Actions

Work Header

Haunting Beauty

Work Text:

 

Thump!

Harry startled awake and sat up in his desk chair, rubbing his eyes. He furrowed his brow at the binder that had somehow fallen to the floor on the side of his desk. He was fairly certain he had placed it a safe distance from the edge, aligning the back of it in a right angle because he liked his work space neat. Although, he had just fallen asleep in the middle of grading his students’ last papers of the year, so who knew? He blinked at his alarm clock, ticking away on his bedside table—Three in the morning. No wonder he was imagining things! There was a half-empty cuppa on his desk, definitely gone cold by now. There were also three more papers he had to check before he could finalize this year’s grades. With a shrug, he downed the cold tea in one go and set back to work.

Two days later, Harry waved off his last lingering students for the day and sat down with a sigh. This was it. He had finally completed his first year of teaching and it had gone quite well he thought. His year nine students had given him a card with a small poem they’d written about the past school year with him. He opened it and smiled at the carefully drawn out letters and the messy signatures underneath. The year eleven students were a bit more pragmatic and trying harder to look adult, but they had given him a sincere thank you card and a batch of oatmeal biscuits. With what he had heard about them in the teacher’s lounge, he knew that was a sign they truly cared about his class. He’d mentored them in their last year before the very first GSCE tests in England after all, and there had been a general hope in the air as he’d dismissed them ten minutes early that he would get to do the same for their A-levels.

As he closed his eyes and tried to realise that the school year was over, a sudden breeze tousled his hair from the right. He grimaced, fairly sure that he had told the students to shut all windows before leaving. When he turned towards the windows, he felt his face going slack and his eyes widen. Every single window had been blown open. Now this was either an elaborate prank or a supernatural occurrence. He chuckled at the thought and got up to close the windows. It must have been a short blast of wind to blow them open or something similar.

Just as Harry turned the handle on the last window, the one nearest to his desk and the front of the classroom, he heard the unmistakable scratching of chalk on the blackboard. He turned quickly, just in time to see the chalk hit the ground. He furrowed his brow as he picked up the pieces and placed them back where they belonged, only to find a rather displeasing caricature of male genitalia right in front of him. The way it was drawn seemed kind of familiar…He remembered scolding one of his students for drawing something eerily similar to this within the week. He must’ve been imagining things…

It was only a week later that he first caught a real sight of one of the strange things that seemed to now be happening around him each day. His morning tea had been unbearably sweet for the past three days and he couldn’t put his finger on why. Although sugar cubes had been disappearing from his cupboard—and, as he’d expertly deduced, reappearing in his mug.

This morning he actually heard what sounded like a giggle before turning around and looking to find five cubes of sugar had somehow been placed next to his teabag. Catching it before he poured the water over it was progress though, so he took out the excess and put them back in the container.

When he turned back to the screeching kettle, he heard another airy laugh from behind him. Slowly turning, he saw what appeared to be a young man standing in his kitchen and dropping even more sugar in his mug. He was a little smaller than Harry, thin and dressed like he was from a different time. Definitely not the 1980s, in his billowing shirt and high-waisted trousers. What really caught Harry’s eye though, wasn’t his otherworldly appearance; it was that he was sort of translucent. He had colour, his light skin softly tanned, his hair brown and his white shirt had subtle ruffles along the collar and sleeves. Harry could even see the pinstripes on his trousers. But he could also see his herb pots on the windowsill behind the man.

As he watched this apparition put sugar cube after sugar cube into his mug, he was gripping the handle of the kettle so tightly that his knuckles turned white. Until the lad seemed satisfied and turned towards Harry with a mischievous smile, at which point he froze, looking shocked. His eyes were piercing blue for the second that Harry saw him, but then, within the blink of an eye, he disappeared. Harry shook his head and looked back at the spot. Nothing. He set down the kettle and peered into his mug. It was filled to the brim with sugar.

 

***

 

So, he had been caught. That hadn’t happened in almost a century. Louis knew that his little tea prank would be figured out eventually, but he couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed when he saw the teacher put the sugar cubes back into the little dish. It was whimsical to throw all caution to the wind just to see his face scrunch up in disgust at the sweetness, but for some reason, he really needed to see that face. He should probably find the shock on the lad’s face when he saw him just as funny, but he wasn’t all too thrilled at the prospect of having his identity discovered. Hauntings of his kind were supposed to be fun, but he’d heard of other poltergeists who had been discovered and made to turn towards the light. He didn’t want to leave this realm, especially now that he had finally found a person who didn’t seem to particularly mind being haunted. Over the course of a hundred years, Louis had haunted all sorts of people, but never once had he found somebody that he didn’t think he would get bored of eventually. The man seemed to find the minor inconveniences Louis caused in his life fascinating rather than obnoxious.

The longest Louis had haunted someone was towards the beginning of his being a ghost. It had been the rich Earl of Whereeverthefuck and Louis had exclusively haunted his library, reading hundreds of books over the span of almost an entire year, before he got bored and moved on. The Earl had been a bit dull anyway, and he’d barely encountered Louis’ mischief…He seemed to keep his books as more of a monetary investment than an intellectual one, which turned Louis off of him as person very quickly.

This teacher, however, treasured books to no end. His library was by no means extensive, especially having seen what Louis had seen in his life and…after-life, but he treated each book with such care that Louis couldn’t help but start reading through his collection while the man was sound asleep. At first he’d turned up his nose at the colourful paperbacks—He’d refused to read contemporary literature after a run-in with a particularly unfortunate piece of young adult literature in the 1960s, but he was curious about what the teacher seemed to enjoy about these books so much. And he had gotten into a stale habit of rearranging all the neighbour’s cutlery out of boredom at night, so he figured some light reading might do him well.

Within the last week and a half he’d read through a full row of the little bookshelf in the bedroom and he’d found it very refreshing—especially the teacher’s notes in the margins! At first of course, he was appalled somebody would ruin a perfectly good book like that. But the thoughts of the young man very much sparked his interest, which was also what had caused Louis to follow him to the school where he taught and sit in on his lessons. He was very engaging. So much so, that Louis had completely forgotten to cause mischief on the first day he was there. He had just been hanging on his lips for the entire day. He had also listened to the young girls walking into the classroom, giggling about “Mister Styles” and how handsome he was. Louis had to admit they weren’t wrong. He wasn’t particularly impressed by the fashions of this decade, but the slightly grown out hair and the jeans with the colourful shirts and jumpers looked very handsome indeed on the teacher. Louis really needed to find out the man’s first name, he couldn’t keep calling him “the teacher”.

 

***

 

Harry’s first instinct after the encounter was to completely ignore it and act like it had been a dream. Sadly, the evidence pointed against it being a dream and the piercing blue eyes of the apparition wouldn’t leave his mind. So he decided to do the only thing he really knew to do—he went to the library to find out if there were any books about encounters of this kind.

The lady behind the checkout desk greeted him with a friendly nod when he came in and he smiled at her. On the short car ride over, he’d thought about how to approach this subject and whereas he usually wasn’t opposed to asking for help in his research, he had a feeling this subject might be a little bit different. He glanced at the computer set up next to the front desk and considered a search on the web, but the machine with the unusually large screen was installed in a way that permitted prying eyes to see what he was searching, so he decided against it. He walked toward the back of the seemingly endless rows of books and searched for anything that could have information about apparitions or ghosts. He felt more comfortable starting with the novels, so he took a short one that sounded promising off the shelf and sat down in a comfortable chair to read it. The novel seemed to be of the horror genre and though it was thrilling, it didn’t mention any friendly or mischievous entities, so he put it back after he had finished. That hadn’t gotten him very far. He skimmed over the titles once more, finding only one of the other novels that caught his eye. The woman on the cover was edited to look similarly translucent to the young man in his kitchen that morning, so he decided to check it out and take it back home. Surely, a novel wouldn’t be too suspicious to take home?

“Already planning your lessons for the coming year, Mister Styles?” The lady smiled as she took the book from him, before giving it a second glance. “Surely this is not the type of book you would teach about?” she asked with a frown on her face.

“Certainly not,” Harry rushed to say. “This one is for light personal reading to start off the summer.” He forced a smile, but it seemed to satisfy Mrs Brown, whom he now remembered had a daughter in one of his classes. He kept the interaction as short as possible and rushed back home to read the book.

 

***

 

Louis had been so engrossed in his thoughts about getting caught that he only noticed the teacher had left when it was too late to follow him. He sighed and made his way to the bedroom to read. He was so wrapped up in the worn novel in his hands that his keen ghost senses didn’t even notice the teacher coming back home. The next in the line of books on the shelf had been a tattered copy of the collective works of Jane Austen, which Louis of course remembered reading even before his death. Maybe that was why he was so distracted that he only noticed the bedroom door opening when it was too late. He dropped the book and disappeared without a second thought. The man looked at his armchair with a furrowed brow and picked up the book he had just heard dropping onto it with a strange look. He looked at what Louis had been reading and…smiled? He definitely smiled, before shutting the book and putting it back in its place. Then he dropped his bag by his desk and walked back toward the kitchen. Louis started to follow before he remembered he’d wanted to find out what the man was called. He made sure he was alone in the room before racing to the bag and shuffling through to find any form of identification. He found a library card tucked in the front of a book and grabbed it. Harry Styles.

Hm, Louis liked the ring of that. In his day Harry had been a nickname, but seemingly this man’s name wasn’t short for Harold. It was quirky, much like Harry himself. Louis quickly put the card back before he could be discovered again and went to the kitchen. As long as he wasn’t distracted, he would be completely invisible. Or so he hoped.

The man, Harry, was standing by the cooker and quietly humming to himself as he waited for the kettle to boil. Louis stayed back and watched him. When the kettle started whistling, he took it off the hob and moved to his cup, leaning over it to look inside. Louis saw him furrow his brow and move closer. He frowned, pouting ridiculously, and Louis couldn’t help but giggle at that. Usually, his noises weren’t audible to the living if he didn’t want them to be, so he was incredibly caught off guard when Harry turned in his direction at the sound. Louis’ heart would have started racing if he were still alive; even now he didn’t go through the automatic action of his ghost breathing—which of course didn’t really affect him, but his body still reacted in a very human way, even after all these years. Harry squinted his eyes in the half-dark of the room but he couldn’t see Louis. He scrunched up his face in a way that made Louis want to reach out and touch a living human for the first time since he’d died a hundred years ago. Louis wasn’t sure but he thought he saw a small smile playing at Harry’s lips when he poured his tea.

 

***

 

That little laugh had definitely been there when Harry had checked his mug in the kitchen, there was no way he’d imagined it…Right? Right. He’d never heard a giggle that sounded quite so much like a wind chime, so soft and airy…he couldn’t have imagined it. And he hadn’t read Emma in ages, so it seemed that someone—or something?—else had been reading it. Now that he thought about it, maybe it was impolite to just close the book and put it back on the shelf? He shook his head at himself as he walked down the hall to his bedroom.

He placed his cuppa on the floor by his armchair and pulled out the book from his bag. When he sat down with the reading lamp pointed at the book in his hands, he couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable, like someone was watching him. Well, if the giggle in the kitchen had been anything to go by, he probably was being observed. The man who had stood in the very same kitchen in the morning had looked to be about his age, although Harry had no idea if he could age. Going by his unusual attire, he guessed no. Still, he hadn’t seemed overly formal or old-fashioned. Harry changed his stiff sitting position, pulling his legs up onto the seat and started reading.

That book was the second of many, and it turned out not to be very helpful, other than confirming that not all ghost stories belonged in the same genre as the one first he’d read. In the end, Harry wasn’t too sure he wanted to stab himself with an ornate dagger to finally be able to fall in love with his ghostly friend.

The ghost had gotten more careful after the day that Harry had seen him, but he continued to mess with Harry in a good-natured way. More often than not, Harry would find his things had been rearranged in the morning when he woke up…It had started with just placing his alarm out of his arm’s reach so he couldn’t snooze in the warm sunlight coming from his window. Then he’d found that his mug for his morning cuppa had already been prepared by the time he woke up, only it was filled to the brim with sugar cubes that he had to take back out. The ghost also seemed to enjoy reading his books. Sometimes when Harry woke up, he could hear a book dropping into his armchair again, but mostly he noticed that there was a little bookmark sticking out of different books over the course of the following weeks. Harry had gotten so used to the presence in his home that he felt the absence when he went out grocery shopping or on the rare occasion he met with other people.

As his research with the novels didn’t seem fruitful, Harry decided it was time to go on to more analytical publications. He found himself in a part of the library he’d never previously visited and picked out Apparitions and Ghosts by a man called Arthur Barker and after that Haunted England by Christina Hole. Skimming through those and taking notes took him about a day each.

When he came back to the library the third day in a row, not having taken out any books in a while for fear of Mrs Brown at the front desk judging him, he wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself. He also felt that this time, his ghost, a poltergeist—as he had now categorized it—had followed him and didn’t quite know what to make of that. He went back to the table he’d occupied more often than not in the past few days and nervously opened his notebook. What his notes were telling him was that some ghosts haunted people or places because they had unfinished business, but that didn’t seem right. His ghost seemed to enjoy being here judging by the smiley face of sugar Harry had found on the counter this morning. He decided to write down his observations on a separate page and see if anything matched up with what he’d found in his research. The first few points on his list were things like moves things and makes noises, but as he went on, Harry realised that he was writing more and more things related to the ghost’s personality and appearance. Likes to read, mischievous, nice laugh, beautiful blue eyes, loves sugar (?), translucent, dressed in historic clothes, immature (draws dicks)…He found himself smiling at his little list and looked back to what his research had told him. Few of the things actually added up. The most interesting thing that he hadn’t really looked into yet, was the aspect of the historic clothing, so he got up and went to find a book on historic fashion.

 

***

 

Louis knew it was risky to just touch and move stuff in public, but he had a feeling that Harry knew he was there anyway, so when he got up and went towards the shelves, Louis didn’t follow, he stayed and grabbed the pencil to cross out the word immature from Harry’s list of words describing him. Then he drew a dick next to it.

Seeing this list laid out in front of him, made him realize that Harry was more perceptive than he’d given him credit for. Having haunted this man for a handful of weeks now, he tried to compile a similar list in his mind. From all interactions with other living creatures, be it a human or a cat or a moth that had gotten lost and flown into his bedroom, Harry was incredibly kind. Louis remembered the way he had talked to his students and thought that kindness was probably one of Harry’s most prevalent qualities. Louis realised that Harry had stopped putting back the books he was reading at night after that first time he found one and smiled to himself. It seemed as far as lists went, Louis had gotten stuck on his first observation...

When Harry came back to the table with a heavy book in his arms, Louis stood back and watched the way his muscles moved as he put it down. The faded out t-shirt he was wearing would’ve made anyone else look shabby, but on him it was stylish. A stray curl of his hair was sort of hanging in his eyes as he looked down into the book and Louis found himself wanting to reach out once again. He refrained, of course. He was slightly disappointed his little adjustment in the notes hadn’t been discovered yet, but he stood next to Harry by the table and looked down at the illustrations in the book.

Ah, so Harry wanted to find out when he was from…Louis wasn’t wearing formal clothing like the men in the drawings though. He looked at the dates on the page and found that 1850 was too early anyway. He’d passed in 1881, having taken off his vest and coat when he was poisoned in his own living room during a casual visit of a supposed friend. His appearance had meant a great deal to him during his living days and he resented Scott for poisoning him when he wasn’t wearing his Sunday best. Although that was about all he felt towards his death, which was probably why he hadn’t turned into a vicious ghost like some others and didn’t have any “unfinished business”—whatever that meant. Maybe it had been his acquaintance Oscar Wilde who had influenced him in such a way. Louis remembered him saying, “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” and Louis still had all those things now—Freedom even more so than before his death.

He wasn’t sure if Harry finding out who he was would move him on to another world like some of the entities he’d heard about during his rare encounters with other ghosts, but somehow he wanted Harry to know more about him. So Louis took a deep breath and concentrated on turning the pages of the book until the year in the top right corner said 1880. Harry gasped and looked around himself frantically. Louis had taken a step back though, and made sure to be invisible. He wasn’t positive that it always worked on Harry with how well he had described him, but it seemed a natural reflex. “Thanks,” Harry whispered. Louis smiled.  

 

***

 

So Harry’s ghost was from the 1880s…The pictures on the page of the book didn’t fully add up with what Harry had seen, but it all looked very formal, so maybe his ghost had passed in a more casual situation? After another long look at the pictures, Harry went to write down this new information and found that somebody had messed with his notes. He let out a laugh that was entirely too loud for the library and clasped his hands over his mouth, mortified. A few people looked his way, but nobody seemed to care to complain. He hastily wrote down the decade and put the book back on the shelf. When he came back the word funny had been added to his list and Harry nodded very matter-of-factly.

After some consideration over the next day or so, Harry came to the conclusion that he would have to go to the British Library to access their newspaper archive if he really wanted to find out who his ghost was. He considered just asking, but that felt a little like cheating in his eyes. He didn’t even know if the poltergeist could speak to him. All he’d heard up until now were a couple of laughs. He could write, that much was clear. And he had beautiful handwriting. Harry really didn’t want to go behind his back. The ghost hadn’t ever pranked him in a mean or malicious way. In fact, when Harry thought about it, the little pranks had turned from minor inconveniences to things that made him smile. Just today, when he was making lunch, his poltergeist had pushed back a glass bowl from the edge of the counter before it fell to the ground and shattered into a million pieces. The ghost was starting to be helpful and Harry really didn’t want to do something insensitive in return.

Late that evening he sat down at his desk and opened a blank page in his notebook. Tapping the eraser of his pencil against the paper, he cleared his throat. This was ridiculous. “Um, I want to ask you something,” he whispered, coughing, to cover up how nervous and ridiculous he felt.

I want to find out who you are. Are you okay with that?

 

***

 

Was he okay with that? Louis thought for a while…So long that Harry sighed.

“This is ridiculous,” he muttered. “What am I doing?” Louis quickly grabbed the pencil to indicate he was there, but tried to stay hidden. Harry gasped, leaning back in his chair to leave room for Louis to write. Louis sighed and waited to see if Harry could hear him. He couldn’t. Louis had been a ghost for over a hundred years and he couldn’t figure out how to control whether he was seen and heard around Harry. He swirled the pencil around his fingers once, before writing one word.

Yes.

It was what he’d felt right away, but he still wasn’t sure of the consequences. He moved out of the way when Harry leaned in to write again.

Can you tell me?

This time Louis reached for the pencil immediately. He went to write, “My name is Louis Tomlinson and I died on April 23rd in 1881,” but nothing showed up on the page. Hm, this might be more difficult than he thought…Harry stared at the pencil moving on the paper but the words apparently didn’t show up for him either.

It seems I cannot.

Louis put down the pencil and waited for Harry to reply. Harry once again had a deep crease between his furrowed eyebrows and Louis couldn’t help but note it was endearing.

Has anyone else ever found out?

That was a good question. Louis had never actively haunted anyone like he had Harry. He was sure that nobody had even thought to get to know him. He was mostly a nuisance to people. Some even acted very scared of him. Nobody had treated him like Harry.

Nobody tried.

His reply made Harry frown, as though he thought that was illogical. As the seconds passed, Harry’s expression turned thoughtful and then concerned.

Do you know what will happen if I do find out?

Ah, another good question. Well, from what Louis had heard, he could permanently be moved into “the light” once somebody speaks his name. But a gut feeling told him that at least one of the people involved must have the intention to remove him from this world when the words were spoken.  

I do not.

Are you scared?

Not as scared as I should be.

 

***

 

At one point during their conversation, Harry figured he could just speak, instead of writing everything down. The ghost laughed at that.

“How come I can hear you laugh sometimes, but you can’t answer me?” Harry asked. There was a pause in which Harry was fairly certain the ghost tried to speak to him, but Harry didn’t hear anything. Instead his pencil moved across the paper again.

I have not the slightest clue.

Now it was Harry’s turn to laugh. “Okay, and why can I see you sometimes and not at other times?” he asked.

Once. I wasn’t paying attention.

“Why do you not want me to see you?”

I’m not dressed to meet guests.

“I think you looked ravishing the one time I saw you,” Harry laughed. It wasn’t a lie. Harry didn’t know how the ghost would react to that though. He seemed very polite and Harry thought maybe he had been too forward. He didn’t even know if the ghost was comfortable with the implied statement of his attraction towards him. He felt his cheeks heat as he stared at the pen and paper.

If you insist...

And then the pencil lifted higher in the air and spun around once more before the ghost appeared. He was casually leaning against the edge of Harry’s desk, his ankles crossed, making the shape of his legs stand out and bringing focus to his small waist. He put the pencil back down and looked up at Harry, smiling brightly. He had very defined cheekbones and delicate features, Harry noticed. He breathed out the breath he’d been holding.

“You look as if you’ve seen a ghost,” the ghost chuckled. Harry’s breath hitched again. “You can hear me now, can’t you?” Harry nodded. “It seems as though I can’t focus on just hiding part of myself.”

“I love your voice,” Harry whispered once he regained his poise. The voice was airy like his laugh, high and a little raspy. “And you look even more handsome than I remembered you looking.” He blushed.

“That’s very kind of you,” the ghost said. “I can’t keep this up for long though. Do you have a plan for figuring out my identity?”

“It takes concentration to be visible and talk, right?” Harry asked.

“And to move things,” the poltergeist explained. “I probably won’t be able to interact until tomorrow after this.”

“Oh,” Harry frowned. “Um, then we should go to the British Library tomorrow and try to find the newspaper from the day after you passed? That’s what I was thinking…” The ghost considered that for a moment and nodded. “You were mentioned in the obituaries, right? You can’t tell me when it happened but you could flip the pages of that book to help me so you must be able to guide me…”

“I did not check the paper that day, but I do assume I was mentioned, yes. My family would’ve taken care of that,” the ghost said dryly. Just when Harry wanted to apologize for asking something so insensitive, he spoke again, “I will help you as much as I can.” He smiled and looked Harry directly in the eyes for the first time since he had appeared. The blue was breath-taking.

“Your family as in…your wife?” Harry asked without thinking. He was still staring into the man’s eyes as he realized what he had just asked. He felt the heat rise up in his cheeks and started fumbling with the sleeves of his jumper, but he couldn’t break eye contact. The ghost laughed his wind chime laugh.

“I was a confirmed bachelor,” he said and then disappeared. Harry was so entranced that he wasn’t sure if he’d imagined that he had winked at the end there or if he had actually done that. Confirmed bachelor…Harry knew what that meant. And it made something flare up in his stomach.

 

***

 

Louis was quite proud of himself for the moment he’d chosen to disappear. He probably could have kept up the physical appearance for a bit longer, but seeing how flustered Harry became with the realisation of not only what he’d just asked, but also what Louis had answered...He wanted to make Harry blush an infinite amount of times; the rosy colour on his cheeks matched with the saturated pink of his lips and complimented his green doe eyes. Louis hadn’t felt this way since before he’d died.

The next day came quicker than expected. Having spent the night regaining his puissance, he wanted to save his energy to help Harry with his search. He didn’t do anything elaborate to his morning cuppa, he just prepared the mug how he knew Harry liked it to make sure he knew he was there. Harry smiled upon entering the kitchen. “Thank you,” he whispered.

Louis followed Harry on the underground—they got off at King’s Cross St. Pancras and walked up to the large building of the British Library. “I’m a little nervous to be honest,” Harry muttered as he opened the large door of the terracotta building. The inside was very impressive. It contained more books than Louis had ever seen and there were a number of people scurrying around, trying to find what they were looking for. After a short look-around, Harry moved up to the front desk and asked where he could find newspapers from around 1880. A woman in a jacket with excessive padding in the shoulders lead them into a completely different part of the building so confidently that Louis was worried for a moment they wouldn’t find the exit later. Then he remembered he was a ghost and walking around obstacles was more of a habit and a thing of convenience than a necessity.

The lady stood with them in front of a ginormous and complex looking metal shelf-construct and asked Harry what exactly he was looking for.

“Um, I’m looking for a mention in the obituaries, but I’m not quite sure when the person passed, so we might have to look in multiple papers, I’m sorry,” he stuttered.

Louis was standing in front of the shelf labelled 1881.

“Do you have a year?” the lady asked. Harry looked around frantically and Louis realised he was meant to help now. They hadn’t thought about what to do with other people being present. After a moment of panic, Louis walked up to Harry and lightly tapped him on the back of his hand once. One could’ve said it was the ghost of a touch. Still, Harry shivered.

“Um, I think 1881 could be a start,” he said. The woman nodded and walked to where Louis had stood before. Harry followed with Louis closely by his side. From somewhere she produced a clipboard with a list of dates.

“These are the dates we have in the archive for that year,” she explained. “If the death was significant or something else happened on that day, the date will be on here.”

Harry took the list and studied it intently. He turned slightly away from the woman and Louis looked at the list. He was relieved to see the date after his passing on there. Furrowing his brow, Harry reached into his bag to procure his small notebook with a pencil stuck into the elastic band. Louis checked if he was in eyesight of the woman, and waited for Harry to reposition himself so he could take the pencil from him. He ignored the open notebook and simply pointed the pencil at the date.

“Yes,” Harry said a little too intensely. Louis noticed that coughing after he messed up was apparently a nervous habit of his.

“According to the research I’ve done, it must’ve been late April. Let’s start with the twenty-fourth?” he asked hopefully.

“As you wish.”

The woman had carried a large sealed box of papers over to a high table and procured a set of white gloves to open the paper with. Louis looked at the front page. Gilbert & Sullivan's opera Patience premiers in London the headline read. Louis remembered that. He had purchased tickets to see that, in fact…The woman carefully flipped the pages until she reached the obituaries.

Louis saw his own notice of death in the centre of the page and froze. Somebody had drawn a picture of his favourite flowers and added it to the text. It looked like the way his sister might’ve drawn sunflowers. Harry’s eyes scanned the page, stopping to stare at the same ornate note in the centre.

“Louis William Tomlinson, twenty-seven years of age, died a very sudden death by the bursting of a blood vessel yesterday. Mr Tomlinson was a beloved member of London’s society and will be missed dearly. If you were ever audience to his effervescent personality, sparkling wit or sharp intelligence and wish to attend his funeral, the Tomlinson family invites you to say goodbye to him tomorrow at 3pm,” Harry read out loud and Louis automatically reached for his hand and squeezed it. Harry’s eyes had turned glossy and he shivered at Louis’ touch again. He took a deep breath and turned to the woman.

“Thank you so much for your help,” he said, voice a little hoarse.

“Do you wish to take notes?” the woman asked and Harry shook his head. “You’ll find your way out this way.”

“Thanks, thank you,” Harry repeated and walked in the direction she’d pointed out.

 

***

 

The ghost touching him had been new. Harry was still enraptured by the memory of cold fingers clasping his own as he walked briskly in the direction the lady had pointed him. It took a lot in him not to outright run. He was elated, having found out Louis’ name. He wasn’t sure how he pronounced it yet, but he would ask him as soon as possible. If only there weren’t so many people in here! Harry stopped in his tracks, walking backwards for a few steps and came to a halt in front of an inconspicuous door. It wasn’t labelled, but it seemed his best bet to gain some privacy quickly. He reached towards the handle and prayed it would open—It did.

Harry was standing in a tiny loo now, he turned the key that was in the lock on the inside and leaned against the door.

“You touched me,” he whispered. “Lewis? Lou-ee?” he tried the different pronunciations.

“Lou-ee,” the ghost said, materializing in front of him. “My father was French.”

“Louis,” Harry repeated, liking the way it sounded. “How do you feel? Did anything happen now that I know who you are?”

“I feel a certain bliss that I haven’t felt since I was alive,” the ghost said, smiling widely. “Something changed when I touched you, though. I don’t know how but from the moment I grabbed your hand, it was a conscious effort not to show myself to you.”

Harry smiled at that.

“It seems your touch changed both of us then,” he said, taking a step toward Louis and stumbling over his own feet. He caught himself on the edge of the sink. “Oops.”

Louis smiled, looking straight at Harry, who was facing him and leaning against the sink now. He traced Harry’s cheek with light fingers, cold as ice, but this time Harry was prepared for it. He didn’t shiver.

“Hi, Harry,” he whispered. Louis didn’t want to haunt anybody else ever again. And he was certain Harry didn't mind being haunted—at least not for the foreseeable future.