Niall tries to look like he’s casually going about his business, and definitely belongs right here in 1994, and definitely got a good night’s rest because he and the boys definitely did not spend the evening furtively sneaking around the castle, trying to find somewhere to sleep for a few hours where they wouldn’t be discovered by Filch or Dumbledore– or hell, maybe Barty Crouch, Jr. disguised as Mad-Eye Moody, Niall thinks wildly– because he is in nineteen ninety fucking four right now.
And neither he, nor the boys, have any idea how the hell they got here or how the hell they’re supposed to get home.
Twenty-four hours ago
“We are not talking to Harry Potter,” Liam hisses, but Louis has already started marching toward him.
Niall grips his hair in his hands for a second, because this is too fucking much. “That’s it. He’s going to destroy the past.”
“Well, we have to talk to someone,” Zayn defends.
Across the courtyard, Harry Potter– Harry Potter, who’s standing right fucking there– glances at them over Louis’ shoulder. Niall finds himself raising a weak hand in greeting. A moment later, Louis is leading Potter to them. Liam actually turns around in exasperated disbelief, apparently unable to bring himself to even watch their approach.
“Boys,” Louis says brightly. “This is Harry.” Niall runs a hand over his face as Liam reluctantly turns toward them again. Louis nods at each of them in turn. “Harry, this is Zayn, Niall, Liam, Harry.”
“Oh, you too?” Potter says politely. His bright green eyes stand out against his skin, which is a few shades darker than Zayn’s. He’s short, much shorter than Niall would have guessed, though Niall supposes that’s always the way with celebrities and politicians and saviors of the world. He absently thinks that, should the universe not collapse, he can’t wait to tell everyone back home that he was at least a couple of inches taller than the past version of Harry Potter.
“Yeah,” their Harry says, blinking down at Potter. “There’s actually… a lot. Of Harrys, I mean. Where I’m from. Because… yeah.”
“Cool,” Potter says, clearly having no idea what Harry is on about. He glances awkwardly among the five of them, and then toward the doors leading back inside. “Er, it’s nice to meet you, but what do–”
Louis claps a hand on his shoulder. “But what are a bunch of seventh years you’ve never met doing talking with you? Here’s the thing, Harry—it’s a bit embarrassing, I’m not going to lie, but we had a bit of a mishap with a memory potion. Nothing too bad, we’ve just lost a smidgen of time. So, we’re going to need you to tell us what year it is.”
Potter glances among them all, his attention having morphed into complete bewilderment. “Er, shouldn’t you be seeing Madam Pomfrey?”
“Nah,” Louis says easily. “And get detention? We’re perfectly fine, just want to get caught up.”
“Okay…” Potter says. “It’s, er, it’s 1994. Eighteenth December.”
When all five of the boys simultaneously blanch, Potter steps back in alarm. “Are you sure you’re alright?”
Before any of them can respond, someone from the doorway across the courtyard calls, “Harry!”
Niall turns toward the sound instinctively, and because of the day he’s had so far, he can’t even bring himself to be surprised that Ron Weasley is standing there, a bag casually slouched over his shoulder.
“That’s Ron Weasley,” Liam announces blankly.
Potter looks immensely relieved as his friend calls, “C’mon, McGonagall’s going to have our heads if we’re late.”
“Bye,” Potter says, sparing a last confused glance at them before he jogs over to Weasley.
The long, pregnant silence that follows his departure is only broken when Zayn succinctly says, “Fuck.”
As Niall tries (rather desperately, he’s willing to admit) to look like he belongs in this hallway while he simultaneously eavesdrops on the students around him, someone shouts, “Oi!”
Niall feels like he jumps about a meter, because the voice is directed at him and, bizarrely, already a little familiar. He turns, sure enough, to see Harry Potter walking toward him with a slightly mad glint in his eye, followed closely by a harassed-looking Ron Weasley.
“Niall, right?” Potter says, and Niall stares blankly, wondering what it is that he’s been caught out at.
Potter comes to an abrupt halt in front of him. “Do you want to go to the ball with me?”
A long pause falls over them.
Niall is utterly dumbfounded. The ball? Christ, he barely knows whether or not Voldemort has come back to life yet—that was in the spring of ’95, right? Or was it ’94? When the fuck was there a ball?
“Go on, mate,” Potter says lowly, leaning forward, his eyes a little wide. “Please. I have to have a partner for this thing.”
When Liam yells at him later, Niall will point out that he had just been asked to do something by Harry Potter.
“Oh!” his voice comes back to him all at once. “Of course.”
Potter grins and adds, “I told Ron about your friend—Zayn, is he free? Would he want to go with Ron?”
Behind Potter, Weasley flushes bright pink, but continues to look on with rapt interest.
When Zayn yells at him later, Niall will point out that it had been a deeply stressful twenty-four hours and that it was really Louis’ fault that Potter even knew their names in the first place, so none of this could be blamed solely on Niall himself.
Niall nods without thinking. In response, two of the saviors of the Wizarding World beam at him.
They all regroup in Hogsmeade, where they only get a few odd looks from passersby at the full strength of Liam’s wrath as it builds.
“The Yule Ball!” Liam says. “It’s called the Yule Ball. The ball for the Triwizard Tournament, where Potter overhears Karkaroff talking to Snape about their Dark Marks acting up, and Hagrid tells his date he’s half-giant, and where Cedric Diggory gives Potter the hint about the second task!”
Niall sighs. “Okay. I’m sure those are all very important things, but I don’t see–”
“The Yule Ball that Potter attends with Parvati Patil, and that Weasley attends with Padma Patil,” Liam adds, glaring.
Niall feels his stomach drop. He looks from Liam to the rest of the boys and back again. “...Oh.”
“Seriously?” Louis groans. He’s been leaning against a wrought iron fence, and pushes himself up to take a few steps closer to them. “I don’t think their dates are going to change anything drastic, Li.”
“Oh, you don’t think so?” Liam hisses, rounding on him immediately. He jabs a finger at Louis. “You didn’t think Dobby the house elf was real until this morning. You didn’t think Ginny Weasley had been born yet until you saw her across the hall an hour ago. You didn’t think–”
Louis throws his hands in the air. “Then I’m sorry for not being a fucking historian, Liam! Are you happy?”
“Jesus,” Niall mutters, running a hand over his face. He glances in Zayn’s direction, expecting to silently commiserate over the argument unfolding before them. But to Niall’s surprise, Zayn is already looking at him. Actually, Zayn’s frowning at him.
“So, you told them that you’re going to this thing with Harry Potter? And that I’m going with Ron Weasley?” Zayn says, his brows furrowed in a way that Niall tries to tell himself is not cute.
“I didn’t want to,” Niall says quickly. “I mean, not that I have anything against Potter, but they just ambushed me, and I couldn’t very well say no–”
“And apparently neither could I,” Zayn says, crossing his arms.
“Now, Zaynie, there’s no need to get upset,” Harry cuts in with a smirk. It occurs to Niall that he’s been oddly silent up to this point, just watching Zayn while they all talked. Of course, Harry would be the only person to find this whole thing amusing. “We’ve got an easy fix for all of this.”
Liam and Louis somehow hear this over their simultaneous arguing, because they both pause and turn to give Harry an incredulous look.
“We do?” Niall asks, his heartbeat tripping with nervousness for some reason.
“Of course!” Harry says brightly. Zayn is glaring at him pretty intensely, but Harry ignores him as he takes a step forward to gather Zayn and Niall under one arm each.
“We’ll just explain to Potter and Weasley that you two are going to the ball together.”
A few seconds of silence pass before everyone begins talking over one another, a consensus of exasperation.
“What we’re actually going to do,” Liam says over them all, “is leave Hogwarts. They can’t take you as dates if they can’t find you.”
“Hmm,” Harry says, letting go of Zayn and Niall to put a finger to his mouth in mock thoughtfulness. “We present Harry Potter with a mystery wherein a group of boys he’s never seen before suddenly appear and then disappear, this during the same year when someone put his name in the Goblet of Fire. Naturally, he’ll have no desire to look into that.”
Liam glares at Harry.
“I still don’t see why Niall and Zayn can’t just be Potter and Weasley’s dates,” Louis says. “Hell, Liam, you could give them instructions on how to direct the bronze trio around to make sure everyone…” He waves his hand impatiently. “Overhears everything they’re supposed to, or gets their hints, or whatever else.”
Through gritted teeth, Liam says, “The golden trio. Honestly, how do you not know that one?”
“That wouldn’t work,” Niall argues. “We’re not supposed to change anything about the past, Louis. What if one of the Patils said something important that changed the tournament? Or what if the Patils being somewhere else makes a ripple effect? Or–”
“What if it breaks up Weasley and Granger,” Harry says, a serious note of mild horror in his voice. “Or makes them never date! I am not letting you destroy my favorite celebrity couple, Louis.”
Zayn scoffs. “This is fucking ridiculous. We’ll just tell them we can’t go and then get out of here.”
“And go where?” Harry answers. “Why, so we can be lost in time and space? I vote we stay at Hogwarts, and besides, my point from earlier still stands. A hundred some-odd people in the castle are on high alert for suspicious activity. You and Niall ducking out of this and drawing attention to all of us would be highly suspicious.”
Silence falls over the group for a long moment. They’ve reached an impasse.
Niall feels heat rush to his face as he turns to Zayn.
“I’m really, really sorry for getting you into this. I know the last thing you want to do is pretend to go to this dumb ball with me, but–”
Zayn gives Niall a startled look. “Wait, that’s not–”
“–I reckon that Harry might be right. Do you think you might be up for it? Just to… fix this huge mess I made.” Niall drops his head in embarrassment, rubbing the back of his neck with one hand and stuffing the other in a pocket, unable to bring himself to look at Zayn’s expression.
“Wha– I– Niall,” Zayn says. Niall chances a glance up, and Zayn is giving him an oddly soft look. “Of course.”
Niall’s heart promptly lifts.
Naturally, Harry comes up with the most embarrassing story possible for them to give.
“You see,” Niall tries, standing outside of the Gryffindor common room with Zayn and Potter and Weasley and thinking that, in two days that have had exceedingly uncomfortable moments throughout, this one might take the cake.
“Zayn and I, we– well, I, I should say, have always had–”
Niall can’t bring himself to finish. He is not confessing his love to Zayn in a pretend love confession for the benefit of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley.
A hand suddenly takes Niall’s, and he looks up, shocked, to see that it’s Zayn’s. Zayn is holding his hand, perfectly casually, as if it’s entirely normal.
“We’ve had feelings for each other a long time,” Zayn says, just the slightest hint of embarrassment tinging his face. “Ask any of our friends. It’s been… a long time coming. And, when Niall told me about his agreement with you, I was… mad jealous, to tell you the truth.”
Niall stares at Zayn, amazed at how well he’s pulling this off. If Niall didn’t know better, he’d actually think this was all true.
“So I asked him to go to the ball with me instead,” Zayn continues. “It was the push I needed to finally do what I’ve been wanting to do for so long.”
“And I feel the same,” Niall jumps in, feeling that he should probably start pulling his weight here. His hand is warm in Zayn’s, and he tries to tell himself that this is all just to convince Potter and Weasley. “So I said yes, when he asked.”
He pauses, glancing from Potter to Weasley for their reactions. To his surprise, Weasley turns and gives Potter an exasperated slap on the shoulder.
“I told you, Harry! How many times does this have to happen?”
Potter doesn’t react, still staring from Niall to Zayn and back again. “You two? Really?”
“Yes, really,” Weasley says, before Niall or Zayn can respond. “I said so, Hermione said so after we all saw them in Hogsmeade. Honestly, Harry, you still wouldn’t have known if they’d snogged right in front of you.”
“That’s not true!” Potter defends, a bit unconvincingly. He turns back to Niall. “But look, mate, I’m happy for you and all, but what the hell are Ron and I supposed to do now?”
Niall is half-tempted to tell them to go together, but he knows Liam would probably kill him and leave his body here in the past. “Er, have you thought to ask Parvati Patil? She’s pretty gorgeous, yeah?”
A beat of silence, and then Potter and Weasley both say, “The Patils!”
A moment later, they’ve turned and run back through their common room door.
Zayn snorts. “Glad the world is in such good hands.”
Niall grins and adds, “Hey, at least they’ve got Granger too.”
As he speaks, Niall turns to face Zayn. They’re standing much closer than he realized, their hands still linked. Niall thinks that he should let go of Zayn’s hand and take a step back. A moment later, he realizes he can feel Zayn’s breath on his cheek. He still hasn’t moved, and oddly, neither has Zayn.
“Thanks for doing this,” Niall says, his voice coming out a bit rough despite himself.
Zayn smiles. God, that smile. “‘Course, Nialler.”
A bang from the floor below, of what sounds like Peeves upending a dozen desks at once, makes Niall and Zayn both jump and let go of each other’s hands simultaneously.
Getting five sets of dress robes (“I will be damned if I’m not attending the ball of the century,” Harry had said firmly, and Liam had wisely given up) involves Louis... well, seducing the manager of the Hogsmeade branch of Madam Malkin’s. Niall would honestly rather not know the details, and even Liam seems to agree.
“How do we know this lad wasn’t the key to defeating Voldemort?” Zayn teases as they all get ready in the manager’s cozy changing rooms. “What if he was supposed to be giving vital information to Dumbledore while Louis was giving him–”
Louis tackles Zayn, and Harry yells at them not to rip the poor manager’s expensive robes as they land in a heap on the floor.
Niall knows that there’s no reason he should be feeling nervous. They’ve fixed the past; everything is going the way it’s supposed to, and though they still have no idea how they’re going to get home, they deserve a night off after everything that’s happened since they got here.
But no matter how many times he tells himself this, he can’t stop nervously fidgeting with his robes. Louis and Harry had dragged Liam onto the dance floor a minute ago, and Zayn had gone to get a drink, and Niall stands at the edge of the Great Hall, wondering what exactly he’s supposed to do now.
Not a moment passes before, as if Niall had somehow summoned him with his will, Zayn appears at his side. Niall tries very hard to ignore the fact that his heart starts beating even faster.
“Pumpkin juice?” Zayn holds out a cup for Niall, taking a drink from his own as he speaks.
“Cheers,” Niall says. Before he can go on, some sort of ceremony begins on the other side of the hall—it just takes a moment for Niall to realize that the tournament champions are all being paraded out. He smiles at how young and awkward Potter looks. When he turns to ask Zayn whether Liam is in need of saving yet, he sees that Zayn is already looking at him, his eyes as sweet and beautiful as ever. Niall expects Zayn to look away, but he doesn’t. Instead, he reaches out to take Niall’s free hand in his own.
Niall forces a laugh, then looks around. “Weasley about to sneak up on us or something?”
“No,” Zayn says, a confusing hint of nervousness in his tone. “I… kind of just want to hold your hand. If that’s okay?”
Niall stares at Zayn, right into his eyes, as if he can figure out what’s going on by just looking deep enough within them.
“Zee, you don’t have to,” he says, now officially worried. “I really appreciate that you went along with the story to help me fix everything, but I don’t want you to feel like you have to–”
“What I said was true,” Zayn says, almost too quickly for Niall to understand him. “To Potter and Weasley, about how I feel about you.”
Across the hall, a big band tune starts up and the crowd goes wild. Niall feels like he hears it from a hundred leagues away.
“The truth is that I’ve felt this way for a really long time, and I don’t know for sure if you have too, but–”
Niall kisses Zayn, the sweet pumpkin juice flavoring their lips, noise ringing in their ears, and it’s… absolutely perfect.
Zayn smiles against Niall’s lips, and Niall smiles too, and an instant later they’ve both tossed their cups away to pull each other closer as they deepen the kiss.
A few minutes later, as Zayn leads Niall by the hand onto the dance floor, Niall thinks that maybe this whole time travel thing ended up being worth it after all.