need for a dragon potion?” Louis asked, already considering spells that could extinguish flames of that magnitude.

“I’m not a fucking Potions Master, Tomlinson,” Harry snapped. He leaned back on his elbows, turning away as a smothering wave of heat rolled over them. “Three pints, maybe,” he sighed eventually. “I can’t imagine any potion for someone her size would need anything more.”

“Fine,” Louis sighed. “Three pints, that’ll be…”

“About five Salamanders, probably.”

A reverberating roar send some of the flames higher and the Scarlet-Tongue breathed fire at the flames in frustration. Louis noticed from her movement that she had noticed them both, but her concern remained on her wound. Louis took this as a sign that she was seriously injured.

“Let’s get this over with.”

“I’m not killing the Salamanders. Not unless I know that I need to use them,” Harry said firmly.

Louis could barely speak his mouth was so parched. “Thought you were a Slytherin through and through, Styles,” he said sharply.

“Doesn’t mean I don’t have principles, Tomlinson.”

“If you have a better idea to get to Diane then I’m all ears.”

Harry glowered at him before turning his face to the ground. He watched Diane for a moment, the way she had coiled her body to protect herself and taken no heed of their presence.

“Fine,” he muttered.

They separated, each taking the opposite side of the flames.

“We’ll make this quick, alright?” Louis shouted.

Harry gave an affirmative sign and they raised their wands in unison, gripping tightly and yelling “Ignem Extinguere.”

The flames subdued, retreating into the ground. Louis didn’t look at the Salamanders, focusing instead on taming the roaring flames until, with a final thrust of his wand, the flames only reached their ankles. Louis glanced across the flames and saw Harry, his chest glistening and biceps straining as he made a quick sweeping motion with his wand until the flames were completely extinguished. They both ignored the smoking remains encircling the Scarlet-Snout and rushed towards her.

Louis tried to meet her eyes but they were shut tight, her head resting against her tail.

“She’s too distressed to even protect herself,” Louis whispered anxiously.

Harry approached her long neck, pressing the tip of his wand firmly against it. “She’s dropping in and out of consciousness,” he muttered.

Louis walked around her, inspecting her as Harry tried to find a steady heartbeat.

“Harry!” he said suddenly. He realised that it was the first time he had ever uttered his first name but, seeing the glimmer of hope in Harry’s eye as he rushed over to him, he didn’t think Harry noticed. Louis’ heart fluttered in his chest.

“Her leg,” Harry whispered. “It’s swollen with some kind of… infection.”

The entirety of the Scarlet-Tongue’s short front leg was inflated and visibly throbbing.

Louis watched how the colour drained out of Harry’s face. It suddenly seemed unbearably cold, the sweat drying on their skin along with a thick layer of grime and dust. He bent down beside Harry.

“It looks like she’ll need a Deflating Draught,” Louis said carefully. “That contains—”

“Yeah,” Harry grunted. “It contains Salamander blood.”

Louis gasped. “And bat spleen too!”

Harry turned around and startled when he saw how closely Louis was crouching. “We can— yes! Back further in the cave. And water—we can use Aguamenti for that—and… dittany.”

Louis’ heart fell and his mouth twisted dejectedly. “Think there might be some dittany plant here?” he asked sanguinely.

Harry shook his head. “Not underground and I didn’t see any plants growing on the rocks.”

“We could summon some.”

“Not from down here and unless you know exactly where—”

“I know how summoning works,” Louis snapped.

Harry shot him an exasperated look. “We need to start on the solution,” he said firmly. “With or without the dittany the swelling will still go down, it’s just that the whole wound won’t heal properly.”

Louis nodded. “You stay with Diane and I’ll get the bat spleen,” he said, turning on his heel to return the same direction they came.

“No!” Harry called. He looked conflicted, his mouth set in a firm line, not quite meeting Louis’ eyes. “Diane likes you. She responded well to you the first time. And that was after she’d been breathing fire at the handlers she’s known for years.”

Louis was taken aback but shook his head. “I can’t— I don’t know what to do to help her. At least you can identify what she feels and what’s wrong with her.”

Harry shook his head, rising to his feet “That’s not going to help her right now. Just keep using a basic charm to control some of the swelling until I get back,” he said. Harry paused, brushing his fingers gently over the hard shell covering Diane’s back. “And… talk to her. Like you did last week. She’ll… she’ll recognise your voice.”

Louis’ response was caught in the back of his throat. “Okay,” he said. For some reason, he wanted to say something to Harry; something that would save his conscience from the terrible guilt he felt for staying behind.

Harry nodded once, his eyes following Louis’ movements as he kneeled beside Diane and began murmuring “Reparifors” and directing the thread-like light around the most severe swelling. He turned away and jogged towards the tunnel. Louis ignored his sudden urge to chase after Harry.

 

*

 

“It’s almost ready,” Harry called, making periodic circular motions with his wand over the steaming cauldron.

“And then, Liam brought over this huge group of friends on the first day of the holidays—I don’t know how he managed to get that popular, to be honest—and one of the lads had a Firebolt Premier. We all took turns using it. It was unbelievable. It felt so light and precise; almost like it could anticipate my next move,” Louis said. He stroked Diane’s back, something that Harry told him she enjoyed. “I’m sure it’s nothing compared to what you’re capable of, Diane. Can’t imagine what it would be like to soar above forests and seas and be able to roam free.”

He heard Harry’s footsteps approaching and closed his mouth, resuming the stroking that seemed to soothe her. “I said talk to her, not gossip about your summer holidays,” Harry said, but Louis could see a small smile dancing across his lips.

Harry got onto his hunkers beside him, and placed the hastily-transfigured cauldron at his feet. “We’re going to have to apply it quickly,” he said, whipping his wand out and hovering some over the most severe swelling.

“Harry, wait!” Louis said, covering Harry’s hand with his own. He yanked it back when he felt Harry freeze under his touch. “I—you can’t apply it there first. Deflating Draught needs to go around the very edge first and you need to make your way closer and closer to the middle. Otherwise the swelling will just become uneven.”

Harry nodded at him to carry out the same motion. Between the two of them, they managed to apply the entire Deflating Draught in less than an hour. By the time they had finished, Diane had begun to breathe more heavily, normally. She sent sparks and sharp puffs of steam out of her nostrils and even shifted her wings to a more comfortable position. She let out a strange noise of satisfaction, something unnervingly similar to a long, drawn-out moan that echoed through the chamber and sent Louis into a fit of laughter. Harry wore a bemused expression at the sound before glancing over at Louis and smiling despite himself.

Hearing Harry’s low chuckles, Louis broke into uncontrollable giggles. The sound of their laughter ringing through the cavern should have been eerie and misplaced but it left Louis with a smile on his face. The sound of Harry’s unabridged laughter was something of a rarity.

Eventually, their laughter subsided and Louis was left watching Diane intently and avoiding looking at Harry. Their proximity was enough to leave Louis’ skin hot and scratchy and he didn’t need to make matters worse by initiating eye contact with Harry, something that always left him simultaneously unnerved and yearning for more. He shook his head at his train of thought and tried to focus on the task ahead of them.

“She’s asleep,” Harry said eventually, after they had spent the better part of two hours waiting for the swelling to subside. “I really think we need to find some dittany. It’s just— it’s too obvious a remedy for it not to be necessary. I think he judges will expect it.”

“I know,” Louis sighed. “Slughorn’s potions store is bound to have some but I’ve never tried summoning from that distance and I don’t even know what it looks like.”

“We could— we could always go back to the school,” Harry said slowly.

Louis narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“The potions store is bound to have some, like you said. We can sneak in and take it.”

Louis shook his head. “Anyone in the school will see us right away. And besides, they’ll know we took it, too. We’ll be disqualified.”

“No,” Harry said, turning towards him. “Only Slughorn will know. He already gave us a hint in our last Potions lesson, remember? The dragon blood essay? The antidote practical work?” Harry crossed his arms firmly. “He wants us to win. We just can’t get caught stealing by anyone besides Slughorn.”

Louis raised an eyebrow. “Well, how do you plan on going back to the school?” he said incredulously. “There’s an entire arena watching our every move.”

Harry opened his mouth but fell silent. “Fine,” he muttered.

“We could do more exploring, I suppose,” Louis said. “Now that we found Diane, they’re bound to throw something else at us so we might as well confront it before nightfall.”

Harry looked reluctant but eventually nodded. He stood to his feet and brushed the dust from his shins. “Lead the way, then, Tomlinson.”

They wandered back out the same direction they arrived, prepared this time to dodge the Hinkypunk and bats. By the time they reached the outdoors again, sidestepping the puddle, it was late in the evening. They made their way back up the sheer cliff, keeping a watchful eye out for any danger or dittany plants.

“’M exhausted,” Harry said eventually, after they had made their way twice around the rocky terrain to no avail. Most of the crowd had left, others still shouting and calling their names whenever they looked up. Louis felt strangely lonely, seeing them shout words of encouragement but not hearing a word that left their mouths.

“I don’t think there’s anything here apart from rocks,” Louis muttered, sitting on one of the larger boulders with a defeated sigh.

“Well, where else are we supposed to find any kind of healing products?” Harry said.

“Only thing I can think of is the other tunnel in the cave that we didn’t go down.”

“You mean the one I said we should go down?” Harry said, crossing his arms smugly.

“Hey, if we didn’t pass the Hinkypunk like I said then we never would have found Diane,” Louis said.

Harry surveyed the huge area around them, raising his wand and muttering under his breath.

“What’re you doing?”

“Looking for a way to get underground other than that cliff,” Harry muttered. “There has to be a different way.”

Louis pulled himself to his feet and stood beside him. “Revelio,” he said, twisting his wand and dragging the blue light across the terrain.

The large boulders remained still but the small lake of murky water near the edge of the arena began to swirl into a turbulent whirlpool. Harry caught onto Louis’ spell and repeated it, both of them drawing up the body of water until it grew, crashing outwards. Louis stumbled back and noticed Harry’s mouth, the way his eyes narrowed and jaw tightened in concentration. The tall rocks surrounding the rapidly increasing body of water confined it to the size of a deep swimming pool, settling at an enormous height.

“What in the name of Merlin’s baggy Y-fronts?” Louis whispered, staring up at the huge lake that had risen from the ground. “The dittany… it must be there, underwater.”

“Come on,” Harry said, making his way to the lake. He jumped over a small gathering of rocks and began climbing one of the boulders keeping in the water.

Louis spent a minute watching Harry stretching his body, leaning and reaching as he climbed up the boulder, before Harry’s shout broke him out of his stupor. He leaped over the pile of rocks and caught up with Harry, climbing close behind him. They were at almost eye-level with the spectators in the lowest stands up here. Once he reached the top, Harry held out his hand and helped him up the last metre. Louis clambered to his feet and stared in awe at the dirty, opaque water.

“Can you see anything inside it?” Louis asked.

Harry shook his head. “Tergeo,” he said, pointing his wand at the lake. The murkiness disappeared instantly, leaving clear water with a strange, brown tint at the base.

“That must be the dittany,” Louis said, nodding at the brown plants. “Accio dittany.”

The water stayed perfectly still.

“You’ll have to swim down to get it,” Harry said, sitting on one of the rock ledges.

Louis raised an eyebrow. He would have offered to retrieve it but the tone of Harry’s command irritated him. “And why should I have to do it?”

“We need one person to stay up here in case something goes wrong,” he said simply. He suddenly became very interested with the pattern on one of the rocks. “And besides… I heard you telling Diane that you live on the coast and you go swimming there during the summer.”

Louis’ cheeks burned. His thoughts lingered on the fact, not only that Harry had been listening to their conversation, but that he had remembered that insignificant detail about him.

“Fine,” Louis muttered. He pulled off his shirt, shoes and slit the ends of his trousers until he was left shivering in the evening wind. He caught Harry’s gaze following the curve of his stomach, the contours of his back and the dip of his collarbones.

“Think you can concentrate long enough to save me from any Grindylows, Styles?”

Harry’s eyes flicked up, smirking. He didn’t even have the grace to pretend to feel guilty. “Let’s get this over with, Tomlinson,” he muttered.

Louis skirted carefully around the edge of the lake, wand clutched in his hand. He dipped his toe in the water, finding it surprisingly warm. He gripped his wand tightly, and slid into the water in one swift movement. From this angle, he could see the dittany more clearly, the fresh green spikes and long, bundled leaves. He glanced behind him to find Harry crouched at his side. Louis breathed deeply and plunged underwater.

Although the water was clear and pleasantly warm, he could barely make out more than the faint, blurry plants ten feet below him. He swam downwards, ignoring the pounding of his head, and reached out, snatching the tip of one of the plants. He tugged sharply, unearthing a hefty stem and swam lower, feeling around the base of the water to push off. His leg got caught on something slippery. He yelped, swallowing water, and wrenched his foot away. He broke free, but not before he felt something curl around his ankle, smooth and pulsating. He had only caught a glimpse of a tentacle tightening before he lashed his wand roaring “Flipendo!”.

The word was drowned out and the weak of blue light dissipated, fading into darkness. He tried to conjure the spell non-verbally but he was rapidly losing the ability to do so in the creature’s grip. He reached up, trying to swim with it still clinging to his leg, inching higher around him, suffocating his calf such that he could only kick with his left leg.

A flash of blue light streaked past him but missed the Selkie by inches. Louis was fast dropping out of consciousness, muttering “Ascendio” under his breath, weakly pushing the Selkie off him. Something sharp pierced his upper thigh, Louis felt the dittany slip out of his fingers and saw something large block his view and grip his arm before he was submerged in darkness.

Chapter Text

Louis jerked awake, wheezing and gasping desperately for air. He shot up, heart pounding in his chest, and whipped around. He was in the cave; a fire burned beside him, and Harry sat facing him, his hand absently stroking the outer curve of Diane’s wings.

“What—how—what happened?” Louis demanded. His voice was scratchy and raspy, his throat unbearably dry. “Why did you bring me here?”

Harry narrowed his eyes before turning his attention back to the Scarlet-Tongue, seemingly placated now that he knew Louis was conscious.

“I needed to bring Diane the dittany,” he said eventually. “A gash in her leg had opened to infection since we were here last.”

Louis nodded and shifted himself into a sitting position. He winced as a sharp pain shot through his leg. “What time is it?”

Harry considered Louis’ question for a moment. “Probably about ten at night. Your eyes opened for a second almost straight after I removed the water you swallowed from your trachea but you didn’t wake up fully. Had to haul you down here with me.”

“You brought me through the tunnel?” Louis said incredulously.

Harry guffawed. “As if I would bother,” he muttered.

Louis raised an eyebrow, confusion dawning on him. “Then how?”

“The water,” Harry said eventually. “The lake… it was too warm for it to be natural, especially at this time of the year. I figured that it had been heated up from the underground Salamander fires so I started moving some of the rocks and found this… kind of vertical tunnel.” He pointed at the far end of the cavern. “It led straight there.”

Louis nodded, leaning his weight on his left leg and pulling himself to his feet. He dragged his right leg closer to where Harry sat. He collapsed beside Harry to inspect his application of the dittany.

“What’s with the fire?” Louis asked. “I don’t think Diane needs heat right now. If anything, the inflammation of her leg needs to settle down.”

Harry remained silent for a moment. “The heat’s supposed to open up your chest cavity,” he said quietly. “To help you breathe better.”

Louis’ movements stilled. He didn’t dare meet Harry’s eye, focusing instead on the healing scales of the Scarlet-Tongue’s leg. “Thank you,” he said quietly, ignoring the strange feeling in his chest.

He heard Harry shift his position behind him. “She’s sound asleep but it doesn’t look like she’s eaten today,” Harry said, decidedly ignoring Louis’ words. “She can’t go too long without anything substantial and she’s not ready to find something by herself. Her leg is not strong enough yet. If we leave it too long, she won’t hesitate to have one of us.”

Louis nodded. He set about using a basic healing spell to cure the worst of the stinging on his calf while Harry listed the kind of foods Scarlet-Tongues tended to eat.

“Styles,” Louis sighed frustratedly, “unless we can actually find some of those foods, we’re still at square one.”

Harry glowered at him. “There’s bound to be more creatures somewhere in this fucking cave,” he snapped. “The task is supposed to involve caring for her and we can’t be expected to do that if there aren’t any sources of food for her here.”

Louis pushed himself up to standing position. “Fine,” he said shortly. He racked his memory for everything he knew about a Scarlet-Tongue’s basic diet. “What about Giant Glumbumbles? They live in dark places like caves, right?”

Harry’s head shot up and he nodded quickly. “Yeah, yeah… that could work. If we can find some, she’d eat them.”

Louis thought back to his Care of Magical Creatures textbook, trying to remember anything that would indicate where they might find the giant insect. “All I know is that they eat nettles so they can’t be too far from open sunlight, but they prefer to create their nests in dark, cool areas.”

“We could try the other tunnel,” Harry said. “I doubt they’d make an entire new part of the arena if there wasn’t anything we have to find there.”

They made their way back through the junction, passing the familiar surroundings and squeezing past the tight corners in the tunnel.

“They live in dragon reserves, you know,” Harry said conversationally, after an hour of hiking further up the tunnel in relative silence.

“What?” Louis said, glancing up to catch his eye.

“I heard you ask Diane if she could roam free in Saudi Arabia,” Harry said, panting lightly as they rounded a steep corner. “They’re held in captivity and studied. Some breeds would be in extinction otherwise. Plus, there’s too high a risk that they’ll be seen by Muggles.”

Louis was at a loss for words. He knew that the dragons were kept in specialised sanctuaries, but something stopped him from telling that to Harry. “I didn’t know,” he sighed. “Where did you learn so much about dragons?”

A dark shadow crossed Harry’s face. He shrugged nonchalantly, muttering “I’ve been interested in them since before Hogwarts.”

Louis knew he was evading the question but decided to drop it. Harry had saved him from the lake, had lit a fire to help his breathing and had been more civil to him in the last day than he had ever been.

They reached the junction again, emerging from the bright tunnel to turn down the darker, eerie route. Louis faltered for a moment before stepping into the pitch darkness. It utterly surrounded them, ensnaring them and leaving only their shrewd eyes visible. Louis sidled along the edge of the cave, reaching out to steady himself against the wall. They trundled along slowly, leaning precariously against the walls, wands outstretched. The further they ventured into the tunnel, the more anxious Louis felt.

“I don’t think there’s much else down here,” Louis muttered.

Harry remained silent.

“They make loud, buzzing sounds,” Louis insisted. “We should’ve heard something by now.”

A large hand gripped his shoulder and yanked him back. “Look,” Harry muttered into his ear.

Two sets of watery, bloodshot eyes were approaching them.

Lumos.”

Two dwarf-like creatures with a sickening, green pallor and blood-red caps stood ten feet away from them. Louis almost clutched his chest in shock, their proximity jolting him.

“Merlin,” he breathed. “Don’t— don’t do anything yet. They mightn’t attack if they know that we’re wizards.”

The Red Caps were both wielding long weapons that looked alarmingly like bones. Louis raised his wand threateningly and one of their faces contorted in a grimace. The other Red Cap stared at Harry, his hand falling to his side, the bone-like weapon lowering.

Flipendo,” Harry said, pointing at the Red Cap who still had his weapon raised. A loud bang sounded as the creature was flung against the wall of the tunnel.

“Why did you do that?” Louis hissed.

“He looked suspicious,” Harry muttered, shoving past him.

The other Red Cap had rushed behind him and pulled his companion to his feet and both were running in the opposite direction. Louis could hear the echoing thud of their footsteps dull in the distance.

“Easier than I expected to get rid of them,” Harry muttered as they followed the downward path of the tunnel.

“I just don’t think he liked you,” Louis said quietly.

“What?”

He paused for a moment, gripping to a protruding rock in the tunnel wall. “One of them was staring at your face,” Louis said, scratching the nape of his neck, suddenly embarrassed. “And they— Red Caps… they’re repelled by beauty. We didn’t need to hex them because they were already repulsed.”

Even in the pitch darkness, Louis knew Harry was wearing his infuriating smirk. Louis refrained from hexing him, though it was a close call.

“I’d be flattered, Tomlinson, if I didn’t know that they actually just didn’t like the light from your wand.”

A charged silence settled between them. They persevered, climbing the small piles of rock that had fallen from the walls of the cave. An acidic, burning smell pervaded the air.

“That’s it,” Louis muttered, holding his nose. “It’s the Giant Glumbumbles. They must be infesting a bee hive or something, otherwise the smell wouldn’t be that strong.”

Harry made a noise of assent, holding his nose in repulsion.

They reluctantly ventured closer to the scent until they reached three separate pathways. The rocks on the walls had become less solid, almost waxy in texture and both of them had to grip the walls to prevent from slipping.

“Think we should divide and conquer?” Louis asked, sniffing the air to try to find where the scent emerged.

Harry shook his head firmly. “No. The task is supposed to be about teamwork. All these divided tunnels… it’s a test to see if we’ll split up. There’s no way anyone could get through the obstacles alone.”

Louis smiled at Harry’s admission and the reluctant acceptance in his tone, though Harry couldn’t see it in the pitch-dark tunnel. They chose one path at random, advancing cautiously.

“Do you hear that?” Harry asked suddenly.

Their footsteps halted and Louis could hear a faint, low buzzing.

He nodded excitedly. “Yeah, yeah, I hear it. We’re going to have to freeze them, ‘cause they’ll already be too aggressive to fight off if they’re invading a nest.”

They progressed along the same, torturously slippery path for another two hours until they were both exhausted. Although drawing nearer to the buzzing sound, it still seemed distant and unreachable.

“This is fucking ridiculous,” Harry snapped, after tripping over another loose rock. “The sound isn’t getting any nearer.”

“It is,” Louis insisted. “I just think it’s hidden, or something.”

Harry muttered something unintelligible under his breath before marching ahead.

“Wait,” Louis called. He felt along the walls caressed the walls, fingers moving up and down, before sighing. “Come here for a second.”

Harry stormed back, standing with his chest almost pressed against Louis’. “What is it?” he demanded.

“Just— you’re taller than me,” he said. “Touch the ceiling.”

Harry pursed his lips and reached up to paw at the tall, uneven ceiling.

“Do you feel that?” Louis said.

Harry nodded, reaching up to press both palms against it. He smiled uncontrollably before his head fell back, chuckling to himself. “It’s— the ceiling... it’s buzzing.”

Louis’ jaw dropped at the realisation of precisely where the Giant Glumbumbles were. “They’re above us,” Louis whispered. “The Glumbumbles… they’re in the ceiling.”

Harry’s laughter instantly subsided. “Fuck,” he sighed. “We’re going to have to… what? Blast a hole and then freeze them?”

Louis swallowed thickly. “Unless we can take one of the other routes to bring us up to their level.”

“It’s probably close to four in the morning now,” Harry sighed. “That would risk us wasting even more time. And we don’t even know if either of the other tunnels will lead there.”

Louis pulled his lower lip into his mouth. “You’re right,” he said under his breath. “We’ll just— we need to time this right, otherwise they’ll attack.”

Harry nodded. “Okay, you blast the hole. Realistically they’ll swarm out straight away, so we should stand over there a bit,” he said earnestly, pulling Louis by the wrist. He gestured to the ceiling and made a long sweeping motion. “They’ll fly down this way and we can use the Freezing Charm on a couple to bring them back to Diane.”

“That’ll work,” Louis said slowly, “but only if there’s a small swarm of them. If there’s a huge colony then…”

“We’ll deal with it,” Harry said firmly.

Somehow, Harry’s decisiveness reassured him. Louis smiled to himself, relieved for the darkness of the tunnel.

Louis stepped back and pointed his wand directly above him. “Bombarda Maxima,” he shouted.

The ceiling above them exploded violently, rubble and debris falling and smashing against the base of the tunnel. Smoke surrounded them and loud, incessant buzzing encased them almost instantly. Louis spotted thick, grey fur and enormous beetle-like eyes.

Immobulus!” Harry called.

The buzzing halted instantly. Louis coughed and spluttered through the smoke, stepping back with his wand extended to prepare for another onslaught from the Glumbumbles. The air remained still.

Four sets of jet-black eyes pierced the thick smoke. Louis couldn’t find a green pair. “Styles?” he shouted, twisting around.

“’M here,” a rough voice called.

Louis turned around and waded through the smoke. The Giant Glumbumbles were still suspended in the air, which he took reassurance from. He knew that Harry was within reach to cast the charm.

Louis pushed past a pile of rubble and almost tripped. “Lumos,” he muttered. He spotted a huge mound of debris, the smoke billowing from the top. Harry lay underneath it, his leg completely trapped.

“Just give me a second,” Harry muttered.

Louis watched him flick his wand back to the Glumbumbles and pull himself onto his elbow. He felt strangely empathetic of Harry, covered in a layer of soot and struggling to pull himself to his feet.

“Can you… never mind,” Harry said.

“What is it?” Louis asked.

“Doesn’t matter,” Harry managed to pull himself up into a sitting position and removed most of the debris on top of his leg.

Louis reached down to offer him a hand up but he suddenly felt someone bang against him. A crashing sound, as though Harry had tripped, echoed around them.

“Alright,” Harry said loudly. “We need to go now.”

Louis simply nodded and kept his wand raised, watching as Harry directed the Glumbumbles ahead of them through the tunnel. Louis cast light around the tunnel, safe in the knowledge that there were no unwanted creatures who disliked the light residing there.

Harry’s tall figure two paces ahead of him cast a long shadow around the tunnel. Louis occupied himself during the walk back to Diane by watching the way Harry’s back muscles strained and pulled at his rather fitting shirt.

Even before they arrived back to the Scarlet-Tongue, Louis knew something was wrong. The entire tunnel had become unbearably hot again and they could hear Diane’s distant roar behind the rock that concealed their cavern.

Harry took off at a pace, the Glumbumbles darting ahead of him, their immobilised forms banging into each other. Louis hurried behind them, but the exhaustion of travelling all day was finally taking its toll, his body shattered. They caught their breath at one of the archways, the waxy walls hot under their fingertips when Louis tried to lean on them.

Aguamenti,” Louis said, sending a stream of water from the tip of his wand into his mouth. Harry repeated the spell and thrust his head back, gulping down the water eagerly. Louis tried not to look at the long, sweaty column of his throat, or the way his Adam’s apple protruded.

“Come on,” Harry demanded, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. “We need to get back to her before things get worse.”

“Well, pick up the pace, then,” Louis snapped. “You’re the one running ahead of me.”

“Only because I have to direct the Glumbumbles too,” he said.

Louis huffed. “Fine, I’ll take them,” he said. He found himself determined to outpace Harry and, despite the scorching heat, set off at what he knew was an unsustainable pace. The Glumbumbles shot ahead of him, colliding with each other and with the walls of the tunnel rather comically. Louis thought he heard Harry chuckle behind him.

They made it to the secluded cavern faster than either of them had anticipated. Harry bent over, panting desperately, his hands resting on his knees. Louis wanted to lie on the ground and douse himself with freezing cold water.

“Fuck,” Harry muttered.

Louis turned around the corner and found precisely what he had feared. The entire side area of the cavern was engulfed in high flames, soaring to reach the ceiling. Diane was leaning on her front legs and breathing fire around her, the characteristic scarlet tongue shooting out like a lizard’s. She roared, the flames reflected in her sharp, furious eyes.

“Diane’s feeling better, then,” Louis said.

Harry pursed his lips and watched the Scarlet-Tongue like a concerned parent might watch their misbehaving child.

“Come on, then,” Louis said, attempting to re-gain Harry’s attention. “Once we show her the food maybe she’ll get over her tantrum.”

Harry nodded absently, his gaze fixed on her. They trotted down the steep rocks to the base of the cavern floor and hid behind one of the larger rocks. Harry directed the Giant Glumbumbles closer to Diane, but far enough that she would have to leave the encircling flames to eat them.

“She’s too caught up,” Harry sighed. “We need to make some noise nearer to the Glumbumbles so that she looks over there.”

Louis nodded and, muttering the Caterwauling Charm under his breath, directed his wand to the creatures. A high-pitched, ringing scream, one that could challenge even the Scarlet-Tongue’s roar, shot through the air. Louis pressed his hands against his ears and peered around the edge of the rock to watch Diane. Louis felt Harry press close behind him, breathing sharply.

The Scarlet-Tongue whipped around and they both spotted the exact moment that her nose twitched and she lunged for the Glumbumbles. She ripped and tore at the skin ferociously, collapsing onto her back legs to devour them.

Louis silenced the charm, which left only Harry’s relieved sigh ringing in his ears. Louis suddenly realised how very close they were sitting. He shifted into a more comfortable position and leaned back on the shaded rock, closing his eyes. He felt Harry shift across to sit on top of the rock beside him.

“Do you…” Louis said, cutting himself off with a yawn, “do you think we can get a wink of sleep before something else goes wrong?”

Harry eyed him curiously before deeming his question worthy of a reply. “There’s that room we were given to sleep in but I don’t think they actually intended any of us to use it.” Harry glanced at his watch. “Besides, it’s almost half six in the morning. First task ends at nine.”

Louis’ gaze caught Diane burning one of the Glumbumbles to a smoking crisp. “Think this is it, then? We just have to get back out of this cave and it’ll all be over.”

Harry almost smiled. “It’s hardly going to be that easy, Tomlinson. Remember what Achernar said? About nurturing the dragons?”

Louis narrowed his eyes at Harry before they flicked back to Diane and to their surroundings; the waxy cavern and the confining, underground spaces, the nocturnal animals and the narrow tunnels.

“Her habitat,” Louis said under his breath. “We need to get her back to the top level, with the tall rocks and heat and open air.”

Harry tilted his head, expression impassive apart from the slight lift of his eyebrows. “That’s what I thought,” he said quietly. “I wouldn’t have thought about it if it weren’t for the kind of sandy rocks up there… almost like deserts. And the open sky obviously.”

Louis nodded absently, head whipping around in the hopes to find an insight to indicate how they would bring a dragon out an underground cave. His gaze returned to Harry’s resigned smile.

“I’ve been thinking about it for the last few hours,” Harry admitted. “I’ve no fucking clue how to do it.”

Louis yawned loudly. “Diane seems a lot more content now so maybe we could sleep on it or something. Leg’s still paining me a bit after that run, you know?”

Harry looked almost solicitous, but Louis figured that his concern was probably for Diane’s welfare rather than his. “I’m waking you in half an hour,” Harry said, before leaning back on his rock and crossing his arms firmly.

 

*

 

Something smooth stroked along his cheek and Louis absently thought that it felt like the pad of someone’s thumb. He dismissed the thought instantly, reasoning that Harry was more likely to propose to McGonagall than gently wake him up.

“Get up, Tomlinson. I’ve got an idea.”

Louis pulled himself to his feet and rubbed his dust-filled eye. Harry seemed eager to tell him something.

“You remember I said that there is a kind of stairway that leads from the end of the cavern up to the lake?”

Louis nodded sceptically.

“There’s obviously no way we can get her through any of the tunnels.”

Louis sighed. “And there’s also no way we can get her to swim either.”

Harry glared at him. “I was getting to that bit,” he said tersely. “Since we can’t get her through the tunnels, I figured we could try a different method. Do you remember what I told you to read from Habitats, Enclosures and WelfareA Not-So-Typical Manual on Rearing Dragons?”

Louis narrowed his eyes. “Which part?”

“The part about how dragons make use of penetrable rocks when attacking prey,” Harry said. “You were reading it two days before that Potions test ‘cause I remember you annoying me with questions that evening.”

Louis’ eyes widened with recognition. He didn’t dwell on the fact that Harry could remember such an insignificant detail. “Yeah, when dragons are particularly angry or desperate for food, they’ll scorch anything that comes in their path, including penetrable rocks.”

Harry nodded. “And running through these rocks they’ve been—”

“Waxy,” Louis breathed, struck by Harry’s plan. Excitement thrummed through his veins at the prospect. “And really fucking hot... like they could be destroyed.” He smiled and ran his finger along the edge of the rock. “You think we could get her to expand that passage so she could… what? Fly out of her own accord?”

“Yes,” Harry said. “We’d need to shrink that lake again first and stimulate her somehow so that she widens the passage enough for her to fly through.”

They both glanced to where Diane was sleeping, her breathing pattern irregular and occasionally burning the ground beneath her nose from the steam that she huffed out.

“Let’s do it.”

 

*

 

Louis returned an hour and a half later, after drying up the lake, to find Harry trying to reason with Diane, looking mildly disgruntled. Louis took that as meaning that Harry was highly distressed beneath his façade.

“What is it?”

“I used Incendio near to the passage to try to get her attention but she was more occupied with settling fire to the other corner she’s in now,” Harry said. He swore loudly and kicked the jagged rock at his feet, causing him to wince in pain.

Louis craned his neck to see Diane breathing fire in a long line, dragging across the edge of the cavern.

“We’ve half an hour left and the fucking—”

“What about more Glumbumbles?” Louis asked. “Do you think we could entice her with food?”

Harry shoved his hand against one of the loose rocks in the wall. “You don’t think I’ve tried that already, Tomlinson?” he said sharply.

Louis gritted his teeth and refrained from replying. He shut his eyes and lifted his wand, picturing the matted grey fur and beetle-like eyes. From the degree of incessant buzzing, he knew that there had to be more Glumbumbles than the small colony they had captured. He tried to convince himself of his suspicion with every fibre of his being. “Accio Glumbumbles!”

Harry huffed obnoxiously and Louis knew that there was a waspish comment on the tip of his tongue. Louis watched as Harry jogged closer to the wall and sent small blasts of rocks away from the secluded passage, widening it minimally.

A loud, fast approaching sound caught their attention. Harry whipped around and Louis glanced up to find an enormous colony of what must have been twenty Giant Glumbumbles darting across the cavern.

Immobulus,” they screamed in unison.

The Glumbumbles halted instantly in mid-air but Harry and Louis didn’t have a second to spare before the thunderous sound of Diane pulling herself to her feet and bounding towards them interrupted the sudden stillness.

“Quick!” Louis shouted. “Help me direct them to the passage.”

Wingardium Leviosa,” Harry said and the same time Louis made a sharp jabbing motion and shouted, “Tarda Momentum!”

The rapid pace of the Glumbumbles was no match for Diane’s clumsy stomping and she grew impatient and frustrated, unable to spread her wings.

“Keep them at the entrance to the passage so she can still see,” Louis shouted, leaping over one of the rocks and rushing over to Harry. The Glumbumbles were just beyond Diane’s reach but she was in Harry’s line of sight. Louis yanked the back of the Slytherin’s shirt and dragged him beyond the reach of Diane’s fire. They flattened themselves against the jagged wall just as Diane roared and breathed searing hot flames at the rocks blocking her from the Glumbumbles.

The rocks—or material resembling rocks, rather—began to move apart, some parts melting against the rocky terrain while other parts crumbled beneath her wrathful stare.

“We need to get closer to keep directing the Glumbumbles,” Louis muttered. They inched closer to her, Harry directing the creatures to linger teasingly beyond her reach. The spade of her tail whipped back and forth menacingly and she prepared to take flight up the passage. Seemingly aware now that she could break through the rock, she breathed fire around her in calculated motions, pushing upwards in the chamber-like passage. Her talons clung to the walls of the passage as she ventured further upwards.

Harry and Louis darted to the passage, Harry trying to see past the Scarlet-Tongue’s enormous body to direct the Glumbumbles just beyond her reach.

“It doesn’t matter now,” Louis said, placing a hand on his arm.

Harry wheeled around and Louis wrenched his arm away.

“I just—” he said, as a huge chunk of rock and debris fell behind them. “She’ll see the light and want to get out whether the Glumbumbles are there or not.”

Harry nodded stiffly.

They craned their necks to watch Diane make her way up the passage, roaring as she went, until the smoke and fragmented rocks plummeting around them became too much. After seconds, the roaring became more urgent, more manic, and Louis felt a final burst of heat shoot down the passage before he could hear only the sound of crumbling rocks.

“You think—”

Harry didn’t wait for a response, instead beckoning Louis to stand directly beneath the passage. There were still rocks smouldering, smoking and collapsing above them. He grabbed Louis roughly by the shoulder and pointed his wand directly above them, shouting “Ascendio!”

Louis wanted to scream. He hid his face beneath his elbow as his eyes burned, rock debris slashed at his open skin and heavy smoke burned his skin. They shot directly upwards and an enormous rock fell past them, missing Harry by centimetres but sending shards of rocks to puncture his skin. A razor-sharp piece caught Louis’ lip and slashed it open, sending hot blood dripping down his chest. Louis glanced up and winced, catching a strip of light above them before he was hurtled against solid ground. He and Harry tumbled and skidded across the rocky terrain, thrashing against each other and the sandy ground until they collapsed into a pile of heavy, scorching limbs.

Louis could hear heavy thuds in the distance, could feel Harry shifting above him, but he felt utterly defenceless. His wand lay limp in his hand and his entire face burned. He blinked his eyes open blearily, fluttering his eyelashes to remove the small pieces of gravel. He could see a vague outline of Harry’s body sprawled on top of him and rendering the lower half of his body numb, but he could also make out tiny specks of colour in the distance, seemingly jumping up and down.

Harry grunted above him and keeled over to lie on his back beside him. Louis wanted to scream atrocities at him but his mouth was flooding with blood and he knew any sound he made would come out like a gurgle. He tilted his head until his cheek scraped the gravel and blood dripped from his parted lips onto the ground like ink falling from his quill onto a clean sheet of parchment.

Harry hauled himself to his knees and leaned over him, breathing laboured and uneven. He muttered something unintelligible. Louis felt a pair of hands grip him beneath the arms and pull him to his knees. He lurched forward and coughed out the rest of the blood, a heavy hand on his back. Louis recoiled at the sight of the blood and tore himself from Harry’s hand, pulling himself to his feet. He whipped around and saw Harry staring at him, leaning against one of the rocks. One of Harry’s cheeks had a long scrape and his wrist was propped against his hip at a strange angle.

“You,” Louis breathed murderously, taking a tentative step closer to Harry and prodding his chest. “You fucking imbecile. Did you not think for one fucking second that it might be a bad—” he coughed loudly, sputtering, “a bad idea to follow the same route as a dragon who just burned everything in her path?”

Even beneath the heavy layer of soot and the long gash, Louis saw Harry’s jaw tighten. Harry shifted his arm, wincing, and grabbed Louis’ shoulder, turning him to face the opposite direction.

Louis gasped. The entire audience in the arena surrounding them was screaming, leaping and frantically waving signs at them. Blinking slowly as the vague, colourful shapes came into focus, he saw his parents beaming, Liam and Niall hollering and Zayn clapping proudly; he spotted faces he recognised from classes, or from passing some in the hallways; he even saw Professor Longbottom clapping earnestly with his hands raised above his head. Despite the dull ache of his leg, the sharp taste in his mouth and the stinging of his eyes, he smiled. Harry’s hand squeezed his shoulder.

“Diane is over there,” Harry said quietly.

Louis glanced behind him and saw the Scarlet-Tongue demolishing the remains of the Glumbumbles, perched on a sandy rock that, from Louis’ viewpoint, rather looked like sand dune. “I can’t believe it took us this long to figure out,” he said, suddenly anxious about the time it might have taken the other champions to figure out that they had to return their dragons to their natural habitat. Louis realised it was the first time that he had thought about the other champions since the previous morning.

“Depends on what kind of landscapes the others had,” Harry muttered, interpreting the nervous lilt to Louis’ tone. “The Common Welsh Green would be pretty predictable but, then again, Alexander’s pretty fucking thick.”

Louis had opened his mouth to respond when a deafening roar sounded around them. Both of them whipped around, wands prepared, to find Diane polishing off the last Glumbumble. It was then that Louis realised that the Silencing Cham around the arena had been lifted; the shouts and roars from the Hogwarts supporters could be heard and Achernar’s clear, articulate voice above them all.

They heard Diane’s loud roar as the dragon handlers—who had somehow appeared inside the arena itself—dragged her away. Louis saw something dark flash in Harry’s eye before Achernar’s voice caught his attention.

“We ask the champions now to make their way towards the room where their belongings were held for medical attention and food. Your scores will be delivered afterwards.”

Louis followed Harry across the arena, limping. It seemed like an impossibly long stretch and the sharp pain that shot through his calf worsened with every step. Louis watched Harry’s conflicted face for another couple of minutes before Harry said something under his breath and pulled Louis’ arm around his shoulder.

“…only because otherwise I’d be waiting all fucking day for you.”

Louis ignored the comment and leaned against Harry, both of them trudging across the expansive stretch of land until they finally reached the door to their assigned—and unused—room. As soon as he twisted the handle of the door, hands reached out and snatched him and Harry, whisking them both away to another room.

If Louis thought that he and Harry looked seriously wounded, their conditions could not compare with the Durmstrang twins. Alexander’s left leg was completely mangled and Leif’s face was covered in deep burns and a huge purple bruise.

Louis was instructed to lie down on one of the hospital beds that had been transported down to the arena. He spotted Madam Pomfrey bustling around them, apparently relaying the last time dragons were used in the Triwizard Tournament and how she had since requested that they never be used again.

“Open wide, dear,” she said, pressing the tip of her wand to the corner of Louis’ mouth and illuminating the inside. She huffed and handed him a tall glass of a mint green-coloured potion, instructing him to drink it all, before attending to Harry’s wrist.

“Louis!” his mother’s voice called from across the room. He pulled himself up in his hospital bed, prompting a disgruntled Madam Pomfrey to tap a quick spell to his calf and move back to Harry.

“Mum!”

Louis’ mother pushed past the others hurrying around the room until she pulled him into a tight, warm embrace, rubbing his back soothingly. “My darling boy, we were so worried. You were underground for so long. We arrived back again this morning, about an hour ago, and then we heard about the Selkies in the lake last night. We saw you shooting into the air after the dragon and you scared the living daylight out of me. And then he helped you walk— wait. Where is he? Where’s Harry?”

Louis pulled back from her and gaped. “What?”

She twisted around until her gaze caught Harry’s, who had apparently been watching their exchange.

“Rosaline Tomlinson,” she said, stepping over to his hospital bed and extending her hand.

Harry, looking equally shocked as Louis felt, accepted her hand and shook it firmly. “Harry Styles.”

“I… I assumed wrongly about you,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him, as though trying to detect any hint of his guilt. “Thank you for looking after my son.”

Louis felt slightly indignant at that comment; was the ‘looking after’ not shared between them? Perhaps it was Harry’s startled expression, or his geniality around Louis’ mother, but he didn’t protest.

Harry nodded and smiled stiffly. “All part of the competition, Mrs Tomlinson.”

Louis’ mother eyed him carefully before saying under her breath, “Ambition is a blade that cuts both ways. Don’t let Louis end up on the wrong end of that blade.”

Louis wanted to protest to his mother’s words but, from Harry’s earnest expression, he found that his response was lost in his throat.

For the rest of their conversation, Louis couldn’t meet Harry’s gaze. His mother and the rest of the visitors were ushered out soon after Clara and Julia arrived, both limping, but looking substantially healthier than the rest of them. Julia was actually smiling.

Louis’ heart plummeted and he glanced at where Harry was narrowing his eyes at them.

After their minor cuts and burns were healed or covered, all of them were escorted to their arena. Louis spotted the other champions looking around with interest. Clara kept pointing to one of the tall dunes and talking in sharp French.

The arena reached its entire capacity and Louis saw that the crowd now consisted of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons supporters, too. He saw the judges—Achernar, MacFarlan, McGonagall, Vulchanova and Maxime—sitting in a neat row in the bottom tier and smiled. McGonagall caught his eye and gave him a short nod from beneath her spectacles.

“We will begin, please, with the Durmstrang champions,” Achernar called.

A hush fell over the arena.

Vulchanova read out his school’s results, consulting a slip of paper Achernar handed him. His voice dripped with distaste. “Durmstrang has been awarded thirty points in total. Points were reduced for incompletion of the final challenge, acquisition of serious and avoidable injuries and one instance of misuse of magic.”

The crowd began to shout, some delighted with the result while others were outraged and demanded further reductions. Louis caught Leif grimacing to his left.

“We will now proceed with the Hogwarts champions,” Achernar said loudly.

A high-pitched scream and an outbreak of giggles shot through the air before total silence fell.

Professor McGonagall cleared her throat, scanning the slip of paper that Achernar gave her before speaking. Louis felt Harry shift closer to his side.

“Hogwarts has been awarded a total of forty-two points.”

Louis’ heart leaped and he felt considerably lighter on his feet; though he didn’t know how well Beauxbatons had fared, forty-two certainly seemed considerable. The arena erupted in chants and shouts, scattered applause and claps on the back. Louis gasped and turned to Harry, whose gaze was indecipherable despite the small smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

“Points were deducted for some minor instances of poor teamwork and a rather poorly-calculated decision to follow a dragon up a flaming passage which resulted in serious injuries.”

Louis smiled despite himself and noticed Harry struggling to prevent a wide smile overtake his face, something that proved rather difficult.

They kept eye contact, Louis searching for something beneath Harry’s curious gaze, until the sound of Madame Maxime’s thick accent caught their attention.

“Beauxbatons ‘as been awarded thirty-seven points. Points were taken away because one of ze challenges—to treat ze dragon’s injuries—was not carried out and ze final challenge was not completed to its fullest extent.”

Louis almost jumped into Harry’s arms with the realisation that they had won the first task. Harry seemed to breathe out a sigh of relief and outright beamed at Louis, reaching out before fidgeting with his hands and shoving them in his pockets.

“I knew we would win,” Harry said, smiling smugly. His eyes followed the crinkles of Louis’ eyes. “Well… well done, Tomlinson.”

“And you,” Louis said happily, watching him curiously. “Apart from what was possibly the stupidest decision I’ve ever seen you make.”

Harry looked like he had a retort hanging from the tip of his tongue but seemed to accept the criticism, nodding stiffly.

Someone in the crowd had found a way to get onto the rocky terrain from the stands, and a huge onslaught of Hogwarts robes and bright smiles rushed towards Louis. He and Harry were instantly engulfed and separated by the crowd.

 

*

 

The morning after the first task, Louis woke up to an empty dormitory and a letter on his bedside locker. It was addressed to him, his name inked with slanted, angular handwriting. He hauled Abrax onto his lap and reached for the letter, tearing it open carefully.

Dear Mr L. Tomlinson

Your presence is requested in Professor McGonagall’s office today at half past nine, where you and your fellow Triwizard champions will be provided with details of the Yule Ball and the upcoming task. The password is Treacle Tart.

Louis lay back in his bed, absently glancing at the bright sky through the circular window between their beds, and savouring the triumphant feeling that had consumed his every thought the previous day, until he checked his watch: 9:27 AM precisely. He whipped back the covers (sending a hissing Abrax halfway across the room) and ran around his dormitory, pulling on a clean pair of robes and swiping a toothbrush across his teeth. He rushed to the mirror to fix his hair before glancing at the cut on his lips and the gashes on his cheeks and deciding that any effort he made with his hair would probably go unnoticed anyway. He spotted the open letter on Harry’s bedside locker and cursed every deity that had insisted that Harry—inconsiderate, volatile, infuriating Harry—be his roommate.

Louis darted down the stairs and skidded along the hallways until he came to an abrupt stop outside Professor McGonagall’s office.

“Treacle Tart,” he said with a shallow pant. The gargoyle sprung to life and he climbed the rotating stairs quickly. He knocked firmly on the door, which swung open instantly to reveal the five other champions, all of whom (apart from Harry and Leif) glared at him with varying degrees of disdain. Louis took sick satisfaction from the fact he wasn’t the only one with rather unsightly injuries.

“Ah, Mr Tomlinson,” Professor McGonagall said, peering at him over her glasses. “Kind of you to finally join us.”

Louis apologised and stood beside Harry. “Why didn’t you wake me up this morning?” he demanded through gritted teeth.

Harry ignored him, watching as Professor McGonagall rounded her desk and retrieved three thin envelopes.

“You said you were tired,” Harry muttered eventually, not meeting his eye. “I figured I could repeat anything McGonagall says to you later.”

Louis was suddenly struck by the sincerity of Harry’s tone and how it resembled that of the previous morning, when it had seemed that Harry truly regretted sending them through the passage.

“Oh,” he breathed.

He spotted Harry roll his eyes and return his attention to Professor McGonagall.

“After the successful completion of the first task yesterday morning, each team will be given a different clue to work with in order to prepare for the next task,” she said, handing out the envelopes to each team. “You will use these clues to the best of your abilities and must not accept help, in any form, from another student or teacher.”

She stared deliberately around at them before pursing her lips. Louis glanced at where Harry was restlessly fussing with the envelope, toying with the corner and sliding his finger beneath the flap. Louis was struck by how very long Harry’s fingers were.

“Now, as Triwizard champions, you will be expected to open the Yule Ball—a traditional dance that will take place on Christmas Day at eight o’clock. As champions, each of you and your partners will lead the first dance. For you two,” she said, focusing on Harry and Louis, “there will be a short dance lesson led by Professor Longbottom and Sinistra in the upstairs classroom beside the Owlery this afternoon.”

“Headmistress McGonagall, vill we have to participate in this dance practice?” Leif asked. “Ve have been taught these dances since we vere young; it is part of Durmstrang tradition.”

“No, it is not mandatory, though you are welcome to join should you like.”

Leif breathed a sigh of relief and Louis caught his eye, smiling privately as he shared his worries about formal dancing. Leif winked at him unabashedly before returning his attention to Professor McGonagall.

Louis felt a flush rise to his cheeks. The thought of inviting someone to be his date to the Yule Ball was terrifying in itself but having to open the dance in front of the entire school? Louis made a note to ask someone tall to hide behind during the dance.

“Mr Tomlinson? Do you need something?” Professor McGonagall said impatiently.

Louis turned to find only him and Harry left in the circular office. “No— I— sorry,” he said, scrambling to follow Harry to the door. He saw her shake her head exasperatedly.

Harry walked three paces ahead of Louis, the envelope hanging by his side. Seeing Harry in the light of day as they passed through a long corridor with stained-glass windows, he saw a painful gash that missed Harry’s eye by mere millimetres. Louis saw the effects of the long drag of one of the sharp sweltering hot rocks down Harry’s cheek. Louis saw beneath the swish and sway of Harry’s robes that his ankle had been bandaged.

“Open it,” Louis said once they reached their dormitory.

Harry collapsed on his bed and glanced up at Louis expectantly. Louis perched at the end of Harry’s bed, close enough to read the contents of the clue but not close enough to touch Harry should he reach out. Not that he would ever want to reach out.

Harry slid his thumb beneath the flap of the envelope and pulled out a piece of parchment, reading aloud.

Spiral downward and dive

Inside greenwood and grass

Where answers are held and dangers unparalleled.

Search high, higher, roam the skies,

Fall to the earth, find your key in disguise.

A steady silence washed over them as they considered the clue and each other’s reactions.

“So… we’ll have to fly,” Louis said after reading the clue a couple of times until he could recite it from memory. “It says ‘search high, higher, roam the skies’ so we’ll have to find something in the sky, then.”

Harry nodded and let his chin rest against his knuckle.

“And it mentions falling… twice. ‘Spiral downward’ and ‘fall to the earth’, right?” Louis said.

A heavy silence settled between them.

“Can you fly?” Harry asked suddenly.

Louis twisted his mouth into a grimace. “I can but haven’t had much practice apart from during summer holidays, really. Nobody to practice with.”

Harry huffed sharply. “Do you have a broomstick at least?”

Louis nodded. “Yeah, I’ve a Nimbus 2001.”

Harry sunk his teeth into his lower lip. “That’ll do. You’re going to have to practice with it, though.”

“We’ve got a couple of months,” Louis said. “Next task is not ‘til the end of January so that leaves loads of time to practice.”

Harry remained silent, tracing their names on the envelope languidly.

Louis shifted closer on the bed and tugged the parchment from Harry’s grip. “What about this, though,” he said. “’Inside greenwood and grass’. That could mean that we’re looking for something in nature. And all the mentions of danger, too.”

Harry’s head shot up in realisation. “The forest. The Forbidden Forest. That has to be it.”

 

*

 

Louis, along with every student in fourth to seventh year, was sat in a long, cluttered room in the West Tower when the prospect of dancing in front of the entire school body hit him. They had gathered to practice for the Yule Ball and Louis very much wanted to hide behind the tall Ravenclaw sixth year sitting in front of him rather than face such embarrassment.

Professors Longbottom and Sinistra had demonstrated a basic waltz to much rambunctious sniggering and jeering from the students. Louis had to admit that they could dance rather well, even if Professor Longbottom sometimes tripped over Sinistra’s olive robes.

“We’re going to ask a couple of students to come forward,” Professor Sinistra called after they had shown them the steps a couple of times.

Louis felt the entire student body around him shift uncomfortably. His eyes fell to the floor, avoiding her searching gaze.

“You’ll all need to try at some stage,” Professor Longbottom said, smiling hopefully. Louis knew that he hated having to choose individual students, preferring them to answer voluntarily during class. He hoped that this might be one of those occasions.

“How about we let our Triwizard champions start us off?” Professor Sinistra said.

Louis’ heart sunk. He felt hands clapping his back and the outbreak of nervous laughter before he realised exactly what she had proposed. Niall, while simultaneously managing to cackle loudly at his disgusted expression, pushed him to his feet. Louis tried to cast his memory back to the Vanishing Spell he had read about the previous week to self-vanish from the spot as he felt himself stumble over to Professor Longbottom.

He saw Harry strutting over in his peripheral, apparently unbothered by the prospect of dancing in front of what felt like the entire wizarding population in Britain. Knowing Harry, Louis thought sagely, he had probably spent his childhood attending extravagant balls and parties where he had perfected something as basic as a simple waltz.

“Miss Bletchley would you please partner with Mr Tomlinson,” Professor Sinistra said, nodding at a seventh-year Ravenclaw the same height as Louis. “And Miss Harper with Mr Styles, please.” The second girl was a Hufflepuff—Layla Harper—that Louis had spoken to before during Herbology. She looked rather alarmed to be paired with Harry. Louis couldn’t blame her.

“Excellent,” Professor Sinistra enthused once they had taken their positions. She and Professor Longbottom stood to the side of the room and she flicked her wand, prompting the introductory music to sound throughout the room.

“No need to be nervous; we’ll help you along,” Professor Longbottom said reassuringly.

The airy whistle of a flute filled the air and Louis was suddenly faced with the prospect of dancing with Heather Bletchley in front of all of his sniggering classmates.

Heather smiled nervously, noticing Louis’ hesitation. She placed one hand on his shoulder and lifted his stiff hand with the other. Louis placed a light hand on her waist and glanced behind him. Harry was staring at them.

Louis turned away promptly, awaiting the signalling violins before launching into the dance.

“Very good… and turn… and lift,” Professor Sinistra called. “Try to let Mr Tomlinson lead you, Miss Bletchley.”

Louis cringed as he missed a step and lifted Heather in the air too early, leaving her to land on the ground with a heavy thud as the light flute mocked him for his mistake. They twisted and twirled, Louis wearing a grimace and Heather a tight-lipped smile. He knew that they looked stiff and he didn’t dare glance to where Harry was probably excelling.

“Mr Styles, stop looking at Mr Tomlinson and at least try to concentrate on your own dance.”

Louis’ cheeks heated and he tried to ignore the outburst of laughter on his right that sounded distinctly like Niall’s loud cackle. They travelled in the final circle around each other, Louis attempting to look like he knew exactly what his next step was supposed to be, rather than following Heather’s every move, until the music came to its conclusion to both of their relief.

“Alright, let’s have another two couples to practice. Mr Muldoon? How about you lead the next dance with Miss Whitehorn.”

Heather smiled warmly at Louis and thanked him quietly for the dance.

“I should be thanking you,” he replied. “Honestly would’ve fallen flat on my face if it weren’t for you.”

She tucked her hair behind her ear and flashed her teeth at him. “It was no problem, really. I was watching you at the first task, by the way. You were brilliant.”

Louis thanked her, still unused to being praised for his performance even after everyone he had spoken to since then had congratulated him. From the way Heather lowered her head and looked at him through her eyelashes, he got the impression that she was flirting. Though he desperately wanted to tell her that he was about as straight as a rainbow, he figured that it would have sounded rather arrogant of him to assume she was doing anything besides acting like a friendly dance partner.

On his way back to his seat, he caught Harry’s gaze. He looked disgruntled, flicking his hair out of his eyes sulkily and turning away.

“Mate, that was hilarious,” Niall said as he took his place and glanced over to where Gerard Muldoon was stomping around the dancefloor with less grace than a mountain troll. “You should’ve seen your face when you lifted her about five beats too early.”

“Thanks, Niall,” he muttered.

“And Styles!” Niall said, grinning wolfishly.

Louis narrowed his eyes. “What about Styles?”

Niall’s head tipped back in laughter and Liam was chuckling quietly to himself. “He looked ready to commit murder,” Niall said gleefully. “Not that he doesn’t always look like that but, Merlin’s knotted beard, he kept looking over to you and Heather. Wouldn’t even make eye contact with Layla. I was half-convinced he would drop her during a couple of those lifts.”

Louis piqued his eyebrows but remained silent, watching instead as Professors Sinistra and Longbottom returned to the centre of the room to demonstrate a more complicated spin. There were many reasons why Harry might have been watching him with Heather; he was probably preparing to taunt Louis about his diabolical dancing.

Louis shifted closer to Liam’s side and titled his head to gain his attention.

“Everything okay, mate?”

“Yeah,” Louis sighed. “Just— I was thinking. Am I going to have to take a girl to the Yule Ball?”

Louis despised the vulnerability in his tone. Homosexuality was not a taboo as such, but the notion of carrying on surnames and producing heirs was still rife within pure-blood circles and Louis assumed that the traditional nature of the Yule Ball would dictate male and female partners only.

Liam smiled empathetically. “Of course not. I just heard a couple of people complaining that Longbottom and Sinistra should’ve let you two pick your own dance partners rather than presumptively pairing you with girls.” He nodded discreetly to two Ravenclaws who were holding hands and whispering to each other. “There’re a few same-sex couples at Hogwarts, even if some of them are a bit quiet about it. And aren’t the Beauxbatons champions dating? They’ll be going together for sure.”

Louis smiled. “Yeah, yeah,” he sighed. “You’re right. I just– I wouldn’t know who to ask, let alone who’s even interested and–”

“Louis,” Liam said sternly—or, as sternly as his facial features would allow. “People are literally falling over each other to ask either of the Triwizard champions, mate. I promise you won’t have any issues there.”

Louis was decidedly unconvinced. “Well what about you, then? Who’re you inviting?”

Liam choked on his words for a moment, a deep flush blooming on his cheeks. “I haven’t decided just yet.”

Louis hummed, his gaze drifting around the room. “Zayn seems interested,” he mused.

He regretted not bringing a camera to capture Liam’s reaction. He coughed loudly and spluttered, making a strange hand motion and shaking his head comically fast. “He absolutely is not. Zayn’s… well, he’s a friend. Plus, he’d never be interested in me like that. He’s… I mean, he basically has people queueing up to ask him.”

Louis glanced across the room to where Zayn was engrossed in a thin paperback. There were, indeed, a couple of people glancing surreptitiously at him.

“Mate, I don’t know who you’re trying to convince here, but Zayn is definitely interested in more than just friendship.”

The music changed to a more complicated three-beat waltz and Professor Sinistra demonstrated with a seventh-year Slytherin that Louis vaguely recognised from Potions called Cadmus Meliflua. He was an extraordinary dancer, Louis thought. He seemed to dominate the dancefloor, movements graceful and fluid yet fuelled by purpose and poise. Louis dropped his forehead into his palms defeatedly.

 

*

 

Harry was becoming restless. Louis had known of his impatience but the fact that they hadn’t established anything about the second task beyond the fact that they would have to fly and that it might take place in the Forbidden Forest, left him irritable and volatile. On top of dealing with Harry and his long, distracting fingers, Louis also had to confront the task of inviting someone to the Yule Ball.

Faced with the prospect of spending a night with one person, with the eyes of the entire school on him, left him suddenly aware of just how many students there were in the school—and just how many prospective dates were there.

“Love is in the air!” Niall announced loudly. “I’ve just seen three people be asked to the Yule Ball and I haven’t even had me breakfast yet. Merlin’s crabby wife, I’m starved.” With that, Niall collapsed into the seat beside Louis and heaped six sausages onto his plate.

“Niall,” Louis said carefully, smothering his slice of toast with marmalade. “Not sure saying shit like ‘Merlin’s crabby wife’ is going to get you many prospective dates for the ball.”

“Your probably right,” Niall said through a mouthful of food, though he didn’t look particularly concerned. “What about you? ‘M sure you’ve got people salivating at the thought of bringing you to the ball.”

Louis groaned. “Why do people think that? I’ve been stared at by the entire school but asked by about seven girls in total, all of whom I told that I’m gay. I figured the word should’ve spread by now.”

Two Gryffindors sitting opposite them who had been observing him quietly began whispering furiously. Their rather blatant eavesdropping was beginning to irritate Louis.

“Just go up to someone who looks halfway decent and just ask ‘em,” Niall said, shovelling scrambled egg into his mouth.

“Easier said than done,” Louis muttered sagely.

He turned to look behind him, finding half of the Hufflepuff table whipping back around, a couple of third-year girls giggling uproariously.

“Well what about the other champions? They’ve got dates right?”

Louis nodded. “Clara and Julia are obviously going together. Leif’s bringing Gwen Duke from Slytherin and Alexander’s bringing one of the Durmstrang girls.”

Niall nodded to himself before turning back to Louis. “And Styles? He’s literally in the exact same position as you.”

Louis pursed his lips and turned primly back to his slices of toast. “He’s in high demand,” he said stiffly. “It seems that the entire school has forgotten what an entitled prick he can be when the mood strikes. I even overheard a group of Hufflepuffs in the library talking about how ‘luscious and flowy’ his hair apparently is.”

Niall snorted into his pumpkin juice. “Well, all I’ll say is get to it already, mate. People are getting impatient.”

 

*

 

“Untransfiguration,” Professor McGonagall said, flicking her wand to write the essay title they would need to complete on the blackboard, “or reversing the effects of transfiguration, is a complicated branch of magic that requires serious concentration. Human Untransfiguration requires another person to be very familiar with the person they must Untransfigure for a high degree of accuracy…”

Harry shifted his chair until he was next to Louis, leaning against the desk between them with little regard for Louis’ personal space. Somehow, Louis didn’t mind very much.

“So I was thinking,” Harry said under his breath. “I know we haven’t had a lot of time to properly talk about the—”

“Mr Styles. if you do not have something productive to add to this discussion then I suggest you turn around and return your attention to your textbook,” Professor McGonagall said. “Now, Untransfiguration is a branch of magic that is vastly underestimated, which can produce grave consequences so listen carefully…”

“I know there hasn’t been a lot of time to talk about the next task,” Harry muttered. “But I think it’s time we visit the forest again. There has to be some clue about—”

“Styles, you’ve just lost Slytherin House ten points,” Professor McGonagall said sharply.

“Fine,” Louis said under his breath. “We can go later tonight, after curfew.”

Louis knew that, unlike the weeks approaching the first task when the hallways were mostly empty after dinner, they would not be so able to sneak out of the castle undetected. Since the announcement of the Yule Ball, students had taken to lingering in the corridors and the Entrance Hall in the hopes of asking someone to the ball—or being asked.

Harry grunted his assent and Louis tried not to dwell on the fact that Harry hadn’t moved his chair back to its previous position.

That evening, when they were in their dormitory—Louis reading about forest-dwelling creatures and Harry re-reading his Potions essay—he realised just how cordial he and Harry had become. Calling Harry an entitled prick that morning to Niall hadn’t sat right with him, coming out contrived and leaving a bitter taste in his mouth.

“We need to leave before it gets too dark to see outside,” Louis said from where he was sprawled across his bed.

Harry muttered something under his breath, folding his essay and slipping it into his satchel. He wrapped his cloak around himself and raised an eyebrow questioningly at Louis. Louis realised that he had been staring and tore his eyes away from Harry, busying himself with wrapping up in warm layers—the wind had picked up, howling and whipping across the vexed Great Lake.

They trundled out of the dormitory, broomsticks in hand, and were met with dark corridors lit with dimly flaming torches. The castle was eerie and unnerving when its hallways weren’t teeming with students chattering and laughing, rushing to Transfiguration class ‘before McGonagall has my head!’

They snuck behind a gargoyle at the staircase leading to the Entrance Hall, making sure that the coast was clear before rushing down the stairs and out to the grounds.

Louis instantly regretted choosing such a despicable night to venture out to the Forbidden Forest. Two weeks since the first task had passed and, though all of his minor wounds had healed, he still sported a gash on his lip, and his calf pained him whenever he climbed up the stairs to their dormitory in the evenings.

“Come on, Tomlinson,” Harry muttered.

They made the familiar journey across the sloping grounds of Hogwarts, stumbling down the waterlogged grassy patches until they made it past Hagrid’s cabin and to the edge of the forest.

“What exactly are we looking for?” Louis said irritably, thinking of the thick, woollen blankets adorning his warm bed.

“That’s what we’re here to find out,” Harry said shortly. “All we have to work with is that we might have to find a ‘key in disguise’ in the forest and that we have to approach it from a height.” With that, Harry lifted his leg over his broomstick and kicked off firmly from the boggy ground.

Louis huffed to himself and followed Harry, hovering unsteadily before shooting up to catch up with Harry. They steadied at about twenty feet from the tops of the tallest trees, flying at a moderate pace above the forest.

They flew for about twenty minutes, covering the perimeters before making their way inward to the very heart of the forest. All either of them could see were boundless patches of dense foliage and the faint outline of muddy tracks in some of the sparser areas. Louis thought he saw a pack of wolves roaming near a scattering of thick trees but within the blink of an eye they had disappeared.

Harry let out a noise of frustration from ahead of him.

“Alright, no need to get your wand in a knot,” Louis said. “We might need to fly a bit higher to get a proper view of the forest.”

“It’s not that,” Harry snapped.

Louis sped up against the wind until he was hovering beside Harry. He noticed that Harry was wincing, his hand resting on his ankle while the other gripped his broomstick.

“We should head back now, anyway,” Louis said in an attempt to reassure him. “You can visit Madam Pomfrey in the morning about your ankle, I’m sure.”

Harry nodded tersely and they flew back, Louis landing rather precariously, stumbling at first before Harry snatched the hood of his robes before he fell. He let go straight away and they made their way back to the castle in silence.

Louis wanted to reach out to help Harry every time he heard a sharp intake of breath when he leaned too heavily on his ankle or slipped in a puddle, but every time Louis turned towards him with an open mouth to offer a shoulder to lean on, Harry glowered at him.

“Styles, I’m trying to help you here,” Louis sighed after Harry almost smashed in one of the panes of the glasshouse with how hard his hand splattered against it to halt his fall. “You helped me at the end of the first task. If you’d just let me then we’d be even; I’d have a clear conscience and you wouldn’t have a broken ankle.”

“Fine,” Harry said roughly. He stopped in his tracks and heaved an arm reluctantly around Louis’ shoulders. He allowed Louis to support him up to the castle doors until he snatched both of their broomsticks and muttered something along the lines of “at least let me carry them.”

They eventually arrived at the Entrance Hall when the time was approaching midnight. They traipsed back to their dormitory, narrowly avoiding Peeves, and collapsed back onto Harry’s bed. If someone asked him, Louis thought, he would say that Abrax and Cassiopeia were curled up on his bed and that it seemed unreasonable to move them when Harry’s warm, emerald bedsheets looked quite enticing.

Chapter Text

“I have an idea.”

Two weeks had passed since the first night that they had roamed the skies above the Forbidden Forest in search of any indication of what the second task might involve. Since then, they had snuck out four times, returning to their dormitory more disappointed with each fruitless attempt.

Harry lowered his copy of A Practical Application of Defensive Magic and raised an eyebrow at Louis.

You have an idea?”

Louis glared at him. “Do you want to hear it or not?” he asked impatiently.

Louis watched as Harry seemed to fight the smile tugging at his lips and motioned with his hand for Louis to proceed.

“You remember last month after the first task when McGonagall gave us our envelopes?” he said, not waiting for a response. “She said that the envelopes would each contain a different clue about the second task, right? Right now, there seems to be no other way of interpreting our clue other than what we’ve already searched for above the forest. So I was thinking that, now, the only thing left for us to do is find the other hints and piece them together to give us a better idea.”

Harry observed him quietly, head tilted in contemplation. “I thought you were a Gryffindor through and through,” he said with a small smile.

“I still want us to win this,” Louis said firmly. “And right now, at least, getting any more help we can seems like the only option.”

“Ambition is a blade that cuts both ways,” Harry said sagely.

Louis was suddenly struck by the fact that Harry had quoted Louis’ own mother. He didn’t quite know what to make of this.

Harry turned his back to him, toying with the binding of his textbook. “It’s the best plan you’ve come up with so far. I just don’t see how we’ll pull it off. To begin with, we don’t even know where exactly the Larsons or the Beauxbatons girls are staying, let alone where they keep the clues. And on top of that, they probably have security spells that we’ve never heard of and probably can’t break through.” Harry caught his eye and smiled despite himself. “But we killed the first task so… I’m in.”

Louis smiled, his chest feeling considerably lighter, and met Harry’s resolute gaze before glancing back to the open textbooks and pieces of parchment scattered around his desk.

“What about sneaking onto the Durmstrang ship?” Harry said. “The Beauxbatons carriage is far too small for us not to be noticed and the Durmstrangs are hardly even there—they spend more time in the castle.”

Louis nodded. “Yeah, I think sneaking onto the Durmstrang ship would be our best bet. Although I honestly haven’t a clue how we’d manage that without being caught. Vulchanova never leaves the ship and all the Durmstrang students know what we look like. If someone even catches a glimpse of us, Vulchanova will have us instantly disqualified.”

Harry sunk his teeth into his lower lip and clenched his jaw. “Unless we could convince one of them to let us on.”

“That would never happen.”

Harry looked mildly disgruntled. “Well, I don’t see you coming up with a better plan,” he snapped.

Louis returned his attention to the letter his mother had sent him to inform him of the banal activities and events back home (apparently his father had taken up Gobstones as a hobby), letting her neat handwriting blur beneath his gaze. The more he thought about Harry’s proposition, the more his mind returned to one particular person he knew could be the key to giving them access to the Durmstrang ship.

“What about Leif?” Louis said carefully.

Harry dropped his gaze to his textbook and crossed his arms across his chest tightly, distinctly ruffled. “Well, he looks dim-witted enough to let us onto the Durmstrang ship.”

“No, no,” Louis said, “I don’t mean convince him, I mean we could impersonate him… or Alexander, even.”

Harry caught his eye and smirked. “You mean Polyjuice Potion? Or a Transfiguration Charm?” he said, shifting to the end of the bed eagerly, closer to Louis’ desk. “That… that might actually work. If one of us pretends to be one of the Larsons we could just ask the other where their clue is.”

“Exactly,” Louis said, relieved. “We’re going to have to get a bit of one of them, though. Not to mention stealing all of the ingredients from Slughorn’s cupboard.”

Harry leaned over his bed and reached for their own clue lying on his bedside locker, revealing a thin strip of pale skin at his hip. Louis felt a sudden, inexplicable urge to suck a red mark on Harry’s hipbone. He flicked his gaze back to Harry’s face, slightly contrite.

“It’s in two months and the potion will take half that time to brew but…”

“We should do it as soon as possible,” Louis said firmly. “We don’t know how long it might take us to work out the clue, even after we find it.”

 

*

 

Two days and much contemplation later, Louis made the apparently grave mistake of informing Harry of his precise plan to snatch a tuft of Leif’s hair for the Polyjuice Potion—seduction. They had agreed that Louis be the one to sneak into the Durmstrang ship and for Harry to create a distraction that would buy him time to find the Larsons’ clue. Louis had said that he would be the one to snatch a piece of Leif’s hair. He had deigned not to inform Harry of his plan until that very evening when Harry, sprawled on his bed and taking notes on the effects of Wiggenweld Potion, had asked him.

“Oh,” said Louis, blushing fiercely. “Well— I… I knew he’d notice if I tried to use Accio on him. And I didn’t want to knock him unconscious because then he’d be suspicious after waking up. So… well, I just thought that I’d—er—tug his hair a little.”

Harry snorted loudly, rolling onto his side to face Louis. He quirked an eyebrow. “You don’t think he might notice if you tug a chunk of his hair out?”

“Well, I figured that if I got him in a moment of weakness, in the right setting, that he’d be willing to… let me tug his hair a little,” Louis said quickly, busying himself with shading in his diagram of a Snargaluff pod with vigour.

He heard the headboard of Harry’s four-poster creak beneath his weight, sensed Harry stalking towards him and felt hot air against his cheek. “You’re going to what?”

Louis huffed and rolled up his parchment, shoving it inside his satchel. He tried to ignore the racing of his heart at Harry’s furious tone. “You heard me, Styles. If you have an alternative plan, I’d be happy to hear it. If not, then stop breathing down my neck.”

Harry crossed his arms and clenched his jaw. “No,” he said simply.

“What do you mean ‘no’?” Louis said incredulously, raising an eyebrow at Harry’s stance. “Time is running out. Obviously, this is a last resort but it’s all I’ve got right now.”

“No,” Harry repeated, with more certainty this time, as though he had suddenly found a plausible justification for his opposition to Louis’ proposal. “In case you’ve forgotten, he’s the competition. Being in a position like that… he could try something. You don’t know what he could do when it’s just the two of you.”

“Since when have you been concerned about my wellbeing?” Louis said, pushing past Harry to pull out a clean set of robes to wear to dinner.

“Since we actually had a genuine shot at winning this fucking tournament,” Harry snapped. “I can’t have you getting seriously injured by Larson just because he got you in a moment of weakness.”

Louis pretended to search deeper in his wardrobe to prevent Harry noticing the light blush on his cheeks. “Well, then come keep a look out for me, then,” he sighed.

“I would rather spend an evening at Azkaban than watch you and Larson get it on,” Harry said through gritted teeth.

Louis rolled his eyes. “He’s not going to try anything,” he said firmly. “We already have a huge advantage on him and Alexander after the first task so they know not to mess with either of us. It’s not like I’m going in defenceless; I’ll have my wand with me at all times and, in case you haven’t noticed from first-hand experience, I’m rather handy with blocking jinxes.”

Harry muttered something under his breath about first-hand experience and stormed past him. The lavatory door slammed shut.

Louis slumped into the vanity seat and began to style his hair, feeling far less confident about his prospects with Leif than he did before.

 

*

 

Louis watched Leif leaving the Great Hall from behind a large gargoyle at one of the pillars. Anticipation and anxiety coursed through him; he desperately wanted to grab a couple of strands of Leif’s hair and return back to his dormitory, unscathed and victorious.

As soon as Leif stepped into the Entrance Hall, Louis flicked his wand expertly and watched the papers Leif had clutched in his hand escape his grip and fall to the ground.

Louis rushed over to where he was crouched, gathering them hastily. He bent down and picked up two thin textbooks, offering Leif a shy smile.

Leif’s face lit up at the sight of him. Louis sighed with relief.

“Thank you,” Leif said, reaching out to take the papers from where Louis had them held against his chest.

“Not a problem. I’ve been meaning to talk to you, actually.”

A shadow of confusion crossed Leif’s face before shrugging. “Of course, vat vas it you vanted to talk about?”

“Well,” Louis said, clasping his hands behind his back, “I— I heard you say to Professor McGonagall that you’re taught dance at Durmstrang.”

“Ve are,” he confirmed. “My brother and I vere taught from a young age but we also learned at Durmstrang in preparation for dances and formal events.”

“That’s very lucky,” Louis said, his feigned earnestness shading his tone. He prided himself on reading Leif correctly and lifting such a coy, helpless façade that he seemed to be lapping up. “You see, I’m really just a typical English bloke who really can’t dance. We aren’t taught anything like that at Hogwarts and, even after our practice a few weeks ago, I’m hopeless at dancing.”

Leif smiled knowingly, pausing to glance over his shoulder. “Vould you valk me, Louis?” he said, opening his arm to lead down to the dungeon corridors.

Louis smiled coquettishly and followed him down the winding stairs until they reached one of the darker passageways where some of the rarely-used classrooms were.

“I vill teach you to dance, if that is what you are asking,” Leif said. “I vould be happy to.”

“Oh, I really couldn’t ask you to do that,” Louis insisted.

Leif shook his head and smiled wolfishly. “It vould be my pleasure.”

Louis was beginning to dislike Leif more and more by the minute, but somehow knowing that he wasn’t attracted to him reassured him. “Well, perhaps you could show me a few steps just so I don’t make a total fool of myself at the ball.”

They continued down the corridor, Louis glancing around every so often. He thought he saw a long shadow on the staircase, though he reasoned that he may have mistook it for one of the ghosts. Louis led him to a classroom he had never been in before, silently praying that there weren’t any evening tutoring sessions assigned to that classroom and shutting the door behind him. He saw a sharp flash of light behind the door and slowly reached behind him to pat his robes, sighing once he felt the outline of his wand.

Leif stood on the opposite side of the room, untying the constraints of his robes. He looked rather intimidating standing in the dim light of a deserted classroom; Louis began to think that perhaps Harry had been right.

“Vat you need to do first is actually come over here,” Leif said with a wry grin.

Louis laughed loudly—even to his own ears it sounded forced. He approached tentatively and stood in front of Leif, lifting his chin to meet his eye.

Leif extracted his wand and Louis jolted, reaching for his own wand. Leif looked rather disappointed with his reaction.

“Relax,” he said with a surprisingly comforting tone. “I am just playing some music for us to dance vith.” He pointed his wand to a suit of armour and muttered “Cantis.”

The suit of armour sprang to life and replicated a familiar waltz tune.

“Now, you must take my arm and relax your shoulders like so… make yourself… how do you say it...looser, less straight in your back,” he said, gently lifting Louis’ arm and placing a hand on his waist. He smiled. “Better already.”

Leif guided him in a basic two-step before showing him a box step, leaving them both laughing each time Louis pulled back when he was supposed to step closer, or twist the wrong way and leaving them in a muddle of limbs.

Louis knew that taking the traditional position of the girl in their dance was utterly fruitless if it was practice he needed. Judging from the dark glint in Leif’s eye, however, neither of them intended to get much practice done; Louis kept trying to find excuses to comb his fingers through Leif’s hair and, if his lewd stare was anything to go by, Leif had far less innocent things than a simple two-step on his mind.

“That’s good,” Leif said after Louis had caught onto one of the swift turns. “You are getting much better already.” The way Leif moved was graceful and effortless, fluid between movements and gentle with every touch.

Louis forced himself to beam, allowing Leif to lead him in the traditional three-beat step. He somehow found that pretending that his dance partner was Harry instead of Leif made the whole experience slightly more bearable.

“Only because I have a great teacher,” Louis said.

Leif seemed to like hearing such a compliment, pressing a gentle pressure on the small of Louis’ back and stepping closer. Louis thought about how, if Leif’s role was exchanged with Harry, he wouldn’t have hesitated to revel in such a comment, leaning down and whispering something filthy in Louis’ ear. Louis swallowed thickly and caught Leif’s eye, reminding himself precisely why he was here to begin with.

The steady rhythm picked up and Leif’s movements with it. He did not lead but guided Louis around the make-shift dance floor. Louis couldn’t quite believe how he managed to keep up with the sharp twists and quick steps.

“You must lift your head up, Louis,” Leif instructed. “Keep your eyes on me and the movements will become natural.”

Slightly breathless, Louis caught his eye and smiled. Leif pressed closer against him, allowing his hand to wander to the small of Louis’ back as he brought him flush against his chest.

They moved closer as the music progressed, picking up to its crescendo, all the while Louis felt like time around him was slowing down.

Leif gentle pressed a hand on Louis’ hip and lowered his head until their foreheads brushed. The quick pace of the music forgotten, they swayed on the spot, panting lightly.

Louis felt fingertips dancing across his lower back and the sharp puffs of warm breath against his mouth. He shut his eyes and felt harsh, demanding lips press against him. Louis soothed his bruising lips, disentangling their hands and plunging both of his into Leif’s hair. It was a rather uncomfortable position and he absently thought that Harry’s hair looked much silkier; the long curls would wrap around his fingers as he tugged, unlike the short, dull strands of Leif’s hair.

Leif pushed him against one of the desks and Louis sat willingly, tangling his fingers in his hair and tugging harshly. Leif seemed to take this as a sign that he was very interested and trailed his hands along Louis’ thigh, squeezing and massaging. Louis felt Leif’s tongue slip into his mouth and he shifted up to gain leverage and tug another few strands out. Leif moaned into his mouth loudly. Louis prayed that the sound couldn’t be overheard.

He pressed back rather unwillingly, simply to give himself a better angle to get a proper grip on the hair at the nape of Leif’s neck. He tugged sharply and, in one swift motion, sucked on Leif’s tongue desperately to try and distract him from the pain. It seemed to work as Leif’s hips jolted forward and he grunted into Louis’ mouth.

With a firm grip on the generous tuft of hair in his sweaty palm, Louis slowed their pace. He turned his head to allow Leif to—rather sloppily—kiss along his cheek and jaw.

“I… I really should head back to my dormitory,” Louis said carefully, trying to let disappointment bleed into his tone. In reality, he was ecstatic; despite the less-than-mediocre kiss, he had managed to grab enough hair for them to use for the Polyjuice Potion.

“You must go?” Leif said roughly, pushing Louis’ hair aside to kiss below his ear.

“Yes, yes, I really should,” he insisted, pulling away slightly. He carefully lowered his hand into his robes and dropped the hairs into his pocket. “I’d love to do this again.”

He certainly had no plans to do any such thing but didn’t want to leave a sour taste in Leif’s mouth.

Leif grinned. “I’m sure you vould. Perhaps ve could dance together again at the ball?”

“Yes,” Louis said, though he very definitely would not be sharing a dance with Leif again. He pushed himself off the desk and crossed the room. Leif simply watched him, visibly adjusting himself beneath his robes. “You really are an excellent teacher.” Louis shot a final, coquettish smile over his shoulder before leaving the room.

Louis trotted up the stairs, weaving through some of the shortcuts Harry had pointed out over the past couple of weeks and smiling to himself this time. He knocked open the door, startling a snoozing Abrax in the process, to find it empty. He felt his smile fall. Though he figured that Harry was probably in the library or snacking in the Great Hall before dinner vanished, he couldn’t help but selfishly hope for someone to share his excitement with; they were one step closer to figuring out the next task.

He took the time to change into his pyjamas and settle into bed, a mug of milky tea clutched in one hand and A Guide to Helpful Herbology Hacks in the other.

When he was marking his page to turn in for the night, the rickety door flung open. Harry sauntered inside, paying no regard to Louis’ quiet greeting.

Louis set aside his book and placed his mug on top, whipping back the bedsheet to face Harry. “I got the hair,” he announced.

Harry ignored him, favouring instead to tug irately at his collar.

“All we have to do now is gather the ingredients from Slughorn’s cupboard,” Louis said.

Harry made a non-committal noise.

Louis figured that Harry was irritated that his plan had arisen without a hitch, despite Harry’s admittedly reasonable protests. He rolled his eyes and slumped onto his bed. Reaching across it, he pulled Abrax onto his lap and re-opened the passage he was reading on taming Whomping Willows.

Louis watched Harry fold his robes neatly in the corner of his eye, his movements stiff.

“Look, I know it wasn’t a great idea,” Louis sighed eventually, “but it’s the best I could think of. He was way easy to manipulate and the plan worked so I don’t get why you’re in a huff.”

Harry turned on his heel and walked straight to Louis’ bed, eyes finding his instantly and burning with emotion. “You don’t think maybe there’s a reason Larson was so easy to manipulate?”

Louis shut his book firmly and leaned forward in his bed, fully aware that his red plaid pyjamas didn’t make him look particularly intimidating. “Is it that hard to believe that he might actually just like me and not have an ulterior motive?”

Harry scoffed. “Of course it’s not hard to fucking believe, Tomlinson, but he’s our competitor; he’s the person who’s going out of his way to make sure we lose and I promise you that he and his brother and Vulchanova will do anything to make sure of that.”

“Lose the condescending tone, Styles, I fucking know that,” Louis snapped, forcing himself not to read into Harry’s response. “But do you not think he would’ve tried something just now if he was trying to sabotage us?”

“And if he had?” Harry demanded, raising his fist and shaking it at the door behind him. “What would’ve happened then? You think a basic Protego charm would’ve brought Larson to your feet?” He gripped the base of Louis’ bed and dropped his head. “They teach serious Dark magic in Durmstrang. That little stunt Larson pulled by lifting you on that desk? He would’ve had you at his mercy and you wouldn’t have had a chance to even attempt to block one of his curses.”

“I admitted it was a poorly thought-out plan, alright?” Louis said. “Believe it or not, I want to win this next task just as much as you do and that plan was all I could think of. But it worked and I’m still— hang on. How did you know that?”

Harry’s jaw snapped shut and he averted his gaze.

Louis’ heart skipped a beat and his shirt suddenly felt unbearably constraining around his chest. A deep flush rose up his neck. “You saw me sitting on the desk?”

Harry stalked over to the side of Louis’ bed and reached out, dragging his finger down the column of Louis’ throat. Louis swallowed thickly.

“You have love bites all over your neck,” Harry said. His tone dripped with revulsion. Harry snatched his finger away. He drew his wand from his pocket and, flicking his wrist, drowned the room in darkness.

Louis sat bold upright, a response caught in his throat. Louis despised Harry’s tone, his attitude and his entire outburst but something about Harry’s apparent vexation seemed to ignite something dark inside of Louis. A million scenarios where Harry had watched them through the small window where he had seen a flash of light bounded through his head. He knew that Harry’s primary concern was to prevent him from being incapacitated, guaranteeing him a partner for the second task, but Louis couldn’t help but wonder whether something else had pushed Harry to follow them. A wild thought sprung in his head, that Harry had wanted to ensure that he was safe at the hands of another wizard. He dismissed the thought instantly and pulled his bedsheets sharply over his head.

 

*

 

The morning of the fifteenth of December—precisely ten days before the Yule Ball—lay a heavy blanket of snow across to fall on the grounds and castle of Hogwarts. Their classes had finally ended for Christmas but it seemed that almost every student eligible to attend the Yule Ball had decided to stay at Hogwarts for the holidays.

“Louis, mate,” Niall said, his words slightly muffled by the thick Hufflepuff scarf wrapped around his neck and lower face. “It’s in less than two weeks. Have you even considered the amount of people who want you to take them to the Yule Ball?”

Louis concentrated on the delicious cheese and tomato chutney sandwich in his hand, avoiding the wandering eyes of the students sitting near them. “No,” he said carefully. “It’s just… all the people who have asked me so far have been either very young or very female.”

He had counted fifteen people who had directly asked him and many more who had insinuated that they would like to go with him.

“And all the people who have dropped hints… Well, I don’t know any of them. I don’t want to take someone that I’ve never spoken to before in my life,” he said, taking a large bite of his sandwich.

“Mate,” Niall sighed, smiling kindly at him, “you just have to grin and bear it.” He tilted his head subtly towards the Slytherin table. “See the stocky lad with dark skin? That’s Cadmus Meliflua. He’s definitely interested in boys and he’s definitely interested in you—heard him asking around about your lineage, the bastard. He’s a bit of a prick at the best of times but he’s a dead good dancer. And that’s all you need, really.” Niall chuckled to himself at the memory of Louis’ rather atrocious attempt at dancing.

Louis leaned over Niall and his gaze caught Harry sitting next to the same Durmstrang boy with cropped, black hair. He spotted the boy Niall was talking about directly beside Harry; he was rather good-looking with a long, straight nose and form-fitting robes. Louis recognised him as Harry’s Potions partner and, though he had only exchanged a few words with him, Louis knew him to be tolerable—as far as Slytherins were, that was.

“He’s friends with Styles,” Louis muttered.

Niall raised an eyebrow at him, motioning them to leave the Great Hall. “I thought you two were starting to get along?”

Louis snorted loudly. “We were until last night when he—actually, never mind.”

Niall didn’t dwell on his reluctance, leading them down the front steps and into the heavy snow. They trudged along, listening to the ringing shouts of laughter and shouting, ducking as misaimed snowballs thundered towards them.

“Well, I don’t see how him—or anyone, for that matter—being friends with Styles should stop you from asking them to the ball,” Niall said eventually. “They’re rooting for him; it’s not like they’ve got it in for you or anything.”

“I suppose,” Louis said glumly. He leaned against a tree trunk while Niall tied his shoelaces. A powdery snowball hit him square in the chin.

“GOTCHA!” Niall shouted gleefully, running in the opposite direction.

Louis smiled despite himself, crouching behind the tree trunk and hastily making snowballs. “I’ll get you for that, Horan!”

He flung three snowballs around the tree in quick succession, hitting Niall squarely in the back and shoulder.

They kept walloping each other with snowballs, dodging expertly and diving dramatically until the previously untouched, rather majestic snow around them looked like a chaotic battlefield.

Louis felt a snowball hit him squarely in the back of the head and yelped loudly.

“There he is,” Niall said, pointing to where Harry was leading a small group of Slytherins—including Cadmus—down to the Great Lake. “Go on,” he said, pushing Louis in their direction.

“What? You mean ask him now?” Louis squawked, digging his heels into the snow.

“Well, when else?” Niall said.

Louis spluttered for a moment. He was suddenly conscious of the fact that his robes and hair were covered in a light dusting of snow. He wiped his hands down his front absently, his gaze focused on Harry and his sycophants—sorry, ‘friends’.

“Should I not wait until he’s alone, or—”

“Louis, just get it over with before he’s snatched up as someone else’s date.”

Louis paused. He thought back to the number of new romances that had blossomed since the announcement of the Yule Ball, the countless number of people who had confirmed their dates in the last week alone, and the fact that there seemed to be an ever-shrinking pool of possible dates.

Though only speaking to Cadmus a couple of times during class to ask him to pass the Gurdyroots, or to borrow his jar or set of glass phials, Louis had found him to be surprisingly friendly.

“Alright, alright, I’m going,” he huffed. “Keep an eye out for me, won’t you? I don’t fancy being hexed by one of them. Especially not Styles.”

Louis marched over to the group, feeling rather like a weak predator sneaking up to prey that he had no business trying to catch. He trotted to the back of the group until a couple of seventh-year girls turned around and eyed him quizzically.

“Cadmus?” he said, relieved to find the Slytherin trailing near the back of the group. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

The entire group whipped around, Harry included, and stared at him.

“Sure,” Cadmus said, smiling smugly and pushing past two of the girls. He nodded deliberately at the group to continue on the path to the Great Lake. They all left except Harry, who lingered five feet away from them and, despite Cadmus’s glare, didn’t look like he planned on leaving.

Louis resolutely ignored him.

“What was it you wanted to talk about?”

Louis caught his gaze and smiled nervously. His eyes darted back to Harry to find him shoving his foot into the snow and dragging it back and forth. He glanced back to Cadmus. “I was hoping to ask—er—if you’d like you come to the ball? With me?” he said before he could change his mind.

For some reason, Cadmus glanced at Harry, a look of mild curiosity crossing his face before he turned back to Louis, a broad, smug smile on his face. He nodded. “Yeah, sure. I’d like that. You needed a bit of dance practice for the opening of the ball, I presume?”

“He’s had quite enough dance practice.”

Louis whipped around at the disdainful voice to find Harry scowling at them. Louis pursed his lips and turned back to Cadmus. “Yeah, that would be brilliant if you get a chance.”

Cadmus smiled smugly and gave him an unabashed once-over. “See you soon, then, Louis.”

Cadmus walked straight towards Harry and yanked his arm, dragging him towards the Lake. Harry shook him off angrily after a couple of paces and stormed off.

A mound of snow thrown over his head alerted Louis to Niall’s presence and he tore his eyes away from Harry’s retreating figure.

“Mate! What did he say?”

“Oh—er—yeah, he said yes,” Louis said distractedly.

Niall whooped loudly and pulled him into a one-handed hug. Louis smiled but couldn’t help but feel that he may have made the wrong decision by asking Cadmus.

 

*

 

“We’re getting the ingredients tonight.”

Louis opened an eye from where he had been napping on his bed after an afternoon of playing Wizard’s Chess and listening to Liam complain about how he’d never be able to ask Zayn to the Yule Ball “because he’d never be interested in me, Lou. I swear he looks like he chugs about three Beautification Potions every morning.”

Louis pulled himself into a sitting position and startled to find Harry crouched beside him. “Since when did you need my help to get something?” he snapped. “Thought you didn’t like me.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” Harry said. Louis absently thought that his tone lacked much conviction. “But since you’re the kind of typical Gryffindor who’s willing to sacrifice himself, I figured you could take the blame when we get caught. And we will be caught.”

Louis could hear the annoyance in Harry’s tone and, reluctantly, had to sympathise with his frustration. As the days progressed, it seemed less likely that they would be able to sneak into Slughorn’s potions store without being caught. Niall’s assertion that ‘love is in the air’ at Hogwarts seemed to have materialised; it was as though the pumpkin juice in the Great Hall had been replaced by a powerful love potion. Louis could no longer walk down to the Great Hall for his evening tea and scones without seeing couples snogging or holding hands in the secluded hallways and dark corridors. The teachers had taken to patrolling the corridors past curfew to separate students and send them back to their respective dormitories. The fact that the Potions corridor was an ideal hiding place for a midnight rendezvous went unsaid between them.

Late that night, after re-reading the list of ingredients for the Polyjuice Potion for the final time, Louis and Harry made their way down the Right Tower, passing the portrait of Edessa Skanderberg, and crossing through a shortcut at the end of the Charms corridor.

They sidled down the stairs, taking care not to alert Peeves, and darted down the final set of steps to the dungeons. It was darker here, the crevices and corners submerged in darkness and only the main pathway bathed in a dim light from the flaming torches.

They crept along the corridor, whipping around sharply at the smallest of noises; a mouse scurrying, the wind howling outside and a strange ticking noise from one of the classrooms.

“The Slytherin common room isn’t far from here,” Harry muttered. “If you hear something then follow me there, alright?”

Louis nodded, creeping further until they halted in front of the tall, wooden door.

Alohomora,” he whispered, pointing his wand at the round, brass knob.

The door swung open to reveal tall shelves covering every inch of the walls. They were teeming with bottled eyes and coiling animal skin; fangs and unicorn horns; vials filled with acid green and blood red liquids that seemed to shine behind the shadows. There were various potions—some bubbling manically, others steaming lightly—brewing along a few rickety benches too, and Louis had to tug at Harry’s robes to stop him from banging into one of them.

“Shut the door,” Harry whispered.

Louis closed the door carefully. “Alright, you get the top half of the list and I’ll get the bottom half.”

Harry nodded and began searching the shelves frantically. They both knew that it would be too dangerous to use Accio, afraid as they were that the ingredients they needed would whiz from the cabinets and send others toppling to the ground.

Louis set about gathering the Lacewing flies and the Boomslang skin, reaching up on one of the small footstools to snatch them. He held the ingredients tightly to his chest and rounded the corner to find Harry counting the amount of fluxweed they would need.

“I think that’s about everything,” Harry said. “I got the knotgrass last week during class.”

Louis nodded, arms full of jars and vials, and they crept out of the store cupboard, locking the door behind them. A thrill of excitement coursed through him because they did it—they managed to steal all of the ingredients and, in the process, hold a relatively civil conversation, something that hadn’t happened in weeks.

“Did you hear that?” Harry hissed.

Louis paused and he strained to hear the faint approaching footsteps.

“Turn around,” Louis said urgently and, with his arms full, nodded his head towards the corridor leading down to the Slytherin common room.

They rushed along the dark passageway, could hear the footsteps growing louder, more prominent and firmer, as though their owner had found a purpose to follow them.

“Down here,” Harry whispered, edging along the dark corridor.

If the person pursuing them found them now, they would have absolutely no plausible excuse. Two Hogwarts Triwizard champions sneaking through the school at night, arms brimming with ingredients that were infamously associated with the Polyjuice Potion? Not to mention the fact that Harry had a permanently devious smirk etched across his face that seemed to attract blame from all of his teachers.

The footsteps were coming nearer, the familiar click of a heel hitting the hard stone in the dungeons.

Louis had reached a dead end, a large statute Salazar Slytherin blocking his path. Harry, rushing behind Louis, banged into him, sending the jar of fluxweed tumbling to the ground. The loud crash as the glass smashed on the stone echoed throughout the halls. Louis’ heart plummeted as the footsteps grew louder and more impatient and they spotted a tall figure turn at the end of the corridor.

Suddenly Louis felt a body slam against his, pushing against the statute. He gripped tightly to the ingredients clutched in his hand as he felt more bottles and jars pressed between them. He suddenly felt hot air on his face and felt Harry breathing down his neck.

“Close your eyes,” Harry whispered frantically. “Just— go with it. She’s coming.”

Louis shut his eyes, hit with the realisation of what Harry was doing: he was concealing their ingredients by blocking Louis and pretending to kiss him. Until he was no longer pretending.

Louis felt searing hot lips press fiercely against the rapid pulse in his neck. He felt Harry slowly shift their positions until his robes were spread out and covering the ingredients held between their chests. Louis winced as the bottles clinked together. Louis opened the column of his neck, pulling the clattering glass bottles away while also giving Harry better access. Harry’s lips were far softer than he had imagined, yet insistent and demanding, leaving Louis’ heart racing and his skin alight.

The sound of faltering footsteps and a single, rather exasperated sigh alerted them to Professor McGonagall’s presence.

Louis felt Harry press gentle kisses along the curve of his jawline, carefully shifting his body to separate the bottles between them.

“Styles! Tomlinson!” Louis heard her exclaim. Though Harry blocked most of his view—and his head was lowered to concentrate on not dropping the ingredients—he was quite sure from the tone of her voice that she was more scandalised than angry. “Ten points from Slytherin and Gryffindor. Now get to bed, both of you. Separate beds!”

She turned on her heel and marched in the opposite direction.

Harry lowered his head to Louis’ shoulder breathing heavily.

Louis clutched the ingredients tighter in his sweaty palms, his heart still pounding in his chest. “Merlin’s great Aunt, that was fucking close,” he muttered. He felt Harry smile against his shoulder before Louis realised their position and scrambled away from Harry.

They rushed back to their dormitory, Louis determinedly examining the small set of handwritten instructions wrapped around the container of Bicorn horn rather than meeting Harry’s gaze. His cheeks were burning furiously and his eyes kept darting compulsively to Harry’s feet as he trailed behind him.

When they finally arrived at their dormitory, he pushed past Harry and dropped the ingredients in his arms onto his desk. Harry followed him, stacking them neatly. Louis shifted away in a swift movement and smoothed the bedsheets unnecessarily. He felt Harry’s astute eyes burning his back.

“Why’re you so… uptight?” Harry asked, falling into the chair beside Louis’ desk and crossing his legs.

“I’m not,” Louis said sharply.

Harry raised an eyebrow at him. He observed Louis for a moment before his face broke into a sudden, self-satisfied smile. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in the chair. “If this is about the kiss—”

“It’s not about the kiss,” Louis snapped, dropping his gaze to the open copy of Moste Potente Potions on his bed. Legend had it that Hermione Granger used the same book when she was only in second year, but Louis wasn’t sure whether the rumour was true. “It didn’t mean anything. Obviously.”

Harry paused for a moment, dragging his finger across the chestnut wood arm of the chair. “Obviously,” Harry repeated. His tone was melodic and contemplative, as though he was considering the connotations of the word. “Just like how your kiss with Larson didn’t mean anything?”

“What are you talking about? Of course it didn’t,” he said firmly. He met Harry’s insisting gaze. “I thought I made it clear that I kissed him so that we could take some of his hair so that we could brew the Polyjuice Potion. Bit like how you kissed me so that McGonagall wouldn’t suspect us of anything so that we could brew the Polyjuice Potion.”

Harry pursed his lips and opened his mouth but Louis held up a hand to silence him.

“In case you haven’t figured out that link, Styles, everything I’m doing here is to help us figure out the clue for the second task. It’s not some quest to kiss all the Triwizard champions.”

Harry nodded tersely, seemingly satisfied. He pulled his tie aggressively off his head and flung it onto his pillow. “I’m taking a shower,” he announced.

Before Louis could respond, Harry had stalked into the lavatory and shut the door. Infuriated by Harry’s paradoxical disdain and indifference towards him, he huffed heavily. Harry was intangible; he blurred the lines of their relationship, treated him like an inconvenience one minute and brought up Larson the next, and always seemed to end their conversations leaving Louis unhinged, as though Harry had managed to extract more about him than Louis had wanted to share. As he crawled beneath his bedsheets and lay in bed absentmindedly stroked Abrax’s fur, Louis couldn’t help but touch the place across his jaw where Harry’s lips had left their mark.

 

*

 

On Christmas morning, Louis was awoken by an irritating, insistent tapping sound. He heard Harry groan loudly, followed soon after by a firm thump. Louis glanced to his right and saw that the pillow Harry had thrown across the room had missed him by mere inches.

“Thought you were one of the Slytherin Chasers,” Louis muttered, voice slightly raspy. “Aren’t you supposed to have good aim?”

A second pillow embroidered with the Hogwarts crest hit Louis squarely in the chest. It wasn’t entirely unexpected.

The tapping persisted and Louis rose to his feet, following the sound until he reached the window beside Harry’s bed. He whipped back the heavy curtains and found the source; two owls—one snowy, the other tawny with white feathers around her eyes—stood expectantly on the windowsill, a large package attached to each of their legs.

Louis opened the window and took the packages carefully, shutting the window quickly to prevent the heat from their dormitory escaping into the blizzard roaming across the grounds of Hogwarts.

He recognised his mother’s handwriting from the address but he knew not to expect a significant present. His parents had, to his surprise and delight, sent him a new broomstick for his eighteenth birthday—the latest Firebolt Premier. He had celebrated his eighteenth birthday that night with Liam in the Gryffindor common room, sharing a bottle of Firewhiskey back and forth and reading aloud some of the anonymous birthday cards he had received, giggling uproariously as the innocent requests to take him to the ball turned into professions of undying love after two hours of drinking from the apparently bottomless bottle.

Louis padded across the dormitory and handed Harry—who was slowly pulling himself into a sitting position—the soft, brown package addressed to him. Louis sat on top of his own bed, pulling a blanket to drape over his shoulders. He read the Christmas card attached to the front, smiling at the photograph his mother had attached of her and his father on the pier in Hull, laughing joyously. He placed the photograph on his bedside locker, smiling sadly as memories of spending his summers near Hull flooded his thoughts.

Louis untied the string and ripped open the package. Three items tumbled out into his lap; a set of midnight blue dress robes, an enormous box of Chocolate Frogs and a miniature model of a Saudi Scarlet-Tongue with a tag around its neck reading ‘for Harry’. He gaped at the tiny dragon—which was about the width of his hand—that regained its footing on his knee. Without a second glance at his presents, he watched as the Scarlet-Tongue spread its red wings and took flights, soaring around the room.

“What’s that?” Harry asked, rubbing the corner of his eye sleepily.

“It’s… well, I think my mum got you a Christmas present,” Louis said awkwardly. “Merlin knows why, really,” he added as Harry’s look of mild curiosity turned to one of shock.

Harry got hastily to his feet and watched the Scarlet-Tongue flutter its wings and glide above their heads, swooping down and hovering at their ankles only to soar back up again. Louis smiled at the sight of Harry watching the Scarlet-Tongue’s every move, following it with whimsical, almost childlike awe. After a few moments, Harry stretched out his arm tentatively, palm flat, and the Scarlet-Tongue landed gracefully in it. Harry’s face broke into a smile.

“Tell your mother… tell her I said thank you,” he said. There was a decisiveness to his expression, a vehemence to his tone that stopped Louis from responding with anything other than a firm nod.

Louis opened a couple of Chocolate Frogs, setting the chocolate aside to read through the collector cards. He glanced over to find Harry placing something in his wardrobe. He too, it seemed, had received dress robes, though his were jet black with handsome emerald trimmings. Louis absently thought that they would match the shade of Harry’s eyes.

He pulled on a red jumper and jeans and reluctantly left the dormitory to make his way down to breakfast. He wanted to stay in his dormitory and watch Harry follow the dragon, listen to his alluring, melodic, rather seductive voice as he explained even the most mundane features of Scarlet-Tongues. The way Harry handled himself around dragons, the care and reverence with which he spoke of them—something akin to familiarity—enraptured Louis. It marked such a startling contrast to his usual sneering indifference and seemed to spark something inside of Louis that drew him closer to Harry, made him trust him inexplicably more.

He spotted Liam and Zayn sitting at the end of the Ravenclaw table. They, unlike the rest of the Great Hall who were chattering and exchanging gifts, were engaged in a quiet, almost secretive conversation. He decided against interrupting them and caught Niall’s gaze from the Hufflepuff table.

“Nollaig shona dhuit!” Niall exclaimed. He laughed hysterically at Louis’ confusion. “Means happy Christmas, mate.”

Louis laughed and dropped into the seat next to him. He ladled porridge into his bowl and sprinkled it with a generous spoonful of brown sugar.

“Have you seen Liam and Zayn?” Louis said.

Niall smiled gleefully. “I know, it’s about time,” he said. “Heard that they asked each other just last night. Apparently, Liam was dead drunk on Firewhiskey but Zayn agreed anyway.”

“How romantic,” Louis snorted. He turned around and glanced to where Zayn was shaking his head and laughing at something Liam had said. Louis had to admit that they made a perfect couple.

Louis spotted Harry strut into the hall, flanked by a couple of Slytherins Louis vaguely recognised. He distractedly nodded along to Niall’s detailed retelling of how he asked Helka Sturludóttir to the ball, meanwhile watching Harry smirk at something one of the Slytherins said. He caught Louis’ eye and stopped smirking. Instead, Harry smiled; a faint, hopeful smile that hinted at his familiar mischievousness, as though they were co-conspirators in something exciting and illicit (which, as Louis thought back to the Polyjuice Potion brewing beneath Louis’ desk, they probably were).

Louis dropped his gaze and busied himself with pouring himself a cup of hot, sweet tea.

They spent the rest of the morning in Gryffindor Tower, swapping and comparing gifts. Louis received a magnificent quill from Liam, a limited-edition box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans from Niall and a small foe-glass “to use in the second task” from Zayn. Louis had thanked him profusely, pulling him into a tight hug and making a note to tell Harry. He knew that Harry would appreciate such a present. He had bought Harry a gift—one half of his two-way mirror—but had been wary to give it to him that morning; he thought it was too intimate an item, risky and something that Harry would either cherish or ridicule him for gifting. He had bought it on an impulse at Dervish and Banges and, at the time, it had seemed an excellent idea—the perfect way to communicate should they be separated during one of the tasks.

Louis was distracted from his thoughts by Niall offering to start a game of Self-Shuffling Cards. As they talked idly, he decided that he would give Harry the present, after the Yule Ball, perhaps. He didn’t know why the thought made the collar of his shirt feel unbearably tight.

They feasted on mince pies and pulled Cribbage's Wizarding Crackers, laughing and joking before returning to the Great Hall for a delicious Christmas lunch. Louis glanced over to the Slytherin table to find Harry wearing a lopsided, red Christmas cracker crown. Harry caught his wandering gaze, holding it steadily until Louis looked away.

Later that evening, Louis and his friends trudged back to their respective dormitories, their chatter noticeably subdued as nervous laughter and fidgeting filled the voids in their conversations. Louis bid Niall, Liam and Zayn goodbye and opened the door to his dormitory tentatively, sighing with relief to find it blissfully empty. He spent time fixing his hair in the mirror, brushing it out of his eyes and into a sleek, wispy quiff. He heard the door open behind him and smiled awkwardly at Harry through the mirror. Harry nodded at him, seemingly intrigued by Louis’ method of styling his hair.

They changed into their robes, Louis compulsively smoothing the front. He stood beside his bed and watched as Harry let his sleek hair curl below his ears. Harry looked elegant and enthralling, his curls resting at the nape of his neck and accentuating his sharp jawline.

When the clock struck half past seven, Louis coughed loudly. “I’ll see you down there,” he said. “Said I’d meet Cadmus at the Entrance Hall early.”

Harry stood up sharply, hands splayed on the desk of his vanity. He paused, apparently debating whether to reply, before nodding stiffly.

Louis left the dormitory, dismissing the small voice in his head telling him that there was something more Harry wanted to tell him. He walked down the spiral staircase, pausing at the grand, rusted mirror.

“Tomlinson!”

Louis whipped around at the voice. He saw Harry jogging down the stairs until he stood directly opposite him. Louis smiled faintly and raised an eyebrow.

“Just— be careful tonight,” Harry huffed, not quite meeting Louis’ eye. “Someone… just— I know that they—the Larsons—are just as frustrated with their clue as we are. You don’t know what Leif could try or… persuade you to do if he gets the chance.”

Louis considered Harry’s words for a moment. There was a curious sincerity to Harry’s tone, an urgency almost, that told him that he had his interests at heart.

“I will,” he said. “I’m not… you don’t have anything to worry about. He’s a competitor so it’s out of the question. And, even if he wasn’t, I wouldn’t want… I’m not interested in him.” Louis winced at the thought, the memory of the not-quite-tolerable kiss with Leif lingering in his thoughts.

“Right,” Harry said shortly. He turned sharply and trotted up the staircase. Louis couldn’t tear his eyes away from his retreating figure, the tails of Harry’s robes swaying entrancingly, until he was out of sight.

Louis sighed heavily. He made his way to the Entrance Hall and spotted Cadmus; he was wearing wine-coloured robes made of a thick velvet fabric that looked magnificent beside the midnight blue Louis wore. Louis smiled nervously at him.

“You look nice,” Louis said.

“And you,” Cadmus said earnestly, eyes roaming the deep tones of Louis’ robes.

They chatted idly, asking each other about their families, Christmas plans and the rather difficult Potions Christmas exam Slughorn had sprung on them. Louis found Cadmus to be assertive but, equally, shrewd; he listened carefully to anything Louis said and seemed to savour any common interests they found.

The Entrance Hall began to fill up with students; bright, flowing robes and glamorous hairstyles a refreshing change from the usual sea of black. He caught a glimpse of Liam and Zayn talking near one of the enormous Christmas trees, the lights strung around the tree glistening above them. He heard Niall’s laugh nearby and craned his neck to see him paired with the Durmstrang girl—Helka Sturludóttir, if he remembered correctly—he had talked Louis’ ear off about for the past week.

At ten minutes to eight, Professor McGonagall came rushing into the Entrance Hall wearing mulberry robes and a frown. “Come along now,” she urged. “Triwizard champions over here, please.” She explained that they were to enter the Great Hall in procession after the other students had been seated.

She left them to lead the rest of the students into the hall and Louis caught a glimpse of the silvery hue emitted when the great doors were opened and could hear the quiet gasps as they were promptly bundled inside. When the doors closed again, it became strangely quiet. Louis saw Leif and Alexander dressed in a similar heavy fabric, though Leif’s robes were a steely grey and Alexander’s pitch black. Both their partners looked slightly intimidated by their tall stature. Ahead of them stood Clara and Julia; they both wore blushing pink robes, though Clara’s had a lace collar and the sleeves of Julia’s robes flowed when she moved her arms. Harry was yet to be seen.

“Where is Mr Styles?” Professor McGonagall said sternly, as though it was Louis’ fault for his absence.

“I don’t know, Professor,” he said. “He was just upstairs in our dorm half an hour ago.”

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously but before she could respond, they both turned at the sound of purposeful footsteps walking down the stairs.

Harry approached them with a brittle smile, Heather Bletchley—the girl Louis had danced with during their practice—on his arm. She seemed a little disgruntled. Louis didn’t know what to make of them and settled for arranging his expression into one of mild disinterest.

Professor McGonagall ushered them over to the group and instructed them all to line up in pairs. Before Louis could utter a word to either of them, Cadmus took his hand, and they were shepherded inside.

The Great Hall had been utterly transformed; a magnificent dancefloor was encircled by small, round tables with centrepiece ice sculptures and thistles twisted along the backs of the chairs. The twelve Christmas trees had been placed where the teachers usually sat and the tips of the branches frosted by glimmering snow. The ceiling hung immense, crystalline icicles which curved around the walls into a silvery cave of ice.

The students in the hall stood up and cheered as the champions walked inside. Louis smiled when he spotted Niall, Liam and Zayn seated at a table near the edge of the dancefloor. He felt rather uncomfortable under the scrutinising eye of the students, teachers and Achernar and MacFarlan who stood, clapping politely, at the table beside their own.

The champions took their positions on the dancefloor and Louis noticed Harry turn Heather slightly, giving him an unobstructed view of Louis and Cadmus. Louis’ eyes flashed away and he tried to concentrate on Cadmus. He looked completely unbothered by the amount of attention they were attracting, smiling at Louis and quietly instructing him to take his hand. Louis was relieved that neither of them had to assume the traditional role of the girl, both of them wordlessly agreeing to simply hold each other’s shoulders.

The mellow sounds of the bassoon and gentle plucking of the flue alerted him to the beginning of the dance. He was suddenly struck how vastly underprepared he was.

Cadmus broadened the line of his shoulders, awaiting the introduction of the violins before leading Louis in the familiar waltz. Cadmus lead him, their arms outstretched and legs aligned beneath their robes. They tore across the dancefloor with graceful, light steps; they spun and twisted with the rhythm of the music. Cadmus commanded the dancefloor with such poise that Louis felt that the eyes of the entire Great Hall were focused on them. He caught Harry’s eyes before a particularly quick side-step and almost tripped, relieved when he felt the strong tug of Cadmus’s arms whisk him away.

When the waltz finally ended, Louis insisted on getting Cadmus a drink to escape being dragged to a second dance. The rest of the students rushed to the dancefloor and Louis darted away, smiling as people complimented him—or rather, Cadmus—on the dance.

His thoughts wandered back to Harry—something that seemed to happen with ever-more frequency of late. Louis tried to convince himself that Harry choosing Heather as his date was a coincidence; perhaps he had noticed her while Louis and her were dancing and asked her afterwards. There was no reason to believe that he had chosen Heather to make him jealous; Harry must have known that he wasn’t interested in her in that way.

As Louis filled two goblets of cherry punch, he overheard two sixth-years gossiping about some of the couples at the ball. From what he could make out over the trumpets, it seemed that Harry’s choice of partner had not only come as a surprise to him—not only did the two find it highly unusual that Harry would not have chosen a fellow Slytherin, but apparently Heather had been engaged to bring a Ravenclaw friend of hers just the previous day.

Louis dug his teeth into his lower lip and cast his gaze to where Harry was lifting her. He had to admit that she looked very pretty in silky, mauve robes. He tried to quash the sudden weight of inadequacy he felt as he wandered back to where Cadmus was seated. The large group of students tripping over each other to speak with them both made space for him beside Cadmus.

Louis handed the drink to him wordlessly and, rather than glare at the girl beside Cadmus who had sunk her claws into Louis’ date’s arm and was boasting of her family’s fortune, he found his gaze following Harry.

On the dancefloor, Harry wasn’t a fraction as graceful as Cadmus, though he had good rhythm and seemed to bask in the attention he was receiving. Harry’s gaze wandered over anyone that distracted him for too long and he seemed intent on avoiding Heather, despite the fact that they were arm-in-arm. His head kept turning abruptly, mouth in a stiff line as his eyes scanned the crowd frantically. His gaze stopped on Louis. They made eye contact for a moment before Harry’s entire demeanour changed. He squared his shoulders and spun Heather enthusiastically, held her waist and steered her across the dancefloor. Louis gulped the punch, suddenly parched.

The sight of Harry dancing with another person agitated him more than was reasonable. He wanted more than anything to switch places with Heather, to hold Harry’s long, rather delicate fingers between his and spin with him around the dancefloor until they were dizzy and laughing. Louis didn’t often get jealous but something about the intimacy of the waltz, the reverence of the steps and how they tentatively held each other’s hands sparked something inside of him. He glumly watched the way Harry gently guided Heather in the parting circle before the dance finally ended.

“Would you like to go up for another?” Cadmus asked as a livelier tune began.

“Yeah, sure,” Louis said distractedly. He took Cadmus’s hand and led him to the edge of the dancefloor, near to where Hagrid and Madame Maxime were swaying and Niall was loudly describing a distant Icelandic relative of his to Helka, who seemed rather bemused.

Louis plunged into the dance, trying to replicate Cadmus’s sharp movements and fast spins. They whirled around the dancefloor and Louis laughed, squealing “Stop!” as Cadmus spun them faster. Cadmus stuck out his tongue and they launched straight into the next dance, their laughter joined by others as the stiffness of the first half hour of the ball dissipated.

After three more songs and a quick break to catch up with Niall who had proudly introduced Helka to him, Cadmus dragged Louis back to the dancefloor once more. The opening notes of the song were slow, with a melancholy tone, and Louis noticed that the couples around him were wrapping their arms around each other, heads crooked into necks or resting on chests.

Louis glanced up to find Cadmus looking at something in the distance, his eyes narrowed.

“Everything alright?” Louis asked as he watched Cadmus’s previously hopeful smile drop. Louis’ heart skipped a beat as he felt a large hand that didn’t belong to Cadmus settle on his shoulder.

“May I have this dance?” Harry said. With the way Harry leaned so close to him and breathed hot and shallow breaths in his ear, Louis could hear just how deep his voice was, how he seemed to weight each word before speaking it, placing purpose or something akin to value on each syllable. As though asking Louis to dance meant something to him. Louis dismissed the thought immediately.

Louis caught Cadmus’s gaze and, noticing his hesitation, shook his head. “Why don’t you ask Heather?” he said stiffly. He turned to face Harry to find his lips quirked into an amused smile.

“You see, I would ask Heather,” he said thoughtfully, “but, gorgeous as she is, I’d much rather share this dance with you.”

Louis felt his heart stutter in his chest. His robes suddenly felt horribly containing and he regretted eating that third slice of baked Alaska.

Cadmus sighed. “I’ll grab you a drink,” he said to Louis. “Do yourself a favour and ignore his bullshit.” He sent Harry a resentful look before walking away from the two.

Harry instantly pressed closer to him, wrapping his arms around Louis. His heartbeat quickened and Louis suddenly became aware of their proximity and how very large Harry’s hands felt around him.

“Thought you two were friends?” Louis said stiffly.

“He’ll come around,” Harry said dismissively. He leaned closer to Louis and guided them in a small circle, eyes never leaving him.

Louis felt hot beneath his robes; his skin sparked with every fleeting touch, with every sway and dip a thrill jolted through him.

Harry leaned down to press his lips to Louis’ ear. “The Larsons snuck out of here about two minutes ago,” he whispered, tightening his grip on Louis waist to make it seem to onlookers as though he was muttering something indecent. “They left through the side entrance and were glancing behind them, all nervous. Looked suspicious.”

Louis’ heart plummeted. He caught the steely look in Harry’s eye. “We should follow them.”

Harry nodded firmly.

Louis realised how their exit might be perceived by the crowd encircling them; dancing slowly, apparently whispering seductively in each other’s ears and leaving the ball early, together no less. Blushing furiously, Louis led Harry over to the door.

Louis tried to ignore the knowing looks, the scandalised whispering, the lewd wink from someone he had never seen before as they made their way to the wooden door on the opposite side of the Great Hall. He heard a loud wolf-whistle as it shut behind them and ignored the way his cheeks flushed.

“Did you see which way they turned?” Louis asked.

Harry shook his head. “They can’t have gone far,” he said.

They scurried along the corridor as quietly as their dress shoes would allow and rounded the corner. Hearing a loud bang, Louis rushed towards the noise, leading them both to the Entrance Hall. They spotted Leif and Alexander arguing with one another by the staircase; Leif was indignant while Alexander kept shaking his fist aggressively. The twins were speaking in a different language, however, leaving Harry and Louis to stare dumbly at them, with neither a hint of context, nor what they were arguing about. For all Louis and Harry knew, it was a sibling’s spat about who’s turn it was to write back to their parents.

Realising that spying was futile, Louis slumped against the wall. “Suspicious, you said, Styles?” he said incredulously.

Harry sighed. “They kept checking behind them to see if anyone was following them,” he muttered. “Looked pretty fucking suspicious to me.”

The familiar sound of heavy footsteps climbing the stairs alerted them.

“Wait,” Louis hissed. He darted around the corner and saw Leif and Alexander’s retreating backs jogging up the stairs.

“You think they know where our dormitory is?” Harry whispered urgently.

“No,” Louis said firmly, his heart falling at the thought of the Larsons invading their privacy. Though this was appallingly hypocritical of him as it was exactly what he intended to do, Louis couldn’t help the surge of indignance at the mere idea of Leif and Alexander ransacking their dormitory. Louis thought back to their clue, carefully concealed by spells and hidden beneath a loose floorboard beside Harry’s bed. “How could they?”

Harry remained silent.

They rushed up the stairs behind Leif and Alexander, wands drawn. Louis spotted them turning around the bend rather than continuing up the twisted staircase that led to their dormitory. He breathed a sigh of relief.

“What’re they up to?” Harry said under his breath. He sounded genuinely curious and Louis had to agree. Leif and Alexander seemed intent on reaching a particular place, not pausing to check or change their route. They snuck along the corridor with an unnerving degree of familiarity.

Louis pulled Harry along, slinking across the upper corridors until they reached the seventh floor. It wasn’t until they passed the portrait of Barnabas the Barmy that Louis realised where Leif and Alexander were going.

“McGonagall’s office,” Louis hissed into Harry’s ear. His gasp was caught in his throat at the sudden realisation. “They’re going to try and find the rest of the clues. They probably think that she has copies of the original clues.”

Harry gaped at him, his eyes widening. He clutched to Louis’ robes and they lunged faster down the corridor before Leif and Alexander could make it to the gargoyle concealing McGonagall’s office.

Louis raised his wand, pointing it at Leif and Harry did the same to Alexander. “Petrificus Totalus,” he cried at the same time Harry shouted “Stupefy!”

Though his aim from the opposite end of the corridor wasn’t precise, he managed to hit Leif on his shoulder. His arms snapped to his side and he collapsed on the ground. Alexander, however, had faster reflexes and swiped his wand across the air, blocking Harry’s spell.

Malum Telum!” Alexander bellowed. Hundreds of arrows, shaped like bones, shot from his wand directly at them.

Protego Horribilis!” Louis screamed. A white shield sprung from the tip of his wand, reaching to cover both him and Harry. Alexander stumbled back from the force of the shield, seething. He gritted his teeth as the arrows bounced off the shield, sending them to scatter across the floor.

Incarcarous!” Harry cried. Thick ropes sprung from the tip of his wand and bound Alexander, knocking him to the ground with the force of the curse.

Alexander lay beside a rigid Leif, writhing and thrashing, trying to reach for his wand beside Harry’s foot. Harry picked it up and spun it in his fingers.

Louis stared between them, panting heavily from the enormous shield charm he had produced. He shoved his own wand back into his pocket.

Firm, hurried footsteps echoed around the corridor.

“Fuck, someone’s coming,” Harry muttered.

“We’ll just explain what happened,” Louis said, glancing behind him. “They can’t possibly—”

Methisi,” a voice hissed.

Louis felt a sharp sensation jolt through his leg, as though stung by a swarm of bees. He heard a faint shout but nothing seemed to be registering clearly in his mind. He felt himself sway, catching a glimpse of faces, doubling, tripling around him. A lightness blossomed beneath his feet, like he was about to start floating. He opened his arms, tilting his head back, and sighing as the strange feeling consumed him before everything went black.

Chapter Text

“…said that he should have a few hour’s bed rest and then he’d be fine. A bit weak, maybe, but fine.”

“Still can’t believe Styles let that happen to him. He might be a stuck-up prick but he’s dead good at DADA.”

“We don’t know for sure that Styles let it happen. That Durmstrang git could’ve surprised both of them. And I get the impression that Styles wouldn’t just stand by and watch Louis be hurt, for some reason.”

Louis could hear their voices drifting in and out of focus. His head felt light and clear but his limbs felt heavy as lead. He tried to lift his arm but it felt like someone was pushing it into an uncomfortable mattress.

His eyes shot open. He squinted, blinking rapidly as the bright lights brought Liam, Niall and Zayn—who were all staring anxiously at him—into focus.

“What happened?” he said, his voice rough and raspy. He cleared his throat loudly, wincing as a sharp pain shot through his chest.

Liam smiled sadly. “We don’t know the full story yet. All we know is that McGonagall found you unconscious outside her office.”

In an instant everything came back; following Alexander and Leif after the Ball; duelling them with Harry and sending both of the brothers to the ground; the strange, floaty sensation.

“Where’s Harry?” Louis said urgently. His head whipped around and, ignoring the pain, he searched frantically, leaning over Liam from his restricted corner of the hospital wing.

Niall tilted his head curiously at Louis before pointing his thumb over his shoulder. “With McGonagall. They’ve been gone about half an hour or so.”

Louis slumped back in his hospital bed. “What about the Larsons? Where’re they?”

Liam chewed on his lower lip. “Lou, we really don’t know,” he said regretfully. “We just saw you being brought here on a stretcher.”

“They’re not here, though, so they’re probably not seriously injured,” Zayn said.

The doors to the hospital wing swung open and McGonagall stormed in, followed by an equally furious Vulchanova, Madam Maxime and Achernar. MacFarlan, whose arm was wrapped around a rather sheepish-looking Harry, trailed behind them. Louis sighed with relief.

Louis watched Harry, whose gaze was resolutely trained on him, ignoring MacFarlan whispering in his ear. Harry’s eyes were blank, his face pale, and the top buttons of his shirt were undone. His usually perfectly-styled curls were dishevelled and sticking up at the back, as though he had been tugging at them. Louis’ breath caught in his throat.

“Mr Payne,” Professor McGonagall said sharply, marching towards them. “And the rest of you, off you go. I need to speak with Mr Tomlinson.”

Liam didn’t even try to protest. Her tone left no room for argument.

“I’ll be just outside,” Liam muttered to Louis, smiling reassuringly.

“You will not, Mr Payne,” Professor McGonagall said sternly. “It is approaching midnight. Back to your dormitories now, all three of you.”

They trooped out, looking disappointed.

Louis glanced around at the rest of the group gathered around his bed. Madame Maxime was scrutinising him sceptically, as though she didn’t believe that he really was injured.

Professor McGonagall turned to Louis. “What has Madam Pomfrey said?” she said.

“I… I don’t know,” Louis said. “I haven’t seen her. I just—er—got up a few minutes ago.”

“She must still be with Alexander,” Vulchanova said darkly. He glowered at Harry. “It’s an absolute outrage, Minerva! Alexander’s injuries will most certainly affect his chances in the next task, and could leave him in a worse position permanently all because he—”

“I quite understand,” said Professor McGonagall stiffly. “And Styles will be dealt with accordingly. But, really, the chances that Mr Larson will be affected long-term are very low.”

Louis turned to find Harry looking at her imploringly. Louis felt utterly confused; he still didn’t know how he had been injured—he thought that Harry had taken Alexander’s wand—and now it seemed that Alexander had been wounded by Harry? And whose footsteps had he heard down the corridor?

“What we need to address is how all of this affects the overall Tournament,” Achernar said. Louis noticed that she had a grim look on her face. “From what Mr Styles has said, he and Mr Tomlinson followed both of your champions, Borislav, who were trying to gain access to Minerva’s office. If that is assumed to be true—”

“And why should we believe him?” Vulchanova interrupted angrily.

“—then I would say that Mr and Mr Larson should be subject to serious repercussions.”

MacFarlan was nodding vehemently in agreement and neither Madam Maxime nor Professor McGonagall replied. Louis caught Harry’s gaze, watching as his blank expression became one of annoyance.

“Mr Tomlinson,” Professor McGonagall said, catching his attention. Louis tore his eyes away from Harry to look at her. She removed her spectacles and eyed him carefully, but not unkindly. “Do you remember what happened?”

Louis gulped underneath their burning gazes. He found that, for once, looking at Harry while he spoke comforted him. Harry’s lips turned into a small, almost imperceptible smile. He looked relieved somehow.

“Well,” Louis said. “We saw Leif and Alexander arguing in the Entrance Hall and then… then they started running up the stairs. We followed them—”

“So you were spying?” Vulchanova said imperiously.

“No,” Louis said sharply. “We only followed because we thought they were trying to sneak into our dormitory. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for them to do something while everyone else was at the ball.” He felt a sharp pain in his leg and winced, shifting it to a more comfortable position. “They were going all the way up to the seventh floor. We… we saw them stopping in front of the entrance to Professor McGonagall’s office. And then…” Louis trailed off and dropped his gaze to the scratchy material of the bedsheets. “Then we tried to stop them.”

“You mean that you cursed two innocent boys. Unprovoked, you thought that it was your right to hex them,” said Vulchanova, eyes flashing.

“With good reason, surely, Borislav,” MacFarlan said. “Those boys were evidently trying to gain access to Minerva’s office. I think that ought to be good enough reason for the boys to react, don’t you?”

“What happened then, Mr Tomlinson?” Achernar said earnestly.

“Then… then we heard footsteps down the corridor, I think,” Louis said, pulling his lip into his mouth. “And I remember that Harry took Alexander’s wand and I… I heard something… a spell, maybe and then everything became sort of… floaty, I suppose.”

Harry gripped the end of Louis’ hospital bed with both hands, blood returning to his face.

Louis watched as Professor McGonagall clenched her fists and pursed her lips into a thin line. Only she, Harry and Achernar seemed to react visibly.

“What is it, Epsie?” MacFarlan said, voicing Louis’ confusion.

“Well,” Achernar said stiffly, “I’m no Healer but, judging from the way Madam Pomfrey has Mr Tomlinson positioned and his description of the curse as… floaty, it seems that he was hit with a Methisi Curse—something that, if cast by a powerful wizard, can permanently paralyse someone.”

Louis’ jaw dropped and he felt a heavy weight of panic drop on him. He frantically started to move and he tried to lift his arms and legs before he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Not to worry, Mr Tomlinson,” Achernar said. “It was clearly poorly-cast. Madam Pomfrey will have you back on your feet very soon, I’m sure.”

Louis sighed shakily but still felt anxious, his skin burning beneath the uncomfortable bedsheets.

“If Madam Pomfrey can confirm this,” Achernar said, “then Mr Larson’s punishment will be in your hands, Borislav.”

Vulchanova smiled coldly. “Naturally.”

“As for the wider repercussions for the Triwizard Tournament,” Achernar said, “there’s nothing to be done on our behalf. While it is regretful that Mr Larson and Mr Tomlinson have been injured, the fact that they’re champions does not automatically mean that this… duel pertains in any way to the Tournament unless it can be proved that there was cheating on anyone’s behalf.”

Harry let out a noise of protest and opened his mouth.

“A conspiracy to cheat,” said Achernar loudly, “is not sufficient.”

“Very well, Epsilon,” said Professor McGonagall. “I’ll be sure to speak to Mr Styles about his behaviour.” She said this directly to Vulchanova, whose lips twisted into a nasty smile.

“And I, the same for Alexander,” he said.

Louis startled as a sharp bang reverberated through the hospital wing. He craned his neck to spot Madam Pomfrey bustling inside, her wand raised and a trolley wheeling behind her.

“Is it what we suspected, Poppy?” Professor McGonagall asked.

Madam Pomfrey exchanged a dark look with her. “Yes,” she said shortly. “And Mr Tomlinson was lucky that the spell was weak or he could have been permanently injured. It seems like it was cast using a wand that wasn’t the castor’s.”

“Leif,” Harry grunted.

Everyone turned towards him.

“It was Leif’s wand,” Harry said. “I had already taken Alexander’s wand but Leif was lying right beside him. Alexander must have reached for that one.”

Madam Pomfrey huffed loudly and fussed over Louis, checking his temperature and lifting his arm up and down, as though measuring its weight.

“And my students?” Vulchanova demanded. “Where are they now?”

“On their way to bed, I hope,” Madam Pomfrey said primly. “A good night’s rest and both will be fine. Minerva had already used Reparifors on the one who had been body-bound when I found him. I was able to fix the effects of Mr Styles’s hex on the other boy quite quickly too.” She pursed her lips and looked deliberately at Harry. “It seems after so many years of healing students Styles has injured, I’ve gotten quite familiar with the particular spells he likes to use. My hospital wing has never been busier since he came to this school and that’s saying something because I had to deal with Harry Potter and his shenanigans.”

Louis caught the familiar smirk on Harry’s face and smiled despite himself. Harry must have hexed Alexander when he realised that he had been cursed, Louis reasoned. A warmth spread across his chest at the thought and Louis had a feeling that it had nothing to do with the potion Madam Pomfrey had thrust into his hand and instructed him to drink.

“Now, I really must ask you all to leave,” Madam Pomfrey said sternly, placing her hands on her hips. Louis had to admire how the prestige and seniority that accompanied the Ministry officials and professors didn’t faze her.

Achernar said something quietly to Professor McGonagall and MacFarlan smiled reassuringly at Louis before they both left the Hospital Wing. Vulchanova and Madame Maxime followed soon after, neither of them paying Louis so much as a second glance.

Professor McGonagall sighed and hung her arms at her sides. “When will he be healed, Poppy?” she said.

“Not long now,” Madam Pomfrey said, watching Louis carefully to make sure he drank the entire potion. He winced as the peppery liquid burned his tongue. “After this he’ll probably need something to relieve the pain but he should be in good health to return to his dormitory tonight.”

Professor McGonagall glanced between Louis and Harry, clearly exasperated. “I’ll speak with you both tomorrow morning about your punishment but, for now—”

Louis opened his mouth to protest—he had thought McGonagall was bluffing about reprimanding them in order to placate Vulchanova—but Harry beat him to it.

Punishment?” Harry said incredulously. “Professor, you know as well as we do exactly what those bastards were planning on doing. You can’t possibly punish us for stopping them from cheating.”

“I can and I will, Mr Styles,” she said, suddenly stern. “You two followed and attacked two Hogwarts guests and that certainly will not go unpunished. I will see you both in my office tomorrow at nine.”

She fixed the front of her mulberry robes, bid Madam Pomfrey goodnight, and marched out of the Hospital Wing without another word.

Louis gulped the last of the nauseating potion and slumped back in his bed defeatedly. He saw Harry tentatively sit at the end of his bed. Madam Pomfrey whisked the bottle of potion out of Louis’ hands and scuttled away into the back room.

“So,” Louis said.

Harry grinned.

“You cursed Alexander, did you?”

“I did,” Harry said smugly, laying at the base of Louis’ bed.

“You know, that’s really not something you should be smiling about,” Louis said. “Makes you look a bit like a sadist. And it doesn’t really do much for the Slytherin stereotype.”

“So I’ve been told,” Harry said. He dragged his finger along the edge of the bedsheets before glancing up to catch Louis’ eye. “Still felt fucking brilliant, though.”

Louis burst out laughing. The multitude of conflicting emotions after everything—the Yule Ball, sneaking off with Harry, duelling the Larsons and, now, waking up in a hospital bed to find that Harry had cursed Alexander—seemed to weigh on his shoulders and he could only laugh in spite of it all.

Madam Pomfrey bustled over to him. “Give the boy some personal space, Styles,” she sighed.

Harry shuffled back slightly but otherwise remained sprawled out at the base of Louis’ bed.

“Now, dear, this should relieve some of the worst pain,” she said, pouring a small glass of lilac liquid from a bottle with a tall neck. “You won’t feel it for couple of minutes but this’ll nip it in the bud for you. The pain will last about fifteen minutes but then it should subside. You’ll be right as rain by tomorrow.”

Louis smiled gratefully and guzzled the minty potion without a second thought.

She nodded once at him, narrowed her eyes at Harry and then left them, muttering under her breath about changing the bedsheets.

Harry craned his neck around the corner Madam Pomfrey had just turned and leaped up from the bed. It was then that Louis noticed a gash on his neck. Before he could comment on it, however, Harry had walked around his bed and poured a second hearty glass from the bottle. He handed it to Louis wordlessly.

Louis raised an eyebrow.

“You’ll be wanting that,” Harry said earnestly. “Doesn’t matter that Alexander had shit aim and couldn’t even manage to properly paralyse you. I’ve read about the effects of the Methisi Curse; you may not have been paralysed but it’s still going to hurt worse than a Blast-Ended Skrewt bite.”

Louis smiled and swallowed the potion eagerly, hoping very much that it wasn’t possible to overdose on a simple anti-pain potion.

He felt the effects of the curse a couple of moments later and stifled a shout as a wave of dizziness overcame him. He gritted his teeth and let his eyes fall shut. A heavy weight thudded inside his chest, a dull, throbbing pain that stretched around his body.

Louis felt a comforting hand on his ankle.

“Do you need me to get Madam Pomfrey?”

“No,” Louis said stiffly. “No, just— distract me.”

“What?”

“Distract me,” Louis said impatiently. He felt a wave of nausea drop on top of him like a veil, making his head feel heavy and dizzy. “Talk to me like you used to order me to talk to Diane so that we could distract her.”

“I didn’t order you— oh, fine,” Harry sighed. “Let’s see… we’ll be starting classes next week, I suppose. And the potion should be ready for us to use by then, assuming you didn’t cock up the stirring pattern last week. I checked on it before I left for the ball, actually. The colouring seemed right but, then again, I’ve obviously never brewed it before. I’m pretty sure Slughorn suspects us for stealing the ingredients, by the way. Obviously, he’s not going to snitch on us but he keeps—”

Louis winced tightly and whimpered as a sharp pain jolted through his legs. He felt Harry shift from his position at the foot of the bed

“Louis, I can get Madam Pomfrey if you want,” Harry said seriously.

“No,” he said tightly. “It’s fine… it passes in waves. Just— keep talking. It actually helps.”

Harry eyed him sceptically but continued talking regardless. Louis, however, was focusing less on his words and more on the intonations and melodic flow of his rough, tired voice. Harry’s finger made small, distracted circles on his pillow. Louis clenched his jaw as he felt a sharp pain cut through his leg. He turned his neck and watched the slow, mesmerizing circles Harry was drawing.

 

*

 

“You alright, Tomlinson?”

Louis shifted and opened his eyes blearily. “I’m still here?” he said, glancing around at the sterile hospital beds.

“Wanted to wake you before Madam Pomfrey gets back,” Harry admitted. He had a guilty smile on his face. “That—er—that potion apparently has a drowsiness side-effect if more than the recommended dosage is drank. Didn’t want her finding out that you’d had a little more than that.”

Louis reached behind his head, pulled out the stiff pillow from under it and walloped Harry on the shoulder.

Harry laughed, only mildly indignant, and shoved him away. “It’s your fucking fault for forgetting to take Leif’s wand,” he said, pretending to massage his arm.

“That wasn’t my fault,” Louis said. “You just weren’t paying proper attention—”

“Alright, Mr Tomlinson, you may go,” Madam Pomfrey said, rounding the corner with neat, starched bedsheets folded in her arms.

“Thank you,” Louis said, pulling himself off the bed and onto his feet. He swayed slightly, gripping the handrail before he found his footing.

He looked up to find Harry watching him carefully.

“And do try not to hex someone on New Year’s Eve, Styles,” Madam Pomfrey said, flicking her wand and piling the bedsheets into a neat stack. “I want at least one holiday without having to deal with another one of your creative curses.”

“I would never make a promise I couldn’t keep, Madam Pomfrey,” Harry said with a grin.

To Louis surprise, she merely shook her head, smiling, before propelling them both out of the hospital wing.

As they made their way back to their dormitory, Louis was struck by how drastically his relationship had changed with Harry in a mere evening. It felt like days had passed since he had nervously left for the Yule Ball, irritated by Harry’s determination not to speak with him unless absolutely necessary. They dragged their feet up the spiral staircase, past the portrait of a sleeping Edessa Skanderberg with Christmas lights strung around her head, and into their delightfully warm dormitory.

Louis collapsed back into his familiar bed with a sigh, rubbing his thumb over the gold Hogwarts crest embroidered into his blanket. He tugged his robes off and dropped them to the floor, convincing himself that he would pick them up and hang them in his wardrobe before he went to bed even though he knew that would decidedly not be happening. He changed into his pyjamas and noticed a small brown package on his bedside locker.

“Harry?” he said quietly.

Harry whipped around from the opposite side of the room, a slight look of panic etched on his face. “What is it?”

“I… I wasn’t really planning on giving you this,” Louis said, suddenly anxious about how Harry might react, “but I was in Hogsmeade last month and I picked this up and thought that it would be useful and could, y’know, double as your Christmas present.”

Harry sauntered over to him and it was then that Louis realised that Harry wasn’t wearing a shirt. Instead, he was clad in pyjama bottoms that trailed on the floor. Louis absently thought that they were a safety hazard and determinedly tried to focus on that fact rather than the pale, smooth skin of Harry’s toned chest directly in front of him. Harry took the present and spent time untying the string binding the small box.

“I didn’t wrap it myself,” Louis added hastily. “The lady in the shop, she offered and…”

Harry raised an eyebrow, apparently amused. He wrapped the string around his wrist and tore off the brown paper. “It’s a two-way mirror,” he breathed.

“Yeah, I figured it would be handy for us both to have during the tournament in case we get separated or something.”

Harry nodded silently, schooling his look of pleasant surprise into a more vacant expression. He handed Louis one half of the mirror and took the second, slightly larger one, for himself.

“I didn’t buy you anything,” Harry said shortly.

“It’s fine, I really wasn’t expecting—”

“But thank you,” Harry said loudly. His tone was surprisingly emphatic. “They will definitely be useful.” He ran his finger along the ornamented gold-plated edge of the mirror. “They’re quite ornate too.”

“Oh—er—yes,” Louis said, slightly confused by Harry’s sudden fixation with his mirror. “I suppose so.”

“They might be antique. You see this marking along here,” Harry said, pointing towards a small black squiggle at the back his half. “That’s the marking of Janus Galloglass—you know, in Diagon Alley? Anyway, I’d imagine these two passed through there.”

Louis almost felt like laughing. If he told his former self a mere four months ago that his life at Hogwarts would consist of entering a death-defying tournament and discussing the origins of two-way mirrors at two o’clock in the morning on Christmas night with a blood member of the Styles family, he probably wouldn’t believe it.

“Yeah, you’re… probably right,” Louis said weakly instead. He tried to stifle his yawn, blinking rapidly up at Harry. “I’m going to bed now,” he said, titling his head back to his bed. “G’night.”

Harry watched him for a moment before nodding and wandering over to the lavatory without another word shared between them. Louis had fallen asleep by the time Harry returned.

 

*

The rumours of their duel with the Larsons had spread to every corner and crevice of the school by the time Louis walked down to breakfast the next day. Before he had even stepped inside the Great Hall, a lithe body with a mess of dirty blonde hair hurtled into him.

“Louis! Mate!” Niall exclaimed, both of them stumbling and banging into one of the Christmas trees. Niall gripped Louis’ shoulders and shook him, as though he didn’t quite believe it truly was him. “You’re alive! Merlin’s bollocks, Liam was goin’ insane. Thought you weren’t goin’ to recover. I figured Madam Pomfrey would be able to fix you right back but— blimey. It’s good to see you, mate!”

“You too, Niall,” Louis said, slightly overwhelmed. He laughed at Niall’s expression and pulled him into a one-handed hug.

“Come on, then,” Niall said, tugging Louis into the Great Hall. “You must be starving.”

“By that I’m guessing you mean that you’re starving,” Louis laughed.

“Oh, yeah, I am too,” said Niall happily. “Could eat a Hippogriff.”

They trundled into the Great Hall and heard loud conversations turn to hushed, frantic whispers and staring as soon as they stepped inside. Louis glanced at the Slytherin table and saw that neither the Larsons nor Harry were there.

He tried to ignore the muttering that followed him as he walked over to where Liam was talking across the aisle to a girl at the Ravenclaw table. He recognised her as the Head Girl, Amelia Adams, and they both looked very worried.

Louis slumped into the seat beside Liam, pretending that the boy sat opposite him observing him like a difficult puzzle didn’t faze him. He had started smearing his morning toast with gooseberry jam when Liam realised that he had arrived.

“Louis!” he exclaimed, clutching him like a drowned man at sea. “You’re okay! Merlin, I was so worried. Zayn and me, we were planning on visiting you this morning but Madam Pomfrey said she had already let you go last night. Said Styles brought you back to your dorm.” Liam’s face twisted into an uncomfortable smile. “You are okay, aren’t you?”

“’Course I am, Liam,” Louis said, smiling reassuringly. “He… yeah, he stayed with me and then helped me back to our dorm.” He dropped his gaze to the table, ignoring the way his stomach twisted at the memory. “Kind of surprised, really,” he added.

“Yeah,” Liam said. He narrowed his eyes, as though suddenly uneasy about something. “Good of him, I suppose. ‘S what any decent person would do, though.”

Louis smiled non-committedly and returned to his breakfast. It wasn’t long before Liam became restless with curiosity and asked him exactly what happened last night.

“Someone’s been saying that Durmstrang were disqualified. Apparently Achernar said that they’d breached one of the tournament rules or something,” Liam said in a hushed voice.

Most of the people seated near them had paused their conversations to eavesdrop or were craning their necks and staring unblushingly at them.

Louis shook his head. “No, Achernar just said that it couldn’t be proven that they were cheating so they wouldn’t be disqualified,” he said, shrugging.

Liam grimaced. “That’s a spot of tough luck,” he said. “I’m sure McGonagall would’ve stepped in if something like that—”

“Hang on,” Louis cried, leaping to his feet. “McGonagall!” The memory of last night hit him with the startling speed of a Bludger to the stomach and he realised why Harry wasn’t in the Great Hall. “I have to go,” Louis said, snatching his satchel. “Meeting with McGonagall.”

He rushed through the Great Hall and kept his head down, heard the smatter of excited whispering in his wake as he climbed the stairs. He reached her office fifteen minutes late and panting heavily. He pushed open the door and scurried inside to the clipped voice of Professor McGonagall saying “Late again, Mr Tomlinson.”

“Sorry, Professor,” he said, falling into the chair beside Harry and smiling apologetically at her.

“You’re excused,” she said shortly. “You have only your teammate to thank. He already informed me that you were still recovering.”

Louis glanced to where Harry was looking resolutely ahead. He noticed that the gash he had noticed on Harry’s neck the previous night had since healed, a faint scab in its place.

“Now,” Professor McGonagall sighed, looking between them. “I told you both last night that there would be repercussions for attacking two unprovoked guests—particularly your use of that hex, Mr Styles—and I’m sticking by my word.”

Louis felt a heavy weight sink on his shoulders. He could picture his parents’ disappointment when they received a letter informing them of his misbehaviour, how his privileges had been taken away, how he had almost been disqualified from the Triwizard Tournament.

Professor McGonagall sighed exasperatedly. “However, since both of you possess the same blatant disregard for rules and no number of detentions seem to affect that, I have arrived at an alternative punishment.”

Louis’ twisted his fingers anxiously in his lap, wincing.

“I have to attend to some business with the Wizengamot for the next two weeks,” she said curtly. “It cannot be avoided and this means that I will not be in attendance to teach either of my Transfiguration classes—seventh and first-years. As my most… competent Transfiguration students, both of you will be teaching my first-years in the time that I am away.”

Louis’ jaw fell open. He and Harry teaching a Transfiguration class together? The proposition alone was laughable. They might be proficient in the subject but neither of them had taught before and neither of them were particularly suited to the task. Not only was Harry impatient and temperamental but he seemed to be able to intimidate people with a mere glare.

“Professor, I really don’t think that we’d be... suited to teaching,” Louis said desperately.

Harry—who had been distracted and smiling blithely—broke out of his initial stupor and Louis felt him shift to the edge of his seat. “But Professor,” Harry said, grappling for a response that could fully express his horror at the prospect of their punishment, “that’s… we could never… that’ll cut into the time to figure out the next clue! Professor, you surely want Hogwarts to win this rather than let those two Durmstrang—”

Do not finish that sentence, Styles,” Professor McGonagall said. “And watch your tone. That I wish for Hogwarts to win is besides the point of your punishment. You both should have considered this before gallivanting through the corridors, searching for trouble.”

A surge of anger rushed through Louis. One glance at Professor McGonagall’s sour glare, however, warned him not to argue. Harry, apparently did not heed that warning.

“Professor we weren’t gallivanting!” Harry shouted. “They snuck out of the ball and tried to get into your office—”

Louis reached out and fisted Harry’s sleeve to catch his attention and stop Harry from securing them a second punishment.

“Mr Styles!” Professor McGonagall exclaimed, rising to her feet furiously. “Unless you want me to send yet another letter to your father, you will learn not to shout at a professor.”

She glared at him and Louis felt Harry tense beside him, his hands clenching at his side.

Professor McGonagall sat back in her chair, equally as incensed but rather more composed. “You two will begin this Monday. I teach three classes per week with the first-year students. You will prepare each class, keep your tempers in check”—she said this specifically to Harry—“and, in the process, should learn something about teamwork. I will be speaking with my students when I return and if I hear of any recklessness or misbehaviour on either of your parts, then there will be extremely serious repercussions.” She stared deliberately at them over her spectacles. “Do I make myself perfectly clear?”

“Yes, Professor,” they said listlessly.

Professor McGonagall nodded tensely and reached beneath her desk, dropping two battered copies of A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration by Emeric Switch in front of them. “You can use these to prepare your classes,” she said. She crossed her hands-on top of her desk and sighed. “I’m assigning you this task to show you precisely what can be achieved with teamwork—what this Triwizard Tournament requires and the very thing you two seem to be lacking.”

Louis nodded, slipping the book into his satchel. He grudgingly had to admit that she was right; the Larsons were twin brothers and Clara and Julia sickeningly in love. They could each anticipate their teammate’s next decision, the spell they would cast or the direction they would turn in the fraction of a heartbeat.

Professor McGonagall eyed them both carefully, as though trying to discern something. “You may go,” she said eventually.

Harry charged out of the room, Louis hot on his heels, and walked straight into a startled Elmer MacFarlan.

MacFarlan rearranged his robes rather angrily before he noticed who he had banged into. “Harry! Louis!” he exclaimed. “How’re you both? Feeling better after last night, Louis? Good, good,” he said, not waiting for an audible reply. “Listen, I must get going. The old lioness isn’t one to appreciate tardiness, you know.”

Louis huffed loudly.

“Anyway, be sure to contact me for anything you need over the next couple of weeks,” he said earnestly. “Though I’m sure you won’t need it—probably worked out your clue already, haven’t you?”

“Absolutely,” Harry said. He chuckled loudly, as though the prospect of not having the clue figured out was absurd. Louis startled at the sound, whipping around to stare at Harry. “We’ve had it worked out for a couple of weeks now,” Harry continued in the same cheerful tone. “Can’t wait to get started, really.”

Louis schooled his features into a blank expression to mask his surprise.

“But of course you can’t wait, Harry!” MacFarlan said, delighted. “Shouldn’t have expected anything less, really.” He glanced at his watch and grinned. “Better go, boys.” He tipped them an enormous wink, patting their shoulders and sauntered into Professor McGonagall’s office.

“What was that?” Louis demanded as they continued down the seventh-floor corridor.

“What do you mean?” Harry said unaffectedly.

“How can you go from shouting to McGonagall to sucking up to MacFarlan in the space of two fucking seconds?” Louis muttered as they descended the stairs.

Harry slid his hand down the railing, eyes latched to the polished wood. “I know how to work people,” he said eventually.

Louis raised his eyebrows incredulously. “Your Slytherin side is showing, Styles.”

Harry grinned and looked away. They trotted down the main staircase leading to the Entrance Hall. “If McGonagall knows we’re angry about the punishment, her standards for us will be lower,” he said eventually. “If MacFarlan knows that we have the clue figured out already, he’ll get off my fucking case and leave us alone.” Harry smirked mischievously. “For example, if I threaten you with telling McGonagall that the Polyjuice Potion was your idea, then you’ll let me skip our punishment and you can teach the first-years by yourself.”

Louis trotted down the steps ahead of Harry and sent a perfectly-aimed Jelly-Legs Jinx over his shoulder. He heard Harry’s cry followed by a satisfying thud and, foregoing a glance over his shoulder, sauntered inside the Great Hall to finish his breakfast.

 

*

 

It wasn’t until the night before the first lesson they were to give that either of them gave the prospect of teaching any consideration. They had been preoccupied with brewing the Polyjuice Potion—which was set to be completed later that week—and were taking turns to follow the final steps of the intricate stirring pattern each night.

“Did McGonagall say what chapter they were reading at least?" Louis sighed. He was sprawled across his bed, Abrax pressing her claw uncomfortably into his arm, with A Beginner's Guide to Transfiguration levitating in front of his face.

“Transfiguring spoons to bells, apparently,” Harry mumbled into his Defence Against the Dark Arts essay. “’S a new term, though, so we can start a different topic. Something that doesn’t make me want to rip my fucking hair out.”

Louis rolled onto his chest, legs dangling in the air. “Think we could try changing slugs to pearls?”

Harry groaned loudly. He dropped his forehead to his parchment, smudging his neat script and leaving a black ink mark across his pale skin.

“What about turning belt buckles into metal boxes?”

“It’s all so fucking basic,” Harry said. “Couldn’t McGonagall have chosen to teach sixth-years instead of firsties?”

“I think she wanted to try and get to know the incoming first-years,” Louis said, reading the theory on a simple Switching Spell. “Learn their names and what they’re like before they start causing trouble, you know? Instil a bit of fear in them.”

Harry rolled up his parchment defeatedly and thrust it into his satchel with particular aggression. “Fine,” he spat. “But if you suggest another Switching Spell, I’ll set your bed on fire.”

“And if you swear in front of eleven-year olds tomorrow, I’ll dye your robes red and gold,” Louis said, closing the textbook with a heavy sigh.

 

*

 

After an exerting Double Potions lesson the next day, they made their way up to the fourth-floor corridor. They came to a stop outside of their designated classroom. Louis peered inside; he could see the backs of about twenty pupils’ heads.

“Looks like Gryffindors and Slytherins from their robes,” Louis said.

“Thank Merlin,” Harry muttered. He shoved past him and pushed open the door dramatically.

A sharp bang prompted all of the first-years to whip around; one girl sitting near the front jumped in her seat and clutched her heart. Louis tried to smile reassuringly at her as he marched to the front of the classroom behind Harry, flicking his wand to close the door behind them.

“What’re you two doing here?” a boy with thick eyebrows and a heavy Newcastle accent asked.

Louis glanced around to find sixteen pairs of shocked, almost disbelieving eyes staring between him and Harry. It felt rather overwhelming.

“We’re here to teach Transfiguration for the next week,” he said, leaning lightly against the desk. “I’m Louis and that’s Harry.”

Louis glanced behind him to find that Harry had taken a seat at Professor McGonagall’s desk, his feet propped up and his hands resting behind his head. He smirked at Louis.

“We know your names,” the girl beside the Newcastle boy said, smiling. “You’re the Triwizard champions!”

Louis nodded tightly. “Well, Professor McGonagall is away at the moment so she’s asked us to step in for her,” he said. He twisted his neck and scowled at Harry, hissing “Now if my co-teacher here would get up off his arse then we’ll give each of you a handkerchief to start the lesson.”

Harry’s lopsided smirk grew impossibly wider. He slipped his wand out of his robes and, with a sleight of hand, two boxes of handkerchiefs in the cabinet behind him raced into his outstretched hands. He handed one box to Louis before sauntering over to the right side of the room where most of the Slytherins were sat.

Louis pursed his lips and divided the handkerchiefs between each student on the left side of the room. Most of them smiled up at him, apparently delighted at the prospect of being taught by two Hogwarts champions. He couldn’t help but smile back.

“My sister says that you’re the best-looking champion,” a girl with thick, black hair said matter-of-factly.

Louis startled, almost snatching back the paisley handkerchief he had handed her.

“She’s in fourth year,” the girl continued. “She thinks you look like a model from America that she likes from Witch Weekly.”

“Oh,” Louis said. He felt a blush rise to his cheeks and busied himself with taking out the next scarf to hand to the boy next to her. “Well—er—thanks.”

The girl grinned.

There were, quite evidently, a couple of students who looked just about ready to scramble out of the classroom with fright. Louis watched as Harry strutted down the right side of the classroom, how students dropped their gazes and gripped their desks, some even audibly sighing with relief once Harry had passed their desk.

“Do you set up fucking torture chambers in the Slytherin common room or something?” Louis muttered when Harry joined him at the top of the classroom.

“No, why?” Harry said with genuine curiosity.

“Half of the Slytherins look about ready to piss their pants.”

“All part of my charm,” Harry said under his breath. He raised his voice, adopting a commanding tone to address the class. “You’re going to learn to change the colour of the handkerchief. If any of you can master that by the end of the lesson then you can move on to changing the fabric from cotton to velvet.”

“The spell that we’ll be using today is Colovaria,” Louis said. “It’s a little complicated but since you’re only using it on handkerchiefs, at least some of you should be able to get the hang of it today.” He plucked a periwinkle blue handkerchief from the box and pointed his wand at it. “Colovaria.

The periwinkle blue instantly changed to a shade of blushing pink.

“Sometimes it helps to imagine a particular colour,” Louis said. “And make sure you jab your wand at the fabric.”

The class set about attempting to switch the colour of their handkerchiefs, loud chatter and a chorus of the same spell being uttered at the same time sounding throughout the classroom.

“What do you mean jab your wand?” Harry demanded, apparently affronted the suggestion. “You have to flick your wrist for a spell like this.”

The classroom fell silent in an instant. A wand even clattered on a desk. It seemed that the first-years were desperate to hear their Triwizard champions fighting right before their eyes. Louis could only imagine what kind of rumours about their hatred of each other had spread since the beginning of term.

“Don’t be stupid, that’ll just make incomplete transfiguration even more likely. Jabbing is much more consistent,” Louis said.

Consistent,” Harry snorted derisively. “Typical.”

Louis folded his arms and leaned back against McGonagall’s desk. He caught some of the Slytherins near the front of the classroom smiling smugly and whispering to each other at Harry’s comment.

“Better consistent than incorrect,” Louis said. “If you think flicking your wrist is better, Styles, then why don’t you demonstrate to the class?”

He caught some of the Gryffindors grinning. The girl with the thick, black hair looked like she was teetering at the edge of her seat with excitement.

“I shouldn’t have to prove my methods to you,” Harry said, seemingly basking in the attention of an entire audience.

“Oh, not to me,” Louis said, smiling. “No, no, to the class. All in the name of magical learning, isn’t it? What would your favourite Headmistress say if she heard you were denying her students new methods to use a spell?”

The corners of Harry’s lips twitched. He walked straight over to Louis until he was standing directly in front of him. Louis caught his eye and felt a thumb brush over his wrist before the pink handkerchief was plucked out of his hand.

Colovaria,” Harry said, his wrist flicking pointedly.

The light pink turned to a banana yellow.

Harry glanced around at the class, a devious glint in his eye. “How about a little competition?” he said.

A rush of excitement weaved through the class and they looked between Harry and Louis like they were watching a rapid game of Quidditch.

“Alright,” Louis said. “Gryffindors doing the jabbing motion and Slytherins doing the wrist flick. Whichever House has the most handkerchiefs change colour wins.”

“Wins what, exactly?” a Slytherin girl with a long plait asked.

“House pride,” Harry said. He joined Louis beside McGonagall’s desk and leaned closer to him to whisper “Though I was under the impression your ‘favourite Headmistress’ wouldn’t approve of such inter-house division, Tomlinson.”

Louis glanced at him from the corner of his eye and rapped his knuckles on the desk behind him, suddenly nervous. “A little competition never hurt anyone, Styles.”

Harry observed him for a moment, his gaze lingering on Louis’ small, fleeting smile.

“Alright! Everyone start now,” Harry barked suddenly.

The following forty minutes were spent observing the class’s wand techniques and teaching them the particular nuances and theory of the spell. Harry walked around the class with a stern expression, his hands clasped behind his back. Much to Louis’ surprise, Harry was exceptionally patient with his own house, guiding them and giving extra help to the weaker students. Louis was distinctly reminded of the way Harry had handled the Scarlet-Tongue.

By the end of the lesson, two Slytherins and three Gryffindors had managed to change their handkerchiefs (though one change was debatable—the colour had merely shifted from beige to light brown).

“Although, to be fair,” Louis said, collecting the handkerchiefs, “the Slytherins were at a disadvantage from the start with Styles as their teacher.”

The Gryffindors laughed uproariously at this. The bell rung and silenced them instantly. They gathered their belongings and rushed out of the classroom, chattering animatedly.

“The odds were unfair,” Harry said when the final student had shut the door, sending a smile over her shoulder. “You have nine students to my six.”

Louis smiled mischievously and leaned up, placing a hand on Harry’s shoulder to whisper in a sultry voice “Like I have nine inches to your six?”

Harry stilled beneath his touch and, for a second, Louis’ heart plummeted at the thought that perhaps he had gone too far. His concern, however, was instantly quelled when Harry tilted his head tantalisingly slowly and smirked down at him. Louis looked up at Harry beneath his eyelashes and felt two large hands press into his waist, pushing him gently against the desk. Harry sunk his fingers into the curve of Louis’ waist and Louis felt the skin there prickle, even beneath his robes. Any pretence he had that he had been joking with Harry was immediately dispelled. Leaning forward with the apparent intention to align something behind him on McGonagall’s desk, Harry pressed himself against Louis’ thigh. A deep flush rose in Louis’ cheeks.

“This feel like just six inches, sweetheart?”

Louis’ heart raced and he clenched his fists at his sides to keep from plunging them into Harry’s hair. He wrenched his eyes off Harry’s tousled curls and forced himself to concentrate on not enjoying the feeling of being corned by Harry.

“No,” Louis said, voice impressively steady despite the pink shade of his cheeks. “But at least now I know that your dick is in proportion to your ego, Styles.”

With that, Louis pinched Harry’s hip and broke out of his grip, marching out of the classroom without a second glance over his shoulder. If he swayed his hips slightly on his way out then that was nobody’s business except his own.

 

*

 

Louis pushed open the door to their dormitory the following evening, exhausted after spending hours in the library researching for a Herbology practical exam the following day. As he pushed the rickety door, a thick cloud of smoke came billowing out. He coughed loudly, shielding his watering eyes.

“Styles?” he choked out, stumbling to his window and shoving it open. The smoke instantly escaped into the chilling wind. Louis spotted Harry crouched on the floor staring intently at the bubbling Polyjuice Potion.

Harry whipped around, a mask covering his eyes. Louis to crouched down beside him, watching the potion almost overflow before collapsing into itself.

“It’s ready now,” Harry said. He plucked Leif’s hair from the vial and dropped it in the centre of the potion. The murky brown shade instantly changed to a raspberry shade.

“Doesn’t look half bad,” Harry said, scooping some into the glass they usually used to store their toothbrushes.

Louis scowled at him. “You have at it, then,” he mumbled.

Harry raised an eyebrow and tilted his head in feigned consideration. “I think I’ll leave it to you, Tomlinson.”

Louis brought the glass to brush his lips, eyeing the potion suspiciously, before throwing his head back and gulping it. He dropped the glass to the floor, making a face of disgust. “Tastes like burned toast.”

Harry cast his gaze to the floor, suddenly interested in the threads of the carpet.

Louis eyed him curiously. “What is it?”

“Nothing,” Harry said, dragging his socked foot along the edge of the carpet. “Just… you eat raspberry jam on toast every morning and it’s… it’s the same colour as raspberry jam and… tastes like burned toast.”

Louis’ heart raced in his chest. How did Harry know such an insignificant, vapid fact about him? The thought that Harry had noticed his choice of breakfast, even from across the Great Hall, and remembered it left his skin hot and tingling.

“Must be fate,” Louis said, grinning.

He watched Harry’s face fall.

“Fate that I drink it, I mean,” he added hastily. Louis wiped the back of his sleeve across his mouth, stepping closer to Harry. He saw something resembling a shadow of disappointment cross Harry’s face. “You… you can’t seriously believe that after what Larson did to us, or the fact that he’s our competitor, that I could actually like him—”

“You should drink more of the potion,” Harry said. “You need it to last as long as possible.”

Louis watched him carefully but Harry’s expression had become artfully vacant. Louis took a second gulp and his insides began to writhe uncomfortably; he felt a sharp, burning sensation spread out from his stomach. He saw Harry stare at him with wide, disbelieving eyes. Suddenly he felt an excruciating pain burning his skin and he fell to the floor, wincing as his skin prickled.

“It’s working,” Harry breathed.

Louis cracked an eye open and watched as his skin seemed to bubble beneath the surface, pulsating and thickening. His hand jolted to his face; he felt his nose lengthen and his hair shorten. He dragged his tongue along his teeth and startled at the unfamiliar sensation. He felt his robes tighten, constraining him as his shoulders widened and his chest expanded. He kicked off his shoes and untied his robes rapidly, loosening his tie and the collar of his shirt. He lay on the ground, panting heavily.

Louis brought his hands to his face and saw that his fingers were long and thick, with shallow, dirty nailbeds. He stared in horror at the sight of his shirt—which was almost at breaking point—and his robes—which were about five inches too short— reaching his upper calf.

He whipped around at the ringing sound of Harry’s laughter. Louis glared. “Shut up and give me some of those furs you took,” Louis said, crossing his arms over his—Leif’s—hard chest. “Don’t know why I didn’t change into his robes beforehand…”

Harry had convinced him that Leif had been taken care of by “someone I know in Durmstrang, don’t concern yourself with it”, who had also happened to lend Harry a spare set of his robes. Although Louis had found this highly distrustful, Harry had managed to convince him that Leif would be kept occupied and out of reach while Louis found the clue so that neither he nor Alexander would suspect anything.

Harry, chucking under his breath, handed him the furs to him. Louis, feeling slightly self-conscious that Harry continued to watch him despite the fact that it was Leif’s body rather than his own that he was sharing, raised an eyebrow at him. He pulled off his own robes and laid them on his bed. The elastic of his briefs clung to his waist and he tugged the fabric until they sat more comfortably on below his hips. Finally, he pulled on the grey and brown uniform and walked towards the mirror.

“Merlin’s nightcap,” he said in Leif’s low, flat voice. He had to crouch to fully see himself in the vanity mirror. Louis stared at his pallor, touching against the pale skin, and stared at the steely grey of his eyes. He caught Harry watching him a tentative couple of feet away.

“We need to go,” Harry said eventually. “I don’t know how long this’ll last and we mightn’t find Larson for ages.”

Louis nodded, not trusting his unfamiliar voice.

He tugged his wand out of his robes and they left the dormitory hurriedly. Distributing his weight and height was an extremely strange experience. He had to square his shoulders and take longer, more purposeful strides. Harry had tried to direct him down the stairs but it only made them break out in nervous laughter.

The castle corridors were bustling with students, some returning from dinner while others were lingering in the Entrance Hall, making evening plans with friends.

“Try and sit near me,” Louis said as they crossed the Entrance Hall. “In case something goes wrong.”

Harry pulled his lower lip between his fingers, watching Louis with narrowed eyes before nodding once. “It won’t,” he said firmly. “But yeah. I’ll… I’ll sit near you.”

Louis marched into the Great Hall, ignoring the stares and muttering—as he presumed Leif would—and found Alexander hunched over his meal at the end of the Slytherin table. He felt a distinct uneasiness as he sat beside him, acutely aware of how well Alexander knew his own brother, how likely it was that he would notice something suspicious, something out of the ordinary, something that would uncover his identity.

“Leif,” Alexander grunted, pouring beef stew into a bowl directly in front of him, grumbling something under his breath that Louis couldn’t decipher.

Louis’ stomach dropped. They had planned everything, every possible minute detail, every feasible scenario, every appropriate reaction and yet both he and Harry had managed to forget the very significant detail that Louis didn’t know whatever language Alexander was speaking. He could deduce from Alexander’s expectant expression that he had asked where he had been. Louis knew that he needed to find an excuse not to speak in his native tongue.

“I vas in the library,” Louis said, busying himself with spooning peas onto his plate. He was shocked by the low, rough sound of his voice but ploughed ahead. “I think that I found another part of the clue.”

Var tyst,” Alexander snapped, glancing around and glowering at some of the Slytherins sitting near them.

Louis spotted Harry taking a seat further down the table and caught his eye for a moment before his gaze returned to Alexander. “I am speaking in English,” Louis said. “I am thinking—er—that improving my English will help me with… with the Hogwarts boy.”

It was an impulsive gamble that Leif had intended to use Louis to find out more about the tasks, but his prediction transpired to be true.

Alexander looked pleasantly surprised by this piece of information. “You are getting somewhere with him?”

Louis nodded, avoiding Alexander’s eye. “I think he might be willing to tell me something soon. He is very careless with telling me things.”

Alexander grunted. “You did not tell me that you had been speaking vith him. I didn’t think he would after the duel.”

“It is only recent,” Louis said. He found Harry staring at him and saw him make a hand rotation, an indication for him to convince Alexander to go back to the Durmstrang ship more quickly. Harry had estimated that he would have about half an hour before the effects of the potion wore off, but he insisted that he couldn’t know for definite.

“Alexander,” Louis said. “Ve must return. I need to see our clue again.”

Louis watched as Alexander scoffed loudly.

“You do not remember it by now?” he said, guffawing.

Louis smiled uncomfortably. “I need to see it,” he insisted. “I… I am thinking… it has something to do with the parchment, not just the words written.”

This seemed to pique Alexander’s interest. He watched Louis, eyes scanning his face before he stood to his feet rapidly. He whispered into the ear of one of the Durmstrang boys sitting near him and then stalked out of the Great Hall.

Louis scurried after him, catching Harry’s gaze as he left. The thought of leaving Harry and the safety, the familiarity of the Great Hall suddenly seemed to frighten him. A heavy weight of anticipation for the inevitable dropped on his shoulders and he regretted not asking Harry to follow them down to the ship, despite the risks that would be involved.

They marched down the sloping grounds in relative silence. Louis was relieved that Alexander didn’t require that he justify his reasons for believing that the clue had something to do with the parchment or explain how he had come to that conclusion. They climbed aboard the ship—which was docked by the edge of the Great Lake—and Louis could hear Alexander mutter something under his breath and tap a peculiar pattern on the door with the tip of his wand.

The evening air gliding across the Great Lake was chilling and Louis was thankful for the thick, almost suffocating layer of furs he had. He wrapped them around himself tightly and followed Alexander into the dark, cramped interior of the ship. They walked down a dingy corridor, Louis almost stumbling on a faded rug, and into one of the cabins. He banged his head on the ceiling and rubbed his forehead angrily, unused to his new height.

There were two beds here, both narrow and low to the ground. Louis watched as Leif stood directly opposite one of the walls behind the beds with his wand raised. A burst of purple light erupted from his wand as he made a sharp cutting motion. The wallpaper slashed open to reveal a hole in the wall holding a small, white box and a familiar envelope behind it.

Louis stepped closer.

The envelope was thrust into his hand by Alexander. He pretended to touch the parchment carefully to maintain the pretence in front of Alexander before he pulled out the parchment. The corners of the parchment were dampened and the ink had flowed around the edges, as though the parchment had been wet and hastily dried.

Rising in the east

Only then will the sun show this beast

Seen from above, their tracks must you seek

Waiting impatiently for your arrival behind the peak.

Louis read the words again and again, foregoing interpreting their meaning and concentrating on memorising them to recite later to Harry.

“Vell?” said Alexander gruffly. “Vat is it, Leif?”

Louis sighed heavily. “I thought the parchment meant something but now I am not sure,” he said, suddenly anxious to leave the ship. He didn’t know how much time had elapsed since they had arrived on the ship. He fumbled with the envelope and dropped it back into the hole in the wall, swallowing thickly.

Alexander gritted his teeth. “Vat did you think before?”

“I… I must go back to their library,” Louis said. “I made a mistake vith the parchment but I might… have another idea.”

A heavy thud sounded behind him and he wheeled around to find Alexander thumping his bed ferociously. “Ve do not have long, Leif,” he said. “Hurry up!”

Louis nodded unsurely, glancing over shoulder to find Alexander collapsing onto his bed defeatedly. Whipping around, he hurried out of the cabin, frantically pushing past two Durmstrang boys in the cramped corridor and making his way off the ship. His head was heavy and he felt an eerie prickling sensation on his back, as though he was being watched. He darted across the ground, trundling through the slushy snow and waterlogged patches until he made it to the castle.

Louis felt the Durmstrang clothes become looser on him, less constraining. He had to shuffle through the Entrance Hall with his head lowered as his shoes felt about three sizes too big on him. His heart raced in his throat as he stumbled up the winding staircase, tripping over his robes until he finally hoisted them up. He dashed up to their dormitory, arriving panting and exhausted, but feeling lighter than he had in days.

He pushed the dormitory door open to find Harry with his hands pressed against his eyes, pacing the room furiously. The moment he caught Louis’ eye he sighed with relief and darted straight towards him.

“Well?” Harry demanded. “Did anyone see you? Did Larson suspect anything?”

Louis could see that the rings around his eyes were slightly reddened. He shook his head. “No,” he sighed. “I don’t think so at least. Told him I was going to the library, though, so you’d better let your friend know that so he can take Leif there and cast a quick Confundus.”

Harry seemed reluctant to leave their dormitory but nodded tersely, eyes wandering across Louis’ small form engulfed in the ridiculous amount of furs. “Fine,” he said. “Stay here. I want to hear everything.”

Louis slumped onto his bed as the door shut behind Harry. He languidly pulled off his fur robes and peeled off his sweaty undergarments. He was contemplating taking a shower when the door opened and Harry waltzed inside.

“Get out!” Louis cried, jumping behind the hangings of his four poster.

He head a soft chuckle. “I… I need to give the Durmstrang robes back.”

Louis sighed heavily and gathered Leif’s clothes, holding them out from behind the crimson hangings. He felt Harry take them, his fingers pressing lightly against Louis’ wrist. Louis’ breath caught in his throat. Harry’s touch left a second later, though his burning touch remained, and Louis heard the door close. An unsteady breath escaped his lips and he shook his head to rid himself of thoughts of Harry’s lingering touch.

Chapter Text

“It makes so much sense now,” Louis said. “The flying… Searching above the forest… We were in the right place but just at the wrong time. ‘Rising in the east, only then will the sun show this beast’. We have to go in the morning.”

They were sat on opposite sides of Louis’ bed; Harry was slumped against the end while Louis—his hair wet from a long, scorching shower, and cocooned in blankets—was sitting cross-legged on his pillow.

He had retold his story with only minor embellishment and Harry had listened attentively, hands spread on the back Louis’ bed. Though it was dim and the hangings around them were drawn, Harry had lit a small fire in a jar which was sitting precariously between them, their clue and the Larson’s rewritten clue beneath it. Harry had Abrax in his arms, restraining him from pouncing on the glass of fire and Cassiopeia was asleep on Louis’ lap.

Harry nodded. “I just don’t know what we’re supposed to expect,” he sighed. “We’re going to have to fly around and look for a peak. I’ve never seen any kind of mountain in the forest while we’ve been looking.”

“Neither have I,” Louis sighed. “But we might be able to see better tomorrow morning, right?”

Harry smiled, faint and slightly bashful, before nodding. “Yeah, yeah,” he said, catching Louis’ eye. “Tomorrow.”

Louis was struck by the intensity of Harry’s eyes glimmering in the light of the fire. His gaze followed Harry as he pulled himself up from the bed and nodded before shutting the hangings behind him. Louis felt strangely lost without him nearby.

 

*

 

The next morning, they wandered down the sloping lawn, brooms over their shoulders, the chilling wind whipping their pink cheeks. The Forbidden Forest wasn’t nearly as frightening during the weak morning light, especially compared to the shadowy darkness they were used to venturing through.

“So… What do you think we should be looking out for besides some sort of ‘peak’ we have to ‘seek’?” Louis said.

Harry didn’t crack a smile. He merely grunted non-committedly.

Louis rolled his eyes. Despite the fact that he knew Harry was decidedly not a morning person—nor was he much of an early afternoon person, really—Louis couldn’t help but try and make conversation with him.

“Just cover the right side of the forest and I’ll do the left,” Harry said as they ambled towards Hagrid’s cabin.

Louis nodded, lifting his leg over his Firebolt Premier. His birthday gift certainly didn’t disappoint; not only was the exterior sleek and polished but the broom followed his every twist and turn, anticipating obstacles and adjusting to the slightest of movements. He soared high above the trees, surveying the slight inclinations and slopes of the forest floor and trying to find any kind of peak.

He swooped lower, narrowing his eyes at the landscape rushing past him. The ground, however, was stubbornly flat. He spotted a cluster of particularly tall pine trees in the heart of the forest, one in particular reaching higher than the rest. They were covered in a light dusting of snow, distinct from the bare trees around them with golden, crunchy leaves scattered around their trunks.

“Styles!” he called suddenly.

A small figure in the distance charged towards him. Harry came to a smooth halt beside him, his hair windswept and a curl tumbling into his eyes. He blew it out of his face frustratedly.

“What is it?” Harry said. He glanced below him, scanning the area. “There’s no peak here.”

“Clearly,” Louis sighed. “It just… it doesn’t look like there are any hills or peaks of any kind.”

Harry nodded reluctantly.

“I was thinking, though,” Louis said, “what if the clue wasn’t talking about peaks in the landscape? What if the peak could be the tallest tree?” He titled his head towards the towering pine tree.

Harry’s expression instantly changed to one of excitement. “You know, that might actually be it.” He leaned forward and gripped his broomstick, darting towards the ground.

They approached the tallest tree cautiously, wands drawn.

“The clue says that whatever beast we have to confront is behind this peak somewhere,” Harry said.

“No need to be so ominous,” Louis muttered.

They inched closer to the tree and, even from a distance, Louis noticed something peculiar about it; the tree was artificial. The branches were full and even, and the muddy earth beneath it was completely bare of pine needles. The trunk of the tree was gigantic, wider than the length of Louis’ broomstick, and a mahogany brown colour.

They edged along the perimeter of the tree until they had no choice but step into the wet mud to approach it. The liquid consumed Louis’ entire shoe and the tops of his ankles. He winced as he dragged his foot through it but every step seemed to strain his feet.

“Wait, Styles,” Louis said, grabbing his shoulder and pulling back.

Harry jerked his shoulder, however, and tripped over his own foot. He stumbled and crashed straight into the muddy pit. His entire lower half was swallowed by the mud and the front of his robes and pale skin splashed with droplets. Harry pulled his hands and wand out, furiously wiping the mud from his face.

Louis stifled a laugh, digging his teeth into his lower lip and trying not to catch Harry’s eye as he looked down at him. “Want a hand, Styles?”

Harry glowered at him, chest rising and falling rapidly. He swiped his sleeve across his mouth viciously, not tearing his eyes off Louis. “Come here for a moment, Tomlinson.”

“What?” Louis said urgently, whipping around with his wand raised.

“No, no,” Harry said calmly, smiling pleasantly. “Nothing of that sort. Just step closer.”

Louis watched how Harry flashed his canines, charming despite the darkness of his stare. Louis stepped closer to him, wand still clutched in his hand, until he was directly beside Harry. Louis felt arms wrap around his calves and before he was shoved sharply into the mud. He fell with a shout, tipping head first into the mud with a horrific splash. His entire front was devoured by the mud and he felt it seeping into his clothes and onto his skin.

Just as he was pulling himself up, grappling for his wand, he felt a hand on the back of his neck plunging him back into the mud. Louis surfaced, panting and tasting mud on his lips. He heard Harry’s victorious, ringing laughter.

“Still find it funny, Tomlinson?”

“You prick, Styles!” he spat, swiping the mud off his face. “You fell in by accident tripping over those ridiculously long leg of yours. You didn’t have to fucking push me in too.”

“Ah, but it’s terribly unfair if only I get drowned in mud,” Harry said, pulling himself to him feet. He extended a hand to Louis, which Louis promptly swiped away.

“What do you mean unfair?”

“We’re even now,” Harry said simply.

“We absolutely are not!” Louis exclaimed. “I’m positively soaked in mud. You’re just… lightly smeared.”

Harry snorted.

“Just— come on,” Louis said. “Tergeo.” The majority of the mud disappeared instantly but he felt the skin on his face prickle, irritated from the thick layer of mud.

They trudged past the tree, encircling it carefully. Aside from its even, untouched branches and significant height, there was nothing about the tree to suggest that there was any kind of beast hiding near it, waiting to pounce.

“Merlin’s beard,” Louis exclaimed, glancing at his watch. “Oh, fuck we’re going to be late.”

“I don’t have any classes this morning,” Harry said dismissively, still observing the tree.

“Nor do I usually,” Louis huffed, shoving his wand inside his robes. “But we both do today. The first years, remember?”

“Bollocks,” Harry said. Louis watched as Harry ran his fingers through his tousled hair and thought that he would very much like to tangle his own fingers in the dark curls, perhaps tug them lightly.

“Fuck,” Harry sighed, breaking Louis’ musing. “I have so many things I’d rather do than torture myself teaching them.”

“You and me both, Styles,” Louis said, climbing onto his broom. He cast a charm over the patch of mud to remove their footprints before pushing off into flight.

“You better have a lesson plan sorted out, Tomlinson,” Harry called as they flew higher, syncing their movements until they were following the same air thermal.

“And why, pray tell, is that my responsibility?” Louis said sharply.

“Your parents were professors,” Harry said shortly. “Figured you’d be interested in teaching.”

Louis shook his head. “In case you hadn’t noticed, Styles, I spent last night as Leif Larson, pretending to understand a foreign language and avoiding being caught, tortured and killed by his evil twin brother, so excuse me for forgetting a lesson plan.”

He heard a sharp huff of laughter.

“And besides,” Louis said, swerving above a cluster of tall trees, “just because my parents taught at Hogwarts doesn’t mean I want to. Quite the opposite, really.”

“How so?”

Louis felt a sharp thrill of energy spread from his chest. Harry had never shown an interest in him aside from what was necessary for the tournament. It felt strange, unnerving even, that he would ask him a personal question that could in no way be tethered to the tournament.

“My parents… They knew that they were it for each other since the beginning. They did everything straight away; marriage, kids, shared vault at Gringotts… They even got a job in the same school,” Louis said. He swerved a flock of birds and veered closer to Harry, though his gaze remained fixed ahead of him. “Everything they did was with each other or for each other. I just— I want to see what’s out there first. I don’t want to rush into making permanent plans like that and teaching kind of always symbolised that… At least it always did for me.”

Louis glanced to his right to find Harry’s mouth set in a firm line, staring directly ahead of him. He seemed to be considering Louis’ words, despite not deigning it necessary to respond.

They flew lower, brushing the treetops with their shoes and allowing the wind to whirl them downward until they landed by the edge of the forest. Louis tucked his broom under his shoulder and marched towards the castle. He glanced behind him to find Harry trailing behind him, eyes narrowed. They rushed up the corridors, bypassed the trick steps and finally reached the fourth floor.

Harry shoved the door open and waltzed inside, paying little regard to the twenty startled students watching them both.

“Why do you have your brooms?” a Gryffindor asked loudly.

“None of your business,” Harry muttered.

Louis glared at him before shoving his broom beneath McGonagall’s desk—which Harry had since claimed as his own—and turning back to the boy. “We were just practicing. Now, regarding—”

“Practicing for what?” a Slytherin asked from the back of the classroom.

“Unless you’ve managed to master the Switching Spell we asked you to practice then you shouldn’t be concerned about that,” Louis said patiently. “Now, we’re going to check to make sure that you’re all able to change the colour of your handkerchiefs and then… well, what are we going to do, Styles?”

Harry lifted his feet and crossed them on McGonagall’s desk. “You’re all going to be changing cantaloupes into candles and I don’t want to hear a word,” he said sternly. “Tomlinson and I have work to discuss.”

Louis tried to ignore the blush of his cheeks as he caught Harry’s eye. There was something in Harry’s tone that never failed to catch his attention.

*

 

“Are you alright, mate?” Liam asked during Potions class the following day.

They were working on a tedious task—taking notes on antidotes to counter the effects of Veritaserum using multiple sources and consulting their practical work for individual commentary. Louis felt completely void of any individual thought beyond what was absolutely necessary to pass the classwork, having spent his morning surveying the tree to no avail.

“Yes,” he said, crossing out his previous sentence frustratedly and splattering black ink across his parchment. “Why?”

“Nothing really,” Liam said tentatively. “Just— you seem very tense, is all. And you keep glancing over there to look at Styles.”

“I do not,” Louis said more loudly than he had intended. Two Slytherins in front of them peered curiously at him over their shoulders.

“Yes, you do,” Liam insisted. “You just looked over at him again.”

Louis dropped his gaze to his parchment. “I’m just— I’m nervous about the next task,” he said eventually.

Liam smiled temperately and patted his shoulder. “You know I’m here if you need anything, mate.”

Louis nodded tightly and returned to the passage he had been reading. He tried to ignore the pang of guilt in his chest for lying to Liam. He was certainly anxious about the second task—they hadn’t yet figured out what it was about the tree that could hold the answer to the obstacle they would have to overcome—but there was another feeling that fuelled his tenseness; he thought he might actually like Harry Styles.

He didn’t quite understand how he could like Harry of all people and had dismissed the idea as soon as it had crept into his thoughts the previous morning. The time he had spent with Harry had been less than civil—they were both covered in mud by the end of it—but he had enjoyed Harry’s company more than he would ever admit. And still, two days later, the unnerving thought that he might be developing feelings for him—as more than just a teammate or a roommate or an unwilling friend—lingered.

Every time he thought about it while Harry wasn’t there, the idea seemed ridiculous. Not only was Harry unbearably arrogant but he was also rude and self-absorbed. Passionate, shrewd and fiercely protective over a very select number of people and things, he was the poster boy for attractive Slytherin traits. In his (increasingly little) time apart from Harry during lessons and at meal-times, he could almost dismiss the notion.

However, every time he caught Harry’s eye from across the room or saw his devious smirk; every time Harry said something particularly witty or remembered a piece of information Louis had said before, even in passing; every time he saw Harry strut through the corridors—the very strut that he used to loathe—he felt a strange thud in his chest, as though his heart skipped a beat.

Louis sighed and returned his attention to his Potions assignment. Even if he did like Harry—something he would resolutely deny if anyone happened to ask him directly—there was no possible way that Harry could ever like him back. There was a higher chance that Alexander Larson would march into his dormitory to apologise for jinxing him or that Professor McGonagall would proudly bestow the title of Head Boy on Harry. It simply wasn’t a possibility.

 

*

 

An afternoon at Hogsmeade on the last day of January (and one week before the second task) saw Louis in a highly undesirable situation—he had nobody to go with. Or, at least, nobody he particularly wanted to go with. Niall’s privileges had been revoked after being caught in an unused classroom after curfew with his arms wrapped around a very startled Helka. Louis was rather reluctant to tag along with Liam and Zayn (who had taken to stare longingly at each other before one of them looked away, blushing). Liam had mentioned that he was planning on taking Zayn to Madam Puddifoot’s, something which sounded remarkably like a date, though Liam had insisted otherwise. He had friends from some of his classes, though he rarely saw them outside of school hours. More and more of his time seemed to be claimed by Harry and the impending second task.

As such, he found himself tiredly pulling on a thick jumper and contemplating joining Mabel MacMillan in the Three Broomsticks. He wrapped a scarf around his neck and trudged down to the Great Hall.

Louis and Harry had discovered a series of strange markings carved into the bark of the tree the previous morning. Harry had instantly recognised them from his Ancient Runes class but couldn’t identify them without consulting some older library books and the Rune Dictionary. Making their way back to the castle, they had agreed to take a well-earned morning off the next day. Neither of them had mentioned having plans at Hogsmeade.

Louis made his way into the mostly empty Great Hall—a significant number of students had apparently already left for Hogsmeade—and spotted a nervous-looking Liam shovelling creamed rice pudding into his bowl.

“You look like you’ve just eaten a bucket of Stinksap,” Louis said conversationally, sitting next to him.

“I do?” Liam exclaimed, slapping his cheek to bring some colour to his clammy face. “I’m just… nervous, is all. I don’t understand why you can’t come with us, Lou,” he said, pouting down his rice pudding.

“I’m not being the spare cauldron to your potions party, Liam.”

“You won’t be,” Liam said earnestly.

“Liam,” Louis sighed. “This is a chance for you and Zayn to finally have some alone time with each other without professors breathing down your neck or gossiping third years spying on you.”

“It’s… it’s never going to happen, mate.”

Louis glanced behind him to find Harry ignoring the Slytherins speaking to him and absorbing himself in a compact book that Louis had seen on his bedside locker that morning. He turned back to Liam and patted him on the back kindly. “Of course it’s going to happen. You’re going to be the newest sickeningly perfect Hogwarts couple that everyone envies after today.”

Liam dropped his gaze to his breakfast and smiled privately. “Well what about you, then?” he asked. “Who’re you going with?”

“Er… Probably Mabel MacMillan—you know, the Hufflepuff in my Herbology class—and the rest of her gang?” Louis said. “Don’t really know her group of friends that well but she knows Niall well enough.”

“Oh, great!” Liam said enthusiastically. “Well… Have a good time, mate.” He slung his satchel over his shoulder and smiled nervously.

Louis watched him go, ignoring the pang of inevitability that he would have to mingle with a group of people who had known each other since the age of eleven and pretend to know them better than he actually did.

The Three Broomsticks was bustling with people; shouts and unbridled laughter ringing through the heavy air filled with the familiar scent of mead and Butterbeer. Louis saw Madam Rosmerta placing mugs in front of a group of Slytherins—including Cadmus Meliflua, who caught his eye and smiled. Louis’ heart sunk in his chest. He knew that he still owed him a proper apology for debatable abandonment at the Yule Ball and now he had absolutely no excuse for putting it off any longer. His stomach twisted into an uncomfortable coil at the prospect of it. Speaking to Cadmus didn’t excite him quite like it might have a month ago.

“Louis! Over here!” Mabel called. She waved him over to the bar and, to his relief, he was immediately embraced by her group of friends, a few of whom he had spoken to before in Herbology. The strange thing about being both new to the school and a Triwizard champion was that everyone acted like they knew the real him from merely watching the way he had fought in the first task, or from what their parents had told them about his family. Though the Hufflepuffs were welcoming, Louis was thankful that they were far less obsequious than some of the other people who had tried to befriend him after the first task.

“Louis, hi.”

Louis turned around to find Cadmus directly behind him, a slight hesitation to his stance. “Cadmus,” he said in a taut voice. He glanced around at the people nearby who had been engrossed in their own conversations but had paused to hear Louis’.

“Want to sit down in the back?” Cadmus asked quietly. “My mother knows Rosmerta. She won’t mind us being there.”

Louis nodded and followed him through the rather cramped pub until they reached a quiet area with barrels of Butterbeer stacked against the walls. Cadmus gestured for him to sit.

“Is this where you take all your boys?” Louis teased.

Cadmus chuckled and sat beside him, crossing his legs.

“Listen,” Louis sighed. “I owe you a proper apology for standing you up at the Yule Ball. I really didn’t mean to but… Well, you’ve probably heard by now about the Larsons and the duel but, still, that doesn’t really make up for it.”

Cadmus folded his hands in his lap and glanced at Louis out of the corner of his eye. “I suppose it does make up for it in this instance, though,” he said after a moment. “The tournament is your priority at the moment, is it not? And, from what I’ve heard, you were just trying to stop the Larsons from cheating.”

Louis nodded unsurely.

“So I understand why you left,” he said. “I play to win—as does Harry, obviously—so I’m not going to get in the way of that.”

Louis figured that was Cadmus’s equivalent of an acceptance of his apology. He thought, perhaps, that there was a more significant undercurrent to Cadmus’s mention of Harry but quickly dismissed that notion. “Right,” he said, shifting his position on the barrel. “Well, yeah. For the next few days, at least, the second task is all I’ll be thinking about.”

Cadmus nodded, apparently resigned. “You’ll be there tomorrow, though, right?”

Louis frowned, racking his memory. “What’s happening tomorrow?”

Cadmus narrowed his eyes, as though he didn’t quite believe that he didn’t know. “Harry’s birthday,” he said simply.

“Oh,” Louis gasped, feeling a heavy weight of guilt in his chest. “He never… He didn’t mention it.”

Cadmus nodded with a look of faint bemusement. “I’m not surprised, actually. He’s always a bit of a grumpy prick on his birthday. Salazar knows why—he usually loves the attention.”

Louis smiled, nodding in agreement. Thinking about Harry, however, made Louis consider him from a different stance. The small back of the Three Broomsticks suddenly felt very vacant without Harry. He had spent his mornings, most of his classes and every evening with Harry for weeks. Now, faced with the prospect of talking to a very attractive, very interested boy (if his leering smile and request for privacy were anything to rely on), Louis wanted nothing more than to be smothered under blankets in his dormitory, listening to Harry rant about their latest Potions assignment.

“Afterwards, though,” Cadmus said. “You have months until the third task, right?”

“Oh, yes,” Louis said absently. “It’s not until the end of April, I think.”

“We should do something then,” Cadmus said decidedly. “You can make up for standing me up.”

For some reason, Louis was not particularly interested in making up for anything other than forgetting to buy Harry a birthday gift. “Yeah, sure,” he said distractedly. “I’d better get back to Mabel now.”

He collected his Butterbeer and walked back towards the main bar, Cadmus following closely behind him.

Cadmus sneered lightly. “That Hufflepuff know-it-all?” he said incredulously.

A sharp sting of indignation rose in Louis’ throat. “She’s very nice, actually.”

Cadmus raised an eyebrow at him, apparently amused. “Why don’t you come and sit with us instead?”

Louis followed his line of sight to where Cadmus’s group of friends—including Harry—were sat. Though he liked Mabel, he desperately wanted to join them but something told him that Harry wouldn’t appreciate that. He hadn’t looked impressed the last time Louis had approached Harry’s group of friends to ask Cadmus to the Yule Ball—on the contrary, he had looked positively livid—and Louis didn’t want to sabotage his tentative friendship with Harry by making the same mistake. Gryffindors were indiscriminately brave; Slytherins protected only the ones they loved with every ounce of their selves and Louis didn’t want to wreak what he had with Harry by joining Harry with his people.

“I’m good,” Louis said, smiling tightly. “Just forgot that I have to meet my cousin so… Yeah, I’ll see you around, Cadmus.”

Louis placed his empty tankard on the bar and handed two Sickles to Madam Rosmerta before rushing out of the Three Broomsticks. His cheeks flamed at the thought of Cadmus’s startled expression as he made his way down the deserted main street. Most students were flittering between shops, picking up gifts and meeting friends and avoiding the forecasted showers.

Louis marched bitterly past Madam Puddifoot’s and into the new Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes shop. He busied himself with looking around at the endless products lining the shelves, the burst of colours, the puffs of smoke, and the delighted giggles from one corner of the shop.

His thoughts kept wandering back to Harry; he tried to justify leaving the Three Broomsticks for any reason other than to avoid Harry. Why should he care that Harry didn’t want him to mingle with his friends—or, rather, with Cadmus? It wasn’t any of his business who Louis spent time with, even if Harry apparently didn’t approve. Besides, he was friends with Cadmus. There was no reason for Harry to resent their relationship besides acting childishly protective over his clique.

He paid for a box of Weasleys' Famous Unlucky Dip and stuffed it into his pocket, sighing as he glanced outside to see the rain spattering against the windows in heavy droplets. He pushed the door open rather more harshly than necessary and marched out into the rain, dismissing the voice in his head—which sounded remarkably like his mother’s—telling him to wait until the rain had subsided. He trudged along the main pathway, past Honeydukes, and onto a side road that was partly sheltered by trees.

“Tomlinson!”

Louis wheeled around at the familiar, slightly throaty voice. He tried to dismiss the way his heart leapt.

“Where are you going?” Harry huffed, jogging to meet him, covering his hair with a book called Magical Hieroglyphs and Logograms.

“Not sure your precious hair is worth covering with a book that could help us win the next task,” Louis said with more spite than he had intended.

Harry frowned at him but ignored the comment. “Where are you going?”

“Back to the castle,” he said shortly.

Harry remained silent. He met Louis’ long strides with ease as they left the main street. “I made progress on the carvings in the tree,” Harry said eventually. “Been working on it all morning. It looks like the symbols roughly translate to intra in ligno in Latin. That would mean that whatever we’re supposed to be looking for is inside the tree.”

Louis stopped abruptly in his tracks, shielding his eyes from the rain. “Inside the tree?”

“That’s what I said, Tomlinson,” Harry said with surprising patience. He narrowed his eyes at Louis, searching his expression with something balanced between curiosity and concern.

The rain pounded on them, soaking the front of their robes and blocking their direct view. Heavy droplets dripped from Louis’ hair down his face. He shook his hair like a dog, something that prompted a faint smile on Harry’s face.

“We need to get shelter,” Harry said firmly as the downpour escalated. The dull, grey sky rumbled loudly and sent another deluge of rain across the village.

Louis nodded and beckoned Harry to a side road where the puddles were rapidly filling but significantly smaller. They leaped over the puddles and climbed over the precarious cobble wall around the centre of the village. Harry tugged him back to huddle under a large oak tree about half a mile west of the Shrieking Shack. The branches swayed in the wind and flung a bucketful of water on top of them.

“We can’t stay underneath here,” Louis huffed, sniffling loudly and blowing onto his dripping wands. “If there’s lightning it’ll hit a tree first.”

Harry squared his shoulders, nodding firmly. “Race you,” he called, breezing past Louis with a mischievous grin.

“Wipe that smile off your face, Styles!” Louis shouted above the howling wind. He sprinted up the sloping, overgrown grass surrounding the Shrieking Shack.

Drenched and panting but wearing similar grins, they reached the Shrieking Shack, huddling beneath the roof of the terrace.

“You never told me that tomorrow’s your birthday,” Louis said. He hated how accusatory his tone was.

Harry scowled, though he didn’t look contrite. On the contrary, he looked deeply resentful. “Did Cadmus tell you that?”

Louis tilted his head. “Does it matter who told me?”

“Yes,” he spat. Harry placed his hands above his head and flattened his hands on the roof. He stared hostilely around at the landscape and the louring sky above them. “I don’t celebrate my birthday and Cadmus knows that. He was just being a prick by mentioning it.” Harry dragged his finger along the decaying wood of the terrace. “Besides, nineteen is nothing to write home about.”

“You’re turning nineteen?” Louis exclaimed. For some reason the thought sent a sharp tangle of nerves to his stomach. There had to be reason for Harry’s age—and why he despised any mention of his birthday.

Harry whipped out his wand fiercely but didn’t move to cast a spell. Louis often found that, when angered, Harry’s first impulse was always to draw out his wand, even if he didn’t intend to use it.

Harry gritted his teeth and shoved his shoulder against the crumbling wall of the shack. Louis noticed that some rain droplets had clung to the tips of Harry’s eyelashes. “The rain is clearing up,” Harry said stiffly.

Louis cast his gaze to the chaotic rain striking the grassy Scottish landscape and heard the furious roar of thunder. With a glance at Harry’s stance and the glare that Harry hadn’t directed at him with any vigour in weeks, Louis decided against contradicting him.

They trundled back to the school, arriving—dripping wet and disgruntled—a half hour later. Harry had remained mostly silent, curiously stroking his wand the entire time and speaking only to cast a Silencing Charm on Edessa Skanderberg who ridiculed them both.

“I’m taking a shower,” Louis announced when they reached their dormitory. He snatched a clean towel from the cupboard and walked straight into the bathroom without a second glance at Harry.

As he stepped beneath the steaming hot water, sighing, he could finally confront the question that had graced his every thought for the past half-hour: what was Harry’s story? His strange affinity for dragons, his relationship with his parents and, now, the revelation of his age. Either Harry had repeated a year at Hogwarts—which Louis highly doubted—or he had started at a late age. Which begged the question of why.

Louis sighed heavily and rinsed his hair beneath the searing hot water. Wearily wrapping a towel around his waist, he dragged his feet back into their dormitory to find Harry sitting on his desk, vacant stare following his miniature Scarlet-Tongue—which he had proudly informed Louis was called Pliny.

Harry lifted his gaze and his slightly rheumy eyes lit up. He glanced at Louis, expression coloured by prurient curiosity, before laying out his palm for Pliny to land on. He was surrounded by a tottering pile of Ancient Runes books, some weathered with foxed pages while others looked brand new.

Louis dressed quickly behind the hangings of his bed.

Harry broke the silence lingering between them. “I don’t like celebrating my birthday because it reminds me of a bad memory.”

Louis dropped the shirt he had in his hand, chest constrained despite his lack of clothing at the heaviness of Harry’s voice.

“I don’t want to talk about it but you probably deserve an explanation,” Harry said firmly.

His words seemed practiced, as though he had been contemplating them during the time that Louis spent in the shower. Which, Louis absently thought, he probably did. Louis had learned many things about Harry over the past months (and deduced many others) but he knew for certain that anything Harry said had a purpose. He didn’t talk for the sake of filling a void or a lull in conversation; if he talked to someone, he either had a genuine interest in them or thought he could gain something for himself by speaking with them. This was neither of those times. Harry was speaking to explain himself to Louis because he cared about what he thought.

Louis’ heart pounded in his chest and he busied his restless fingers with buttoning his shirt. How was he expected to respond? Thank Harry for his honesty? Harry would probably scoff loudly and jinx his lips together as an afterthought. He wouldn’t dream of prying further into Harry’s memory—from what Liam had mentioned, his father was a devout sympathiser to Voldemort’s cause. He had occupied a senior advisory role in the Ministry and, though not a Death Eater nor part of Voldemort’s inner circle, he had apparently assisted in the Ministry’s early downfall during Voldemort’s reign of terror. Louis couldn’t imagine what kind of childhood memories Harry possessed. Not that his upbringing could justify Harry’s rudeness and arrogance but, logically, Louis knew that not only being exposed to but residing in such an environment must have affected Harry.

Louis swallowed thickly and walked out from behind his hangings and over to him. Harry had hung his head, lightly kicking the desk below him and watching Pliny flutter in small circles.

“You don’t have to explain yourself,” Louis said earnestly. He lifted his hand, yearning to reach out and brush the hair out of Harry’s eyes. The prospect in itself was very simple but he couldn’t do it. He jerked his hand back pretending to snatch one of the Ancient Runes books instead.

Harry titled his head up and watched Louis carefully. He dragged his tongue over his lower lip languidly. Pulling himself up from the desk, Harry rounded it and stood behind it. “This one here,” Harry said, pointing towards the small triangular pattern Louis was pretending to examine. “It’s usually applied in Latin contexts. I’m guessing that’s why it’s on the tree, rather than an English translation, so that none of us will have an advantage in the task.”

Louis nodded, watching Harry’s long, slender finger follow the pattern and brush his wrist. He suppressed a gasp.

“And what about the three dots at the end of the carving?” Louis asked.

A hand held Louis’ shoulder and his breath halted in his throat. His heart seemed to stop with it. Harry leaned over him, pressing against his back and grabbing a second book.

“This here,” Harry said, breathing closely to his ear, “is the symbol resembling the Latin for ‘inside’ or ‘within’. Hence my theory that whatever we have to fight will be inside the tree.”

Louis nodded. He felt Harry’s hand belatedly release his shoulder.

“Well, you’re the Herbology expert,” Harry said, tossing his damp hair out of his face. “What kind of creatures live inside pine trees.”

“None that I know of,” Louis said, suddenly finding a conscious stream of thought at the loss of Harry’s touch. “But it’s not exactly a pine tree, is it? There could be any manner of animals inside once the conditions in it are right. It could be hollow for all we know.”

Harry glanced up, something mischievous igniting in his eyes as he caught Louis’ gaze. He smirked. “Well, there’s only one way to find out.”

 

*

 

The squelching of mud beneath their feet and the way Harry had clutched Louis’ shoulder to prevent his fall alerted them that they had almost reached the tree. Hunching beneath a low branch and toeing carefully around the deeper patches of mud, they made their way to the thick trunk. Harry inspected the rune drawings while Louis touched the tree trunk, trying to break a piece of the bark off to inspect it.

“Ah!” he cried, jolting his hand away and nursing it.

“What’s the matter?” Harry asked urgently.

“Don’t touch the bark,” Louis said. “It stings.”

He glanced up to find Harry frowning at him. Rays of moonlight passed through the gaps between the branches and the sheen of sweat on Harry’s pale skin shone. Suddenly, the excruciating stinging of his finger felt like a mild throbbing pain. Louis desperately wanted to reach forward, to touch Harry’s cheekbone and drag his finger down Harry’s neck, to press gentle kisses along it and around his tightened jawline.

Tomlinson,” Harry said sharply. “Were you hallucinating there?”

“No, no,” Louis said, relieved that the darkness hid his blush. He shook his head and smiled self-deprecatingly. “I’m fine.”

Harry eyed him, as though he didn’t quite believe him. “Fine. Keep watch for me, would you? I’m going to blast open one of the branches.”

“What? No,” Louis said frantically. “If you leave any kind of damage the adjudicators and McGonagall will all know that we were interfering with one of the tasks beforehand. It could disqualify us.”

“You just tried to tear off some of the trunk,” Harry said indignantly.

“A small piece,” Louis said. “And it didn’t even work. We don’t know what’s inside there.”

“So you’re willing to just wait until the task itself to find out,” Harry said incredulously.

“Yes, if it means we’re actually staying in the competition.”

Harry gritted his teeth, fist clenching around his wand. He looked like he wanted to retort until he determinedly turned on his heel and marched over to his broomstick. He didn’t wait for Louis before kicking off from the ground and soaring above the treetops.

Louis followed him, exasperated. Though he was relieved that Harry had actually listened to him, his stomach flared at Harry’s volatility, the extent of his sense of self-importance and his illogical insistence on defending his own views. Louis ignored the voice in his head whispering that he was equally as stubborn.

They landed hastily, storming side-by-side back up to the castle, reaching the Right Tower faster than usual.

“Well that was totally useless,” Harry muttered, marching up the winding staircase that led to their dormitory.

“Don’t blame me. It was your idea to go back there tonight,” Louis snapped.

“Because I thought we could figure something else out about the fucking clue!” Harry exclaimed. “All you managed to do was get yourself stung by a fucking tree trunk.”

Louis gritted his teeth. “And all you managed to do was read a couple of drawings carved into that tree.”

“Quarrelling like an old married couple,” Edessa Skanderberg commented loudly.

Silencio.”

“You don’t exactly seem interested in at least trying to work out this fucking clue without resorting to force,” Louis said sharply. “Why don’t you just go back to reading your fucking Ancient Runes books?”

“Well, why don’t you go back to drooling over Cadmus Meliflua? Sounds like a better use of your time than getting stung by a fucking tree,” Harry said spitefully.

“What the fuck?” Louis spat, pausing on the stairs and narrowing his eyes at Harry. “I can’t believe you don’t think that this tournament is my first priority.” He balled his fists and glared at Harry. “Ever since I asked him to the ball, you’ve found every possible way to make sure we don’t get together. I don’t even like him but you’re too protective over your little posy of sycophants to realise that I’m not a threat to it.”

Harry’s eyebrows furrowed together. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about the fact that you’re acting like a typical fucking Slytherin,” Louis said, suddenly spurred into another burst of anger. “You protect your own group—Cadmus and all those other Slytherins—and prioritise them to make sure I don’t go tainting your little group of friends.”

Harry gaped at him. Something in Harry seemed to click and he expertly masked his expression, rising to full height and squaring his shoulders. “If you haven’t realised by this stage that I consider you one of those people that I feel the need to protect, then let me make something perfectly clear,” Harry said, his voice firm and ringing. “You’re sorely mistaken for believing that protecting Cadmus is the reason why I don’t want you with him.”

Louis stared up at him, watching the deep green glean in his eyes disappear behind his pupils. His throat suddenly felt suffocatingly tight. “Well… good,” he said shortly. With a heavy head and Harry’s voice ringing in his ear—’I consider you one of those people that I feel the need to protect’—Louis pulled his lower lip between his teeth, marching past Harry and inside their dormitory.

 

*

 

The day before the second task brought foul weather; pitiless rain and a sullen sky that promised further rainfall. They had visited the tree twice more since the evening before Harry’s birthday, though both visits had left them frustrated and anxious. Attending classes, though mandatory, was fruitless; Louis simply couldn’t focus on anything besides the impending task. He felt underprepared, compulsively racking his brain and repeating their clue during every lesson, every spare moment and late at night.

Spiral downward and dive

He added a handful of scurvy grass to his Befuddlement Draught and stirred the mixture hastily. He caught Professor Slughorn’s sharp gaze and pretended to be glancing at the potions cupboard behind him.

Fall to the earth, find your key in disguise.

He chopped the sneezewort plant rather more aggressively than necessary and dropped it into the potion, watching the pale blue shade turn to a mink brown.

Rising in the east… Only then will the sun show this beast

“Merlin,” he breathed. His knife clattered on the desk, the sound cutting through the air, and a dozen heads whipped around to stare at him.

Louis stalked across the classroom to where Harry was focused on slicing his sneezewort plant in equal pieces. Louis’ cheeks burned at the unabashed stares he received from Cadmus and the other Slytherins seated near him. “I need to talk to you,” he muttered urgently in Harry’s ear.

Harry lifted his gaze, following the firm line of Louis’ jaw and his steely eyes. “Does it have to be now?”

Louis was suddenly aware of how close they were. He could see bruised, purple rings beneath Harry’s eyes and his pale skin was cracked from the biting wind. “Yes, right now,” Louis breathed.

Harry looked up, smiling servilely at Slughorn, “Professor?” he asked. “Could Louis and I please be excused for a moment?”

Louis startled at hearing Harry call him by first name. Had they arrived at that point yet, Louis thought, or was he merely maintaining a pretence of their friendship for Slughorn? He tried not to dwell on the way Harry said his name; he enunciated every syllable, making it sound reverent yet slightly rough around the edges. It shouldn’t have made his heart leap like it did.

Slughorn looked rather surprised but nodded nonetheless. “Of course, my boy,” he said, pulling at the buttons of his waistcoat which were straining over the bulge of his belly. “Do make sure you’re back before the bell chimes, though. You’ll need your essays returned.”

Harry nodded tightly and dragged Louis from the room. Louis shut the door to the dungeons and sighed, closing his eyes to avoid looking directly at Harry’s insistent stare. Harry tapped his foot restlessly, the sound reverberating through the corridor.

“The tree,” Louis said. “The clue… It says that we have to fly until we reach the peak—the highest tree, that is—and then spiral downward.”

Harry nodded blankly. “We’ve already established that,” he said shortly.

“You said that what we’re looking for is within the bark but it stings to touch from the outside. I think… I think we have to fly inside the tree,” Louis said discordantly. “The bark stung me because we’re not supposed to look at the exterior of the tree. We’re supposed to go through the inside to get our clue.”

“That… that makes sense,” Harry said defeatedly, as though he couldn’t bear the thought of admitting that Louis was right. He slumped against the stone wall beside him. “And we have to go in from the top, right? The trunk will be wide enough to fit our broomsticks, at least.”

Louis nodded. Though he finally felt lighter than he had in weeks, the immediateness of the task the next day negated the consolation that he had a plan to grapple with.

“That’s… that’s good,” Harry said eventually. “If it’s right, that is. The whole inside of the trunk will have to be hollow so that we’re both able to fit through. We just need to manage to blast some sort of hole through the top of the tree that’ll allow us to go through it.”

They sighed simultaneously, staring at the opposite wall, their shoulders lightly brushing off each other.

“What do you think is at the base of the tree?” Louis asked. He thought back to the roots that crawled beneath the pools of mud around the tree. The trunk was easily was wide as two broomsticks, though, for some reason, he didn’t think that they would meet any kind of solid earth.

“I’d imagine it’s some kind of cave beneath the ground.”

The bell chimed loudly and Harry sauntered back to the door of their Potions classroom. He leaned over his shoulder and caught Louis’ eye. “We’re well used to those, though,” he said, winking.

Louis was thankful that Harry walked inside the classroom then because he didn’t think he could stand Harry seeing his disbelieving gape. Since when had Harry Styles winked at him? Perhaps it was the dingy dungeon light, or his recent sleep-deprivation, or it might have simply been Harry’s relief that they had reached a firm theory about the task, but it certainly seemed out of character.

Louis shook his head and trudged back into the dungeon, dropping his gaze to avoid meeting Harry’s eye. A wink didn’t mean anything, he reasoned, helping Liam place the ingredients back on the shelves. It’s not always a flirtatious gesture, is it? His own father winks, for Merlin’s sake. It couldn’t possibly mean anything beyond Harry’s acknowledgement of their mutual (and rather unfortunate) familiarity with caves. Linking that with anything other than the current state of their relationship—something slightly more than unwilling companionship—would be ridiculous. He sighed unevenly and focused on the task ahead of them.

 

*

 

“Mobiliarbus,” Louis said, flicking his wand. The mahogany floorboard beside him broke from its restraints and levitated in the air. He directed it, allowing it to hover above his head before thrusting his wand forwards. The wood broke into two equal halves. “Reparo.”

“When you’ve finished destroying our perfectly good floorboards, we need to talk about this,” Harry said from where he was laying across his bed, absorbed in a piece of parchment spread out on his stack of pillows.

“I’m not destroying them,” Louis said, sheepishly dropping the floorboard back into its position. “The Mobiliarbus Charm can move and break any tree or material made of wood. Should be useful tomorrow.”

“That’s what we need to talk about,” Harry sighed. He rubbed his eyes tiredly and yawned into the crook of his elbow.

Louis pulled himself up from the floor and dragged his desk chair over to Harry’s bed, sitting down tentatively. “What is it?”

Harry remained silent, stroking behind Abrax’s ears instead. “Last time I underestimated what they were going to throw at us,” Harry said eventually. “Even if you’re right about going inside the trunk of the tree, that’s not going to be the only thing they will throw at us.”

Harry sunk his teeth into his lower lip. Louis couldn’t tear his eyes away even if he wanted to.

“The Larsons and Beauxbatons girls are going to be in the same place as us this time and it’s… it’s going to be different,” Harry said emphatically. He creased and folded the parchment frantically, as though trying to distract himself. “I… I need us to be on the same page because there won’t be time for fighting once we’re there. We need to win this one.”

Louis watched Harry for a moment, allowing the singularity and starkness of Harry’s determination, his earnestness, to register in his thoughts. He knew that Harry was ambitious, willing to go to great lengths to prove himself, but he had never imagined that Harry might be the first of them to properly acknowledge their situation and offer, what? A truce? An offer of camaraderie? A promise, a pledge, even, to each other?

Whatever it was, Louis found himself drawn to the sincerity of Harry’s voice. “Yes,” he said simply. “We’re a team, right?” He despised the slight tremor in his voice, wanting desperately to replicate the same decisiveness of Harry’s tone.

Harry narrowed his eyes at him, searching, wordlessly probing. He nodded tightly.

Louis smiled, trying to quash the burst of delirium in his chest. “Is there anything else?”

Harry shook his head. Louis felt Harry’s eyes watching him as he crawled into bed. He decided against drawing the hangings around him that night and allowed the swollen moon to cast long, silvery shadows across his bedsheets. It also gave him a clearer view of Harry on the other side of the dormitory, but that was neither here nor there in Louis’ opinion.

 

*

 

When they arrived at the Forbidden Forest the next morning, the trees were covered in a heavy, almost impenetrable fog. It hung across the entirety of the landscape, drowning the forest in a soporific stillness.

The crowds around the edge of the forest, however, were anything but still. They were gathered in tall, narrow stands, sporting face paint and waving banners, shouting and chanting above the protests of a very disgruntled Professor McGonagall.

Louis followed Harry—who was glaring petulantly at the fog—to the small group gathered on the dewy grass beside the nearest row of trees. Six battered-looking broomsticks lay inconspicuously to the left of the group. Huddled together and glancing around suspiciously stood Clara and Julia while Leif and Alexander were resolutely ignoring each other, instead focusing on MacFarlan, who stood between both teams.

“Harry! Louis! Excellent, excellent,” MacFarlan exclaimed, rubbing his palms together conspiratorially. “Now, the task will begin in a few minutes, I just need to inform you of a couple of things first.” He pulled out a short piece of parchment from the pocket of his midnight blue robes and read aloud. “For the second task, the champions will be required to use any means at their disposal to find one—or more—of the three particular objects located in the Forbidden Forest. Any one of these objects will help them in the third task. The first team to successfully retrieve one object will win the task. Six broomsticks will be made available for the champions and they are advised to utilise them.”

Louis felt Harry press his lips to mutter into his ear. He felt his breath catch in his throat.

“As soon as the whistle blows,” Harry said through gritted teeth. “Accio one of the brooms and kick off straight away in the direction of the tree. I’ll follow behind you.”

A deep, unpleasant sensation of dread dropped in Louis’ stomach. He nodded, albeit reluctantly, however. One glance at Harry’s expression told him that this situation was exactly what Harry had in mind the previous night.

He knew the general direction of the tree, had led Harry towards it the first time and followed the same route many others. Obscured by a thick fog, however, the thought of seeking it out seemed hopeless.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Achernar’s rather unenthusiastic voice called over the roars of the crowd. “The second task of the Triwizard Tournament is about to begin. Champions, please take your positions.”

Louis stood next to Harry—who was slightly crouched, preparing to sprint toward the brooms—and surreptitiously placed his hand on the faint outline of his wand beneath his robes. The forest above him suddenly looked insurmountable, the fog settling lower around them.

“On my whistle, now!” MacFarlan called. “Three—two—one—”

He gave sharp blast of a whistle and Louis jolted out of his stupor.

Accio broomstick!” he yelled.

One of the bedraggled brooms shot through the air just as Harry and the rest of the champions charged forwards. He frantically climbed atop of the broom and stomped down on the wet grass, clinging to the broom.

He soared higher, through the light layer of fog. The broom was a fraction as agile and quick as his Firebolt Premier but he steadied himself, remaining low enough to brush the tips of his shoes on the uppermost branches.

A flash of green light shot above his head, penetrating the fog. One of the other champions was near him. The shot was poorly aimed but, from its intensity, Louis knew that someone was within duelling distance. His heart thumped in his chest and he raced faster.

A second flash passed his ear this time and Louis plunged into the foliage below him to avoid it. He shoved the sharp branches off him, wincing as they scraped across his bare skin, and climbed higher. He frantically veered in the opposite direction, whipping around behind him to see if he could make out another person, a shadow, perhaps. The fog, however, was even and profoundly concealing.

Louis gripped his broom and bent lower, speeding north-east, where he knew the tree was located. It was infuriatingly disorienting trying to make his way through the fog to find the tree; the only similar feeling was walking down a familiar set of stairs in pitch darkness. A heavy weight—ironically reminiscent of the fog weighing him down—settled on his shoulders. It wasn’t until ten minutes into his journey—his initial adrenaline morphing into anticipation—that he realised what was wrong; Harry hadn’t found him yet.

He flew higher, naively hoping that the fog might fray into heavier and weaker patches above the trees. After futilely searching and finding that the fog did not cease or deplete, he plummeted back down, closer to the treetops. Dejected but more determined than ever to find the tree, he raced ahead.

Thunderous red and blue light crashed above him and he gripped tightly to his broom. He knew that he should be approaching the tree any minute, he just needed to remain alert and near to the treetops.

A cry broke through the heavy fog above him. The familiar depth of the voice startled Louis. It belonged to Harry.

Louis craned his neck and looked frantically above him. The blue light was subsiding and the red was flashing, pulsating through the fog.

AGH!”

Louis didn’t consider the repercussions, didn’t even think about the fact that he might lose his path towards the tall tree and simply climbed higher, approaching the light with his wand raised. Frantic images of Harry raced through his mind, pinning every possible scenario to that agonizing shout; Harry injured on his broom, crying in pain, his wand falling to the ground, Harry following his wand.

He couldn’t see Harry, could merely make out the shadow and the origin of the blue light injecting the thick fog.

Flipendo,” Louis bellowed.

The blue light subsided instantly and he heard a panicked shout. It sounded feminine. He heard her struggle—one of the Beauxbatons girls apparently trying to clutch back onto her broom—and he darted through the fog surrounding him, squinting desperately to find Harry.

He heard an aggrieved grunt and shot through the fog towards the sound. Harry was hunched over and apparently injured, gripping to his broom with all the strength he could muster.

A purple light bolted between them, brushing off Louis’ thigh and setting it on fire. “Aguamenti,” he muttered, wincing as an icy jet of water sprung from the tip of his wand and soothed his skin.

A second purple light darted towards them but he blocked it easily, clutching his broomstick to steady himself. “Impedimenta,” he shouted, pointing his wand in the general direction of the girl.

“She can see,” Harry gritted out, still hunched over. “The two of them… they can see through the fog.”

Louis didn’t have time to ask how they could possibly see through it when an enormous light, forked like lightning, shot into the sky.

“We need to get out of here,” Harry muttered. “I couldn’t duel her in this fucking fog.”

Louis nodded and he motioned for Harry to follow him. They dived north-east, returning to Louis’ original route. Harry kept grimacing, his face contorting with pain. He was significantly slower than Louis on his broom, and seemed to veer slightly to the right.

The further they continued, nearing closer to the tree, the fog became impossibly heavier; it seemed to wrap around them. Louis could only make out Harry’s faint outline behind him from a mere two metres away.

“You shouldn’t have followed me,” Harry said under his breath. “I told you to find the tree. I would have gone there.”

“I know,” Louis said. His thigh still burned with the slightest of movements and he had to clench his leg muscle around his broom to remain steady. “I heard you shout, though. Couldn’t just leave.”

Harry remained silent.

Louis plunged lower to the treetops. An enormous trunk emerged from the fog and he swerved rapidly, crashing into one of the pine branches. A sharp stinging sensation ran through his tangled limbs. He cried out and tried to disentangle himself, reaching for his broomstick above his head. Louis extended his arm desperately, fingertips brushing the handle of the broom. The stinging was rendering his leg excruciating and he couldn’t bear to try and pull it out of its position, lodged between two branches.

A hand was thrust into his face. “Come on, grab on,” Harry said urgently.

Louis gripped Harry’s hand and was heaved with astonishing strength out of the branches. He grabbed his broomstick at the last second, shoving it between his legs and grasping it with all of his might. Louis kicked off from one of the branches with the sole of his foot and followed Harry, both of them soaring higher until they reached the very top of the tree.

“It doesn’t look like anyone’s been here yet,” Louis said. He winced at another jolt of pain in his thigh. The stinging seemed to have exasperated his burning thigh and he couldn’t even drop his gaze to inspect it. The pain was lurching through him in sharp, abrupt surges.

“No,” Harry said, inspecting the tree. “That spell you were practicing last night… Try that.”

Louis nodded tersely. “You’re going to have to do it too,” he said. “I haven’t tried with something this size before.”

They wordlessly raised their wands and flicked them in unison, saying “Mobiliarbus.”

The top of the pine tree shook and shifted, pines spurting around it. It broke away from the main trunk, as though sliced, and raised up between them. Louis had to grip the handle of his broomstick to keep from falling with the force of levitating it. He caught Harry’s eye and, with a sharp flicking motion of their wands, the top of the tree was flung down. It crashed through the trees below them, sending tremors through the ground and disturbing the fog.

“Fuck,” Harry sighed. Louis thought he was referring to the fact that the other champions would have heard them and were probably already charging towards them until he followed Harry’s line of sight.

The enormous tree trunk was entirely hollow, the circumference thinner than most of their textbooks and the centre wide enough to comfortably fit them both.

“We need to go,” Louis said. He hunched over his broom from the strength of another jolt of prickling pain through his thigh.

Harry watched him carefully and nodded.

They flew higher until they could achieve an almost vertical angle with their brooms. Louis stared down into the heavy abyss of fog before plunging through the trunk of the tree without a second thought. Instantly, the fog vanished and was replaced by a heavy, stomach-churning darkness. The walls of the trunk were foul-smelling and coated in a thick layer of sap. It was confining in a way that the fog wasn’t.

Ignoring the same eerily enclosing sense, he plunged deeper, gaining speed against his own accord.

“We should be nearing the base, so slow down a bit,” Harry called. His voice echoed through the hollow interior of the tree, distorting and confusing the reverberations.

Louis pulled back, whimpering into his shoulder as the flesh covering the muscle of his thigh burned. He clutched his broomstick and jolted up to stabilise it. He could make out the base of the trunk, tried to time his landing, until another searing pain struck his thigh and he fell with a crash into a shallow puddle.

He heard Harry trundle to the ground beside him, gripping the wall to steady himself. Louis pulled himself to his feet and glanced around; it seemed that they were underground, surrounded by a low cave dripping with sap.

Lumos.”

The walls of the cave were drenched with a sticky sap.

“This better fucking lead somewhere,” Harry muttered.

They inched down the cave, which was low enough that they both had to hunch down. Wetness spread across Louis’ shoulders and down his back as the heavy sap dripped onto them.

Hunched over, the burning pain down his thigh was agonising. He feared that the stinging had travelled to his groin as the entire area between his hip and thigh was inflamed. “I need to stop,” Louis gritted out.

Harry agreed instantly, watching as Louis slumped against the wall. It struck Louis that it wasn’t quite a cave so much as a continuation of the tree trunk. It had the same barky texture as he assumed the inside of a tree would, though the ground was uneven, covered in small boulders.

He ripped the top of his charred trousers and examined his thigh. The burn was not gaping but the flesh was scattered with throbbing, stinging blisters. He felt his stomach lurch and had to force himself to take slow breath. He raised his wand shakily.

A large, ghostly pale hand with a thin gash along the wrist covered his own. Louis swallowed thickly.

“Let me do it,” Harry said gently. He narrowed his eyes at Louis’ wound, surveying the most severe blisters. Harry lifted his wand made a long sweeping motion and muttered “Reparifors.”

The purple-white light soothed the burning pain instantly, replacing it with a dull throb.

“Thanks,” Louis muttered. He pulled himself to his feet hastily and, even in the dim light, caught Harry’s nod.

They continued down the tunnel, pausing only to stretch their aching back muscles. It wasn’t until about a half hour into their journey down the tunnel—which was probably only a mile in length due to their unbearably slow pace—when the reality of the task struck him.

“Where is this even leading?” Louis said exasperatedly. “There’s supposed to be a time limit on this fucking task and we’ve gotten nowhere.”

Harry didn’t respond. Instead, Louis noticed, he, had begun to sink to his knees, clutching them and apparently rocking back and forth, as though deranged. He seemed to be embracing himself as a kind of self-soothing gesture.

“Styles,” Louis said cautiously, feeling slightly like he did when he had approached the Scarlet-Tongue dragon for the first time. Suddenly a wave of harrowing despair swept him to his knees. Louis racked his mind frantically; they couldn’t possibly be required to expel Dementors, could they? He wasn’t particularly cold, nor depressed; he merely felt desperate. The ground below him seemed to come alive, the small boulders shaking and growing taller—

“Pogrebins,” Louis exclaimed, drawing out his wand.

The rocks began to transform completely, rising higher. The foot-tall demons, their heads formed like rocks, began to crawl over to Harry, identifying him as the weaker of the two.

Stupefy,” Louis said, pointing his wand at a hoard of them climbing over to sink their razor-like teeth into him. He clambered to his feet and knocked back a second pogrebin attempting to climb onto his back. “Harry! Harry, get up. The rocks… They’re Pogrebins.”

Harry startled and kicked one of the demons that had latched onto his foot. He scrambled to his feet, wand raised. “Stupefy,” he said. He stumbled over to Louis and they rushed down the path, trying not to tumble over the uneven slope.

“What’s a… Pobrebin?” Harry said, panting lightly. He seemed to take special care, stepping over them as lightly as possible, as though afraid to disturb them.

“Pogrebin,” Louis corrected lightly. “They’re demons. Disguise themselves as rocks and create a sense of despair in anyone near them. Then they attack.”

A small, green light emerged in the distance and Louis scrambled to whip out his wand. The light gained speed and enlarged, charging at them. Louis blocked the bolt of light expertly, sending it crashing into the ceiling of the tunnel and sending shards of prickling wood and thick droplets of sap around them.

“We need to get out of here,” Harry said urgently, motioning at the hole above them. Craning their necks, they could make out the forest floor above them and the heavy fog that was painted across it. The fog began to seep into the tunnel, distorting their view.

“No,” Louis said, battling over the heap of bark and wisps of fog. “We have to keep going down here. It’s what the clues pointed to.”

A second bolt of light bolted towards them and Louis barely had enough time to block it, directing it above him once more. “They’re getting closer,” he muttered.

Louis felt a weight on his shoulders, craned to see Harry placing his wand over his shoulder, directing it around the slight bend of the tunnel. “Stupefy!”

The sound of a shout and a heavy thud in the near distance travelled through the tunnel.

“Come on,” Louis muttered. He held his wand firmly in front of him and climbed over the second stack of rubble. Anticipation crawled into his every movement; he was expecting a second spell to come rocketing towards them, prepared to defend them both. It never came.

They came across Leif, stunned and drenched in sap—something that made Harry smile rather vengefully. Louis grimaced.

“Stop admiring your work, you sadist,” Louis muttered, tugging him further down the tunnel. He ignored the way his hand burned as his skin brushed off Harry’s; clammy and slightly sticky from leaning against the walls of the tunnel. “What else about the clue is there?”

Harry coughed roughly before repeating the end of their clue in a rich tone that seemed to reverberate off the walls. “Search high, higher, roam the skies. Fall to the earth, find your key in disguise.

“Key in disguise,” Louis said thoughtfully. He raised his wand higher, above their heads and made a short, flicking motion. “Revelio.”

The entire roof lit up in a soft, yellow light. It bathed the tunnel around them in an ethereal light, as though they were in the centre of a honey-glazed doughnut.

“Merlin,” Harry breathed in his ear.

Louis startled at how close Harry was. He grinned sheepishly. Harry didn’t seem to notice, however; he was frantically wiping away the sap from the roof, staring intently at it. Louis crouched beside him and then he saw exactly what Harry was captivated by. The entire inside of the tunnel had tiny markings, engravings in the wood just like the ones they had seen on its exterior.

“What does it say?” Louis asked excitedly.

The markings, it seemed, repeated in a simple pattern above and below them. Wiping the sap away, he spotted the same four symbols replicated around them; it was strangely maddening.

“They… they’re words of encouragement,” Harry said, narrowing his eyes. “It’s similar to Old Latin, actually. It says something like ‘just within reach’.”

Louis nodded frantically. “Okay, that’s… that’s good,” he said. In reality, his heart soared at the prospect of them being near the end, their object within reach.

Harry caught Louis’ eye, alive and shining in the blurring light from his wand. Harry smiled faintly.

AGH!” a shout broke the stillness. “Au secours! Clara!”

The voice was high-pitched and maniacal and they heard a frenzied thudding sound. Suddenly, the tunnel shook violently. Smoke—black, heavy, scalding smoke—billowed down the tunnel towards them. Louis only had time to catch Harry’s eye before they both sprinted down the tunnel.

They stumbled and tripped, still hunched. Harry caught some of the smoke in his lungs and spluttered, coughing harshly. Sap, it seemed, was highly flammable. A shower of sparks within the smoke latched onto the walls of the tunnel and set it alight. The fire was furious and incessant, travelling down the tunnel at an alarming speed.

Harry doubled over, his congested coughs making Louis’ heart twinge. Louis saw a tiny glimmer of brightness—an almost enticing fire—charging down the tunnel. He reached out and snatched Harry’s hand, jerking him down the rest of the tunnel.

“We’re almost there!” Louis shouted, though he had awful visibility in the smoke and couldn’t see more than a metre ahead of him. The smoke was threatening to suffocate them both and Louis had to hold his breath, his eyes burning as sparks of hot sap dripped onto the wood.

Harry’s hand was slipping in his own; Louis could feel it breaking free, could hear Harry coughing spasmodically, wheezing and gasping. Louis’ chest felt like an irreconcilable weight and the lack of oxygen was making his head spin frantically.

He beat his hand back and forth, crying out for Harry to grab a hold of him. He fell to his knees and snatched what felt like a piece of fabric. Through the hazy smoke, he made out a body, could feel a weight, and Louis jerked his hand up, dragging the body he knew to be Harry’s with him. He saw a pair of watery, bloodshot eyes stare helplessly at him before Harry clutched Louis’ shoulder, apparently dragging himself along the floor, and pulled himself to his feet. They stumbled further down the tunnel, reaching ahead of them desperately.

Suddenly, the smoke vanished. It was as though it had been vacuumed directly out of the tunnel and all that surrounded them were burning remains.

“Harry,” Louis wheezed. He blinked rapidly behind him, clutching the wall of the tunnel. Louis whipped around and spotted Harry on his knees, facing away from him. Louis dragged his feet, almost crying with the agonising pain in his thigh. That was when he saw it.

Shining, like a derisive beacon of hope, was a golden compass. It stood on top of a shelf-like, jagged piece of wood in the tunnel and completely unscathed from the raging smoke.

Louis turned to watch Harry’s expression, one of confused joy and shock. His eyes were inflamed and his skin was covered in a layer of soot. Harry coughed wheezily, dust escaping his mouth in sharp puffs. Harry turned to face him and gave Louis a watery smile.

“Must be it,” Harry said, rather redundantly. His voice was strained and rough, the sound causing Louis to reach out, placing a hand on Harry’s shoulder. The muscle was rigid under his touch.

Harry reached out and grabbed the compass. Louis pried it out of his hands, inspecting it carefully. He sighed. “What now?”

Harry shook his head regretfully.

They had both lost their broomsticks somewhere between landing in the tunnel and finding the Pogrebins.

“Why don’t we… Let’s just at out of this fucking tunnel first,” Louis said.

Harry cracked a small smile and allowed Louis to help him to his feet.

“We can’t actually be far from the edge of the forest,” Harry mused. “I mean, the tree was about a mile and a half in the forest, and the tunnel must’ve been about that length, going in opposite direction.”

His suspicions were confirmed as Louis cast a Bombarda above them and ringing applause and cheers filled the air. Louis heard a horn blast and could almost make out the tune of one of the more familiar chants he had heard in the days following the first task. He shared a smile with Harry, who was beaming despite his watering eyes.

Harry clambered out of the hole above them and hoisted Louis up, placing his hand beneath Louis’ thigh to lift it. Though Louis’ focus was on the piercing pain jolting through his thigh, he caught Harry’s eye and couldn’t help but smile. They had done it—together.

The pair hobbled through the trees at the edge of the forest, wandering further west and towards the shouts and applause. The fog had turned to mere wisps and seemed to be burning off in the midday sun. Suddenly, through the foliage, the stands came into view. Louis felt like crying out with relief. He could make out the bright colours and the banners, the shouts of “Tommo and Styles beat the Durmstrangs by miles!”

Their arrival caused an outrageous amount of cheering; students were jumping on the rickety benches and shouting, while other were clapping a steady rhythm above their heads. All he could spot were endless proud, admiring smiles. There was only one that truly captured his attention, however.

“Do you see any of the others?” Harry asked quietly.

Louis had to lean in to hear him properly over the roaring crowd. He shook his head. “Could be with Madam Pomfrey, though,” Louis said. He found, however, that he didn’t much care if they had arrived last; the relief that washed over him was compensation enough.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” MacFarlan’s voice rang through the stands. Louis spotted McGonagall smiling through pursed lips at his deafening voice. “May I welcome the second pair of champions back with their object for the final task—the Hogwarts champions Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles!”

The applause erupted once again but Louis caught Harry’s resolved, but disappointed sigh. Harry held up the golden compass regardless and smiled around at the crowd. Louis watched as Harry’s eyes roamed across the stands, absorbing the moment of glorious victory. Harry’s eyes, then, landed on Louis and his smile grew.

“Come on,” Harry said. He nodded to where Madam Pomfrey was bustling over to them, flanked by Professors McGonagall and Longbottom.

Before either of them could register what exactly had happened, two hospital stretchers appeared behind Louis and Harry and shoved firmly into their calves, forcing them both to lie atop of them. They were swiftly carried behind the tall stands to a small tent, where Madam Pomfrey had apparently set up a small medical station.

After hastily clearing Harry’s lungs of residual smoke, she attended to Louis’ thigh. He could only lie back and glance sporadically at Harry lying next to him. Louis could see the silhouette of two others behind a small curtain—one was lying on a stretcher similar to his own while another was crouched over the bed, apparently talking.

“It’s the girls,” Louis sighed. “They got back before us.”

He had almost anticipated that it would be them—he knew they were vastly underestimated—but he had hoped that the Durmstrang boys would prevail to even out the score.

Before Harry could respond beyond an affirmative grunt, a group of about seven raced into the tent, some with manic smiles, others with concerned frowns. Louis spotted Liam ambling over to him, wide eyes disbelieving and a large poster—which looked suspiciously like something Zayn might have made—hanging limply at him side.

“Louis!” Liam exclaimed, essentially jumping on top of him to tackle Louis into a hug, much to Madam Pomfrey’s disapproval. “We were so worried when you just charged straight into the fog and Niall was sitting near McGonagall and she said something about a fire and— Merlin’s beard, mate!” Liam shook his head exasperatedly. “Zayn said for a moment that the fog might be poisonous or something and I was freaking out because you just flew straight in!”

Louis smiled and nodded against Liam’s shoulder. “’M alright, Liam,” he sighed. “The actual task was fine, it was just the fire at the end that was the bad bit.”

Liam’s face became grave and he shook his head regretfully.

A second horn sounded and Louis heard MacFarlan’s voice announce the Larsons’ arrival. At the same time, Niall and Zayn—apparently taking the opportunity to break into the tent—charged towards him.

“Louis, mate, you total tosspot!” Niall exclaimed, pulling him into a tight hug. “How in the name of Merlin did you know where that tree was? McGonagall spent the whole time talking to Flitwick about how you just went straight into the fog, like you already knew where you were going.”

Zayn hummed beside Niall. “Yeah,” he said thoughtfully. “You and Styles always seem to take the difficult route but it always works out.”

Louis grappled for an answer for a moment until he was silenced by a large hand curving into his lower back. Louis turned to find Harry startlingly close to him—he had apparently crossed the room in mere seconds to stand behind Louis—his hand wandering unknowingly down Louis’ back.

“The difficult route? Why?” Harry said in a rough voice. “How did the others find the tree?”

Niall frowned at Harry but his tone didn’t hint at any visible reservation. “They flew above the fog. It cleared up about fifty feet high and I heard McGonagall say that there was some sort of pattern in the fog that lead them to the tree. Something like that, at least,” Niall said, shrugging.

“Styles, get back onto your stretcher this instant,” Madam Pomfrey exclaimed.

Harry muttered something under his breath and slouched back to the stretcher on the opposite side of the tent. Louis watched his retreating back and felt a sudden need to drag Harry right back. Instead, he muttered a quiet “Wingardium Leviosa” and directed the hospital bed to levitate back towards them, all the while Harry grinned mischievously at him.

“Louis,” a voice said urgently.

He found Liam watching him and absently thought that Liam must have been trying to gain his attention for some time, judging from the look of mild exasperation and concern Liam shot him.

“Yeah, what is it?” he said sheepishly.

“They’re about to hand out the scores, come on.”

Madam Pomfrey had left already to attend to Leif and Alexander, so they could scurry out without having to hear her protestations.

Liam helped Louis back onto his feet and the four of them trudged onto the grassy area and around the bend to the tall stands. The noise was ferocious and Louis couldn’t help but smile to himself, despite the dull ache of his thigh. Louis watched as Harry determinedly walked beside him, leaving Liam to step behind them both rather reluctantly. Louis noticed that Harry’s arm kept swinging nervously by his side, stretching to reach out towards him before he snapped it back to his side. Louis smiled in slight amusement.

He and Harry joined a hobbling Julia—supported by Clara—below the stands, where Leif and Alexander already stood. They looked nervously up at the five judges, seated in the bottom row. Louis saw Niall take his seat behind McGonagall and give him a thumbs up.

“We will begin, please, with the distribution of the points,” Achernar called.

An anticipatory hush fell over the crowd. Louis felt Harry sidle closer to him, their hands brushing with each nervous sway.

“For finding their object first and for early anticipation and immediate identification of obstacles within the task, Beauxbatons come first,” she said.

This was met by resounding applause and Louis saw Madame Maxime sit impossibly higher in her seat, smiling proudly between her students. “However, points were significantly reduced for lack of team-work in crucial moments. In total, the Beauxbatons champions have been awarded forty points.”

Louis noticed Clara murmuring into Julia’s ear, could hear Julia’s quiet sobs into Clara’s shoulder, even above the polite applause. She was clearly still in shock.

“In seconds place, Hogwarts school,” Achernar called.

This was met with thunderous applause and loud whistling. Louis tried to match Harry’s serious expression but couldn’t help a small smile at the crowd’s reaction. Despite coming second, the crowd seemed more determined than ever to demonstrate their support.

“Awarded for finding their object second, admirable perseverance, extraordinary team-work and battling an unforeseen fire, Hogwarts has been awarded thirty-nine points.”

Louis’ jaw dropped and he felt a strong arm hold him tightly across his back. He glanced to his right and saw that Harry was looking directly at him, his palm pressed to his heart. Harry’s lips were spreading into a slow, faltering smile; his grip of Louis’ back, too, was gentle and hesitant. Louis smiled reassuringly and, without properly thinking about the consequences—or about what it could mean for their relationship—Louis pressed his face into Harry’s shoulder, sighing.

They broke apart almost instantly and Louis felt his face burn, dropping his gaze to the long blades of grass. That split second, though, he felt Harry’s tentative hand cascade down his back once; it was comforting, he realised. Comforting in an unfamiliar way, but also in a way that let him know that he was safe, despite everything. Merlin, Louis needed a vat of Firewhiskey to drown his emotions.

The Larsons were awarded thirty points; apparently one of them had started the fire in the trunk tunnel.

“We’re still winning,” Harry said quietly, as McGonagall instructed the Prefects to lead their houses back to the Great Hall for a celebratory feast.

Louis smiled wryly. “Still winning,” he said. He could hear the defeat in his voice, however. Everything he had just experienced—the anticipation, the fighting, the total despair of being underground, the fire, the fleeting yet incessant thought that he might have lost Harry in the smoke—collapsed on top of him.

The crowds had begun to disperse, clambering down from the stands and chattering excitedly about the task. To them, Louis realised, it was simply an excellent morning of entertainment and a missed Charms class. To him, though, it felt like an entire entity in itself. The Tournament, adjusting to his life at Hogwarts, the constant fear and anticipation culminated in an overwhelming sense of confusion. It felt like an insurmountable wall had been erected between him and everyone, everyone—except Harry.

Harry’s smile wavered and he peered closely at Louis. “You need to sit down,” he said firmly. Harry whipped out his wand and one of the hospital beds charged across the lawn. With reluctance, Louis climbed on it and couldn’t quite meet Harry’s unwavering scrutiny. Before Harry could comment, however, Professor McGonagall marched towards them with a stern expression.

“This can’t be good,” Louis muttered.

“Mr Styles, Mr Tomlinson,” McGonagall said, nodding between them. She narrowed her eyes behind her wire-rimmed spectacles before her thin lips twisted into a smile. “I wish to congratulate you both. That was excellent work on both of your behalves.”

Louis’ eyes widened in surprise. “Thank you, Professor,” he said. He glanced to his right to find Harry staring at her in disbelief.

“Sorry, Professor,” Harry said suddenly. Louis saw a glint in his watery, bloodshot eyes. “But would you mind repeating that? Or perhaps you could write it down for my mother to read? I want to savour you telling me that my work was excellent.”

Professor McGonagall’s entire expression changed; Louis wasn’t quite sure whether she was going to laugh or assign Harry a month of detention. She settled on a faint smile. “Rare though my compliments may be, Styles, you both showed very good team-work, especially considering Mr Larson’s idiotic idea to use a flame to guide his path down a tunnel made of bark.”

Louis could hear the incredulity in her voice and suppressed a grin; the Durmstrang champions had diminished points because of their blunder.

“I sincerely hope this good team-work continues,” McGonagall said, eyeing them carefully. She looked between them as though she expected them to kiss or gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes or something equally ridiculous. The moment passed before Louis’ cheeks had properly heated and Madam Pomfrey bustled over to them, muttering about her intense distaste for healing burn wounds.

After he and Harry had been cleared to leave the hospital wing, the gravest of their injuries either healed or bandaged, Louis felt rather lost. The task had been the precise thing they had both been anticipating for months, yet it was over in less than two hours. He felt hopelessly confused, as though he didn’t quite know what to think about or do with his restless hands.

They had both been fed and watered at the hospital wing but, after standing together in uncomfortable silence in their dormitory for a mere five minutes, Harry had left to “get some food from the feast for Cass and Abrax.”

Louis slumped back on his bed, stroking Abrax who purred consolingly into his chest. He lay on his bed for a half-hour before forcing himself to change into a clean set of clothes and write to his parents. They had penned him an apologetic letter the previous week, explaining an unanticipated and unavoidable educational reform meeting they had agreed to advise the Minister on. He knew that they would both be waiting for his letter, including details about the task that the Daily Prophet would most certainly exaggerate, as well as a blow-by-blow analysis.

As he signed ‘With love, Louis’ at the bottom of the slightly yellowed piece of parchment, he knew that his mother would have questions. She had been strangely evasive about giving Harry a Christmas present and, since the first task, had asked about Harry in every letter; whether it was blunt or intertwined with the letter as a whole. Louis had always evaded responding directly about Harry, choosing instead to describe Harry or their relationship in ambiguous terms, scared as he was to confront his feelings.

This time, he didn’t write with that same reservation. He wrote of Harry’s insistence that Louis be the one to escape the brawl for brooms and fly to the tree, he told them of their struggle through the tunnel and the hideous fire, how he had felt suffocated and lost as Harry’s hand had slipped away from his. His mother knew him like the back of her hand and Louis was fully aware that she would be able to see through his language, his palpable emotions, and the sense of yearning he described when Harry’s hand had escaped this grip. She would know immediately why he was so conflicted. He decided against sending the letter.

The door swung open and Harry walked inside, his usual purposeful footsteps more tentative. Louis heard the clatter of food falling into the two trays by the door and felt Abrax spring from his grip, heard her pad across the wooden floors. Louis bowed his head and fingered the edge of the parchment, smiling sadly at the words inscribed there.

The firm sound of Harry falling back onto his bed sounded. They were locked in an agreeable silence until Harry broke it, his voice even and practiced.

“I really wanted to win,” he said. “But I think that, even though we didn’t come first, we deserved to.” Harry paused and Louis titled his head back to watch Harry stroke the Slytherin crest embroidered on one of his pillows. “You did, at least.”

Louis carefully folded his piece of parchment and slid it beneath his bedsheets. “We both did.”

Harry sighed. “Of course we both did,” he said exasperatedly, “I’m telling you that you did especially, Tomlinson. Accept my word. You’re as pedantic as a Ravenclaw sometimes.”

Louis shook his head, smiling. “Thank you,” he said eventually. “McGonagall was right, though. Team-work suits us.”

“McGonagall also thinks that we’re fucking, so I wouldn’t take her word on something like that,” Harry said deadpan. He glanced up at Louis and grinned ruefully.

Louis spluttered, laughing unabashedly. He stared at one of the thin gashes on his hand in lieu of meeting Harry’s eye, willing the pink tinge of his cheeks to subside.

They lay on their respective beds, smiling to themselves. Louis watched his crimson, velvet hangings sway as Abrax twisted herself around it.

Harry broke the silence first. “I couldn’t see you,” he said quietly. “In the fog. I took out the two-way mirror but you… you weren’t looking.”

A palpable heaviness sunk in Louis’ chest. He swallowed thickly, his fevered pulse racing. Louis didn’t know why he felt unbearably guilty about not looking in the mirror; he had told Harry that they could use them if they were separated but, with the immediacy of the task and Harry’s insistence that Louis take the lead by himself, he had completely forgotten.

“I should’ve looked at the mirror,” Louis admitted quietly. He could feel Harry’s stare on his cheek, saw that he had angled his body towards Louis in his peripheral. He had to force himself to catch Harry’s gaze. His eyes were intensely green, red-rimmed and brimming with resigned rejection. “I’m sorry,” Louis breathed.

Harry nodded tersely. “Don’t do it again,” he said. “I didn’t know what had happened. You could have been helpless and I wouldn’t have known.”

Louis wavered at the edge of his bed. He breathed shakily, once, as though the thought of disturbing that moment would taint it. He wanted to brush Harry off, insist that nothing had happened and that there was no reason for his concern. Glancing at Harry’s imploring face, though, he couldn’t bear to. Instead, Louis clasped his hands around his knees to steady them and met Harry’s gaze.

“Why do you care?” Louis asked. It wasn’t accusatory or malicious; he was weighted by a deep sense of confusion. Before the task, he had known exactly where he had stood with Harry. Yet one piercing gaze or misplaced word or concerned voice could topple over his carefully-crafted impression of Harry and disorientate him entirely.

Harry stood up, unsteadily finding his footing. He caught Louis’ eye with a kindred gaze and said, “I care because I know that you do.”

Chapter Text

I care because I know that you do.

Harry’s words replayed in Louis’ thoughts like a broken Wizarding Wireless record.

He lay on his bed, defeated, and stared at the white tip of Cassiopeia’s tail as she coiled it around herself. She always seemed to sense whenever Louis was drowned by anxiety or upset or simply lonely. He had been feeling more comfortable adjusting to life at Hogwarts but his heart still panged with sadness whenever the thought of his parents. Fleeting moments still passed when Liam or Niall would unknowingly talk about times in their life that Louis had never been a part of. His parents, though, they knew him, were privy to the most intimate and personal moments of his life that his new friends, frankly, were not. He yearned to speak with his mother through more than just parchment and ink. Polite, rather tedious letters weren’t the same as sitting together over a mug of steaming tea and allowing her to tease information from him about a secret summer crush he was harbouring or the bass player from the Weird Sisters that he liked.

He knew that his mother would see right through him if he ever spoke about the boy across the dormitory, sleeping soundly. Louis noticed that, whenever they had a particularly long day or had been injured (which was happening with alarming frequency), Harry slept soundlessly, his grunting snores replaced by melodic breathing.

Louis pulled the bedsheets higher around him, turning away from the other boy. Harry had, with apparent pleasure, succeeded in wrecking every preconceived notion Louis had formed since the moment they had met. I care because I know that you do. What could he possibly have meant? That Harry felt obliged to protect Louis because Louis felt the same way? That Harry thought he owed Louis something? That he needed to defend Louis so that they could be even? Louis reasoned that Harry couldn’t have meant that he cared about Louis just because Harry wanted to. If that was the case, he would have phrased it completely differently. He wouldn’t have made caring seem so contrived or artificial, as though it was a foreign concept to Harry. As though he felt equally as confused about their relationship as Louis did.

Louis tried to dismiss the notion but it creeped into his every thought. Harry cared because he felt he had to, because he had never been in a situation where he needed to rely on someone else like he did on Louis. And he felt guilty, Louis thought. Harry must have felt like he owed him something, he reasoned. Harry must have felt compelled to care for him, was willing to care for him if only to destroy the feeling that he had somehow let himself down by relying on another person; he wanted to care for Louis to save his own sanity.

That night, Louis dreamt that he was walking through the burning remains of his house back in Doncaster. A fire had caught, he was told, and destroyed the entirety of his childhood home. Everything he had held dearest to him was charred and decimated. He was preoccupied, however, with a deep, unquenchable desire to find someone, someone he needed, and yet couldn’t find a trace of them. He wandered the house aimlessly, throwing charred objects over his shoulder, objects that once held so much significance but, in the aftermath of a fire that tore down everything he loved, meant so little. All he really needed to do was find his person. And they were just out of reach.

 

*

 

When Louis awoke the next morning, Harry’s bed was empty. The bedsheets had been folded neatly and Abrax—who had taken to sleeping in Harry’s bed despite Louis’ protests—was curled at the foot of Harry’s bed. The sight filled Louis with a sense of lost opportunity.

He hastily pulled on his robes, taking care to conceal his bandaged thigh with warm layers. He knew who he needed to speak with, though he wasn’t quite sure where to find him. Wandering down the main staircase and smiling at the students who congratulated him for his performance, Louis made his way to the library. To his surprise, he found the person he was looking for sitting behind a small stack of books with appallingly complex titles, writing frantically.

Louis gingerly took a seat beside him. Zayn glanced up instantly and rolled up his parchment, smiling easily.

“Great flying yesterday, mate,” Zayn offered.

Louis shook his head modestly. “Wait,” he said, “how could you see from the stands?”

“The fog was cleared for the audience the second the horn went off so that we could see properly.”

Louis sighed. “Seems like the Beauxbatons girls knew that spell too. Harry told me— I mean... Styles mentioned that Clara could definitely see through the fog.”

Zayn observed him lightly. “Still,” he said, “they only managed one point more than you two. They split up at one point and that left Julia with all those burns. Probably what lost them some points.”

“Maybe it wasn’t them losing points that got the margin so close though,” Louis said. “I rather think it was mine and Harry’s brilliance that got us points so close to theirs.”

Zayn shook his head, grinning. “Whatever you say, Louis.”

“Quiet in the library,” Madam Pince hissed, scowling between them.

“I thought I’d have to pry Liam off you to get a chance for us to talk together,” Louis said. He had rejected spending time alone with either Zayn or Liam—they seemed to be permanently together nowadays—in the weeks preceding the second task and rather regretted it. He smiled guiltily but Zayn shook his head, waving him off.

“Liam’s probably in the Great Hall,” Zayn said with a short, tired sigh. “I was just writing a Potions essay for Slughorn. Kept me up most of the night. I just couldn’t stop writing and every time I tried to write a conclusion, I remembered something new.”

Louis grinned. “Doubt that Slughorn will mind,” he said brightly. “Can’t believe I’m not in any of your classes—I’d be able to copy off you all the time.”

Zayn laughed, which earned him a seething glare from Madam Pince. “You wouldn’t want to copy off me. I’m a distracted mess most of the time.”

“Oh, I know,” Louis said knowingly, tilting his head in the direction of the Great Hall.

“I’m not distracted like that,” Zayn said, blushing furiously. “I just mean… I don’t exactly fit the Ravenclaw image to… hand essays in three weeks before the deadline and never go anywhere without a book in front of my face.”

“Still dead smart though,” Louis said. “Just… a different kind of smart.”

Zayn smiled, glancing down at his pile of books lovingly. He looked unusually bashful. “Liam calls it ‘wallflower smart’.”

“Oh, Merlin, it’s too early to have my delicate ears exposed to hear about Liam’s sentimentality,” Louis said. He grinned at Zayn to reassure him that he was only joking.

“Quiet in the library,” Madam Pince said waspishly.

Zayn motioned for Louis to follow towards a corner other library—the same corner he had spent countless hours researching about dragons with Harry. Instead of dappled sunbeams dancing over the worn armchairs, however, the sky was sombre and drizzling. He sat on the armchair Harry claimed each time they visited

“So what was it you wanted to talk about?” Zayn said.

Louis smiled diffidently. Zayn had evidently picked up on the fact that it wasn’t an impromptu visit that brought him to the library early on a Monday morning; he had a purpose for seeking Zayn out. The immediacy of asking Zayn about Harry, though, struck him sharply. What would Zayn think of him? Would he sympathise? Advise him against associating with Harry beyond what was necessary for the tournament? He knew Zayn was quite intuitive but he didn’t know him well enough to know what his reaction might be.

Zayn smiled encouragingly at him.

“I wanted to ask you about Styles,” Louis said. “Why is he— I mean, you’ve known him and his family for years, right?”

Zayn nodded. “I wouldn’t say I know them,” he said, “but our families move in the same circles.”

“Has he always been so closed off?” Louis asked abruptly.

To his surprise, Zayn laughed loudly. He swayed his head from side to side, considering Louis’ question. “Yes,” he decided on, though it was hesitant. “He’s a bit older, so before Hogwarts he would never be caught dead playing with me or my sisters. He liked to keep to himself—part of being an only child, I suppose. It wasn’t until Hogwarts that he became that… arrogant or churlish, though.”

Louis nodded thoughtfully. For some reason, the thought of a Harry as a child—alone, quiet, reserved and living in what he imagined was a regal, antiquated house filled with unimaginable Dark objects—upset him. He couldn’t imagine being raised in that environment without the infinite love and attention his parents showed him. Louis forced himself to stop thinking about Harry’s childhood—something like a lonely upbringing could never justify his actions later in life, even if they contributed to them.

“Why did he start late at Hogwarts?” Louis said instead.

Zayn smiled wryly. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “It was never brought up in front of me. He usually gets angry every year around this time. It’s kind of common knowledge around here not to touch Styles on his birthday unless you want to spend the night at the Hospital Wing.” Zayn dragged his finger across the fraying, velvet fabric of his armchair. “He wasn’t the same as usual this year, though.”

Louis thought back to the previous week, when Harry had confessed that he despised his birthday. Something about his admission felt significant. Harry didn’t share much about himself beyond anything that pertained to their situation. He looked forward to the next challenge, the next barrier, the next obstacle, rather than inward. Despite his outburst in the Shrieking Shack, Harry hadn’t been any less bearable than usual. Perhaps Zayn was right, that he wasn’t the same this year, and that actually talking to Louis had helped that pent-up anger. Then again, Louis thought bitterly, Harry hadn’t been particularly receptive of Louis’ offer to listen, to help him.

“You okay?” Zayn said, eyeing him carefully.

Louis nodded, smiling weakly. “He just… confuses me,” he admitted quietly. He was surprised by the truth of the statement. Though Harry was many things, confusing seemed to be Louis’ predominant emotion whenever he thought of him, tried to contain him in a tangible entity that he could properly consider. Harry seemed to escape him every time.

The bell for their morning class rang and Louis startled. He waved a frantic good-bye over his shoulder to Zayn. He raced out of the library—much to Madam Pince’s chagrin—to snatch his morning toast before making his way out to the greenhouses for Herbology.

 

*

 

Nothing could be done, Louis reasoned, ambling back to his dormitory later that evening. He had spent an extremely unproductive Alchemy class pretending to read a passage on alchemic experimentation during the Middle Ages. During that time, he had managed to reach a decisive conclusion about Harry Styles: nothing could be done.

Louis knew that there was more to Harry behind his arrogant sneer; his interest in dragons, his questionable yet rigid moral principles, his treatment of Louis. However, Louis also knew that it wasn’t his place to pry into Harry’s life. Louis was unreasonably curious about him and with every passing glance at Harry’s determined eyes or pink lips, Louis felt that his infatuation was only escalating.

It was interest, Louis tried to reason with himself. He was interested in Harry because he was an anomaly and far different than he had anticipated, especially all of the rumours that encircled him. The version of Harry that Louis saw—sleepy after a tiring Transfiguration lesson, sprawled across his bed, conjuring birds to flutter around the room and laughing when Abrax chased them—seemed so different from the haughty, conceited Slytherin the rest of the school knew. Louis just couldn’t place the source of his interest. Sighing, Louis dragged his feet up the spiral staircase to their dormitory.

The issue was that Louis was afraid that it might possibly be more than interest that attracted him to Harry. The proposition that he could like Harry—overbearing, hubristic, rude Harry—was ridiculous. Just because Harry could be charming when he chose to be and he spoke in a purposeful, taut voice and had a penchant for his cat could not excuse his behaviour. He couldn’t take Harry’s actions during the tasks into account either. Harry had made it perfectly clear that he was competing to win. Therefore, Louis thought rather forlornly, everything Harry had done—helping Louis, depending on each other, working together despite everything—could be characterised as Harry’s fulfilling his own agenda.

I care because I know that you do.

As Louis languidly pulled off his robes, Harry’s voice repeated those words over and over again. He cast a protective spell on his thigh to prevent the scorching water soaking the bandage and stepped into the shower. He closed his eyes and let out a heavy sigh. Nothing can be done, he told himself aloud. His voice was unconvincing even to Louis’ own ears. He poured a generous amount of shampoo on his hand and massaged it into his hair with more vigour than he had intended. Nothing can be done, he said again, louder and more firmly.

“Are you alone in there, Tomlinson?”

Louis almost fell into the shower basin. Frantically gripping the tiled wall, he called “Yeah”, his voice unusually high-pitched and breathy. He sounded guilty.

Harry snorted from their dormitory.

Louis pressed his forehead against the shower wall, breathing “Merlin.” He needed to concentrate on anything other than the boy right outside the lavatory door. Rinsing his hair before wrapping a towel around his waist, Louis stepped out of the shower. The door creaked as he opened it and Louis winced. Harry was sitting at his desk, hair draping around his face in loose curls. His head was hung over a book but he glanced up for a moment. His eyes roamed Louis’ bare, dripping chest. Harry caught Louis’ eye and his lips teased into a smirk. Louis felt his breath catch in his throat. He turned on his heel and quickly pulled on his pyjamas.

Pliny, Harry’s miniature Scarlet-Tongue, soared above Louis’ head before spiralling downwards to land on his shoulder. He smiled down at Pliny, stroking between his wings with his index finger like Harry had instructed. Louis sat on his bed, mindful not to disturb Harry, and took out the letter his mother had sent him that morning. In the end, he had decided to send his original letter. The parchment was slightly creased in places and the ink smudged, as though she had written it very hastily. She had never failed yet not to send him weekly updates on life at home, however, and the thought that, despite the chaos of his father’s book launch, she had found time to write to Louis made his heart soar.

Louis, my darling,

Thank you for writing to us. You can’t imagine how worried we both were yesterday. I could hardly focus all day because I was waiting to hear from you. I must say that I was very worried when I heard about the flying aspect of the taskI thought it might involve some kind of Quidditch equivalent. You certainly take after your father when it comes to flying!

Minerva sent me an owl, detailing the fire. Those wretched Durmstrang boys apparently lit fires with their wands for light in the tunnel instead of using Lumos. I’m relieved to hear that your burns were minimal, but make sure you visit Madam Pomfrey again about your thigh. If it gets infected, she’ll know exactly how to remedy it.

Regarding the debacle you allude to about Harry Styles, unfortunately I really don’t think there’s much I can advise you, however much I want to. I know that’s not what you were hoping to hear but I really can’t make these decisions for you. I don’t know Harry like you doI only know of his family, and that’s hardly a fair indicator of what he’s like. You’ve spent the last five months complaining (“endlessly” your father is shouting from the kitchen) about him. From that, it seems that this interest you have in him might just be derived from a need to have someone you can trust in the tournament. He certainly doesn’t sound like the ideal partner but, as your mother, I have to respect him because he has helped you and that’s all a mother could ask for.

Try not to let your feelings get the better of your sound judgement, Louis. And try not to forget how Harry treated you only a couple of months ago.

With love,

Your mother.

Louis breathed shakily and folded the letter, crossing the room to place it in his trunk. He startled, however, when he saw Harry looking directly at him. He was observing Louis’ shoulder with an affectionate smile. Louis turned to look at it, finding Pliny asleep there, small sparks shooting out of his nostrils with every snore. He caught Harry’s eye and smiled cautiously.

“Should I wake him?” Louis asked, peering down at Pliny.

Harry shook his head, pulling back his chair and walking towards Louis with quiet, purposeful steps. He sunk his teeth into his lower lip, eyes flickering between Louis and Pliny. “He’s never fallen asleep on me before,” Harry admitted. “I can’t let him fall asleep on the bed or he might set fire to the sheets.”

Louis nodded, unsure how to respond. The intimacy of the moment struck him; Harry’s affectionate, slightly apologetic smile, his gentle demeanour whenever he handled animals and how it contrasted so starkly with his usual presence.

Harry stepped closer to Louis and brushed his fingers along Louis’ shoulder blade. They lingered for a moment, Harry’s fingertips dancing across the fabric of his loose shirt. Louis felt his pulse beat rapidly in his chest. Foregoing thinking about his actions, Louis reached up and placed his hand on top of Harry’s. He was rewarded with a look of curious surprise. Harry didn’t move his hand, instead dragging his thumb from side to side to rub through the fabric of Louis’ shirt.

Pliny huffed in his sleep and a shower of sparks shot on Harry’s palm, who scrunched his nose in slight exasperation and carefully removed his hand from beneath Louis’. He picked Pliny up and placed him on Harry’s bedside locker.

“Why is it that you’re so interested in dragons?” Louis asked suddenly. He watched as Harry held the corner of his locker, the muscles of his back straining beneath Harry’s shirt. Despite his clear discomfort, Harry turned around.

“I’m not talking about that,” he said brusquely.

Louis didn’t know why he was surprised by his disappointment. Harry hadn’t stormed out of the dormitory, however, or jinxed him, so Louis considered that an indication to probe further.

“I don’t need you to tell me your whole back story, Styles,” he sighed. “It’s a simple question.”

Harry sat primly on the edge of his bed and stared at Louis intently, as though trying to uncover an ulterior motive. Louis shifted on the spot beneath Harry’s gaze but met it firmly.

“The first piece of magic I ever did—the accidental kind, at least—was transfiguring a book into a miniature dragon,” Harry said eventually. He glanced at his clasped hands. “They’ve held… significance to me for quite a long time.”

Louis nodded, smiling almost wistfully at the thought of a young Harry. It was perfectly appropriate, he thought, that Harry would conjure something as complicated as a paper dragon at a young age; most young witches and wizards caused fires or miniature explosions—they weren’t as controlled or exacting as producing a transfigured dragon.

“What about cats?” Louis said, falling back onto his own bed.

Harry frowned at him.

“You obviously have more of a penchant for animals than you do for other wizards,” Louis clarified.

Harry piqued an eyebrow and unclasped his hands, setting them behind himself and leaning back. He opened his legs invitingly and set his feet firmly on the ground, the picture of unheeding arrogance. Louis should not have found it as attractive as he did.

“Not necessarily,” Harry said. “A lot of wizards here are tragically mediocre but there are others I find interesting. Though cats make much better company.”

Louis could sympathise with Harry’s desire for company, noise and chaos. Perhaps, company of a different variety but their shared experience as only children was at least something he could appreciate.

“Yeah,” Louis said. “Having Abrax at home with me made things a lot less dull.”

Harry smiled wryly. “How so? I was under the impression that being home-schooled would be all fun Celestina Warbeck sing-offs and Gobstones parties.”

Louis made sure that the pillow he threw at Harry’s chest had an enormous Gryffindor lion emblazoned on it.

“You should know what it’s like, Styles,” he said. “I love my parents but they were constantly breathing down my neck. Couldn’t escape for a half-hour before I had one of them looking for me.”

He glanced up to find Harry wearing a rigid, vacant smile. “I wouldn’t know,” he said quietly. “I choose to be left to my own devices at home.”

“Not illicit devices, I hope,” Louis teased.

“Absolutely not,” Harry said, his demure tone impressively convincing. He smiled, broad and amused, refusing to take his eyes off Louis.

They fell into a lull of silence, filled only by the quiet purrs of Abrax playing with a small ball Louis had bewitched to roll across the carpet beneath his desk. He heard the definitive sound of Abrax pouncing and smiled.

“I get to ask you the same question,” Harry said suddenly.

Louis looked curiously at him. He was frowning slightly, as though annoyed that Louis, too, had not picked up on this apparent certainty.

“What question is that?”

“When was the first time you performed accidental magic?” Harry said simply.

Louis nodded, pulling his lower lip into his mouth. The memory had a strange nostalgia tethered to it. The day he first performed an appreciable piece of magic had been an indelibly moving time, something that always seemed to emerge in his thoughts whenever he was missing his parents.

“My mum mentions lots of little things that happened when I was quite young—furniture moving ever so slightly if I was angry or upset about something, you know. But the real first piece of magic—the one I actually remember—was when I was ten,” Louis said. “It was the day before Liam’s birthday, at the end of the summer holidays. My parents said I wasn’t able to go because they were travelling to German Ministry of Magic for a speech one of them had to give about British magical education.

“I was so upset. When you’re ten, the world seems to revolve around you,” Louis said, laughing but feeling slightly guilty. “I tried everything to stop them from going and… I managed to turn the entire house bright orange; the floor and walls and furniture. Even all the food in the kitchen went the same colour as the Chudley Cannons’ uniform. “My parents were… not particularly happy with me.” Louis chuckled at the memory; his father’s equally shocked and impressed expression, his mother’s frantic wand-wielding to turn the exterior walls back to their original duck egg blue shade before their Muggle neighbours could notice.

“You sound like a delightful child,” Harry said, deadpan.

“You’re one to talk,” Louis said with no real vinegar. “Liam said that you jinxed his fingers together during your first lesson at Hogwarts because he was ‘blocking your view’. Doesn’t exactly sound like you’re any less of a prick now than you were when you were younger.”

Harry went strangely silent. He dropped his gaze to a loose thread in his bedsheets and grinded his teeth compulsively.

Alone with him, Harry seemed to change his behaviour and mannerisms, even his tone of voice. He could make Louis sympathise with him with apparent ease, even when it wasn’t sympathy that Harry desired. He felt constantly reminded of the version of Harry he had moulded into outside the confines of their dormitory; the Slytherin who would hex someone who looked at him the wrong way, who would push McGonagall’s patience beyond the verge of collapse, who carried himself with an unbecoming air of superiority.

“I don’t get why you’re taking offence, Styles,” Louis sighed eventually. “I was joking with you. If you need to talk about whatever shit went on in your childhood—”

Harry’s head snapped up and he stared at Louis with deep set, glaring eyes. “Stop prying into my life,” he said. His voice was firm but choked, as though Harry was struggling not to let it waver. “What happens in my life is my business.”

Louis stood up abruptly and glared back at Harry. He had tried countless times to talk to Harry semi-cordially, convincing himself that each time he tried Louis would receive a different answer, one that didn’t result in Harry seething at him. This time, however, Louis was jaded.

“Why are you treating me like I’m not even a part of it, then?” Louis demanded. “In case you haven’t realised, I’m trying with you. You can shut me out all you fucking like, Harry, but you can’t act like I don’t care because I do.”

With that, Louis tightened his jaw and stood up. Harry followed his movement. However, where Louis felt affronted, Harry’s cheeks had gone pink; where Louis was glaring at Harry, Harry looked wounded, yet hopeful. There was a slight raise to his eyebrows and his light green eyes looked watery beneath their shine.

Louis swallowed thickly and walked out of the dormitory, still wearing his Gryffindor pyjamas.

 

*

 

It wasn’t until later that night, after spending the late evening in the Gryffindor common room with Liam, that Louis wandered back to his own dormitory. When he had vented his frustrations to Liam (without going into specifics) a weight was lifted from Louis’ shoulders. Liam had been an admirably understanding listener, rubbing Louis’ back and making sympathetic noises in all the right places. The issue, Louis realised, was that he was enthralled by Harry—he was an enigma, inscrutably attractive, like an unattainable goal, and intangible in a way that could excite and confuse Louis and leave him desperate for more. But, he conceded, Harry wasn’t the type of person he needed.

Louis traipsed back to their dormitory, ignoring Edessa Skanderberg who demanded loudly where he had been. Harry, Louis realised, was something to cling to but not to rely on. The Triwizard Tournament placed them in an environment where they had to depend on each other but, with his idiosyncrasies and contradictions, Louis knew that he could never fully rely on Harry outside of the tasks. He didn’t even feel like he knew Harry.

Louis noticed that Harry’s hangings were drawn and that Abrax was nowhere in sight. Louis assumed that Abrax was sharing Harry’s bed as he often tended to. Louis collapsed in his own bed with a sigh, pulling the bedsheets over him and reaching for Cassiopeia.

He pulled out his Transfiguration textbook—A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration—to prepare for their practical lesson the next day. Sifting through the pages aimlessly and trying (rather unsuccessfully) to remember the theory of hair colour transfiguration, he couldn’t help but feel exhausted. Not only was the theory unbearably tedious but Louis couldn’t take his mind off Harry. He flung his book to the foot of his bed and slumped back on his pile of pillows, letting his eyes close.

When he woke up abruptly a half hour later, Louis knew that something had gone amiss. His hangings were drawn back and Harry was looming over him with a scowl.

The sky was painted an inky blue and Cassiopeia hadn’t quite fallen asleep yet. She was looking at Harry, apparently unimpressed by his rude imposition on her efforts to find a comfortable position on Louis’ bed. Louis shared her sentiments.

“What is it?” Louis said roughly.

“I found this,” Harry said, thrusting a crimson pillow with an embroidered lion into Louis’ chest, “on my bed.” He flicked a loose curl out of his eyes dramatically. The moonlight from the circular window between their beds caught the movement. “It’s yours,” Harry huffed. “Keep your shit on your side of the room or I’ll set it on fire.”

The moonlight bathed Harry’s face in a silvery light, following the contours of his skin and tracing the outline of his jaw.

“Wouldn’t be the first belonging of mine you set on fire,” Louis muttered. “We both have a certain proclivity for fire.” He piled the pillow behind his head and crossed his arms. Harry was still watching him. “Go back to bed, Styles. You always act like even more of a prick than usual when you’re tired in the morning and I’m not in the mood to wake you up for DADA tomorrow.”

Harry muttered something under his breath that Louis didn’t catch. The look in Harry’s eye was enthralling rather than threatening. It held the similar pensive gaze Harry often had whenever it was just the two of them.

Harry reached forward and swiped his thumb across Louis’ forehead, brushing his dishevelled hair out of his face. Louis felt his jaw drop, breathing heavily. He felt his pulse race and his skin prickle beneath Harry’s touch. Harry watched him for a moment, daring him to react, to say something, to shove his hand away. Louis didn’t utter a word. The corners of Harry’s lips turned into a faint smile before he pulled his hand away. Louis almost reached to snatch it back, to brush the impossibly smooth skin of Harry’s palm and drag his fingertips across the scars and marks covering the pale skin on the back of Harry’s hand.

Harry followed Louis’ gaze, blinking slowly before dropping the hangings of Louis’ four poster without another word. Louis was immediately engulfed by darkness. He slowly pulled the bedsheets high around his neck, smiling sadly as Cassiopeia padded across the bed to curl up closer to him. Even watching the gentle rise and fall of her back, it felt unbearably lonely. Louis’ forehead burned from Harry’s touch and he could still feel the light tickle of Harry’s fingertips brushing his hair aside. He fell asleep with visions of long, slender fingers and defiant eyes, daring Louis to close the distance between them.

 

*

 

Louis dragged his feet to Transfiguration the next day with a heavy heart. He had resolutely spent the morning avoiding Harry. He knew it was inane, arguably cowardly and would very probably lead to a fight between them, but Louis simply could not conceive of a situation where talking to Harry after his decidedly intimate gesture would not be uncomfortable.

The issue was, Louis resolved, biting off the corner of his toast with slightly more aggression than necessary, that he had liked it. After overcoming his initial astonishment, Louis felt almost beguiled by the power Harry seemed to have over his sense; how Harry could entice him by the faintest of touches. Harry always spent one second longer looking at him than others; a second that seemed inconspicuous at first but made Louis’ insides wriggle and squirm.

“Ah, Mr Tomlinson,” Professor McGonagall said as Louis stepped inside the classroom, smiling apologetically. “Kind of you to finally join us.”

“Sorry, Professor,” he said. “I was—”

“Enjoying your breakfast in the Great Hall, I assume,” she said, raising her eyebrows at the slice of jam toast in his hand.

Louis hastily shoved the slice into his robe pocket, wincing as the jam seeped through his robes. He took his seat beside Harry, who was staring intently at him. The moment their eyes met, Louis felt a strange link tether them together; it felt like an endless distance separated them and yet they were a mere desk apart.

“As I informed you all in the last lesson, you will be demonstrating the practical application of the theory we covered last week to change hair colour,” Professor McGonagall said, drawing Louis’ attention back to her. His cheeks were hot and his dry lips pressed tightly together, determinedly not glancing to his right where Harry had taken to quietly observing Louis’ very apparent nervousness.

As Professor McGonagall revised one of the differences between Metamorphmagi hair colour change and Transfiguration-induced hair colour change, Louis tried to listen. He desperately followed every word McGonagall spoke but none of it seemed to register in his thoughts. All he could concentrate on was Harry’s burning gaze. He whipped around impatiently and found Harry watching him, amused.  “Can you stop?” Louis hissed.

Harry looked thrilled by his reaction. “Stop what, exactly?” he said, smiling demurely.

“Stop staring at me,” Louis said through gritted teeth.

“Ah,” Harry said, nodding as though he had only just realised what he had been doing. “You see, I probably would stop, but I’ve found it quite fun to watch you like that.”

Louis knew that he was being led into a trap but couldn’t help but ask the follow-up question. “Like what, precisely?”

Harry’s devious smile grew impossibly wider. “Your reaction: squirming and blushing,” he said with a feigned, doting sigh. “All I’m doing is sitting right here and you can’t even concentrate on what McGonagall’s saying without turning bright pink.”

Louis’ blood boiled. How dare Harry act like he had any kind of control over him? The superiority dripping from Harry’s tone was infuriating and he was smiling condescendingly at Louis, as though Harry owned the keys to all of Louis’ secrets. Louis leaned closer to Harry, glaring at him. “I can’t concentrate because you’re getting on my fucking nerves,” he snapped. “If you’d just stop staring at me like you’re not a clinically obsessed troll, then I could at least concentrate on what McGonagall’s saying. And if you think that I could ever—”

“Mr Tomlinson! Mr Styles!” Professor McGonagall said sharply. “Instead of spending your class time arguing, how about you two be the first ones to demonstrate?”

Louis sighed, nodding silently. He and Harry stood up and faced each other. Louis took satisfaction from Harry’s look of mild irritation.

“Alright, Mr Tomlinson, you go first.”

Louis raised his wand stiffly and pointed it Harry’s hair, which fell in loose curls around his ears. “Capillus Mutatio.”

Harry’s dark hair changed immediately; a crimson red colour originated from the roots and spread down until the very tips of his ringlets turned a shimmering gold. Louis was quite proud it.

“The Gryffindor colours!” one of the girls behind him exclaimed ecstatically. “Absolutely iconic, Louis!”

Harry’s expression morphed from one of casual bemusement into one of irritation. He reached up and frantically yanked his hair in front of his eyes to see the evidence for himself. Louis couldn’t contain his victorious grin.

Harry swept his fingers through his hair and caught Louis’ eye. “Of course you would do that, Tomlinson,” he said wryly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that you’re childish and petty,” Harry said, calmly plucking his wand out of his pocket.

“And you’re not?”

This elicited a short outbreak of giggles behind Louis. He noticed Liam across the classroom suppressing an appreciative smile.

“That is quite enough!” said Professor McGonagall, marching towards them. “You go next, Styles. And should you use any spell besides this one, you’ll find Slytherin House falling even further behind in the House Championship.”

Harry didn’t look particularly fazed by this remark, turning his wand on Louis insouciantly. There was a spark of competitiveness that Louis had often spotted during the tasks or when they were paired together for practical classwork. He tried to ignore the strange dryness of his throat as Harry pointed his wand purposefully at him.

Capillus Mutatio,” Harry drawled.

Louis felt a slight tingling sensation on his scalp before it travelled through each strand of hair. He pulled a chunk from his fringe in front of his eyes  He was met with an attractive, blushing pink. It was the shade of pink he would expect new parents to paint the walls of their baby girl’s bedroom, the light pink that was alluring yet innocent. He brushed his hair off his face and tilted his head in confusion at Harry.

Louis was met with a knowing smile.

“To match your cheeks,” Harry said with a wry grin.

Louis didn’t quite know how to feel. It was hardly a romantic gesture, Louis reasoned, teasing someone about the colour of their cheeks. He had expected Harry to rise to his challenge, perhaps colour his hair emerald green with a great silver snake through the centre. It seemed, however, that Harry was playing a completely different game.

They moved onto eyelashes soon afterwards, something far more technical than Harry’s mop of hair. Louis noticed, however, (while decidedly not focusing on Harry’s long, thick lashes) that his Transfiguration partner had become oddly contrite. Harry pointed his wand with only a fraction of the confidence he had possessed before and wouldn’t quite meet Louis’ eye. He acted as though he regretted revealing something—perhaps too much too soon—and desperately wanted to snatch it back.

Class ended soon afterwards and Louis left for Herbology with a sense of incompletion on top of his confusion, as though there was something he needed to resolve with Harry.

 

*

 

“I don’t know what you’re complaining about, mate,” Liam said, shrugging. “Styles seems to be acting less and less like a prick by the day. Hasn’t jinxed anyone in days, as far as I know. Although, that might be because there’s no Quidditch Cup this year.”

“I actually think you have a positive influence on him,” Zayn said earnestly.

Louis scoffed loudly, walking faster to catch up with Liam and Zayn’s quick footsteps. “All I can think about is his stupid smug smirk whenever he says something sarcastic or when we argue about something and he ends up being right. He doesn’t even gloat like he used to—he just watches me from his bed, acting all superior. It’s fucking infuriating.”

Liam sighed. “Just keep an open mind, mate.”

Zayn watched Louis curiously before nodding his assent with Liam. “You weren’t here during the worst of his egotism over the last couple of years. You should consider yourself lucky that you only have to deal with this version of Styles.”

They made the rest of the trip to the library in relative silence, Louis’ thoughts trained on Harry.

Louis pulled out a seat from one of the empty desks, the sound of the chair scraping against the floor sending Madam Pince into a fit of disgruntled hissing. The problem was that Zayn was right, Louis reasoned; Harry had multiple versions of himself. In the last six months alone Louis had witnessed Harry’s public persona and the quieter, more introspective version of himself in their dormitory, studiously finishing schoolwork or playing with Abrax and Cassiopeia. He was still the same sarcastic, sharp-witted, observant Slytherin but he had a degree of quiet self-awareness and gentleness in their shared dormitory that he seemed to lack everywhere else in the castle.

With an exhausted sigh, Louis pulled out his Charms textbook to revise the effects of growth charms, darkly wondering whether he truly might have had a positive influence on Harry, or whether it was merely that Harry had a negative influence on him.

 

*

 

It wasn’t until one week later that Louis properly noticed Harry’s behavioural changes. Zayn had pointed out numerous times that Harry had begun to evolve since Christmas time, jinxing other students less and deigning not to act like his usual surly, impertinent self quite as often as he used to. Louis, however, couldn’t appreciate his apparent changes—subtle though they were—until Transfiguration class the following week.

They hadn’t spoken about the midnight incident where Harry had caressed Louis’ face—something Louis sometimes thought may have been a fragment of his imagination. Then again, they had hardly spoken at all. Harry had taken to leaving their dormitory early (something Louis knew must have required quite a great deal of effort considering Harry’s particular disdain for mornings) and arriving late in the evening, when Louis was preparing for bed. Any words exchanged between them had been stiffly cordial, uttered only when necessary and with minimal eye contact.

The nature of that particular Transfiguration class, however, refused to sustain the uneasy tension between them. They were dealing with another topic in Human Transfiguration: changing eye colour. The topic, regrettably, required Louis to meet Harry’s tenacious gaze.

“Alright,” Professor McGonagall called, tapping her wand on the blackboard to clean the white squiggles from it. “We are beginning now, so settle down, please. What you’ll be practicing today is an unusually intricate spell and one which requires a great deal of focus. I don’t expect many of you to achieve this on your first attempt, though it is considered essential should any of you wish to pass your Auror training next year.” Her gaze lingered on a couple of Gryffindors near the front of the class who smiled proudly. “You may begin now.”

Louis twisted his chair around to face Harry. The prospect of staring into a hazy green shade of Harry’s eyes suddenly seemed far more daunting than that of casting a complicated spell. He found that he didn’t want to change Harry’s eye colour; the shade was light in a way the suggested truth and sincerity, as though Harry had nothing to hide. Ironic, Louis thought as he pulled his wand from his robes, that even Harry’s eye colour would be deceptive.

Harry looked blankly at Louis, though there was a noticeable reluctance to the way he was sitting; though his legs were spread and planted firmly on the floor, the way he crossed his arms over his chest suggested a self-protective gesture. Louis found that, sometimes, Harry wrapped his arms around himself while studying. Louis liked to think that he was comforting himself.

“While we’re both still young, Tomlinson,” Harry sighed.

The slight raise of Harry’s eyebrow intrigued Louis. He cracked a smile despite himself and raised his wand to Harry’s eyes, picturing a mustard yellow colour. “Mutata Oculis Meis.”

Harry’s eyes remained a stubborn green. “It seems you have even more difficulty maintaining eye contact with me than you did with Diane,” Harry said, amused.

“At least Diane was smart enough not to irritate the person pointing the wand at her face. Not like you can say the same thing.”

Harry smirked.

It took another four attempts and a handful of curses before Harry’s eyes shifted colour; the green turned to a golden, honey colour. It brought out the brightness in Harry’s skin that Louis had only seen in the last few weeks, since the second task had ended.

Louis grinned in satisfaction. “Your turn now.”

Harry—who had apparently been lost in a daze—was startled out of it. “What?” he exclaimed. He frantically searched in the satchel slung across his chair and pulled out a small mirror. It wasn’t until Louis examined it more closely that he realised it was the two-way mirror he had gifted Harry for Christmas. Louis felt peculiarly pleased that Harry kept it with him. He decided not to dwell on this.

“Really, Tomlinson? Yellow?” Harry said, unimpressed.

Louis bit the corner of his lips and shrugged innocently. “Rumour has it you’re becoming more and more like a Hufflepuff by the day, Styles.”

Harry glared at him. “That particular rumour holds less truth than your brain holds capacity to remember a single Transfiguration spell,” he said. Louis noticed that there was little malice in Harry’s tone, however, and he had suddenly become very defensive, as though Harry thought that he needed to deny Louis’ allegation. Louis found this inordinately interesting.

“Go on then,” Louis sighed. He caught Harry’s eye and watched the way they narrowed in concentration before Louis couldn’t help himself—he burst into laughter. The yellow shade was unnerving yet highly amusing and Louis found that with every glance at Harry’s eyes and his impatient frown, he laughed again. Louis desperately tried to control his short giggles but each time he glanced at Harry, he started laughing to himself.

Harry glowered.

“Sorry,” Louis said through a fit of giggles. “I just can’t take you seriously with yellow eyes. You look like a lizard.”

Harry rolled his eyes, a faint smile tugging the corners of his lips. He muttered the counter-spell at his eyes, returning them to their original shade instantly. Harry watched Louis try to stifle his giggles with a hint of a smile capering across his lips.

“I can’t concentrate on your eyes, Tomlinson, when they go all… crinkly when you laugh,” Harry said impatiently. Judging from his expression, however, Harry very much wanted to keep watching Louis try to control his outburst of laughter.

Eventually, and after Harry had let out a particularly exasperated sigh, Louis managed to quench his laughter, smiling guiltily. They had caught the attention of some of the Slytherins sitting nearby, though Harry didn’t seem to mind.

“Mr Styles, have you at least attempted the spell?” barked Professor McGonagall, apparently annoyed by the lack of progress the rest of the class had made.

“I would have, Professor, if Tomlinson hadn’t been distracting me,” Harry said easily.

Louis’ heart pounded in his chest. He had a retaliation to Harry’s comment on the tip of his tongue but found that Harry’s wry smile was enough to silence it.

Professor McGonagall pursed her thin lips. “Well get to it now, then, please. I would expect you to successfully cast this spell on your first try.”

Harry smiled ruefully.

“Wait— I wasn’t trying to distract you,” Louis said, looking pointedly at him.

Harry rolled his eyes and pointed his wand at Louis’ eyes.

“I’m serious, Styles,” Louis persevered, turning slightly pink under Harry’s scrutiny.

“Whatever you say, darling,” Harry sighed. “Now can we get this over with?”

Louis’ jaw snapped close and his retort flew out of his thoughts. Darling? With a cursory glance at Harry, Louis found that he looked equally surprised by the slip of tongue, but recovered quickly, expression developing into one of vacant boredom. Louis nodded mutely and folded his hands on his knees. It was obviously a mistake, Louis told himself firmly. Harry probably used terms of affection around his friends all the time; perhaps he had one of them on his mind while speaking to Louis.

Mutata Oculis Meis,” Harry said.

A slight flicker of white light emerged from the tip of Harry’s wand and shot directly towards him. Louis watched Harry’s eyes light up, his lips part slightly. Something tugged inside Louis’ chest, leaving him desperate to capture Harry’s expression. He shut his eyes, suddenly nervous to see how Harry had changed them.

“Your eyes aren’t going to pop out, you know,” Harry said with a hint of amusement. “You can open them.”

Not wholly convinced that his eyes wouldn’t fall out, Louis cautiously opened them. Harry was looking directly at him, expectant and with a glint of something close to satisfaction in his smile. Harry handed Louis his half of the two-way mirror. Their hands brushed lightly, Harry’s thumb caressing the bone of Louis wrist before he wrenched his hand back. Louis watched Harry swallow thickly before glancing into the mirror.

His eyes were the precise same shade of blue as they always were. He glanced up at Harry in confusion. “They haven’t changed,” he said simply.

Harry tilted his head, smiling. “I don’t like inconsistency,” he said. “I don’t want to change your eye colour only to have it slightly different when it’s changed back.”

Louis smiled, slightly taken aback by Harry’s sentiment. “My eye colour won’t be different. They won’t be different once you cast the Counter-Spell.”

“Your eye-colour will still have been tainted,” Harry said firmly. “Besides, I did change your eyes, just not the shade. Look closer.”

Louis watched him curiously for a moment, following the angle of his eyebrows and the way the skin covering his cheekbones strained when he frowned. He looked into the mirror carefully. There, he saw that his eyes were, indeed, a familiar shade of blue but they seemed to shine and flicker in certain places. A brightness rose and fell within them, like a flame. Harry had cast a blue flame in his irises. “That’s… incredible,” Louis breathed. “How did you do that?”

Harry shook his head and smiled enigmatically. Louis felt his heart twist in his chest, constraining his robes slightly. He determinedly looked away from Harry’s gaze.

 

*

 

“Hurry up!” Louis called through the lavatory door. “It’s already started!”

That night, the Wizarding Wireless Network were featuring a special debate on the Triwizard Tournament, its history and the champions that year.

Harry emerged from the lavatory behind a cloud of thick, rolling steam. A towel was perched low on his hips and he languidly dried his hair with a smaller towel which, on closer inspection, had Harry’s initials embroidered on it. Louis refrained from rolling his eyes, which had latched onto the toned muscle across Harry’s chest and his soft, pale stomach. The scars and burns along his forearms had faded to mere pink streaks, though a few still had a painful-looking rawness that made Louis want to reach out and drag a finger across the marks. Or perhaps his tongue.

“When you’ve quite finished,” Harry said lightly, following Louis’ wandering eyes with a small, satisfied smile. Louis blushed and averted his gaze pointedly.

Louis had begun to notice over the past couple of weeks that the smile adorning Harry’s face had changed whenever they spoke; it was no longer a condescending sneer, or a smirk, but a gentler, more cautious smile. It felt real, natural despite Harry’s initial tentativeness.

Louis smiled back at Harry. “Get your arse over here already,” he ordered. “It’s starting in a second.”

The crackling of the Wizarding Wireless alerted them both.

“Now, folks, as you all know, this year is the one hundredth and twenty-sixth Triwizard Tournament and the first that has taken place since Cedric Diggory’s death in 1994,” the reporter that Louis knew to be Silas Featham said. “In that particular tournament, the son of Former Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and Death Eater, Barty Crouch Junior, was revealed to have imprisoned and used Polyjuice Potion to impersonate the now deceased Auror, Mad-Eye Moody. In that same tournament, Crouch apparently facilitated Harry Potter’s removal from Hogwarts’s grounds, something that led to speculation that He Who Must Not Be Named had returned.”

Harry pulled on his pyjamas, apparently deliberately taking his time simply to irk Louis which—infuriatingly—worked. Louis watched cautiously as Harry sat opposite him on the slightly uncomfortable wooden floorboards of their dormitory, the small radio between them. Louis couldn’t prevent himself from glancing up to watch Harry’s reaction. Each time he did, however, he found that Harry’s gaze had already been fixed on him. Though Harry’s gaze was intense, it was not unwelcoming, and all Louis could do was glance back at the radio or pat the ground beside him so that Cassiopeia would wander over to him.

“Although, Silas, I must say that the tournament has received quite the make-over since then,” the second reporter, Hattie Lane, said brightly. “This year has two champions from each of the schools—our very own Hogwarts, Beauxbatons Academy, and Durmstrang Institute—which means that the whole thing has been given that extra layer of precaution.”

“You’re right there, Hattie. One of the main components is team-work—something that sparked quite a bit of debate when the Hogwarts champions transpired to be a Gryffindor and a Slytherin who had never even met each other!”

“Quite a debate indeed. The Daily Prophet article released about the two was even more amusing than anything else. The two certainly couldn’t stand next to each other without looking like they wanted to fire a nicely-aimed hex at the other!”

“Oh, it was quite an amusing article, Hattie. Certainly reminded me of the rivalries in my school days. Now, Harry Styles, son of Macleod Styles, as you all know, and Louis Tomlinson, son of the beloved Hogwarts professors Rosaline and Oberon, may have disliked each other—”

“Try loathed each other, Silas!”

“—but, if any of that animosity remained by the time the first task came around, it certainly wasn’t apparent to any of us.”

Cassiopeia made an affronted noise in Louis’ lap, as though personally offended by the reporters. Louis grinned and stroked behind her ears. He thought back to the beginning of the school year. It felt like years had passed since their photoshoot. Louis’ perception of Harry since then had changed drastically. With every fleeting glance at Harry, Louis saw less of the insufferably dismissive Slytherin and more of the person willing to go to great lengths to win the tournament with Louis. Because that was one of the differences that stood out to Louis; Harry was no longer competing for himself but he cared about winning with Louis, together.

“Absolutely, Silas! And I would take anything Audrey Sherry-Robinson writes with a pinch of salt, too. I may be harbouring a slight bias here but I thought this year’s Hogwarts champions outshone the other two teams by a Quidditch field!”

“I definitely agree with you there. I’d even go as far as saying that their perseverance—especially in light of some of those unforeseen obstacles in the second task—would give Enoch Greengrass, the 1732 champion, a run for his Galleons.”

“Too right,” Harry said smugly. Abrax purred loudly into Harry’s chest and Harry beamed down at him.

“That’s quite a bold statement, Hattie! Folks, we’d love to hear your thoughts on this year’s champions, the tasks thus far, and Hogwarts School’s chances for winning this year’s Triwizard Cup, so send in your owl to us.”

“Before that, though, we’re going to give you a taste of what’s coming up on Witching Hour with Glenda Chittock later this evening. We’re going to kick things off with a classic for you all. Here’s the Celestina Warbeck hit You Charmed the Heart Right Out of Me.”

The opening chords and the tender crooning of Celestina Warbeck filled the room but neither of them moved to switch the radio off.

Louis cradled Cassiopeia against his chest, relieved that nothing scandalous had been mentioned about Harry’s family or any of their personal details. He had actually found the special broadcast intriguing; all the facts about previous tournament winners and the tasks they had confronted. Louis was about to comment on that when he glanced up and paused. To his complete shock, Harry was on his feet, Abrax still clinging to his chest, dancing. Louis’ jaw fell open and he gaped as Harry swayed to Celestina Warbeck’s gentle crooning about her forbidden love. The sight was strangely adorable, even though Louis’ brain unhelpfully supplied an image of Filch dancing with Mrs Norris at the Yule Ball. This was different, though; Harry was ironically twirling Abrax, almost taunting Louis to react. Harry was smiling faintly at Abrax, wrapping her protectively in his arms and humming the familiar tune against her fur.

They had left the curtains open and the faint moonbeams scattered across the floorboards and followed Harry’s moving form. His lower body, clothed only in light cotton pyjamas, was plunged in a dark shadow but Louis could follow Harry’s eyes, alight beneath the light, from the floor.

Louis watched him, tangled in the lightness of awe and fascination, propelling him to gather Cassiopeia into his arms and scramble to his feet. “Didn’t take you for a Celestina Warbeck fan,” Louis said, failing to hide the amusement from his tone. The notion in itself—that Harry enjoyed slow-dancing to songs middle-aged witches listened to with Louis’ cat gathered in his arms—was absurd.

“I’m not particularly partial to her,” Harry said, meeting Louis’ eye with a wry grin. “My mother is, though.”

Louis stored this piece of information away for later dwelling. Harry evidently had a good relationship with his mother if he was reminded of her by a song that could elicit such a gentle side of him. Louis wondered whether Harry missed her.

“Mine too,” Louis admitted. “Think it’s a generational thing. And perhaps a female one.”

Harry hummed non-committedly and peeked at Louis over Abrax’s head. Louis smiled indistinctly and followed Harry’s movements as the chorus resonated through their dormitory. There was very little space between them, with the Wizarding Wireless at their feet and about a foot of space between their chests. The thought made Louis more nervous than he cared to admit. The delicate skimming of piano keys matched the tenderness of the song, the tune slow yet mesmerising. Cassiopeia, however, didn’t seem to be fond of Louis’ swaying and twisted uneasily in his arms.

“You’re still as bad a dancer as you were at the Yule Ball, Tomlinson,” Harry said, amused. “Clearly, your copious number of dance lessons from all your admirers didn’t make any difference.”

The remark lacked Harry’s scathing intent and came across acrid and jealous. Louis felt something stir inside his chest. Harry couldn’t possibly be jealous of Leif or Cadmus, though, Louis reasoned. Even to his own mind, however, the argument against Harry’s jealousy was weak. Harry had dropped his gaze to the floor, cautiously avoiding the way Louis was observing him.

“Teaching my two left feet to dance is hardly a privilege, Styles,” Louis said. “Besides, I didn’t exactly get around to learning much about dancing considering I was too focused on pulling Larson’s hair out.”

Harry didn’t smile, instead stroking Abrax’s fur with murderous fixation.

“You’re one to talk, anyway,” Louis said, nodding at Harry’s simple, albeit rhythmic swaying.

“I’m infinitely better than you.”

“I thought you said that wouldn’t be hard.”

“It wouldn’t,” Harry said, smiling impishly, “but I’d be more than willing to change that.”

Bending down to set Abrax on the floor, Harry caught Louis’ eye and held it firmly. The seductive piano mimicked Harry’s slow, purposeful movements as he rose to full height and closed the gap between them. Cassiopeia caught Louis’ moment of hesitation and leaped out of his arms. Louis’ heart jack-rabbited and he suddenly felt that he needed his cat-barrier that was Cassiopeia back in his arms.

Staring at Harry, Louis searched his enticing gaze for a hint of what he could expect from Harry. Infuriatingly, however, Harry remained as impassive and unpredictable as always.

Louis’ heart thundered in his chest and his limbs had gone limp and useless at his sides. Harry kicked the radio on its side in a way that shouldn’t have been as beguiling as it was, and closed the gap between them until Louis could feel Harry’s breath hot against his skin. There was a faint smell wafting towards him, something heady and smoky, different to any musky, masculine scent he had expected Harry to wear.

Fingertips brushed across Louis’ wrist and Louis’ breath caught in his throat. It felt the same as their dance at the Yule Ball, yet heavier, more significant. A rich tension, palpable and thick, had developed between them and, alone with Harry, Louis felt wildly reckless. He reached up and pulled Harry’s arms around his waist. Harry stared at Louis from beneath his eyelashes, head bowed over him and following Louis’ every movement.

Celestina Warbeck’s sultry voice filled the air and Harry swayed his slender hips to the tantalisingly slow rhythm. Louis let out an uneven breath and reached up, wrapping his arms around Harry’s shoulders. Their faces were close, separated by mere inches, and Louis watched the loose curls fall from Harry’s styled hair over his eyes as they swayed. Louis clasped his hands together behind Harry’s neck but they quickly became unbearably sweaty and instead he tickled the base of Harry’s hairline at the nape of his neck. Harry huffed sharply, probably taken aback. Louis watched Harry’s eyes fall closed and he closed the distance between them until their chests touched with every slight movement.

It was terribly domestic, something Louis’ parents might have done. Louis could picture them preparing dinner together on a warm, summer evening. They would be talking about trivial matters—memories and acquaintances and how expensive fresh vegetables were at that time of the year—when the opening chords of the song they first danced to at their wedding would play on the radio. Louis could picture both of their reactions—his father’s wistful smile and his mother’s glazed eyes. His father might take his her gently by the arm and lead her in a slow, nostalgic two-step around their cluttered kitchen, reminiscing their youth together.

Louis tried to rid his thoughts of his parents as Harry tilted his head and breathed hot and harshly in Louis’ ear. The music ended, then, and Silas Featham’s bright voice filled the room.

Silencio,” Harry whispered.

Louis jerked out of his reverie at the surprising sound of Harry’s voice, gruff and impatient. His skin prickling with nerves, Louis pressed closer to Harry, following their previous rhythm, expect with his eyes fixed on Harry’s full, parted lips. Thoughts of dragging his tongue across Harry’s lower lip and sinking his teeth in it left Louis hot and desperate to close the infuriating gap between them. He glanced up and caught Harry’s dark pupils and his debauched smirk. He was watching Louis with equal intensity and, somehow, Louis didn’t want to look away. Taking a step closer to Harry, and feeling slightly breathless beneath his gaze, Louis felt the hands around his waist tighten. His breath caught in his throat and thoughts flooded his mind as the quiet stillness seemed to emphasise just how charged the energy between them was.

It was an atrocious idea, a voice in Louis’ head told him earnestly as he leaned closer, meeting Harry’s unflinching gaze. He would most certainly regret it the next day, the voice continued, as Louis watched with bated breath as Harry leaned down slightly, tongue wetting his lower lip. Or, at least, Harry would regret it, a quieter voice told him. Harry would almost certainly consider it a mistake, and attribute it to horniness and convenience, the voice continued with more conviction. Harry would probably sneer if Louis mentioned it, pretend that it never happened, or ignore him entirely. Louis couldn’t quite meet Harry’s eye and dropped his gaze slightly. Logically, Louis knew that kissing Harry, despite how infuriatingly tempting it was, would leave him drowning in regret and trying to navigate their relationship all over again. In that moment, though, the moon casting a silvery light across them, the faint static from the radio, and the sincerity in Harry’s tentativeness, Louis found that his reservations didn’t matter.

Harry seemed to notice his moment of hesitation. Louis felt fingers press into his love handles, urging him to look up. Against the protests of every rational thought in his mind, Louis lifted his head and caught Harry’s insistent gaze. The sight was one to behold; even beneath the dark, evening light and the glint of Harry’s eye, Louis could detect a hint of concern. Without uttering a word, Harry’s gaze implored him to pull away, to call it a mistake, a moment of insanity and they could both move on with their lives. Instead, Louis did the precise opposite. He titled his head and leaned up, watching a small bead of sweat on Harry’s forehead as the moonlight dragged a shadow across his face. Disengaging himself from his thoughts, Louis pressed harshly against Harry’s lips, prying them open and sealing their mouths.

Harry tasted different to what Louis had anticipated; tart and hot, his movements yearning and almost desperate. The feeling of Harry’s chest against his own, pressing against him, left Louis’ insides in a tangle of nerves and excitement, his pulse quickening as he felt his own movements become more fevered. Harry’s tongue swiped across Louis’ lips, teasing him to respond. Louis’ skin prickled at the sensation. Wrapping his arms tighter around Harry’s neck, Louis tangled his fingers deeper into Harry’s hair, pulling him closer. Harry, who seemed to be trying to constrain himself, keened at this and kissed him deliberately slowly and with practiced intent.

Louis’ skin felt alight, as though inordinately sensitive beneath Harry’s touch as his fingers pressed into Louis’ waist. Louis sighed into Harry’s mouth and bit lightly on Harry’s lower lip before kissing gently over the mark. Harry stifled a moan and sunk his long fingers into Louis’ lower back, dragging them down his spine. Breathless and desperate to further close the gap between them, Louis pressed their chests together, shuddering as Harry gripped him tightly against himself. Plush, damp lips pressed back against Louis’ own and Louis absently wondered why he ever considered this a bad idea in the first place. With more urgency, Louis pressed his lips against Harry’s holding him still for a moment before they both grew restless.

Closing his mouth around Harry’s lips, Louis alternated between long, sensuous kissing that left him with a strange serenity, and harsh, insistent kissing that Harry—impatient as ever—almost always began. A guttural moan and greedy lips chased his own, pressing along the edge of Louis’ mouth and down, along his jawline. Louis felt Harry’s fingers grip his love handles as the pads of Harry’s thumbs pressed against his skin, leaving Louis’ heart thundering in his chest. Even the thought of the faint marks Harry might leave made his trousers strain as Harry pulled Louis flush against him.

Harry gently guided Louis’ head to the side to expose his neck. Louis felt hot, quick breaths along his neck that made his muscles become rigid beneath his robes. Before he could react, however, Louis felt small, tender kisses follow imaginary patterns along the sensitive skin below Louis’ ear. A broken moan escaped Louis’ lips of its own accord when Harry nipped at the throbbing vein along his neck.

“Oh, you like that, do you?” Harry whispered, eyes glinting.

Louis’ throat felt parched and he was certain that, with their close proximity, even Harry could hear just how quickly his heart was beating. Not trusting his own voice—and not wanting to break the stillness between them—Louis tugged Harry’s hair in response. Louis’ breath caught in his throat as Harry’s teeth ever so gently dragged along the taut skin of Louis’ neck. Letting out a soft sigh against Harry’s shoulder, Louis wrapped the hair behind Harry’s ears around his finger, and tugged. Harry paused against Louis’ neck and dropped his head on Louis’ shoulder, letting out a groan against it. Louis felt a small, fleeting sense of satisfaction at the sound. Guiding Harry’s head down by the chin, Louis let his fingertips dance across the sharp line of Harry’s jaw before closing the gap between them again. Harry’s lips were pretty and swollen, the redness contrasting divinely against his pale skin.

Harry pressed as Louis pulled back, chasing and teasing each other as though nothing had changed between them. Even when they were kissing, it felt as though he was in competition with Harry, as though they could never exist amicably because there was always an element of traction; a tension that seemed to pervade every aspect of their relationship. Louis pulled back, panting lightly. A steady resonance hit him in waves until, quite suddenly, the realisation that he had just kissed Harry Styles hit him like a Quaffle to the stomach.

The open window, casting light and darkness around the room in abstract shapes had submerged Harry in a horribly ironic shadow. Harry seemed to be bringing his breathing back to normal pace; his head was tilted backwards and his pants erratic. Mercifully, Harry’s eyes were closed.

Louis took an almost tentative step backwards, watching carefully. Harry was not a pleasant person, he told himself sternly. He was dismissive, argumentative and vile, he repeated, futilely trying to convince himself. He treated people like house elves, treated Louis like one for during the entirety of the first three months, even after endless attempts at cordiality and team-work. Louis had been warned on numerous occasions not to associate with him despite their necessary proximity due to the Triwizard Tournament, and this was what all of those unheeded warnings had culminated in. Louis took another step back, stumbling slightly as the back of his knees knocked against his bed.

Harry’s smile faltered. Louis watched the hopefulness drain from Harry’s face, instantly replaced by a look of practiced vacancy. An unbearably desolate blankness filled Harry’s eyes and Louis felt his heart falter in his chest.

Louis knew he should resign himself to making it clear to Harry that he didn’t intend to take their relationship any further; explain to Harry that kissing him was a mistake, that Louis had been caught up in the heat of the moment and Harry’s intangible charm, and that he simply hadn’t thought clearly. He desperately didn’t want to, though. Despite the apparent changes Harry had made—choosing not to jinx anyone who stared at him for too long or treat Louis with the same degree of disdain as he did at the beginning of term—Louis knew that small actions could never redeem Harry completely.

“I can’t, Harry,” Louis whispered. “We can’t do this together.” He watched Harry set his lips in a firm line, the silvery light casting a glaze over his eyes.

“You felt differently a few minutes ago,” Harry said coldly. “Suddenly remembered exactly who I am, did you?”

Louis’ eyes prickled against his will and he furiously shoved his hand into his pocket to retrieve his wand. Harry was unpredictable when he was angry.

“I didn’t know what I felt a few minutes ago,” Louis said eventually. “I… I don’t do casual stuff—”

“Nor do I.”

“—and I don’t think you and I,” Louis said, gesturing between them awkwardly, “should… do this with each other.”

Louis felt his heart sink as Harry’s face drained of colour and his mouth twisted into a grim smile. A moment of dull, charged silence passed and, when Harry caught Louis’ eye, Louis stomach lurched, as though he had just received a Bludger to his chest.

“I shouldn’t have expected anything less,” Harry said spitefully. His voice was dripping with disdain and it seemed like Harry couldn’t quite contain the emotion in his voice; one of Harry’s hands was balled at his side and he was compulsively scratching his forearm with the other.

Suddenly, Louis felt a disgruntled rage in his chest and he hastily stood to his feet. “Get off your fucking high broom, Styles,” he said. The words escaped his mouth before Louis could fully consider them. The way Harry was standing, how he seemed to take offence to what Louis had said and how he had the audacity to take it out on him. It was as though the Harry Louis thought he knew had been replaced by the conceited, spiteful Slytherin everyone else knew him as. “You can’t honestly expect us to skip off on an innocent date to Madam Puddifoot’s now, can you?”

Fixing his hostile gaze on Louis, Harry glared at him. “That I would never do,” Harry clipped. “And since you’re acting like your insufferably moral self all of a sudden, I don’t expect you to understand.”

“Understand what, exactly?” Louis demanded, his chest heaving. He despised how his voice sounded rough around the edges.

“I’m not explaining something that I’ve already made quite plain,” Harry said, stalking over to the door. He turned back and caught Louis’ eye with a similar steely determination Louis had seen only during the first task while they confronted Diane. “My intentions with you.”

With that, Harry shut the door firmly behind him. Louis’ heart stuttered in his chest as he was impaled by the force of the door slamming, something that oddly reflected how suddenly he was struck by what had happened. He had kissed Harry and Harry had admitted that he had intentions with him, whatever that meant. As Louis slumped back onto his bed in a confusion of emotions, he heard Edessa Skanderberg’s shrill voice and Harry’s distinct, ringing footsteps fade.

Chapter Text

The following week brought torrential rain and howling winds to Hogwarts. Sitting in one of the plush armchairs by the crackling fire and watching the sheets of rain pound against the windows in the Gryffindor common room was not how Louis had planned to spend his Friday afternoon.

“What are the ingredients in Girding Potion?” Liam asked, painfully unaware of Louis’ inner conflict.

“Er— Fairy wings and Doxy eggs, I think,” Louis said absently, brushing the long edge of his quill. “And dragon thoraxes.”

“Thanks,” Liam said, scribbling onto a long piece of parchment. He glanced up with a concerned frown. “You alright, mate?”

“Yeah, fine,” Louis said easily.

He was, in truth, tangled in a downward spiral in which every one of his thoughts was at variance with the thought that preceded it. It was exhausting; one moment he decided that he had made the most appropriate, mature decision available. He had made his position not to have a relationship without Harry outside what was absolutely necessary quite clear. Every time he spiralled back to this conclusion, however, Louis felt like a complete fool. Ignoring Harry—and his feelings for Harry—went against everything he had endeavoured for over the last couple of months. The issue that Louis struggled most with, however, was that he knew that he liked Harry, despite his insistence to keep him at broom’s length. Harry was challenging and unyielding in his every belief, yet could be gentle and protective at times. Despite everything, he seemed to care about Louis. And that was enough to tear Louis’ entire plan to steadfastly overlook the fact that he liked Harry into a thousand pathetic pieces.

“You sure, mate? You look a bit ill,” Liam said.

“Absolutely. Just worried about this Potions exam next week,” Louis said. He smiled at Liam, though he knew it was unconvincing. He knew Harry would’ve seen right through it. He would’ve demanded why Louis was lying and what was actually upsetting him. Liam did neither, returning his attention to his Potions essay, placated by Louis’ mediocre response.

The only two elements of Louis’ wandering, inconsequential obsession with his situation that he knew for certain were that he both liked Harry and yearned to understand Harry. Said aloud, it would sound horribly contradictory but, in his own mind, his desires made perfect sense. He liked the side of Harry that he had revealed to Louis, the way Harry refused to stop because he had a desperate need to attain his—often self-inflicted—goals; the way Harry liked to surround himself with luxury items but truly valued very few; the way Harry had kissed Louis so tenderly, with such impetuous passion that Louis could forget the other side of Harry’s character.

This other side was the one that Louis needed to understand. Harry could cast a dangerous curse with frightful ease, could shut himself off from Louis with the slightest mistake, could tease endless information about Louis out of him while revealing a frustratingly small amount about himself. And Louis needed to understand why. Not merely because he was curious but because he liked Harry, wanted to be able to discern the barrier Harry put up from his true self, wanted to unravel the past that Louis knew with astonishing clarity had inflicted some kind of pain that left Harry as he was, wanted to be able to trust him outside of and beyond the Triwizard Tournament.

He couldn’t exactly march off to Harry with a list of requirements for him to complete—stop jinxing Hufflepuffs purely because they’re Hufflepuffs, treat all his professors more respectfully, learn how to give love bites without leaving red, throbbing marks along Louis’ neck, to name but a few. For one, Harry would either laugh mirthlessly or transfigure Louis’ list into something vicious. The more important reason, however, was that Louis knew Harry would take insult to such a list, insist that Louis was trying to change who he was.

Louis sighed regretfully and pulled his cardigan tightly around himself. He watched a couple of fourth years settle themselves directly beside the fire, the girl distributing the Exploding Snap cards. The boy opposite her kept stealing glances, wearing an expression of tentative affection. The girl was completely oblivious, however, chattering about her ridiculous amount of Divination homework and how she could never remember any of her dreams. The boy, watching her deft hands fly across the cards, nodded vehemently, choking out a “Yeah, I never remember mine either.”

The sight made Louis’ heart twist in his chest. He had the distinct feeling that the boy was too enraptured by the girl that he hadn’t fully registered what she had said. Though harbouring a mildly unhealthy crush, the boy looked blissful to have been given the apparent privilege of the girl’s company. The sight of them, giggling and laughing as the card explosions became outrageously loud, left Louis with a sinking feeling, as though he was falling into an empty space and each time he anticipated his landing, he fell further and faster.

“I’m going back to dinner,” Louis announced.

Liam scrambled to his feet, shoving his books and parchment on one of the small tables. “Thank Merlin,” he sighed. “I’d take any excuse not to finish that bloody essay.”

Louis absently listened to Liam describe the arduous amount of work Flitwick had assigned in the last lesson, though his thoughts drifted almost compulsively towards Harry. The issue was that he didn’t know how to raise the conversation with him. Ask him how his apparently recent interest in acting like less of a conceited prick was proceeding? Explain that Louis really did like Harry, but that he very much wanted to learn about Harry’s childhood to understand the origins of his anger and enmity with anyone who wasn’t within the immediate circle of people he wanted to protect?

I care because I know that you do.

Louis dragged his feet into the Great Hall, deliberately facing the Slytherin table on the opposite side. They were reasonably early for dinner but there were quite a few students devouring the delectable food—toad-in-the-hole with green salad and warm apple crumble for pudding—or lingering in the aisles between tables to talk to their friends from other houses.

His eyes were drawn to the Slytherin table, where he saw Harry sitting beside the Durmstrang boy with dark, cropped hair that Harry had hugged the first day the foreign students had arrived. Louis stabbed his fork into his pastry with more viciousness than he had intended, sending dark, mushroom sauce over the front of his robes.

Scourgify,” Louis muttered distractedly.

He tried to quash the bitter jealousy clawing at his insides as he watched Harry speak into the Durmstrang boy’s ear.

Louis felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Mate, I have a Calming Draught in my dorm if you need one,” Liam said quietly. “You look… tense.”

“I don’t need anything,” Louis snapped. That wasn’t quite true, though. He very much needed Harry’s attention to be focused on him rather than the unbearably attractive Durmstrang boy beside him. Louis knew of Harry’s excellent intuition; he was always able to sense whenever someone else was looking at him and, right then, Harry had to have known that Louis was staring directly at him. Worryingly, Louis couldn’t bring himself to tear his eyes away, however, despite Harry’s refusal to give him the satisfaction of eye contact.

It was jarring, Louis realised, to have the very person he spent countless hours beside—both conscious and asleep—pay him such little regard. Though dismissive during the first few weeks of term, Louis knew that over the last couple of months Harry’s attitude towards him had utterly evolved. Harry always extended the courtesy to listen to his thoughts and consider his input (though he also took great pleasure from reminding Louis that “we’re doing it my way or not at all”).

Harry could anticipate his next move before even Louis himself could and seemed to understand him so acutely that Louis sometimes felt unnerved by it. Louis’ mother liked to call it Spousal Legilimency; understanding the most complex, intimate thoughts of a loved one by the most insignificant of movements or expressions. Auror partners tended to form such bonds, as did most married couples. He and Harry were neither Auror partners nor spouses, however, Louis told himself sternly. They could hardly consider themselves friends.

“Mate, Zayn and I are going to the library now if you want to come,” Liam said rather gingerly, breaking Louis out of his reverie.

Feeling slightly guilty for ignoring to Liam’s inane talking during dinner, Louis nodded and gathered his belongings, shoving them hastily into his satchel. He shot a final glance over his shoulder and found Harry muttering into the Durmstrang boy’s ear, who was observing him intently. The boy had an intimidating stare that could rival even Harry’s, though the Durmstrang boy’s had a warmth, a curiosity that Harry’s lacked. It was highly unnerving. Louis turned primly on his heel and walked out of the Great Hall.

He and Liam met Zayn in one of the deserted corners of the Astronomy section, curled up in one of the armchairs and surrounded by a tottering pile of books. With a quick glance at Zayn’s slightly concealed form, Liam swiftly stepped beside him and pulled one of the books out of his hand with an endeared sigh. Zayn glanced up to identify his book thief and the lines on his face smoothed and he smiled gently, slightly sheepish. The sight was bittersweet and left Louis’ eyes clouded by melancholy.

“Sit down,” Zayn urged. He summoned two of the armchairs to whizz across the floor beside him and Louis collapsed into one of them with a sigh.

Liam shook his head, rifling through his satchel. “Have to grab a few books I left in the common room,” he sighed. “Back in a few minutes.”

Louis followed the smile playing on Zayn’s lips as he watched Liam’s jog turn into a brisk walk when Madam Pince glared at him.

“I overheard Styles talking about you a few days ago,” Zayn said thoughtfully, as though he could read Louis’ thoughts and thought that Louis might appreciate that piece of information.

Louis’ heart leapt. The prospect of Harry acknowledging him outside of torn glances and stiff conversation made him feel elated in a way that Louis did not want to consider too deeply. Although, a rational (and very irritating) voice in his head reminded him, it was unlikely that Harry had been singing Louis’ praises or professing his undying love for him.

“What did he say?” Louis asked in a far less nonchalant voice than he had intended.

Zayn shook his head. “Didn’t hear everything,” he admitted. “It was in the boys’ lavatory before Ancient Runes. I didn’t recognise the voice of the person he was talking to. All I heard him saying was that… that he didn’t know what to do about you.” Zayn paused, as though considering whether to disclose anything further. “The lad he was talking to seemed really fucking fed up. He kept telling Harry to quit fucking things up and ‘talk to him at least’.” Zayn’s mouth twisted into a sympathetic smile, as though he could see right through Louis, and he shrugged. “Don’t know if that would mean anything to you.”

A strange sinking feeling left Louis’ chest feeling tight and constrained in his robes. He shook his head. “Not really, no,” he said. “Thanks for letting me know anyway, though.”

Zayn smiled and waved a hand in dismissal. “Just telling it like it was.”

Louis was relieved at Zayn’s disinterest in probing, how he was willing to supply information but expected very little else in return.

“You like him, don’t you?”

The cautious edge to Zayn’s tone caught Louis’ attention and he nodded despondently before he could consider his response. He caught Zayn’s eye and found only sympathy there, no trace of judgement.

“Am I really that obvious?” Louis asked, his tone contrite.

“No, you aren’t,” Zayn assured. “I just kind of assumed when you asked about him and his family a few months ago.”

Louis smiled ruefully. “I just… I don’t know what to do about it,” he sighed, averting his gaze to the thick rug. “It isn’t just attraction. I actually… I like him and I can’t even understand why sometimes.”

Zayn nodded, considering his response for a moment. “Do you think he likes you back?”

“Whether he does or not doesn’t really matter,” Louis said. “Issue is, I shouldn’t like him.”

Zayn considered this for a moment. “Well, why not?” he asked eventually with slight umbrage.

“Because he’s…” Louis said, grappling for words and slightly desperate to communicate just how tragic his predicament was. “He’s not a decent person most of the time. At least, outside of when it’s just the two of us he’s not. And he used to be such an arrogant prat and he’s so fucking stubborn it drives me up the walls.”

Zayn, it seemed, did not entirely agree with him. He watched Louis with a thoughtful frown, his fingers bunched in the pocket of his robes.

“What is it, mate?”

“I just think you need to give yourself a little more credit,” Zayn said. “You shouldn’t beat yourself up about having a crush on him.”

Louis smiled at that, glancing up from where he had been counting the threads in the carpet.

“I just mean there’s clearly more to him than meets the eye,” Zayn said simply. “You know him better than any of us; you know about any of his good qualities, things he likes, how he acts. It’s natural that you have a connection with him, Louis, and it’s not something that you should be ashamed of. You shouldn’t base your perception of him on what everyone else sees.”

Louis slumped back into his armchair, caught off guard by Zayn’s very logical advice. He berated himself for not asking Zayn sooner. The changes Harry had made, small though they were, had affected the school’s perception of him, but they could never compare to the more intimate aspects of Harry’s character, the parts of himself that he failed to disclose or that Louis could only pick up on from careful observation.

Some students—particularly those in the senior half of the school—had been suspicious at first, resigned to observing the changes with wary eyes and a shield charm at the ready. Others, however, particularly the more forgiving Hufflepuffs, had embraced Harry’s changes as a breath of fresh air. Though the dark notoriety attached to his name, according to some, had been sullied beyond salvation, many others were more than willing to approach Harry with less reservation. His changes comprised less of actions and more of omissions; Harry chose not to react so tempestuously or antagonise Professor McGonagall, rather than consciously acting like the paragon of virtue—something he most certainly was not.

“Sorry I took so long,” Liam said, bustling over to them with a heap of books balanced against his chest. “Couldn’t find my stuff at first and then I met McGonagall on the way back and she wanted to schedule another— Louis? Mate, are you okay?”

Louis smiled faintly. “Yeah, fine,” he said. “Just talking about—er—about how much Styles has changed recently.”

Liam smiled brightly at this. “Yeah, it’s made things a lot easier for me, at least,” he said. “A lot less people to bring to the Hospital Wing recently.” His eyebrows furrowed and he pulled his lip between his teeth. “Don’t know why he’s doing it, though. You know how Slytherins are; they don’t do anything without a reason.”

Zayn nodded emphatically. As Liam set about organising his enormous pile of books on the nearby table, Zayn leaned over to Louis surreptitiously. “Maybe him liking you back matters more than you thought it would.”

 

*

 

Ten unpleasant days had passed since their kiss and Louis was restless. The foul March weather had alerted the teachers to the immediacy of their N.E.W.T.s and copious amount of homework—along with their usual revision—had been sprung on the seventh years in nearly every class. Potions had become impossibly tedious, Herbology had begun to require extraordinary concentration (especially after Malachy Orpington touched the Venomous Tentacula without dragon-hide gloves and Professor Longbottom had insisted upon better precautions), and Transfiguration class frequently left Louis with a pounding headache and an empty inkwell.

His schoolwork, however, had only come second to his almost constant fixation with Harry’s change of behaviour. Not only had Harry become more distant towards Louis, but he seemed to be detaching himself from everything else. Harry spent most of his time cooped up in his room with a book on his desk and his wand in his hand. It seemed, out of everyone Louis knew, Harry had taken the sudden onslaught of work the most seriously. With Harry studying diligently every night, the prospect of speaking to him (besides their necessary, if stilted, communication during Transfiguration) was presenting itself as a challenge.

“You just need to grit your teeth and talk to him,” Niall had said that evening as they trudged back to the castle after double Herbology. “He’s hardly as vicious as he used to be.”

“I’m not sure he could ever be characterised as vicious,” Louis said uncertainly, pulling the double doors open.

“I keep forgetting you weren’t here all along, mate,” Niall said, shaking his head at himself.

Niall’s response did very little to quell Louis’ anxiousness.

Louis had begrudgingly told Niall about his predicament with Harry after Niall had pestered him ceaselessly; apparently, Niall possessed the ability to identify what he had dubbed “the heartbreak face.” Though initially shocked by the revelation, Niall had taken it in his stride and had pulled Louis into a tight, one-armed hug. Three days later, however, his compassion had evolved into impatience as he urged Louis to confess his feelings to Harry.

“What I’m saying is, you and him have clearly been dancing around each other and you just need to go for it,” Niall said earnestly. “Besides, he looks fucking miserable without you.”

Louis laughed loudly. “He’d look just as miserable with me too,” he insisted. “He’s drowning himself in work at the moment. I haven’t seen him look up from reading or writing essays in days.”

“Sign of self-loathing! Denial of feelings! Utter heartbreak!” Niall said in an excellent impression of Professor Trelawney, verve, eccentric hand motions included. “You must reach out for him, boy. Out, into the beyond!” He frantically grabbed Louis’ palm and clutched it as Trelawney tended to do when she was particularly inspired. “It’s written in the stars, dear boy! Destiny! Fate, even, that you should be the Gryffindor golden boy to fall in love with the Slytherin with the dark, twisted soul!”

Louis and Niall collapsed into laughter at that, their voices ringing around the Entrance Hall. It was then that Louis noticed Harry trotting down the stairs, a thin copy of an Ancient Runes translation book held in his palm. He looked up and caught Louis’ gaze. A fleeting emotion, something that could almost pass for reluctant affection, crossed Harry’s face before a dull, vacant expression replaced it. Harry hurried into the Great Hall with nothing of his usual swagger.

“Oh, he’s got it bad,” Niall exclaimed, laughing gleefully.

“He does not,” Louis said shortly, though he felt his cheeks blush.

Niall shook his head. “Louis,” he sighed, “if Styles had started walking around with his nose in a book and his tail between his legs like that last year, then I would’ve expected McGonagall to check for Polyjuice in his pumpkin juice because that’s just… It’s not him.” Niall looked deliberately at Louis. “With you, though, it makes sense. He’s been acting different since Christmas and this… this is just the glazed cherry on the cake.” Niall peered into the Great Hall with interest. “Speaking of which, I’m grabbing some dinner before I have to get started on that diagram of Porcupine Peonies.”

Louis nodded absently, not entirely convinced. There were a multitude of reasons for Harry’s change in behaviour and very few of them led back to him.

A firm hand held Louis’ shoulder and he glanced up to meet Niall’s kind eyes.

“Mate, the third task is in two days and you two can’t even look each other in the eyes. For Merlin’s sake and my own sanity: talk to him.”

 

*

 

The rickety door swung open later that evening and Harry ambled inside, diverting his gaze to his desk with practiced ease rather than to where Louis was lying on his bed. Louis heaved himself to a sitting position. He watched Harry set his satchel on his desk and slump against it with a sigh.

“Harry?” Louis asked hesitantly.

When Harry glanced up and met his eye, Louis suddenly forgot everything he had prepared to say. Harry’s eyes were hopeful but his stance was defensive, turned towards his desk.

“What is it?” Harry asked in a rough voice.

“I think we should talk,” Louis said. “Properly.”

Harry nodded stiffly and sat on his desk, plucking at a small hole in his robes. “What about?”

“You know what about,” Louis sighed. “I… Last week… after we kissed… I shouldn’t have pushed you away like that. It wasn’t fair.”

Harry remained still, watching Louis tensely.

“You know why I did, though,” Louis asked. “Don’t you?”

“Yes, and I don’t blame you.” There was a vehemence to Harry’s tone, as though he needed to implore Louis to believe him.

A heavy silence fell between them.

“I reacted badly,” Harry said. His voice was low and thoughtful, and he spoke with his eyes trained on the thick carpet at his feet, dragging the tip of his shoe back and forth.

Louis nodded, distinctly relieved that Harry could admit his own mistake. “I want to… I don’t want us to continue like this.”

Harry’s face contorted into one of resignation. “Please don’t say that you just want us to go back to how we were.”

Louis’ heart leaped into his throat and he shoved his hands into his pockets to keep from his nervous fidgeting. What were they? Unwilling Triwizard partners who trusted each other inexplicably? Roommates who lived together in relative harmony (taking both their tempers and their aptitude for well-aimed jinxes into account). Over the past couple of months, Louis had become the kind of friend who woke Harry up early for DADA on a Wednesday despite knowing that Harry would most certainly mutter some choice swear words about the ungodly hour and possibly send a jinx over his shoulder. Harry had become the kind of friend that would taunt Louis mercilessly if he missed a step in Potions class or forgot the theory of a Transfiguration spell, but would leave his notes and a couple of books he had gathered on that subject on Louis’ desk later that evening for revision, something neither of them acknowledged.

“What do you mean?” Louis asked.

Harry smiled wryly. “I suppose we didn’t explicitly define what we were,” he said slowly, as though placing a particular weight upon each word before uttering them. “The night… when we kissed… That’s when our relationship changed into something that I could actually understand. It felt… honest.”

Louis slumped back against the headboard of his four-poster. Honest wasn’t a word that sprung to mind when he thought of their kiss but, perhaps, it was the right one. Both of them had released their inhibitions and been drawn to each other in such a vulnerable, intimate way—the way that Louis best understood Harry. It had felt natural, anticipated, even. The word honest captivated Louis’ thoughts and every one of them seemed to direct towards Harry. Louis glanced up to watch Harry, the way his expression was so open and willing. Willing to try, willing to explain, willing to let Louis delve into his thoughts and understand him.

“Lying isn’t second nature to me,” Harry said abruptly. He looked slightly surprised at his own admission but ploughed ahead nonetheless. “A lot of people think it comes naturally but it doesn’t. Deflecting and avoiding answering what I should or want to… I know how to do that like the back of my hand.” Harry sighed and glanced at his hands, rubbing a small circle on the protruding bone in his wrist. “The night we kissed felt different to that. It felt like I could be honest with myself, and with you.” Harry’s loud, rueful laugh punctured the space between them, like they had shared a cruel joke. “I was so fucking ready for that to start, for everything—that feeling of not having to constantly be stuck in limbo between not speaking and littering white lies—to end.

“I shouldn’t have ignored you, or gotten angry at you that night. You didn’t owe me anything and I don’t own you. It felt… It just felt like that feeling—of being honest and not being alone—was happening. And then you pulled away and it felt like everything—” Harry dropped his gaze to his thighs “—everything came crashing down again.”

Louis felt his jaw slacken. His throat suddenly felt parched dry and his hands clammy. The realisation of what was happening dawned on him with astounding clarity: Harry was confessing to him. Louis’ feet dragged him towards Harry, as though being pulled sharply by an invisible string or a weak Accio spell. He stood slightly in front of Harry’s parted knees but didn’t dare touch him. Harry met his eye, determined and no longer cautious.

“You can be honest with me now,” Louis said quietly, his tone was emphatic. “I think… I think that I deserve your honesty. I sometimes feel like I know you better than I know anyone else but we were cut out of each other’s life for so much longer than we’ve known each other.”

Harry breathed sharply. He dropped his gaze to the small hole in his robes, plunging his finger inside it. He swirled a long finger around the hole slowly, caressing the skin and enlarging the hole. “What I do… It’s called self-preservation. My parents like pretence; making it seem as though things are perfectly fine when they very clearly are anything but,” Harry said slowly, dragging each syllable out and pausing in careful places. “I suppose that’s what I mean by not lying but… manipulating the truth. I let other people believe things about me without losing myself too.”

Louis waited with bated breath as Harry clenched his fist around his robes before letting go suddenly. Louis reached out to still Harry’s movements and was rewarded with a flash of a smile.

“My father—I don’t know whether you know—he’s a foreign advisor. He consults Ministries all over Europe and Asia,” Harry said. He allowed himself to grimace and Louis’ heart clenched, aching to somehow close the space between them, urge Harry that Louis was listening and ready to support him.

“He’s despicable,” Harry spat. “And how he behaves… It’s all part of his views on pure-blood supremacism.”

Louis felt his heart sink at this knowledge. Though he had the impression that Harry’s parents would be of such views, Louis found comfort in the fact that Harry staunchly resented them. He knew that Harry’s parents were never within Voldemort’s trusted circle of Death Eaters, but that many pure-blood families chose to remove themselves from the blood-spilling and simply stood in the background, neither taking active part nor opposing Voldemort’s reign.

“The thing about his arrogance is that… It’s not just expected of me; I have to live up to it, to expectations,” Harry said, his voice curiously uneven and tense at the same time. “I have to prove that… because of my family and my bloodline that I’m... ‘allowed’ to be this way. That being a pure-blood somehow gives me the right.”

A single, rolling tear dropped onto the crook of Louis’ wrist and he gasped. Reaching out, he pressed a hand beneath Harry’s chin and lifted it until he met Harry’s eyes, rheumy and spilling at the brim. Louis smiled sadly and thumbed the delicate, slightly purple skin beneath Harry’s eyes. Harry was a silent crier. Somehow, this left Louis with a dull ache in his chest. Images of Harry stifling his tears to the point where he no longer made any noise raced through his thoughts. The unshed tears eventually faded and Harry, more determined than ever, ploughed ahead.

“I didn’t show any signs of magic until after I turned twelve; that’s why I started at Hogwarts late,” Harry said slowly. “I was supposed to go to Durmstrang. It’s where my half-brother is.”

Louis felt his jaw slacken at this piece of news. “Your half-brother?” he whispered.

Harry smiled. “The one that you’ve been glaring daggers at the past few days,” he said with an almost amused grin. “He was rather insulted, actually.”

Louis cast his thoughts back to the Durmstrang boy, his dark, cropped hair, his demeanour around Harry and the way they had embraced when they had first seen each other at the beginning of term—like brothers. He remembered the Polyjuice Potion and how evasive Harry had acted when he had asked where he had taken the Durmstrang uniform. Louis’ brain unhelpfully supplied memories of the glares he undoubtedly shot in the Durmstrang boy’s direction and he felt a strange, lingering guilt at never having noticed Harry’s bond with him, how it was close and platonic and brotherly. Suddenly, Harry’s admission made sense.

Harry shifted his gaze back to the hole in his robes and his smile morphed into a tight, forced replica. “Father had an affair with a witch while working abroad when I was very young. Charlie is his name. I saw him sometimes when I was growing up and when he left for Durmstrang—younger than me—I was left devastated.

“My father thought I was a Squib,” Harry said. His voice, thick with emotion, made Louis’ heart ache. “Apparently, there hadn’t been any signs that I possessed magical ability when I was younger—even little things. I was almost twelve and there had been no indication at all. My father… He first became very absent in my life. Then, he started taunting me and getting angry out of nowhere. I had to pretend I was younger than I was whenever we had guests or I had to leave the house with my mother. After my twelfth birthday, though, he used to become… furious more and more frequently. He used to use the Cruciatus Curse—”

Louis lunged forward in shock, gasping against Harry’s robes and clutching him tightly. His heart pounded in his chest and dread sunk on his shoulders. A strange feeling consumed Louis, an emotion that battled between rage and sadness. It felt like there was a trickle of ice-cold water running down his back.

“No! Harry! Oh, fuck,” Louis breathed. Thoughts of a young Harry, his face tangled in distraught, writhing on the floor in excruciating pain as a faceless monstrosity of a man stood over him flashed through his mind.

Harry gently pried him off with a half-pat on his shoulder. “I’m not telling you for sympathy,” he said firmly. “Besides, it happens far more often in wizarding families than people assume. I’m only telling you because it’s… it’s part of this. It’s part of something bigger about me that I want you to know about. So that you might… understand.”

Louis nodded uncertainly and tried to quell the rush of anger, the maddening sense of injustice at the thought of Harry being subjected to any kind of cruelty, and at such a young age.

“He’d only use it for a few seconds at a time but I think he thought that… inflicting pain would somehow prompt me to react magically; resist it or fight back, maybe,” Harry said. He smiled regretfully, his lips twisted into an ugly smile. “It didn’t, so my father stopped eventually. Instead, he ignored me for so long that I thought he’d just pretend I no longer existed until I turned seventeen and could run away. By that stage I had accepted that I was a Squib. It seemed that my father had accepted that fact too, though.

“During the summer before I started at Hogwarts, he did something different. He used to… to talk about Muggles and Squibs like they were the scum of the earth right to my face. I refused to run away and stood there and took it like a… a sick martyr,” Harry spat. He balled his fist and sunk his nails into his palm. “My father… He had this book, a really old one that was sort of a monologue about purist sentiments and how Squibs deserved to be slaughtered along with Muggles. It was disgusting. He used to read it aloud to me and he used this voice, this light, sing-song voice—it was like he was reading poetry, the way he spoke, like he got satisfaction from telling me. And one day… One day I snapped.

Harry’s sharp, ringing laughter broke the air and startled Louis.

“The book he had in his hand burst into flames,” Harry said. “Then, most of the furniture did. There was no smoke, just these ceaseless burning flames. And this tiny dragon—it was smaller than my thumb, even then—rose from the burning pages of the book. It was a little like a phoenix.”

Louis gasped in realisation, staring at Harry as everything seemed to click in place and he finally understood Harry’s affinity towards dragons. He remembered the way Harry had told him about his first performance of magic, how cautious he had been, his voice stilted.

“Father was ecstatic and so was my mother, though I spent very little time of my childhood with her. She and my father never loved one another and, after his infidelity, she detached herself completely from our lives,” Harry said. “I think she felt like she had done her duty with us and only had to appear for public outings.” He blinked in the distance, as though caught in a reminiscent thought.

“Harry?” Louis asked anxiously.

Harry nodded absently before catching Louis’ eye and smiling sadly. “I could never forgive him after what he had put me through, though, no matter how much he tried to make it up to me,” he said. “He’s well-loved and very senior in Ministries all over the world. He knows what I’m like, knows that I’m ambitious and he spent so long trying to bribe me with summer internships with the Head of Magical Law Enforcement or a senior placement at a foreign Ministry as soon as I graduate so I’ve always made it my… goal to do better. To do better than he could ever provide for me. To do things for myself; to get grades high enough to let me do the same things he would have been able give me with a handshake, a sack of gold and some well-placed words.”

Harry sighed dejectedly. “So I closed myself off and met every single expectation of someone of my bloodline and name because I—” he cut himself off and swallowed thickly, “—I couldn’t settle for anything but that.”

“Harry,” Louis said, his voice unsteady. He already hated what he knew he needed to say. He needed Harry to hear him. Taking Harry’s chin gently in his hands, Louis brushed his thumb over a light stubble across his jawline. “Harry, you can’t let your wounds from the past turn you into a… a person you’re not. You can’t act like a total prick just because you think that doing otherwise will change people’s perception of you into something unexpected.”

Harry nodded in quiet acceptance, as though he had long-since understood the truth of Louis’ words. “I’ve never known anything but my surname and my father’s reputation preceding me wherever I go,” he said with a sad smile.  “Wounds sometimes don’t heal as quickly as you want them to.”

A steady, almost throbbing silence consumed their dormitory and the shrunk space between them. Overwhelmed by the onslaught of information, Louis breathed for a moment, absorbing it all. He desperately wanted to reach out and pull Harry into a comforting embrace, to heal his scars and whisper anything that could dull the heaviness of the moment. Instead he nodded.

“Dragons,” Louis breathed. “They’re more than just a creature you simply like. They… they symbolise more to you.” He scrutinised Harry’s hopeful expression. “You didn’t just become a wizard that day. You became a wizard of your own accord and... against his antagonising. To prove him wrong.” Louis pressed a light, closed-mouth kiss to the corner of Harry’s mouth. “So why don’t you do that again?”

Harry’s face broke into a beam so bright that Louis was torn between stepping closer and stepping away. The decision was made for him as Harry nodded vehemently, looking beyond proud that Louis could verbalise the very thing that held such significance in his life so succinctly, in a way that showed him just how well they truly knew each other.

 

*

 

That night, Louis was restless in his sleep. His bedsheets, usually comfortable and cocooning, felt like a constraining layer wrapped around him and impeding his every move. The curtains had been drawn and the stillness and blackness were suffocating. He could hear his laboured breaths and the small, erratic movements from the bed beside him; the rhythmic creaks and shuffles, however, did nothing to lull Louis into the sense of closure, of security he craved. The third task loomed and, despite his long, almost cathartic talk with Harry, Louis felt separated from him in a way that made him alert and uncomfortable.

The silence was portentous, thick with emotion, and Louis had had enough. Whipping back his bedsheets and startling Cassiopeia, who hissed and leaped indignantly from the bed, Louis stepped barefoot on to the wooden floor. It was blissfully cold, though he knew that the ostentatious creaks would attract Harry’s attention, even if he was asleep. Louis doubted that he was, somehow.

Crossing the room in cautious, even steps, Louis drew back the curtains and closed his eyes as the splendidly pallid moon bathed the room in a lonesome, almost eerie light.

“You’re awake.”

Louis startled at the sound of Harry’s sleep-rough voice and craned his neck to find Harry observing him, propped up against his headboard.

“I am,” Louis said quietly. He watched as Harry’s carefully guarded expression morphed into one of calmness. He looked relieved, Louis thought. The thought that Louis might have had a role to play in that made his heart soar.

“Can I join you?” Harry asked. His voice was slightly restrained, as though he was trying not to let emotion seep into his tone. Despite their candid talk, Harry still looked nervous, as though worried he had shared too much with Louis and had frightened him away permanently. The truth couldn’t have been further from that proposition, however, and Louis vowed to make sure that Harry understood that.

“Of course,” Louis said, berating himself momentarily for waiting so long to respond.

Harry nodded, the corners of his lips twisting into a small smile. He clambered out of bed with little grace and dragged his feet towards the window. Harry stood slightly behind him, but Louis could feel the steady pressure of Harry’s chest against his shoulder. A tentative hand was placed on his waist and Louis felt his heart thrum so quickly, he was certain that Harry could hear it.

“Is this alright?” Harry asked.

Louis nodded silently and allowed himself to lean back into Harry’s touch. He dropped his head back onto Harry’s shoulder and turned it into Harry’s neck, revelling in the gentle heat. The stillness no longer felt suffocating. In Harry’s arms, their breathing aligned and with the moon casting obscure shapes across them both, Louis realised that, despite the adventures and scrumptious feasts and riveting classes, he felt more at home than he ever had before at Hogwarts.

 

*

 

The morning of the third task arrived the next day in a flurry of house colours and triumphal chants. Louis stepped out of bed, breaking the crisp, untouched silence. He noticed that Harry’s emerald hangings hadn’t been drawn and that Harry was curled over himself, his arm wrapped around Abrax.

Sighing, Louis pulled on his Triwizard shirt with ‘Tomlinson’ in capital red letters emblazoned across the back. He brushed his hair and washed his face, staring at his reflection; there were bags under his eyes—the colour of faded bruises—and his skin was taut over his cheekbones and dry in patches. Otherwise, Louis found a strange respite in the assurance that he and Harry were on good terms; that Harry had felt comfortable enough to trust Louis, to confide him and allow Louis to see him in his most vulnerable and reliant state.

“Tomlinson?”

Louis whipped around to see Harry—already wearing his Triwizard attire, his hair dishevelled and sticking up around his ears—ambling towards him, stretching his arms towards the ceiling and revealing a thin strip of pale skin at his navel.

“I think it’s about time we drop the surnames,” Louis said with a grin.

Harry closed the space between them, forcing Louis to lean back against the sink. Though it stuck into his back uncomfortably, Louis found that, with Harry staring down at him with that mischievous grin and a glint in his eye, he couldn’t quite bring himself to care.

“Should we?” Harry said with feigned consideration. He reached out and pressed his thumb against Louis’ cheekbone, caressing the skin there with unrivalled concentration, until he glanced up and caught Louis’ breath. “I quite like calling you Tomlinson. Think I’ve grown quite fond of it, actually.”

Louis wrapped his hand around Harry’s wrist and allowed Harry to carry on his ministrations, stroking the skin across Louis’ cheek before moving to tucking his hair behind his ears.

“Old habits die hard,” Louis said.

Harry leaned down and pressed his lips to Louis’, lush and commanding. Responding eagerly, Louis teased the tip of Harry’s tongue and turned his head to mouth at Harry’s neck. He sucked the slightly salty, hot skin along Harry’s neck and bit at the crook of his jaw. Harry moaned roughly at that.

Fuck,” Harry muttered, his voice gravelly and wrecked by sleep.

Harry pressed quick, unpolished kisses down the column of Louis’ neck, licking and sucking reverently. Louis’ hips buckled weakly, as he searched for any kind of friction. His skin felt hot with and his hands reached around Harry, pressing close to him in a desperate attempt to feel harry against him.

“Louis, darling,” Harry sighed, drawing out each syllable.

Louis turned his head and pressed his lips onto the taut skin on Harry’s collarbone. Smiling against the slight, delicate protrusion of Harry’s collarbone, Louis brought his tongue back and forth in slow, melodic movements against it.

“You kiss like I always expected a Gryffindor would,” Harry breathed.

Louis smiled wickedly and glanced up, pulling away slightly from Harry. “How so?”

Harry paused, dragging his tongue across his plump lips. The light seeping through the window caught the movement. “You sink your teeth in first,” he muttered.

Louis’ heart skipped a beat at the deep resonance of Harry’s tone, the slight edge of amusement, and he leaned up, meeting Harry’s eyes determinedly. “I bet you like it.”

“I bet you know I do,” Harry said with a smirk. Before Louis could respond with a snarky comment, Harry reached down and tangled Louis’ hand in his.

Louis pressed his fingertips to Harry’s waist, dragging them along the hem of Harry’s shirt. “Off,” he sighed against Harry’s chest. Harry pulled the shirt off and Louis watched the way Harry’s muscles strained as he whipped it off and flung it over his shoulders. Harry crowded Louis further against the sink and Louis latched his lips to Harry’s chest. He watched the cold, pale skin flushing beneath his touch and sunk is teeth there, pressing soothing kisses on the small marks.

Harry’s hands flew to either side of Louis’ hips, squeezing the skin gently. As Louis nipped the sensitive skin around Harry’s nipple, Harry leaned down and pressed his lips to Louis’ temple, something so gentle and intimate that Louis paused, glancing up to meet Harry’s eyes.

Ravishing the moment of stillness, Harry’s long fingers wandered up Louis’ sides, dragging his shirt over Louis’ head.

Louis flung his head back as searing hot lips locked onto his skin and pressed firmly against it. Harry’s curls fell across his face as he sunk his fingers into Louis’ hips to steady himself. He licked around Louis’ nipples, sending a thrill of goosebumps across his skin and eliciting a soft whine out of him. Harry lifted his head at that and lapped his tongue across his lips. He smirked down at Louis.

Something furry wrapped around his ankle and startled him.

“Cassiopeia,” Louis sighed with a short huff of laughter.

Harry—who didn’t seem to be able to tear his eyes away from Louis—merely smiled. “We need to go,” he said. His tone was resigned but a glint in his eye as he roamed Louis’ bare cheat hinted that they still shared unfinished business.

Harry sent an Accio over his shoulder and their shirts were whisked into his hand. They hastily pulled them on and gathered their things in preparation for the task. The immediacy of the task dawned on him, something that would usually leave him breathless and panicked. With Harry by his side, however, he was left instead with a curious stoicism pumping through his veins.

“Do you have the compass?” Louis asked.

“Do you have your half of the two-way mirror?” Harry asked with a teasing smile.

Louis smiled and pinched Harry’s hip loosely. He opened the curtains and window to their dorm to let in a fresh breeze. His shirt was slightly loose around his shoulders and it billowed in the fierce wind.

“Come on,” Harry called. “Want to get some breakfast before we win this tournament once and for all.”

“We had an advantage in the other two tasks,” Louis said reluctantly. “All the teams are on an even slope this time. It might be different for us.”

“It won’t,” Harry said firmly.

They trotted down the stairs and heard thunderous applause ring through the air as they entered the Great Hall. Louis smiled modestly and walked past the stares and chants, the hollering and raucous clapping. Niall raced towards him and patted him on the back, eyeing Harry with slight caution. Louis nodded stiffly at Harry as they parted and he made his way over to Liam at the Gryffindor table, who was kneeling on the bench, smiling proudly.

The clapping, however, suddenly turned to scandalous whispering.

“What’s the matter, Liam?” Louis asked. He slathered blackberry jam onto his toast and prepared himself to listen to Liam’s morning rambling. Instead, Liam stared open-mouthed at his back. Louis frowned. “What is it?” he asked with more insistence.

“Louis… your shirt,” Liam said quietly.

The rest of the students at the Gryffindor table were craning their necks at Louis, breaking into whispers and frivolous giggles.

“Why are you wearing Styles’ shirt?” Liam asked in an even, yet accusatory voice.

Louis heat dropped into his stomach and he frantically clawed at his back, twisting around to get a better view. Indeed, Harry’s surname was embellished on the back of his shirt, emerald green and taunting. He swallowed thickly.

“Mistake,” Louis said, loud enough for most of the table to hear. “House-elves must have made a mistake whose bed they put the shirts on.” Louis felt fleetingly guilty for placing the blame on the (rather lovely) house-elves but, in that moment, his primary concern was dispelling any potential rumours about himself and Harry.

How could they have been so reckless? Perhaps, Louis thought desperately, it could be excused as an innocent mistake. It wasn’t like his shirt was rumpled or stained. That thought alone brought a dark flush to Louis’ cheeks. Other than wearing each other’s shirts, there was no indication that they had been doing anything with each other that McGonagall wouldn’t approve of.

Louis glanced over to the Slytherin table and found about a hundred sets of eyes glaring at him, etched with expressions of disbelief, glee and disgust alike. Harry, however, was no longer seated at the Slytherin table. Instead, he was stalking through the centre aisle of the Great Hall, staring directly at him.

On closer inspection, Louis thought, they really should have realised sooner. The shirt Harry wore clung to his torso and left a sliver of skin exposed between the waistband of Harry’s trousers and shirt. The shirt Louis wore was too loose around his shoulders, dipping below his collar bones.

Harry arrived in front of Louis, his expression masked, though Louis noticed a high blush on his neck. “Tomlinson, you careless prat,” Harry said gruffly. The vexed tone of his voice made it clear to everyone eavesdropping on their conversation that Harry would rather be stuck in the fiery cave again than involve himself romantically with Louis. “Remind me never to trust you with my laundry again.”

“Remind me not to save your neck in this tournament for a second time,” Louis countered. The Gryffindors around him laughed jeeringly. Louis rather enjoyed watching the wry grin on Harry’s face turn expertly into one of disdain.

Harry pulled his shirt over his head in one swift movement, silencing Louis. Harry glowered at him and, somehow, seeing how easily Harry could switch on his hostile façade while displaying the small, red bites along Harry’s chest that he had made, made Louis’ skin heat up.

Harry watched Louis lift his jaw off the floor with a smirk. He held out a hand expectantly and Louis frantically pulled his shirt over his head and they switched.

The chatter faded soon afterwards, most of the students in the Great Hall both placated and convinced that their shirt swap had been an innocent mistake. Louis, however, could not focus on anything except his own shirt as he wolfed down his morning toast and tried to calm his racing heart. Harry had stretched the shirt around the torso and it smelled so patently of Harry—slightly musky, with a dark hint of ink and old parchment—that Louis had to restrain himself from pressing his nose into the soft fabric.

Louis was immediately distracted by Professor McGonagall marching towards them. She certainly did not look convinced by their ‘laundry mistake’ story and made that quite clear by her sharp frown and exasperated sigh.

“Tomlinson, Styles,” she said, looking pointedly between them, “you both need to follow me to the venue of the third task. You have your object, do you not?”

“Yes, professor,” Louis said as Harry nodded tersely.

Quite unexpectedly, the realisation that the third task was looming struck him. They had spent months anticipating its arrival, yet the task had crept up on them and Louis felt as though they were floundering, unprepared and timorous.

As they left the Great Hall behind Professor McGonagall, a large, comforting hand rested between Louis’ shoulder blades. He glanced up and smiled at Harry, leaning slightly into his touch.

Professor McGonagall led them down the gently winding corridors until they reached a concealed door. She spoke an unfamiliar incantation, revealing a solid door with a brass handle. Pushing it open, they were confronted with a blast of wind, carrying leaves and pollen. Louis felt Harry tuck him closer into Harry’s side and he felt a strange feeling in his stomach, something between a squirm and a flutter.

“This way, now,” Professor McGonagall instructed.

Louis glanced around and realised that they were just outside the castle, below the Ravenclaw Tower. He had never used this exit before, however, nor had he seen the three identical houses standing innocuously on the lawn three yards ahead of them. The cottages were constructed from white stone, not larger than an average classroom and each equipped with a small front garden encased by a picketed fence. The small plants in each of the gardens, however, didn’t sway in the blustering wind and, when Louis strained his eyes, he noticed that there was a faint shimmer around the cottages, as though protected by a Shield Charm.

The cottages were surrounded by the same tall stands used during the second task, except they were empty of cheering crowds. Professor McGonagall led them further down the lawn to the right of the cottages, where Achernar, MacFarlan, Vulchanova, Madam Maxime and their champions stood.

“Ah, Mee-nerva,” Madam Maxime exclaimed. “You ‘ave found your champions, I see.”

“Yes, indeed,” Professor McGonagall said shortly.

Louis tilted his neck behind him to see Harry staring intently at the cottages with a concentrated frown.

“Excellent,” Achernar said with an echoing clap of her hands. She beckoned them closer. “The tournament will begin in half an hour but, firstly, we will explain the requirements of your task.

“A replica of the Triwizard Cup has been placed inside each of these cottages. However, the cup has been divided into five different parts: the base, the neck, the cup and the two handles. Each part is hidden within the cottage and must be found in order to win the task. You may use your object to guide you towards the parts but, a fair warning; there is magic inside that you have to detect, dismantle and fight. There is not a specified time limit, but keep in mind that it is a race.” Achernar smiled faintly and gestured for them to take their seats on a small bench she had conjured.

Louis slumped onto the bench as Harry perched on the edge, crossing his legs and looking contemplatively at the cottages.

“What are you thinking?” Louis asked quietly.

“I’m thinking this isn’t exactly going to be a game of hide-and-seek,” Harry said wryly.

Louis leaned closer to mutter in his ear. “I think that’s a Shield Charm over the cottages. You see the way everything is still; it’s protected from the wind.”

Harry made a small sound of acknowledgement and turned towards Louis. It was only then that he realised just how close they actually were. Smiling sheepishly, Louis fell back into his hunched position, observing the cottage and impatient to begin.

The stands began to fill with students, chattering excitedly and yelling chants above the howling wind. Louis smiled at the sight of the banners adorned with the Hogwarts crest, the school orchestra getting into position with Flitwick at their helm, and students surreptitiously passing bets under McGonagall’s watchful eye. Soon, the chattering ceased and an anticipatory lull blanketed the stands. Louis felt a sharp tug at his shirt and he hastily pulled himself to his feet.

MacFarlan led Louis and Harry to the furthest cottage and instructed them to take their positions, winking unabashedly. “Good luck, lads!” he said jovially. “Though I’m not sure you’ll need it after your other two performances.”

Harry shot MacFarlan a crooked smile and nodded curtly. Inching away and still looking between them proudly as though they were his own sons, MacFarlan joined a weary-looking Achernar.

Louis sighed unevenly, wrapping his arms around himself as the cold seeped beneath his shirt. “Got the compass?”

Harry pulled the gold compass out of his pocket and held it in his palm. It shone brightly, despite the bleakness of the sky.

The trumpets breaking the relative silence of the stands startled them both. Harry’s hand instantly shot to his wand at the sound, something that disquieted Louis; the knowledge that Harry’s first reaction was to defend himself with the slightest of unexpected events left Louis with a desire to hold Harry against his chest and never let him go.

“Champions at the ready!” Achernar’s voice called above the wind. “Three— two—one!”

A foghorn blared and Louis rushed towards the entrance to the house, directly in front of the shimmering shield.

Confractus Murum,” Louis said, jabbing his wand at the shield. The spell produced a light blue bolt that penetrated the shield, sending cracks through it like a pane of glass breaking into thousands of tiny shards. Louis felt Harry rush beside him and they pushed passed the gate to enter the garden. As soon as they stepped onto the thin path, however, the crowd’s cheers were dulled to a low hum and their surroundings—the other two cottages, the Great Lake and surrounding mountains—were replaced by pitch blackness.

“Come on,” Harry said, steering Louis into the garden.

They crossed the garden, keeping to the thin path until they reached the front door; it was painted a stark red colour with a strange, black symbol engraved in the doorknob.

“Don’t touch the door,” Harry said lowly. He raised his wand and pointed it at the doorknob. “Alohomora.”

The door swung open invitingly. It was unnerving how the cottage enticed them inside; it was quaint, the walls painted a mellow cream, yet concealed dangers and left them with a distinct sense of unease.

Louis raised his wand carefully. “Revelio,” he said.

An enormous bundle of ropes fell from a panel in the ceiling and Louis sprung back into Harry’s chest. The ropes dangled threateningly and Louis breathed shakily as he stepped around them, convinced that they would have bound him if he had forgotten the Revelio Charm. Further along the hall one of the framed portraits on the wall had unthreaded with the spell and displayed a dusty store of potions in a small cupboard.

“What do you think we’ll need the potions for?” Louis asked. When he didn’t receive an answer, he turned on his heel to find Harry staring intently at the compass in his hand.

“It’s pointing this way,” Harry muttered, nodding towards an adjacent room that they hadn’t noticed before. Louis stepped closer and saw the compass arrow whizzing rapidly as Harry stepped closer to the room. As he stepped closer to the door, however, it began to shrink rapidly, the doorframe reducing at an alarming rate.

“Oh, fuck!” Louis said, whipping his wand out. “Impedimenta.”

The door stopped decreasing immediately, but had already shrunk to Harry and Louis’ waists in size.

“I could probably fit through,” Louis said, getting to his knees with his wand raised. “Alohomora.”

A faint series of unlocking sounds filled the room and the door opened slowly, as though unwilling to reveal its contents. Louis was met with a dark, eerie tunnel.

Lumos,” he muttered, bathing the tunnel in light.

It was very short, Louis saw, reaching only six feet in length and ending in a compact safe. Though the stone was cold beneath his touch, it was perfectly smooth, as though the tunnel was made with the purpose of crawling through.

“Think I found where the first piece is,” Louis called over his shoulder. He ambled inside on his knees with one arm raising his wand above him (something that transpired to be a very awkward position). Louis reached the safe and, pointing his wand at it, muttered an unoptimistic “Alohomora”.

The safe didn’t budge.

Sighing, Louis crawled back out of the tunnel. He got clumsily to his feet and brushed off his trousers. “I don’t think any kind of spell is going to do it,” he said.

Harry tilted his head thoughtfully and Louis glimpsed a small mark on his neck that made him blush. He turned his attention back to Harry’s musing.

“I think they want us to use one of the potions,” Harry muttered. He stalked to the small cupboard and pulled out each bottle, examining them intently. “See the green colour in this one,” Harry said eventually, plucking out a tall, corked bottle. “That’s Erumpent Potion. When it comes in contact with something it causes an-”

“Explosion,” Louis breathed. He glanced at the large bottle; that amount of the insipid green potion could cause an explosion large enough to knock down half of the cottage. “We can’t just fling the bottle at the wall, though. We don’t know what other traps it might set off.”

Harry nodded, wearing a grim expression as he looked between the wall and the potion.

Louis turned back to the cupboard and sorted through the potions. “Wait!” he said, plucking a tiny vial of purple liquid from the back of the cupboard. He held it to his nose and winced at the familiar, bleach-like smell. “I recognise this one. It’s Bundimun Secretion. Mum uses a diluted version of it when she cleans the floors. The strong version, though… it has so much acid that it could probably rot through most materials—including the safe.”

Harry gave Louis a blank look that told him quite plainly that it wasn’t time for joking. “You’re saying we should use cleaning fluid on a safe,” Harry said, unimpressed.

Louis rolled his eyes. “It’s highly acidic and probably mildly corrosive too. Just… let me try it.”

Harry made a noise of indifference and set about sorting through the potions again.

Louis sighed and sunk to his knees, crawling into the tunnel with the small vial in hand. With his wand in his left hand, he poured one drop of Bundimun Secretion onto the roof of the safe. Instantly, the shiny metal surface sizzled, as though the potion could burn through the metal. The fumes emitted were thick and nauseating, leaving Louis coughing loudly.

Louis!” Harry’s panicked voice echoed through the tunnel. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m fine,” Louis wheezed. “Just the fumes. It’s working, though.”

Placing down his wand to block his nose, Louis poured a second drop over the safe. The metal spluttered and hissed as the acid touched it. A gaping, jarring hole through the top of the safe revealed a blue, glowing light.

Louis dived forward and pulled out the base of the Triwizard Cup, shining like a beacon of hope in the dark tunnel. “Got it!” he called. Louis crawled backwards with his wand between his teeth and both the vial and the base of the cup in his hands.

“Excellent,” Harry breathed, helping Louis to his feet and smiling at the sight of Louis’ wand in his mouth. Harry pulled it out with nimble fingers, his thumb dragging across Louis’ lower lip. “Think you’ll be needing that, darling.”

Louis pulled his wand from Harry’s grip with a wry smile. “Come on,” he said, motioning further down the hall.

They inched further until they arrived at the small, yet fully-equipped kitchen; there was even a pot of steaming tea and a plate of fudge on the table.

A second Revelio spell showed an apparently stationary potted plant on the windowsill to contain a Fire Seed Plant, which set the cotton curtains alight. Harry quickly extinguished the fire with a sharp flick of his wand.

“Try walking around the room to see if the arrow starts whirring again,” Louis instructed quietly.

Harry circled the kitchen slowly, staring intently at the compass. It wasn’t until he reached the corner of the room that the compass arrow began to spin. As Harry drew nearer to the paisley wallpaper, the arrow whizzed rapidly inside the compass.

“I think it might be inside the wall,” Harry said. He glanced over to Louis. “Think a Bombarda would do it?”

Louis shook his head. “We’re not supposed to tear down the house. There must be another way.”

Harry and Louis observed the wall intently, searching for any indication of how they were expected to tear back the wallpaper without the wall collapsing. Pacing back and forth, Louis tried to find a small crack in the wallpaper. He tapped at the wall, listening for a hollow sound that might contain the piece of the Triwizard Cup.

“This is ridiculous,” Harry said impatiently, pacing past the wall for the fifth time. “I’ll direct a Bombarda spell to a particular area. It’s not going to wreck the entire wall.”

Louis, though still convinced that Harry wouldn’t be able to maintain the structure of the wall after exploding a hole in its centre, nodded listlessly.

Harry changed his stance and pointed his wand at the point in the wall where that compass had spun the quickest. “Bombarda!”

The wall exploded through the centre, throwing rubble and torn wallpaper across the kitchen floor. Louis covered his eyes and coughed through the cloud of dust that erupted. Waving his hand helplessly in front of his eyes to bat away the smoke, Louis winced at the sight of a small, blue light. Diving forward, he grabbed onto the two handles of the Triwizard Cup but not before he noticed a second, very small object attached to the handles by two pieces of string.

“What is it?” Harry said, swatting away the smoke and edging closer to Louis.

Louis blinked at the small, black object. It was vaguely familiar, he realised, though he couldn’t quite remember where he had seen it before.

“Do you recognise that?”

Harry shook his head, scrutinising the object.

Cautiously, Louis tugged at the handles and severed the pieces of string tethering them to the object. A loud, incessant beeping sound filled the room and the small object flashed bright red, showing a countdown clock for sixty seconds.

“Fuck!” Louis bellowed, his heart thundering in his chest as he recalled the Auror Adventure books he used to read. “It’s a bomb!”

“A what?” Harry shouted, his hands pressed tightly over his ears. “Silencio!”

The beeping sound was reduced to a high murmur but the flashing numbers threatening to blast them to smithereens left Louis in a state of panic. His mind kept repeating the image of a catastrophic explosion, casting them into the air and hurling debris at them. He gulped and forced himself to think logically.

“A bomb,” Louis said clearly. He grasped his wand tightly in his hands, partially both to defend himself and to prevent his hands from shaking. “Remember that book series for kids? Auror Adventures? They had to sneak into a Muggle prison once and there was a bomb that blew up the entire building. It’s a… a kind of Muggle contraption that causes a massive explosion.”

Harry’s jaw tightened and he nodded primly. The sight of Harry’s calm yet resolute expression left Louis with a deep, resonating sense of comfort in his chest.

“Must be why there’s a Shield Charm over the house,” Louis said. “So that the explosion doesn’t reach beyond the cottage.”

Harry, who had been staring intently at the device, merely frowned. “Twenty seconds,” he said conversationally, as though he was informing Louis about the weather forecast and advising him to bring an umbrella with him. Harry glanced towards him and their eyes met. “We’re both going to have to direct Shield Charms straight at it. Don’t hold back.”

Louis felt a sudden weight fall on his shoulders and the sight before him—the bomb, the kitchen, even the Triwizard Cup—seemed to become obscure and unfocused. The only thing in the room that was clear and definite was Harry, whose gaze was fixed on the bomb, his face contorted into a firm expression and his stance confident. With a strange, rather ironic clarity, Louis realised that he trusted Harry. He trusted Harry’s honesty and judgement and, above all, that Harry would protect him. Louis took a step backwards, raising his wand with fierce celerity and pointing it directly at the bomb.

“On the count of three,” Harry said calmly. “One—two—three!”

They cried “Protego Maxima!” in unison and a blue-white shield erupted from their wands, joining at the seam and blending into an enormous protective barrier around them. One second passed in complete stillness until a single, loud beep sounded and the bomb detonated.

The entire wall erupted, flinging huge mounds of rubble around them. A scream was drawn from Louis’ chest at the impact the explosion had on his shield. One of the pieces of the wall caught the shield and Louis gripped his wand with all of his might, gritting his teeth and crying out the spell again. The rock was instantly repelled, tumbling at Louis’ feet along with the debris and smoky rubble fulminating around them. Louis heard shattering glass and a deep tremble below him as the floorboards quaked. Glancing at Harry, he saw the boy almost leaning back with the strength of his shield, his skin pulled taut over his jaw and his face covered with a thin layer of soot.

Eventually, the remnants of the wall collapsed completely and Louis could see the fair grass of the back garden, a murky shade of grey from the rubble, and the landscape in the distance. The sight comforted him immensely.

A single thought repeated in his head, the voice both astonished and reassured: we did it.

“Do you still have the handles?” Harry asked, breaking off his Shield Charm with a heavy sigh.

Louis nodded and picked the pieces up from the floor. Though similarly coated in soot, their bright, blue light was still visible.

The crumbled wall and the floor, strewn with cooking utensils and broken plates, left Louis with a distinct sense of unease. With a final look over his shoulder, Louis pulled Harry out of the kitchen and further into the cottage. They ventured along the hallway until they came across four identical doors, each painted in a thick coat of white paint.

Alohomora,” Louis muttered at the first door.

Instead of the sound of an opening lock, however, he was met with the sound of a shrill, mocking giggle.

Sighing, Louis repeated the spell on the other three doors with the same result except, perhaps, the voice seem to become giddier as the spell failed.

Without warning, a slightly translucent poltergeist with two long plaits and a mischievous grin emerged from one of the doors, cackling uproariously. She floated slightly above Louis and Harry, her wide eyes boring into both of them.

“Looks like Peeves found himself a girlfriend,” Harry muttered.

“Silly little boys! All covered in dirt and rudely demanding to come inside,” the poltergeist exclaimed. “Don’t you know not to use magic on my doors?”

Louis had to refrain from hexing the poltergeist. “What should we be using, then?”

“Your brains, silly! That is, if you have any behind that layer of disgusting grime,” she said, flicking one of the plaits over her shoulder. “You have to figure out which door to open.”

“Why don’t you just tell us and save us the trouble?” Harry asked with an audacious grin.

“Now why would I tell you that?” she cackled. “You have to ask each of the doors whether they contain what you’re looking for. They might help you. If you’re polite, that is.”

Trying to ignore the poltergeist’s cackling, Louis crouched at the handle on the first door. Harry let his hand wander down Louis’ back, sending a thrill of excitement through Louis’ spine, before resting it on his lower back.

“Talk to it, she said,” Harry muttered incredulously.

“There’s no harm in trying,” Louis sighed. “You made me talk to a dragon, for Merlin’s sake.”

Louis cleared his throat and spoke directly into the handle. “We would like to find the missing piece of the Triwizard Cup.”

The door didn’t budge but, suddenly, dark engravings emerged across the white wood, carving sharp lines and swirling symbols. Louis stared at them, cautious not to touch. The lines seemed to join together, merging to form an enormous, looping shape.

“What do you think it means?” Louis asked.

Harry shook his head, his eyes narrowed. “It’s not a rune and it’s not a symbol either.” Harry cast his gaze towards the other doors along the hallway. “Try the other ones and see if they make the same thing. It might be a pattern.”

Louis nodded and repeated the same request to the other three doors, watching as a different wood carving appeared on each. The third door had a very simple swirling pattern while the fourth door had a complex series of sharp lines engraved across it.

Taking a step back to observe the doors from a distance (and to avoid the poltergeist, who had taken to grinning deviously at him), Louis lifted his wand across them. “Revelio.”

The dark lines on the doors began to glow, each turning a different colour and contrasting magnificently with the white panels of the doors. Harry sprung back into Louis’ touch as they were both bathed in the strange, vivid light. They stared at the door for what felt like entirely too long, trying futilely to guess what the lines might signify.

“Red, blue, green, yellow,” Louis recited, pointing at the colours on each of the doors. “Hogwarts houses, do you think?”

Harry shook his head. “It might make sense if we were in the same house, but those shades aren’t the same as our houses. The red is too deep to represent Gryffindor and the green is too light for Slytherin.”

Louis sighed in concession. He observed the colours with tired eyes; the adrenaline from casting the Shield Charm was quickly waning and his limbs began to feel heavy as he paced back and forth. Eventually, he collapsed onto the floor with a heavy sigh and rubbed his eyes. Harry threatened to cast a Bombarda on the doors if they didn’t figure out the meaning soon; they had both become painfully aware of just how much time they were wasting.

Suddenly, and without any tangible thought process, Louis gasped. The colours on the doors were familiar, he realised, and replicated almost exactly the colours of each of the store cupboard potions.

“Wait here!” Louis urged, scrambling to his feet. He hurried down the hallway and skidded to a stop before the small cupboard. The lime green, duck egg blue, deep magenta, and canary yellow potions gleaming at him were the exact same colours as those engraved in the doors. Louis bundled them in his arms and raced back to where Harry was standing expectantly.

“Look at the colours of the potions,” Louis said ecstatically. “They’re the exact same!”

“That’s… Fuck, that looks right,” Harry said. He pulled his lower lip between his thumb and index finger thoughtfully. “We need to identify what each of the potions do.”

Louis nodded and they sat opposite one another, setting the potions between them.

“I already know that the green one is Erumpent Potion,” Harry said.

Louis uncorked the small bottle with a rounded handle. “The yellow one is Elixir to Induce Euphoria,” he said. “Smells the very same.”

“Could use some of that now,” Harry muttered, plucking the red potion from the row. “This one could be a strong brew of Oculus Potion, but I can’t be certain.”

“What do you suppose this one is?” Louis asked, carefully examining the squat, corked bottle filled with the magenta potion.

“Draught of Peace,” Harry said instantly.

Louis raised a curious eyebrow.

“My great-uncle has a particular fondness for the stuff,” Harry said with an amused, if fleeting, smile. “He gets impatient with most of my relatives, especially on my mother’s side. He asks me to brew him a batch every time he comes over for Christmas dinner. Used to take me ages because the stirring pattern was so complex but I got used to it after a while and— oh, Merlin,” Harry breathed suddenly.

Louis’ heart sprung as Harry reached to grab Louis’ hand, pulling them both to their feet. Louis felt a gentle, steady heat seep through his fingers as Harry’s hand brushed his, his thumb caressing the curve of Louis’ wrist.

“The doors!” Harry exclaimed, pointing to each of them. “The lines on the doors… they’re the same as the stirring pattern of each potion.”

Louis’ heart leaped at the sudden realisation that Harry was, indeed, correct. The red shade on the third door had the familiar peaked lines he remembered casting during Potions class, and the swirled yellow of the second door was similar to the theory he had learned about the Elixir to Induce Euphoria.

“Wait!” Louis said, pointing at the insipid green colour on the fourth door. There were three simple, slightly uneven lines drawn across it, the opposite of the complicated wand motions required to brew Erumpent Potion. “Not this one. The pattern is completely different.”

A warm body stepped close behind him and Louis’ skin heated as Harry breathed softly against Louis’ neck. “This is it.”

The poltergeist, who had been observing Harry and Louis with a wickedly gleeful expression, raced towards them. “It took you long enough,” she said, flicking one of her plaits off her shoulder frivolously. “And don’t come back out here once you find what you’re looking for!”

With that, she whizzed away, past them and further down the corridor until she was out of sight.

Harry raised his wand and pressed it against the door. With a steady sigh, he cast the stirring pattern with nimble, quick movements. Louis watched with slight trepidation as Harry cast the final stirring motion.

The green shade of the door markings disappeared instantly. Louis’ breath caught in his throat as the handle squeaked. It turned ever so slowly until, with a sharp click, it swung open. Breathing erratically, Louis peaked behind the door, his wand clutched in his hand. The room was completely bare and windowless. There, resting quite innocuously on the floor, was the neck of the Triwizard Cup.

They both rushed forward and Louis picked up the piece, attaching it to the neck of the Triwizard Cup. The two parts fused together with a satisfying click.

“Just the cup itself left to find, now,” Louis said.

Louis caught Harry’s eye but before Harry could respond, the door shut closed. Louis rushed towards the door, his heart thumping in his chest, and wrenched the handle. It didn’t budge, even after casting an “Alohomora”.

“Fuck,” Louis said, resting his head against the door in defeat.

“Louis,” Harry said, his voice unusually cautious. “Come here.”

Whipping around, Louis found Harry in the centre of the room with his eyes trained above him. Louis glanced up and saw precisely what had caught Harry’s attention. The entire ceiling was lowering, as though it was a blanket above their heads, dropping to smother them both.

Louis felt an uncomfortable tightness in his throat, leaving him with short, heavy breath. The ceiling was closing in on them faster than he could have anticipated. It wasn’t ceasing, even as Harry bent his knees to keep from knocking his head. Harry’s eyes were downcast and his chest was heaving erratically. The sight was so disturbing that Louis had to grit his teeth and look away. Pointing his wand directly above him, he bellowed, “Arresto Momentum!”

The ceiling continued to lower, utterly unperturbed.

“What do we—oh, fuck—I can’t—Harry,” Louis said in an alarmed voice. He rushed over to Harry and placed a gentle hand on his neck. The ceiling brushed Louis’ hair and he dropped to his knees unceremoniously. The immediacy of what felt horrifyingly unavoidable struck Louis like a Quaffle to the stomach.

“We need to—fuck—we need to stop this, somehow,” Louis said frantically.

Harry looked at him for the first time since the ceiling had begun to drop. His eyes, Louis noticed, were stunningly green, rich and brimming with unrelieved emotion. It was like Louis saw a reflection of his own impending hopelessness. With startlingly immediate realisation, Louis knew what he had to do.

“Harry, we need to stop it together,” he said. Louis wrapped his hand around Harry’s back and curled his fingers around his hip. The shirt clung to Harry’s torso, slightly damp and covered in a light layer of soot and gravel. “It’s… this is a test. We need teamwork, remember? We have to use the spell together.”

Harry glanced at Louis and nodded once, firm an unequivocal. The dull weight on Louis’ chest eased. Raising their wands simultaneously as the ceiling left them less than four feet, Louis reached his left hand out. He caught Harry’s hand and interlinked their fingers, caressing the rough skin there. Harry’s responding squeeze was desperate and send a thrill of unspoken words, of near palpable promises through Louis.

Arresto Momentum!” they screamed.

It was as if the entire world ceased to exist. Caught in a moment of utter stillness—silent breathing and no movement apart from the steady pounding of his heart. Louis felt Harry’s hand in his, warm and sickeningly clammy. Louis wrenched his eyes open and glanced up. The ceiling had halted directly above their heads.

“Harry!” he cried. “It worked!”

Peering up at him, Harry’s face broke into a disbelieving smile. Harry’s lips quivered and he laughed in a shaky, almost trembling voice. The sound warmed Louis’ chest, coursing through him and setting his skin alight.

Closing the space between them, Harry walked over on his knees and pulled Louis tightly against his chest. Harry wrapped his arms around Louis and clutched him with the kind of aching desire that could rival desperation. Louis held him just as tightly, allowing himself a moment of reprieve, time to allow him to simply be with Harry. Harry’s clothes were covered in soot and there was a small tear in the fabric of his shirt where Louis could feel hot, delicate skin. Louis caressed the skin beneath the hole, tracing small, nonsensical patterns with his fingertips, his movements light and quick.

“We need to keep going,” Harry whispered eventually. “We’re so close.”

Louis nodded, reluctantly breaking apart. His knees had begun to ache uncomfortably from their kneeling and, though Harry was a comforting presence, he was also very distracting.

“What do you propose we do about the ceiling?” Louis asked. “Blasting it might cause the whole thing to crumble on top of us.”

“I say we try and blast the door,” Harry said, though his tone was reluctant.

Snippets of scenarios in which any manner of traps or magical creatures were anticipating them just outside the door flashed in Louis head. He swallowed thickly and tried not to look up; he found himself short of breath whenever he consciously considered just how trapped they truly were.

Louis stumbled across the floor on his knees after Harry, waddling uncomfortably as the hardwood floors chafes his trousers.

Harry took a short breath and raised his wand. “Bombarda!”

The explosion, abrupt and deafeningly loud from their positions so close to the door, was over in a second. Neither Louis nor Harry, however, could have prepared for what arrived in its wake. Emerging from the small heap of rubble, though the smoke, slithered a great, stealthy snake with cold, formidable eyes.

“I told you not to come back!” the poltergeist called mirthfully from behind the door. If Louis wasn’t so distracted by the two thin, yellowed fangs protruding from the snake’s mouth, he would have hexed her.

The snake hissed viciously at them, uncoiling and slinking over the small heap of broken wood. Louis leaped back, forgetting that he was on his knees, and fell onto the ground. The fall sent a jolt of excruciating pain through his ankle. A yelp escaped his mouth and Louis writhed from the sciatic ache.

“Louis! Get back now!” Harry bellowed.

Louis could hardly open his eyes, shut tight as they were from the pain sheeting through him with such intensity that he thought he was going to collapse. Wrenching his wand into his hand, Louis wriggled away, reaching out behind him for a wall to lean against, his body convulsing from the pain in his ankle.

Evanesco!” Harry shouted.

The hissing was louder and more persistent now, and it took all of Louis’ strength to open his eyes and lift his flimsy arm, which begged him to soothe his throbbing ankle. He caught a flash of blood red eyes and a thin, darting tongue before Harry’s roaring voice echoed around the room.

Vipera Evanesca!”

In a puff of thick, black smoke, the snake shrivelled and disappeared. Louis’ head thumped back against the wall with a low groan.

“Louis,” Harry whispered. Louis could sense just how close he was, Harry’s breath hot and ragged against his face.

“What took you so fucking long?” Louis asked through gritted teeth. Every fibre of his being scolded him for snapping at Harry but all he could register was the unyielding, searing pain shooting through his calf.

“I… panicked. Forgot the specific spell,” Harry said. He sighed regretfully, apparently berating himself. “Let me see your ankle.”

With a high, embarrassingly helpless whimper that Harry soothed with a gentle hush, Louis pulled his leg from underneath him. He panted as he tried to control his erratic breathing. Harry’s hand, brushing Louis’ shoulder and rubbing the nape of his neck, could comfort him but didn’t distract him from the dull throbbing in his ankle.

When Harry spoke, his voice was painfully anxious, as though he was completely out of his depth and unwilling to admit so to himself. Which, Louis reasoned, probably was the case.

“Right, I’m going to wrap it in a bandage and then… then you’re going to lean against me and I’ll help you to your feet. Alright?”

Louis doubted that a bandage would quell the pain enough to allow him to stand up, but he knew that Harry was trying desperately to help him. Louis nodded tersely.

Harry directed his wand at Louis’ ankle and, with a sharp flick he muttered, “Ferula.”

With a sound similar to that of a whip cracking, white, pressurised bandages wrapped around Louis’ ankle. They wrenched and pulled, the position of his ankle shifting agonizingly until something in his ankle clicked. Suddenly, the pain dulled to a bearable sting.

Louis opened his eyes and found Harry looming over him, distressed and watching intently. The sight sent a thrill of energy through Louis. “Come on, Harry,” he said. “We’re finding this last piece of the cup, even if it kills us both.”

Harry’s face broke into a familiar smile. “Speak for yourself,” he said dryly, which was promptly negated as he pulled Louis to his knees.

Head spinning but determined to continue, Louis crawled towards the door, climbing over the small pile of rubble. He winced at the sight of a long trail of slime across one of the pieces of wood. Glancing behind him to warn Harry, Louis found Harry’s gaze fixed on Louis’ behind, his mouth hanging open as though caught in a trance.

Harry caught Louis’ eye and quickly drew his lips into a rueful smile. “I can’t help it,” he said. “Your arse is poetry in motion.”

Louis couldn’t argue with that. He made an affronted noise and turned his head back towards the hallway so that Harry couldn’t see the small smile playing on his lips.

They made it to the hall and scrambled to their feet, wands raised.

“Check the compass again,” Louis said.

Harry shuffled slightly before wrenching the compass (which was remarkably unscathed) from his pocket. “This way,” he said, leading Louis further along the corridor.

It wasn’t until they reached the end of the hallway and were met with a single, rickety door that the arrow began to spin rapidly.

“This is it,” Harry sighed. “Alohomora.”

Miraculously, the door swung open on command.

Before they could step foot inside however, a thick rope materialised from thin air and latched onto both of their wrists. Louis banged into Harry’s chest, pressing against him and sending a jolt of pain through his ankle. The rope tightened until their wrists were bound together, leaving them both with one hand free and another constrained.

“Fuck,” Harry sighed. To Louis’ ears, however, it sounded less like a sigh of annoyance and more like a sigh of pleasure. Louis suddenly became conscious of something pressing against his upper hip that was becoming noticeably harder beneath his touch. Feeling immensely guilty as he realised that he was leaning against Harry’s hard-on, Louis tried to scramble away. He found this near impossible, however, with the tightness of the inflexible rope chafing his skin. The thought that being tied together aroused Harry was enough to light Louis’ skin until he was writhing beneath Harry’s touch, conflicted between pulling away and pressing against Harry.

“Hold still,” Harry muttered impatiently. “Diffindo.”

The familiar light green light shone from Harry’s wand but didn’t affect the rope. If anything, it constrained them further.

“Let me try,” Louis huffed.

Wait!” Harry exclaimed. He raised his arm to point at the room in front of him—and, thus raised Louis arm, too.

Louis followed Harry’s gaze and his heart leaped. There, waiting for their arrival on a tall bench, sat the last, gleaming piece of the Triwizard Cup.

“Sweet Merlin,” Harry breathed. He jerked forward and caught Louis with him, sending Louis stumbling across the floor. Harry tripped at the last second and collapsed to the ground, sending Louis tumbling on top of him.

Even with Harry sprawled beneath him, his ankle throbbing furiously and the skin on his wrist raw from the tugging of the rope, Louis couldn’t find it in him to be angry with Harry. “Come on,” he sighed.

Louis and Harry gathered themselves to their feet unsteadily, carefully co-ordinating their movements around their tethered wrists.

“I think this is supposed to be a teamwork thing,” Louis said, dusting off his trousers with his free hand. “We have to connect the pieces together using only one hand each.”

Harry grumbled something under his breath. Harry reached into his pocket to find the two pieces of the Triwizard Cup that they had already attached—the base and the neck. Wincing as he pulled them out of his pocket before he sucked in a sharp breath through a clenched jaw, Harry dropped them clumsily on the tall bench beside the cup. Harry’s hand wrapped in rope clenched and Louis glanced down, finding that Harry’s trousers were straining obscenely.

“Is it really that hard to take something out of your pocket, Styles?”

Harry caught his eye as Louis smiled teasingly. The double-meaning was not lost on Harry and he glared at Louis. “It’s your fault I’m this hard and not able to take care of it, Tomlinson.”

There was something about the way Harry used Louis’ surname whenever he was frustrated that sparked something inside of Louis. He swiped his tongue across his lips before sinking his teeth into them. Grappling in his pocket, Louis wrenched the two handles out and set them on the bench.

“Let’s do this.”

It was tedious, Louis soon realised, to attach each of the pieces. Harry was too eager and Louis, apparently, too impatient. Their movements were graceless and hasty, both determined to fuse the parts together as quickly as they could manage. Louis’ breathing quickened, as did his pace, as the realisation that they were about to finish the Triwizard Tournament dawned on him. With a final shove as Louis connected the last handle to the cup, the Triwizard Cup was finally complete, the blue jewels shining and projecting light and shadow across both of their faces.

The rope tangling their wrists together disappeared but neither of them let go. Instead Louis clutched Harry’s hand tight in his own and lifted them, pressing his lips along Harry’s knuckles. They had done it.

In an instant, the cottage—bedraggled and detonated in places—collapsed around them and vanished. Louis and Harry stood side-by-side on a patch of lush grass, staring ahead of them as roaring crowds in the tall stands surrounding them came into view. Louis’ face broke into a huge smile and his chest filled with hundreds of emotions, all of which were unrivalled compared with his relief.

The chants and applause rung in Louis’ ear but all he could focus on was the body pressing into his side. He caught Harry’s eye and watched the way a sad, yet hopeful smile tripped across Harry’s lips, as though he was upset that the very thing that had tethered them together—both figuratively and physically—in the first place, the Triwizard Tournament, had ended. Louis felt a small pang of anxiety in his chest before he quickly dispelled those thoughts.

Achernar’s voice (interrupted by a very enthusiastic MacFarlan, who had taken to shouting in her ear) announcing Hogwarts as the victorious school chimed around them. The Hogwarts anthem, led by Flitwick, who was conducting with frivolous flourishes of his wand, boomed around them.

Louis pressed the Triwizard Cup into Harry’s hand and, both taking a handle each, they raised it into the air. He thought that his mouth was going to tear with how wide his smile was. All he could truly measure was the steady Hogwarts anthem drowning out most of the applause, and Harry’s warm, steady body by his side, a gentle pressure that left him with a feeling of familiarity.

They were broken up immediately by the crowds ruching from the stands like a stampede. Louis felt Harry’s hand slip from his own and, in a moment of panic, he remembered the cave; the smoke enveloping them, Harry’s hand—clutched so tightly in his own—slipping away behind the smoke and the unbearable sound of Harry’s desperate, wheezing cough.

Louis was shaken out of his reverie by the sound of his mother’s high voice calling “Louis, sweetness!” above the throngs of students encircling him and pawing at the Triwizard Cup, desperate to touch it.

Louis smiled at his parents as they spoke to him, both singing his praises and wearing matching expressions of pride. Despite their solicitous, caring words, Louis couldn’t help but be distracted by a couple he noticed standing a small distance from Harry. However, Harry was resolutely ignoring them both, choosing instead to speak with Cadmus Meliflua (something that told Louis that Harry very much did not want to talk to these people, if he preferred Cadmus’s company to theirs).

It was then that, on closer inspection, Louis noticed the physical features of the couple; the man had Harry’s height and he had thick waves of dark hair with small greying patches above his ears. The woman had startlingly green eyes, but looked very meek, with an expression that told Louis that she would rather be anywhere except surrounded by Hogwarts students. The man turned towards Louis, then, and his lip curled into a sneer, a familiarly despicable sneer.

Making his way through the crowd after greeting his parents, Louis noticed his friends huddled together. He pulled Liam, Zayn and Niall into a huge embrace which left them all laughing and jousting each other. They each hailed his performance and Niall demanded a play-by-play recall of precisely what had happened during the task. Zayn, however, seemed to be preoccupied with something over Louis’ shoulder. As Louis was explaining how they managed to fuse the pieces of the Triwizard Cup back together, Zayn leaned into him.

Surprised, Louis asked, “Everything alright?”

“I think your boy is looking for you,” Zayn said softly.

Louis felt the muscles on his face relax instantly at the sound of Zayn calling Harry ‘his boy’. Turning around sharply, he found Harry staring directly at him. Standing still as Madam Pomfrey fussed over a sharp cut along his shoulder, Harry wore a curious expression, ignoring the group of Slytherin sycophants grovelling around him. Harry’s parents seemed to have recognised a lost cause with their son and were standing nearer to the stands, speaking with Professor Slughorn.

Louis felt his pace quickening on instinct alone as he weaved through the crowds, calling apologies over his shoulder as he pushed past people. Finally, he found himself standing directly in front of Harry. Louis heard Madam Pomfrey’s short “You’re finally good to go now, Mr Styles” before Harry nodded at her once and crowded into Louis’ space. Louis’ breath caught in his throat as Harry fell into his touch and surreptitiously linked their hands.

“Can we get out of here already?” Harry whispered.

Louis nodded back towards the castle. “I’ll meet you back in our dorm in a few minutes. Just want to do something first.”

Harry’s brow creased but he nodded, making his way up the sloping grounds towards the castle. A thrill of excitement shot through Louis at the thought of Harry waiting upstairs for him. He yearned for them to hold each other, to press gentle, comforting kisses on Harry’s skin, to allow Harry to touch his burns, bruises and thin gashes with reverence, healing them in a way that magic could not. Before that, however, there was something Louis needed to do.

Marching across the grounds until he reached the side of the stands where Harry’s father was nodding vehemently at something Slughorn had said. Louis absently wondered if his plan could possibly work, or whether he was about to be cursed into oblivion by none other than Macleod Styles. He thought that the latter was most likely, though the dull ache coursing through his body from the morning’s events warned him against moving any further.

Louis ignored the persistent throbbing in his ankle (which Madam Pomfrey had mended expertly, albeit with a warning not to lean on it). For some reason, Louis didn’t want Harry’s father in any position of weakness—though Louis had the moral upper hand between them—and walked through the protest of the delicate skin pulled taut over his newly-repaired bone.

“Mr Styles,” Louis said loudly, catching both his and Slughorn’s attention. Harry’s mother’s eyes were trained on the muddy ground at her feet. “I was wondering whether I could have a word.”

Harry’s father looked between Louis and Slughorn and nodded tersely. “If you’ll excuse me, Horace,” he said, shaking Slughorn’s hand before reluctantly following Louis to a quieter side of the stands.

Louis noticed an enormous sign strewn over one of the benches, reading ‘Hogwarts To Win’. He smiled faintly. He allowed his gaze to follow the way the colours flashed green and red sporadically before turning his gaze to Harry’s father. It was immensely satisfying to see the glare he got in response to his dawdling.

Perhaps it was the fact that the indignant expression on his face was so like that of Harry, or merely that Louis possessed not one ounce of respect for the man and therefore found no reason to restrain himself, but Louis did not feel perturbed by him in the slightest. Instead, he was fuelled by a burning desire to give Harry’s father a hefty piece of his mind.

“I understand that you used to use the Cruciatus Curse on Harry,” Louis began, voice light and conversational. He watched the man’s expression turn to one of outrage. “That can earn you a life sentence in Azkaban, you know, Mr Styles. Although, with the company you seem to keep, I’d imagine you would feel right at home there with the rest of the Voldemort sympathisers and Death Eaters.”

Harry’s father’s face turned bright red and he drew himself up to astonishing height, spluttering for a response and reaching for his wand. “How dare you suggest such a thing, you despicable child. How dare you threaten me,” he spat.

Louis clenched his fingers nervously around his wand, though he didn’t truly believe that Harry’s father had the nerve to duel him in such a public setting. “I’ll threaten anyone who hurts Harry,” Louis said defiantly. He wasn’t quite sure where his daring nerve came from, but persevered nonetheless. “If you ever lay a finger on Harry, if you dream of coming near him again or associating with him in any way, I’ll make sure you end up there. Maybe the Dementors will give you a taste of your own potion.”

“As if you’d have the power to do any such things,” Mr Styles sneered.

“I don’t,” Louis said simply. “But as I recall, I’ve just won a thousand Galleons, as has your son. And, as I’m sure you very well know, money can be very persuasive in the right hands, and my parents know more than a few people in the Ministry who wouldn’t mind seeing the back of you.”

It was an outright lie, but it seemed to have the desired effect. Harry’s father glared at him, but seemed to recognise his position, a kind of self-awareness that Louis knew Harry vastly lacked. With a long, incensed stare at Louis, Macleod Styles swung his coat around himself and strode towards his wife.

Louis sighed shakily, the intensity of the man’s gaze leaving him slightly unnerved. Louis had been pleased to find that Harry’s father’s eyes were a steely shade of grey, so unlike his son’s mossy green. Suddenly, Louis felt a desperate urge to find Harry; to grip him tightly and press his face into Harry’s chest and never let go.

Waving at two Hufflepuffs he recognised from his Herbology class, who had been watching him curiously, Louis ambled back to the castle. The walk to his dormitory seemed impossibly tedious, the staircases seemingly winding every way except in the direction he desired. Finally, and with bated breath, Louis rushed passed the portrait of Edessa Skanderberg and stood outside their dormitory.

Chapter Text

Sitting on the step of the stone staircase were their cats and Louis absently realised that Harry must have sent them out of their dormitory. Abrax was chewing on something in idle satisfaction, Cassiopeia watching him with the most contemptuous look her endearing face could muster. The sight of them made Louis snort.

The possible reasons Harry may have wanted privacy set Louis’ skin alight beneath his clothes, which suddenly seemed excessive when all he wanted to do was reach Harry’s bare, pale skin. Louis pushed open the door and his gaze latched onto Harry, who was standing with a rigid back, his eyes alert and glazed.

Neither of them spoke a word, both surging forward and wrapping their arms around each other. Louis pressed his lips to Harry’s, soft and tenacious. His hands plunged into Harry’s dishevelled curls, twisting and tangling, and eliciting a low groan from Harry.

Fuck.”

Louis snorted. “Highly eloquent, Harry.”

Harry’s smirked and allowed his hands to travel across Louis’ back, his nails pressing into the fabric of Louis’ shirt and fisting it roughly. Harry’s fingertips travelled lower and sunk into Louis’ hips. He expertly dragged them beneath Louis’ shirt and along his back. Louis shivered as Harry whipped Louis’ shirt off and threw it on the floor. Louis felt Harry’s long, deft fingers sink into the bare skin covering the dimples in his back. Louis had to keep his body from trembling at the slight sting of Harry’s nails diggings into his skin and undoubtedly leaving pink lines where only Harry could see.

Tugging at the hem of Harry’s shirt impatiently, Louis quickly helped Harry discard his own. Harry observed Louis’ chest with such sedulous awe that Louis blushed beneath his gaze, fumbling with the waistband of Harry’s trousers. In a moment of wild fever, Harry’s hands grappled at Louis’ trousers and worked at unclasping the button. Louis’ skin prickled with anticipation and he leaned forward, suddenly exhausted, to rest his head on Harry’s shoulder as Harry tore his trousers off him in a single, swift movement. They fell to the floor and, as Louis stepped out of them, leaving himself in just his briefs, he felt highly exposed beneath Harry’s scrutiny.

Harry placed two fingers beneath Louis’ chin and carefully guided his head up until their eyes met. “Are you okay?” he asked, tone suddenly patient, as though he would be willing to drop everything solely to make sure that Louis felt safe and comfortable. Louis’ heart ached at Harry’s open, obliging expression.

“I’m good,” Louis said on a breath. He placed his fingers gently on Harry’s slender hips and felt a shiver wrack Harry’s body. Letting out a shaky breath, Louis fumbled at Harry’s trousers (which clung to Harry’s thighs so tightly that Louis thought they were attached by a Sticking Charm) before yanking them down with a little more aggression than he had intended.

“Over to the bed, come on,” Louis said, gently pulling Harry towards Harry’s neat bed, rather than Louis’ indistinguishable bed beneath his pile of clothes and books. Harry fell back onto the bed and, taking a moment to savour the sight of Harry sprawled across it, Louis climbed atop. He took care not to injure either of them in the process—their wounds from the final task were still tender—and rested his knees on either side of Harry’s hips. The sight below him, Harry’s eyes dark and trusting, was something that Louis wanted to etch in his thoughts forever.

Harry leaned up and pressed a kiss with a strange eloquence to Louis’ collarbone, a steady, rehearsed rhythm to the way he swiped his tongue across the slightly protruding bone and sucked insistently to leave a dark love bite.

Louis felt a scintilla of self-doubt course through him under Harry’s attention before Harry met his eye and smiled.

“So beautiful,” Harry sighed, brushing the curve of Louis’ hip. “Your skin is so delicate.”

“Didn’t stop you from clawing at my back a second ago,” Louis said, smiling down at him.

“Moment of madness,” Harry dismissed with the ghost of an apologetic smile. He grabbed Louis’ hip and placed his hand on Louis’ hard-on, palming in a slow movement and one that left Louis’ mind reeling and his skin searing hot. Heat radiated through Louis’ body and he panted, throwing his head back as Harry increased his pace. Harry splayed his hand across Louis’ lower back and brushed his fingertips over the waistband of Louis’ briefs. Glancing down, Louis noticed that Harry had raised an eyebrow in question and Louis nodded firmly. Tantalisingly slowly, Harry dragged his index finger along the waistband before allowing it to snap abruptly against Louis’ skin.

Flushed and writhing, his briefs becoming unbearably tighter, Louis sighed. “Hurry up Harry.”

“Patience is a virtue,” Harry mumbled.

“And one that neither of us possess,” Louis said, leaning down and pressing his hands on either side of Harry’s shoulders to steady himself.

Harry tutted before pulling Louis’ briefs down over his obscene bulge. Louis winced slightly at the friction before gasping sharply as the cool air struck his skin. He knotted a hand in Harry’s hair and caressed the long, tousled curls before tugging gently. He was instantly rewarded by a long, low moan as Harry’s hips jerked up erratically. Louis let out a slight whimper as his hard-on grinded against Harry’s, covered only by his briefs. Harry’s hands slid down Louis’ back to cup his arse, the pads of Harry’s finger pressing into Louis’ skin in a way that would litter bruises there. Louis groaned and pressed himself closer to Harry.

“Yours off too,” Louis said.

Harry made a low, throaty sound as Louis pressed a hand to the bulge of Harry’s briefs, palming him through the thin fabric. The hands around Louis’ arse tightened as Louis let out a hot, shuddering breath as a shiver wracked his body. Harry smoothed his hand over the curve of Louis’ ass and Louis’ movements halted. He let out a short breathy moan, pressing his finger into Harry’s love handles.

Harry groaned impatiently and wrapped his hand around Louis’ tender wrist, pressing his lips to the red mark that the rope left. “Come on,” he whispered.

Louis nodded and pulled the briefs over Harry’s thighs until they settled around his knees. Harry’s dick curved against his stomach, heavy and throbbing. Louis shifted back until his thighs bracketed Harry’s knees, revelling in the way Harry’s skin was already glistening with a light layer of sweat. Louis leaned down and pressing a close-mouthed kiss to the head of Harry’s dick before licking along the slit.

“Oh, fuck,” Harry groaned.

Louis felt heat prickle up the back of his neck as Harry’s hand wrapped around the back of Louis’ neck. Sliding his flat tongue from the base to the top of the heat, Louis felt Harry’s throbbing pulse beneath him. He glanced up and made eye contact with Harry, blinking slowly before dragging his tongue over his lips and sliding them down Harry’s shaft, leaving his tongue flat and hollowing his cheeks. Harry moaned approvingly.

Louis moved up and down, speeding up as Harry made small, thrusting motions to meet him. The sensation left Louis feeling light-headed and desperate for more. The only thoughts in Louis’ mind revolved around Harry’s skin, marred with thin scars and bruises, Harry’s low, quiet moans and the way he never seemed to take his eyes off Louis the entire time. Trying to restrain himself by gently sucking on the head, Louis’ hands glided up and down Harry’s thighs.

“Louis, look at me,” Harry sighed. “Please. Want to see your eyes.”

For some reason, Harry’s insistent tone made Louis’ heart swell. He lifted his gaze to find Harry staring open-mouthed down at him, nostrils flared and eyes dark. Louis stroked along Harry’s shaft before lowering his head again and taking Harry fully into his mouth in one swift movement.

“Pull off,” Harry groaned in an impossibly rough voice that told Louis that he very much wanted Louis to continue sucking him off. “Want to wait… come later… been waiting for this so fucking long.”

Louis raised his head and crawled over Harry, admiring the way Harry came apart beneath him. He leaned into Harry, tilting his head and brushing his lips against Harry’s ear. “Then get to it.”

As though taken by an invisible force, Harry switched their positions in one swift movement, laying Louis gently beneath him and panting harshly. Louis caught a wild glint in Harry’s eyes as they roamed him skin. Infuriatingly impatient by their slow pace, Louis threw his head back against the pillow. He panted as he lifted himself up to grind against Harry with a broken whimper.

“Fuck, Louis,” Harry groaned.

Their movements grew rougher, desperate as they reached out to touch and caress each other’s skin. Harry’s fingers, no longer as tentative, dragged across Louis’ lips and Louis closed his lips around them. Harry let out a shuddering breath that set Louis’ skin alight and, with surprising confidence, shallowly thrusting them in Louis’ mouth. He stared at Louis with hooded lips, something that spurred Louis on. Eventually Harry pulled them out, staring at Louis with disbelief.

Louis tilted his neck against the pillow and sighed. “Harry, fuck, want your finger inside me,” Louis said. He glanced up at the sound of Harry’s moan, low and desperate.

“Yeah, yeah, of course… fuck,” Harry said distractedly. He grappled for his wand and, pointing it at his fingers, muttered a lubrication charm that coated them until they were dripping. Harry shifted back on the bed and Louis heaved himself up and turned around, lifting his hips obligingly and supporting himself on his forearms. Louis felt exposed and vulnerable in a way that would usually elicit a heavy weight of panic in his chest, but Harry’s hand tracing a languid, senseless pattern on his hip soothed him.

Without warning, Louis felt searing hot air against him and he let out an uneven breath as it sent a thrill of goosebumps across his skin. Harry’s slick, wet tongue traced his hole teasingly. Louis whimpered (though he would later staunchly deny ever doing such a thing) as Harry sucked hard against his rim. His back arched into Harry’s touch and a shiver wracked his body.

“Harry,” Louis sighed, his voice raspy and high. “Need you to fuck me already.”

A finger edged around Louis’ rim and pressed inside of him up to the knuckle. Though initially strange, Louis felt his rigid muscles relax beneath Harry’s touch and he felt a low moan escape his lips. Harry added a second finger They pushed in and out, crooking to brush Louis’ prostate ever so gently, leaving Louis desperately close to the edge. He pressed back against the sensation, seeking more.

“Think you can wait?” Harry grunted. “Wait until I’m inside you?”

Louis nodded erratically, unable to trust his voice not to whimper a response.

Harry drew his fingers out, brushing across Louis’ hole carelessly and leaving lube to drip out of it. Louis turned onto his back and caught sight of Harry’s face, shining with a sheen of sweat, his eyes fervid and dark.

Catching Louis’ eye fiercely, Harry nodded once. “Are you ready?”

“Yeah,” Louis breathed. His skin was searing hot and more sensitive than ever, responsive beneath Harry’s touch and his only thoughts revolved around the tight, tingling sensation in his stomach.

Harry pressed inside him, stretching Louis as he thrust inside him, hard and relentless, and enticing moans from Louis’ throat.

“Please don’t stop,” Louis said on a breath. “I’m close… so close, Harry.”

Louis watched with bated breath as Harry’s eyes narrowed, his brow covered in a sheen-like sweat. Harry panted above him, elbows locking in place to support himself above Louis. From this angle, Louis could appreciate every mark and scar inscribed in Harry’s skin, his every curve and crevice as he turned and his muscles clenched from the strain of supporting himself. Louis could admire the fierce determination with which Harry approached everything—the familiar deep gleam in his eyes, his concentration and the sharp pants that escaped his parted lips.

As his orgasm approached, Louis felt his stomach tightening as a sudden surge of heat set his skin alight. Harry latched his lips onto Louis’ nipple and Louis cried out as he came, Harry stroking him roughly through it. Louis’ body went rigid to the point where he twitched helplessly beneath Harry’s touch as he rode out his orgasm.

“I’m about to come, Louis,” Harry said through gritted teeth. “Can I…?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Louis sighed, lifting his hips to meet Harry’s thrust. Louis grappled for Harry’s wand and directed a protective spell over them both. The sight of Louis using his wand aroused a low, almost whining sound from Harry’s parted lips.

Glancing up, Louis caught his eye. “Come inside me… please.”

With that, Harry came with a low cry, pushing inside Louis at a languid pace, allowing the moment to pass them both. He slowed until his thrusts became shallow and weak and Harry collapsed on the bed, his body half smothering Louis. Harry let out a long, low groan, muffled against Louis’ skin and sending a ticklish reverberation through him.

“Get off me, you tosspot,” Louis groaned. “You sound like a Blast-Ended Skrewt during mating season.”

Harry grunted into Louis’ shoulder.

Louis pressed his fingertips along the curve of Harry’s waist and tickled the taut skin covering his hip bone. Harry jerked away with a half-exasperated giggle, a sound that he too would later deny ever making. Succeeding in his plan (and revelling in Harry’s ridiculous giggle) Louis managed to heave himself from underneath Harry until they lay side-by-side, both covered in a light sheen as well as tender cuts and tenuous bandages, exhausted.

“I saw your parents a few minutes ago,” Harry said conversationally. He let his hand fall across Louis’ waist and traced vague patterns along his skin. “I thanked your mother for Pliny.”

Louis hummed thoughtfully. “I’m sure she appreciated that.”

“It was hard to tell. She’s just like you, you know; difficult to understand what she’s thinking when she speaks to you.”

“Because you’re an open book, Styles.”

Harry let out a sharp huff of laughter. “I’m pretty sure she knows.”

“Knows what?” Louis asked, covering Harry’s hand with his own and idly watching the way Harry’s fingers fluttered and caressed his skin, as though it was second nature to him.

“Knows that I like you,” Harry admitted quietly. “That I like you far more than I should be allowed to.”

Louis realised quite quickly that, though Harry’s voice was quiet, it had none of the vulnerability that often coloured his tone when he exposed a private piece of himself. Instead, it was defiantly firm, resolute in a way that suggested that Harry didn’t think Louis would be able to repeat those same sentiments.

“Why do you think that?” Louis asked suddenly. “Why do you think that you shouldn’t allow yourself to like me.”

Harry shot Louis an incredulous look, imploring him to understand. “You know perfectly well why I can’t. It would be… selfish of me, imprudent to even consider anything beyond… anything beyond this.”

Louis’ heart sunk in his chest. Harry couldn’t envision a future with him, couldn’t even consider the thought of a proper relationship with him. “By this you mean the Triwizard Tournament?”

“No,” he sighed. “By this I mean outside of Hogwarts, after we both complete our N.E.W.T.s and graduate. You’ll graduate near top of the year with a line of suitors half a mile long and your entire future planned out.”

“Firstly, I’m not sure there are enough gay wizards within my age range to make up half a mile. Secondly, I wouldn’t give a fuck even if there were because I want to be with you. And finally,” Louis said with a small, tentative smile, “I’m, not nearly as obstinate as you think I am. I’ve told you before; I don’t want a typical future like my parents, Harry.”

Louis watched the way Harry’s eyes met his own, unguarded and scrupulous. Louis smiled, tilting his body towards Harry and refusing to look away from Harry’s unyielding gaze. “I don’t want to settle down right away,” he said quietly. “We’ve got so much time ahead of us and nothing… there’s nothing standing in our way right now; not what other people think or how they might react or what anyone expects of either of us. I don’t have anything that I can properly think about except that I want to spend all of that time ahead of us with you.

“It might not seem… conventional, but, sometimes, two people fit. And we just have to trust ourselves that it feels right.”

“And honest,” Harry said on a whisper, his voice cracking over the world. He dropped his gaze, allowing it to linger on his wringing hands. His face was bloodless and devoid of any façade; Louis saw only raw vulnerability and it made his heart twinge in his chest.

“With you… everything feels right and honest,” Harry continued. “Like you know me better than I can even begin to understand myself.”

Anxiously glancing at Harry from the corner of his eye, Louis felt his pulse quicken. Before he could register the look of pure, unadulterated awe on Harry’s face, searing lips pressed against his own, prying them open. Louis gasped against Harry’s lips, reaching out to hold Harry’s face against his. Louis cherished the single moment of stillness that followed their smiles as he caught Harry’s eye, his heart full.

And that was it. That was them; a rush, a heartbeat and intrinsically linked hands. They were together, and they were loved.