Only of three things is Harry Styles certain of. First, that this is his first summer in the large city and he must make the most of it. Second, that his parents are pledging to have him married off to a wealthy benefactor by the end of the summer. Third, and this is most important of all, Harry doesn’t particularly care for the notion. In fact, he rather has his eye on a very different sort of prospect.
Still, his mum had gone on and on about how wonderful summers in Bath are, and now that he’s finally old enough to be of marriageable age, Harry finally has the chance to come along and experience the height of social life.
He explored the neighborhood; the houses that looked so identical that Harry would find himself lost after a turn too many or too few, the steep incline of some streets that left him gasping and reflecting on how sorely out of shape he is, the dogs barking at him out of windows and wagging their tails from the side of the pavement.
He explored the parks; the fastidiously kept greenery and flowers, the women walking carefully in the shade and the men out with cricket bats, the gently bubbling fountains and quacking ducks, the bridges that boasted having stood the test of time for longer than the rest of the city had been alive.
When his mum called him in and chastised him for his grassy knees - what if the neighbours saw? - he explored the house. There was a study in the front of the house full of mathematics books and a large globe (which Harry spun), there was a room on the second floor where he was staying that once belonged to the daughter of the family who owned the house (now off and married, he was informed) and was full of old combs and hair pins stashed in the backs of drawers. There was a room across from that one for Harry to entertain his friends in (not that he’d managed to make any just yet) with two tables for cards and a very nice tea set, and up another floor from that one was the room belonging to his parents.
That floor was where the staircase ended but Harry knew for a fact (from looking at it from the outside) that there was another floor. It took Harry much longer than it should have to find the way up - the servant’s staircase, carefully hidden in a dark corner where no one was supposed to notice it. He felt like a spy the first time he snuck up it, careful of the steps creaking under him. When he got to the top he was delighted to find a room much livelier than the rest of the house - beds lined up along one wall with sheets and clothes strewn about - so different from the pristine rooms of the rest of the house - and a table with a game of cards that looks like it’s been half played through and forgotten. It looked exciting, like a pirate ship crew could live here in the off season from bounty hunting.
Harry was so caught up in drinking in the room that he was too slow when a door at the opposite end of the room opened and a half dressed man walked through it before stopping dead in his tracks.
“You definitely shouldn’t be up here,” the man said with a frown. Harry wasn’t paying attention to his words so much as to the fact that this man was half dressed and his flat, tanned chest was on display.
Then that beautiful chest (along with the rest of the man, equally beautiful, Harry was finding) was coming toward him. “Go on,” said the man. “Shoo, I’m already late and if you’ve found something new to be cleaned then go tell the maids in the parlor about it.”
Thus, Harry found himself bundled out of the mysterious room on the top floor and the door closed behind him.
It only heightened his curiosity.
The second thing Harry learned was that he was a kitchen servant, which meant he worked primarily in the lower level and if Harry was polite to the head cook then no one batted an eye when he came down stairs to the kitchens.
No one, that is, besides Louis.
Louis rolled his eyes. He turned his back. He said things like, “You’re going to get me fired if you keep coming down here.” and “Your mum will have my head if you get soot on those clothes.”
Harry, not to be dissuaded, kept coming back.
It wasn’t just that Louis was good looking (although he certainly was). He was also loud in a way that made Harry smile whenever his unique pitch could be heard around the house (especially when it was in parts of the house that Louis shouldn’t have been in to start with). He was also headstrong, as Harry had walked in on Louis adding ingredients to the soup that the chef was making when his back was turned, even though Harry had seen him being told off for that only days before.
Harry’s favourite quality of Louis’s though, was the fact that while he tried to shoo Harry away constantly, Louis had yet to tell Harry that he didn’t want his company. So Harry kept coming back.
He was sat on a small stool in the back room of the kitchens, where Louis was most often found stoking the fires for whatever was brewing for supper. The room was used for food and kindling storage, as well as where most of the washing took place (Harry knew for a fact that his parents had never come down here, but somehow that made it all the more exciting a place to him).
Louis carried another shovel full of coal into the connecting room where the stove was lit. “Good,” he said. “You can finally make some friends and let me do my job,”
Harry stole a piece of sharp cheese off of the shelf and took a nibble. “I was thinking it’ll be rather uninteresting,” he remarked. “Without you there, I mean. Do you dance?”
“Do I look like I dance?” Louis asked with a roll of his eyes. “You get your arse upstairs and practise those dance moves before I get flogged for letting you take that cheese before supper,” he said. “Go on, princess.”
Harry pouted but he actually did need to be going. His mum had given him very strict instructions on where to be and when and dressed how, as she seemed convinced that Harry wouldn’t be able to do any of this on his own.
(Which, he definitely could. He just had to be motivated properly. Like by small men who smelled like oven fires and washing up liquid).
“Pick your feet up,” Louis said. Harry obeyed and Louis mopped under his seat at the edge of the wash tub.
“I feel that nobody really appreciates the art of conversation any more,” Harry told Louis.
“If you walk on this floor now that I’ve mopped it you’ll track water through the rest of the house and your mum will have my head.”
Harry looked down. The whole room was wet from the mop. “I just feel if I have to hear about hunting or cricket or horse races again I may need to flee back to the countryside again.”
Harry hummed, watching the sugar dissolve into his tea.
“We’ve found someone who your father and I believe is a good match for you. He comes from a good family, plenty of land of his own.”
Harry frowned. “What does it matter if the person I marry has land? I have land already.”
His mum sighed. “Yes, but it’s good to be thinking about the children. You’ll want enough for each of them, of course. It’s always a good investment to marry the best.”
Harry was already planning on marrying the best. He had found the best. He just wasn’t sure how to break it to his mum that the best didn’t come with a summer home and a good family.
“Anyway, Harry. We’ve arranged for him to come over for dinner. I believe you’ve already met him actually. Mr. James?”
Harry was glad that he had not been sipping from his tea, because he would have surely coughed it everywhere. “James?” he said, startled. “Why, I met him at the dance just a few weeks ago. Terribly boring man. Only has one subject he knows how to speak about!”
“Now Harry, I’m sure that’s not true,” his mum chided him. “Perhaps he was just nervous! You are quite the charmer when you want to be, you know.”
Harry had not wanted to be a charmer at that dance. He was all but certain that Mr. James knew of sugar and nothing else. He was not going to listen to facts about sugar for the rest of his days.
Something must be done.
“No you don’t,” said Louis.
At the table he found Louis along with the two servants who cleaned the upstairs quarters - Liam and Niall. They paid no heed.
“I do!” Harry said, pulling up a chair at the long table and sitting across from Louis. “Please tell me how to make sugar so boring that even a sugar fanatic may see the error of his ways.”
“Impossible,” Louis said. “It’s delicious.”
Harry groaned. “You’re no help! Liam, Niall, tell Louis to help me.”
Liam and Niall, smart as they were, stayed silent and continued to eat their dinner.
“Now don’t get them fired over this too,” Louis said. “Surely I’ll be fired any day now for even talking to you, much less plotting the downfall of a poor sugar fanatic.” He gathered his dishes and stood up to leave. “You rich people have the strangest obsessions. Stick to horse races like everybody else.”
Harry watched Louis leave with a sorrowful look. Louis wouldn’t spend all day talking about sugar.
When they all sat down for dinner after an ever so polite round of introductions, Harry sat across from Mr. James while his parents took up the ends of the table. Harry watched closely as Mr. James examined the dishes laid out upon the table. Normally, it would be customary to have out many nice sugar sculptures, to show off one’s wealth (as Harry was sure Mr. James was well aware). But, well, sometimes accidents happen and sometimes a great many sugar sculptures are smashed. It is but a fact of life.
It certainly seemed to have dampened Mr. James’s mood a bit, but he recovered well enough to discuss with Harry’s father such fascinating topics as the weather and London and, when those topics had been exhausted, Mr. James’s own sugar sculpture collection.
Harry could see that his father was a little put off by what he interpreted as Mr. James simply bragging about himself (Harry was pretty sure that was simply all Mr. James knew how to talk about). Still, they all soldiered on while Harry tried to remember everything his mum had taught him about sitting up straight and looking nice and presentable (because she was right there next to him, for heaven’s sake, so he would certainly hear about it later if he forgot any of her crucial courtship points).
Eventually, when the last course was taken away, Harry and Mr. James were excused to the drawing room for a chance to get to know one another. Harry figured this was going to be more talk about sugar sculpture and he was not disappointed. They had no more than sat down in the heavily decorative couches before Mr. James said, “I do believe you mentioned the last time we were together that you had some lovely sugar sculptures at your own home. Perchance any idea what could have happened to them?”
“Dissolved them, of course,” Harry told him, looking as stoic as possible. “Sugar sculpture is a waste of time, Mr. James, and there is no place for sugar better than in the bottom of a tea cup and I felt it was my own duty to make sure that was where it all ended up.”
Mr. James frowned. He pursed his lips. He seemed caught in a state of shock without knowing the most gentlemanly way to go about informing Harry that he could not be more wrong. While he was still ruminating over this issue, the door swung open (much louder than normal) and the servant with the tea set came in.
The servant was much clumsier than normal as well. There was quite a clatter when the silver tray was set down. Harry glanced up only to find an unexpected face of looking back at him.
He poured the tea.
Louis was not the servant who served the tea. There was a reason that Louis worked down in the kitchens. He was not good at being quiet. Harry worked to keep his face straight as Louis managed to clink the teapot against the teacup. He clinked the teacup against the saucer. He clattered about as he placed the cream and sugar upon the table between Harry and Mr. James.
He made so much noise that even Mr. James was briefly brought out of his state of shock. He frowned at Louis. Harry took offense to that frown.
“Your tea, sir,” Louis said, bowing low to Mr. James with one of the teacups in his hand. Just as Mr. James reached for it, Louis straightened back up and managed to knock the tea all down the front of poor Mr. James.
The man spluttered.
He jumped up.
The teacup clattered to the floor.
“Terribly sorry, terribly sorry!” Louis fussed, sounding much more posh than Harry had ever heard him before. “Let me just get that for you.”
Louis took a serviette from the tray and dabbed it all over the man, although it seemed to only spread the tea rather than clean it at all.
“I’m afraid you are absolutely covered in sugar,” Louis prattled, as Harry watched in awe. “This won’t do at all, you’ll be terribly sticky the rest of the night and I fear that it won’t come out of your clothes unless we wash them right this minute, so I fear you’re going to have to hand them over immediately.”
And, to Harry’s delight, and Mr. James’s protests, Louis began stripping the layers of clothing off of him, until all that remained were trousers and a thin vest.
“Will return, sir! Don’t you worry!” Louis called under piles of clothes as he hurried out the door, leaving Harry alone with a half naked man.
Mr. James frowned down at his torso. “I don’t suppose you have anything I could…” he asked helplessly.
“Afraid not,” Harry said with a shrug. “You’re a bit broader in the shoulders than I am, I’m afraid.”
They stayed there in silence for a moment while Harry watched Mr. James clearly struggle with how to address the turn that the situation had taken. That is, until Harry’s mum came into the room.
“I was informed of a commotion- Mr. James,” she cried, shocked. “I cannot believe you would be so terribly improper toward my son! What on earth were you thinking? This is in no way appropriate!”
And any protests he may have made fell on deaf ears as Mrs. Styles herded nearly-shirtless Mr. James out in a huff. She came back muttering of things like “improprietous,” “untoward,” ”indecent!” and when she saw Harry still sitting on the couch, she very sternly told him, “You must immediately inform us if any suitor behaves in such a way as Mr. James. That was not the sort of man I want for you, my Harry.”
Harry looked up at her with the most innocent expression he could muster. “But mum,” he said. “That’s what all the men at the dance are like. All terrible. I believe owning that much estate may do things to a man.”
He thought, perhaps, he overdid it with the last bit, but his mum simply sighed.
“Maybe you’re right,” she said. “But we will find a husband for you in Bath one way or another, you mark my words.”
Harry nodded gravely.
Harry looked at the sink Louis was looming over. “Are you dying Mr. James’s clothes brown?” he asked.
“I’m simply trying to get the stain out,” Louis sniffed, putting on an expression like Cook when she’s overworked.
“You do know mum ran him off?” Harry asked. “I had rather assumed that was your doing.”
“I haven’t the slightest clue what you’re talking about.” Louis said. “But he was a prat and you could do better.”
“Very true,” Harry agreed. “And if I were to receive some flowers from a mysterious suitor, I believe he would win over the hearts of my parents much faster than any of the men around here at this point.”
Louis seemed to consider this. Then told Harry to get his arse back upstairs before Louis got fired for lollygagging around.