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A Generation Of Dancers

Chapter Text

 

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"The truth is rarely pure, and never simple"

 

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“Piss off.” Louis snaps, and rolls his eyes.

“Wanker.” Harry says pointedly, his face rearranging to something resembling an angry cat. Harry looks at him and, Louis isn’t blind; Harry is one fit bloke. Simply serving to frame his wide eyes, his eyelashes flick up to the sky like swooping crow’s wings. His eyes resemble the green of wild meadow, fern-green fanning out from around his pupil, shades of pine and juniper fencing around the outside, a harsh contrast to the white of his eye. Unfurling around the tips of his ears and hugging the nape of his neck, his curls fall in clusters of large corkscrews. But Louis isn’t stupid, he knows that Harry is a total wanker underneath all that prettiness. He’s the epitome of don’t judge a book by its cover in Louis’ eyes.

Louis had joined the school at the beginning of the year, fresh-faced with pink cheeks—ready to conquer the world. He had been the star of the show; his Father pulling up in this year’s flashy model of the latest sports car and stepping out with shiny new oxfords onto dim grey gravel. His luggage was carried by his driver to his room, a room that he was going to share with three other boys. Three new potential mates. So, he had kissed his Father goodbye on the cheek and had gone back up to his room in anticipation of his soon-to-be friends. Cheeks burning with excitement, he had begun to unpack his clothes from his biggest suitcase onto his bed. The excitement had not lasted, as five minutes later a boy with green eyes and curly brown hair had promptly arrived, barrelling past Louis’ extended hand and hopeful eyes. Instead, the boy had demanded for his bags to be put on Louis’ bed and for Louis to “just be a sweetheart and move them to that bed over there”—"this one?”—"yes, of course, you thought this one was yours!? “—All whilst men and women lugged up suitcase after suitcase filled with more than just clothes, as Louis had discovered later that day. Louis had come back that afternoon to new pink curtains blocking out the sun, obnoxious plants which did nothing other than collect dust and alarming amounts of trinkets and knick-knacks littered on every solid surface, including Louis’ own bedside table. But of course, he couldn’t do anything about the trinket problem as— “Sweetheart, don’t complain, you have the prettiest one, I made sure of it,”—Harry had batted his eyes at him whilst a bear with a marred smile sat on Louis’ counter and Zayn and Liam’s areas had been left entirely clear, other than one house plant placed delicately by the door next to Liam’s bed. Harry had clearly detested Louis from day one, and for some un-announced reason that was probably never going to change or ever be explained.

 

It’s now October, eight weeks since Louis started and—in all honesty—he’s fitted in seamlessly, as though he’s never not been at the school. The boys in his dorm, Zayn and Liam, get along with him well, often asking him to sit with them at lunch and even on the weekends where they all sit down to watch a film. Louis quickly figured out that they have a thing for comics, in particular—Marvel and DC—except Zayn prefers DC and Liam well, doesn’t. So, often, when Louis gets back to the dorm on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday evening, they are in a full-blown-war, fighting over whether to watch Wonder Woman for the hundredth time or whether to watch Thor—Louis always says he doesn’t care, being the Switzerland in the equation—so he just lets them argue until they stop. (In all honesty, he would prefer Thor because, if he’s being honest with himself—Chris Hemsworth is a God himself, and the biceps, come on.) It’s ironic, them being such good friends with Harry when you look at them; curled up with each other on the sofa at the end of the day, sweats covered in doodles from Zayn’s ever-present Sharpie and whispering quietly to one another whilst the film plays in the background, often ending up with them ignoring it entirely; funny, considering the amount of time it takes for them to decide on one. They’re quiet and domestic, a strong contrast to Harry, who sits around the dorm in a rainbow of suits. He even wears them on the occasion where he deigns to sit with them and watch a film, or when he goes off to next-door, to the five boys that sleep there, where they play music until ungodly hours in the morning. Louis isn’t quite sure what Harry does in there, he presumes that he just sits and watches as they practice; a hawk, surveying its domain. But it’s not like he cares what Harry gets up to—no, of course not—he’s just curious. Harry in his ever-present suits, and his weird health smoothies he tries to convince the other boys to try because—"darlings, don’t knock it till you try it,” and his constant violin playing, and his permanent anti-Louis state. And Louis—well, he could have brushed off Harry’s pettiness without a lick of annoyance, if it weren’t for the dreams.

 

The dreams have been happening more and more often, Harry and Louis seeming to live their lives accompanied by a broken record. The first dream had occurred two weeks into the term, Louis waking up sweating, uncomfortable, and with Harry’s name ghosting his lips. The same damn dreams happening again and again. In his dreams they’re Harry&Louis, incomplete without the other. It’s them in love, them in each other’s arms, them kissing. The list could go on, and Louis can’t stand it. In school, they’re always seeming to piss each other off, just enough for Louis to cause a scene and for them to both get sent to the headmistress’ office where they get a lecture about the seven school policies and then get sent to isolation—with each other—for the rest of the day. Why the school thinks putting them together in a room is a good idea, Louis will never know.

 

“Y’know, it would be quite simple if you just—"

“Could you please shut the fuck up for one second.” Louis grumbles, furrowing his brows.

Harry sits there, his mouth gaping for a few seconds, but then he shuts up. He’s on the floor, in a somehow dignified heap and humming the final few bars of a concerto—Louis presumes—under his breath. The key is B minor, leaving a melancholy atmosphere in the hall as the last hints of the notes fade away.

Stuffing his clammy hands into his jean’s pockets, Louis huffs; leaning back against the wall next to the Headmistress’ office. His eyes are set on a small patch of something on the floor; a dark, seemingly sticky substance that the cleaners haven’t managed to get rid of yet. Perhaps they never will, seeing as the cleaners at the school no longer seem to exist, or do their job properly.

This must be what comes with school budget cuts and a loss of staff, Louis thinks to himself as he tears his eyes away from the patch to examine Harry. It’s a funny thing, really; this change in the school’s attitude towards—well—everything, in the past few years. There’s been whispers of the school being “out-dated,” something Louis thinks is clear as soon as he first arrived on the grounds at the start of the school year. To put it simply; the governors should already be six feet under, the trees look as though they have existed since the dinosaurs resided on the planet and Louis is fairly sure that the policies and rules have been in place since Henry VIII beheaded his second wife. The school’s main-structure itself is probably—no—most definitely just as old as the bed-rock it sits on. With tall single-pane windows, (meaning all the boys freeze their tits off in the winter), ornate gates that sit proudly at the top of the drive and clipped pine hedges that line the long, straight drive, and wrap around three sides to the building, and surround the back of a fountain that contains goldfish, reeds and gargoyles, spouting water from their hands, their wings, and their eyes. The bricks—no—rocks that the school is made from were probably being put up when they were building Stonehenge and, is that—? Louis had shaken the urge to shudder the first time that he saw it. He’d seen a bloody graveyard sitting to the left, a few hundred yards away. The graves, from a distance, had shone under the sun but a few were shadowed by a vast weeping willow that five boys were sitting under. A blonde one had been guffawing at what a boy with sandy curls was saying animatedly whilst he plucked at the guitar he was holding; the faint tickle of a familiar tune had resonated in Louis’ ears. In very short terms, Meyarch Boys Preparatory School is old, and because of this “old-ness,” the funds have been dripping away slowly throughout the years. Except this year the drips have filled the sink, and made it overflow, and soon, there won’t be any more drips left to give.

Harry continues to sit there in his quiet paradise, seemingly not plagued by thoughts like Louis is. So, Louis continues to watch—not creepily—just with curiosity, at the boy in-front of him.

In Harry’s silence he seems kind, Louis remarks to himself. He can see where the wrinkles in his face will appear when he’s older, next to his eyes and in-between his eyebrows that currently hold a whisper of the line that there will be. Where his laugh lines will fall into his cheekbones after years of laughter; crinkled and worn, but happy. He notes how his hair curls around his face in dancing ringlets that have gone slightly frizzy throughout the day, a wild sense of calm permeating the world around him like a happy swarm of bees. Or, in Louis’ case, a great big swarm of angry bees, with their stingers constantly pointed at him.

The pebbledash of the wall behind him starts to dig small dots into his back; peppering dimple-like holes all over his skin, tiny but oh so annoying. This, however, is not what makes Louis frown; he’s frowning because of these stupid bloody dreams, dreams that he thought only he was having. Clearly not. He can tell, judging by the look on Harry’s face earlier; that he is having them too. The dreams where they’re so in love, it’s painful to even think about being apart; like they’re two magnets of different charges, two halves of one whole. Currently, they both want to be apart as often as possible; like two magnets of the same charge, constantly repelling each other. But Louis knows that Harry has felt the way they just fit, their legs perfectly intertwined under sheets, he knows that Harry’s full lips fit perfectly against his own when they kiss, and he knows Harry is a pretty fucking amazing kisser (of course, he would never admit this to a living soul, but his ‘experience’ doesn’t lie). He knows that Harry must be just as confused as he is, waking up with the other boy’s name on his lips. A murmur that escapes; a quiet “Lou” or “Haz” floating through the air at ungodly hours in the morning whilst the other boys are fast asleep. Names whispered even though they’re normally shouted, filled with adoration instead of angst. They both lie there, breathing heavily and ignoring one another; almost as if, if they pretend that it never happens, perhaps it never does. But Louis knows that Harry Styles and his perfect curls, with his perfect grades, with his perfect family, filled with perfect people, is having the dreams too. He knows this, but he’s still pissed because Harry fucking Styles gets away with everything, crashing and charming his way through life with his stupidly perfect smile.

“Alright.” The lady mutters under her breath from the other side of the doorway, “Come in boys.”

Harry is quick to jump to his feet from his hunched position on the floor. Seeming to always want to be the best; or, at least, better than Louis. He gets to the door before Louis can even think about removing his back from the lumpy wall. What a bloody people pleaser; Louis reasons, face scrunching in discomfort as he peels himself off of the lumps of the pebbledash.

“Hello, Ms. Camberwell.” Harry says as Louis makes his way over to the door. Harry brushes the wrinkles out of his—most likely—freshly pressed trousers, with a wide smile plastered on his face and his hands bunched by his sides. A stark contrast to Louis’ own getup. His right shoelace is undone, throwing his un-ironed suit into another level of unkempt, with his shirt hanging out and his sleeves rolled up, missing a blazer whilst his tie hangs loosely around his neck; most likely increasing the amount of disapproval that’s about to be directed at him from the headmistress. It’s not even like they have a proper uniform; they’re in sixth-form now but the rules require all boys to be dressed smartly at all times, when representing the school, so Louis’ mess of an outfit isn’t ideal. He doesn’t care now however, as he just wants to get out of this mess as soon as possible and return to his normal, boring, loveless daily routine. He’d preferably like to stay at the school however, even though it’s in the middle of nowhere, on-top of a massive hill that dwarfs its surroundings. Like bloody Hogwarts, but in Cornwall.

Peering into her office, it’s easy to see why she’s a headteacher. Her file cabinets are labelled from A through to Z and a pair of purple-rimmed glasses are sat atop her nose. They seem to pinch it; as if when they’re removed, the marks left would stay for hours. The purple glasses are one object out of many others of the same colour, the room being plagued with shades of lilac, lavender and violet. She’s most definitely a “purple person;” those who enjoy purple far more than the average human being, resulting in about ninety-nine percent of their possessions being a shade of that particular colour of the rainbow. Not only is her office infected with purple, it’s all overly-organised; like a library for files, but with an overly obsessive librarian with too much time on their hands. All listed and catalogued just in case a kid (heaven forbid) goes missing, or worse, has to be expelled. A large mug of black filter coffee resides beside her, finished, and left on a mat. Something that, to Louis’ mind, has always seemed stupid. Why have coffee when you could have tea? Nonsensical.

Louis grunts his greeting out as she gestures for them to sit in two plastic chairs situated in front of her desk. They’re a little small, having obviously not taken their sizes into account, or having been designed for a class of toddlers. This has resulted in both the boys having their knees tucked right up under their chins, curled up into a sitting foetus position.

“So, you boys must know why you’re here?” she peers down her nose through her spectacles. How patronising. Louis looks over to Harry to see him nodding along, bottom lip tucked into his teeth. He rolls his eyes; to Louis, Harry is a bird, although he isn’t quite sure which kind yet. He could be an eagle, cold and calculating, watching everyone and everything unfold from afar and only pouncing when he feels it’s necessary. A songbird could also be an apt comparison: strikingly beautiful songs reflecting in Harry’s strikingly beautiful exterior, but Louis knows that with a short snap of his fingers, he would fly away, and with a calculated snap of his wrists, he could fall still. He knows that even though Harry is supposedly perfect on the outside, it’s all fake smiles and stone eyes and it really wouldn’t be that hard to make a few moves to reach checkmate. If he could just get his knight into the right place, Harry’s reign on his little kingdom would be over and the walls he’s built could come crumbling down. He just hasn’t quite figured out how to play the right pieces, yet.

Louis may hate the lady, but he knows how to play the game; he knows to nod along to all the right phrases, hum in agreement to things that, in all reality, he couldn’t give less of a flying fuck about and he knows to never, ever, disagree to the person in charge. Or it all goes up in flames; sometimes, quite literally. She tells them that “Louis, you really need to start keeping your fists to yourself, they’re not doing much use in the drywall of your dorm,”—and— “Harry, stop pestering him, yes—the boys in the dorm below you told us they heard some sort of skirmish going on in your room”—What Ms. Camberwell doesn’t know, is that it was Louis shouting at Harry for playing the violin again, whilst Harry had sat there in silence and continued to play. So—naturally—Louis had gone straight up to Harry and pulled his arm back and proceeded to punch the wall next to his head, hard. His hand had brushed through a few of Harry’s wild curls and Harry had just stood there as still as before, playing the final few notes of the page. He had played the entire piece flawlessly—but no-one had to know—because Beethoven at eight in the morning is uncalled for, even if Zayn and Liam have already left to get breakfast and even if Louis should have been awake an hour ago. He’s surprised that they weren’t called in earlier today, but it’s most likely that a teacher heard rumours of them fighting again during lunch in the lunch hall, where the majority of school gossip happens. So, he doesn’t disagree and he and Harry leave twelve minutes later, with promises of a detention on Thursday and isolation for the rest of the day.

 

Seeing as it’s the end of lunch, they make their way over to the Isolation Rooms, bags thrown over their shoulders. They walk in silence, their footfalls being the only noise around them. The quiet is broken moments later, by a faint tinkle of a piano from the floor above them. Harry seems to nod in agreement—most likely to the song choice—and promptly turns into the open door of the isolation room.

“Okay, I’m sure you don’t need a lecture, you’ve both been here many times before.” Louis rolls his eyes as the teacher proceeds to point at a desk next to a window, “Harry, I’m gonna have you sit over there.” The man then points to another table, a few meters to the left, “Louis you can sit there.”

They make their way over to their desks and sit down, “Okay boys, get out your work for this afternoon.” He coughs before proceeding, “If you need anything, raise your hand and I’ll come over.”

They both nod, busying themselves in their studies and the teacher goes to a desk at the front of the room to start to mark the papers.

 

The rest of the day passes in an almost-silence, with only the occasional scratch of a pen or flip of a page to break it.

 

The man sitting at the front of their room stands up, checking his watch “Alright boys, time is up.”

He shuffles some paper and hits them on the desk, as though that would somehow get them to leave quicker. There’s a shuffle, and Harry is there by the door, leather knap-sack in hand. He’s wearing a rather plain black suit today, Louis remarks; until his eyes travel down and meet red stripes that look like ribbons, running up his calves and fading away just above the knee. The man at the front—Mr. Martin, Louis thinks his name is—coughs, looking at Louis and motioning to the door.

“Oh, yeah, sorry Sir.” He clutches at paper, glasses askew on his nose as he follows Harry though the doorway.

 

Upon entering the dorm—after trailing after Harry all the way back from isolation—Louis is accosted by Niall, one of the five boys from next-door and co-lead singer and guitarist of 5 Seconds Of Summer, his and the other four boy’s band. Louis has heard them perform (how could he not, their music seems to never end; echoes of it floating through the wall at all hours of the day). Their music isn’t half-bad, on the contrary, they’re great. However, they do struggle to stay on the same song for very long, meaning that they have hundreds of incomplete demos left on CDs and tapes. They also have the issue of being a group of perfectionists, something that Louis can’t quite grasp, when you take their lack or organisation into consideration.

“Mate,” Niall says, grabbing Louis and shaking his shoulders, “We’ve done it!!”

His grin is bigger than the Cheshire cat’s, if that’s even possible. The other boys are making a cacophony of whoops and cheers from the other room, permeated by occasional drum beats and guitar chords.

“Done what exactly, Niall?” Louis shouts over the raucous of the other room, still clutching at his books and paper, glasses falling further down his nose.

“We’ve got a gig, on Friday, at the pub. Y’know, the one with the ostrich head comin’ out of the wall?”

“The what—?” Louis splutters, an analysis sheet on Antigone falling to the floor in a soft, sweeping motion like a feather.

“Yeah, we want you boys to come n’ see us perform,” Niall has let go of his shoulders by now, having hooked his arm around an unsuspecting Liam who has just arrived in the doorway. Liam’s face is one of confusion at the situation, but he’s not surprised. They all know that Niall goes wherever he wants to go, often finding him in their beds, (never Harry’s,) playing guitar and waiting for them to arrive so they can watch a film, or sneak out, normally ending up at their cove, or at a random pub. On one occasion, they had woken up after a particularly wild night in a field of yellow. None of them had actually known how they had got there, just that the night before was wild and that Harry was no longer with them. However, when they got back to the dorms, they found him listening to Waltz of The Flowers on a scratchy record, with a suspiciously yellow flower tucked into the button-hole of his yet another suit-jacket.

 

Louis marches over to his un-made bed in the corner and unceremoniously dumps all his stuff on it, discarding his glasses on his bed-side table. Rubbing at his eyes, he surveys the room as he sits down on his bed. The mattress squeaks as he lowers himself, a clear indication that Harry had bestowed him the worst bed in the dorm.

Harry is by his own bed now, unpacking his violin and starting to wipe it down. It’s like a ceremony, this routine. Harry wipes it down in silence when he gets back every day; even when he doesn’t use it. He starts by getting the cloth and brushing the neck of the instrument, around and under the strings, removing any and all dust. Louis almost feels bad watching because it’s one of those few times that Harry looks calm. He continues his routine, removing the shoulder-rest from the case with his deft fingers once he’s done cleaning the violin. Fitting the shoulder rest onto it, he sets down the instrument, now getting out the bow and preparing that too, tightening the hair and rosining it. Even with the raucous around him, this is the only time of the day where he actually seems at peace with the world around him and not replacing himself with masks, donned only to please others. He leans down to close the case as Calum strides into the room, demanding that “We should sneak out tonight, and go to the cove.” Harry pauses for a second, then continues to close the case and tune the violin. The room falls into silence. Louis finds it odd, that for someone that is so eccentric and—well—weird, that Harry can so easily grasp the respect of a room. Calum stands there awkwardly as the other three boys of the band, accompanied by Zayn, march into the room, about to ask Calum if they’re ready to go yet. They aren’t.

 

Having just tuned his violin Harry places it back into its case just as carefully as he removed it. It’s confusing, him not playing it after tuning but, —Louis assumes— it’s a therapeutic routine for him rather than a necessary action.  None of them know for sure, so they all quietly grab their trunks and towels from their drying rack in the hallway and wait for Harry to finish.

 

“Right lads!” he clasps his hands together then inclines down to his bed to snatch up his blazer jacket deposited there, “Ready to go?”

A large grin slides over Niall’s face as he lets out a large “Whoop!”

 

Harry strides out, grabbing his own trunks and towel and leaving the rest of the boys to trail out of the room after him. They chatter all the way down to the cove—only a ten-minute walk on a thin gravelly path, handrailed by spindly trees with wide leaves and Rock Sea Spurries, a clear indication of their proximity to the sea. When they get closer, the cool, salty air washes over Louis, leaving him to bask in the last of the day’s sun. It’s one of his favourite things about Cornwall, with its rugged coastline and soft breeze. The momentary calm is soon shattered by Ashton (the drummer for the band), who slings his arm over Louis’ shoulders.

“Hey, Ash.” Louis says, eyebrows raising, as he looks over at the boy.

“Forget You or Just The Way You Are?”

“Hmm—?”

“Song-wise, mate, which one should we start with?” They’re still walking along the trail, bodies bumping together awkwardly as it gets thinner. They pass Harry, who seems to be crouching down and looking at some small magenta flowers at the side of the path.

“I think Forget You is a pretty strong one, but why aren’t you doing an original? I thought you’d finished She Looks So Perfect?”

“Well yeah, but Niall wanted it to be perfect and—”

Louis rolls his eyes; for someone so brash most of the time, Niall really is a perfectionist. He looks back to where Harry is still absentmindedly examining the flowers and lowers his voice, “Just tell him that you’re doing it, or I’ll tell Harry that Niall dropped his toothbrush in the loo last Tuesday.”

Ashton’s eyes light up, “He did?!” mouth popping open into a perfect ‘o,’ flicking his head round to look at Harry.

“Yup,” Louis replies, popping the ‘p’ sound, “Saw it right in-front of my very own eyes. Went right in there, and there was Nialler, standing there, staring into the bowl with a little pink toothbrush at the bottom. Proper mortified when he saw me walk in on him mentally preparing himself to stick his hand down the U-bend.”

Ashton cackles, his laughter echoing in the trees around them. He un-slings his arm from around Louis and runs forward to where Michael and Calum are trying to convince Niall and Luke that they should all get matching tattoos.

“My Ma’ would kill me.” — “just get it somewhere where she won’t see it, Niall.” — “She’s got a sixth sense she does, Greg came home last summer with a stick and poke and he was grounded for a week!” — “Wasn’t that to do with him shaving the cat? “ — “Details, Michael, details. I’m not getting one, end of.” — ” We get it Horan; you’re scared of needles. But Luke?? What’s your deal, man?”

Luke is walking with Niall’s arm round his shoulders, his sandy hair bouncing with each step.

“Yeah, Luke. What about that tattoo?” Ashton questions, clapping Luke’s shoulder. Grinning, he leans over Luke to Niall who pales when Ashton whispers conspicuously in his ear.

Niall glances at Harry; who is still at the top of the path and tucking a flower into his hair. Before Niall can back out, Louis clears his throat, “Lads, Nialler here has got something to say to you!”

Niall stares at him and Louis winks back, walking to where the boys have come to a standstill.

“Right,” Niall sniffs, “I think She Looks So Perfect— I think we should perform it, you know, for the gig.”

He raises an eyebrow, (something that Zayn must regret teaching him) and looks pointedly at Louis; as if to say, happy now? Louis smirks back at him as Ashton grabs Niall’s head in two hands and sends a smashing kiss to his cheek. They all grin, a coy smile even breaking its way onto Niall’s face before it turns into an outright beamer of a smile.

“Come on boys!” Liam shouts from the bottom of the path, his hands cupped around his mouth. Zayn stands next to him; lips upturned, as he watches the boys run down to where they’re standing. Their heavy breaths mix together in the air, drowning out the noise of the waves rolling over the sand.

Louis looks back up the path when he reaches them—expecting Harry to be following them down—but he’s nowhere to be seen. As he looks back to the beach, Zayn catches his eye, “Where is he?” Louis mouths, “No clue.”  Zayn mouths back, lips silently shaping around his words. Louis looks back up the cliff looking for Harry again and when he turns back round, he’s met with Zayn standing right next to him.

“Don’t worry mate, I’m sure he’s there somewhere.”

“I wasn’t worrying,” Louis snaps back, “I was just curious, I could’ve sworn he was there a minute ago.”

Zayn shrugs, “Whatever you say,” his arm finding his way round Louis’ head and pulling him into a headlock.

“Gerroff” Louis grumbles, his hair resembling a bird’s nest.

“Sorry, what was that louis, I couldn’t hear you?” Zayn smirks, releasing him.

“Get off, you knob.” Louis grins at him; both bursting into laughter, the topic of Harry well and truly swept under the carpet.

Louis tries to fix his hair, pinching his fingers and pushing it into a swooping fringe to get it out of his eyes and try to salvage it into an acceptable look. He sighs in defeat, and walks over to the nearest rock-stack, taking his suit jacket off. The other boys follow, quickly throwing their trunks on and discarding the rest of their suits on the rocks.

“Fuck,” Ashtons says, picking his trousers back up with a disgusted look on his face, “I dropped my pants in a rock pool.”

Trousers, Ashton.” Louis reprimands.

The rest of them snort but then proceed to check whether they’ve got their own suits dirty. Their chatter drowns the noise of the waves to a small whisper, the whistle of the wind into a quiet hum in Louis’ ears. He stands there, watching the sea in its irregular regularity, the way it brings chaos in such a predictable manner. Seabirds dip and dive into the air currents, Gannets gracefully plunging into the water as the Kittiwakes cower from a Goshawk circling overhead. The waves paint swirling patterns in the water and brush curving lines into the sand as the tide starts to retreat, seeming to follow the sun on its descent to the horizon. The boys laze around for a while, soaking up the sun for as long as it allows them too, before it’s glow finally disappears for the night.

“Last one to the sea has to do all the laundry for a week!” Louis suddenly shouts, leaping up and dashing towards where the waves are currently crashing down into the sand.

The other boys yell and shriek as they race each other, sand flying up behind them as they try to beat one another. Their bare feet dig into the sand, leaving deep footprints littered across the cove.

A loud “WHOOP” is echoed through the cove as Louis bellyflops into the sea foam.

“Bloody hell that’s freezing!” Louis exclaims, hair plastered to his face, along with a bright smile. Niall grins back at him and wiggles his eyebrows as he turns and nods to where Luke is still running towards them, arriving moments later a few meters behind them and only ankles deep in the water.

“Oi Luke, mind doing my laundry for the next week?” Niall yells.

“No way in hell am I doing your laundry, Horan,” Luke says, running his hand through his hair, “What about Harry? He’s not here yet.”

“Come off it, I love him but he scares the piss out of me.” Niall grumbles, “He’d probably dye all my shirts pink or summat.”

“Need to add some colour to that wardrobe Nialler.” Louis smirks, his eyes glinting from the idea of a grumpy Niall head-to-toe in pink. Harry’s been known to do similar things, calling them his upgrades. Endearing.

 

Right?

 

Wrong.

 

They stay in the water until the sun finally begins to dip below the horizon and Michael declares his arse is “freezing off.” The walk back is picturesque, passing walled gardens and spindly woodland that seems to glow red in the sunset. Small dry-stone walls line the thin, rocky path, falling away at points to reveal deer paths and badger dens. Midges dance around their heads, flitting away as the boy’s hands appear to swat at them, and coming back when the hands leave. (Insects really are one of the only downsides of living in the countryside, Louis remarks.) They trek back up to school; their blazers and towels around their shoulders and their trunks in their hands, all thoughts of Harry gone from Louis’ mind.

 

As they reach their dorms however, he is standing there and leaning against a doorframe; greeting the boys whilst holding a bunch of flowers with a singular Achillea placed behind his ear. The flowers in his hand are bright brooms of magenta, ochre and scarlet; like stationary fireworks condensed into nature. The garish colours clash, but somehow also manage to look as though they belong together in some sort of shambolic harmony. They come to a halt as Harry begins to speak.

“Alright?” Harry nods at them all, flowers grasped tightly in his right hand whilst his left lifts up to flick at his nose. Louis has noticed that he does that a lot when he doesn’t know what to say, when he’s not filling the silence with strings or brass, or long convoluted speeches. It seems that Harry gets nervous a lot more than other people realise, no-one bothering to look through his masked demeanour to the boy underneath.

They nod in unison, stood still and looking at him.

“Ah yes, okay!” he exclaims, peeling himself from where he seems to be stuck to the frame. He looks to be surprised with a sudden realisation that he’s carrying the flowers in his hand; a well put-together charade, Louis thinks. It’s not easy to see through it, but when you finally figure it out, it’s clear that Harry’s smiles don’t quite reach his eyes, and that his hugs are a little too stiff, and how—if you pay attention for long enough—everything he says is a little too bright and jovial, a sugar-coated lie.

“Here you go.” Harry walks over to Niall with an extended hand and passes him a large crimson flower with dark leaves. Niall takes it and stares incredulously back at him. A moment of silence passes before Niall speaks up.

“Harry, where the fuck did you get this from ‘cause I know for a fact my ma only buys these at Christmas.” He finally gets out, looking from Harry, to the flower and back again.

Harry waves his hand in a dismissive gesture with a vacant attitude that only he seems to possess and continues to walk over to where Michael and Ashton are.

“You wrote most of She Looks So Perfect, right?” His eyes flit between the two as they nod and murmur their answers. Seeing their responses, Harry nods and hands them a Poppy each.

Harry goes on like this through the rest of the boys, giving both Zayn and Liam what looks like a small ball of dark magenta, composed from lots of small scarlet petals and contrasted by small sparks of yellow at the centre. Calum receives one that Louis had originally thought was a withered bunch of grapes and Luke receives a bunch of small white flowers with bright yellow middles which he smiles brightly at before disappearing into his dorm room. As the rest of them start to disperse into their rooms, Louis is met by a hand on his shoulder.

 

“What?” he bites, snapping his head around to look at Harry.

“Here’s yours.” It’s said with a small voice, nervousness visible in the slight crease of his brow, in his stance and the slight waver of his smile.

He stares at Harry’s hand as it reaches into his pocket and brings out a small plant. Harry’s hand unfurls, exposing the plant inside of it. It’s broken, leaves bent at odd angles and the flowers themselves look slightly wilted, as though it has been in his pocket for a few hours. The flower probably would have been beautiful when it was first picked—Louis can see it in the slight pinkish hue of the flowers and where the stem would have stood proud and tall before it had been bent—but now it’s a sorry sight.

“What is it?” Louis asks, staring down at Harry’s hand.

“A Viscaria flower.”

The fragility of the situation seems to be as delicate as the little flower itself. All anger from earlier in the day somehow diffused and replaced by an almost calm atmosphere. But there’s a small fizz in the air—like the feeling just before a storm—as though if a spark were to be lit, everything would all go up in flames, taking both of them with it. 

“Thanks,” He says, not quite able to look Harry in the eyes as he removes the flower from Harry’s hand and turns it over in his own, “I like that it’s a bit— squished?”

“Look, just say if you don’t like—" Harry’s soft smile disappears, replaced with a thundery exterior.

“Yes, of course I do, I was just trying to—"

“I did something nice, there’s no need to be a prick about it.”

“I wasn’t being a fucking prick Styles, I just want to know why you’d give me the shittiest one?”

“Just fucking say if you don’t like it next time then?”

That not what I was saying.”

“Oh, for fucks sake, of course I gave you the shittiest one, is that what you want to hear?”

“Well, no actually, that’s a pretty dick move of you Styles.”

“I tried this time; I don’t know why I even bother anymore.” Harry mutters and brushes past Louis, most likely sneaking down to the kitchen to get a cup of tea.

Louis stands there for a while and, upon finally entering the dorm he heads over to his bookcase and slips the flower into his copy of Romeo and Juliet, squishing the flower between the pages to dry. Harry and his stupid flowers and his stupid music and those stupid bloody pink curtains. He could’ve at least had the decency to act like he didn’t totally despise Louis for at least one minute. He sighs and flops onto his bed, if there’s one thing Louis Tomlinson is good at, it’s being dramatic. Liam and Zayn stop mid-way through their animated conversation that they’re having on the sofa to look at Louis. (They’re having a debate over whether Spider-Man or Black-Widow would win—currently Liam is on Spider-Man’s side saying that due to the Spidey-sense, Peter would easily beat Black-Widow, which is countered by Zayn’s argument that Black-Widow has more years of experience, and is therefore a better fighter—personally, Louis agrees with Zayn, but that’s not exactly relevant right now.)

“What’s going on Tommo?” Liam questions, brows furrowing into a ‘v,’ and slinging his arm over the back of the sofa to twist around so he can face Louis directly.

“S’just fucking Harry just giving me the shittiest flower he could. I mean I know he doesn’t like me but it was practically dead Liam!” he huffs and stands up, swinging his arms around, “I’m not asking us to be best mates, it would just be nice if he wasn’t a total wanker to me all the time, you know?”

Liam nods and then says, “Well, I mean Tommo, it’s not exactly like you’re the nicest to him either.”

“I don’t know mate, he was all ‘I don’t know why I even bother,’ tell me when exactly has he ever bothered with me? He’s always invading my space with his— his stuff,” he picks up the bear that Harry had given him, turning it over in his hands, “and kicking me out from my own room when he feels like it and I’m sick of it! He’s always been a great big twat.”

Louis throws the bear down onto his bed and then turns back around to stare at Liam.

“He’s not that awful—” Liam starts, words dying on the end of his tongue.

Zayn punches his shoulder, “Shut up Liam, you gotta admit that Harry’s never seemed to like Louis, even when he was first here.”

“Oh yeah, I remember getting here and seeing Louis upset and unpacking his stuff whilst Harry was blasting out Tchaikovsky in the background. It was sort of—”

Louis runs over and slaps his hand over Liam’s mouth, “If you say funny, Payno, you’re gonna regret it.”

He takes his hand off as Liam lifts his arms up in defeat. “No comment,” He says, eyebrows raised with a sly smirk on his face.

 

Drums start up in the other room as music filters through the walls and Louis flops onto his bed with a hrrmf. The walls between dorms are thin, evidence of the school’s age and proof of its urgent need of updating. Guitars start up and clicks are heard from the amps as Louis ponders over what the other two boys just said.

 

“It’s just fucking Harry though innit? I mean he’s a total prick for no reason, isn’t that his thing? Like, everything he does is for show, you know?” he huffs, rolling over to look at Liam and Zayn.

 

Liam picks at a loose thread on the sofa, contemplating something in his head.

 

“He wasn’t always like that.” He says finally, his eyes meeting Louis’.

 

“What do you mean?” Louis rests his head in his hands, “Elaborate, Payno.”

 

 “Well, last year he didn’t wear those suits all the time and he would joke along with the rest of us, but now he just sort of doesn’t?

Zayn nods, “Yeah, and he would always come out with us—”

Louis’ face scrunches up in confusion, “But he does come out with us? Doesn’t he?”

“As I was saying, Louis, is that he would come out with us and not disappear off to anywhere. And, I mean, we’d do shit like buy crappy alcohol with fake IDs and turn up at the nearest house party for fun. Not just have weird posh dinners with people that we don’t actually like.”

“It’s not like he wasn’t extravagant before though,” Liam counters, “but now it’s so much, and it’s as though he’s obsessive over it, d’you know what I mean? Like, before he would wear suits—and yeah, they’d be a bit out there—but he’d take them off when school ended, like the rest of us. And the thing with the flowers, no fucking clue where that came from.”

“Yeah, and he was always that kid that would fond over dogs in the park, or go to the care home and bake cookies with the people there, or help out with babysitting for free, ‘cause that’s just what he did.” Zayn adds.

 

“Oh,” Louis says, mouth rounded into a perfect ‘o’ shape, “Well do you know what happened? I mean, he wouldn’t just change that much without a reason, right?”

 

“No-one knows, Louis,” Zayn says, “He just turned up this year with a hundred different suits and a new personality.”

 

“Louis, you’ve got to understand that we’re his best friends,” Liam murmurs, looking down at his hands before looking Louis in the eyes once more, “but the boy we were best friends with last year left for the summer, and never came back.”

 

*