“I can’t do it.” Louis chucks his quill on the desk and sucks his thumb where an irregular spot of blue ink blooms on his skin. “I don’t need to know about Wolfsbane, it’s not even relevant.”
“I beg to differ, Mr Tomlinson.” Snape looks at Louis from his frame, his lip curling into a sneer. “If you wish to pass your exams – and at this rate you will fail miserably – you should know every ingredient, the precise angle of every slice and if you miss so much as one anti-clockwise stir I will have no choice but to give you a T.” Snape sounds delighted about the prospect. There should be some law against letting arsehole portraits oversee detention and set exam papers. Snape gets far too much pleasure out of making life miserable for everyone.
“What’s the point?” A deep sense of frustration curls in Louis’ stomach and he packs his quill and books into his battered satchel. Not for the first time he wonders how different his life might have been if that letter had never arrived. He could have been Louis Tomlinson, just a regular lad from Donny. They’d let him play footie in Donny. No one would make him try to fly a bloody broom. He could have been anyone. Sometimes Louis just wishes he was normal. “I can’t wait to leave this place.”
“You remind me of someone I used to teach.” Snape taps one long finger against his lips as he watches Louis with dark eyes. “He too was wilful, disobedient-”
There’s no doubt who Snape’s talking about. He’s compared Louis to Harry Potter before, which is laughable. The only thing Louis has in common with Harry Potter is that he’s a Gryffindor and he doesn’t even like Gryffindors. Harry was Gryffindor Seeker. A proper legend. He saved the world when he was seventeen, when Louis can’t even get through the day without being given a detention. Louis’ biggest accomplishment to date is a six-month singing stint with the Weird Sisters before they replaced him with some twat from Beauxbatons with Veela heritage. Bloody Harry Styles. He’s already had two Witch Weekly covers and Honeydukes named a line of strawberry shortbread gobstoppers after him. Nobody named any gobstoppers after Louis. He got hit with a Jelly-Legs Jinx on his first night performing and the barman wouldn’t serve him any mead. It’s rubbish, being Louis.
“Won a war though, didn’t he?” Louis interrupts, before Snape can finish his list of Harry Potter’s negative attributes.
“Not without a great deal of assistance.” Snape sniffs and brushes the shoulder of his robes.
“He comes to see you sometimes, doesn’t he?” Louis slings his bag over his shoulder and leans against the desk, watching Snape.
“Another unhappy cross to bear.” Snape’s lips twitch into an almost smile. It’s a bit much, thinking about Snape smiling.
“What do you talk about?” Louis can’t help but wonder what on earth would bring the Head Auror to a musty old classroom to chat to a portrait, but Harry’s at Hogwarts more than ever. He’s usually surrounded by people asking for his autograph and flanked by Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley or an irritated looking Draco Malfoy who looks as though he’s got his wand shoved up his arse.
“His affairs and mine are none of your business.” Snape scowls at Louis. “I suggest you focus on your studies and keep your nose out of places it doesn’t belong.”
“You’re one to talk about noses,” Louis mutters.
“Ten points from Gryffindor.”
“Fuck off.” Louis gives Snape the finger and it earns him a sneer. “You can’t take house points. You’re a portrait.”
“I can do whatever I please. Twenty points from Gryffindor for your appalling grasp of the English language. I have no doubt you’ll be back, Mr Tomlinson.” Snape flounces out of his portrait with a billow of his robes and Louis stares at the empty frame. He edges closer and takes in the tidy desk and the rolls of parchment and open books. Even the oil smells musty. Like the Restricted Section in the library or one of those enormous books they have to read for History of Magic about the Goblin Rebellions. He touches the painting and swallows back a peculiar wave of sadness which threatens to overwhelm him. He looks around for Professor Lupin’s portrait, but it’s empty. There’s just a dark, shadowy field and the glimmering light of a crescent moon which touches the grass and makes every blade shine a ghostly silver. Louis shivers.
He pockets his wand and makes his way to his room. Credence Parkinson asks if he wants to go for a smoke, but Louis declines. He’s desperate for a fag but hanging out with Slytherins doesn’t feel right now Zayn’s gone. The rest of them are posh twats and Louis can’t help but feel increasingly more self-conscious about his obvious Northern twang and distinct lack of any kind of trust fund. He nods at Niall who gives him a friendly wave hello when he finally gets up to the Tower, but he doesn’t bother sticking around to talk to anyone. The Gryffindors are nice, but they’re all into Quidditch and winning the House Cup. Louis couldn’t give a kneazle’s whisker about the House Cup. He just wants to keep his head down and make it through the year as quickly as possible. Then he can do…something. Something better. Something Muggle, even. Go somewhere where no one gives two hoots about N.E.W.T.s and potions.
With a sigh, Louis pulls out the small magical wireless his mum got him last Christmas and settles on the bed. He fiddles with the knobs and pulls the curtains around him until he hears the familiar voice that never fails to make his day better.
“What do we think of that, Fifi? The new single from the Gringott’s Goblins.”
Fiona sounds like she’s trying not to laugh and a small smile tugs at Louis’ lips.
“Don’t be rude about the goblins, Fifi.”
“Get on with it, Grim.” Louis loves Fiona. She always sounds like she’s caught between laughing her head off and throttling Nick. Louis can relate. There’s something about Nick Grimshaw that gets under his skin. The smug self-confidence and ease with which he goes through life, writing poncy columns about wizarding fashion and swaggering about in dragon hide. He’s always in the Prophet with his crup, Pig and his new pet Stinky which looks a bit like a highly illegal baby dragon even though Nick keeps insisting it’s just a rare form of kneazle.
Louis knows a lot about Nick Grimshaw. He’s been listening to him since he first discovered Potterwatch and Nick’s late night Post-War Party Playlist. Nick’s less mad now he’s on WWN, but he still pushes new music onto the airwaves and never fails to give a shout out to all the new Hufflepuffs at the start of term. Puff Pride! he says, off the back of a laugh. Louis brushes his fingers over the radio. He wanted to be in Hufflepuff so badly. Nick made it sound cool and fun and even when he’s rolling his eyes at some of the things Nick says, he reminds Louis of home and roast dinners at his mum’s house with all the family around. Nick’s whole family are Muggles too, just like Louis’. He’s always banging on about Muggle things like the telly and how everyone’s obsessed with the footie and people called the Kardashians.
“Anyway, enough of the goblins.” Nick’s voice is warm and comforting and it does peculiar things to Louis’ insides as he settles down onto the bed to listen to the next song. “Here’s something a lot better – I mean…” Nick bursts out laughing. “Not better. Just different. LOVE this song. The new single from The Luna Lovegoods. Bit Sleater Kinney this. Not that anyone knows what I’m on about. It’s Muggle, look it up.” With another laugh, Nick lets the single play.
Louis closes his eyes and turns up the volume, drifting off to sleep with the sound of Nick telling a story about a mad night out infiltrating his dreams.
“What time is it?” Louis rubs his eyes and feels around for his radio. It’s still there, another voice that isn’t Nick’s already grating on his nerves.
“Nearly nine, mate.” Niall laughs and he pulls back the curtains which is brave of him. Louis would lamp someone who got into his personal space normally, but Niall’s alright. He’s nice. A friendly face in the Gryffindor common room, which is something. “I’m off to Hogsmeade with Payno later. Want to come?”
Louis shakes his head. He doesn’t tell Niall he has his own plans for Hogsmeade later. The kind of plans that could get him expelled from Hogwarts if he’s not careful.
Niall looks as if he doesn’t believe Louis, but he shrugs. “Offer’s there if you want.”
“Cheers.” Louis waits for Niall to move but he just…stands. Louis arches an eyebrow at him. “Bit of privacy?”
“Oh! Yeah.” Niall grins and he pulls the curtains shut again, poking his head between the gap. “Better?”
“Yeah.” Louis doesn’t know why he can’t get on with Niall or why everything’s so difficult when you feel like you’re in the wrong place. Magic. Hogwarts. Gryffindor. It’s just going through the motions, all of it. “Thanks for the wake-up.”
“No problem.” Niall extracts himself from the curtain. Louis can hear him yelling something to Liam (Payno) and he waits until the last moment before he tugs on his rumpled shirt and yanks a baggy grey jumper over his head. He can shower later. Arithmancy’s no joke and Louis is well on track for bombing his N.E.W.T. He falls into step behind a couple of Gryffindors, the groggy fog of another autumn day and being woken abruptly from a deep sleep settling over him.
“He’s here again..” Penelope Mathieson whispers to a Ravenclaw Louis doesn’t know. “Harry Potter. Have you seen him?”
“No.” The Ravenclaw looks goggle-eyed at Penelope and snaps her gum after blowing a large, pink bubble. “Do you reckon You-Know-Who’s back?”
Penelope blanches and she presses her lips into a thin line. “That’s not funny, Anika.”
“I’m not trying to be funny.” The Ravenclaw – Anika – hitches her stack of books against her chest.
“It must be something big, though. I saw Draco Malfoy hanging around this weekend. Having some deep and meaningful with McGonagall.”
“Draco Malfoy.” Penelope rolls her eyes. She looks around and then leans close with a conspiratorial whisper. “I don’t know if I could trust him after everything. Could you?”
Anika shakes her head. “You can’t be like that. You know all those talks we’ve had about being nice to Slytherins after the war-”
“I’ll be nice to Slytherins when they’re nice to us!” Penelope turns and catches Louis watching them. Her eyebrows knit in a frown and she glares at him. “Speaking of Slytherins …”
“Shush.” Anika glances at Louis and laughs, dragging Penelope through the crowds until they disappear from sight.
Louis clutches his satchel to his side. He spent a lot of time with Zayn – more time than anyone else – but he’s a Gryffindor. Just like Penelope. He knows the way people still look at Slytherins as if they’re going to start some unholy war, mainly because he spent his first six years at Hogwarts with Slytherins. Louis doesn’t give a fuck about the past, he just wants to try to get through his classes without wanting to Avada Kedavra himself from boredom. Zayn helped that. He looked out for Louis and now there’s just a big empty hole in Louis’ life, where Zayn used to be.
His hand instinctively goes to the badges on his bag. His mum gave him three Muggle pins with Batman on when he was twelve. His mum was dead proud of him, for the wizard thing. Dead proud. But she always worries and Louis can remember how her eyes shone with tears when she gave him his little pins as a reminder of the home, as if he’d ever forget. They’re still there on the bag Louis got from a TK Maxx in Doncaster before he started Hogwarts, pressed into the leather and the colours faded from where he’s rubbed them with his fingers. Then there’s the pin from the Doncaster Rovers. If Louis closes his eyes he can practically taste the atmosphere – feel the heaving crowds and remember the warmth of the wool scarf around his neck as the cheers from the Muggles surround him.
He takes a breath. In, out. Counts to ten and tries to remember how once the simple act of breathing didn’t feel overwhelmingly hard.
Louis isn’t even thinking about where he wants to end up when he swerves past the throng of Gryffindors and Ravenclaws waiting to go into Arithmancy. He walks through the corridors, legging it down the moving staircases as quickly as he can and ignoring the paintings which whistle and holler at him as he breaks into a run. He gets outside just in time for the skies to open and he tips his head back to watch the clouds, letting the first drops of rain land on his warm cheeks. They make his lips damp and it’s like he can taste the sky on his tongue. For the first time since he came back to Hogwarts he feels free. He yanks off his stupid Gryffindor tie and stuffs it into his bag, before murmuring a couple of charms to turn his clothes into something that doesn’t scream skiving school and sets off at a pace towards the secret passage he knows will get him past the gates and into Hogsmeade.
Those history books are good for something, after all.
Louis walks through the cobbled streets, clutching his bag close to his side and hoping no one swoops in to ask what he’s doing. The streets are pretty quiet, when they’re not filled with Hogwarts students and he stops to look at an enormous poster of Harry Potter which flaps back and forth in the wind. Harry smiles and waves at Louis, his smile broad. He rakes a hand through his hair which is lightly peppered with the first signs of ageing and he gives Louis a wink. A fucking wink. Louis looks around to make sure that poster-Harry isn’t looking at anyone else.
“Hi,” Louis says. He waves awkwardly at poster-Harry and feels a bit ridiculous standing there, staring. His cheeks heat and he swallows around the lump in his throat. The thing is, Harry Potter’s handsome. Not because he’s a hero or because he’s some big deal at the Ministry. It’s because he’s got that messy dark hair that Louis likes. Those green-ish eyes and a wide, easy smile which makes Louis hot and tingly. Louis runs his tongue over his lips and clears his throat, hoping no one can tell he’s currently having some very inappropriate thoughts about the hero of the wizarding world. He’s heard the rumours about Harry Potter. The rumours about Draco Malfoy. Louis isn’t one for pouring over celebrity news and he can’t stand the Prophet but there’s something about the speculation that makes Louis warm to the tips of his toes. Something about it that gives him hope. He’s still got a well-thumbed picture of Harry wearing Auror robes and dragon hide hidden under his bed. The colours have practically disappeared from parts of the page where Louis pressed clammy fingertips against the image.
“And then he said I should go back to his like I’m in any position to Apparate after three shots of Horny Horntail and a pint of Grizzly Giant. Can you imagine? I’d have splinched my knob right off.”
Louis stills and tries not to move as the familiar voice gets closer. There’s a crackle and the sound of a women laughing.
“Oh, here it is. That’s the one that’s been winking at everyone. Oh my god, this is fucking hilarious. Gotta go.” There’s another crackle a faint bye, darling and then a solid presence next to Louis. The scent of spicy cologne catches on the breeze and Louis tries not to breathe in too obviously.
“Hiya.” Louis turns to find himself face to face with Nick Grimshaw who gives him a little wave.
“Hi.” Louis tries not to sound high-pitched and squeaky, but he’s not sure he manages when Nick’s eyes give him a quick up and down. There’s a flicker of interest in his expression which sends Louis’ heart thudding in his chest and makes his palms clammy. His cheeks get hot and he swallows, trying not to make a complete twat of himself.
“You’re here to check this out too, then?” Nick fiddles with a large contraption that keeps crackling. He holds it up to Louis, with a grin. “Walkie talkie. I feel I’m back in the nineties. It’s a bit like a wireless. Works even with all the magic around.”
“Yeah.” Louis meets Nick’s smile with one of his own. “They’re Muggle.”
Nick looks momentarily surprised and he nods. “Yep. Don’t often get people who know all that much about Muggle things round these parts.”
“My family are all Muggles.” Louis isn’t sure why he’s telling Nick, but it seems important. He doesn’t add like yours in case Nick thinks he’s a creepy stalker.
“Mine too.” Nick tries to pocket the walkie talkie which is a bit difficult as his skinny jeans look like they’re painted on. Louis tries not to stare too obviously, which is easier said than done. Nick must have noticed Louis staring because he huffs with laughter. “Shrinking charms make them go wonky.”
Louis nods. “It’s sick.”
Nick’s smile gets wider. “Yeah. Sick. You’re from the North?”
“Manchester, me. Well, Oldham. Same though, innit?” Nick finally dispenses with the walkie talkie and pulls something from his pocket which looks like a Muggle mobile phone. He mutters a curse under his breath. “Bloody things don’t work here, can’t even get the camera to take a snap. Don’t know why I keep trying. I’m never going to make Instagram happen.”
“It’s winking.” Louis points to the flag of Harry. As if Nick doesn’t already know that there’s an enormous flag of Harry Potter giving come-to-bed eyes at passers-by.
“Didn’t you see it in the Prophet?” Nick’s eyes shine and he looks so thoroughly entertained by the whole thing, it’s ridiculously endearing. “I bet Malfoy was behind the camera.” Nick winks at Louis, like that’s an acceptable thing to do to a stranger now Harry Potter’s doing it. “If you know what I mean.”
Louis nods. He doesn’t trust himself to speak. He thinks he gets the gist. “Is it supposed to do that?”
“Nah.” Nick pockets his phone, giving up. “One of the first year Puffs fainted when it first happened. That’s why everyone’s up in arms about it.” Nick gestures to the text on the bottom of the flag. “It’s supposed to be advertising some big Ministry bash, not flirting with everyone that walks past. I’m just here for the radio. Bit of a laugh, innit?” Nick extends his hand and gives Louis another look, as if he likes what he sees. “Nick Grimshaw. Off of WWN.”
“Louis Tomlinson.” Louis shakes Nick’s hand and tries not to focus on the way his skin is so warm against Louis’, the firm handshake and the insanely long fingers. “Off…” Louis pauses. He can’t really say off of skiving. “I do stuff with music.”
“Oh?” Nick tips his head and eyes Louis appraisingly. “Should I know you?”
“Don’t reckon.” Louis scuffs his trainer on the ground and doesn’t meet Nick’s eyes. “I’m new around here.”
“Right.” Nick sounds suspicious, then his tone lightens. “Well hi, Louis Tomlinson off of music.” Nick clears his throat after a long pause. “Fancy a drink?”
Louis grins at Nick and hoists his bag higher on his shoulder. “Do I ever.” He has a moment of panic wondering how much trouble he might be in if he ends up in the Three Broomsticks around staff lunchtime. “Not the Three Broomsticks.” He improvises quickly. “The ale’s rubbish.”
“Merlin, no.” Nick pulls a face. “Last thing I want is to have McGonagall asking me why I’m drinking at…” he checks a fancy looking watch on his wrist which gives a little ruff as he peruses it. It looks as though it’s got Pig on the circumference. “At five in the afternoon.”
Louis tries not to panic because it’s five in the fucking afternoon which means he’s missed an entire day of classes and there’s no way his absence is unnoticed by now. He breathes out a sigh, because if he’s going to get hauled in front of McGonagall the least he can do is make sure it’s worth it.
“Never too early for a pint,” Louis says. As if he knows all about pints and drinking late afternoon.
“Hmm.” Nick’s lips twitch and his eyebrows raise as he contemplates Louis. In the end he shakes his head and points to a small alley. “Come on, then. I know a place.”
“Okay.” Louis falls into step beside Nick and he feels almost normal for the first time in ages.
“Gamp’s?” Louis furrows his brow.
“Gamp’s Decidedly Dreary Diet.” Nick pulls a face. “It’s crap, I don’t recommend it. Spent most of the time acting like a hungry Hippogriff and I didn’t lose an inch.”
Louis frowns because Nick doesn’t need to lose any inches. He’s slim to the point of skinny with knobbly elbows and knees protruding from the rips in his black jeans. Louis thinks diets are rubbish. Give him a bag full of gobstoppers and a plate of chips any day. “Sounds fucking stupid.”
“Was a bit.” Nick laughs. He appraises Louis. “Like the lager?”
Louis takes a gulp of his drink and coughs when it goes down the wrong way, nodding. It’s good. The sharp, hoppy flavour takes away the sweetness of the Honeydukes gobstoppers and Louis ignores the rumble in his stomach. It’s going to be fine. He doesn’t need food anyway. He looks around the bar and spends longer than necessary eyeing a picture of someone that looks a bit like Ron Weasley. The man in the poster grins at Louis and blows him a kiss. He’s shirtless, clutching a baby dragon and apparently as shameless as the poster of Harry Potter when it comes to hitting on complete strangers.
“Charlie.” Nick takes another sip of his beer, following Louis’ gaze. “You know Charlie Weasley?”
“Know of him.” Louis doesn’t know much about him at all, but he thinks he might like to if he goes around shirtless and does stuff with dragons. Dragons are cool.
“Mate of mine,” Nick says. He sounds breezy and not like he’s trying to name-drop even though Louis suspects he might be just a little bit. “My dream husband.”
Louis nearly chokes on his beer. He knows. Of course he knows Nick’s gay, but nobody ever ever talks about stuff like that at Hogwarts, or at all really. The other boys in Gryffindor are all about snogging witches and posters of the Hollyhead Harpies. The casual way Nick says dream husband sends a hot flush into Louis’ cheeks. He looks at Charlie again, irrationally irritated.
“He’s not that good.”
“No?” Nick sounds amused. “He’s nice.” He leans closer to Louis. “Not really my type though, if I’m honest.”
Louis turns back to Nick. “What’s your type, then?”
Nick gives Louis a look and grins before having another sip of his beer. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Couldn’t care less, mate.” Louis rolls his eyes and tries to ignore the inconvenient flutter of his heart in his chest and the warmth that slides through his body.
Nick laughs and it’s like home and those nights Louis would hear Nick talk about the Madchester music scene, trying to convince witches and wizards to try something Muggle. The nights Louis would wake up hot, sticky and so fucking confused. Louis swallows another generous gulp of his pint.
“How old are you, anyway?” Nick’s brow furrows as if he’s trying to work Louis out.
“Twenty-one,” Louis replies. He ducks his head and has more of his pint.
“Funny. Haven’t seen you around here, much.” Nick sounds suspicious.
“I never go to this bar.” Louis tries to think of where he might actually go, which is difficult given as he pretty much knows the Leaky, the Three Broomsticks and the Red Lion in Donny which lets people in with crap fake ID even if they’re fifteen and look it.
“Oh?” Nick pauses with his pint half-way to his lips. “It’s the only gay bar in Hogsmeade though, innit?”
Louis stares at Nick, his whole body hot and a dull roar in his head. “Why would that matter?”
Nick looks confused and flicker of uncertainty crosses his features. Louis would almost feel bad for him but it’s Nick and he’s a famous DJ and Louis has no bloody idea what he’s doing apart from – apparently – getting pissed in a gay bar with Nick bloody Grimshaw.
“No.” Louis bites out the lie and clutches his pint like it’s a lifebelt. He’s not…he’s never said that out loud. Definitely isn’t ready to say it out loud to someone he feels like he knows after years and years of listening to the radio on his battered wireless before his mum got him his brand new one, his favourite thing in the world. “It’s not…I’m not.”
“Oh.” Nick focuses on his beer and he looks almost disappointed. “This is awkward.”
“Not awkward for me, mate.” That’s another lie. Louis knows he’s as red as a Gryffindor scarf and he’s pretty sure Nick can see right through him. He hopes Nick’s not a Legilimens. He definitely doesn’t want Nick to be able to see some of the thoughts Louis has about him with worrying frequency.
“Awkward if you were trying pull, mate.” Nick gives Louis a wink then pushes a hand through his hair, worrying his quiff. “Doesn’t matter.” He heaves a put-upon sigh. “I’m always falling for the straight boys. As long as it’s not weird.”
Falling for the straight boys is something Louis can’t even begin to process, the thought of being flirted with by Nick Grimshaw sending his heart into a reckless staccato.
“It’s not weird.” Louis wonders if he’s going to be struck by lightning for lying three times in quick succession. Of course it’s weird. Really fucking Harry Potter winked at me now I’m having a pint with Grimmy weird. He shrugs. “I don’t care. Want another pint?”
Nick’s eyes narrow and then he nods. “Why not? As I’ve just made a tit out of myself.”
You haven’t, though. You haven’t, you haven’t. Louis can’t stop staring at Nick’s lips but in the end he stands and goes to the bar.
Not for the first time, Louis curses the Sorting Hat for getting it so fucking wrong. Louis isn’t brave. He’s not anything. Just a stupid teenager who can’t even be honest with himself, let alone anyone else.
“Drinks?” The barman looks bored, barely giving Louis the time of day as he flicks his wand to polish the glasses spinning in the air.
“Two pints of lager, please.”
“Coming right up.”
When Louis gets his drinks without any question, it should feel like a victory of sorts.
Instead, it just feels like another lie.
“I did some singing for a bit.” Louis knocks back his drink and swipes the back of his hand over his mouth.
“Surprised I don’t know about you.” Nick still looks like he’s trying to work Louis out. “I’m good at finding new singers. It’s my thing.”
Louis improvises as quickly as he can manage with a head full of Firewhisky. “I was at Durmstrang for a bit. That’s where I did it. The singing.” The mention of Durmstrang makes Louis think of Zayn and the dull ache of missing his best mate returns and settles heavily in his chest.
“Durmstrang, eh?” Nick whistles through his teeth.
“Don’t be like that,” Louis says, defensive, even when part of him thinks Zayn doesn’t deserve it.
Nick rolls his eyes. “I’m not one of those, if that’s what you’re worrying about.”
“One of those?”
“The people that hate Slytherin. Durmstrang. Anything a little bit too close to You-Know-Who.” Nick sits back, his face fixed in a frown. “Got some good mates from Slytherin. As long as they’re not out casting Morsmordre or wanging on about blood politics, I couldn’t give a fuck.”
Louis thinks of old images he’s seen in textbooks of the Dark Mark – Voldemort’s mark – hanging in starless skies as people screamed and ran for cover. He wonders what it would be like, to be someone like Harry Potter. To lose his mum in a flash of green Avada Kedavra and to grow up having to learn about all the things you could’ve had, all the things you lost.
“Did you ever see it?”
“Morsmordre?” Nick looks at Louis and nods. “Yeah. I was at Hogwarts during the war. A few years below Harry Potter, but there all the same. Taught by Death Eaters. Saw all those bodies in the Great Hall.” Nick rubs at his arm, his face paler than before and Louis feels bad about his question.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to bring it all back.”
“S’okay,” Nick says. He breathes out and he gestures to the bar. “Think I might join you on the Firewhisky.”
Louis watches Nick moving through the crowds and fingers the small pins on his bag, telling himself everything’s going to be okay.
“Yeah.” Louis nods. “Gryffindor.”
“Hufflepuff, me.” Nick puffs his chest out with pride and Louis wants to kick him. “Brilliant, wasn’t it?”
“Brilliant.” Louis rolls his eyes. “Stop bragging about your brilliant house, Nicholas.”
Nick’s lips twitch. “No one calls me that.”
Louis feels like an idiot, but because he’s drunk and obstinate he just gives Nick a look. “I do.”
“Okay, Louis Tomlinson.” Nick shrugs like it doesn’t matter, but he’s smiling properly now. “Call me whatever you like.”
A pleasant shiver travels down Louis’ spine at the mental images that conjures up.
“If you like.” Nick checks his watch which lets out another ruff, ruff as if it’s annoyed with him. “Look, I’m the last person to say this usually, but-”
“Then don’t bloody say it.” Louis glares at Nick and orders two more shots, because that’s the kind of thing Louis does.
“Where’s home?” Nick sounds a bit worried. Which is nice. Nick’s nice and he smells so good it makes Louis want to lick him. “I need to get back to Pig and Stinky.”
“Stinky,” Louis says, “Is not a fucking kneazle.”
“Oi.” Nick snorts with laughter. “Rude.” His arm around Louis tightens. “Seriously. Give us an address or summat, will you? You can’t Apparate in this state.”
“No address. Nowhere to go.” Louis leans against Nick and he mumbles into his shoulder. “Going to be in trouble. Fucking fucked.”
“Trouble with who?” Nick’s definitely worried. He nudges Louis and he grips his jaw, staring at him. “Christ, don’t make me use Legilimency. I’m shit at it and it’s not, like, fair. Not fair reading someone’s mind when they’re pissed.”
“Not pissed.” Louis is pissed, though. He stumbles back, his arms flailing and Nick catches him. He catches Louis before Louis falls onto the ground and that’s just…amazing. It’s so amazing, Louis pushes up onto his toes and presses his lips against Nick’s.
Nick’s lips are hot, soft and definitely not kissing back.
“Louis…” Nick steps back just enough that Louis can see the panic in his eyes and the flush in his cheeks.
“I lied,” Louis says. “I’m gay. I’m at Hogwarts and I bloody hate it and I’m gay.”
“Oh,” Nick says.
He says it again, softer, right before Louis throws up on his shoes.
“Fuck off, Niall. I’m not doing Arithmancy. Tell McGonagall I’ve got Spattergroit or something.”
There’s a ruff which sounds decidedly less Irish and human than Niall and Louis turns, blinking his eyes open. He finds himself eye to eye with a black and white crup who promptly puts her paws on the bed and ruffs again.
“Hiya.” Louis rubs her head and helps her onto the bed. It’s actually really comfortable. Warm, large and covered with pillows which Louis just wants to sink into and sleep all day. The crup curls up on Louis’ chest, her paw over his stomach. He lifts the duvet as much as he can manage without disturbing her and bites back a groan at the sight of his uniform and the fact his careful tailoring charms have completely worn off.
A small wireless in the corner of the room crackles and Louis sits upright, trying to ignore the pounding in his head.
The night starts creeping back to Louis in technicolour surround sound and he groans, rolling over and burying his face in the pillow. He’s going to be expelled. He’s going to be expelled and Nick Grimshaw is definitely never going to speak to him, ever again.
“She’s not allowed on the bed. Pig. Pig. Oh, fucking hell.” Nick’s voice is loud enough to make Louis want to curl into a ball and die. The bed dips and there’s a clank of china against the bedside table. “Made you a brew. Wake the fuck up, Tomlinson. I’m going to be late for work and you’re going to get booted out of Hogwarts faster than you can say Accio Expulsion if you don’t get yourself sorted out in the next hour.”
Tomlinson. It reminds Louis of the people he really doesn’t like all that much and Nick sounds clipped and harried. Louis pulls the duvet back and sits up, taking in Nick’s rumpled appearance and the dark circles under his eyes.
“You look like shit.” Louis winces as he says it and he looks down at his hands. “Sorry.”
“It’s because a bratty student slept in my bed last night and I had to fight Pig and Stinky for the sofa.” Nick curses under his breath. “Twat.”
“Sorry about your shoes,” Louis says.
“Yeah, you should be. Cost me an arm and a leg, those did.” Nick frowns and looks away. “Thank Christ for magic. Took more than one cleaning charm to get that Firewhisky puke off.”
Louis twists his hands together. “McGonagall’s going to kill me.”
Nick sighs. “Nope. It’s fine. I’ve sorted it.” He looks annoyed. “Well, not fine but better than terrible.”
“Better than terrible?” Louis snorts. “Sounds great.”
“You’re not getting expelled, so you might want to be a bit nicer about it, you ungrateful little idiot.” Nick glares at Louis. “I told her I got a few people together to look at the winking Potter flag and said you might have missed a few classes because of it. I said it was a competition a load of people turned up for. Didn’t mention the booze or the you staying at mine thing and it’s a bloody good job I didn’t. I think you’ve got a good mate in Gryffindor. They noticed you didn’t go to your classes but no one knows you didn’t make it back at all which makes me think someone covered for you, even though you probably don’t deserve it. As long as you’re at your desk and ready to do your fucking school work in the next hour, I reckon a few detentions and some house points will be the end of it.”
“Thanks.” Louis wonders who covered for him and why. He can’t bear to look at Nick, feeling suddenly small and lost.
“You’re seventeen.” Nick stares at Louis, his cheeks flushing. “Seventeen.”
“I’m of age.” It feels weird trying to be defiant when he’s curled up in bed with a crup and a stinking hangover, but Louis does his best. “Not that young. I’m not a kid.”
“Bloody well behaved like one.”
Louis bristles. “You still would have.”
“I thought you were twenty-one, you bloody menace.” Nick stands and gestures, his whole body spaghetti like and his hands flailing. His voice goes high with panic, the flush in his cheeks travelling from his neck to his forehead. “It used to matter, this. Don’t you remember? No of course you fucking don’t because you’re seventeen.”
“I could have been younger. Sixteen.” Louis’ voice is throaty and rough and he feels strangely like he wants to cry. “It wouldn’t have mattered. Sixteen is fine.”
“Not if you’re gay.” Nick pauses in his flailing, his hands dropping to his sides. He’s got on an enormous jumper which is grey and fluffy and he nudges his glasses onto his nose. Louis didn’t know Nick wore glasses. He knows a lot of things about Nick, but he didn’t know that. “It used to be twenty-one. Then eighteen. It might be sixteen now but only just and that stuff lingers like a bad bloody smell. I can’t go around shagging Hogwarts students.” Nick reaches for his wand and mutters a spell Louis doesn’t recognise which emits a cloud of light smoke which Nick breathes in, as he clutches his hand to his chest. Eventually, Nick pockets his wand and rakes a hand through his hair. “Azkaban. A few years ago I’d have gone to Azkaban for your fucking I’m twenty-one bullshit.”
“I didn’t know.”
Nick lets out a strangled sound. “Because you’ve never had to think about it.” He sits on the bed, his head in his hands. Louis almost wants to reach out to him but he doesn’t quite dare. “I don’t like shagging school children, for the record,” Nick mumbles.
“We didn’t even snog, you knob.” Louis gets defensive when he’s cornered and he pulls the duvets up to his chin. “As if I’d have shagged you anyway.”
“Oh.” Nick sits up and looks at Louis, a strange expression flickering across his face. “Because you’re straight. I forgot about that.”
Louis takes a breath. There’s the Sorting Hat on his head, humming and hawing. The usual bollocks about bravery and courage which Louis doesn’t think he has at all. He breathes out.
One, two. One, two, three.
“I’m not straight.”
“No?” Nick sounds a bit hysterical. “Brilliant.”
“I’m gay, actually.” There’s something about saying it out loud. Something about just letting the word leaves his lips which makes Louis feel lighter. As if someone has been pressing down on him all this time and by saying the words that stifling weight eases, just a little. “Definitely. Wanked over Harry Potter kind of gay.”
“Who hasn’t?” Nick looks up and although he still seems angry, his lips twitch into a small smile. “What with the winking.”
“Even before that.” Louis can’t believe he’s sitting in Nick Grimshaw’s bed and sharing his Harry Potter related wanking fantasies.
“More of a Malfoy man, myself,” Nick says. He stares at Louis. “If I’m honest.”
“Oh.” Louis stares back at Nick and nods. He never knew that Nick has green eyes. Not Harry Potter green, but green enough. Hazel with flecks of green. They’re good eyes. Soft and warmer than Louis probably deserves. “I like…the hair.” Louis gestures to his head which he’s quite sure looks as though baby dragons have been nesting in it. “Dark hair. I think I like that.”
“Yeah?” Nick pushes his hand through his hair again. It’s a bit…quiffier…than Harry’s but it’s the same jet-black messy tufts that make Louis want to run his fingers through it. “Good shout.”
“I reckon.” Louis looks at the rug and notices his trainers have been placed neatly on the floor together with his socks which have been rolled together into a ball. That means Nick took off his socks and shoes which is a lot to think about. “Bet you’ll never want to see me again after this.”
Nick shrugs and he follows Louis’ gaze to the trainers. “Wouldn’t want you to go throwing up on someone else’s shoes. There’s stuff going on. Things at the Ministry.” Nick pauses and his fingers run over his arm, his mind clearly elsewhere. “Not very good things. I don’t think I’d want you just going off and having another crisis with some dickhead stranger, Louis Tomlinson off of music.”
The room is so warm. Everything is so toasty and safe, Louis desperately wants to kiss Nick. Wants to kiss him and say let me stay but he suspects it’s not really the moment.
Nick looks up to meet Louis’ eyes and he points one of his ludicrously long fingers in Louis’ direction. “No funny business though, not while you’re seventeen. And no bloody Firewhisky.”
Louis nods, his face breaking into a smile because even if no funny business sounds shit, he can’t help but feel hopeful about the fact not while you’re seventeen doesn’t mean not ever. He also never wants to see a shot of Firewhisky again in his life, so that’s a promise he’s all too happy to make.
He accepts the conditions by shaking Nick’s hand and resolves to work on that no funny business one if Nick ever lets Louis come over again.
Pig stirs when they shake hands and she licks Louis’ hand with a ruff of contentment.
“She’s not allowed on the bed.” Nick scratches Pig’s ears anyway and makes no move to put her on the floor. “She’s got a bed of her own.”
“She’s comfy.” Louis takes Pig’s paw and shakes it, like they’re just meeting for the first time which they are, in a way, even though Louis feels as if he’s known Pig and Nick for years.
When Louis looks up, Nick’s expression is soft and inviting and it’s quite a bit more than Louis’ heart can take.
“Sorry I’m late.” Louis slips into the closest spare seat in his Dark Arts class and he pulls his text books out of his bag. Getting back into Hogwarts unnoticed hadn’t been easy and not for the first time, Louis wishes he had one of those invisibility cloaks people always talk about.
“Page seventy-four.” Professor Dewhirst looks over the top of her glasses and glowers at Louis. “Before we were so rudely interrupted.”
“Don’t mind her.” Niall leans close to Louis. His breath smells like sugar quills and he gives Louis a grin. “Good night?” His eyes shine and he looks so curious it makes Louis’ stomach swoop, wondering what Niall knows.
“Don’t know what you’re on about, mate.”
Niall snorts. “’Course you don’t.” He pauses as they flick through pages and scratch some notes on their parchment. “Me and Payno were in Hogsmeade yesterday. Saw you at that flag with Grimmy.”
An ice-cold stab of fear slices through Louis. He presses his quill into the parchment hard enough to leave an ink blot which partially obscures his notes. “Must have been someone else.”
“Don’t think so.” Niall nudges Louis in the side. “He’s pretty cool, Grimmy is. Good taste in music.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Bet you wouldn’t.” Niall laughs, like he knows all of Louis’ secrets. There’s another pause. “I’m just saying, if you want to see him again, we’ll help. It’s a bit boring this year without anything going on.” Niall makes a few more notes and turns the page in his book. “You sing, don’t you?”
“Not anymore.” Louis shrugs. The whole Weird Sisters thing feels embarrassing now and he doesn’t want to get into why he was dropped. The idea people might know about it makes his skin crawl with shame.
“Pity.” Niall waits for Dewhirst to pass their desk before continuing. “Me and Payno are in a band. Could use a third.”
“A band?” Louis looks up at Niall, a spark of interest flaring.
“Call ourselves Potter and the Wotsits.” Niall looks proud as punch and Louis stares at him.
“That’s a fucking stupid name. Wotsits are Muggle crisps. They’re…” Louis waves a hand. “Orange.”
Niall looks triumphant. “And that’s why we need someone else. Don’t want to name ourselves after orange Muggle crisps if we can help it.”
Louis tries to stop the smile breaking over his face but he’s not sure he manages it. He has a moment of remembering the warmth of Nick’s arms, the not-quite kiss and the way Pig’s little paw felt in his hand just an hour or two ago.
I think you’ve got a good mate in Gryffindor.
“I’ll do the band thing.” Louis scratches some more notes when Professor Dewhirst gives him a sharp look. “If you change the name.”
“Brilliant.” Niall taps his quill against the text book. “Boggarts, mate. All the stuff they don’t teach you in third year about how you can do more than just laugh at them.”
Louis can’t help the shiver that passes through him because he’s sure Niall remembers as well as everyone else the overwhelming terror in Louis’ yells when someone shoved him in front of the Boggart in their third year. Two fist fights and a trip to the infirmary later and Louis hasn’t been able to face one ever since.
“Boggarts.” One two, one two. Louis takes a breath and for the first time in ages, actually begins to focus. “Let’s do this.”
“Just a bit.” Louis helps himself to a lemon sherbet and pulls a face. “Am I going to be in loads of trouble?”
“Ah.” Dumbledore looks sad. He folds his hands together and closes his eyes. “That is no longer for me to decide.”
“Mr Tomlinson.” McGonagall cuts Louis off as she sweeps into the Headmistresses office, taking a seat at the desk and giving Louis a stern look over the rim of her glasses. “Are you quite comfortable?”
Louis’ cheeks heat and he sucks guiltily on the lemon sherbet, nodding his head. “Yes thanks.”
“Please, do help yourself to a sweet.” McGonagall rolls her eyes and shuffles through some papers. She flicks her wand and the door to the office closes. The low rumble of Dumbledore snoring makes her roll her eyes again. “That’s quite enough of that, Albus. I know full well you’re not asleep.”
The snoring stops. McGonagall looks more harried than usual. Stern but fair, she always has a neat dark bun with a peppering of grey hair. Today her lips purse into a tight line and her brow furrows as she reads a letter which carries the heavy, waxy, Ministry seal. With a harrumph of displeasure, she sends the letter into a locked cabinet and uses her wand to extract a memory from her temple. Louis knows all about storing memories but he’s never seen it happen before. He watches, fascinated as the silvery strands slide into a small vial which McGonagall corks and sends to the same cabinet as the letter.
“Cool,” he murmurs.
McGonagall looks at him sharply. “I can assure you there is nothing cool about it, Mr Tomlinson.” She picks up a quill and a worryingly long piece of parchment which looks as though it contains a list of Louis’ misdemeanours. “I received a call from a former student who informed me that instead of attending classes yesterday, you decided to go to Hogsmeade to ogle a winking poster of Harry Potter.”
Louis swallows. It doesn’t sound great when she puts it like that. “Yeah, it was a competition and-”
“Mr Tomlinson, Harry Potter himself could have been conjuring dancing Cornish Pixies in the middle of the Three Broomsticks and you would still have no excuse for being out of school during your most important academic year.”
“Sorry,” Louis mumbles.
McGonagall sighs and rolls up the parchment. “I’m not looking for your apologies.” She pauses. “I understand things might have been difficult for you since Mr Malik’s departure, but you are inattentive in class, struggling with your homework and if you don’t work hard this year I have it on good authority you can expect to fail at least three of your N.E.W.T.s.” McGonagall looks at the parchment briefly again. “Potions, Dark Arts and Arithmancy.”
Louis tugs at his tie. There’s something about a ticking off from McGonagall that makes him feel particularly small. Like that time he got told off by his mum for getting pissed at the Red Lion or when she found him and Zayn smoking last summer. He hates disappointing his mum. It makes his stomach squirm unpleasantly and the heavy weight of guilt settles over him like a dark cloud for days after. He needs to write to his mum. She’s going to want to know how he is and he hates not being able to Fire Call. He thinks of Nick’s Muggle phone and wonders if he might be able to borrow it one day to use somewhere non-magic to call his mum. Not that Nick’s likely to want to spend any more time with Louis, after everything.
“I’ll do better,” Louis says. He really, really wants to. He just doesn’t know how. He gnaws at his thumbnail and avoids looking at McGonagall.
“You will.” McGonagall sniffs. “I’ve arranged for some private tuition from Professor Snape. He’s willing to assist with your Potions and Arithmancy.”
Louis bites back a groan. That means more evenings in a musty classroom with a portrait that hates him. Brilliant.
McGonagall continues. “I may also have taken the liberty to encroach on the generosity of this former student who has agreed to assist with Dark Arts, should it be necessary. If he thinks it appropriate to encourage students to leave their classes to engage in hairbrained activities, he too can suffer the consequences.”
Louis looks up, his eyebrows raising. “Nick?” It doesn’t make any sense. Nick was rubbish at school. Louis knows that because he’s always banging on about his Dreadfuls on the radio.
“Mr Grimshaw, yes.” McGonagall’s expression softens. “Whilst you’re there, you might wish to talk to him about…anything that might be bothering you.”
Louis swallows and he stares at McGonagall. A white-hot shame slices through him and he’s never felt more exposed. What the fuck did Nick say to her? Nick didn’t mention anything about becoming Louis’ private fucking tutor. He thinks of pushing up onto his tiptoes and pressing his lips to Nick’s and his cheeks are so hot, he wants to curl up into a ball and disappear forever.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing in particular.” McGonagall pushes her glasses onto her head and looks away. “Simply that it never does any good to keep things bottled up. Whatever they may be.” She looks back at Louis and seems to be toying with something. Eventually, she turns a picture on her desk. The woman in the photograph has cropped grey hair and she’s smiling at the camera, smoking a pipe and giving the photographer a wave. The garden in the background is lush and full of bright flowers. The woman’s hand is dirty as if she’s just stopped gardening and has been caught unawares. Her smile is broad and she looks happy. “You may remember Professor Grubbly-Plank. Now retired.”
“Yeah, I suppose.” Louis’ heart thuds in his chest and he looks from the picture to McGonagall and back again. “Think she did something with Care of Magical Creatures in fourth year.”
“Indeed.” Professor McGonagall nods. “The one class for which you have nothing but excellent reports. You have a talent when it comes to animals.”
“Wish I had that with people,” Louis mutters.
McGonagall makes a non-committal sound. “I am trying to impress on you – very simply – that when it comes to matters of the heart, it is the heart which should prevail. Not the head. Not the gossips or the rumourmongers or asinine Ministry edicts.”
“Thanks.” Louis swallows. “I’ll remember that.”
“Be sure you do.” McGonagall turns the photograph and arranges her papers briskly. “Now, as much as it pains me to do so, I’m afraid I have to take twenty points from Gryffindor and you have an appointment with Professor Snape this evening. I would advise you to be punctual. Mr Grimshaw is expecting you next Wednesday. I am prepared to allow you to visit his home, provided you are back in the castle by no later than ten o’clock and believe me Mr Tomlinson – I shall be checking.”
“Yeah, I will. I’ll be back for ten.” Louis is already thinking of ways to get out of his lessons with Nick. Lessons. Like he’s a fucking child rather than a very-nearly-eighteen-year-old wizard. His blood boils as he wonders how many of his secrets Nick decided to share. He images McGonagall and Nick laughing about him and he gets angry. He’s going to give Nick hell for this. If Nick wants to be some kind of bloody do-gooder he’s about to find out exactly why people think Louis is such a rubbish student.
“Yeah?” Louis grits his teeth to try to avoid snapping.
“Could you remind me again about your wand?”
Louis fingers the slim wood in his pocket and frowns. “What about it?”
McGonagall clucks under her breath. “It’s core.”
“Right.” Louis takes it from his pocket and studies it. Slim, innocuous and pretty fucking useless most of the time. “Thestral hair.”
Something flairs in McGonagall’s eyes and she purses her lips, giving Louis a tight nod. “I thought so. Very well, Mr Tomlinson. That will be all.”
Before he leaves, Louis takes one look back at the room. Professor McGonagall is standing by the locked cabinet and depositing another silvery memory, her stance tense.
“Pay attention.” Snape rouses Louis from his sleepy state, his voice clipped. “At this rate-”
“I know, I know. I’ll fail, I’m crap. I’ve got the message, thanks.” Louis resists the urge to shake Snape’s portrait. He’s sure that would result in more points being taken and he’s already done enough of that for the Gryffindors to hate him.
“You are no such thing.” Snape surprises Louis by sitting heavily at his desk and watching him with dark eyes. “You are a bright, capable student who refuses to learn.”
“That’s not true.” Louis’ mouth is dry and Snape glares at him.
“I do not lie, Mr Tomlinson.” Snape looks away for a moment. “Not unless it is required of me.”
Louis knows the stories about Snape. Just thirty-eight when he died at the hands of You-Know-Who’s snake. A spy for the Order of the Phoenix. A fucking horrible teacher but brave. By all accounts.
“It’s…” Louis trails off.
“It doesn’t interest you?” Snape snorts impatiently. “The ignorance of youth. Has it ever occurred to you that there might be a time when you need these potions? The spells you are so wilfully reticent to learn?”
Louis looks at Snape. “I’m seventeen.”
“Yes.” Snape stares at Louis. “As was Potter. As was I. The Dark Lord had begun his plans long before he reached your age. You think such pleas would save you, if ever you found yourself confronted with the kind of magic I sincerely hope you never have to encounter?” Snape snaps his book closed and stands. “Foolish, foolish child.”
After Snape leaves, Louis stares at the empty frame for a long time before finally making his way back to the Tower and into the warmth of his bed.
“Tomlinson.” A familiar voice pulls Louis from the painting and he turns to the smaller portrait in a shadowy corner of the room.
“Remus is fine. I’m no longer anyone’s Professor.” Lupin occupies the usually empty space. The moon hangs in the background, fuller tonight. A stream pulses behind Lupin’s form and the water looks like oil in the darkness.
“You’re never here anymore,” Louis says.
“I’m here more often than you think.” Lupin adjusts his tie. Louis has seen pictures of the Professor. The jagged scar along his cheek and the ratty tweeds he favoured. This portrait has always been different. Lupin has sandy, shaggy hair and he looks young and vibrant. He’s in his Hogwarts uniform and he sometimes tells Louis about something called the Marauders Map, with a wicked gleam in his eye. Louis doesn’t know what the fuck that is, but it sounds cool. A map that shows you every secret passageway in the school. One that shows you where all the teachers are at any given time. It’s the kind of map that sounds like it would let you get away with some real mischief.
“It’s good to see you.” Louis steps closer and it’s only then that he notices the streak of something not quite dark enough to be dirt on Lupin’s cheek. It’s deep red and fresh enough to look as if it’s only recently happened. A swipe of blood-red oil which isn’t quite dry.
“I need you to find Harry.” Lupin’s voice is low and he looks behind him as something howls in the distance. “Tell him I sent you. Tell him the werewolves are moving. Tell him about Snape’s portrait.”
“I can’t just go and see Harry bloody Pott-”
“You can.” Lupin presses his hands against the canvas and he looks more frightened than Louis has ever seen him. “You can, and you must. Trust no one. I want you to promise me you will tell no one.”
“I…I promise.” Louis presses his fingers against the canvas to touch Lupin’s outstretched hand. “Are you going to be okay?”
Lupin lets out a bitter laugh. “I’m already dead, Tomlinson. It’s the living I’m worried about.”
A shiver passes through Louis and he nods, clutching the shaft of his wand and looking back at Snape’s broken portrait. “I’ll find Harry.”
“Good.” Lupin heaves a sigh.
Louis turns on his heel to leave the room and before he exits he hears Lupin whisper constant vigilance and something deep in the belly of the castle screams.