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Harry moves into the green house when she’s seven years old.

She’s dragging her suitcase up the steps, frowning the entire way -- her mum’s behind her, probably talking to her dad about how terrible Harry’s being. Her hat falls off her head when she leans back too far and she groans, stamping her foot hard on the ground.

“Harry,” Gemma says, and there’s the thwack-thwack of her shoes as she runs up to her.

Harry crosses her arms when she hugs her, glaring at the ground. “I didn’t want to leave,” she mumbles when Gemma wraps her in a giant hug that kind of means she can’t breathe.

“I know,” Gemma whispers. “But we’re gonna make so many friends, right?”

Harry sniffles. “No,” she pouts. Right then and there she resolves herself to never make a friend here, and then her parents will have to take her back home.

“Hey!” comes a shout.

Harry very specifically doesn’t look up. She turns to hide her face against Gemma’s shoulder, and she has to go up on her tiptoes to do it. It’s not fair, she thinks, that everyone’s taller than her. Older, too. She should be able to make her own decisions.

There’s a tap on her shoulder.

She turns around when Gemma squeezes her arm.

It’s a little blonde girl, cheeks dirty and knees scuffed up. Harry likes her instantly.

“I like your hat,” Niall says, and before Harry can say anything she’s grabbed it, running off with a giggle.

“Hey!” Harry shouts, forgetting her earlier plight, and takes off after her, losing one shoe in the race. She hardly notices, giggling after her.

Niall stops suddenly and Harry crashes into her, and they tumble into a bush. Harry flops onto her back, squeezing her eyes shut. Her knee hurts.

“Sorry,” Niall says, standing up and brushing off her knees. “Mum tells me not to do that but I really, really, really wanted it.”

“You’re not supposed to take things,” Harry tells her, standing up, wincing. “Ow.” Her knee’s not bleeding but it’s gotten cut. Her mum is going to freak.

“I’m sorry,” Niall says, and jams the hat back on her head.

Harry glares at her, forgetting all about her knee. “That’s my favorite hat!”

“Mine, too,” Niall says. “My favorite my hat.”

Harry sighs.

“Harry!” comes a shout from her mum.

Harry grimaces. “That’s me,” she says to Niall, waving at her and then waving sadly at the hat. “Bye!” She runs toward her mum, through the little garden. She maybe steps on a couple of flowers, but Niall deserves it, she thinks.

“Where’s your hat?” her mum asks, and then, “Oh, god. Your knee!”

In the end, Harry gets ice cream after dinner and the loss of her hat is worth it, she thinks.

*

Niall comes over a week later, hat in her hands and scowl on her face.

Harry’s in her play room when Gemma calls her and she flings herself down the stairs, tumbling into the wall. It’s only a second before she’s on her feet again and at the door. She pushes hard enough that the screen nearly pops out and then she’s tackling Niall with a hug, nearly sending them both tumbling off the porch.

“Harry!” Gemma shouts, but Harry isn’t paying attention.

“Niall!” she says. She’s still determined not to make any friends, but maybe this girl can be her not-friend that she has play dates with. It’s boring, being here.

Niall stands up, brushing off her legs. “My mum wants me to bring back your hat,” she grumbles, taking it off her head and throwing it at her.

Harry puts it on.

Niall’s face doesn’t change.

“Want to play with me?” Harry asks, as politely as she can. “I have blocks. And dolls.”

Niall pouts. “Give me my hat back and I will.”

“But it’s my hat, really.” Harry thinks for a second, finger pressed against her lip. “Come on!” she says, grabbing her hand and tugging her inside.

“Hi Mum this is Niall she stole my hat but it’s okay!” Harry yells on her way through the living room. Her mum says something after her, but she can’t hear it.

“Here,” Harry says, going into her drawer and pulling out a hat with a daisy on it. “Have this one. It’s a gift.” She gives it to her, pleased with herself. Her hat is better, but Niall doesn’t need to know that.

Niall puts it on, and nods. “Okay,” she says. “Wait. Come tell my mum I didn’t take it.” She grabs Harry’s hand and tugs her down the stairs again.

Harry’s more careful this time, she swears she is, but she still ends up taking Niall down with her and they tumble down the stairs, giggling once they hit the bottom.

Niall shakes her head as she stands up.

“You’re both clumsy,” Gemma says, regal as she walks through the room.

Harry glares at her as Niall pulls her next door.

*

“We should become blood sisters,” Harry tells Niall very seriously. It’s the day after Niall’s tenth birthday and Harry’s pouting, doesn’t want to get left behind. She and Niall aren’t in the same class this year and they haven’t been seeing one another as much as they used to.

Blood sisters, though. She’d heard about it from Gemma, who showed her her palm where she’d become blood siblings with Louis Tomlinson, the boy who lives on the other side of she and Gemma.

Niall wrinkles her nose. “Isn’t blood dirty?”

Harry shrugs. “Dunno. Got a knife, though.”

Niall sighs and holds out her palm. “Do it, then. I can’t do it m’self.”

Harry pulls the knife out of her pocket -- it’s a pocketknife, one that she’d taken the last time Gems had babysat her -- and swallows hard. “I’ll do myself first,” she says.

Niall shakes her head suddenly, grabbing it out of her hand. “Wait. Let me do you. ‘M older,” she reminds her.

Harry pouts and keeps her hand held out. The breeze ruffles her hair, carrying it around the both of them.

In the end, it doesn’t hurt that much. She gasps, and then Niall does, and then they’re pressing their palms against one another, fingers lacing together. Harry’s nails are bright pink, messy from the dirt they’ve been digging in.

Niall’s the first to pull her hand back, pouting.

Harry stares at her own hand. It just looks like a red smear. “Blood sisters,” she says doubtfully. Gemma made it sound so much cooler.

Niall nods, crawling over to her gently, holding her hand up in the air. She hands the knife back to her. “Hurts,” she says.

“I know,” Harry murmurs. She throws her clean arm over her, burying her face into her shoulder.

Niall giggles.

Harry pulls back, frowning. “What is it?”

Niall shrugs, grabbing her hand again. “You’re m’best friend,” she says.

“I know,” Harry tells her.

Niall nods. Quickly, quickly, she leans in and kisses her.

Harry’s eyes go wide. It’s -- weird, is what it is, a weird soft press of lips against her own. She wrinkles her nose when Niall pulls away. “What’s that for?”

Niall shrugs. Her hair’s falling out of its plait, and there’s dirt on her cheeks. “It’s what sisters do, innit?”

Harry hasn’t ever kissed Gemma, but she doesn’t bother saying that. “Right,” she says. Maybe it’s an older-girl thing. Maybe Niall’s right, all those times she talked about being wiser than Harry.

Niall smiles at her, and Harry’s filled with affection.

(They both get in trouble with their mums, for cutting their hands open, but neither of them mind it.)

*

“Who do you like?” Niall asks, on the night of Harry’s twelfth birthday. They’re big girls now, Niall had said, and big girls talk about who they like.

Harry’s just glad to be Niall’s age again. When they’re separate, Niall lords it over her. Harry doesn’t like that. She likes being the same as Niall.

She shrugs. “You, I guess,” she says. “You’re my best friend.”

Niall stares at her. “I mean crushes,” she says. “Who do you want to kiss?”

Harry doesn’t much see a difference, if she’s honest with herself, but Niall’s looking at her like there should be one. She thinks for a second, and shrugs. “Liam?” she offers. He’s cute. She guesses.

Niall wrinkles her nose. “I like Bressie,” she tells her. “He’s the cutest boy in the wooooooorld.” Her eyes go all starry, and she collapses backward, holding her hands over her face.

Harry pouts when Niall can’t see her. She doesn’t like this, boys. “But you’re my best friend forever, right?” she asks her suspiciously.

“Obviously,” Niall says. “Anyway, friends are different from boyfriends. Everybody knows that.”

Harry nods, and lies down next to her, closing her eyes and resting her head on Niall’s shoulder. “But you’re my best friend,” she whispers, mostly to herself.

Niall doesn’t answer. “I’m tired,” she says, standing up and walking to her dresser. She changes into pajamas quickly and Harry does the same, pulling clothes out of her little bag quietly.

“Are you okay?” she asks when they’re both settled under the sheets, Harry under her Princess Jasmine blanket and Niall under her own, Spider-Man. Harry’s thought about stealing it a million times but they’re too old, now, she suspects. Niall’s probably going to get rid of hers. The thought makes her a little sad.

“Yeah,” Niall whispers, lying flat on her back. “You’re my best friend, too, Haz,” she tells her, taking her hand and lacing their fingers together.

Harry holds on tight until Niall drops off, letting go and pulling the blankets up to her chin and curling up as small as she possibly can.

She spends the rest of her time awake that night thinking about kissing, imagining it. Kissing boys, she suspects, is all well and good. Kissing Liam would be that, so long as he loosened up a little bit. He’s very focused when he wants to be. She’d like someone to be focused on her like that, she thinks.

She hums, pursing her lips, and rolls onto her side, looking at Niall in the bed.

Kissing Niall again would be all right, as well.

As soon as the thought’s there she pushes it out of her mind, rolling over so she’s facing the window instead. Her heart’s beating a little bit faster. It’s Liam she’d like to kiss, she tells herself; Liam, not Niall. Liam with his big smile and his dark hair and that way he has of looking at Harry.

Niall snuffles in her sleep and kicks out, hitting Harry in the back of the shin. She hisses out a sharp breath and that effectively pushes all thoughts of kissing anyone out of her mind.

She wakes up with Niall draped on top of her and spits out a mouthful of her hair, wincing and pushing at her.

Niall falls out of the bed and Harry giggles, letting her chase her around the room with her pillow.

*

“Niall, stop squirming!” Harry says, voice high and a little bit nervous.

Niall groans and crosses her arms. She’s like a little kid, Harry thinks in frustration, and reads the back of the bottle again.

“If you’re gonna do it, might as well do it while my hair’s still dark,” Niall snaps, voice gone high and nervous. “I’ll need a different sort of dye when it’s grey.”

Harry shoves her shoulder, finally setting the box down and opening it up. “I’ve got it,” she says. She follows the instructions carefully for once in her life, shaking the dye until it’s a foamy mess inside the bottle.

Niall stares at Harry in the mirror. She looks nervous, but above all trusting. “You’re gonna do yours after, right?” she asks.

Harry nods. “Course I am. Blood sisters, aren’t we? Can’t lie.” She keeps her voice intentionally flippant; that’s the best way to get Niall to listen.

Niall nods, and closes her eyes tight. “Do it,” she says.

Harry bites her lip and nods, starting to apply the bleach. “You’re going to look fantastic,” she promises. It’s true. No matter how Niall’s hair looks, in the end, Harry can’t imagine her looking anything but amazing.

That’s probably not the way to sell it, though, considering Niall doesn’t think of herself in quite the same way Harry does. Probably for the best. Harry kind of loves her.

Her hand freezes where she’s moving some of Niall’s hair out of the way.

She promptly pushes that thought aside. Or -- she adapts it.

She loves Niall, quite a bit. Not loves her.

“Harry?” Niall asks, peeking one eye open.

Harry snaps to attention and continues working on Niall’s hair. “Sorry,” she mumbles.

She sets the timer for two minutes under the amount of time the box says they need. She doesn’t know much about bleaching hair, but her frantic googling the night before had told her that it could be disastrous if they leave it in too long. Better less than more.

Niall sits there, scrolling through her phone and bouncing her leg, all her hair wrapped up in a shower cap. It makes Harry a little nervous, but she doesn’t stop her.

Niall strips easily once the timer goes off and steps into the shower, and Harry starts to clean up, wiping down the sink.

“Towel!” Niall says after a few minutes, and the water shuts off. Harry hands her one behind the curtain.

Niall steps out.

Harry’s eyes go wide. It’s not blonde. It’s orange, Harry can tell even when it’s wet. Fuck, she thinks.

Niall frowns. “What’s wrong?” she asks, turning around and looking at herself in the mirror. She twists her head this way and that.

“Orange,” she says quietly. She runs her fingers through her hair and makes a face. “Feels like shit,” she says, dropping it.

Harry can’t do it, she realizes in a flash. She can’t do that to her hair.

Niall’s narrowing her eyes at her, like she knows Harry’s having second thoughts. “Your turn,” she says.

Harry shakes her head, quick.

“Harry!” Niall snaps.

Harry shrugs, small, setting the bowl down. “I don’t want to,” she says. “I don’t want my hair orange.”

“I didn’t want mine either, but. Blood sisters,” Niall tells her, putting her hands on her hips over the towel. Even with her hair looking like a mess, she’s pretty. Harry hates her a little.

“I’m sorry?” Harry offers. She doesn’t want to do that to her own hair; she’s suddenly violently protective of it. What if the bleach washes out her curls? She’s not sure that could happen, but she doesn’t know that it couldn’t, either.

Niall grabs her purse and her clothes and stomps out of the bathroom. A few minutes later, Harry hears her front door slam.

Harry feels a little sick to her stomach. She picks up the bowl and rinses it out, cleaning up everything.

Niall’s left her shirt behind, the one she was wearing before she took one of Harry’s old t-shirts. Harry rubs her thumb over the material, folding it up and bringing it into her bedroom.

It’s one of Niall’s favorite shirts, she thinks. If she keeps it, Niall has a reason to come back.

(Guilt courses through her; she doesn’t like lying, least of all to Niall, but where Niall can pull off anything Harry knows she can’t. She’s pretty but not like her -- her hair’s half of it, at least.

Irrationally, she thinks that if she doesn’t look the best she can, Niall’s going to stop talking to her. Which -- irrational, and ridiculous, but the thought keeps her awake at night. She doesn’t know how to be, without her.)

*

They don’t talk for a week.

Harry doesn’t know what to do about it. She’s tried calling and texting but Niall won’t pick up.

It’s not until she’s at the store, walking through the hair dye aisle, that she realizes the solution.

She picks up a bottle of hair dye that looks to match Niall’s old shade and hums, looking at the back. This she can do; dye is less dangerous, she’s nearly positive, than bleach.

And if Niall doesn’t trust her to do it, she thinks, a little sad, then she can find someone else. This, though, is going to help fix what’s messed up between them.

She walks from the little shop to Niall’s house, playing music and bobbing her head to the beat.

She knocks on the door, quick and sharp. Niall’s dog, a little fluffy menace named Bella, of all things, barks at the window. Harry jumps and takes a step back. Realistically, she knows that Bella couldn’t actually get through the window, but more practically, she’s seen her tear holes in several dog toys. Who’s to say she couldn’t tear a hole in Harry?

Before she can continue her train of thought, the door opens. Niall’s standing there, in a beanie, her hair totally covered up. “Yes?” she asks.

Harry holds out the bag wordlessly. “Peace offering?” she says. It’s what Gemma calls it when she gives her cookies after they fight, and it’s always sounded very adult, very practical.

Niall takes it and opens it. She laughs, shaking her head.

Harry’s heart sinks. She doesn’t know what to do, other than this -- she’s not good at fighting, never has been. “I’m sorry,” she says.

Niall rolls her eyes and takes her beanie off.

Harry’s eyes go wide.

Her hair is short and choppy, bangs hanging just above her eyes, and it’s platinum blonde. It looks good, better than Harry had thought it could ever.

“Mum took me to the salon,” she says, like it isn’t a big deal. “Said I should’ve just asked her first, you know?”

“Instead of having me do it,” Harry murmurs. The thought makes her heart hurt a little.

Niall shrugs, and holds the box in her hands. “You wanted to change my hair back?” she asks quietly.

“Before,” she says. “When I thought it was orange, still. I just wanted to fix it. I’m sorry.”

Niall tosses the box to the side and races out of the house, hugging Harry hard. “Thank you,” she says quietly.

“You’re welcome,” she says, smiling and hugging her back. Niall’s just barely taller than her but she still buries her face against her neck. “I’ve missed you.”

“Missed you, too,” Niall says. “You know all I needed was a few days, right?”

“Because I fucked up your hair?”

She frowns. “Because you broke your promise to me.” She steps back, crossing her arms. “That wasn’t cool. You’re not supposed to lie, and you’re not supposed to break promises.” Her voice is fierce but calm.

Harry bites her lip, nodding. “I’m sorry,” she says again. “Do you want me to dye my hair now? I will,” she says.

Niall rolls her eyes. “I appreciate the offer, but you’re being too dramatic. I look better than you would, anyway,” she says, laughing and flicking her hair behind her shoulder.

“You do,” Harry says. It comes out weirdly sincere, and she’s for once glad that Bella comes running out at her. She screams, and it breaks the tension of the moment that might have built up, or might have been all in her head.

Niall snorts, and whistles for her to come inside. “Get out of here,” she says. “I’m hanging out with Bressie today.”

She makes a face. “And you don’t want me here for that?”

Harry,” Niall says, soft, and goes pink. “Bressie’s a boy.”

“I know that.”

“And I like him, and he’s tutoring me in maths so just -- please. I’ll call you later, okay?” she asks, still blushing.

Harry nods, slow. They’ve been friends for seven years and she’s never felt this kind of emotion around her; this quiet sadness mixed with a hot, desperate feeling in her stomach.

She doesn’t say any of that. “Okay,” she says quietly, shrugging like it doesn’t matter. “And I’ll call up -- Liam. Or something.”

“Yes, do that,” she says, clearly exasperated. “Now leave, I’ve got to get to the library.”

Harry hugs her again, tight. “We’re still best friends, right?”

Niall rolls her eyes. “Always. Now leave.”

Harry goes. She walks back to her house, where Louis is sitting on the front porch with Gemma. She sniffles, can’t help herself.

“Haz?” Gemma calls, looking up. She sets aside the bottle of nail varnish she’s been holding, runs across the lawn to her. She wraps her arms around her, tight, kissing the side of her head. “Are you okay?”

She shakes her head, blinking fast. “I’m fine,” she says. Her voice cracks.

A second later, there’s another body against hers, Louis gently rubbing her back.

“I’m fine,” Harry says, pulling away just enough to wipe her eyes. “You guys are just going to make fun of me.” She sounds too young, like when she used to get mad at Gemma for teasing her. Her voice is wavering.

“No, we won’t,” Louis promises just as quietly.

Gemma shakes her head.

“Can I hang out with you guys?” Harry asks softly. “Please?”

“Of course,” Louis says before Gemma can answer.

Harry’s stomach does a little flip. She smiles at him, careful.

Maybe she understands Niall’s new obsession with boys. Just a little. Or -- maybe she just likes having someone be nice to her.

*

Harry falls asleep on the couch that night, head on Gemma’s arm. They’re watching a football match (Louis’ choice, evidently) and it’s not until halfway through the game that she gets bored enough to pass out.

She wakes up on the couch alone, a blanket tucked over her and the lights off. It’s the middle of the night, but she doesn’t think she’ll fall back asleep.

She sighs, grabbing her phone off of the coffee table. Niall’s sent her a few messages, and she scrolls through them quickly.

From: Niall Horan

8:57 he just dropped me off ! such a good time ! think im in luv
9:15 harry harry harry harry harry
9:45 fine talk to u 2moro jerk

It’s one in the morning. Niall’s not likely to be asleep yet, but she still doesn‘t respond. For some reason, the thought of hearing all about Bressie makes her feel a little squirmy.

She’d rather, she thinks as quietly as she can, have Niall talk about her that way.

She curls up small. Gay, she thinks, mouthing the word into the darkness. Maybe she is, that. She doesn’t know any women like that, she doesn’t think, and she doesn’t have a problem with it but -- others might. And -- Niall might.

She isn’t, though. Louis. Louis is lovely. She could see herself wanting to kiss him. And Liam, too.

The thought is scary enough that she turns on the TV, switching to some show she’s never seen before just so she doesn’t have to think about it.

*

“We’re going to the mall!” Gemma shouts on her way out of the house. Louis is right behind her.

He pauses at the front door and nudges Gemma, who turns around to look at Harry, sitting on the couch with a mug of tea. “Want to come with us?” she asks.

Harry frowns. “Really?” Gemma’s never invited her anywhere, not with Louis.

Gemma nods, rolling her eyes. “Quick, tiny.”

She grins and runs to grab her shoes, darting out of the house after the two of them.

Louis has just gotten his license and he spends the whole time making sharp turns and big hand gestures, and he doesn’t stop talking the entire time. It’s a little intoxicating, Harry thinks. She stays relatively quiet. She’s two years younger than them, can’t compete with their adventures. The most she and Niall do is -- well, what Niall and Bressie have done together. They talk about boys and what they’ll do when they’re older.

Louis is sweet, though, and when he teases her (as he does with everyone, from what she can gather) she just blushes and laughs.

He doesn’t make her stomach flip like Niall does, but it’s something nice. She walks out of the mall with a new purse swinging from her wrist and feeling happier than she has in a while.

*

She spends most of her time over the next week with Gemma and Louis. She turns her phone off after a while. She isn’t mad at Niall, but when she thinks about her there’s a sadness in the pit of her stomach that she doesn’t understand.

Gemma doesn’t ask her about it, but Louis does, one day when Harry’s attempting to make a smoothie. (The first one had ended up all over him. Harry had just managed not to laugh.)

“So why are you hanging with us lately?” he asks, handing her the strawberries.

She shrugs. “Dunno what you mean.”

He gives her a look. “When was the last time you saw Niall?”

She doesn’t answer, turning the blender on and staring at it. She manages to make it correctly this time, but when she gives him his he’s frowning hard like he does when Gemma’s particularly nasty.

“A week ago,” she says, shrugging. “She’s hanging out with Bressie.” She spits his name out. She hates herself, a little.

Louis’ face goes soft. “And you don’t like Bressie?”

“I don’t know Bressie,” she tells him earnestly. “I’d like him. Niall likes him.”

“And you like Niall.”

“She’s my best friend,” she tells him firmly. She feels a little like she’s going to be sick if he asks her any more questions about it. Her heart’s about to beat out of her fucking chest.

But he doesn’t. He just says, “Okay,” and hands her a glass for her own smoothie.

She leaves the kitchen without another word, crawling into her bed even though it’s the middle of the day.

She turns on her music and falls asleep, refusing to think about it.

*

“Harry,” Gemma murmurs, shaking her shoulder.

Harry makes a little noise, rolling over.

“Harry, wake up.”

“No,” she pouts, covering her head with her pillow.

Gemma sighs. “Niall’s here.”

Harry freezes, but doesn’t actively move. “I don’t care,” she grumbles.

“Oi!” Niall yells. “That’s no way to treat your best mate!” A second later, she’s jumping on the bed, knocking Harry’s hands aside and nearly kicking her in the shin.

Harry rolls over again, blinking at the sudden light of Gemma opening the curtains. “You’re terrible,” she groans. She’s not sure who she’s talking to. Both of them. Everyone.

“You’ve been avoiding me,” Niall accuses, kicking at her.

Harry shrugs, sitting up. She pulls the covers over her lap. In the back of her mind, she has the distinct feeling that something monumental happened the day before, but she barely remembers it, too sleep-drunk.

Niall reaches out, putting a hand on Harry’s leg over the covers. “You okay, Haz? You’ve not been around.”

“I, uh,” Harry says. “Been hanging out with Gemma and Lou, this week.”

Niall hums. “Didn’t know you were close with Lou.” There’s something odd at the edge of her voice, like she’s not being totally honest. Harry doesn’t have the time or the mental energy, really, to unpack it.

“Didn’t know you were close with Bressie, until you were,” she says lightly, shrugging.

Niall gives her a look. “I talked to you about Bressie before, though,” she says, narrowing her eyes.

Which -- true. “I don’t have a crush on Louis, though,” Harry says. She’s this close to wrinkling her nose at the thought. Louis is cute, and she would kiss him if he gave her the option, but that’s just because she wants to kiss everyone.

“Well, why not?” Niall asks.

Harry shrugs. She looks down, picking at the fringe on the edge of her quilt. “Dunno. Just don’t.”

“I have a crush on every boy,” Niall sighs dramatically, dropping back. “It isn’t fair. Take it away, Haz!” She rolls toward her suddenly, and they both nearly fall off the bed before Harry manages to catch herself, flailing out and smacking the edge of her nightstand.

“Ow,” she grumbles, glaring at Niall. They’re close enough that she can see the little bit of her sunburn, the way her freckles are dusted across her cheekbones.

Bressie gets to kiss her.

Niall giggles, sitting up and tying her hair up with a scrunchie she’s evidently stolen off of Harry’s nightstand. “So,” she says dramatically. “You’re not mad at me? You’re just being a tit?”

Harry rolls her eyes and doesn’t answer the question. “I do have friends other than you,” she points out.

Niall waves a hand. “Unnecessarily so. You don’t need ‘em! I’m the best you could ask for.” That gets her laughing, so hard she nearly falls off of Harry’s bed again.

Harry can’t help but laugh with her. She’s just -- infectious, is all, and amazing, and sweet, and she never wants to let her go.

All you need is me, too, she thinks hopefully, desperately like she’s never felt. It isn’t true, not really.

Still, when Niall asks her for breakfast, she goes.

*

The summer passes in much the same way. Louis doesn’t ask her any more questions about Niall, and neither does Gemma, but Harry catches the both of them looking at her, sometimes.

It makes her feel uncomfortable; she’s only fourteen, she knows, but that doesn’t mean they can look at her like they’re pitying her, like she’s just some kid.

She tries to talk to Gemma about it, but the words never come out. She doesn’t know how to explain the obsessive jealousy she’s feeling, the way she only wants Niall to want her like she only wants Niall without making it sound like -- well.

It isn’t until they go back to school, until Harry sees Zayn Malik walking through the halls and her legs turn into absolute jelly, that she thinks -- maybe it isn’t just Niall. Maybe it’s her.

*

“Harry,” Liam says one afternoon, coming up to her at lunch.

She jumps a little, smiling at him. “Yeah?”

He sits down across from her. “I need you to tutor me.”

She frowns. “I’m younger than you.”

“But you’re smarter, as well.”

She shrugs. “Not really, but --”

He looks almost pained when he interrupts her. “Can you just help me in chemistry? You took it last year and I haven’t taken it and I don’t understand and your sister said you’d be willing?” He gives her a charming smile.

Harry’s honestly a little floored by it. “Um. I guess I could?” she offers.

“Great! Thank you, Harry, really. I’m so nervous I’m going to fail and I just -- thank you.”

She blushes. “You’re welcome,” she murmurs. “We can, um. Go to the library tonight?”

Liam nods fast, grinning. “I’ll drive.”

Harry’s never thought of herself as much of a teacher, but that night is nice. She and Liam find a table all the way in the back, and both of them have brought their textbooks (with Harry’s answers filled in, because she loses papers all the time and her teachers have all but given up on her keeping her books in anything but terrible condition).

“And so when you do the experiment in class,” she tells him, pointing to the little diagram she’s drawn, “it should look like that. Unless you’ve put the wrong amount of something in -- you have to be very careful with that. It could explode.” It couldn’t, but Liam’s face when she says it is really funny.

Liam nods, frowning, eyebrows knit together. “Right,” he says slowly.

Harry smiles at him, sitting back in her chair. She pulls her legs up onto it, hugging them to her chest. “Do you want to go over the flashcards again?”

Liam hums and shakes his head. “Nah,” he says easily. He smiles at her, slow.

She blushes. “You, um,” she says, articulate as ever. “Want to go, then?”

“Sure,” he murmurs, gathering his books together. “I’ll give you a ride home?”

She nods, grateful. She packs up her backpack and they walk out together. She’s standing a little way away from him, doesn’t want him to think -- anything. Her heart is pounding.

Briefly, she wonders if this is how Niall feels every time she has a crush on someone. If so, she doesn’t want it.

“So I don’t want to brag,” Harry says when they’re in the car, her feet up on his dashboard, “but I think you’re going to do really, really well on the exam.”

Liam laughs shakily. “I hope so.”

“You will! You just have to be more confident in yourself,” she tells him, seriously. “You’re really smart, Liam, you just second-guess yourself.”

He scoffs. When they’ve stopped at a red light he looks at her, the light falling over his face. “Do you want to go to the dance with me?” he asks.

She goes still. “I’m sorry?”

“Just as friends!” he tells her quickly. “Or -- not as friends. But like. No pressure. Just. You’re really nice, and you’re pretty, and --”

“Sure,” she says, before she can stop herself. Her heart’s absolutely pounding in her chest.

He raises an eyebrow. “Really?”

“Yes,” she says. “Gemma’s going with Lou anyway, we can all go together.” She’s pretty sure she’s bright red. It isn’t a good look; she’s seen herself blush before.

Liam doesn’t seem to mind, bless him. He keeps smiling at her, and doesn’t stop the whole way home.

*

Niall’s got her arms crossed over her chest, pouting ridiculously. “You’re not going to the dance with me?”

Harry shrugs, looking at her feet. “I thought you’d, you know, understand.”

Niall frowns. “I mean. I just thought -- we had plans.”

“Why don’t you ask Bressie?” Harry asks quietly, a little desperate.

She shakes her head sharp. “I don’t like him anymore,” she mumbles at her feet.

“Oh,” Harry says. Her hands twitch. “D’you want a hug?”

Niall nods, and when she looks at her she’s got tears in her eyes.

“Niall,” she whispers, crushing her in a tight hug. “Do you want me to cancel on Liam? I can do that?”

Niall shakes her head. “It’s fine,” she mumbles. “I just, like. Don’t forget about me, now that you’re going out with boys and stuff?” She trails off at the end.

Harry’s been furious at her for weeks for that exact thing, but she doesn’t mention it. Not when Niall’s crying. (She’s maybe a little vindictively glad that Niall and Bressie aren’t going out anymore, but she can recognize when she’s being ridiculous.) “I could never forget about you,” she mumbles into Niall’s shoulder.

Niall sniffles. “You better not.”

You either, Harry thinks, but she doesn’t say it out loud. Not yet.

*

Gemma and Harry get ready together, in the bathroom with two mirrors and two sinks.

Harry’s wearing mostly Gemma’s makeup; she doesn’t have much of her own, but she’s been learning, the past year or so.

“I can’t believe my little girl’s going ot her first dance,” their mum says at the door, wiping at her eyes and watching them.

Gemma rolls her eyes, finishing putting mascara on Harry. “Blink a few times, make sure you’re comfortable,” she says. To their mum, she says, “Harry’s not that grown up yet, Mum, don’t worry.”

Harry pouts. She feels grown up; she and Gemma had gone and bought their dresses together and everything, no input from real adults.

“And she has a date,” their mum says, as though she hasn’t heard what Gemma’s said.

Harry smiles, going pink.

“Yes, she does,” Gemma says, giving her a look Harry doesn’t understand. “Liam’s the nicest guy I know, though, Mum, he’s gonna treat her well. All right?”

Harry frowns, but waits until her mum’s out of the room to ask, “You didn’t tell Liam to ask me to the dance, did you?”

Gemma wrinkles her nose. “Eurgh, no. I wouldn’t suggest my sister as a date, no matter how much I love you.” She shrugs. “He is great, though, and Mum was gonna freak if I didn’t say it. That’s all.”

“All right,” she says, and goes pink again at the thought of dancing with him. Kissing him, maybe.

As though Gemma’s read her mind, she makes a face as she picks up the blusher to finish Harry’s makeup. “You’re still my sister,” she says. “I’ll tell Liam to keep his hands off you.”

Harry rolls her eyes, crossing her arms and standing up. “I’ll be fine!” she insists. “Even if he does want to kiss me. Which -- I don’t even know if he does!” She’s shrieking a little, has to calm herself down.

The doorbell rings.

Harry sits heavily on the edge of the bathtub, looking at her lap. “That’s probably them,” she says. She feels a little like she’s gonna throw up.

Gemma kneels in front of her and pushes her hair behind her ear. “Come on,” she murmurs. “It’s your first date, it’s okay that you’re nervous. I’ll be there the whole time.”

“What if he doesn’t like me?” Harry mumbles.

Gemma smiles softly. “He will. He already does, that’s why he asked you.”

“What if I don’t like him?”

“Then you’ll have an awkward night, and you can complain all about it to Louis and I later.” She gives her a little smile. “You ready to come down?”

Harry takes a couple breaths. The doorbell rings again. “Yeah, I am,” she says, standing up. “How do I look?” she asks Gemma.

Gemma smiles. “You look beautiful.”

She stands up and looks at herself in the mirror. She’s wearing pink. She’s not sure it’s her color, but Gemma had insisted she get it.

She kind of doesn’t look like herself. Or -- she looks older. Better.

She smiles and heads downstairs.

*

Liam and Louis spend the entire car ride bickering.

They’re up front, with Gemma and Harry in the back, and from the moment they take off to the moment they get to the dance they don’t stop arguing.

Harry gives Gemma a questioning look. Gemma just shrugs.

When they get out, Liam takes her arm, smiling. “You look really pretty,” he says, earnest and quiet like ten seconds before he hadn’t been yelling at Louis to drive faster.

Harry grins. “Thank you,” she murmurs.

There’s a tap on her shoulder.

She spins around. “Niall!” she says, throwing her arms around her. “You came!”

“Course I did,” Niall says. She steps back, biting her lip. “How do I look, then?”

Harry can’t breathe for a second. She’s in a pale yellow dress that matches her hair (still bleached), and she’s -- “Amazing,” Harry whispers.

Niall’s eyes widen at her for a second, and then Liam’s tugging Harry’s hand toward the door. “We should go inside,” he murmurs.

“Right,” Harry says, dazed. She gives Niall one last smile, and turns back to him.

*

Niall is the most beautiful person at the dance. Harry has no idea how she doesn’t have a date.

They dance together to half the songs, and the other half Harry’s with Liam and Louis and Gemma, giggling in the group.

Her feet hurt like hell, but it’s worth it.

*

“This is the last dance of the night,” the DJ says into the microphone, and puts on a slow song, one Harry doesn’t know but that sounds vaguely familiar.

Liam holds his hand out for her. “May I have this dance?” he asks.

Harry laughs and gets up. Her cheeks are flushed, hair fallen out of its bun by now. She’s stepped out of her heels (Gemma’s advice). She follows him out onto the dance floor, putting her arms around his neck.

Liam smiles at her. “You’re beautiful,” he murmurs.

“Thank you,” she says, and it feels odd, formal. Her heart is racing. “Are you going to kiss me?”

Liam laughs, brighter than before. “I can,” he offers.

Harry nods, feeling her lips pull up into a smile without any input from her. “Please,” she says quietly, happily.

He leans down and kisses her, hands going still on her waist.

It’s soft, and chaste. It’s not exactly like she imagined; a quick press of lips, not more than two heartbeats long.

Liam rests his forehead against hers, taking a slow breath. “Thank you,” he whispers.

“You’re welcome,” she says, though she has no idea for what.

He pulls her in a little closer, still a respectful distance between them, and they dance again, moving to the beat. Harry barely manages to not step on his toes, not once.

She catches sight of Niall, sitting at their table, holding a cup of punch. She looks small and sad, her heels hanging off her feet. She’s still so, so radiant.

Harry’s heart hurts to look at her too long. She breaks the gaze, looking instead at Liam.

Liam smiles.

*

Liam drives the two of them home, Louis in the passenger seat next to him. He’s dozing as they drive, looks like he’s had a rougher night than Harry has.

Gemma rests her head on Harry’s shoulder, grabbing her hand and holding on.

Harry’s desperately afraid something bad happened, but she waits until they’re home to find out.

“He just… told me he’s not interested in me romantically,” Gemma sighs. “Which I knew, but it’s something different to hear it directly, you know?”

Harry frowns. “Yeah,” she says, giving her a hug. Her dress crinkles a little, she’s hugging her so hard.

Gemma rubs her eyes. “I’ll be fine,” she says. “And I want to hear all about it tomorrow, okay?”

Harry nods. She lets her go off to her room, goes to her own so she can get out of her dress.

First, she takes a look at herself in the mirror; her makeup is smeared, her hair a mess, tumbled down around her shoulders. Her dress looks nice, though. She could wear it again.

She changes into a big sweater and crawls into bed, closing her eyes. It’s early, barely gone nine, but she’s exhausted.

There’s a knock at the door from downstairs, followed by soft murmurs by her mum and the guest. Harry doesn’t pay it any mind until Niall makes her way into her room, biting her lip. She’s still in her dress. She still looks gorgeous.

Harry scoots over, making room for her. “You all right?” she asks as Niall crawls into the bed.

Niall nods, burying her face in Harry’s shoulder. “I just missed you, is all,” she murmurs.

Harry doesn’t believe her, but she’s had quite a night. She doesn’t say anything, just rolls onto her side and lets Niall cuddle her to sleep.

*

In the morning, Niall’s already gone. Harry tries not to read anything into it.

She has a text from Liam, had a gr8 time last niteeeeeeeeee, and she smiles as she replies.

It was nice, going to the dance with him, but she doubts they’ll go out again.

(In the end, she’s right. They become friends but nothing more, and Harry’s okay with that. A year later, she’ll tell him he was her first kiss, and he’ll be honored. She won’t talk about the kiss with Niall, when she was a little girl, even if she counts that more than her second-long press of lips with her fourteen-year-old crush.)

*

“Did you have a nice birthday?” Gemma asks, the night of Harry’s seventeenth.

All her friends have gone home, and it’s just the two of them, together on the couch. Harry’s playing with the hem of her dress, eyes downcast.

“Yeah,” she says quietly, though she’s been thinking about something, all night; how she can never keep her eyes off pretty girls, how boys have little to no meaning in her mind, how she might be head-over-heels in love with Niall. “Great. Thanks.”

Gemma hums. “You all right?” she asks softly, rubbing her back.

Harry nods. “Just -- what would you say if I said I weren’t into, like, Liam? Or -- not just people like Liam?”

Gemma’s hand pauses on her back. “What do you mean?”

“I think I’m. I think I like girls,” she says, pushing the words out. She squeezes her eyes shut. “As well as boys.”

“Oh,” Gemma whispers, and then wraps her in a hug, close enough that Harry can barely breathe, can only smell her perfume, flowery and sweet. “Thank you for telling me.”

Harry nods, gripping the back of her shirt. “Is that okay?” she asks in a tiny voice. She feels twelve again, barely having figured it out, no idea what to do with herself.

Gemma nods. She runs a hand down her back, soothing. “Does anyone else know?”

She shakes her head, and then pauses. “Louis might. He said something, a couple years ago. I don’t know if he’d remember, but I -- I mean. I haven’t told anyone.”

Gemma smiles at her. “Well. Thank you for telling me,” she whispers. “Are you going to tell Mum?”

Harry shrugs, eyes going wide. “I want to? But -- I’m scared.” She pauses. “Can you be there when I do?”

“Course,” Gemma says, like there was never a question, and Harry loves her so desperately it hurts.

*

Her mum cries, but that’s par for the course. She hugs Harry, and then Gemma, and promises to be the best mum in the world.

After, Harry goes out for ice cream, just her. She needs some time to think about things; to decide whether to tell Niall, or anyone else.

The ice cream girl, a pretty girl with dark, dark hair who’s about a million meters tall, winks at her.

Harry giggles, going bright pink.

(Every time she catches herself flirting with a girl who isn’t Niall, she feels a little more comfortable. It isn’t a fluke, or a mistake. It’s just -- who she is.

And now that she’s told Gemma, she feels solid with it.)

She gets chocolate chip and walks a little away, sitting down on a bench by a tree as she eats it. It’s nice here; comfortable. On the edge of the park, a group of children are playing football. Every one of them, though they can’t be older than six, look more comfortable on their feet than Harry is on hers.

She finishes her ice cream and waits a long while before she goes back home, crumpling her napkin into a tiny ball and tossing it in the trash can. (She misses the first time and, bright pink, has to run and grab it to throw it away again.

At the ice cream stand, she catches the girl working there laughing at her.)

*

She goes back every day that week. She likes the quiet of the park, the fact that it’s always different and always the same.

She still has no idea what she’s going to do about Niall.

On her third trip, a shadow falls over her. She squints up.

The girl from the ice cream stand is standing there, a bunch of napkins in hand. “Hi!” she says cheerfully.

Harry grins and scoots over. Stranger danger is a thing, yes, but she’s seen this girl four days in a row and could probably pick her out of a lineup. And if she tries anything, Harry’s got a massive scream on her.

“I know you from somewhere,” the girl says, frowning and pointing at her. “But I dunno where. Help a girl out?”

“You, uh. You used to work at that record store on fifth. I come in with m’friend Niall sometimes. She’s blonde, pretty.”

“Oh, of course!” the girl says, handing her a napkin. “You’re the one with the good music taste, and I’m not just saying that because you’ve got nice eyes. And I still work there, this is just to help out a friend. Nick Grimshaw.” She holds out her hand expectantly.

Harry takes it, a little flummoxed. “I’m Harry,” she says, and regrets taking her hand as soon as they meet. She’s all sticky. She probably shouldn’t have gotten a cone, she thinks belatedly.

Ah, well. Moving on.

“So,” Nick says, dragging it out. “Do you just really like ice cream and brooding in public parks, or what?”

Harry’s stomach flips. It’s absolutely awful. She’s just -- distracted by her cheekbones and her quiff and the bright pastel shirt she’s wearing, even. “I like ice cream, is all,” she mumbles.

Nick grins, bright. It reminds her, awfully, of the way Niall smiles at her.

“Why do you work two jobs?” Harry asks before Nick can get any barbs in.

Nick rolls her eyes, leaning back on her hands. “Parents politely and respectfully asked me to leave the house, and a friend of mine’s havin’ a baby this summer. Asked me to fill in for her, you know.” She hums. “Anyway, I like ice cream, and it’s close enough to the pool that I can go for a swim afterward.”

Harry nods slowly. She’s been meaning to get a job. “Are you, uh. Hiring?” she asks.

Nick grins again. “Not at the moment, nah. All filled up, thanks to me. But try again in the spring, I bet I could talk to Aimee, put in a good word for you.” She winks.

“Aimee is…” Harry begins.

“The pregnant friend! So sorry. She’s a delight, really. Says she’s definitely coming back next summer, but in my opinion she’s going to fuck off with Ian -- that’s the dad -- and need another replacement. Shame, really, she’s been working here for years while she tries to make it as an artist.” She shakes her head, pulling out a pack of cigarettes. “That reminds me.” She taps one out and holds out the pack to her. “Want one?”

“No, thanks,” Harry says.

Nick shrugs, lighting up. Her expression doesn’t change, but Harry feels a little like she’s disappointed her.

All of a sudden, she feels very determined to make this Nick like her. “Actually, you know what? Sure,” she says. She holds out her hand.

Nick snorts. “Hang on, how old are you? ‘m I encouraging the corruption of a minor?”

“Seventeen,” Harry says, wrinkling her nose, and before Nick can take it back she grabs the lighter out of her hand, lighting it.

She’s faced with a problem nearly immediately -- she doesn’t know how to smoke. She tries inhaling and splutters, wrinkling her nose.

“Christ, it isn’t weed,” Nick says, rolling her eyes and snorting. “This is why you young people shouldn’t smoke. God, I’m a terrible influence and we’ve just met.”

“Absolutely,” she agrees, nodding and standing up. She takes another drag, and when Nick looks at her appreciatively she feels like she’s won something. “On that note, I should, um. Get going.” She hands the cigarette back to Nick. “Meeting a friend somewhere.” Niall, hopefully.

“All right,” Nick says cheerfully, waving at her. “Cheers.”

“Cheers,” Harry calls back, and turns around, walking out of the park a bit more quickly than she normally walks. She doesn’t stop until she gets to Niall’s house.

“Hi,” she says when Niall answers the door, and throws her arms around her.

Niall wrinkles her nose, shoving at her. “Eurgh. You smell like smoke. The fuck you been up to?”

“Oh, I -- smoked. A little.”

Niall smacks her on the arm.

Really, Harry doesn’t blame her.

“Why’d you do that?” Niall asks, wrinkling her nose. “Ugh. Change clothes, my mum’ll have my head if she smells this. Call you a bad influence, and then I’m not gonna be able to hang out with you anymore, which, let me tell you, gonna break my heart.”

“Niall,” Harry says quietly.

Niall turns around, tilting her head. “Yeah, Haz?”

“I, um. I have something to tell you.”

*

Later that night, head on Niall’s lap, Harry feels truly, completely content for the first time in a long time.

“D’you also like boys, then?” Niall asks, voice sleep-slow, hazy.

Harry shrugs, letting her fingers go through her hair. “I guess. Mostly girls. Sometimes boys. I, um. Met a girl today, actually.”

Niall’s fingers still in her hair. “Oh?”

“Yeah. That girl that works at the record shop? Her name’s Nick and she’s just -- I mean, she’s a lot older, but she’s so pretty. And nice. She’s the one I, um, got the cigarette from.”

Niall’s quiet for a minute.

Harry sits up. “Are you really okay with this?” she asks in a near-whisper. “Please. Don’t lie to me.”

Niall grins at her, resting a hand on her cheek. “Harry. Course I am. Just don’t want some cool older girl stealing my best friend from me. That’s all.” She grabs her hand, pressing their palms together. “Blood sisters,” she reminds her. In the light, she looks like she’s blushing.

Harry goes pink as well, shifting so she’s lying on the bed next to Niall instead. “Never gonna leave,” she promises.

“You better not,” is the last thing Harry hears before she falls asleep.

*

Harry stays friends with Nick through the school year. She buys entirely too much music based on a promise of, “You’ll love it Harry, I swear!” and properly meets Zayn, the girl with the undercut and the pierced lip that’s got the most eclectic taste in music of anyone Harry’s ever met. She’s also absurdly pretty, but Harry meets loads of pretty girls. She can handle it, now.

She falls for Nick quickly but within a month it’s faded to a friendship. She couldn’t see herself with someone like Nick, tempting as it may seem.

Niall’s graduating, a year before Harry, and Harry helps her move into her flat in the middle of winter, curing her last semester. From then on, she spends most of her time there, curled up on one of Niall’s couches and reading a textbook or studying for an exam.

“You should meet Nick,” Harry pouts, one Friday evening, bundled up in her clothes and tugging at Niall’s hand. “She’s one of my best friends, and I think you’ll love her.”

“I’m sure I would, I’m just -- really busy,” Niall insists, extricating herself from Harry’s grip. “Next time, I promise.”

Harry pouts. “You always say next time,” she grumbles, but leaves, and picks up a pack of Niall’s favorite gum on the way back to her place.

*

True to her word, Nick gets Harry the job at the ice cream parlor the next summer. She gets to wear a mint green shirt and a horribly cute sundae-shaped hat, and she’s pretty sure this is the only job she’s ever gonna need.

She’s working alone most days; she’s the only one that needs to work, it isn’t busy enough.

Her steadiest customer is, surprisingly, Niall, who generally shows up about halfway through Harry’s shift and hangs out until the end of it, when they go to the city pool. Liam’s got a job as a lifeguard this summer, and Harry and Niall go to enjoy the sun and watch a desperate Louis attempt to flirt with him. It isn’t really warm enough to swim, but the entertainment is well worth it.

“I’m surprised Louis didn’t kill you for going out with him that one time,” Niall says, shaking her head as she watches Louis attempt to fake drown for the third time that week. She holds out her bag of candy.

Harry takes a couple, humming thoughtfully. “I was fourteen, is probably the reason.” She pauses. “I’m surprised too, though.” She still feels a weird protectiveness over Niall, even if her crush -- her love, whatever -- has calmed down over the years. She can accept that Niall doesn’t want to be with her. She’d thought, when she’d first come out… but no. Niall would’ve made a move by now.

Niall snorts when Liam starts yelling at him. “Want to get dinner?”

Harry grins. “Absolutely.

*

Niall stops her skateboard in front of Harry, grimacing at the sign in front of her. She’s dressed in a yellow sundress, because she has no idea what is and isn’t proper skateboarding attire.

Regardless, Harry grins, leaning on her arms over the counter. “Morning, Nialler!”

“Harry,” Niall says, pointing to the chalk-drawn sign. “That’s a terrible pun.”

“Might be, but I’m the only one who works this shift and as of now we’re called Sundae School.” She grins wide, bursting into giggles. She’d thought of it the night before and written it down in her phone, too pleased with it to let it go to waste.

Niall rolls her eyes, but before she can say anything a group of kids comes up to the counter and she steps aside.

“Hi!” Harry says cheerfully, high-fiving one of the little girls she sees all the time. “Chocolate chip cookie dough, right?”

The little girl -- Anna, her name is -- nods fast, grinning.

She takes all of their orders and makes them quickly, giving the mum a discount because she comes here all the time and looks totally ragged every time she’s in.

“Have a great day!” she calls, waving as they walk away. She’s still smiling when she looks at Niall.

Niall’s face is entirely unreadable.

“What?” Harry asks. “I’m sorry -- just, I knew you wouldn’t mind waiting for your ice cream?”

“You’re really good with kids,” Niall says quietly.

“Oh.” Harry blushes. “Thank you.”

“No, just -- really good. Why don’t you try to be a nanny?”

Harry shrugs, scratching her nose where she’d gotten sunburned the other day. “I like this job. It’s easy money.”

Niall hums, looking down at her feet. “Do you think you might want to take a break from it?”

Harry frowns. “Why?” she asks slowly.

She bites the inside of her cheek. “I’ve talked about it with my mum,” she says slowly, and she’s still not answering Harry’s question, “and I’m moving to London in August.”

Harry’s eyes go wide. “And you wanted to tell me at work?” she asks, voice high and a little panicked. She’s losing her best friend. Her Niall, who’s never gonna know how she feels.

“Harry!” Niall says, grabbing her arm and holding her. “No, like -- it’s close, yeah? I can visit you all the time. I just thought you might want to take a couple weeks off, you know? Road trip with me.”

Harry is so desperately in love she feels like she can’t breathe, like she’s having a goddamn heart attack, but she manages to nod. “Yeah,” she says. “Road trip.” It comes out a little dazed; she doesn’t really hear what she’s saying, if she’s honest with herself.

Niall works her mouth. “Are you okay?” she asks.

“Just a surprise,” Harry says quietly. “I feel like I’ve barely seen you outside of here, and now you’re -- gonna be gone.”

“I was never gonna stay here forever,” Niall reminds her quietly.

Harry bites her lip. She doesn’t want to say it, doesn’t want to make Niall feel any shittier than she might already -- because Niall internalizes things, doesn’t like anyone to be in pain so she drags it into herself -- but she has to. “I just. I guess I always thought you’d wait for me and we’d live together?”

Niall’s mouth drops open.

Harry frowns, looking down at the counter. She grabs a rag, wipes down a streak of rainbow ice cream. “It’s okay,” she says, keeping her voice light. “I’ll see you tonight, yeah?”

Niall looks like she’s been slapped when Harry can finally work up the nerve to look at her. “Yeah,” she says anyway, and it sounds hollow, empty. “Yeah, okay. See you tonight.”

Harry smiles until she leaves, and then drops her head forward into her hands.

Niall’s leaving.

*

By that night, Harry has her plan in mind.

She’s going to get Niall to wait for her. Failing that, she’s going to get her to get a flat with two bedrooms so that they can live together. Painful as this pining might be, not having her in her life, her to come home to would be infinitely worse.

Niall’s sitting on the porch outside Harry’s house. She looks broken.

Harry holds out a hand for her, tugging her into a hug.

“Let’s go next week,” she mumbles. “I don’t want to wait until you’re leaving.” She pauses. “Also, that’s gonna be the easiest time to get some time off.”

Niall laughs, clinging to her. “God. Okay,” she whispers.

Harry swallows hard, holding her tight. “I love you,” she mumbles.

Niall nods. “I know. Love you too, Haz. And I’m not -- it isn’t you that I’m leaving.”

Harry shrugs, mouth twisting. “Feels like it, though,” she admits quietly.

“No!” she insists. “Never you. I just need to get out of this city, you know? And London -- that’d be amazing.”

“Won’t it be just as amazing in a year?” Harry asks. “When you can take me with you?”

Niall’s face falls. “Harry,” she whispers.

And -- that’s it. All that time they’ve spent talking about it… Niall’s gotten bored with her. Niall doesn’t want to live with her anymore.

Harry honestly feels a little like she’s going to be sick. “Right,” she says, as cheerfully as she can manage. It isn’t cheerful at all. “I’m gonna go back home, then. See you sometime.”

“Just come on this trip with me,” Niall insists, grabbing her around the wrist before Harry can walk away. “Please.”

Harry gives her a long, slow look. “You’re really not going to bring me just to tell me you hate me?”

“Trust me,” Niall says softly. “I just want to spend some time with you. Some real time. Like we used to.”

“Okay,” Harry whispers, biting her lip hard enough to leave a dent. “I -- I have an early shift tomorrow. So I’ll see you then.”

Niall nods slowly, looking miserable as she watches her. “See you then,” she mumbles.

Harry shuts the door behind her and takes a few shaky breaths, trying to calm herself down.

It doesn’t work. Neither does the long shower she takes, trying her best not to cry.

Niall’s gonna be gone. Niall doesn’t want to be her anything, anymore.

Harry’s never felt like this, never felt so hollowed out, so empty.

She doesn’t know what she’s going to do without Niall.

*

Harry talks to her boss, and texts Niall with the confirmed dates she can go -- in a week, right before summer proper starts, like she thought. They can handle losing a girl for a couple of weeks.

She doesn’t get a response for a couple of days, which… isn’t comforting, but it’s better than a text telling her she hates her, and that the trip’s off.

Harry takes a slow, deep breath, and then another.

Niall’s moving on, and so should she. This final road trip -- it feels like a goodbye, and she hasn’t even left yet.

The day before they’re meant to leave, Niall shows up at her house.

Harry’s sitting on her porch, reading a book she’d taken from Nick’s flat (Nick has the best taste in, like, everything, but for the wrong reasons a lot of the time). She looks up at her, taking her sunglasses and resting them on top of her head, shielding her eyes instead.

In Niall’s hands is the daisy hat, the one Harry had given her the second day they’d known one another.

Harry’s chest feels tight.

“I don’t want to leave you,” Niall says, fingering the edges of the daisy, looser now, after so many years. “I just want to leave here.”

She nods, looking down at her feet, bruised up from the impromptu game of footie she and Louis had played the other evening. “And how do I factor into that?”

Niall doesn’t answer for a second. “I want to take you on this trip,” she says instead, holding out the hat. “Please come with me?”

Harry takes it, thumbs over the same spot Niall had been touching only a moment ago. She should lie, should act as though she’s not completely down for anything Niall could ask.

Instead, she says, “I’ve already got my bag packed.”

*

They leave the next morning, five am because Harry likes to wake up early and Niall’s always been competitive. Niall comes over with coffee, and in the car are bottles of iced tea and lemonade and water, and snacks.

Harry grins as she gets inside. Already, the sun’s beating down on them and she flips down the visor, sticking her feet on the dash. “Gonna be a hot one.”

“Glad air conditioning exists, then,” Niall says dryly, and turns it on as well as the radio, some guy with a talk show beginning.

Harry yawns and settles down, curling up her shoulders to get comfortable.

Niall turns down the radio.

Harry sleeps through the first few hours of the trip, only waking up when Niall shakes her shoulder. It’s ten in the morning now, the motorway fuller than the early morning.

“I’m stopping for breakfast,” Niall says. “Want anything?”

They end up at a little diner Harry’s never been to, and they order more food than either of them can hope to eat. Niall steals Harry’s last bite of toast, and Harry steals her sausage, and they both drink more coffee than they should.

Finally, when they’re waiting for the cheque, Harry asks the question that she should have asked from the beginning. “Where are we going?”

Niall hums, thumbing at the napkin in front of her. “I want to show you where I’m living next year,” she says quietly. “And then… thought we could spend the night on a beach. Drive around, see some places. We haven’t done anything, just us, in a while.” She pauses. “You’re always with Nick.”

“I really do think you’d like her,” Harry says, but it feels hollow. She sighs, rubbing her face. “I just… I don’t know what she did wrong?”

“It feels like you’ve replaced her with me,” Niall says abruptly, and just then the waitress comes by with her change. She takes it and gets up, walking out of the diner and back into the car, her shoes heavy on the warm concrete.

Harry slides in, legs sticking to the seat. “Replaced you?” She opens a bottle of lemonade, holding it between her thighs while she buckles herself in.

Niall shrugs, starting the car and heading back to the freeway. “As your, like. Best friend.”

“She couldn’t,” Harry says, leaning her head back on the seat and watching her. Niall’s got on a pair of sunglasses she stole from Gemma and a shirt that was once Harry’s, before she cut the sleeves off. “You’re my, like. My most important person.”

Niall chews on the inside of her cheek, eyes moving to Harry’s just for a second. “Still?”

“Always,” Harry promises, and takes a sip of her drink.

*

Niall stops in front of a series of flats, knee jiggling. “This is it,” she says. “I don’t know which number yet, or I’d, you know. Take you for a tour. But my mum’s friend owns this place and she gave me this great discount.” She pauses. “There are some places with two bedrooms.”

Harry tilts her head, looking at her. “For you and…?” she starts.

Niall drums her fingers against the steering wheel, even though the motor isn't running. “You, if you want,” she says.

Harry works her mouth for a minute. “If I…” she starts, a little dazed. She’d been thinking of living with Nick, maybe, trying to commute to school, but this -- “You want me to live with you?”

“See,” Niall says softly, looking at her, and there’s so much light in her eyes Harry can barely breathe, “you’re not the only one who’s become rather attached. You’re pretty important to me, too, Styles.”

Harry grins, slow, and it takes everything in her not to kiss her. “Better hope I get into the law program here,” she says, and finally lets a little bit of excitement go through her, squeals.

Niall laughs. “I can help you apply.”

Harry sobers up a little, looking at her. “Why didn’t you just tell me?” she asks. “Could’ve saved me loads of heartache.”

“I was scared you’d say no,” Niall says, shrugging. “I thought, like, that if you saw it you wouldn’t be able to say no as easily.” She shakes her head, looking at the flat in front of them. “I really did think --” She cuts herself off.

“Hmm?” Harry prompts, nudging her.

“I thought you were, like, in love with Nick,” Niall says. She sounds like she’s about to say something else but doesn’t, mouth falling shut with a little noise.

Harry honestly feels a little lost. “I,” she says.

“Are you?” Niall asks, so, so quiet. “She was the first girl you told me about.”

Harry could hedge. It’d make more sense, for her to be in love with Nick, but she can’t lie to Niall. ‘Nah,” she says. “Just friends. I -- before, maybe, but nah. We’re friends,” she says again, unnecessarily.

“Like us?” Niall asks.

Harry doesn’t know how to answer that. “Well,” she says, and drops off, doesn’t say anything else.

Niall sighs, and starts the car. The radio pops on.

“Oh, I love this song,” Harry mumbles, and turns it up.

*

They make it to the beach that night, and lie out on the sand, just the two of them. Harry’s pretty sure they’re not allowed to be here, but Niall’s pretty and charming enough to get them out of most problems they wind up in.

Niall’s built a bonfire, and Harry sits next to her, drawing pictures in the sand with her toes.

The day feels like it’s gone by in a haze of switching drivers and loud music and crisp crumbs all over the car, but through it all is Niall asking that question.

Harry’s never had to be braver than she does right now.

“Hey,” she murmurs, nudging Niall, who’s got her head resting on her shoulder, eyes shut.

“Hmm?” Niall whispers.

“Nick and I… we’re not like you and me.” It’s the simplest way she can think to say it, the only way that doesn’t make her feel like she’s about to puke.

Niall nods, slow. “Because you’re not living with her?”

And -- she’s going to make her say it. “Really, just because I’m not in love with her,” she says quietly, more of a breath than anything else.

She closes her eyes. Niall’s not going to want to live with her. She readies herself for the shouting, the bad reaction she knows is coming.

“Really?” Niall whimpers.

Harry chances a look at her.

She looks overwhelmed, mouth open, eyes a little wet.

Harry just nods, can’t do anything else.

Niall squeezes her eyes shut, hands shaking. “I’m in -- you, too,” she says quietly, taking her hand.

Harry pulls her close for a hug, and it’s -- it doesn’t feel real, is the thing, it’s crashed over her and she doesn’t know what to do with this, with any of it. “I’ve loved you since I was, like, twelve,” she says, laughing, a wet sort of sound because she’s crying, of course she is.

Niall shakes her head. “No, you haven’t,” she says, scrambling to crawl into Harry’s lap, keeping her arms around her.

When she finally kisses her, it’s nothing like anyone else Harry’s ever kissed, because it feels like -- a thousand cliches, her heart slotting into place, like something she’s been waiting for for years.

“I love you,” she whispers, as forcefully as she can. It feels like the most important, most honest thing she’s said in ages.

Niall grins, kissing her cheek, quick. “I love you, too.”

*

Harry gets back home two weeks later sunburned and grouchy. Niall drops her at her house and Harry kisses her goodbye. She’s not sure she’ll ever get tired of this, the novelty of it.

She hopes she does. The part after, the settling into a forever relationship, is what she wants more than anything.

Gemma hums when she sees her, doing the dishes at the kitchen window. “I saw you kissing Niall,” she sings.

Harry can’t keep the grin off her face. Her phone buzzes in her pocket. I already miss you.

“Yeah,” she says, voice rough from days spent singing along at the top of her lungs to the radio and drinking too much. “You did.”

Gemma flicks water at her.

Harry squeals and jumps away, texting back, always miss you xxxx.

She heads upstairs to shower, letting her hair down as she does, heart light and -- well, happy.

That’s the only word for it.