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Little Lion Man

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“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.”

“It’s…interesting.”

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.

*

“Tommo!” Louis comes round slowly, to find himself face-to-face with Niall Horan, who’s a bit too close for comfort and poking him in the side. “Time to get up. We’ve got Arithmancy at nine.”

“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.

“Homework.”

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 spends the day wandering listlessly through Hogsmeade. He goes to Honeydukes and buys some of those Harry Styles gobstoppers, because they’re ridiculous and irritatingly good. He doesn’t want to like them but they taste brilliant and he spends a good hour with his face puffed out to accommodate the delicious treat, letting the flavours swirl around in his mouth. Magical gobstoppers are better than Muggle ones. They change flavour with each new suck and twist and release new bursts of strawberry and soft, buttery shortbread as Louis presses the sweet into his cheek. He avoids the places he knows Hogwarts staff might be loitering and finds a small bench where he sits until a wizard tries to convince him to buy some illegal Hideous Hex quills.

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?”

“Donny. Doncaster.”

“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.

*

“I went for lager. Proper laddy, me.” Nick puts two pints on the table and grabs a stool which he places opposite Louis. He clinks their glasses together before taking a long drink and smacking his lips together. “Bloody lovely. I haven’t had a beer in ages. That’s what happens when you’re on Gamp’s for a month.”

“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.

“I thought…”

“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.

*

“You said you do stuff with music?” Nick’s flushed in the cheeks and a bit pissed, although not half as battered as Louis who moved onto the Firewhisky one too many drinks ago.

“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.”

“Okay.”

Louis watches Nick moving through the crowds and fingers the small pins on his bag, telling himself everything’s going to be okay.

*

“Did you go to Hogwarts before Durmstrang?” Nick has a sip of his Firewhisky and Louis can definitely feel the booze now – hot in his throat and making his head spin.

“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.

“Another drink?”

“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.

*

Louis quickly discovers that walking after multiple shots – even when Nick Grimshaw does have a pretty solid arm around your waist – is not easy. He can see two of everything and the moon and stars blur into one mess of lights which leave him blinking up at the sky.

“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.

*

Louis wakes up with a wet tongue on his face and he rolls over, pulling his blankets over his head.

“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.

Pig. Nick.

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.

*

“If you open your text books to page-”

“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.”

*

“I hear you’ve been causing all kinds of trouble, my boy.” The portrait of Albus Dumbledore looks quite delighted at Louis’ trouble-making. He wags his finger, but his words are mitigated by the way his eyes twinkle as he appraises Louis.

“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.”

“Still-”

“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.

“Mr Tomlinson?”

“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.

*

Louis yawns, his notes blurring before his eyes. His head throbs and he rubs his forehead with his fingers.

“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.

*

“Professor Snape?” Louis drops his bag at the doorway to the classroom occupied by Snape’s portrait. There’s a large gash in the oil, jagged and sharp. It’s a cold slice across the desk and the portrait looks as though it’s been recently abandoned, a waxy candle still flickering pitifully and piles of books overturned. A creeping sense of unease settles over Louis and he approaches the portrait, carefully touching the ripped canvas.

“Tomlinson.” A familiar voice pulls Louis from the painting and he turns to the smaller portrait in a shadowy corner of the room.

“Professor Lupin?”

“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.

Chapter Text

“What’s going on?” Louis finds Niall and Liam in a crowd of people who followed the screams which turn out to be a combination of Tilly Clearwater sobbing and a distressed Augurey, flying around a small, fusty classroom with panicked screeches.

“An Augurey got into the castle somehow. People are going barmy because it’s supposed to mean someone’s going to die.”

“That’s rubbish,” Louis scoffs. He knows all about Augureys. He studied them for Care of Magical Creatures and everyone always gets them wrong. He thinks they’re cool. “It’s not even true.”

“Bit weird though. Don’t see them very often.” Liam turns to Louis and gives him a smile. “Hi, Tommo. Hear you’re joining Potter and the Wotsits?”

Louis rolls his eyes at the name, but nods. “Yeah. Sounds good, mate.” A thought occurs to him and he wonders if he can trust Liam and Niall. After toying with what to say for a moment, he decides he doesn’t have much choice.

“Doesn’t your mum do something at the Ministry?” Louis keeps his voice low, speaking to Liam.

“Yeah, she’s in Magical Law Enforcement. Why?”

“I need to go there. Tonight. I’ve got to see someone.”

“Grimmy?” Niall sounds delighted.

“No, fuck. No.” Heat rises in Louis’ cheeks and Liam looks a bit flushed too. He wishes Niall would stop trying to make it sound like Louis has anything more with Nick than a fucking embarrassing memory he’d quite like to erase with a swift Obliviate. “Someone else. I’ll tell you when I’m back.”

“Okay.” Liam looks unsure. “I don’t want to get mum in trouble.”

“You won’t.” Louis shakes his head. He likes Liam. He wouldn’t want to get his mum in trouble either. “I just need the visitors number.”

“Oh.” Liam looks relieved that he’s not going to have to get involved in some hairbrained scheme. “That’s fine. It’s three, six, four, six, three, three.”

“Cool. Thanks.”

“Want us to come with you?” Niall asks.

“Nah.” Louis shakes his head. “Won’t be back too late. Make sure McGonagall doesn’t find out, will you?”

“’Course.”

Louis slips out of the crowd, moving quickly to Gryffindor Tower. He leaves his satchel behind, putting on his Gryffindor scarf and a duffle coat which looks bloody ridiculous but his mum bought it for him and it reminds him of Donny so he wears it anyway.

He shoves his wand in his pocket and takes a breath. “Off to the Ministry,” he mutters to himself. He sincerely hopes Harry Potter is the sort to work late and not pack up at five. It takes a while for Louis to make it outside of Hogwarts gates so he can finally Apparate to Whitehall, but eventually he’s in a small street surrounded by dilapidated buildings and a pub. He makes his way to the telephone box he’s seen in his textbooks and opens the door, still not sure it’s going to work. He picks up the receiver gingerly because it looks like someone’s put their chewing gum on the end of it. Holding it away from his ear he dials the number Liam gave him and the telephone crackles.

“Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. Please state your name and business.” A woman’s voice slides through the receiver and it makes Louis jump. Half of him didn’t expect it to work.

“Err…”

“Name and business invalid,” the woman says.

Louis clears his throat and tries again. “Louis Tomlinson. I’m here with a message for Harry Potter.”

“Please submit for a search and present your wand at the registration desk at the far side of the atrium.” A badge flies through a metal chute and Louis pins it to his coat. Louis Tomlinson, it says. Message Giver. Louis looks around to see if there’s a button he should press or something. As he does so the floor vibrates beneath him before the pavement hurtles down and Louis finds himself approaching a sliver of golden light which widens as he gets closer. He stops with a thump and stumbles out of the telephone box, into the Ministry of Magic.

“Shit.” Louis cranes his neck back, taking in the midnight-blue ceiling which stretches high above Louis. Gold symbols twist this way and that and multiple fires flicker along the walls of the Atrium. The Ministry is relatively quiet but there are still one or two people in a mixture of formal robes and Muggle clothes, their heels clicking on the highly polished wooden floor. Nobody pays Louis any mind. Drinking in every twist and turn of the symbols on the ceiling, Louis makes his way to the registration desk where a bored looking attendant weighs his wand and flicks a magical scanner over Louis.

“Fifteen inches, thestral tail core, active for six years?” The man holds up Louis’ wand.

“Yeah.”

“Here you go.” The man gives Louis his wand back and relaxes into his seat again. “You’ll want Level Two for Harry Potter. There’s extra clearance for that. He gets a lot of visitors, as you can imagine.”

“I bet.” Louis pockets his wand and makes his way to the lifts. They're huge, ostentatious gold. The heavy grilles heave open and clank behind Louis as he presses the button for Level Two. The lift drops down.

“Department of Magical Law Enforcement.” The lift intones as the doors open.

“Err, thanks.” Louis makes his way into another huge atrium with a silvery fountain in the middle. The water looks almost turquoise and it shimmers in the light from the candles adorning the walls. He peers inside and touches his fingers to the surface of the water, watching as it ripples outwards.

“I wouldn’t do that.” A voice behind Louis makes him start. “There are baby Grindylows in there.”

Louis snatches his hand back and turns to find himself face to face with Harry Potter. “They’ve got those in the Great Lake. Vicious bastards. Casper Taunton had his thumb bitten off by one in third year. He had to have it reattached but they did it wrong.” Louis waggles his fingers. “Backwards. It’s weird.”

Harry grins and he raises his eyebrows at Louis. “Is that right?”

“Yeah.” Louis clears his throat and pushes his hands into the cavernous pockets of his duffle coat. He can feel a few scraps of paper under his fingers and a box of Marlboro Lights. He’d kill for a cigarette now.

“You’re here for me?”

Louis nods. “Yeah. I’ve got a message.”

“Do you mind?” Harry extracts his wand and points it at Louis. “Scanning spell.”

“No.” Louis isn’t sure what he should do, so he just stands awkwardly as a pulse of powerful magic passes over him. It makes him shiver. It also feels good. His cheeks heat and he hopes the scan doesn’t have any mind-reading properties.

“Seems you’re safe.” Harry puts his wand in his pocket. He doesn’t look much like a Head Auror. When he’s at Hogwarts he’s usually in long, official robes and those dragon-hide boots Louis likes so much. Today he looks relaxed as if he’s off-duty. He’s wearing a misshapen jumper with a rough H on the front and blue jeans with rips in. He’s got the same Converse trainers as Louis, black and battered as if they get worn a lot. It makes Louis less nervous and he follows Harry through the corridor to an office with Head Auror Potter on the door on a bronze plaque. It’s fancy. Louis wonders if he’ll ever have an office with his name on. He reckons not. If Potter and the Wotsits are as bad as they sound, Louis is totally fucked.

“Wow.” Louis can’t help but stare when he steps inside the office. It’s cosy but ornate. It’s covered with photographs of people Louis recognises from the history books. There’s a portrait of Albus Dumbledore snoring in the corner and another large portrait which currently hangs empty. There’s a desk at the end of the room covered with a messy stack of papers, a couple of quills and open books. A fire crackles and a sofa faces the fire with a couple of comfortable armchairs arranged into a pleasant sitting space which looks inviting and homely. A familiar figure lounges on one of the armchairs, a cut-glass tumbler in his hand and his legs crossed elegantly. The seat on the sofa next to him looks recently vacated, a second glass on the coffee table. Louis swallows, suddenly nervous again. Posh Slytherins have a tendency to do that to him.

“Who the fuck are you?” Draco’s voice is clipped and he even sounds expensive. He stands and puts his tumbler down, his body long and lithe. He’s wearing smart black trousers and a shirt with a charcoal waistcoat. Every inch of his outfit is exquisitely tailored and he looks as though he’s stepped right off the page of some glossy Muggle men’s fashion magazine. He’s gorgeous in the flesh, with tidy white hair and sharp, distinctive features. He also looks like a bit of an arse and it makes Louis instantly bristle. Careful, Tommo, he warns himself. Don’t want to be booted out of the Ministry on your arse for accidentally hexing Harry Potter’s maybe-boyfriend.

“Malfoy,” Harry cautions. His tone isn’t at all like Draco’s. He sounds warm like the fire, amused and a bit entertained by the unexpected visit. Louis swallows as he glances at Harry, taking in the familiar rumple of hair and the way his face curves easily into a smile. The scar’s there – right above his glasses and Louis probably should have thought through the whole meeting a hero thing as he’s not sure he can speak properly without babbling with Harry so close.

“Are you here from the Harry Potter Fan Club?” Draco looks irritated. “He’s already told you not to disturb him at work. Although while you’re here, I’ve been meaning to have a word. If you’re going to send flowers can I recommend something other than self-fertilising shrubs? The last one nearly took my finger off.”

“It was a nice gesture.” Harry huffs with laughter. “Something less…flesh-eating might be better next time. Like Asphodels.”

“Asphodels are for graves, Potter.” Draco rolls his eyes. “Knowing this motley bunch, the next gift will probably be a Venomous Tentacula.”

“I’m not from the Fan Club,” Louis pipes up. He gives Harry an apologetic look. “Sorry. It’s not that I’m not a fan. I am but I didn’t know there was a club and-”

“Oh, for the love of Merlin.” Draco retrieves his glass and has a sip of the amber liquid. “Must you make everyone fall in love with you, Potter? If I see one more person falling all over themselves to catch a glimpse of that stupid scar-”

“Don’t mind him.” Harry interrupts Draco mid-flow and winks at Louis, which makes his heart skip and jump. It reminds him of the flag and the inappropriate thoughts he’s had about Harry over the years. “He’s just bent out of shape because the Draco Malfoy Fan Club disbanded last year after a fight about whether Malfoy should grow his hair.” Harry moves to the front of his desk, leaning against it. If Harry Potter’s fit in pictures, he’s even fitter in the flesh. The air practically hums with magic and it’s a bit much being a few feet away and basking in the warmth of his smile. It doesn’t help that Harry and Draco were so obviously in the middle of some private chat which makes Louis’ mind wander to places it shouldn’t. He feels like a spare part, standing awkwardly and trying to get out a proper sentence.

“Professor Lupin sent me,” Louis says. He’s quite proud of himself because his voice hardly squeaks at all.

“Remus?” Harry shoots a surprised look at Draco who meets it with a frown, before raising his eyebrow at Louis and looking less bored. Harry flicks his hand to close the door. Wandless, non-verbal language is brilliant, Louis decides. It makes him want to learn stuff so he can do cool tricks like that too. Harry gestures to the sitting area. “I suppose you’d better have a seat, then. What’s your name?”

“Louis. Louis Tomlinson. People call me Tommo.” Louis mentally curses himself. Harry Potter’s not going to call him Tommo. He couldn’t sound like more of a star-struck twat if he tried. He needs some of whatever Draco’s drinking. He wasn’t even this much of an idiot around Nick and Louis has been obsessed with Nick forever.

“Hi, Louis.” Harry runs a hand through his hair and sits on the arm of the sofa, next to Draco. There’s an intimacy between them which Louis envies. An easy way of just being together without second guessing what anyone else might think. Harry nods at Louis’ scarf. “You’re Gryffindor?”

“Yeah.” Louis shrugs and looks at his hands. “I always wanted to be a Hufflepuff. No offense.”

“None taken,” Harry says. He sounds amused.

“Why the fuck would you want to be a Hufflepuff?” Draco lets out a derisive snort.

“Hufflepuffs are cool.” Louis glares at Draco, feeling oddly defensive. Nick’s a Hufflepuff. There’s nothing wrong with Hufflepuff. Nick always made it sound brilliant. Louis is starting to think Draco’s a bit of a knobhead.

“I’m genuinely concerned for the next generation.” Draco rolls his eyes and mutters Hufflepuff under his breath. “I don’t suppose anyone wants to be in Slytherin?” Draco’s expression flickers, a brief bitterness marring his features. Harry gives Draco’s shoulder a squeeze and Louis stares at Harry’s hand, brushing Draco’s shoulder before he puts it back on the sofa.

“My best mate was in Slytherin.” Louis tears his eyes away from Harry and looks at Draco. “I like Slytherins. They let me go for cigarettes with them.”

“Of course they do.” Draco looks pleased, even though he should probably be telling Louis off for smoking.

“You said Remus had a message for me?” Harry gives Louis an encouraging smile.

“Yeah.” Louis takes a breath, making sure he gets the message just right. “I had detention with Snape – Professor Snape, I mean – but when I got there, someone had done something to his portrait. It was a right mess. It had a massive tear in it.”

Harry’s brow furrows and Draco’s lips press into a line. “Was Snape in the portrait still?”

“No.” Louis shakes his head. “Just some candles and it looked as if he left in a hurry. His desk was untidy and it’s never been like that before.”

Draco stands and he wanders to the empty portrait, looking at it with his back to Harry and Louis. His shoulders are tense.

“If anything’s happened to Severus…”

“He’ll be fine,” Harry murmurs. It’s a strange thing to say and Louis thinks it’s probably not the moment to remind them both that Snape’s already dead. How much worse can it get? Harry focuses on Louis again. “What exactly did Remus tell you?”

“He said I should tell you about Sna-Professor Snape. He also said the werewolves are on the move again. He didn’t want me to tell anybody else at Hogwarts. He said I should go straight to you. That’s why I’m here.” Louis pauses before another thought occurs to him. “Oh. Constant vigilance. He said that, too. It looked as though he might have been injured.” Louis isn’t sure it’s relevant but just in case he adds it anyway. “That was right before Tilly Clearwater got attacked by an Augurey.”

Harry stares at Louis. “An Augurey?”

“Yeah.” Louis feels a bit stupid. “It probably doesn’t matter. Caused a right kerfuffle, though. No one knows how it got in and people are still scared of them because of the whole foretelling death thing, which is stupid because they don’t even do that.” Louis stops talking. Harry probably knows all about magical creatures. He doesn’t need a lesson on Augureys from someone who’s probably going to fail most of his N.E.W.Ts.

Why I Didn’t Die When the Augurey Cried,” Draco murmurs. It’s the title of a book which Louis remembers reading. The one that debunked the whole omens-of-death thing. Louis has always been fond of misunderstood creatures and they’re about the only thing that can keep him up at night, reading. Draco continues to stare at the portrait as if he’s waiting for someone to appear but the frame stays dark and empty.

“She’s fine now,” Louis says. “Tilly Clearwater, I mean. Pomfrey sorted it and Dewhirst gave her a calming draught.”

“Good.” Harry sounds as though he’s thinking, his face fixed in a frown. He moves from the sofa to stand behind Draco, putting a hand on the small of his back and murmuring something to him which Louis can’t quite catch. Draco gives a terse nod in response. Louis can’t help but think about them. Together. He wonders what it might be like, having that person. He tries to imagine them kissing and wonders how it would feel to have that with someone. Louis wants it so much. The thought of being touched by someone else makes him shift in place. Jealousy rolls through him when he drinks in what Harry and Draco have together. The late-night chats with brandy and a warm fire. Another wizard who knows what it’s like, who can squeeze your shoulder or put their hand on your lower back and make all the knots, tension and bad things disappear for a moment. Someone who might make it feel less strange. Less different.

“Harry?” There’s a knock at the door and a very familiar voice makes Louis’ heart thud in his chest as heat flares in his cheeks.

“It’s open,” Harry says.

The door opens and Nick comes into the room, looking distracted. “You’re going to have to speak to the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes about that room you want to use for the International Auror bash.”

“Problem?” Harry sounds clipped and his voice isn’t as friendly as before.

“Yeah. There’s been a magical accident and catastrophe.” Nick mutters obviously under his breath. “Not to mention the glitter balls aren’t glittering, the magical decks have started puking up Fwooper feathers whenever I try to play anything Muggle and believe me, it’s just not a party if you can’t have a bit of Rihanna.” Nick stops and finally catches sight of Louis. “Louis? What the fuck are you doing here?”

“You know each other?” Harry’s gaze flicks from Louis to Nick and then he rolls his eyes. “Why am I not surprised? Of course you do.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Nick sounds annoyed and he glares at Harry. Louis is quite impressed by that. He’s not sure he would glare at Harry Potter. “It’s not like that.”

“Never said it was.” Harry folds his arms. He doesn’t look like he believes Nick. “I’m just saying you’ve got a type, that’s all.”

Nick splutters indignantly, his face red. “Forget fixing the decks. You can have Celestina Warbeck at your stupid party. See how you like that.”

“It’s hardly stupid. It’s-”

Relax, Potter.” Draco stands next to Harry, touching his arm lightly. He murmurs something to Harry which seems to make him less antsy. Louis is fascinated by how they do that. How they move into one another’s space and the tension ebbs away. He can almost reach out and touch the connection between them and even the lightest touches make him feel something. They have him imagining a warm, firm hand against his own. A steady arm wrapped around his waist. A wizard pushing him against a wall and just-

Louis clears his throat, glancing at Nick just in time to catch him staring.

“I’m relaxed.” Harry shrugs on his coat and flicks his wand to summon his scarf. Louis wonders at the fact he still wears an old Gryffindor scarf. He can’t imagine wearing his after school. He wants to forget about Gryffindor and put Hogwarts down to one more bad experience. Just another blot on his record.

“You’re going to have to pick this up with Potter later. We’ve got business at Hogwarts.” Draco smiles at Nick. It’s surprisingly friendly and he looks less uptight when he’s smiling. “Still fancy that Wizard Form art exhibition at the Unplottable Gallery next week?”

Nick returns Draco’s smile with one of his own. “I’ll meet you after the show. Wednesday, was it?”

Harry mutters something impolite under his breath and Draco rolls his eyes. “You hate art, Potter. Last time I took you to a gallery you said you’d prefer to Crucio your balls than go to another one.”

“I said no such thing.” Harry’s cheeks flush and he looks between Nick and Draco before yanking on a coat and winding a Gryffindor scarf around his neck. “Are you going to come and sort this out with me, or do you want to have another brandy and bang on about Picasso with Grimmy?”

“I’m coming.”

Harry looks across at Louis. “Are you okay getting back to Hogwarts or do you want to side-along?”

Louis shakes his head. “I’m seventeen. Nearly eighteen. I’ve got my license.”

Harry’s eyes narrow at Louis. “Does McGonag-the Headmistress know you’re out?”

Louis shakes his head again. “I couldn’t tell anyone. I’ll be fine, though. I sneak out all the time.”

Harry looks as if he’s caught between laughing and telling Louis off. In the end he gives Louis a stern look, the effect of which is mitigated by the small smile he’s obviously trying to hold back.

“Get back before they notice you’re missing, will you? I’ll keep your name out of it for now.”

“Thanks.” Louis likes Harry even more.

“I’ll make sure he gets back,” Nick says.

“Good.” Harry scratches out a quick note and it disappears through the door, winging its way into the depths of the Ministry. “I’ve asked Ramsbottom to check the room.”

“Cheers.” Nick looks at Louis again, his brow furrowed.

Harry scribbles something else on a piece of parchment. “If there’s anything else like this again be careful with owls – they’re too easily intercepted.” He gives the parchment to Louis. “Patronus. Send it here or to The Burrow. They’re safe places. Do that or Fire Call me or Malfoy. If you can’t reach us try Ron Weasley or Hermione Granger. I’ll tell them about you. You know how to Fire Call, don’t you?”

“’Course I do.” Louis bristles. He decides not to mention he can’t cast a Patronus. He’s just going to have to learn before he needs it. Which he hopefully won’t.

“Good.” Harry gives Louis a smile but it doesn’t meet his eyes. “Probably best not to sneak out again. Just in case it’s not safe. I can come to Hogwarts.”

“Will Professor Snape be okay?” Louis doesn’t know why he cares because Snape is a right arse to him most of the time, but he’s surprised to find he does.

“Professor Snape’s survived worse than this. I mean…his portrait has.” Harry and Draco exchange another look, then Harry claps Louis on the shoulder. “Thanks for the message.”

“No problem.” Louis’ shoulder tingles from where Harry touched him and when he looks up, Nick’s glaring at him and looks a bit pink in the cheeks.

“Wait.” When Nick and Louis are outside Harry’s office, Harry opens the door again and gestures to Louis. “Louis?”

“Yeah?”

“What’s your wand core?”

“Thestral tail hair.” Louis clutches his wand in his pocket and stares at Harry. “Why the fuck does everyone keep asking me that?”

“Doesn’t matter.” Harry’s eyebrows knit into a frown and he studies Louis closely. “Don’t worry about it. I’m sure it’s fine.” He says it in a way which seems to suggest it’s probably not fine and Louis’ stomach swoops. After a minute the door closes and Louis finds himself standing in a darkening Ministry atrium, staring at Nick.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

“Nice to see you, too.” Nick rolls his eyes and mutters brat under his breath. “I’m doing something for a Ministry do. The question is, what the fuck are you doing in Harry Potter’s office?” Nick checks his watch. “At eight o’clock in the evening.”

“What did you tell McGonagall about me?” Louis clenches his hands into fists. “I’m not doing Dark Arts lessons with you by the way, so you can piss right off.”

Nick grimaces. “I didn’t tell her anything. For the record, I didn’t exactly volunteer to help you with your bloody homework. I’ve got better things to do, darling.”

Louis wants to punch Nick. He’s so annoying. “Why are you even doing it then?”

“Because I couldn’t think of a good reason to get out of it quickly enough.” Nick shrugs. “Don’t bother coming if you’re not interested. I couldn’t care less.”

Louis’ anger increases and he steps closer to Nick, giving him a small shove. “She’s not going to let me get away with not going, you pillock. She said she’s going to be checking.”

“Going to have to come then, aren’t you?” Nick grabs Louis’ arms by the wrists. He sounds irritated. “Oi. Stop that. Why are you being such a twat?”

“You’re the twat.” Louis stuffs his hands in his pockets when Nick releases them. “You’re not even good at school. You were shit.”

Nick’s eyebrows raise and bollocks now he knows how much Louis listens to the show. “Wasn’t so bad at Dark Arts. Got an E in that. I was good at Dark Arts and amazing at Care of Magical Creatures.” Nick looks smug.

“Everyone’s good at that. Even me.” Louis huffs. A thought occurs to him, his hand going to the note in his pocket with Harry’s scribbles on. “Can you teach me how to cast a Patronus?”

Nick’s eyes narrow and he looks suspicious. “I didn’t think they were teaching those, still. What with the Dementors going demented and fucking off to Bulgaria.”

“Don’t people still use them to send messages?” Louis’ hand tightens on the note. “Like Harry said.”

“Aurors, mainly. You’re not going to send a Patronus to tell someone their tea’s on the table. What do you need to know about communicating with a Patronus? Not a secret Unspeakable, are you?”

“If I was I wouldn’t be able to speak about it, would I?” Louis shoots back. He quite likes being mysterious. Nick’s an idiot. As if Louis could be an Unspeakable with predicted grades that include three Trolls and a load of Dreadfuls. For people who aren’t supposed to talk about the work they’re doing, Unspeakables are brilliant at letting people know their jobs are very hard thank you very much and they’re always wanging on about how brilliant they are at magic. Louis is about as likely to be an Unspeakable as he is to end up with an office in the Ministry and a plaque with his name on.

“Is everything alright?” Nick looks worried and although Louis wants to be irritated with Nick, there’s something nice about someone checking he’s okay.

“Don’t know.” Louis falls into step with Nick as they walk deeper into the Ministry. Nick doesn’t seem any more interested in leaving than Louis is, his mind too full of thoughts of Lupin’s portrait, Harry and Draco and being in a new, exciting place. “I had a weird message from one of the portraits. Professor Lupin. Someone tried to do something to Snape’s portrait. Lupin told me to come here and tell Harry. He didn’t want me to tell anyone at Hogwarts.”

“Seems a lot to put on a seventeen-year-old.” Nick sounds a bit pissed off and it makes Louis remember Snape’s last words to him.

“Harry was seventeen when he saved the world. You make it sound like I’m a kid.”

“I don’t think you’re a kid.” Nick glances at Louis. “Doesn’t mean I want you to have to save the world, though.”

“Why?” Louis stares at Nick.

“Dunno.” Nick’s cheeks flush “Wouldn’t want you getting hit with an Unforgivable or anything. Even if you are annoyin’ sometimes.”

That makes Louis’ insides warm enough to let the annoying bit slide for now. “Draco’s a bit of a knob. Are you, like, friends with him?” Louis studies Nick whose cheeks turn even pinker. Oh. Now Louis knows why Harry got so irritated when Nick interrupted the meeting.

“Yeah, we’re friends.” Nick clears his throat and looks up at the ceiling. He’s a terrible liar. An image of Draco Malfoy flashes through Louis’ mind. He’s so posh. So confident and put together with his fancy waistcoat and his white-blond hair. He’s got the kind of sartorial elegance Nick bangs on about in his fashion column and he looks like a model, poncing about art galleries all relax, Potter and flawless. A gnawing jealousy makes Louis grit his teeth because it’s not like he has any right to be jealous when it comes to Nick. Nick can shag whoever he wants, Louis couldn’t care less. Except…he does. It makes him feel even younger and more inexperienced than ever. The idea that Nick might be interested in Louis who hasn’t so much as properly kissed a bloke when he’s off having sex with people like Draco Malfoy is laughable.

“What about Harry?”

“What about him?” Nick looks wide-eyed at Louis and then snorts with laughter. “Don’t be soft. It was years ago. Harry wasn’t on the scene, not like he is now at least. It was just a bit of fun. Nothing serious. Definitely not the sort of thing that’s going to happen again.” Nick frowns and tugs at his hair, trying to style it and failing miserably. “I’ve had a lot of fun but nothing that’s stuck. Not really.”

“You don’t want that?”

“Not with Draco. Not with anyone else I’ve been with. Suppose I’m just waiting for the right person to come along. Someone who can put up with me.” Nick laughs, ever the master of using humour to deflect difficult questions. Louis’ learned that from years of listening to Nick on the radio. “There’s not much of a market for a past-it DJ who’s a bit rubbish at magic and spends most of his time with his Muggle mum, his crup and his kneazle.

Louis gives Nick a side-long look. He can’t quite bring himself to say he’s in the market for that. Can’t quite manage to let Nick know that he’s bloody lovely or explain how he makes Louis’ stomach feel all knotted-up, the way he makes heat flare through Louis and the way his soft eyes and warm, open smile have Louis jotting down song lyrics he’s determined no one else will ever get to see.

“Nick,” Louis says instead.

“Yeah?” Nick meets Louis’ gaze.

“Stinky’s not a kneazle.” Louis rolls his eyes. “I know I’m shit at Dark Arts but I’m not a total twat. I’m also not fucking blind.”

Nick leans in, his eyes shining. He presses his finger to his lips and makes a shushing sound. “Swedish Short-Snout. Had his wings clipped and he can’t breathe fire. Had to rescue him. He’s not going to grow any bigger, now. Couldn’t just leave him to die. No one wanted him. He’s a little pal for Pig. He likes sitting on her.”

Something about Nick being drawn towards a creature most people would just abandon makes Louis hot all over. “Stupid name for a dragon. Stinky.”

“You haven’t been around for the noxious gas.” Nick goes slightly cross-eyed and pulls an eurgh face. “There might not be flames but whenever he sneezes I have to leave the room for at least half an hour.”

Louis laughs. “Sick.”

“He’s a little menace.” Despite Nick’s words, he sounds so fond. “Spend half my time running around after him and trying to stop him from nesting in my favourite trainers. He always goes for the new ones. I think he likes the smell of designer. He has very discerning tastes.”

“I like the sound of him,” Louis decides. “Dragons are cool. Can I see him properly on Wednesday?”

“If you like.” Nick stuffs his hands in his pockets, looking around the giant atrium. His lips twitch. “Thought you weren’t coming for lessons. You told me to arse off, earlier.”

“Don’t reckon I can get out of them that easily. Not really my decision, is it? Not if I want to keep McGonagall off my back.” Louis glances at Nick. “And you’ll help me with the Patronus thing? Just in case I need to send one of those messages.”

Nick shrugs. “If you like.” He pauses. “Ever been in the Ministry before?”

“No.” A flush of excitement travels through Louis, coupled with the sudden desire to go exploring.

“Want to see something cool?”

Louis nods, his face breaking into a smile. “Always.”

“Come on, then.” Nick starts walking, gesturing for Louis to follow. “I’ll show you around.”

*

Louis always thought the Ministry was full of stuck-up twats poncing around in robes and looking permanently stressed. It turns out the Ministry out of hours is nothing like that. The corridors are vast and quiet and there’s something different around every corner. The whole place has a thrum of magical energy which makes Louis’ hands tingle. He doesn’t usually enjoy magic all that much, mainly because he’s rubbish at it. Today though, there’s something that feels as though they’re at the centre of everything. It's the same warm, rush of excitement Louis would feel when he used to make up spells with Zayn or when he got his first owl. They take their time mooching around. Nick shows Louis the model for the re-vamped Hogwarts Express in the Department of Magical Transportation and they sneak in to stroke the pygmy puffs in the Department for the Care of Magical Creatures.

Nick gets them both a hot chocolate from the twenty-four-hour Ministry café on Level Three. When he hands it to Louis their fingers brush and they both spend a moment suddenly fascinated by a picture on the wall (Nick) and a symbol spinning on the ceiling (Louis) before Nick breaks the awkward silence. “Fancy seeing the sports stuff?”

Louis pulls a face. “Don’t reckon.”

“No?” Nick seems surprised. “Not into sports?”

“Should I be?” Louis glares at Nick. He kicks his trainer against the floor and concentrates on extracting a marshmallow from his hot chocolate, licking his sticky fingers clean. When he looks up, Nick’s watching him with a strange expression. “I like Muggle sports.”

“Oh.” Nick’s grins at Louis. “Like the footie?”

“Yeah.” Louis nods. “Doncaster Rovers.”

“Who?” Nick laughs when Louis nudges him with his elbow. “We’re Man U fans in my house. Dad was, anyway. I’d just moan on about how boring it was. Never thought I’d miss it, but I do sometimes. Even find myself watching a game every now and again.”

Louis glances at Nick. He didn’t know that Nick’s dad isn’t around anymore. It makes him feel a bit panicky for reasons he can’t articulate. He shifts closer to Nick, so their arms brush as they walk. “Have to come to a game with me, then.”

“That would be proper laddy. My mum wouldn’t believe it.” Nick runs his tongue over his lip and looks down at Louis. He’s smiling. “Let’s go and see your Donny Rovers then, if you want. As long as you don’t let me have any pie.”

“I’ll buy you two,” Louis says. “If you like.”

“Menace.” Nick nudges Louis but doesn’t sound cross about it. “Not into Quidditch, then?”

“Don’t really get the point of arsing around on a broom.” Louis shrugs. “Don’t care about the House Cup and all that stuff. I like Muggle things better. I’m a rubbish wizard.”

“Nothing wrong with liking Muggle stuff. It doesn’t make you rubbish.” Nick pauses at the lifts. “Where to next?” Because Louis likes breaking rules, he convinces Nick to take him to Level Nine. “I shouldn’t even take you down there. It’s confidential.”

“You’re a gobby radio DJ. If anyone shouldn’t have access, it’s you.” Louis looks at Nick. “Why do you have access, anyway?”

“They did an event in the Space Chamber last year. Pretty fucking cool. Planets just floating around and all sorts. They won’t do it again, though. Someone got hold of some Department of Mysteries research and started blackmailing the Ministry. Caused a right issue. Now they stick to holding events in the main atrium on ground level and there’s all kinds of security to make sure people can’t travel between levels. I’m surprised they let you down to Level Two. That’s where all the serious stuff happens. There and Level Nine.”

“I had to have this scan thing.” Louis shivers at the memory of Harry’s magic travelling along the length of his body. “Felt weird.”

“Bet it did.” Nick grins. He taps his wand twice on the door and they enter a circular room with tall, black doors. Louis pauses outside one door which stretches into a high arch. When Louis looks closer he can see the wood is decorated with dark carvings. The floor twists and the doors spin, making Louis dizzy.

“Fuck.”

“It does that.” Nick extracts his wand and taps it against the door they're in front of, leaving two bright lights. “That’s why I did this on the other door. So we know how to get out.”

“Clever,” Louis says. He smiles at Nick. The room is shadowy and Nick’s close enough that Louis could inch just a bit nearer to close the distance between them completely. He’s close enough to notice the hitch in Nick’s breath and he catches the overwhelming scent of Nick’s cologne. It’s stronger than usual, catching on Louis’ nostrils with a powerful pull. The air smells like hot-chocolate, firewhisky and Nick. It’s dizzying and Louis shifts closer to Nick, finding himself close enough to feel Nick’s breath on his cheek.

“Louis.” Nick’s voice is croaky.

“Sorry.” Louis isn’t but he moves back to try to breathe again. The air still smells like Nick and he gives Nick a small smile. “It’s…I dunno what it is. The whole place smells like that posh cologne of yours. The Muggle one.”

“Oh.” Nick’s eyes widen and he swallows. He stares at Louis. “Does it?”

“Yeah.” Louis breathes in. “Like that, firewhisky and hot chocolate. Weird. This place is weird.”

“Yeah,” Nick says. His voice is low and rough. “Weird.” He moves on to another door, pushing it open to reveal the hanging planets of the Space Chamber which is the kind of room which makes Louis glad to be a wizard for once.

“Why didn’t we go in that other room?” Louis tips his neck back and watches a shooting star blast through the midnight sky.

“It’s the Ever-Locked Room. Can’t get in there.”

“Why’s it locked?”

“Dunno. Department of Mysteries, innit? A mystery.” Nick laughs but he sounds as if he knows more than he’s letting on. Louis glances at him but he’s poking around at something in the corner of the room. “They’re still here. The decks I used for that party.” Music filters through the room and Louis hums along to one of the songs.

“Like this one. You’re always playing it.”

“Listen a lot, do you?” Nick sounds genuinely curious and Louis shrugs.

“A bit.” A lot.

“Any good?” Nick’s tone is casual but Louis suspects the answer is important.

“Yeah. I like it. Used to listen on Potterwatch too.”

“Wow.” Nick laughs. “I was mad, then. Just finding my voice.”

“I liked it.” Louis shrugs. He catches Nick watching him and something about the way Nick’s looking at him takes his breath away. “Can you play anything?”

“Yeah.” Nick nods. “If I’ve got it.”

“Put on some Arctic Monkeys. Fluorescent Adolescent.”

“Alright. Love the Arctic Monkeys. If I mention them to anyone else, they think I’m on about those polar nifflers.”

Louis sniffs. “Well that’s just stupid. If you meant nifflers, you’d say so. I reckon you need to go out with different wizards, mate.”

“Yeah.” Nick looks up from the decks and his face is framed by the colourful lights from the planets spinning on their axes. “Maybe I do.”

Louis grins at Nick. “Come on, then. I want to hear the Polar Nifflers.”

Nick laughs and flicks on the music. Louis closes his eyes. He could be in his bedroom at home, listening to the radio and going out to the HMV to spend his pocket money on the Muggle songs Nick would play on WWN.

Brilliant,” Louis says.

“Yeah.” Nick’s voice is rougher than usual. “Love them.”

“I know,” Louis replies. He opens his eyes and tips his head back to look at the stars. He can’t even be embarrassed about the fact he’s just let Nick know exactly how much he listens to WWN as the familiar vocals flow through him and he watches the planets spin.

*

They leave the Space Chamber and make their way to the exit when Louis stops at one of the rooms. The door is the same as any other, indistinguishable from the rest. The difference is the noise. It’s quiet at first. A low whisper that sounds like his name. A hiss and a laugh. A drawn out Potter that sends a shiver through Louis’ body. Then the disparate whispers build in a steady crescendo. There are too many voices now. Too many to distinguish one from another. Louis can hear someone crying and he thinks he hears the faint sound of a dog growling as if it’s trying to chase some of the voices away. He presses his ear against the door, just to try to distinguish words. There’s something about the inviting lullaby of whispers which makes him want to get closer. They pull him in and he puts his hand on the door knob, trying to turn it.

“Can we go in there?”

“No.” Nick looks pale and he shakes his head. He puts his hand over Louis’ and tugs him away. “That’s the Death Chamber. I’m not keen on getting lured over to the other side by the dead, thanks.”

“Oh.” Louis hovers by the door as the whispers become louder and more insistent. “Is it always this loud?”

Nick pales further as he stares at Louis. “I can’t hear a thing.”

Louis pulls back from the door and a strange heat pulses through him. He swallows. “Nothing?”

“Nope.” Nick rests his fingers on Louis’ arm. “It’s okay. Probably just because I’ve been up here a few times. Maybe it’s like that the first time.”

“Was it for you?”

Nick shrugs. “Can’t remember.” He sounds evasive and Louis isn’t sure he believes him. All the doors are identical. If Nick can’t hear a thing, how would he know this was the Death Chamber? Louis decides to let it drop and steps back from the door as the voices fade away to nothing.

“You’d remember the voices,” Louis says. He sucks in a breath and glances at the other doors. Exploring doesn’t seem like so much fun anymore. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Yeah. Better get you back to Hogwarts.” Nick leads them to the door he marked when they first reached Level Nine and then back to the lift. They go through the exit after another security scan and emerge into the cool winter air. London hums around them. Louis takes the battered pack of Marlboros from his pocket and offers it to Nick.

“Cigarette?”

“Why not?” Nick takes one and flicks his lighter, pushing closer to Louis to let him light his fag. Louis sucks in the sharp, acrid smoke and blows it out slowly. He watches at it curls into the night sky before disappearing completely. There’s something about cigarettes. The way they smell familiar and the way they remind Louis of Zayn’s last year and a time when everything was different. Louis tightens his scarf around his neck.

“Where do you live? For Wednesday,” Louis adds, quickly. His cheeks heat. “I can’t remember from last time. I just…Apparated.”

“I’ve got a flat in Hogsmeade and one in London.” Nick extracts a quill from his pocket and writes an address down. “Here. There’s both. I’m at Hogsmeade during the week. Mainly London on weekends, if I’m not at mum’s in Manchester.”

“Thanks.” Louis looks at the addresses, taking them in. He wonders what weekends in London are like. Hackney. It sounds cool. East London, Louis thinks. Somewhere properly Muggle, nowhere near Diagon Alley. “Don’t need the London addy for Wednesday, though.”

“No.” Nick looks down but not before Louis catches the pink in his cheeks. He inhales on his cigarette and a puff of smoke slides between them when he exhales. “That’s for just in case.”

“Just in case of what?”

“You need anything.” Nick looks up again. “I’m not, like, Harry Potter. But I’d help. If you needed.”

“Thanks.” Louis isn’t sure what to say to that, he just knows he really, really wants to kiss Nick. He pushes the paper into his pocket together with the parchment from Harry. He finishes his cigarette and presses it out with his foot, watching the orange embers fade away to nothing. “I should go.”

“Yeah. See you Wednesday.”

“See you Wednesday,” Louis says.

*

Getting up to Gryffindor Tower requires a bit of subterfuge, but Louis can tell from the candles flickering in the Headmistresses office that people are otherwise occupied. He wonders if Harry and Draco are still there. Wonders if they found Snape and spoke to Lupin. He’s tempted to check, but he doesn’t want to get into any more trouble.

He strips off his clothes which smell like Nick and cigarettes and he pulls on his pyjamas. His bed has never felt so warm, or so inviting.

“Psst!”

Louis rolls over and blinks into the darkness. “Niall?”

“Yeah.” Niall grins at Louis, toothy in the moonlight. “All okay?”

“Good, mate.” Louis swallows back a yawn. “Did they get the Augurey out?”

“Flew away all on its own.” Niall rolls over and lies on his back. Louis knows he’s not asleep. In the moonlight, he can see Niall blinking. “Tommo?”

“Yeah?”

“There’s something not right, isn’t there? At Hogwarts.” Niall sounds like he’s trying to be brave but Louis doesn’t miss the tremble in his voice.

“Dunno. Harry Potter’s here, though. In good hands, aren’t we?”

Niall’s quiet for a minute. “Tommo?”

“Yeah?”

“You ever think there’s only so many times our side can win?” Niall’s sheets rustle and when Louis looks over he’s curled into a ball. He looks scared.

“Can’t give up, though.” Louis watches Niall. “If we go down, we go down fighting.”

Niall nods. He tucks himself up and blinks at Louis. “Got your back, Tommo.”

Louis wonders why he hasn’t done this before, with Niall. He gets annoyed with himself for missing out because Louis knows people and he’s a good judge of character and Niall is…well. Niall is the friend Louis didn’t even know he had until he took the blinkers off.

“Got yours too, Nialler.”

Niall huffs with laughter and it’s not long before he’s snoring, a contented smile on his face. Louis hopes he has good dreams. A fierce, protective feeling curls in his chest and he determines that if there’s anything – anything – he can do, he’s going to do it. Rubbish magic aside. Louis is scrappy. Whoever’s fucking around with the portraits and trying to scare his friends should know that.

Louis falls asleep that night dreaming of Nick in the Department of Mysteries, kissing him as Fluorescent Adolescent plays in the background.

*

Louis waits with Niall for Liam to show up to Louis’ first official Potter and the Wotsits practice.

“Do you know about the Ever-Locked Room?” Louis’ mind is still full of the events of the previous night and he can’t stop thinking that Nick was holding something back.

“Yeah. It sounds a bit creepy.” Niall pulls a face. “Love Chamber, isn’t it?”

“Can’t remember.” Louis stills, holding his breath.

“Some massive fountain of Amortentia in the middle.”

Amortentia. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Louis thinks back to lessons which feel like they took place a hundred years ago. Amortentia. Love potion. The potion smells different to everyone, because it smells exactly like the things you’re most attracted to. Nick, in Louis’ case. Nick who didn’t tell Louis about the Amortentia. Nick who now knows exactly how Louis feels about him because by telling Nick he could smell his cologne, he might as well have sent Nick an owl saying I think you’re sexy as fuck and I don’t know what to do with that. Fuck.

“You alright, mate?” Niall sounds concerned, bless him.

“Fine. Just made a dick out of myself I think.” Louis looks up when Liam comes into the room. “About fucking time, Payno. Let’s get on with it.”

It turns out Potter and the Wotsits are nowhere near as terrible as they sound and if anything, Louis feels out of his depth with Niall and Liam. Liam has all these cool ideas for songs and a confident, strong voice which soars easily above the others. Niall can sing too and he can play the Muggle guitar which is more than Louis can do. He takes the lesser vocals initially – nervous about trying to tackle any big solos and still completely baffled about the fact they seem to want him along for the ride.

Despite his insecurities, the practice cheers Louis up marginally and he resolves to stop overthinking the incident with the Ever-Locked Room.

He’s just going to have to learn how to stop embarrassing himself around Nick.

Eventually.

*

Wednesday rolls round quicker than Louis expects and after a delicious fish and chip dinner, he finds himself outside Nick’s flat in Hogsmeade with clammy palms. He finishes his cigarette and stubs it out before using his wand to do one of the spells he’s excellent at. The minty-fresh-breath thing. He puffs on his hands, just to double check. Not that there’s any reason he needs to freshen his breath but-

Christ, Louis needs to stop overthinking. He knocks on the door.

“Hiya.” Nick steps aside to let Louis in, trying to nudge Pig out of the way. Her paws skitter on the floor and she keeps chasing her tail. “Pig. Pig. Leave Louis alone, will you?”

“Don’t tell her to do that.” Louis crouches down and fusses over Pig until he’s pretty sure she likes him better than Nick. Louis should be a crup whisperer. He’d be good at that. He scratches behind her ears and she pants at him. She looks like she’s smiling. “She’s alright. Aren’t you, Pig?”

“Hmm.” Nick sounds amused. “Want to say hello to Stinky?”

“Yes!” Louis stretches and looks around. Nick closes the door and then puts his fingers in his mouth and whistles. There’s a moment of silence and then a small thump as a light weight settles on Louis’ shoulder. He stays very still. “Hiya, Stinky.” He turns carefully to find himself nose-to-nose with a Short-Snout. “Hiya,” he says again, softer this time. He lifts his hand gently and Stinky hops onto it. Louis keeps them both on eye-level and runs a hand down his spine, watching the bit where the wings should be flutter. He’s fairly sure Stinky purrs. He’s got a dragon on his hand and it’s purring.

Louis takes care not to dislodge Stinky and he glances at Nick, who has the most peculiar look on his face. “A fucking kneazle. You’re such a twat.”

“Don’t want him taken off me, do I?” Nick’s long finger slides over Stinky’s spine and there it is again. A distinctive purr. Louis isn’t surprised. Nick’s fingers are…well. They’re something. He imagines he might purr too, if Nick did that to him. Which of course he wouldn’t. Louis stamps that idea down and focuses on Stinky instead of Nick’s thoroughly distracting fingers.

“He’s brilliant.

“Isn’t he?” Nick sounds delighted. After a moment, Stinky hops off Louis’ hand and onto Nick’s. He pecks at Nick’s finger and Nick lowers him gently onto Pig, where he curls up. Pig pads off into the depths of the flat and Nick watches them fondly. “They’re pals.”

“You said.” Louis grins at Nick. “I’m only here for them, you know.”

“That and the Patronus.” Nick rolls his eyes. “I’m supposed to be teaching you stuff for your N.E.W.T.s.”

“Let’s try the Patronus first.” Louis follows Nick into a comfortable sitting room. He can’t really remember being here. He just remembers waking up and being really bloody embarrassed. There’s a blanket on the sofa and it looks as though Nick was curled up doing something with his Muggle music because there are records all over the coffee table and a few bits from a discarded Howler.

“My Producer, Fifi.” Nick catches Louis looking at the burned bits of paper. “She sends me those all the time. I’m trying to work out a way of not answering them before they start screaming the place down.”

“I like Fifi,” Louis says.

Nick laughs. “Me too. She still sends me Howlers, though. Thinks it’s funny. Pig and Stinky go mad.”

“I bet.” Louis takes in the art on the walls. There’s lots of it and it all looks Muggle. The art makes him think of Draco and he glances at Nick. “Good day?”

Nick raises an eyebrow at Louis, as if he knows exactly what he’s thinking. “I did the gallery thing with Draco, if that’s what you mean.”

Louis sits on the sofa and contemplates Nick. “I reckon Harry’s going to hex your bollocks off.”

“Give over.” Nick sits next to Louis with a snort. “He’s a friend. Are you always such a territorial little demon?”

Louis tries to fight back the heat in his cheeks and he shakes his head. He’s never really had anything to be territorial about. “Got any beer?”

Nick stares at Louis. “No. Well, yes. But not for you.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Just the one? It’s not like it’s Firewhisky.”

With a sigh, Nick flicks his wand with a low Accio beer.” Two bottles career through the air and Nick uses a spell Louis doesn’t recognise to take the tops off. Nick hands Louis one of the bottles. “One beer. One beer and that’s it and if you breathe a word of this to McGonagall-”

“As if.” Louis sips his beer. It’s cool and refreshing. He drums his fingers on his knee. “I’m in a band.”

“Oh?” Nick looks curious.

“Yeah. Stupid fucking name. Potter and the Wotsits.”

Nick bursts out laughing, muffling it with another sip of his beer. “Wotsits are those-”

“Orange Muggle crisps. Yeah.” Louis smiles around his beer. It feels good, having someone who knows. “You can play us on WWN when we’ve got a song that isn’t about getting detention.”

Nick grins. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Louis takes another swig of his beer. “Do you even know what the fuck you’re doing? With Dark Arts?”

Nick winces. “Not much, but McGonagall sent me the syllabus. I think I can probably do enough to get you out of Troll territory. Not promising you any Outstandings, though.”

“As if.” Louis snorts. He puts his beer down and extracts his wand. “Can we do the Patronus thing?”

“Yeah.” Nick stands and he flicks his wand with an Expecto Patronum. The thing is, corporeal Patronus’ are rare. It’s even weirder to find someone who has a Patronus that's instinctively, obviously connected to its caster, but there Nick’s is, smiling at Louis in full-bodied silver, wagging her tail. It bounces around the room, before Nick swipes his wand and she disappears. His cheeks are flushed.

“It’s Pig.”

“Yeah.” Nick looks sheepish. “Not that usual, right?”

Louis shakes his head. “Pretty sure I read somewhere if someone’s Patronus is their favourite animal it’s like they’re…obsessed.”

Nick laughs. “A bit. But it’s also…” Nick looks as if he’s choosing his words carefully. In the end, he sits and glances at Louis as the colour in his cheek deepens. “I’ve never been very good at hiding who I am. People didn’t like that much at school. They called me all sorts. Even the teachers, particularly during the war. I was this gangly little teenager with an enormous bloody head who wanted to snog other wizards.”

Louis swallows. “But you always say how good it was on the radio.”

“Yeah,” Nick shrugs. “After. Loved being in Hufflepuff. But it wasn’t always easy. Kids are shit, sometimes. I’ve just always been this bloke that sometimes puts on high-heels and had the odd moment with wizards who insisted they were straight afterwards.” Nick takes a breath, sliding his wand between his fingers and not looking at Louis. “I think that’s why my Patronus is Pig. Not because I’m self-obsessed – although I am a bit – but because no matter what I do, I can’t hide. Even if I want to. It just doesn’t feel right.”

Emotion worms through Louis as he thinks about how it might have been for Nick. He knows the Death Eaters didn’t just hate people who weren’t Pureblood – whose parents weren’t witches and wizards. He knows they hated difference. He thinks of Nick at Hogwarts during those times and notices how Nick scratches at his forearm and keeps his hands stuffed partially into the sleeves of his sweater. His stomach rolls and he swallows, thickly.

“Did they…do stuff to you?”

“Doesn’t matter.” Nick shakes his head and he stuffs his wand into his pocket not quite fast enough for Louis to miss the tremble in his fingers. “To conjure a Patronus you’ve got to be thinking about happy things. One, single happy thought. That’s the key. You need to summon that one thing up no matter how shitty things are, or how scared you feel. That’s why it’s so hard. It’s hard to do in class but it’s even harder to do in practice. It’s not helping anyone sitting around and talking about stuff like this when times have changed.”

The thing is, Louis doesn’t know if times have changed. He knows Harry and Draco – whatever they are – aren’t exactly public. If it’s hard for Harry Potter, Louis can’t imagine how it must be for Nick to go to his gay bar in Hogsmeade and being loud and proud on the radio. Louis can’t imagine coming out at Hogwarts, when people already look at him as if he’s not to be trusted.

Louis clutches onto his wand and points it towards the fire. He tries to think of something. Anything. The Donny Rovers winning the Champions League. His mam. His sisters. Even Nick and the way Pig’s paw felt in his hand, the way Stinky landed on his shoulder and nosed at Louis’ palm.

Expecto Patronum!” His wand fizzes. A sputter of vomit-green trickles from the end and Louis winces. “My Patronus is Slimer.”

Nick snorts with laughter because thankfully Nick is pretty much all Muggle and he gets Louis and his Ghostbuster references. “Don’t be a tit. It’s difficult. Really fucking hard. Not even on the N.E.W.T.s hard. Just need to keep trying. Focus on that memory.”

What were you thinking of? Louis wants to ask, but doesn’t. What makes you happy enough to get Pig in Patronus form, laughing and being fucking brilliant?

Instead of asking Nick any more questions Louis tries, again and again, until his hand aches and he’s put green slime over Nick’s fancy coffee table.

*

“Would be weird if it happened tonight,” Nick says. He gives Louis another beer and they sit together on the sofa. He clinks their bottles together. “Have a beer, go and sing with that band of yours and then come back next Wednesday and try again. Although we have to do some proper stuff, too.”

“A Patronus is proper.”

“Not school exams, proper.” Nick pulls a face. “We need to get into all the other stuff. Boggarts, and that.”

Louis lets Boggarts slide, because that’s not a conversation he wants to have with Nick. He doesn’t want Nick to know what Louis sees when he sees Boggarts – the shape-shifters that show you the things you fear the most. It’s all too revealing. All too hard. Louis flexes his fingers. “Why do they need them to send messages? A Patronus, I mean. Harry said owls can be intercepted.”

“You can’t fake a Patronus.” Nick takes a sip of his beer. “It’s impervious to Dark magic, so it’s like…you. Just you. People can trust them. You can’t trust an owl. It’s just a bird with a piece of paper. Anyone could change the paper or change the bird. You can’t even trust your own mind, sometimes, what with all those spells to control how people act. Can't even trust the person you see in front of you because they could be someone who’s taken Polyjuice. I imagine someone with Harry's history has learned to be cautious.”

Louis shivers, because Polyjuice freaks him the fuck out. “Wearing someone else’s face.”

“Yeah.” Nick looks perturbed as if he has a similar reaction to Louis. “Happened to me, once.” His voice is quiet and lower than usual.

“Did it?” Louis looks at Nick.

“Yeah.” Nick winces. “Someone I liked. I thought it was, anyway. Turned out it was someone else.” Nick laughs, but it’s harsh, brutal and there’s no humour there. “Just a stupid snog, but it confirmed what they needed to know about me.” Nick scratches his arm again, his head down.

“Sorry,” Louis says. “I’m…that’s shit. Really fucking shit.” He puts his hand on Nick’s arm. He takes a breath. “I’m scared of it. Even now, no one talks about it. I dunno if it’s alright. To be who I am.”

“It’s always alright.” Nick looks up at Louis and he’s so close. “You’re better being you than trying to be someone else. When the pieces don’t fit right and you’re like a jigsaw someone put together all wrong it's shit. There’s no way you’re going to do well at school if you can’t let some things go.” Nick takes a breath. “Magic. It’s about feeling, innit? Hating enough to cast those shitty Unforgivables. Being happy enough to get someone like Pig coming out of the end of your wand. Laughing at the things that frighten you. Feeling.” Nick’s hand rests over Louis’ and the room feels very quiet all of a sudden.

“Yeah,” Louis says. His heart is loud enough that every beat, beat pulses in his ears. “Feeling.”

Louis thinks of his promise to Niall. The fact he’s scrappy. The way his mum says he’s got this big, stupid heart that warms a whole room inside out. The things he loves. The little wireless radio and Nick Grimshaw’s ridiculous voice in his ear teaching him all about the Arctic Monkeys in a world where people only acknowledge polar nifflers. Louis stretches forward and he kisses Nick. Not because he’s drunk on beer. Not because he’s suddenly confident (he’s pretty sure he’s shaking enough to tremble right out of his skin). Because it matters. Feeling. Being exactly who you are.

This time, Nick doesn’t push Louis away. To the contrary. He pulls him close. He lets Louis take charge and set the pace but he pushes his hand into Louis’ hair. When they do the dry-lips slow kissing thing for long enough to drive Louis mad, Nick wraps a hand around his waist. Nick opens his mouth. Nick’s tongue slides against Louis’ and oh, oh, oh. That’s what a kiss should feel like. Slow and sure. Hot, wet and deep enough to make Louis’ brain short-circuit. He pushes closer to Nick on the sofa because the position is awkward as fuck and Louis wants to be as near as he can possibly be. Nick’s hand on his thigh is an unbearable heat – hot enough to send Louis into overdrive but not nearly as close as Louis wants it to be to the parts of his body that zing with pleasure.

That’s what magic is. A snog with a man you’ve been half in love with forever and the slow, sensuous touch of someone who’s being careful. Someone who treats you like they don’t just want to break you in half, even when all Louis wants is for Nick to lose control. He wants that. He needs that. The hot, desperate kiss of I need you. He groans into Nick’s mouth and deepens the kiss, getting the hang of it at last. Nick’s large hands practically haul him in and Louis and Nick press against one another kissing as if it might be one of their last, when Louis really, really hopes it isn’t. They’re just getting started.

It’s Nick that pulls back first, just as Louis is about to take his hand and put it exactly where he wants it. Nick keeps sliding his hand over Louis’ thigh not quite going high enough and pulling back before he can touch Louis more intimately.

“Louis.” Nicks voice is gruff. “Wait…I…”

Louis groans. “You’re going to be a twat about my age, aren’t you?”

“I am a bit.” Nick sounds like he’s trying to control himself, his hand sliding up and down Louis’ thigh in a maddening way. “Look…eighteen. I can’t…not until you’re eighteen.”

“Christmas Eve,” Louis says. It’s a weird birthday, but he’s always been oddly proud of it. “Just a few weeks.”

“Okay.” Nick takes a breath and he looks shaken. Louis did that. Louis can’t believe he did that. “Can we…I’m not saying I don’t want to because fuck.” Nick takes another of those shuddery breaths. “Can we not do stuff until then? It’s…a thing of mine. A rule.”

“Yeah,” Louis says. He slides his hand over Nick’s legs, feels the warmth of his thighs. “Can we do the snogging stuff?”

Nick looks as if he wants to say no. As if he doesn’t think it’s proper. In the end though, he nods. “Yeah. Yeah, we can.”

Louis is about to dive in for another blissful kiss when something occurs to him and he pulls back. “What did you smell? Outside the Ever-Locked-Room?”

Nick raises his eyebrows and then he grins. “Firewhisky puke and strawberry shortbread gobstoppers.”

Louis laughs. Everything gets lighter and better. “Romantic.”

“Sexy,” Nick says.

They kiss until Louis’ lips feel numb and Pig comes to investigate what’s up.

*

“I’m going to try again.” Louis slides his wand from his pocket. “Once more, then I’m going before McGonagall puts me in more detentions.”

“Go on, then.” Nick smiles. His hair is all over the place. It’s usually quiffy and high, but because Louis took every available opportunity to push his fingers into it, it looks messier than ever. Nick’s also retrieved his tortoiseshell glasses from somewhere and he looks so good. Cosy and comfortable. Happy. Louis never wants to leave.

He swallows. “Okay, then.” Louis focuses on his happiest memory. He has loads of them, but there’s nothing that’s making his skin buzz now in the way Nick’s kisses did just a moment ago. He’s still half-hard and he suspects Nick knows but is too polite to comment. Louis focuses on that moment. The moment of kissing another man and not being shoved away. The moment of realising, I can be me and how it makes the world seem more open - flourishing with unfettered possibility.

Louis points his wand. He closes his eyes and summons all of it. Every last nearly-got-off-just-from-kissing-a-man bit of warmth he can. “Expecto Patronum!

The magic pulses through him and he knows. He knows he’s got it. He opens his eyes and watches in fascination as a peculiar looking horse trots over to Nick and nudges his hand. Nick’s eyes are wide but he stretches his palm out nevertheless. He whispers something to the Patronus and it nudges him again. It’s weird and spiny, quite small and dark and all gangly legged.

“What the fuck is it?” Louis lets the Patronus nuzzle him until it fades away into silvery strands.

“A Thestral,” Nick says. He looks at Louis and his eyes are dark, his brow furrowed. “Your Patronus is a baby Thestral.”

The thing about Thestrals is, you’re not supposed to be able to see them unless you’ve seen someone die. Louis hasn’t, but he can see his Patronus. He can see the questioning look on Nick’s face and he knows they both remember Harry Potter asking about Louis’ wand.

“What the fuck, Nick?” Louis gets panicky and out of breath. Pig whines and licks his hand.

“It’s fine, darling,” Nick says. Even though it doesn’t sound as though it is.

Louis drops his bag and pushes close to Nick, fisting a hand in his hair and pulling him in for a kiss.

Perhaps. Perhaps if they kiss for long enough and hard enough, it will all go away.

Nick seems to understand. He pulls Louis close to him and kisses right back.

*

“Nialler?” Louis sneaks into Gryffindor Tower as quietly as he can. Niall’s asleep and Louis curses under his breath. The one bloody time he’s actually eager to share something with one of his mates, Niall is asleep. Louis contemplates waking him, but decides against it.

With a sigh, he pulls off his clothes and puts on his pyjamas. He checked downstairs before coming up to the Tower in the hope of finding Professor Lupin or Professor Snape. Neither were there, although Snape’s portrait looked as good as new. Louis was left standing in a shadowy classroom wondering why the fuck everything in his life links back to death. Thestral hair in his wand. Thestral for a Patronus. His Boggart.

Louis shakes himself and slips into bed. He wishes he could have stayed with Nick. Wishes he could have let those distracting pulses of arousal take him away from it all. Nick’s bed is cosy and warm. Nick’s house is cosy and warm.

Ruff.

A solid weight settles on the edge of Louis’ bed and he looks up. A large, scruffy black dog grins at him with its tongue lolling out. It’s got a silvery sheen to it and when Louis tries to run his fingers through the dog’s fur he can’t grasp on to much. It’s just air.

“You’re a ghost,” Louis says.

The dog barks and nudges Louis’ hand.

“Hi, fella.” Louis lets the dog nuzzle him and doesn’t feel quite so alone. “I’m going to call you Bruce.”

He falls asleep with a gentle weight on his feet and the light of the moon casting the dormitory in its ghostly light.

Chapter Text

Louis finds out that the Dementors have disappeared when Liam comes barrelling into the Gryffindor Common Room with a copy of the Prophet clutched in his hand. He puts the paper down in front of Louis and Niall and points at the front page.

“Have you seen this?”

Louis stares at a picture of Harry Potter looking grim and holding his hand up as if he doesn’t want to be photographed. He’s not the comfortable Harry that Louis met at the Ministry. This Harry is very much the official Auror, his robes making him seem more imposing. Louis scans the article, his stomach twisting unpleasantly.

Aurors Potter and Weasley refused to confirm or deny speculation that the Ministry’s tracking spells on the Dementors have failed. Following the war, the Dementors, entrusted by the Ministry to guard the prisoners at Azkaban before defecting to support You-Know-Who, were believed to have relocated to a remote part of Bulgaria where they were contained by Ministry tracking spells and an impenetrable magic wall. Hermione Granger, who has long been tipped as a possible successor to Kingsley Shacklebolt when he steps down as Minister for Magic, urged the general public to stay calm and to avoid unnecessary scaremongering. In an official statement Granger said the public should, as always, remain vigilant and report any strange activity whilst continuing their usual activities.

Head Auror Potter refused to comment on the increased Auror presence at Hogwarts. Potter has been critical of allowing Dementors to guard Azkaban and their removal was one of the first changes made to the wizarding prison system. Potter described the use of Dementors in law enforcement as “dangerous and archaic.” He equated the Dementor’s Kiss – the punishment which sucked the soul from the very worst offenders – to the Muggle death penalty which was abolished almost entirely in 1965 and completely eradicated in 1998. One of Potter’s first legislative overhauls banned the Dementor’s Kiss and the use of the Cruciatus curse to extract information from prisoners. He also issued guidance on the appropriate use of Veritaserum, the potion which compels anyone who ingests it to tell the truth. This new approach followed the death of a prisoner who ingested a lethal amount of Veritaserum during interrogation and reports that the potion was widely available at Hogwarts. It is now illegal to use Veritaserum on anyone under the age of eighteen. Shortly after the war Potter launched an investigation into miscarriages of justice which remains ongoing. Thirty-five Ministry Pardons (known as the Padfoot Pardons) have been issued since the launch of the investigation, including the formal pardon of Sirius Black, Potter’s godfather, who was wrongly convicted for causing the death of Potter’s parents, James and Lily Potter.

Speculation about Potter’s methods have recently arisen following a number of reports which suggest he has formed an unusually close relationship with former Death Eater, Draco Malfoy. A spate of protests followed Malfoy’s Ministry appointment as an Unspeakable, with many questioning whether the Malfoy family can be trusted. When asked if he was still in contact with the Death Eaters currently held in Azkaban, Malfoy told us to “kindly fuck off.” Despite the fact it appears to be business as usual, our anonymous Ministry source commented: “The Aurors are losing their heads over this. Nobody knows where the Dementors are or who’s controlling them. This is bad. Really bad.”

Reports of dark clouds over Azkaban have been linked to a recent run of bad weather and the suggestion that the two things might be connected remain uncomfirmed.

Louis closes the paper and shoves it away. “Fuck.”

“I’ll say.” Liam looks over his shoulder as if the Dementors might be listening. “Don’t you think they’re scary?”

“Dementors?” Niall shudders. “Yeah. I’ve never seen one, but my cousin has. She was at Hogwarts during the war and she said it’s like all the good stuff just gets sucked out of a room when they’re around. It rains all the time and everything gets cold. People are miserable and when they were about a lot, at least three people in her house couldn’t even get out of bed to go to their classes.”

“I hate them,” Louis says. He’s surprised by the vehemence in his tone. Fucking Dementors. He can’t help but think of young Nick at Hogwarts during the war and his chest gets tight. “We should find them.”

“Are you mad?” Niall snorts with laughter. “And do what?”

Louis leans in. “I can cast a Patronus.”

“No way.” Liam’s eyes get wide. “How?”

“Grimmy taught me.” Louis feels a bit smug. It’s not often he impresses people with his magical prowess. Not ever, really.

“Grimmy?” Niall and Liam exchange a look and then they both give Louis enormous smiles. Louis is starting to think they’re nosy fucks. “What’s going on there, then?”

“Nothing.” Louis thinks back to the kisses which made his whole body ache and thrum with pleasure and he knows his cheeks are red. “Don’t be a dick.”

Niall exchanges another glance with Liam and he prods Louis with the end of his quill. “We’re not bothered, mate. Snog who you like. I think it’s cool.”

“Yeah,” Liam says. “Me too.” He grins at Louis. “I’ve never had a gay mate before.”

Louis splutters indignantly because that’s a bloody stupid thing for someone to say. He glares at Liam. “Glad I can help out.” He doesn’t deny it though. He gets breathless, the weight of his secret easing just a little. “Idiot.”

“Sorry.” Liam looks sheepish. “Is that not the right thing to say?”

No, Payno.” Niall rolls his eyes. He laughs and slings an arm around Louis. “Now you’ve got a gay mate though he can teach you what’s okay to say and what isn’t.”

“Brilliant,” Louis mutters. Despite the fact Niall and Liam are getting this all wrong, he can’t help the smile which twitches at the corners of his lips. There’s something about their enthusiastic – if misguided – support that makes him warm all over. It’s nice, being accepted. Nice not to have to hide everything all the time.

“Show us your Patronus, then.” Niall looks eager and Louis shakes his head. He’s not ready to do that. Not ready to get into the whole my Patronus is a Thestral thing until he works out what it all means.

“I can’t. Not here. Everyone would see.” He contemplates Niall and Liam’s disappointed expressions and thinks about what they would do if the Dementors really are on the loose. He doesn’t want them not to be able to defend themselves. It’s a bit selfish of him keeping the whole Patronus thing to himself. He can pretend it’s a weird Muggle horse or something. They might not even know what Thestrals look like. Liam’s crap at Care of Magical Creatures and Niall isn’t even doing it for his N.E.W.T.s. He sighs and pulls a face. “I’ll try and find somewhere. Somewhere private.”

“Sick,” Liam says.

Brilliant.” That’s Niall.

Louis’ never been able to teach anyone anything before. He thinks about Harry Potter teaching Dumbledore’s Army how to cast a Patronus during the war and he puffs his chest out with pride. Maybe he’s alright at this magic thing, after all. With renewed energy, Louis returns to his book and begins to take careful notes about the potions which have been giving him grief since the start of term.

*

It’s a surprisingly warm night and no matter how much he tries, Louis can’t seem to settle. He has problems sleeping even more these days. He always used to drive his mum mad as a kid because he never wanted to miss out. He’d stay up late and switch on his light when it was supposed to be off and he used to have nightmares about faceless monsters and things crawling in the shadows. She's sit with him and sing him songs to help him sleep. Sometimes they read stories together of magic and faraway worlds. They both got a bit of a shock finding out those stories held a kernel of truth.

Louis throws off the duvet. He’s sweating, his armpits hot and sticky and his feet clammy. The duvet is too heavy for the unseasonal weather and the blankets add an extra layer of weight. He glances at the foot of the bed where Bruce is curled up, watching him.

“Can’t sleep either, boy?”

Bruce gives a ruff of agreement. Trying to be as quiet as he can, Louis slips out of bed. He pulls on thick socks which won’t make too much sound on the wood and stone. He makes his way out of Gryffindor Tower and into the corridors, trying to avoid the paintings that wouldn’t hesitate to shout about his presence and get him detention quicker than you could say holy hippogriff, I'm out of bed at midnight. Bruce pads along beside Louis, not making a sound.

When Louis hears McGonagall talking to someone in clipped tones he ducks into a shadowy corridor and presses his fingers at his lips, looking at Bruce.

“Mr Malfoy, the students are starting to suspect there’s something amiss. Your presence here at Hogwarts is all over the Prophet.”

“The Prophet is a rag.” Draco snorts and mutters something under his breath. Louis curls his hands into fists at the thought of Draco’s smug, sharp features. The thought of Nick and Draco. He takes a breath and presses closer to the wall, trying to hear as much as he can. “I suppose it might be useful to have a cover of some sort. I’m sure Potter can do a couple of how to be an insufferable do-gooder classes if that helps.”

McGonagall clucks under her breath. “Mr Malfoy-”

“I’m joking. Obviously.” Louis can almost hear Draco rolling his eyes. “Besides, we have more pressing things to discuss. You can attend the meeting on the twenty-sixth?”

“Yes.” McGonagall’s tone is sharp. “I never thought I would live to attend another gathering of the Order of the Phoenix.”

“That’s the problem with the phoenix. It’s always rising from the ashes.” Draco sighs. “You’ll let me know if you hear anything at all about Dawlish?”

“Naturally. We have staff patrolling the Forbidden Forest to check for signs of any unusual activity. The centaurs have been alerted.”

“Thank you.” Draco pauses. When he speaks again he sounds less formal than before and younger than ever. “Thank you for allowing me to help. Others are less tolerant. Here…I think I can make a difference.” He sounds wretched. “I don’t want to be on the wrong side again. I wouldn’t. I can’t.”

McGonagall shushes him. “I am a firm believer in allowing people the space to change, Mr Malfoy. Particularly when they made their gravest errors as children. You have proven yourself to me as an adult, more than once. I am happy to allow you access to the castle and grounds as necessary.”

“Thank you.”

Draco and McGonagall continue walking. It looks as though they’re going in the direction of the dungeons, where Louis has his detentions. When he’s quite sure they’re gone, Louis gestures to Bruce and begins to walk in the opposite direction.

*

Louis is well used to finding hidden places in the castle. He always kept an eye out for rooms he could drink beer in with Zayn or places they could smoke on rainy days without setting off magical alarms or get found out by patrolling staff. Louis thought he knew every nook and cranny of Hogwarts. He was sure he knew every room, every classroom and every secret space that might give him somewhere to escape to. That’s why it’s a particular surprise when he stumbles onto a corridor he doesn’t recognise, with tall, dark wood doors a bit like the ones at the Ministry - the ones guarding Death Chambers and fountains of Amortentia.

Louis swallows, a shiver passing through him. Bruce lets out a low growl as if he doesn’t like the place much either. One of the doors is covered with cobwebs and it hums with magic which has an almost magnetic quality to it. The walls around the door are charred and Louis wonders if he’s found himself in one of the parts of the castle that couldn’t be fixed after the war. He’s heard about those bits. About the bricks that screamed when the renovators worked on trying to put them together. Hogwarts has sentient, complex, magic and rebuilding it after the war was a slow, difficult process. Perhaps some parts of the castle just wanted to stay broken. Louis can understand that. Not everything is capable of being fixed.

He traces his fingers over the streaks on the bricks. He can almost taste the spells. The power of the curses and the grief and panic. Touching the bricks makes his mouth taste metallic and if he closes his eyes he can picture people running through the corridors. Children. Staff. Death Eaters. He thinks of Nick at Hogwarts. Nick, who can’t have been much more than fourteen at the height of it all. Nick with his ridiculous dog as his Patronus and yellow and black Hufflepuff memorabilia all over his house. Nick who talks about school like it was the best time of his life but still gets a strange, faraway look sometimes as if there’s something he remembers which leaves an unpleasant taste. Something which dulls his smile.

Louis pulls his hand from the bricks and pushes open the door which creaks on its hinges. The room is small and cold, cluttered with trinkets piled in precarious stacks and left to gather dust. Louis pokes at a couple of books and watches as the dust billows and then settles back in place. He doesn’t know what the room is, but it’s full of forgotten, broken things. Items discarded after people had no use for them anymore.

He goes deeper into the room, standing in front of a mirror with dust on the surface and writing he can’t quite make out at the top of its gilded frame. There’s a hairline crack in the glass which inches across the silvery surface like a spider’s web, spanning out in different directions just at the base. There’s a peculiar haziness to the glass. A fogginess that isn’t just dust. At first, Louis just sees himself and Bruce who yips and moves somewhere else. Then the image changes. Louis reaches out a hand to the glass as his mum smiles and waves back at him. Louis looks behind him but there’s no one else there. With his heart thudding in his chest, he takes in the images in front of him. He’s wearing a Hufflepuff scarf and there’s Nick. Right beside Louis, with a casual arm slung over his shoulder. Louis’ cheeks heat.

“Not in front of mum, you tit. She doesn’t even know. She won’t understand-”

Nick doesn’t seem too bothered by Louis hissing at him because he grabs the scarf wound around the image of Louis in the mirror. He tugs him close and kisses him. Kisses him full on the lips. It’s not a pervy sort of kiss and there aren’t any tongues. Louis’ mum’s watching for Merlin’s sake. She doesn’t seem too bothered, though. She rolls her eyes and she ruffles Louis’ hair as he bats Nick off, his cheeks pink but his face caught in a broad smile. He looks happy. So bloody happy. His sisters appear in the background, hugging Nick like he’s an old family friend. Louis wants to stay forever. He wants to see what this is. His future, maybe? Something he could have?

The clatter of something falling in a dark crevice of the room startles Louis away from the mirror. He looks around for Bruce who barks quietly and bounds over to Louis, nuzzling at him as best he can. Louis pats the cold head and turns away from the mirror with a shiver.

“Better get back, Bruce. Better not stay here looking at this.”

Bruce seems to agree but he glances at the mirror and begins to whine. Louis tries to tug Bruce away but he’s a ghost and it’s a bit bloody difficult to drag a ghost anywhere.

“Gotta go, Bruce. Come on, will you?”

Bruce growls and settles in front of the mirror, refusing to budge. With a sigh, Louis decides to leave. Bruce can look after himself. When Louis glances behind him, Bruce is still in front of the mirror. Louis can’t make out much but he thinks he sees a flash of dark hair, a Gryffindor scarf and the unsettling sound of laughter filters through the room as if it’s coming from somewhere far away. J, the room whispers and the laughter gets louder. Bruce whines, shuffling on his haunches until his nose is pressed right up against the glass.

Louis can’t get out of the strange room fast enough. A shiver travelling down his spine, he yanks open the door and breathes in air which is less musty and cloying. He gets as far away as he can from the broken walls with their dark spells etched into the brickwork and makes his way through the castle as quickly as possible.

He drags himself into bed but Bruce doesn't come back and it’s a long time before Louis finally falls into a restless sleep.

*

Louis goes to Nick’s house as usual on Wednesday night. McGonagall lets him use the Floo at Hogwarts this time and he stumbles into Nick’s kitchen with Pig already jumping up and Stinky hopping onto his shoulder. The fire place looks unused except for Floo guests, right in the middle of a kitchen which is all brushed stainless steel and earthy colours. There are photographs everywhere of people Louis doesn’t recognise – most of them Muggle.

“Leave him alone, will you?” Nick curses under his breath and tries to nudge Pig out of the way.

“She’s fine. Excited to see me, isn’t she?” Louis takes the opportunity to not look at Nick because he can’t help but wonder if Nick’s excited to see him too. He pets Pig until she decides there’s something even more exciting than Louis and trots off into the house. “Hi.” He stands and stretches, putting Stinky on the table and watching as he hops around before discovering a plate of Twiglets. He pinches one and drags it to a shadowy corner, crunching on it and glaring at Nick and Louis as if daring them to take it away from him.

“He shouldn’t be eating Twiglets.” Nick pushes a hand through his hair and pulls a face. “I got him some ants, but he doesn’t like them. Think he’s veggie.”

“Won’t do him any harm.” Louis isn’t completely positive about that, but from what he’s read dragons can eat the weirdest shit and be absolutely fine. “Let him be.”

“Alright.” Nick gives Stinky a glance and wags his long finger at him. “You’re a right menace, you.”

Stinky sneezes and a bit of smoke unfurls from his ears. He hops a bit closer to the wall and turns his back on Nick and Louis.

“Now look. You’ve offended him.” Louis grins at Nick. He drops his bag on the floor and shrugs off his coat and scarf.

“I’ll take them.” Nick seems a bit nervous, taking Louis’ clothes and starting to talk quickly about his day. Nick can’t be nervous. It’s Louis that should be nervous. Nick probably has boys round all the time. Louis takes in Nick’s outfit as he busies himself tidying up the kitchen even though it already looks spotless. He looks so good. He’s wearing a cosy jumper with colourful stripes and some light denim jeans with holes in the knee. He’s bare foot and his jeans are rolled up to the ankle. Louis didn’t know he even liked feet, but there’s something about Nick’s that make him slightly breathless. Maybe it’s just the fact he’s comfortable. Comfortable and showing off bits of his legs like that’s not going to drive Louis mad. Louis swallows and stuffs his hands in his joggers, wishing he’d dressed up a bit. Nick doesn’t seem to mind. He looks briefly at Louis and smiles at his t-shirt. “Oasis fan?”

“What?” Louis looks down at his t-shirt. Cigarettes and Alcohol. The photograph from the NME. “Oh, yeah. Big fan.”

“Me too. It was all Oasis and Stone Roses at my place growing up.”

Louis nods. “I bet.” Louis tugs at the bottom of his t-shirt and clears his throat. “Dementors have disappeared.”

“I saw.” Nick frowns and he picks up the bowl of Twiglets to take into the living room. Louis doesn’t miss the fact that Nick leaves a couple of stray ones next to Stinky, giving him a little stroke on his spine which makes him purr. “Have you had your tea?”

“Yeah. Cottage pie and treacle tart.”

“I miss Hogwarts. All those carbs.” Nick looks gloomy and munches on something that looks suspiciously like a stick of celery. “Twiglet?”

“Not going to offer me any celery?” Louis rolls his eyes because celery. He takes a handful of Twiglets and munches on them. “The papers reckon they’re at Azkaban.”

“The papers don’t know shit.” Nick pulls a face. “If they were there, people would know. The Ministry would be on it. It’s just bad weather.”

“Are they as bad as everyone says?” Louis settles next to Nick on the sofa. He hopes he can keep him chatting before they have to start doing boring Dark Arts stuff. Maybe there might be kissing again. Louis hopes so.

“Worse.” Nick shudders and he rubs at his arm. “They’re horrible. Ugly looking and they just make everything feel off. Like, imagine one of the worst days you’ve had and then feeling like every day’s going to be like that. That’s how they make you feel.”

“Shit.” Louis glances at Nick’s hand, rubbing his arm. “Why do you do that? Not hiding a Dark Mark or summat, are you?”

Nick pulls back his hand and his cheeks turn pink. He glances at Louis and then shakes his head. “No. Obviously. Never been a bad wizard in Hufflepuff.”

“Puff Pride,” Louis mutters. He resists the urge to roll his eyes. Nick’s so fond of his house it’s ridiculous. “What, then?”

Nick presses his lips together, clearly debating whether or not to show Louis. In the end, he rolls up the sleeve of his jumper and pushes it up to the elbow. On his arm is a light scar where the skin raises in light bumps.

I must not kiss boys

Louis swallows and he traces his fingers lightly over the scar. He looks up and Nick’s cheeks are bright red now, his expression caught somewhere between disgust and sadness.

“Can’t get rid of it. Not even with spells. It’s not so bad now. Bit itchy, sometimes.”

“Did you do this?” Louis brushes his fingers against the words again. Nick’s always been so out. So unabashedly open about who he is – his Patronus is Pig for crying out loud.

“’Course I didn’t.” Nick winces. “Not intentionally, anyway.” He yanks his jumper down. “You ever heard of a Black Quill?”

“No.” Louis shakes his head.

“They used them during the war at Hogwarts. For detention. You write and it cuts your skin open every time you write a word. You keep writing the lines over and over in your own blood for long enough and it’s going to leave a scar. I had detention with Carrow every day for a fortnight when she found me with someone.”

“Who?” Louis holds his breath and Nick’s expression turns sombre.

“Dennis Creevey. Don’t reckon it helped that it was him. He’s Muggle-born too, like us but I’d been hiding it. Pretended I was my mate Pixie’s brother. We changed my surname that year and everything. They didn’t really care about me, I was just a little Hufflepuff kid with weird hair who carried a Tamagotchi in his pocket. They don’t work in Hogwarts, by the way.”

“Of course they don’t.” Louis’ heart clenches at the thought of young Nick clinging onto his small piece of the Muggle world and wondering how it must have been to get scared enough about being caught that you have to pretend to be a completely different person. “Was he, like, important?”

Nick shrugs. “Yeah? I suppose he was. My first snog. His parents pulled him and Colin out of school after that. Dunno why Colin came back. Wanted to fight, I suppose. Think he fancied Harry something rotten. Two brothers, both gay and both Muggle-born. Not a great deal for them at Hogwarts during the war.” Nick rubs his eyes. “Nice bloke. Good at photos. Really good to his little brother. They were best mates.”

Louis stares at Nick. “Colin Creevey. Didn’t he…?”

“Yeah,” Nick says. “Yeah, he did.”

Neither of them seem able to say the word out loud. Died. Louis remembers because sometimes he sits by the memorial at Hogwarts and studies all the names. Creevey, Colin. Loved taking pictures. Died 1998.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.” Nick huffs out a laugh but there’s no humour in it. “Didn’t really speak to Dennis much after that. Think he’s working for his dad as a milkman. He’s not doing magic stuff anymore.”

Louis swallows. “Weren’t you worried they’d find out you were Muggle?”

“A bit.” Nick nods, pushing a hand through his hair. “Pixie’s dad was a big deal, though. I think they had more important things on their mind than checking my documents. I wasn’t anybody, really.”

“I can’t believe they did that to you.” Louis’ chest gets tight, a furious anger rolling through him.

“Can’t you?” Nick pulls a face. “All that wanging on about marrying the right sort and producing heirs. Pureblood politics. They didn’t like anything that went against that. Me snogging blokes included.”

“You always made it sounds like Hogwarts was brilliant,” Louis says. “Always.”

Nick glances at Louis. “It was. Just not for that bit when You-Know-Who got control over things.” Nick pushes his hands into his jumper, making sweater paws. Pig trots over and whines at him as if she knows he needs a cuddle.

“Nick?”

“Hmm?” Nick seems far away, helping Pig onto the sofa where she puts her snout on his lap and stares up at him her tail thump, thumping on the sofa.

“Why isn’t Harry out?”

Nick shrugs. “I don’t think he’s hiding. I don’t know Harry that well, but from what Draco’s said I think it’s more about him than anything else.”

“Harry doesn’t want people to know they’re together?”

“Not even that. He doesn’t care. It’s Draco that’s suggesting it’s not the right battle for Harry to fight. Not with Draco’s history. There are people that don’t give two hoots if Harry Potter’s shagging a bloke but they’ll care if he’s shagging a Malfoy. Those arseholes that don’t like the idea of two men together will find any excuse to fuck things up for them. Draco’s a pretty good excuse.”

“Fuck.” Louis twists his hands together and glances at Nick. “I told Niall and Payno about me.”

“You did?” Nick’s eyebrows shoot up. “How did that go?”

“Okay. They think it’s cool.” A small smile tugs at Louis’ lips and he swipes his tongue over them, his mouth suddenly dry. “Liam said he’s never had a gay mate before.”

“Unlucky for Liam,” Nick says. “Doesn’t he know we’re great with fashion? Now he’s got someone to take him shopping.”

Louis snorts and gestures to his joggers. “Speak for yourself.”

“I’m kidding. It’s what loads of Muggles seem to think. It’s a lot of pressure living up to stereotypes like that.” Nick preens.

“Idiot.” Louis meets Nick’s gaze. “Thanks. For making it seem okay, even when it’s not.”

“Got to do my bit.” Nick shrugs. “I’ve been lucky with mum and dad and the rest of the family. My mates at Hogwarts always kept me safe. No one bothered. I’ve got loads of mates that are Muggle. They don’t care either. It’s not that easy for everyone.”

“No.” Louis pauses. “My family don’t know. Haven’t told them yet. Mum’s had a lot on. Usually tell her everything, but…”

“Yeah.” Nick reaches out and squeezes Louis’ hand. “I get it. No rush. It’s…I’ll be there. If you like. I mean, not there in case your mum starts throwing her saucepans at me, but there. For you.”

“Mum wouldn’t throw saucepans.” Louis laughs and the air around them gets lighter. “She’s not like that.”

“Bet she’s not.” Nick gives Louis a fond look. “Bet she’s dead nice, your mum.”

Something warm worms through Louis’ stomach and he nods. “Yeah. She is. Dead nice.”

Nick reaches for a Twiglet as if their conversation has finally defeated him and carbs are the only answer. “We should do some stuff.” He chokes on his mouthful of snacks. “School stuff. Proper studying. Sensible stuff.”

Louis rolls his eyes. Honestly. “If you like.” He pauses and thinks about his mum and Nick and the other night. “Before we start, something weird happened the other night.”

“Oh?” Nick raises an eyebrow at Louis. “Weird funny or weird…weird?”

Weird.” Louis kicks off his trainers and grins as Pig trots away with one in her mouth. “Lost that for good, have I?”

“Nah. She’s just going to put it in her bed. She’s got a horde.”

Louis likes the fact Pig wants to include his trainer with Nick’s. It makes him feel warm. He gets back to the topic at hand, telling Nick about the small room at Hogwarts and being unable to sleep. “There was a weird mirror in there. I was in it, but it wasn’t me. You were there too and mum.”

“I was there?” Nick looks surprised, but not displeased. “Really?”

“Yeah.” Louis shrugs and glares at Nick. “Don’t make a thing of it. I think I was a Hufflepuff. Had a scarf on.”

“You’d look good in Hufflepuff colours.” Nick gives Louis a broad smile which sends something fluttering in Louis’ stomach. He taps his finger against his lips. It reminds Louis strangely of Snape. “Was it bad?”

“No.” Louis gets warm at the memory. “It was nice. Mum was happy. Like she didn’t care about me being with a bloke.”

Nick’s brow furrows. Louis isn’t sure why he doesn’t mention Bruce. There are some things he wants to keep to himself and Nick’s friends with Draco. If it gets out Louis’ keeping a pet in his room – even if it is a ghost – they might try to take Bruce away. Louis doesn’t want that.

“It sounds familiar. Something with a mirror.” He stands and paces, as if he’s trying to recall something. “Do you mind if I Fire Call Draco?”

Louis stares at Nick. Yes he bloody does mind, actually. “Why the fuck do you want to do that?”

“Because I think it might be important. This mirror thing.” Nick rolls his eyes and pulls Louis to his feet. They’re close all of a sudden. Close enough for Louis to feel the heat of Nick’s body and to catch the scent of his cologne. He always smells so good. It’s almost enough to make Louis forget that Nick’s got Louis in his living room and apparently he just wants to spend the evening chatting to Draco I-Act-Like-I've-Got-A-Wand-Up-My-Posh-Arse Malfoy. “Settle down, you knob.” Nick gives Louis a kiss. An actual honest to goodness kiss and even if it is fleeting, it feels like he means it. “I told you. Not interested. Not anymore. Not for a long time.”

Fine.” Louis glares at Nick. They move to the fire in the kitchen, where Stinky’s making excellent progress on the Twiglets Nick left for him. Louis sits on the floor next to Nick with his legs crossed. If Nick’s going to call Draco, Louis is going to make sure he’s very obviously in the picture.

It turns out Fire Calls don’t quite work like that. He can’t hear Draco at all and Nick’s head in the fire is muffled and his words are masked by the crackle and pop of the magical flames. After a moment, Nick pulls back and gives Louis a sheepish look. “He’s coming through.”

“Brilliant.” Louis rolls his eyes and gets to his feet. He’s regretting his joggers even more now. With a whoosh Draco Malfoy steps through the Floo and gives Nick a brief clap on the back.

“It’s a bit easier like this. Got any scotch?”

“Yeah, somewhere.” Nick starts to root through the cupboards and Draco finally notices Louis. “Oh. It’s you again.”

Louis grits his teeth. “Yeah. Me again.”

“Okay.” Draco shrugs as if he’s nonplussed. He doesn’t look quite as well put-together tonight. He’s more casual but apparently Draco Malfoy casual still involves a crisp shirt unbuttoned low on his neck and rolled up at the sleeves, with smart trousers and polished boots. The worst thing of all though, is how at home he looks in Nick’s house. He helps himself to a glass (Louis doesn’t know where the glasses are) and Stinky seems enamoured with him, leaving his Twiglet and hopping onto Draco’s hand. It’s just Pig that stays in place, wagging her tail with her paw on Louis’ shoe. Pig’s his favourite, he decides. The best crup in the world.

“Louis mentioned something about a mirror. It reminded me of that mirror-said thingy you told me about ages ago.”

“Erised?” Draco’s eyes narrow and he glances at Louis after taking a sip of his scotch. “Can’t be. Erised was destroyed years ago.”

“Maybe it’s summat else, then.” Nick shrugs. “Just a coincidence.”

Draco leans against the kitchen counter and contemplates Louis. “What did it look like?”

“Just a mirror.” Louis tries to think about the detail but he can’t quite remember. “It was dark and covered in dust. It’s tall.” He racks his brain and remembers Bruce at the foot of the mirror. “It had weird clawed feet and some writing on the top but I couldn’t read it.”

“Hmm.” Draco ponders that for a moment and glances at Nick. “What did you see in the mirror?”

Louis’ cheeks heat, because that feels personal, somehow. Like he’s being tested. He looks up at Nick, who gives him an encouraging look.

“I was a Hufflepuff, I think. Saw me mum and Nick too.” He doesn’t mention the kiss. He doesn’t think he wants Draco knowing about his kissing habits.

“How did you feel?” Draco murmurs. He’s focusing on Louis so intently it’s a bit unnerving.

“Happy.” Louis glances down at his feet. He should have kept his trainers on. One of his socks has a hole in and even though they both looked blue when he put them on, they don’t quite match. He’s in Nick’s house, talking to Draco Malfoy with odd socks on his feet. It’s crap.

“Sounds like Erised.” Draco takes another sip of his drink.

“What’s Erised?” Part of Louis isn’t sure he wants to know.

“A mirror which shows the person standing in front of it their heart’s desire.” Draco smiles and winks at Nick. “How sweet.”

“Fuck off,” Nick says. His cheeks get a bit pink.

“Gladly.” Draco finishes his drink in one gulp. “I need to find Potter. Erised definitely shouldn’t be in Hogwarts, I know that much. We assumed it was long gone.” He looks at Louis again. “What room did you find this in?”

“No idea.” Louis thinks back to the corridor he ended up on that night but with the staircases shifting all around him, he’s not sure he could find it again. “It looked broken. Like it hadn’t been fixed properly after the war. The bricks were charred, like they’d been hit with spells.”

Draco frowns. “No idea where that is. We’ll get to the bottom of it. I’ll speak to McGonagall.”

Louis catches Draco’s arm before he leaves. “What’s the Order of the Phoenix?”

Draco’s eyes widen and he stares at Louis. “Excuse me?”

“I overheard someone talking about it.” Louis looks at Nick, who shrugs as if he doesn’t know what it is either.

“It’s not something you need to worry about and I’d appreciate if you kept the Order – and the mirror – to yourself.” Draco gives Nick a smirk. “Have fun, Grim. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“Get out.” Nick practically pushes Draco through the Floo before confronting Louis with his arms folded. “What’s this about being in the ruined bits of Hogwarts? They’re bloody dangerous, them. Loads of unstable magic. It’s not safe.”

Louis glares at Nick. “You’re not my teacher, even if McGonagall is making me come here. Not even sure why I’m bothering if you’re going to arse around getting pissed with your ex-boyfriends.”

Nick frowns and then he looks away, studiously not focusing on Louis. “I just…it was shit. Being there that year. I don’t want you getting hurt.”

“Why?” Louis’ mouth is dry and Nick looks at him with a small smile.

“Because I’m just getting used to having you around.”

“Oh,” Louis says.

He tries very hard not to smile and it almost works.

*

It’s surprisingly okay, being taught by Nick. Louis thought it might be awkward, but Nick’s patient and even if he’s not Snape or McGonagall, he knows enough to make some of the trickier spells start to make sense. Nick decides to have a night hitting the books and he promises Louis they can do some practical stuff next week, which Louis’ already looking forward to. He wants to practice his Patronus again so he’s ready to teach Niall and Liam just in case the Dementors end up somewhere they shouldn’t.

When they finish, Louis looks at the large clock on Nick’s mantelpiece. The hours flew past and it’s nearly nine. He doesn’t have to be back until ten, but he’s not sure if Nick still wants him around. He wants to see if Nick might go into Hogsmeade with Louis one weekend or do something other than helping him improve his crap grades but he also doesn’t want to sound too bothered in case it sends Nick running for the hills. He’s already made a tit of himself over the Amortentia and the whole heart’s desire thing with the mirror. He isn’t sure why his heart's desire would be Nick and his mum, but he thinks he knows. He wants to be accepted. To not have to lie anymore. He’d like that a lot. Nick’s probably going to think it’s all about him, though. He’s a smug arse like that.

“What time do you turn into a pumpkin?” Nick hands Louis a beer and their fingers brush together.

“Ten.” Louis takes a swig of his beer, pleased Nick isn’t booting him out. “Nearly the holidays.”

“Yeah.” Nick sits on the sofa and Louis perches next to him. “You back in Donny?”

“No.” A wave of sadness crashes over Louis. “First Christmas without the family. I’m going to fail even more of my N.E.W.T.s if I can’t do magic over the holidays. McGonagall reckons I’ve got to stay behind this year.”

“That’s shit,” Nick says. “Even Christmas Day?”

“Mum doesn’t have a Floo.” Louis shrugs. “It’s fine.” It’s not, though. Louis’ already feeling crap about spending Christmas alone surrounded by musty books. He’s planning to go and bother Snape’s portrait and put tinsel on it. If he’s going to be miserable, he might as well have some fun with someone even more miserable.

Nick looks thoughtful, tapping his finger against his bottle. “Might be able to help. Leave it with me.”

“Okay.” Louis cheers marginally. He likes that Nick wants to help. Likes that maybe his Christmas won’t be completely rubbish, after all. He glances at Nick. “Want to do something with me?”

“Like what?” Nick looks a bit nervous, turning to Louis.

“Sex on the brain, you. A coffee. Hogsmeade or something.”

“Can do.” Nick nods. His eyes drop to Louis’ lips momentarily. “Still got to see the footie, too.”

“Yeah.” The air around them shifts and it makes Louis’ heart beat faster. He shifts closer to Nick and feeling bold, he puts his hands on Nick’s chest. It seems to work because Nick’s eyes close for a moment and a low sigh escapes his parted lips.

“Louis?” Nick says, his voice low.

“Nicholas?”

“No funny business. Just kissing.” Nick sounds as though he’s trying to convince himself as much as Louis. He opens his eyes again and slides a hand into Louis’ hair. “Come here, you bloody menace.”

Louis shifts up and closer to Nick, biting back a groan when their lips finally meet. He’s been waiting for this all evening.

The kiss is so good. So, so good it takes Louis a moment to realise he’s really here and he’s really kissing Nick. The house is quiet apart from the gentle ruffs from Pig in the other room and the odd clatter from the kitchen, which Louis assumes is Stinky causing havoc. The sounds fade away until they’re nothing more than a background hum and Louis can focus on every sigh and shiver that passes between him and Nick. Nick’s lips are too much. Soft but firm, self-assured kisses which make Louis want him with every part of his body. He shifts closer, deepening the kiss until it’s hot and breathless. Louis takes the opportunity to trace his lips along Nick’s neck and finds a bit that Nick really seems to like. He sucks on it, bites down a little and wraps his arms around Nick. He wants more. He wants to taste every bit of Nick’s skin and feel the way his body shifts beneath Louis’ touch.

“Louis.” Nick pulls back from another breathless kiss. His quiff is all over the place and he looks flushed. “We can’t…”

“I’m not.” Louis presses close again because Nick feels so good. Louis itches to touch him and he wants to crawl inside Nick. It’s like he can’t get close enough, his whole body throbbing with need. He tugs Nick down into another kiss and oh that’s different. Nick pushes Louis back onto the sofa until they’re stretched out together with Nick on top. It feels more serious as kisses go. More like a build up to the next event – more intimate and urgent. The kisses too get messier, harder, wetter. The way Nick murmurs Louis’ name against his skin is damp and rough, his breath sending shivers through Louis’ body. Louis is so hard. So hard and he wants Nick to touch him so much. He pushes against Nick and he knows Nick feels it. He can feel Nick too, a solid heat against his thigh. He’s pleased it’s not just him. Pleased it’s not just Louis that’s nearly losing his fucking mind over a kiss. Their bodies grind together and Louis finds himself responding to Nick as if he knows exactly what to do. He gets into a position where he can get as much friction as possible against his cock and he pushes, pulls and gasps into Nick’s mouth as they move together. It’s too much, the hard weight of Nick’s body over him. Too close to his fantasies. Louis knows he’s close to the edge but he can’t stop. He can’t stop the blissful waves of pleasure that crash over him and the way Nick’s movements edge him ever nearer to that precipice of pleasure. He just wants to let go. Wants to forget all the weird things that have happened lately and how lonely he sometimes feels. He wants to drink in every moment of Nick and lose himself in Nick’s arms, in his warm, cosy house. He wants to tell Nick it’s okay to kiss boys. Wants to taste his scars until he associates something painful with pleasure. Louis wants Nick to smile at him when he’s sleep-warm – wants Nick to teach him more than Dark Arts. He wants so desperately.

With a stuttered cry, Louis comes and he can feel himself getting damp and sticky. He’s sure Nick must have noticed and he’s so fucking embarrassed, his cheeks flaming hot. He shoves Nick off him and Nick moves, his eyes glazed and his lips plump and shiny from all the kissing. Louis goes to the bathroom and closes the door, putting the seat down on the loo and sitting heavily on it, his head in his hands. He’s such a fucking kid. Coming in his pants like he’s got no idea what he’s doing, which he hasn’t. Nick must think it’s hilarious.

“Lou?” Nick knocks at the door and Louis bites back a groan. He’s got a damp patch on his light grey joggers and no fucking idea how to get rid of it because he left his wand in the living room. It was getting in the way of all the kissing.

“Fuck off,” Louis says. He’s just never going to leave the bathroom. There’s water in here. He can survive for a few days before he gets over the embarrassment long enough to slink out of Nick’s house without him noticing.

“Don’t think I will, if it’s all the same to you.” Nick pushes open the door and he sits on the backs of his heels, crouching by Louis and resting on Louis’ thighs. “Look at me, will you?”

Louis looks at Nick reluctantly. He’s a mess. His hair is everywhere and there’s a bruise on his neck which Louis knows he was responsible for.

“Naff off.” Louis can’t muster up too much anger and he clenches his hands together to stop them from shaking.

Nick shakes his head. “No, I won’t. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. At all. It’s my fault. I keep saying no stuff like that ‘til you’re eighteen which is weird and stupid because it’s, like, what’s the difference between a few weeks anyway? It’s not the age of consent anymore, not since they changed it. It just feels like a marker, eighteen, doesn’t it? Like it’s something.”

“Suppose,” Louis says. He’s mortified and the gnawing embarrassment sends heat from his neck up into his cheeks.

Nick sighs. “I say none of that, then I get into it and take it too far anyway and make you feel like shit about something you shouldn’t feel shit about.”

“It’s stupid,” Louis mutters. He can’t look at Nick. His skin crawls with shame. He bets Draco Malfoy doesn’t come in his pants after a bit of a snog. “Bet you think I’m a kid.”

“I wouldn’t be doing this if I did.” Nick sounds firm and certain about that. He squeezes his hands on Louis’ thighs and clears his throat. “Wasn’t far off myself, you know. Do you…do you have any idea how hard you get me?”

“What?” Louis looks up, because he wasn’t expecting that.

Nick groans. He stands and helps Louis to his feet, sliding his arms around him. “You knob. You must have, like, felt it? If you say no, I’m going to be really bloody insulted.”

“Yeah, but…” Louis shrugs.

“But?”

“But you didn’t come.” Louis rubs his eyes with his fingers. He’s still sticky and uncomfortable and he feels like a tit, standing in Nick’s bathroom wanging on about his premature ejaculation problem.

“Not far off.” Nick breathes out. “If…if you hadn’t gone, I could’ve too.”

“Unlucky for you that I went then,” Louis says. He starts to feel a bit lighter.

“Yeah. Was a bit.” Nick grins at Louis. “Want to…would it help if I did?”

“Might.” Louis feels a bit dizzy and breathless.

“Come on, you tit.” Nick takes Louis’ hand and leads him back into the living room. They fall onto the sofa in a messy pile of legs and arms and Nick’s lips are back on Louis’ again. The kiss is slow and searching and unbelievably, Louis can feel his body begin to react to Nick all over again. He pulls back and he studies Nick closely, the flush in his cheeks and the warm expression in his eyes. “It really matters to you, doesn’t it? This eighteen thing?”

Nick pulls a face. “You heard what Harry said at the Ministry. About my type.”

Louis frowns and runs a hand through his hair. “I thought he meant…I dunno what I thought he meant.”

Nick shrugs. The Prophet seems to think I’m easy for young, blond models. Most of the people I’ve been with have been eighteen, nineteen, twenty. One or two exceptions, a couple of older blokes at the start – like Draco. But it bothers me. A Hogwarts student isn’t exactly going to help that, but eighteen…eighteen just feels okay. Like that’s not going to cause much scandal. There aren’t that many gay men who are out and it doesn’t help anyone’s cause if people see me as a creepy old perv.”

Louis nods. He gets it. He’s read the stuff about Nick. He knows that people still have some shitty views and if even Harry Potter can’t get comfortable being openly out, he can’t imagine how it’s been for Nick to negotiate reactions from the general public and commentary on his social life which insinuates he’s doing something wrong. “You’re twenty-four,” Louis says. “That’s not creepy.”

“’Course not.” Nick shakes his head. “There’s nothing wrong with any of it, it’s just…it’s just a thing. A thing of mine. Like, eat greens five times a week, no-carb Wednesdays, no vodka on a school night and no fucking under-eighteens.”

Louis can’t help but shiver at the no-fucking. Even the word conjures up a host of delicious images. “I always had to look after me sisters,” Louis says. “Grew up a bit faster than most. In some ways.” Louis’ cheeks heat because in the ways Nick might be interested in he’s got no experience at all. “I’m not good at being pushed around or forced into something I don’t want.”

“I know,” Nick says. He sighs. “I just think…I don’t want to take that from you. Being at school. Snogging behind the Quidditch sheds. It’s not fair.”

Louis huffs, because Nick’s an idiot. “There’s no one at Hogwarts. No one like me.”

“Bet there is,” Nick murmurs. “You’ll see.”

Louis shrugs. “Doesn’t matter, even if there is. There’s no one else I want to do this with.” Louis presses his lips to Nick’s and they lose themselves in another heated kiss before Louis pulls back with a groan. “I think your rule is stupid. I think you’re bloody stupid, but…it’s fine. We should wait. We should do that.”

“Why?” Nick stares at Louis.

“Because it might be that I want to wait with stuff too. You might have to, like, teach me stuff…” Louis’ cheeks warm again as Nick watches him closely. “With some of it. You don’t have to do that. You could have anyone. Someone who knows what they’re doing. S’only fair if I wait too. If you can be patient, so can I.”

Nick’s face breaks into a smile and he pokes Louis in the cheek. He brushes hair back from Louis’ face. “I don’t want just anyone, for the record. Anyway, I’m good at teaching stuff. Taught you a Patronus, didn’t I?”

“Yeah.” Louis nods, his chest tight. “You did.”

Nick looks at the clock and he tugs Louis to his feet. “Five to ten.”

“Gives us four minutes, then.” Louis presses close to Nick and kisses him again, and again.

When he Floos back just on the stroke of ten, Niall asks what Louis’ grinning like a dickhead about and everything is warm.

*

It’s during a practice with Potter and the Wotsits that Louis first hears the cries which seep through the castle walls.

“Wait.” He holds up his hand to stop Niall from playing his guitar. “Can’t you hear that?”

“’Course I can, mate.” Niall looks at Louis like he’s soft and puts his guitar down.

“Thank fuck.” Louis isn’t ready for a repeat of his night at the Ministry where he was the only one hearing things, even if he still suspects Nick was lying about not hearing anything from the Death Chamber.

“I think it’s the ghosts.” Liam opens the door to the small space they use to practice and sure enough the corridors are full of spirits. There are the usual ones that haunt Hogwarts and others, too, swooping at children clutching onto the moving staircases and whoo-wooing as they duck and dive up and down through the vast castle spaces. “Where the fuck have they all come from?”

“No idea.” Louis steps outside, leaning over one of the banisters and watching as the ghosts holler at one another and slide into the bricks of the castle. It seems to disturb Hogwarts and the staircases move more erratically, swaying from side to side.

“Get off the staircases at once. All children on the staircases are to gather in the Great Hall immediately.” Professor McGonagall pushes her wand against a neck, using a Sonorous charm to amplify her voice. She looks up and catches sight of Louis. “Mr Tomlinson, Mr Horan, Mr Payne, do not attempt to get on the staircases. Stay right where you are.”

Louis gives McGonagall a thumbs up and is rewarded with a snort of aggravation which carries through the castle. He stands between Liam and Niall, watching the ghosts as they move around them. An unfamiliar face Louis doesn’t recognise swoops close enough to them that Louis can feel the cold tendrils of death against his skin. It’s unpleasant and it makes his stomach roll.

“Death Eaters in the castle!” The ghost looks like she’s wearing Auror robes and her hair is brighter than the rest of her. She’s got a long scar from here eyebrow to her chin and her robes are tattered and charred as if they were engulfed by multiple spells.

“Must have died in the Battle of Hogwarts,” Liam murmurs. He presses closer to Louis as if he too feels cold.

“Must have.” Louis tries to calm her. “No Death Eaters here, not anymore.”

She stops close to them, hovering in mid-air. “They’re always here. Some of them never left.”

She moves through them with a scream of Avada Kedavra! which makes Niall curse and jump closer to Louis as if he’s going to be any use at protecting them.

Gross.” Niall clears his throat, moving away and brushing his robes. “I’m fine. Nothing to see here.”

“Yeah, right.” Louis rolls his eyes and punches Niall lightly on the shoulder. “Let’s write a song about ghosts going mad.”

“Brilliant.” Liam heads back into the room. “Wait, hasn’t that Harry Styles got a song about ghosts?”

“Harry Styles is an arse,” Louis says. He’s never actually met Harry so it might be a bit unfair, but he’s determined to dislike him. “Ours is going to be loads better.”

“Yeah!” Niall punches his fist in the air and then gives Louis a sheepish look. “He’s alright, though, isn’t he? I like Ever Since Beauxbatons and the one about the Magic Dining Table.”

“Shut up about Harry bleedin’ Styles and let’s get writing.” Louis extracts a Muggle biro and gnaws on the end. “Something really rocky.”

“And a bit poppy,” Liam offers.

“With lots of guitar riffs.” Niall plays one and looks smug.

“Sick.” Louis begins to jot down a few lyrics as Niall and Liam press close to him and the cold chill from the ghosts ebbs away.

*

When he arrives at his detention, Louis is almost relieved to see Professor Snape back in his portrait, sitting at his desk surrounded by quills and parchment.

“Evening, Professor.”

“Tomlinson.” Snape looks up, his eyes as dark and expressionless as ever. He scowls. Business as usual, then. Louis gets out his books and sits at his desk, letting Snape drone on about another potion Louis is quite sure he’s never going to need.

“They fixed your portrait then?” When there’s a lull in the lecture, Louis takes the opportunity to flex his hand. He’s been writing so many notes the last few days he feels like his hand’s going to fall off.

“Eventually.” Snape harrumphs.

“Don’t have much luck, do you, Professor?” Louis grins at Snape and is rewarded with a glare.

“No, Tomlinson. I do not, as you so delightfully put it, have much luck. Even in death, I have little respite.” Snape gives Louis a pointed look, as if he’s part of the problem.

“The ghosts have been weird.” Louis sits back in his chair and flexes his hand again. “Have you noticed?” He mulls over the thought which has been going around his mind since he first saw Snape’s portrait slashed. “I don’t get it. If you’re already dead, what’s there to be scared of?”

Snape rolls his eyes and snorts, muttering idiot under his breath. “Think, Tomlinson. I’m sure even a dunderhead like you can devise some sort of explanation.”

Louis frowns. He doesn’t appreciate being called a dunderhead but he also suspects Snape knows something and he doesn’t want to bring the conversation to an abrupt halt by snapping back at him. “Ghosts are afraid of dying.”

“The boy is brilliant,” Snape mutters. He studies Louis. “I see you have some basic First Year knowledge in that thick skull of yours.”

“Ghosts are afraid of dying or they’ve got some unfinished business. That’s why they’re ghosts.” Louis shakes his head. “But nothing can touch them. You can’t be Avada Kedavra’d all over again, can you?”

“No?” Snape rearranges his papers and sniffs. “The dead inhabit a different place to the living. They can see things the living can’t. When you straddle a space between life and death the shadows are full of horrors the living cannot begin to fathom.”

“Ghosts are afraid of the dead, then?” Louis’ getting a bit frustrated with Snape and his riddles.

“Mr Tomlinson.” Snape strokes his finger over his lips and settles back in his chair. “Everyone should be afraid of the dead. Not least because amortal beings cannot be killed.”

“Amortal beings?” Louis wrinkles his nose.

Snape rolls his eyes. “Ghosts, Dementors, Boggarts…”

“Oh.” Louis shivers as he thinks about his Boggart. He’s tempted to ask Snape about that, but he’s not even sure what he’d say. His Boggart is a monster he doesn’t recognise. How can he be so terrified of something when he doesn’t even know what it is? A shiver crawls down Louis’ spine and he begins to pack his things away. “But they can’t do anything. Because they’re ghosts.”

“Can’t they?” Snape flicks through his books and a waft of dust rises which partially obscures him before it settles again.

“The ghosts aren’t bad, though. Peeves, Nearly Headless Nick. Even the Bloody Baron’s alright.”

Snape watches Louis carefully. “Indeed. Although not all things that remain behind have good intentions. You would do well to remember that.”

Louis thinks of the Prophet article and he looks up at Snape. “The Dementors have disappeared.”

“Yes,” Snape says. There’s no flicker of surprise. No suggestion the information is new to him. Instead he simply rearranges his papers and dips his quill in his ink pot, opening another dusty tome. “That will be all.”

“Night, Professor.”

Louis leaves the classroom and walks slowly through the corridors, his mind full of questions.

It’s not until he gets to the top of Gryffindor Tower that Bruce falls into step next to him, trotting along with Louis.

“I can trust you, can’t I boy?” Louis asks.

Bruce responds with a woof and he rubs his ghostly nose into Louis’ hand. He’s cold.

“I’ll take that as a yes, Louis says.

Bruce looks like he’s smiling.

*

Hogsmeade smells like Christmas with piping mugs of spiced cinnamon infused wine overflowing as street sellers holler at passing shoppers. Honeydukes is packed with Hogwarts students and harried parents spilling out onto the streets. The cobbled paths are adorned with magical lanterns which shine and flicker like stars in the late afternoon dusk and the whole place hums with conversation and laughter.

Louis fingers the small bag with the last of his savings from his Weird Sisters gigs in his pocket and mooches through the shops. Unlike most Hogwarts students, he decided against robes in favour of his comfortable jeans and a hoody with a Muggle band on the front. He wishes he’d grabbed his scarf because Hogsmeade is freezing at this time of year and every shop offers a moment of respite from the chill in the air.

Louis gets a few small gifts from Zonko’s Joke Shop for his sisters, Niall and Liam before pushing open the door to Gladrags Wizardwear. He never shops in Gladrags and one of the assistants gives him a snooty look. He browses through the clothing but there’s nothing that grabs him. Nothing that feels like Nick. It’s all comedy socks or formal robes. Louis escapes as soon as he can without buying a thing. He double checks the smooth coins are still in his pocket and begins to feel a bit desperate about finding something for Nick.

He ends up in Scrivenshaft’s, looking at the quills and the parchment. He stops by a quill with a beautiful rainbow-bright feather and a gorgeous, curved nib which Louis tests carefully. It writes well, dipped in expensive ink. He thinks about the notes in Nick’s house and the way he scratches at his arm. He peers closer at the description of the quill.

The Rainbow Quill is magically charmed to bring the writer luck in love. The perfect quill for love letters, novel writing and remembering those special occasions. A must-have for any witch or wizard who finds it easier to communicate in the written word. Buy this quill today and let yourself love whoever you want, without exception

Louis swallows and he carefully extracts one of the boxes with its ornate, rainbow colours. He wants writing with a quill to make Nick think of something happy. Something good. Bright, colourful and full of joy. He makes his way to the counter where an elderly wizard claps his hands together.

Wonderful choice.” His eyes twinkle and he contemplates Louis. “Any message for the card?”

“Yeah, err…” Louis looks around but the shop is surprisingly empty. He edges closer and lowers his voice. “Put…always kiss boys. Wait, no. Put after that, one boy in particular.” Louis’ cheeks are so hot but the shop keeper is still smiling. If anything, his smile gets even broader. He writes in the card and then shows Louis the text. It looks a bit daft there in bold, black ink but there’s not much Louis can do about it now. Maybe he’ll ditch the card before he gives Nick the quill.

“Are you familiar with the Muggle author Paul Monette?”

Louis shakes his head and the shop keeper leans in. “Whatever speaks the truth of our hearts can only make us stronger. Can only give us the power to counter the hate and bigotry and heal this addled world. Just remember: You are not alone.”

Louis swallows, the words rolling around in his head. Because yes. It’s there in the weight that eases just a little bit more with each new person he tells. The anxious, clammy-palmed moment of saying the words out loud. The way he catches himself and the relief of those moments with Liam and Niall when he doesn’t have to catch himself at all. Every kiss with Nick feels more normal than the last. Every moment in his small house with Pig and Stinky. Louis clings on to those feelings as much as he can. The fierce ball in his chest when he thinks of the scars on Nick’s arm, the pure, unbridled freedom of being able to cast a Patronus and think I am, I am and the way his heart jumped when he saw the rainbow quill. He can’t quite bring himself to speak, counting out his coins carefully. When he sees he’s a Galleon short, his skin gets hotter and he rummages around in his pocket. He was so sure he had enough.

“Listen, son.” The shop keeper stills Louis’ hand. “It’s fine. Tell your friends to buy their quills for school from here and I’ll let you off just this once.”

“Thanks.” Louis gratefully accepts his purchase which the shop keeper carefully wraps and puts in a little bag. “Thanks very much.”

“You’re welcome.” The man leans against the counter and he contemplates Louis. “You know what else Monette said?”

“No?” Louis holds his breath.

“Grief is a sword, or it is nothing.”

The words leave a strange taste in Louis’ mouth and his heart rate increases. The image of his baby Thestral Patronus flashes through his mind and he recalls the look Harry gave him when he asked about his wand core. Why does everything always come back to death?

“Thanks. I’ll, err…try to remember that.”

“You’re welcome.” The man turns away from Louis to another customer, a wide smile on his face again. “The Quick-Quotes Quill. An excellent choice. I take it you’re a journalist?”

Louis leaves the shop and breathes in the wintery air. He shrinks his presents carefully so he can put them in his pocket and makes his way to Madame Puddifoot’s where he hopes Nick will be waiting.

*

Much to Louis’ displeasure, Madame Puddifoot refuses to serve him mulled wine, so he ends up with a piping hot mug of tea and sits close to Nick with their knees knocking underneath the table.

“You’ll be able to drink your own body weight in mulled wine soon enough.” Nick presses his thigh against Louis’ and Louis gives him a grin.

“Be able to do other things too.”

Nick takes a gulp of his tea, a bit flustered. “Oi. None of that. We’re having a nice, civilised brew. I don’t want to think about shagging in Madame Puddifoot’s. Too many floral armchairs. Puts me right off.”

“Sorry.” Louis isn’t really. He likes that he can make Nick nervous. It’s unexpected, but it makes Louis feel less like he’s bumbling around on his own making a prat of himself. “Got your present.”

“You did?” Nick’s eyebrows raise and he grins. “Got yours, too.”

“Really?” Louis pokes his elbow into Nick’s side. “Give us a look, then.”

“No chance.” Nick pokes Louis back. “Wait until your birthday.” He has a sip of his tea. “Listen. If you like, you can come to mine Christmas Eve. I got a Floo built into my mum’s house. Cost me a bloody arm and a leg, that did. I can drive you to Donny if you want. Pick you up Boxing Day and get you back to Hogwarts. I cleared it with McGonagall. She said no one should be studying on their birthday, not even you.”

Louis stares at Nick. “You don’t want to do that.”

Nick rolls his eyes. “Wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t. Can’t think of you having your birthday and Christmas without someone around.”

Louis licks his lips and swallows around the lump in his throat. His chest is tight because Nick doing that for him is…a lot, is what it is. “We’d go to mum’s on Christmas Eve?” Louis pauses and keeps his eye on Nick. “Or Christmas Day?”

“Whatever.” Nick looks as though he’s not bothered, blowing on his tea. “Could have tea at mine Christmas Eve if you like. Go to your mum for Christmas Day.”

Louis does like. He likes that idea a lot. “I could stay at yours? On my birthday?”

“If you want.” Nick glances at Louis and his cheeks are pink. It’s brilliant. “Not, like, for that.”

“What if I want that?” Louis shoots back.

“Let’s cross that bridge when we come to it.” Nick’s definitely embarrassed now, pushing his hand through his ridiculous quiff. “Just thought it might be nice. Cooking for you. Doing presents.”

“Yeah.” Louis almost squirms in his seat at the thought. “Dead nice.”

“So you want to?” Nick relaxes a little.

“Yeah, I want to. ‘Course I do.” Louis nudges Nick. “Did you really think I’d say no?”

“Dunno.” Nick shrugs. “Stranger things have happened.”

Louis snorts under his breath. “You’re a knob.”

“Maybe.” Nick doesn’t sound too bothered about it. “Seen the paper today?”

“No.” Louis looks at the copy of the Prophet Nick pushes towards him. There’s a familiar face on the front that Louis recognises from other news items about the Ministry and the Aurors.

Auror John Dawlish found dead in suspected suicide. Official Ministry Statement inside.

“He was missing.” Louis looks at the man smiling at him from the paper, his stomach clenching. “I heard them talking about him. Malfoy and McGonagall. I didn’t say because I didn’t want to get in trouble. He’s been missing for days and they were worried. Said there was a meeting.”

“He was?” Nick frowns at the paper and opens it, looking inside. He points at one of the paragraphs. “If you ask me there’s something fishy about this suspected suicide business. The Ministry are trying to keep something quiet.”

Louis scans the statements from Hermione Granger and Kingsley Shacklebolt, which are as vague as statements can get. He looks up at Nick and frowns.

“The Dementors go missing then an Auror’s found dead? Did I tell you the ghosts are being weird at school?”

“No.” Nick shakes his head. “Aren’t they always weird?”

“Not this weird.” Louis drums his fingers on the table. “Something’s going on.”

“Probably. Something’s always going on.” Nick stills Louis’ fingers. “And you’re absolutely not getting involved.”

“No.” Louis changes the subject.

He doesn’t feel like he can say yet that he thinks he’s already involved.

He just doesn’t know why.

*

They find a quiet alley behind the Three Broomsticks to snog in before Nick has to go home and Louis needs to get back to Hogwarts.

Fuck.” Nick presses Louis against the wall and kisses him soundly. His hands are everywhere, his breath coming in rough pants. “You’re so…Christ, Louis.”

“I know. You too.” Louis does know. The air fills his lungs as he drinks in greedy gulps, pressing into Nick and wrapping his arms around him pulling him closer. Nick’s nose is cold against Louis’ cheek and it’s like every time the kisses get too much – hard, hot and dirty. Louis loves it. He’s so into Nick it’s difficult to breathe around him sometimes.

“Lou…” Nick pulls back eventually, pressing his forehead to Louis’. “God, Louis.”

“Yeah,” Louis says. He smooths Nick’s hair, patting it into some kind of less fucked up state. “Same.”

“Got one more lesson then it’ll be Christmas Eve.” Nick uncurls his scarf then he wraps it around Louis’ neck, knotting it at the front. It’s his Hufflepuff scarf. When Louis looks at the end he can see a little name tag that his mum must have carefully stitched on that says Nicholas Peter Andrew Grimshaw. Louis’ heart gets full because he remembers his mum doing that with his robes. The robes that were all the wrong colour and just a bit too big. “It’s cold,” Nick says.

“Idiot.” Louis’ voice is rough and he’s sure he’s beaming wide enough to give away every last emotion that settles deep in his bones. “Now you’re going to be cold.”

“Nah.” Nick shakes his head and gestures down the street. “Don’t have far to go. You’ve got to stand outside and watch borin’ Quidditch matches.”

“Can’t do that in Hufflepuff colours,” Louis says.

“Can do whatever you want, darling.” Nick tugs the scarf and pulls Louis in for another kiss. This time it’s sweet and his lips taste like warm tea and spicy toasted teacakes. “See you Wednesday?”

“Yep,” Louis says. He watches Nick leave and tightens the scarf around his neck. It smells like Nick’s cologne and reminds him of the image in the Mirror of Erised with him and Nick and his mum, watching them kiss looking so, so happy.

Louis doesn’t plan to ever take it off.

Chapter Text

“Harry Styles is playing with the Weird Sisters.” Liam has a sip of the punch and pulls a face. He yanks at his robes which look slightly too big for him. “This punch tastes like crap.”

“I spiked it.” Louis glances around the Great Hall, decked out in Christmas decorations for the Yule Ball. Everyone looks weird in their fancy dress robes, particularly the younger students. It’s like they’re getting all dressed up too early. They should be on their broomsticks and wearing jeans and t-shirts rather than trying to look like a bunch of poncy Ministry politicians. Louis hates the Yule Ball.

“Harry Potter’s coming too.” Niall’s already a bit pissed because he drank half of the firewhisky before Louis could put it in the punch. “I heard McGonagall talking about it.”

“Brilliant.” Louis rolls his eyes. That means he’s going to have Harry – and probably Malfoy – giving him peculiar looks from across the hall and he’s going to have to pretend to like Harry Styles otherwise he’s going to get beaten up by a group of Ravenclaw fifth years that have flashing I love Harry badges pinned to their dresses. “Don’t you two have dates?”

“Somewhere.” Niall looks around, a frown on his face. “I don’t think she likes me much. She said my robes smell like mothballs.” Niall offers Louis a sleeve, so he can check for himself.

“She’s right.” Louis pushes Niall’s arm away and looks over at Liam. “What about you?”

“Yeah, think so.” Liam shrugs. “I’m just waiting for Luna Lovegood to get here.” He looks dreamy.

“Luna?” Louis snorts. “Bit old for you, isn’t she?”

Liam flexes his muscles which are…crap, honestly. “Give me a few years, mate. Anyway, it’s not like you can talk. How’s Grimmy?”

“They asked him to DJ this.” Louis shudders with horror at the thought. Nick up there, watching Louis having to prat around on the dancefloor like some kid. “He’s doing the Witch Weekly office party instead. More fun than us lot.”

“Lots of male models at that.” Liam nods. “Probably better than looking at a bunch of Hogwarts students.”

Louis punches Liam in the shoulder. “Thanks for that. Dickhead.” He swallows back the wave of jealousy that spikes through him at the thought of Nick surrounded by male models.

“Here he is.” Niall sounds excited and Louis really has to rethink this friendship. “Harry Styles. Look at that suit. I tell you what, Tommo, if anyone could make me join your team…”

“Give over.” Louis glares at Niall. He notices the flashing badge on Niall’s dress robes. I’m here for Harry Styles. “Harry Styles is a twat.”

“He’s amazing.” Niall gets to his feet, swaying slightly. Harry’s floral dress robes have clearly gone to his head. That and the firewhisky.

“You’re pissed and the Veela magic is fucking with you.” Louis tugs Niall back into his seat. There are quite a few people in the room getting hazy-eyed over Harry. Niall isn’t the only one. Louis puts it down to the part-Veela thing. There’s nothing special about Harry Styles. Nothing at all.

“Hello!” Harry waves, smiles and the crowds cheer as if he’s just announced he’s devised a cure for Spattergroit. “Thank you for having me.” His eyes meet Louis’ briefly and he points. “May I say you, Sir, are looking wonderful tonight.”

Louis slides down into his seat and groans as everyone starts yelling. “Christ.”

“I can’t believe it.” Niall sounds a bit dazed. “Do you want my badge?”

“No, I don’t want your fucking badge.”

Harry blows kisses at the crowd and then assumes a jaunty pose. “This one’s called Kiwi.”

Everyone goes mental and Louis takes the opportunity to pour himself more punch.

*

“Tomlinson.” Louis turns when he hears a familiar voice calling his name. He finds himself face to face with Harry Potter, looking fit as fuck in dark green robes. The low hum of magic that’s always just there when Harry’s around makes Louis’ skin hot. “Having a good night?”

“It’s alright.” Louis shrugs, glancing at the group he’s found himself in. Harry Styles is talking to Draco Malfoy, laughing at something and looking utterly enamoured. What is it with bleedin’ Draco Malfoy? Louis doesn’t get it at all.

“We’re going to the Witch Weekly bash after this,” Draco says, all attention on Styles. He seems friendly with him which is bollocks because Harry Styles is no older than Louis, yet Louis always feels like he’s a child whenever Draco and Harry Potter are around.

“Yeah, me too.” Styles grins at Malfoy, all white teeth and floppy hair. “Grim’s doing the music. He’s having me on the show tomorrow. We’re going to straight-through-crew it. We’ve got plans to try that club after. The one with those Flaming Flamingo cocktails, if you’re up for it?”

Louis balls his hands into fists. Since when are Nick and Harry Styles friends? He didn’t know anything about that and he feels like it’s the sort of thing Nick should have mentioned. He tears himself away from earwigging on the conversation and focuses on Harry Potter again. “Did you sort out the thing with the mirror?”

“Yeah.” Harry’s brow furrows momentarily. “Look, if there’s anything you think is unusual at all I want you to contact me. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas Day, even. You won’t be disturbing me.”

Louis nods. He feels a bit guilty not mentioning Bruce because having a ghost dog suddenly become your best friend doesn’t fall into the category of usual but he also doesn’t want anyone to take Bruce away. “Will do.”

“Right, then.” A strange expression crosses Harry’s features as he watches Louis. He looks almost sad. There’s something wistful and resigned which skirts on the edges of his smile. “You’re seventeen, aren’t you?”

“Eighteen soon.” Louis makes sure he’s standing as tall as he can. “I’m not a kid. You were seventeen when you did that thing with Voldemort.” Did that thing. Louis mentally rolls his eyes at himself. That’s a fucking understatement and a half for saving the world.

“I know you’re not a kid.” Harry claps Louis on the shoulder and his magic is so warm, it drives away the cold, gnawing sense of something not-quite-right that’s been niggling at Louis lately. “Trust me, I know that better than most.”

“Tommo?” It’s Niall, sounding a bit awed. Louis takes a breath and the moment with Harry is broken.

“This is my mate, Niall.” Louis looks around and sure enough, there Liam is looking a bit wide-eyed. “And Liam.”

“Hi Niall and Liam.” Harry grins, shaking Niall’s hand first, then Liam’s. “Having a good night?”

“Is Luna Lovegood here?” Liam blurts out. Louis wants to kick him in the shins.

“I’ll introduce you, if you like.” Harry beckons Luna over and Liam looks a bit stunned when she kisses him on the cheek. Louis tunes out when Liam starts babbling on about how much he loves the Quibbler.

“We’ve got a band.” Niall looks like he can’t quite believe Harry is right there. “Potter and the Wotsits.”

Harry’s lips twitch and he raises an eyebrow at Louis. “You have? Aren’t Wotsits—”

“Muggle crisps. Yeah. We’re changing the name.” Louis tries to drag Niall away. “See you around, Harry.”

Louis takes a seat at the back of the room, waiting for Niall and Liam to join him. He tries not to get jealous as Harry’s group gather together and then leave no doubt heading for the Witch Weekly bash which Louis can’t go to because he’s at stupid Hogwarts wearing stupid dress robes at the stupid, wanky Yule Ball. The energy in the room changes after they leave, and Louis wonders what it would be like to be part of a group like that. Walking into a room and making everyone take notice. He can’t imagine being part of it and the realisation that Nick’s at least on the periphery of that sort of crowd makes him feel utterly inadequate.

“I can’t believe Luna Lovegood kissed me on the cheek.” Liam sits back in his chair with a contented sigh. “I’m never washing again.”

“I met Harry Potter,” Niall says. “Actual Harry Potter.” His Harry Styles badge is still flashing.

Louis rubs his forehead. “I need more punch.”

*

“I didn’t know you knew Harry Styles,” Louis says. They’re the first words out of his mouth when he steps through the Floo into Nick’s house. He’s been thinking about it for days. Listening to the Breakfast Show the morning after the Yule Ball was a disaster. Nick sounded half-cut and the whole show was just him and Harry giggling and making dodgy innuendos. Louis is ready to hex his balls off by the time their last lesson of the year rolls around.

“Hi to you, too.” Nick raises his eyebrows at Louis. “I’m mates with Haz, yeah. I’m mates with a lot of people.” His expression clouds. “Why, you after an autograph or summat?”

Louis makes an irritated noise in the back of his throat. “No, you bloody idiot. I don’t want an autograph.”

“Then what?” Nick looks confused.

“Dunno,” Louis mutters. He looks down at his feet, anger rolling through him. “Nicked my job, didn’t he? Just don’t get why everyone’s in love with him.”

“It’s that Veela heritage. Science, isn’t it? Or magic.” Nick moves closer to Louis and makes him look up so their eyes meet. “Which I’m immune to, by the way. I don’t know what it is about Veelas. They just don’t do much for me.”

“They don’t?” Louis swallows, the anger seeping away a little. Nick looks so good, as always and Louis has really bloody missed him after working himself into knots and cuddling up with Bruce and Nick’s Hufflepuff scarf. “How come?”

“No idea.” Nick smiles at Louis. “But I’m not interested, if that’s what’s got you looking like you want to jab me in the eye with your wand.”

“Good.” Louis huffs out a breath. “You sounded like a twat with him on the radio.”

“Gave you a shout out though, didn’t I?” Nick runs a hand through his quiff.

“You did?” Louis frowns. He doesn’t remember any shout out. He just remembers Nick making some joke about Harry having a dry mouth which made him throw a Bulbous Boil curse at one of Nick’s pictures in Witch Weekly.

“Yeah.” Nick nods. “Wait, I’ll find it for you.” He mutters a few spells before a crackling sound comes from the radio. Nick’s familiar voice leaps into the quiet room. He sounds happy.

That was Harry Styles and the Weird Sisters with Meet Me in the Hogwarts Hallway. Great song, Harold.

They both giggle and Louis feels his blood starting to boil again. Nick holds up a hand before Louis can say something snippy.

Time for something Muggle, I reckon. This is for a friend of mine. He likes the Arctic Monkeys – and before you start sending in Howlers I don’t mean the Polar Nifflers, that’s a different band altogether – anyway, I reckon he’s going to be into this too. This is The Killers with When You Were Young

The music starts and Nick flicks his wand with another muttered spell when the song finishes.

“Oh,” Louis says. He feels warm all over. “I like that song.”

“Thought you might.” Nick flushes and he clears his throat. “Better get on with those lessons.”

“Yeah.” Louis extracts his wand, his mood vastly improved. “You said we’d do practical stuff this week.”

“And we will.” Nick ushers Louis into the living room which has been rearranged with anything breakable under various magical shields. “See? Got it all ready for you to do your worst.” He holds out his wand with a rueful laugh. “Even if my wand’s always been crap at this stuff.”

“Why?” Louis frowns. “Got an E, didn’t you?”

“The wand core’s all wrong for dark magic. I was bang on at defensive spells, though and the Dark Arts syllabus is more about teaching you how to defend yourself than how to cast dark spells.” Nick shrugs. “You might want to get someone better than me before exams, though. I spoke to Harry the other night and he said he’d be up for it, if you want.”

Louis stares at Nick. “You want me to duel with Harry Potter? You really don’t like me much, do you?”

Nick laughs. “Leave it out. He thinks it might be good for you.” Nick stops laughing and his expression turns serious. “Although I’m not sure I like the fact Harry seems to think you need to know how to do all this stuff in the first place. He doesn’t usually offer private lessons. Have you been poking around in those dangerous bits of the castle again?”

“No.” A chill settles over the room and Louis swallows. It’s not normal, having Harry Potter casually offer to teach you defensive spells. He’s one of the busiest wizards in the world. The last thing he should be doing is helping some student he barely knows to pass their N.E.W.T.s. Nothing that’s happened in the last few weeks is normal. “Can I bring Liam and Niall?” Louis isn’t sure why that thought occurs to him, but if there are weird things going on he wants Liam and Niall to be able to protect themselves too.

“I don’t see why not. I can ask.” Nick studies Louis. “You sure there’s nothing you’re not telling me?”

Louis thinks of Bruce keeping a watchful eye on the end of his bed and shakes his head. “Nothing at all.”

“Right.” Nick sounds suspicious but eventually he shakes himself and slices his wand through the air, murmuring a spell which sends rainbow coloured petals into the air.

“Going to attack me with pollen?” Louis grins at Nick.

“I might.” Nick adopts a duelling stance. “You read Chapter Ten and Eleven of Pryor?”

“Yep.” Louis sends a spark of magic from his wand into the air. “Give me what you’ve got then, Nicholas.”

The spells slice through the air and Louis meets every single one of them.

*

Niall’s bouncing on the balls of his feet, slicing his wand this way and that. “Do you think he’s going to teach us how to fly?”

“I doubt it.” Louis glances at the door with some trepidation. They’re in the classroom with Lupin and Snape’s portraits where Louis always has his detentions. Both the portraits are empty, and the musty classroom is quiet and still.

“I don’t know how you wangled this.” Liam pokes around at a couple of bottles, coughing when a dusty cloud billows into the air. “A proper lesson with Harry Potter. Why’s it just us?”

“Dunno.” Louis shrugs. “Nick knows him. I asked if you could come too.” He’s not sure where to start with the detail of the weird things that have been happening to him lately. He wants to tell Niall and Liam, but he doesn’t even know what he’d say. There’s nothing to say, really. Nothing apart from everyone keeps asking about my wand core, my Patronus is a Thestral and I found this weird mirror. It’s not exactly much to go on.

“Sorry I’m late.” The door to the classroom opens and Harry walks in, closing the door behind him with a flick of his wand. Louis doesn’t miss the way Harry glances quickly at the two portraits, or the fact he’s just done non-verbal magic. Again. Louis rolls his eyes. This is going to be a fucking disaster.

“Hiya.” Louis pushes himself off the desk he usually sits at for detention. “You remember Niall and Liam?”

“Of course.” Harry shakes their hands. “I’m Harry.”

Obviously,” Louis mutters. Niall looks a bit star struck and Liam is unusually quiet. Louis wishes Zayn was still around. Zayn wouldn’t be impressed. He’d probably just roll his eyes with Louis at Harry introducing himself like someone might not remember his name.

“We’re going to do Boggarts and duelling practice today.” Harry flicks his wand and a tall chest slides across the floor, sending more dust into the air. “If that’s okay?”

Louis stares at the chest, his heart hammering. “Nobody said anything about Boggarts. It’s a third year thing. That won’t be on our N.E.W.T.s.”

“There’s a very good chance it will be,” Harry says. “It was on mine.” He glances at Louis. “Besides, the Headmistress mentioned you might have had some trouble with them in the past.”

Niall pipes up. “You did, Tommo. Remember?”

“Pretty scary that was, mate. When you lamped Finnegan.”

Louis grits his teeth. “Some friends you lot are.”

“Sorry.” Niall has the decency to look sheepish.

Harry clears his throat. “Niall, do you want to go first?”

“Yeah.” Niall faces the chest enthusiastically and positions himself.

With a flick of his wand, Harry opens the chest which starts rattling as Niall gives his wand an experimental jab. The creature in the chest bounds out and confronts Niall, spinning violently until it settles into the shape of an Augurey which is weird because Niall’s Boggart used to be Voldemort, like so many other peoples. Niall’s hand trembles but he keeps shouting Riddikulus! Riddikulus! Riddikulus! until the Augurey lets out a sqawk and its feathers fall off, leaving a little duckling looking dizzy and bemused on the floor.

“Good job, Niall. Great! Now Liam.”

Liam replaces Niall and the Boggart spins until it takes on the shape of a werewolf, menacing and huge. It looms over Liam with its claws extended and blood dripping from its mouth. It growls, displaying an intimidating row of teeth and Liam trembles beneath it.

R-r-r-riddikulus! Riddikulus!” The Boggart shifts and turns into a kneazle which mewls pitifully on the floor.

Excellent. Louis, you’re up.”

Louis grips his wand hard enough to hurt and waits for the Boggart to spin and shift. It might have changed. It might not be the same, strange monster from before. Maybe—

The Boggart spins and something strange happens. The spinning stops. The Boggart faces Louis and it looks exactly as it always has – just as it did in third year. The sight of it grips Louis with terror, the fear of unknown monsters under his bed returning. It’s like he’s a little kid again and he doesn’t understand why he’s turning hair green or sending sparks into the air from his fingertips. It’s every terrible fear of his mum and his sisters dying, of his friends dying, of Nick cold and lifeless. But the Boggart doesn’t take any of those specific shapes. It watches Louis with gloomy eyes, empty and lost. It’s ill-defined and hazy and it begins to stumble towards Louis with its peculiar, limbless body and its dark eyes which look like empty, sunken pits. It’s got a form of sorts, but it simultaneously has no discernible shape at all. Watching the Boggart is like staring into an abyss – like being trapped on the precipice of the edge of the earth and realising there’s nothing more than darkness and empty space beneath his feet.

Louis chokes up, his throat rough and ragged from screaming Riddikulus over and over as the creature slides, stumbles, slithers towards him, spinning and twisting into the strangest shapes. It’s just eyes, just teeth. It spins a little until it’s rivers of blood and a ghostly hand holding a beating heart in its palm. It’s a night without stars, a scream in the darkness and a void of absolute nothingness which steals all the breath from Louis’ lungs.

A hand pushes him out of the way and the air gets cold. The familiar shape of a Dementor towers over them and Louis can hear Liam’s shout which sounds far away, echoing through the room. All the good things get pulled from the small classroom. All the happiness, all the joy. The moments with Nick slide away from Louis and everything is so bleak and desperate he can’t even remember how good it feels when his mum smiles or when he hits the high notes just right with Potter and the Wotsits. The Dementor drops to the floor, a bundle of rags. With a loud crackle of magic the rags disappear. The chest slams closed, and Louis drops to the floor. He heaves in dust and an unfamiliar coppery taste as he tries to catch his breath.

“You’re okay, Louis. Just breathe.” Harry sounds concerned, his hand on Louis’ back. Louis can’t even bring himself to enjoy the proximity as his chest is so tight and his hands won’t stop shaking. He looks up at Harry and meets his eyes, the green in them reminding him of Nick and bringing him back to himself with a jolt.

“I don’t even know what it is. What was that?”

Harry shakes his head, looking bemused. When he speaks, his voice is low and uncertain. “I have absolutely no idea.”

*

Because tea solves everything, Harry makes them each a warm cup and gives them some chocolate which he fishes out of the pocket of his robes. It makes them all feel better and Louis can feel some of the life and spark returning to his sluggish limbs.

“I’ve never seen a Dementor close up before.” Liam has another chunk of chocolate, looking at Harry with undisguised awe.

“I hope you never have to again.” Harry looks grim and his gaze flickers across to Louis. “Feeling better?”

“Yeah, lots.” Louis squirms with embarrassment. “I was crap. I can’t even get rid of a Boggart.”

Harry studies Louis. “Don’t worry about it. I’m going to speak to McGonagall. There’s something not right about this. Leave it with me.” A small smile tugs at his lips. “Also, don’t worry too much. I couldn’t fight off my Boggart either at first. Remus used it to teach me how to cast a Patronus.”

“He did?” Louis didn’t know that.

Harry nods. “Yeah. Speaking of which, we should do that. What with the Dementors on the loose.”

Louis stands, feeling energised. If Harry Potter couldn’t deal with his Boggart either at first, Louis isn’t going to worry about it for now. Besides, he knows this is one thing he’s going to be able to do. “Nick taught me how to cast one.”

“He did, did he?” Harry grins at Louis. “Why don’t you give us a demo, then?”

Louis looks at Niall and Liam who look – well, they look impressed. It’s the first time anyone’s been impressed by Louis doing anything vaguely academic. He worries about the strange shape of his Patronus but decides it’s fine. It’s there to protect him, after all. It’s good magic. Not something to be ashamed about.

He pushes aside the earlier terror and thinks of Nick. Kissing Nick after casting all those spells the other day, hot and sweaty and smiling against one another’s lips. He closes his eyes and lets the full force of everything happy take him over.

Expecto Patronum!” There’s a flash of silver from his wand and there it is. His baby Thestral Patronus, stumbling towards Harry on its gangly legs. It shimmers in the dark room and Louis can hear Liam mutter a wow under his breath while Niall whispers what is that?

“Hiya.” Harry doesn’t seem at all worried about Louis’ Patronus, although he looks curious. He crouches and the Patronus wobbles over to him. “You’re Tommo’s Patronus, are you?”

The Thestral gives a little flick of its tail and Louis laughs. Trust his Patronus to be a bit sassy. He loves it. The little horse-like creature that hasn’t quite learned how to walk properly. He also quite likes the fact Harry’s called him Tommo. Like he wants the Patronus to like him and doesn’t want to spook it. It doesn’t nuzzle Harry like it nuzzled Nick, but it looks as if it likes him and it cocks its head to one side contemplating him. After a moment the spell recedes, and the little creature disappears, leaving behind the faintest shimmer of light.

“That’s a good Patronus.” Harry straightens up, looking at Louis. “Really excellent. A lot stronger than most can do. Some wizards never get to cast a fully formed Patronus, let alone one that interacts like that. You must have been thinking of something very happy.”

Louis gets hot all over. He clears his throat, because he’s not sure Nick’s hands down my pants is the information Harry wants. “Yeah, just…you know…singing with the band.”

“Ah.” Harry’s lips twitch and he looks like he doesn’t believe him. “Well hold onto that. Whatever it is that lets you cast a Patronus like that. It’s useful for lots of defensive spells.”

“Okay.” Louis looks over at Liam and Niall who look impressed, if not a little confused. “It’s a Thestral.”

“Oh.” Niall clearly doesn’t know what a Thestral is and that’s alright by Louis. “It’s cool.”

“Yeah.” Louis looks at Harry. “Can we see yours and then Liam and Niall can have a go?”

“If you like.” Harry closes his eyes for a moment and Louis wonders what he’s thinking about. Malfoy, maybe. Or winning a war. “Expecto Patronum!

“Jesus.” Niall sounds as awestruck as Louis feels. The Patronus is perfect for Harry. It’s strong and imposing, a glorious stag which fills the room with warmth and light. It’s the most powerful magic Louis has ever felt and all of the sadness and fear from earlier melts away. It looks curiously at the boys and then bows its head slowly as if to say hello.

“Liam, Niall, Louis. Meet Prongs.” Harry lets the stag toss its head and slide its hoof over the floor as if it wants to gallop somewhere. Harry pats its head and whispers something to it which causes it to shimmer even brighter. After a moment, Harry slices his wand through the air again and the stag disappears in a flicker of light. “My dad was an Animagus. A stag.”

Louis swallows and looks at Harry. The stag looked so powerful. Imposing and regal, just standing in the middle of the room. He assumed it represented Harry’s own status as one of the most influential people in the wizarding world. He hadn’t even thought that the stag might be the image of a parent conjured up by a teenager terrified about fighting a war. It makes his chest tight thinking about his mum and his family. He thinks if he ever had to go into battle he’d draw on them for strength too. He knows he would.

“Okay, enough about my Patronus.” Harry breaks the mood and gestures to Liam. “Why don’t you give it a go?”

Louis sits on the desk and watches his friends attempt to cast, a strange surge of affection for Potter and the Wotsits, magic and all the things he pretends not to care about coursing through him.

It’s alright, Hogwarts is. It’s really alright.

*

“What time do you want me on Christmas Eve?” Louis is glad his head’s currently in the fire, so Nick can’t see him blush. “I mean, what time should I come over?”

“About seven.” Nick looks strange all etched in flame. Louis isn’t sure he likes this Fire Call business. You can’t snog someone during a Fire Call for a start. “School’s finished, then?”

“Yeah. Everyone went home last week.” Louis is bored to tears, honestly. He feels like he’s explored every corridor, every book in the Restricted Section of the library and he even found his way into the kitchen, so the house-elves could make him chicken nuggets. It’s boring being at Hogwarts alone. If it wasn’t for Bruce and the odd Fire Call with Nick, Louis would be climbing up the walls. “I had my lesson with Harry.”

“He said.” Nick grins and it looks strange. Louis isn’t sure bright orange is Nick’s colour. “Nailed it with your Patronus.”

“Bit crap with the Boggart, though.” Louis sighs. “Don’t even know what it is.”

“Wouldn’t worry. Harry said Hermione Granger’s doing some research. They’ll figure it out.”

Louis stares at Nick. “Why the fuck is Hermione Granger researching my Boggart? She’s probably going to be Minister next year. Next you’ll be telling me Ron Weasley’s going to pop over and give me a flying lesson.”

Nick laughs and it sends ash spluttering onto the rug. “Harry said she loves a mystery and it seems your Boggart is just that.”

“Why can’t I just have a stupid werewolf like Liam or summat?” Louis rolls his eyes. He’s not sure how he feels about the Ministry getting so involved with his business. So much for just getting through the year and failing his N.E.W.T.s in peace. “What’s your Boggart?”

“Dunno anymore.” Nick looks like he’s shrugging, but Louis can’t be sure as the fire cuts him off just below the neck. “It used to be Carrow. I’m not sure it would be, anymore. I’m a bit fuck you about them lot, now.”

Louis thinks of the rainbow quill he carefully wrapped for Nick and the anger whenever he thinks of Nick’s treatment at Hogwarts during the war bubbles inside him. “Carrow’s dead. Well, one of them is. The other’s in Azkaban, isn’t she?”

“Not anymore.” Nick shakes his head and more ash escapes. This Fire Call business is messy as fuck. “Didn’t you see today’s news?”

“Not yet.”

Nick rustles around looking for something. “Here it is.” He sounds like he’s reading. “Alecto Carrow was found dead earlier today. According to reports, her body was found on the rocks at the entrance to Azkaban prison. She appears to have taken her own life. Alecto Carrow was a Death Eater and Professor of Muggle Studies and Deputy Headmistress at Hogwarts during the Second Wizarding War. Her brother, Amycus Carrow, also a Death Eater, was appointed Deputy Head during the same period. He was killed shortly after the Second Wizarding War in an orchestrated attack on Malfoy Manor which resulted in the deaths of Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy. The Ministry have yet to release an official statement.”

“Good riddance.” Louis shivers. “Bit weird after Dawlish, don’t you think?”

“I don’t reckon they’d be related.” Nick doesn’t sound entirely convinced. “Dawlish was a good sort, not like Carrow.”

“I know, but two suicides this close together and the Ministry being evasive.” Louis shrugs. “Something’s up, if you ask me.”

“Not something for you to get involved with.” Nick sounds firm. His face cracks into a smile after a moment. “Nearly your birthday.”

“Only two sleeps to go.” Louis gives Nick his best sultry look which he imagines isn’t that sexy as he’s speaking through a fucking fire. “Hope you’re going to give me a nice, big present.”

“Fucking hell, Louis!” Nick snorts with laughter and the fire flames erratically. “That’s the worst line I’ve ever heard.”

“Bet you’ve heard a lot of them, too.” Louis wants to reach through the fire and kiss Nick. “See you in a couple of days.”

“See you.” Nick pauses before he shuts down the connection. “Can’t wait.”

The fire fizzles out and Louis casts a few spells to tidy up the ash. “No,” he says to the empty hearth. “Me neither.”

*

Louis can’t sleep on the night before Christmas Eve. He’s too antsy thinking about tomorrow, tomorrow and nervous about the what ifs rolling around his mind as he thinks of spending the night at Nick’s. He still feels weird bringing himself off in the Gryffindor dorms, even though they’re empty at the moment and he’s bored of walking around the empty corridors. He tugs on Nick’s Hufflepuff scarf and puts on his jeans, a t-shirt and a warm jumper, throwing a denim jacket over the top because it’s freezing out. One of the minor blessings about being at Hogwarts over the holidays is he doesn’t have to wear all his Gryffindor shit and put on school robes which are itchy and uncomfortable.

Louis makes his way out into the grounds, walking further than he has before and taking in the chill of the night. The sky is dotted with stars and the air smells like that Christmas sort of cold, just before snow. He rubs his hands together, blowing on them to warm them up and double checks that his wand is where it should be. He’s been feeling unsettled since his chat with Nick and the unexpected news that the Ministry are researching something to do with him. He doesn’t want to be researched or Hermione Granger’s mystery. He just wants to get pissed on firewhisky, have a shag and try not to fail all his exams.

Eventually, Louis happens upon a small clearing. The moon seems particularly bright and it casts its ethereal glow over the ground. The grass glistens, silvery with the first touches of frost. The setting and the sound of a stream reminds Louis of something he’s seen before. He pushes deeper into the clearing and takes in a large, gnarled tree on the edge of the stream. The water looks like tar in the darkness, its surface imposing.

“Lupin,” Louis whispers. He’s standing in the exact spot Lupin inhabits in his portrait. That’s why it feels so familiar. He moves closer to the tree and notices a spot where the wood doesn’t quite knit together. He extracts his wand and whispers the only spell he can think of. “Alohamora.” The wood creaks and Louis nearly crows with delight. It’s a door. A fucking door. He crawls inside and closes the wooden door carefully behind him, finding himself in a passageway which is dimly lit by candles.

With a sense of trepidation, Louis advances further through the passage. There are powerful magical wards all around him, but they yield to him, as if they know he poses no threat. It’s strange, that someone would go to the lengths of protecting themselves but would still let Louis through. He advances deeper, following the winding path until eventually he reaches a cellar. It’s dusty and lined with bottles of various ingredients for potions. There’s a table to the end of the room which looks as though it’s been recently vacated, a bowl of unfinished stew and some bread and butter abandoned next to a half glass of red wine.

“Hello?” Louis casts a Lumos which reveals a couple of spiders that scuttle into the corners of the room. He receives no response, even though he feels like he’s being watched. He casts the light from the tip of his wand across the room, but he can’t see anything in the shadows of the cramped space. The back of his neck prickles and he makes his way up some rickety stairs to find himself in a small shop. It looks unused – the till is covered in dust and the books on the shelves look as though they haven’t been read for months. The shop floor is thick with dust and a flutter of something in the rafters makes Louis jump.

“Who’s there?” He says it louder this time, but all he gets back is silence. Bats, he thinks. Just bats. He pushes against the shop door which he’s surprised to find opens easily and steps out into the cool air. He takes a breath and looks up at the name of the shop.

Prince & Pewter

He coughs the dust from his lungs and looks around, trying to get his bearings. He thinks he’s in Hogsmeade, but he doesn’t recognise this particular street. It’s shadowy and narrow and it reminds Louis of Knockturn Alley. He pushes against the door to go back inside, even though he has little desire to investigate further. The door doesn’t open. He tries another Alohomora without success. After blasting a few spells at the door and finding it completely impenetrable, Louis tightens his scarf around his neck and Apparates back to Hogwarts gates.

He makes his way slowly back up to Gryffindor Tower, his mind occupied by the small shop, the secret passageway and its faceless inhabitant.

*

Louis gets to Nick’s half an hour early because he’s been jumpy and restless all day and he can’t wait a moment longer. When Nick opens the door, he looks flushed and happy in a ridiculous Christmas jumper that makes Louis’ heart thud. Louis pushes inside, dropping his bag and then giving Nick a kiss. He gives him the kind of kiss that says in no uncertain terms I’m not sleeping on the fucking sofa tonight and when he pulls back, they’re both breathless.

“Right,” Nick says. He clears his throat. “Hiya.”

“Hi.” Louis peers over Nick’s shoulder because the house is unusually quiet. “Where’s Pig?”

“At a friend’s place. Stinky, too. Mum can do without them both causing trouble when she’s trying to make her trifle so I’m leaving them with someone for a couple of days.”

“Could have left them with me,” Louis says. He pulls two badly wrapped presents from his bag. “I’d have had them up to Donny. Mum’s never seen a dragon. Can’t give them their presents now.”

Nick’s eyes widen and a grin spreads across his face. He takes the presents and puts them carefully down. “They can open them when they get back. Save them for when you’re next here.”

Louis decides not to get Nick’s presents yet because it’s not Christmas Day and stuffs his hands in his pockets, looking around. “What’s for dinner?”

“Lasagne and chips. Bit of salad if you can stand it.” Nick winks at Louis and then tugs him close, kissing him on the cheek. His breath is hot, and it smells faintly of wine. His cologne is as crisp and delicious as ever and his lips are warm where Louis’ cheek is cold from the winter air. “Happy birthday, darling. I expect you’ll be wanting your presents now?”

Louis’ cheeks heat, and he shrugs trying to keep what he’s sure is a disgustingly soppy smile off his face. “Maybe. Didn’t have to do that. Already got me kale.”

Nick laughs and tugs Louis into the kitchen. “Iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes. I thought I’d save the kale and rocket for Christmas breakfast smoothies.”

Louis pulls a face, even though a warm pulse of pleasure travels through him at the thought of the morning and what might come before. “Ho, ho, ho.”

Nick checks the oven and fiddles around with the knobs. It doesn’t look particularly professional and Louis suspects he’s just trying to find something to do. After he’s taken as long as he can, clattering around with saucepans and poking around in the fridge, Nick grabs a box from the corner of the kitchen counter and tucks it under his arm. He takes a glass with white wine in and it sloshes over the sides as he nods his head to the fridge.

“Grab a drink and come into the living room.”

“Cheers.” Louis helps himself to a beer because he doesn’t want to lose his head on wine and follows Nick, perching on the sofa next to him.

“It’s not much.” Nick shoves the box towards Louis. It’s wrapped in magical wrapping paper with dogs that look like Pig on. Louis loves it already. He opens it carefully and extracts a large walkie talkie like the one he saw Nick with on that first day they bumped into one another in Hogsmeade.

“You like it?” Nick looks concerned.

Louis swallows, because he remembers thinking how cool it would be to be the other person on the end of Nick’s walkie talkie and it feels like so long ago. “Yeah, yeah I do.”

“I’ve tested it. Should work if I’m in Hogsmeade and you’re at Hogwarts. It won’t work if I’m in London, but it’s better than nothing. There’s been weird stuff going on and I just wanted you to have a way to get in touch in case there’s no Floo or your Patronus doesn’t work or summat. Fire Calls are fine during the holidays but it’s busy in the common room otherwise, innit? Also, can just use it for a chat.” Nick grins at Louis. “You don’t have to be in mortal danger.”

Louis laughs, and he puts the walkie talkie carefully back into the box, folding the magical paper carefully. He usually unwraps things messily, but this time he wants to put a bit of the paper in his song-writing notebook, so he doesn’t want to ruin it.

“I love it. Thanks.” Louis kisses Nick on the cheek and then reaches for another present wrapped inside the box. He’s about to open it when Nick stills his hand.

“That one’s for tomorrow. Christmas. Bit rubbish to have all your presents in one go.”

“Oh.” Louis grins at Nick and he puts the present carefully back in the box. “Not that rubbish. Not really.”

“Come here.” Nick gives Louis a slow smile and tugs him close. The kiss is as warm as Nick’s kisses have ever been. There’s something languid and unhurried about it, even though Louis feels like he might burst out of his skin. He’s not sure how he’s going to be able to sit still and eat supper when every part of him is itching to get closer to Nick and to finally see the bits of him Louis has been dreaming about since that very first kiss.

Nick seems as uncertain as Louis. He puts his wine down, picks it up and then puts it down again. He gives Louis a look and then he slides their fingers together, tugging at Louis’ hand. “I wanted to…the dinner’s on.”

“How long?” Louis shifts closer, toying with one of the weird bobbles on Nick’s Christmas jumper.

“Fifteen minutes.” Nick shrugs. He sounds a bit breathless. “I reckon.”

“Not long enough.” Louis groans and presses close to Nick and kisses him until they’re both breathing more heavily. He wants Nick so much it’s almost painful. He wants to touch every inch of him and explore his body. He presses his hand on Nick’s knee, feeling bold after the half bottle of beer and the fact Nick’s here and doing all of this for Louis. “I want…” he swallows back the words because he doesn’t know how to articulate all the things he wants, doesn’t know if Nick’s up for it all.

Nick bites his bottom lip and looks away for a moment, his cheeks pink. When he looks back at Louis he gives him a soft, warm look. “I had another surprise. Just made it…nice. Upstairs. We don’t have to, like, do anything, but I just wanted to make it comfy. In case you wanted.”

“I want.” Louis rolls his eyes because Nick’s clearly oblivious to the many (many) hints Louis has already been dropping. “’Course I do. Have some food then go upstairs then, yeah?” He doesn’t want to sound too eager but sod it, he is bloody eager and Nick should know that.

“Yeah.” Nick leans in for another kiss and then pulls away. “Come on, then. Let’s eat.”

Louis follows Nick into the kitchen and takes everything in. Nick’s made the table in his kitchen with napkins in the wine glasses and crackers next to the place settings like Louis’ mum does at Christmas. It makes Louis’ stomach flip as he takes a seat. Nick puts a plate of delicious lasagne in front of him and hands Louis a cracker. Louis wins and he holds up the small keyring which he pretends is shit, but he knows he’s going to secretly put somewhere safe with the Pig wrapping paper.

“Handy.”

“Isn’t it?” Nick nudges Louis with his foot under the table. “Tell us your joke, then.”

Louis dutifully peels open the small rectangle of paper and snorts, because it’s fucking terrible. “What do you call a happy mushroom?”

“No idea.”

“A fun guy.” Louis holds the other cracker out to Nick who finds the joke hilarious, because Nick’s an idiot and far too loveable for his own good. Louis wins that one too, but he gives it to Nick. “Only fair, innit?”

“Yeah, although it’s your birthday.” Nick pulls a dice from the cracker and he rolls it across the table towards Louis, watching as it lands on a six. “Bet I could think of some fun ways to use that. Six I have to kiss you for a minute, three you have to—”

Louis’ cheeks heat. He pushes the dice back towards Nick. “Keep it safe. We’re using it.”

Nick grins. His joke is as bad as Louis’ and they put the stupid hats on their heads. Louis tries very hard not to be charmed by Nick’s purple crown which sits all askew in his quiff and tucks into his food, hungrier than he expected to be with the nerves of earlier.

“I shouldn’t be eating lasagne,” Nick says. “All them carbs and the white sauce.”

“Can eat what you want on my birthday.” Louis takes a forkful and doesn’t miss the way Nick gives him a quick up and down and a smug grin. Louis nearly chokes on his lasagne. “Didn’t mean it like that. Perv.”

Nick laughs and has a forkful of lasagne, dabbing the corners of his mouth with his napkin when he finishes chewing. “Is it good?”

“Really good.” Louis knows he’s lucky to have Hogwarts feeding him every night of the week, but Nick’s lasagne stands up to some of the best meals. It’s rich and delicious – proper homely food that makes Louis feel cosy and warm. He shifts a bit closer to Nick and tops up their wine, careful not to pour too much for himself because he doesn’t want to get pissed and make a tit out of himself. “Cheers, then.”

“Cheers.” Nick clinks their glasses together. There are candles on the table and the lights are dimmed low and it’s all a bit much. It does things to Louis’ heart, seeing Nick relaxed and smiling at him from across the table. “Happy birthday, love.”

“Thanks.” Louis nudges Nick’s foot under the table with his own. “Not over yet.”

“Nope. Not over yet.” Nick has a sip of his wine. “Got ice cream for later if you want.”

“What flavour?”

“One of them Neapolitan ones. With the strawberry, chocolate and vanilla. That way you can have a bit of everything.”

Louis presses his foot over Nick’s. “Like that. Trying a bit of everything.”

This time it’s Nick’s turn to nearly choke on a mouthful of his food. He takes a glug of his wine and gives Louis a look. “Menace.”

Louis tries to look innocent and isn’t sure he manages it. He’s not very good at innocent. His mum’s always said he used to look as if he had mischief on his mind even before he knew how to say mischief. One day when he was a kid he turned his Lottie’s hair green and she nearly throttled him.

“Just saying.” Louis takes his foot away from Nick’s and focuses on his food. The chips are good. Salty and sharp with the vinegar he added liberally. Even the salad isn’t too bad as Nick added some delicious dressing which makes Louis feel a bit less like he’s eating rabbit food.

“How’s your week been?” Nick’s obviously keen to turn the conversation away from Louis’ eagerness to get upstairs and Louis thinks it’s only fair to have a proper chat. Nick’s gone to a lot of effort after all and they’ve got time. It’s nice, feeling like Nick might want to know how Louis’ week was. Strange, but nice.

“Good. Went exploring.”

“You did?” Nick raises his eyebrows at Louis.

“Yeah.” Louis leans forward. “Do you know much about the secret passages at Hogwarts?”

Nick shakes his head. “Bit. Not a lot.”

“I found one, I think. One I didn’t know about.” Louis wipes his lips with a napkin. “In this bit of the grounds I haven’t seen before. I think it’s where Lupin’s portrait is set, by a stream just on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. It looks like someone’s been using it.”

Nick studies Louis. He pulls a face and spears a cherry tomato, chewing thoughtfully. “Not sure I like you getting mixed up in all of this. Someone who lives in a secret passage doesn’t sound like the sort you want to accidentally bump into of a night. Should probably tell Harry about it.”

Louis nods. “Yeah, maybe.”

“Where does it go, anyway?”

“Some shop in Hogsmeade. I don’t think I’ve seen it before. It’s in a weird part, a bit like Knockturn. Prince and Pewter, it’s called.”

“Prince and Pewter?” Nick looks surprised. “Malfoy owns that place.”

“He does?” Now Louis’ even more confused. “Isn’t he an Unspeakable? Since when does he own shops?”

Nick shrugs. “He owns a lot of stuff. Malfoy, innit? He’s loaded. He’s got about six of those flats in Diagon, too. Posh wanker.”

Louis rolls his eyes because that’s putting it mildly and Nick’s posh wanker sounds far too fond to Louis’ ears. “Do you reckon he knows someone’s living there?”

“I’ll ask him about it, if you like.” Nick points his fork at Louis. “No exploring possibly dangerous secret passages in Donny, alright? Just enjoy your mince pies and watch Corrie with your mum.”

Louis snorts. “No secret passages in Donny, mate. I won’t be in any trouble unless I go to the Red Lion in a Man U scarf.”

Nick sits back. “Not much chance of that, then.”

“Not a bit.” Louis doesn’t usually wash plates or tidy up. He’s more of a leave socks by the side of his bed for three days sort of bloke, but he wants to help Nick clear up, so they can get to the kissing. “I’ll wash up.”

“We have magic, love.” Nick takes the plates from Louis and sends them floating into the kitchen. “Quick spell and we’re done. Leave them. It’s fine.”

“Okay.” Louis takes a sip of his wine and watches Nick. “Where to now?”

“Bit of the telly I managed to get working even though we’re in Hogsmeade?” Nick flicks his wand to clear away the last remaining items on the table.

“Alright.” Louis feels suddenly awkward and a bit breathless because now there’s nothing between them and the rest of the night. Nothing between them and the bed Nick’s made comfy. Louis doesn’t have the first clue about what he’s doing, and he wonders if it’s going to be totally obvious to Nick. He wonders if Nick’s going to want to fuck him. He read a book that said it can hurt and Louis doesn’t want it to hurt. He doesn’t mind the idea of a bit of rough and tumble, but he doesn’t want actual pain. Not with that. He settles on the sofa and pointedly avoids looking at Nick, sure his cheeks must be bright red.

“Looks like you’ve got something on your mind.” Nick stretches his arm over the back of the sofa and drops his hand to Louis’ shoulder, squeezing. “Want to tell me what’s put that expression on your face?”

“What expression?” Louis gives Nick what he hopes is a fierce look.

Nick pulls a face. “The one that looks a bit like my lasagne’s repeating on you.”

Louis laughs, elbowing Nick in the side. “It does not.”

“Does a bit.” Nick grins at Louis and leans in, giving him a soft kiss on the cheek. He smells so good and Louis’ heart nearly pounds right out of his chest. “Don’t want to make you poorly.”

“You haven’t.” Louis takes Nick’s hand and forces himself to meet Nick’s gaze. He can’t concentrate on anything other than Nick and the fact it’s later. “Can we go upstairs? Seems a bit stupid snogging on the sofa if you’ve put out candles and rose petals and shit.”

Nick’s cheeks turn pink and he laughs, squeezing Louis’ hand. “No rose petals, love. Sorry to disappoint. Next time. Would be just my luck to get thorns stuck in my arse.”

“Kinky,” Louis says. He nudges Nick. “Well?”

“Yeah. Let’s…yeah.” Nick tugs Louis’ hand and they make their way upstairs. The house feels strangely quiet with Pig clattering around and Stinky sneezing smoke. Louis hopes Nick’s going to take charge. Part of him just wants to get it over with so the rest of it won’t be Louis’ first time again. He just wants that awkward uncertainty out of the way, so he can start learning what Nick likes and working on some of the more advanced tricks he’s been reading about in a dog-eared book on sex between wizards.

“Nice.” Louis takes in Nick’s room when he pushes the door open and slides off his jumper, dropping it on a nearby chair. He’s wearing a t-shirt with Oasis on the front and he’s got a million bangles on his wrist. He slides off a couple of his rings and watching Nick do that makes Louis blush because oh. His stomach flips and he takes in the room. There are candles. Not roses, but loads of candles and the bed looks huge, comfortable and inviting with fluffed up pillows, piles of cushions and freshly washed sheets.

“Bathroom’s through there.” Nick gestures to the door to the right of the bed and then settles himself on the mass of pillows.

“Have you done this before?” Louis peels off his socks because he doesn’t think socks are all that sexy unless they’re football socks worn by David Beckham or someone. He gets on the bed and props himself up to look at Nick.

“Sex?” Nick turns and raises his eyebrows at Louis, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips.

Louis pushes him but it’s just an excuse to touch Nick. “With someone who hasn’t done it before.”

“Oh.” Nick looks thoughtful and then he shrugs. “Maybe. Not that they told me. Not like this, if that’s what you mean.” He lets out a breath, slowly. “I haven’t really…I mean, it was fine, my first time. Not, like, great, but fine. I wish…I dunno. I don’t want it to be like that for you. That’s why I keep saying no rush, no…like…pressure.”

“I’m sorry it wasn’t good.” A wave of anger pulses through Louis at whoever it was that gave Nick an average first time. He looks away. “Bit embarrassed. Don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Okay.” Nick rubs his thumb against Louis’ cheek as their eyes meet again. “Doesn’t matter, though.” Nick’s cheeks get a bit pink and Louis stares at him, the strangest thought occurring to him.

“Do you like it?”

“Fuck off.” Nick’s definitely red. He groans when Louis keeps staring at him and buries his face in his hands. “Not in a creepy way, alright?”

Louis pokes Nick in the side, laughing his head off. “You actually like that I don’t know what I’m doing. You’re mad, you.”

“Oi! I’m not.” Nick grabs Louis’ hand, but he’s laughing too. “I just like you, that’s all. Doesn’t happen very often to me. Not ever, really. I like that you want it to be me. I don’t think anyone’s ever wanted it to be me first.”

Louis’ chest clenches because he has the sense Nick isn’t just talking about sex anymore. He shuffles closer. He wonders if Nick knows how good he is at making people feel at ease. Louis bets Nick’s been the first for other people too, they just never said. Those people were probably too busy trying to be bold and brave and suave to let Nick know how good it feels being around him and how much it means to be able to do strange shit like cast a Thestral Patronus without Nick so much as flinching. Louis thinks about Draco and Harry and wonders who else made Nick feel like second best. A fierce, protective ball unfurls in his chest and he runs his fingers over the scars on Nick’s arm. I must not kiss boys. He wants Nick to know he’s Louis’ first. In all the ways. He’ll tell him, when he’s brave enough to say it out loud.

“You’re the one that I want,” Louis sings, deliberately off-key, adding an ooh, ooh, ooh just for good measure. It’s the closest he can manage, with his heart so full and his stomach in knots.

“Don’t think I’ve heard you sing before.” Nick grins at Louis. “Who’s Sandy here, then?”

Louis snorts. “Neither of us. Sort of the point, innit?”

“Suppose.” Nick strokes his hand down Louis’ arm and he feels a bit like Stinky, as if he wants to purr at the touch. “Did you think about this?”

“Obviously.” Louis rolls his eyes. “Drove me mad coming to see you and not doing more than kissing.” He doesn’t mention he had to have a wank before coming to see Nick so it wouldn’t turn out like the time before last, with Louis coming in his pants and hiding in the bathroom.

“Same,” Nick says.

“I got a book.” Louis puffs his chest out, proud as punch. “Read some stuff.”

“You did?” Nick’s smile is wide and his eyes shine. “About potions?”

“No, you tit.” Louis shoves him again and finds his wrists caught lightly in Nick’s hands which oh. It makes his heart skip and jump, and he has to swallow to find the next words. “About two wizards. Magic’s sick.”

“Hmm.” Nick studies Louis carefully. “The books usually bang on about spells and positions and stuff.”

“Isn’t that the main thing?”

Nick slips his fingers between Louis’ and smiles. “It’s a good bit of it, but those books always just assume wizards only have sex with other wizards.”

Louis laughs. “You’re right. Would be a bit weird to start casting spells with Muggles.”

Nick grins. “Exactly. You’ll probably want actual lube for a start, not just if you’re doing stuff with Muggles but because some wizards prefer doing things that way. The books don’t tell you it’s fun to get ready like that. Then there are condoms.”

Louis frowns, thinking about his book. “It definitely didn’t mention those.”

“Nope.” Nick looks conflicted, his jaw tightening momentarily. “I want you to be safe if you’re going out there putting all this studying into practice. You need to use them. With wizards, too. They talk about protective spells in those books, but they don’t know shit. They’re just spells developed after Grezlewort the Grave got knocked up against all the odds in the seventeen hundreds which is ridiculous, because it’s never happened since. There’s stuff magic can’t cure. I don’t want to make it sound like sex is shit and dangerous, because it’s really, really not, but it’s just sensible to be safe. I want you safe. You might be able to deal with the odd annoying infection or broken bones with magic, but not the serious stuff. The wizarding books are bollocks for that. They have everyone out barebacking and get all like no bother, doesn’t matter, wizards just fuck wizards as if wizards don’t have the same kind of things to think about as Muggles, as if they’re not out there on the Muggle scene already because there’s only one fucking gay bar in Hogsmeade and half the people who are gay or bi or whatever don’t even know where it is and if they did they’d be too worried to go there anyway because nobody fucking talks about being queer in our world.” Nick takes a breath and he pulls an apologetic face. “Sorry. I get bent right out of shape about it.”

Louis brushes his hand over Nick’s chest and watches it rise and fall. “Is it that bad for us?”

Nick shakes his head and he catches Louis’ hand, pressing his lips against it. “No. You know I’m out, you’ve seen Harry and Draco. It’s fine, I promise. It’s just shit that people don’t talk about things properly. The Muggles are way better at it. Hogwarts doesn’t tell anyone about sex at all whatever you’re into.”

Louis takes in what Nick’s saying. “I don’t want to be with anyone else. Just you.”

“You might, though.” Nick pulls a face. “Bit young to be tying yourself to an ageing radio DJ. I just want it to be something you think about, for when I go grey and you decide you want to trade me in for a younger model with less wrinkles and more stamina.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “You’re only in your twenties. At this rate you’re going to be impossible at thirty.”

“Don’t mention thirty.” Nick looks horrified. “Christ.”

“Sorry.” Louis grins. He lets his fingers pat, pat down Nick’s chest. “You’ve been with Muggles, then?”

“Yeah.” Nick nods. “Few times.”

“So, you know all of about being safe and stuff?”

“Yeah.” Nick clears his throat. “I also like doing things the Muggle way. Some of it. The lube and things. Gets a bit messy and I like using my fingers.” He waggles them for good measure and it nearly makes Louis’ heart stop.

“Do that.” Louis stares at Nick’s fingers, feeling heat rise from his neck to his cheeks. “Do that to me the Muggle way. For, like, learning…”

“Right. For learning.” Nick grins at Louis.

“Do you like it done to you like that, too?” Louis is still mesmerised by Nick’s long fingers and the bony bit of his wrist partially covered by bands and bangles.

“Yeah.” Nick slides his fingers between Louis’ and his eyes get dark. “I like that too.”

Louis’ breath hitches. He studies Nick. “Have you fucked anyone without a condom?”

“Nope.” Nick shakes his head. “I bet it’d be nice, but I never have. Wizards think it’s weird when I use them.”

“I bet.” Louis takes a breath. “Would you do it without with me?”

Nick rolls his eyes. “What have I just said?”

“You could get tested, couldn’t you? Unless you’re out there, fucking other people.”

“Nope. No one else.” Nick looks carefully at Louis. “Is this a thing we’re doing?”

“Not fucking other people?” Louis glares at Nick. “Yes, it’s a bloody thing we’re doing.”

“Okay.” Nick’s cheeks get pink. “Well, good.”

“Yeah, good.” Louis settles back on the bed and he glances at Nick. “Will you get a test or summat?”

“Can do.” Nick nods. “If you want.”

“I want.” Louis swallows. “Does this mean we’re boyfriends?”

Nick leans in and kisses Louis, soft and sweet. “I reckon.”

“Okay.” Louis rubs his fingers against his eyes. “I don’t even know how to put a fucking condom on. Do you use them for blow jobs too?”

“Sometimes. Not all the time. Probably should, although there’s supposed to be less risk with that.” Nick shrugs. “I haven’t really been on the scene for a while anyway. With wizards, Muggles or bloody Hippogriffs. Not that it matters.”

Louis takes a breath, his heart hammering in his chest. “Better show me how to do this stuff, then. Don’t you think? If my book’s so crap.”

Nick raises his eyebrows at Louis. “Didn’t think you wanted anyone else.”

Louis shakes his head. “I don’t. Still, better that I know, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Nick swallows and he nods at Louis. “Yeah, suppose it is.”

“I want you to show me. The condom thing. Then the finger thing.”

Nick bites back a groan and he brushes Louis’ hair back from his forehead, studying him carefully. “Which way?”

Louis thinks of Nick’s fingers and he shivers, the pulse, pulse of his heart making breathing harder than usual. “Show me how to put one on you. Then I can blow you if you like. Want you…want you to use your fingers on me.”

“Alright.” Nick does groan this time and he slides a hand into Louis’ hair. “Fuck, Louis.”

“Not yet. Just fingers.” Louis smiles against Nick’s lips and gets a pinch on his arse for his efforts. He settles back after a very satisfying kiss which has him squirming into the bed. Nick reaches for his drawer and extracts some lube and a box of condoms. Louis looks at them and snorts. “Large. Bit up yourself, mate.”

Nick preens. “Not really.”

“Oh.” Louis brushes his fingers over the denim on Nick’s jeans. “Can I?”

“Yeah. Yeah, if you like.” Nick sucks in a breath and Louis moves his fingers higher. He kisses Nick and takes a moment to feel the growing bulge beneath the thick denim, squeezing his hand around Nick. Eventually he unbuttons the top button on Nick’s jeans, working the zip open. He pulls back after a moment and looks at Nick.

“Nicholas?”

“Mmm?” Nick opens his eyes and brushes his thumb against Louis’ cheek. “Okay?”

“Your jeans are fucking tight.” Louis clears his throat. “I can’t…like…get to it.”

“Oh.” Nick’s cheeks turn pink and he gives Louis a sheepish grin. “The lengths I’ll go to for fashion.”

“Is that what they call it?” Louis rolls his eyes as Nick struggles out of his jeans. He supposes they could have used a spell, but Louis quite likes the idea of not. Likes the idea that Nick wants to do it all by hand without magic. He thinks it’s fitting for both of them. A bit like it would be if Nick and Louis had never gone to Hogwarts and had just met in some bar on Canal Street in Manchester and Louis had got bold enough to snog Nick after a few tequilas and drag him home.

“Rude.” Nick slides off his jeans and his pants and then chucks them on the floor. He pushes a hand under Louis’ t-shirt and presses closer to him, his breath hot on Louis’ neck as he places a line of kisses down to his collarbone. “Can I?”

“Yeah. If you like.” Louis lets Nick push up his t-shirt and yanks it over his head, sighing as Nick’s warm fingers find the places on Louis’ skin that tingle and buzz as Nick touches him. He can’t stop the bitten-off sound that escapes him when Nick thumbs over his nipples and brushes his fingers low on Louis’ belly, dipping briefly below the waistband of his joggers. Louis moves his hand down Nick’s belly and finds him hot and hard. Maybe Nick wasn’t being that up himself with the large after all. It’s a bit intimidating, getting his fingers on Nick and wondering how it’s all going to work. It feels like it might be uncomfortable, having Nick inside him. “I want to see you. Properly.” Louis pushes Nick away because despite the fact he sorted himself out earlier, he knows if Nick starts doing anything to him it’s all going to be over quicker than you can say horny Hungarian Horntail.

“Okay.” Nick rolls off Louis and sits back on the bed. He strips off his t-shirt and leans back against the pillows, giving Louis a small smile. “Ta-da. It’s probably not like them wizards in your book. All buff and good-looking.”

Louis glares at Nick, because no. It’s better. It’s a million times better, and he wants Nick to know it. “If all the wizards in my book looked like you, I’d have been doing a lot more wanking.” Louis’ dead romantic when he wants to be.

Nick huffs with laughter and he beckons Louis closer. “Come here, you tit.”

“Alright.” Louis shuffles up the bed and straddles Nick, leaning in for a kiss. It’s a lot, kissing Nick like this. He can feel the hard heat of him through his joggers and Nick seems to know exactly where to press the pads of his fingers against Louis’ skin to leave him squirming in Nick’s lap. After a thoroughly satisfying kiss, Louis mumbles against Nick’s lips. “Still can’t see you.”

“Fine.” Nick laughs and gives Louis’ bum a squeeze which feels better than it probably should. “You want to do the condom thing?”

“Yeah. Want to do that, then suck you off.” Louis moves off Nick and settles between his legs. He slides his hands up Nick’s thighs which earns him a low groan of pleasure. “Can I?”

“Do whatever you like, love.” Nick gives Louis a look that’s so fond, it takes Louis’ breath away. He wraps his fingers around Nick properly, the angle much better. He knows how to do this. He’s done this enough by himself, after all. He slides his hand over Nick’s length and can’t stop staring at the way Nick’s cock disappears into his fist.

“Is it okay?” Louis looks up at Nick, whose eyes are dark.

“More than. Feels good.” Nick reaches for the box of condoms and takes one out, tearing it open with his teeth before rubbing his forehead. “Not supposed to do that. Could rip it or summat.”

“Bet you haven’t, though.” Louis rolls his eyes. “After all that practice.”

“Oi!” Nick pokes Louis in the thigh, but he’s smiling. “Right. Want to put it on me?”

“Yeah.” Louis takes the packet and slides the condom out. It feels weird. He thinks he probably should have seen a condom close up before now, but it’s never really been something people talk about at Hogwarts, just like Nick said. He bets if he’d have stayed at the school in Donny with Stan, he’d have plenty of practice using them for water balloons. He wouldn’t be sitting on his bed in Gryffindor Tower, hoping no one hears him practicing Lubricus. He swallows and shifts closer to Nick. “Do I just put it on?”

Nick slides his hand over Louis’ and sits up so they’re closer together. He wraps an arm around Louis’ waist and shows him how to get the air out of the tip. When Louis rolls the condom over Nick, he takes his time sliding it down around him because Nick seems to like Louis touching him. He seems to like it a lot. They’re both slightly breathless and when it’s done, Louis pushes Nick lightly in the chest.

“Lean back, then. I want to suck you.”

Nick does a bad job of not looking completely fucking thrilled by that suggestion and sits back, propping himself up so he can see Louis. “Can wait to get my mouth on you too. My fingers.”

“God, Nick.” Heat prickles under Louis’ skin and he settles between Nick’s legs. Louis takes his time exploring Nick with his mouth. He doesn’t just go straight in there. He kisses around his balls and runs his tongue over the length of Nick. He listens to the murmurs of encouragement and pays particular attention to the moments when Nick is at his most breathless. He notes for further investigation the way Nick’s fingers tighten in his hair when Louis slides his hands under Nick’s backside for easier access. He doesn’t think he’s ever had as much fun studying anything in his life before. To finally be able to do this to Nick is almost too much. Eventually, Louis slides his mouth over Nick. He tries to remember the mind your teeth instructions and he’s sure it’s messy and shit but it seems to be doing the job because Nick’s hand gets tighter in his hair and his hips start moving of their own accord. Nick doesn’t push into the back of Louis’ throat, but he jerks up in slow, shallow thrusts and his breath gets rough and ragged. Louis slides his hand to the base of Nick’s cock because he can’t take him in as deeply as he wants without coughing and spluttering and he has to pull off Nick for a moment when he tries to take it too deep.

“It’s okay. Go easy.” Nick’s face is flushed and his eyes hazy. He thumbs at Louis’ cheek and gives him a fond smile. “It’s good. So fucking good. Do you have any idea how lovely you are?”

Louis glares at Nick for that because he’s not lovely. He’s hot and excellent at making Nick come. Louis gets back to work, finally getting into the rhythm of hand, mouth and tongue and letting Nick push and pull as Louis works over him. His jaw aches and Louis feels like someone should have told him about that, wonders if there’s a spell for it. He has to pull off every now and again, just to get the feeling back in his jaw and to wipe the spit from his lips. It’s sloppier and messier than he thought it would be and the condom tastes clinical and rubbery, but having the hot, hard length of Nick in his mouth makes him blindingly hard. When Nick shoves both his hands into Louis’ hair and groans out a rough yeah, yeah Louis moves quicker, wanting to feel Nick come so badly. He gets his reward shortly after as Nick pushes into his mouth and Louis takes in the way his cock feels when he comes, looking up to see Nick’s face as his eyes close and his neck extends back in pleasure.

Louis pulls off slowly, keeping his hand around the base of Nick’s cock. With a soft smile at Louis, Nick pulls off the condom and pads into the bathroom to get rid of it before slipping back into bed, next to him. Louis is almost shaking out of his skin he’s so desperate for Nick and so nervous and so everything. He pushes close to Nick, hissing lightly at the friction of his dick against Nick’s leg. He lets himself sink into a dizzying kiss and he’s sure he could come just like this, pressed against Nick’s thigh. He doesn’t want to, though. He wants Nick to touch him. Wants Nick to do everything to him.

Nick’s voice is rough in Louis’ ear as his hand finds Louis’ cock, his fingers circling around it. “Let me get you off, darling. We can do the other thing later if you like. After Christmas too. Lots of time. Just…let me get you off.”

“Okay.” Louis really, really wants Nick’s fingers, but he also really wants to come, and Nick seems to want to build Louis up slowly to the whole I’m going to start touching your knob and your arse thing. Louis gets it. Finds it frustrating as fuck, but he gets it. He likes it, even. The fact Nick’s being careful with him. It makes him feel warm.

Nick pushes Louis gently onto his back and then moves down his body, leaving damp kisses on Louis’ chest and belly. When he finally reaches Louis’ cock, he tears another condom packet open and is about to slide one on, when Louis stills him.

“Do we have to?”

Nick groans into Louis’ thigh and brushes his lips against his skin. It feels amazing. “I’m trying to...it’s habit, isn’t it? Good practice.”

“I don’t want practice. If I end up going out and shagging other people – which I won’t by the way – I’ll be careful. I get it.” Louis pushes his hand into Nick’s hair and meets his gaze. “I haven’t done anything before with anyone. I don’t want to think about how to be with other people. I just want you. Besides, it’s my birthday.” Louis smiles at Nick, who gives him a look before discarding the condom.

“If you like. If that’s what you want.”

“It is, please.” Louis lets Nick manoeuvre him into the best position and then everything is hot, tight and wet. Nick’s mouth is sinful. Louis can’t stop himself from crying out when Nick swallows around him and uses his mouth to bring Louis so close to the edge. He almost wants to sob it feels so good. So much better than his fantasies. So much better. Louis clings onto Nick like an anchor, sure that he’s being too rough with Nick’s hair and almost positive he shouldn’t be shoving himself into Nick’s throat, but Nick doesn’t seem to mind. If anything, he seems to like it. He urges Louis deeper into his mouth and slides up and down. He gets his hands beneath Louis’ backside and uses it to get the best rhythm until Louis can’t hold back any longer. He pulls at Nick’s hair to warn him, but Nick doesn’t move back. Instead he sucks Louis through his climax and only pulls off when Louis is completely spent.

“Alright?” Nick looks flushed and smug, moving up the bed to prop himself on his elbow and look down on Louis.

“You know it was.” Louis reaches for Nick and he’s rewarded with a kiss which is salty and bitter. He wants to taste Nick one day and determines to ask for it, even if Nick’s all be safe about sex. He licks into Nick’s mouth and groans when Nick’s massive hands pull him closer. “I wanted to do the thing with the fingers. Didn’t mean to come so quickly.”

Nick pulls back from the kiss, contemplating Louis seriously. “Just because it’s your birthday it doesn’t all have to be now. Doesn’t all have to be tonight.”

“I know.” Louis shrugs. “Still, I wanted to do it. I’ve…it’s the thing I think about. The most.”

“It is?” Nick looks delighted and he pulls Louis close again, his breath hot in Louis’ ear. “My fingers?”

“Yeah.” Louis swallows back his embarrassment. “Maybe a bit.”

“You ever do it to yourself?”

“Nah.” Louis shakes his head. “Too many people around at home. I can’t exactly get too into it at Hogwarts either. Don’t want to put Niall off his cornflakes.”

Nick squeezes Louis’ bum and kisses him lightly. “Wouldn’t put me off my cornflakes.”

“That’s because you’re a pervert, Nicholas.” Louis presses back into Nick’s hands, so warm and tired and comfortable. “Can we do it in a bit?”

“If you like.” Nick’s voice is far away, and it makes Louis so happy. Like falling asleep to Potterwatch.

“Brilliant.”

“Good birthday?” Nick’s voice sounds hazy and Louis presses closer to him with a yawn.

“Best birthday ever.”

*

When Louis wakes up, Nick’s already pottering about trying to cram some ridiculous shoes into a case that has far too many clothes in for a couple of days.

“Morning.” Louis stretches and tugs the duvet up to his chin the previous night coming back to him in a hot rush. “I fell asleep.”

“Hiya.” Nick leaves his suitcase and gets back into bed. He’s put his boxers on and his feet are freezing. “You did.”

“Sorry.” Louis rubs the sleep from his eyes. “Didn’t mean to spoil it.”

“Don’t be soft. You didn’t spoil anything.” Nick kisses the corner of Louis’ mouth and it’s sweet. He smells like toothpaste. “Sorry if I woke you. I’m always waking up too early because of the radio.”

“S’okay.” Louis presses close to Nick, a lazy tug of arousal in his belly. He doesn’t want to get up. He could stay in bed all day. “Need to clean my teeth.”

Nick reaches for his wand and murmurs a spell which leaves Louis with minty fresh breath. “Don’t get up. It’s comfy like this.”

“Handy.” Louis kisses Nick properly this time. “Morning,” he says again when they pull apart.

“Mmm.” Nick brushes his fingers along Louis’ stomach and stares at him. “Christmas, innit?”

“Yeah.” Louis grins at Nick. “Got a present for me?”

Nick snorts with laughter and then nods. “Yep, downstairs.” He moves as if he’s going to get up and Louis tugs him back to bed with a groan.

“Idiot. Not that sort of present.”

“Oh.” Nick runs his tongue over his lips and then rolls Louis back, settling over him. “The other sort?”

“Maybe.” Louis bucks up towards Nick and bites back a groan.

“Might have.” Nick gives Louis a wink and then he brushes his lips along Louis’ collarbone. “Nice way to wake up, this.”

“Yeah.” Louis reaches between them and he runs his fingers over the length of Nick’s cock, which is hard to the touch. “Dead nice.”

“I’ve got an idea.” Nick moves off Louis and sits up, before patting his thighs. “Come up here, will you?”

Louis moves onto Nick’s thighs, straddling him. “Like this?”

“Yeah.” Nick reaches across and grabs the lube, putting a generous amount into the palm of his hand. He slides it over his cock, leaving it slick and glistening. Louis licks his lips and watches as Nick gets more lube and then does the same with Louis’ cock which makes him jerk forwards with a groan. When Nick wraps his hand around them both, it sucks all the breath from Louis’ lungs.

“Merlin.”

“Nick, actually.” Nick slides his other hand over Louis’ back and down to his backside as he presses their cocks together.

“Dick.” Louis can’t help but smile, leaning in to give Nick a kiss. He didn’t expect to feel this relaxed. He thought it would be more awkward somehow, but Nick puts him instantly at ease with his stupid comments and the way he seems to be just as into it as Louis.

He lets himself relax into the feeling. Everything is so hot, messy and perfect. Louis is torn between watching Nick’s face and looking at the sight of their cocks together in Nick’s large hand. It’s tricky to know what’s best and he bites back a cry of pleasure when Nick rubs his thumb over the tip of Louis’ cock. When Nick’s hand slides lower down Louis’ back he bucks forward before Nick can do much more than rub his thumb lightly in the crease between Louis’ buttocks. He comes over Nick’s hand and sucks in some air as he tries to get his breath back.

“Louis…fuck, Louis…” Nick still hasn’t come yet and the way he looks at Louis is almost too much. Louis puts his hand over Nick’s and stills him before he can come.

“Show me. Show me how you like it.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Nick sounds breathless and he lets Louis put some lube on his hand. Louis slides his hand over Nick’s dick and Nick covers his hand. He follows Nick’s movements and lets himself be guided through every twist and tug. It’s not long before Nick comes between them, coating both of their hands.

“Merry Christmas.” Louis leans in to kiss Nick and he’s rewarded with a laugh as Nick tackles him back on the bed and kisses him senseless.

“Merry Christmas.”

*

Louis finishes his bacon sandwich and pushes the gift he’s been fretting about since he purchased it towards Nick. “Go on, then. Suppose you better have that present of yours now.”

“Suppose I better had.” Nick smiles at Louis and nudges the box Louis opened the night before towards him. “You’ve got one too.”

“Thanks.” Louis takes the small present and shrinks the box with the wrapping paper into a small, ring-sized box which he tucks into his bag. He feels a bit daft keeping paper and boxes, but he wants to keep everything Nick gives him. Louis is starting to suspect he’s an insufferable romantic, even when he tries to be all sharp edges. “Open yours first. Can’t open them at the same time.”

“If you say so.” Nick unwraps his gift and Louis can’t help but notice he seems to be taking care of the wrapping paper too, just like Louis did. He holds his breath as Nick opens the box and reads the card which Louis decided to leave in after several hours of agonising over whether or not he should. Nick reads quietly, his voice low. “Always kiss boys. One boy in particular.” Louis watches Nick’s throat work as he takes in the rainbow quill with its beautiful, colourful feather and silvery point.

“Thought it might be nice to have a quill that isn’t shit. It’s got a bit about it in the box. Supposed to be good for writing and stuff, bet I got ripped off but I wanted to—”

Louis gets cut off by Nick’s sudden, forceful kiss. Their tongues slide together, and Louis wraps his arms around Nick’s neck, letting himself be pulled deeper into the dizzying moment.

“I love it.” Nick pulls back eventually, his eyes dark. He leaves a line of kisses along Louis’ jaw and slides his hand up Louis’ thigh which is a bit distracting, to say the least. “I fucking love it.” When Nick seems to have composed himself sufficiently, he puts a bit of distance between them. His smile is broad and bright. “As if I’d want to kiss any other boys, you knob. As if.”

“You might,” Louis says. “One day.” He can’t help getting hot in the cheeks and the smile he’s been trying to hold back tugs at his lips. “Don’t, though. I don’t want you to.”

“Neither do I.” Nick lets out a breath and it sounds a bit shaky. He carefully wraps the paper back over his quill and sends the parcel in an untidy loop through the air onto his bag. “Want to show mum, if that’s okay. She’s been on at me about finding a good boy and she loves magic stuff. She nearly went spare when I came back from Hogwarts for the holidays with that shit on my arm. She wanted to march in and take everyone down, but I couldn’t let her do that. It wouldn’t be safe.”

Louis swallows because that’s so like his brave, beautiful mum too. He imagines how fierce she would get if he showed up with scars on his arm like the ones Nick has to wear every day. “I’d like to meet your mum. She sounds ace.”

“She is.” Nick’s chest puffs with pride. “You’ll get to say hello when we Floo over there. If that’s okay?” Nick looks suddenly nervous, as if Louis might not want to meet his family.

“Can’t wait,” Louis says, and Nick relaxes. “My turn.”

“Oh, wait. There’s this too.” Nick gives Louis a card and sits back on the sofa.

Louis opens the little present first. When he finally gets the wrapping paper off it reveals a small cassette tape and a portable cassette player. The tape has Nick’s familiar scrawl all over it and Louis studies the songs.

“A mixtape?” Louis’ heart thuds in his chest and he smiles up at Nick.

“Yeah. I know it’s all a bit nineties, but you can play it anywhere. I checked that magic doesn’t fuck around with it. I put some songs on there I thought you might like.” Nick clears his throat. “A bit of me nattering on, too. I can’t help myself. You said you liked to listen to Potterwatch and I reckon we both like the same sort of Muggle music, so this is like, your own show. Just for you.”

“Can we listen to it in the car on the way to Donny?” Louis already wants to press play and sink into the music and Nick’s voice.

Nick’s cheeks turn pink and he shakes his head with a laugh. “No chance. I get proper soppy on that. Hate listening to myself. Listen over the holidays when I’m not there or when you get back to Hogwarts.”

“I’ll save it for Hogwarts.” Louis puts it carefully in his bag. “For when I’m missing home. I’ll save it for then.” He kisses Nick, his heart full to bursting. “It’s brilliant.”

“Glad you like it.”

Louis opens the card and he laughs at the cartoon reindeer on the front with a bright red nose, all tangled up in Christmas lights and looking pissed off. Two pieces of paper fall out of the card and Louis picks them up off the floor, reading the print.

“Arctic Monkeys at Camden Roundhouse.”

“It’s not for another few months, yet.” Nick clears his throat. “So, like, if you want to go with a friend, that’s fine. But I thought it might be nice for you to see the London flat. You haven’t been round yet and now you’re eighteen we could have a proper boozy night out, like Muggles. Go to a concert, drink a few beers. I’ll show you around London a bit.”

“I’m not going with a friend, don’t be a dick.” Louis is starting to think he and Nick are both as bad as each other with the whole being boyfriends thing. “Can’t believe I’ve got Arctic Monkeys tickets.”

“Yeah, well.” Nick smiles. “Know how you like them Polar Nifflers.”

“Thanks.” Louis swallows, his throat a bit tight. “For, like, everything. Last night and stuff. Taking me home. All of it.”

“S’alright.” Nick rubs his chin with his hands, watching Louis with a small smile on his face. Eventually he stands and gestures to the Floo. “Come on, then. Need to get you home before Eileen burns the turkey and your mum wonders where you’ve got to.”

 

“Okay.” Louis grabs Nick and pulls him into a kiss before they can get the rest of the stuff together. “Can I stay here on Boxing Day?”

“’Course.” Nick brushes Louis’ hair back from his forehead and kisses his cheek. “Ready to go?”

“Yes,” Louis says.

They both grab a handful of Floo powder and Louis follows Nick through the Floo as the green smoke whirls around them.

*

It’s three in the morning and Louis can’t sleep, his stomach sore from all the mince pies and piles of turkey and roast potatoes. He grabs a blanket and pads downstairs, flicking through the channels and keeping the volume low.

“Can’t sleep, love?”

“No.” Louis looks up to see his mum standing in her dressing gown in the doorway. “Sorry. Did I wake you?”

“No. I was up. Shall I make us a cuppa?”

“Yeah. Thanks.” Louis listens to the familiar click of the kettle and takes his cup of tea gratefully when his mum brings it over. He holds up the edge of the blanket and they cuddle up together, watching someone rap about the East End in a music video that looks like it came out in the eighties.

“Good Christmas?” Louis’ mum strokes his hair lightly like she used to when he was a kid and he nods.

“Yeah. The best. Ate too many potatoes.”

“That makes two of us.” She laughs and there’s a lull in the conversation. “Nice of that…Nick, is it? Nice of him to bring you home for a few days.”

“Really nice.” Louis is bad at keeping secrets from his mum. Really bloody terrible. He also doesn’t want to keep Nick a secret anymore. “Mum?”

“Yes, love.” His mum’s voice is quiet, but encouraging.

“Nick’s a bit more than a friend.” Louis knows his cheeks are hot and he focuses on the telly, preparing himself for the tears and the outrage. His heart is beating so fast and he doesn’t know why he feels ashamed saying it out loud. He shouldn’t be ashamed. He knows he shouldn’t, but he can’t help how exposed it makes him feel – how vulnerable. It’s like being a rabbit caught in the headlights with all his fears and anxieties right there under the spotlight.

His mum’s hand stills in his hair. After a moment she presses a kiss to his head, holding him tight. “My boy. My beautiful, darling boy. Did you think for one minute I wouldn’t accept you?”

“I don’t know.” Louis is too choked up to speak properly, his relief flooding through him. “I wanted to tell you.”

“I’m glad.” His mum starts running her hand through his hair again. “Well, I’d like to meet this Nick properly then if that’s the case.” She pauses. “Is he good to you?”

“Yeah.” Louis swallows. “Really good.”

“Is he older?” His mum’s voice gets slightly sharp at that, but Louis knows it’s not about Nick. It’s about protecting Louis.

“A bit. Not much. Seven years.”

“Not too bad.”

“He’s a DJ. On the radio.”

“You like the radio.” His mum sounds pleased and Louis nods.

“Yeah. He’s kind and…” Louis takes a breath. He shares everything with his mum. Everything. But he’s not sure he can share this. He swallows and speaks quietly. “He’s, like…patient. With stuff. Taught me how to be safe.”

His mum’s hand stills and then she carries on stroking his hair. “That’s good, love. Important. I want you to be safe too. Promise you’ll have him say hello when he picks you up tomorrow?”

“Promise.” Louis turns up the volume on the telly, his shoulders already lighter as if, bit by bit, the weights which felt so heavy are gradually easing.

*

Louis wraps Nick’s Hufflepuff scarf around his neck and peers out of the window, his hands already clammy at the thought of seeing Nick. Is it weird to miss someone after just a day? Weird to want someone so much it’s like his heart’s about to burst out of his chest?

“He’s late,” Louis says.

“Not really. Calm down, pet.” Louis’ mum gives him a fond look and gets back to putting the last of Louis’ presents into a bag.

Louis is glad everyone else is out visiting family for the day and it’s just him and his mum. He doesn’t want to bombard Nick with everyone all at once. He doesn’t even know if Nick wants to come in. He looks out of the window again just in time to see Nick’s car pull into the drive.

“He’s here. I’ll go and get him.” Before Louis’ mum can answer, he charges out of the house and to the window of Nick’s car which he rolls down as Louis approaches. He looks good. He’s got a fancy silk scarf on and what looks like a new jacket. He’s all long legs and black skinny jeans and Louis…well…he wants to get his hands on him.

“Hiya.” Nick gives Louis a wide smile and he looks as excited as Louis is. “How was Christmas?”

“Good.” Louis stuffs his hands in his pockets, not sure if he should kiss Nick. It’s a bit awkward poking his head through the window. “Can you come and say hello to mum for a minute? I told her about you. About us.”

“You did?” Nick looks surprised, but not unhappy. He fiddles around with his quiff in the mirror and then gets out of the car. He glances at Louis as they walk towards the house and brushes his fingers against Louis’ arm which sends sparks of pleasure through Louis’ body. “Hiya,” he says again.

“Hi.” Louis breathes out and stares at Nick. It’s a lot. A lot of feelings all churning through him at once. “I want to kiss you,” he says, for lack of anything sensible to say. Like how was the drive or did you get good presents.

“Me too.” Nick puts his hand at the base of Louis’ spine and stands closer to him. “Yeah, me too.”

Louis grins and calls out for his mum when they get inside, letting Nick wipe his shoes on the mat. “Don’t bother taking them off. We’ll be leaving soon.”

“Alright.” Nick follows Louis into the kitchen where he extends his hand to Louis’ mum. She tuts and gives him a kiss on the cheek, leaving him lightly flushed with his eyes shining as he glances at Louis.

“I’m Jay. Nice to meet you.”

“You too. I’m Nick. Nick Grimshaw. Grimmy, most people call me. My mates call me Grim. Louis here goes with Nicholas sometimes, but he’s the only one that can get away with it. Him and Eileen. That’s my mum.” Nick clears his throat and it occurs to Louis Nick’s nervous. Properly nervous about meeting Louis’ mum. It makes him feel warm all over. “Nick’s fine.”

“Nick it is, then.” Louis’ mum smiles and gestures to the kettle. “Cup of tea?”

“We’ve got to go, mum. No time for tea.” Louis slips his hand into Nick’s, emboldened by Nick’s lack of confidence. “Nick wants to get back.”

“S’okay.” Nick squeezes Louis’ hand. “Always got time for a cup of Yorkshire.”

“Sure?” Louis looks up at Nick and he nods, giving Louis a soft smile. The kind he reserves for when they’re alone together.

“Sure.”

They crowd around the small dining room table, drinking their tea and by the time they’re ready to leave, Nick has a generous of Christmas cake, a bit of pork pie and some sausage rolls to take with him.

Louis thinks that means it went well.

*

Nick keeps an eye on the traffic, indicating and taking a turning off the motorway.

“Your mum’s dead nice.”

“Yours too.” Louis glances at Nick. He only had time to meet Eileen quickly on Christmas Day morning and it was all the bloody turkey needs basting and a quick, hot kiss on the cheek before Louis bundled his things into Nick’s car and they got on the road to take Louis to Donny. “Thanks for doing that. For meeting mum and taking me back for Christmas.”

“’Course.” Nick flashes Louis a quick smile. “Next time when you’re not in school you can stay a bit longer. Eileen wants you to have some of her pie. You can take me to this Red Lion pub of yours or the footie and I’ll take you to a proper Muggle gay bar in Manchester.”

“Next time?” Louis’ heart flip-flops in his chest. “I’d like that.”

“Me too.” Nick reaches over and squeezes Louis’ leg. “Should get you one of them Muggle phones for when we’re not around magic driving them loopy.”

“Yeah.” Louis shivers at the touch and he really, really wants to get somewhere he can snog Nick’s face off. In the interests of distracting himself, he turns the radio up and can’t stop the grin which spreads across his face when Nick sings along loudly and off-key.

*

“Here we are, then. Just need to pack the last few bits and we can get the Floo. Everyone’s out for the day. Can’t even be bothered to hang around to say ta-ra.” Nick rolls his eyes, but he doesn’t sound too put out. He closes the door behind Louis and blows his hands to warm them up. “Need to get stuff from my room.”

“Can I come up?” Louis peers up the stairs, suddenly curious to see Nick’s old room. He wonders if it’s all posh and nice like Nick’s house.

“If you like.” Nick gives Louis a smile and leads the way upstairs, opening the bedroom door and glancing round. “This is it.”

Louis laughs as he looks around because it’s proper young Nick. It’s not fancy like his place in Hogsmeade. The walls are full of posters that are clearly stuck in the nineties and there are books about the BBC Muggle radio, as well as CDs and cassette tapes all over the place. The sheets are blue and there’s a Man U cup with some half-drunk tea next to the bed with Nick’s contact lenses.

“Nice.”

“Yeah, very cool.” Nick’s closer than before and he wraps his arms around Louis’ waist from behind, brushing his lips against Louis’ neck. “Always wanted to get a fit boy up here.”

“Give over.” Louis feels a bit breathless and he leans back in the circle of Nick’s arms. “As if you haven’t had loads of fit boys up here already.”

“Not really. Not had that many that are the take home to meet mum and dad types.” Nick tightens his arms around Louis. “Not for ages.”

“Oh.” Louis turns in Nick’s arms and he looks up at him. “Missed you. Is that weird?”

“No.” Nick shakes his head. “Missed you too, darling.”

Louis reaches for Nick and means to give him a slow, nice to see you kiss but it turns into something breathless and heated far quicker than Louis expects. It’s not long before they’re stumbling back towards Nick’s bed and landing on it in a tangle of limbs, with Nick tugging at Louis’ scarf and pushing his hand under Louis’ hoody with a low groan.

Fuck, Louis. Couldn’t stop thinking about you. About Christmas Eve.”

“Me neither.” Louis sucks in a breath and he tugs at Nick’s shirt. “Sure everyone’s out?”

“Positive.” Nick runs his hands over Louis’ sides and he pushes the hoody up a little more, catching the t-shirt underneath with it. “Take these off for me, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Louis pulls off the t-shirt and hoody and drops them on the floor, kicking off his socks and his trackies as Nick slides inelegantly out of his skinny jeans and drops them next to Louis’ clothes. By the time they crash back together on the bed they’re both just in their boxers and Louis can feel how hard Nick is against his thigh. “Have you got stuff?”

“Mmm?” Nick seems distracted by the spot on Louis’ neck where his pulse jumps against his skin and he flicks a tongue over Louis’ earlobe. “Like lube?”

“Yeah.” Louis nods and tips his head back with a groan. “Like that.”

“Just…” Nick bites back a curse and then he grabs his wand off the side before using a quick Summoning charm. A small bottle of lube winds its way into his hand from his neatly packed case. “Here.”

“Thought you didn’t like using magic?” Louis smiles against Nick’s lips and he half laughs, half groans.

“Made an exception, didn’t I? Can’t wait…” Nick kisses Louis again, so hard and filthy they both pant into one another’s mouths and strip off the rest of their clothes until they’re completely naked and pressed close to one another.

“Don’t wait, then. Come on, come on.”

“I’m going as fast as I can.” Nick nips at Louis’ ear then pushes back his leg, slicking his fingers with the lube and dropping his forehead against Louis’ chest as he catches his breath. “Is this okay?”

“More than, come on, Nicholas.”

“Okay.” Nick huffs a laugh which sends shivers along Louis’ skin and then he’s rubbing against Louis’ hole. There’s something so intimate and strange about it. It’s different to before when Louis was so pent up and they couldn’t do much else. Louis is still pent up and desperate – so hard for Nick it’s almost painful – but still wanting this. Wanting every moment of it. Nick slides inside Louis with one slow, slick push of his finger and oh.

“Nick…” Louis can’t speak properly. Nick’s finger pushes inside him and it’s not at all like he expected. It’s uncomfortable at first, but then Nick does something which shifts their positions and it’s better. So much better. “Oh god.”

“Is that it?” Nick’s voice is rough against Louis’ neck. “God, you’re so hot like this. Want to feel you come on my fingers. Want to rim you and make you come when I’m tonguing you. Can’t believe you’ve thought about this before. Does it feel good?”

“So good.” Louis can’t quite get the words out, his limbs tangled around Nick as he tries to land kisses somewhere – anywhere – on Nick’s skin. He tastes salty and fantastic, two fingers now pushed inside Louis and hitting that spot again, and again. “Want you to fuck me. Want it so much.”

“I will. I promise. Just want to do this. Let me fuck you like this.” Nick pushes his fingers into Louis again, murmuring a spell which leaves Louis slicker than before. It’s brilliant, magic is. Even if Nick likes doing things the Muggle way, it’s good to have the option of spells for moments when the need burns through Louis and he can tell Nick’s feeling the same. Every stroke of Nick’s fingers inside him aches but it’s just on the right side of uncomfortable, edging closer to fucking fantastic with every thrust. “So good for me, darling. Want to tie you down and drive you mad. Take you home and fuck you all afternoon. Fuck you with my fingers, my tongue…let you suck me off again.” Nick fucks Louis harder with his fingers, pulling him close and squeezing his other hand around Louis’ backside. “Stroke yourself for me, love. Let me see you.”

With a groan, Louis falls back against the bed and begins to stroke himself as Nick fingers him. Nick’s mouth is everywhere. His kisses are hot and urgent against Louis’ skin, his lips grazing against Louis’ thighs and his balls. He pushes his fingers into Louis and curls them, bringing them back to massage over that spot which sends Louis into overdrive. With a shout, Louis’ climax spills from him and his body clamps down on Nick’s fingers as he pulses through his orgasm. When Nick slowly slides his fingers from Louis’ body, his eyes are dark. He pushes Louis back, not roughly but forcefully and straddles him, pulling on his cock until he comes in thick stripes over Louis’ neck and chest.

Watching Nick bring himself to that point is so much. Louis takes in every flex of his hand, the way his neck arches and the flush which travels steadily upwards over his pale skin. He looks at Nick’s slick fingers which were just inside Louis and bites his bottom lip as he devours every last exquisite detail with his eyes. There’s something so desperate and primal about it all, the sweat and sex in the room and the unbridled pleasure on Nick’s face. When he finishes, Louis slides his fingers through the sticky substance on his chest and pushes his thumb between his lips tasting Nick.

“Do you have any idea how good you look?” Nick can’t seem to stop smiling and he moves carefully off Louis, pulling him into a deep, searching kiss.

They stay like that, kissing in Nick’s old bed for a long time, before they finally grab their bags and make it to the Floo.

*

Louis mooches through the grounds of Hogwarts, wondering about exploring the secret passageway he discovered before going home for Christmas. Part of him is tempted to go back there, but he remembers his promise to Nick about keeping out of trouble and trying not to get himself killed. Nevertheless, he pokes around the bits of the grounds he doesn’t know so well and finds himself on the outskirts of the forest. His mind is still full of the last few days. The way his mum reacted to Nick and the careful way she held Louis close and told him it’s okay, it’s okay. Boxing Day was just as good as Christmas Eve. They ate left over Christmas food, with Nick complaining about all the carbs. They sucked one another off in the shower before collapsing into bed together and sleeping until noon when Pig and Stinky came back and caused havoc, so excited to see Nick. Louis watched Pig scrabble as close as she could to Nick with her little tail thump, thumping and thought me too, Pig. Me too.

“You’re happy to see me too, aren’t you?” Louis pats Bruce who gives a low ruff of agreement. The air is thick and dark and the night closes in around them.

As Louis begins to make his way back to the castle he hears a rustle in the trees. Bruce stops and his hackles raise. His usual rough bark becomes a low growl as he bares his teeth, snarling into the darkness.

“What is it, boy?” Louis pulls his wand from his pocket and shouts out into the night. “Who’s there?”

Something deep in the forest screams, the sound piercing through the still evening. A harsh voice shouts a spell Louis doesn’t recognise and the cloudy sky blazes with silver. Louis looks up at the sky where the clouds slide over a figure which looks like an angel, but not the benevolent kind. Its wings arch and curve, a ghostly, wasted face with hollow eyes obscuring the stars. Louis can still hear screams, now accompanied by manic laughter as the haunting figure spreads its wings and blots out the stars. Louis is overcome with the cold dread he recognises from when Harry’s Boggart turned into a Dementor. An icy fear grips his heart and he yells out as loudly as he can, with his wand trembling in his hand. “Expecto – Expecto Patronum!”

Nothing but a dull burst of silver leaves his wand and Bruce’s growls and snarls get louder. Everything hidden seems to be closing in and the once spacious grounds feel tiny, with unseen forces pushing closer to Louis and Bruce. Before Louis can raise his wand to cast another desperate spell, a loud series of cracks brings hooded figures into the grounds.

“Louis Tomlinson. What the blazes are you doing here?” Harry Potter yanks back his hood and grips Louis by the arm. “Did you cast this?” He jabs his wand towards the sky.

“No! No, of course not. I don’t even know what it is.” Louis shakes Harry’s hand from his arm. “How did you Apparate here?”

“There’s a spot we can use. Ministry edict.” Harry is more brusque and short than Louis has ever seen him. His face is angry and magic pulses from him in violent waves. He looks as though he’s about to say something else, when Bruce barks. Harry looks down and his face pales. He steps back, his confidence faltering. “Louis?”

“It’s my dog.” Louis feels like Bruce can be called his now. Louis puts a protective hand on Bruce’s cold head, but he doesn’t seem scared of Harry. To the contrary, he bounds over and puts his ghostly paws on Harry’s thigh. It reminds Louis of the night Bruce sat by the mirror and watched his reflection. Bruce yips and whines and there’s something so desperately sad about it, Louis just wants to grab him and cuddle him close.

“Padfoot?” Harry stares at Louis and then back at Bruce.

Louis shakes his head. “His name’s Bruce, actually. Must be getting confused with someone else, mate.”

Harry shakes his head and crouches next to Bruce who seems to know him, rolling over and trying to nuzzle closer to Harry even though Harry’s hands – as gentle as he is – pass right through him. When Harry looks up his cheeks are damp and his eyes watery. His voice is rougher than usual.

“I’m not confused. This is Padfoot.”

“Who the fuck is Padfoot?” The name sounds vaguely familiar from something to do with the Ministry pardons after the war.

“Sirius Black’s Animagus form.” Harry sighs and scratches Bruce – Padfoot – behind the ears. “Didn’t think I’d see you again for a long time, Sirius.” Padfoot whines and nuzzles Harry, his tongue lolling out. Louis watches them both, an ache settling deep inside his chest. Harry doesn’t sound cross, but he looks confused as he contemplates Louis for a moment. “We need to find the Headmistress.”

“Am I in trouble?” Louis asks.

“No. Not with me, at least. I’ve got no idea what McGonag-the Headmistress is going to say about you being out late and making friends with ghosts.” Harry stands, and Padfoot presses close to him. Louis can’t help but feel a bit betrayed.

“It’s Angelus Mortis, Harry. This is just as we feared-” An unfamiliar female voice breaks through the dark night as another figure joins Harry. “Who’s this?”

“Louis Tomlinson. I mentioned him to you. The Gryffindor kid who came to see me and Malfoy.”

“Not a kid,” Louis mutters.

“Sorry. I suppose not. We need to get out of here.” Harry gives the cloaked figure a look and she lowers her hood.

“Fuck me, you’re Hermione Granger,” Louis says.

“Yes.” Hermione raises her eyebrows at Louis, clearly trying not to smile. “Indeed I am.”

The strange silvery angel in the sky shimmers and Louis casts one last look back at it before following Hermione and Harry back to Hogwarts.

Chapter Text

They make a strange group, gathered together in McGonagall’s office. There’s lots of speaking in hushed tones and Louis can’t help but notice that Bruce - Padfoot - seems to have found a spot permanently by Harry’s side. Louis can’t catch everything people are saying but he hears several mentions of Angelus Mortis and someone to his left says something about a phoenix.

“What’s the Order of the Phoenix?” Louis looks at Hermione, who’s busy gathering a couple of books from the office shelves.

“Has nobody told you?” Hermione makes an irritated sound in the back of her throat. Louis likes her already. “Honestly. Boys.” She gives Louis a smile. “No offence.”

“None taken.” Louis smiles back. He likes Hermione. She’s warm and interesting and did that cool thing with house-elf liberation when she was at school. Not to mention helping Harry save the world. That was also pretty good.

“The Order of the Phoenix was established in the seventies by Professor Dumbledore to fight Voldemort. Harry’s parents were members, along with Sirius Black, Professor Lupin and Professor Snape, eventually.” Hermione’s expression darkens. “Professor Longbottom’s parents were members too and Peter Pettigrew, of course.”

Louis nods, pleased he’s at least read enough history that the names are familiar. He knows something terrible happened to Longbottom’s parents and he remembers the stories about Pettigrew betraying the Potters. “McGonagall – I mean Professor McGonagall – was she a member too?”

“Not during the first war.” Hermione murmurs a spell which shrinks the books and she pockets them carefully. “She worked as a spy for the Ministry, then. The Order reformed during the second war and that’s when she joined, together with Ron’s parents, brothers – apart from Percy – and others. That’s when I joined with Ron and Harry, too. The Ministry wasn’t the place it is now and there were a number of people we couldn’t trust.”

“Why is it meeting again now?” Louis can’t help but think the Order sounds serious. Wizarding War kind of serious. He’s not sure he likes the idea that the meetings are taking place again.

Hermione gives Louis a look. “How do you know it is?”

“I overheard a conversation I shouldn’t have.” Louis thinks it’s best to be honest. “Sorry.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Hermione looks up when Harry approaches and interrupts the conversation.

“Anything useful?” Harry’s expression is grim.

“Perhaps. I’m not sure, yet.” Her lips quirk into a smile. “An important part of research is actually reading the books.”

“Which is why I was always so bad at it.” Harry grins and gives Hermione a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks.”

“Of course.” Hermione gives Harry a look. “Honestly, Harry. You might have told Louis here a bit more about the Order. Surely you remember how it feels to be kept in the dark about things that directly impact you?”

“I remember.” Harry has the decency to look sheepish. “I’m going to tell him everything shortly.”

“Be sure you do.” Hermione studies him closely. “Everything, Harry.”

“Yeah, got it.” Harry pulls a face. He looks around the room, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his robes. “Is Ron coming here?”

“No, he’s gone to the Ministry to get a couple of items I need for the meeting. He’s getting people together.”

“Good.” Harry turns to Louis. “Look, I know this is rubbish. I promise I’ll tell you everything. Let me just get this meeting organised then we’ll go to Grimmauld Place and have a chat.”

“It’s fine.” Louis shrugs. Honestly, he’s not sure he wants to know much more. There’s a safety in not knowing. He doesn’t much like the sound of being directly impacted by anything. He’s quite happy to deliver messages about weird things happening, but he’s not sure he wants to be involved beyond that. Whatever Louis might be, he’s no Harry Potter. He watches as Padfoot trots over to them. “Is this really Sirius Black?” Padfoot gives Louis’ hand a ghostly lick. At least Louis hasn’t been forgotten about altogether.

“I think so. In some form or another.” Harry glances at Louis and his face holds the same, sad expression from earlier. “Does it bother you?”

Louis swallows and he stares at Padfoot who gives him a little ruff. “No. I think he’s been watching out for me.”

“I think he has too.” Harry gives Padfoot a little pat on the head.

“The ghost-dog.” Hermione looks at Harry and he nods.

“Yeah, it just about confirms it.”

Louis is starting to get a bit irritated by everybody talking about things he doesn’t understand. He’s just about to demand some answers, when Harry claps his hands and the room falls silent. “Tonight, the casting of Angelus Mortis confirms what we have feared for some time. An urgent meeting of the Order of the Phoenix has been called. We will reconvene at Grimmauld Place in an hour. Constant vigilance.”

Harry and Hermione speak in hushed tones before Hermione disappears into the Floo, closely followed by others in the room until it’s just Harry, Louis and McGonagall left. Padfoot has disappeared somewhere, and Louis finds he misses the cold presence beside him.

Louis folds his arms and stares at them both. “Does anyone want to tell me what the fuck’s going on?”

“Language, Mr Tomlinson.” McGonagall glances at Harry who nods. Louis waits for the thirty points from Gryffindor or to hear about his new detention schedule. He can hardly contain his surprise when McGonagall extends her hand and looks at him over the top of her glasses. She looks as serious and sad as he has ever seen her. “As much as it pains me to do this, welcome. Welcome to the Order of the Phoenix.”

Louis shakes McGonagall’s hand and the room hums with magic. An orange phoenix on a perch flaps its wings and Harry pockets his wand, giving McGonagall a hug after she pulls back from Louis.

“Thank you for letting him join us. It’s the right decision. I’ll make sure he’s fully up to speed with everything. See you in an hour, Minerva.”

“Indeed.” McGonagall sits heavily at her desk, arranging her papers and glancing at Louis. “You can go with Harry for now. You have much to discuss.”

“Okay.” Louis looks at Harry who gestures to the Floo.

“You want Grimmauld Place. I’ll go first and open the wards.”

Louis swallows and takes a handful of the Floo powder, hoping nobody notices the tremble in his hands. He’s suddenly desperate to see Nick. Desperate to feel his warm arms around Louis and to burrow into Pig’s soft fur where nothing hurts. “Wait. Can I tell Nick about this?”

Harry raises his eyebrows and then he glances at McGonagall who gives Harry an almost imperceptible nod in return. “Can you contact him, Minerva? Tell him to get to Grimmauld Place as soon as he can,” Harry says. “I’ll keep the wards open for him.”

“I’ll send a Patronus.” McGonagall turns back to her papers and Harry picks up a fistful of Floo powder, calling out for Grimmauld Place.

Louis follows close behind.

*

Louis lands with a bump in an unfamiliar house. The living room is empty, with old-fashioned sofas and tall ceilings with detailed cornicing around the edges. The whole room is dark and brooding, lit only by a couple of flickering candles which illuminate oil paintings that look as though they’re trying to shout something even though no sound comes out. Louis steps close to one of them, taking in a women with dark hair flecked with grey, pulled tightly into a bun. Her mouth moves with angry shouts but the whole room stays silent, and still. Louis can hear aggravated voices coming from another room, but he doesn’t investigate immediately. Instead he takes his time looking at the living room and wonders how Harry lives here, with its dark walls and shabby furniture. Louis doesn’t give a shit about interior design but there’s just something depressing about the place. Something that makes Louis think of the ghosts careering through Hogwarts with their singed robes and wand arms outstretched.

There are signs of Malfoy dotted around everywhere. A cut-glass tumbler on the coffee table and a dark grey, cashmere coat on a hook, which Louis has seen Malfoy pictured in before. He doesn’t mean to pry, but something draws him towards the coat and the silk scarf which rests over it. He rubs the material beneath his fingers and his chest gets tight at the thought of having all of this with someone. He might have to start leaving some shit at Nick’s house, even though he can’t really imagine his battered vintage denim jacket fitting all that well with Nick’s Muggle designer garb.

Louis follows the sound of voices and finds himself in the doorway of a room with a kitchen and an extensive dining room table. Harry’s got his palms flat on the table and he’s speaking insistently to someone with their back to Louis. The strange makes an irritated sound in the back of his throat.

“Your child prodigy is watching us, Potter. Must it always be children who wage our wars?”

“No one’s waging anything, stop being such an insufferable arse.” Harry makes an equally irritated sound before looking up at Louis. “You made it, then?”

“Yeah.” Louis frowns at Harry. “Not that hard when you gave me the Floo powder and the address.” He’s starting to wonder if Harry Potter’s all that.

“I want you to meet a friend of mine.” Harry sits heavily in one of the vacant chairs when he gets a mutter of displeasure. “For Merlin’s sake, Severus, you don’t have to sound so fucking put out about it. What do you want me to introduce you as?”

“You can introduce me as your betrothed for all I care, Potter. If your tall tales are true, I expect I shall be dead within the week.” The stranger turns in his seat and gives Louis a familiar, dark-eyed stare. “Tomlinson.”

“Professor.” Louis tries not to gawk as he finds himself face to face with a very much alive Severus Snape.

*

“I’m going to make tea,” Harry says.

“I prefer coffee.” Snape glares at Harry and gives Louis a scathing look, up and down.

“I prefer firewhisky.” Louis grabs a spare chair, sitting in it and making sure he’s not too close to Snape. He recently put that tinsel on Snape’s portrait after all and was told in no uncertain terms if you ever have the misfortune to find yourself in a dark corridor with me, Tomlinson, I suggest you run – run like the wind.

Snape gives Louis an unpleasant smile. “Firewhisky is a fine idea. Three glasses.”

“It’s an urgent Order meeting, not a piss up. You’re driving me barmy. Completely fucking barmy.” Harry clatters around in the kitchen as Louis stares at Snape.

“You’re dead.”

Snape arches an eyebrow at Louis. “I can assure you, I am not.”

Louis’ mind goes into overdrive and he recalls the peculiar passage he found, leading to one of Malfoy’s shops. The discarded soup and the chunk of bread. That feeling of being watched from the rafters, so similar to the way Snape’s eyes fix on Louis during detention. Even the shop itself, with the fusty books and stacks of pewter cauldrons makes Louis think of the dingy classroom in the dungeons with books stretching as high as the eye can see and shelves full of cobwebs and bottles of potions ingredients. “Prince and Pewter. It was you, wasn’t it? You’ve been living in Malfoy’s shop.”

“You’re lucky I didn’t kill you on the spot.” Snape takes the glass of firewhisky Harry puts on the table and sips it, keeping his eyes trained on Louis. It’s a bit like confronting a Hippogriff. “You may as well bring the bottle over, Potter. I expect we’ll be needing it.”

Harry sounds like he’s saying something rude under his breath and Louis grins. He actually likes Snape, in a funny sort of way. Everyone always talks about him like he was a right prick, but he’s always been decent to Louis and helped him with his potions despite the numerous complaints. Louis quite likes the fact Snape clearly couldn’t give a flying fuck who he insults. He’s glad Snape’s not dead, even if he does probably want to turn Louis upside down and cast horrible hexes at him.

Louis leans forward, curious to know more about the secret passage. “There were wards all over the place. Why did you even let me in?”

“The wards are designed to keep out intruders who pose a threat. Surprised as you may be to hear it, I have no desire to incapacitate students who are simply poking their noses into places they are not welcome.” Snape sniffs and looks away. “Besides, killing you would have run the risk of revealing my whereabouts and on balance, I decided that such a revelation would have been an unfortunate consequence of teaching you not to be so bloody foolhardy.”

Louis laughs under his breath. Trust Snape to put it like that. It’s weird seeing Snape out of his robes. His shirt is loose at the collar and Louis can see the deep scars on his throat. He remembers reading about Snape getting bitten by Voldemort’s snake and he edges closer to look at the scars. “How did you even survive, anyway? Didn’t a massive snake bite your arterial something or other?”

Snape turns his intense gaze back on Louis and his mouth twitches. Louis can’t decide if he’s displeased or if he’s trying not to laugh. “Are you familiar with magic, Mr Tomlinson?”

“He can bottle fame, brew glory and even put a stopper in death.” Harry pours himself a generous firewhisky and takes a sip. “I’m amazed he hasn’t told you already. Multiple times.”

“Idiot,” Snape mutters under his breath. He focuses on Louis again. “I assume you are familiar with bezoars? They are, after all, a rudimentary part of the most basic first year syllabus.”

“They work against poison, but I thought they didn’t work on some stuff. Like basilisk venom.”

Snape’s eyes flare and he looks almost impressed. “Very good, Tomlinson. Perhaps there is hope for you after all.”

Louis can’t help the rush of pride which floods through him. He doesn’t think he’s ever got a very good from a professor before. Much less from one who’s so notoriously difficult. The best he usually gets is what the blazes is that? or an adequate attempt.

“So how did you do it?” Louis glances curiously at the scars again but quickly looks elsewhere as he thinks it’s probably rude to stare.

“A modified bezoar, of sorts. The magic was complex, I doubt you would understand. Nevertheless, I was hardly likely to put myself in close proximity with a snake and not adequately prepare myself for all eventualities.” Snape sounds a bit smug about it all and Harry obviously thinks so too, because he has another long drink of his firewhisky.

“He’s not just good at stoppering death. He’s great at complex magic you wouldn’t understand, too. That and having more lives than a kneazle.”

“It’s cool,” Louis decides. “Can you teach me?”

Snape looks horrified at the suggestion. “I most certainly cannot. My teaching days are long over, mercifully.”

“Your portrait does alright,” Louis says.

“Indeed.” Snape stares down the length of his nose, his gaze sharp. “I’m delighted my skills remain useful to students with a wilful disregard for learning, such as yourself.”

Louis glares at Snape. “It’s not a wilful disregard. It’s just boring and I’m shit at it.”

“Don’t mind him.” Harry nudges Snape with his elbow and mutters something that sounds like can you bloody well stop it? under his breath. “He didn’t like Hermione much either and she’s as brainy as he is.” He grins at Louis and gives him a conspiratorial wink. “I had a wilful disregard for learning too and I did alright.”

“Something you are fond of reminding me at every given opportunity.” Snape pulls himself into a standing position. He’s not as tall as Louis imagined him to be from his portrait. He has on dark, fitted trousers and the sleeves of his crisp white shirt are rolled up to the elbow, revealing the faded Dark Mark on his arm. Voldemort’s mark. The skull with the snake protruding from its mouth reminds Louis eerily of the strange angel from earlier.

Louis really has to stop staring at Snape. He’s going to get hexed in the bollocks soon. There’s just something so fascinating about him. A dark bitterness which thrums beneath the surface and the scars of war mottling his pale skin. It’s not just his neck, or the Dark Mark. There are jagged lines on his arms and a small scar just beneath his left eye, which reminds Louis of the way Lupin looks in his portrait around the full moon. There’s something both broken and strong about him. A furious anger which burns hot just beneath the surface.

Louis shakes himself and turns back to Harry. “What’s Angelus Mortis?”

“We think it’s the mark of the Death Eaters.” Harry frowns into his whisky.

“Isn’t that Morsmordre?” Louis gestures to Snape’s arm where the Dark Mark sits and he’s rewarded with a scowl as Snape takes his seat again, knocking back a potion with a wince.

“It was.” Harry pauses and takes a breath. He flicks his hand to Summon a basket of bread, some cheese and a couple of plates. Wandless, non-verbal magic. It makes Louis shiver. “Have some food.”

Louis takes a bit of the bread and cheese, his stomach grumbling. He didn’t realise how hungry he was, and he thinks he should probably have something to soak up the Firewhisky. He’s pretty sure neither Harry or Snape would have much time for him getting drunk and throwing up on his shoes like he did with Nick. The magic in the room has a weird energy, but it’s not completely unsettling. Louis can feel the flux between dark and light magic and he’s not even sure who’s emitting what. It’s a precarious, finely tuned balance but it works. It’s not threatening, not really. It’s just incredibly powerful and it makes him want to learn how to be like that. How to be as strong and consistent with his spells as Harry and Snape.

Before Harry can tell Louis anything more, the Floo whooshes. “Fucking Angelus Mortis? Jesus fucking Christ. That’s all we bloody well need. This is a disaster. If mother and father have any part to play in this, I’m going to kill them. Again.” Malfoy yanks off his tie and unbuttons his collar, giving Snape a squeeze on the shoulder before sitting next to Harry and giving him a kiss on the cheek. He stretches his arm across the back of Harry’s chair and looks at Louis. “What the fuck is he doing here?”

Harry winces and rubs his temple. “I’m getting there.”

The Floo whooshes again. “Louis?”

“In here, Grim.” Harry glances at Malfoy, whose face pales.

“There’s no need for him to be here. It could be dangerous—”

“Tomlinson’s probably going to tell him all about it anyway. At least if he’s part of the Order, we can ensure he’s protected.” Harry sounds firm, as if the decision has been made. Malfoy looks uncertain, giving Louis a look of displeasure.

Louis looks up when Nick enters the room, pushing away his bread and cheese. His appetite leaves him at the implication behind Malfoy’s words. Nick looks like he’s come from a DJ gig, his hair quiffed up to the max and a bit of glitter on his cheeks. His silk shirt is unbuttoned to reveal part of his chest and his jeans are as tight as Louis has ever seen them. He looks about as out of place as anybody could and Louis just wants to tell him to get back in the Floo and go back to his gig. Whatever Harry has to tell them, Louis is pretty sure it isn’t good. The possibility that he just demanded Nick charge head first into a dangerous situation makes his stomach roll. Louis is such a fucking idiot. Such a stupid, careless child. Malfoy wouldn’t have got Nick involved. He would have done what he could and kept him in the dark to protect him, which is exactly what Louis should have done. His chest tightens, and he almost can’t meet Nick’s eyes he’s so ashamed with himself. He wishes Harry had said no or McGonagall had forewarned him or something.

Snape growls under his breath. “Who the fuck is this?”

Malfoy glares at Louis again, pink spots flaring in his cheeks. His jaw is tight. “Tomlinson’s boyfriend.”

“Well,” says Snape. “That’s all we bloody need. Should I have brought a date? I wasn’t aware it was that sort of event.”

Nick’s face pales as he focuses on Snape. He shakes his head firmly as if he doesn’t believe it. When it doesn’t do any good, he takes a faltering step back and holds up a hand in a strange, defensive gesture. “You’re dead.”

Snape rolls his eyes. “As I have already pointed out to your paramour, clearly I am not.”

Louis watches as Nick’s drops his hand involuntarily to his arm, scratching at the spot where Louis knows his scar sits. In that moment, shadowed in the candlelight in the doorway, Nick looks impossibly young. Louis glances at Snape and remembers that he would have been Headmaster during the Carrows’ reign of terror at Hogwarts. He might have been a spy, might have been trying to keep people alive behind the scenes, but there were things he allowed to happen. Things like the I must not kiss boys etched into Nick’s arm. A wave of furious anger crashes over Louis, combined with the fear of being in this dark, shadowy house, full of paintings that scream and tired-looking war heroes. This isn’t any place for Louis, or for Nick. It’s not right, bringing them both here. Louis doesn’t want to be part of the Order of the Phoenix or the Gathering of the Sparrow or whatever the fuck it is, and he doesn’t want to be anywhere near Harry Potter, Severus Snape or Draco Malfoy anymore.

“Come on, Nick. We’re going.” Louis stands and grabs Nick’s hand, trying to pull him from the room. For some reason, Nick doesn’t follow. Instead he stands in place and catches Louis by the wrist.

“Louis. Lou.”

“We don’t even need to be here, it’s just because I saw some stupid sign in the sky. It doesn’t matter, let’s go back to whatever you were doing. I don’t need to be here. We don’t need to be here.” Louis knows his voice gets tremulous and Nick’s arm slips around him, anchoring him in place, tender and firm.

“S’alright, Louis. Let’s just listen, eh?”

“If we listen then we’re going to be in it. I don’t want to be in it, I don’t, I DON’T!”

Louis feels another hand on his shoulder, warm and firm. “I’m sorry.” Harry’s voice sounds gruff and a bit choked. “I’m sorry, Louis, but you already are. You already are in it.”

Louis swallows back another flash of fear that pulses through him and he shakes his head. “Am not. I’m just a kid that’s shit at magic. I can’t even do potions right.”

“Neither could I.” Harry squeezes Louis’ shoulder. “You’re not shit, either. I’ve seen that Patronus of yours. You’re bloody good at that.”

Nick’s arms wrap around Louis and he can almost feel the way Nick and Harry are communicating over his shoulder as he breathes Nick in, trying to calm himself. “Look, love.” Nick sounds uncertain and a bit scared. “Let’s just listen to what they’ve got to say. We’re here now. Might as well, hadn’t we?”

“Fine.” Louis pulls back from Nick and he rubs his eyes with the back of his hand. “Fine.” He rounds on Snape, his rage and fear still burning hot through his body. “Do you know what they did to him when you were Head? You don’t even know who he fucking is, do you? Just another student whose name you didn’t bother to learn. Someone you let sit in detention while they used Black Quills and Merlin knows what else and told him not to kiss boys.”

Snape stares at Louis, his eyes cold and furious. His already sallow face pales further. When he speaks, his voice is low and deathly soft. “Make no presumptions about my actions during that time. None. You know nothing of my life. My own scars. The tortures I, too, have suffered. Had I been removed from Hogwarts during those years I can assure you that the injuries sustained by many children would have been far worse. Your boyfriend is still alive, is he not? A Muggle-born and a queer would have been on the receiving end of more than a painful detention had I not—”

“DON’T CALL HIM THAT!” Louis’ chest heaves and he doesn’t know why anyone else isn’t saying anything, why Nick isn’t shouting or why Harry isn’t silencing Snape with some of that magic of his.

“Why not?” Snape’s lip curls into a sneer as he trains his eyes on Louis. “It is, after all, what I call myself. I am not ashamed. Are you?”

“Louis.” Nick’s voice is low and firm in his ear. His warm arm around Louis’ waist keeps him close as if he knows Louis is about three seconds away from leaping at Snape and pummelling him with his fists. “Louis, stop. It’s fine. It wasn’t him.”

“It was, though.” Louis swallows, his words rough and cracked. “It might has well have been. Doing nothing is nearly as bad as doing it yourself.”

“Clearly Binns is as incapable of teaching history as ever.” Malfoy’s voice is sharp and cold. “I imagine Hogwarts doesn’t invest in extolling the virtues of Slytherins and former Death Eaters. Let everybody assume we’re always going to be on the wrong side, regardless of how many times we risk our lives trying to get back onto the right one.”

“Enough.” Harry’s voice is low and firm. Louis can’t stand to look at him. “We need to tell Louis everything we know before the rest of the Order get here, and arguing about the past isn’t going to help anyone.”

“Perhaps you should tell your little lion to cease throwing around accusations in that case.” Snape turns back to his whisky. He looks drawn and tired, his jaw still clenched in anger. The magic in the air crackles and hums and the force of it makes Louis shiver and press closer to Nick’s warm side.

“Can you sit?” Harry takes a breath and Louis finally meets his gaze. “Both of you?”

“Yeah, ‘course we can.” Nick slides his arm from around Louis and squeezes his hand. “Let’s listen to Harry then we can go back to that party or summat.”

If it wasn’t for Nick, Louis isn’t sure he would have stayed. Part of him just wants to get back into the Floo and pretend none of this is happening. His anger gives way to a fierce pulse of fear. Eventually he takes his seat again with a scrape of his chair and pointedly doesn’t look at anyone.

*

“We have reason to believe the Death Eaters are gathering together again,” Harry starts.

“We have concrete proof, now.” Malfoy glances at Harry. “After tonight.”

“I think so.” Harry pulls a face. “There have been several high-profile suicides. Alecto Carrow most recently and John Dawlish before her. There were others too, that we managed to keep out of the press.”

“I don’t understand what suicides have to do with anything.” Louis glances at Nick, whose face is flushed and creased in a frown.

“I’m getting there.” Harry speaks quietly, and he sounds as serious as Louis has ever heard. “We believe the Death Eaters are influencing people to take their own lives, either because they’re seeking vengeance on people who fought against Voldemort or because they’re looking for more people to join their ranks.”

“How can someone join their ranks if they’re dead?” Nick sounds confused. “Doesn’t make any sense.”

“Because they’re all dead.” Louis looks up, a cold dread creeping through his chest. “It’s their ghosts, isn’t it? That’s why the ghosts at Hogwarts have been so weird.”

Harry nods. “Exactly. We have reason to believe that most of the Death Eaters became ghosts when they were killed, and they’re forming an army.”

“The werewolves…” Louis shivers as he remembers Lupin’s pale face as he spoke urgently to Louis through the portrait. Tell him the werewolves are moving. “And the Dementors.”

“Helpfully, our fine Ministry has lost track of the Dementors,” Snape comments. It earns him a grunt of displeasure from Harry.

“But ghosts can’t do anything. They’re just ghosts,” Louis says.

Think.” Snape sounds aggravated, as if Louis is taking some kind of lesson. Finally, Louis meets his eyes. They are dark, intense and his lips are pressed in a thin, tight line as he contemplates Louis.

“The Dementors make everything feel hopeless.” Louis shivers as he recalls the momentary chill when Harry’s Boggart took on the form of a Dementor. “Is that how they’re doing it?”

“We’re pretty sure it’s how some people have been driven to suicide. That, and pulling people further from the land of the living into the world of the dead. Hauntings are…” Harry swallows and he nudges his glasses onto his nose, a shadowy expression crossing his features. “Difficult.”

“To say the least,” Malfoy mutters.

“Some will have joined the ranks willingly.” Snape rubs the Dark Mark on his arm and it reminds Louis strangely of Nick, scratching at his scars. “Carrow, almost certainly. If she was offered the choice between rotting in Azkaban and joining her brother and former cohorts, I have little doubt she would have gone willingly.”

“They can’t cast spells though, can they?” Nick’s voice shakes and Louis looks at him. His face is pale, his expression uncertain. Not for the first time, Louis wants to push him from the room and not have Nick be part of this. He doesn’t want to make Nick scared. Doesn’t want him to sit here, unsafe and frightened because Louis’ life is a fucking disaster.

“The ghosts are trying to become corporeal.” Malfoy stares at his hands and his face is paler than usual. Louis wonders what he’s thinking about. “Their sign – the Angelus Mortis or Angel of Death – confirms they have advanced sufficiently in the process to be able to cast spells. If they can cast Angelus Mortis we should assume they are capable of casting other spells, including Unforgivables.”

“Hello?” Harry looks towards the door as another whoosh from the living room indicates someone else has arrived.

“Ron’s going to be along shortly.” Hermione comes into the kitchen and takes off her cloak, sending it somewhere to hang up with a flick of her wand. She’s dressed casually in jeans, trainers and a jumper. It’s a bit strange seeing her looking comfortable instead of in her usual office attire. It reminds Louis of how young Harry, Draco, Hermione and the others really are. He wonders what it must have been like to fight a war as a teenager and then just never stop. He glances at Nick who still looks thoroughly confused. Louis wants to hug him and go back to his house with Pig and Stinky, where everything’s warm. Hermione raises her eyebrows at Nick and extends her hand. “Hello, I don’t believe we’ve met properly. Nick, isn’t it? From WWN.”

“Malfoy’s ex,” Harry pipes up. He sounds irritated. “He’s with Louis.”

“Nice to meet you.” Nick shakes Hermione’s hand. He slips his hand into Louis’ afterwards and it’s clammy. Louis squeezes it and looks at him, taking in the way his jaw is clenched and his uncomfortable posture.

“We’ve got more important things to worry about than our love lives.” Hermione gives Harry a look. “Firewhisky, Harry? Really?”

“Blame him.” Harry points at Snape and rubs the scar on his forehead, nudging his glasses up his nose. “Let’s just get on with it. We need to bring Tomlinson up to speed before everyone else arrives.”

“He’s part of the Order now, is he?” Malfoy sounds unsure and Louis glares at him.

“Yes.” Harry nods, firmly. “I spent enough of my teens having things hidden from me and it didn’t protect me in the slightest.

“Fine.” Malfoy shrugs, his eyes cool as they meet Louis’. “Although he should probably learn not to fight with people who are on his side if that’s the case.”

“I am perfectly capable of fighting my own battles, Draco, as much as I appreciate the sentiment.” Snape’s voice is silky smooth. “I am also quite used to putting myself in mortal danger for ungrateful little urchins who-”

“For fuck’s sake,” Harry says at the same time as Hermione flicks her wand and a loud clap silences the room.

“If everyone could focus.” Hermione pockets her wand and takes a seat. “I assume as you have time to squabble between yourselves, and sort out your romantic entanglements that Louis knows about the prophecy?”

Harry winces. “Not yet.”

Honestly.” Hermione rolls her eyes. She taps her wand on the table and murmurs a spell which conjures up a strange, silvery image that hovers like a projection in front of them all. The image shows Harry sitting in a room with someone Louis doesn’t recognise. She’s making notes with an elegant quill on some parchment and she’s dressed like a Healer. Harry looks younger. He has dark circles under his eyes and his hair is even more haywire than usual. Louis tears his eyes away from the image to look at Harry, who is speaking to Malfoy in hushed tones. Malfoy’s hand sits firmly on Harry’s shoulder and an intimate, private look passes between them before they both focus back on the image. The voices filter through the image and surround the small group gathered around the kitchen table.

“That will be all, Harry. I’ll see you next week at the same time.”

“Thanks.” Harry stands and pulls a battered satchel onto his shoulder.

As Harry moves, the Healer begins to speak in a strange incantation. The sibilant hisses make Harry startle and he turns to face the Healer. His face pales, noticeable even in the silvery light of the image and his hand moves to the scar on his forehead which he presses with his finger tips as if it hurts. The peculiar sounds slide around the room and Louis shivers as the dim light and the flickering candles in Grimmauld Place make the shadows slide over the walls as if they are moving with a mind a mind of their own. Louis wants it to stop. It reminds him of being in the Department of Mysteries with Nick and the whispers of Harry Potter which seeped through the walls off the back of low hisses and eerie, high-pitched laughter.

The Healer’s head is thrown back, her eyes glazed. When the hissing stops, she sits upright and shakes herself as if from a trance. She blinks at Harry. “Was there anything else, Harry?”

“No.” Harry’s voice is rough, and he shakes his head. Louis can see his fingers shaking as he clutches onto his satchel. “No, nothing at all.”

“Very well.” The Healer returns to her notes and pushes her glasses onto her head, the image flickering away to nothing.

“What was that?” Louis looks up at Harry.

“Parseltongue.” Harry glances at Snape whose knuckles are white as he clutches his glass of scotch tightly. His jaw works, and he doesn’t say a word, keeping his gaze focused on the table and pointedly not looking at anyone. “The language of snakes.”

“Don’t mollycoddle the boy, Potter,” Snape snaps. “Why must you always sanitise these things with half-hearted explanations?” He turns to Louis. “The most famous Parselmouths are Salazar Slytherin, the Dark Lord and Potter. It is almost exclusively a skill associated with dark magic. It’s not a language many wish to gain proficiency in, and if they do, it’s unlikely you would want to associate with them.”

“I still don’t get what it’s got to do with Louis.” Nick sounds pissed off, his voice tight. Louis doesn’t miss how the distinctive Northern twang shares some similarities with Snape’s accent, although any regional notes to Snape’s dialogue seem to have disappeared almost entirely, presumably after years spent with wealthy Purebloods and assuming a role he didn’t believe in.

“It’s a prophecy.” Harry reaches into his pocket, fishing around for a piece of paper. He flicks his wand and mutters a spell which splits and copies the parchment until there are enough copies to share with everyone at the table. “Here.”

Trying to still the tremble in his hands, Louis looks at the parchment which floats towards him and flutters to a stop by his fingers.

Born in the nineties, unaccustomed to power
Imbued with the courage of Gryffindor Tower
The one with the power to vanquish them all
Is the one who cries loudest when Amycus falls.
His protectors in combat not living nor dead,
The echoes, the ghost-dog and image of Fred.
His wand shares a core with the Master of Death,
Another young saviour who knows not his strength.
When the dead start to rise, the living will die
The werewolves will gather, the castle will cry
The rivers of blood will flow through the night
And stars will go out as the Thestrals take flight

“Louis.” Louis feels Nick’s hand on his shoulder before he hears Nick saying his name. His voice is rough and urgent. “Louis, we’re going to need to get off, yeah? Need to get back to this DJ thing and I reckon you’ll be expected back at Hogwarts soon.”

Louis wants to go so much. He wants the prophecy not to be real. He wants to leave the dark, musty rooms of Grimmauld Place behind so the real heroes can protect them. He doesn’t want to be anybody special. He doesn’t want to die beneath bloody skies and have all this weird stuff going on with his Boggart, his wand and his Patronus. He wants to live to kiss Nick through a thousand more sunrises until they’re old and curled up by the fire with Pig who is definitely the sort of crup to live longer than all other crups because she’s brilliant, Pig is. The best.

Instead, Louis scrunches up the prophecy and says, “I can’t. You know I can’t.” He swallows back the fear which bubbles beneath the surface, keeping his voice as calm as he can manage. “Might not even be about me, anyway. Might be about someone else.”

“Nick.” Malfoy’s voice is quiet. He doesn’t sound as clipped and arsy as usual. Louis doesn’t want him to be the one comforting Nick. The one who tells him it’s okay. The problem is, Louis doesn’t have the right words anymore. It’s like something heavy has settled on his chest and all the air has been forced from his lungs in a whoosh. “We think it’s him. It’s got to be. It all adds up.”

“Well it shouldn’t be him. It fucking shouldn’t. He’s eighteen. He’s just a kid.”

“Not a kid,” Louis mutters. He takes a sip of his firewhisky and it burns as it travels down his throat. “Not a kid.”

“I know, love, but…” Nick trails off, his hand still on Louis’ shoulder. He sits back in his chair and takes Louis’ hand and Louis finally looks at him. His face is so bright and expressive, his eyes such a brilliant colour and they get so soft when he looks at Louis. “I don’t want it to be you.”

“I know,” Louis says. He squeezes Nick’s hand and swallows around the lump in his throat. “I don’t want it to be me either.”

Nobody else at the table says a word.

*

It’s mayhem when other people start arriving. Louis vaguely recognises different Weasleys, easily identifiable by their orange hair. He recognises Ron instantly, of course. He knows Charlie from the poster in the pub he went to with Nick when he got pissed and threw up on Nick’s posh shoes. Louis would give anything to have those kind of troubles again. The awkward moments of being a dickhead and making an arse of himself. Even those were a hundred times better than this. Nick seems to know more people than Louis does, and he shakes hands with a few of them, before speaking to Malfoy about something in hushed tones. Nick looks angry and Malfoy looks resigned. Louis wonders what they’ve got to speak about so seriously and hopes they’re not talking about him.

“I’m sorry about earlier.” Louis glances at Snape who doesn’t seem bothered about speaking to anybody else. He nurses his firewhisky with a scowl on his face and hides behind a curtain of hair which looks as though it could use a wash. “I know what they did wasn’t your fault.”

Snape looks up, his eyes piercing through Louis. His lips curls into a sneer. “You are so certain of that?”

Louis shrugs. He’s not, honestly. He knows Snape did some brilliant, brave things. He also knows Snape was an asshole who did a lot of terrible things. “Dunno.”

“Indeed.” Snape turns back to his drink. He rubs at the mottled scars on his neck and doesn’t look at Louis. “If it serves to assuage your guilt, I am used to far worse than your little outburst.”

“It wasn’t an outburst.” Louis watches Snape carefully. “You’re gay, then?”

Snape rolls his eyes. “I’m not much of anything, these days.”

“Why?”

Snape stares at Louis. “Because, Mr Tomlinson, even if my past as a Death Eater and unfortunate appearance were not an insurmountable obstacle for most, there is the small matter of my supposedly being deceased.”

“Maybe when all this is over we can get you a boyfriend.” Louis knows he’s close to getting hexed but teasing Snape is proving to be a good distraction from all the hushed conversations about the Impending Doom going on around him.

“You will do no such thing,” Snape growls.

“Seriously, I reckon we could get Nick to set you up on one of them Muggle dating apps—”

Mister Tomlinson.” Snape’s grip on his glass tightens. It’s a wonder it doesn’t shatter in his hand.

“Everything okay over here?” Nick comes back, finally. He sits next to Louis and slips an arm around his chair.

“Most certainly not.” Snape glares at Nick. “Kindly ask your – whatever the bloody hell he is – to keep his nose out of my romantic affairs.” He looks at Louis. “I suggest you focus on not getting killed and passing your N.E.W.T.s. You have the most abysmal brewing technique I have ever seen in my life. Worse than Potter, and that’s saying something.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that.” Louis laughs and for the first time since he came to Grimmauld Place, he feels normal again. Not completely normal, obviously. Everyone’s still looking at him like he’s a troll, but a bit more normal than before.

Nick squeezes his hand on Louis’ shoulder and it’s even better. Warm and comforting. Enough to chase the fear and the dark things away for a minute so Louis can catch his breath again.

“Want to come back to mine after this?” Nick’s voice is low enough that it’s just for Louis’ ears and everything gets warmer still.

“Yeah,” Louis says. He smiles at Nick and is rewarded with a smile back, one that’s warm and familiar enough to make Louis’ chest tight. “Yeah, I do.”

They pour themselves another small drink and wait for the meeting to begin.

*

“I want to introduce you to two new members of the Order of the Phoenix.” Hermione takes charge of the meeting eventually, and claps her hands together to get the chatter to quieten down. “Louis Tomlinson and Nick Grimshaw.”

“Should we be bringing new people in at this stage?” Louis thinks it’s Ron’s mum that asks the question. She doesn’t look annoyed as much as concerned. “They both look rather young.”

“Louis is in his final year at Hogwarts. He’s eighteen.” Harry stands next to Hermione. “Nick was at school with us, a few years below. We have reason to believe the prophecy is about Louis.” He pulls a face and looks apologetic as he glances at Louis. “Unfortunately, we’re still not sure why.”

“We think it’s something to do with the Thestral hair at the core of his wand.” Hermione takes over from Harry, opening a book and twisting it on the table so people can read the relevant chapter. “As many of you know, the story of the Deathly Hallows involves an undefeatable wand which shares the same core.”

“The Elder Wand,” Harry adds.

He shares a wand core with the Master of Death. The prophecy rolls around Louis’ mind and he swallows. Having an undefeatable wand sounds a bit better than the Master of Death thing. That sounds rubbish. Even though he’s nervous around everyone, Louis can’t help but pipe up. “My wand can be defeated, though. It’s rubbish. I can’t even do a proper Jelly-Legs Jinx.”

Hemione listens patiently and Louis loves her for not interrupting or treating him like an idiot. Snape, on the other hand, snorts into his firewhisky. “The wand is unlikely to share all the features of the Elder Wand. However, I do think there’s a reason the core is important. Harry mentioned your Patronus is a baby Thestral, too?”

Louis’ cheeks heat. He wishes she’d just said Thestral. Baby Thestral sounds a bit shit and not like something a very powerful possibly going to have to save the world sort of wizard should be casting. “Yeah. It is. I can’t even see them, though. Thestrals. Not for real.”

“We’ll get to the bottom of it, don’t worry. I just can’t help but feel like there’s something I’m missing…” Hermione trails off, lost in thought. Harry takes over and it’s all a blur of back and forth argument and discussion about the Death Eaters, who’s still alive, who could be part of their army of ghosts and whether there’s been any progress on finding the Dementors. Louis resists the urge to ask how you go about losing a load of fucking Dementors in the first place.

Nick’s hand moves to the back of Louis’ neck. He didn’t realise how tight his muscles were until Nick’s fingers rub over the sore bits and lightly massage the knots away. The noise fades away and Louis can’t even pretend to listen anymore as a wave of exhaustion overwhelms him and he counts down the minutes until he can lose himself in Nick’s warm arms and forget about tonight, even just for a moment.

*

The rest of the meeting passes in a blur and Louis convinces McGonagall to let him go back with Nick on account of the whole might have to fight some ghosts discovery. McGonagall eventually relents, on the condition that Louis doesn’t make a habit out of not returning to his rooms in Hogwarts.

“You’re to be back by breakfast and I have ways and means of checking if you’re out of your dormitory on any other occasion, so please don’t imagine you can make this a regular occurrence.”

“I won’t.” Louis takes Nick’s hand and tugs him away from the group before someone can start talking to them and they have to spend another boring hour listening to people spout off names Louis doesn’t even know. Yaxley, Carrow, Mulciber, Greyback, Goyle, Lestrange. The number of names are dizzying and then there were all the references to Ministry officials Louis has never heard of before. By the time he stumbles through the Floo and into Nick’s arms, he can’t even muster up any enthusiasm for the fact Kingsley Shacklebolt shook his hand and Luna Lovegood gave him a hug. Payno would have loved that.

“Hiya.” Nick smooths Louis’ hair back from his forehead and gives him a soft kiss. “Feels like I haven’t said hello to you properly all night.”

“You haven’t.” Louis keeps Nick close, holding onto him tightly. “Bit rude, that. Too busy chatting up Malfoy.”

“Give over.” Nick holds Louis tighter still. “As if I’d chat up Malfoy with you in the room. Feisty little terrier that you are. Thought you were going to lamp Snape at one stage. You’re more dangerous than Stinky.”

“A lot more dangerous, thanks.” Louis looks at Nick. “Also, Nicholas, you wouldn’t chat up Malfoy ever. Whether I’m in the same room or not.”

“’Course I wouldn’t.” Nick brushes his hand over Louis’ cheek and kisses him again. “’Course not.”

“Bet you would, though.” Louis pulls back. His words hold no sting. He doesn’t mean it. He knows Nick wouldn’t. It’s just better being pretend cross about Malfoy than talking about the weight of the world that seems to have settled over them in the space of a few hours. “I’m starting to think it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, hanging around with all these famous friends of yours.”

“Excuse you!” Nick huffs with laughter but he looks like he agrees. “Not what I was expecting when I got that Patronus to go to Harry’s. I thought it was going to be some stupid prank you’d pulled with Niall and Liam or summat. Wasn’t expecting…that.” Nick thankfully doesn’t articulate what the that is. They both know, and the last thing Louis wants to do is hash over it all again. He just wants to forget about it for a bit and enjoy being in Nick’s warm house, not devising some bullshit war strategy that mostly seemed to revolve around how to kill people that are already dead.

“Make us a cuppa, will you?”

“Happily.” Nick grins at Louis and they go into the kitchen. Louis pulls himself up onto the counter and swings his legs back and forth, watching as Nick gets out the tea and a packet of Hob-Nobs. It must have shaken Nick up if he’s reaching for the biscuits. Louis knows they’re a special occasion kind of thing, because Nick’s been doing something weird involving no sugar and lots of complaining since Christmas. Stinky lands on Louis’ shoulder and he spends a bit of time cooing over him and petting his scaly little head as the kettle whistles and Nick puts on some music in the background.

“Can we not talk about it for a bit?” Louis doesn’t look at Nick, focusing instead on the way Stinky hops from one of Louis’ fingers to the other. “I know we’re going to have to, but I’m done in from that meeting.”

“Yeah. That’s fine.” Nick laughs, although it doesn’t sound as though he’s finding the situation terribly funny. “I’m pretty good at not talking about serious things, me.”

Louis looks up and takes in Nick’s wilting quiff and his pink cheeks. Looks at his rumpled appearance and thinks of the moments over the course of the evening when Nick knew just how to touch him to keep Louis tethered to the ground. He thinks of Nick’s careful patience with Louis on the night of his birthday and the way Nick’s small bedroom in Oldham was full of so many cassette tapes, posters and teenage dreams.

“Dunno about that. You’re better than you think.” Louis smiles at Nick.

“Thanks.” Nick glances at Louis and then pours the tea into two large mugs. He adds milk and carries one of the mugs with the packet of biscuits towards the living toom. “Grab your tea and put Stinky to bed, will you? If he’s up all night he’s going to be a nightmare tomorrow. Little monster that he is.”

Stinky flaps his wings and huffs out some smoke at that. “Shush. He’s not a little monster. He’s brilliant, isn’t he?” Louis knows Nick can’t hear him anymore, but Stinky can. He nuzzles Louis with his hot little nose and flaps his wings again. Louis puts him carefully in his bed and grabs a couple of Twiglets from the cupboard, leaving them by the nest. Stinky gives another flap, flap of his wings in appreciation.

Louis grabs his tea when Stinky’s settled and takes a seat next to Nick on the sofa. Nick’s staring off into the distance, munching on a Hob-Nob and watching one of his photographs where a girl with short dark hair pulls funny faces and sticks her tongue out at the camera.

“Who’s that?”

“Pixie. Pepsie, we call her. The friend I told you about with the big-deal dad who let me pretend to be her brother during the war. She’s away at the minute, but you should meet her when she’s back. All of them. You should meet all of my friends.”

“I thought I already had?” Louis looks over at Nick, who shakes his head.

“Nah, not really. Not the people I’m really close to. Harry’s lot are a bit different. I like them, but they don’t come round for their tea of a night. It’s not like that.”

“Oh.” Louis looks at all the unfamiliar faces in Nick’s photographs. He blows on his tea to cool it, letting the steam rise and settle on his cheeks. “I’d like that. I’d like to meet them. Still got to see this house of yours in Hackney, too.”

“Yeah. Maybe get McGonagall to let you out for a weekend. Can’t be good for you, all that studying.”

Louis snorts. “Not doing much studying at the minute, mate. Not unless it’s studying how not to get killed or what the fuck’s up with my Boggart?

Nick laughs and nudges Louis with his elbow. “No getting killed on my watch, thank you. I don’t much suit a mourning veil.” Nick’s obviously trying to keep things light, but Louis doesn’t miss how his voice gets choked up and wobbles at the edges.

“None of that. We’re supposed to be not talking about it. Let’s talk about the weather or what the fuck you were thinking when you put on that shirt.”

“Errr, excuse me, Louis Tomlinson.” Nick laughs around his mug and gives Louis a look, his eyes shining. “This shirt is St Laurent, I’ll have you know.”

“That shirt is a fucking travesty is what it is.” Louis shifts closer to Nick and brushes his fingers over the buttons of Nick’s shirt. It’s open widely enough that it lets Louis brush his fingers against the hair on Nick’s chest and play with the necklaces. Maybe it’s not all that bad after all. “Can’t believe Snape’s alive.”

“Honestly.” Nick shakes his head. “Didn’t expect that, either.”

“Do you hate him?”

“Nah.” Nick catches Louis’ hand and brings it to his lips for a quick kiss, before releasing it back to toy with his necklaces again. “I don’t reckon it was easy, being Snape. He’s a right arse most of the time, but he’s not like, an evil arse or whoever people thought he was back then. Pretty brave, too. Not sure I would have fancied seeing the things he’s probably seen.” Nick pauses. “I don’t want to get all Draco said on you either because I know you don’t like it, but he talked about him sometimes. It made me see him differently.”

“Tell me some time?” Louis looks up and Nick nods.

“Yeah, can do. If you like. You can ask Draco too, you know. He’s not as stuck-up as he comes across. I’m starting to think everyone’s got a front.”

Louis frowns as he remembers the image Hermione conjured earlier, with Harry in the peculiar room and the Healer incanting the prophecy. “Like Harry. Bit weird, that thing with the Healer. Not the snake stuff or the prophecy. The fact he was there in the first place.”

“Oh.” Nick clears his throat. “I think he saw someone for a while after the war. Maybe still does. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or summat.”

Louis swallows and he thinks of Harry with his battered satchel and the dark circles under his eyes. “Not surprised, really.”

Nick puts his tea down and takes Louis’ mug from him, before wrapping an arm around him. “I’ve seen someone before. I get anxious about stuff. It helps to talk about it and you know me. Notoriously excellent at talking but shit at talking about anything that matters. Does it bother you?”

Louis shakes his head and looks up at Nick. He touches his fingers to Nick’s cheek, which is hot beneath his fingers. “’Course not. Obviously not. Why would it bother me?”

“Some people are funny about it.” Nick shrugs.

“Some people are dicks,” Louis says.

“Mmm.” Nick studies Louis, his jaw working as if there’s something he wants to say. In the end, he settles for, “I thought we weren’t going to talk about any of it.”

“We’re not,” Louis decides. “Not anymore.” Still not entirely confident just launching himself at Nick, Louis kicks off his shoes and straddles Nick on the sofa. It’s a good position. He’s close enough that he can see all of Nick’s freckles and he likes it even better when Nick puts his hands on Louis’ backside and holds him close.

“Don’t know what we’re going to do if we’re not talking about it, though.” Nick looks thoughtful, as if he really has to think hard about it. “Any ideas?”

“One or two.” Louis puts the flats of his palms on either side of Nick’s head and wriggles in his lap. He hopes it’s sufficiently distracting. “Like, maybe you could fuck me.”

“Really?” Nick raises his eyebrows and looks at Louis. There’s a long enough pause for Louis to feel slightly embarrassed. “I thought maybe there might be a better time than now.”

“Why not now?” Louis knows what Nick means, though. He feels it too. That burning pulse of fear that he keeps swallowing back. The fact they probably should talk about all of this at some point and not just ignore everything because it’s difficult. It’s like he’s going to burst out of his skin and he knows he would need to push back all those thoughts that keep threatening to spill over and take control of his mind. He’s not sure he wants to stop Nick, breathless and half-way-close to getting what he’s wanted for ages when he’s so unsettled. “Doesn’t matter.” Louis sighs and plucks one of the buttons on Nick’s shirt. “I know why.”

“Yeah?” Nick sounds relieved. He squeezes his hand on Louis’ backside and leans in to mouth at his neck. It sends shivers down Louis’ spine. Good shivers, this time. Not the bad sort. “For the record, I want to. I really fucking want to.”

“I know. Me too.” Louis pushes his hands into Nick’s hair and keeps him there, placing distracting kisses along the line of Louis’ throat. “I need a shower, anyway. I stink.”

“Don’t say that about my boyfriend. It’s a very nice stink. Sweat and firewhisky.” Nick buries his nose in Louis’ throat and inhales. It tickles, and Louis shoves him away. “Manly.”

“Thanks.” Louis rolls his eyes, but he can’t keep the fondness from his tone. “Let me have a shower, will you?”

Nick pulls back and gives Louis a slow kiss on the lips. “Come on, then. Gerroff.”

Louis shifts off Nick and is pretty pleased when he notices Nick has to adjust himself in his jeans. At least it’s not just Louis that gets like that when he’s close to Nick. With a smile on his face, Louis takes the stairs two at a time and helps himself to some pants, joggers and a t-shirt before switching on Nick’s shower.

He just needs to wash the day away.

*

“Need any help washing your hair?”

Louis scrubs the water from his eyes after standing long enough under the spray that it feels like all his worries have washed down the plughole. He grins at Nick’s question and pokes his head out of the shower to see Nick sitting fully clothed on the loo with the seat down, not making any attempt to hide the fact he’s just been ogling Louis in the shower.

“You’re bloody creepy, Nicholas.”

“I’ve just been cleaning my teeth.” Nick smiles and bares his teeth as if Louis asked for evidence. “I thought I’d take a moment to enjoy the view.”

“Idiot.” Louis nods towards the shower. “Suppose you might as well join me. I’m having the towel on the radiator, though. It’s nice and warm.”

“They do have spells for that, too.” Nick laughs under his breath but Louis knows he’s going to give him the towel he wanted anyway. It makes Louis smile.

“Can’t be bothered with magic. You’re the one that loves things Muggle.”

“Not when it comes to having a choice between a warm towel and freezing my bollocks off.” Nick makes short work of undressing and joins Louis in the shower. “Anyway, I don’t always need things Muggle. Sometimes it’s handy not having to stop to grab stuff.”

“Like when?” Louis gets a bit breathless when Nick turns him so he’s facing the tiles, with his back against Nick’s slick, wet body.

“Like now,” Nick says. He presses a kiss to Louis’ neck and runs his hands along Louis’ side. “This okay?” He nips lightly at Louis’ earlobe, tugging it between his teeth. Louis can feel Nick hard against his backside and it’s a lot being this naked with Nick. There’s a new kind of intimacy, even though they’ve been naked together before. When they showered together over Christmas it was slow and lazy, but this feels different. Louis isn’t facing Nick for a start and he can feel the hardness of Nick slip between the cheeks of his backside. It makes his skin hot.

“It’s okay.” Louis sucks in a breath when Nick kisses the nape of his neck. He’s not sure anyone’s kissed the nape of his neck before and the buzz of pleasure it generates is unexpected. “More than okay.”

“Can I kiss you?” Nick brings his lips to Louis’ ear, his breath hot. It’s a peculiar thing to ask because it’s not the sort of thing Nick should need to check anymore.

“Where?” Louis bites back a groan when Nick laughs in his ear. Busted, Louis thinks. Nick’s tricksy when he wants to be.

“Everywhere?” Nick begins to kiss down Louis’ spine and the warm pressure of his body against Louis’ skin disappears as he gets on his knees. “Here.” Nick presses a chaste kiss to the base of Louis’ spine. He slips his fingers into the crack and brushes them lightly over Louis. “Here?”

Fuck.” Louis nods, his words leaving him in a breathless rush. “Okay. Yes, please. Okay.”

“Okay.” Nick sounds like he’s smiling. Louis braces himself against the shower tiles, the water sliding over him as he presses back towards Nick. He feels a bit wanton, with his legs spread and his obvious eagerness but this is one of those things he read about in his book. One of those things that he dismissed as being a bit weird and gross before he went back to the pictures again, and again. Nick murmurs a spell which leaves Louis tingling inside and out and it makes Louis suck in a breath.

“Handy, that.”

“Magic’s good for summat,” Nick agrees. “Don’t mind using it for this.”

“Me neither. You’re teaching me that spell, too. Don’t want me pointing my wand at your arse and getting it wrong. Promise you’ll show me?”

“Mmmhmm.” Nick brushes his lips against Louis’ backside. “Promise.”

Nick holds Louis open before licking him somewhere Louis had never considered would feel quite so good being licked until now. Nick came close when they collapsed together in Nick’s bed on Boxing Day, so desperate just to feel and touch. He fingered Louis and used his tongue on so many brilliant, intimate parts which left Louis shaking with want. This, though. This slow, steady pressure and the way Nick takes him apart. It makes Louis weak at the knees as Nick takes his time, slow and thorough. He pushes his tongue inside Louis, nudging it into him and then lapping at the outside again, before pushing back in. It’s like he’s touching every nerve ending, pressing the rough pad of his tongue against Louis and pushing back inside him insistently. Louis can’t help the moans which fall from his lips as he pushes back against Nick. He loves the way it feels. Loves Nick’s large hands on him, prising him open. Loves how exposed it makes him and how Nick is brilliant at making him feel just on the right side of vulnerable and embarrassed, combining that heat which claws through Louis with a hot, heady pulse of arousal and desire.

Louis is nearly shaking out of his skin when Nick finally stands and helps Louis upright, pressing him against the tiles. “I’ve got you, love.” Nick’s breath is hot in Louis’ ear as he mutters a Lubricus and his wand clatters to the floor of the shower. “I’ve got you.”

Louis sinks into the sensation of Nick’s slick fingers pushing inside him. It’s not particularly gentle, yet in some ways it is. Louis is already loose and slick from the work done by Nick’s tongue and he’s so ready for Nick’s fingers it almost hurts. He cries out when Nick gets the angle just right and lets Nick fuck him with two fingers, slow and sure, steady and deep. Nick curls his fingers and brings them back, biting down gently on Louis’ shoulder as he wraps his other hand around Louis’ cock. The position isn’t quite right. Louis is sure he’s bashing Nick’s knuckles off the tiles as he squirms and pushes forwards and back into the maddening sensations. He’s conscious somewhere in the back of his melting brain that Nick’s not really getting off on this and he half wants to ask if Nick wants to fuck him again, because he thinks he might just say yes. He doesn’t though, because he thinks it might not be fair and he knows he’s so close to the edge he can’t imagine stopping for condoms and a discussion about whether it’s the right time. He just wants Nick to bring him off, just wants to get that sharp relief which zig-zags through his veins and makes everything hot and desperate.

“Please. God, please…” Louis knows he’s begging and doesn’t even care. Nick seems to like it, because his breath gets rough and heavier in Louis’ ear. His lips are so hot and damp on Louis’ skin and the shower pulses around them both, the water sliding over Louis’ skin and making them both slippery. It’s too much and it doesn’t take more than a few more expert tugs of Nick’s hand and a slide of his fingers before Louis pulses over Nick’s fist, murmuring Nick’s name over and over. “You should fuck me if you want,” Louis says. He’s trying to catch his breath and he’s still dizzy from how good everything feels. “I want you to feel good too, please Nick. Want it to be good for you too.”

Nick’s so careful with Louis. So ready to leave his DJ decks and come running headlong into danger. He’s so good at getting Louis off and taking his time until Louis is shaking and trembling under the touch. He knows instinctively what Louis wants and Louis wants to be that for Nick. Wants to be able to chase the demons away, sometimes. The one who can keep Nick close when things are shit and say it’s okay and know how to make bad things feel just a little bit better. He wants to do that for Nick, so much. Wants Nick to know he’d fight a hundred fucking ghosts for him.

“It’s okay, love. Like this, yeah? This is good.” Nick turns Louis and kisses him with the full force of all their fears combined. He wraps Louis’ hand around him and groans into the kiss, which is rapidly becoming all teeth and tongue as they gasp and pant into one another’s mouths. Louis knows Nick wants to come and can tell by the way he feels in Louis’ hand that he’s close. With a fierce need to give Nick every pleasure, Louis takes control of the kiss. He pushes his hand into Nick’s damp hair and strokes his cock hard and fast, as he knows Nick likes. He changes their positions so it’s Nick back against the tiles, his head thrown back and his throat curved into a glorious arch. Louis runs his tongue over Nick’s pulse point and tastes the beat, beat of it against his lips. He finds that spot on Nick’s neck that makes him groan and twist in Louis’ arms and he keeps him pushed back. No, Louis says with his kisses. Just let me. Let me look after you for once. Louis captures Nick’s lips in one final, rough kiss and makes him a promise. Makes a promise that doesn’t get spoken out loud, but Louis that hopes Nick hears anyway.

I’ll keep you safe. Always.

Nick spills over Louis’ fingers with a shout and they both collapse back against the tiles, gulping for breath as their fingertips meet and they slide their damp, sticky hands together.

Louis tips back his head and fights the hot tears which prick at the backs of his eyes as the shower falls around them like rain.

*

“Can’t sleep?” Nick slides an arm around Louis and strokes his fingers over the soft bit of Louis’ belly.

“Not a lot.” Louis rolls over and blinks at Nick in the darkness, plumping up his pillow and resting on it. “You?”

“Fast asleep, me. Can’t you tell?” Nick smiles, coming into focus as Louis’ eyes adjust to the dark.

“Idiot.” Louis kicks out his foot, but it ends up with their feet tangled together instead of the kick in the shins Louis was aiming for. “Keep thinking about tonight.”

“Me too,” Nick says. He shifts close and it’s so warm being in Nick’s bed, Louis almost doesn’t want the morning to come. In the morning, things will be real again. He’ll be back at Hogwarts and Nick will be on WWN. Louis already hates every moment of the classes he suspects he’s going to sleepwalk his way through tomorrow.

“It doesn’t make any sense. Do you reckon they might have got it wrong?” Louis watches Nick carefully for his reaction. He hopes Nick won’t lie to him. “It’s just the wand core and the ghost dog. Loads of people were born in the nineties. There are lots of Gryffindors, not just me.”

“The ghost-dog?” Nick raises his eyebrows. “What’s true about that?”

“Oh.” Heat rises in Louis’ cheeks because he probably should have mentioned. “I’ve got a dog. Well, he’s not really mine. He’s a ghost. He’s been sleeping on the foot of my bed and it reminded me a bit of Pig. He helped me to sleep. Harry reckons it’s Sirius Black.”

Nick clears his throat and sits up, glaring at Louis. “You’ve been sleeping with Sirius Black?”

No, you tit. I’ve been sleeping – platonically sleeping, you weirdo – with a dog. Padfoot, Harry called him. Wasn’t Padfoot to me, though. He was Bruce.”

“Bruce?” Nick’s lips twitch and he settles back down, propping himself up on his elbow. “Strong name for a dog.”

“Stronger than Pig and Stinky.” Louis rolls his eyes.

“They’ll hear you.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Louis smiles at Nick. “They’ll still love me best.”

“They might not if you keep being rude about their names.” Nick huffs. “I’ve seen the photos of Sirius Black. All leather and motorbikes. Didn’t know you were into that.”

“I’m not, fucks sake.” Louis snorts softly. “It’s a dog. He’s a dog. I dunno whether he can, like, change back. I don’t think so. Not now he’s a ghost. I reckon he would have done, if he could.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Nick doesn’t sound too sure. “So that bit’s true?”

“Yep.” Louis shrugs. “Don’t even know a Fred, though. Not sure why I’d have an image of him. Loads of it didn’t make sense.”

Nick makes a non-committal sound. “I think…I think there’s a good chance they’re right, Lou. I know Harry’s a bit bull in a china shop sometimes, but I don’t reckon they’d bring someone still at Hogwarts into all this mess if they weren’t already pretty sure.”

“I suppose.” Louis’ stomach flips and a wave of nausea makes his mouth water. He knows Nick’s right. Of course they wouldn’t just let Louis and Nick in on everything if they still had doubts. “Would be nice, though. If they were wrong.”

“Dead nice.” Nick pulls Louis close, smoothing a hand through his hair. It’s soothing and it reminds Louis of being a little kid, curling up with his mum and feeling safe and loved.

“There’s nothing I can do about it. You can’t just change a prophecy.” Louis breathes Nick in. He hears a little ruff and the familiar thump, thump of a tail against the wooden bed frame. “Can we let Pig up?”

“If you like.” Nick gives Louis a soft look, touching his fingers briefly to Louis’ face. “Yeah, let her come and join us.”

“Hiya, Pig. Hey Piggy.” Louis reaches down and helps Pig onto the bed where she curls against Louis, her body warm and her little heart beating as he holds her close. Nick wraps an arm around them both, because his limbs are long and ridiculous, and Louis likes him more than he can say. Louis breathes out, trying not to choke up. “It is what it is.”

“Yeah.” Nick sounds uncertain and his arm around Louis tightens. “It is what it is.”

Chapter Text

Because there’s a pretty high chance Louis is going to get Avada Kedavra’d by some ghosts, he decides it’s a good idea to organise a night out where everyone can get pissed and forget about all the Impending Doom for a bit. Even Harry Potter played Quidditch and probably had a couple of beers on occasion and he had Voldemort to contend with. Louis even sends an owl to Zayn, just on the off-chance he can get away from Durmstrang for a night on the lash. Unsurprisingly, his owl came back with a scrawled reply that looked like it had taken about two seconds to write.

Sorry, man. Can’t. Hope you’re good.

Z.

Fuck Zayn, anyway. Louis doesn’t need him. He doesn’t even know what he’d say to Zayn now. So much has changed so quickly, he wouldn’t know where to start. Perhaps meet my boyfriend, because I have a boyfriend now. That’s a thing. Or maybe do you remember the Death Eaters? Louis rolls his eyes. It’s easier, Zayn not coming. It was a moment of madness sending the owl in the first place.

“You’re quiet.” Nick wraps his arms around Louis and gives him a kiss on the forehead. It’s very chaste. Louis resolves that by giving Nick a thorough snog that leaves them both breathless. It’s only when he gets his fingers into Nick’s quiff that Louis finds himself pushed away. “Oi! Get off me, you monster. Took me ages, that did.”

“Really?” Louis gives Nick’s quiff a critical eye. “It still looks bloody stupid.” It doesn’t, though. Nick looks fit as fuck and Louis wouldn’t mind pouncing on him again. It’s annoying, how horny Nick always makes him.

“Night out with the boys.” Nick dicks around with his quiff in the mirror. The mirror wolf-whistles and Nick responds with an oh, stop, even though Louis is fairly sure Nick’s charmed his mirror so that it flatters him constantly.

“Yeah. Be good, won’t it?” Louis nudges Nick out of the way, looking at himself in the mirror. He looks alright. He’s got his hair quiffed up a bit, not like Nick’s obviously because Nick’s hair is ridiculous. He’s got on a sharp suit jacket his mum got him for Christmas and one of his favourite Muggle band t-shirts. With his skinny jeans and smart shoes, he reckons he scrubs up quite well. It’s better than the usual joggers he puts on when he’s lounging around Nick’s or going out to the Leaky of a weekend. He turns and grins at Nick. “Looks okay, doesn’t it?”

“Mmm.” Nick’s eyes get dark as he looks Louis up and down. “I’ll say.” He tugs Louis closer.

“Save it, will you?” Louis laughs and gives Nick a quick kiss before pulling away. If they end up snogging again now he knows they’ll never get out and they’re already running late. “No time.”

“Later, then.” Nick takes a breath and shakes himself. “Later.”

“If I’m not too pissed. Don’t want to throw up on your shoes again.” Louis glances at Nick’s boots. They’re the same posh ones he wore that first night.

“Better not.” Nick kisses Louis on the cheek, so it doesn’t really feel like a reprimand. “Who’s coming from your lot?”

“Niall and Liam.”

Nick waits, eyebrow raised. “Niall, Liam and…?”

“That’s it.” Louis shrugs, forcing any thoughts of Zayn to the back of his mind. “There’s no one else. I’m hoping you’ve got people coming out, otherwise we’re going to look like a right saft bunch.”

“One or two.” Nick checks his watch. “We should go. We’re going to miss the start of the show, otherwise.”

“I still don’t know why we had to go and watch Harry Styles.” Louis tries not to sound too huffy. “Everyone goes mad over him. It’s going to be stupid.”

“It’s going to be fun. Boys night out.” Nick winks at Louis. “Although not, because I’m friends with loads of girls.”

“’Course you are.” Louis gives Nick a light shove towards the Floo. “Alright, then. See you in a minute.”

“See you.”

Nick disappears in a flash of green and Louis follows close behind.

*

“Pixie, Gillian, Alexa, Fifi. Meet Louis Tomlinson off of music.” Nick winks at Louis.

“Off of failing my exams, more like. I haven’t been Louis off of music for ages.” Louis gives each of the girls a kiss on the cheek and grins at Fiona. “I love you on the radio.”

“Thanks.” Fiona looks pleased, giving Nick a smile. “He’s alright, Grim.”

“Bit annoyin’, sometimes.” Nick winks at Louis to show him he’s only joking. “He’ll do.”

“Is he always like this?” Louis looks at Nick’s friends and Alexa nods. She’s beautiful in a really cool sort of way. All of Nick’s friends look rich and trendy. Louis adjusts his jacket, hoping for the millionth time that it doesn’t look daft.

“Worse.” Alexa leans into Louis, clearly ready to share a secret. “I’ve got all sorts of stories for you.”

“Me too.” Pixie grabs a drink off the tray of shots on the table. “A lot of stories.”

“I lived with Grim for a bit in London.” Gillian looks enthusiastic. “Whatever they’ve got, I’m pretty sure I can top them.”

“Okay.” Louis throws back a shot and rubs his hands together. He’s liking this night already. “I want to hear all of them. Every single one.”

*

“Over here!” Louis’ a bit tipsy by the time Niall and Liam arrive. He excuses himself from Nick’s friends and grabs them both in a hug. “I asked at the bar if we can do something with Potter and the Wotsits one night. They said maybe.”

“They did?” Niall looks excited. “Really?”

“Really.” Louis’ quite proud of himself, all things considered. “They said not on a weekend because it’s busy, but maybe on a Tuesday because no one comes in on a Tuesday. They also said it’s a stupid fucking name for a band, but we know that anyway.”

“Nothing wrong with Potter and the Wotsits.” Liam’s always liked the name. Honestly, Louis needs new friends. “I can’t believe they’d let us play at the Leaky.”

“Even if it’s only a Tuesday, it’s just the beginning.” Niall’s eyes shine with excitement. “Soon everyone’s going to start going out on a Tuesday, or they will when word gets around about us. Even Harry Styles probably had to play a few Tuesday nights.”

Louis snorts. “Doubt it. He probably went straight to Saturdays knowing him.” He glares at Harry, who has an arm around Alexa and seems to be telling Nick something funny. He’s not sure he likes the way Nick and Harry gravitate towards one another. He’s not sure he likes Harry Styles much at all.

“We haven’t missed them, have we?” Niall looks anxiously at the stage, where the drums are being set up.

“No, they haven’t started yet.” Louis gestures to the bar. “They’re doing two for one on pitchers of lager. Get a couple, would you? I’m going for a smoke.”

Louis pushes his way through the bar, jostling the crowds out of the way until he finally reaches the door to the pub. The handy thing about the Leaky is the small smoking area out the back, which is mercifully quiet for once. Louis takes a cigarette from the box, digging around in his pockets for a lighter. He curses when he remembers giving it to Nick. He’s tried lighting a fag with his wand once before, but the flame nearly took his eyebrows off not to mention most of his fringe. He’s not trying that again in a hurry, particularly not after a few Salazar Shooters.

“Need a light, mate?”

Louis looks up, the familiar voice sending a jolt right through him. “You fucker. You fucker.”

“I thought I’d have a better welcome than that.” Zayn grins at Louis, his smile broad. “Give us a hug, then.”

Louis wraps his arms around Zayn and hugs him like he’s never going to let go.

*

“Nick.” Louis shoves in between Harry and Nick, sloshing his beer over his glass. “Nick, Zayn came.”

“He did?” Nick gives Harry an apologetic squeeze on the shoulder, which would usually piss Louis right off but he’s too happy about Zayn to care. “Where is he, then?”

“Just getting beers in.” Louis points at the bar and Nick seeks out Zayn.

“Which one?”

“The one in the leather jacket with the sort of shaved head. It’s new, that. Maybe it’s a Durmstrang thing.”

Nick clears his throat. “The one with the cheekbones?”

“Uh-huh.” Louis nods.

Nick sounds a bit cross. “The fit one in the leather jacket that looks as though his skin’s made of actual crystals or summat?”

“Yeah.” Louis sits back and takes a sip of his beer. “Cool, isn’t he?”

Nick makes an annoyed sound in the back of his throat. “Just a bit.”

“It’s brilliant. I missed him loads.”

“Yeah.” Nick doesn’t sound so sure. “Brilliant.”

Louis gets to his feet and goes over to Zayn, quickly lost to another conversation about one of their nights out in Bradford when they were young, stupid and Louis didn’t even know what a prophecy was.

*

“Hi.” Harry Styles sticks his hand out and smiles at Louis. “I’m Harry.”

“I know who you are, mate.” Louis bites back the you’re the one who’s been hanging off my boyfriend all night and gives Harry’s hand a reluctant shake. “Nick’s friend.” Louis gives Harry a sharp smile. He refuses to say you’re that famous singer they named some excellent gobstoppers after. Refuses.

“That’s me.” Harry laughs and he doesn’t sound too put out by Louis being annoying. “Nick’s great, isn’t he?”

“Great.” Louis nods. “Obviously I think so.”

“He likes you a lot, man.” Harry seems keen to strike up a friendship with Louis for some godforsaken reason. “It’s cool, seeing him happy.”

“He’s happy?” Louis looks across at Nick. He’s deep in a conversation with Gillian, cackling at something she says. He stands and yells at someone across the pub, beckoning over another crowd of impossibly good-looking people. Harry Potter’s there. Harry, Luna, Malfoy, Ron, Hermione and someone Louis doesn’t recognise. Nick does look happy. He looks like he’s in his element, chatting to everyone and fiddling with his quiff. Every now and then he shoots Louis a look and it’s like everything stops and all the people fade into the background. It’s just Louis and Nick and the magic hums between them. Louis allows himself a smile. “He does look happy, doesn’t he?”

“Very,” Harry agrees. He runs a hand through his hair. “I’m sorry about the Weird Sisters thing. They didn’t mention they had someone else singing with them when I went to see them. I didn’t know.”

Louis shrugs, because it doesn’t seem like the biggest thing anymore. He’s got other things to worry about. Like living long enough to have a shag, for one. “It’s fine. I knew it was only temporary. They said they were auditioning, I just thought maybe I’d do it for a few weeks and they’d decide to go with me in the end. Anyway, I’m in a band of my own, now.”

“You are?” Harry looks curious. “Who with?”

“Niall and Liam.” Louis gestures to where they’re sitting with Zayn, all of them talking at a hundred miles an hour. Liam and Zayn hit it right off despite Louis distinctly remembering Zayn making some comment about every Gryffindor but Louis being a complete pillock. At one time Louis would have been jealous of Zayn getting on so well with Liam and Niall, but instead it just feels right. Like some things are finally falling into place, even if other stuff’s falling apart. “My mate Niall loves you.”

Harry turns a bit pink. “He does?”

Louis thinks he should probably clarify that. “Not, like, fancies you or anything. At least I don’t think so.” Louis contemplates Niall. “Pretty sure he’s straight. He just likes you. Had one of your badges and everything.”

“Cool.” Harry sounds quite pleased, even though he must be used to people falling all over themselves to touch his hair or his floral suits. “Can I meet him?”

“If you like.” Louis drags Harry through the pub and interrupts Zayn mid-flow. “Harry wants to say hello.”

“Hi, Harry.” Zayn gives Harry a long, intense look. He’s good at those. He doesn’t start throwing himself at Harry’s feet or anything, which is a relief. Louis knew he could rely on Zayn to be thoroughly unphased by part-Veela charms.

“I’m Niall.” Niall shoves Zayn’s hand out of the way before Harry can shake it. “I play the guitar. I’m also really good at this Muggle sport called golf. Ever heard of it?”

Harry has heard of golf which Louis finds marginally more boring than Quidditch, so he leaves Harry and Niall to it. He tugs Zayn to his feet. “Going to introduce Zayn to Nick, Payno. Back in a minute.”

“No problem.” Liam seems quite content to listen to Harry and Niall go on about the golf, interjecting every now and again with something that makes them both laugh.

*

Introducing Nick to Zayn is easier than Louis thought it might be. Nick’s a bit weirder than normal, but the whole meet my boyfriend moment passes smoothly, and Zayn doesn’t seem overly surprised. It’s still a bit nerve-wracking and when he’s sure Zayn and Nick aren’t going to start trading stories about him, Louis excuses himself to go for a smoke. He finds a spot away from the crowds and sits on a wooden bench, letting the damp from the cold evening seep through his jeans.

“I don’t suppose you have a spare cigarette?”

“Yeah, if you like.” Louis looks up in surprise when Malfoy approaches, looking as well put together as ever without a hair out of place. “Help yourself.”

“Thanks.” Malfoy takes a cigarette and leans against the wall, close to Louis. It doesn’t look as though he has any intention of wandering off elsewhere.

“I didn’t know you smoked.”

“I don’t. Not really. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t mention this to Potter.” Malfoy drops his head back against the wall, looking up at the sky. “He’s far too sanctimonious when it comes to me smoking.”

“I won’t.” Louis stubs out his cigarette and lights another. He managed to wrestle his lighter back from Nick in the end, so at least he doesn’t have to embarrass himself in front of Malfoy by turning his hair pink and setting his shirt on fire trying to light a fag. He glances at Malfoy who seems deep in thought, his gaze still focused on the clouds as they shift and twist in the wind. “I pissed you off having a go at Snape, didn’t I?” The beer makes Louis bolder than usual and he finds himself curious to get Malfoy’s perspective on everything. He might be a posh wanker, but if Nick likes him and Harry Potter’s prepared to shag him, there must be something more to him than gold and good bone structure. Perhaps he’s just good at putting on a front. Louis understands that.

“A bit.” Malfoy shrugs as if he couldn’t care less. He sits opposite Louis and crosses his legs, taking a slow drag on his cigarette and making smoke circles on the exhale. “Severus and I have a lot of history. I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”

Louis bristles at the implication he’s thick or something. “I might.” He thinks of Draco that night Louis delivered the news of Snape’s portrait, staring at the blank canvas in Harry’s office. “Who’s in that painting in Harry’s office?”

“Oh. Severus.” Malfoy glances at Louis. “He has two portraits. One in Potter’s office and one at Hogwarts. It made communicating easier. That, and the fact Severus is an Animagus.”

“He is?” Louis’ eyes widen. “Cool!”

Malfoy’s lips twitch. “Yes. Cool. Remember that Augurey you told us about?”

Louis nods. “That was Sna—the Professor?”

“Yes.” Draco reaches for a second cigarette after stubbing out the first. He tips his head back and breathes in the night air. “We developed a way of using portraits to communicate because it helps if people continue to believe he died. The magic is very advanced.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “I bet it is. I don’t get why the Death Eaters bothered trying to get to his portrait, though.”

Malfoy narrows his eyes, clearly still angry at the attack on Snape’s portrait. “Because he knows too much, dead or alive. Portraits are peculiar things and although they’re theoretically only echoes, the more powerful witches and wizards tend to have portraits which are more…opinionated…than others. Dumbledore, for example. Even if Severus had died as he was supposed to, he would have gone to his grave knowing enough of the plans being put in motion for his portrait to be considered a threat.”

Louis nods, because that makes sense. He picks at his cigarette packet and clears his throat. “Used to go out with Nick, didn’t you?”

“For a while.” Draco sounds amused. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

Louis glares at Draco. “I know that.” He does know that. He might not like the thought of Nick and Malfoy off poncing around an art gallery because Louis knows fuck all about art, but he doesn’t think Nick’s about to run off with Malfoy or anything. Probably.

“Good.” Malfoy’s lips curve at the corner as he contemplates Louis through lidded eyes. “Did he tell you what happened with me?”

Louis wonders what sort of detail Draco’s looking for and he shrugs, licking his lips as his mouth gets suddenly dry. “A bit, I suppose. Not a lot.”

Draco sighs and looks away, his expression pinched. “There was an incident during the war. Somebody I trusted found out about my interests when I was still in the closet and working with the wrong side. They weren’t very happy about it and for some reason, decided to take it out on Nick. We’d been talking a bit by that point and there were rumours about him, Creevey and a few others. They cooked up an elaborate plan involving Polyjuice and pretended to be me.”

Louis’ heart hammers in his chest, his mouth dry. No. He doesn’t want to think about what might have happened to Nick. Part of him wants Draco to stop telling the story – as if he’s invading Nick’s privacy just by having the conversation. He manages to get out a half-formed sentence, lighting another cigarette and taking a long drag, which makes him cough. “What happened?”

Draco glances at Louis and he pulls a face. “Not what you’re imagining. Thank fuck. But then verbal abuse – particularly coming from someone you thought you trusted – can cut deep.” Draco pats the back of his hair and looks away. “I won’t go into details, it’s not my story to tell. But you should know it scared him half to death. It was difficult to get beyond that, even long after the war was over. Besides, I was spending more time with Potter when we started seeing each other—” Draco gives Louis a wry smile “—telling myself I still hated him, naturally. Grim’s pretty perceptive. Between that and the Polyjuice incident, we called time on anything other than friendship. I don’t think either of us regrets that.”

“Good.” Louis can’t quite bring himself to say anything else. He wants to rage and yell and hex whoever it was that did that to Nick. He wants to find this friend of Malfoy’s and take him apart piece by piece, a furious anger welling within him. “I’ll kill them. Whoever they are.”

Draco grinds out his cigarette and shakes his head. “You won’t. There are other things to deal with now. It was a long time ago. That person isn’t around anymore, not even in the same country.” He sneers and looks strangely like Snape, with his face pointed and shadowed. “We’re not friends anymore. Clearly.”

Louis swallows around the lump in his throat and he stands, stuffing his hands into his pockets as they walk back towards the pub. He’s suddenly desperate to see Nick. To kiss him and make him feel good. To chase away all that shit that happened before Louis and Nick, before Louis even knew about magic at all. “What’s your Patronus?”

Draco gives Louis a surprised look and then he smiles, but it doesn’t quite meet his eyes. “I’m not sure. I’ve never been able to cast a proper one.”

Louis glances at Draco, wondering how that can be when he’s got Harry and all that money in his vaults. He wonders how many secrets that group carries around – how deep the war runs inside their veins. It makes him shiver. “I still don’t know why mine’s a baby Thestral.”

“I wouldn’t worry.” Draco smiles, a genuine smile this time. He looks younger than usual, brighter and more open than Louis has seen before. He’s starting to hate Draco a little bit less with every moment. “They say it’s the awakened secret self, or something. A Patronus can reveal a lot about a person.”

“I’m not sure what it means if you’re casting a magical creature you can’t even see.” Louis shrugs.

“We’ll add it to the list with that Boggart of yours.” Draco’s hand rests on Louis’ shoulder briefly with a light squeeze, then they’re back inside where it’s warm and the hum of chatter around them feels instantly safer and brighter than the cold, smoky air outside. “Not a word to Potter about the cigarettes.” He pauses, lowering his voice and speaking firmly. “Look after him. He’s good at putting a brave face on things.”

Louis huffs with laughter because he understands that as well as anyone. “Don’t need to tell me that, mate.”

With a nod, Draco leaves Louis and makes his way through the crowd. Louis takes a deep breath and follows, searching for Nick.

*

Nick’s already tipsy when Louis sits next to him, an overwhelming rush of affection coursing through him.

“Hiya.” Louis leans in, breathing in Nick and pressing his cold nose against Nick’s neck which makes him yelp. He still puts his arm around Louis and keeps him close, though. Louis is so into him, it hurts.

“Hi, you.” Nick gives Louis a quick kiss and grins at him, his smile broad and bright. “Where were you?”

“Outside having a smoke.” Louis nods to where Draco’s standing with Harry and the others. “I had a chat with Malfoy.”

“Did you, indeed?” Nick seems pleased about that. “He’s alright, isn’t he?”

“Better than I thought.” Louis shrugs. “He had a cigarette. Told me not to tell Harry.”

Nick laughs, rich and warm. “I think Harry’s probably got more on his mind than Draco having the odd fag. He’s not an idiot. He knows Draco likes a smoke when he’s out.”

“Yeah.” Louis presses close to Nick and drops a hand to his knee, giving it a light squeeze. “Wish there was somewhere we could go for a bit.”

Nick’s breath hitches and he pulls Louis closer, his mouth hot against Louis’ ear. “You can’t say stuff like that when there’s people around.”

“Why not?” Louis inches his fingers higher and Nick catches them in their tracks, giving him a look. “Just saying, I wish there was somewhere.” As much as he doesn’t want to leave the warm crook of Nick’s arm, Louis stands and fights back the heat rising in his cheeks. “Need the loo.”

Nick’s eyebrows raise and he contemplates Louis. “Yeah, err. Me too.”

They make their way quickly through the pub, ignoring a few catcalls from their friends. With a low laugh, Nick barrels Louis towards the bathroom and yanks him into a cubicle, pressing their lips together. “So fit, Lou. So fucking lovely. Been driving me mad all night.”

“Really?” Louis is quite pleased about that. He yanks at Nick’s trousers, trying to open them as Nick concentrates on kissing Louis right on that spot on his neck that always drives him wild. “You too. You and your hair and posh clothes.”

Nick muffles his laugh in Louis’ neck, groaning when Louis pushes him back against the wall. “Cheeky monster.”

“I know.” Louis smiles up at Nick and moves to his knees. “Shut up, will you? Someone might come in.”

Nick nods, pressing his lips together tightly. It’s hot, watching Nick try to keep himself quiet. He’s always so loud and vibrant. It must be killing him not to talk as Louis gets him off. It makes Louis’ dick hard just thinking about it and he presses the heel of his palm to where he’s trapped in his trousers. After a minute he focuses entirely on Nick. He lets Nick run a hand through his hair and tug at the strands. It feels good like this. The floor is cold and mercifully clean beneath his knees. Thank Merlin for magic which keeps the loos fresh and dry, not like the toilets at some Muggle bars that Louis can’t imagine being sexy under any circumstances.

He drinks Nick in, still not quite able to believe he’s doing this with Nick and gets to go home with him afterwards. It’s a lot to think about, when he remembers curling up with Potterwatch and going to sleep with Nick’s voice infiltrating his dreams. Louis slides his hand over Nick, bringing him to full hardness. The door to the bathroom opens, letting in the noise from the bar and Nick’s breath hitches as Louis smirks and slides his mouth around him in one, swift motion. There are people chatting about the weather or some shit, clattering about at the sink and someone shoves against the door to their stall. Nick clutches Louis’ hair, but Louis doesn’t stop. He knows the door is locked and he looks up at Nick as if to say go on, then.

“Bathroom’s taken.” Nick’s voice is ragged and a bit breathless.

“Sorry, man.” The voice is unfamiliar and Nick groans as Louis tries something with his tongue, running it along Nick’s shaft and pushing his mouth around him again.

“Everything okay?” Apparently the person outside wants to have a fucking conversation and Louis rolls his eyes, doing the thing with his tongue again which makes Nick yank his hair.

“Fine. Bit too much to drink. Give us a minute.” Nick speaks through gritted teeth, his hands now pushed into Louis’ hair.

“That happens.” The tap runs and then the bathroom’s empty again. Nick uses his hands to guide Louis, shoving hard into his mouth and murmuring a litany of broken off curses. He’s so hard. So hard and so thick in Louis’ mouth, it makes his head spin. He knows he has saliva running down his chin and he relaxes his throat to let Nick thrust into him. He puts his hands behind his back and looks up, which makes Nick’s eyes darken.

“Fuck. Louis, fuck.”

Louis would smile but it’s a bit difficult with Nick using his mouth and so clearly getting off on it. He lets Nick push into his throat and works over Nick’s cock until he comes with a shout, his fingers tight in Louis’ hair.

Louis pulls back slowly, licking Nick clean and then getting to his feet. It’s a bit difficult to stand. His knees have gone wobbly and he’s so hard in his trousers. He yanks Nick forward and captures his lips in a bruising kiss, letting out a groan when Nick’s fingers open his trousers and wrap around his aching cock. It doesn’t take him long to push into Nick’s hand and spill over them both, Nick’s name falling from his lips with a ragged breath.

Nick flicks his wand and murmurs a cleaning charm which leaves Louis tingling.

“Fancy,” Louis says.

“I’m excellent at magic.” Nick gives Louis a quick kiss. “We should get back to it. People are going to wonder where we’ve disappeared to.”

Louis nods. “I bet they’ll have some guesses.”

“I bet they will too.” Nick’s cheeks get pink, but he’s still smiling.

“Hey, Nick?” Louis walks with Nick back into the pub and waves at Niall who beckons him over. Nick’s magic feels like it’s still moving over his skin, warm and comforting. “What’s your wand core? You never said.”

“Unicorn tail.” Nick adopts a flamboyant pose. “Which seems apt.”

“It does.” Louis squeezes Nick’s hand. He’s been reading a bit about wands a lot since people started going on about his. He knows that wands with unicorn cores are bad for Dark Arts. He also knows they’re loyal and faithful, even if they’re not the most powerful. It makes Louis warm to think of little Nick in Ollivander’s, being chosen by a loyal wand perfect for casting the kind of magic Louis can feel tingling pleasantly against his skin. “I like it.”

“Yeah.” Nick looks at Louis a fond smile on his face. “I like it too.”

Louis isn’t sure they’re talking about wands anymore, so he pushes up onto his toes and gives Nick a fierce kiss before Niall drags him away complaining about obnoxious public displays of affection.

*

“Feels like I haven’t seen you all night.” Louis sits next to Zayn, woozy from the booze. Nick’s deep in conversation with a massive group and Liam’s trying his best to flirt with Luna who, amazingly, doesn’t look wholly disinterested. Niall’s found a guitar from somewhere and he’s showing a very earnest looking Harry a few chords. It’s a strange group of people, but somehow it works. “How’s Durmstrang?”

“Shit.” Zayn shrugs. “School, innit? Always going to be shit.”

“Better when you were around.” The lie slides easily off Louis’ tongue. He’s not sure it was better. It wasn’t worse, either. It was just different. Louis can’t imagine going back to ignoring Niall and Liam again. He can’t imagine his life without Nick.

“Want to do something stupid?” Zayn’s eyes glint and Louis nods, a familiar, reckless feeling creeping over him.

“Always, mate.”

“Come on, then.” Zayn grabs a bottle of something strong and expensive from a nearby bucket filled with bottles of booze. “There’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”

Louis wonders if he should let Nick know where he’s going, but it’s not really the right time. Nick’s in the middle of a story that’s got everyone in stitches and Louis doesn’t want to explain he’s off to do something stupid. Nick might try to stop him or if Nick doesn’t, Harry (Potter) might intervene and try to be a serious adult about whatever Zayn has planned.

“Fuck it.” Louis follows Zayn through the pub and doesn’t look back. “Let’s do it.”

*

Everything hurts and Louis winces when he rolls over in bed. Zayn. Nick. The fucking tattoo. He groans and checks under his t-shirt. It’s still there, a reminder of being young and stupid. He grabs his walkie talkie from under his bed and fiddles around with it until he hears Nick’s familiar voice, tinny through the speaker.

“Louis?”

“Hiya. I feel awful.”

“Not surprised.” Nick doesn’t sound thrilled with Louis, but he also doesn’t sound too angry. “You disappeared off last night.”

“Yeah, I did something stupid with Zayn.”

“Oh?” Nick’s voice gets tight and he sounds resigned. “Right, well I’ll let you get back to him.”

Louis frowns at the walkie talkie and sits up in bed, rubbing his forehead. “What are you on about? He’s back in Durmstrang or wherever the fuck.”

Nick breathes into the walkie talkie. He definitely sounds cross. “Shame. I’ll miss him.”

“Don’t be a dick. Why are you being weird?” Louis gives the walkie talkie a shake. “Wondered if I could come and see you.”

“If you must.” Nick doesn’t sound thrilled by the idea. “I’ve got plans for tonight, though. Big plans. Big plans in London, lots of industry execs and models and stuff.”

Louis bristles. “Well I won’t bother coming over if you’ve got better things to do. Enjoy your party, mate.”

There’s a long silence and then Nick sighs. “Don’t be stupid. Come over whenever you want. I’m still in Hogsmeade. Will be for a bit yet.”

“Fine.” Louis wants to lob the walkie talkie across the room. “See you in a bit, then.”

“See you.”

“Keep it down, Tommo.” Niall’s voice comes through the curtains and Louis opens them, to find Niall with a pillow over his head. His feet are sticking out of the end of the bed and he’s still got his socks on by the look of things. There’s a half-eaten kebab next to the bed.

“Morning, Nialler!” Louis gets right up close and yells in Niall’s ear, because Louis is a bit of dick like that.

“Piss off you prick.” Niall groans and rolls over, pulling the pillow more tightly over his head. Eventually he lets go of it and looks at Louis. His eyes are red, and he looks slightly green. “I’m never drinking again.”

“Bet you will, though.” Louis sits on the end of the bed and bounces slightly. It makes Niall roll his eyes. He stops because he doesn’t actually want Niall to throw up on him. “Was alright, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah.” Niall looks a bit more enthusiastic. “I liked Zayn. Never really spoken to him much before.”

“He’s alright.” Louis shrugs. He still feels a bit weird about their conversation last night. There’s a distance between them now which there never was before and it’s more than just geography. He used to tell Zayn everything and the fact he didn’t feel comfortable sharing any of the information about his currently pretty shit situation bothers him. Maybe they’re just not going to be as close as they were again. Maybe that’s okay. “You and Harry were getting on okay.” Louis pokes Niall in the side. “Decided you might give lads a try after all?”

“Give over.” Niall snorts and then stretches, his cheeks pink. “He is cool, though. If he was interested I probably wouldn’t say no.”

Wait, what? Louis stares at Niall. “Seriously?”

“What, you’re the only one who can do it?” Niall rolls his eyes. “Don’t worry, it’s still witches. Still pretty much only witches. Witches and Harry Styles.” He frowns. “Does this make me bi do you think?”

“Dunno.” Louis shrugs. “Might do. I don’t think it has to be, like, fifty-fifty.”

“Might need to be a bit more than just one other person though.” Niall groans and falls back onto the bed, his arm over his eyes. “What am I on about? It’s Veela magic, that’s what it is. I’m not sure I want to do anything with another bloke’s knob. I just want him to smile at me and maybe sing me something.”

“Wouldn’t worry about it. Whatever it is, it’s cool.” Louis grins. “You should write a song about him.”

“Leave off.” Niall laughs, and he holds out a hand, his voice plaintive. “Get us some water will you, Tommo?”

And because Louis is an excellent person and a very good friend, he does.

*

“Nick?” Louis steps through the Floo to Nick’s place, surprised no one is there to meet him. Nick’s usually pottering around in the kitchen waiting for Louis to arrive and Pig usually clatters in to jump up and lick Louis’ hand. Even Stinky is nowhere to be seen.

“In here.” Nick sounds morose and he’s listening to something Muggle which Louis vaguely recognises.

“Tell me that’s not Celine Dion.” Louis stands in the doorway. Nick is in joggers and he looks tired. His quiff’s a bit deflated and he’s clinging onto Pig with a death grip, cuddling her close. He’s got a blanket over him and, yep, it’s definitely Celine. All By Myself to be accurate. It’s a terrible song. Louis’ starting to think Nick might not be okay. “Nick?” He moves closer, sitting on the sofa and letting Pig nudge him hello as she pants excitedly. “Nick, do you want to switch off the ballads and tell me what’s up?”

Nick turns to Louis his flicks off the music with a swipe of his wand and a muttered spell. “Why don’t you tell me why you’re here, first? Tell me about this stupid thing you did with Zayn.”

“Oh.” Louis shrugs and he pulls off his t-shirt. Thank god for magic so he didn’t have to do any of that clingfilm shit. “Got a tattoo, didn’t I? All that shit that’s been going on is a bit…well, it is what it is, isn’t it? My mum’s going to kill me.”

“A tattoo.” Nick swallows, his eyes tracing over the cursive script. “Getting a tattoo is the stupid thing you did with Zayn.”

“Yeah. Why, what did you think it was?” Louis frowns at Nick who really is being quite peculiar.

“I thought you shagged him, you twat.” Nick finally lets Pig go and she moves quickly elsewhere as if she’s been maybe wanting to get away for quite a while. Louis doesn’t blame her. He doesn’t think he’d like to be made to listen to Celine Dion for any length of time.

Louis stares at Nick. “Did you miss the part where I sucked you off in the loo, or the bit where we agreed to be boyfriends or the bit where I haven’t even shagged you yet? Why the fuck would you think I shagged Zayn?”

“Because you said you did something stupid with him and I’m a knobhead, that’s why.” Nick sighs and he looks over at Louis. “Not even a cheeky snog?”

No.” Louis huffs and folds his arms. Bloody Nick. “I’m sorry I left without saying goodbye, but I didn’t think it would take that long to get a tattoo. Plus, I was hammered.” Louis thinks of Nick laughing with Malfoy and Harry, looking so close to them both. “While we’re on the subject of snogging other people, what the fuck happened with you and Harry?”

“Potter?” Nick looks confused.

Styles.” Louis grits his teeth. “He doesn’t half get a bit handsy when he’s had a few.”

Nick’s cheeks heat and he picks at his blanket. “I snogged him once. Ages ago. Before you, obviously. He was drunk, I was drunk. Not to be repeated.”

“I thought you were immune to Veela charm?” Louis rolls his eyes. “You could’ve said when I asked you about him.”

“I didn’t think it was worth mentioning.” Nick looks contrite. “It’s not like that with us. He’s been a good friend and we get on, but it’s not sexy or anything. Never has been. I snogged my mate Pixie that night too and she’s a girl.”

“Just giving out kisses all over the place, aren’t you?” Louis sits back on the sofa, annoyed. “Probably should have snogged Zayn after all.”

“Maybe.” Nick sounds uncertain. “I’m glad you didn’t though, but I get it. If you want someone your own age or to get experience with other people or summat. I won’t hate you.”

“No.” Louis glances at Nick who looks forlorn again. “You’ll just sit here listening to shit music like a tit and make Pig listen with you. I wouldn’t do it to her.”

“No?” Nick’s lips curve into a small smile. “I’ve been a twat, haven’t I?”

“Nothing new there,” Louis mutters. He takes in every inch of Nick. There’s something about the way he looks when he’s soft and cosy that sends a pulse of arousal through Louis. He’s in a warm, brightly-coloured jumper and his hair looks fluffy as if it doesn’t have any products in it. It makes Louis want to run his fingers through it until it’s even messier – until it looks like Nick’s been thoroughly shagged. “When are you off to London for that fancy party?”

Nick’s cheeks flush and he shrugs, tugging his bottom lip between his teeth. “At the risk of making myself look even more like an idiot than I already do, there’s no party.”

Louis can’t help the smile that breaks across his face. He leans over and prods Nick in the side. “You’re like an uber twat today. An idiot squared.”

“Maths.” Nick grins at Louis, his gaze warm and intense. “Hot. I like a boy with brains.”

Louis laughs. “Give over. You couldn’t give a fuck about brains. My exam results are going to be worse than yours.”

“Oi!” Nick laughs, even as he tries to look annoyed. “That’s not true, anyway. You’re going to be great now I’ve taught you everything I know.”

“Not everything,” Louis says. The arousal tugs at him again, deep and warm inside his belly. “Still got some stuff left to teach me.”

“Yeah. I have, haven’t I?” Nick reaches for Louis, his voice low and gravelly. “Fancy a snog?”

Louis shakes his head, standing and holding out his hand. “I fancy a nap. Then whatever else you want.” Even now, his own boldness surprises him. He doesn’t miss the flare of interest in Nick’s eyes and he wonders with a low pulse of pleasure if today’s going to be the day Nick fucks him. He wants that. At least, he thinks he does.

“Nap, then.” Nick puts his hand in Louis’, warm and a bit clammy. “We’ll sort out the rest of it after.”

They make their way upstairs and as much as Louis wants to snog – and the rest – he falls asleep shortly after his head hits the pillow, wrapped up tightly in Nick’s arms.

*

By the time Louis wakes up the day has turned to early evening and Nick’s room is lit with a couple of candles. There’s not a peep out of Pig and Stinky which means they must be curled up in their usual spot downstairs, having a doze. Louis rubs his eyes and tips his head to look at Nick, who’s reading a magazine about Muggle fashion.

“Hiya.” Nick closes the magazine and takes off his glasses, giving Louis a warm smile. “You slept for ages.”

“Hungover.” Louis shrugs and props himself up on his elbow. “You didn’t sleep?”

“A bit. Took Pig and Stinky out and got some food in, then came back and did some work. I’ve got a thing to write for Wizard Wizards about Muggle suits. What’s hot and what’s not.”

“I can think of something hot.” Louis grins at Nick, who laughs in response.

“Are you always horny?”

“I’m a teenager.” Louis shifts close to Nick. “Are you telling me you’re not horny?”

“Nope.” Nick brushes Louis’ hair away from his face, his voice low. “I’m definitely not telling you that.”

“Good.” Louis presses his lips against Nick’s chest, feeling the warmth of his skin through the thin cotton of his t-shirt. “Why are you wearing clothes?”

“I don’t walk around the place naked just in case you wake up and decide you want to tumble.” Nick laughs and pulls his t-shirt off. He slides his fingers over the tattoo on Louis’ chest. “Which is stupid of me.”

“Very stupid,” Louis agrees. He lets himself get rolled back and the dull warmth of his earlier arousal pulses through him again, hot and unexpected. Nick gets him so hard he would almost be embarrassed by it, if he wasn’t so turned on. He kisses Nick and sinks into the warmth of his mouth, the hot stroke of his tongue and the urgent pressure of his lips. He likes this more than anything. The intimacy which seems to come so naturally to them both when they’re just lazing around doing nothing. It’s different to the rush of desire Louis felt in the bathroom at the Leaky and in Nick’s mum’s house, but it’s no less powerful. It’s slow and forceful, a constant pulse of pleasure which crashes through him in waves. He wants to feel Nick again in all the ways. He bucks up against Nick and wonders how to ask for it, the thought of mentioning Nick’s fingers still making him hot and embarrassed.

“What’s going through that head of yours?” It’s as though Nick can read Louis’ mind, his fingers sliding over Louis’ belly and brushing his cock in a light tease.

“Those bloody fingers of yours.” Louis lets the words fall from his parted lips in a huff and he closes his eyes so he doesn’t have to see Nick’s expression. “They’re ridiculous.”

“Are they?” Nick laughs, low and rich. He presses his lips to Louis’ ear. “Open your eyes, love.”

Louis does, his cheeks hot despite his attempts to quell the flush which leaves him warm. “You know I like it. You’ve already made me say it a million times.”

“Can’t hear it enough.” Nick smiles against Louis’ skin and he brushes his lips over the lines of the new tattoo.

“Do you like it too?” Louis wonders what it would feel like to do that to Nick.

Nick gives Louis a look, deliberately misunderstanding. “My own fingers?”

“No, you tit.” Louis rolls his eyes. “If I did it. To you.” He knows Nick likes it, or knows he said he did back when he was helping Louis put on condoms and giving him one of many mind-blowing orgasms. Now that it’s back in his head though, Louis can’s stop thinking about it. There’s something about the dull light of the evening that makes him just want to get sweaty and tangled up in the sheets, doing things to Nick and have things done to him too. He wants both. All of it. He stares at Nick. “I don’t have to. I probably won’t be very good but—”

“Maybe I want you to.” Nick’s voice is unsteady, and his cheeks are pink. “Can’t say I haven’t thought about it.”

“Really?” Louis’ breath catches in his throat.

Nick shrugs but his lips curve into a smile. “Yeah. Really. I’m pretty sure I’ve already said I want to do all of it.” He touches the corner of Louis’ smile, his voice low and soft. “With you.”

Louis swallows, an idea occurring to him. “Can I…explore a bit?”

Nick laughs, but it’s not mean. It doesn’t make Louis feel like an idiot or as though he’s said something wrong. “If you like.” Nick pauses and grabs his wand before murmuring a spell which Louis recognises as a kind of cleaning charm. “I’ve showered, but you know. Just in case. I thought I was going to get dumped, not fucked.”

Louis shakes his head. “Knob.”

“I know. We’ve worked that out already, thanks.” Nick rolls his eyes but he looks fond. He stands and peels off his boxers and he’s already a bit hard. It makes Louis’ mouth water, taking in Nick’s knobbly knees, his skinny ankles and the thick, wiry hair on his chest. He can’t wait to touch him. Can’t wait to find out the bits of Nick’s body that make his breathing falter and his cock respond.

“Can you go on your front?”

“Yeah. If you like.” Nick rolls over, tipping his head to the side and resting it on the pillow. He looks so good. So easy and open, like he trusts Louis. It’s the best feeling in the world and Louis can’t help but lean in to press a kiss against Nick’s smiling lips. He gets the stuff he needs from the drawer and then begins his explorations, listening to the cadence of Nick’s breathing and the odd low moan to guide him as he works over Nick’s body.

He starts innocently enough, using his fingers, tongue and lips to brush down Nick’s spine. He thinks of how it made him feel when Nick did those amazing things to him in the shower and lingers at the base of Nick’s spine, before taking a breath and investigating further. He parts the cheeks of Nick’s backside and runs his tongue slowly over Nick’s hole, which twitches beneath him. Nick’s skin is clean and soapy and there’s the faint scent of mint from the earlier spell. Louis definitely wants to learn how to do that. He presses his tongue against Nick then works the tip of it in a way that gets Nick properly squirming onto the bed. He keeps going, not caring how much saliva there is or the fact he’s probably doing it all wrong. Nick doesn’t seem to mind. He spreads his legs and shifts up a bit to give Louis the best access and that’s when Louis really gets to work. The position is better, because he can slide his hand over Nick’s cock to check he’s into it and he can rub his thumb over the tip, which is already slick with pre-come. With a groan, Louis lets go of Nick’s prick and focuses on using his tongue to make Nick gasp out his name in a broken-off moment of pleasure.

After a while of teasing Nick with his tongue, Louis slicks his fingers. His hands tremble and he nearly drops the lube all over the bed, catching it just in time and pulling a face at the messy blobs he leaves on the crisp sheet. “Is this okay?”

“Does it sound like it’s not?” Nick laughs, breathlessly. “Fucking hell, Louis.”

“Okay.” Pleased as punch with himself, Louis rubs a slick finger against Nick before sliding inside. It’s so tight and hot and not at all what Louis expected it to be. He can’t stop the moan which falls from his lips as he imagines that tight grip around his cock. Imagines pulling Nick back against him and fucking into him, hard and deep. Nick’s voice is soft, warm and ragged as he tells Louis to add another finger and then murmurs instructions until it’s just right and Nick’s pushing back towards Louis’ hand. It’s a lot, seeing Nick like this. Louis knows how much he falls apart when Nick does this to him and to be the one making Nick beg for more takes Louis’ breath away. He slides his fingers from Nick, when he hears Nick say his name in a way that sounds like please. “What, love?” Louis doesn’t usually use endearments but there’s something about this that makes the love fall from his mouth, unbidden. He presses a kiss to Nick’s shoulder, moving over him and sliding his hands over Nick’s waist and up. Nick’s skin is hot and slick with perspiration under his palms and he breathes in the heady, masculine scent of him, the arousal pulsing through his own body nearly dizzying.

“Want you to fuck me.” Nick drops onto the bed and rolls over, palming his cock with his hand and facing Louis. “Will you?”

Louis nods, because he’s not sure he can respond in actual words. Of course he wants to fuck Nick. He’s not sure he’s going to last and it’s probably going to be crap, but he wants to. He wants to so much. “Are you sure? I might be rubbish.” Louis finally finds his voice and Nick shakes his head, reaching for Louis and pulling him into a scorching kiss which leaves them both breathless.

“You won’t be. And if it is, it won’t put me off trying again and again. We’ll just have to practice more, that’s all.”

Louis likes the sound of that. He reaches for the condoms in the drawer to put one on as Nick taught him, trying not to flush as Nick watches him. He’s all fingers and thumbs and he can hardly open the packet. Nick pushes up onto his knees and brushes his fingers along Louis’ jaw, leaning in for a soft kiss and retrieving the packet from Louis’ hand. “You sure you want to do this, love?”

“Yeah. Yes. Yes please.” Louis nods and Nick smiles, pulling him into another brain-melting kiss. It’s not long before Nick’s deft fingers slide the condom over Louis’ cock, wrapping around the base when he’s finished and squeezing. It’s almost enough to make Louis come on the spot and he makes himself think about something gross to try to make this last for longer than half a second.

“I’ll go on my hands and knees, yeah?” Nick moves back from Louis and moves into position, turning to look at him. “Use loads of lube. It’s been a while.” His cheeks are flushed and his hair is sticking up, his smile tentative as if he’s nervous too. It’s more endearing than it has any right to be. Louis swallows and nods, thinking about how careful Nick always is with him. He’s desperate to be careful too. He wants to be good for Nick, wants Nick to like it. He puts lube on his cock and adds probably far too much to Nick’s body, sliding his fingers inside Nick again to check he’s ready. “I’m good, Lou. Please.” Nick’s voice is ragged and Louis slides his fingers out, positioning himself. He pushes and wants to die when he goes sliding over Nick and lands with an oomph on his back.

Shit. Shit, I’m such a fucking—”

“Shut up, will you and get your cock inside me.” Nick’s voice is warm and reassuring and he’s laughing, but in a way that makes Louis feel safe instead of stupid. He presses back against Louis and wiggles slightly. “Doesn’t matter. Just. Try again.”

“Okay.” Louis takes a breath, swallowing back his embarrassment and goes more steadily this time. He positions himself carefully and holds Nick in place as he pushes slowly. He watches Nick open up to him as the head of his cock disappears inside Nick’s body and it’s already so good. He pushes again, firm and slow until he’s finally seated. The hot channel of Nick’s body is so tight around his cock it nearly pushes him over the edge so he takes a moment to breathe, moving only when Nick grinds back against him. He thinks of everything he can under the sun to hold back his orgasm. Tries not to focus on the slick sounds of the lube and the slap of skin against skin. He grips Nick’s hips and fucks into him, knowing he’s got the angle just right when Nick stops murmuring encouragement and starts groaning, fisting his cock with his hand. It’s better than anything. Better than flying or doing magic. Better than casting a Patronus for the first time or all of those times he’s lost his head over kisses from Nick. It’s filthy and hot and sweaty and even as he tries to hold back, waves of pleasure crest over Louis and he comes with a shout, buried deep inside Nick. “Christ. I’m sorry, I…”

“Doesn’t matter, Lou. So good. Use your fingers, so close.” Nick’s voice is ragged and broken. Louis slides out of Nick, discarding the condom and sliding two fingers into Nick finding the angle that worked last time. It’s enough to bring Nick over the edge shortly after, Louis’ name leaving his mouth with a deep grunt of pleasure.

Louis shifts onto the bed and stares as Nick drops onto his front, burying his face in the pillow. He watches the rise and fall of Nick’s shoulders and stretches out a tentative hand to touch him.

“I cocked that right up.”

“Idiot.” Nick’s voice is muffled by the pillows, and he turns to look at Louis after another minute. “As if.”

“I came too fast.”

“I came pretty fast too.” Nick grins and reaches for Louis, rolling onto his back and pulling Louis over him and into a deep kiss. When they break apart a little he murmurs against Louis’ lips. “Did it sound like I wasn’t enjoying it?”

“No.” Louis thinks of Nick grinding, moving and panting out broken words of encouragement. Nick had been enjoying himself. Definitely. The fact he’s just fucked another man hits Louis swiftly and he shifts off Nick, settling by his side and pressing his cheek against Nick’s chest. “Thanks for letting me do that.”

“It wasn’t, like, charitable.” Nick snorts with laughter and he runs his fingers through Louis’ hair. It’s soothing. “I got something out of it too.”

“Yeah.” Louis shifts closer to Nick, letting him bundle them both up in the blankets. “Is it sore?”

“Bit.” Louis feels rather than sees Nick shrug. “In a good way, though. I like it.” They lie in silence together for a moment and Nick wraps Louis in his arms, keeping him warm and safe. “You okay?”

“Yeah. Better than okay.” Louis’ voice is already thick with sleep despite the fact he’s slept for most of the day. “Brilliant.”

“Good.” Nick presses a warm kiss to Louis’ head and breathes out a sigh. “Good.”

*

“There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you for a while.” The room is quiet and still. Louis woke after an hour and he and Nick ate pizza on the sofa, feeding bits to Stinky and Pig, even though neither of them should be eating pizza. Louis is far too easy for Nick’s pets. When Pig put her paw on his thigh he couldn’t help but cuddle her close and let her up on the sofa where she settled between Louis and Nick, a solid warmth between them. They made their way back to bed after a couple of bottles of beer and because he slept all day, Louis can’t drop off again. It seems Nick can’t either, because he doesn’t sound the slightest bit sleepy when he speaks.

“Oh?” An icy panic grips at Louis’ heart. Even when things are going well, he can’t seem to stop thinking everything’s about to fall apart. “What’s that, then?”

“Promise not to laugh?” Nick sounds nervous. “Also, this is top secret. No telling anyone because I’ll be in all sorts of trouble and I don’t like trouble much.”

“Okay.” Promise not to laugh doesn’t sound like it’s anything bad, at least. Louis relaxes. “Go on, then.”

“You know that dog of yours?”

“Padfoot?” Louis nods. “Yeah. Not mine, though. Not really.”

“I know. It’s Sirius Black, innit? He was an Animagus.”

“Yeah, like every bleedin’ person apparently. Snape, Harry’s dad…”

“And me,” Nick says.

“What?” Louis shifts in the bed and faces Nick, propping himself up. “You’re a fucking Animagus?”

“Unregistered, that’s why you can’t tell anyone.” Nick takes a breath. “They teach you about them in Transfiguration and I thought it seemed cool.”

Louis narrows his eyes. “I’ve read about them too, but keeping a mandrake leaf in your mouth for a month and risking getting stuck as an animal forever isn’t exactly the kind of thing you do because it’s cool.”

Nick looks as though he’s battling with himself and finally he turns back to Louis. “It’s not something I talk about. Not ever.”

Nick sounds unusually serious and Louis leans close to him, kissing his cheek which is flushed hot. He moves his hand over Nick’s chest, feeling the spot where his heart beats and resting his palm there. “Tell me?”

“Okay.” Nick takes another breath. “I told you about that thing on my arm and the Carrows being shit when I was at school.”

“Yeah.”

“It was pretty dark being there during the war. You didn’t know who you could trust and even if you did trust someone, there were all kinds of tricks to get people to talk. People using Polyjuice, truth potions, that sort of thing. I never felt safe. I always expected to be caught out, it was just a matter of time. I shouldn’t have even been there.” Nick’s breath gets shaky and Louis presses close to him, keeping him warm and wanting to tell him you’re safe now, you’re safe.

“Doesn’t matter, whatever it is. Only tell me if you want.”

“I want.” Nick composes himself and his hand goes instinctively to scratch at the scars on his arm. “I’d been caught with Creevey and they obviously thought this bloody thing wasn’t enough. They didn’t like queers much.” Nick spits out the word, more angry than Louis has ever heard him before. “I was just a kid. Fourteen. I had this stupid fucking thing for Malfoy of all people and back in those days he was one of the worst, but we knew each other a bit. I couldn’t believe it when stuff started happening with us.”

Louis swallows, thinking about his conversation with Draco. He feels bad about not telling Nick what he knows, and he presses closer, a bit scared to mention his chat with Draco in case Nick thinks he’s been gossiping or Malfoy’s just spreading personal stuff around. “Nick?”

“Mm?”

“Malfoy mentioned something to me last night. About Polyjuice. Told me some dickhead friend of his pretended to be him and scared the living daylights out of you.” Louis rubs his jaw. “I should’ve said. I just didn’t want to bring it up in the pub and there hasn’t been a right time. Not until now.”

Nick sighs and he gives Louis a small smile. “It’s okay. I’m glad you know. Bit embarrassing, innit? Falling for that.”

Louis glares at Nick. “You’re embarrassed? Fuck that, Nick. The person that did it – Malfoy wouldn’t tell me who by the way – should be embarrassed. Draco should be fucking embarrassed for having shitty friends like that.”

Nick pulls a face. “Well, he probably told you things between us were never going to work after that. Harry’s been on the scene forever and I couldn’t trust him, even though I knew the person who used Polyjuice all that time ago wasn’t really Draco. We’re better as friends anyway. It just made it difficult to trust people.”

“I bet.” The same fierce anger rolls within Louis. He glances at Nick. “What did they do, anyway?”

Nick shrugs. “Called me names. Not very nice ones. They told me they wanted to do some stuff that I wasn’t ready for, things I wasn’t into. They didn’t do any of it, thank Merlin, but I thought they were going to for a bit. Then they cast an Everlasting Night spell to make the whole room pitch black and locked me in the room and took my wand so I couldn’t get out. Said they were going to fetch the Carrows who would make me pay. Thank fuck McGonagall found me before I tried to claw my way out of the room. I don’t much like the dark now, but it could have been worse.”

“I’ll kill them,” Louis decides. “I hate that they did that to you.”

“I’m over it.” Nick kisses Louis briefly and Louis isn’t sure Nick is over it, but he doesn’t want to push. “I just don’t like the dark much.”

“Yeah.” Louis thinks of Nick’s warm house and all the candles he has everywhere, the way he never extinguishes the candles in the bathroom and leaves the door just enough ajar that the room always has a soft glow to it. “I thought those candles were just because you’re a posh twat.”

Nick laughs, the air in the room lightning. “There’s a bit of that, too. They cost a bloody arm and a leg.”

“Can get a hundred tealights from Wilkos for one pound fifty,” Louis informs him.

“Tealights don’t smell like a rich bloke’s office, though.” Nick preens. He does love a posh candle. Louis would usually be mean about that, but he doesn’t want to be tonight. Not now he knows the reasons. He lies back and Nick’s fingers brush over his tattoo. It reminds Louis of being kissed and fingered, and his whole body gets hot, his dick giving a little jump even though he’s utterly spent.

“What's that got to do with the Animagus thing?"

Nick pushes a hand through his hair. “I wanted to be able to hide. In case I needed to get away in a hurry or if something like that ever happened again. It was stupid because by the time I actually managed to do the Animagus thing the war was nearly over, but it made me feel safer."

“What's your Animagus, then?" Louis doesn't miss Nick's evasion on that particular detail. “Is it something wicked like a lion or a dragon?”

“Not saying," Nick mumbles. His cheeks are red and he doesn't meet Louis' eyes.

“You have to." Louis pokes Nick in the side. "Go on, just tell me.”

Nick puts a pillow over his face, groaning into it. His voice is muffled but Louis just about makes out the words. “Golden Snidget."

“What, that little yellow bird they used to use as a Snitch before it got banned?" Louis can't help himself, the laughter bubbling within him. “The one with those wings that whir around? The little round fluffy thing?”

“Oh sod off, you little shit.” Nick removes the pillow from his head and glares at Louis, even though he looks as if he's trying not to laugh himself. “A dragon. Bet you're right disappointed now.”

“Not disappointed, no. It's way better than a dragon. Can't put a dragon in my pocket and feed it sunflower seeds, can I?”

Nick thwacks Louis with the pillow. “Arse. I'm never showing you, by the way. So you can forget putting me in your pocket or having your mates try to play Quidditch with me or whatever fucking thing it is you're planning. You're a menace, you. A danger to society and Golden Snidgets.”

“Sorry.” Louis pushes the pillow away and looks at Nick. “I'd never let anyone play Quidditch with you, either. I like animals, me. I'm not a total pillock. Why did you even bother telling me if you think I'm going to do something like that?”

“Because." Nick breathes out and his happy expression turns serious. “Because it might be there's a time you need me at Hogwarts and I can't get in as me. Might be that I can be there anyway. No one knows about it. Only you and a couple of my mates who helped me with it when I was at school.”

“Oh." It doesn't seem so funny anymore and something between deep warmth, affection and a niggling fear wells within Louis. He doesn't want Nick to have to protect him. He doesn't want Nick anywhere near anything, particularly not if he's going to be there as a bird that can get squashed between someone's fingers. Louis doesn't say that, though. He kisses Nick instead, deep and slow and clings onto the solid warmth of him. It's a lot, knowing what lengths Nick's prepared to go to for him. Something shifts between them and the words Louis wants to say bubble within him, but he swallows them down for now. He doesn't want to get too sentimental or scare Nick off. “Well, thanks.”

“You're welcome.” Nick shrugs, blinking at Louis in the dim light.

“Nick?” Something which has been playing on Louis’ mind for a while occurs to him and he meets Nick’s gaze. “What did you hear outside the Death Chamber?”

Nick swallows and he turns onto his back, blinking at the ceiling. “I heard your name. I heard whatever was inside saying your name.”

“You might have told me, Nicholas.” Louis frowns and he stares at the ceiling, as the shadows of the night move slowly across it. “I didn’t hear that at all. I heard them saying Harry Potter. Nothing else.”

“Those bits of the Ministry are weird. Don’t pay them any attention.”

“I won’t.” Louis turns on his side, blinking at Nick. “Weird though, innit? Weird that you heard that before we were even really a thing. Maybe there’s a prophecy about you too?”

Nick grimaces. “I bloody hope not. We’ve got enough prophecies to contend with, I reckon.”

“What do you reckon your Boggart is now?” Louis asks.

“I don’t know.” Nick’s brow furrows. “I haven't faced one in ages and they change, don’t they? Like, if you’re scared of Hippogriffs it might be a Hippogriff, but then if you get bitten by a Grindylow it might be that instead.”

“Don’t reckon anyone’s Boggart is a Grindylow.” Louis shrugs. “Also, you’re asking the wrong person. But I think that’s how it works. Niall’s changed.”

“Did it?” Nick sounds curious.

“Yeah. Used to be Voldemort but now it’s an Augurey. I should tell him that bird was just Snape. It might make him feel better.”

“Might make him feel worse.” Nick laughs. “Quite a few Boggarts in my year were Snape.”

Louis snorts. “Yeah, I bet.” He looks curiously at Nick. “Not yours, though?”

“No. Mine used to be Alecto Carrow.” Nick blinks. “I don't know what it would be, now.”

“Yeah.” Louis swallows, the reality of his situation rushing back with overwhelming force. “I still don’t get the Boggart thing. What does it mean to be so frightened of something you don’t even recognise?”

“I don’t know.” Nick’s let’s Louis curl into his arms. “What does it look like?”

“It’s a monster.” Louis thinks about the strange, shapeless darkness. “A monster I’ve never seen before, but it doesn’t have a proper shape. It’s like a shadow under the bed, or something. You know there’s something there, and you can feel it moving, but you can’t see it properly. It spins and whirls but then there’s nothing concrete. It’s just a big, empty hole and it’s sucked away everything happy. I can hear people. I can hear everyone.”

“Everyone?” Nick’s voice is steady and soothing.

“Just voices I don’t recognise.” Louis swallows around the lump in his throat. “They’re scared.”

“I’d tell Hermione that.” Nick kisses Louis on the head and pulls him close. “Might help with the research.”

“Okay.” Louis closes his eyes and let’s the warmth of Nick’s arms and the still night pull him into a place where monsters don’t exist. When he manages to speak, his voice breaks. “Why me? I’m not anything special. Not like Harry Potter or all of those people who did brilliant things.”

Nick huffs out a breath and keeps Louis close. “You are though,” he says. His voice gets quiet and soft. “You’re special to me.”

Louis presses closer and breathes in Nick, letting sleep finally come.

Chapter Text

“I can’t make the meeting tomorrow night.” Nick gives Louis a kiss and takes his hand. They’re in Hogsmeade and Nick Grimshaw is holding his hand in public. Louis can’t stop the daft grin which spreads across his face and he squeezes his fingers around Nick’s. “I might be able to come along at the end just to catch up, but I’ve got a DJ thing in London. I took it on ages ago, they’re going to charge me a fortune if I break the contract.”

“You shouldn’t do that.” Louis shakes his head, ignoring the fact a couple of people give them scandalised looks and holding on tighter. “Not for the meeting. It’s just going to be Snape complaining about something and nobody knowing why the fuck I’m even involved. I can tell you how it went.”

“Still.” Nick looks unhappy. “I want to be there. It’s not right, you doing this alone.”

“It’s one meeting, Nick.” Louis rolls his eyes. “It’s not like there won’t be others.” He’s starting to think Hermione’s pretty fond of meetings. They’ve had three since the night at the Leaky and they’re still exactly where they were when they started. “It’s taking forever to work out what the Death Eaters are up to and nobody knows where the Dementors are. The werewolves are still out there too, and the Ministry keeps losing shit. Really fucking dangerous shit.”

“I know.” Nick’s brow furrows as he waves a copy of the Prophet at Louis. “Press are starting to get wind, too. I don’t reckon Skeeter’s buying this suicide thing. She’s been on about some disturbances in Prague. I don’t even know if they’re connected but I bet they are, somehow.”

“Yeah.” Louis pulls a face. “I reckon they are too.” There’s something oppressive about the gossipy press speculation and the whispers around the school. There’s a definite sense of something not quite right, but nobody seems to know what it is. “It’s like we’re all just sitting around waiting for something to happen. I just want it to be over.”

“Me too.” Nick gives Louis a quick kiss on the forehead. “I bet they’ll get to the bottom of it soon, then we can get back to normal.”

“Back to exams.” Louis huffs. He’s even more certain he’s going to fail, now. He’s too distracted by worrying about dying to be all that interested in his books and whether a potion requires three anti-clockwise stirs or two and a half. It all seems stupid and pointless and Louis is sick to death of all of it. “You should stay in London if you need to tonight. You’re never there anymore.”

“I’m where I want to be.” Nick shrugs and he glances at Louis. “I still want to take you there for a weekend. Show you my place and introduce you to some of the Muggles I’m friends with. They’re getting dead nosy about you.”

“Really?” It makes Louis warm all over, knowing that Nick talks about him. “Good job you got me those Arctic Monkeys tickets, then.”

“Good job. That’s not until September, though. Ages away. Maybe we can go before the concert, too.” Nick gives Louis a soft smile. He opens his mouth to say something else, but the sound of a piercing scream stops him in his tracks. His grip on Louis tightens as people begin running towards them.

“Death Eaters! Death Eaters in Hogsmeade!” A woman races past them, her face etched in terror. She’s carrying a baby in her arms and the screams of the little child slice through the air. “Run. Run!” She races past them, followed by others who jostle past Nick and Louis. The panic pushes them apart and Louis yells out for Nick, trying to find his hand again to pull him away from the pandemonium. There’s a crack of green light and a cackle of laughter, a scream of Avada Kedavra and the sky darkens as clouds roll over the sun. The mark Louis saw in the Forbidden Forest hangs eerily in the sky, its deathly wings moving in the wind. Angelus Mortis. The mark of the Death Eater ghosts. Louis’ heart pounds in his chest and panic rolls through his stomach, his body hot with fear as he tries to seek out Nick.

“Nick! Where the fuck are you? Nick!.” Louis’ mouth tastes like ash as he pushes through the crowds, all running in the opposite direction. He finally sees a flash of stupid hair and a bright rainbow jumper and runs towards them with a sob of relief. “Nick, come on. Come on.” As Louis gets closer he hears Nick calling his name and he wants to yell at Nick for going off looking for Louis like a twat. Nick shouldn’t be running towards the darkening patches of sky. He should be getting as far away from the Angelus Mortis and the green spells which whizz past them both as possible. He’s too close for comfort and Louis ducks through the crowds, desperate to get Nick away. To keep Nick safe. He grabs Nick’s hand and it’s sweaty in his own, pulling him in the direction of the fleeing crowds. “We need to get out of here. Now!”

They run together until a strange, ghostly form swoops in front of them. Her face is twisted in sadistic pleasure and her hand stretches out before her. The wand in her hand isn’t ghostly like the rest of her. It’s dark mahogany and very, very real. Even the ghost’s silvery pallor isn’t quite as translucent as the Hogwarts ghosts. Instead she looks almost human, suspended between life and death. The air around them is cold and everything gets so bleak, Louis has to choke back tears. He doesn’t cry, he won’t cry. But in that moment, it’s like there’s nothing left to live for. Nick’s body shakes – actually shakes beside Louis. The ghost is in Azkaban rags and Louis vaguely recognises the sunken features and sharp cheekbones.

“Christ, is that…?”

“Alecto Carrow.” Nick’s voice trembles, and he holds his wand in front of him. He looks as scared as Louis has ever seen, yelling Avada Kedavra and Crucio at the top of his lungs. His wand just flickers and spits, a few reluctant sparks leaving the tip without finding any purchase.

“I remember you.” The ghost lets out a wheezy giggle which burns through Louis’ bones. She laughs again, another ghost swooping by her side, this one in a Death Eater mask and voluminous black robes. “Looks like we’ve caught ourselves a couple of little Mudbloods, Avery. A couple of queer little Mudbloods.”

“Those are my favourite kind. Let’s ask our friends to give them a Kiss.” The man behind the mask – Avery – sniggers. He twists his wand and murmurs an incantation under his breath. Louis cries out as the hot lash of an invisible whip strikes painfully against his body. He can see from the way Nick jerks and falls to one of his knees that the spell has a similar impact on him.

“Stop it! Stop it, you’re hurting him.” Louis knows he’s crying now, yelling as he points his wand and shouts all of the useless, stupid spells he can think of. Everything is so dark, and the clouds are getting closer, much lower in the sky than before. Dizzy with pain, something in his brain sparks. The air is dark and cloudy, and the once cheery village is cold and empty. It’s as if everything good has broken apart and left behind the hollow emptiness that worms through Louis’ body. It feels like it did when Harry Potter showed them how to fight Boggarts. “Dementors. It’s the Dementors.”

“Clever boy.” Avery slices his wand through the air and another sharp pain makes Louis cry out. “That’s right, open that pretty little mouth of yours.” He’s so close Louis can feel the icy tendrils of his fingers against his cheeks and the air is stagnant and thick with the stench of death. “Let them hear you scream, boy. They do enjoy taking a young soul.”

Louis grits his teeth and he uses all his strength to turn his focus from the searing heat on his skin and the sight of Nick shaking on the floor to the very real threat of advancing Dementors. He pushes aside the pain, the cold and the sobs and shouts that fill the air. He makes himself feel the force of everything happy – the brilliant heat of Nick’s arms around him and the warmth of Pig’s paw in his hand. He focuses on the memory of Stinky flapping around his head and his first proper kiss with Nick. He pictures the way Nick looks when he’s caught off-guard, watching Louis as if Louis has taken him by surprise. As if Louis is everything. Nick looks at Louis like nobody has looked at Louis before in his life and it’s for Nick that he musters up every ounce of courage in his trembling body. He pushes his wand out and aims it at the advancing cold. “Expect-Expe-Expecto Patronum!”

The Patronus shoots from Louis’ wand, bright and clear. The once gangly Thestral seems more confident now and it swoops from Louis’ wand and charges towards the clouds which are getting closer by the minute. Just as another slash of pain slices through Louis’ body, he hears a series of pops and the firm voice of Harry Potter. Louis falls to the floor, covering Nick’s body to protect him from any more spells and clutches onto the body which trembles and convulses with wracking sobs beneath his own.

*

“I’ve given him a draught. It’s delayed shock, I expect. It is all too easy to think the horrors of war have been forgotten until something reminds us of them. You should be familiar with post-traumatic stress.”

“Intimately, more’s the pity.” Louis recognises the hushed voices of Snape and Harry Potter as he begins to come to. He’s lying somewhere warm and comfortable, although when he moves every part of him aches. He struggles to sit up.

“Nick.” His voice is low and croaky, hoarse from screaming and crying. “Where’s Nick?”

“Next to you. He’s sleeping.” Malfoy approaches Louis, pressing cool fingers on Louis’ hot forehead. “You’re at Grimmauld Place, in Sirius Black’s old room.”

“Is he okay?” Louis rubs his eyes and turns to look at Nick. He’s so pale. His face is streaked with mud and tears and he mumbles something in his sleep, even his dreams fitful and disturbed. Louis wants to hold onto him and never let go, but it feels peculiar with everyone watching them. Louis settles for slipping his hand into Nick’s under the covers and holding on tightly. He frowns at the pyjamas he’s wearing which are flannel and covered in golden snitches. Nick’s by contrast are satin and expensive looking, with Malfoy’s initials on the breast. He swallows as the events of before return in a rush. “Why are we in pyjamas?”

“Because you both returned with injuries which required immediate treatment.” Snape turns his eyes to the ceiling. “We had more pressing matters to deal with than your modesty or finding you suitable attire.”

“I don’t care about my fucking attire.” Louis glares at Snape, itching to draw his wand and hex him.

“No, and yet it is the first question that sprung to mind.” Snape snorts under his breath and murmurs something to Harry before stalking out of the room.

“Can…can you tell me what’s going on?” Louis stares at Malfoy, who’s watching Nick sleep with a pinched expression on his face. He looks up and meets Louis’ gaze, his eyes flicking briefly in Harry’s direction before he nods.

“Three dead. None of them known to you. We had been preparing ourselves for a possible move after reports of Angelus Mortis sightings in Surrey, but we were unprepared for anything of this scale. The Death Eaters have advanced far quicker than we anticipated with their attempts to become corporeal, which suggests they have assistance of some sort that we haven’t considered.”

Louis’ head swims and he rubs his forehead. “Did you manage to get any of them?”

Draco pulls a face and shakes his head. “The dead can’t be killed again. When we arrived, they fled. That at least indicates they’re not yet strong enough to wage war, but it’s only a matter of time. This was, we believe, a test of their strength and a means of causing panic and fear.”

“Do you think they’re going to try to do something like that again?” Louis looks across at Harry, who nods.

“We do. We have reason to believe Hogwarts will be the next target.”

Louis shivers and a wave of exhaustion passes through him. Harry seems to notice, because he glances at Draco then gives Louis a serious look. “You should get some rest. We can speak more about this another time. For now, just try to sleep.”

Louis swallows, as a though occurs to him. “Did you know the people killed?”

Harry’s face shutters and he nods tightly. “Ernie Macmillan and his family. He was in our year at school.”

“I’m sorry,” Louis says. His voice is quiet, and he can’t seem to stop his hands from shaking.

“Thank you.” Harry bows his head and then he leaves the room, with Malfoy following close behind. Louis curls as close to Nick as he can, not even caring that the pyjamas make him smell a bit like Draco or that he’s in bed with his boyfriend in Harry Potter’s house. He just wants Nick to wake up and tell him everything’s going to be okay again, even when Louis is already sure the safety of their little bubble has altered forever.

*

When Louis wakes again Nick is still asleep. The room is darker than before. The moon hangs bright in the dark sky, the velvety night mercifully free of clouds. Louis watches a star twinkling and he wishes on it, even though he’s not sure it’s going to do any good. He’d wish on anything he could if he thought it might help keep Nick safe and not scared anymore.

“You’re awake.”

“Looks like it.” Louis shifts away from Nick, turning to face Snape. “Nick’s going to be worried about his crup and his drag—” Louis pauses, not sure Snape is to be trusted with information about Nick’s illegal dragon rescue missions. “His crup and his kneazle.”

Snape snorts softly. “I’ve seen the pictures in Skeeter’s rag of a paper, Tomlinson. You and I both know that’s no more a kneazle than I am.” Snape doesn’t sound like he cares, particularly. “I believe Draco has checked on Nick’s pets and ensured they are fed and watered. Besides, we plan to help you both Apparate to Grimshaw’s house this evening. Professor McGonagall has been informed of the circumstances and I believe a blind eye will be turned if you don’t return to Hogwarts this evening, provided you are back in class tomorrow.”

“Thanks.” Louis glances at Nick, worried that he’s still not awake and chatting by now. It’s not like Nick to be so quiet or still. It’s disconcerting, to say the least. “You’ve given him a sleeping draught?”

“Indeed.” Snape inclines his head. “Something I believe will help with symptoms of delayed shock. I also have a salve which you must both apply to your injuries to ensure they don’t scar.”

Louis had almost forgotten about the aches and pains in his own body. He lifts one of the pyjama sleeves to see a red welt on his arm. He swallows as the searing pain on his arm, his back and his side become more pronounced. “They’re bastards. I hate them.”

“Good.” Snape’s voice is smooth and firm. “Indifference rarely wins wars.”

“Severus.” Harry’s voice from the doorway makes Louis look up. He sounds tired and annoyed. “Fuelling hatred isn’t going to help anyone.”

Snape sneers. “Perhaps you would rather we teach the boy Expelliarmus and hope for the best?”

Harry mutters something impolite under his breath before turning to Louis. “We’re ready to leave.” He glances at Snape. “Have you explained the dosage for Nick’s draught?”

“It’s on the label.” Snape gives Louis a couple of bottles of potions. “I’m sure even Tomlinson is capable of reading.”

Before Louis can get annoyed with Snape all over again, a flurry of activity distracts him. The room fills with people and chatter until finally – finally – he and Nick are at home and in the warmth of Nick’s house. People help get Nick into bed and then they leave through the Floo, no doubt off to do more official Ministry business while Louis just has to wait around. Exhausted, he collapses in the sofa with a cup of tea when the house is finally quiet. He lets Stinky play in his hair and he cuddles up to Pig, pressing his lips against the coarse fur on her head.

When Louis finds himself dropping off, he goes into the bedroom. He showers, wincing as the water stings against his cuts and studies the wounds in the mirror. They're bad, but he's pretty sure they won't scar, particularly with Snape's potion. Feeling half-dead on his feet, Louis grabs a t-shirt and jogging bottoms from Nick's drawers and then slips into bed. He watches Nick sleep with Pig and Stinky curled up on the bed beside him, until finally his own eyelids start to droop and he falls into a restless sleep.

*

“Morning.” Louis opens his eyes and finds Nick looking at him with an uncertain smile.

“You’re awake!” With his heart in his throat, Louis wraps his arms around Nick and squeezes him as tightly as he can without hurting him. Nick holds onto Louis just as tightly and they lie like that for a while before Nick gently extricates himself.

“I was crap. I couldn’t cast a proper spell.”

“Give over.” Louis glares at Nick. “You have to mean it, if you cast the Killing Curse and Cruciatus. They’re called Unforgivables for a reason. I’m glad you couldn’t cast them.” He presses close to Nick and kisses him, before pulling back. “Besides, you said yourself wands with unicorn tails are rubbish at that kind of magic. Should have gone for Expelliarmus or your Patronus.”

“Thanks.” Nick looks awkward and embarrassed, running a hand through his hair. “I don’t like that you had to protect me. I was a bloody mess.”

“I’ve never seen Carrow before. It’s different for me than for you.” Louis shrugs. He pauses and contemplates Nick. “Snape reckons you’ve got some delayed after-shock thingy.”

“Maybe.” Nick winces. “I spent loads of money talking to that fucking Healer. I thought I was over it.”

“You probably didn’t expect them to come back.” Louis pulls a face. “I’m not sure even Harry Potter’s Healer could protect someone from that.”

“Still.” Nick rolls onto his back and stares at the ceiling. “Got to get over it, haven’t I? I can’t just fall apart like a twat if that happens again, because it’s going to, isn’t it?”

“Maybe.” Louis wants to make Nick feel better, but he also doesn’t know how. His heart feels too big for his throat. He just wants to drink shit cocktails with Nick and argue over Harry Styles being a drunk octopus. He doesn’t think Nick would thank Louis for declaring his undying and promising to protect them both. Besides, he’s not sure he can make those everything’s going to be okay promises and keep them. He glances at Nick. “I was scared too. There’s nothing wrong with being scared.”

“I know, love.” Nick reaches for Louis and pulls him close, running a hand through his hair. His voice catches. “Is everyone okay?”

Louis swallows. “Ernie Macmillan and his family were killed. Malfoy said they were the only ones.” He almost says it could have been worse but even thinking that leaves a bitter taste in his mouth. It could have been worse for Louis, yes. But Ernie was somebody else’s Nick. Somebody else’s Niall, Liam or Zayn. Somebody else’s friend, family and life. Louis scrubs his eyes with his knuckles.

“I remember him.” Nick sounds stunned, his voice quiet. “Fuck.”

“Yeah.” Louis lets Nick slide the sleeve of his pyjamas up and Nick’s breath catches in his throat.

“Christ, Lou…”

“It’s fine. Snape made some salve. There’s a draught you’ve got to take too.”

“They hurt you.” Nick’s voice is low and cold with fury.

“They hurt you too,” Louis says. He looks up at Nick who is as angry as Louis has ever seen him.

“Not this badly.” Nick flicks his wand and Summons the salve, unbuttoning what Louis assumes is Harry’s pyjama top with shaking hands. “Let me put some of this on.”

“I can do it.” Louis moves to take the salve from Nick and his wrist is caught in Nick’s hand. Nick’s cheeks turn pink and he gives Louis a careful look, embarrassment crossing his features.

“I want to, though.” Nick lets out a shaky breath. “I was useless. Fucking useless. Let me do something to take care of you for a bit, yeah?”

Louis looks at Nick’s warm face. Nick’s open, honest expression and the place where his smile usually stretches wide. He nods, because he can sense Nick needs to take care of Louis to work through the thoughts that tip his lips downwards and make his forehead crease in a frown. Louis closes his eyes because Nick makes him feel so much. The things Louis feels for Nick swell almost painfully in his chest and it’s wonderful, brilliant and terrifying all at the same time.

“Okay. If you want.”

“I do.” Nick’s voice breaks and then with careful hands he works the lotion over the raw, tender parts of Louis’ body. Louis isn’t sure if it’s Nick’s hands or Snape’s lotion or both, but the pain seeps from his skin and everything gets warm again. It drives the roar in his head away for a moment as every stroke of Nick’s fingers leaves his body hot and tingling.

“Feels good.”

“Good.” Nick brushes his lips to Louis’ neck and urges him onto his front. “I always want you to feel good,” he whispers.

Louis presses his nose into the pillows and breathes in the scent of Nick. He sinks into the perfect, tender moment and tries not to think about the hundred different the world can fall apart.

*

Several nights later, Louis is in Gryffindor Tower with Niall and Liam, trying (and failing) to concentrate on his homework. Copies of the Prophet with the creepy Angelus Mortis are scattered around the common room. Louis could almost burst out of his skin with the need to do something other than sit around and wait for whatever else Carrow and the others have in store for them. There’s another meeting of the Order of the Phoenix on Friday, the first Louis has been told about since the attack on Hogsmeade. He knows Nick’s going to be safely in London at another DJ gig and he’s glad of that, at least. He wants to keep Nick as far away from this as possible. If he knows Nick is safe, Louis reckons he could actually cast a Cruciatus that might stick if he has to confront Carrow again.

“Let’s go for a walk.” Louis chucks his quill on the desk and closes his book with a thud. “I can’t sit around anymore.”

“I’m finished anyway.” Liam stretches and pushes his parchment away. “I’ll never be able to do Arithmancy.”

“You and me both.” Louis looks at Niall, whose lips have gone blue from the quill he’s sucking on thoughtfully. “Niall?”

“Hmm?” Niall looks up and closes his book quickly. “Yeah, a walk. I’m finished too.”

“No you’re not.” Liam grins at Louis and grabs Niall’s book before he can put it in his bag. He opens it and a letter falls out. “Bloody hell. This is from Harry Styles.” Liam squints at it and begins to laugh. “It’s from his fan club.”

“It isn’t.” Louis takes the letter from Liam’s outstretched fingers and reads it with a frown. “Why is it addressed to Stacey?”

Niall groans and then leans forward, keeping his voice low. “I am the fan club you bloody idiots.” He looks pleased with himself, finally getting the letter back. “Harry thinks I have an excellent eye for business. I respond to his fan mail and sell some of those badges. But nobody knows it’s me, so you’d better not breathe a word to anyone.”

“What does he give you in return?” Louis raises his eyebrows at Niall, who punches Louis on the shoulder. Liam looks positively scandalised. Louis loves it when he’s able to shock Liam.

“Not what you’re thinking. He knows someone who’s helping me with the guitar. He’s teaching both of us. Chap called Mitch. Nice bloke. Brilliant at the guitar, much better than either of us. It’s going to turn things around for Potter and the Wotsits.”

“I bet.” Louis gives Liam a wink. “Kept that quiet.”

“Because I knew you’d take the piss,” Niall mutters. He pockets his letter to Stacey and packs his things away, sending his school bag to the dorms with a flick of his wand and a murmured spell. “Don’t go on about it. Where are we off to?”

“Kitchens?” Liam looks hopeful. He likes an adventure which involves cheese on toast.

“We could go and annoy Snape’s portrait.” Niall looks eagerly at Louis.

“Nah.” Louis shakes his head. It’s less fun annoying Snape’s portrait now he knows Snape is very much alive and looking for any excuse to hex Louis. “Let’s go to this room I found a while ago.”

“Okay.” Liam stands and follows Louis out of the room with Niall close behind. They walk through the corridors and into the war-torn parts of the castle which get colder as they advance into the bowels of the school. “This is safe, isn’t it?”

“Think so.” Louis shrugs. A ruff from behind him makes him turn and Bruce bounds towards them. “Where have you been, boy?” Louis crouches down, laughing and nestling his face in Bruce’s cold fur. “I’ve missed you. Thought you left me for Harry Potter.”

“It’s a ghost.” Niall sounds uncertain and Louis pulls back from Bruce, urging him to give Niall the paw. Louis should have thought about the fact ghosts aren’t exactly high on peoples lists of things to bump into, at the moment. The Hogwarts ghosts have been asked by the staff to keep their hauntings to a minimum and the school is oddly quiet without Peeves swooping through the corridor causing havoc or Nearly-Headless Nick demonstrating his nearly-headlessness over treacle sponge.

“A good one, though.” Louis looks at Niall’s pale face and the way Bruce nuzzles against the hand he stretches out tentatively before him. “Sirius Black’s Animagus. I call him Bruce, but Harry Potter said he’s called Padfoot. He vouched for him.”

“Well if Harry Potter said he’s fine, he must be.” Niall relaxes, and he grins when Bruce bounds onto his hind legs and then chases his tail. “Hiya, Bruce.”

Louis straightens, and they continue walking with Bruce by their side, until they reach the room Louis remembers from before. It doesn’t feel so dark and creepy with Niall and Liam arguing over the lyrics to You Make Me Scream Like a Mandrake and Bruce letting out contented little woofs beside them. The room even looks a bit nicer than before. It’s still full of loads of clutter and all kinds of strange objects which loom in the shadows, but being around friends makes it feel quaint instead of spooky. Louis watches Bruce nosing around and then settles on a sofa, extracting a flask from his pocket. “Anyone for some Ogden’s?”

“Always.” Niall holds out his hand and takes a swig of the firewhisky with a muttered Jesus. Liam has a swig from the flask and coughs, before handing it back to Louis.

“There’s a prophecy about me.” Louis blurts it out, not sure if he should but feeling as though Harry Potter would approve of talking to his closest friends. Besides, it’s not like he’s going to have to give up school to fight Voldemort with Niall and Liam. It’s totally different. Telling them won’t put them in danger, because at the minute Louis isn’t doing much apart from going to boring meetings and daydreaming about Nick. “A proper one. Like there was about Harry Potter.”

“What?” Liam’s eyes get wide as he stares at Louis. “A bad one?”

“Well, it’s not great.” Louis pulls a face. He takes a crumpled copy of the prophecy from his pocket. He probably shouldn’t be carrying it around with his cigarettes and an old receipt from a night at the Red Lion in Donny wrapped around some chewing gum. “Here.”

Niall and Liam bow their heads together, reading the prophecy before handing it back to Louis as if it’s going to erupt like a Howler. “What does it mean?” Niall keeps his voice easy and light, obviously not wanting to sound spooked on Louis’ behalf. Louis appreciates it more than he can say.

“No idea.” Louis shrugs. “Apart from the obvious bit about me having to do something with them ghosts. There’s a whole team at the Ministry working on it. It’s why Harry did those lessons with us. I didn’t know about the prophecy then, but I’m pretty sure it’s the reason he bothered to help us with defensive spells.”

“Wow.” Niall’s face is pale, and he swallows. “That Augurey…”

“Yeah.” Louis looks around, not sure if he trusts the castle walls with Snape’s secret. It feels different to telling people about his secrets. Chewing on his lip, he tries to decide what to do. Eventually he pulls some paper from his pocket and scribbles a quick note, handing it to Liam and Niall.

That was Snape. He’s an Animagus and he’s alive. Don’t say anything. We don’t know who’s around.

Niall and Liam stare at the piece of paper, clearly bursting to say something. Liam flicks his wand and mutters and Incendio and the paper bursts into flames, turning to ash on the floor by their feet.

“Wow,” Niall says again.

“Yeah.” Louis has another swig from the flask, the sharp liquor burning down his throat. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. “All go this year.”

“Here’s me thinking you were just busy shagging.” Liam gives Louis a grin and Louis laughs, the sound reverberating around the quiet room.

“Busy with that, too.”

“You’re awful.” Niall laughs under his breath.

“You’re one to talk, sneaking off writing love songs with Harry Styles.”

“Not love songs.” Niall’s cheeks get pink and he runs a hand through his hair. “Anyway, we’re not talking about that.”

Louis is just about to say they probably should talk about it, because he finds Niall blushing over Harry Styles fucking hilarious. Before he can be obnoxious, he’s cut off by a low whine coming from the shadows. The whine is followed by a series of loud barks and Louis pushes himself off the sofa, reaching for his wand.

“Bruce?” Another whine and a shuffling sound, but Bruce doesn’t come to Louis as he usually does.

Louis follows the sound of the barks, Niall and Liam close behind. He sees the mirror before he sees Bruce and the flash of a Gryffindor scarf.

Get the Snitch, Jamie! Wait – hold on – don’t…you bloody pillock

Laughter drifts from the glass, eerie and disembodied. There’s another voice which filters into the shadows, vibrant and cultured. It sounds almost familiar, but Louis can’t quite place it.

And that’s what they call a Wronski Feint. Cool, isn’t it? You try

Bruce whines, his head in his paws as he snuffles at the glass.

“What is that?” Niall puts his hand on Louis’ shoulder, making him start.

“Mirror of Erised.” A chill travels down Louis’ spine. “They said they got rid of it.”

“Who said?” Liam’s voice is low, and Louis wonders when they started whispering. There’s something so eerie about the ghostly presence of Bruce in front of the mirror and the strange, ethereal voices from behind the dusty glass.

“Harry and Malfoy.” Louis turns and rakes a hand through his hair. “We have to find McGonagall. We have to find her now.”

*

“I thought you said you got rid of it.” Louis doesn’t mean to sound accusatory but after waiting uncomfortably in McGonagall’s office for Harry to come through the Floo, he’s feeling antsier than usual.

“We did.” Harry frowns at McGonagall and rakes a hand through his hair. He looks dishevelled and tired, with dark circles under his eyes. “We moved it to a safe place.”

“Not safe enough,” Louis mutters. He looks at Harry. “Bruce – Padfoot – is still there. I heard voices. Someone called James and another bloke. Something about a Wronski Feint.”

Harry’s face visibly pales, his throat working. He rubs his hand across his jaw. He’s not as clean shaven as usual, the dark stubble making him look rougher and more unkempt than Louis has seen before. “James is my dad’s name. He was best mates with Sirius.”

“Oh.” Louis isn’t sure what to say to that, watching the way Harry’s face shifts as if he’s fighting against an overwhelming rush of emotion. He toes the floor with his trainer, looking away. He can’t stand watching Harry look as if he’s falling apart. It makes everything bigger and more scary than usual. “I didn’t know.”

Harry glances at McGonagall again and clears his throat. “You can’t usually hear things from Erised, though. It’s just…seeing. Have you heard of anything like this before, Minerva?”

“No.” McGonagall’s tone is clipped, and she reaches for a book after dismissing a couple of titles on the vast shelves which stretch upwards as far as the eye can see. “I can’t say I have.” She pushes her glasses up onto her nose and flicks through the pages of the dusty tome, using her wand to flick through the chapters with speed.

The memory of the ghostly voices makes bile rise in Louis’ throat and his stomach rolls. “I heard it. I’m not making it up.”

“Me too,” Niall says. His voice is low and quiet. “I heard them too.”

“Yeah, and me.” Like Niall, Liam sounds unusual quiet.

There’s a hush in the office as Harry studies McGonagall’s book with her and Louis tries as best as he can to push back the wave of helplessness which crashes over him.

No matter how many times he tries to tell himself it’s going to be fine, ever since the attack on Hogsmeade he’s no longer sure he believes it.

*

Louis stumbles through the Floo to Grimmauld Place for Friday’s Order meeting, finding himself in the living room with someone he doesn’t recognise. The man is lanky, with ginger hair and freckles and he’s almost certainly a Weasley. He gives Louis a broad grin when he shakes the dust from the Floo off his jacket.

“Louis Tomlinson, isn’t it?”

“Yep. That’s me.” Louis sticks out his hand and the stranger gives it a firm shake. He looks kind. A bit like Nick, with his wide smile and shining eyes. Louis likes him immediately.

“I’m George. George Weasley.”

“Oh.” Louis raises his eyebrows and tries not to look too concerned. The one who lost his twin in the Battle of Hogwarts. Louis remembers that. He read about it in one of the books they gave him in first year on the history of Voldemort’s rise and defeat, and he remembers the name etched on the memorial stone. Fred Weasley. Laughed a lot. “I’m…”

“You know about Fred, then?” George lets out a sigh. “Don’t worry. I get that a lot. People don’t seem to know what to say to me anymore.”

“I’m sorry,” Louis says. He means it, too. He can’t imagine losing your twin brother. Louis' family mean the world to him.

“S’okay.” George shrugs and gives Louis a small smile which doesn’t quite meet his eyes. “Look, Harry told me about this prophecy. Something about Fred’s image.”

“Yeah.” Louis nods. “Echoes, ghost dogs and the image of Fred. Summat like that.”

“When he was alive, Fred and I always used these two-way mirrors.” George extracts a small mirror from his pocket and hands it to Louis, a flicker of ginger hair skirting across the reflective surface. “He had one and I had one. They’re connected by magic, so we could communicate through them.”

“Cool.” Louis looks at the little mirror, running his finger over the glass. His reflection blinks up at him, but other than that there’s nothing else there.

“After the war I’d say Fred’s name into the glass and – look, it sounds barmy – but I swear lately he’s been answering.” George looks forlornly at the mirror. “I told mum, but she thought I was making it up.” George gives Louis a sad smile. “Problem is, looking at Fred’s just like looking at my own reflection. Could drive a bloke mad wanting to see something that isn’t there and being fooled by his own image. I need to get rid of it and I want you to have it. Just in case.”

“Thanks.” Louis stares at George, carefully pocketing the mirror. He feels so desperately sad for George, a lump in his throat prevents him from speaking for quite some time. Eventually he clears his throat and pats his pocket. “I’ll look after it. Promise. If I see anything, I’ll let you know.”

“Alright.” George lets out a shaky breath and puts his hand on Louis’ shoulder. “If he can help – wherever he is – he will. He hates to miss out on things. Just say his name into the glass. It triggers the connection. No need for any spells, the charms are all in place.”

“Okay.” Louis gives George a quick hug unable to stop himself. “I’ll look after it, I promise.”

“Doesn’t matter. I don’t think it’s good for me trying to find help from ghosts and spirits. It’s been years.”

“Still doesn’t stop hurting though, I bet.” Louis pulls back from the embrace and glances towards the door as he hears Hermione calling the meeting to order. “Meeting’s about to start.”

“Better go into the kitchen, then.” George gives Louis’ shoulder another squeeze. “Nice to meet you, Louis Tomlinson.”

Louis watches George move into the kitchen and take a seat before settling in his own next to Snape, taking an odd comfort in his grumpy countenance and the light waves of magical strength which emanates from his wiry body.

*

Louis looks around at the people gathered around the large, dark room. Snape is on his feet and he bends to murmur something to Harry, low enough that the rest of those gathered can’t hear. His face is drawn and pale, his robes high around the scars Louis knows cover his neck from Nagini’s bite. Malfoy approaches him with a small phial and mutters something about taking his potions. Snape gives him a small nod of thanks and downs the potion with a wince, his hand ghosting over his neck as the taut, pained look on his face relaxes just a little. Despite all their arguing, Louis can’t help but pick up on Harry’s look of concern and the way he presses his hand against Snape’s arm, the way Malfoy hovers and slips an arm around Harry to say something in his ear which pulls a brief smile from him.

Hermione pours over a musty book, her hair held back with glasses on her head and she points out a passage to McGonagall who calls over another book with a flick of her wand. The air is restless, the anticipatory sense of going into battle hovering over them. The gloom of the evening settles as the sun sets low in the sky, casting a brief glow of burnished reds and oranges around the room. Ron lights candles and makes tea with his mum, helping her with sandwiches and biscuits and piping hot mugs of hot chocolate for everyone. George sits by himself and he looks lost, somehow. Broken from the memories of the things in his past that no one should have to suffer through.

Despite the charged atmosphere, Louis is preoccupied with thoughts of Nick. Nick with his broad smile and full heart. Nick, who makes Louis so fucking happy it’s like he can press his fingers against Louis’ skin and everything bad fades away just for a moment. Nick, who Louis probably – definitely – loves with every fibre of his being. Nick, who shouldn’t even be involved in this. He wouldn’t be part of any of it, if it wasn’t for Louis. He would still be working on WWN and enjoying introducing the wizarding world to Muggle music. He wouldn’t be planning to leave DJ gigs early to come and hang around with Ministry bigwigs and plan war strategy. He wouldn’t have to face them all again – the people he remembers from his past – people who tortured him and hurt him. It’s Louis that’s brought him into this. Louis who fucked up by clinging too hard to Nick, Louis who demanded he come along to that first Order meeting without any thought for what that might mean.

If anything happens to Nick – anything at all – it’s all Louis’ fault. Pig needs Nick. Everyone needs Nick. Eileen loves him so damn much and he’s got all his friends in London and all the things he needs to do still. He’s going to be amazing, Nick is. Louis just knows it, he can feel it in his bones. There’s no reason for Nick to be involved with any of this bullshit Death Eater crap. No need for him to be hanging around Grimmauld Place and trying to keep up with people like Harry, Ron, Hermione and Malfoy, who are used to war. Good at it. Some of the strongest witches and wizards in the world. That’s not Nick. He’s not up for Ministry politics or strategizing with Kingsley fucking Shacklebolt. He just wants a few beers and a cuddle with Pig. Just wants a fit lad to come home to who will watch Bake Off with him on his dodgy telly or talk to him about The Killers on his walkie talkie when he’s bored. Nick isn’t Harry, isn’t Draco or Snape. Even his clothes are so out of place. Nick doesn’t even have dress robes, or not that Louis’ seen. He’s long finished with Hogwarts and all the crap that came with it during the war.

That's why Louis has to do it. Even if it kills him, Louis has to break up with Nick.

It’s the only way to keep him safe.

*

Louis decides to put his plan into action the next night when he’s round at Nick’s, under the pretence of wanting to spend Saturday night together. He makes it through dinner, pushing his food around on his plate and tries not to look as miserable as he feels. Finally, when they’re sitting feet apart on the sofa, he finds the courage to speak.

“We need to break up,” Louis says. He’s quite proud of himself because his voice doesn’t tremble at all even when his heart’s screaming no, no, no. “Because I want to see other people.” God, that hurts. The lie tastes bitter on Louis’ tongue. He swallows around the lump in his throat and goes right for the jugular. “People my own age.”

Nick doesn’t look at Louis. His face is stony, and he flicks the telly to another channel. Nick’s telly is rubbish because it’s the best he can do in Hogsmeade and mostly the magic fucks with it and makes it grainy and weird. He still likes to catch Bake Off, even when he can’t tell if they’re making pavlovas or profiteroles.

Nick doesn’t say anything else, but Louis knows he’s furious and hurt. He can tell by the way Nick's cheeks get red and his voice is tight.

“Well, that was easy.” Louis tries to sound flippant, tries to laugh like he means it. It comes out choked, because really Louis just wants to cry. He didn’t want Nick to break down or anything, but he didn’t think for one minute Nick wouldn’t give two flying fucks. “I’ll go then.”

Nick switches off the telly and he beckons Pig over, giving her a cuddle. Louis can’t breathe. He doesn’t want to go. Doesn’t want to go out into wherever the fuck he’s got to go out to without the warmth of Pig, Nick and Stinky’s little weird huffs of smoke. “No, you won’t.”

“What?” Louis is almost tempted to clutch at his chest where his heart is nearly beating out of his ribs, but he doesn’t want to give himself away. Doesn’t want to give away the fact that he wants Nick to say stay, stay, stay with every fibre of his being.

“I said no, you won’t go.” Nick gives Pig another pat on the head and then he stands. He gives Louis a look, his expression pinched. “You’re not gonna run off if I put the pets away?”

“Not going anywhere until I’ve got my shoes on.” Louis gestures to his trainers. He remembers buying them from a JJB Sports in Donny and telling his mum they were sick. It makes his stomach squirm, looking at them now. There’s something sad about seeing them next to Nick’s stuff and knowing it might be the last time.

“Well, then. Just…wait.” Nick takes a breath and leaves Louis by himself as he takes Pig somewhere else. Stinky follows Nick because he pretty much nests in Nick’s hair whenever he can. Louis sits awkwardly in the living room, wondering if he should just leave despite Nick telling him to say. That’s probably what someone breaking up with their boyfriend would do. They’d just get out of the house, say I’ll Fire Call you and then never speak to their ex again. Louis can’t imagine not speaking to Nick. The thought of it makes him panicky.

Louis puts on his trainers and takes a long time lacing them up. Louis can’t believe Nick doesn’t even care. He really hates this. He hates that he’s got to fight this fucking stupid thing that he doesn’t even understand and hates that Nick is happy to let him go. He takes a breath and tries to remember that this is all to keep Nick safe. Maybe one day things will all work out okay again.

Nick appears in the doorway and he looks thoroughly unimpressed. He takes in Louis tying his trainers and then he meets Louis’ gaze head on.

“Who is it?”

“Who’s what?” Louis stops fiddling with his trainers and stares at Nick.

“The other bloke.”

“There’s no other bloke.” Louis shrugs. “Just, like, lots of them.”

“Great.” Nick moves to the sofa and sits next to Louis. He looks sad. Louis hates it when Nick looks sad. Fucking hates it. He can’t leave when Nick looks like this. “I know what you’re doing, by the way. At least, I hope I do.” Nick’s frown deepens. “If I’m wrong I’ll look like a right knob.”

“Look like that anyway,” Louis says. “With that quiff of yours.” He wants to touch it. He wants to reach out and stroke his fingers through Nick’s hair. He wants to kiss Nick like they’ve never kissed before and not surface for air for hours. Louis just wants to watch shit telly that doesn’t even work and talk about what it’s going to be like when they get pie and chips at the Donny Rovers, and teach Nick some of the football chants. He wants to see Nick’s place in London, meet his cool friends and go to that gig in Camden.

Nick gives Louis an unimpressed look. “Piss off. I’m trying to be angry with you.”

“Sorry.” Louis’ voice gets small and he thinks he’s going to cry, the sob catching in his throat. His skin is hot and itchy and his chest is too tight. His throat aches and he just wants Nick. He wants him so much. “Probably should be getting off.” Louis doesn’t move. “To go and see all those other blokes I’ve been thinking about.”

“You could.” Nick rubs his jaw and studies Louis. “Or, here’s another idea.”

“Yeah?” God, Louis is so bad at this. He’s never breaking up with anyone ever again.

“Yeah.” Nick moves closer. He smells so good. He looks soft and ridiculous with his hair all product free and his cheeks shining like he’s just scrubbed them clean. He smells like his posh cologne and everything about him makes Louis tremble from the inside out. “This other idea of mine. Want to hear it?”

“Suppose.” Louis swallows. “As long as it’s not about changing my mind. Because we’re definitely breaking up.”

“Why would I try to change your mind?” Nick’s cheek twitches. “You’ve been pretty clear about what you want.”

“I have?” Louis stares at Nick and then nods firmly. “I have.”

“Hmm.” Nick doesn’t seem convinced and he’s still watching Louis closely. He’s breathtakingly handsome. Just watching him sends heat through Louis’ body and having this conversation feels like somebody aimed Cruciatus aimed right his heart. “They had a Boggart at the Ministry a couple of days ago. They’re trying to work out what’s going on with yours.”

“It’s taking long enough.” Louis pulls a face. His trainers are only half laced up. He doesn’t want to finish putting them on. He just wants to curl into Nick’s arms and never come up for air again.

“Complicated thing, Boggarts.” Nick shrugs and looks away. “Harry let me have a go.”

Louis can’t stop his snort of laughter. “Are you mad? You don’t have a go on a Boggart. They’re well scary.”

“I wanted to know if it’s changed.” Nick looks back at Louis. “It’s definitely not Carrow anymore. I thought maybe after Hogsmeade it might be her still.”

“Me too.” Louis isn’t sure what this has to do with him getting off with people he has absolutely no interest in. “What is it, then?”

“Me.” Nick lets out a humourless laugh. “Me with some idiotic bloke in my arms.”

Louis gives Nick a look. “Aren’t Boggarts supposed to be frightening? I thought that was just a Friday night, for you.”

Nick rolls his eyes. “Cheeky.” His cheeks get pale. “I was crying and he…” Nick takes a breath and shrugs. “I dunno, I think he was dead.”

Louis swallows a chill sliding through the room and making him shiver. “Bit weird to be crying over some idiotic bloke.”

“I reckon.” Nick’s Adam’s apple works in his throat. “The daft little twat was a Gryffindor. I could tell. Because of the tie. Makes sense. Gryffindors are always the first to get themselves killed off trying to save people.”

“Oh.” Louis glances at the Gryffindor tie on the hook by his denim jacket and Nick’s scarf. “It was me?”

“I said he was a little idiot.” Nick pokes Louis in the chest with one of his bony fingers. “So probably was you, yeah.”

“Shit.” Louis sits back on the sofa, forgetting all about his trainers. “Jesus fucking Christ.”

“Hmm.” Nick pokes Louis again. “Just thought you should know. You’d better not go and die on me, because I looked really upset.”

“I’ll try not to. Wouldn’t want to spoil your day.” Louis tries desperately to quell the rising fear which claws through him

“That’s thoughtful of you. Thanks.” Nick rolls his eyes. He shifts closer to Louis and rubs his thumb against Louis’ cheek, his voice getting soft. “Want to hear this other idea of mine?”

“Please.” Louis tries to keep his voice from cracking, but he isn’t sure he manages it. He can’t help but lean into Nick’s large hand, warm and soothing on his cheek. He edges closer, toying with Nick’s jumper and trying to breathe. It’s not easy. Not easy when he wants to start bawling because he doesn’t want to lose Nick, doesn’t ever want to lose Nick.

Nick tugs Louis close and presses a hot kiss to his forehead, his voice low. “My other idea is that you’re a stupid knobhead who thinks breaking up with me is going to keep me safe or summat. My other idea is that I should fuck you, tell you that I fucking love you, you enormous dickhead and make you stay here because if you walk out of that door I’m not going to come running after you. I mean, I’ll probably still end up putting myself in mortal danger whether you’re with me or not because I don’t like to see people I love getting shat upon from a great height by ghosts or whatever the fuck we’re fighting, so then I’ll still get Avada Kedavra’d and you won’t have had sex. My way, at least you get to have sex.”

“Oh.” Louis pulls back to stare at Nick the I fucking love you rolling around in his head. He swallows, his words caught in his throat as he tries to find what he wants to say. “I’ve dragged you into this. You wouldn’t even be in the Order if it wasn’t for me. I just want you to do the radio and forget all about this stupid bollocks.” He voice gets shaky. “I want you safe.”

Nick nods. “Well, I’d rather be in a bit of danger and have regular sex with my fit boyfriend than be safe and sobbing into my tea, listening to Mariah and swearing off love forever.”

Louis can’t help but laugh at that, even if it shakes around the edges. “Wouldn’t want that.”

“We certainly wouldn’t.” Nick shakes his head at Louis. “Little idiot.”

Louis swallows thickly. He takes a breath, keeping his gaze on Nick and summoning all of his courage. “I love you too, you know. I have for ages.”

“Even though I’m old and annoying?” Nick’s lips tug into a smile but the brief flicker of uncertainty gives him away.

“I don’t want anyone but you,” Louis says. His voice is clear, confident and the words spill from him with far more honest conviction than he managed when he was trying to break up with Nick. “No one else.”

“Good.” Nick lets out a breath and gives Louis a soft kiss on the lips. “Knob.”

“I’m sorry.” Louis can’t help it. He knows he should have tried harder, but the wave of relief flooding through him at the fact he’s not actually broken up with Nick tells him it was probably a fairly stupid idea in the first place. “I thought it would be easier if you hated me.”

“I’m not sure I could, even if I wanted to.” Nick holds out a hand and tugs Louis to his feet. He brushes his hair back from his forehead. “Take of those trainers and come upstairs, yeah?”

“Yeah.” Louis finds it’s a lot easier to take his shoes off than it was trying to put them on. “Am I going to get that shag you promised me?” The air in the room is so much lighter and a warmth settles in Louis’ chest. He squeezes Nick’s hand as they walk up the stairs, not wanting to let go even for a minute.

“You’re only with me for my dick.” Nick squeezes Louis’ hand back and closes the bedroom door behind them, lighting some candles with a few quick spells and dropping his wand on the bedside table. “Admit it.”

“Okay.” Louis moves close to Nick and twists his hands into Nick’s jumper. “It’s a very nice dick.”

“Thanks.” Nick grins and he squeezes Louis’ backside. “I’m only with you for your arse, so I suppose we’re even.”

“And compatible,” Louis agrees. “My arse, your dick. Together.”

“Oh.” Nick raises an eyebrow at Louis, his cheeks flushing lightly. “Is that how you want to do it, then?”

Louis frowns. He’d sort of assumed that’s how it was going to work, even if they did it the other way before. Come to think of it, he’s not sure why he made that assumption, other than that’s the way it’s been in most of his wanking fantasies. “Don’t you like that?”

“’Course I do. I prefer it that way.” Nick shrugs. “But I like both. It’s not, like, exclusive. I meant what I said that day after the Leaky. I wasn’t doing you some sort of weird favour, letting you top. I get in the mood sometimes, it just happens I prefer to top most of the time.”

“Good.” A whole raft of fantasies spring to life in Louis’ mind and anticipation curls in his belly as he imagines spreading Nick open again, tonguing him, fingering him and fucking him. He wants to do that again. He definitely wants to do that again. “I’d like to do you again sometimes.” He takes a breath and meets Nick’s eyes. “But not this time, yeah. This time it’s your dick. Your dick, my arse.”

Nick looks at Louis, his expression fond and warm. “If you like. I reckon we can do that.”

They tumble onto the bed together and any doubts Louis had melt away in a series of mind-melting kisses.

*

Nick’s fingers are hot on Louis’ skin and it’s all so strange, it makes Louis feel more vulnerable than he ever has with Nick. His heart nearly thrums out of his chest when Nick slicks his fingers, even though they’ve done that bit before and Louis already knows he likes it. Nick seems to pick up on the fact Louis is about to jump out of his skin, and kisses him softly.

“Okay, love?”

“Yeah.” Louis shoves Nick lightly. “Come on, Nicholas.”

“I’m going as fast as I can.” Nick grins, his smile warm against Louis’ lips. “Don’t want to hurt you, stop being an impatient little menace.”

“Fine.” Louis huffs and lies back on the bed, his heart jumping and speeding up when Nick slides a finger inside him. He doesn’t think he’s ever going to be over this. He doesn’t think he’s ever going to not want Nick to touch him like this. He fights back a moan, and Nick presses a kiss to his thigh.

“No one’s around to hear. Doesn’t matter, does it?” Nick moves to take Louis in his mouth, not as he often does to bring Louis off. It’s slower. An intense, hot friction which is almost maddening it’s so slow and unhurried. This time Louis doesn’t hold back. He lets his moans of pleasure and his rough grunts fall from his lips. Nick doesn’t care. Nick seems to like it. He licks, sucks and fingers Louis until it’s almost too much before he finally pulls back. “Sure?”

“Positive. Get on with it.” Louis gives Nick a grin and then pokes him in the chest, where his hair is dark and wiry. “Love you.”

Nick’s eyes get soft and he smiles crookedly at Louis. “Love you, too.”

“Bit sappy this.” Louis pokes Nick again. “I thought I was here for a dicking.”

Nick bursts out laughing, his hand running over Louis’ calf. “Are you always this romantic, darling?”

“Only with you,” Louis says, because it’s true. He lets Nick arrange him into position and it’s a bit weird with his legs over Nick’s shoulders. It’s really weird. He’s half tempted to ask if he should be on his hands and knees as it might be a bit more dignified, but he trusts Nick. Trusts him to know what he’s doing. Besides, Louis is a bit more romantic than he pretends to be and he actually quite likes the idea that he can still see Nick’s face. Nick has a very good face.

“Okay?” Nick rubs the head of his cock against Louis, slick with lube.

“Stop asking.” Louis huffs with laughter and wriggles against Nick. “I’ll say if I’m not.”

Nick presses Louis back onto the bed and pushes inside him in one, firm move. The stretch and the burn of it is almost too much and Louis shuts his eyes tight, a ragged breath leaving his lips.

“I’ve got you,” Nick says. His voice is so soft, warm and familiar. He brushes his lips to Louis’ and slides back, pushing in again after giving Louis a moment to adjust. He starts to ask if Louis is okay, but he cuts himself off before he can get the word out obviously not wanting Louis to tell him off again. Louis opens his eyes and takes in greedy gulps of air, the warmth of Nick’s eyes and the way his necklaces hang down and brush against Louis’ chest. It’s all so much. Such a lot of conflicted feelings, emotions and a heady rush of desire which takes over from everything else. Nick shifts the angle a little and the uncomfortable stretch begins to feel pleasurable. Everything is so intimate, so quiet and still. There’s no sound in the room other than the sound of sex, of breathing, kissing, sliding together, the slap of skin against skin. It’s gloriously filthy and Louis is so turned on he can hardly take it.

They move together like that. Nick keeping Louis in the position that makes everything spark and explode. Louis slips his hand to his own cock and wraps his fingers around it, tugging on it as Nick fucks him. It makes Nick groan, a low, desperate sound and it’s all a bit too much. It doesn’t take Louis long to come with a cry, his hand sticky and his skin hot. Nick slips out of Louis and yanks off the condom, stroking himself as he straddles Louis’ chest. Louis touches him everywhere. Touches his thighs, squeezes his backside and slides his fingers over Nick’s chest. After a few minutes, Nick comes with a groan. He slides off Louis and pulls him close, kissing him fiercely. Louis doesn’t care that Nick’s almost certainly got jizz in his hair and he doesn’t care that it’s all a bit sweaty, messy and strange. It’s a good strange. A perfect strange.

Louis’ heart swells a little bit more and he pushes his hands into Nick’s hair to kiss him again, hot and open-mouthed. He wants to crawl inside Nick and be wrapped up in his arms forever. Everything is better when he’s with Nick. Everything makes sense and he can lose himself in pleasure. The bad things go away for a bit.

Louis decides to kiss Nick until his lips hurt and tries to pretend that monsters don’t exist.

*

“I thought we should meet in a small group, this time.” Hermione glances over at Ron, who’s cursing over a pot as it hisses and spits at him. She gives Louis a smile. “I did think there might be food. Apparently Molly’s cooking skills aren’t genetic.”

“Excuse you, Hermione.” Ron turns to glare at Hermione. “This is going to be—” the pot spits again and Ron ducks away from it, rubbing his cheek and giving Hermione a wry smile. “It’s going to be delicious.” He doesn't sound convinced.

“We’ve got crisps.” Hermione laughs and shakes her head fondly. Louis takes in the small, jagged walls of the cottage and the warmth and clutter. He imagined Hermione Granger living somewhere with more glass. A perfectly formed City worker kind of apartment or something. The little cottage is homely and thrums with magic. It’s brilliant, with all its books and photographs dotted around. Louis glances at Nick who gives him a wink. He could stay here all evening. “Harry’s going to be here soon. He’s always late.”

Louis shifts so he’s pressed close to Nick’s side, enjoying the casual weight of Nick’s arm across his shoulder. It makes him think of Nick’s body over his and pushing him down onto the bed. A shiver of pleasure pulses through him and he has to cross his legs in a hurry. Nick squeezes his shoulder and a light huff of laughter ghosts over Louis’ neck. Bloody Nick. He knows exactly what he’s doing to Louis. Louis glares at him and keeps his voice low.

“You can’t give me a hard on in Hermione Granger’s house.”

“Sounds like a challenge.” Nick looks like he’s trying not to laugh and he kisses the shell of Louis’ ear, his voice low and filthy. “A challenge you’d lose by the way, because I definitely can.”

“God.” Louis rubs his neck and pushes Nick back, struggling for something to say that isn’t we need to leave so Nick can fuck me again. “What’s this meeting about, anyway?”

“We’re finally making some headway.” Hermione gives Louis a smile. “We’re going to brief the rest of the Order members in good time, but it makes sense to talk to you first. The Order is a big group, and everyone has different opinions. We want to hear what you think, rather than making you listen to Ministry strategy that doesn’t seem to be getting us anywhere.”

Louis gets warm at the thought people want to hear his opinion, because nobody ever wants to hear Louis’ opinion. He supposes he shouldn’t be surprised because by all accounts Harry, Ron and Hermione worked out plenty of things for themselves without Ministry assistance. It’s weird, thinking they are the Ministry now. It makes Louis nervous because he can’t imagine that kind of future for himself. Sometimes he struggles to picture any kind of future path. The more time he spends with Nick, the less he feels like going back to Donny and taking a job at Tescos and forgetting about magic altogether. Even when things are bad, he feels too much a part of the magical world now. He can’t imagine leaving it behind entirely as he thought he would. Not for the first time, he wishes he’d put more effort into school. Hogwarts is going to start feeling like a home of sorts just at the time Louis is getting ready to leave.

Harry and Draco coming through the Floo pulls Louis from his thoughts. They all shake hands and Louis doesn’t get even a bit jealous when Nick and Draco start going on about some Muggle art exhibition. Largely because Nick keeps his fingers twined with Louis’ and for the first time, Louis feels almost glad Nick has Draco in his life. He likes that there are people working on this who are invested in Nick – likes that there are other people that want to keep him safe.

When everyone’s gathered around with hunks of bread and bowls of stew which taste delicious, Hermione tops up everyone’s glasses and begins to talk.

“We know what your Boggart is.”

“Really?” Louis drops his fork into his bowl and leans forward eagerly. “What is it, then?”

“It’s very rare.” Hermione flicks her wand and a book settles serenely in the middle of the table, its pages flickering until it opens somewhere around the middle. Hermione points to the grainy picture in the book. “I’ve had to move mountains to get my hands on this book – literally – so I don’t want wine or any of Ronald’s stew anywhere near it.”

Louis keeps a careful hold of his wine, giving Hermione an apologetic look. The sight of the monster makes his heart freeze and he swallows, thickly. “That’s it. Sort of, anyway. It changes and it’s just…empty. Empty and hollow.”

Hermione nods. “Yes. That’s what this article says. This is from the eighteenth century and it’s a pencil sketch by an artist who spoke to the only person in living memory who claimed they had seen the Boggart in its original form. The descriptions you gave fits exactly.” Hermione reads from the short excerpt beneath the picture. “The face of the monster was unforgettable and yet, somehow, shapeless and vague. I felt as though I was on the edge of the abyss and there was nothing below but pain and suffering.”

Louis’ heart pounds in his chest, his throat dry. “Yeah, that’s it. That’s how it feels.”

“It’s the Boggart in its original form – or as close to the original form as can ever be.” Hermione looks up at Louis, her expression sympathetic. “It’s not entirely clear why it happens because there’s so little out there about it, but it seems to suggest that your biggest fears are the things other people are frightened about.”

Louis frowns, because that doesn’t make any sense. “I don’t get it.”

“I think I do,” Nick says. His face is pale. “Think about the other day.”

Louis swallows, and nods. The terror on Nick’s face when confronted by Carrow worms through him and leaves him cold all over. He thinks of his mum and how she sometimes looks worried, and the way that makes Louis’ stomach turn inside out, because she’s his rock, his mum. She’s not supposed to be frightened of anything. He remembers the way his stomach rolled at Hogwarts when Harry Potter looked so lost. There’s nothing more frightening to Louis than seeing the people he trusts to protect him scared because maybe it means something’s going to happen to them. Maybe they won’t be there anymore, just when he needs them most. If they’re scared and they keep Louis’ biggest fears at bay, then where does that leave him?

“I think I get it too.” Louis looks around the table and the quiet sympathy irritates him. “I don’t know why it’s so weird, though. It doesn’t mean anything.”

Hermione closes the book carefully and sends it off through the house with a quietly cast spell. “I’m not sure it’s related to the prophecy at all. It’s an anomaly. A very rare one, but an anomaly nevertheless.”

“Yeah.” Louis looks at Nick, whose face is pale and pinched. The sting of the Muggle tattoo gun comes back to him with sharp clarity and he wishes he could remember how good having a laugh with his friends tasted on his lips. “It is what it is.”

Nick reaches for Louis’ hand and squeezes it under the table.

Louis shivers, and wonders when the once warm room got so very cold.

*

They finish the stew in relative silence and move to a comfortable living room, where Hermione pulls out another book and drops her glasses back onto her nose.

“We’ve removed Erised from Hogwarts and it’s at Grimmauld Place. We’re worried it’s being used as some kind of thoroughfare for the Death Eaters.”

“I don’t see how that’s possible. It’s just a mirror.” Louis looks at Harry, who shrugs.

“Magical mirrors are odd and Erised has a sentience which could be manipulated by somebody with the wrong intentions. The images in the mirror are nothing more than echoes and spirits, possible futures, lost history and impossible dreams.”

“How can a ghost make use of something like that?” Nick asks.

“We think it’s being used to test the magic the Death Eaters have been working on to transition from something spectral to something corporeal,” Malfoy says. “The fact that you can now hear voices from Erised indicates the magic is having some impact. Erised’s images are getting stronger – more real.”

Louis shivers, pushing his plate away as his appetite leaves him completely. “Carrow was holding a wand in Hogsmeade. A proper one.”

“We know.” Ron nods, wiping his mouth with his napkin. “It means they’re gaining more power. The closer they get to being corporeal again, the more magic they’ll be able to do.”

Hermione closes another book she's been studying and sends it off to one of the packed shelves where it miraculously slots into place. “The connection with your wand, at least, is obvious.”

“Not to me,” Louis mutters.

Harry hands Louis a drink, it smells sweet and alcoholic and he takes a tentative sip. “A wand with a thestral core can’t be defeated by someone who fears death.”

Draco sniffs, looking at his fingers. “Which, by definition, applies to ghosts. People don’t just become ghosts. They choose to stay. They don’t want to move on.”

“Because they’re frightened of death, sometimes,” Ron interjects. “Sometimes it’s that.”

“Sometimes.” Draco looks up, meeting Ron’s gaze. “However, sometimes it’s because they want to come back and fuck up everyone's lives all over again.”

Harry murmurs something to Draco and squeezes his shoulder, as the rest of the room digests the information. He clears his throat. “We’re not sure if Malfoy’s parents are involved, yet.”

“They probably are,” Ron says. He rubs his jaw and then shoots Draco a look, wincing. “Sorry.”

“You’re probably right.” Draco shrugs like it doesn’t matter one way or the other, but the way his lips press together indicates otherwise. “So, Tomlinson has an undefeatable wand. Is that why it’s him?”

“It’s not undefeatable.” Harry gives Louis an apologetic look. “I just don’t think it can’t be won from him by the Death Eaters. It doesn’t mean he can’t still be harmed by their spells.”

Anger wells within Louis and he puts his drink down, worried his shaking hands are going to spill it everywhere. “We still don’t know anything. There’s a bollocks prophecy, half of which makes no sense, and I’ve got a wand that can defend an Expelliarmus but the Death Eaters are using Unforgivables, not trying to win a fucking first year duelling contest!” He takes a breath, steadying himself as Nick puts an arm around him and keeps him tethered. “I just…I’m ordinary. Worse than ordinary. Not even average, most days. There’s nothing special about me, absolutely nothing at all.”

“You’re here,” Malfoy says. His voice is quiet, his gaze shrewd. “Plenty of people in your position wouldn’t be prepared to help.”

“You all would have done,” Louis says, choked. “All of you.”

“Not all.” Malfoy takes a sip of his drink, pale pink spots blooming in his cheeks. “And I think if you’re looking for signs like Potter’s scar, signs that you’re chosen, you’re clearly not going to find them.”

“I wasn’t much of anything,” Ron says. He’s glances at Hermione, his chest swelling with pride. “’Mione’s brilliant. Finest witch of our age. Harry’s, well. He’s Harry, innit?” He grins at Harry and punches him lightly on the arm. “But I just wanted to be clever like Hermione, Head Boy like Percy or good at Quidditch, like Harry. But I wasn’t any of that. I was about as average as they come. You should have seen what I wanted when I looked in Erised. All those things I wasn’t quite good enough to get.”

Hermione squeezes Ron’s hand. “Don’t. Don’t speak about my husband like that.”

“It’s important though, isn’t it?” Ron looks, surprisingly, at Malfoy, who seems to understand implicitly what Ron’s saying. “Then there was Neville. Nobody had him pegged as any kind of hero, but he did something nobody else could have done. Right place, right time. Braver than most people I know.”

“I don’t get how that helps anything.” Louis looks at Nick who presses a light kiss on his lips, before looking at him with shining eyes. He looks so open. Scared but fond, as he meets Louis’ gaze. He brushes Louis’ fringe from his forehead and when he finally speaks, his voice is rich and firm.

“I think what they’re trying to say is sometimes if you put an ordinary person in a particular situation, that’s when you learn how extraordinary they can be.”

“Oh.” Louis looks away from Nick and takes a glug of his drink. The alcohol is sweet and soothing. “What if I don’t want to be extraordinary?”

“We don’t always get a choice,” Harry says. When Louis looks up, Harry’s watching him with the strangest look on his face. He looks worried and tired, but there’s also something wistful about the way he studies Louis closely.

The fire crackles in the hearth and Ron tops up their drinks, as the silence of their individual thoughts fills the room.

Chapter Text

Louis wakes up with something pecking at his chest. He opens his eyes and glares at the little, round bird flapping its wings and hopping around.

“You’re a twat,” Louis says. The bird pecks him again. Louis holds out a careful hand and the bird hops onto it, making a purr that sounds a bit like Stinky when Louis gently strokes its fluffy feathers. “I could have rolled over and crushed you.”

The bird lets out an indignant squawk and takes up refuge in Louis’ hair.

“I wouldn’t, obviously. But I might have done by accident. Get out of there.” Louis laughs, as the Golden Snidget moves back into Louis’ eye-line. Louis taps it softly on the head with the tip of his finger. “I think I like you better like this.”

It only takes a moment for the bird to become a much larger, heavier weight on Louis’ chest and Nick blinks at him. “Rude.”

“It’s true.” Louis presses up to give Nick a kiss. “Hiya.”

“Hi.” Nick smiles against Louis’ lips which means he’s not really cross. “Do you like it?”

“The fact you’re an Animagus?” Louis shrugs, tangling a hand in Nick’s hair and dicking around with his quiff. “Suppose. Not sure I like you spying on me when I’m in bed. I could be doing anything.”

“Could be wanking,” Nick agrees. His words are muffled against Louis’ neck and after a moment he rolls to the side, propping himself up on his elbow and looking down at Louis. He slides his fingers down Louis’ chest and it does absolutely nothing to help his morning stiffy go down. Louis bites his lip and makes an ungh sound as Nick’s fingers slide lower. “Bit disappointed I didn’t catch you in time to get a show.”

“Pervert.” Louis lets out a gasp when Nick’s fingers push under the waistband of his boxers. “Christ. People are still up here. Niall or Liam could come in at any minute.”

“Nope. Everyone’s gone for breakfast.” Nick wraps his fingers around Louis’ cock, leaning in to nibble on his earlobe. His breath is rough and hot against Louis’ skin. “It’s just us.”

“Tommo?” As if on cue, Niall’s voice filters up the staircase and there’s a thud, thud sound of someone running into the dormitory. With a curse, Louis pulls the duvet up to his chin and watches as a small ball of golden fluff and feathers zooms in a zig-zag path to perch out of the way.

“Go away, I’m sleeping.” Louis wills his erection to go down and mentally curses Nick again.

“Got you some breakfast.” Niall opens the curtains surrounding the bed and perches on the end, giving Louis a sausage sandwich, which smells delicious. “Are you going to come to Hogsmeade?”

Louis shivers, thinking about the last time he went to Hogsmeade. He rubs the mark on his arm which is now almost entirely healed. “They’re letting us go out as normal?”

Niall shrugs. “Yeah. Apparently, there’s an increased Auror presence. McGonagall said we can go to the shops as usual, but just to stay in groups. No wandering off on our own. Stay vigilant. We can’t just hide away, can we?”

Louis shrugs. Part of him would quite like to hide away until everything is over. He coughs, covering his mouth and pulling an I’m sick face. “Don’t think I’ll bother today.”

“Okay.” Niall looks suspicious but thankfully doesn’t push. “We’re going to Honeydukes then Liam wants to speak to someone at the Three Broomsticks about playing there one night.”

“Brilliant.” Louis grins at Niall. “Get me some chocolate frogs, will you? I’m still after the Hermione Granger card. No more Harry Potter ones. I’ve got about a hundred.”

“Didn’t think you minded.” Niall winks at Louis. “I suppose now you’ve got Grimmy you don’t fancy Harry Potter anymore?”

Louis thinks he can hear an annoyed squawk from somewhere in the rafters and he pokes Niall in the side. “Give over. I never fancied Harry, are you mental?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Niall laughs and stands. “Give us some money for the frogs, then.”

Louis fishes around for some change in his drawer, giving Niall a few knuts. “That should do it.”

“See you later, Tommo.” Niall leaves the room, whistling and Louis tugs the curtains shut again. He mutters a charm which will at least stop people from yanking the curtains back, although he can’t do much about stopping people from coming into the dormitory. The little golden bird lands on the duvet and moves in an agitated circle, the very definition of ruffled feathers.

“Harry Potter?” Nick turns from a bird back to his usual self again and glares at Louis. “Bit old for you, isn’t he?”

“You’re jealous.” Louis grins at Nick.

“I am not.” Nick’s frown deepens.

“Come on.” Louis throws back the covers. He can’t imagine getting into anything here after Niall’s interruption, warded curtains or not. “Let’s find somewhere you can give me that hand job you started.”

“I can’t just walk around Hogwarts with you. McGonagall doesn’t let people visit from outside without her say so.”

“No law against Snidgets though, is there?” Louis tugs on a jumper and his jeans. “Ready?”

Nick transforms back into a bird and hops onto Louis’ shoulder.

Louis decides to take that as a yes.

*

“We’re playing at the Leaky on Tuesday night.” Louis pushes open the door to the room he found Erised in with Niall and Liam, coughing at the dust which rises from the floor. “Fancy coming along?”

“Definitely.” Nick grins at Louis, thankfully back to his usual self. “I’ve been dying to hear you play. Might have to get you on the radio.”

“Yeah?” Louis glances at Nick. “You don’t have to. We’re still a bit rubbish.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Nick shrugs. “Bet you’re not as bad as The Pipe Smokers and I have to play them all the time.”

“Okay.” Louis smiles at Nick, his heart swelling in his chest. Nick. He’s so good to Louis and it’s a lot to take in, sometimes. “I’m glad you’re here.”

“Me too.” Nick squeezes Louis’ hand briefly, his cheeks a bit pink. “Kept thinking about the other night. I wanted to see you.”

“I’ve been thinking about it, too.” Louis knows his own cheeks are hot as a flush of warmth runs through his body. “We should do that again.”

“An excellent idea.” Nick glances around the room, his eyebrows raising. “Did you mean to bring me to some kind of sex dungeon?”

“What?” Louis swallows and looks at the objects in the gloomy parts of the room. It’s not the usual clutter from his previous visits, although there’s still plenty of that. There’s a sofa and a table, and on the table there’s an array of toys Louis hardly even recognises. He raises his eyebrows at Nick. “Got something to tell me?”

“No!” Nick’s neck gets red like it does when he’s feeling embarrassed. He approaches the table and pokes at some of the items on there. “What the fuck is this place? This is a school. You Gryffindors off corrupting the Hufflepuffs.”

“Give over.” Louis laughs, peering at the different toys. Even just looking at them makes his skin hot. “If anyone’s being corrupted here, it’s me. This is the Room of Requirement, innit? It gives you what you require.”

Nick clears his throat and pulls Louis into a quick kiss. “I’ve already got what I require.”

“Cheesy.” Louis rolls his eyes and squirms away from Nick, refusing to let this go. “You into this stuff, then?” He’s not sure how he feels about Nick having a kinky side. Interested, definitely. Also slightly put out that Nick hasn’t mentioned this before. Maybe he thinks Louis is too young or too inexperienced. The thought that he might not be enough for Nick takes the shine off the joke and Louis moves to another part of the room, so Nick can’t see his face.

“Hey.” Nick wraps his arms around Louis, pulling him back against his chest. He presses his nose into the crook of Louis’ neck and kisses him softly. “Don’t get weird on me.”

“Just wish you’d said,” Louis mutters. “You never mentioned.”

“Because we’re just getting started,” Nick says. “I don’t know why you think it’s all me. I don’t know much about this stuff, either.”

Louis turns in Nick’s arms, meeting his worried gaze head on. “You don’t?”

“Nope.” Nick shrugs. “I might have the odd, like, fantasy. It’s not as if I’m out there, spanking people on the regular.”

Louis can’t help but respond to that image, groaning and pressing against Nick. His voice is a little breathless when he speaks. “But you want to be?”

“I want you,” Nick says. He runs his hands down Louis’ arms. “Whatever you want, love. I just think it’s fun sometimes, isn’t it? Trying new things. New things for me, too.”

Louis quite likes the idea of that. He’s had so many firsts with Nick, he likes the thought that Nick might have a few firsts with Louis too. Now the room’s given them some suggestions he can’t seem to shake certain images from his mind and it definitely appeals. “Do you reckon they’re for us to try out now?”

Nick laughs and shakes his head. “I don’t mind trying to have a cheeky fumble but let’s not get carried away in case McGonagall finds us. Would rather be at home. Somewhere safe, where we know we won’t be disturbed.” He brushes Louis’ hair from his face and gives him a soft smile. “No rush, is there? We don’t have to do everything at once. Might be nice to save some things.”

“Yeah.” Louis likes the thought of storing things up. He likes the idea of there being a next time, and a next and a next. “Maybe it’s just the room giving us a hint. Making us talk about it.”

“Maybe.” Nick nods. “We’re famously bad at the talking.”

“Not you.” Louis grins at Nick. “Always talking, you are. Gets dead annoying.”

“Excuse you, Louis Tomlinson.” Nick pokes Louis in the side before pulling him close. His eyes are a bit darker and his hands slip to the curve of Louis’ arse. “Could always shut me up if you like?”

“I could.” Louis tugs Nick over to the sofa and pushes him down. He turns his back on the table and settles between Nick’s legs, on his knees. He doesn’t much care that the floor is dusty or that anyone could come in. They’re not even supposed to be in this part of the school, so he can’t imagine anybody being in a rush to find a room that isn’t easy to find in the first place.

“You look so good like that.” Nick sucks in a breath as Louis takes out his wand and gives it an experimental wave. “Oi. No wands pointing at my knob.”

“I’m just getting you naked.” Louis gives his wand a confident flick and crows with delight when everything on Nick’s bottom half slides off and settle in an orderly pile within safe grabbing distance in case they get disturbed. “It worked!”

“Were you worried it might not?” Nick looks a bit green at the thought and Louis rolls his eyes. He doesn’t want his magic to kill Nick’s arousal. He wants Nick to like it, like Louis enjoys the thrum of Nick’s magic when he casts spells that make everything bright and warm.

“Shut up. I’m brilliant. I knew my spell would be brilliant too.” Louis decides it’s probably not the best time to mention it’s the first time he’s tried that particular spell on anyone other than himself. He decides to distract Nick instead, leaning in and licking down the shaft of his cock slowly enough to drive Nick barmy.

“Merlin.” Nick twists his hand in Louis’s hair and hisses with pleasure, his head thrown back on the sofa as Louis gets to work. It’s still such a lot, doing this to Nick. The hard, silken heat in his mouth, the stretch and ache of his jaw and the upward cant of Nick’s hips. Louis runs his hands over Nick’s thighs, pushing down over Nick’s cock and taking him deeper. He thinks he’s getting okay at this. Or maybe he’s just okay at Nick. He finds he’s more in tune than ever with Nick’s responses and he’s able to repeat the things Nick seems to like, pulling back and slowing down just as Nick pushes harder into Louis’s mouth. It’s not teasing exactly, but Louis just doesn’t want it to be over too fast. He wants to luxuriate in the pleasure of giving pleasure. The hard floor under his knees and the scratch of Nick’s free hand against the sofa makes Louis groan. He pulls off Nick for a moment as he takes a shaky breath, stroking him slowly. He wants to tell Nick again how daft Louis is for him, but he can’t quite find the words. Instead he moves over Nick again and enjoys the tug, tug of Nick’s hand in his hair and the way Nick’s breathing gets ragged and rough.

It doesn’t take much longer before Nick gives Louis an nngh of warning with a harsh whisper of his name. Louis ignores Nick and continues sucking him, until Nick pulses in his mouth. With a contented sigh, Louis sits back on his heels and wipes the back of his mouth with his hand. He feels dead proud of himself.

“Come here, you.” Nick hauls Louis onto the sofa, pushing him back and working his trousers open. It’s so good how Nick does that. He manages to pin Louis down and still use his hand to deftly get inside Louis’s pants, wrapping a firm hand around his cock. “Okay?” Nick sounds a bit breathless as he places a kiss to Louis’s jaw, his breath hot on Louis’s skin.

“Yeah, make me come, will you?” Louis pushes into Nick’s fist and hauls him close into a fierce, heart-stopping kiss. The scent of Nick drives Louis into the moment with one hard, searching kiss. The light scent of sweat and his familiar cologne. The way his lips taste faintly of something sweet and the eager, the heat of his mouth against Louis’s. Because Nick’s a smug twat who knows exactly what he’s doing, it’s not long before he coaxes Louis’s orgasm from him with a deft squeeze of his fingers and clever strokes of his hand. Louis stretches on the sofa and lets his breathing settle as Nick gets them cleaned up with a quick spell. “Thanks.”

“Absolutely my pleasure.” Nick winks at Louis, before giving him a slow kiss. “So lovely, pet.”

“Don’t be soft.” Louis can’t help but smile, despite his words. It’s all lovely. It’s so good being with Nick. So nice to be able to not think for a change. He shifts off the sofa and does up his jeans. When he feels a bit more composed he sits on the sofa and puts his feet up on the coffee table, trying not to stare at the sex toys and taking mental notes for another time. “This is where we found the Mirror of Erised.”

Nick shivers and he looks around the room, as if seeing it in a new light. The shadows flicker over the walls and in the aftermath of their pleasure the whole room has a strange, cold sort of energy to it. “Creepy.”

“A bit,” Louis says. He glances at Nick. “I liked what I saw in it, though.”

“Yeah.” Nick smiles at Louis and the room gets a little bit warmer. “Me too.”

“Come on.” Louis stands and holds out his hand. “Let’s go.”

“Gladly. Do you want to go into Hogsmeade?” Nick glances at Louis as they walk through the corridors, having clearly decided the parts of the school they’re currently in are dead enough that he’s unlikely to be seen. “I don’t mind if you do.”

“No.” Louis shakes his head. “I haven’t been back since the last time. Have you?”

Nick nods. “Yeah. I had a meeting with people from WWN. They’re very into not cancelling stuff out of fear and the Aurors are everywhere now.”

“I heard.” Louis pulls a face. “I just don’t want to be around loads of people from school. It’s not even about last time.” At the risk of sounding sappy, he gives Nick a sheepish smile. “I want to spend the day with you. We could have gone to London.”

“We still could,” Nick says.

Louis contemplates that, but eventually shakes his head. “I don’t want to leave in case something happens. Do you mind?”

“Not a bit.” Nick gives Louis a kiss on the head, keeping him close. “Although I don’t want you running off to try and defeat dragons or whatever. Just…don’t put yourself in danger.”

“Okay.” Louis thinks it’s probably not helpful to point out he’s already in danger. He extracts the mirror George gave him which he’s been carrying around since the last meeting and hands it to Nick. “George Weasley gave me this.”

“A bit of broken mirror?” Nick turns it in his hands with a frown. “Why?”

“It’s a two-way mirror. Fred had the other half when he died.” Louis looks at the glass and swears he sees a flash of orange skimming over the surface. A shiver runs down his spine and he tells himself it’s just a trick of the light. “He thinks he’s been seeing Fred in it, but everyone thinks he’s going mental. How’s an identical twin supposed to convince someone they’re seeing their dead brother in the mirror instead of their own reflection?”

“God.” Nick shakes his head. “I don’t like this, Lou. I don’t like any of this. It’s creepy as fuck.”

“I know.” Louis takes the mirror and puts it in his pocket again. “I don’t know what to trust. Ghosts and reflections, they’re everywhere aren’t they? There are mirrors all over the castle and portraits and broken parts that never got fixed.” Panic rises within Louis and he clutches Nick’s hand. “I’m scared.”

“I know, love.” Nick pulls Louis into the warm circle of his arms and speaks into his hair, holding him tightly against his chest. “You can trust me. I promise.”

Louis sniffles, clutching onto Nick’s jumper. “As if you’d say anything different. In films I bet you’d be the villain.”

Nick snorts with laughter. “Yeah, a great villain I’d make too.” He sounds uncertain and there’s a silence which stretches between them. When he speaks again his voice is quiet. “You’re really worried?”

Louis pulls back and looks into Nick’s eyes. They’re so kind and they crinkle at the edges when he smiles. He’s not smiling now. He looks hurt, his expression shadowy. Louis touches the corner of his lips with his thumb. The bit that usually curves up into a smirk or a wide smile. He hates making Nick sad and he’s done too much of it lately, being a wanker and trying to break up with him to keep him safe.

“’Course I’m not worried.” Louis gives Nick a look and then takes a deep breath. “I’m in love with you. Properly in love with you. I wasn’t lying when I said it the other night or just saying it because I thought I should.”

“Oh.” Nick doesn’t look overly surprised, but his cheeks flush and his lips finally curve into a smile. “Me too. I wasn’t just saying it because you were being a knob.”

Louis laughs, watery and full of joy. He wants to shout from the rooftops and spin Nick in a dizzying dance just because he can. “So, if you’re going to be all evil and shit I’m probably going to have to do that too. With you.”

“No fear,” Nick says. He tickles Louis’ side which makes him squirm away. “You’re too short and pretty to be a proper villain.”

“I’m not pretty, you tit.” Louis gives Nick a shove. “Handsome, you mean. Like James Bond.”

Nick considers it. “If Bond was a short arse, yeah.”

“Oi!” Louis gives Nick another shove but finds himself caught in a searing kiss before he can point out that anyone who had properly evil motives wouldn’t call attention to themselves with floral shirts and a ridiculous quiff. He sinks into it, wrapping his arms around Nick’s neck and pressing closer. “Do you want to go back to that room?” He mouths along the line of Nick’s throat, feeling Nick’s pulse jump beneath his lips.

“No.” Nick pulls back from Louis for a minute and looks at him with shining eyes. “Let’s go flying.”

Even though he’s always been crap at Quidditch, the thought of nicking brooms and soaring over the castle on a warm, balmy day makes Louis’ heart swell. There’s something freeing about being in the air and remembering that magic can be cool after all.

“Race you to the broom shed,” Louis says. “Just make sure nobody mistakes you for a Snitch.”

He sets off at a pace, the whir of Nick’s wings by his ear as the little Golden Snidget settles into Louis’ hair. Louis swallows back the fear which grips him as he thinks of the weird things that have been happening lately and he focuses on the warmth of Nick’s presence and the way everything seems like it’s going to be okay when Nick’s around. You’re brilliant, Louis thinks to himself as the Snidget nestles further into his hair, making a right tangle of it. The best thing that’s ever happened to me.

The Snidget squawks softly and Louis smiles. Brilliant.

*

Louis is nervous by the time Tuesday night rolls around and he orders a pint as soon as he arrives at the Leaky with Liam and Niall. His day with Nick is still fresh in his mind and his whole body gets warm as he remembers grabbing brooms from the stores at Hogwarts and flying up, up into the clouds. For the first time in ages he felt free again, the thought of everything he might have to do melting away. Nick’s so good at that. He caught Louis’s eye in the half-light of the setting sun and his smile was so warm and fond, Louis nearly toppled off his broom. They’re both shit at flying, but that just made it even better somehow. Like they were learning something new together, pushing higher up into the clouds and reaching for each other whenever they had a wobble or falter.

“We’ve got two hours before we start.” Liam looks uncertain as Louis necks half of his pint in one go.

“Calm down, Liam. I’m just having the one.” Louis rolls his eyes but takes his next gulp of the strong lager more slowly. He doesn’t usually like being told what to do, but he also doesn’t want to get pissed. He wants to do a good job, with Nick coming to watch. His palms get clammy at the thought of singing for Nick and he pulls the crumpled setlist from his pocket.

“We’re doing three songs, yeah?” Louis still isn’t sure about the new song. It makes his heart pound thinking of singing that with Nick there, but Niall and Liam were dead excited about it and insisted they all learn it for the gig. Louis still feels like he’s not as strong a singer as Liam or Niall, but he knows he can write songs and he’s not bad or anything. He just gets too up in his own head sometimes, and it makes him nervous and edgy.

“Three songs, then the Cornish Pixies are up. They’re meant to be sick.” Niall plucks his guitar, concentrating on tuning it. “We’re just a warm up.”

“Still.” Despite his nerves, Louis can’t help but feel excited about performing for people again instead of an empty room. It’s a miracle they even managed to get three songs to the point where they sound half decent, and Louis is proud of the work they put into it. Now he just needs to make sure he doesn’t mess it all up. “Do we know who’s coming?”

“McGonagall’s letting some of our year out to watch.” Liam practices a couple of scales with an ease Louis envies. He’s got a strong voice and he doesn’t seem nervous in the slightest.

“Harry’s coming,” Niall says.

“Why the fuck is he coming?” Louis glares at Niall. “Everyone’s going to be staring at him, not us.”

“So?” Niall gives Louis a look. “He’s got contacts. Besides, we’re mates now.”

“Being in charge of his fan club doesn’t make you mates,” Louis mutters.

“No, but playing guitar together does.” Niall gives Louis a lopsided smile. “Come on, Tommo. Why do you care?”

“I don’t, I suppose.” Louis shrugs and the bad energy leaves him. “Sorry. I don’t care if you want Harry there to blow kisses at you.”

Niall laughs and shoves Louis in the shoulder. “Straight, remember?”

“Harry Styles sexual, last I heard.” Louis grins at Niall, who laughs.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m a good boy, Tommo. Not so much as a cheeky snog. Besides, I’ve got my eye on that Ellie from the year below.”

“I know her.” Liam sounds enthusiastic. “The one who’s been helping you with Arithmancy?”

“Might be.” Niall’s cheeks get flushed. “She’s nice.”

“Should have asked her,” Louis says.

“I might have done.” Niall looks pleased with himself. “She might have said yes.”

“Good lad, Nialler.” Liam claps Niall on the shoulder. “We’ll make a man of you yet.”

Louis pulls a face at Liam. “Stop thinking about Niall having sex.”

“I’m not.” Liam shoves Louis and rolls his eyes. “Idiot.”

“He’s just pretending he knows what he’s on about because he’s got his eye on an older woman.” Niall winks at Louis.

“Luna Lovegood?” Louis snorts. “Come on, Payno. There’s as much chance of that happening as me getting off with Draco Malfoy.”

“Since when are you into blonds?” Nick’s familiar voice startles Louis and he turns, unable to stop his face from breaking into a broad smile.

“Since never. You’re early. We’re not on for ages.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Nick tugs Louis close and kisses him, ignoring the way Niall accompanies the kiss with a guitar riff as Liam clears his throat in the background. Nick nuzzles Louis’s neck and lowers his voice. “If you’ve got any pre-show tensions I can help you with, I’ve got it on good authority the bathrooms are disgusting but nothing a few spells can’t fix.”

“Honestly.” Louis tries to look scandalised, but he’s not sure he manages it. He glances at Liam and Niall. “Just going for a piss.”

“Yeah,” Niall says. “Sure you are.”

“Hi Grimmy.” Liam gives Nick a weird fist bump and Louis grabs Nick’s hand when they’ve finished.

“Nick needs the bathroom too.”

Sure he does.” Niall gives his guitar another strum, grinning at Louis. “If you’re not out in fifteen minutes I’m sending Payno in to find you. We’ve got warm ups to do.”

Louis drags Nick through the pub, laughing as Liam’s complaints about being nominated to check up on Louis and Nick fade into the background.

*

It’s difficult to make out individual faces in the crowd once Louis is up on stage. The lights are blinding and the whir and hum beneath him makes it difficult to distinguish one person from the blur of people drinking and waiting impatiently for the band to start. He checks his mic for the millionth time and watches Niall making sure his guitar’s in tune. He takes a breath and looks at Liam, nodding as Niall starts playing the opening chords to the first song.

“Evening everyone. Thanks for coming.” Liam sounds as if he’s in his element, not a bit nervous about performing live. “We’re Potter and the Wotsits and we’re going to be playing three songs for you tonight before the Cornish Pixies take over.” The crowd whoops and hollers and Louis is sure he can make out Nick shouting go Liam! “We wrote the first two between us and the third one is by Tommo, here.” Liam points to Louis who gives the crowd a wave.

“That’s right, Payno. Here’s Midnight Memory Charms, If You Could Fly My Broomstick and…” Louis’ voice cracks as he finds Nick’s face in the crowd. He takes a deep breath and continues, “and Your Voice On the Radio. Let’s have it!”

Niall picks up the intro to the first song again and they’re off. Louis lets the familiar sounds of the songs they practiced over and over take him away from the fact that there are people in the crowd watching that he wants to be impressed. He loses himself in the songs, Niall’s confident guitar and vocals never faltering. Liam adds falsetto twists to some of his vocals which Louis didn’t even know Liam was capable of. He sounds brilliant. Even if Louis is nervous about his own bits, his voice grows in confidence so by the time he’s on the last number where he has a significant part of the vocals, his voice is rich and smooth.

For this song, he does try to find Nick’s eyes. It’s so obviously about Nick there’s no way he’s not going to know. The song soars from him, the music feeling better than it ever has and the air humming with excitement. It’s not particularly rocky, or anthemic like the other two. It’s everything stripped bare and Louis doesn’t consider changing the pronouns from he to she for one minute. The crowd don’t seem bothered by it. If anything when Louis sings he the line generates whoops, hollers and clapping from the floor. It feels big, bold and brave and Louis doesn’t falter for one minute. He wants Nick to know he did that. He made Louis brave enough to stand up in front of everyone and sing about loving another man, without censoring himself or backing away in the moment. The spinning lights catch on reflective surfaces sending rainbows into the dust around them and the whole room buzzes. Louis doesn’t think he’s ever felt so free or so perfectly happy.

The only things that compare to being on stage are those moments with Nick and Louis draws on every single one, pushing his voice to its limits and never failing to hit a note. He thinks back to those first, fumbling kisses, the newness of kissing another man and the steady lifting of the weight on his shoulders with every time he said out loud I’m gay. I’m gay. The song is over too soon and Louis puts the mic back on the stand, leaving the stage to raucous cheers. He thanks people who pat him on the shoulder but in that moment, he only wants to see Nick. He finds Nick in the crowd and makes a beeline for him.

“You were—”

“I love you,” Louis says, cutting him off. “I love you so much I don’t know what to do with it, sometimes. I just wanted you to know.”

Nick’s cheeks flush and he pulls Louis into his arms. When he kisses Louis, Louis doesn’t hesitate to respond, even with the crowds of people jostling them and the fact everyone is around. He just kisses and kisses, holding onto Nick for dear life and making himself a promise that for as long as Nick wants to be kissed by Louis, Louis will never let go.

*

When Louis turns up at Nick’s house, he’s listening to Louis’ song on one of Mildred’s Magical Music Players.

“You got the recording, then?”

“Yeah.” Nick grins at Louis, turning the volume down. “I’ve been listening to it on and off all day.”

“You have not.” Heat rises in Louis’ cheeks. He felt a bit embarrassed owling off his song to Nick after he, Liam and Niall recorded their Leaky songs in one of Hogwarts disused classrooms, even if Nick was insistent. “You weren’t joking when you said you wanted a copy?”

“Nope.” Nick pulls a face. “I hate it when people play me songs they think I’ll like. Harry plays me new stuff all the time, which I’ve liked so far thank god. I can never hide if I don’t like something, so there’s no way I could have pretended to like it for this long if I didn’t mean it.” Nick’s cheeks turn a bit pink. “Anyway, no one’s ever written a song about me before.”

“Then they’re stupid,” Louis says. He grins at Nick. “I’ve got another one called Your Quiff is a Monstrosity, it’s—”

Nick rolls his eyes and shuts Louis up by kissing him thoroughly. They break apart slightly breathless and Nick squeezes Louis’ bum. “Missed you.”

“Missed you too,” Louis says, even though it’s only been a couple of days. He doesn’t know what this thing is with Nick, but he’s fallen hard and fast and he can’t help but feel like Nick’s his soulmate. He wonders if Nick feels the same about Louis. He pulls away from Nick’s arms before he can get too sappy and takes out his wand. “What’s on the cards for today?”

Nick gestures to the living room which has been organised to give them space to cast spells. “We’re going to do some defensive spells. For the exam and for…just in case.” Nick pulls a face. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with these ghosts, but I want you to know everything I know, which isn’t a lot. I’ve asked Harry – Potter that is – to do another session with you, if you want. He said we should both come to the Ministry tomorrow, after your classes. McGonagall’s approved it.”

“Okay.” Louis tries not to feel too panicky about the inevitable battle that hovers over them. “Can I bring Liam and Niall?”

“’Course.” Nick nods, taking out his wand and adopting a flamboyant pose. “Ready?”

Louis takes a breath and faces Nick, his wand arm outstretched. “As I’ll ever be. Do your worst, Nicholas.”

The spells fly through the room and Louis fights back against every single one, the words I can, I can, I can pulsing through his mind.

*

Glacius! Shit, Lou. God, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Nick babbles and fumbles with his wand as he turns water into ice. He presses the freezing cold block against Louis’ stomach. Louis hisses and arches towards the ice in Nick’s hand.

“It’s fine, you didn’t mean it.”

“I hurt you.” Nick looks wretched, his face fixed in a frown and his eyes watering.

“You didn’t, you were trying to help me learn how to defend myself.” The burn from the spell that singed Louis’ t-shirt and went through to his skin eases as the ice cools down the hot patch the spell caught. He takes a breath and lets Nick fuss over him for a minute. “That ice spell is cool.”

Glacius?” Nick looks up at Louis. “Yeah, it’s not hard. You should try it.”

“I will.” Louis laughs but it comes out slightly hysterical. “It won’t help me fight off Avada Kedavra but maybe I can distract Carrow by making her a Daquiri.”

Nick snorts with laughter, but his face is pale. He presses his lips to Louis’ belly and the touch is so soft and tender, Louis could almost cry. “I’m sorry, darling. I’m so, so sorry.”

“Stop, Nick.” Louis tugs Nick over him and kisses him, slow and deep. “Stop. You haven’t hurt me. You owe me a new t-shirt though.” Louis looks at the edge of his Nirvana t-shirt which has a couple of holes in the bottom. “Although maybe I could just pretend it’s the fashion.”

“I hear the apocalyptic look is well in this season.” Nick smiles at Louis and kisses his nose, which makes Louis wrinkle it as he glares at Nick. “I’ll get you twenty t-shirts, love.”

“Get me one at the Arctic Monkeys when we go to fancy London.” Louis shoves Nick back. “And stop kissing my nose. I’ve got other bits that hurt.”

“You have?” Wide-eyed Nick looks at Louis. He laughs as he realises what Louis means. “Menace.” Nick doesn’t sound too put out though, his hand already working open Louis’ trousers. “Let me guess, these bits are around the knob area?”

“Something like that.” Louis sighs with pleasure, stretching out on the floor where he fell a moment before. Because Nick is a soft-hearted idiot he cushioned the floor just in case, so the fall hardly hurt at all. With the cushioning charms and the slight bounce to the carpet, the whole room is like one big, squishy bed, which is handy as Louis has every intention of making the most of his last hour with Nick before he has to get back to the castle.

Nick kisses Louis’ stomach, sliding off his trousers and pants. It still feels weird being so on display, with Nick’s face right there by Louis’ cock. Weird, but good. So good, it makes everything hot and tingly. Louis moans as Nick rubs his hands over his thighs and sucks Louis slowly into his mouth. Nick’s so good at blow jobs, it drives Louis mad. He tugs Nick’s hair gently and Nick pulls off slowly, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and giving Louis a questioning look.

“Everything okay?”

Louis is still bad at asking for what he wants, and he squirms under Nick’s touch, heat rising in his cheeks. “Fine, just…”

“Something you want, pet?” Nick’s voice is low and teasing, his eyes shining with humour.

Yes.” Louis sucks in a breath as Nick gets his hands under Louis’ bum and squeezes firmly. “You’re such a twat, you know what I want.”

“Might have some idea.” Nick sits back on his heels, thinking. He flicks his wand and mutters a Summoning charm. A bottle of lube makes an unsteady path through the flat and drops beside them. Nick nods to the sofa. “How about you bend over the arm of that for me, darling.”

“Okay.” Louis bites his lip and gets to his feet, his legs slightly wobbly. He bends over, spreading his legs a little. He knows his arse is properly on display and it makes him flush with heat all over. He swallows back a moan as Nick stands behind him, still fully clothed. “Kinky,” Louis says.

“Hmm.” Nick sounds as though he’s smiling. He rubs his hands over Louis’ backside and then slides lube-slick fingers between Louis’ arse cheeks. It feels so distractingly brilliant, Louis can’t help but push back with a needy whimper. The things Nick does to him. “Good boy,” Nick says. He says it quietly like he’s testing it out, but it makes Louis push back again as his dick jumps with interest.

“Nick…”

“Like that?” Nick pushes a finger slowly inside Louis and presses his lips to Louis’ back. “Do you like being a good boy for me?”

Louis responds with a strangled sound as Nick works a second finger inside him. It turns out he does like it, very much. He’s overwhelmed with the need to be good for Nick, to be open, vulnerable and exposed to him. He trusts Nick so much, he loves him so much and even when he’s just putting an arm around Louis or whispering in his ear, he wants Nick. Maybe the Room of Requirement wasn’t all Nick, after all. Louis has been doing some thinking about Nick using toys on him, using spells to bind his hands or legs. He wonders if Nick knows, somehow.

“I…yes…” Louis can’t manage anything else as Nick fucks him slowly with his fingers.

“Ever thought about being spanked, love?” Nick says it conversationally and Louis wriggles against the arm of the sofa, trying to get friction against his cock.

“Nnngh.” Louis nods frantically, pushing back against Nick’s fingers. Nick slides his fingers deeper into Louis and fucks him harder with them.

“The thing is, pet.” Nick’s voice is husky, low and so fucking sexy Louis is ready to lose his mind. “The thing is, I know some of those toys in that room of yours weren’t there because of my fantasies, were they?”

Fuck.” Louis squirms and shakes his head. “N-no.”

“Tell me what you want.” Nick keeps up the pace of his fingers, adding more lube and sliding a third inside Louis. He keeps his other hand on Louis’ back, holding him in place. “Tell me.”

“Toys and stuff.” Louis shudders with pleasure as Nick’s fingers do magical things inside him. He’s so turned on by Nick, so eager for him. The buzz of his magic warms Louis to the core and in moments like this it makes his skin tingle and spark with pleasure. “T-tie me up, maybe.” Louis is so close, so fucking close he can hardly speak, pushing back hard against Nick’s hand. “Just want you to do all sorts – please, please - I don’t even know.”

“I’ve got some ideas for you love.” Nick slides his fingers from Louis and fuck no that’s not what Louis wanted. Nick moves to sit on the sofa, getting Louis to straddle him and then slips his fingers inside Louis again. His voice is a rough, hypnotic murmur, so gruff and turned on and yet so achingly familiar from all Louis’ years of listening to the radio and Nick’s voice in his ear as he went to sleep. “I’ll take my time with you. All day, if you like. Tied up and spread out for me. I’d make you come, over and over. I’d fuck you and rim you, use toys on you and finger you until you came so much.” Nick slides his free hand over Louis’ cock and that too is slick with lube and cool against Louis’ hot skin. Nick’s voice gets gruffer still as he fucks Louis harder, faster, his fingers dragging over the nerves that make Louis want to explode. “You’d be a good boy for me, wouldn’t you, Lou?”

That’s all it takes. Louis comes so hard and desperately, Nick’s name catching on the edge of a cry of pleasure. He collapses, boneless into Nick’s lap and buries his face in Nick’s neck, his cheeks hot with embarrassment as he tries to catch his breath.

“Darling.” Nick sounds as if he can’t quite get the word out, his arms around Louis keeping him close. “You’re so beautiful, love. So good for me.”

Nick.” Louis groans into Nick’s neck and bites lightly at the spot where his pulse jumps. “You’re so…”

“Sexy?” Nick offers. He sounds amused. “Good with my hands?”

“Annoying.” Louis bites down harder and Nick swats his backside. God. Louis wriggles in Nick’s lap, finally able to pull back and look him in the face. Nick reaches up and brushes Louis’ fringe from where it’s stuck to his forehead. “Can we do that? All of that?”

“Obviously.” Nick grins at Louis. He brushes his fingers over Louis’ belly which is sticky with come. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Of course I am, you knob.” Louis rolls his eyes.

“Okay.” Nick gives Louis a kiss and slides a hand down his back. “In the summer hols you’ll be able to stay over more.”

The thought gives Louis a thrill and he presses against Nick, breathing him in. “I could wake you up sucking you off.”

Nick groans, pulling Louis closer. “You absolutely could.”

“Really?” Delighted, Louis kisses Nick quickly before sliding out of Nick’s lap. He doesn’t want to leave the warm circle of Nick’s arms, but he also wants Nick to come. “Can I suck you off now?”

“If you must.” Nick sighs as if it’s a chore, but his flushed cheeks and pleased smile give him away. He reaches for his wand and casts a spell which leaves him naked. He runs his thumb over Louis’ cheek and tips his head back so their eyes meet. Louis watches Nick’s throat work, his eyes dark with arousal. “I love you, Louis. I love you so fucking much.”

Louis’ heart feels too big for his chest and his breath hitches. He slides his hands over Nick’s thighs, enjoying the warmth of his skin, the musky scent of him and the way the downy hair at the tops of his thighs feel under Louis’ fingertips. “I love you too. Mine,” Louis adds, fiercely.

With a sigh, he sinks over Nick’s cock and takes him as deep as he can, wanting to make Nick feel as good as he always makes Louis feel. He focuses on giving Nick every pleasure and tries not to think about how terrifying it is that every time they do this it starts to feel a bit like goodbye.

*

“I’ve never been in the Ministry before.” Niall looks around in awe as they pass through the necessary security checks and make their way to Harry’s office. “This place is amazing. Can’t believe your mum works here, Payno.”

“Cool, isn’t it?” Liam sounds as excited as Niall and he’s been talking at speed since they left Hogwarts, under strict instructions from McGonagall to be back by ten. The three of them are in their warm, Gryffindor capes as the weather has been colder than ever, although in an act of defiance Louis put on Nick’s Hufflepuff scarf. He hopes Harry doesn’t care that Louis is a rubbish Gryffindor.

“They told me you were here.” Harry’s waiting by his office and he shakes Liam’s hand and Niall’s hand, making Niall a bit starry-eyed in the process. “Good to see you two again. Have you been practicing those Patronus charms?”

“Every evening,” Niall says, which is a lie, but Louis isn’t about to call him out on it. Bless Niall for wanting Harry Potter to like him. Louis winks at Liam who grins and gives Louis a shrug.

“Good.” Harry looks amused and ushers them into his office. “You’ve had dinner?”

“Niall had three helpings of treacle sponge,” Liam offers.

Liam.” Niall gives him a disgruntled look and then turns to Harry. “Thought the sugar might help keep my energy up.”

“Very wise.” Harry turns to Louis. “Have you stumbled across any more magical mirrors lately?”

Louis thinks of the little mirror George gave him which he carries in his pocket everywhere. He shakes his head. “Nope. No mirrors. Just too much homework. Arithmancy is boring.”

Harry looks as if he’s minded to agree, but he refrains from doing so. Louis wonders if that’s all adulthood really is. Pretending that Arithmancy isn’t the dullest thing on the planet.

“McGonagall suggested we should do some more defensive practice. Perhaps I can teach you a couple of tricks that are off-syllabus.”

“Why us, though?” Liam nods at Louis, wetting his lips as if he’s nervous. “We know about Tommo, but the prophecy isn’t about us, is it?”

Harry shakes his head, leaning on his desk. “No, but I have first hand experience of the way friends tend to get involved in things.” He gives Liam a warm smile. “You’ve heard of Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger?”

“Of course he has.” Niall sounds eager. “You think we’re like them? That’s sick.”

Harry’s lips twitch. “Yeah, it is. Friends are important.” He gives Liam and Niall a firm look, back to serious-Auror-Harry again. “But don’t go getting yourselves into trouble. Any of you. No trying to find things that don’t want to be found.”

“Fine.” Louis rolls his eyes and extracts his wand. “Isn’t Nick supposed to be coming?”

“Right here.” The Floo whooshes and Nick stumbles through, coughing at the waft of smoke that follows. “Oops.”

“Hi, Nick.” Harry sounds huffy. Louis thinks it’s hilarious that Harry Potter is jealous of his boyfriend. Stupid, but hilarious. Louis murmurs under his breath to Liam and Niall, making sure that Harry can’t hear. “Nick and Draco used to be a thing.” He says thing as disdainfully as he can manage.

“They never.” Niall’s eyes widen, and he looks at Nick, impressed.

“Oi, I’m better than Draco.” Louis elbows Niall in the side. “Didn’t have a prophecy about him, did they?”

“Good point, Tommo.” Niall grins at Louis and exchanges a look with Liam who’s laughing to himself. “You’re the best. All hail Tommo!”

“Piss off.” Louis can’t help but laugh, catching Nick’s eye and giving him a wide smile. “Hiya.”

“Louis.” Nick is clearly trying to be formal and business-like, but his eyes shine when he looks at Louis and the fondness is written all over his face. It makes Louis warm all over, the way Nick is so unfiltered.

“We should get started.” Harry shoots Nick an apologetic look. “Some of this might be a bit basic for you, but you can help me out with the duelling demonstrations if you want.”

Nick looks slightly green. “You do know I’m a DJ? I’m great if you want to know who Beyonce is, but I’m not so good at the duelling. I wouldn’t bet I know much more than these three here.”

“I reckon Harry just wants to flip him over onto his arse if he used to shag Draco,” Liam says. He keeps his voice low.

Louis glares and his grip on his wand tightens. “I’ll flip Potter on his arse if that’s what he’s up to.”

“Excuse me?” Harry looks at Louis with raised eyebrows and Louis puffs his chest out and pulls himself up to his full height.

“I said if you want to demonstrate duelling, do it with me. I’m probably going to be doing this by myself, anyway. I don’t want to drag other people along and get them killed.”

Harry furrows his brow and then nods. “Okay, we’ll pair up. Niall and Liam and…” he sighs and checks his watch. “I suppose Nick and Draco. Wherever the fuck he is.”

The door clicks, and Malfoy arrives. He takes off his coat, hanging it next to Harry’s. He moves with an easy confidence around Harry’s office, introducing himself to Liam and Niall and giving Nick a sharp grin, which sends a fiery jealousy through Louis. Bloody Draco. Even if he doesn’t seem all that bad, Louis still doesn’t like to think of him with Nick. He doesn’t like to think of anyone with Nick.

“Right, then.” Harry pulls his wand and points it at Louis which is a bit intimidating, if Louis’ honest. “Let’s get started.”

Louis points his wand at Harry and tries not to think about the fact he's about to duel with the most famous wizard on the planet. You've got this, Tommo, he tells himself. No problem.

Harry casts the first offensive spell and Louis lets out a whoop of delight when he manages to block it.

Perhaps things are looking up after all.

*

There’s a gloom which settles over the day and Louis shivers as he makes his way to the Leaky Cauldron to Floo to Grimmauld Place. He could have just gone from Hogwarts, but he wanted to walk around London for a bit and feel the chill of the rain through his clothes. He went to the Muggle shops he used to love when he came to London as a kid, and spent his time soaking up Muggle places, wishing not for the first time that he hadn’t discovered magic at all. The session with Harry went on until they were all exhausted, sweaty and sore. Louis was so ready for bed, he couldn’t even manage much more than a cheeky snog with Nick before heading back to Hogwarts. His stomach has been in knots ever since, because he can’t help but feel the session highlighted how much they don’t know. Niall, Liam and Louis tried hard to keep up, but they were no match for Harry, Draco or even Nick once he got into it, clearly determined to show off to Louis. Louis knows Harry Potter was no big deal at magic when he had to face Voldemort, but he wasn’t crap. The only thing Louis can do is a Patronus, and those sex spells he’s been practicing by himself. Not that he was about to bring those out during a duel.

When Louis stumbles through the Floo into Grimmauld Place, a few people are already there. Harry looks up and his eyes sweep over Louis, his face etched in a frown.

“You’re soaking.”

“It’s just a bit of rain.” Louis’ trainers give an ill-timed squelch and he shivers. He didn’t realise he was out for so long.

“You can dry off upstairs. Use a charm if you like, I’ve got a couple of spare jumpers and joggers if you want to change.” Harry waves his hand towards the stairs. “Second room on the left.”

“Okay. Thanks.” Louis pulls a face, mentally cursing himself for turning up soaked to the bone like an idiot. He could just cast a drying charm, but his shoes really are wet, and he has a feeling it’s going to take ages. He doesn’t want to expose himself in a room full of some of the most powerful witches and wizards in the country as being crap at basic first year magic. What if he turns his Converse purple or something by accident?

Louis makes his way upstairs with a sorry squelching as he goes. He perches on the edge of Harry’s bed and takes off his shoes. The room is large and bright, as if it’s been recently painted. There are pictures everywhere of Harry and Draco, Harry with the Weasleys, Harry and his friends. Despite the fact he’s won a million certificates and Ministry accolades, there’s no sign of any of that. The only thing that screams Head Auror Potter are the formal Auror robes which hang off the wardrobe and the pair of smart, tall boots next to a broom. Louis peers at a magical globe which spins on its axis and sends a beautiful light into the room, like a prism. The sea looks as though it’s moving when Louis looks more closely. He can almost taste the salt spray and feel the sun on his cheeks, the clamour of different people in different places filling the room. He pulls back and opens one of the drawers, looking for some clothes. His cheeks get hot when he sees a familiar bottle that he recognises from intimate moments with Nick, and he shoves the door closed quickly with a muttered curse.

“You need the bottom drawer.” The amused voice of Draco Malfoy makes Louis startle.

“I wasn’t snooping, Harry said I could—”

“I know.” Draco pats Louis on the shoulder, opening the drawer and handing Louis a t-shirt and some joggers. “Do me a favour and take a while giving these back, will you? I can’t stand those trousers.”

“Okay.” Louis grins at the tracksuit bottoms which are burgundy with a gold stripe down the side and a Gryffindor crest at the top of the right leg. “Nothing wrong with Gryffindor.”

Draco rolls his eyes. “If you say so.”

“I like the globe.” Louis nods at the little globe which is still whirring and flickering.

“Hmm.” Draco looks thoughtful. “Harry made it. He’s always wanted to travel.”

“Doesn’t he travel loads anyway?” Louis always imagined the Head Auror would go to far-flung places doing lots of glamorous things.

“A bit. Not as much, these days.” Draco doesn’t elaborate further. “How’s Nick? I haven’t seen him since we had supper with Weasley and Granger.”

“Busy in London.” Louis is quite relieved, in a way. He likes having Nick with him at meetings, but he still can’t help the creeping guilt he feels for dragging Nick into everything in the first place. He likes getting to think of Nick doing what he loves best, playing music and having a laugh with his friends instead of sitting around being gloomy in Grimmauld Place. “He’s good, though. He’s going to play Potter and the Wotsits on the radio.”

“Is he, indeed?” Draco’s lips twitch into a smile. He taps his finger to his lips. “If you’re still looking for a new name, I wouldn’t object to my surname being used as an alternative.”

“Good luck.” Louis grins at Draco. “Niall – he’s our guitarist and he sings a bit too – has got a bit of a thing for Harry. He doesn’t fancy him or anything. He’s straight. At least I think he is. He’s been talking about Harry Styles quite a bit lately.”

“It’s that part-Veela charm.” Draco winks at Louis and Louis pulls a face.

“I don’t get it.”

“Potter didn’t, either.” Draco shrugs. “Impervious to Veelas. Another thing you both have in common.”

“We’re nothing alike.” Louis isn’t sure why people keep insisting on that, right back to his detentions with Snape. He doesn’t feel like Harry Potter, he never has. He’s nothing like Harry, not really. The only thing they have in common is a very real fear of not seeing the future.

“You’re both lions, through and through.” Draco gives Louis a careful look. “I’ll let you change. Meeting’s about to start.”

“Okay.” Louis waits until Draco leaves, his chest warming at the thought of being a lion. He’s never really felt much Gryffindor pride and spent half of his time at Hogwarts complaining about the Sorting Hat cocking everything up. He always yearned to be in Hufflepuff, always felt like more of a Slytherin than a Gryffindor. It’s strange, feeling a sense of connection to Gryffindor after all this time. He likes the idea of it. Being a lion. It makes him feel like he can be brave, with his friends by his side and Nick next to him. Louis extracts his cigarettes, wand and the mirror George gave him and changes out of his wet clothes. He dries his them as best he can, shrinking them down and shoving them into the pocket of Harry’s trousers. They’re a bit big on him but the jumper fits just right, and he quite likes things baggy.

When he’s fully dressed, Louis takes one more look at the little globe in the room and imagines being away from all of this, somewhere hot and warm, with Nick all sandy, tanned and fit next to him. It makes Louis happy and hopeful, determined to get through this year without dying so he can do that, one day. If Nick’s up for it.

Louis makes his way through the house, stopping when he sees a flicker of light from another room. The door is slightly ajar, and Louis runs his fingers over the gold plaque. Regulus Arcturus Black. Louis pushes the door open and looks in the room. There’s just a small light in the corner and its reflection bounces off the large, ornate mirror which is instantly familiar to Louis. Erised. Louis moves closer to it, peering at the glass which remains empty. He had hoped to see a picture of Nick again, something to make him feel warm and happy. Instead, there’s only glass and his own reflection. He studies it for a moment before he sees a shadow moving closer towards his reflection. It’s dark and unfamiliar and it makes Louis shiver. He looks over his shoulder, but the room is silent and still. There’s nobody there. When he looks at the mirror again, it’s just his own reflection and the furniture in the room. Shaking himself, Louis gets out of the room as quickly as possible and tries to ignore the chill which travels the length of his spine.

*

There’s a restless energy in the room as the meeting rumbles on, well into the evening. Louis can’t help but feel as if they’re still talking in circles, discussing spells to trap the ghosts or to contain them in a way that will stop any future attack. Harry left ages ago to attend a meeting with the Hogwarts staff and McGonagall is nowhere to be seen. This meeting is more about defence strategies and it’s led by Ron, Hermione and Bill. There’s a level of complexity involved in the spells that Louis is quite sure he’s never going to master in time. It’s all stuff the Aurors can learn, but he doesn’t know how he’s supposed to get the same level of proficiency when Nick’s struggling to teach him the things he needs just to pass a couple of N.E.W.T.s. He even cocked up that Glacius charm of Nick’s a few times, before he managed to turn Niall’s tea into a block of ice. Louis ignores the conversation going on around him and extracts the mirror George gave him from his pocket. He stares at it, blinking as a face exactly like George Weasley’s mouths something at him. His hand trembles and he looks up at the people gathered in the room.

“The mirror…there’s someone in the mirror!” The peculiar shadowy figure in Erised comes back to Louis in a flash and everything gets cold. “It’s Fred. I think it’s Fred.”

The conversation grinds to a halt and George moves swiftly to Louis’ side as a strange, wispy substance begins to curl from the mirror. It rises in the shadowy room, making the already cool room even chillier. Louis can’t stop shaking, his skin crawling with fear. An eerie, translucent shape of a body that looks exactly like George Weasley materialises in front of them.

“Hi, little brother.” Fred grins at George and stretches. “Merlin, it’s uncomfortable being in that mirror. It’s why I don’t spend much time in there. Don’t worry about me, I’m causing all kinds of havoc up there. I want you to get back to those pranks of yours, don’t let all my brilliant spells go to waste. You’re going to be rich!” He laughs as George stares at him open-mouthed.

“Fred? I thought I was going barmy.”

“Nope.” Fred gestures to the mirror in Louis’ hand. “I’ll always be there for you, George. Just shout if you need me.”

Louis knows with absolute certainty the mirror should be with George, instead of him. If Fred appeared to Louis in the mirror now, it was only because he knew his twin brother was with Louis and possibly in danger. Louis hands George the mirror who takes it gingerly between his hands, staring at the blank glass as if he can't quite believe it. “You should have this back. You weren't imagining it. You weren't imagining any of it.”

“Thanks.” George gives Louis a small smile and then turns back Fred, his eyes watery. “You’re really okay, Fred?”

“Never been better, Earless. Apart from the being dead thing.” Fred winks at George, a broad smile on his face. “Turns out that's really not all that bad. Great for haunting Muggles. I’ve been on telly loads of times. They love a good poltergeist.” He gestures to those gathered around the table. “Speaking of ghosts, you lot better get out of here. They’re trying to trap you – they’re using the mirrors. Don’t let them keep you at Grimmauld Place, you’re needed at Hogwarts.” Fred begins to fade but before he disappears entirely he swoops through George in a vain attempt at a hug.

George swallows, his throat working. He wraps his arms around himself as if he's trying to hold on to the last bit of Fred's hug for as long as possible, his cheeks pale. After a moment's silence a manic laugh drifts into the kitchen from upstairs. Louis grips his wand, thinking of the sense of something moving in the shadows in Regulus Black's old room. He can almost see the shadows gathering against the surface of Erised, hands pressed to the glass as they try to find their way through to the other side. Unlike Fred’s jovial laughter, there’s something spooky and sinister from the sounds now travelling through the house. Snape snarls, slicing his wand through the air as a powerful spell hits the shapeless form that swoops into their space, causing it to shiver and twist. The same, haunting laugh fills the room entirely and Snape hurls another spell in the direction of a half-formed ghost.

Lestrange.” Snape gives a nasty smile at the ghost as it begins to flicker into shape. “Go. I will deal with Erised and I can handle Bellatrix. In fact, it would be my pleasure.”

The whole room takes on a new sort of cold, a desperate, painful energy which makes Louis clutch the wand in his pocket with a trembling hand. As the air fills with the same chilling laughter and guttural spells, a silvery stag gallops into the room and shakes its head. Harry Potter’s voice comes from the elegant creature with a strange, disembodied authority.

“Hogwarts is under attack. Leave Grimmauld Place and come immediately, we need urgent back up.”

A couple of the Aurors begin to Disapparate with a pop, clearly heading for the spots just outside Hogwarts grounds where Apparition still works. Louis thinks of Niall and Liam and he's suddenly desperate to get back there to make sure they're both okay. He watches Snape for a minute, taunting the ghost of Bellatrix who seems to be giving as good as she gets and he whispers a silent plea for Snape to stay safe. In the rush of activity, Louis grabs George’s arm, tugging him towards the Floo. George still looks shaken, the little shard of broken mirror clutched tightly in his hand. “We need to go to Hogwarts.”

“I’m right behind you, Louis.” George squeezes his hand on Louis’ shoulder and together they step into the Floo and make their way to Hogwarts with Order members following close behind.

*

“They’re coming.” Peeves circles around the heads of the scared students, sounding almost gleeful. “They’re heeee-errrre.”

Silencio!” McGonagall slices her wand towards Peeves and cuts him off in his tracks. He glides into the rafters after giving her a disgruntled look. An Augury circles around Peeves and leaves the room with a flutter of black wings. Snape. Louis guesses that means that Grimmauld Place is safe again and Erised is secure, for now. He’s glad Snape’s okay. It makes him feel safer, somehow, knowing that he’s around. He needs to know there are people on his side who can beat even the darkest of threats. The students are crammed into a small space and no Order members other than McGonagall and Snape’s Animagus are anywhere to be seen. Louis was ushered into the room by Hermione as soon as they arrived at Hogwarts, even though he wanted to follow Malfoy, George and the others to actually do something. Louis wonders how walls are supposed to keep them safe, when the enemies are ghosts that no bricks or mortar can keep away.

“We can’t just sit around doing nothing.” Louis approaches McGonagall who gives him a stern look.

“You are to stay precisely where you are. All of you.”

“We’re like sitting ducks!” Louis clutches his hands into fists. “We can’t keep them out.”

“We can, and we will.” McGonagall shoos Louis away and tends to a young Hufflepuff with a gash on her arm. “Do something useful Mr Tomlinson, help your fellow students.”

“I’ll do something useful alright,” Louis mutters. When he’s sure McGonagall is looking elsewhere he pushes open the door to the room. He catches Niall and Liam looking at him with wide eyes and he shakes his head, putting his finger to his lips. Liam nods and gives him a thumbs-up.

A low woof pulls Louis’ attention away when he closes the door carefully behind him.

“Hiya Bruce.” Louis bends and pats Bruce lightly on the head. He feels cold, but it’s not a bad cold like the ghosts at Grimmauld Place. It’s comforting, almost. A bit like Pig feels after a walk in the rain. Bruce nuzzles Louis’ hand and runs ahead, stopping and letting out a quiet yip. “You want me to follow you, boy?”

Bruce cocks his head and his tongue lolls out of his mouth as he barks again. Louis takes that as a yes.

He takes a deep breath and follows Bruce through the corridors which are dark and deathly still.

“Come on, then,” he says. “Let’s find some ghosts.”

*

“Tommo!” The hissed whisper from behind Louis makes him startle and he turns on his heel to see Niall and Liam standing behind him. They both have their wands out and they look paler than usual.

“What the bloody hell are you two doing?”

Liam looks at Niall and then speaks firmly. “Potter and the Wotsits don’t let each other go and get killed alone.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Thanks very much, Payno. I’m not actually trying to get killed.”

“We had those lessons with Harry too.” Niall looks determined. “He knew we wouldn’t leave you to go off by yourself, otherwise he wouldn’t have let us come along.”

“I don’t want you two getting in trouble.” Louis swallows, thickly. He doesn’t want them getting killed, more like. He hates that all the people who have been kindest to him are the ones getting tangled up in battles they never should have been part of in the first place.

“It’s what friends do.” Liam sounds brave and fierce. He gives Louis a smile that doesn’t meet his eyes, which are dark with determination. “Besides, Luna Lovegood wouldn’t just sit around. I’m thinking this might impress her.”

Louis knows it’s a lie, but he loves Liam for trying to lighten the mood. Something warm and toasty settles in his chest, an overwhelming love and gratitude for his new mates leaving him nearly breathless. “Come on then, let’s make Luna fall in love with you.”

Don’t die, Louis thinks as he gives Liam and Niall a quick hug. Please don’t die. He pushes his fear to one side, standing firm and peering around the wall into the long corridor that leads outside. “I haven’t seen anything yet. There’s no one in the castle.”

They make their way outside and stop in their tracks at the sight of the battle raging around them. The Angelus Mortis hangs high in the air over Hogwarts, and the Death Eater ghosts laugh and swoop through the sky, giving the night an eerie glow. The spells that follow them criss-cross in greens, reds and yellows, bright streaks of colour slicing through the night like lightning. Louis, Niall and Liam duck out of the way of the spells, moving into the heart of the battle. In the rush and the madness, they get separated and Louis trips, falling to the floor as a stray spell catches his arm and sears through his robes. He scrabbles desperately for his wand, his fingers sliding in the mud as the air gets colder around him. Louis looks around desperately trying to find Liam and Niall when he finally gets his wand in his hand. At last. Louis stands and catches sight of Niall, who is jumping up and down, shouting at the top of his lungs.

“HARRY POTTER! Harry, he’s behind you! There’s a ghost behind you!”

Harry Potter reacts to Niall’s warning and spins out of the way just before the green Avada Kedavra that slices through the night can hit him in the back. Louis breathes again when he sees Harry is fine, casting violent spells this way and that. His face is etched with fear and fury and Louis can hear him yelling over the top of snarled spells and furious battle. “Get down, get down! Back in the castle, Niall!”

A spell from one of the Aurors catches Amycus just as another Avada Kedavra hisses through the night. Louis follows the track of the green spell and sees Niall running into its path. Louis yells at the top of his lungs as Niall’s body crumples to the ground. His face is momentarily caught in a look of surprise as the green spell finds its target. Louis pushes forward, hurling spells wherever he can, not looking at anyone but Niall.

“Nialler!” Louis shouts out his name and collapses on the ground next to him. The mud seeps through his jeans, cold and wet. Liam’s voice comes from far away and it sounds like he’s crying.

“He’s alright isn’t he, Tommo? He’s alright.”

“’Course he is,” Louis says. He cradles Niall’s face in his lap and leans forward to feel the huff of warm breath against his cheek. “Just knocked out, isn’t he? Just knocked out. He’s going to get up in a bit. We’ve got to get Potter and the Wotsits out there and we can’t do it without Niall. He’s going to be the best guitarist in the country and everyone’s going to know his name. Niall bloody Horan, they’ll say. Harry Styles has nothing on Niall.”

“Tomlinson.” It’s Malfoy. Draco fucking Malfoy with his stupid posh clothes and his smug expression. His hand is firm on Louis’ shoulder and he tries to move Louis away, but Louis isn’t going anywhere. He’s not leaving Niall, because Niall needs Louis. He needs Louis to remind him how to breathe and how to live.

“Be alive,” Louis whispers. His heart catches in his throat and he holds Niall closer, his body limp and still warm in Louis’ arms. “Be alive, be alive.”

“Louis.” It sounds like Harry’s voice, somewhere in the darkness. The panic of the night seeps away like the mud on the ground, staining Louis’ jeans. His hands are filthy, and they leave streaks of dirt and damp over Niall’s cheeks which they shouldn’t because Niall’s going to be pissed if Harry Potter sees him looking all crap and dirty. He likes Harry Potter, Niall does. He just saved Harry bleeding Potter’s life and he’ll want to look cool when Harry thanks him, not knocked out on the floor by a stupid spell. It wasn’t Avada Kedavra. It wasn’t, because those are spells ghosts aren’t strong enough to cast. Everyone knows that amortal things don’t get to use wands and do magic. They can’t. They can’t. Harry crouches next to Louis and he sounds so broken and wretched when he speaks. “Louis, he’s…”

“DON’T SAY IT!” Louis turns on Harry, whose face is etched with blood and tears. Louis wonders what he’s crying for, when he doesn’t even know Niall. Wouldn’t even let him be part of Order of the Phoenix. Louis wishes he’d never met Harry Potter, wishes he had died instead, instead of…Louis can’t say it, not even to himself. He just wants to turn the clock back – get one of them Time Turners and make everything different. It could just be Nick, Louis, Pig and Stinky and Louis wouldn't drag Niall or Liam into any of this at all. The stupid prophecy is wrong. Louis isn’t good at anything and he’s no hero. He’s no fucking hero. “Don’t you fucking dare say it.”

“I know.” Harry kneels on the floor and he doesn’t seem to care about the mud or about the fact it’s been raining since noon. He doesn’t seem to care about the fact his fancy robes are covered in the stuff or that the rainwater and mud are wrecking the clothes he lent Louis earlier. He reaches for Louis and his voice is tight and gruff. “I know, Louis. I know.”

Louis reaches for Harry, his fists clutching Harry’s robes. He can’t get warm. Even when Harry’s arms are around him, he still can’t get warm.

He holds Niall’s hand as Harry Potter hugs him tightly and Louis’ body wracks with sobs in the still, dead night.

Chapter Text

The silence and stillness, broken only by the occasional grunt or sniffle of a sleeping portrait was unbearable to him. If his surroundings could have reflected the feelings inside him, the pictures would have been screaming in pain…he would not think about it, he could not stand it…there was a terrible hollow inside him he did not want to feel or examine, a dark hole where Sirius had been, where Sirius had vanished; he did not want to have to be alone with that great, silent space…” (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix)

*

The castle shifts, twists and Louis thinks it sounds as though the castle is weeping. He didn’t know bricks and mortar could feel pain. He supposes he shouldn’t be surprised when it comes to Hogwarts, with its sentient magic and rooms which bend and break around its inhabitants. There’s the cry of an Augury in the distance. Snape. Louis pulls his duvet up to his chin and fiddles with his wireless until the usually comforting sound of Nick’s voice fills the small space around his bed.

“This song is called Midnight Memory Charms.” Nick’s voice is unusually sombre and gruff with emotion. “By a band called Potter and the Wotsits that I’ve been lucky enough to get to know over the last few months.” Nick’s voice has a definite wobble to it and he takes a shaky breath. “This one’s for Niall Horan. A fine guitarist and a true Gryffindor. Some of Niall’s friends gave us his favourite songs and we’ll be playing those for the rest of the show.”

Nick’s voice is replaced by the distinctive sounds of Niall playing guitar and for the first time since Louis can remember, listening to WWN does nothing to improve his mood. He switches it off, because he can’t bear to listen to the song in case he starts crying all over again. His throat is raw, and his eyes swollen and blotchy. There’s a huge tear in his heart which feels like it might never be fixed.

“Payno?” Louis can hear snuffling from the bed beside him and he opens the curtains to Liam, who moves from his bed and slips under the duvet with Louis. Liam flies and he’s big and strong, but in the bed next to Louis his frame feels small and vulnerable, all trembling skin and brittle bones. Louis wraps his arms around Liam, not even caring if it’s a bit weird for them both to be cuddling in bed together. Louis doesn’t think he’s ever cuddled Liam in his life, but he knows they both instinctively need it. Liam’s pyjamas are covered in little lions and the warm flannel is soft beneath Louis’ hand. It makes Louis impossibly sad and he wants to scream, and cry and tear everything down. He strokes his hand over Liam’s shaking back. “It’s gonna be okay,” Louis says. “I promise.”

They’re just words. Just stupid, conciliatory words that don’t mean a thing. Liam clutches onto Louis, his voice ragged. “I miss him so much. I don’t want to go today.”

“We have to, Payno.” Louis doesn’t want to go either. Doesn’t want to put on that black tie and itchy suit hanging on the edge of his bed. “For Niall’s mam. We’re Gryffindors.” His throat constricts, and he tries to swallow, choking on his words. “Potter and the Wotsits don’t let one another go into battle alone.”

Liam’s body shakes with great, wracking sobs and Louis holds him close wondering if anything will ever be the same again.

*

The funeral is a small, quiet affair but the brightest and the best of the wizarding world turn out in force to pay their respects. Harry Potter is there, his eyes shadowed and his face pale and rough with dark stubble. He keeps close to Ron and Hermione who flank him on either side, and Louis wonders if they’re thinking about how it could have been them.

“Louis?” Harry Styles approaches Louis as he pokes listlessly at mini sausage rolls and sandwiches, the hum of quiet conversation around him making the space oppressive. Liam is sitting with Niall’s mum and Louis leaves them to it, because he doesn’t know Niall’s family in the way Liam did. He’s never met any of them, because he and Niall never had time to get to that point of long summer holidays and trips off to look at the places in Ireland Niall always used to talk about with such affection.

“Hi.” Louis puts his plate down, because he’s not hungry anyway. His stomach is too full of twists and knots. “Thanks for coming. I reckon he’d have liked that.”

“We had guitar lessons together.” Harry looks tired and distressed and Louis is reminded he’s no older than the rest of them. He has the same young, helpless look that Liam gets when Louis catches his eye in class and they both remember.

“He said.” Louis smiles and it’s an odd sensation, like his lips are being forced into a shape he hardly remembers. It’s uncomfortable on his face and he wonders if he looks a bit mad, trying to force a smile which has no business being there. “He really liked you. Harry Styles sexual I called him once.”

Harry laughs, the sound a bit choked. “I know. We’ve been talking about it.”

“You have?” Louis stares at Harry. He never knew that. He wonders what other things he didn’t know about Niall – what other things he should have been paying attention to that it’s too late to do anything about now. He’s been so wrapped up in his own life. In Nick and the stupid prophecy. He thought Niall being in love with Harry was just a big joke. If he’d have known it was at the talking about it stage he never would have teased Niall so much. He could have helped, could have listened. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. Too late. Too fucking late.

“I think he might have been working things out.” Harry shrugs. “I think maybe I am, too. Dunno, really. I suppose it doesn’t matter anymore.”

“I’m sorry.” Louis’ voice breaks and he puts a hand on Harry’s arm. “I’m sorry you didn’t get to work it out with him, whatever it was. I’m sorry he didn’t get chance to work it out too.”

“Me too.” Harry’s throat works as he swallows. He runs a hand through his hair and looks away before speaking again. “I got him a present. This cool guitar with treat people with kindness on. It’s proper expensive. Do you want it? I want to give it to someone who loved Niall – someone who gets it.”

Louis looks at Liam who is deep in conversation with Niall’s mum. “Liam, I think. He’s not much good at the guitar, but he’s always wanted to learn. He was Niall’s best mate. He should have it. I bet he’d like that.”

“Okay.” Harry’s face takes on a fond look as Nick approaches and it’s a sign of Louis’ grief that he doesn’t even feel a flicker of jealousy or annoyance. Everything is too numb, too raw. He knows Nick loves him and that’s everything he needs. He doesn’t have space for anything else. “Hi, Grim.”

“Harold.” Nick slips an arm around Louis and kisses his cheek. His lips are cold, but his body is exactly the warm, solid presence Louis needs right now. He leans gratefully into Nick and doesn’t miss the way Nick’s arm tightens around him. Safe, Louis thinks. You always make me feel safe, even when the whole world is in flames.

“You look like shit.” Louis looks at Nick as Harry leaves, brushing his fingers against Nick’s cheek. Nick leans into his hand with a sigh.

“I know. You’re not looking okay yourself.”

“Sad, innit?” Louis swallows, unable to find the words. “Bit difficult to sleep and stuff. Keep thinking I’m going to wake up and he’s going to be there. He was so scared of dying, Nick. He was so fucking scared.”

“Hey.” Nick takes Louis in his arms as a choked sob leaves Louis’ lips. Louis thought he was all cried out, until the overwhelming force of his grief hit him all over again. “Hey, love. It’s okay, darling. It’s okay.” Nick soothes Louis with his strong hand on Louis’ back and Louis just lets himself cry. He cries for Niall and for Niall and Harry trying to work things out. He cries at the futility of it all and the desperate, aching part of him that just wants Niall back, and living and safe.

“I can’t do this. I can’t lose anyone else. Please, Nick.” Louis speaks into Nick’s chest and he wants so much for everything to go away. “Please don’t let anyone else get hurt.”

“I won’t love,” Nick says, even as they both know it’s a promise he can’t keep. “I won’t.”

Nick’s arms tighten around Louis until his sobs subside. Louis pulls back and wipes his eyes with the back of his hand, grabbing a napkin from the buffet and blowing his nose. “I’m a mess.”

“My mess.” Nick brushes Louis’ hair back from where it’s plastered to his forehead. His voice is thick and rough. “My brave, lovely mess.”

“Yeah.” Louis smiles at Nick, not a big smile, just a small, watery thing. “Yours.”

“Let’s go and get a beer, yeah?” Nick nudges Louis towards the bar. “My treat.”

“Okay.” Louis follows Nick and they order drinks for themselves and Liam. Adjusting his tie, Louis straightens himself up. He wipes his eyes and takes Nick’s hand, the cold lager helping to steady him a little. “Bit like going into battle, this.”

“A bit.” Nick squeezes Louis’ hand. “Ready?”

Louis nods and walks with Nick towards Liam. “As I’ll ever be.”

*

“I told you I couldn’t do it because—”

“Mr Tomlinson.” Professor Dewhirst looks down her nose at Louis. “I am aware this has been a difficult time for everyone, but your exams will not simply wait for you to be ready. This homework was a required—”

“I DON’T CARE!” Louis’ breath leaves him in a rush, his hands balling into fists as he stands. He thinks his chair clatters to the floor behind him, but he couldn’t give a flying fuck. The last thing he cares about are exams and potions or learning crappy spells he’s never going to have to use again. “It’s all stupid and useless. Why aren’t you teaching people how not to get killed? I don’t fucking care about the history of defensive spells or some shit about potions or fucking arithmancy. It’s all bullshit, I hate this place, I HATE IT!!”

Louis grabs his bag and leaves the classroom, breaking into a run. He ignores the shouts of Dewhirst and the portraits heckling him. He doesn’t care about anything. If he gets expelled, so be it. It’s not as if he’s going to live beyond this year anyway. A strange, angry recklessness takes him over and he runs and runs through the castle grounds until he’s quite alone. He digs around in his bag for all those stupid letters Niall was writing for the Harry Styles fan club. He doesn’t know why he’s been carrying them around or what he plans to do with them but looking at them now he’s consumed by furious rage.

“That fucking fan club.” Louis gets out his lighter. He just wants to burn things. He wants Niall to be back in the Gryffindor Common Room, answering Harry’s fan mail. He wants to tell him not to follow Louis out into Hogwart’s grounds. He wants to stop everything from hurting, or maybe he just wants to hurt more so he won’t feel this strange, numb, deathly quiet that grips him when he’s waking up in the morning or when the lights are all out and he can hear Liam crying into his pillow.

“Why the fuck couldn’t you have just lived?” Louis sets the papers on fire, watching as the flames curl and begin to envelop the parchment. The hot yellows and oranges lick at the paper and Niall’s familiar scrawl turns to black and then ash. It suddenly occurs to Louis that this is all he has left – these stupid letters with their glittery hearts and a fake Harry Styles signature at the end. It makes his heart clench and he gets overwhelmed with panic, as if he’s burning away the last bits of Niall and if he keeps going it’s going to erase Niall completely.

“Stop, fuck stop.” Louis reaches for his wand and casts the first spell that springs to mind. “Glacius, Glacius!.”

The fire stops as the freezing air effectively puts it out. Louis grabs the bits of parchment, choking back a sob as some of the pages turn to ash in his fingers. He stuffs the charred remains in his bag and stands, making his way to the Hogwarts gates. He looks around, checking no one can see him and shrugs his bag over his shoulder. As soon as he’s outside the gate he Apparates to the bar he first went to with Nick with the pictures of shirtless Charlie Weasley.

“Firewhisky, please.” Louis knows he’s still got his Gryffindor tie on, knows he should be in school. He loosens his tie and gives the barman a pleading look. “I’m eighteen. I’m skiving, but I’m eighteen. Please.”

The barman sighs and he nods. “I heard a lad got killed by those Death Eaters. Friend of yours?”

Louis watches the barman pour his whisky. “A good friend.” His words catch, but he feels like it’s important somehow that Niall isn’t just a lad or Louis’ friend. “Niall Horan. His name is Niall Horan.”

“This one’s on the house then – take off the tie though, can you? Change the clothes a bit.”

“Okay.” Louis takes a sip of his whisky which burns down his throat. “Thanks.”

The barman gets back to cleaning the glasses. “You’re welcome.” He turns and cocks one of the empty glasses at Louis, a sad smile on his face. “To Niall, eh?”

“Yeah.” Louis takes another deep glug of whisky and tries not to start bawling all over again. “To Niall.”

*

“You’re in a lot of bloody trouble.” Nick sits opposite Louis at the table he wandered off to somewhere around the third glass of whisky. He takes Louis’ glass away from him.

“Give it back.”

“Nope. Not until you talk to me.” Nick sighs, rubbing his forehead. “Why are you here?”

“Why are you here?” Louis gives Nick a fierce look.

“Because McGonagall wanted to know if you were with me. I went a few places I thought you might be and ended up here. They’ve been going frantic at Hogwarts. Thought something shit might have happened.”

“Something shit did happen,” Louis mutters. He reaches for the glass of half-finished whisky and Nick lets him have it. He wonders how he might feel if someone told him Nick was missing and guilt worms through him. “I’m sorry for worrying you. I just wanted to get away.”

“I get it,” Nick says. He stretches his hand across the table to squeeze Louis’ hand. “It’s fine, you’re okay. You’re here.”

“Am I going to get expelled?” Louis looks up at Nick and swallows back another wave of emotion.

“No, ‘course not.” Nick snorts. “Not the first time someone doing their exams has run off to the pub. Might lose a few house points though. Giving those Hufflepuffs a chance, maybe.”

“Yeah.” Louis pushes his drink away and opens his bag, getting out the letters he set fire to earlier. “Did you know Niall was running the fan club for Harry Styles?”

“I knew a bit about it.” Nick’s throat works as he looks at the charred remains of the letters. “Harry’s been a bit of a mess to be honest.”

“They were working something out.” Louis pulls a face. “Working something out, and I didn’t even listen. I just teased him about it, told him he was Harry Styles sexual, like a right tit. I should have known better. It wasn’t mine to make fun of.”

“No.” Nick picks up one of the letters, rubbing the parchment between his forefinger and his thumb. “But did Niall ever seem unsure about it? Angry or like maybe he wanted to chat more?”

Louis thinks back to their conversations and all he can remember is Niall, bright and open, laughing at Louis teasing him. “I don’t think so.”

“I think it was okay, what you said. I bet he knew he could talk to you if things if he needed to.” Nick puts the parchment down and studies Louis carefully. “Why did you burn the letters?”

“Because I’m a stupid arse.” Louis shrugs and looks down at the table, picking a bit of splintered wood away with his thumbnail. “They made me angry – at myself more than anything. I wanted to break things. Wanted to burn the whole world down.”

“But you stopped?” Nick’s voice is soft.

“They’re the only things I have left.” Louis rubs his jaw, looking at Nick at last. “I thought I’d forget him. I don’t want to forget him. I want to remember, and now all I have are a pile of half-burned letters and I still won’t get him back.”

“I’ve got an idea.” Nick stands and holds out his hand. “Come with me?”

Louis looks at Nick’s outstretched hand and he nods, draining the last of his drink. “Okay.”

Louis takes Nick’s hand and follows him into the cold night.

*

“I told McGonagall I’d have you back by ten.” Nick checks the clock, showing there are still a couple of hours or so to go.

“Didn’t you tell her you were going to find me?” Louis frowns at Nick, who gives him a rueful smile.

“No, I told her you were upset and came to mine. I think she bought it. I thought it might get you in less trouble.”

Louis is immeasurably relieved that McGonagall doesn’t know he went straight to the pub and downed one too many firewhiskies. A rush of affection for Nick takes him by surprise. It’s feels like so long since he’s felt anything other than sad or numb, it’s nice to feel something different for a change.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” Nick rummages around in a drawer and comes back with three small, glass bottles with little stoppers in the top. They look familiar, like something Louis has seen before, but he can’t quite remember where. “Do you know about extracted memories?”

“Not really.” Louis picks up one of the bottles and turns it in his hand, remembering McGonagall pulling silvery strands from her temple and decanting them into similar bottles when he went to see her after missing class to go and see the winking Harry Potter sign. It feels like a lifetime ago. “McGonagall was doing that when I was in her office, when she told me I was going to have lessons with you. How does it work?”

“It’s not that hard to get the memories, but you need to watch them in a pensieve and there aren’t many of those around.” Nick gives Louis a soft smile. “Still, I bet you could use the one in Hogwarts if you needed. I thought you could put the three best memories of Niall in these bottles, so you can watch them whenever you need.”

“Why?” Louis stares at Nick.

“Because.” Nick shrugs and picks up one of the phials. “I think sometimes when we lose people it’s scary, to think we might forget them. I don’t think we do forget them, for what it’s worth. I think those moments that mattered always stay with us, but you have them to keep just in case. You can show them to other people, too. Like a photo or summat. Tell people how friends matter or show them how good Niall was at the guitar. Stuff like that.”

“Oh.” Louis’ voice is quieter than usual and he studies Nick. “Do you have anything like that?”

“Just the one.” Nick stands and takes a small bottle out of a wooden box. It’s filled with a silvery, pearly substance. The label on it is written with an unsteady hand and it just says Dad. “I’ve got photos too, obviously. I live with a load of Muggles. Everything from family videos to old Snapchats on my phone. But this…this is mine. For when I need it.”

Louis shuffles close to Nick on the sofa and takes the bottle from him very carefully. It makes his heart constrict with something sharp and painful. He holds it gently in his palm. “Will you show me, one day?”

“If you like.” Nick’s voice is unsteady. “I haven’t looked at it since, haven’t really needed to. But I like knowing there’s a bit of Pete there, if I need him. Telling me he’s proud of me.”

“I bet he was dead proud,” Louis says.

“Dunno.” Nick shrugs and takes the bottle back from Louis. He puts it into the ornate wooden box and Louis can see a man smiling up at him from a Muggle photo. He looks kind and happy. Like Nick. “It’s nice to have it, though. Nice to remember that.”

“I bet.” Louis looks at Nick. “Thank you. I don’t say it enough, but, like, thanks. For always knowing what to do.”

Nick laughs and it’s watery around the edges. “I wish.” He leans in and gives Louis a kiss on the cheek. “Still, I know a bit about what this feels like. You talking about burning those letters just made me think about something that helped me.”

Louis nods. He listens carefully to Nick’s explanation for extracting memories, making sure that he won’t lose the memories completely. He just wants copies of them, not to take them away entirely. Eventually, Louis is ready, and he tells Nick about each memory as he decants them. He tells Nick about the first time he really became friends with Niall, when they sat together after Louis got in trouble for staying at Nick’s. That was the first time he realised he had actual friends in Gryffindor and not just people he sometimes said hello to in the corridors. He carefully extracts the memory of sitting with Niall in class, knowing Niall knew about Louis and Nick, but not understanding how to deal with it when it was still so new to Louis himself. Niall never once made Louis feel odd or strange or abnormal. He loved hearing about Louis and Nick, he always supported Louis just by not giving a fuck about the I’m with someone with a dick thing. Louis tells Nick about the time he and Niall went for ice-cream in Hogsmeade, even when it was bucketing down with rain and Liam said they were a daft pair of wankers. Mint chocolate chip was Niall’s favourite. Finally, he chooses the memory of the first and last gig as Potter and the Wotsits and takes care to capture the way Niall looked so star-struck and happy when Harry gave him a treat people with kindness jumper all of his own.

By the time Louis is finished, his throat is raw, and his cheeks are damp from tears. He looks at his little jars of memories and curls up next to Nick on the sofa. Pig comes to join them and Stinky makes a nest for himself in Louis’ hair. They sit like that in the warm silence, looking at the bottles of silver memories as they nestle together under Nick’s many blankets.

“Thanks.” Louis speaks after a long time in silence, warm and comfortable in Nick’s arms.

“Always.” Nick’s presses his lips into Louis’ hair and his arms tighten around Louis.

For the first time since Niall died, Louis closes his eyes and slips into a completely dreamless sleep.

*

The next week passes in a blur of activity, as Louis knuckles down to his studies after a right telling off from McGonagall. He’s already lost Gryffindor enough house points this year and he’s determined to redeem himself. He might not care about the House Cup, but Niall always did, and it sends Louis on something of a mission to make up for a terrible year so the Gryffindors can go out in style.

One afternoon, Louis needs a break and he wanders through the corridors to the Room of Requirement. It looks so different to his last visit. The moment of sharp, intense pleasure in Nick’s arms feels like a distant memory. Everything is numb and dull. The room doesn’t offer any trinkets or solace, it just looks like a jumbled antiques store. Cobwebs stretch across the ceiling and something skitters in the shadows.

“I used to love it here,” a strange voice says.

“I remember,” another voice answers.

“Who’s there?” Louis extracts his wand and there’s a clatter from deep within the room, before two figures emerge. They look almost translucent and it takes Louis a moment before he places them both. “Wait, you’re—”

“Remus Lupin.” Remus gives Louis a salute.

“And Sirius Black, at your service.” Sirius grins at Louis. His voice is a bit posh like Draco’s and he looks good, with a wild, rakish sort of charm. Like Remus he’s dressed in a school shirt, trousers and a Gryffindor tie.

“I thought you were a dog.” Louis looks around for Bruce, but he’s nowhere to be seen. “Ghosts can’t change out of Animagus form, can they?”

“It’s a bit odd.” Sirius waves a hand. “The whole being dead thing has gone a bit barmy since those snakes fucked around with everything. I never wanted to be a ghost and yet, here I am. I reckon I’ll go back to wherever I was soon enough.”

“Drinking, in the Three Broomsticks, probably.” Remus winks at Louis.

“Take that back.” Sirius folds his arms and gives Remus a disgruntled look.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” It might be a bit rude of him, but Louis is wary of ghosts now and he doesn’t know why Remus Lupin and Sirius Black would be here, speaking to him.

“I’m not entirely sure.” Remus looks confused. “I don’t think we can go beyond the Room of Requirement.”

Sirius runs at the wall and bounces back as he connects with it, instead of gliding through. “Ouch.” He rubs his head as Remus gives him a fond smile. “Looks like that’s right, Moony. Well deduced.”

“You could have taken my word for it.”

“Far too easy.” Sirius moves next to Remus and leans against the wall, fiddling with his tie. “Why the fuck do I have egg on my tie? I didn’t die in this, the least they could have done was give me a tie without egg on it.”

“You always had egg on your tie.” Remus rolls his eyes. “It would have been a bold-faced lie to send you back looking tidy.”

“Maybe.” Sirius loosens his tie and unbuttons his collar. “Much better.”

Louis watches the interaction, getting more infuriated by the second. He clears his throat, pointedly.

“Ah, sorry.” Sirius stops messing with his tie. “You’re here in the Room of Requirement, we can’t leave the room and we’ve never been here before, so that must mean you require something from us.” He stretches his arms out. “Ta-da! The room is helping out, you’re welcome.”

Louis shakes his head. “I don’t want anything from either of you, the room’s got it wrong.” He recalls Bruce with his head in his paws in front of Erised and the disembodied voices and laughter filtering through the glass. “Where’s James?”

Sirius’ face contorts, and he looks at Remus before turning to Louis with a frown. “Excuse me?”

“Bruce – Padfoot – always sees him in the Mirror of Erised.” Louis looks around as if expecting James Potter to stumble out of the jumble of antiques. “Why isn’t he here, too?”

“I’m guessing he’s not supposed to come back for you.” Remus shrugs. “He came back for Harry, once. But this is your story, not his.”

Louis doesn’t much like thinking of his life as a story – something that gets put in Hogwarts: A History. Search ‘T’ for Tommo. He can’t imagine anyone ever writing anything about him, the way they write about Harry Potter. It feels wrong, somehow.

“Why is your portrait by that river?” Louis looks at Remus. He has a deep scar on his face, but he looks young and vibrant, even in death.

“Moon River.” Remus laughs, low in his throat. “Remember it, Padfoot?”

“Do I ever.” Sirius leans in and whispers something to Remus which draws another deep laugh from him. The moment is intimate, and Louis is starting to feel a bit like he’s intruding on something he shouldn’t be. “Moony and I used to go there,” Sirius says.

Sirius doesn’t elaborate, but Louis has an idea of what they might have gone there to do. He knew there must have been something else to that place. The moon seems brighter over that part of Hogwarts grounds than anywhere else, and Louis had always wondered why a werewolf would choose to be immortalised in that kind of spot. If it was because of an old love story, Louis gets it. He thinks he would be painted somewhere that always reminded him of Nick, if he was posh or important enough to have a painting of himself in the first place.

“Your portrait told me the werewolves are on the move.” Louis looks at Remus, whose expression turns cloudy.

“It’s not just Death Eaters that have come back from the dead. You’ll have to tell Harry they’ve got Fenrir, too. There's a pack that live more as wolves than humans and Greyback has control over them. Wherever he is, they are.”

“What’s it like, being a werewolf?” Louis isn’t sure if it’s a rude question to ask, but Remus doesn’t seem to mind. He gives Louis a strange look, his eyes warm and sad.

“Difficult, at first. Things should be better now there’s less stigma, but there are still people who believe that werewolves are subhuman. The Death Eaters only ever used them because they were useful to their cause. Greyback would never have been marked by You Know Who, even when he was one of his staunchest allies.”

“My mate Liam’s scared of werewolves,” Louis says. “I think they’re cool.”

Sirius snorts with laughter. “Me too.”

Remus rolls his eyes. Remus and Sirius exchange a look, before Remus speaks again. “We’ve got your boy,” Remus says. “He’s just fine.”

Niall. Louis swallows around a lump in his throat and shakes his head. “He’s not, though. He’s not fine. He’s not going to be able to play the Three Broomsticks like he wanted or go on tour with Harry Styles. He wanted to see America.”

Sirius gives Louis an understanding smile. “We’ll show him America. Show him everywhere in the world and everything that exists beyond it. He can see moons and stars and the whole fabric of space and time, if he likes. I’ve got a motorbike and everything. We’ll look after him.”

“I just want to see him again.” Louis wipes his eyes furiously with the sleeve of his jumper. “I wasn’t ready. It wasn’t supposed to happen like that.”

“You’ll see him before the end,” Remus replies, his face taking on a serious expression.

“I will?” Louis looks up, blinking through his tears which make Remus blurry around the edges.

“Yes. He wants to say goodbye properly too. Wish you luck and all that.”

“Oh.” Louis swallows back another wave of sobs which threaten to leave his whole body shaking from the inside out. “I don’t want anyone else to die.”

“I know,” Remus says.

It’s not the same as they won’t and when Louis looks up again he’s by himself in the still room and Remus Lupin and Sirius Black are nowhere to be seen.

*

Louis can’t wait to get the fuck out of the Room of Requirement and he moves through the castle as quickly as he can to find somewhere that isn’t full of ghosts. He eventually finds one of the abandoned classrooms he used to smoke in with Zayn and pulls a crumpled packet of cigarettes from his pocket. He lights one and takes a slow drag, watching the smoke curl into the air and mingle with the dust in the room as he exhales.

“Tommo!” Louis freezes. That sounded like— “Tommo!”

Louis swallows. “Niall?”

“Think so.” A silvery shape pushes through the bricks and stumbles, before Niall rights himself. “Hiya.”

Louis stands and flings his arms around Niall, but he goes straight through. The blast of cold makes him shiver. “Fuck.”

“Think I’m dead, mate.” Niall’s voice gets quiet and he sounds like he’s trying to be brave. “Sorry about that.”

Louis almost can’t bear to look at Niall. He can’t bear to see the translucent silver where there should be flesh and bone. At the same time he doesn’t think he’s ever been happier to see anything or anyone in his life.

“I’m going to steal one of them Time Turners. I bet the Ministry had them somewhere. We can fix it,” Louis promises. He would, too. He bets it’s not that hard.

Niall shakes his head, giving Louis a small smile. “Nah, it’s alright mate. You don’t want to do that. That sort of stuff always ends badly.”

“It wouldn’t matter,” Louis says, stubbornly. “Everything feels wrong without you here.”

“It must have been my time.” Niall shrugs. He takes a tentative seat on one of the chairs and laughs when he’s able to sit without slipping through it. “Cool. Why am I able to walk through walls but I can sit on chairs?”

“Haven’t the foggiest.” Louis still can’t quite believe Niall is here and he rubs his eyes to double check he’s not hallucinating. When he opens them again, Niall is still there, drumming his fingers on the desk and watching Louis. “They said I’d see you before the end.” An icy terror grips Louis’ chest and he looks around the fusty classroom. “Is this the end?”

“Don’t think so.” Niall frowns. “I’m around for a bit yet. Well, not around, but like…” Niall waves his arms in the air and makes a wooo-wooo sound. “Ghostly around. Popping up in your bed when you least expect it.”

“Stay out of my bed, Nialler.” Louis doesn’t mean it. Niall can pop up when Louis’ having a bloody wank if he wanted, and Louis wouldn’t be cross. He just wants to see as much of Niall as he can.

“I might, I might not.” Niall puts his feet up on another chair and makes yes of satisfaction when they don’t fall through the wood either. He looks slightly shifty. “Don’t suppose you’ve seen anything of Harry Styles?”

“Yeah, he’s been dead miserable according to Nick.” Louis gives Niall a look. “He told me you two were talking. Why didn’t you say there might have been something going on? I’ve been a right dick about it.”

“You haven’t.” Niall laughs and shakes his head. “You made it all seem normal. You and Grimmy always look so happy, it made me want that too. You helped.”

“I did?” Louis isn’t sure how on earth that can be true because he doesn’t feel like he’s helped much of anything.

“’Course you did.” Niall rolls his eyes. “I’d have said if you were annoying me. You never said he was too good for me.”

“Of course I bloody didn’t.” A fierce, protective anger takes over Louis. “You’re too good for him, if anything. All that floral he wears.”

“Brilliant, isn’t it?” Niall gets a dreamy, far away look. He shakes himself. “Doesn’t matter, anyway. As long as he’s a bit miserable. I’ll have to go and haunt him and tell him I’m okay, so he doesn’t start writing loads of ballads and wearing all black.”

Louis knows Niall is trying to joke, but there’s a wobble in his voice. “Niall…”

“Ooops!” Niall looks over his shoulder at something or someone Louis can’t see. He stands and moves towards the classroom door. “Gotta go, Tommo.”

“Wait, Niall!”

But Louis’ shout is futile, and Niall disappears into the bricks of the castle as quickly as he arrived.

*

Louis decides not to tell Liam about Niall. He tries a couple of times, but the words always catch in his throat. He can’t help but feel as though there’s some purpose to Niall appearing to Louis when he was by himself. He’s been spending more time with Liam than ever recently, and there’s never been so much as a rogue book dropping to the floor or an unexplained chill in the room when the two of them are together. He can’t help but feel it might not be something that helps Liam and all Louis wants is to be a good friend to him, not to make him even more miserable and confused.

That evening, Louis goes to one of the many detentions he was given for yelling at Dewhirst, and he’s surprised to see Snape in his portrait working on some notes. “Why are you here?”

“Why not?” Snape looks up, putting down his quill. He scowls at Louis. “I thought you were supposed to be keeping your head down.”

“You thought wrong.” Louis approaches the portrait and touches his fingers lightly to it. “How does this work if you’re not dead?”

“Complex magic, as I have already alluded to.” Snape rolls his eyes as if complex magic explains everything. “I am not actually in the portrait. Are you familiar with holograms?”

“Yes,” Louis says. “I mean, I know what they are.”

“This is a little like that. This room is an office in Grimmauld Place, which Potter constructed. I am here when I choose to work in that office. When I am absent from that office, the portrait simply looks like an empty room as any typical magical portrait might when its inhabitant moves from one portrait to another.”

“What happens if someone else goes into that office?”

Snape rolls his eyes. “Auror Potter – despite frequent displays to the contrary – is not an imbecile. He knows not to enter the office and the door is kept locked and warded to avoid anyone else who may visit Grimmauld Place from stumbling into the room and, by extension, into this portrait.”

“Wow.” Louis steps back from the portrait and unpacks his books. “That’s cool.”

Snape lets out a derisory snort. “I can assure you that hiding myself away to avoid listening to Draco whispering sweet nothings to Potter is the very opposite of cool.”

“You don’t like him much, do you?” Louis pushes his quill behind his ear, sitting back and watching Snape.

“Potter?” Snape shrugs and shuffles his papers. “I dislike being indebted to anyone. I find him marginally more tolerable as an adult than I did when he was a child.” Snape’s dark glaze flicks over Louis. “You find it surprising that I don’t choose to fawn over him?”

“No.” Louis shakes his head. “I like it.”

Snape’s lips quirk into a smile which he quickly smooths out. “You are a strange creature, Mr Tomlinson. The Boy Who Didn’t Want to Be A Wizard.”

Louis swallows. “How did you know that?”

“Because I am not blind.” Snape raises his eyebrows. “You are most unusual in that regard. Discovering a magical world exists and that you might be part of it is nothing more than a fantasy for most.”

“Not for me,” Louis says. He twists his hands together. “I want to spend more time with my mum. I miss her all the time.”

“I suggest you work with what you have to make her proud.” Snape’s voice is cool, smooth and low. “I doubt she wishes to see you unhappy.”

Louis shrugs. “Maybe. I’ll be out of here soon enough, anyway.”

“What are your plans?”

“Not getting killed.” Louis thinks of Niall in his arms and everything gets hot, a dull roar in his head. He scrubs at his eyes because he won’t cry again. He can’t. “Why does it have to be me?”

Snape seems to be considering the question. “It has to be you, just as it could have been nobody else but Potter once the Dark Lord targeted his parents. It set wheels in motion that couldn’t be undone.”

“What does that mean?” Louis stares at Snape’s portrait. “I’m not brave or extraordinary, whatever they think. I’ve just got a weird Boggart and the wand core. It doesn’t make me good at magic or clever or strong. I’m not chosen.”

“No.” Snape shakes his head. “But those things are important, nevertheless. You might find your familiarity with the Muggle world to be an asset, rather than a detriment, or the very fact you are unremarkable may be your secret strength. Many dark wizards have been felled by their own arrogance. They are wont to misunderstand and underestimate anyone who does not have a long lineage of magic in their past. You don’t need to have an answer to the question why me in order to fulfil the prophecy which marks you as the challenger who has the power to vanquish this new threat.”

Louis tries not to bristle at the unremarkable, tempted to give Snape the finger for that. “I don’t understand what I have to do. Harry knew he had to let Voldemort kill him. He knew that he had to go into the forest. I’ve got no plan. Just stupid spells I can’t even do properly.”

“I have something that might help.” Snape studies Louis. “If you go to my stores there is a bottle labelled ‘flobberworm faeces—’”

Louis pulls a face. “That’s disgusting.”

“Precisely.” Snape looks pleased with himself. “It’s the last bottle anybody would ever think of picking up. It’s charmed with extremely—”

“Complex magic, I’m guessing?” Louis grins at Snape, who folds his arms and glares down his nose at Louis.

“Impertinent brat.”

“I’m just saying.”

“The bottle contains Felix Felicis. Have you at least studied enough to know what that is, or do I have to explain basic potions to you?”

“I know what Felix Felicis is, thanks.” Louis rolls his eyes. Snape can’t half be an arse sometimes. “Liquid luck. It makes the person who drinks it lucky for a bit. Turns an ordinary day into something extraordinary or some bollocks.”

“Quite.” Snape turns his eyes heavenward. “I suppose it would be a waste of my breath to say language, Mr Tomlinson?”

“Oh definitely.” Louis grins at Snape. “I never met a swear word I didn’t like.”

“What an excellent grasp of the English language you must have in that case.” Snape’s lips twitch. “If you wish to have the potion, it is yours. I have no use for it, and if I require a replacement I will simply ask Potter to commander some from the Ministry or brew my own as Ministry potions are frequently sub-standard.”

“I bet they are.” Louis laughs under his breath. “Thanks, Professor.” He frowns. “When should I use it?”

Snape makes an irritated sound in the back of his throat. “I can’t do everything for you, Tomlinson. I suggest you trust your instincts.”

“Okay.”

Louis turns back to his books, thinking about the liquid luck and wondering if maybe that’s all the help he needs.

*

Louis stumbles through Nick’s Floo on Friday night, after a couple of drinks with Liam. Nick looks up from his position on the sofa where he’s cuddling Pig. Pig jumps up and puts her paws on Louis’ thigh, wagging her tail. He pets her until she gets bored and click, clacks off into the house. Stinky is nowhere to be seen.

“I’m not supposed to be here.” Louis feels he needs to state the obvious. It’s ten o’clock and way past any sort of curfew McGonagall’s given him before. “Payno’s covering for me.”

“Okay.” Nick gives Louis a careful look. “You know I don’t give a fuck about you breaking the rules, as long as everything’s alright.”

“It’s not alright.” Louis rubs his jaw, angry, sad and so fucking confused. He hates feeling like this, spiralling from anger to grief to rage and back again. “But you know that.”

“I do.” Nick’s throat works, and he holds out his hand. “Want a cuddle, love?”

“Yeah. Please.” Louis moves quickly to Nick, so glad Nick isn’t forcing him back through the Floo and telling him to get a good night’s sleep in his too-quiet bed. “I just…I want…”

“Anything.” Nick wraps Louis in his arms, holding him close. His voice is low and gruff. “Anything you need, Lou.”

“I just want…I want to feel something that isn’t sad.” Louis takes a shaky breath then pulls back, pressing his lips fiercely to Nick’s. “Let’s do that stuff you said. The tying up thing. I want you to use me. I want you to spank me or use a belt on me or something. Spells, even. Just make it rough, I don’t care.”

Nick keeps his hand stroking over Louis’ spine, holding him close. “I’m not hurting you. Not tonight. If you want to do that stuff, we can talk about it. I’m not, like, not into it. I just want to talk about it first.”

“We famously rubbish at talking,” Louis says with a sniffle.

“Famously.” Nick’s smile curves against Louis’ neck. He squeezes his arms around Louis. “I didn’t know Niall like you did, but it’s made me feel out of sorts too. I’m not sure I can hurt you right now, even if it’s what you’re telling me you need. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Part of Louis is relieved, if he’s honest. He came barrelling in, wanting Nick to fuck his pain away but now he’s here he just feels small and sad. He makes as much of a nuisance of himself as he can, dicking around with Nick’s blankets until they’re both comfortable and Louis is half in Nick’s lap. “I’m an idiot. I shouldn’t have even asked.”

“It’s fine.” Nick’s voice is soothing and warm. “You can always ask, for the record. Pretty sure I won’t say no to you that often. I just need to know you’re asking for real, not for some other reason.”

“I get it.” Louis does, he really does. He tugs at Nick’s t-shirt, shoving his hands underneath it. His voice is hoarse, and he doesn’t know if it’s from arousal or grief. “Can we at least…?”

“Yeah. Of course.” Nick pulls off his t-shirt and flicks his wand to shut the door to the living room so Pig and Stinky don’t come in. He moves Louis over into his lap so Louis is straddling him and pushes Louis’ t-shirt aside to press a kiss to his collarbone. “What do you want?”

“Want you to fuck me.” A tug of arousal leaves Louis hot all over and he presses his bum into Nick’s crotch. “Just lots of lube and stuff. I don’t need anything else. Like this. I want to see you.”

“Okay.” Nick groans low in his throat and yanks Louis’ t-shirt over his head. He kisses Louis, a deep, searching kiss which keeps the monsters at bay for a moment. Louis loses himself in the heady, desperate moment and clings onto Nick with everything he has. “Sure?”

“Positive. Promise. Please, just….please.”

“I’ve got you, darling.” Nick sounds wrecked, his voice thick with emotion. His kisses become more forceful and he casts a rough, urgent spell which leaves them both naked. He picks up his wand again and murmurs another spell which Louis hasn’t heard before – one which leaves Louis slick and makes his body tingle from head to foot.

Louis pushes Nick back against the sofa and kisses him, over and over. Nick seems to want Louis to take charge, making whispered murmurs of encouragement as Louis rocks over him. When he’s aching with need, Louis asks Nick to help him get the position right and then, in one movement, slides down onto Nick’s cock. Whatever the spell Nick used was, it makes the passage easier but the sensation of Nick’s cock inside Louis’ body still burns. He sucks in a sharp breath, taking a moment to adjust and this. This is what he wanted. Not being taken over Nick’s knee, or hurt or pushed around. He thinks he might want that at some point, but not now, not tonight. He’s never been more grateful to Nick for saying no to something – never been happier Nick seems to understand. Not for the first time, Louis wonders how it happened. This powerful connection that came out of nowhere and left him blindsided. Every pulse and flex of Nick’s body against his own, every flicker and spark of his magic just feels right. Like they’re jigsaw pieces slotting together in all the right places.

Louis gasps when Nick fucks up into him and grinds down against him. “Nick, Nick, please.”

“Yeah…just.” With a slightly awkward manoeuvre, Nick slips out of Louis and gets him onto his back. He slides his hands under Louis’ legs and pushes them back and then he thrusts into him, deep and hard.

Fuck.” Louis’ head is spinning. Everything else melts away as his body thrums with pleasure and Nick takes him hard, over and over. He touches every bit of Nick’s skin he can reach, running his fingers over Nick’s back and tasting the perspiration that gathers on his throat. Louis’ nails are bitten down to nothing, so it’s not much of a scratch but he digs them into Nick’s back and spurs him on to move harder, faster. Louis lets Nick bend him almost double and loses himself completely in the rough, glorious sensation which sends endless sparks of pleasure through him.

When Nick reaches his climax he does so with Louis’ name falling from his lips, a rough pant of breath that breaks the name into pieces. He catches his breath in a gulp and pulls out of Louis, sliding down his body and taking Louis’ hard cock into the back of his throat. Louis is so close, so near to toppling over the edge. With a broken-off sob, Louis pushes hard into Nick’s mouth and comes with a shout, pressing his fist to his mouth to hold back the things he wants to say to Nick.

It takes a while for them both to calm, Nick’s sweaty forehead pressed against Louis’ body. Louis tangles his fingers in Nick’s hair, stroking through the damp strands until his heart rate returns to normal. He urges Nick up with a light tug of his hair, and kisses him deeply, softly, eagerly. Nick’s mouth is warm and sweet, and his kisses equally tender. With a sigh, Louis breaks away from Nick and looks into his warm eyes. He is so close he could count Nick’s freckles, and he can see the light, dusky flush of Nick’s cheeks, the beads of perspiration on his forehead. Louis reaches up and presses his lips to Nick’s cheek.

“Thank you,” Louis says.

Nick huffs and stretches out beside Louis, lazily flicking his wand so a blanket covers them both. He holds Louis close and noses at the nape of his neck as Louis relaxes into him. “Daft sod. Since when do you thank me for fucking you?”

“Since you knew what I wanted.” Louis shrugs, nestling back into Nick. Another wave of sadness crashes over him and he presses his lips tightly together. “I wanted to…feel alive.”

“Yeah.” Nick’s voice is quiet. “I know. Me too, I think.” He kisses the nape of Louis’ neck and his lips are warm. “I know it doesn’t change things, but did it help a bit?”

“I think so.” Louis knows that fucking away his pain won’t strip it away for good, but it’s something. It reminds him of the people that are still living, breathing and holding onto Louis with everything they have. The crescendo of pleasure slowly ebbs away, and there’s heartache and loss, and tears prick hot and sharp against Louis’ eyes. But there’s Nick, too. Hot, warm and breathing. Holding Louis close and helping to chase the nightmares away, even if just for a night. “Can I stay tonight?”

“Can do whatever you like, darling.” Nick holds Louis close and strokes his fingers over Louis’ belly. “We’ll work out the rest tomorrow.”

“Mmm.” Louis closes his eyes and turns to face Nick, curling up in his arms.

That night, his dreams are full of rain, sunshine and the faintest glimmer of a rainbow in the cool, grey sky.

*

Later that week, Louis gets the urge to revisit Moon River. Lupin’s portrait has been empty for ages, and his mind keeps coming back to Remus and Sirius in the Room of Requirement. Part of him wonders if their appearance had anything to do with Niall, who Louis hasn’t seen since their hurried conversation in the classroom. He can’t help but hope there’s some kind of connection and the last place he wants to go back to is the Room of Requirement, which feels creepier by the day. Louis gets to the small clearing by the river banks, smiling at the tree which hid the secret passage to Snape’s musty old shop. He sits back on the grass, listening to the sound of the river flowing as he smokes a cigarette. Maybe Sirius and Remus smoked too and got off together on the grass under the light of the moon.

A rustling beside him makes Louis turn around, to find Niall sitting next to him. “Hiya, Tommo.”

Louis’ throat constricts, and he shifts closer to Niall, not caring if he’s a bit cold. “Hi, Nialler.”

“I think this is the last time I’m going to be here for a while.” Niall holds out a hand and Louis shakes it gently, not wanting to push through the ghostly silver where there should be flesh, blood and bone. Everything hurts. Louis’ limbs ache and his heart is so heavy it makes him want to weep for Niall.

“Will I see you again?” Louis wets his dry lips with his tongue. He wants to hug Niall, but he knows he would slip right through.

“Yeah.” Niall looks up at the sky, where the clouds are starting to gather. “Eventually, I reckon. Not for ages yet.”

“Is it okay?” Louis knows it’s a stupid question, but he needs to know. He wants to know Niall is okay, wherever he is.

“Not as bad as I thought it would be.” Niall gives Louis a brave smile. “It’s a bit hard and cold, but I think it’s getting warmer wherever it is I’m going.” He twists his hands together and there’s a low bark from beside him. He looks down and Padfoot is next to him, nuzzling against Niall’s leg. “It’s your dog, Tommo.”

“Not mine,” Louis says. “Not now. I think he’s yours. It’s Sirius Black’s Animagus.”

“Is it?” Niall pats Padfoot on the head and gets another happy ruff in return. “Cool.” He looks up at Louis and his smile is watery. His face shivers and shimmers in a gust of wind. It’s like he’s already disappearing, fading away with the afternoon sun. “Can you hear that?”

“No.” Louis holds his breath, listening hard. There’s nothing, but the sound of the trees in the wind.

“Someone’s calling me. Apparently there’s a bloke called Cedric. Wants me to play some Quidditch.”

“Cedric Diggory.” Louis swallows. “Yeah, he was good at that. Hufflepuff, though. Don’t let them steal you for their team.” It’s the first time Louis has ever felt a sense of Gryffindor pride, burning fiercely within him. He wonders if that’s what Niall left behind for Louis. The heart of a lion.

“No chance.” Niall lets Padfoot burrow against him. “Who’s Colin Creevey? He’s telling me he knows Grimmy.”

“He does. He did.” Louis thinks of the memorial at the school and Niall’s name etched onto the base of it, fresh and stark against the stone. Not yet weather beaten, not yet faded away. “He’ll look after you, I think. He loves Harry Potter too.”

“Wait until he hears about Harry Styles.” Niall stands, holding out his arms. “Give us a hug goodbye, then. I need to get off. There are people waiting for me.”

Louis swallows, the lump in his throat making it difficult to breathe. “If you see anyone I love before I get there, look after them, will you?”

“You know I will.” Niall looks sad. “Always.” His form shifts and shakes again. “It’s why my Boggart was an Augury I think. An omen of death. I’ve always been scared of dying. I’m just not brave like you.”

“You are.” A fierce rage wells up in Louis’ chest and his eyes burn with unshed tears. Even though he knows he can’t hug Niall properly, he tries. He clings onto him for long enough that he imagines he can feel the beat, beat of Niall’s heart and breathe in the clean, soapy scent of him. He thinks he can hear Padfoot rustling around by them both and he holds on for as long as he can, whispering to Niall. “You’re the bravest ever, lad. The bravest.”

“Thanks, Tommo.” Niall’s voice is already fading on the gentle breeze. In a rush his voice surrounds Louis as if it’s coming from every leaf in the trees, catching on the wind’s whispers, suspended for a moment in time as Niall pushes through from somewhere else to give a final warning: watch the river at sunset and remember the letters.

When Louis finally opens his eyes, he’s holding only air and Niall and Padfoot are nowhere to be seen.

*

Louis lights another cigarette and settles on the grass again, the prophecy and all of the endless meetings at Grimmauld Place whirring through his mind. He fingers the little bottle of liquid luck in his pocket and he’s tempted to take it, but something holds him back. It’s all such a confusing jumble. He still doesn’t know why it’s him or how the fuck he’s supposed to save anyone. He’s just a dickhead who can’t even pass his exams. Louis clutches his wand, the air colder than before despite the heat of the day. There’s still a cool space where Niall sat next to him, which chills the air in Louis’ immediate vicinity. He doesn’t want to move over to a warm patch, though. He feels as though if he stays in this one, chilly, spot, it’s as if Niall is still there, right next to him. He breathes out, his breath an icy cloud. He stops and breathes out again, watching the cloud form.

Remember the letters. Louis rubs the part of his belly which caught the worst of Nick’s spells when they were duelling, recalling Nick’s low, tender voice as he rubbed ice against it. He thinks of Niall’s letters to Harry Styles fans and the way one simple spell stopped fire in its tracks.

Glacius,” he whispers, directing his wand at the puff of air that leaves his mouth. The perspiration from his breath in the air solidifies and turns to ice before dropping to the ground and breaking into small pieces. Something hopeful worms within Louis, a bright pinpoint of possibility leaving him nearly giddy as it unfurls within him. Glacius. The spell canters through his head and he can hardly believe that the ghosts might be defeated by something so obvious.

Louis lights another cigarette and watches the water flowing as the sun sets, the river taking on a peculiar blood-red hue in the light of the setting sun. From the distance a howl filters through the air and Louis shivers. The strange encounter with Remus and Sirius in the Room of Requirement comes back to him, and Louis recalls the conversation turning to Moon River. He wouldn’t have come here today, if that meeting hadn’t been turning around in his mind. He might not have seen Niall or been able to get to the river in time to watch the sun setting over its banks.

“Why now? Why did I end up here, at sunset?” Louis takes another puff on his cigarette and wishes he was smart like Hermione and Snape or knew how to win wars like Harry Potter.

When the dead start to rise, the living will die
The werewolves will gather, the castle will cry
The rivers of blood will flow through the night
And stars will go out as the Thestrals take flight

“Rivers of blood.” Louis puts out his cigarette and gets to his feet quickly, brushing off his trousers. He watches the river flowing as the sun casts its dying rays over the clearing, turning everything red. A chill creeps over him and his heart pounds in his chest. With trembling hands, he clutches his wand and a sense of absolute conviction comes over him. “They’re here,” he says. “They’re here.”

Louis fumbles for his wand and casts a Patronus with every ounce of energy he can muster. As hard as it is to feel happiness, the unexpected breakthrough and the glimmer of hope gives him strength to reach for everything good. The memory of chatting to Niall again, Nick holding him close always, always, being friends with Liam and those chicken nuggets the elves make him after hours. Louis musters the force of every happy thing he can, speaking firmly as his Patronus starts to form because he wants to make sure they get every bit of his message back at the castle. “The ghosts and the werewolves are here. I think they're planning to attack again tonight. I’m at Moon River. Use Glacius. I think we can stop the ghosts by turning them to ice.”

Silvery strands slide from the tip of Louis' wand and begin to form a magnificent, horse-like creature. The gangly legs of the little baby Thestral are no more. This Thestral is fully formed, tall and proud. It’s as strong as Harry’s stag, as bright and light as Nick’s Pig Patronus. It’s beautiful, and brilliant and it nuzzles Louis’ palm with its snout. With a soft cawing sound it raises its hooves and shakes its head, before galloping into the distance. “Run,” Louis whispers. “Run!”

The Thestral Patronus races away into the darkness, taking flight into the sky and Louis is left alone by Moon River as night falls. He extracts the Felix Felicis from his pocket and downs it in one smooth motion. He’s fairly sure he hasn’t just taken flobberworm faeces or at least he hopes he hasn’t. Something tells him with absolute certainty that this is the moment he needs all the luck in the world. Louis begins to run as quickly as he can to get back to the castle. Louis sent a Patronus. He doesn’t have to be Harry Potter. He doesn’t have to walk into the forest and confront death head on or let himself be killed or any of that. He just has to get to Hogwarts and then everything will be fine.

“Come on, come on.” Louis pushes his legs to move faster, racing through the grounds, not realising until he hits a thick forest that he’s gone completely wrong in the darkness. With a muttered curse, Louis pushes through the trees until he finally bursts out at the edges. He could almost sob, because he’s not at Hogwarts, not even close. He can’t see the castle and he doesn’t recognise this bit of the grounds at all. So much for liquid bloody luck, Snape probably gave him flobberworm shit after all. Louis tries to ignore the frigid cold which gathers in the air, just the wind, just the wind, nothing else. He just needs to get across the grounds and then—

“Well, well. What have we here?”

“It’s that little boy who likes other boys, Amycus.” Carrow’s laugh is cold and sinister, as the clearing takes on a deathly glow. Louis turns in a circle, keeping his wand arm outstretched. He’s surrounded by so many ghosts, all of them advancing towards Louis. The air is so cold, and all the goodness slowly seeps from the surroundings. Dementors. Louis’ breath catches, and he looks around desperately trying to work out where he is. He should have stayed at Moon River, they would have sent the Aurors there. He’s fucked up by coming here, just like he fucked up leaving the room on the night Niall died. Louis looks wildly up at the sky and notices dark shapes moving across the sky, blotting out the stars as the cloaks and rags of the Dementors cover up everything that was bright.

Louis knows he’s surrounded, so he might as well go down fighting. However futile it might be, he’s not going to let them take him easily. Bellatrix laughs and the air gets more cold and deathly with every second. Louis doesn’t care about Bellatrix. There’s only one ghost he wants to try to fight – maybe two, he decides, boldly. He turns on his heel until he finds Amycus and points his wand, trying to still the tremble in his hand. “You killed Niall. You miserable fucking bastard! You killed my friend.”

“Was that his name?” Amycus looks satisfied with himself, the expression sending a wave of furious anger through Louis. “Tell me, dear boy, how would you like to join him?”

The Crucio slices through the air before Louis has time to respond to it. He can’t get his shields up in time and he drops to his knees, writhing in pain as the metallic taste of copper fills his mouth. He gasps for breath before the spell hits him again and dimly wonders what the fuck happened to liquid luck and why the hell Louis thought he could defeat anything. While the ghosts cackle and howl with laughter, Louis gets to his feet. He points his wand at Amycus again and whispers under his breath, “This one’s for you, Nialler.”

“GLACIUS!” Louis shouts the spell as loudly as he can, sweeping his wand through the air. It’s more powerful than any previous castings and with a renewed bout of courage and energy, Louis casts it again and again. “Be right,” he pleads as he keeps casting. “Be right, be right.”

The Glacius freezes Amycus in place. His body falls to the ground, the ice cracking into smithereens as another spell blasts through it until there’s nothing left but a puddle on the ground which makes the grass glisten. Louis resists the urge to whoop, even as joy sears through him, hot and bright enough to make him tremble. He’s still surrounded. He’s still pretty much fucked. But at least he can go out scrappy. At least he can do damage to the fuckers that hurt the people he loved. If the last thing Louis does is stop Amycus and Carrow, Louis is going to make them write yes lads, I only fucking did it! on his bloody grave.

“Hey, Carrow?” Louis turns to Carrow who is looking at the damp space on the grass where Amycus used to be with surprise. “That was for Niall and this one’s for Nick. Expelliarmus!” Louis yells at the top of his voice. It catches the wand in Carrow’s hand and with an athleticism that Louis has never really had for anything other than Muggle footie, he catches the wand neatly in his outstretched palm and shouts “Glacius” over and over. The look of surprise on Carrow’s features becomes blurred as her ghostly body is covered with ice. The block falls to the floor with a resounding thud. Louis hurls every spell he can think of at the block of ice, smashing it into tiny pieces and blasting heat at it until it melts away to nothing. Breathing hard, he turns in a circle as he hears rustling in the trees and laughter which echoes around the clearing. In the distance the angel of death hangs in the sky with its wings stretched aloft. Angelus Mortis.

“Expelliarmus!” The spell from Lestrange catches Louis’ wand but it stays firmly within his grasp. Thestral hair. He clings onto it tightly, knowing the ghosts can’t win his wand from him. He remembers Hermione telling him about the undefeatable wand and he thinks of his Patronus flying off into the night. He’s never been happier to have his weird, deathly wand than he is now. He’s about to turn the Glacius spell on Bellatrix, knowing there are too many ghosts, too many to fight, when Bellatrix takes a decision.

“Leave him,” Bellatrix snarls. “Potter is the one we’re after. The Mudblood will never get back to Hogwarts in time. Leave him to the Dementors.”

As quickly as they came, the ghosts leave the clearing which is suddenly enveloped in a blanket of darkness. The Dementors swoop lower in the sky and Louis drops to his knees, fear tightening his chest. There are so many of them. So many, reminding Louis of the grief of losing Niall. They bring back Niall’s body in Louis’ arms and the searing pain of the last goodbye. Even as he thinks about Nick – warm, wonderful, brilliant Nick – Louis’ grief is too intense to get to the place of happiness he needs for a strong Patronus charm, the only thing that can help him ward off Dementors. Part of him wants to go into the darkness with Niall and Remus and Sirius, just to make the pain stop. Even as he tries to fight the urge to give in, the Expecto Patronum leaves him with little conviction and his wand sparks and splutters. The sure, confident Patronus from before is nowhere to be seen and Louis clutches at the grass, choking back a sob.

The Dementors swoop and Louis can taste the salt water tears against his lips as his grief and mourning overpowers him. “I’m sorry,” he says. To Nick, to Harry, to his mum. To all the people who believed he could be brave like Harry Potter, to everyone who thought he had the courage of a lion. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I couldn’t be stronger.”

As the Dementors move closer, sucking all of Louis’ breath and happiness from him, he dimly hears a cawing in the background. The sound of hooves on the ground are familiar although he can’t quite place it. The coldness ebbs and flows until with another loud caw the clouds lift, and Louis can breathe again. He gulps in the night air as the clouds part and the stars come out. He clutches his chest where his heart is so full of pain, but still beating resolutely. Alive, alive, alive. The warmth of Nick’s kisses come back to him, his mum stroking his hair and his sisters telling him he’s dead good at being a brother. He’s on the terrace at the Donny Rovers watching them score a winning goal. He’s singing on stage with Potter and the Wotsits, laughing over ice-cream with Niall and listening to Liam talk about how he’s going to get off with Luna Lovegood one day.

Something nudges Louis and he looks up to meet a pair of dark eyes which remind him strangely of Snape. He takes a breath and sits up slowly so as not to spook the elegant creature.

“Hello, girl.” Louis reaches out a trembling hand and the Thestral nuzzles it. “Hello gorgeous.”

He gets to his feet and blinks at the sight in front of him. The clearing is full of Thestrals. Small, baby Thestrals like his first Patronus. They wobble closer to Louis with a flap of their little wings and nuzzle and caw at his feet. Louis strokes their little spines and they look like they’re smiling. The bigger Thestral keeps close to Louis as if it instinctively knows he means no harm. A wave of dizziness overcomes Louis, and he thinks he’s going to fall back to the ground but the solid, warm body of the Thestral holds him upright. Louis closes his eyes and wraps his arms around the creature’s neck, burying his face in its side as it caws softly beside him.

*

When Louis comes to, the Thestrals are gone and the clearing is empty. The cold grass seeps through his robes and he shifts on the ground as a warm hand touches his cheek.

“Louis?”

“I used to fancy you rotten,” Louis says. He thinks it’s the whole nearly dying thing making him drunk on life. He blinks his eyes open to find Harry Potter watching him with an amused smile on his face. Louis sits up and rubs his eyes. “Don’t worry, I don’t anymore.”

“I wasn’t worrying.” Harry gives Louis a phial. “Here, have some Pepper-Up. It should help. We can get you back to the infirmary and sort out the rest there.”

“Thanks.” Louis takes a swig of the Pepper-Up and it gives him a burst of energy which sends warmth through his bones. “There were Thestrals.”

“I know.” Harry looks around the empty clearing as he helps Louis to his feet. “They stayed with you and kept the Dementors away.”

“Where are they now?”

“Safe.” Harry shakes his head, looking at Louis admiringly. “I’ve never seen Thestrals like that. I reckon you’ve got a connection with them. Your wand, your Patronus. They just knew, somehow. I’m not sure they’d have done that for anyone. Easily spooked, Thestrals.”

“Thestrals are wicked.” Louis has never been more convinced of anything in his life. He looks at the now empty clearing and whispers a silent thank you to them. He’s going to find out what they eat and come and feed them stuff just as soon as he’s properly back on his feet.

“You’re lucky you found them.” Harry pulls a face. “If you had stayed at Moon River, I’m not sure you would have been so lucky. What made you come here?”

“No idea.” Louis reaches into his pocket and extracts the empty bottle of liquid luck. “Snape – I mean Professor Snape – gave me Felix Felicis. I took it before I started running back to the castle to find you. It must have helped.”

Harry laughs at the flobberworm faeces label on the bottle and shakes his head. “Only Severus.” He sounds fond. “I’m glad you had that with you.”

“Me too.” Louis whispers his thanks to Snape, the last minute decision of the Death Eaters to leave without attempting to cast Avada Kedavra at Louis and deciding to leave him to the Dementors might be a weird kind of luck, but it was undoubtedly the series of decisions that saved Louis' life. He looks at Harry. “Is it over?”

“Yes, it’s over. Thanks to you.” Louis notices for the first time that Harry’s face is etched with mud and streaked with a dark, coppery substance that looks like blood. Louis wonders whose blood it is on his hands, smeared over his cheekbones. “Your Patronus found us before the ghosts got into school. We expected them to use portraits and mirrors, and it gave us enough notice to get everyone in place and the students to safety before they attacked.”

“Did you use Glacius?”

Harry grins. “Absolutely. Quick thinking, on that one. It gave us a way to stop them and I honestly don’t think we’d have thought of that.”

“Snape reckons me being unremarkable was probably the whole reason there’s a prophecy about me.” Louis rolls his eyes, even though he suspects there was a lot of truth in Snape's words. The ghosts didn't think Louis was important enough to kill, and being nobody special is why he's still here now. “You needed someone terrible at magic to come up with an easy spell – you lot are all too good.”

Harry laughs and he shakes his head. “I can promise you, what you’ve done tonight is nothing short of remarkable.” His eyes shine and he nudges his glasses onto his nose. “Tell Severus – Professor Snape – to get stuffed next time he calls you unremarkable.”

Louis gives Harry a grin. “I’ll tell him you told me to say he should get stuffed.”

“Oh good.” Harry laughs again, under his breath. “I look forward to getting my bollocks hexed off.”

“Nah.” Louis doesn’t think Snape would do that to Harry. Probably. “Did the spell kill the ghosts?” Louis doesn’t like the idea that he’s been responsible for multiple deaths, even if already dead Death Eaters undoubtedly deserved it.

“We’re not taking any chances,” Harry says. “The Aurors have collected all of the water and ice left behind and we’re going to give it to the Unspeakables to do whatever it is they do that they can’t tell anyone else about. We’re pretty sure it’s the end of it. The Dementors are contained and they won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. We have Fenrir and most of the werewolves.”

“Most?” Louis asks, nervously.

“We’ll get the rest,” Harry reassures him. “Nick’s back at the school. He’s waiting to see you. I sent a Patronus to let him know you’re alive. He’s been in bits.”

“Why the fuck is Nick at the school?” Louis folds his arms with a huff. “I told him to keep out of trouble.”

“I think he said the same to you. He was with Snape when we got the call and nothing could have stopped him coming to Hogwarts.”

Snape?” Louis stares at Harry. “Are you sure?”

“Yep.” Harry shrugs. “Don’t know what they were talking about, though. You’d have to ask him that.”

“I will.” Louis looks at the blood on Harry’s cheek. “Is everyone okay?”

Harry nods, his breath leaving him with a shudder and his expression turning serious. “Most survived.”

“Most?” Louis thinks of Liam and his whole body gets cold.

“Your friends are safe. There were Aurors that didn’t make it.” Harry places a hand on Louis’s shoulder. “Don’t worry.”

“Is Draco okay?” Louis has to ask. He thinks he has a sense of it for the first time – being Harry Potter. He thought it was so cool having a big, famous name and being so powerful. He knows differently, now. He lost Niall and it was enough to break his heart in two. He can’t imagine losing Liam too, or Nick or his mum. Can’t imagine going into the school to find the people he loved stretched out on the ground staring blankly at a false sky.

Harry looks momentarily surprised and then he gives Louis a smile and a nod. “He’s fine. Thank you for asking.”

“S’okay.” Louis shrugs and looks away. Harry still makes him feel a bit hot and bothered and he’s never quite sure how to behave around him. There’s a rustle from the forest behind them and Harry frowns, extracting his wand.

“Who’s there? Show yourself!” He casts a Lumos and just as the light flares into action, Louis turns and sees the monstrous form partially hidden by the leaves – a body that isn’t quite human, isn’t quite animal. Teeth glint in the light from Harry’s wand which illuminates a bloodstained mouth with matted fur, as the creature’s eyes meet Louis’.

It happens so fast, Louis can’t raise his wand quickly enough to stop it. He sees rather than hears the green flash of Avada Kedavra and the air tastes like death. Just before the green spell finds its purchase there’s a sharp pain in Louis’ side. It spreads outwards, up through his body and into his veins. With a strangled cry he drops to the floor and tries to get his wand, scrabbling uselessly in the dirt as green spells and panicked cries surround him. The pain is so intense it makes stars swim before his eyes and he can’t.

He can’t. Screams of agony pierce through the night.

Louis realises the screams are his own, just as everything gets dark.

Chapter Text

“Pig, no! Stop it, get over here.”

“She’s okay,” Louis mumbles. He can feel a wet snout nosing at his hand and his fingers find soft fur and a warm body. “Come here, Pig. Give us a cuddle.”

“Don’t, you’re injured.” Nick’s voice sounds rough and unfamiliar – hoarse where it’s usually loud and gobby. “She’s going to hurt you, she doesn’t know.”

“She does.” Louis doesn’t know how he knows, but he can feel Pig is going to be careful with him. Instead of clambering all over him she gives his face a lick and lets her paw rest on his chest. He keeps her close. She’s a good crup, Pig is. He blinks his eyes open and takes in Nick’s room. It’s so warm and familiar. It reminds him of that first night when he woke up in Nick’s bed with a stinking hangover and a lot of regret. He turns to try to see Nick and pain sears through his side. “Fuck.”

“Don’t move you tit.” The bed dips and Nick’s there. Right next to Louis, with his hand brushing Louis’ hair back from his forehead. “Took a nasty bite, there.”

“I did?” The memories of being in the forest with Harry swim through Louis’ mind but everything is blurred and unreal. “Is Harry okay?”

“He’s fine.” Nick leans in and presses a hot kiss to Louis’ forehead. “It’s you we’ve all been worried about. That Liam’s a right pest, isn’t he? Keeps coming over, asking if you’re awake yet.”

Louis smiles and even that hurts. “He’s a good lad, Liam.”

“Yeah. A good lad.” Nick pauses. “Zayn’s been here too. Left you a bottle of firewhisky.”

Louis snorts with laughter, because that sounds like Zayn. “Yeah, I bet.”

“Haz got you a basket of muffins. I told him you’re not going to be able to eat a whole basket, but he thought you might like them. I’ve been giving them away to all the visitors. I’ve got muffins coming out of my ears. It’s not good for me being around all of those carbs.”

Louis finally gets to focus on Nick. His eyes are red-rimmed and his smile is watery. “Have a bloody muffin, Nicholas. Also, stop giving away my presents.”

“Promise. No more for anyone but you.” Nick squeezes Louis’ hand tenderly. It’s about the only part of him that doesn’t hurt.

“What about mum?” Louis struggles to sit but gives up when he realises moving hurts like a bitch. “She’s going to be worried.”

“S’alright, love.” Nick soothes Louis and settles him back in the bed. “She’s going to bloody kill me, but we didn’t tell her. I know you wouldn’t want her to be worrying. Thought I would take you home for a bit and we can tell her properly when she can see you’re okay.”

Relief courses through Louis. “Thanks.” He shivers as he remembers the eyes in the forest and the creature in the trees. He swallows hard and looks at Nick. “Nick?”

“Yes, darling?” Nick edges closer to Louis. He looks bloody knackered. Nick. He makes Louis’ heart so full. Even after everything, Nick’s always been a constant. The anchor Louis feels like he’s been looking for all this time.

“Am I a werewolf?”

Nick doesn’t reply, and Louis closes his eyes, trying not to cry.

*

“Hey.” The only light in the room comes from a handful of candles when Louis finally wakes up. His mouth is dry and the pain in his side makes his stomach roll.

“Hi.” Louis winces. “Feel like shit.”

“You need to take this.” Nick hands Louis a small, glass bottle and helps him sit up. “Snape made it.”

“I bet it tastes disgusting, then.” Louis laughs but even that hurts, so he stops as quickly as he started. He takes the potion and it’s just as foul as he thought it would be. For a moment he thinks he’s going to throw up, but he keeps it down. It’s not long before the potion starts working its magic and he sends Snape a silent thank you. His potions might taste gross, but they’re bloody brilliant. With his pain and nausea easing, Louis takes the opportunity to look at Nick properly. He looks pale and worried, dark shadows under his eyes. His clothes are rumpled and he looks a bit thin. Louis narrows his eyes at Nick. “Where’s your potion?”

“I don’t need one.” Nick shrugs. His voice is thick and tired.

“Sure?” Louis rolls his eyes and reaches for Nick. “You should shower. Come to bed with me.”

“I don’t want to hurt you.” Nick looks as if he’s about to cry and Louis shuffles closer.

“I want you with me, dickhead. Please don’t make me sleep on my own. Where have you been sleeping anyway?”

“The sofa. Here and there.” Nick looks away, which Louis suspects means he hasn’t been sleeping much at all. “Do you want food?”

Louis wants Nick to get comfortable and come to bed so Louis can give him a hug and never let go. When Nick asks that though, Louis’ stomach rumbles and he laughs under his breath. “Yeah.” He takes in Nick’s pale face and thin frame. “Only if you eat with me too, though. Get ready for bed and we can get takeaway.”

“Okay.” Nick looks marginally cheered. “I can cook if you like? Make you something healthy?”

“When have I ever wanted something healthy?” Louis raises his eyebrow at Nick. “I’ve never met a chicken nugget I didn’t like.”

Nick bursts out laughing and leans in to kiss Louis on the forehead. “I’ll order summat and shower. If you’re sure. Prewitt’s Pizza, okay? They should still be taking Fire Calls.”

“Yeah. Perfect.” Louis closes his eyes as Nick gets ready. Finally, they’re in bed together, full up on delicious slices of pizza. Nick’s hair is soft and it smells fresh, a little colour already returning to his cheeks.

“Hey, Nick?”

“Yeah?”

“Why were you with Snape the night it all happened?”

“Oh.” Nick sounds a bit shifty and he clears his throat. “Would you believe it if I said we were having a tawdry affair?”

“Nope.” Louis glowers at Nick. He’s been practicing the art of a disdainful look since spending more time with Snape, and he thinks he’s getting good at it. “I’d also be cross with you for even pretending that was the reason.”

“Okay, no affair.” Nick sighs. “Look, don’t be angry, but I went to talk to him about you. I wondered if he had any potions that might help with Niall. I wanted you to be able to do your school work before exams, and I know how tough it is to focus on anything when something like that happens.”

“Oh.” Louis isn’t sure if he’s angry with Nick for interfering or grateful that he cared enough to try. He takes in the dark circles under Nick’s eyes and his worried expression and decides to go with grateful. He loves Nick so much, he doesn’t want to waste time squabbling. Life’s too short. “What did he say?”

Nick snorts. “He said ‘Mister Grimshaw, I would have thought even a first-year knowledge of magic would have taught you that there are no spells or potions for suppressing basic human emotion, and if such things do exist I would sincerely recommend that you avoid them at all costs. The state of calm you hope to bring about could only be achieved through significant memory modification or Obliviate and I am quite sure Mr Tomlinson would prefer to live with his memories of his friend – however difficult that may be – than to go through life without them. If you are after a more temporary remedy, I highly recommend a decent scotch.”

Louis laughs and he nestles closer to Nick. “Brilliant.” He turns the words over in his head. “I think he’s right, though. When I got your quill the shopkeeper at Scrivenshaft’s said something weird to me.”

“Did he?”

“Yeah.” Louis nods. “Grief is a sword or it is nothing. Some Muggle author, I think. I meant to Google it at mum’s but I had too much port.”

Nick laughs and kisses Louis’ cheek. “You’re a terror.”

“I am,” Louis says, proudly. “I think he’s right, though. I was able to cast the Glacius spell better than ever because I was thinking of Niall, then what Carrow had done to you. If I hadn’t had any of that, I don’t know if I would have been brave enough.” He stops and scrubs his eyes with his knuckles. “I thought maybe Niall gave me that. The heart of a lion they reckon Harry Potter and the other Gryffindors have. I’ve never felt right in that house before, but he made me feel proud of being a Gryffindor – like I wanted to be brave and fight for things.”

“He was a good lad.” Nick brushes his hand through Louis’ hair. “And you are brave, love. The bravest. Just promise me no more fighting for a bit though.”

“Promise.” Louis yawns. “Exams first, then I’m going to get pissed on cheap lager with Liam at the Three Broomsticks.”

Nick laughs softly before speaking again. “Lou?” It’s quiet with the dogs snoring at the foot of the bed and the rain pattering on the windows.

“Yeah?” Louis shifts onto the side that doesn’t hurt, facing Nick and blinking at him in the half-light.

“There’s something else.” Nick’s voice gets choked and he brushes his thumb against Louis’ cheek. “Something I have to tell you.”

Fear worms through Louis and it’s like he’s standing in quicksand, being pulled under. The way Nick looks so serious knifes through him, and his heart pounds in his chest. He doesn’t want Nick to leave him, but something tells him this isn’t going to be good news.

“Go on, then.” Louis speaks quickly, rough and low. He tries not to panic, steadying his breathing as best he can.

“We had to get you out of your clothes and wash the…the blood and stuff off. Make sure the wound didn’t get infected.”

Louis pulls a face at Nick. “So everyone’s seen my knob?”

Nick laughs, even if it sounds a bit shaky. “I covered it with a flannel and suds. For my eyes only. I booted everyone else out when it got to that bit.”

“Pervert.” Louis’ heart feels a bit lighter because he feels like whatever it is Nick’s going to tell him, it’s not going to be Nick leaving him. There’s nothing that says I love you like I covered your dick with a flannel.

“A bit.” Nick presses a kiss to Louis’ cheek and then leans back. “You haven’t had any tattoos, have you? Nothing other than that one with Zayn.”

“No.” Louis shakes his head, confused. “There’s not another prophecy, is there?”

“Nope. Nothing like that.” Nick takes a breath and then he shows Louis his arm. “See this?” He brushes his fingers against a triangle tattoo on his bicep. It’s small and exact, the thin black lines simple and straight. Louis doesn’t remember seeing it before, and he knows everything about Nick.

“Yeah. Is it new?” Louis runs his own fingers over it and he’s surprised by the pulse of need which runs through his body. He’s in too much pain for much of anything, but he has to swallow back a moan when the warm safety of Nick’s magic slides through his veins. It feels so good. So right.

“It wasn’t there before you got bitten.” Nick’s jaw works, and it looks as though he’s trying to find the right words. “It just…appeared.”

“Weird.” Louis stares at Nick. “What’s that got to do with you perving on me when I was unconscious.”

“This.” Nick reaches behind him for his Muggle phone. He switches it on and shows Louis a photo. It’s Louis’ ankle. At least Louis thinks it is. It looks like it, but for the tattoo exactly like Nick’s. “I saw this when I was washing you.”

“Really?” Louis stares at the photo, zooming in on it before handing the phone back to Nick. “I don’t get it.” Louis doesn’t want to be chosen or marked or anything anymore. He just wants to go and see the Arctic Monkeys with Nick, get well enough to have a pint of beer and work out what the fuck he’s going to do with his life after Hogwarts. He’s never going to pass his exams after this. There’s been too much time doing other things. Too much grief, too much fighting.

Nick closes his eyes, rubbing them with his knuckles before blinking them open. “I spoke to Snape about it when he came here.”

Louis stares at Nick. “Snape came here?” He looks over Nick’s shoulder, as if Snape might be lurking somewhere in the shadows. He still remembers that first discovery of Snape being alive, and the way Nick looked so angry and scared. He can’t imagine Snape with his dark robes and scathing, clipped manner of speaking, being here in this cosy house with Pig and Stinky. “Are you sure you two aren’t having that affair?”

“Yeah, that’s the point to focus on.” Nick huffs with laughter and he winks at Louis. “No affair, pet. But Stinky sat on his head for ages. Snape said he was going to report me for keeping illegal dragons in a private residence if I didn’t remove the ‘wretched little monster’ from his head immediately.’”

Louis laughs, the picture of Stinky on Snape’s head cheering him enormously. “He’d never report you, not really. What did you say?”

Nick shrugs, still smiling. “I got Stinky off Snape’s head and he found a spot in his robes he seemed to like better. I went to make a brew and when I got back, Snape was telling him some story about the dragons in Llyn Ogwen. I think they’re pals, now. Pig liked him too. Kept nosing at his boots.”

“Not what I expected.” Louis imagines Snape talking seriously to Stinky, pointing a long finger at him and telling him off for getting his robes all smoky.

“I think he likes you.” Nick gives Louis a soft smile. “He kept going on about you being a reckless twit like Potter and far better at magic than you give yourself credit for. I thought he was being insulting and nearly hexed him, but then he gave me all these potions for you that I think he spent ages making. It’s just his way, I reckon.”

“Yeah. I think it is, too.” Louis shakes his head. There are so many layers to Snape, he’s never quite sure where he stands. The one thing he does know, is that Snape’s protected him, in a way. He never treated Louis like he was too young to understand things and he told him the truth, even when the truth was difficult. Louis likes people like that. He prefers someone to be prickly than insincere.

“Do you remember I heard your name inside that room back at the Ministry?”

Louis nods, even though it feels like such a long time ago now. He didn’t know anything about a prophecy then. He was just nervous about going to speak to the great Harry Potter. He remembers the jealousy and heat when he found out about Nick and Malfoy and then later, wandering around the tenth floor and the Amortentia that smelt exactly like Nick. Louis smiles and gives Nick a quick kiss, even though the movement makes him wince. The sound of a strange, sibilant voice incanting Harry Potter comes back to Louis and he shivers. “I remember.”

“Snape thinks there’s a reason I heard your voice, and it’s to do with the tattoos.” Nick takes a shaky breath, his face pale.

What, you’re scaring me.”

“They’re soul marks.” Nick brushes his hand almost subconsciously over his arm. “It means we’re mates.”

Louis’s heart hammers in his chest. “Not, like, friends….”

“No.” Nick laughs without much humour. “Like…I don’t even know what like. We’re written in the stars or summat.”

“Snape told you that?” Louis raises a sceptical eyebrow at Nick.

“Hardly.” Nick snorts. “He got a book out and talked for ages then I made Draco explain it properly.”

“Sounds about right.” Louis looks at the triangle on Nick’s arm. It’s so small, so innocuous. It looks like nothing. “What does it even mean?”

“We won’t know that much until there’s a transformation, and that won’t be for a good six months or so.” Nick winces at that. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay. I know what it means, being a werewolf.” Louis isn’t sure that he does really, but he’s got time to do some reading or ask people that have already done the reading to explain it to him. “Does that mean you’re stuck with me?” Louis doesn’t want Nick to be stuck with him. He wants Nick to be there because it’s right where he wants to be.

“Nah, at least not because of the marks.” Nick brushes Louis’ hair back from his forehead. “The way Draco told it, it’s probably going to make things pretty intense close to a full moon but it’s not like we have to be within five feet of each other at all times.” Nick brushes his thumb against Louis’s cheek. “Not that I’m going anywhere. I don’t particularly fancy being apart from you at the minute.”

“Me neither.” Louis swallows. “What sort of intense?” He stares at Nick, a thought occurring to him. “If we’re mates, does this mean…does this mean I might have babies?”

Nick stares at Louis before bursting out laughing. He laughs until his cheeks are flushed and he can’t quite catch his breath. Louis ordinarily doesn’t like being laughed at but it’s so good to hear Nick laugh he has to join in, even as it sends sharp, stabbing pain through his body. “Ouch, stop making me laugh you dick.”

“Sorry.” Nick laughs softly again under his breath, before shaking himself. “No, you’re not going to start having cubs, Lou.” His expression changes and he looks concerned. “Is that…is that a problem?”

“Nick.” Louis pokes Nick before he can start panicking. “I don’t want to have babies or cubs or anything. I don’t even know what the fuck I’m doing a week from now, or a month or a year. Probably resitting my N.E.W.Ts.” Louis sighs and stretches out on his back, looking at the ceiling. “I thought I’d have kids, one day. A big family like me mum. But I don’t need it. I just want someone. I’m not good at being on my own, never have been.”

Nick speaks quietly and seriously. “Same, really. I’ve always had friends around me, I don’t like being by myself. I’ve never had that with a bloke before, not until you came along and threw up on my shoes.”

“I did, didn’t I?” Louis gives Nick a grin. “I’m dead romantic.”

“Told me you wanked over Harry Potter once, too.” Nick rolls his eyes. “That was really lovely.”

“I’m a delight.” Louis wriggles deeper into the bed, getting comfy. “Could we break up, do you think? Now we’ve got this bond thing?”

“I think so.” Nick looks confused and a bit hurt. “Do you want to break up?”

“’Course I don’t.” Louis rolls his eyes. “I just don’t want you to be with me because you have to be. That’s shit.”

“It’s not like that.” Nick shakes his head. “Draco said it’s not going to help us not fight over you leaving your socks all over the place or anything. We can be with other people if we want, it’s not going to make us sick or ill if we’re not together.”

“Might make me a bit sick if you go off knobbing someone else,” Louis mutters.

“Me too.” Nick kisses Louis’ cheek and stifles a yawn. “Not because of a tattoo though. Would have been a bit sick about that before.”

“Yeah, same.” Louis closes his eyes, a warm, restful contentment washing over him. “Sleep, Nicholas.”

The response from Nick is a soft snore, and Louis falls asleep smiling in Nick’s arms.

*

Louis is hot and uncomfortable when he wakes up and he pokes Nick in the side. “Nick? You awake?”

Nick cracks open one eye and glares at Louis. “I am now.” His frown softens, and he leans in to press a kiss to Louis’ lips. “Hiya.”

“Hi.” Louis shifts in bed and winces at the flash of pain in his side. “I stink and I need a shower.”

“Can run a bath for you if you like?”

“Yeah.” Louis presses closer to Nick, his cock taking interest despite the fact his side is killing him. “Will you get in it too?”

“I don’t want to hurt you.” Nick runs his hand over Louis’ hip and swipes his tongue over his lips. He looks nervous, which is unlike Nick. He’s usually full of himself when it comes to shagging. Louis must have looked rough after he was bitten.

“You won’t and if you do, I’ll let you know.” Louis rolls his eyes. “Coming feels good, Nicholas, and I demand to be taken care of.”

“You’re an awful lot of trouble.” Nick sounds delighted by that fact. “Demanding orgasms.”

“They’re therapeutic,” Louis informs him. “Good for my recovery. Definitely read that in a book.”

“You definitely didn’t.” Nick slips out of bed and scratches the back of his head. “Come on, then. Can you make it to the bathroom your highness, or should I levitate you?”

“Have to get around without being carried at some point.” Louis moves to a sitting position, the sharp pain leaving him nearly breathless. Once he’s up though, it doesn’t feel quite as bad. He holds his hand out to Nick. “Help me up, then.”

Nick still looks worried, but he holds his arms out and lets Louis lean against him as he stands. “Darling?” Nick says, when Louis lets out a yelp.

“I’m fine, I’m fine.” Louis sucks in a breath and steadies himself. “I can walk!”

“Barely.” Nick keeps his arms wrapped around Louis. “It’s really more of a lean and a shuffle.”

“That’ll do.” Louis takes it slowly, the pain not as overwhelming as he expected. They finally make it to the bathroom and Louis lets Nick sit him on the toilet seat as he runs the bath. “More of those fancy suds of yours, Nick. Don’t be tight.”

Nick rolls his eyes but adds another splash of suds in anyway, unable to keep the fond look off his face even as he tries to look unimpressed. When the bath is full, he gives Louis a critical look. “I’m not sure about this.”

Louis looks at the bath and he has to admit the idea of clambering into it doesn’t exactly appeal. “We can use magic for this bit, as long as you promise you’ll let me try it without when I’m ready.”

“Promise.” Nick flicks his wand to leave Louis naked and then very carefully uses a levitating charm to get Louis into the bath. Louis is actually quite impressed, not that he plans to tell Nick that.

“Get in, then.”

“I don’t want to hurt—”

“Nick.” Louis glares at him. “I’m eighteen and I haven’t had sex in what feels like a hundred years. I’m also a fucking werewolf so I’m probably extra horny. Get in the bath and get me off.”

Nick laughs under his breath and pulls off his clothes, climbing into the bath behind Louis, his long legs around him. He nuzzles Louis’ shoulder and plants a careful kiss there. “Menace.”

“You wouldn’t have it any other way.” Louis hopes to goodness that’s true. He wriggles back against Nick and sighs. “Feels nice.”

“There’s one of those potions of Snape’s in the water. He said it would help.” Nick snorts and nuzzles Louis’ neck. “He nearly fell off his chair when I asked him if mixing anything else with it would change its potion-y properties.”

Louis snickers. “What did he say?”

“He asked what I meant by that then pinched the bridge of his nose and said ‘please stop talking immediately, I have absolutely no desire to know any more details.’ He said it would be fine, then he left after telling Stinky off for singing his robes.”

“Brilliant.” The water really does feel good against the bite, warm and soothing after the initial sting when Louis first got into the bath. “I’m glad if my stars were going to align with anyone’s, they aligned with yours. I don’t know anyone else brave enough to ask Snape if spunk has any impact on his potions.”

Nick laughs then presses a warm kiss to Louis’ neck. “Me too. I’m glad mine are aligned with yours, or whatever.” He slides his foot over the tattoo on Louis’ ankle and it sends a sharp, hot bolt of desire through Louis.

Fuck.” Louis groans and leans back into Nick. “Why does that feel so good?”

“Magic, innit?” Louis can feel Nick shrugging. Nick slides his hand around Louis’ cock and gives him a slow stroke which makes Louis groan again.

“Yeah, feels good.”

“Sure, love?”

“Positive. Please.” Louis closes his eyes and lets Nick work his talented hand over Louis. It feels so right, like it’s been ages since Nick touched him. Louis knows it won’t take long.

Nick thumbs at the head of Louis’ cock and rocks against the crack in Louis’ arse. They slide together, Nick’s hand hot and wet and Louis giving Nick the friction he needs as best he can. It’s not perfect, and it’s not the most athletic sex they’ve had, but it somehow feels just right. Easy, lazy and gentle. Pleasure rolls through Louis as he bucks up into Nick’s fist and reaches completion with a grunt of pleasure, the speed with which he comes taking him by surprise and leaving him breathless. Nick holds Louis in place, rocking against him and following shortly after.

The water laps around them and Nick kisses Louis’ neck, up to his ear. He wraps his arms around Louis and they stay in the bath together until the water turns tepid and their skin turns prune-like and soft.

*

“I feel like a right pillock dressed up in these.” Louis tugs his robes and glares at himself in the mirror which gives an enthusiastic whistle, then tells him his hair looks like shit. He runs a hand through it, trying to flatten it down. “Why can’t I wear Muggle clothes?”

“Because it’s a ball.” Liam adjusts his robes carefully and winks at himself in the mirror. He glances at Louis. “When does Grimmy get here?”

“Fuck knows, I’m planning to ignore him.” Louis is still a bit huffy Nick took the job of DJ-ing the end of term ball. He doesn’t want Nick to see Louis dancing around like a twat. “Can’t believe we won the House Cup.”

“Thanks to Niall.” Liam claps Louis on the shoulder. “And you.”

“More Niall, than anything.” Louis grins at Liam and gives him a quick hug. “One hundred and fifty points for me for being brilliant enough to come up with Glacius and save everyone, and then the winning hundred and fifty points for Niall for Gryffindor courage.”

“Made up for those forty you lost,” Liam says, helpful soul that he is.

“Yeah, thanks for the reminder, Payno.” Louis rolls his eyes. “Let’s go.”

They make their way through the corridors and down the moving staircases, fighting their way through crowds of students to get into the Great Hall. The whole place has been transformed into a summer garden, with brilliant rainbow lighting and all of the usual tables and chairs absent from the space. There are still tables for the students to sit at, but the main part of the hall has been turned into a large dance floor. The flowers are deep reds, burgundy and yellow, and Gryffindor banners fly proudly against the walls, the lion in the crest holding the sword of Gryffindor aloft.

“Wish Niall could be here to see this,” Louis says.

“Dunno. Maybe he can.” Liam shrugs and Louis looks around, a flicker of something that looks like Bruce appearing out of the corner of his eye. He blinks, but the ghostly dog is nowhere to be seen. He thinks of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin promising to show Niall the whole world and he smiles to himself. If they can show Niall America, they can definitely show him he won the House Cup for Gryffindor.

“You’re right.” Louis looks up at the stage where Nick is DJ-ing. He’s got on a ridiculous silk shirt like something Harry Styles would wear, floral and unbuttoned to the navel. He gives Louis a wink and a wave which Louis refuses to return, even though his mouth is dry because Nick looks fit as fuck. “Can’t believe we’re almost done.”

“I think I failed most of my exams.” Liam sounds pretty cheerful about it. “But I’ve been chatting to Luna Lovegood a bit, lately, so who cares?”

Louis stares at Liam. “You have not.”

“I have.” Liam winks at Louis. “I’ve got an internship at The Quibbler. I’m going to be looking out for new bands and then getting the entertainment reporters to write about their music. She thinks I’ve got a good ear for it.”

“You have.” Louis smiles at Liam. “That’s amazing. You’ll be brilliant and Luna will be in love with you in no time.”

“We’ll see.” Liam shrugs but he looks chuffed. Louis tries not to let a small flush of jealousy spoil the moment. He’s so happy for Liam, but it just reminds Louis that he’s still drifting along with no plans other than preparing for being a proper werewolf at some point in the not too distant future. Nick’s busy, Liam has his new gig which sounds perfect for him and Louis is probably going to have to come back to school if he wants to do anything. He can’t imagine being in school resitting his exams without Liam, Niall or Zayn around. The whole thing would be embarrassing and strange.

Louis sighs and turns around, coming face to face with Draco Malfoy. “Hiya.”

“Hi.” Draco looks over his shoulder, obviously hoping Harry isn’t within earshot. “I don’t suppose you have any cigarettes?”

“Yeah, come on.” Louis tells Liam he’ll be back in a bit and pushes through the crowds. They make their way outside and find a quiet spot away from the hum of the party. “Here you go.”

“Thank you.” Draco lights his cigarette and offers Louis the small flame from the tip of his wand, before taking a seat on a nearby bench. He crosses his legs elegantly. Unlike Louis, he doesn’t look like a twat in posh robes. He looks good. Rich and expensive, if you like that sort of thing. He speaks in a slow drawl, his eyes lidded as he contemplates Louis. “Potter tells me you were quite besotted with him at one point.”

Heat rises in Louis’ cheeks and he glares at Draco. “Besotted? Hardly. Anyway, you’re one to talk. You used to shag my boyfriend. I only stuck up pictures of yours.”

“Touché.” Draco smirks before taking another drag of his cigarette. He tips his head back to look at the stars.

“What’s going to happen to Professor Snape?” Louis has been dying to know ever since he saw Snape snarling in the Prophet as some reporters took his picture. “Everyone knows he’s alive, now.”

“I’ve given him the shop,” Draco says.

“Of course you have.” Louis rolls his eyes. Trust Malfoy to hand over a store in a prime location, just like that. “He’s going to run it?” Louis can’t quite imagine Snape in retail.

“Potions consultancy.” Draco looks at Louis. “How have you been?”

“Fine.” Louis shrugs. He’s still feeling out of sorts and there’s an ache in his chest when he thinks of Niall, but knowing Niall is okay makes it easier. “I’m a werewolf.”

“I heard.” Draco studies Louis. “It seems like you and Nick are in it for the long haul.”

“Hope so.” Louis bites his lip. “Is it true that he doesn’t have to be with me? I want him to be with me because it’s me, not because of this bond thing.”

“It’s true.” Draco puts his cigarette out with the heel of his boot. He sighs and rakes a hand through his hair. “Look, you and Grim can fuck around, see other people, do whatever the hell you want. It might make things easier for you having him around during the full moon, but it’s not going to be enough to keep anyone where they don’t want to be.” He narrows his eyes. “He’s happy, though. Happy in a way I haven’t seen before. I think it’s that you should focus on, not anything else.” Draco’s lips curve into a half-smile and he stands, squeezing Louis’ shoulder. “If you’re interested I read it’s supposed to make things very – ah – intense. Pleasurable.”

“Alright, Malfoy.” Harry Potter’s familiar voice startles Louis, whose cheeks are burning hot from Draco’s words. “Stop flirting.”

“I’m not flirting.” Draco looks smug. “I’m giving sex tips.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “He’s eighteen, I’m sure he and Nick can work it out for themselves. Also, have you been smoking?”

“Of course not,” Draco replies, smoothly.

“Of course not.” Harry snorts with laughter. “Come on, you owe me a dance.”

“In public?” Draco presses his hand to his chest. “My, my. It’s all change now.”

“I think we’ve kept the gossip rags going for long enough. It’s time to come out, as they say.” Harry gives Louis an odd salute. “Enjoy the night. Come and see me if you need anything. My door is always open.”

“Unless it’s closed. In which case, please knock.” Draco murmurs something in Harry’s ear which makes him laugh and they walk off together into the darkness.

Louis finishes his cigarette and then moves back inside, making his way straight to the stage. He hauls himself up and insinuates himself into Nick’s space, nudging him with his hip. “Evening, dickhead.”

“Hello to you too, pumpkin pie.” Nick sends a record spinning with a flick of his wand and pulls Louis close, planting a damp kiss on his ear. “Alright?”

“Good.” Louis checks no one can hear them and leans into Nick. “Why didn’t you tell me there’s all this sex stuff related to the bond? Malfoy told me.”

“I’m going to kill him.” Nick’s neck gets red and he gives Louis a lopsided smile. “I didn’t want to get your expectations up, just in case.”

Louis humphs. “Well, they’re up.” He gives Nick a hopefully wicked smile. “If you know what I mean.”

“Menace.” Nick tugs Louis into a short, breathless kiss. “I like the robes.”

“You would. They’re stupid.” Louis rolls his eyes, looking down at his outfit. “Want a drink? I spiked the punch.”

“Of course you did.” Nick rolls his eyes. “Go on, then. Get two and come and help me pick the next song.”

Louis makes his way off stage and looks over to the three seats set up like they were at the Yule Ball. His heart clenches as he thinks of Niall looking misty-eyed over Harry Styles wowing the crowd with his Veela charms. Louis takes a breath and downs a glass of the punch. “To you, Niall,” he whispers.

He grabs two more drinks and makes his way back over to Nick, passing Harry and Draco dancing together in the middle of the room. He stops and watches just for a minute, then glances over at Nick who looks so damn good spinning his records. A sense of peace settles over Louis and he carries on walking, his step lighter than it’s been in a very long time.

*

The summer term draws to a close and after his exams, Louis finds himself back at Moon River. He sits with Liam, having a smoke and watching the clouds.

“I’ve started writing a song.” Liam rummages around in his bag and hands Louis a battered notebook. “Will you have a look? It’s for Niall. Thought maybe we could ask Nick if he knows anyone that might be interested.”

Louis thinks of Harry Styles and his gobstoppers. Those ridiculous floral dress robes and the way he’s taking the world by storm. The badge Niall wore to the Yule Ball has been under Louis’ bed in a tatty shoebox, together with his keyring from his Christmas cracker, the Pig wrapping paper, the three little phials of memories and a card from his mum.

“I might know someone. I’ll ask.” Louis rolls onto his stomach and stubs out his cigarette. He looks at the lyrics and notes Liam has scribbled in the booklet. They make his chest hurt. He glances at Liam and the way his lips turn down at the edges, the way his eyes are dull and defeated. “I’ll help you write it. We’ll do it together, yeah? For Potter and the Wotsits.”

“For Potter and the Wotsits.” Liam gives a watery laugh. He scrubs his face with the back of his hand and leans back on his hands, tipping his face up to the clouds. “Sometimes I think he’s still around.”

Louis thinks of Niall’s ghost appearing in the classroom and at Moon River before he disappeared with the rays of the setting sun. “Me too. Maybe he is. Our world is full of echoes.”

“Yeah. Not the same though.” Liam pulls a face. “I don’t think I’d like to remember him as a ghost or something.”

Louis doesn’t reply, glad he didn’t tell Liam about seeing Niall. “It wouldn’t be the same,” Louis agrees after a moment's pause. He's glad he saw Niall, but Louis needed to. He needed that reassurance that Louis hadn't been a bad friend over Niall's friendship - or whatever it was - with Harry Styles. He also needed Niall to give him a nudge in the right direction, to show him that Louis already had the tools he needed to help defeat the ghosts, he just needed to know where to look.

“When’s the first full moon?” Liam shifts and stretches out on his back. Louis joins him, their heads close together as they watch the clouds.

“Not for a bit.” Louis swallows because he’s really not looking forward to that. “It doesn’t happen immediately, apparently. Lupin reckons I’ve got the summer at least before I’ll transform for the first time.”

“Is there any stopping it?” Liam sounds hesitant.

“Nope.” Louis shrugs. “Life’s a bitch and then you’re a werewolf. Nick said he’d be there, but I don’t want to bite him. I don’t think I would, if I have Wolfsbane. Dunno. I’ll have to ask someone.”

Liam huffs with laughter. “What’s it like otherwise?”

Louis shrugs. “Weird. Like, I know there’s this thing that’s getting stronger inside me. I can feel it, but I can’t stop it and don’t know how to, like, handle it properly or anything.”

“Oh.” Liam clears his throat. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” Louis pulls a face. “Just life, isn’t it? I’ll cope.”

“Not about that.” Liam sounds hesitant.

“What, then?”

“My Boggart.” Liam lets out a huff of air. “I’m not frightened of you.”

“I know.” Louis doesn’t know for sure, not really, but he knows that Liam is his friend and friends are important. “Werewolves can be scary. Trust me, I get that. Besides, Professor Lupin’s alright, innit?”

“Yeah.” Liam blinks. Dark shadows move across the clouds and Liam sits up. “What’s that?”

Louis takes in the oil-slick bodies glistening in the sunlight, watching the majestic bodies and their elegant flight through the blue sky. “Thestrals.” His voice catches.

“Like your Patronus?”

“Yep. Like that.” Louis swallows. “They saved me from the Dementors.”

“I’ve never seen them before.” Liam watches as they move through the sky.

“People can’t usually see them. Not unless they’ve seen death.” Louis lights another cigarette. “That’s why everyone gets scared of them. They’re not bad, though. They just sometimes remind people of bad things.”

“Yeah.” Liam sits up, picking up a stone and throwing it into the river where it skips and trips across the surface before disappearing altogether. “I miss him so much, Tommo.”

Louis’ throat gets tight and he sits up, jostling against Liam and staying close.

“I know, mate. Me too.”

They stay huddled together for a long time as the Thestrals glide and swoop through the clouds.

*

“Can’t believe I’m staying at your mums.” Louis glances at Nick who’s focusing on the road.

“Don’t think she can believe it either.” Nick grins at Louis and turns back to the road. “When do you get your N.E.W.T.s?”

“Oh.” Louis rummages for some parchment in his bag. “Got them this morning.”

Nick nearly swerves into a different lane. “Louis. You twat. Why didn’t you say?”

“Haven’t checked them yet,” Louis says. “Didn’t seem to matter after everything.”

Nick curses under his breath and he comes off the motorway, stopping in a Little Chef car park. “Come on, then. Show us.”

“Might be crap.”

“Might be good.” Nick makes a grab for the parchment and Louis holds it away from him.

“Oi!”

“Suspense is killing me. Open them, will you?”

“Okay.” Louis opens the parchment and swallows when he looks at the results. There’s a little note pinned to the top of them. He doesn’t think everyone gets those.

Well?”

Louis hands them to Nick. “Passed everything but Potions and Arithmancy. Got a Troll in that. Got a Dreadful in Potions, which is better than a Troll at least.”

“Outstanding in Care of Magical Creatures.” Nick waves the parchment around with a screech of delight. Pig barks from the back seat and Stinky hops over the dashboard, wondering what’s going on. “Acceptable in Dark Arts. You passed!”

“Can’t do much of anything without Potions, though.” Louis heaves a sigh and almost can’t bear to read the note. He can imagine what it says. Sorry for your loss, sorry you’re not going to be much of anything, blah, blah, blah. He screws it up and drops it on the dashboard.

Nick takes the piece of parchment before Stinky can breathe not-quite-fire on it and unfurls it. He reads it and when he looks at Louis, his eyes are shining. It’s the sort of look that’s happy and sad all at once. His smile is a bit wobbly around the edges. “Dunno about that. Here. Have a read.”

Louis pulls a face and picks up the note, scanning it quickly.

Mr Tomlinson

Although it is highly irregular for me to send personal notes to students, I believe you have had a highly irregular year. We are indebted to you for your courage and bravery and I believe you would be an asset to the Hogwarts staff, should you be inclined to take up a position teaching Care of Magical Creatures. Professor Ludbottom is due to retire at the end of the next academic year and has, despite my efforts, expressed no desire in extending her contract further. She has acquired a very pleasant cottage in Cornwall and has indicated she would much rather walk her King Charles Spaniel on the beach than spend another year at Hogwarts. I can’t say I blame her, given recent events.

Professor Grubbly-Plank has agreed to take you on as her Apprentice and Professor Snape has (reluctantly) offered to assist you with your N.E.W.T. Potions exam so that you can resist it at the end of the year and achieve the necessary passing grade to enable you to teach at Hogwarts. I believe it was a simple mix-up with the angles of your flobberworm slices which prevented you from passing on this occasion but you otherwise performed to an acceptable level. Professor Snape and I believe that with adequate tutoring and without any additional distractions, you should be able to achieve the necessary mark. Professor Snape has also agreed to offer tutelage on the brewing of Wolfsbane and alternative remedies, should that be of any interest. Reluctant as I am to do so, he has insisted that I pass on his message as follows: You’re a bloody idiot if you turn this down, Tomlinson. Do try to use your not entirely delinquent brain for once.

Please reply at your earliest convenience to let me know your decision.

In the meantime, happy holidays Mr Tomlinson. I wish you well.

Professor McGonagall

Louis stares at Nick before bursting out laughing. “I can’t teach at Hogwarts. Are they mental?. I’m shit at school. I hated school. I’m crap at magic.”

“Not that crap, love.” Nick squeezes Louis’ thigh. “Obviously not.” He pauses and glances at Louis. “Do you want to do the Hogwarts thing?”

“Hadn’t even thought about it until now.” Louis swallows and he looks at the note again. He always hated Hogwarts, or he thought he did. Always found it oppressive and like he was trying to be something he could never hope to be. Now he feels different. He can’t imagine what it would be like to go back, but the idea of doing stuff with magical creatures…he’d be good at it. The Care of Magical Creatures professor doesn’t just teach. They look after the creatures too. They make sure people aren’t dicks and teach them how to handle the animals. Louis is brilliant with animals. As if to confirm his thoughts, Stinky hops on Louis’ shoulder and Pig licks his hand with a soft ruff. Louis draws a breath. “I mean…maybe?”

“You should.” Nick’s voice is quiet. “Give it a go. Imagine, saying that to your mum. A professor! She’d be dead proud. Not that she isn’t already.”

“She needs me, though.” Louis takes a breath. “I don’t want to leave her.”

Nick fiddles with a bit of leather that’s come off the steering wheel and looks as though he’s choosing his words carefully. “I think, though…I think seeing you settled. With that future ahead of you. She’d like that, your mum. She’d want that. They’ll be good with time, if you need it. Just an Apprenticeship, innit? No commitments to classes right now. Try it. See how you like it.”

“You reckon I could do it?” Louis looks at Nick and his face breaks into a soft smile.

“I reckon you could do anything, love. World’s yours for the taking.”

“I’m a fucking werewolf.” Louis gives Nick a look. “Might go mad around the full moon.”

“All the more reason to do it then.” Nick shrugs. “Let Snape tell you what he knows about managing it and speak to Lupin while you’re there. McGonagall thinks you should do it, so trust her.”

“What about us?” Louis knows Nick’s been thinking about doing stuff which is more Muggle-focused. Knows he’s got his eye on the BBC. He’d be brilliant at it. Really brilliant.

“Not that hard to be together when there’s magic involved.” Nick takes a breath. “I got a Floo put into my Hackney house.”

“Why?” Louis stares at Nick.

“For you, mainly.” Nick’s cheeks turn pink. “If you like.”

“Floo from anywhere?”

“Yep.” Nick looks proud of himself. “From Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, wherever you like. It’s all on the same Floo network. Isn’t Grubbly-Plank retired?”

“Yeah,” Louis says.

Nick looks as if he’s debating with saying something. “Might be you wouldn’t even stay at Hogwarts, then.” He clears his throat. “Could stay with me, if you want. Get you a drawer. As it’s written on the stars and whatnot. Besides, I’ve been doing some reading and I think it might be…useful. Being close.”

Louis stares at Nick, his stomach swooping. He imagines coming home to Nick, Pig and Stinky and oh. It’s a lot. He clears his throat so his voice doesn’t crack and because he’s a bit of twat he doesn’t say that’d be lovely like a normal person. “One drawer? Bit tight, mate.”

Nick grins at Louis. “Might let you have two if you ask nicely.”

“Two drawers and somewhere for my toothbrush,” Louis says. His cheeks are hot, and he feels a bit giddy. “Like a glass.”

“Could stretch to a glass, I reckon.” Nick stares out of the windscreen instead of at Louis, but he’s smiling. Big and wide.

“Cool,” Louis says.

“Yeah.”

Louis flicks on the radio and he smiles. “It’s them Polar Nifflers.”

“Innit?” Nick starts the car. He starts singing, off-key, out of tune and god Louis loves him.

“Flourescent Adolescent.” It seems like so long ago. Like a million years have passed since.

“Boy’s a slag. Best you’ve ever had.” Nick gives Louis a grin and he pulls out of the service station and waits to join the motorway. His Muggle phone pings and he checks it. “Eileen’s made pie.”

“Brilliant,” Louis says. “I like pie.”

“Cheese and onion,” Nick says.

“Even better.”

Louis turns up the radio and leans back in his seat, following the signs for the North as the Arctic Monkeys play in the background.

Fin