Zayn only meets Liam because Louis keeps telling him he needs to actually socialise, with people, people who are not his teachers or Madam Pince or the stacks of books he checks out for "light reading" (even Louis admits some of the ones from the restricted section are pretty cool though). And Louis's been flirting with Harry since the beginning of the term, and Liam is Harry's friend, or rather Liam is a friend of Niall who is Harry's friend and... Socialising is exhausting, really. Zayn would rather sleep or read or take a long bath in the prefects' bathroom or a walk by the lake. When he tells Louis this, he just stares at him blankly for a moment before saying, "How did you even end up in this House? You're such a Ravenclaw."
Which is kind of rich coming from him, really, because he's been doing everything in his power to get into a Ravenclaw's pants.
When Zayn says this, though, Louis tells him to fuck off with a broad smile.
"Harry's different," he says after, like that settles it. And Zayn can tell how much he actually likes him from the way he says it, the look in his eyes. Because yeah, Harry's as ambitious as any Ravenclaw, and he wants to be Head Boy (and he probably will be, because he's smart and charming and students and teachers alike absolutely adore him), but he's also funny and cheeky and kind of mischievous and all the things Louis values most. He's really genuine though, and he cares about people, which means if anything happens between them, it won't be just another fling. And Louis knows that, and Zayn's pretty sure he's kind of scared of it even though he'd never admit it.
So, they're spending a lot of time together these days, Louis and Harry (and by extension, their respective friends), when they're not studying for their OWLs (or rather, when Zayn's not forcing Louis to study), or doing prefect duties (Louis tags along to mostly cause chaos, or contribute to Peeves' chaos), or going to Quidditch matches (Liam's actually on the Gryffindor team and Zayn will never admit to watching him a lot over the last couple years).
They've just had dinner and Louis and Harry are still caught up in their apparently hilarious but private conversation and Niall is still tackling dessert (he won't be done for a long time, Zayn knows from experience) when Liam comes in, looking wrecked from training.
"Wow, I'm starving," he says, sitting down next to Zayn and giving him a slightly tired smile that somehow still reaches his eyes. And yeah, that's still pretty weird, how cheery he is all the time, even when school and Quidditch practice are kicking his ass. Zayn's used to Louis' manic energy but Liam's quiet, innocent happiness is something he's not sure he'll ever understand.
Niall finally looks up from his plate, gives Liam an accusing look before pulling it closer to him.
Liam just rolls his eyes fondly. "I'm not the food thief, remember? That's Harry."
Harry seems to come out of whatever trance he and Louis are in when they're together.
"Did someone say my name? What are you talking about?" he asks, looking over at them confusedly.
Louis looks disappointed to not have his full attention anymore.
"Nothing, Haz," Liam says. "Just that you're a disgusting, thieving scoundrel."
"Yeah," Niall agrees with his mouth full, looking outraged.
Zayn can't help but giggle a little.
Liam looks at him with the strangest expression. It's a bit surprised, or curious, or both. Kind of like he's seeing something he's never really noticed before.
Maybe it's not too surprising, then, when Liam corners him after Potions.
"Hey, so, I've been trying to keep up but it's been hard, especially since I missed a few classes when I got sick after that insane match in the thunderstorm, so I don't know - I mean, you're basically at the top of the class, so maybe we can -" And he looks really nervous, and it's kind of adorable. And Zayn is pretty sure when Liam looks at someone like that with those puppy-dog eyes, they'd probably do anything up to and including murdering someone for him.
"Study sometime?" Zayn finishes.
"Yeah," he says, looking relieved. "I mean, if you're not busy."
"No, I'm not busy," he says, way too quickly, and that's probably a stupid thing to say anyway. It's not that he doesn't have a life or anything (Louis would most certainly argue otherwise), but he spends a lot of his time studying anyway, so it won't make much of a difference if he does it with Liam.
Who knows, really, maybe that will actually make it more enjoyable.
"A study date?" Louis asks, for probably the hundredth time, sounding more and more confused.
"It's not a date," Zayn replies, again. "It's just studying."
"No, that doesn't make any sense. He's a hot, muscley Quidditch player. And you've had a ridiculous crush on him for years. And you haven't gotten some in, well - let's not go there. How is this not a date?"
"Firstly, muscley's not a word -"
"You're so anal, oh my god," Louis protests, almost laughing.
"- secondly, I have not had a crush on him. And thirdly -"
"Yes?" Louis says, expectantly.
"It's not any of your business how often I 'get some', okay?"
"Yes, it is. I'm the one that has to deal with you being a moody bitch all the time."
"I'm not a moody bitch."
"See? Now I can't take anything you just said seriously."
"You're the worst friend ever," Zayn says with a straight face.
"Hey. Slytherin," Louis says, both index fingers pointing at himself.
It's really not a big deal, all things considered. It's kind of impossible to not feel comfortable around Liam after a while, and Zayn's always been good at talking about things that aren't personal. He's really not antisocial or anything. If he's interested in something, he could probably talk about it for hours. Small talk's always been sort of disconcerting for him though.
It's not long before they start straying from the subject matter, to things he's read otherwise. Liam looks really absorbed by all of it. He says he's a lot better at listening than reading, that he gets distracted easily by endless words on endless pages, and Zayn understands that about him. He supposes Liam's always been better at practical stuff than theory.
When Zayn was eleven and got his letter, the first thing he'd done was read everything he could find about magic and wizards.
Liam was probably more concerned about actually getting a wand in his hand, about diving in headfirst.
Zayn actually really likes that about him. He's not reckless, not like Louis, or even Harry sometimes. Maybe he's just brave. It's pretty cheesy to think about it like that but maybe he really is a true Gryffindor.
They study a couple nights every week and Louis asks him about it every morning after until he stops because, according to him, "That has to be the most boring foreplay I've ever heard about in my life."
Harry gives him a wink once when he sits down for breakfast, and he glares at Louis. Niall seems to be, as always, oblivious.
Liam smiles at him more than usual, and that's really nice, he has to admit. He'd even rested his hand on Zayn's thigh once for a second, out of gratitude maybe, but Zayn had startled so much he'd almost upset his pumpkin juice, so he hadn't tried it again.
He kind of wants to hold his hand on the table sometimes, though, just to see how it'd feel. But he reminds himself they're not dating, they're not, and it would probably be a disaster and then Louis would tease him until his dying day.
Maybe he wonders what it would be like though, if they were.
It pretty much happens with exactly no warning at all. Liam just asks him out of the blue.
"So, um, how about we go to Hogsmeade next week?"
He doesn't even register what it means for a few moments, and then his stomach is doing something weird and he's blurting out, kind of frantically, "Like a date?"
"Um, yeah, I guess?" He laughs nervously.
"Oh, yeah, okay," he says as casually as he can. It's kind of the hardest thing he's ever done in his life.
"Okay," Liam says, smiling for real now, and Zayn is so, so utterly fucked.
The next week is probably the craziest of his life, what with Louis constantly reminding him that he and Harry got to second base, and Zayn telling him he really does not need to know the details, ever, and then freaking out about his date at the least opportune moments.
Niall actually finds him in the bathroom between classes, thinking about maybe doing something drastic like flooding it and drowning himself.
"Hey, mate, you alright?" He approaches him cautiously.
"Yeah, just. My life is the worst."
"No, dude, that's definitely not true. I walked in on Louis with his hand down Harry's pants today. I think my life is definitely the worst."
Zayn can't help but laugh kind of hysterically at that. He turns around to look at him, leaning against the sink.
"Is it Liam?" Niall asks, looking actually concerned now.
"Yeah. I just - he's so great. And I'm scared I'll just end up being too weird or insecure or me and he'll get fed up of it, or I'll push him away, like I always do and -"
"Jesus, you really overanalyse stuff. You haven't even gone out with him yet."
"But it'll happen - it always happens. I'll just end up being a dick to him because I think he's too good for me."
"But - but it's Liam. Maybe you're underestimating him." Niall looks really sure about it.
Zayn hopes he's right.
They meet in the entrance hall and don't say a lot during the walk. It's not weird though. It's pretty nice after Louis talking his ear off all the time, and he suspects the same for Liam, who spends most of his time in the company of rowdy Quidditch players.
They get a drink at the Three Broomsticks and talk about exams for a bit and then their prospective careers. Liam says if the Quidditch thing doesn't work out, he'll probably end up working in his dad's office at the Ministry. He doesn't sound like he'd particularly mind though. Zayn tells him, and he realises he's never actually said it out loud to anyone, that he'd probably like being a teacher the most. Liam smiles kind of softly at him, and says, "You'd be great at it," like he really, really means it.
They go to Honeydukes and Liam buys him a huge chocolate bar that he hands over kind of shyly, and a pile of stuff for Niall because apparently he can smell candy on you. They stop by Zonko's to pick out the most ridiculous stuff for Louis' birthday. They end up having to hide behind the counter when they see Louis and Harry coming down the street, arm in arm. Louis's talking and gesturing wildly about God knows what, and Harry's staring at him like he's the centre of the universe.
When they're gone, Liam says, "They really like each other, don't they?"
"Yeah," Zayn says quietly. It's kind of surreal how fast they've fallen for each other, but how great they really are together, how he can't imagine it being any other way now.
"I really like you too," Liam confesses, not looking at him. Zayn has to tell himself to inhale and exhale.
Liam takes his hand when they're walking back to the castle and when he gets over his initial panic, it's actually ridiculously nice.
Nothing much changes, except Harry and Louis are even more handsy (they actually get reprimanded by McGonagall and Harry gets really embarrassed, which never happens, only it somehow makes Louis want to touch him even more). Zayn and Liam are stuck in that weird but pretty exciting place where they're just sort of waiting for something to happen - for one of them to make the next move. Zayn's pretty sure it'll be Liam, eventually, but it's been, like, two weeks and holding hands while walking to class is lovely and everything but he knows he's totally ready for more.
Liam looks at him sometimes, when he thinks Zayn's not paying attention, before he bites his lip and looks away and Zayn knows he wants too, he wants it just as much.
Gryffindor beat Hufflepuff in the last match of the term and Niall gets wasted on butterbeer. Zayn and Liam drag him back to his common room and put him in bed. (He's pretty certain Louis and Harry are off somewhere getting some private time in while everyone else is otherwise occupied.)
Zayn just looks at him when they're back outside the common room.
"What?" Liam asks.
"Nothing. It's just - you."
"What about me?" he says, looking amused.
"It's just - you're pretty much a hero tonight, and you leave your party to help your drunk friend. From the House you just beat."
Liam just shrugs, like he doesn't get why Zayn thinks that's a big deal at all. He's just doing what comes naturally, what he's probably done countless times before, putting other people before himself. He'd probably make a great Hufflepuff too, Zayn thinks. And maybe people's qualities really can't ever be simplified into one House's traits. Maybe they're all more inside than anyone will ever know.
And because Zayn's feeling brave all of a sudden, he looks Liam right in the eyes before he kisses him.
Liam makes a surprised noise, but then he's pulling him in, holding him close, like he wants to keep him, keep this.
Liam wakes him up a couple days later, passing a cup of coffee under his nose, and he laughs at his disorientation for a while before he says, "Come on. Let's go."
"For a walk," he says, like it's obvious.
Zayn groans, but gets up and starts putting on clothes.
It's freezing but Zayn keeps up with Liam for the most part. They slow down when they see Harry and Louis coming towards them, Niall a couple paces behind chewing on a piece of toast, looking cold and sleepy. They sit down on the shore, Harry half in Louis' lap, Louis' fingers running through his curls. Niall makes a face but then kind of grins at them and stretches out on the ground. Zayn just stands with Liam by the edge of the water for a while. Liam wraps an arm around his waist, tucks his face against Zayn's neck, and everything's kind of perfect. Just for that one moment.