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Tainted Saints And Velvet Vices

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“At least bring some of the clothes Auntie Karen knitted for you, dear. Liam will notice if you don’t wear any of those jumpers and I don’t want to upset her. You remember last Christmas, don’t you?”

Louis glanced up from where his head had been hanging over the overflowing trunk sprawled across his bed. “I seriously doubt that Liam cares whether or not I wear those jumpers, Mum,” he said, levitating a large, toppling stack of shirts into his trunk. He traced his finger along the embroidered Hogwarts crest, smiling faintly. “Wish she would just use magic to make them. At least then they might resemble items of clothing.”

“You know very well that it’s the sentiment that counts,” his mother huffed. She peered into the trunk and plucked out a Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes Skiving Snackbox Louis had hidden beneath his new school robes, eyeing it with distaste. “Besides, I hear that Muggle knitting is very tedious. She probably spent weeks making them for you just in time for September the first.”

Louis sighed, stuffing two woollen, mushroom jumpers into his trunk to placate her. He watched his black cat, Abrax—named after his corporeal Patronus, an Abraxan Winged Horse—curl up on one of the hideous jumpers. He knew that his mother’s pestering was her way of channelling her anxiousness about him attending Hogwarts for the first time. He had dreamt about attending for years. He had spent his summers prying details about the school from his friends and had watched them climb aboard the Hogwarts Express every year with a heavy heart.

His parents, both retired Hogwarts professors and who had lost some of their closest friends and family members during the Second Wizarding War, were fiercely protective of Louis, which he reckoned was because he was their only son. All Louis could remember was their whispering of Voldemort’s return, his reign of terror and tragic stories of the needless blood that was spilled. Even though the War had ended seven years previously, Louis knew that they had remained reluctant to allow him to go to Hogwarts. In the back of his mind, Louis knew that they put his safety first but he couldn’t help but feel envious of his friends when they returned every summer with tales of adventures in the castle, midnight feasts with the house-elves and jinxing each other in the hallways, much to Filch’s chagrin.

His parents had schooled him from their quaint house in east Doncaster. The thin walls and mismatched furniture, the fumes from his mother’s Arithmancy Study and the smells of his father’s cooking wafting through the air had characterised his entire childhood. Venturing outside of the house was always a treat, and finding others his age in the neighbourhood was always a challenge. Even despite their decision to home-school him, Louis knew that they had his best interests at heart.

His father taught him the Ancient Runes syllabus from the confines of their basement, while his mother specialised in Potions and Arithmancy, brewing and concocting potions from her small laboratory in the attic where there was a permanent purple hue to the walls from a Sleeping Draught gone wrong years ago. They used practical spells around the house (Scourgify being one of Louis’ favourites) and his parents taught him both Charms and Transfiguration as well so that he ‘received an education that could parallel that taught at Hogwarts’—his mother’s words, not his own. Louis knew, deep down, that despite their efforts, his home-schooling could never quite compare with the experience that the witches and wizards his age had at Hogwarts.

On his seventeenth birthday he had sanguinely asked whether he could attend Hogwarts the following year. After spending all his time at home (and under his father’s watchful eye), Louis had learned to appreciate their concern and dedication but he couldn’t help but hope for a reply for once. The response he received was entirely unexpected, and even the thought of it now, almost a year later, made Louis’ heart soar.

His parents had exchanged a charged look before his father had nodded, prompting his mother to reach under the Christmas tree teeming with baubles and lights to remove a large and neatly-wrapped parcel.

“Your father and I have discussed this a lot, dear, and we think that, now you’re seventeen and have a good magical education under your belt, you can choose whether you want to go to Hogwarts or not,” his mother had said, watching him nervously. She fiddled with the string wrapped loosely around the present. “Of course, if you want us to continue schooling you, we would be more than happy too but—oof!”

Louis had jumped into his mother’s arms, the pair of them collapsing on the overstuffed armchair. He had pressed smothering kisses on her face, shouting his thanks and running wildly around the house in search of a spare piece of parchment to write a letter to Liam. Louis’ father, ever a quiet observer and so unlike Louis, had only shook his head and chuckled.

“Careful, dear,” his mother had laughed. “You’ll squash your present.” She had handed the parcel into Louis’ eager clutches. “This is a little something we’ve compiled so that you won’t feel home-sick next year. Of course, September is months away but, knowing you, you’ll probably begin shopping for your textbooks tomorrow.”

Louis had smiled, heart leaping in his chest as he untied the twine carefully before he had grown impatient and ripped open the package. An array of items had fallen into his lap: his mother’s recipe book which included her famous spiced mince pies, his father’s pocket watch that blared whenever he was particularly late, a self-refilling mug emblazoned with the Hogwarts crest, and a framed photograph of the three of them (‘Louis, aged five, on a broomstick for the first time’ was scrawled on the back). The picture showed his parents on either side of him, joyously shouting words of encouragement. Louis’ cheeks had hurt as he smiled at the collection of items, fingers dancing over the edge of the photograph and the small scratches on his father’s beloved watch.

“Thank you,” he had said. His voice, thick with emotion as the sentimentality of the moment struck him, had betrayed him, cracking over the words.

That day seemed like an unbearably short time ago to Louis. Eight months had passed since then and, on the evening in question, Louis found himself packing the very same items into his trunk. He realised that these would be the mementos of his parents he would treasure the most at Hogwarts.

Louis’ father’s voice alerted him. “And make sure you give our regards to all of your professors,” he shouted from the kitchen. His father’s footsteps trotted up the stairs and Louis watched his smile as he laid eyes on Louis’ half-full trunk sprawled out on his bed. “Lawrence—Professor Saville, that is—will be teaching you Muggle Studies. You remember him, don’t you, Louis? He came to dinner last year when we were working on that Muggle artefacts project.”

“And Minerva of course,” his mother added from where she was directing the various quills and parchment flying across the room.

“Watch it,” Louis muttered when the pointed tip of a quill hit him squarely in the forehead, punctuating a stain of navy ink.

“I think that last time you saw her was during the summer for dinner,” she continued, unperturbed. “She was most impressed by how you transfigured the centrepiece into additional cutlery when the other guests arrived. I’m sure she’s ecstatic to teach you, dear.”

“She doesn’t seem the type to get ecstatic about much,” Louis muttered, futilely rubbing the ink from his face.

“I don’t know what you’re being moody about, dear. Your professors are all going to adore you,” she said, catching sight of the ink stain. She flicked her wand at his forehead and, with an affirmative glance to the mirror, Louis saw that the stain had disappeared.

“Sorry,” he sighed. “I just— I want to be known as myself, as Louis. Knowing some of my professors isn’t exactly going to help me make new friends.” He smiled ruefully. “Apart from Liam, of course, but the Head Boy probably has half the school drooling at his feet and I'll bet he doesn’t even know it.”

She smiled sympathetically, considering him for a moment before rubbing his shoulder.  “Don’t worry, dear. You’ll make friends in no time.”

For some reason, Louis didn’t find her reassurance particularly comforting.

 

*

 

The morning of September the first dawned bright and early, the distant sounds of bells chiming from the local church rousing Louis from his unsettled sleep. He took a moment to smile into his pillow, allowing his competing feelings of dread, anticipation and excitement to fill him up until he jumped from his rickety bed, unable to contain himself. He pulled on his Muggle clothes—faded jeans and a red jumper, the sleeves of which he needed to roll up—with shaking fingers before joining his parents downstairs.

After refusing breakfast at the house because his stomach was in his throat, Louis used the Levitation Charm to topple his trunk into the Vauxhall Astra they had borrowed. His mother handed him a slice of toast with a smear of raspberry jam and he munched on it without properly registering the taste. He climbed inside, pretending not to notice his parents’ whispering as he fidgeted with the stiff collar of his jacket. He slumped back in his seat with a sigh. They set off for London soon afterwards. Passing  the patchwork farms of the countryside before travelling through industrial areas, Louis watched the distance between the houses close and the traffic become more congested. Even the air in London seemed thicker, moist in the most uncomfortable of ways and so unlike the clean, fresh air of his own home. By the time they reached King’s Cross, it was almost quarter to eleven and Louis’ parents were, predictably, frantic.

“Quick, quick!” his father urged, surreptitiously swishing his wand to place Louis’ trunk and a sleeping Abrax onto a cart without attracting the attention of Muggle passers-by. “We can’t have you miss the Hogwarts Express!”

“Well, I suppose you could,” his mother said, pulling Louis into a tight embrace. “At least then we’d have an excuse to keep you at home for another year.” She frowned to herself. “That sounded less strange in my head.”

Louis rolled his eyes but he smiled despite himself. Taking his mother’s hand and giving it a comforting squeeze, he guided her to Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, vaguely wondering who was the parent and who was the child in their relationship. The early-morning commuters had long since left so the station was relatively empty, leaving them free to innocuously lean against the wall in turn. Louis pushed his trolley against the bricked wall and watched Abrax and the rest of the cart disappear before he followed.

Louis gaped at the sight before him, torn between wonder and anxiety. Abrax hissed at the smoke from the gleaming train billowing around them and obscuring the throngs of witches and wizards alike crowded there. Shouts and joyous laughter rang through the air. Louis heard calls of “good luck!” and promises to write daily above the thick steam. He heard his parents arrive behind them and spotted a familiar witch with bright-red hair rush over to them. As Louis predicted they would be, his parents, ever-loved by friends, colleagues and former students, were engulfed by the crowd.

Louis made his way along the platform, calling out apologies to oblivious onlookers as he wheeled his trolley through the crowd. He came to a stop at the nearest carriage, students spilling out compartments  and calling to their parents on the platform.  He noticed a boy who looked about his age heaving his enormous trunk into the train with a strained expression.

“Want a hand, mate?” Louis asked.

The boy eyed him curiously, setting his trunk back on his trolley and blowing a loose strand of dark hair out of his eyes.

“I’ve always been a bit shit at charms,” he muttered, watching Louis levitate the trunk and his sleeping owl into the luggage compartment of the train. “Thanks.”

“I’m Louis, by the way. I’m new.”

“Zayn.” His eyes, framed by devastatingly long lashes, trailed up Louis’ form. “You seem a bit old to be in first year,” he said with a wry smile.

“I was home-schooled. My parents were Hogwarts professors and they wanted to teach me instead of sending me there. Still a bit anxious after everything that happened,” he said, trailing off.

Zayn nodded, his smile twisting sympathetically. “So you were able to decide for yourself once you turned seventeen?”

“Yeah. I’ve been wanting to come here for years. My cousin, Liam, never shuts up about it.”

Zayn’s eyes widened and he shifted his feet on the spot, his interest apparently piqued. “Liam? Liam Payne is your cousin?”

Louis watched as Zayn’s eyes scanned the faces nearest to them, as though expecting Liam to suddenly appear at the mention of his name. “Yeah, born just three weeks apart. I’m older.”

Zayn laughed, but his reply was interrupted by the loud, blaring horn of the Hogwarts Express. “We’d better get on,” he shouted instead. “I’ll save you a seat if you want.”

Louis grinned and rushed through the crowd to locate his parents, squeezing past doting witches and dodging a group of wizards he recognised from his father’s dinner parties whose pipe smoke was adding to the fumes along the platform. He spotted his parents at last and his mother’s face lit up, as though it had not only been ten minutes since she had last seen him.

“Louis, sweetheart,” his mother exclaimed when he fell into her warm arms. She embraced him tightly, as though she didn’t want to let go, and pressed a kiss to his forehead. Pulling back, she held him at arm’s length and looked pointedly at him, giving him a stern look. “Now, if you need anything at all don’t hesitate to write to us. Your father and I can’t wait to hear the stories, so make sure to keep us updated. And stay out of trouble. We don’t want to get any letters back from your professors unless they’re to sing your praises.”

Louis smiled into her shoulder, the fabric pressing a mark against his cheek, and felt her tuck a croissant into his shoulder bag. Louis pulled back and rounded on his father who pushed his glasses up his long nose.

“Have a great year, son,” he said. He clapped Louis on the back and sniffed loudly. His eyes glimmered behind his spectacles, though that may have been because they were irritated from the thick smoke encircling them. Louis chose to think that he was, instead, feeling sentimental.  

“Thanks, Dad,” he said with a tight smile.

He nodded once, surveying Louis’ expression before clapping him on the back once more. “Don’t do anything your mother wouldn’t do.”

“Which excludes just about everything fun,” Louis said.

“Exactly the point,” he countered, bright eyes twinkling.

The horn blared a second time and Louis sent one final wave over his shoulder before rushing through the crowds and clambering onto the train. He scrambled past a group of sixth years inconspicuously eyeing him. He smiled at them nervously and found Zayn in a compartment with a boy wolfing down a plate of honey scones. Zayn motioned for Louis to join them through the compartment window.

“Hi mate,” the boy said, a long thread of honey stretching to his scone. “I’m Niall.”

Louis shook his hand and sat beside Zayn in silent awe of how quickly Niall managed to eat the tray of delicacies.

“Isn’t there going to be a feast later on?”

“Yeah,” he said, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his jacket, “but I took a Portkey with a couple of the other Irish lads this morning and didn’t get a chance to have a proper breakfast.”

Zayn rolled his eyes. “By proper breakfast you mean only a dozen sausages.”

The train jolted forwards then, the final shouts of farewell heard as the train journeyed north. They passed the bustling London streets and followed the winding tracks through the countryside, leaving only thick steam in their wake.

“Who’re your parents, then? You said they were Hogwarts professors, right?”

Louis nodded. “Me mum’s Professor Poulston. She taught Alchemy and retired early when I was born. Professor Tomlinson’s my dad. He retired when I was about seven. Taught Ancient Runes.”

Niall’s face lit up in recognition. “I think Ma’ mentioned knowing a Tomlinson at school. That’s cool, mate. Must be wicked having professors for parents. My dad’s a Muggle police officer and my ma’s a Healer.”

“So you’re a half-blood, then?”

Niall’s eyes narrowed, and Louis realised how that might have come across.

“Didn’t mean that in a bad way at all,” Louis said hastily.

Niall smiled, easily placated by his response. “S’fine, mate. Didn’t think you were one of those anyway,” he said. He leaned forward almost conspiratorially. “You just can’t be sure nowadays.”

Louis nodded. “To be honest, I don’t think anyone who truly believes in pure-blood superiority is going to go around screaming it from the top of their lungs. Especially not this soon after... everything.”

Niall grimaced. Louis heard Zayn make a strange noise that sounded close to a derisive, but slightly amused snort. Louis glanced at where Zayn had been flicking his wand between his fingers.

“You’d be surprised,” Zayn said darkly. “My family is pure-blood so most of my relatives were on Voldemort’s side during the War. My parents broke off ties with basically our entire family.  Think some of them still think they can re-start the War without Voldemort.”

“There are people who think like that at Hogwarts?” Louis asked incredulously.

“’Course,” Niall sighed, “but you won’t have to put up with them outside of classes.”

“Or unless you’re forced to share a dormitory with a Slytherin.”

Niall winced. “I forgot about that. Merlin’s pants, I couldn’t imagine anything worse.”

Louis looked between them in question. “Why would you have to share a dorm with a Slytherin if you’re not one too?”

“Last year, the old lioness—that’s McGonagall for you—decided to change things up a bit,” Niall said, taking another bite out of a scone with jam and cream smeared on top. “She said that the division between Slytherin and the other houses had become ‘untenable’ after the War—whatever that means—and started spewing some of that inter-house unity bollocks. Apparently, some snakes did have friends in other houses before the War and they felt bullied or left out.” Niall rolled his eyes. “Basically, she told us all that she’d had the brilliant idea of pairing every sixth and seventh-year student together with someone from a different house, instead of the separate house dormitories we used to have.

“Reckon she thought that we’d be old and mature enough to handle a change like that, and that this would be the perfect moment ‘to start forming better relationships with each other’.” Niall grimaced as he made some air-quotes. “Said we wouldn’t have a choice when we start working at the Ministry or wherever we end up after Hogwarts so we might as well start pretending we’re all best friends now.”

Louis shook his head in disbelief. He had heard countless stories from Liam about the sense of pride of being in house dormitories, sharing with close friends and decorating the walls with banners of your house. “Won’t that make things even more divided, though? Nobody's going to want to be forced to make friends. It’ll just make the whole situation worse, right?”

“You’re preaching to the choir, mate,” Niall said, throwing the last piece of scone into the air and catching it in his mouth, grinning victoriously. “So, what’s going to happen when you arrive? Are you going to get sorted with all the firsties or do you think McGonagall will let you choose a house?”

Louis shook his head. “I don’t know, mate. Both my parents are Gryffindors so it’s pretty likely I’ll be one too. Most of my family are, Liam included,” he said, turning to Zayn who (rather unconvincingly) pretended that this was new information to him.

“Wicked, mate. I’m in Hufflepuff and Zayn’s a Ravenclaw. Given that you’ll probably be in her house, I doubt McGonagall would be cruel enough to line you up with the first years to be sorted.” He chuckled. “You might stand out a bit.”

Niall and, occasionally, Zayn, spent the remainder of the journey exchanging stories about their experiences at Hogwarts, warning Louis about what to expect from certain professors and lessons, which classes were easiest to skive off and which dark corridors were best for some of the more unsolicited activities the older students tended to get up to. Louis tried not to blush at any mentions of those. He wasn’t a prude, but growing up with his middle-aged parents as his primary source of company seemed to place a certain restriction on Louis’ love life.

After that, Zayn filled Louis in on the N.E.W.T courses they had begun the previous year to make sure that he wouldn’t need to lag behind the rest of the class. Louis thought that the work he talked about was quite basic. His parents had taught him material beyond the core coursework. He was pretty sure he’d adjust to the school work quickly—it was the idea of having to fit in with a friend group that made him nervous.

Louis glanced outside as the surroundings changed outside once again. The train crossed mounted bridges over rivers and streams, travelling at a comfortable speed. The sun, which had shone high in the sky when they departed, was slowly setting. A gentle blend of orange and pink hues coloured the sky, farmhouses casting long shadows over the country fields they passed.

Just as Louis was about to ask what their arrival time would be, a cheerful voice called for them to change into their Hogwarts robes and announced that they would soon be arriving. Louis found that he was immediately singled out when he pulled on his plain black robes, the same type worn by the first years who had not yet been sorted. Zayn and Niall both had their house crest emblems embroidered on their chest pockets.

“Don’t worry, mate,” Niall said, noticing Louis fidget with the cuffs of his sleeves. He gave him a very Hufflepuff-esque smile. “You’ll be sorted before you know it.”

The train jolted to a stop a mere half-hour later, sending the three of them tumbling into a pile of limbs, Zayn groaning beneath them as Niall collapsed into a fit of laughter. They disembarked from the train, assured that their pets and trunks would be sent to their respective rooms, and landed on the narrow platform at Hogsmeade Station.

“Firs’ Years this way! Come along now! Firs’ Years over here with me!” a thunderous voice called.

“That’ll be Hagrid, the gamekeeper,” Niall said. He pulled Louis in the opposite direction, past crowds of anxious first years shuffling around an enormous man clad in a moleskin overcoat, to join a larger group at the perimeter of the station. “There it is.”

Louis turned around and gasped at the sight. In the distance, surrounded by steep mountains in the Scottish Highlands with the Great Lake gleaming below, stood Hogwarts. The vast castle boasted of turrets and towers, the small lights of the windows flickering and casting light across the expansive grounds. Though Niall and Zayn climbed up a small hill ahead of him, no longer quite as enraptured by the sight, Louis was unable to tear his eyes off the castle. They arrived at a gathering where Thestrals, their skeletal bodies and leather wings invisible to most students, pulled the carriages. They scrambled to find a carriage and, from a distance, Louis saw Liam’s distinctive outline.

“Liam!” he called, rushing ahead of Niall and Zayn. He watched Liam bang his head against the roof of the carriage as he was climbing inside before whipping around. His face lit up at the sight of Louis.

Liam charged towards and tackled him into a hug. “Lou, mate, good to see you!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t even get a chance to talk to you on the platform. Talked to your mum though. She told me to keep an eye on you.”

Louis sniggered. “As if you could. I see you’ve been bestowed with the title of Head Boy. Should I bow down before you? Or should I kiss your hand, perhaps?”

Liam swatted him away, chuckling self-consciously. “It’s not like that and you know it.”

Louis spotted Niall waving at him, Zayn trailing behind.

“Congrats Liam,” Niall said cheerily, clapping him on the shoulder. “Not that anyone wasn’t expecting it, though. You were obviously McGonagall’s first choice. And besides, it’s not like they were going to make Styles Head Boy.”

The three of them guffawed at the proposition

“Think she’d sooner Gryffindor lose the Quidditch Cup for the next hundred years,” Niall said.

Some of the carriages rolled in the direction of the castle, bypassing the smattering of trees and away from the village of Hogsmeade.

“Come on then, lads,” Niall said, clambering into the carriage. “The sooner we leave, the sooner we get to the feast and the sooner I can dig into all the delicacies that Hogwarts has to offer. Three months is too longer to suffer without treacle tart.”

They arrived at the castle shortly after that and Liam immediately dragged Louis through the corridors to see McGonagall, rambling about the fact that they needed to request that Louis be sorted separately from the first years. He matched them to the top of the Great Hall, Louis marvelling at the ceiling imitating the night sky in tow.

“Professor McGonagall,” Liam said, smiling at the witch, who was adorned with navy blue robes. He gestured proudly to Louis and he felt slightly uncomfortable beneath her rather unnerving stare. “I have my cousin here with me and he’s new to the school as you probably know. Well, of course you know, I just thought I should remind you because I’m sure you’re extremely busy what with organising the new school calendar and all the responsibilities that come with being Headmistress.”

Louis watched with amusement as Liam continued to ramble, watching Professor McGonagall’s expression become weary.

“I just thought you should know that, since it’s his first time here, and he’s going to stand out already, that he should be sorted separately instead of with the rest of the first years.” Liam glanced up hopefully. “If that suits you, of course,” he added.

Professor McGonagall’s thin lips quirked in mild amusement. “Well, Mr Payne, it’s good to see you after the summer holidays, too.”

“Oh!” Liam exclaimed, apparently horror-stricken by his own lack of manners. “I apologise, Professor, I didn’t mean to—”

She held up a hand in silence. “Not to worry, Mr Payne. It’s good to see our new Head Boy so concerned about even one new student. It sets quite an excellent standard for the others.” She turned to Louis, lips pursed. “Welcome to Hogwarts, Mr Tomlinson. I had the privilege of teaching alongside both of your parents. I’m certainly looking forward to ascertain the material they taught you. Knowing your mother Rosalyn, I’m sure she has you very well versed in Alchemy.”

“Thank you,” Louis said faintly. Under her close scrutiny, he felt every piece of information he ever learned disappear as though someone had cast a highly effective Obliviate on him.

“Now, I quite agree that it would be unnecessary to put you through the first-year Sorting Ceremony but rules are rules and you still need to be assigned your house.” She flicked her wand and the Sorting Hat, worn and frayed, soared into her outstretched hand. “The first years will be arriving any moment—assuming Hagrid hasn’t toppled into the lake again—so it would be best to do so now.” She pointed to the small stool at the very top of the Great Hall.

“Right now?” Louis exclaimed, suddenly feeling very hot beneath his robes.

“Yes, now, Mr Tomlinson,” she said impatiently. “Unless you would prefer your cousin to leave?”

“No,” he said, glancing up at Liam. He sat on the wobbly stool. “That’s alright. Liam can stay here.”

Louis closed his eyes and inhaled sharply when he felt Professor McGonagall lower the Sorting Hat on his head.

“Well,” a small, rough voice whispered, “aren’t you an intriguing one. You’re quite daring, I see; very little regard for rules or boundaries. You certainly have a temper on you, haven’t you? And you’ll go to great lengths to get your way. There’s a nobility in your pursuits, though, that’s for sure. And I don’t think Slytherin quite fits with your values, though it would be fascinating to see how well you’d bode there. I suppose, all things considered, it’ll have to be... GRYFFINDOR!”

Louis sighed with relief, his thundering heart slowing down to a less alarming pace. He blinked rapidly in the bright lights when he felt the hat lift from his eyes. He saw Professor McGonagall nod at him approvingly as Liam engulfed him in yet another a tight embrace.  

“You will join the rest of your house for the start of term banquet,” she said before her lips drew into a small smile, her eyes alight behind her spectacles. “I certainly hope you’re good at Quidditch, Mr Tomlinson. Welcome to Gryffindor House.”

The Great Hall soon filled with students and he spotted Zayn and Niall join their respective house tables. Liam sat next to him, describing his summer holiday in Peru where his father, a prominent arithmancer, was working alongside Curse-Breakers in the Amazon Rainforest. Their conversation was periodically interrupted by students greeting Liam and congratulating him on his appointment as Head Boy. Louis was thankful for his cousin for introducing him to each of the students that approached them. Most of them seemed intrigued by Louis whenever Liam mentioned that he was not a transfer student from another wizarding school but that he was home-schooled. Louis hardly had time to talk to Liam, what with being distracted by names and faces that felt like a blur of questions asking him about growing up under his parents’ noses.

After the chatter in the Great Hall began to quieten down, the doors to the Great Hall swung open to reveal Professor McGonagall followed by a long line of petrified first years. She turned around at the top and faced the entire hall with a tight, but not unwelcoming smile. “Good evening to you all and welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. We’re going to begin with the Sorting Ceremony now, and then you shall be able to enjoy your feast.”

The first years exchanged looks of horror, scrambling to hide themselves in the group. Louis leaned forwards to get a proper view of the Sorting Hat. The very second Professor McGonagall placed the Sorting Hat on the stool, it burst into song.

Welcome, young first years, you’re new to the show,

I’m the Sorting Hat, you see, I reveal what you know

And the house I assign you will cultivate your talents, allow you to grow.

In wisdom you’ll blossom, in bravery you’ll soar,

By the end of your journey I’ve no doubt some of you will return for more.

In Gryffindor you’ll find the fiercely brave and noble-hearted,

Ravenclaw is where your wisdom will expand and venture into the uncharted,

Why, in Slytherin lie the ambitious and shrewd,

And the dear Hufflepuffs value patience and try to make peace, dissolve feuds.

In your houses you’ll learn far more than just skills,

You’ll form friends, share laughter, tell stories with your quills,

You’ll discover where your talents and allegiances truly lie,

Though I must warn some of you not to allow prejudices to blind your eye.

The Great Hall erupted in applause, a couple of Gryffindor students seated behind Louis standing on their bench to whoop loudly, chanting something very rude.

“Quiet down, now,” Professor McGonagall called sternly, eyes narrowing at the sight of the two Gryffindors. She flicked her wand in their direction and they promptly sat on the benches once again, looking mildly perturbed by her lack of reaction. “When I call your name, you must step forward and I will place the Sorting Hat on your head.”

Louis watched as the list trickled down until the final three students were called. Elizabeth Waters, Penelope Worcester and Kenneth Zebley were sorted into Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor respectively and cheers from each of the houses sounded as they were bestowed with a new member.

Without a moment’s notice, delectable food appeared along each of the house tables. Rosemary roasted potatoes, buttery peas, roast beef drowning in gravy, and spicy chicken wings piled into tall pyramids lined the tables. The students dived forward to fill their plates and Louis followed suit, suddenly reminded of how hungry he really was. He was reaching for a bowl of basil and tomato soup when the double doors of the Great Hall swung open.

Louis craned his neck and followed the source of the sound. A tall boy with dark, tousled hair and a sharp jaw sauntered inside, flicking his wand to extinguish every candle suspended above the Slytherin table. He fell dramatically onto one of the benches before tucking his wand into the pocket of his dark green robes. He glared at the students gaping at him, others sharing incredulous looks.

“Well, what are you staring at?” he demanded.

His voice was devastatingly low and he spoke slowly, articulate despite his sneering tone. It carried across the Great Hall and, apparently, everyone was hanging onto his every word.

Louis heard whispers and exasperated sighs from the Gryffindors around him. He watched Professor McGonagall’s sharp eyes narrow as she hushed the first years to sit with their houses. She marched down the centre of the Great Hall until she came to a stop beside the boy, who was chewing moodily on a slice of steak and kidney pie.

Most of the students were staring at him; some with awe, others with poorly disguised admiration, and a couple with something close to fear. Louis wasn’t quite sure what was so enrapturing about him; he certainly didn’t recognise his face from any of the photographs Liam showed him of his friends from Hogwarts. Louis noticed a girl beside the dark-haired boy nudge his side when she saw McGonagall approaching. The boy smirked at the sight of her and raised an eyebrow.

“And why might you be late, Mr Styles? This is no way to start a new term. I thought you might have learned by now.”

“Did you really think that, Professor? Or were you just humouring yourself?”

The Slytherins around him chortled, others shaking their heads while the boy opposite Styles, wearing a nasty smirk, merely looked entertained.

Her eyebrows shot together. “Ten points from Slytherin House,” she announced loudly, prompting one of the Slytherins beside the boy to groan. “You need to discipline yourself, Mr Styles, or I can very well promise you that you’ll be out of this school before the Quidditch season begins.”

The students in the Great Hall were soon distracted by the arrival of a soaking wet Hagrid who fell into his chair, which promptly collapsed into a pile of wood beneath him. Horace Slughorn, an old portly man and Head of Slytherin, sighed and raised his wand. Hagrid’s overcoat and beard dried instantly, though he still looked dishevelled, his skin a clammy grey colour.

Louis, however, had to tear his eyes from where McGonagall was muttering into the boy’s ear. He looked completely unbothered and she left soon thereafter, sighing to herself. As she took her seat at the head of the Great Hall, she leaned down to whisper into Professor Flitwick’s ear. Louis was about to ask who the arrogant and, frankly, rude boy was, when he was interrupted.

“So, Louis,” Vivian Campbell, a fellow Gryffindor. “How do you think you’re going to fare with all this coursework? N.E.W.T.s are this year, you know.”

Louis was promptly distracted and launched into a conversation with Vivian about the particular demands of Charms and the merits of individualism in Potions. After Louis had chatted to some of the other Gryffindors in his year and had his fill of delicious food, the plates were soon replaced by trays of desserts. Profiteroles overflowing with fresh cream, treacle tart, and pumpkin spice pudding sprang up on the long tables. Louis cut himself a slice of white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake just as Professor Flitwick stood up behind the table, clapping his hands rather loudly to garner the students’ attention.

“While you’re all enjoying the magnificent array of desserts the house-elves have prepared—in particular our Head Chef, Nina—on behalf of Professor McGonagall I have a few announcements to make, one of which I’m sure many of you will be very excited about,” he called.

Louis glanced around and noticed that Professor McGonagall was absent from the table and that she was, instead, marching the dark-haired Slytherin from before back to his seat at the table.

“Firstly, along with our first years, we have a new seventh-year Gryffindor student to welcome: Louis Tomlinson.”

Louis felt his entire face flush as the entire student body was given a valid excuse to crane their necks to get a good look at him. He looked awkwardly at his hands before changing his mind and glancing at where Liam was clapping enthusiastically.

“I hope you’ll all make him feel welcome and have regard to the fact that, despite his age, he too will need help adjusting to life at Hogwarts. On behalf on Ravenclaw House, we would absolutely be—”

“That’s perfectly fine, Filius,” Professor McGonagall interrupted, resuming her seat at the top of the Great Hall with an exasperated sigh. “Now along with this, I would like to remind you all, as always, that the Forbidden Forest is strictly out of bounds and any student found there without accompaniment by a professor will have his or her house docked one hundred points and will be subject to three months of detention with me.” Her eyes lingered on the Styles boy.

“Next, and as I mentioned at the conclusion of last term, we have decided to adjust the living arrangements for sixth and seventh-year students. You will each have your own house common rooms to socialise, of course, but we hope that this new initiative will tackle the inter-house tension of late, especially among our older students who should be setting good examples. Boys and girls will be separate but each student will be placed with someone from a different house to cultivate better attitudes towards co-operation between all students.”

She whipped out her wand and from it sprang a long piece of parchment. “I will assign each of you with a roommate from the same year but from a different house, and the location of each of your living quarters. There will be absolutely no exceptions. If I hear of any misconduct or bullying, the student or students involved will be severely punished.”  

Professor McGonagall proceeded to listlessly read names from the list. The students each had varying reactions; some visibly winced while others seemed genuinely delighted by the prospect of sharing a room with one of their friends. Louis heard Zayn and Niall’s names called together and spotted Niall darting to pull a reluctant-but-relieved Zayn into his arms. Liam’s name was called alongside a Ravenclaw by the name of Joshua Shafiq and they were assigned the best dormitory in the castle, overlooking the tallest mountain peak behind Hogwarts. Some of the Gryffindors sitting near them jeered at this, joking about Head Boy privileges.

As Professor McGonagall called out yet more unfamiliar names—though some surnames he recognised—Louis couldn’t help but feel the weight of anxiety settle on his shoulders. They were rigid beneath his clothes. As his stomach twisted and coiled into uncomfortable knots, he suddenly regretted the enormous dinner he had eaten. Liam placed a consoling hand on his arm.

“Harry Styles,” McGonagall called, tone laced with distaste. She glanced at the list and sighed regretfully. “Will be paired with Louis Tomlinson in the uppermost dormitory in the Right Tower.”

Louis felt the breath knocked out of him. Harry Styles? The very boy who seemed to possess the ability to captivate and instil fear into an entire hall of students was Louis’ new roommate. Suddenly, the prospect of making new friends seemed like a wild fantasy. He glanced at Liam helplessly, feeling the entirely of Gryffindor table grimace and exchange sympathetic murmurs. He heard whispers, some outraged on his behalf, others shocked by his assignment.

 “...imagine being the new boy and having to share with Styles. That’s fucking rough.”

“ ...can’t believe McGonagall would do that to him. He should be given his own dormitory for everyone’s safety.”

“...how does she expect the new boy to share with Styles of all people? He should be the exception, I say. Styles should be put with one of the Slytherins. They all worship the ground he walks on, anyway.”

Liam pulled him into a tight hug that didn’t go unnoticed by McGonagall. “Don’t worry, Lou, I’ll sort this out,” he said, though he didn’t look optimistic.

Once McGonagall had finished reading the list of roommates, she called for silence. Louis slumped against Liam and watched as she rose from her chair, commanding the students’ attention despite her unformidable stature.

“Now, as Professor Flitwick mentioned, we have a rather exciting piece of information that, for some of you whose parents are in the Ministry, will not come as surprise.” She cast her gaze over the four long tables, before extracting her wand from the pocket of her robes. She waved it in a circular motion and an enormous banner reading ‘Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry welcomes Beauxbatons and Durmstrang schools for the Triwizard Tournament’.

The Great Hall broke into gasps and chatter, a couple of students who had already been told about the Triwizard Tournament talking smugly over the cheers.

“Settle down!” she called. “Now, as you’re aware, the last time the Triwizard Tournament was held was ten years ago. We spent most of last year negotiating with the Ministry of Magic to secure Hogwarts as the designated school to host, assured as we were that here would be—relatively—the safest choice.”

A mini firework coloured in yellow and red shot into the air reading ‘Hogwarts to win the Triwizard Cup!’ from the Ravenclaw table.

Professor McGonagall suppressed a smile. “Yes, Miss McLennan, we’re all anticipating Hogwarts to win in this tournament but before we get ahead of ourselves, I must lay down the new rules and regulations decided between the three schools. We came to the following arrangements after some… testing negotiations.”

Professor Flitwick charmed the banner hanging above the long table to depict the badges of each of the houses in the four corners. Professor McGonagall nodded curtly before reading from a piece of parchment.

“Firstly, all eligible competitors must have reached the age of seventeen by the deadline for submission into the Goblet of Fire. Submissions, once made, cannot be rescinded. The Goblet selects the students and those candidates have no choice but to take part, so consider carefully what is at stake before you enter your name. It will be located in the Great Hall for any such students to enter their name tomorrow morning.

"Secondly, the candidates are not to receive any external help, including professors or other students. They are to prepare by themselves. Finally, and most importantly, in accordance with attempts to improve health and safety measures, each of the three schools will propose two candidates. That is, two Hogwarts students will be chosen to work as a team to overcome the Triwizard tasks.” She raised her hand to silence the chatter along the tables. “Students must submit their names individually and the Goblet will choose the best candidates for the Tournament. Best of luck to you all.”

Students from each of the tables stood in unison and battled their way to the double doors at the back of the Great Hall. Louis tentatively watched Liam approach Professor McGonagall. She shook her head before he could even speak.

“I’m fully aware that the situation is unfavourable, Mr Payne, but at least he has the benefit of trying to get along with someone new," she said pointedly. "That would never be possible with any of the students from other houses—the students he already knows. At least give Mr Styles the benefit of the doubt.”

“But Professor, Louis can hardly be expected to get along with—”

“I won’t hear of excuses, Mr Payne. As you very well know, rules are rules and if word gets out that I made an exception for one boy then everyone and their mother will want to swap.” She nodded once before sweeping past them both and out of the Great Hall.

“Thanks for trying, mate,” Louis muttered.

“Don’t worry about it,” Liam said. His mouth twisted into the closest thing to a grimace that his face could manage. “Just don’t take any shit from Styles because he loves walking all over people. But don’t get yourself in trouble either. He’s a sneaky little mink that’ll blame anyone to get away without punishment.”

“You know me, Liam. I’ll always stand up for myself.”

“Yeah, but don’t be a pointless heroic either. Styles is going to try to wind you up, so you have to learn to ignore him sometimes.”

They trundled up one of the tall staircases towards the Right Tower, passing stained-glass windows and portraits depicting everything from fighting scenes between giants, to plump, powdered ladies gossiping about the likely candidates for the Triwizard Tournament.

“Think you’ll put your name in the Goblet, then?” Louis asked as they rounded a dark corridor lined with dim lamps.

“I think so, yeah,” Liam said. “Be a great thing to try out for at least. I reckon it would be alright. If I got picked, that is. I’m good with the physical tasks and duelling aspects so having a partner with me can only help matters for solving all the riddles and clues, you know? Pretty useless with all that stuff.”

Louis hummed. “I’m going to think about it tonight but I probably will, too.”

Liam paused abruptly. “Louis,” he warned. “Your parents... I know what they're like. They are not going to agree to something like that and you know it.”

“Well, they’re not here to make the decision for me. Besides, I probably won’t even be picked. There’s plenty of people I don’t even know here who are much better than me.”

“In what? You know the entirety of the coursework and far more than that, Lou,” Liam said. “Just— give it serious consideration before you do anything. And for Merlin’s sake, don’t let the time your parents find out be when you’re on the front page of the Daily Prophet.”

Louis ruffled Liam’s hair. “Don’t worry about me, Liam.” They came to a stop outside Louis’ assigned dormitory in the Right Tower and climbed up winding staircases (avoiding the step at the very top). “Now go and do your Head Boy duties.”

Liam smiled and waved him off. Louis slumped against the wall, taking a moment of reverie to glance out of the window beside the door to his dormitory. The magnificent view spoke of the Great Lake and the mountains encompassing it. The twinkling lights from the downstairs classrooms shone across the sloping hills leading down to the lake that they had climbed that previous afternoon. To Louis, it felt like a lifetime ago.

He took a deep breath and knocked firmly on the door, expecting Harry to open the door. There was no response, however, so he pushed the door and entered the room, muttering “lumos” to ignite the lanterns on the two bedside lockers.

Two overstuffed chairs, one upholstered in scarlet and gold, the other in silver and emerald green, overlooked a tall window peering over the edge of the lake. Copper lamps cast a warm glow, bathing the room in a soft light. Patchwork quilts covered the two four-poster beds and each of their trunks were set adjacent to the beds. Abrax slinked over to him, purring softly when Louis rubbed between her ears.

“I guess this is home now, right Abrax?”

Louis noticed a second black cat, almost identical to Abrax. She had a distinctive white patch at the end of her tail, however, and her eyes were noticeably darker. She was perched on the bed with the thick, green quilt—Harry’s bed—eyeing Louis suspiciously. Louis approached her, sitting on the edge of Harry’s bed to pet her gently. Despite her initial tentativeness, the cat instantly curled against his side, purring into his robes. Abrax leaped onto the bed, jealous of the attention Louis was paying the other cat, and Louis laughed at his antics, rubbing them both behind the ears. Louis watched them both preen under his attention and felt relieved that the second cat and Abrax tolerated each other. He desperately wanted to fall back on the emerald bedsheets, limbs aching from the long journey cramped in the train carriage and sated after the feast. He knew, however, that Harry was likely to arrive back any minute.

Louis extracted himself from the two cats and changed into the plaid pyjamas folded on his bed. He brushed his teeth and tucked himself under the bedsheets, Abrax and the second cat joining him curled up on his pillow. Although he was exhausted, eyelids heavy and movements languid, he felt it necessary to stay up until Harry arrived back to the dormitory. He didn’t want to leave a bad first impression before falling asleep before he could properly introduce himself, even if it seemed that Styles was an arrogant Slytherin. Though he wasn’t sure Harry could even recognise, let alone appreciate, common courtesy, it felt like the decent thing to do.

In the end, Louis forced himself to write a letter to his parents to keep himself awake. He reached over Abrax and the white-tailed cat and found a blank piece of parchment and black ink. His neat scrawl informed them of his initial thoughts on the castle and the teachers, his place in Gryffindor and the announcement of the Triwizard Tournament. He carefully avoided addressing whether or not he planned to enter his name. Thoughts of being chosen for the tournament flooded his thoughts and send a thrill of excitement through him. It would be a chance for him to leave his mark at the school, prove himself and show his capabilities, not to mention the thousand Galleons prize.

He signed off his name and folded up his parchment, making a mental note to ask Liam where the Owlery was.

The door swung open with a sharp bang. Louis started and his gaze shot to the rickety door. Styles strutted inside, eyes following the intricacies of the dormitory before they landed on Louis.

“Hi, mate,” Louis said, pulling back the bedsheets and clambering out of bed with less grace than he had intended. He held out his hand, ignoring Harry’s upturned lip. “I’m Louis Tomlinson.”

“Styles,” he muttered, “Harry Styles.” His gaze was trained on the inky sky through the window. Louis dropped his outstretched hand.

“You’re a Tomlinson, then?” he said, sauntering over to his bed, tracing the Slytherin crest adorning his pyjamas. “What’s a pure-blood like you doing in Gryffindor?”

Louis’ shoulders tensed and he tightened his jaw. “If you have an issue with non-pure-bloods then I’m requesting a new room right now.”

Harry laughed obnoxiously. “I see why you’re in with the rest of those pointless heroics, then. All too sanctimonious for your own good.” He glanced at where Louis stood with his hands crossed over his chest. “I’m not opposed to non-pure-bloods.”

Louis nodded, eyeing Styles as he crossed the room to return to his bed. He noticed two copper bed warmers hanging on the wall and cast an Incedaguia, a charm that produced hot water into both of the bed warmers. He handed one gingerly to Harry who nodded at him, tucking it beneath his pillow with his left hand.

“How did you do that?” he asked suddenly. Louis immediately wheeled around to follow his line of sight, landing on his own pillow.

“Cassiopeia—she never goes near anyone except me,” he whispered. Styles approached the two cats cautiously, as though afraid to interrupt their sleeping. “How did you do that?” he demanded.

“I don’t know, really, I guess she just liked Abrax and then—”

“If you hexed my cat, I’ll fucking kill you,” Harry whispered darkly.

Louis gaped at Harry, his heart leaping into his throat. “Fuck, no! I swear I didn’t,” he startled. “Why would you even think that?”

He frowned at Louis, eyes scanning his face before nodding, albeit unwillingly. “Abrax, you said? Like the winged horse?”

“Yeah,” Louis breathed. Louis stepped closer to him, relieved that that Harry was opening up to him. “You see, my Patronus is an Abraxan Winged Horse and my father was so delighted that I was able to conjure one that he—”

“I really couldn’t care less.”

Louis’ fists clenched but he stopped himself from retorting as Harry stepped closer to the two cats. He rubbed his knuckles on Abrax’s head before gently picking Cassiopeia up from the bed with his left hand. She immediately curved her body into Harry’s touch, who was stroking along her back and head.

Harry glanced up to find Louis staring at him, open-mouthed at his gentle demeanour. “What the fuck are you staring at?” he hissed, voice low as if he was unwilling to wake the cat cradled in his arm. He sauntered over to his bed and placed her at the end of it.

Louis busied himself with his belongings on his bedside table before getting into bed and turning on his side. Five minutes later, he heard bedsheets rumpling and a heavy sigh. Harry muttered “Nox” and the lights were extinguished.

In the pitch darkness, Louis suddenly felt immensely lonely. He stared at the faint outline of the bathroom door, trying to will himself to fall asleep. His mind, however, was consumed with thoughts of the confusing, infuriating boy who was muttering in his sleep across the room.