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The Importance of Body Language

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The Importance of Body Language

--

Harry really has no idea how he’s going to get out of this one. After the little incident with the fishing wire, he’d been told that under no circumstances was he to visit the surface of the water, as he is the heir to the throne and his safety is essential to the continued existence of their underwater society. Or something. Harry loves his mum, but there’s really only so much talk of royal duty a prince can take before he does something drastic. Like purposefully disobey her strict instructions to stay under the sea for the rest of his natural life, and instead swim too close to a human ship and get himself spotted by one of the humans, for example.

Harry can’t even blame Liam--which is saying something, because Liam is one of the nicest crabs Harry’s had the pleasure of knowing and pretty much lets him get away with anything. (Although that might have more to do with the fact that it’s Harry’s fault he’s a crab in the first place. Also, he’s no help whenever Gemma gets involved, but Harry can’t be bothered because even he has to admit his sister is unfairly terrifying when she wants to be.) Unfortunately, Liam is also not here, and in his place is Prince Louis Tomlinson, who is human, unfairly attractive, and staring at Harry with his mouth open from the deck of the ship.

Needless to say, Harry is fucked.

 “Oops,” he says, gills fluttering in the water. He’d ducked back down as far as his chin as soon as he’d realized that the pretty man everyone else had been calling ‘Prince Louis Tomlinson’ he’d been admiring had been admiring him back, so the word comes out muddled, but Harry’d made a point of learning as many of the human languages as he could, so it’s intelligible.

From the way Prince Louis Tomlinson is staring down at him from his place by the railing, Harry worries for a second that he’s used the wrong one. After a pause, the man speaks. “Hi,” he says, incredibly slowly. “And how are you?”

Harry blinks. “Well,” he says, blinking another few times for good measure. “Fine, I suppose. Um.” This is not how he expected this conversation to go. Granted, he didn’t really expect the conversation to go period, but now that it’s started, he certainly hadn’t expected the human prince to talk back to him. And to ask him how he was, for that matter. Despite this, Harry is nothing if not polite, so he adds, “How about yourself?”

Prince Louis Tomlinson swallows a few times before licking his lips. “Well, I had been doing fine,” he says, voice cracking a little in the middle, “but now I’m thinking I’ve had a little too much wine seeing as I’m probably hallucinating.” He laughs a bit woodenly. “Although, Zayn did push me off my chair earlier so maybe it’s a concussion.”

Harry blinks some more, and wonders if he can blame it on the naked air. He bobs a little in the water, and lifts himself further out so that he can better stare at Prince Louis Tomlinson’s unfairly blue eyes. “You don’t look concussed,” he says, tilting his head to the side.

Prince Louis Tomlinson laughs again, eyes flitting down and around Harry’s general chest area frantically. “Definitely hallucinating,” he says.  “Definitely hallucinating--have you got tattoos?”

Harry wonders if he should have someone look into the blinking thing when he gets home. Someone professional, of course, since he could ask Niall, but Niall’s general answer to anything human related tends to be about their food. (For a flounder, Niall certainly eats a lot.) “Erm,” he says. “I suppose?”

Prince Louis Tomlinson points at one of the birds Harry’s got across his chest. As soon as he’s done so, he swallows heavily and pulls his hand back. “Awesome,” he says, voice sounding bent out of shape.

Harry looks down at the birds. They’re perfect copies of each other at the moment, but Harry’s been saving the rightmost one for someone special. (Technically, he knows better than to enchant preexisting marks, but Harry’s always been something of a romantic. And an idealist. Also, no one’s died doing it in ages.) He debates showing him the one he’s got across his stomach, mostly because no one could tell him what exactly it was. Probably Gemma knew, but Gemma was also the one who’d told Harry to just ‘picture whatever and sing, Baby Brother’ in the first place. “Do you have any?” he settles for saying.

Prince Louis Tomlinson rolls up one of his sleeves to reveal  his own stretch of ink. It’s an incredibly detailed compass, and Harry had no idea that the humans had magic.

His tail splashes around in the water a bit, excited, and he reaches up to grip the floor of the ship-deck. The move brings him that much closer to the human prince, who blinks furiously down at him, but doesn’t step back. His eyes really are very blue.

 “I didn’t know humans had magic,” Harry says, because it’s a valid claim and he can’t help himself. “There was nothing about it in my research.”

“You researched us?” says Prince Louis Tomlinson.

“I’m Harry,” Harry continues, sticking out a hand like Nick’d told him to that one time Harry brought him one of those three pronged devices. (A dinglehopper, Harry remembers.) “And I know you’re Prince Louis Tomlinson, but that’s a bit of a mouthful.”

Prince Louis Tomlinson just stares back at him. “Louis,” he says finally, taking Harry’s hand and giving a shake. It’s nothing like shaking one of Nick’s wings.

“Nice to meet you,” Harry says, politely. “You’re actually not the first human I’ve met, though.” He grins a bit sheepishly. He’s not sure if it really counts, seeing as the dark haired man hadn’t so much as met him as pulled out some sort of writing device and started taking notes, but he also hadn’t shouted like Gemma said would happen, so Harry’s counting it. “You’re not going to take notes on me, are you?”

Louis is the one blinking now. “You’ve got dimples,” he says. “I mean, um, no? M-magic, you said?”

Harry pauses. “Do you not have magic?” he says, tilting his head again. “Like.” He pauses looking around for something to enchant, before taking a deep breath.

He doesn’t mean to cause more than a small wave when he starts singing, but apparently that thing Liam’d been telling him about his voice being more powerful in the open air had been true.

Which is why several minutes into meeting Prince Louis Tomlinson, Harry ends up having to go save him and most of his crew from the magical shipwreck he accidentally causes by singing up a storm.

--

“A storm,” says Niall, deadpan, when Harry’s finished dragging Louis and his unconscious shipmates onto shore and is safely back in his bedroom on the bottom of the ocean. “You caused a storm?”

“Accidentally,” Harry corrects, not looking up from where he’s been concentrating on his left bicep. He swishes his tail a few times, twisting around the room a bit. “What do you think of a ship?”

“And after you caused this accidental storm, you met a human prince?” continues Niall, ignoring Harry’s question. He swims around to Harry’s other side to better glare at him.

Harry doesn’t stop frowning at his arm. “It shouldn’t be all that big,” he decides, taking a deep breath and letting out a few notes. He has to tweak the pitch a little to get the effect he’s going for, and if the gradient ends up being strikingly similar to the compass that Prince Louis has on his arm, no one has to know about it.

Niall sighs, but watches as the water bubbles around Harry’s arm without comment. “That the ship you wrecked?” he says.

Harry blows bubbles at him, grinning when it makes Niall yelp and swim away. “Technically I met the prince before I caused the shipwreck,” he says stupidly.

“You did what?” says Liam, voice squeaking, from where he’s standing in Harry’s doorway.

Harry lowers his arm guiltily and sticks it back behind his back, in the hopes that Liam won’t notice. “Nothing,” he says quickly. “Hi, Liam.”

Liam narrows his eyes at him. “Harry Styles,” he says menacingly.

Harry can’t help but flutter his gills in response. “I might have gone up to the surface,” he says.

Liam’s eyes narrow even more.

“Again,” Harry amends, not meeting his eyes. He focuses on the stretch of water behind Liam leading out into the other parts of the palace.

Liam starts tapping a few feet on the sand. “And?” he says.

“And also I met Prince Louis Tomlinson and might have caused a shipwreck,” Harry finishes quickly. “Oops?”

Liam goes very still. “Oops?” he says. “Harry--”

“Look, he probably doesn’t even remember me,” Harry says quickly. “And he hit his head when the ship overturned so--”

“How did you even cause a shipwreck, anyway?” interrupts Liam, as if Harry hadn’t spoken. “The only reason that would happen would be if you sang--” He breaks off.

Harry crosses and uncrosses his arms around his back. “Oops?” he says, for the third time that day. He accidentally worms a little magic into the word, and before he can even think about the repercussions of showing Liam the new mark--or ‘tattoo,’ as Louis’d called it, which sounds much better in Harry’s head--bubbles light up his arm. He pulls it out, startled, and stares down at the human script scrawled across his inner arm. ‘Hi,’ it says.

Before he can think more on that, Liam is scuttling closer to him and gaping at the more pressing addition. “Is that a ship?” he says.

Niall pauses in chewing the bit of seaweed Liam’d thrown at Harry. “No, Liam,” he says. “It only looks like one.”

Liam ignores him. “The ship, I mean,” he says. “And what have you done to the lines on the other ones?”

Harry looks down at his arm curiously. “Oh,” he says, reverent, when he notices. Like Louis’, the tattoos on his arm now have dimension. “Um, well--”

“Never mind.” Liam interrupts him again, waving a claw around. “Never mind, don’t tell me.”

Harry closes his mouth.

“Tell me about this prince?”

Harry pauses. “Really?” He swims over to the his shell bed, and curls his tail under him.

Niall floats over next to him on his back, and Liam climbs up next to them, heaving a long sigh.

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, not looking at Harry. “I know that face.”

Harry wasn’t aware he had a face. He reaches up to poke at his cheeks, fingering the little dips Louis had called dimples. “What face?”

“It’s the same face you made when we found the dinglehopper,” Liam says, sounding resigned. “So tell me about this prince?”

Harry settles down into the shell bed and tries not to grin too hard. “His name’s Louis,” he starts, but before he can finish, his sister interrupts him.

“Prince Louis William Tomlinson?” Gemma crows, swimming into the room and smirking at Harry.

Harry looks at Liam, a little betrayed, and finds the crab avoiding his eyes. When he turns at Niall, his friend shrugs the best one can while on his back and without shoulders. “Yes,” he says, answering Gemma. “You know him?”

Gemma flops down on the shell bed next to him. “Of course,” she says, tail weaving through the water in front of her. Gemma’s taken to changing the color on her scales as frequently as she does her hair, and Harry’s learned to turn out the sounds of her experimenting with note progressions. She’s not as good at it as he is, but supposedly he’s the best in the kingdom, according to their mum. (Harry thinks she’s stretching it, but no one argues with their mum.)

“Of course?” Harry shakes himself and tries to make it look like he’s not been staring at Gemma’s tail mindlessly.

“His family’s a bit big on land,” Gemma says. “I’m sure Mum’s talked about them at some point.”

Harry mulls that over. “I guess,” he says.

“Harry never listens to anything about politics,” puts in Niall. Harry wonders if he thinks he’s being helpful. “You should work on that, if you want Louis to like you.”

Harry feels a flush settle high on his cheeks. “Why would I want Louis to like me?” he says. “I barely know him. I only knew his name because I heard someone say it before he noticed me on the ship.” He starts, worried for a second that Gemma’s going to disappointed at him for disobeying Robin, but his sister just keeps smirking at him. Harry finds he’s been running his fingers along the letters on his inner arm, and very quickly stops.

“Mmmm,” says Gemma. “Whatever you say, H. We’re having dinner soon, though.” She rights herself, mock salutes him, and then swims out of the room.

Niall watches her go with a kind of breathless awe that has Harry going to smack at him. “What?” Niall swims away from Harry hand. “Not my fault your sister’s right fit, mate!”

Harry glowers at him. “You are a fish,” he tells Niall.

Niall glowers right back. “Not purposefully,” he says, and Harry looks down again, embarrassed.

“I was a baby,” he points out. “I didn’t mean to.” Maybe his mum had been right about his voice being stronger than anyone else in the kingdoms, but if baby Harry had know that it meant he’d accidentally turn two of his favorite merpeople in the world into a crab and a flounder, he’d have given it up the moment he sang his first word. He supposes he’s lucky all he did to Louis was nearly kill him in a shipwreck.

Liam scuttles forward and puts an awkward claw on Harry’s tail, pulling him out of his musings. “It’s not your fault, Haz,” he says. “We don’t blame you.”

Niall sighs. “It’s not like I remember not being a fish,” he points out. “Sorry, H.”

Harry lets out a sigh. “I’ll fix you eventually,” he tells them. “Promise.”

Niall and Liam grin at him, and then follow Harry out towards the dining hall. “Right,” says Niall. “What’s for dinner, then?”

Harry just grins at him, and pushes him so that he goes over in loops.

--

The second time he meets Louis is still an accident. Harry had been planning on meeting Nick with some newfound human artifacts, but he’d gotten a bit distracted by human voices. When he’d followed the source, he’d found Prince Louis sitting in a tiny boat with the man who’d taken notes on Harry.

“Oh,” Harry says, a bit startled. “It’s you.”

He hadn’t been addressing Louis--rather his companion--but it’s Louis that startles, gapes at him, and drops the book he’d been holding in his hand.

“Me?” he says, voice high and shrill. “It’s you!”

Harry stares back at him, a little confused. “Um, yes?” he says, waving. “Hello, again.”

“Oh,” says Louis’ companion. “So it wasn’t a dream, then.”

“Are you going to take notes on me?” Harry asks, swimming closer to the boat and draping his arms up on the sides so that he can better stare at them. He’s aware that doing so brings Louis right in the line of vision of the ship on his bicep, but that’s both unintentional and a bonus. “If so, I think I deserve your name.”

“Oh, um, Zayn?” says the man. “And I wasn’t taking notes on you? I drew you--here.” He pulls the book Louis’d been holding out of the prince’s lap and opens it to show Harry a page. On it, the man’s drawn a striking replica of Harry himself, complete with green fins and sea-damp hair.

“I’m not sure about your fringe,” says Louis, leaning over to look at Zayn’s drawing.

Harry finds his hands reaching up to fiddle with his hair reflexively.

“Anyway,” says Zayn, eyeing the exchange with an odd look on his face. “I thought you said there was no such thing as mermaids.”

“That’d be a bit awful,” says Harry, “seeing as there’d be no one to have children.”

For some reason, neither Zayn nor Louis look all that amused at that, but before Harry can comment, Louis interrupts.

“But hang on--do you two know each other?”

Harry stares at him. “I told you you weren’t the first human I’d met,” he says.

“You threatened to have me thrown out of your household,” Zayn says.

“First of all, I was more focused on the fact that you were moping around at sea instead of wooing Pezza, Malik,” says Louis, narrowing his eyes. “And also--I didn’t think it would be my best mate?”

Harry frowns at him, something ugly settling in the pit of his stomach. “You’re mates?” he asks, biting at his bottom lip. His tail thrashes a bit unhappily against the boat, but he can’t help himself.

Louis ignores him in favor of turning to Zayn. “And you,” he says, pointing. “How dare you let me get on that ship without telling me about mermaids!”

“It’s not my fault you focused on the Perrie part of that conversation, Louis,” Zayn says, sighing, before turning back to Harry. “You never told me your name?”

“Never mind Harold, here,” says Louis. “We are having a conversation.”

“I actually think you’re having an argument,” chirps Harry, pleased to use some of his human vocabulary. “And it’s Harry. But go on.”

Zayn and Louis both pause to stare at him with their mouths open.

Harry stares back at them and wishes that Liam was with him. “What?”

“Nothing--it’s just, you’re honestly the oddest merman I’ve ever met,” says Zayn finally.

“Have you met many mermaids?” mutters Louis, under his breath. “And fuck off--he’s my mermaid.”

Harry raises a brow and lifts himself further out of the water. “Am I?” he says, raising an eyebrow. His tail curls under the boat a bit to compensate for his weight; Harry’s had enough of accidentally dumping Louis into the water.

“Is he?” says Zayn, sounding smug.

Instead of answering either of their questions, Louis’ eyes fall on the new tattoo on Harry’s inner arm. “Aha!” he crows, pointing. He pokes it, and Harry’s starting to wonder if this is a habit of his. (He also worries that he’s done something wrong to his heart being on land so often, because it’s thumping about wildly in his chest.) “I told you it was his fault.”

“What’s my fault?” Harry says pleasantly as Louis rolls up his right sleeve again.

Spelled out in what bears an uncanny resemblance to Harry’s own half-arsed attempts at human writing, is the word ‘Oops’ across Louis’ inner forearm.

Harry stares at it. Pokes it. Startles when Louis startles. Swallows. “Oh,” he says finally.

“Yeah, oh,” says Louis. “Just because we happened to share some ink doesn’t mean you can go around magically tattooing people, Harold.”

“My friends tend to call me Hazza, actually,” Harry explains, brain whirring rapidly. He’s never heard of accidentally enchanting other people, let alone when one of the people in question happens to be a human. “I didn’t actually do it on purpose, though.”

Louis doesn’t look very convinced. “So you’re telling me that magic thinks I want the first word you said to me on my body forever?” he says, inflectionless. “Right. That’s comforting.”

“You remembered the first word I said to you?” It occurs to Harry that Liam might be right about him not focusing on the important things.

“You tattooed it on my bloody arm!” shouts Louis. His voice echoes around them and Zayn covers his ears.

“God, Lou,” he hisses. “Relax.”

“I don’t see any blood,” Harry tells him, grabbing hold of his arm gently and inspecting it. “But I really like your compass.”

Louis doesn’t shout again, but it’s a near thing. “And you’ve gone and got a bloody ship in the same style too!” he hisses. “Although I don’t suppose the magic did that accidentally as well. Like how it accidentally wrecked my ship.”

Harry lets go of his arm and twists around a bit to look at his ship. “It’s not bleeding either?” he says.

Louis just makes an appalled noise and sits back in the boat crossing his arms like Harry used to when Gemma would take his seashells from him. It’s a bit of an adorable look on him.

“It’s a figure of speech,” Zayn informs him, when it looks like Louis isn’t going to be speaking any time soon. “And forgive him--he’s still tied up in knots about the whole getting shipwrecked thing.”

“Knots,” Harry says, voice catching.

He doesn’t finish his thought before Louis interrupts. “I know that tone,” he says, even though Harry’s never used it before. “There will be no more magical tattoos without my permission, Harold.”

Harry flicks his tail in the water a few times. “Is this a human thing?” he says, sinking down to get his gills wet and giving his lungs a quick break. “Lengthening people’s names, I mean?” He take extra care to flash his dimples at Louis, who goes an odd shade of red, for some reason.

“Just a Tommo thing,” says Zayn, sounding smug. “It means he likes you.”

Harry’d been about to reach up and touch Louis’ cheek to see if it was warmer than the rest of him, but he pauses, unable to help the giddy smile that spreads across his face. “You like me?” he says.

“Somewhat,” Louis concedes. “But I’d still like this thing removed, please?” He points at the tattoo on his arm.

Harry opens his mouth to respond, but before he can, Liam pops up next to him looking frantic.

“Harry,” he hisses, startling both Louis and Zayn. “There you are--your mum’s looking for you! Says she needs to talk to you!”

Harry swallows hard. “Can it wait a bit?” he says out of the corner of his mouth, trying very subtly to gesture at Louis and Zayn and the boat in front of them.

Liam doesn’t look away from him. “Not really, no!” he snaps. “You’ve been gone for hours.”

Harry goes to point out to Liam that it takes hours to get anywhere near the surface fulls top (and that it’s not his fault Nick’s a paranoid bastard who never perches in the same place twice), but before he can, Louis interrupts.

“Is he talking to a crab?” he’s in the middle of asking Zayn.

“No, I think that’s a lobster,” says Zayn, voice as dry as the land he walks on.

Harry turns back to Liam. “I’ve got to go now?” he repeats, aware that’s he’s basically whining at this point.

Liam looks about as unimpressed as a crab can. “Yes,” he says, and then ducks back under the water.

Harry smiles sheepishly at Louis and Zayn. “I’ve got to go,” he says, switching back into human dialects with ease. “But, um.” He narrows his eyes at Louis’ arm a bit, and then very quietly reaches out to take hold of it. “Sorry,” he says, pulling it down to dip in the water. “I don’t want to accidentally take your arm off.”

He doesn’t hear all of what Louis says in response to that because he’s ducked down under the water to find the right notes to fix the problem, but he catches the beginning of it. “That wouldn’t happen, though, would it--?” Louis starts to say, before Harry sings.

When Louis pulls his hand up out of the water (and Harry’s grip) the ‘Oops’ tattoo is gone. “Huh,” he says, poking the skin. “I think you got rid of a scar or two there, Hazza.”

Harry tries not to preen at the use of the nickname, and instead settles for leaning up and pecking him on the lips. Human kiss--he’s read about it in the land-books Nick’s let him borrow and all--before ducking back under the water.

--

Harry takes Liam with him the next time he goes to visit Louis, after having a long conversation with his mum and Robin and also his Dad (the actual King of the Sea) about ruling and what it means to be a prince, etc, etc, ad nauseam, until Harry stopped listening and started thinking up ways to go back up to the surface. Technically Harry’s not so much visiting Louis, as he is looking for more dinglehoppers. Near Louis’ new ship. Not that Harry knows for certain it’s Louis’ new ship.

“This is creepy,” Liam hisses, when Harry ducks down a little to avoid a group of men talking loudly and carrying drinks as they walk past them on the upper deck. “You’re being creepy, Harry.”

Harry slowly submerges and swims closer to the ship, searching for windows or something. “Shush, Liam,” he says. “You’re distracting me.”

“Distracting you from what?” snaps Liam, when they’ve reemerged on the other side of the ship and are floating near some windows.

Harry’s always been fascinated by the patterns in the glass, and has quite a bit of it back home in his secret garden. The secret garden that Niall has been under strict instructions to guard while Liam and Harry go off and ‘risk their lives for love’, as Niall’d put it.

Liam looks like he would like an answer to his question.

“Looking for dinglehoppers,” says Harry, craning his a head a bit to see into one of the rooms. Instead of Louis, he finds a pair of identical looking girls, dressed in pink and playing with dolls of some sort.

“I really don’t think that’s what they’re called, Haz,” Liam is in the middle of saying, when Louis Tomlinson himself leans out of one of the ship windows with a smile on his face.

“Oh, bollocks,” he says, upon spotting them. “Absolutely not.”

Harry waves back at him, pleased. “Hello, again!” he says. “Is your arm alright?”

Louis cross his arms protectively across his chest, but doesn’t slam the window closed. “Is my arm alright?” he repeats. “That’s all you have to say for yourself?”

Harry tilts his head to one side. “It’s a fair question?” he tries. “I rushed at the end there, and I might have ended up crossing a few wires by switching keys.”

Louis unfolds his right arm and shows Harry the still empty skin. “It’s fine,” he says shortly. “Thanks.”

Harry’s tail flips about in the ocean pleasantly.

On his shoulder, Liam cackles quietly. “You’re such a girl, Haz,” he whispers.

Harry not so subtly shoves him off his shoulder and under the sea. “I’m glad you’re okay,” he tells Louis.

The human prince crosses his arms again and looks almost pleased, but his tone is rather sharp when he says, “That doesn’t mean I forgive you for kissing me without my permission.”

Harry pauses. “You need permission to say goodbye?” he says, heart dropping. Curse Nick for giving him terrible information, and curse Liam for dragging him back down for his lessons before his friend could elaborate more on land greetings.

Louis looks less ruffled than he had at the start of the conversation. “Goodbye?” he asks. “Is that how you say goodbye down...wherever you’re from?” He waves a hand towards the water. “You just go around planting one on people you’ve never met every time you want to leave?”

“Erm, no,” Harry explains. “But my friend Nick--”

“I told you Nick wasn’t to be trusted,” pipes up Liam, resurfacing closer to the boat. “And you laughed at me.”

“You’re just jealous that he couldn’t tell me what a dinglehopper was,” Harry retorts, before he realizes he’s still using Louis’ language.

Louis lets out a strangled sounding noise in the back of his throat. “Oh, look, it’s the crab again,” he says. “And what the fuck is a dinglehopper?”

Harry’s head jerks up. “Do you not have dinglehoppers?” he says, a bit desperately.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” says Louis, but his lips are twitching a little at the corners. “You’re quite cute, you know?”

Harry had been staring back at him with his mouth slightly open, but he closes it quickly. He hadn’t thought going fishmouthed was all that attractive, but Louis seems to disagree. “Um, thank you?” says Harry.

“Wow, your vice is high,” says Liam, still sounding amused.

He’s somehow transitioned into speaking Louis’ language as well--English, Harry thinks he’s heard it called--and at some point in this conversation crawled up out of the water and is now resting in Louis’ palm.

Louis himself looks more than a little startled by this turn of events, but that might be because he can now understand Liam. “Do you do magic as well?” he says eventually.

Liam turns to him, startled. “Um, no,” he says. “I’m great at the technical theory, but I’ve never had a very nice voice.”

Harry refrains from telling Liam that his voice is lovely and if he hadn’t been accidentally transformed into a crab when Harry was a baby, he’d probably be better at it than Harry.

“Ah.” Louis looks like he’s still a little rustled by the fact that he’s conversing with a crab, but also like he’s coming around. “I’m Louis, incidentally.”

“Liam.” Liam bows. “Pleasure to meet you, Your Highness.”

Louis blinks at him a few times, before swallowing. “You too,” he manages. “And you don’t have to call me that.”

Liam looks up at him with the same amount of awe he had in his eyes when Gemma first told him to stop calling her ‘Princess’. “If you’re sure,” he says.

“Ah, yeah,” Louis says. “My friends call me Tommo, if you like?” Under his breath he adds something about being friends with crabs and mermen, but Harry is a little bit distracted by the look on his face; he looks oddly charmed, and Harry tries to hide the swoop of jealousy he feels low in his belly. First of all, Liam is a crab, and second of all, the fact that Liam hadn’t cursed Harry out as soon as they properly met for the first time is thanks enough. Also he’s not sure why he’s even jealous that Louis looks happy. Harry wants Louis to always look happy. Just maybe only because of him.

Before Liam can say anything else, there’s a loud sound, and then Louis is turning away from Harry with Liam in tow.

“There you are, Your Highness,” says a man’s voice. “Your mother has been looking everywhere for you.”

“Not very well, apparently,” comes Zayn’s voice, but before Harry can be excited about getting to see the other man again, the first voice interrupts.

“And what are you doing with the food?” the man exclaims, getting louder as he comes closer to Louis, shoes clacking against the wood of the floor.

“Oh my God,” says Zayn, as Louis begins protesting.

“Ah, Stan, see--” he starts to say, but the man doesn’t let him finish.

“You’ve got five minutes to get properly dressed,” he says, voice moving back away from the window. “And why’s this one alive, anyway.”

Harry can only peek out from behind his hands in horror once he’s certain that the man’s left Louis and Zayn alone in the room. “Louis,” he says, voice breaking. “What are they going to do to Liam?”

Louis just stares back down at him with an equally horrified look on his face, before racing frantically after the man from before. “Wait, Stan!” he shouts. “Hang on!”

Harry is left floating awkwardly with only Zayn for company, who reaches out a hand to awkwardly pat him on the arm. “So his name’s Liam, then?” he says.

--

Liam doesn’t come with Harry on his next trip to visit Louis. Instead, he spends the next few days refusing to leave the palace or speak more than three words to Harry.

--

He happens upon Louis again a few weeks before his birthday. There’s going to be a great big celebration for it, and all of the kingdom is invited. Harry vaguely remembers his mum explaining something about it, but that’d been after the second scolding he’d received, this time for nearly getting Liam killed.

“It’s not like anyone told me humans eat crabs,” Harry complains to Niall, since Liam had flat out refused to budge when Harry tried to take him along. “And Louis saved him.”

“I’m looking forward to meeting this Louis,” says Niall. “He sounds awesome, for a human.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “You’re only coming because I said there’d be food,” he says.

They pop up into one of the seacaves Harry’s particularly fond of.

Niall stays floating where he can keep his gills submerged. “Yeah, whatever,” he says. “Now how will you know where to find the prince?”

Harry opens his mouth to respond, but before he can, he notices they’re not alone.

Gaping at him and looking very different somehow, is Louis himself, waist deep in the water with Zayn at his side.

“Found him,” he tells Niall.

“Oh my God.” Louis doesn’t sound pleased to see him.

“So, Liam sends his regards,” says Harry, ignoring Louis’ outburst. “He’s very sorry he didn’t come to visit.”

“Are you stalking me?” says Louis. “How do you keep knowing where I am?”

“I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose, mate,” says Zayn quietly.

“He’s right.” Harry swims a bit closer to Louis so that he can better inspect him. He still looks off somehow, but Harry really can’t place it. “I honestly only meant to come here to get this.” He reaches behind Louis to fiddle with some of the rocks, before pulling out the dinglehopper. “Something about you is different.”

“Oh, I dunno, maybe it’s the fact that I’m naked,” Louis starts to exclaim, before pausing. “Why have you put that in your hair?”

Harry falls back in the water a bit and cocks his head to the side. “Have got it in wrong?” he says, reaching up to pluck it from his curls. “Nick wasn’t very clear about it--”

“I’m going to side with Liam, here, and say Nick’s talking out of his arse, H,” interrupts Niall. He pokes an eye out somewhere near Zayn’s left knee. “Or beak.”

Zayn makes a startled noise and shifts backward. “Naked,” he says. “So very naked--you’re a talking fish.”

Niall pauses. “Can you understand me?” he says. “Brilliant.”

“Niall can speak lots of languages,” Harry puts in, to be helpful. “It’s a gift.”

Niall does a pseudo bow. “You flatter me, my prince,” he says.

“He’s also not very funny,” Harry adds sourly, splashing water towards Niall. The move draws his attention to his tail, and he lights up. “Which reminds me.” He reaches down and grabs one of Louis’ feet, tugging the appendage up out of the water eagerly. “How do legs work.”

Louis looks like his eyes are going to bug out of his head. “Naked, Harold!” he squeaks, strangled, kicking free of Harry’s hold and scooting back towards Zayn.

“I have no idea what that means?” Harry asks, going to follow them. “Do you, Niall?”

“I’m not wearing any clothes!” Louis continues. “That’s what’s different about me.” He slaps a hand across his chest.

Harry stares at where he’s pointing. “‘It Is What It Is’,” he reads. “I like it.” He looks back up at Louis and swims closer.

“See, I told you he had tattoos,” says Louis quickly, kicking out a leg to stop Harry. He presses his foot against the tattoo across Harry’s stomach, and Harry stops coming closer to stare down at it.

“He does in fact have a butterfly on his stomach, I have to give you that, Lou,” says Zayn. “Now about our lack of clothes...”

“A butterfly,” Harry says, giddy with the knowledge. “Do they live in the sea?”

Louis barks out an awkward laugh in response. “Not at all,” he says. His voice is still a bit high, and he twitches when Harry pokes him across the top of his foot. “They, um, fly in the sky?”

Harry pokes the butterfly on his stomach a few more times. “Brilliant,” he says. He pokes Louis in the foot again.

“Anyway.” Louis looks like he wants to pull his leg back, but he refrains. “We’d really like to stop being naked, so--”

“Harry, you idiot,” says Liam, popping up into the cave as well. “Your mother is going to kill me if we’re late.”

Harry turns away from Louis and Zayn to look at him. “Are you talking to me, now?” he says.

Liam rolls his eyes. “Yes, you’re forgiven for almost having me killed,” he says. “Now come on--the coronation’s starting in two hours.” He notices Louis and Zayn. “Hi, Zayn,” he says. “Tommo.”

“Liam,” says Louis. “Coronation?”

And now Harry remembers what his mum had been on about. “Oh, that,” he says dully. “Do I really have to be crowned king?”

Liam doesn’t look convinced. “Yes?” he says. “It’s your birthday--Harry, come on.”

“It’s your birthday?” interrupts Louis. “How old are you?”

“The human equivalent is twenty,” pipes up Niall.

When Harry glares at him, he flips both his fins. “What? I’m just being helpful.”

“Never mind that,” says Liam. “Harry?”

“I’ll be an awful king,” says Harry, cross his arms protectively across his chest. “Gemma should be Queen. She’s oldest.”

“Gemma’s not the heir,” says Liam, as he’s been saying since Harry was old enough to realize what ruling the sea would be like. “And you’ll be great at being king.”

“If I’m king I can’t come up and visit Lou,” Harry pouts, thrashing his tail a bit in the water. “I’ll be too busy making sure everyone is happy in the kingdom.”

“Haz.” Liam sounds apologetic. “We’ll be late.”

Harry doesn’t know what prompts him to do it, but before he goes to slide back down into the water and swim to his doom, he turns to look at Louis.

The human prince is looking back at him, eyes oddly fond and oddly sorry for Harry, and something twists in Harry’s stomach and has him opening his mouth. He doesn’t remember the words or notes he ends up singing, but one moment he’s got a tail and gills and the next he’s freezing cold and the cave is suddenly very crowded.

“Oh my God.” Liam is the first to recover. “What have you done?”

Harry stares down at his newly formed legs with barely concealed glee. “Louis,” he says, reaching around what he thinks is Niall to poke at the prince. “I’ve got feet fingers.”

“Toes,” corrects Louis. “And so have Niall and Liam.”

“Sick,” says Niall. “I’ve got fucking hair.”

“Oh my God,” says Liam again. “What have you done?”

--

The problem with being a merman with magical singing powers, Harry finds, is that turning yourself human is not easily irreversible. Which is to say, as soon as Liam gets over the fact that he’s human, Niall gets over his hair, and Harry gets a hands-on lesson in what it means to be naked (“Those are your toes, ankles, calves, thighs--and that’s your dick, then, good job, Haz.”), he realizes that he can’t very well reverse the spell, since he’s no longer a merman with magical singing powers.

“But I thought you had tattoos,” points out Harry, once Liam’s wandered off to bash his head into the cave wall a few times and Niall’s disappeared to do whatever it is Niall does when he’s alone.

“Hey, I’ve got a dick as well!” calls Niall.

Harry ignores him.

“Yes, well, we don’t sing them into existence,” says Louis. He sounds flustered. Harry wonders why. “Could you put on some clothes?”

Harry looks down at his naked legs. “Why, does it bother you?”

Louis makes a choked sounding noise and continues looking anywhere but Harry’s lower half.

“I think it’s just you’re incredibly well hung, Harry,” calls Zayn, from over where he’s being trying to get Liam to stop smacking himself into rocks. “Tommo’s just jealous.”

Louis makes an oddly adorable growling noise under his breath and bends down to lob a pebble towards Zayn, muttering under his breath the whole time.

Harry ends up staring at his arse as he bends, throat suddenly dry, and more than a little light headed. He goes to flutter his gills reflexively in response, and suddenly it’s not so funny being human anymore.

He sits down on the sand heavily.

Louis’s tirade cuts off abruptly and a few seconds later, he dumps something on top of Harry’s head. “Here,” he says. “You can wear my top.” He sighs. “It’ll probably be a bit snug, but it’s better than walking around bare arsed, and all.”

Harry reaches up to pull the white fabric off of his head and holds it front of himself. “Thank you,” he tells Louis politely, feeling a little less like crying (which is strange, because there appears to be water coming out of his eyes). He sets about trying to figure out how to get it properly on.

Louis lets him try to stick his head in several of the holes before reaching around to take the top from him, settling down in the sand next to him and tugging Harry’s arms this way and that. “Here, look, you’ve got to undo the buttons,” he murmurs, draping the top around Harry’s shoulders and helping his arms into it. “There.”

It’s more than a little snug, more than a little damp and just barely covers the top of Harry’s thighs, but it makes Harry feel a little less exposed. “Thank you,” he says again.

Louis runs a hand through his hair and looks him over a bit. “It’s not really going to do much to cover...everything,” he says, gesturing down at Harry’s legs. “But it’s a bit better.”

“I can still see his dick,” calls Zayn, from where he’s no longer trying to prevent Liam from hitting himself and is now patting him awkwardly on the back while he sobs into his shoulder.

Niall is still nowhere to be seen, but Harry really isn’t looking.

“Yes, thank you, Zayn,” says Louis. “We’ve also got two more people to clothe so unless you’d like to be helpful--”

Zayn very gently disengages Liam from his shoulder and strides over behind a rock. He returns holding Niall by the ear and a large sheet in the other. “We packed food, remember?” he says, and that explains where Niall’s been, then. “I’m sure we can do something with this.”

“My mum’s going to kill me,” says Harry, but he heads over to help Louis and Zayn cover the three of them the best he can.

--

“I’ve got it!” says Louis, sticking his head into the room where Harry’s been having a bath.

He’s aware it’s been several minutes now, but Harry’s still not quite used to being human, so he figures it’s justified. Also, no one had told him what his dick is for. “Um,” says Harry.

“Oh holy gods,” says Louis, cheeks blooming bright red. He very quickly steps back out of the room and slams the door. “Let me know when you’re finished.”

Harry doesn’t really want to go back to whatever it is he’d been doing. “Louis?” he says, releasing his dick with a sigh. “What am I doing?”

“Bathing!” Louis calls back. “You are bathing--nothing else is happening in the room.”

“I thought having a bath was bathing,” says Harry, unable to help himself. He knows enough now of social norms that he thinks he’s justified in the teasing. He, Liam, and Niall have officially been guests in Louis’ kingdom for two weeks now, and while Harry’s memories of the first few days are hazy (it was still his birthday, after all, and Louis is nothing if not a good host), the rest of his stay has been perfectly lovely. Not only has he learned so much about the human world, but he’s also come to think of Louis and Zayn as some of his closest friends, even if what he feels for Louis he’s pretty sure isn’t purely friendship. (Liam and Niall had been no help on that front, because Liam’d just smirked and Niall’d just laughed.)

“For the love of--masturbating,” Louis says finally, through the door. “You are masturbating, Haz, do you need me to come give you a hand?”

Before Harry can tell him ‘no’, he’s interrupted by Zayn’s voice.

“I’ll just come back later, then, shall I?” he says. “Come along, Niall.”

Niall curses rapidly under his breath and very loudly moves about the room. “But, Zayn,” he whines. “All these instruments are very heavy--”

“No, you may not come back later because nothing happened--you are interrupting nothing, Malik--”

“I’m finished,” Harry calls, before Louis can hurt himself. “What instruments?”

Louis pauses a moment before peeking his head back into the room.

Harry rests both his hands on the side of the bath and grins back at him.

“Singing is where you get your powers, right?” says Louis.

“Right.”

“But you have no idea what song to sing to reverse the spell, yeah.”

“It’s not really a song,” Harry points out.

Louis waves a hand. “Whatever,” he says. “The point is we just have to find out which song you need to sing to turn you back. Which is why Zayn--” He opens the door wider and Zayn steps around him to wave at him, “--and Niall--” Niall does the same, “have gone out and gotten their hands on every single instrument we have in the kingdom.”

Harry blinks up at them.

“Every single instrument,” repeats Niall. “And they’re very, very heavy.”

Harry blinks again.

“And Liam should be here momentarily with the sheet music,” Louis finishes. “We’ll turn you back, Haz, don’t worry.”

Harry tries to ignore the way his entire body shivers a little when Louis calls him anything other than his given name. “Awesome,” he says. “Can I get dressed first, though?”

Louis barks out a startled, pleased laugh, before shooing Zayn and Niall out of the door. “You’ve done a full one-eighty, Harold,” he says, stepping over to grab Harry and a towel and helping him out of the bath without being asked. “Remember when you didn’t understand the purpose of clothing?”

“I understood the purpose of clothing,” Harry says a bit petulantly. “I just think it’s not a very good purpose.”

Louis wraps one of the fluffy towels around his shoulders and helps him towards the door. “Yeah, yeah,” he says. “You keep saying that and yet--”

“I don’t actually need your help anymore, Lou,” he points out. “I’ve not fallen once, since that first few times.”

Louis releases him and gives him a little shove, cackling when Harry nearly breaks his streak. “Woops,” he says. “Careful, there, Harry.”

Harry reaches out and shoves him down as well, harder than Louis’d done and accidentally getting tangled up in the towel following him down. “Oops,” Harry says.

“Hi,” says Louis. His eyelashes are very, very, long.

Harry is overcome with the sudden urge to kiss him for real, this time. Kiss him knowing it means the same thing on land that it does under water--kiss him, and keep kissing him, and not think about turning back or his mum’s worried face.

But the moment breaks when Liam arrives and raps a few times on the door. “I’ve got the sheet music, lovebirds,” he says, and Louis and Harry pull apart red in the face. “Get your arses out here.”

“You’re really liking the human swears, aren’t you?” Zayn is in the middle of saying, amused, when Louis and Harry emerge pink cheeked but fully clothed.

“They’ve got more oomph than any of the ones crabs have,” explains Liam, before turning to look at them. “Ready?”

--

Three hours later and Harry is ready to pull out his hair and give up. They’ve sung every single piece of sheet music in the room, enough that Louis’ room looks like it’s been hit by a very powerful storm, sheets of paper strewn about. Liam and Zayn have collapsed over by the fire and have taken to grabbing random sheets of music and tossing them towards Harry haphazardly. Niall’s draped across two chairs with a guitar in his lap, and Louis’ been using Harry’s chest as a pillow for the past hour.

“This isn’t working,” Harry says finally, setting down their latest attempts. “All I’m getting out of this is that humans have very different ideas about music.”

“To be fair that one’s not supposed to be sung.” Louis picks idly at the fabric of Harry’s top, shifting a little so that their legs better tangle together. Harry thinks that if Louis had been born a merman, he wouldn’t mind marrying him, falling asleep with their tails curled around each other to keep each other tethered.

“We can’t give up yet, though, Haz,” says Niall. “Look, this one’s got five different parts.”

Harry lifts his head off of Louis’ pillow to look over at him. “So?”

“So, we can all sing it,” continues Niall, reaching out to wad up some of the discarded paper and chucking it at Liam’s head. “Right, Li?”

Liam’s fallen asleep.

Zayn elbows him in the face.

Liam visibly jumps. “What?” he says. “I mean, yes?”

Niall grins. “Come on, then.”

Harry sighs, but picks up the sheet music when Niall throws it off towards him, stumbling over the words a little before handing to Louis to sing first.

Harry joins in on the second chorus, not at all hopeful, and Niall and Liam and Zayn hurry in after him. For a second he thinks they’ve found it, because the joyful bubble he feels in his chest reminds him very much of the buzz of getting tattoos, but then Niall hits a bum chord and whatever magic they’d managed to find vanishes.

“Sorry,” he says. “Thought that was a different letter there--let me try that again--”

Harry throws down the piece of paper angrily and shoves Louis off him as gently as he can. “Give it a rest, Ni,” he snaps, searching for his shoes. “We’re never going home.”

“Not with that attitude, we’re not,” say Liam, and Harry flings one of the shoes back at him, dropping the other one onto the floor with a loud bang.

Liam yelps, and probably ducks, but by that point Harry’s already slamming the door and well on his way to crying.

He hates crying on land. Harry was always prone to being emotional growing up, but underwater he never had to worry about things like tears. Underwater, Harry’s heart could be breaking, but no one would ever notice. On land, he has to duck around three different corners to avoid the multitude of people inside the castle, and before he knows it, he finds himself helplessly lost and helplessly alone.

Harry finds an empty corridor, leans up against an empty wall, and sinks to the ground.

Louis finds him after what feels like hours, and slides down to sit next to him. “Are you crying?” he says.

Harry buries his face harder in his knees and tries to pretend he can’t hear him.

“It’s alright if you are--this was always my favorite place to have a good cry.” Louis pauses. “It’s a bit better with someone else to cry all over, though, I have to say.” He leans in closer to Harry so that their shoulders touch.

All of a sudden, Harry wants nothing more than to feel bare skin against his. He reaches out to grab one of Louis’ hands, halting his speech abruptly.

Louis seems to be waiting for something, but when it doesn’t come, he just squeezes Harry’s hand harder and keeps talking. “You’ll have to be king when you go back,” he begins.

Harry clenches his fingers around Louis’. “I know.”

“You’ll be a wonderful king,” Louis keeps saying. “Very wise, not too serious, very fair.” He reaches out with his free hand to ruffle Harry’s hair. “Very curly.”

Harry can’t help the bubble of laughter that blooms up in his chest. “I’m not very curly under the water, Lou,” he points out.

Louis doesn’t take his hand out of Harry’s hair. “That’s true,” he says. “I remember the first time we properly dried you off--you looked like one of those curly-haired dogs.”

Harry turns to look at him. “Oh?”

Louis tugs on one of his free curls before dropping his hand into his lap. “Princess Eleanor has got one--she pissed on Liam’s shoe?”

Harry giggles at the memory. “What a legacy,” he says. The bubbly feeling spreads out from his chest into his lower belly. “Do you like Princess Eleanor?”

Louis makes a face. “Now you sound like my mum, Haz,” he complains. “I thought we were talking about you.”

Harry turns to look down at their conjoined hands. “I’d rather talk about you,” he says.

Louis sighs and pulls his hand free, tugging Harry up to his feet as he goes. “Come on,” he says. “I want to show you something.”

Harry has no choice but to follow him as he tugs him down the hall, takes two seemingly random rights, and pulls him into a giant room. It looks like some sort of elaborate ballroom, filled with paintings of Louis and his relatives, and it’s all Harry can do to follow Louis as he tugs him past them.

“Here.” They’ve come to a stop in front one of the more recent ones, depicting a man wearing a crown and holding a scepter. “This is my father.”

Harry stares up it. “But I’ve met your father,” he says slowly.

Louis lets go of his hand to shove his hair out of his face. “Yeah, I know,” he says. “But Mark and I aren’t related, technically.”

“Oh.” Harry hadn’t known that about Louis “I’m sorry.” He keeps staring at the man in the painting. Now that he looks, he can see some similarities in bone structure, but the look in his eyes looks nothing like Louis.

“Yeah,” says Louis. “And it’s not a big deal.” He sighs. “I’ll never be king, though,” he says. “Which is why mum really wants me to marry Princess Eleanor.” He sounds less than thrilled at that prospect. “Horrible dogs aside.”

Harry understands that much, at least. “There was this one mermaid, Taylor?” he tells Louis. “The high counsel kept sending me to bump into her. No one said anything, but I think they all thought I was going to fall in love with her.”

Louis’ fingers find his again. “I take it you didn’t?” he says.

Harry squeezes his hand right back. “She wasn’t really my type,” he says, throat dry.

When Louis turns to look at him, he’s staring right back. “Oh?” Louis swallows, throat bobbing.

Harry watches him, unblinking. “She was blonde,” he says. “I think I prefer brunets.”

“Oh?” Louis licks his lips.

“Yeah.” Harry licks his own. “And legs,” he adds, to be sure. “Also, dicks, I suppose, but--”

“Oh, thank God,” says Louis, and then he’s kissing him.

Harry has about three seconds to properly enjoy kissing him, and what a wonderful three seconds they are. Louis’ lips are soft, and warm, and just a touch wet from earlier, and when Harry nips at them he makes the most beautiful noise in the back of his throat and opens up. It’s better with tongues, although Harry wouldn’t have thought it would be, and he wants nothing more than to fist his hands in Louis’ hair and keep kissing him till he can’t breathe, only he can’t, because his three seconds are up and Harry’s a merman again.

“Oh god.”

It’s a good thing Louis’ got his arms around him, because Harry wouldn’t be capable of standing even if he had legs. “You kissed me,” he says.

“You’re you again,” says Louis, ignoring him. “Oh my God, you’re you again--you’ve got a bloody tail.”

“Like full on proper kissed me,” Harry continues saying. “I love you.”

That seems to derail Louis’ panic attack, and his eyes crinkle a little at the corners when he says, “I love you too, Harry,” and then leans in to kiss him again.

They get a little carried away, Harry getting a hand in Louis’ hair and even going so far to stick a hand down the back of his trousers, when Louis pulls back frantically to mumble against his lips. “But if you’re back to normal do you think Liam and Niall are as well--”

“Louis Tomlinson!” comes Zayn’s voice. “Get your fantastic arse out here and help me hide the merpeople before I cut off your--”

“Coming, Zayn!” shouts Louis, reaching down to get a better grip on Harry, and starting towards the door. “No need to bite my head off!”

“I think I said I’d be biting something else off,” snaps Zayn, stopping when the two of them come into view. “Oh, great, now we’ve got three of them.”

Harry looks up from where he’d been giggling like a besotted fool at where Louis’ fingers are resting along the scales of his tail. “Three?”

“Apparently whatever magical whatever you did broke not only Harry’s little magical land spell, but the original one, too,” explains Zayn. “And unless the magical whatever was tame and equally worthy of a fairy tale, do not tell me.”

“True love’s kiss,” says Harry, a bit breathlessly. “Of course.” When he looks down at his collarbones, he sees that the bird on the right’s gotten a bit smaller, and has gently curving eyebrows. He’s pretty sure they hadn’t had eyebrows before Louis kissed him and turned him back. “You should probably hurry, though,” he adds, distracted, “since we need water to survive.”

Instead of laughing at him and calling him a sap, Louis just starts walking faster. “I’ll have you know that the first thing you are doing once we’ve dumped you back in the sea is putting this right again,” he says, touching the spot on his arm where the ‘Oops’ had been, all those weeks ago. “And then you’re going to find me some way to breathe underwater so I can continue where we left off.”

Harry’s heart thumps loudly in chest. “True love’s kiss?” he says.

“True love’s kiss,” Louis agrees.

“Sorry, true love’s kiss?” says Zayn. “Like, really?”

Neither Louis nor Harry see fit to respond to him, which is good, because they’ve finally reached Louis’ bedroom where Niall and Liam are lying on the floor.

“Harry!” says Niall, when they see them. “Look!” He flops around a bit on the tiles. “I’m not a flounder anymore!”

“And I’m not a crab,” adds Liam, flopping around as well. “Hooray. Now can we get going before we, I don’t know, die?”

Louis rolls his eyes and gently puts Harry down on the bed. “Yeah, yeah,” he says, heading into the bathroom. The water turns on. “How long do you think you have?”

“Well, I don’t actually know since no one’s ever willingly gotten out of the water,” Liam starts to say, when Louis walks back out and dumps a bucket on top of him.

No one speaks for a moment.

“Your mum is going to murder you,” Zayn says finally. “Now help me find something to cover them with.”

Which is how the three of them end up stuffed into a wheelbarrow and covered with a picnic basket and blanket, while Louis and Zayn sneak out of the palace before Louis’ mum realizes that they’re the ones who dumped water all over her precious floors.

Harry forgives them for how cramped it is when they reach the shoreline, mostly because Louis tugs him aside and kisses him within an inch of his life.

“For luck,” he says when he pulls back and Harry is left gasping for air, gills tightly closed against his neck. “And also so you don’t forget me.”

“Never,” Harry replies, and kisses him again, for good measure.

--

So, it’s possible Harry is sulking. Possibly. Maybe. He’s curled up in his shell bed alone, because Liam and Niall are off smoothing things over with their various family members and kingdoms--who knew Niall was a long lost prince of the waters around Ireland?--and Gemma is off with his mum doing whatever it is they’re doing. He’s also got no chance of sneaking back up on land to visit Louis, because there are now guards outside his door, and Harry’s been forbidden from singing.

“We’ll know,” his dad had said.

“We do love you,” Robin had said.

“But he’s human?” Gemma had said.

“Oh Harry,” his mum had said.

So Harry’s definitely sulking, and he’s entirely justified in doing so. He’s also completely allowed to ignore Gemma when his sister swims into the room a few moments later because while he knows it’s not her fault she can’t be Queen, he’s still a little angry at her. Also he misses Louis terribly, and has taken to petting the Louis bird on his chest as some sort of terrible coping mechanism.

“Harry, we need you in the great hall,” says Gemma, grabbing him by the arm and tugging him up out of the shell bed.

“Leave me to die,” Harry tells Gemma, possibly a bit morbidly. “I’m not going--they can’t make me put on the crown.”

“Oh, for Neptune’s sake, Harry,” says Gemma, tugging him past the guards stationed outside and into the sprawling hallways. “This isn’t about your impending kingship.”

Harry brightens. “It isn’t?”

Gemma sighs. “Well, okay, sort of,” she says, and then scowls when Harry stops swimming. “Hazza.”

Harry doesn’t pull his arm free, but it’s a near thing. “Don’t call me that,” he says.

“Why, did Prince Louis call you that?” says Gemma, and Harry’s head snaps up. She very quickly looks apologetic. “Sorry, baby bro,” she says. “But we really have to go.”

“I’m telling you, Gemma, I’m really not suited to being king--” Harry is in the middle of saying, when they round the corner into the great hall.

Everyone important is there. Liam and Niall are off in a corner with Harry’s parents, hands clasped awkwardly in front of each other looking incredibly worried, for some reason. But Harry doesn’t really have any time to focus on that part of the room, because the entire high counsel is also present, and they look murderous.

“I’ve gathered all of you here to announce that my son, Prince Harry, will not be stepping up as King of the Sea,” says Harry’s mum, once he and Gemma have reached her.

“No, I refuse,” says Harry. “Wait, what?”

His mum ignores him, turning instead to face the high counsel. “Instead, it is my pleasure to announce that my daughter Gemma will be taking the throne, come her twenty fourth birthday later this year.”

She doesn’t actually say twenty fourth birthday, of course, but Harry’s traitorous brain is still a bit hung up on how he’s no longer going to have to be king of the sea, and has defaulted to English. God, he misses Louis.

“But the law states--” interrupts one of the members of the high counsel. Harry thinks his name is Richard, something. Griffin? It’s not important.

“Ah, the law” says Harry’s mum, holding out her hand.

Liam very quietly swims forward carrying a piece of sea paper but, for once, he doesn’t look nervous.

“This law?” Harry’s mum unfurls the paper, lets the entire high counsel see it is in fact the law that prevents Gemma from inheriting the throne because of her gender, and then, well.

She rips it to pieces by singing a song that is both beautiful and terrible and haunting all at once.

“Anyone else?”

No one else on the high counsel seems to want to say much of anything, until someone very awkwardly starts up a cheer for Gemma, and the tension breaks for the most part.

The ensuing celebration is one of the most awkward moments of Harry’s life, because he’s sure that at least three of the people who come up to congratulate him on his sister’s success do so with relief in their eyes. He can’t really blame them, though, because Gemma will make a much better queen.

The night would almost be perfect, if it weren’t for the fact that Harry is still trapped under the water, and Louis is not.

“You seem unhappy,” says his mum, swimming up next to him by the food table during one of the lulls in dancing. “Had you changed your mind and actually decided you wanted to be king?”

Harry very quickly shakes his head. “Not at all, no,” he says, equally quickly.

“Then are you not happy for your sister?” presses his mum.

Harry glares at her, because she knows exactly why he’s in a mood. “I’m very happy for Gemma,” he says.

His mum smiles a little at him, before poking him once in the cheek. “Then, smile, Haz,” she says. “It’s your last night as Harry Styles, prince of the sea.”

Harry feels his stomach drop. “But I thought you said Gemma--”

“I mean, I’m not quite sure how they do it on land,” his mum continues. “And I’m sure you’ll want to discuss things with Louis in more detail, but I think taking names is traditional.”

Harry’s mouth falls open. “What are you saying?” he asks, careful not to get his hopes up.

“You didn’t think just because you accidentally turned yourself human that there wasn’t a real spell for that, did you?” says his mum. Harry is all of a sudden reminded that there is at least one person in the kingdom with more magical knowledge than Liam. “Because that’s not very princely of you, Harry.” She grins. “And very arrogant.”

Harry hugs her, because there really isn’t anything else for him to do.

Of course when it turns out everyone he knows had been in on this little scheme, Niall and Liam included, he has to chase them around the ballroom so that he can punch them in the gills.

--

The first thing Louis does when he sees him, is throw things at him. Fish, to be more specific, because that’s what Louis had had on hand when Harry sprang out of the sea right next to his head. It’s a bit more awkward than Harry’d hoped, seeing as it’s not just Zayn accompanying him this time, but apparently his entire very royal, very human family.

“Lou--” Harry tries to say, ducking the many fish Louis keeps flinging at him. “Stop it--you’ll run out.”

“I’ll run out,” says Louis. “That’s all you have to say for yourself, Harry Styles?”

Harry stares at him.

“That’s right,” says Louis. “I know your full bloody name.” He looks very much like he wants to empty all of the fish on top of Harry’s head. “Do you know why I know your full bloody name?”

Harry isn’t sure if he should even try to answer.

“Because bloody Liam Payne showed up not two days ago and told me.”

Harry turns around to look at Liam, betrayed, and finds his friend cowering behind Niall.

“Sorry, H,” he says. “I thought you’d have done it as soon as you could.”

Harry doesn’t dodge the next fish flung at him. “Thanks, Li,” he says. “Lou--”

“Don’t you Lou me,” snaps Louis. “I’m very angry at you--”

“It’s a very complicated spell,” says Harry, swimming closer to the edge of the boat and pulling himself up to look Louis in the eye. “I was worried I’d mess it up.”

“If you messed it up I could just kiss you again,” says Louis, sounding unimpressed. “So try again.”

Harry looks down at his hands. “I wasn’t sure if that would work,” he mumbles.

Louis reaches out and tips his chin up so that he’s look at him. “Come again?” he says.

Harry lets his eyes roam around his face, down the column of his neck, to the edges of the writing curling along his collar bones, and down his right arm. His breath catches. “Louis,” he says, eyes stuck on the new ink.

Louis follows his gaze downwards, fingers trailing along the ‘Oops’ spelled out on his arm. “Oh, that,” he says, finally sounding embarrassed. “I had Zayn do it based off the notes you made on some of the sheet music.”

Harry reaches out to brush his fingers along the skin. “You remembered,” he says.

Louis punches him in the arm. “Of course, you dunce,” he says. “I had to remember you somehow.”

Harry’s eyes snap to meet his. “What?”

Louis sighs. “I thought you weren’t coming back,” he explains. “It’s been a couple of months.”

Harry swallows. “I was grounded,” he explains. “Sorry.”

“Ah.” Louis swallows as well. “My mistake, then.”

For a moment, neither of them say anything, until someone (Niall) breaks and shouts, “For the love of God, kiss him,” and while Harry isn’t sure who he’s yelling at, he’s pretty sure he and Louis each lean up at the same time.

Harry has plenty of practice with the song to turn himself human, which is oddly bouncy and reminds him of the bright, chirpy guitar that Niall had played all those days ago, and even gets a little work in on the one to turn humans into merpeople. That one is definitely his favorite, more so because he’s pretty sure that Louis’ started composing a drum beat to accompany it, as well as lyrics. Something about strength and ships and ropes.

Harry loves him.

--

And they all lived happily ever after.

The end.