It was the third time this week he'd seen the boy.
The first time, Harry had just walked past. He'd walked past like everyone in London does, ignoring those unlucky few stuck at the bottom. He had been sitting in a small patch of dry concrete between Harry's shop and the empty storefront next door. Things were getting emptier and emptier in this neighbourhood, and Harry had his own problems to worry about.
So he'd tuned out the sight of the boy, tuned out the racket of the cars whizzing overhead, tuned out the awful smog that clung to the ground, and opened his shop.
The next time was the same—boy huddled under the awning, Harry having other things on his mind—but this time, he paused. He took in the boy (or man, it was hard to tell his age from the shadows under his hood). He had beat-up athletic gear on, runners and fingerless gloves. A glint of metal from his left ankle also told Harry he'd been enhanced at some point.
Probably another person who'd been chewed up and spat out by grand ol’ London City.
Now, here Harry was. For a third time. Watching the boy as he ignored the world.
Harry noticed that he wasn't begging, he didn't have a hat out for credits. He was just trying to stay warm.
Harry went into his shop and made his usual morning coffee in the break room. While he was there, he made another.
The Boy looked up suspiciously when Harry approached.
"Morning, mate. I'm Harry, that one's my shop," Harry said. The boy didn't respond.
"Here," he offered the mug of hot coffee. "You can keep the mug, too. If you need it."
The boy looked between Harry and the coffee. He reached a hand up to push his hood down, and with the other he accepted the coffee.
Harry sucked in a breath at the sight of his face. He had piercing blue eyes, a soft fringe almost hiding his arched brows from view, and a lot of scruff. The way he squinted against the low light and the bags under his eyes told Harry he was almost definitely hungover.
"Cheers, mate," he said. His voice was soft, but it still seemed to puncture the smog around them. Harry felt he might have heard him clearly from a street away, if he spoke louder. It was also a little rough from disuse, sanded round the edges.
He took a long pull from the coffee. Harry took that as his cue to leave.
Harry started on his work for the morning—mostly just organising the new shipment of books and crystals. Harry had never planned on owning an occult store, but he'd found himself working at The Chain about ten years ago. He'd been younger, then, out options and out of money. He'd happened to walk past the store, his eyes caught on the jaunty sign in the window advertising ' candles, potions, miracles, and more! Make your dreams come true. Break the chain. '
He'd gone inside.
Stevie had been kind enough to take him in and show him all she knew, and when the time came for her to retire to the countryside to be with her coven she'd trusted only Harry to take over for her. He'd tried to tell her it was a bad idea—he'd never shown much skill for spells and witchcraft in all his years at the store—but she'd been adamant. Her and her coven still sent most of the stock Harry sold, though, so it still felt like she was a part of the store.
He'd just finished organising the selection of sigiled computer chips when the bell above the door rang. Harry smiled at the whimsical chimes he'd programmed it to play, turning to see who had entered.
It was the man. He looked around the store with an expression Harry couldn't place.
"Hi!" Harry greeted sunnily. His caffeine had kicked in and he was back to not being a grumpy asshole.
The man raised his eyebrows at him.
"I don't need this," he said, walking up to the counter and gently placing the mug Harry had lent him on it.
It was his white mug with a rainbow across it. Harry would have been sad to see it go.
"Thank you, though," the stranger added after a pause. He turned and walked back towards the door. There was a delicacy to his movements, a strength to his stride—even swamped in his clothes as he was. Harry couldn't even pick up a difference between his flesh leg and his prosthesis, which he understood to mean the man must have lived with it a long while. Harry was beginning to see there was more to him than met the eye.
The man paused as he pulled open the door. He turned.
"My name's Louis."
Then he was gone.
The man wasn't there when Harry locked up for the night. Thinking back, Harry didn't think he'd ever still been there at night.
Harry trudged his way home. It wasn't very far. In fact, he just had to walk around the corner, walk up some stairs, and he was there. Stevie had been gracious enough to let him move in to the upstairs of the store, but it was inaccessible from inside because of the strange way they'd divided the old building among its tenants. He shuffled up to his door, careful to avoid the creaky plank that always gave him a fright. He'd had a long day. Five different customers had asked him to curse their boss, three to heal their mechanical implants with herbs or some other garbage when all they needed was a restart or a software update, and one notable gentleman who took every single book of the far shelf, opened it, smelled it, then dropped it on the ground. Harry had only not said anything because he couldn't really afford to turn away customers. The man had ended up buying a particularly expensive laser star chart, so. Clearly the hour Harry had spent (badly) re-shelving hadn't been for nothing.
"Blue?" He called as he stepped into his apartment. It was a small place, full of stock that wouldn't fit downstairs and Harry's ageing computer collection.
A small meow came from somewhere in the mess, and a fluffy brown cat trotted into view.
Harry smiled, kneeling down to pet him. Blue was the best thing about Harry's day, which was a little sad if you considered Harry had only had him for a couple months.
Well. ‘Had him’ was being generous. He came and went as he pleased, and most days Harry was sure Blue only tolerated him to get a free meal. The grouchy cat was starting to warm up to Harry, though. He could tell.
When Harry had first found him, he'd broken into the shop and gotten into the herb display. Harry had opened shop to find a disgruntled cat covered in rosemary and dill seeds—not a great smell combination, even for a human.
Harry had approached slowly, giving the cat time to scope him out. He'd talked to it in a soothing voice—something he'd learned from growing up with his childhood cat Dusty—and the cat had let him pick him up and brush him. He'd even let Harry feed him, and followed Harry up to his apartment when Harry had locked up.
Harry had set down a bowl of water in front of him. The cat had stared at him, then at the water. He looked underfed, and one of his hind-legs was a beat-up mechanical prosthesis. The glint of it—even underneath a coating of grime—contrasted with his soft looking brown fur and piercing blue eyes. Harry almost laughed at what Stevie would say if she saw him, so he sent her a photo. She didn't disappoint: 'Oh Harry! Your familiar has arrived! Everyone at the coven is so proud of your progress!' she'd said, making sure to send a video of all her with friends sitting around in a field and not paying the camera any attention. Clearly they were jumping for joy. Harry had snorted, showing the cat. The cat had flicked its ear indulgently then drunk the water.
"I'm gonna call you Blue." Harry had said, leaning his head right up close to the cat’s and trying to look into his little cat soul.
The cat licked his nose. And that was that.
He'd stayed at Harry's apartment almost exclusively for the past three months, accepting food and water and very occasionally pats when he was tired. He made a point of coming and going as he pleased, though, once even shooting out the window while Harry was mid-sentence. Harry suspected it was so he knew he didn't belong to him, and had absolutely nothing at all to do with how boring his stories were (despite Stevie’s assertion to the contrary).
“He’s a cat, he can’t tell the difference between a boring story and an interesting one,” he’d argued defensively.
She made a considering noise. “Not if he’s a magic cat,” she had replied.
Harry hung up.
Blue had listened to his stories after that, so. There.
"How was your day, darling?" He asked, scratching behind his ears.
Blue purred, swishing his tail. When he'd apparently decided he'd had enough, he intercepted Harry's hand with a paw and a sharp nibble at his thumb.
Harry hissed, pulling his hand back. Blue nudged his knee in apology then strutted off to do, Harry presumed, cat things.
Still, Harry kept talking to him as he prepared them both dinner. Just because he couldn't see the little bastard didn't mean he couldn't hear Harry complain about customers.
"—and he just left them on the floor like that! How rude? Don't you think that's rude, Blue?"
Harry heard a crash from somewhere towards his bedroom.
"Right? So rude. Oh, and I saw a man today that reminded me of you!"
That got Blue's attention. He was by Harry's side in an instant, taking a seat on Harry's foot.
"He had a leg like yours," Harry continued, using his big toe to nudge at Blue's metal leg. "And eyes like yours," he leant down to pick Blue up, which he allowed with minimal grumbling.
"But don't worry!" Harry smiled brightly, holding the grumpy cat up to his face, "he was only a little bit prettier than you!
Blue's eyes narrowed. Then, he yawned.
"See!" Harry cried, putting Blue down gently onto the kitchen table. "Even your little kitty yawns are pretty!"
Blue's ear flicked. He batted at one of the dangling ribbons from Harry’s shirt.
“Yes, Blue,” Harry laughed. “I’m pretty, too. Thank you.”
After Harry fixed them both dinner, he decided to call it a night.
"I'm an old man, you see," he said to Blue as the cat sat on the toilet watching him brush his teeth. Harry had tried to go to sleep without brushing them, but Blue had trotted up with his electric toothbrush and screeched all hell at him until he gave in and went to the bathroom. "First it's going to bed at nine every night, next thing you know I'm complaining about local kids and getting fit for dentures," Harry continued.
Blue made a sort of chuffing noise that sounded oddly like a laugh. Harry rinsed his mouth out then squinted at him suspiciously.
"You're a really weird cat, did you know that?"
Blue blinked at him innocently.
Harry made a face at him. "I'm too tired for this!" He called over his shoulder as he marched towards his bed. "Please don't wake me up tomorrow by sitting on my chest and playing catch with my hair again!"
The only reply Harry got was the distinct sound of the toilet roll being knocked out of the dispenser.
"Please replace your toilet paper," came the automated voice of the dispenser. Harry shut his bedroom door.
Blue wasn't in the apartment when Harry woke for work the next morning. It wasn't that unusual for him to disappear and reappear, so Harry wasn't worried. He was actually in a good mood by the time he made it downstairs.
The man was here again. Harry paused in front of him, scratching at the scruff he hadn't shaved off his upper lip this morning. Scruff was a generous term; it was more like 15 distinct facial hairs. He’d never been gifted with good facial hair. Unlike the man. What did he say his name was again? Harry wasn't great with names, which was a bit of a curse since he was great with faces.
"Morning, love," he said.
The man startled, blinking up at him prettily.
"Hiya, mate," he greeted, fixing his fringe.
"Coffee or tea?" Harry blurted.
Louis—Harry remembered now—paused unsurely.
"I mean," Harry cleared his throat. "Do you prefer coffee or tea? In the morning? I'll make you some."
He felt a little like he was rambling.
Louis just smiled in amusement. "Tea, actually," he replied, stretching out his legs. The mechanical prosthetic made a small squeak as he did. Louis winced.
"I, um, probably have some oil for that inside if you want?" Harry said, pointing to Louis' leg.
Louis stared at him as if he couldn't quite believe what he was hearing.
"Only if you want," Harry rushed out, waving his hands.
Louis' face crinkled fondly. "Sure. Wanna help me up?" He held his hand out to Harry.
Harry took it eagerly, pulling Louis to his feet while trying not to think about how warm and small Louis' hand felt in his. It fit so well.
Harry blushed when Louis had risen to his full height. He was half a head shorter than Harry, the perfect height for a forehead kiss.
(Or the perfect height for Harry to not be a creep and leave the poor man alone).
"Well... Shall we?" Louis said, gesturing to the door to Harry's shop.
"Oh! Yes." Harry rushed out, jamming the key in the lock and fiddling with the mechanism.
"Is that an actual key?" Louis asked, leaning over Harry's shoulder seemingly with no concept of personal space. He smelled really nice for a homeless man. For any sort of man, really.
Harry laughed awkwardly as he ushered them inside. "Yeah. The witch who used to own the place was pretty set on things being old-school. I tried to tell her magic and technology mix really well, but she wanted things to feel 'antique'."
Louis laughed. His laugh was a sort of tinkling 'ha ha ha' sound. Harry grinned over his shoulder at him. He loved when he made people laugh.
"If you wanna just come through here," Harry said as he walked past the counter into the back of the store.
"Sure you should be letting me back here?" Louis said, hopping up onto the bench-top next to Harry as he fiddled coffee maker. He could never wrap his head around all the different menu options, so he always just used it to make hot water.
Harry turned to Louis and gave him a once over. "Yeah, because you look so dangerous. You might steal all my good mugs and herb collection," he deadpanned.
Louis picked up a mug at random and made a show of tucking it under his shirt with one hand and fake-yawning with the other.
"Ah! I've been robbed!" Harry cried, collapsing dramatically against the bench-top.
Louis hid his giggles behind his hand. It was the cutest fucking thing Harry had ever seen, including the time Blue let him put a little bow on him.
Harry focused on preparing them both tea. Louis chimed in every so often with tea-making tips, going as far as to be genuinely offended when Harry added three spoons of sugar to his own brew.
Harry handed him over his mug once it was done, still chuckling.
"Thanks," Louis said softly. He watched Harry with careful eyes as he blew on his tea.
His leg made another creaking noise when he swung it against the counter. Harry winced in sympathy.
"Here," he said, fetching the rose-scented lubricant they had in stock for upkeep of finicky machine parts like cogs and pistons, which Louis' leg no doubt had. Louis took the oil gratefully. He looked a little apprehensive under Harry's gaze, so Harry made himself busy. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Louis open a small panel on his ankle and add a few drops inside, then again on his knee. He had to pull his pants up quite high for that.
Once he was done, Harry moved to stand in front of him. Louis was moving his leg around experimentally, looking a little vacant.
Harry shuffled his feet.
"Do you—um. Do you want to hang out in the store today?" He asked nervously.
Louis looked up in confusion, then his gaze shuttered. "I'm not a charity case."
His tone was ice cold.
Harry rushed to apologise."No! I didn't mean...I'm sorry."
Louis nodded at the ground. "I think I'll just be off," he said, friendly tone from earlier long gone. Harry swallowed thickly. It was abundantly clear he'd pushed too hard.
"Have a nice day," Harry said back. It was the kind of bland statement he repeated to a hundred customers a week, but this time he really meant it.
Louis nodded again. He made his way to the front of the store in quick, even strides. Harry tried his very hardest not to check out his bum in his sweats. He was unsuccessful.
"Wait! Louis!" Harry called, remembering something he'd set aside yesterday in case Louis came back.
Louis was halfway out the door, but he turned at Harry's plea.
"Take this," Harry said, pulling Louis' hand into his gently and placing a small hessian bag on his palm. "It's a spell. For peace and safety."
Louis' mouth was agape.
Harry steeled himself, flicking his gaze between Louis' sea-blue eyes.
"I know you don't want charity, but everyone needs help sometimes. I'm lucky enough to be in a position to give it. It hasn't always been that way for me. Just... Take it. Please."
Louis gulped. He closed his palm over the bag then slipped it into his pocket.
"You're a good man, Harry Styles," he rasped out. "Better than most, in this shithole of a city."
Harry smiled thinly. Louis turned, pulled open the door, and then he was gone.
It wasn't until a while after he'd left that Harry wondered how exactly Louis had known his last name.
"Blue?" Harry yelled, shoving out of his boots and chucking his keys on the table near the door.
It had been a pretty uneventful day after Louis left. He restocked some shelves, took a full inventory, sold some computer parts, sold some crystals, sold some computer parts made from crystals, the usual. The highlight of his day was when Stevie called to check in at about 3. She told him all about how her coven was doing, what stock they were sending him for the next month. Then, her voice turned coy.
“Christine's been scrying again," she said.
Stevie laughed. "This time, she swears up and down that you've got romance coming into your life toot sweet."
Harry snorted. "I think it's tout de suite, actually," he replied, choosing to ignore Christine’s latest prediction.
Stevie tutted. "You're so wise, child. I'm very proud of you."
Harry blushed. Stevie often did things like that—making sincere moments out of thin air.
"Thanks," he mumbled, ending the call.
Now, here he was. Calling for Blue again.
There was still no response.
Harry huffed. He pulled his long hair loose from the bun he'd hastily shoved it in this morning. Running a hand through it told him he was desperately in need of a shower.
"Are you here, little love?" He tried again, pulling off his shirt on the way to the bathroom. "I'm just gonna shower, so don't scratch at the door and yell at me because you can't come in!
Harry listened for a response, hanging half-naked out of the bathroom doorway.
Sure enough, Harry heard crashing noise from the living room. Blue loved knocking things off tables when he thought Harry needed a talking to. Weirdly enough, it was never anything fragile.
"Strange fucking cat," Harry muttered to himself as he fiddled with the touchscreen for the shower. The statement had a generous heaping of fondness.
He sung a few songs by the classical artist Beyonce while he soaped himself down. Thankfully, his shower passed with zero cat interruptions. Blue was pretty good about respecting his boundaries, but as a previous cat owner Harry knew to never let his guard down.
Just when you think you can trust them, bam! You found them hanging off your windowsill and at three am, taking a chunk out of your favourite pot plant. Harry shivered to himself in the shower at the memory. Poor Petunia.
"Alright, Blue! What do you want for dinner!" Harry asked cheerily as he strode into the kitchen. He was only dressed in two towels; one around his waist and the other wrapped around his hair.
Blue came trotting into view. He seemed to look Harry over with an air of judgement, but mewed in greeting nonetheless and willingly followed Harry into the kitchen.
"Fish? Does that sound good?" Harry asked, waving a frozen packet of fish around Blue's head. He batted at it impatiently, growling. Harry laughed, chucking the fish in the microwave to thaw. It was done in a couple seconds, and when he plated it up for Blue with a nice garnish he received a nuzzle for his efforts.
"You're welcome, darling," Harry said, scritching the cat behind his ears. He left him to eat after that, planting himself in front of the coffee table to read through the latest blog posts from a few witch sites he subscribed to. It was something he liked to do to keep up with the scene, see how everyone was doing. Stevie had been supportive of his research; she was always talking about how she’d lost touch so much with the next generation of witches and how wonderful it was that Harry could keep her informed. Not that Harry was a witch, of course. No amount of knowledge and reading would give him magic powers if he didn't have any to begin with.
"I wish I could do magic, Blue," he said sadly as the cat padded over to curl up in his lap.
Blue made a couple chuffing noises, then sneezed. Harry got the impression, somehow, that he'd meant that derisively.
"That was very rude, you know," Harry said. The words might have had more weight if he hadn't been stroking Blue's fur soothingly at the same time (careful to avoid his mechanical leg—he'd made the mistake of trying to examine it once to see if it needed any maintenance, and he'd gotten teeth sunk into his arm for his troubles).
Blue dug a claw into his thigh in response to Harry's statement, then he pretended it was an accident when Harry yelped in pain, all wide eyed and innocent.
"You're the strangest cat I've ever met," Harry said, rubbing his thigh.
Blue trotted off somewhere. Harry knew he'd heard him, though. Harry packed up his things and started getting ready for bed—and yes he remembered to brush his teeth this time thankyouverymuch.
After he'd said goodnight to Blue and received his usual meow in response, he sat on his bed for a while just staring at the wall. And questioning his sanity.
"He's probably just a really, really smart cat," Harry said to the empty air. Hearing the words aloud didn't make him believe them.
Eventually he settled in for a good night's rest, firm in his decision to start researching magic cats.
Blue wasn't in the apartment the next morning.
Louis, however, was waiting for him when he got downstairs to open up. He was leaning against the wall next to the door, breath fogging up in the thin smog that perpetually clung to London. One of Harry's most popular items was a face mask with cleansing herbs for that exact reason.
"Morning," Harry greeted subduedly.
Louis looked at him from the corner of his eye.
"Listen, Harry," he started as Harry fiddled with the lock, "I'm sorry for being a massive knob yesterday."
Harry snorted at the candour. He glanced over at Louis and took in the sincerity of his gaze.
"I'll forgive you on one condition," Harry said seriously.
Louis' brow pinched. He nodded.
Harry leaned in conspiratorially. "You have to come in and have a cuppa with me."
Louis' face cleared. Then, he laughed. Suddenly, the dark grey morning felt warm and bright.
Harry ushered them both inside. "Sorry about the mess back here," he apologised when they walked into the break room. "I had an over-delivery yesterday and I'm trying to find some space for it still."
Louis looked around at the piles of boxes decorating the floor and table. "Well, it's a bold move, interior design wise. Very hoarder-chic."
Harry coughed out a laugh as he fetched them some mugs and switched the coffee maker on.
Louis occupied himself by fiddling with the various touchscreens installed into the walls. Two of them were tuned to perfectly legitimate business-related things. The last one was paused on a video complication of cat sneezes.
Louis drifted towards that one. He shot a smile over his shoulder at Harry. "Cat fan?"
Harry scrunched his nose up, looking away. "Kind of," he admitted shyly.
When he turned back around he'd managed to get his face under control. He handed Louis his tea, taking a careful sip of his own.
"So," Louis said. His voice sounded suspiciously casual. "Got a cat of your own, then?"
Harry grinned automatically. "Yeah, actually! He's..." He trailed off, thinking about last night's epiphany. It didn't sound any less insane in the soft light of day.
"Ah," Louis laughed, "he defies words, does he?"
Harry jumped on the excuse. "Yep! That's my Blue."
Louis turned back to the screens abruptly.
"Is your tea alright? He asked, changing the subject.
Louis nodded, poking through one of the boxes. "It's perfect as always, Harry. You're a regular brew witch."
Harry barked out a laugh. "Sadly, I'm not any kind of witch," he replied.
Louis looked at him questioningly. "You don't really believe that, do you?"
Harry frowned into his tea. "Well, it's true, so..."
Louis appeared in front of him. "Hazza." He said seriously. Harry looked up at the nickname. "You're full of shit."
Harry gaped, offended.
Louis put his hands on Harry's shoulders, shaking him a little. "You're a wizard, Harry!" He said in a very emphatic impression of Hagrid from the old classic movie.
Harry couldn't stop himself from laughing.
"Sure, fine, I'm a wizard," he said, mostly so Louis would stop pushing it.
Louis narrowed his eyes at him.
"Well, on that note," he said after an awkward pause, "I'd best be off."
Harry fought down the instinct to beg him to stay. It hadn't really gone his way last time.
"Alright. Thanks for the company," he said instead.
Louis took his mug and Harry's and placed them both in the sink gently.
"Any time," he replied, eyes genuine. Harry watched him leave regretfully.
Then, he got to work on the most important task of the day: research. He trawled through all his favourite blogs and sites, but there was an unfortunately tiny amount of information related to human-like cats.
By the time lunch was around Harry was running a frustrated hand through his hair, ready to call it a day. He had information on familiars (which Blue definitely wasn't, since Harry was—contrary to popular opinion, apparently—not a fucking witch). He had a very unhelpful listicle on how to tell if your robot cat was possessed by a ghost. He had information on cat intelligence, cyber-enhanced cat intelligence, and absolutely nothing of any use.
"I really have gone insane,' he said to himself.
"What?" Asked the only other person in the store—a customer who had spent the last half hour going through all of Harry's dried flower selection and, for some reason, organising it by colour instead of species. To be honest, Harry had completely forgotten the man was in here.
"What? Nothing," Harry said. "How are you?"
The man laughed. "M'alright, thanks. Just," he waved his hand vaguely at the flower selection, "like organising things."
Harry squinted at him. He seemed friendly enough, and Harry hardly made the most sound business decisions on a good day, so.
"How would you feel," he started slowly, pausing for dramatic effect, "about being paid fifty credits to organise the book selection by category of magic and then author last name?"
The man looked more excited by that proposition than Harry had ever seen someone look.
"Sick! Yes!" He enthused, camping over to Harry and offering his hand to shake. He almost knocked the glasses off his face in his excitement. "I'm Niall."
Harry smiled at him, shaking his hand. "I'm Harry. Nice to meet you!"
Niall was still shaking his hand. Harry had to wrestle it from his grip awkwardly.
"I'll get right on those books, boss!" Niall winked cheerily. Harry raised his eyebrows, still smiling.
It had been a long time Harry had met someone that cheery. London City, with its smog and it's poverty and its general air of despair, was not generally the kind of place you would find someone with such a sunny disposition—especially not in this neighbourhood.
Harry left him to his own devices for the rest of the day. It was longer than the task should have taken, but Niall was adamant he do a good job in compiling the categories and so was skimming through every book. Harry played some music to fill the silence (it was something he'd stopped doing, after Stevie left), served the odd customer, and got all his filing done. For once. Owning a witch store required all kinds of tedious permits he had to resubmit monthly, and almost never got them in on time. By the time he dragged his way into his apartment that evening, he was brain-dead and ready for the weekend to start. And it was only Wednesday.
He had plans to order take away and sleep for 12 hours.
Apparently, his cat had other plans. When Harry opened the door he was met with a wave of warm air. Harry rushed into the living room, mind racing to the worst possible scenario—a fire, all his possessions burning to a crisp, a—
He stopped dead in his tracks. The living room was fine. Nothing at all was out of the ordinary. Well, there were a few things that were unusual; the heating had been turned on, for one, and three of his scented candles had been lit on the table. Also, Harry could hear running water from the bathroom.
He rushed in, looking around for whatever intruder had maliciously made his home nicer.
There was no one in the bathroom. The bath was running, sending warm steam spiralling upwards. Harry's rose bath bomb had been dropped into it. Harry's mouth practically salivated at the sight of it, back already relaxing at just the concept of getting in that bath. But... Who had done this?
Harry heard a small meow from his feet. Blue was sitting there, licking his paw smugly.
"Blue." Harry said blankly. "You don't have opposable thumbs. And you definitely can't reach the thermostat. And you definitely can't operate a lighter."
Blue looked up at him, the picture of innocence—nay! The picture of ignorance.
Harry looked between his little shit of a cat (who apparently had telekinesis or something else equally unbelievable) and the inviting curls of rose-scented steam coming off the bath.
"Alright. Fine. I'll deal with you tomorrow," Harry threatened, pointing a finger at Blue. Blue stood and walked away in his swaying cat way.
“Don't think I'm not onto you, dickhead!" Harry called after him. "Also thank you!"
Blue had already wandered off.
"If that's a normal fucking cat I'm the queen of England," Harry muttered to himself as he stripped down.
He dipped a foot into the bath experimentally, sighing at the perfect temperature. He pulled his hair up into a loose bun and sunk into the water, groaning with bliss.
It was the next morning. Blue was gone. Again. Harry was staring into his reflection in the mirror, deciding what to do with his hair.
Not for anything or anyone in particular, mind you. Not at all.
Eventually he just decided to do two even plaits on either side of his head. He still had his fingers buried in the left one when he glanced at the time, swore, than started racing downstairs.
He rounded the corner to the shop in a rush, face slightly pink and one braid half-finished.
Louis was leaning against the door again. Today he was wearing a pair of black, sparkling jeans and a lovely pink knitted jumper. It was a very vintage look, but it worked in him. He'd also shaved.
Harry came to a full stop, braid completely forgotten.
“Uh—" he stuttered out. Louis whipped his head up from where he'd been poking at his mechanical ankle. "Good morning, Louis," Harry managed eventually, "you look lovely."
Harry cringed internally, but Louis seemed to light up at the compliment.
"Thanks," he said sweetly, eyes crinkling. Except, in his accent it sounded more like 'fanks'.
Harry cleared his throat. He suddenly remembered the state of disaster his hair was in, scrambling to complete the last braid.
"Here," Louis laughed as reached up to take over the plait. "Let me do it."
It was times like this Harry wished more than ever that he really was a witch, if only so he could summon a portal beneath him to swallow him up and save him from embarrassment.
Louis was gentle with his hair, though; attentive.
"Done!" He said, stepping back to admire his work. "I'm a bit out of practice, mind, but it's not a bad go at it if I say so myself."
Harry grinned. "Thank you. Do you want to come in?"
Louis nodded and followed Harry inside.
"Oh! Finally got those shelves organised," he commented as he walked past the book section, running his fingertips over the titles.
Harry huffed. "Had a bit of help with that, actually," he replied as he busied himself making them tea.
“Oh?" Louis asked. He hopped up onto the counter next to Harry like he'd done the day before. It was strange to think Harry had only known him for a week—and not known very much, at that—since it felt like he'd already carved a home for himself in Harry's life.
"Yeah, lad named Niall offered to help out for 50 credits," Harry answered (nevermind that it was Harry who had offered; he didn't want Louis to think he wasn't a responsible business owner).
Louis pursed his lips.
Harry passed him his tea. "What? Would you also like a task?"
His tone was teasing, but it seemed like Louis could see through him.
"If you’re just passing 'em out to any old bloke, then yes," he said with a twinkle in his eye.
Harry scowled at him in mock offence. "You make me sound so easy," he shot back.
Louis' lips twitched. "You? Easy? Never."
Harry took a sip of his tea in an effort to control his smile.
"How about you take inventory for me?" He offered. "If you can get it done before lunch I'll make you something." The suggestion was Harry's way of giving Louis an out; he remembered how he'd reacted just a few days ago to a simple offer to hang out.
Something washed over Louis' face, but it was gone before Harry could process what it was. His tone was light when he replied, "Sure. I'm a big sandwich fan."
Harry made a point of dramatically running over to the wall screen and typing in 'make Louis a sandwich' as a reminder.
Louis giggled then clapped approvingly. "Alright, witch-boy, how am I doing this?"
Harry wrinkled his nose at the nickname, but. He decided to let it go. "Just take this," he said, passing Louis the tablet he used for stocktaking. "Go around the store and mark down how much stock is out on the floor and how much is in storage. 's pretty simple."
Louis poked his tongue out at him, hopping down from the counter. Harry poked his tongue right back as he made his way to the register to set up for the day.
Time passed quicker with Louis around. There was no other way Harry could explain it; on a normal day the minutes between customers were a void of boredom, but with Louis around humming along to the music Harry played, asking questions about the products, being so cheeky and so lovely... Time flew by. Before Harry knew it was lunch time and he was closing up the shop for an hour.
Normally Harry would just eat something he'd prepared over the weekend behind the register because he couldn't really afford to turn away customers for an hour every day, but. Louis didn't need to know that.
"I don't really have anything in the back food-wise," Harry said, fiddling with his hair. "Do you want to come up to my apartment? 's just upstairs." Harry's eyes widened as a realisation dawned on him: "you can meet my cat! If he's around."
Louis looked like he'd swallowed a bee. He placed the tablet, inventory long complete, down on the counter.
"Harry," he began, voice serious. "There's something I—"
He was interrupted by the bell chiming. Both boys turned, Harry to greet the customer with a friendly smile and Louis to scowl at them.
"Oh! Hi Niall!" Harry greeted cheerily when he recognised the man hovering in the doorway.
"Hiya Harry," Niall threw back. He walked up to the counter, nodding at Louis in a friendly way as he passed.
"Do you want more books to organise? I'm afraid I don't have anymore," Harry joked.
Niall laughed. "Nah, mate. Actually," he shot a nervous look at Louis, "I'm here 'cause I wanted to invite you to lunch." Louis' scowl deepened. "As a friend! To thank you for putting up with me yesterday!" Niall added hastily.
Harry looked between Louis' body language and Niall's sheepishness. He bit down the knowing smirk that was threatening to take over his face.
"Sure, Niall. I'd love that! Actually, I was gonna make Louis and I some lunch upstairs, do you want to join us?"
Niall looked grateful for the olive branch. Louis looked smug that Harry had refused to adjust their plans together.
"Sure! Do you live nearby?" Niall asked.
Harry packed up the register, locking everything up. "No," he deadpanned. Louis snorted.
"Oh! I get it now!" Niall said as he walked into Harry's apartment. Harry laughed and proceeded to show his new guests around. The apartment was tiny, so it only took a minute. Then they camped out in the kitchen chatting amongst themselves while Harry whipped up some sandwiches.
The initial tension between them had melted, Harry was glad to see. Even though he'd only known Niall for a day, and Louis for about a week, it was still important to him that they got along for some reason. As he made Niall's sandwich, he thought about what would lead him to hang around in random witch stores in a neighbourhood this bad, and he wished Niall luck and happiness. For Louis' sandwich, he thought about how much he still didn't know about him. He wished that whatever in Louis' past had led him here was something that he had the power to let go of, move on from.
For his own sandwich, Harry wished it would taste nice.
And when he took his first bite of it—after he'd served the other boys, of course—it did.
"So you've got a cat, right?" Niall asked with his mouth full. "Are they around? I love cats!"
"Uh, yeah," Harry said, frowning. "He's a really weird cat. He used to be around all the time, but lately he's been missing during the day."
Niall waved his sandwich at Harry. "Sounds to me like your cats got another man. The bastard's two timing you!"
Harry's frown deepened. "You mean, like, he has another home?"
Niall nodded. Harry stared at his sandwich sadly. That might explain a couple things, actually.
Suddenly, Louis stood. “I—uh... I gotta piss," he said, speed walking to Harry's bathroom. Harry and Niall stared after him in confusion.
"Oh! Harry! I found your cat!" They heard Louis call from the bathroom.
Harry grinned. "Was he sitting in the sink? He likes that," he called back.
Louis laughed. The sound echoed around the apartment melodically. "Yeah, he was," he replied. "I do have to piss, though."
There was a noise like the bathroom door shutting, then from around the corner emerged Blue. He sauntered over to Harry and Niall with all the confidence of a cat that knew how cute he was.
"Blue!" Harry enthused. Blue meowed in response, coming over to Harry and nuzzling against his outstretched hand.
"Niall, I'd like you to meet Blue," Harry said proudly. Even if Harry was still confused about how he felt about owning a possibly magical cat that could understand English, he still wanted to show him off.
Blue allowed himself to be picked up by Niall and cradled against his chest. He even started purring when Niall scratched behind his ears.
"He's amazing, Harry," Niall complimented. "And he's got a metal leg, just like Louis!"
Harry smiled. "Yeah! He's definitely very special. I love him."
It was a normal enough thing to say about a cat you'd had for three months, but Harry almost regretted the words as soon as they were out of his mouth. Not because he didn't mean them, of course. Just...because.
If Blue heard Harry's words, his only reaction was burying further into Niall's chest.
Harry was over the moon to see his new friend bonding with Blue. Niall glanced at his watch in between scritches and groaned.
"You should probably get back downstairs, Harry, it's five to."
Harry nodded, already packing up their lunch. "Louis?" He yelled in the direction of the bathroom. "We gotta go!"
There was no response. Harry was about to go and knock—politely, of course—when Blue sprung out of Niall's hands and bolted into the bathroom.
Niall watched him go with shock, then he started cackling. "When you gotta go, you gotta go!"
Harry laughed, and so did Louis who had just emerged from the bathroom.
"Good one, lad," he said as he pulled on his coat.
"Louis!" Niall said excitedly. "You missed Harry's cat! He let me pet him and everything!"
Louis raised his eyebrows. "Oh yeah?"
Niall opened his mouth to continue then turned instead to Harry, looking stricken. "I shoulda asked you to get a photo of us!" He cried mournfully.
Louis laughed his 'hahaha' laugh, patting Niall on the shoulder.
"Next time, boyo! Next time!" He consoled, directing them both out of the apartment. Harry followed, a garden blooming in his chest.
"Thanks again for stopping by, Niall," Harry said, pulling him into a hug. It was near closing time at the store, the sun close to setting on the hazy horizon. The boys had had a wonderful afternoon chatting away, playing whatever random games they could come up with, helping the occasional customer. "You're welcome any time! If those books ever need a re-organising, the credits are yours."
Niall grinned bashfully. "Thanks, mate. Means a lot."
With a final wave at Louis, he was gone.
Harry turned to Louis, tucking a loose curl behind his ear. He tried not to worry about where Louis was sleeping, if he was warm at night. "Are you taking off as well?" He asked.
Louis startled, snapping his gave over to Harry from where he'd been zoning out staring at the cars zooming in front of the setting sun.
"Yeah, actually," he laughed uncomfortably. He'd been acting a little off since it had starting getting dark. Harry didn't know what to do with that information yet, but he filed it away just in case.
"Well, it was lovely to see you again. As always," Harry said, probably a little too sincerely.
Louis didn't look freaked out, though. He looked... Touched.
"Thanks, Harry. I'll see you tomorrow," he replied softly. He was halfway out the door before he turned back. He seemed to make up his mind about something, then he planted his hands on Harry's shoulders, stood on his tiptoes, and pressed a chaste kiss to Harry's cheek.
He was out the door before Harry could react, so Harry was left standing there, cheeks pink, mouth agape, hand pressed reverently to the spot Louis' lips had just been.
"Blue!" He shouted excitedly, bursting through his apartment door. "A cute boy just kissed me on the cheek! It's a miracle!"
Blue sauntered into view, ears twitching.
Harry swooped down to pick him up, twirling them both in delight. Blue mewed in protest, but he licked Harry's cheek when Harry apologised breathlessly. Harry interpreted that as forgiveness.
"Darling," Harry breathed out as he draped himself over the couch dramatically—the very picture of a swooning maiden. Blue made the huffing noise Harry understood to be a laugh, taking a seat on Harry's chest. "Have you ever been in love? In all your magical cat years?"
Blue paused mid-lick of his paw.
Harry sat up carefully. "Don't you judge me! Just because I've only known him for a week!"
Blue slowly continued his licking.
Harry collapsed back against the couch, throwing his arms over his eyes.
"You're right," he said mournfully. "It is too soon. I've suffered a mental breakdown and now I'm talking to a cat."
Blue kneaded Harry’s abdomen.
"Well obviously I know you're not a normal cat, dickhead," Harry responded.
Blue blinked at him slowly, bowing his head then curling up into a ball on Harry's stomach.
“I’m jealous of your ability to fall asleep to get out of things," Harry whispered at him as he ran a soothing hand down his back. Blue started purring.
Harry waited until Blue's breaths evened out before he crawled out from underneath him gently. He stood for a moment, just watching his little cat breathing.
"I wish I understood you, sweetheart," he whispered. He bent down and placed a soft kiss to the cat's sleeping forehead, then he headed off to bed.
Harry was awoken hours before his alarm by a scratching noise from the bedroom door. He sat up and scrubbed at his eyes blearily, listening out.
A plaintive meow came from the living room.
Harry yawned as he stumbled his way over to the door. When he pulled it open Blue shot inside like a bullet, jumping up onto the bed and burrowing below the sheets.
"Blue?" Harry asked confusedly. He pulled back the quilt slowly. Blue was curled up into a tight ball, shivering.
"Oh, love," Harry sighed, crawling into bed next to him. "Did you have a nightmare?"
If it were any other cat, Harry might have felt the need to question if cats even had nightmares. This was Blue, though. If he could sass Harry and possibly operate a lighter, then he could have a nightmare.
Blue made a small noise. Harry frowned, stroking his back softly. After a minute Blue stopped shivering. He stood on unsteady legs and crawled into Harry's tired embrace. Harry cooed at him comfortingly, already half asleep.
"I'll take you to a vet in the morning, 'kay?" He mumbled into the pillow. Blue had never sought comfort from Harry to this extent, and he'd definitely never interrupted his sleep. He'd look after him in the morning, he decided.
Harry woke the next morning to a warm bed and an arm slung around his waist. He snuggled back into the body behind him blearily, seeking out their warmth. Then, he froze. His eyes shot open and he stared at the wall of his bedroom in shock.
Slowly—almost dreading what he would see—he dragged his gaze down to the arm over his waist. It was slightly tanned, attached to a delicate wrist, and smattered with some very familiar tattoos.
"What the fuck." He whispered, still wide eyed. He closed his eyes for strength, then turned around.
Lying on the bed next to him was a sleeping Louis. He looked like an angel in the soft light of morning, his cute button nose smushed against Harry's pillow. He also appeared to be butt naked, but Harry couldn't be sure with the blanket pulled to his waist.
"What the fuck." He said, at a much louder volume.
Louis frowned in his sleep, throwing a lazy hand in Harry's direction that landed on his chest. His hand was a brand against Harry's bare skin. Louis patted his chest sleepily, snuggling closer. It was absolutely, horrifyingly adorable.
Harry tried to remain calm, tamping down the large part of himself that really, really wanted to not question this gift he'd been given and just fall back asleep against Louis.
"Louis," he said, gentler this time. "Wake up, please."
Louis' eyes fluttered open slowly. Upon seeing Harry, he smiled. Tiny creases appeared next to his eyes. He was more radiant than the morning sun.
Then, he seemed to register Harry's expectant expression. He frowned, blinking at his surroundings.
"What..." He trailed off. "Is that the sunrise?"
Harry couldn't fathom why that was the most pressing question right now.
"I don't know, Louis. Say, is this my bed? That you're in? Right now?" He asked hysterically.
Louis looked at him in panic. "Um," he wheezed out. "I can explain."
Harry stood up and messily pulled some sweatpants on. "Be my guest!" He screeched, somewhat frantically.
Louis bunched the blanket around himself nervously. "It's kind of a long story, and it sounds a bit... Well, mental."
Harry ran a hand through his hair, gesturing impatiently for Louis to continue.
Louis picked at his nails. "The gist of it is, I may or may not be... Your cat." He looked up at Harry from under his eyelashes sheepishly.
Harry paused. Then, he let out a loud laugh.
"I knew it!" He shouted triumphantly, pointing at Louis. "I fucking knew it!"
Louis looked like he'd been slapped with a fish. "You what, mate? You knew this whole time?"
Harry waved him off. "Well, no, but I knew that Blue—you—I mean—I knew something was going on."
Louis choked down a laugh. "Congratulations on guessing that your cat, which on one occasion organised your entire fucking living room for you, was not a normal cat."
Harry put his hands on his hips. "Alright, mate, maybe don't be so judgy while your balls are all over my bedsheets for a reason you have yet to enlighten me on," he said, very reasonably.
Louis laughed incredulously. Then, he looked at the sun again. When he spoke, it was with a touch of awe. "I don't know why I'm here. The curse doesn't let me change back until the sun has completely risen, which means..." He looked over a Harry, sparkles in his eyes, "you broke it."
"Curse." Harry repeated flatly.
Louis nodded. "Yeah. A witch cursed me two years ago for rejecting her. The mad bint tried to keep me as her pet, but I ran away. I travelled for so long as a cat that I nearly forgot who I used to be, my family..." Harry watched as Louis' gaze became distant. "I tried so many different witches, but none of them gave me the time of day. Until you." He looked Harry dead in the eyes, smiling. "You took me in. You cared for me, let me care for you."
Harry blinked, unexpected tears forming.
Louis crawled closer to him, careful to keep the blanket over his lap. His metal leg sparkled in the sun. "A week or so ago, you said something to me. You said, 'goodnight, Blue. I hope you have a good day tomorrow.' And then the next day, I woke up as me . For the first time in two years. But I was," he laughed self deprecatingly, "I was pretty shit at being a human again, at first. I stole some clothes, some food. I didn't even plan to talk to you, I just... Didn't have anywhere else to go."
Harry sniffed sadly, thinking of the first time he'd seen Louis. How he'd looked right through him, walked right past him. Guilt stabbed through his chest.
But Louis wasn't finished. He grabbed Harry's hand in his own and held it to his chest, eyes still boring into his.
"I knew you could do it." He smiled toothily. "You saved me."
Harry fell to his knees, already shaking his head. "No, Louis, you've got it wrong. I didn't do anything, I'm not a witch."
Louis closed his eyes tiredly. "Fucks sake, Harry, yes! You are!"
Harry pulled his hand back, upset. "Louis. I swear to you, I'm not. You must have just broken the curse yourself. And now—" Harry's voice cracked. "Now you can go back to your family."
Louis looked stricken. "You want me to leave?"
Harry's breath caught in his throat. Louis sounded so small, so lost. Harry hated that he'd done that. But... Louis mentioned a family. They probably really missed him, after two years. There was no way Harry could compete with that, right? Not even if he really loved his cat. And also possibly loved Louis. Who was also his cat. Fuck, that's weird.
Harry bit his finger. "I just want you to be happy, Lou."
He stared at the floor.
Louis made a choked noise. Harry looked up and was met with a face full of blanket. He sputtered, pulling the blankets off himself clumsily.
"You twat!" Louis was screeching. "You utter twat! I really thought for a second there—You honestly think I don't want you? Are you fucking thick?"
Harry poked his head out of the blanket. "Ummm." He said lowly.
Louis pushed the rest of the blanket off him impatiently than parked himself in his lap. "Excuse me for being terribly forward," he started, cupping Harry's face intensely. (Harry was just trying not to think about Louis' naked ass on his lap). "But I spent the better part of two years being a cat, and cats generally don't hesitate to take the things they want. So here I am. Taking you.”
He squeezed Harry's cheeks for emphasis. Then his gaze quieted a little, turned probing. "Harry Styles. Would you like to be taken by me?"
Harry blinked. He looked between Louis' eyes, as blue as the sky in old films and twice as clear. He didn't even have to think about what his answer would be. He smiled, turning his face into Louis' palm.
"Yes, please." He whispered.
Louis beamed. He flung his arms around Harry, burying his face in his neck and nuzzling. Harry wrapped his arms around Louis' back dazedly. He'd really expected to be kissed just then, but, well. His gaze fell to Louis' leg, eyes tracing the line of scar tissue on his mid-thigh where his flesh stopped and his prosthetic began. It seemed such an integrated part of him, and the technology nerd in Harry wanted to ask so many questions. Instead, he lowered a gentle hand to stroke the area worshipfully.
Louis froze in his arms for a second, then he slowly—purposefully—relaxed. "I'll tell you about it sometime," he whispered against Harry's neck. Harry shivered.
“You don't have to.”
Louis pulled back slightly. He smiled the kind of smile that reminded Harry of a gentle breeze rustling grass in a meadow, or the feeling of being wrapped under a soft blanket on a cold night. “I know.”
Harry clung tighter. He blinked a few times, distracted by the weight of his chest. Louis’ eyes crinkled, and Harry was sure his expression was an embarrassing mixture of dazed and besotted. He mentally shook himself.
"So," he drawled cheekily, at once eager to pick up where they'd left off. "if I've been taken by you, does that mean I get to take you back?"
Louis did that thing he did with his mouth when Harry was being especially cute. "If you like," he sassed, raising his brows.
Harry leant forward and smushed his nose right against Louis', trying not to laugh at the way being this close made it look like Louis had one big eye. "Well, in that case..." He said.
Then he kissed him. Louis giggled against his mouth, which was an odd sensation. Then, he kissed back, threading a hand in Harry's hair and clinging.
Harry broke the kiss after a minute so he could pant incredulously, "I can't believe you're my fucking cat, you dick." Louis snorted, then kissed his way to Harry's ear.
"Meow." He whispered sarcastically, then kissed away Harry's laughter.
They passed an indistinguishable amount of time like that before being interrupted by the voice of Harry's alarm clock very politely reminding him it was time for breakfast.
"Well, you heard the lady," Louis quipped sunnily, pushing himself to his feet. "Time to make your boy some brekkie!" This he called over his shoulder as he trotted towards the kitchen.
Harry remained on the floor until Louis was out of view, gaze wide on the way Louis' arse moved as he walked. Then, he beamed.
"My boy ," he whispered to himself, starstruck and pleased beyond words.
He shook himself again, rushing to follow Louis.
"What would you like?" He asked as he frowned into his fridge.
Louis kicked his feet against the cabinet. "Are you on the menu?" He asked innocently.
Harry winked over his shoulder at him exaggeratedly.
Louis hid his grin behind his hand. "God, we're gonna be the worst," he said fondly. "One of thoooose couples."
Harry paused from where he'd been pouring them some orange juice.
"Couple?" He asked, wide-eyed.
Louis looked panicked. "Um. Not if you don't want that?"
Harry smiled, dimples carving themselves into his cheeks. He presented Louis with his orange juice grandly, then pressed a kiss to his forehead.
"I would love to be your boyfriend, Louis." He said against Louis' skin.
Louis tilted his head up then made a noise that sounded suspiciously like purring.
Harry snorted. "Louis, are you purring right now?"
Louis stopped. "Absolutely not." He snapped defensively. "Shut up."
"Aw! Louis!" He laughed, delighted. He wrapped his arms around him, fitting himself between his legs. "Do you want scritches? Some milk? Some string to play with?"
Louis scowled at him. "I'm breaking up with you," he declared.
Harry patted Louis' belly apologetically. "I'm sorry kitty, did I hurt your feelings?"
Louis squinted at him in suspicion. "Is this going to turn into a sex thing? Be honest."
Harry's mouth gaped open in shock.
Louis looked unbearably smug that he'd managed to get the upper hand.
Not to be outdone, Harry replied, "I don't know, Louis, the spice might be gone now that you're fully human." He sniffed in faux disappointment.
Abruptly, Louis started to transform in front of his eyes, shrinking whilst growing fur and a tail. It was both hideous and awe-inspiring to watch.
Cat Louis sat on the counter and blinked at him just as smugly as human Louis had. He licked a paw delicately, daring Harry to one up him.
Harry sputtered. "Nope. You win. This is stopping now." He wheezed out, turning resolutely back to his cooking.
Harry heard cackling from behind him which he took to mean Louis had changed back.
"Can you put on some pants, please?" He shot over his shoulder snootily. Louis patted his back on his way out of the kitchen whistling a jaunty tune. Harry grinned at the pancakes he was making.
Today was going to be a good day.
After breakfast, Harry parked himself in the living room with his trusted tablet to do some proper, thorough research into the curse Louis described. He wanted to know if it was really gone, or if there would be any side effects. He had a hard time believing in nice things when they happened, sue him. He pulled his hair up into a messy bun and cracked his knuckles. The noise made Louis snuffle a little. Harry glanced over to where he was curled up in cat form on the windowsill, bathing in the weak sunlight. He'd declared earlier that there was nothing like taking a daytime nap in the sun as a cat. Harry took his word for it.
A couple hours into his research—which involved actually messaging local witches, this time, to see if anyone knew of a witch that matched Louis' description—Harry made a breakthrough.
"Louis!" He said excitedly, kneeling beside Louis' sleeping form and poking him gently. "I found her!"
Louis blinked awake, ears twitching. It was still so strange for Harry to think of him as Louis instead of Blue, even though his personality definitely shone through. Really, Harry should have seen it sooner.
Louis meowed curiously, catching Harry's hand with a paw and licking his knuckle. Harry interpreted that as a fond greeting.
"I found the witch that cursed you. Her name is—" Louis growled fiercely. Harry frowned. "Okay. I won't tell you her name. Or where she lives. I just wanted you to know I found her, and that I'm gonna try and get in contact with her."
Louis bit his hand. Not nearly enough to draw blood or even break the skin, but. It still stung.
"Talking to you is a lot easier when you have words, Louis," Harry bit out, trying to stay patient. Louis levelled him with a judgemental look, then turned back to his nap.
"Fine. I'm still calling her. We'll talk about this later," Harry said. Louis flicked his ear.
Harry watched him for a second, just standing there and tracking his breathing. He sighed. "I'll be right back, okay?" He said in apology. He leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to Louis' forehead. Louis purred. Harry took that as forgiveness.
The door closed behind him with a soft click. Harry made his way into the store, wanting privacy from Louis' no doubt stellar hearing.
The witch picked up on the third ring. "Madame Mystic's spells and enchantments, this is Madame Mystic speaking," she chirped. Harry almost snorted. His contact had neglected to inform him of the witch's frankly ridiculous alias.
"Yes! Hi," Harry responded in his very best kissing ass voice. "I'm looking for a curse."
There was a beat of silence. "What kind of curse, my child?"
Harry rolled his eyes. She was the same age as him. "Something to stop my boyfriend from leaving me. I know he's cheating on me, and I want to get my revenge and make him mine forever at the same time." Harry could have been an actor in his last life, with how well he was selling this.
He listened carefully for any tells that she recognised the story, or the gist of it. There was none.
"Well, that's quite understandable, child," she responded sympathetically. "What kind of effects did you have in mind?"
Harry scowled, then made himself smile so it wouldn't tinge his voice. "Oh, you know, I was just thinking it could be something that turned him into an animal—a nice furry companion for my poor broken heart!"
Okay, maybe he was laying it on too thick. To her credit, the witch kept her composure.
"Well, you're in luck! I'm quite the expert in animal curses."
Harry batted his eyelashes. Even though she couldn't see him, it was all about the method acting.
"Wonderful! Whats the fine print on something like that?"
He checked his tablet to make sure it was still recording. This was the important part, after all.
"Oh! Of course," the witch responded. Harry heard shuffling. Evidently, she was unused to customers being thorough.
"Well, for a small sized animal like a cat or a dog," she started. Harry bit his lip at the word 'cat'. "You're looking at a standard transformation spell, should last about ten years. You won't get a deal that good from anyone else, child—I alone have unlocked the secret to that level of potency." Her voice was unbearably smug.
Harry's grin tightened. "That's certainly very impressive. And there would be no way to undo something like that, right?" He made sure to inject a believable amount of worry into the question.
The witch laughed. "Oh, of course not, child! My curses can only be broken by either myself or a witch more powerful than me, and there are only a handful of those—certainly none who could be bothered with breaking a simple transformation spell."
Harry nearly dropped the phone. He gulped, tried to stop his head from spinning. "Are you sure? Perhaps the person who was cursed could—"
"Child, I have reassured you already! You needn't worry! And there's no way for someone who is cursed to break it themselves,” she snapped impatiently.
Harry did know that, actually. He'd just hoped that there was a more reasonable explanation. Apparently Louis had been right, after all. He had to tell Stevie.
"Thank you so much for your time, Madame," Harry said.
He hung up before she could say anything else. It had only been a couple minutes, but he was already sick of hearing her voice. Next, he sent off the audio recording to the anonymous tip line for illegal magical activity. There was no guarantee she couldn't talk herself—or buy herself—out of any charges, but. Harry still had to try.
Performing any kind of magic on someone without their consent was a highly punishable offence, after all.
Harry ran a hand down his face. He resolved to call Stevie tonight, after he'd managed to process the revelation that he did, in fact, have magic. Very powerful magic, if that witch was to be believed.
Harry poked himself in the chest. "Where have you been all these years, asshole? I've tried and failed to cast so many spells..." He shook his head.
Louis looked up when Harry pushed the door to his apartment open. He was back in human form, dressed comfortably in the usual getup of sweatpants and a jumper Harry was used to seeing him in. He smiled at Harry sort of bashfully from where he'd been sitting on the couch.
"Here," he said, patting the cushion next to him. "I made you some lunch."
Harry collapsed into the couch and curled into Louis. He was every bit as comfortable as he looked.
"Thank you," he mumbled against Louis' chest. He felt the vibrations as Louis' laughed at him.
"You were right, by the way," Harry said around a mouthful of the sandwich Louis had presented him. It was a really good sandwich.
Louis gaze him a quizzical look, pausing in his stroking of Harry's now undone hair. Harry nudged his hand to make him continue.
"It was me, like you said. I broke your curse." Harry elaborated.
"Ah! Of course," Louis said snootily. "That'll show you to question my divine wisdom."
Harry turned his head and bit at Louis' jaw in retaliation.
"Oi!" Louis laughed, jerking his head away.
Harry pulled him back. "What? You bite me all the time!"
Louis looked like he might argue for a second, then relented. "That's fair," he acknowledged. "Though you should try not being able to talk or sign or type or anything, see how you like it."
"Maybe I will," Harry shot back. "I'm apparently a powerful witch now, I could be a cat if I wanted. Probably."
Louis pulled him closer. "Sure you can, sweetie," he encouraged. Harry got the feeling he'd meant it to sound condescending, but it came out sounding more genuinely supportive than it did anything else.
Harry tucked his fingers under Louis' shirt to warm them against his skin. "Thanks, darling," he replied sleepily.
Louis kissed him.
Three months later
"Don't forget Stevie's coming by today, Lou!" Harry said over his shoulder
Louis looked up from the stocktake he'd been doing, his new glasses slipping off his nose.
"Isn't Niall coming round, too? To announce that big surprise he's been going on about for bloody ages?"
Harry frowned, tapping on his tablet. "Oh yeah, you're right. He should be here soon."
The stars aligned in that moment—or perhaps it was Harry's magic, which he'd learned over the past few months was decidedly intent based—and the bells above the door chimed just as he finished his sentence.
"Mates!" Niall crowed as he swept into the store. "It's news day!"
Harry threw his arms up. "News day! Did you hear, Louis?"
Louis smiled at them both indulgently. "Go on then, Nialler, don't keep us in suspense any longer."
"Well..." Niall started, pausing for dramatic effect. "I got a job at the national archives!"
There was a beat of silence, then Harry and Louis exploded into noise.
"Really? Niall that's great—"
They both wrapped Niall up in a bear hug, squishing him between them and cheering.
Niall wheezed then patted their backs. "Thanks, loves. 'preciate it," he forced out.
Harry pulled back, eyes alight with excitement. "Think how many books you're gonna be able to organise!"
Niall ducked his head, a blush creeping up his necks. "I know. It's gonna be great. I've gotta thank you for it, actually."
Harry frowned. "Me? Why?"
Niall nodded. "The day after we had lunch, I woke up feeling so inspired to do something with my life other than sit around all day and be sad about shit. So, I started applying for jobs, and I went to the archives every day for a week until they agreed to take me on."
Louis turned a smug look his way, no doubt thinking this had something to do with Harry's magic. But Harry had never cast anything on Niall, not unless—oh. The sandwich. He remembered wishing Niall luck and happiness as he made it.
Wow. He really was building the bridge underneath himself as he went with this magic thing.
"I'm sure it was all you, Niall." Harry said, putting it out of his mind. "You put the effort in. You deserve the credit."
Louis nodded. "We're very proud of you."
Niall laughed uncomfortably. "Oh, shut it you two. 'm not that special."
Harry put his hands on Niall's shoulders, shaking him a little. "You absolutely are. And you're coming over for dinner tomorrow night to celebrate."
Niall grinned. "Alright. Sounds good. I'd best be off now, though, got a new job to get to."
Louis squeezed him tight in farewell, planting a kiss on his cheek. Niall ruffled his hair, gave Harry a quick hug, then he was out the door.
"Well, well, well," Louis sing-songed, looking mighty pleased.
Harry poked him in the hip. "Don't you start, you menace."
Louis mimed zipping his lips. Harry rolled his eyes.
"Get back to stock taking or you're fired," he snapped. The effect was probably ruined by the goofy grin on his face.
Louis snorted, but picked up the tablet to resume.
They worked for the rest of the day in quiet contentment, moving around each other with practiced ease.
If you were to walk past The Chain late at night, with the smog of the city obscuring the moon's rays, you probably wouldn't see very much at all. But if you did happen to look in on the store, looked past the hanging crystals and the circuits and the plants, you might find two cats curled around each other, fast asleep—one smaller, fluffier, and the other bigger, just as brown.
You would know that this was a place where miracles happen.