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The Mighty Fall

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Harry Styles didn’t mean to steal a dragon egg.

Okay, she did mean to take it, but she didn’t set out to steal one. She’s a little drunk on her way home, but she’s sober enough to know that she took a wrong turn somewhere, and she’s definitely sober enough to know that hearing a rough, menacing voice in a field after midnight is not a good sign. So she hides. Behind a tree. She’s hiding behind a tree in the middle of a field, next to a river, at like, one in the bloody morning because she spent all her money on vodka and songs from a jukebox rather than get a taxi back like her mum asked her to. This is Holmes Chapel. She’s lived here all her life, bar a few years at university, so she figured she’d walk home from the pub, except clearly, that was a mistake because she took a shortcut through the field like an idiot and—

Shit, the voice is getting louder.

“—a Longwing, yeah, the glands that produce the acidic spit are worth a fortune. Super rare dragons too, every part of ‘em is going for thousands. The fucking teeth will — yeah, even the teeth. I’m telling you, this is the best thing to fucking happen to our base — what? What’d you mean I have to go get them?”

Harry slides down the tree so she’s crouching at the base of the trunk, wrapping her arms around her knees and curling into herself as tightly as she can. Half of what the man is saying goes over Harry’s head, but she’s absolutely sober enough to understand that threatening tone. She’s heard about dragon poachers on the news before, seen the reports of rotting dragon carcasses found in abandoned areas; teeth, claws and horns yanked out, completely skinned and cut open for harvesting organs, leaving only scraps of flesh clinging to bone. The pictures are hidden under graphic content warnings. It never ends well.

“No - fuck’s sake, this egg is fucking heavy, I’m not lugging it back across this godforsaken village again just to pick up a few dropped bags of scales. No, I’m not gonna fucking leave them there, I’m gonna dump this thing and fetch them, then come back to pick this up. Don’t tell me what I can and can’t fucking do. This village is tiny, and most people here are old. They’re not out in an enclosed field at quarter past one in the fucking morning. It’ll be fine here for half an hour.”

Harry hears a thud, followed by the poacher stomping in the other direction and snapping into his phone as he goes. Harry holds her breath, counts to ten, and waits until she can’t hear anything but the rustle of the wind.

Peering around the tree, Harry makes out the dragon egg a few metres away. There’s no sign of the poacher, and really, now is her best shot at making it out of here alive and with all her limbs intact. But that dragon egg is holding a living, breathing, unborn dragon that’s going to be murdered and torn apart and sold as soon as it’s fully grown. Maybe even before that.

Fuck.

Harry stands quickly, the alcohol causing her to sway on her feet, and she closes the distance between herself and the dragon egg. She’s never seen one in real life before, but it’s a hundred times more breathtaking than she imagined. It’s a deep blue in the moonlight, flecks of silver running through the shell, and absolutely beautiful. It must be as big as Harry’s torso, and a tentative nudge proves it to be heavy too. It barely budges. No wonder the poacher was unwilling to carry it all the way back across the village.

She figures she’s got about twenty minutes, tops, before the poacher comes back into the field, and she really, really needs to go, but fucking hell, she can’t leave this egg here, knowing what’ll become of it if she does. Gemma showed her a BBC documentary about a young dragon that escaped a group of poachers in the US. She still remembers the close up shots of scar tissue around its jaw, the discoloured, broken scales that were a result of malnourishment and beatings. Harry could barely stomach listening to it recount its own story on film.

Maybe it’s the alcohol making her reckless, or maybe it’s her conscience kicking in, but she crouches and wraps her arms around the middle of the egg, heaving it off the ground with a grunt.

“Fucking Christ,” she hisses, cupping the bottom of the egg and holding it tightly against her body. How the fuck did this guy even carry it this far?

“I hope you appreciate this,” she whispers to the dragon inside, taking a hesitant step forward, and then another more confident step when she doesn’t fall over and tumble into the river.

Her speed is significantly slowed by the egg, but she doesn’t live too far from here and fear of being caught gets her moving. She goes as fast as her long legs will take her, trying not to jostle the egg too much. There’s probably some kind of fluid inside to stop the dragon foetus from getting injured, but she’s no expert on dragons so she can’t say for certain and Jesus, this thing is so fucking heavy.

In less than ten minutes she’s making the final turn on to her street, her home about half-way down. The vacant lamp-lit pavement and eerie silence of the village are freaking her out, so she keeps her focus on the solid weight in her arms, reminding herself that silence is good. Silence means the poacher hasn’t discovered that the egg has been stolen yet.

She has to set the dragon egg down to fish her keys out of her pocket when she reaches her house, but the fumble only lasts a minute and then she’s inside, resting the egg on hard-polished wooden floors, her breath coming in pants.

Harry slides her back down the door, mimicking her position from earlier against the tree. The silver parts of the egg's shell glint in the watery light streaming through the glass panel of the door.

In the morning, she thinks. She will deal with all of this in the morning. For now, she hauls the egg up to her room, stuffs it into her thickest jumper because she's pretty sure chicken eggs need warmth, and dragons are kind of like lizards and lizards are cold-blooded so it makes sense, maybe. It’s good enough for a few hours, until Harry’s slept and sobered up enough to realise how much shit she’s just stepped in.

She collapses onto her bed, not bothering to take off her clothes or her make-up, and falls asleep staring at the egg.

***

Morning comes too soon. It always does after a night out, and while Harry was lucky to wake up without throwing up this morning, she’s got a pounding headache and regret settling in her bones.

So that actually happened. The dragon egg is resting against her bedroom wall, its dark blue top peeking out of the neck hole in her jumper. It’s more silvery than Harry remembered, but considering it was dark when she, uh, liberated it, and she was more pissed than she thought, she doesn’t put much stock in it.

What’s more worrying is Harry hearing her mum move around downstairs. Harry’s got to get up and actually deal with the dragon egg now.

She drags herself to the bathroom to shower and take care of her make-up first, then changes into the comfiest clothes she can find. Feeling a little less like the walking dead, she goes downstairs.

“Please tell me some of that bacon’s for me,” Harry says, the smell of frying bacon hitting her as soon as she enters the kitchen.

“No,” Anne says, glancing over her shoulder and grinning at Harry. “But I can cook you some if you want. I didn’t think you’d be up for another few hours.”

“Couldn’t sleep,” Harry says, hopping onto the table and crossing her legs.

“Did you get home alright?” Anne asks, flipping the bacon. Harry knows what that means. That means ‘did you get a taxi like I told you to’ and well, here goes.

“About that,” Harry starts. “I kind of just walked back—”

Harry!”

“I’m fine! Look, still in one piece!” Harry holds up her hands and smiles reassuringly. “But, well, I walked through the field- I know! Irresponsible and reckless, but I’m alive! And kind of in the possession of an unhatched dragon egg.”

Anne drops the spatula and swivels round to face Harry. “Explain.”

“I was walking by the river and I heard someone a ways behind me, so I hid behind a tree and it was this guy talking on the phone with someone about this dragon egg and all the dragon parts they could sell. I figured he was a poacher, and for some reason he had to like, go back and get something?” Harry pauses, scratching her cheek. “I don’t know, but the guy left the egg in the field and left, thinking that there was no one there, and I just… I couldn’t leave it there, Mum. He’d have killed it and sold it. So I just grabbed it and legged it out of there. Now it’s upstairs in my room, wrapped in my jumper.”

Anne takes a deep breath, and another, and a third for luck. Harry can sympathise. “We can’t keep a dragon, Harry,” she says, her brows pinching together as she turns her attention back to the bacon. It’s almost fully cooked now, and Harry’s stomach growls.

“I know, Mum,” Harry replies. She never intended to keep the dragon egg. What would she even do with it? “I just didn’t want the poachers to keep the egg.”

“Okay,” Anne sighs, taking the bacon out of the pan and placing it on a plate. She pulls more out of the fridge, lays it in the pan and turns back to face Harry. “You need to search for the nearest training grounds, call them and tell them what happened, and then arrange a time for you to drive over there and hand over the egg. We are not keeping the dragon.”

“I know,” Harry reiterates. “I’ll do it after breakfast.”

Which is how Harry winds up on the phone with one Simon Cowell from the Yorkshire Dragon Training Grounds before noon on a Saturday. They agree on Harry bringing the dragon up to the grounds the next morning, after an awkward conversation where Harry had to describe the exact markings on the egg – “It’s kind of a swirly silver? But lots of it?” – and give an estimate of how much it weighs. Simon Cowell tells her to keep it warm, keep it safe, and to talk to it because apparently dragons can understand language in the egg.

Which is why, when Harry straps the now almost-entirely silver egg, into the passenger’s seat, lilac jumper still snug around the shell, she ends up singing for most of the journey. The radio in Anne’s car is bust, and Harry feels a little strange listening to her own voice ramble on about nothing for a couple of hours, so she starts with Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely, moving on to the entire Wicked soundtrack because singing Defying Gravity to a dragon is enough to make getting up at seven AM worth it.

The training grounds is in some rural part of North Yorkshire, which means Harry ends up getting lost three times before she finally sees a sign telling her she’s close. Honestly, she expected to see a dragon this close to the grounds, yet there’s nothing but clouds in the sky.

“You better not hatch before we get there,” Harry tells the egg after another rendition of Isn’t She Lovely, because the egg is fully silver now and there’s got to be something up with that. She takes her final turning off the country road and on to a winding, gravelly path under a sign reading ‘Yorkshire Training Grounds’ in black, bold letters. She drives on for another few minutes, remembering how much she hates driving in the countryside because she always think she’s reached your destination and then there’s another ten minutes of shit paths, when she finally pulls into a clearing.

There’s one person in the middle of the clearing. To the left, she sees a gravel area surrounded by open fields, while to the right there's a concentration of buildings. Harry parks near the few other cars here, most notably a black minivan with a dragon spray-painted on the sides, and gets out of the car. The person, a girl around Harry’s age, she’d guess, jogs over to her, a short blonde ponytail bouncing as she runs.

“Let’s see the beauty then,” she says, and Harry didn’t expect to hear a thick Irish accent in North Yorkshire but she’ll roll with it.

“I got told to keep it warm,” Harry says, opening the car door and unbuckling the dragon egg. “So that’s why the jumper’s there.”

“Makes sense,” the girl shrugs, brushing the collar of the jumper down and trailing her fingers over the shell gently, like it’ll crack at the slightest pressure. “Shit, you didn’t say it was this silver on the phone.”

Harry frowns, fiddling with the sleeve of her jacket. “You’re not… you’re not Simon Cowell, are you?”

The girl laughs sharply then, beaming up at Harry. “I’m Niall, and this dragon is about to hatch, so if ya don’t mind, can ya help me get it inside the hatching grounds?”

“Sure,” Harry grabs the bottom of the egg, lifting it out of the car with Niall and bumping the door shut with her hip. “I’m Harry.”

“Nice to meet you, Harry,” Niall says as they waddle across the clearing towards one of the buildings on the far right, a tall brick barn of some kind. “So you really stole the egg from a poacher?”

“Yeah, kind of,” Harry admits hesitantly, adjusting her grip when she feels something move inside the egg. Fuck, she probably should have made the trip yesterday instead of squandering her day watching Netflix with the egg. “I was kind of drunk, so it was just an impulse thing, but yeah.”

“That’s fucking fantastic,” Niall cackles. “Good thing too, this is a Longwing dragon egg.”

“I’m gonna pretend I know what that means,” Harry says, thinking that she probably should have spent some more time Googling dragons yesterday too.

“It means it’s rare. Longwings have been endangered since World War Two,” Niall tells her, which is news to Harry. She knows dragons used to serve in the army, and she knows they race now, but if she had to name five dragon breeds she’d fail miserably. “So saving it was a good move.”

They reach the front doors to the building, and Niall passes the egg to Harry while she unlocks the doors, taking a ring of keys from her jeans and punching in an additional four-digit code. Harry notes that it’s strange she’s wearing jeans, assuming Niall rides dragons, she figured she’d be in something more… sporty than tight jeans and a t-shirt.

She’s pulled from her thoughts by a blast of hot air, and a crack appearing at the top of the egg.

“Niall,” Harry calls out, staring at the split in the silver shell. “Niall, I think it’s hatching.”

“Fucking shit, get it inside,” Niall says, ushering Harry forwards into the heat of the building. “Give it here, I’m gonna put it in place.”

Harry passes the egg back to Niall who takes it into the centre of the room, resting it on a small podium. She takes off her jacket and ties it around her waist, taking in the rest of the hatching grounds. It's an open room with tile floors and walls, and what looks like small, circular bathtubs dotted around the room holding an egg each. The eggs are all different colours and sizes; Harry can’t stop staring at them.

“Yeah, it’s hatching. Off-season, I know,” Niall says into a phone, grabbing Harry’s attention. Her jumper’s piled on the floor, a couple of steps away from the glistening silver egg. Niall brushes hair from her face, wiping away a bead of sweat. She wasn’t wrong, the humidity in here is starting to get to Harry, and seems to be coaxing the dragon out of its shell faster. “Get all the hopefuls in here ASAP, Li.”

She hangs up and Harry hovers awkwardly. Theoretically, she’s done now. Someone will become captain of the dragon, and Harry will be sent on home with a thank you and maybe permission to use the loos before she leaves because she didn’t actually make any stops on her way over here. But she really wants to see the dragon hatch, and maybe she’s a little attached. She spent a good three hours singing to it earlier, so it’s not that surprising.

“What happens now?” she asks, for the sake of filling the silence.

“Longwings only take female captains,” Niall tells her, stepping away from the egg and walking over to Harry. “So in about a minute, we’re gonna get a few women bursting through that door with harnesses, hoping the dragon picks them.”

Harry nods, flicking her gaze over to the heavy wooden doors at the front of the baths. “Are you putting yourself forward?”

Niall smiles bashfully then, rocking back on the heels of her trainers. “Yeah. I’m a lieutenant at the moment, so I mean, I’m eligible, but there’s a couple of women with more experience than me that’ll probably get it. Dragons have a good eye for that kind of thing; only the worthy get picked.”

“Then I’m sure you will,” Harry assures her.

Before Niall can reply, the doors open and four women hurry inside. They’re all dressed in simple clothes, similar to Niall, and Harry wonders if there’s some kind of unspoken uniform or something here. They barely acknowledge Harry, too focused on the dragon egg in the centre of the room, and Harry doesn’t blame them.

They’re all carrying harnesses, and arrange themselves in a circle around the egg. One woman, the one walking with the most confidence, hands Niall a second harness. “Ready, love?” she asks Niall, her brows pinching together when she locks eyes with Harry.

“Harry,” she offers with a smile. “I, uh, I brought the egg here. Am I alright to watch?”

“Caroline,” the woman says. “I don’t see why not.”

“Yeah, you’re alright, I reckon,” Niall adds. “Just don’t get too close and there shouldn’t be any problems.”

Niall and Caroline join the other three women, creating a circle around the podium. Harry can see Niall’s knuckles turning white from gripping the harness from where she’s standing a few feet away.

“Should just be a few moments then,” Caroline says, gesturing to the egg where the cracks are spreading like spider webs along the shell.

Harry shifts her weight from foot to foot, resisting the urge to barge in and get a closer look. The cracks deepen steadily for a few moments, the tension building in the circle of women like they’re all holding their breath. All eyes are fixed on the egg when the top breaks off and a big head peeks out of the shell.

The dragon blinks bright yellow eyes, stretching its long neck up and angling its head to get a look at everyone. With a sudden blur of movement, it’s breaking out of its egg completely and shaking shimmery silver gunk off its wings. It’s the same dark blue as the shell originally was, Harry notes, wondering if it’ll eventually develop silver flecks.

It makes a deep noise in its throat, almost a growl, and Harry has to stop herself from gasping. This is the first dragon she’s seen with her own eyes, and it’s awe-inspiring. It’s much bigger than she anticipated after seeing the egg, and when it moves it has this predatory grace, slinking around the shell, despite only just hatching. None of the other women seem to be intimidated, staring at the dragon with calm expressions, but Harry can’t help shying away when it sets luminescent eyes on Harry through the ring of people.

Then it all goes to hell.

The dragon opens its mouth, and Harry expects a roar or another growl or a simple ‘hello’, literally anything other than what the dragon actually does.

Isn’t she lovely,” it sings, and Harry squawks. “Isn’t she wonderful. Isn’t she precious.”

No one says anything. Everyone just stares at the dragon as it finishes singing, clearly waiting for someone to respond.

Less than one minute old,” Harry finishes weakly, her fingers trembling as she lifts her hands to her mouth. She’s torn between laughing and – well, no, she can’t hold back the giggles. This situation is far too stressful for her not to laugh, and there is a dragon singing Stevie Wonder to her.

“Harry?” The dragon asks, cocking its head and shuffling closer to Harry, crawling straight through the ring of potential captains. Harry flicks her gaze up to look at Niall, who seems like she’s trying to hold back a grin herself. Before she can do anything though, the dragon is sniffing at her legs and crawling up her back. It’s a fair size, body the length of her torso already, its tail curling around her waist for leverage as it clings to her side, wings tucked in. Harry’s heart rate spikes, a bitten off whimper escaping her throat as the realisation that there is a baby dragon capable of crushing her currently wrapped around her body sets in.

“Um, I think you need to choose a captain,” she says weakly, gesturing towards the women with a trembling hand. The dragon follows her gaze, and hisses, its tongue flicking out. Harry winces, angling her head away from the dragon’s snout. She’s actually going to be eaten. “Someone to take care of you.”

“I want Harry to be my captain,” the dragon says after a long moment, and Harry can feel bitter disappointment radiating from the women.

“I’ve never even seen a dragon before,” Harry tells it, somewhat gently. She tries dislodging the dragon’s tail from her waist, causing it to scrunch its snout and wrap around her tighter. Panic wells up in Harry’s chest, she bites back another whimper. But Niall doesn’t seem concerned for Harry’s safety when she shoots her a pleading look, so rationally speaking she’s probably - hopefully - not in any real danger.

“I’ve never seen a human before today,” the dragon counters. “I want you as my captain, or I won’t have one.”

“Here.” Niall appears at Harry’s side then, offering the harness to Harry with a glint in her eyes. “I told you dragons have a good eye for this kind of thing.”

“You’ve known me like, twenty minutes,” Harry says, taking the harness anyway. The dragon slinks off her and she breathes a sigh of relief. It sits in front of her, head reaching Harry’s chest. Harry has no idea how it managed to curl up tightly enough to fit in that egg and be comfortable. “Are you sure you want me as your captain?”

“Yes,” the dragon says, and Harry swears she sees it rolls its eyes. “I’ll allow you to put a harness on me.”

It takes a while for Harry to figure out how to get the harness on the dragon. There are too many loops for arms and legs and wings and the neck, and the straps have different buckles that are just so confusing, and the longer she fumbles with it, the more conscious she becomes of Caroline and Niall and the other women waiting for her to manage it.

Niall, bless her, swoops in and helps Harry get it on the dragon, who sits there patiently. They get it over the dragon’s neck first, then fitting the strap against its scaly belly and around its arms, another buckle sitting between its wings, so it still has enough room to actually beat them and fly.

“What now?” Harry asks when they’ve finished, chancing a look at the other women. They don’t look pissed, but Harry’s nerves are playing up anyway. “I’m officially a captain?”

“Well, the harnessing is mostly symbolic,” Niall says.

“You’ll need to speak with Simon,” Caroline interjects, stepping forward. “He’ll take you through the paperwork and get you sorted with some basics for now. You’ll need training as soon as possible, too.”

“Christ,” Harry mutters, staring at the dragon. Its tail is hitting the tiled floor gently, like it’s waiting for something. “What about names? Do you want to pick?”

The dragon cocks its head. “What are my choices?”

Harry bites her lip, trying to come up with a suitable name. “Do dragons have genders?” She asks Niall. “Are there any rules for naming your dragon?”

“They’re assigned genders based on their genitals for like, mating purposes,” Niall shrugs, “but other than that it’s kind of irrelevant. Dragons don’t care about gender unless it’s to do with the gender of their captain. And it’s not like horses, either. You don’t have to give her an original name.”

“Her?” Harry repeats, and Niall nods. She turns to face the dragon. “Okay… what about Stevie? Like Stevie Wonder, who sang Isn’t She Lovely, and Stevie Nicks too. Stevie’s a great name.”

“Stevie,” the dragon says, testing the syllables out on her tongue. Harry should look into how dragons learn language and if there are any dragon languages. She could actually put her linguistics degree to some use. “I like it.”

“Stevie it is then,” Harry decides. “Are you hungry?” She turns to Niall. “How do I feed her?”

“Starving,” Stevie answers, shaking out her wings. She crawls back up Harry’s body until she’s curled around her torso again, her jaw resting on Harry’s shoulder. Stevie’s weight on her back is unsettling, but not as terrifying this time. Her scales are smooth against her skin, kind of like the snake she held when she visited a safari a few years back. The kind you think will be slimy and gross but is actually almost soft. Warm breath tickles Harry’s cheeks, her hair shifting with the gusts.

“I’ll take you to the feeding grounds,” Niall says. “The other dragons should be finishing up soon, so we’ll have a bit of privacy which is good for the first feed. Caroline, can you go give Simon a rundown of everything and get him to come meet us out there?”

“Sure,” Caroline says, a tightness to her voice that makes Harry cringe internally. She doesn’t want people to hate her. “C’mon, Simon will want to hear from us all.”

They all file out then, leaving Harry alone with Niall and Stevie. Niall grabs Harry’s jumper from the floor and hands it to her, clapping her on the back at the same time.

“You alright?” she asks. “You’re looking a bit green.”

“Well, I can’t say this doesn’t come as a surprise,” Harry laughs nervously, trailing her fingers along Stevie’s tail where it’s wrapped around her waist. The consequences of her decision might not have fully hit her yet. Being a captain means she’ll have to uproot her whole life, leave Holmes Chapel and her friends and family behind, but then… that’s what she did when she left for university and she never regretted that. This is new and absolutely terrifying but it’s also exciting. She has a dragon. She’ll race in tournaments around the world, which is so much more appealing than any other job she’s considered, she’ll meet new people and she’ll be fine. She will be. “I didn’t expect to become a captain of a dragon a few weeks after finishing uni, but I’ll roll with it. I don’t have much choice, do I?”

“Not really,” Niall says, somewhat sympathetically.

“I’m not that bad,” Stevie huffs, curling tighter around Harry. It’s almost like a hug.

“I’m sure you’re not,” Harry coos. “I’m just a little frazzled, yeah? But we should get some food in your belly.”

“Right!” Niall ushers Harry out of the hatching grounds and into the fresh air outside. “Food, meeting with Simon, and then I’ll give you a tour of the place and help you get your bearings. You’re not in this alone, Harry, promise.”

Harry smiles, tightening her grip on Stevie’s tail. “Thank you.”

She’ll be just fine.

***

Niall wasn’t lying when she said that most dragons would be finished feeding by the time they get to the feeding grounds. The large fields, sectioned off with wooden fences, are littered with bones and live cattle, sheep, goats, even a lake in the distance, but not a single dragon.

“Will I ever get to see any of the other dragons?” Harry asks, only half-joking, when Stevie’s flying further into the field, searching for the right cow to eat, or something. Harry watches her wings beat steadily, already so adept at flying. It’s kind of mesmerising. “Also, is she okay to eat the cows or sheep or whatever else is out there? Like, they’re not gonna run out, are they?”

“Nah, we breed them specifically to be food for the dragons,” Niall tells her, leaning back against the wooden gate of the first enclosure. “Like, we use the milk and wool and stuff too, but mostly they’re dragon food, ‘cause dragons are natural carnivores and predators. They’re healthiest when they can hunt for live food, even if it is just taking it from our stock. We’ve got plenty of animals and they’re having babies every year. You’ve just got to take note of what your dragon eats, because they’re notorious liars and greedy buggers. They tell you they’ve only eaten one cow and they’ve actually devoured the whole fucking family.”

“There are a lot of them,” Harry agrees, watching Stevie start circling a small sheep in the distance. She’s probably a similar size to it, and Harry wonders if she’ll even be able to finish one, let alone multiple sheep.

“As for the other dragons, well, they’re like cats, really,” Niall laughs, kicking her legs out. “They eat around the same time, then nap for ages, ‘cause captains train with them early morning and again in late afternoon, usually.”

“What does training involve?” Harry asks, sitting next to Niall on the fence, fiddling with the sleeve of her jacket. Despite it being early June, it’s chilly enough for jacket; Harry really wishes English summers weren’t so shit.

“Mostly keeping up fitness and trying to decrease flight times for races.” Niall grins at Harry, tucking a loose strand of blonde hair behind her ear. “Captains decide their own schedules with their dragons. Like, there’s the minimum legal requirement you have to meet, but whether you do more or not is up to you, so you get some captains that don’t do much, and then you get people like Louis who barely stop.”

Harry’s about to ask who Louis is, but Stevie flies gracefully towards them, and drops the dead sheep at Harry’s feet.

“My first kill,” she announces, her raspy voice full of pride.

“Can you eat all that?” Harry laughs, wrinkling her nose at the distinct smell of farm.

“Of course,” Stevie huffs, and proceeds to sink her teeth into the sheep’s neck, tearing the flesh. Harry gags, turning away from the sight and trying to ignore the sickening sounds of Stevie eating.

“Like cats, told ya,” Niall chuckles.

Stevie does manage to eat it all, finishing with a triumphant shout and licking her claws clean. Harry gets the feeling Stevie’s gonna be a lot to handle, since she decides she likes being curled around Harry when she’s not eating, doing just that when she finishes. Her tail wraps around Harry’s waist again, her snout resting on Harry’s shoulders, like it’s muscle memory already.

Niall gets a text after a moment of Stevie nuzzling Harry, telling them Harry has to come meet Simon in his office, and to please bring Stevie before she falls asleep. Simon’s office is, apparently, on the other side of the grounds, which is so much bigger than Harry first thought. She’s going to be getting lost for weeks. Fuck, she’s going to be living here. It’s going to take a lot of getting used to.

“Harry, nice to meet you,” Simon says when Harry follows Niall into his office. It’s on the ground floor of the shortest building in the grounds, only a single storey, and looks surprisingly modern for the whole farm aesthetic going on here. The windows are massive, taking up almost an entire wall, and there’s a potted plant in the corner. The walls are sterile white, but the carpet is soft and clean, and the furnishings are minimalist but polished to a shine. Harry likes it, surprisingly enough. “I’m Simon, and this must be Stevie.”

“Hi,” Harry says, smiling politely and shaking Simon’s hand. His grip is firm, and his smile is a little tight around the edges. It’s not the most comforting thing, but Harry guesses a rare dragon deciding to take a rookie captain isn’t something to be over the moon about.

Simon gestures for her to sit in the chair in front of his desk, and Niall leans against the wall just to the side, still in Harry’s peripheral vision. Stevie slinks off Harry’s body when she sits, choosing to crawl around the room and sniff things out. Harry wonders if the cat-like nature of dragons extends to pissing to mark their territory. She really hopes not.

“So, this is all quite unexpected, yes?” Simon starts, resting his hands on the desk he’s sat behind, eyes boring into Harry.

“Yeah, can’t say I saw it coming,” Harry answers, clenching her fists to stop her fingers tapping against her thigh. “But, like I said to Niall earlier, I guess I don’t have much of a choice? Stevie won’t take another captain.”

“No,” Stevie hisses from where she’s nosing at the filing cabinet. “Harry is my captain.”

“A dragon cannot legally be left without a captain,” Simon explains, tracking Stevie’s movements before flicking his gaze back to Harry. “So if Stevie wants you, then yes, you don’t have much choice. We’ll need you to sign some paperwork to make it official in the government’s eyes, but when it comes to dragons, a lot of this is unofficial, verbal agreements.”

“What are the documents that I have to sign?” Harry tries to remember her mum’s advice on signing contracts, but well, most if it was student finance and stuff for part-time jobs, never signing something like this.

“It’s to register your status as a captain officially,” Simon elaborates, “and to register Stevie as a dragon belonging to the Yorkshire Training Grounds. You’ll then be eligible for the basic funding to cover your dragon’s needs, until you start bringing in your own money from racing. That’s the crux of it.”

“It’s not that scary, Harry,” Niall chips in from the side. “I can look it over with you before you sign, right, Simon?”

“Right,” Simon agrees, though he doesn’t look too pleased. Honestly, Harry is about to get on her knees and thank Niall for all of this. “Once you’ve signed, you’ll need to decide on a crew and get settled. I think it’s best for training to start straight away, and so I’m assigning Louis as your mentor. She’ll be back from the European Cup this evening, and you’ll be able to figure out a schedule with her tomorrow morning. She’ll help you with sorting out your equipment too.”

“Um,” is all Harry can manage, because Simon’s pulling a folder out of one of the drawers in his desk and slapping it on the table, opening it up to a relatively thin but wordy document. “Crew? And who’s Louis?”

“You’ll need a crew for your dragon,” Simon says, like Harry should know this.

“Think of it like a pit crew in car racing,” Niall adds helpfully. “Like, the driver is the captain, and then you’ll have a first lieutenant to race with you, and they’re kind of like that person that speaks to the driver while they race cars, and then there’s a second lieutenant that helps with all the equipment maintenance and keeping your dragon healthy and stuff. It’s easier to understand once you’ve seen it in action, mind you, so I reckon Louis’ll go over this all again.”

“Right.” Harry nods, casting a glance over at Stevie, who… fuck, she’s curled up and napping on the filing cabinet, her limbs and tail flopping over the sides. A cute sight, but not really that reassuring to Harry, not when her heart is picking up the pace and she’s feeling so overwhelmed she could cry.

“I can be your first lieutenant,” Niall offers, kicking off the wall and taking the document from Simon’s desk. “And we’ll get this back to you at the end of the day," she addresses Simon. "Harry needs to relax and think this over properly, and hell, she needs to speak to her family.”

Harry’s shocked out of her panic by the confidence in Niall’s voice, but it’s kind of what she needs to hear right now. Someone who knows what they’re doing and is sticking up for her. Harry’s a little bit in love.

“Thank you,” she whispers, and stands abruptly. “Um, should we wake Stevie?”

“Please do,” Simon allows, voice carefully controlled. “Dragons grow at an alarming rate, especially Longwings. She won’t be able to fit inside the buildings in a few days.”

Harry blinks. “Oh. Right, um.”

It takes a little coaxing to wake Stevie up, but she manages, and doesn’t swoon when Stevie blinks her eyes open and yawns, sharp little fangs jutting up from her jaw. Dragons really are like cats.

Niall ushers Harry out of the office, Stevie in tow, and waves goodbye to Simon before shutting the door behind them.

“Come on, Haz, I’ll take you to where the dragons stay and you can call your parents from there, yeah?”

Niall doesn’t give her a chance to respond before she’s grabbing Harry’s hand and dragging her forward. Harry just rolls with it, because really, what else can she do? Too many things are changing to resist the flow, and Harry will just have to trust Niall for now.

***

Niall takes her to the pavilions where the dragons rest. It takes up most of the space in a large courtyard, heated stones for the floor and thick insulating walls that are the size of five or six storeys, stretching on for what seems like miles. The door is less of a door and more of hole in the front of the building that must be big enough for the dragons to enter through.

Objectively, Harry knows that dragons are big. She’s seen them on TV next to humans when she watched the occasional race, and she gets that even the smallest of dragons are twice her height, but looking up at the building where multiple dragons sleep… she feels like an ant.

“Come meet the gang,” Niall says cheerfully, either oblivious to Harry’s internal panic, or blustering on so Harry has no choice but to follow and think about something else. She suspects it’s the latter.

The pavilion is an empty building with four dragons stretched out across the floor. They’re an interesting mix. One, the biggest from where Harry can see, is entirely black except a thick stripe of red stretching from its snout to the very tip of its tail, and it’s actually snoring. There’s a much smaller, yellow dragon curled up on its belly, pointed tongue lolling out of its mouth. The other two dragons look almost identical, a deep green covering their entire bodies, except for lighter scales speckling their skin, as if there was sunlight trickling through leaves on to their body.

“Wanna say hi?” Harry whispers to Stevie, who’s slowly unfurling herself from around Harry’s waist and crawling over to the other dragons. She sniffs the air, her wide wings shaking out a little, but she comes back to Harry and sits on her haunches at Harry’s feet.

“What are their names?” Stevie asks, bumping her head against Harry’s hand. She actually has to lean down a little to do that, but Harry strokes over her head, just underneath the little horns starting to sprout from her skull. Stevie practically purrs.

“The black one with the red mark is Exodus, a Regal Copper,” Niall says, pointing as well. “The little yellow one on his belly is Selene, a Winchester, then the green one on the left is Romulus, and the one on the right is Remus. They’re both Yellow Reapers, and hatched on the same day so their captains gave them matching names. Please don’t ask why they’re not yellow, they’re like, diluted genes or something.”

“I’m not worried about the colours,” Harry laughs, borderline hysterical. “I can’t believe I named my dragon Stevie when the others have names like Exodus!”

“Stevie is a great name,” Niall protests, slapping her hands to her chest, the contract brushing her chin. “It’s a lot more fun than Exodus, too.”

“I like Stevie,” Stevie adds, tail flicking wildly behind her.

Harry hums, scratching Stevie’s dark scales lightly. “That’s good enough then, I suppose. Can I call my mum before we go through the contract? I kind of want to talk it through with her first.”

“Sure!” Niall steps closer to the dragons, looking back over her shoulder, ponytail swaying. “I’ll give you some privacy, yeah? Just shout if you need me.”

“Thanks,” Harry smiles, shuffling closer to the nearest free patch of wall and sliding down it. The heated stones are amazing underneath her, and Stevie seems to agree since she curls up next to Harry and promptly falls asleep.

Her phone still has about half its battery life, and Harry wishes she had charged it before she came here. Though in her defence, she really couldn’t have seen this coming.

Her mum picks up on the third ring.

“Harry? Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Harry replies, voice shaky which surprises herself. “Yeah, just—”

Anne sighs through the phone, cutting her off. “Did you forget to put petrol in the car again?”

“What? That was one time, Mum,” Harry groans. “And I was seventeen and had been driving for like, a week. I’ve been good on the petrol front since.”

“So what’s the reason for the call, sweetheart?”

“Um.” Harry takes a deep breath, scratching Stevie’s head. It’s oddly calming. “So, I kind of accidentally became captain of a dragon?”

There is a pause, where Harry can feel her mum aging ten years. “Explain.”

“Well, the egg was a lot closer to hatching than we thought it was,” Harry starts, speaking slowly so she doesn’t fumble her words. “And Simon told me to talk to the egg because they can hear that, so I sang to it a bit, and as soon as we got here, it started hatching. Niall, the girl that met me here, took us to the hatching grounds where the dragon hatched and it was supposed to pick one of the women here as captain, but, well, it picked me. She, um, she started singing Isn’t She Lovely ‘cause that was one of the songs I sang to her.”

“Oh my God.” Anne sounds like she’s having an internal crisis, and yeah, Harry gets that. “Nothing is ever simple with you. What happens now?”

“One of the riders that competed in the European Cup this year is gonna train me,” Harry informs her. “And me and Stevie, that’s what I named her, are hopefully gonna be competing in some races come September? I think it depends on how the training goes, but like, that’s the plan? There’s a load of contracts I need to look through and sign, which Niall is helping me with. She’s been really great with all this, Mum.”

Anne exhales sharply. “So you’re going ahead with this? Just… dropping everything and becoming a captain out of nowhere?”

“There’s not a lot of choice, Mum,” Harry says quietly. “Like, a dragon can’t be without a captain, and Stevie won’t take anyone else. And… I kind of don’t want to give her to anyone else? It sounds ridiculous, I know, but I’m attached, and I’ve always been a go with the flow kind of person.”

“Harry, there’s going with the flow and there’s being impulsive and irrational,” Anne says, and even through the phone Harry can practically see her brows pinching like they always do when she’s upset and angry. “This is more than just a summer thing. You can’t quit this kind of job.”

“I know, Mum,” Harry says. “I know, but the thing is, I’ve been completely finished with uni for a while now, and I’m no closer to deciding what I want to do with my life than I was the day I started. If this hadn’t happened, I’d probably have ended up using my degree for like, business and marketing or something boring like that. I don’t want that, Mum, I never have. Everything is moving so quickly, but finding Stevie and coming here… it all feels a little like fate. And it’s not like I’ve never lived away from home, anyways.”

“Are you sure?”

Harry watches Stevie shift in her sleep, uncurling and extending her limbs as far as they’ll go. There’s an odd moment of clarity, when Stevie yawns, and Harry isn’t lying when she replies, “Yeah, I am.”

“Okay,” Anne says with a finality. “I take it you’ll need to come back to pick up your stuff soon?”

“Yeah, though I should actually find my room first,” Harry laughs. She looks up to see Niall scratching Selene’s tail where it’s flicking back and forth in her sleep. “I need to go through the contract too. I’ll call you again soon, once I’ve met with Louis, the girl who’s gonna train me, and we can work out some time for me to make the trip home.”

“The sooner the better,” Anne says. “I’d like my car back sometime this week, please. Love you, sweetheart.”

“Love you too, Mum,” Harry replies, and hangs up. She waves over at Niall, who kisses Selene’s tail and jogs back to where Harry’s sitting.

“All finished?” Niall asks when she sits next to Harry, smoothing over the papers in her lap.

“Yeah,” Harry says, then something occurs to her. “If you were eligible for captainship or whatever, that means you already like, rode another dragon, right? So who am I stealing you from?”

“I was first lieutenant to Selene,” Niall answers, gesturing to the sleeping dragon. It makes sense, Harry figures, from the affectionate way Niall was touching her. “Caroline’s her Captain. Caroline Watson, not the Caroline you met earlier. She’s Caroline Flack.”

“Am I ever gonna meet the other captains?” So far the training grounds have been unnervingly quiet.

“Yeah, most will probably be in one of the communal areas, though weekends are days off so there might not be much training, and of course you’ll meet Lou tomorrow. Nick too, he’s at the cup as well. They’re the only ones that qualified this year,” Niall explains. “Let’s go through the contract, though, yeah? It’s pretty standard stuff about how you earn money and shit, but I’ll actually explain it to you, unlike Simon.”

“You’re a lifesaver.”

The contract is pretty easy to understand when Niall explains it to her. She gets a certain amount of money from the government to cover necessities, like her dragon’s equipment and food. That starts at the bare minimum for now, and increases depending on how well her and Stevie race. Then she gets a grant from the Yorkshire Training Grounds itself to cover her own accommodation and food. Winning races means winning sums of money, most of which go to the training grounds, so the bulk of dragon rider’s income comes from sponsorship deals. Accessing all of that involves Harry having to fill out and sign about a thousand different forms.

Now, contractually, she’s obligated to compete in the races she’s entered for, train her dragon for a minimum of twenty hours a week and be able to provide proof of that training (“Does that mean filling out more forms? Fucking great.”), give up 60% of her winnings to the Yorkshire Training Grounds, and 10% to the UK Government, and accept that once she makes her debut race, her life will be in the public eye and she’ll have to put up with the management that the Yorkshire Training Ground chooses.

Niall takes her to the accommodation on the grounds then, a tall building pretty close to where the dragons sleep. It makes sense, since Harry left Stevie in the pavilion less than an hour ago and Harry’s already missing her.

“This is like my uni accommodation,” Harry comments, panting, when she and Niall eventually climb the stairs to Harry’s room on the sixth floor, out of seven. “But like, so much nicer than the halls I stayed in ever were.”

“It got refurbished like that,” Niall says, flopping on to Harry’s bed. She’s barely out of breath. Harry’s not bitter at all. “So captains stay on the top two floors ‘cause they’re the nicest and everyone knows it. Well, not all the captains. Caroline commutes ‘cause she’s got a family and stuff, but pretty much everyone else. There’s the communal kitchen but you fuckers get an ensuite so be grateful. First lieutenants get the third and fourth floors, second lieutenants get the ones under that.”

“So there’s no distinct hierarchy here,” Harry scoffs, peering inside her ensuite and humming approvingly. So much nicer than her uni flats.

“Exactly.” Niall flips on to her stomach and watches Harry inspect the room. There’s nothing to dislike, really. It’s quite bland now; no sheets on the bed, boring white curtains, an empty wardrobe, clear desk, nothing on the walls, but Harry can make it her own. There’s a enough space that a few people could sit in here and it wouldn’t feel cramped, but not too much that she feels like the emptiness is overwhelming. “And there’s a couple of common rooms on the ground floor, so instead of going straight up the stairs like we did, you can go through the corridor and into the room, it’s got huge settees and a TV and shit. Most people hang out there, wanna go meet them? Or d’you wanna spend some time by yourself?”

Harry bites her lip, mulling it over. It’s not like she’s got much to do up here with none of her stuff, and if she’s by herself, she’s at risk of getting lonely. “Let’s go meet people,” she decides. “You can help me scope out who else I can try and recruit for Stevie.”

***

"Meeting people" becomes Harry befriending as many people as she can, explaining the accidental captaincy a thousand times over and getting a little drunk off Niall’s boxed red wine in the evening. It’s after her fourth glass, and they are glasses, as Niall insists, that she corners a cute brunette named Sophia and insists that she be her second lieutenant, even though Harry’s not a hundred percent sure what being a second lieutenant actually involves.

Things get a little wilder from there and Harry thinks she had a great time, but she goes to bed drunk and wakes up with a hangover, and Niall banging on her door at half eight, yelling for her to get up because training starts in thirty minutes.

Which is how she ends up stealing some of Ben Winston’s cereal for breakfast (but it’s okay, because Harry met him last night too and he’s a dick), and wearing ill-fitting short shorts and a Derby County football shirt of Niall’s to her training with Louis.

Stevie’s awake too and talking with Selene when Harry fetches her, already running late and kind of unsure as to where she’s going. Niall said the field to the left of the feeding grounds, but this whole fucking place is made up of fields, and Harry did not get enough sleep to navigate the grounds properly.

“I think it’s over there.” Stevie points with her claw to one of the fields in the distance, the silhouette of an unfamiliar dragon sticking out like a sore thumb. It’s a good spot, Harry tells her as much, and she’s only ten minutes late to her first session, which isn’t too bad.

“I’m really sorry I’m late,” Harry rushes to get out once she’s jogged to the centre of the field, where the dragon, and presumably, Louis, are waiting. The dragon is the biggest Harry’s seen so far, a black with yellow striped beast. It cocks its head when it spots Harry, curved horns like that of a ram stretching from its skull. It’s kind of terrifying, and Harry can’t take her eyes off it, until Louis Tomlinson turns around and coughs exaggeratedly.

“Are you hungover?” she snaps, hard blue eyes focused on Harry. She’s tiny compared to her dragon, but everything about her stance, the cold set of her face and the authority she’s radiating makes her seem taller than she is. The longer Harry stares, the less she’s intimidated by Louis’ dragon, and more she’s intimidated by Louis herself.

“Only a little,” Harry admits sheepishly, watching Louis’ face steel over even more. “Niall and I got a little carried away with the boxed wine last night, but I’m good to train and stuff! Not gonna throw up anytime soon, promise.”

“Niall, of course,” Louis mutters, shaking her head. She unfolds her arms then, her gaze sweeping over Harry’s body, and usually when pretty girls stare at Harry this intensely, she flushes a little and brings out the charm, but this time she just feels uncomfortably judged. Her skin prickles and goosebumps erupt over her arms, despite the relative warmth of the morning. “Those clothes hers too?”

“Yeah, not really a Derby County supporter,” Harry laughs, gesturing to the logo on her chest. “But this whole captain thing was kind of last minute, like, I’m sure you’ve been briefed? So I haven’t really had time to go home and get my stuff. Niall had to lend me a sports bra too,” Harry adds after a moment, “But she’s a lot smaller than me in the boobs department, so it’s kind of crushing me right now.”

“Right,” Louis says, seemingly bored with their whole conversation which, rude. “Look, neither of us have any choice here, so if I’m gonna train you, I need you to take this seriously. Don’t show up to these sessions fucking hungover, and get some decent fucking kit.”

“Hey, I’ve been here for like, twenty-four hours, how about you cut me some slack?” Harry frowns. Christ, this is not how she expected the first official day as a captain to start. “Look, I’m sorry about showing up hungover, that was stupid, yeah, and it won’t happen again, but it’s really not that bad, okay? I can still train, and I am taking this seriously.”

Louis doesn’t look convinced, snorting and looking like she’s a breath away from rolling her eyes. “How physically fit are you?”

Harry bites back the innuendo on the tip of her tongue, suspecting that Louis wouldn’t take too kindly to another joke, and answers, “I go for runs occasionally, but I don’t do any serious workouts.”

“Riding a dragon takes a lot of strength and energy, so you need to have high stamina and good body control,” Louis says, stepping closer to Harry. Her dragon shifts behind her, the yellow stripes catching in the sunlight. Harry quickly sneaks a glance at Stevie, who seems to be preoccupying herself with watching Louis move. “Everyone here has been following a training routine for years. You’ve got a lot of catching up to do, so start with laps. Three, around this field.”

“Laps?” Harry looks around at the open space. “This field is fucking massive.”

“It’s not that big,” Louis says, actually rolling her eyes this time. Anger flares in Harry’s stomach. “The perimeter is about a mile, so three laps is three miles, more or less. It’s not that much at all, considering captains usually run five miles every morning.”

“'Cause that makes things so much better,” Harry sighs. “Shouldn’t I be like, training with Stevie too? Learning to fly or something?”

“Can we fly?” Stevie asks, suddenly a lot more interested in their conversation. She pushes off the ground and beats her long wings, flying circles around their heads, and looping around the long neck of Louis’ dragon. “I want to show Harry what it’s like.”

“You won’t be able to start flying with Stevie for another week,” Louis tells Harry, but her gaze is locked on Stevie and there’s a softness there that disappears as soon as she looks back at Harry. Fucking great. “Dragons grow incredibly quickly, and in a month Stevie will be fully grown. She’s big now, but she’s not big enough to support your weight and the harness for an extended period of time while she’s still new to flying. She’ll get a harness fitted after a week that can be adjusted as she continues to grow, and you can start flying then. Her acid glands will develop after ten days too, and you’ll need to teach her to control them.”

“Acid glands?” Harry repeats, startled.

Stevie drops to her side, bringing her wings to her body and flicking her tail excitedly. “What can I do with the acid?”

Louis looks between them, confusion etched into her brow. It’s quickly replaced by irritation. “You didn’t even bother to research your own damn dragon? Longwings have glands in their throat that produce acid, so they can spit acid as far as a hundred metres.”

“Shit,” Harry says on an exhale. “That’s wicked.”

Stevie lets out a sharp roar of what Harry suspects is laughter, clapping her front claws together.

Louis spares a moment to smile at Stevie, a brilliant small smile that changes her appearance entirely, before turning back to Harry with a coldness in her eyes, and really, that’s fucking unfair. What the hell has she done that’s pissed Louis off so much?

“You’ll need to teach her how to use it so she doesn’t injure herself or other people,” Louis says. “Now go run those laps. I’ll even do them with you to prove they’re easy if you just try.”

Harry considers grumbling about it more, but Louis clearly isn’t going to budge, and Harry doesn’t actually want her to be pissed off, so she starts. Half a lap in, she’s made aware of how completely out of shape she is. The occasional run she usually does is worth fuck-all here. Her legs are burning by the time she’s on her second lap, but she’s mostly concentrating on keeping her breaths even, and not falling behind Louis. She’ll be damned before she lets Louis think she can’t do this.

They’re both sweating by the time they’ve finished, but Harry’s clearly faring worse; she’s so ready to just go back to sleep for a millennia. Louis doesn’t let her though, just snaps that she should stretch properly before she even thinks about lying down. Harry just copies Louis again, stretching out her muscles and trying not to stare at Louis’ thighs, where her shorts are riding up. They’re gorgeous thighs, Harry wouldn’t mind getting her mouth on them, but she’s not a creep who stares at girls inappropriately so she averts her eyes and focuses on the bittersweet relief of her stretches.

“Did you know Roland can breathe fire?” Stevie asks excitedly when Harry’s finished stretching, shaking out her limbs.

“Who’s Roland?” Harry pants.

A deep rumble of a cough follows Harry’s question, and when she turns Louis’ dragon, Roland apparently, is slouched on the ground, a slow snarl curling its lips over its teeth. It’s actually quite terrifying, and Harry takes a subconscious step backwards.

“Me,” Roland says, or well, growls. Hearing Roland’s voice does nothing to ease Harry’s discomfort.

Still. “That’s really cool,” she says, biting her lip. “Can you show us?”

“He’s not a show-dragon,” Louis interjects fiercely, striding in front of Roland and crossing her arms. “You can’t just expect him to perform on command because you want to see a cool party trick or whatever.”

“That’s not—”

“It’s okay,” Roland interrupts, nudging Louis with his head. Considering his head is pretty much the same size as Louis, Harry’s impressed that Louis doesn’t fall over. “Stand back.”

Roland launches himself into the air, beating his broad wings steadily until he’s way above them. He starts flying in large circles around the field, opens his massive jaws and breathes a plume of orange fire into the air.

Harry shouts with delight, clapping her hands to her chest. The heat of the flames reaches them on the ground, but it’s worth it to see the fire fade away into nothing, and for Roland to land gracefully, despite his size. Straight away, Stevie bolts up to him and climbs on to his back, wrapping her front legs around his neck as best she can, crowing about how brilliant that was.

“It really was,” Harry tells him, then turns to face Louis. She’s watching Roland shake his shoulders so Stevie has to cling to stay on with a fond smile on her face, like she physically can’t stop herself from grinning. She’s beautiful like that.

“Roland, are you good to go through the drills with Stevie?” Louis asks, ignoring Harry’s comment.

“Yes,” Roland nods, finally bucking Stevie off. “We’ll start with the basics.”

“Please.” Louis reaches up on her tip toes to stroke his snout, before walking up to Harry and jerking her head towards the buildings further inside the grounds. “Roland will take Stevie through the basic flight manoeuvres to get her used to them.”

“Roland?” Harry raises her brows.

“Yes,” Louis says shortly. “Dragons often train other dragons. I can’t teach Stevie how to refine her flying techniques, I can only try and teach you to how to ride her. If we had another acid-spitter here, they’d teach Stevie how to control her acid, but since we don’t, you, as her captain, will have to do.”

“Oh thanks,” Harry huffs. “So what now? Training’s over?”

“Of course not.” Louis sounds more and more pissed with every word, and Harry still hasn’t figured out what the fuck she did to get on Louis’ bad side like this. Or if she even has a good side. Doesn’t look likely. “We’re going inside so I can cram seven years worth of education into a week for you.”

Harry’s mouth gapes. “Really? Seven years worth of education? That’s a lot.”

“Yeah, well, some of us trained and studied for years to get where we are,” Louis snaps. “And seven years is the minimum, everyone here has been working towards this since they were eleven. We’ve dedicated almost our entire lives to this, so yes, you’ve got a lot of fucking catching up to do.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Harry says slowly, so there’s little chance for Louis to misunderstand her. She doesn’t want her to get the wrong impression, and Harry didn’t mean for it to sound like she was just expecting everything to be easy, with no hard work. “And do I need to shower first?”

“Regardless of what you meant, that’s how it came off,” Louis says. Harry wants to protest more, insist that she’s not lying, but Louis doesn’t give her the chance. She turns on her heel and walks in the direction of the grounds, looking back to say, “Just follow me, we’re only going to the library and you’re not that sweaty.”

Harry waves goodbye to Stevie and Roland, who weren’t even paying attention to their exchange, and follows Louis with a sigh.

***

The library is nothing fancy, not like any of the libraries at Harry’s uni, just a large rectangular room filled with shelves lining the walls and creating ‘U’-shaped sections, and a few tables intermittently for people to use. Louis walks Harry straight to the empty table at the back and motions for Harry to take a seat. She disappears into the shelves to come out with a textbook kind of like the ones Harry used in her GCSE biology classes, and gives her an overview of basic dragon biology.

“So what kind of qualifications do you have?” Harry asks, once she’s finished copying a diagram of the air sacs in a dragon’s chest into the notebook Louis found for her. It’s a poorly drawn diagram, and she can feel Louis judging her. “Like, will I have to take exams? Because I was kind of hoping to be free from that now I’ve finished uni. Not that I won’t if I have to!” she adds when Louis arches an eyebrow. “Just, you know, wondering.”

“Well, you’ve got A Levels so no exams,” Louis answers. “There’s an academy a bit further South where the kids from England and Wales go, and you only have to complete compulsory education before you can apply to a training ground. But because dragons have been endangered for a long time, and are only just increasing in numbers now, it’s really competitive to get into the academy. Most people go into medicine or mechanics or research, only a small amount go for actual racing. People who don’t know anything about us tend to think we’re uneducated idiots.” She says the last part bitterly, a harsh smile contorting her features, and Harry feels like it’s a dig at her.

“Makes sense, there’s different types of learning, right?” Harry says, a peace offering. “I may have a degree but you’re the one teaching me here.”

Louis’ eyes widen a fraction then, like what Harry said threw her off. Good. “Right. Back to biology. You know what the air sacs do, now flip the page and read up on wing structure. There should be a section on Longwing dragons you want to pay extra attention too. Three guesses as to why.”

By the time Louis’ satisfied with their session, it’s nearing twelve and Harry is fighting to keep her stomach from growling loud enough to disturb them. The first few pages of her notebook are full of sketches and information, and at least Louis went over the few bits that Harry didn’t understand properly, even though the more questions Harry asked, the more it seemed to irritate Louis.

“So what do we do now?” Harry asks, stretching out her legs which are already stiffening from her run. “Lunch? Because I could eat a horse. Hell, I could eat a dragon.”

Louis’ face remains unimpressed, even when Harry adds her biggest grin, overly cheesy in a way that usually gets some kind of response out of people, but Louis doesn’t even bat a pretty eyelash. Great, so her bad jokes don’t work. At this rate, Harry’s never gonna be liked by Louis Tomlinson.

“It’s feeding time for the dragons,” Louis says. “Roland and Stevie will have gone through all the drills by now, so we can go take them to the feeding grounds. After that, to be frank, I don’t care what you do. Until you can fly, there’s not a lot of training to do, and since you can’t learn everything in a week, uni degree or not, I’m spreading out the condensed version over the next few days. I’d advise you spend some time getting to know Stevie and picking out your crew, if you want to be taken seriously, but like I said. I don’t care.”

Harry grits her teeth, ignoring the jabs and indifference lacing Louis’ tone. She can be the bigger person here. She will not rise to Louis’ insults; making more of an enemy out of Louis doesn’t sound like a good idea, and Harry is going to prove her fucking wrong anyway.

“Then tomorrow afternoon I’m heading back home to pick up my stuff,” Harry decides, matching Louis’ bored expression with one of her own. “I won’t have time today, since I’ll be busy talking with Niall and Sophia, who’ve both already agreed to join me with Stevie. Seems I’m more ahead than you think I am.”

With that, Harry grabs her notebook and pen, and walks calmly out of the library. She won’t give Louis the satisfaction of seeing her riled up.

***

Harry avoids Louis while she waits for Stevie to feed, keeping an eye on what she eats. Her dark scales look a little lighter in the sun, and when she flies back to Harry, her wings spread to their full width, she thinks she’s already a lot bigger than she was yesterday.

“How was it flying with Roland earlier?” Harry asks her as they walk to the pavilion so Stevie can nap on the heated stones. She’s already yawning every other step, but Harry wants to know if Roland treated her well. Stevie’s less likely to ignore it if he didn’t, Harry doesn’t think she could hide something if she tried, but if Louis has something against Harry, it’s not completely absurd to think that Roland might have something against Stevie.

“Tiring,” Stevie yawns again, and Harry snorts. “But a lot of fun. I can already tell I’m flying better. He’s really fast too. He told me about all the races he and Louis have flown in.”

“They any good?”

“Roland says they’re the best here because Louis trains so hard,” Stevie replies, tongue flicking out to catch a stray drop of blood near her nostrils. “He thinks we could be good too. I hope so, because then I get a gold medal.”

“We’ll train hard and get you ten gold medals,” Harry promises, delighting in the happy roar Stevie responds with, cut off by a yawn so exaggerated Harry has to stop to control her giggles.

She stays with Stevie until she’s settled and sleeping, which only takes a good two minutes, and sets off to find Niall for lunch. She finds her in the common room, playing cards with Sophia and another girl with a shaved head.

Harry creeps up behind them and wraps her arms around Niall’s shoulders, pressing their cheeks together. “Niall, please tell me you have food I can eat. I think my stomach is actually going to start digesting itself, all I’ve had today is Ben’s awful cereal.”

“So it was you that stole his cereal,” Sophia says, picking up a card and adding it to her hand. “He was complaining about someone leaving the box open earlier. I think it’s gone stale, or well, going stale.”

“It was already stale when I ate it.” Harry shrugs. It’s not like she’s bothered though. He complained about ‘yet another female captain’ when Harry introduced herself, so he can eat all the stale cereal in the world for all she cares. “Hi, I’m Harry,” she adds, smiling at the girl sitting opposite Sophia. The shaved head look is really working for her, Harry’s kind of jealous. She could never pull it off, and she loves her long hair, but the temptation is there sometimes.

“Zayn,” she offers, waving and accidentally showing Sophia and Niall her cards. “Fucking hell.”

“Great, well I know I’ve lost,” Niall groans, chucking her cards in the middle and standing, taking Harry with her. “I’m gonna go feed this beast, see ya later.”

“I’m not a beast,” Harry huffs, waving bye to Sophia and Zayn, and letting her arms fall from around Niall’s shoulders so she can walk alongside her, up to Niall’s room.

“How’d the first day of training go?” Niall asks when they’re sitting in her floor’s communal kitchen, picking at a packet of crisps.

“It was… interesting,” Harry says slowly, cutting cheese for her sandwich. Niall doesn’t have much that inspires Harry’s culinary interests, so she’ll have to make do with a ham and cheese sandwich. “Thanks for letting me show up hungover, by the way. Louis loved that.”

“That was not my fault!” Niall protests.

“You supplied the wine and told me ‘not to be a pussy, Styles’ and got everyone to cheer as I downed it,” Harry points out, placing the cheese carefully on the bread.

“Point taken.” Niall stuffs another crisp in her mouth. “So Louis wasn’t pleased?”

Harry looks up from her sandwich. “Wasn’t pleased? Niall, she’s a fucking hard-ass and I actually think she hates me. Like, she didn’t smile once the entire day, and she was so rude and cold. I mean, I understand not being happy I showed up hungover but I still did everything she said I should! I ran those fucking laps, and I listened to her explanations. And then she kept going on about me not taking this seriously? Like, she doesn’t even fucking know me! Fuck, just because she’s gorgeous and apparently good at racing, doesn’t mean she gets to treat people like shit.”

“Louis’ better than good, mate,” Niall says, her forehead creasing. “Was she really like that, though?”

“Yeah.” Harry goes back to making her sandwich. “I don’t know what her problem is, but she’s so rude and defensive. I mean, I asked her dragon if we could see him breathe fire, 'cause how sick is that? And she got really angry. I wasn’t treating Roland like a dog, I was asking to see him do something, and if he had said no, I would have dropped it.” Harry breaks off, pressing the two sides together, and stares at Niall. “You look confused.”

“What I’m confused about is the way you’re talking about Louis,” Niall says around a crisp. “She’s the biggest show-off I know, and Roland is too, even if he won’t admit it. There’s no way the Louis I know would ever miss the chance to impress people with what they can do. Or treat someone she’s never met before like shit.”

“Well, then maybe she’s just looking for reasons to hate me.” Harry shrugs, taking a bite of her sandwich.

“Give her time to warm up to you,” Niall offers, sympathetic. “Maybe it was a bad day? I haven’t seen her since she got back, but like, I promise you she’s not normally like this. And if she is, I’ll kick her arse for you.”

“My Irish knight.” Harry fake swoons, and Niall cackles so suddenly she almost chokes on a crisp.

Niall’s right, Harry figures. It’ll get better; it’s not like it can get much worse.

***

Predictably, it gets worse.

Louis ups the number of laps Harry’s runs each morning, until she’s running the full five miles, and Harry’s legs hate Louis for that. She takes Harry through the different types of harnesses dragons wear, how to keep them in good condition, and the flag system used to communicate in the air; a brief overview of the history of dragons; the actual physics of flying; and a rundown on all of the racing cups and events held.

Throughout it all, she’s still cold and harsh, and every time Harry tries to lighten the mood with a joke, or ask a question she thinks Louis would be interested in answering, she gets fuck-all in return. On the occasions Harry sees Louis outside of their training sessions, Louis’ a little friendlier, but mostly she just ignores her. Harry’s absolutely sick of it, so by the time Thursday evening rolls around and Niall invites Harry out to a pub in Leeds with her, Harry’s dying to have a fun night where she doesn’t have to worry about trying to win over Louis fucking Tomlinson.

So, of course, Louis shows up to the pub night.

It makes sense, she supposes. Niall is close friends with Louis and Zayn, who turned out to be Louis’ first lieutenant, and a girl named Liam who works in the garage, making, fixing and designing equipment for the dragons and riders. Harry’s only met her briefly, when Louis took her to their workshop to show her where it is and pick up some stuff to help teach with, but she seems nice enough. Right now, she’s trying to convince the guy behind the bar to give her a free drink on a dare. All it took was for Louis to dare her and nag her until she went up to try.

Harry watches from their table as Niall snaps a picture and uploads it to Twitter. “How many followers do you have?” she asks curiously. She follows a few footballers who have millions, and dragon racing isn’t on football’s level of popularity, but it’s got a pretty large following. Shit, that means Harry is drinking in a pub with kind-of famous sports stars right now. She’s going to be one.

“Only couple hundred thousand or so,” Niall answers, captioning the tweet and tagging Liam’s Twitter. “Captains get all the glory, so Louis’ the one with the most.”

“Getting close to a million, Nialler,” Louis interjects from where she’s talking with Zayn. Her fringe is down for the first time that Harry’s seen it, feathery under the dim pub lights. Harry’s fingers ache to run through it and push it back off Louis’ face. “Should use them to take over the world.”

“You couldn’t even take over Wales, let alone the whole world,” Niall snorts. She drinks more of her beer, and Harry giggles into her own drink.

“I beg to differ, Ni.” Louis fixes Niall with a smirk. “When I do, I’m banning golf, Derby County, and those shit hats you wear.”

Niall gasps, her hands flying to the cap on her head. “Don’t insult Oliver in front of him.”

Louis drops her head to the table. “Oh my God.”

“You named your hat?” Harry laughs, not even surprised because it’s such a Niall thing to do.

“Yep,” Niall grins, unashamed. Harry really loves that about Niall. “He’s a good hat, deserves the best.” She turns to jab her finger at Louis. “And you have no room to talk, Lou. I know you still have a stuffed dragon called Charizard in your bedroom.”

“Stuffed toys are different, Niall,” Harry adds, biting back a smile. “But Charizard, really?”

“I liked Pokémon as a kid,” Louis says, her cheeks flushing prettily. She watches Harry for a moment longer, the harshness that was present all week no longer there, before she resumes her conversation with Zayn. Maybe being in a more casual setting, without the pressures of training, is allowing Louis to relax. Harry hopes so, she doesn’t want Louis to hate her after all.

Liam comes back then, a bright blue cocktail in her hand and a smug smile on her face. “Did it,” she announces, placing the glass on a coaster. “I gave him your phone number in exchange, Niall.”

“Oh, thanks,” Niall groans.

“S’fine, you can just pretend to be Liam,” Harry says, taking the straw from her drink and waving it airily. “Make up a cool backstory. Liam Payne; secret agent. She trained in Russia for the first eighteen years of her life, but moved to England because the fish and chips are better. Likes house music, hates spoons.”

Louis stares at Harry in bewilderment. “What the fuck are you on about?”

“My secret life,” Liam says, clearly oblivious to the frown Louis’ directing at Harry. “Can my day job be a DJ? I’d love that.”

“Nah, you gave him my number, so I get to decide.” Niall taps her chin, thinking. “You can be a paleobotanist, like the girl from Jurassic Park.”

“At least DJ on the side then?” Liam barters. “I’m genuinely good at it, like, Sophia loves the mixes I send her.”

“You are really good,” Zayn adds.

Niall huffs, relenting. “Fine, DJ on the side.”

“You can still make it weird, Ni,” Harry assures her. “She can only remix country songs, and her DJ name can be ‘Big Payno’, that’s pretty embarrassing.”

Louis bursts into laughter, clapping her hands to her mouth as her shoulders shake with it. Harry looks between her and Liam, who’s scowling. “What? It is!”

“That’s my actual DJ name,” Liam grumbles.

“Oh my God. Um.” Harry scrambles for something to say, but ends up giggling and shrugging helplessly. Liam doesn’t seem particularly offended, just shoots Harry an overexaggerated glare and shakes her head.

“Smooth,” Louis mutters once she’s got control of her laughter, shooting Harry a warm smile that softens her cheekbones and crinkles her eyes. Harry’s breath hitches.

“You look like a startled kitten,” Niall teases, catching her attention. “I bet you’d purr if someone scratched your head.”

Harry tilts her head towards Niall so she can comb her fingers through Harry’s curls, and makes a soft purring noise. “I confirm or deny nothing.”

Niall gets them another round of drinks when they’re finished with theirs, and from then the night descends into a blur for Harry. She tries not to drink too much since she does have training in the morning, but Niall is very persistent, and Louis’ drinking too. They end up instigating an impromptu karaoke session, and Harry feels like she’s reliving her uni years when they sneak back to the training grounds. Falling in with a close group of friends has made Harry’s transition so much easier than she anticipated. She ends up crashing in Niall’s room because she’s too drunk to climb the last flight of stairs to hers and she falls asleep pleasantly buzzed, purring like a kitten.

***

After Harry runs her five laps on Friday morning, and Stevie’s set to do her drills with Roland, she follows Louis to the library where she’s faced with a test. She’s sitting opposite Louis, who slides her a face-down stapled few sheets of paper and a black pen.

“I thought you said there wouldn’t be any exams?” Harry asks, biting her lip. The paper isn’t too thick, and it’s not like she’s never taken tests without revising before, but if she doesn’t do well on this, she reckons there’s a pretty good chance that Louis’ll stab her with the pen.

“It’s hardly an exam,” Louis dismisses. “I got it from the academy website and cut a bunch of stuff out, it’s literally just testing your knowledge on everything you’ve been taught this week. It shouldn’t be too hard to get a decent mark. You’ve got an hour.”

Louis leans back in her chair, tapping away on her phone, and Harry flips the paper frantically. It’s a short answer test, thank God, and she manages to fill all the questions in, even if over half of them are guesses because how the fuck was she supposed to remember all the names and dates and events in dragon history when Louis didn’t tell her there’d be a test?

By the time she’s finished and Louis’ checked it over, Harry can already see the disappointment twisting Louis’ features. Harry chews her lower lip nervously, watching Louis double check the answers before sliding it back across the table with a ’33/50’ scrawled on the front in thick, red pen.

“Sixty-six percent, that’s pretty good,” Harry says, carefully studying Louis’ face for any sign of a changed expression. “Like, two thirds isn’t so bad?”

“Fourteen year-olds get higher than that,” Louis replies coldly. “I had hoped for better, but never mind. Anyway, we’re done for the day now. Weekends are days off so we don’t have to train tomorrow, and Nick and I are down in London for a press day regardless. Roland can still take Stevie through some drills if they want, and we’ll start flight training on Monday, since Stevie should be grown enough to fit a harness and carry you. Keep running five miles a day, and I’ll see you Monday.”

And with that she’s gone, stalking out of the library and leaving Harry slack-jawed at their desk.

Fuck that.

Fuck Louis and her condescending tone and her rude attitude and the shitty way she treats Harry. Fuck waiting for Louis to warm up to her while Harry tries to be nice and tries to get on Louis’ good side. Fuck letting Louis get away with it all week just because Harry thought she was picking her battles and saving herself some unnecessary confrontation.

Harry doesn’t bother picking up the test when she storms out of the library, blood boiling as she follows Louis. There aren’t too many people wandering about the open space of the training grounds at this time, most of the crews are training with their dragons, so it’s easy to spot Louis opening the door to the accommodation block. Harry jogs after her, running up the steps until she gets to the very top floor and finds the room with ‘Louis Tomlinson’ scrawled on the sign on the door.

She bangs her fist against the wood, her chest heaving from the run up the stairs and the fury pulsing through her veins. She will not be treated like shit anymore by Louis fucking Tomlinson. She doesn’t care if she’s the best fucking rider in the entire world, she has no right to be such an arse to Harry.

When Louis opens the door, Harry shoves past her and into Louis’ room. “What the fuck is your problem?”

“Excuse me?” Louis lets the door slam shut and glares at Harry. “My problem? You fucking burst into my room yelling like it’s the end of the world and you want to know what my problem is?”

“Yes!” Harry snaps, anger coursing through her so viciously she could punch something. It’s rare that she’s this angry, but once the dam is broken it’s overwhelming, and usually ends with Harry burning off the energy in a marathon run or cleaning her entire flat. Right now, the longer she looks at Louis, eyes ablaze and shoulders squared, she doesn’t see herself coming out of this unscathed. “Since the moment we met you have been rude and condescending and so fucking unpleasant to be around, and I have no idea why! I don’t know what the hell I did to piss you off so much, but you need to fucking cut it out.”

“Oh, I need to?” Louis takes a step closer to Harry, eyebrows raised mockingly. Heat coils in Harry’s abdomen. “Because everyone needs to do whatever you want, right? We all have to accommodate you. I mean it’s not like I’m already giving up hours of my own time to train you.”

“That’s not fair,” Harry hisses, shifting forward subconsciously. In the back of her mind, she’s aware that Louis’ not stepping backwards, that she’s actually moving toward her and with each passing second there’s less and less space between them. “I didn’t ask for any of this. It’s not even been a week since my entire life has been upended with practically no choice from me, and dealing with that is hard enough, but dealing with you, being so cold during our sessions, shutting me down whenever I try and ask something, and then expecting me to know everything straight away? You’re doing a shit job and it’s not fucking fair.”

“Life’s not fair, kitten.” Louis sneers the last word, tilting her chin up in a challenge.

There’s a defining moment that stretches out into infinity, when things can go one of many ways, and it all depends on Harry’s next move. She could step back, end the argument and run off her anger, complain to Stevie and Niall, and put up with more of Louis’ shit next week. She could keep arguing, could push Louis until one of them breaks; fuck the consequences that’ll surely be a thousand times more unpleasant than the argument itself. She could do a hundred things, but none of them matter.

Louis steals the choice from her by closing the miniscule distance between them, pulling Harry down for a bruising kiss. Harry’s instincts take over as her mind tries to process what the hell is happening. She kisses Louis back, frantic and desperate, taking out her frustration on Louis’ soft, soft lips that contrast so much with the hardness of her demeanour. When Louis bites Harry’s lower lip, rolling it between her teeth sharply enough to sting with pain, Harry’s hands fly to Louis’ hips, fingers curling in her Rovers jersey.

Fuck, Harry shouldn’t want this so badly. There shouldn’t be a jolt of pleasure shooting straight to her cunt when Louis’ fingers tug Harry’s hair tie out of her hair roughly, casting it aside and tangling her hands in Harry’s loose curls. The magnetism between them shouldn’t lead to this, angry snogging in Louis’ room, because Harry shouldn’t like Louis. She doesn’t like Louis, all she’s done is treat Harry like shit, but when Louis licks into Harry’s mouth, twining their tongues together, there’s nowhere Harry would rather be.

Harry walks Louis backwards until she’s pressed against the nearest wall of her bedroom. Like this, she’s towering over Louis, caging her between her legs, but Louis doesn’t seem cornered. She’s keeping Harry close with her hands in her hair, sucking on Harry’s tongue and making hushed noises in the back of her throat that have Harry shifting her weight to lean on Louis.

“Hate that I’m into you,” Louis pants, tearing her lips away from Harry’s (and Harry doesn’t look at how they’re red and swollen and begging to be kissed again) and letting her head fall back against the wall. Harry ducks to kiss her throat then, lips travelling to the spot just under Louis’ jaw that makes her breath hitch. She sucks a mark, dragging her teeth over it when she’s satisfied that it’ll bruise and leave Louis with the memory of this when it’s over. “Hate that you get to me like this.”

And that’s… Harry doesn’t want to think about that right now. She doesn’t want to examine exactly why she’s getting wet just kissing Louis, doesn’t want to talk about it when she’s still pissed off. She just wants to keep drawing those breathless sounds from Louis’ throat, and some relief from the tension that’s crackling under her skin.

“Can’t fucking stand you,” Harry murmurs into her collarbone, one of her hands trailing up Louis’ torso to drag the collar of her shirt down to grant Harry access. Louis’ skin tastes like salt and sweat and it shouldn’t want to make Harry taste more, but it does. Harry wants to put her mouth all over Louis.

Louis pulls Harry’s hair tightly when Harry licks into the hollow of her neck, the dip between her collarbones, and Harry can’t hold back her whimper. It’s loud in the otherwise quiet room, and it’d be embarrassing if Louis weren’t making the same noises. “What’re you gonna do about it then, kitten?”

Harry bites Louis’ skin again in response to the nickname, and the thinly-veiled taunt in Louis’ voice. She drops her hand back to Louis’ hips, digging her nails into her skin, under her shirt. Louis squirms in her grasp, pulling Harry even closer with one hand still in her hair, the other tracing the length of her spine. She slips it under Harry’s own vest top, scratching lines along her back. Harry shivers under her touch, her clit throbbing at the hint of pain.

“Fuck you,” Harry mutters, because she didn’t properly register the question and she doesn’t know how else to respond. She slides her hands down from Louis’ hips to settle over her arse, palming her through the ugly mud-splattered shorts. Louis arches her back, rocking her arse back into Harry’s grip and parting her legs so Harry’s thigh can slip between them.

“Oh, fuck me,” Louis gasps, grinding against Harry’s leg. Harry hitches her higher, gets a tighter grip on her arse, and buries her face in the juncture of Louis’ neck. She mouths at another sensitive spot, if Louis’ whimpers are anything to go by, bringing one hand to rest between them, fingers curling in the waistband of Louis’ shorts. She leaves it there as she kisses down Louis’ neck, giving her the opportunity to say no. “What are you waiting for, kitten?”

Harry nips at Louis’ shoulder, slipping her hand underneath her shorts and pants until she’s cupping her pussy, middle finger tracing her slit. Louis’ wet and hot against Harry’s hand, pubic hair tickling Harry’s palm. Just the feel of her turns Harry on even more, and she can’t tell who’s breathing harder at this point.

She takes a moment to spread the wetness along Louis’ lips, teasing her hole with light touches, enjoying the way Louis’ voice climbs with each moan. By the time she focuses her attention on Louis’ clit, she’s so wet Harry’s finger rubs slow, tortuous circles around the nub with ease.

Both of Louis’ hands are in Harry’s hair again, yanking on her curls with each press against her clit. She sounds like she’s trying to stifle her moans in Harry’s skin, sinking her teeth into Harry’s neck, deep enough that there’ll be dents there long after Harry leaves. Harry rubs Louis’ clit firmer, speeds up her touches, wanting Louis to stop muffling her whimpers and be as loud as Harry suspects she’ll be.

“Can’t fuck me better than that, kitten?” Louis gasps out instead, which isn’t what Harry was expecting when Louis took her mouth away from Harry’s neck, but heat flares in Harry’s stomach at the accusation that Harry’s not fucking her well. “Should just do it myself.”

Harry huffs and drops to her knees. She's good with her fingers, she knows that, but she’s better with her mouth and that’ll show Louis. She tugs Louis’ shorts and underwear down her legs and over her shoes. Louis kicks her trainers off and lets Harry move her back into position, legs spread so Harry can fit between them, and leaning back against the wall. Harry runs her thumb through the brown hair between Louis’ legs

“I haven’t –” Louis cuts off, biting her lip and looking up at the ceiling. “I haven’t, like, in a while…”

“Shaved?” Harry asks. Louis nods, looking oddly self-conscious, and that throws Harry. The Louis that got her down on her knees in the first place was far more guarded than this Louis, and she was easier for Harry to deal with, to be angry with. “Please, like a hairy pussy is gonna bother me. I’d eat out girls with all types of body hair.”

With that, Harry parts Louis’ folds, exposing her wet, pink cunt, and licks a long line from her hole right up to her clit. She licks again, slower this time, with the flat of her tongue, and moans into Louis’ pussy. The reason Harry knows she’s good at this, is she’s never been able to eat a girl out without throwing herself into it. She buries her face between Louis thighs, guides Louis’ hands back to her hair, and laves her tongue around her hole, dipping inside and tasting her wetness.

Fuck,” Louis hisses, hands tightening in Harry’s hair and forcing her closer to her cunt, if it was even possible. Harry’s chin and nose are getting sticky with slick from where she’s eating Louis’ pussy, but that’s all part of what Harry loves. Feeling used and claimed like this, her jaw working to draw pleasured sounds from the person above her. Louis’ not holding back anything anymore, and Harry feels a surge of pride in her chest with every whimper. “Fuck – yes – your tongue.”

Harry draws her tongue from her pussy, runs it up her slit to her clit and suckles gently, humming approvingly when Louis bucks her hips. She does it again, and Harry moans, nodding and giving the okay for Louis to ride her face as best she can. Louis holds Harry’s head in place, licking over her clit, and grinds her hips forward. Harry breathes through her nose when she can, too overwhelmed otherwise by Louis’ taste and heady scent and the wet heat suffocating her in the best way possible.

She slips her own hand between her legs, under her leggings and pants, rubbing her own clit fiercely while she eats Louis out. She’s so turned on she barely lasts a minute, coming against two fingers and with a whine into Louis’ cunt.

For the sake of Harry’s oxygen supply, she’s glad Louis doesn’t last much longer. She throws herself into fucking Louis with her tongue, as deep as she can manage like this. The edge of Louis’ shirt keeps brushing against her forehead, and her knees are aching now that her own adrenaline is abating, but when Louis comes with a wail she’s all that matters.

It’s another moment of heavy breathing, Harry with her face against Louis’ thigh, face covered in her wetness, that they actually have to deal with what happened.

“Did you…” Louis trails off, and Harry nods.

“Get off? Yeah,” she whispers, her voice rough from disuse. “Fucked you good though, right?”

“Sure,” Louis says, indifferent, like Harry didn’t just eat her out like a fucking champ. Rude. “I, uh. I have to pack and stuff for tomorrow.”

It’s a dismissal if Harry ever heard one, and it’s not even a good one. A day trip to London doesn’t exactly require much packing, but like hell is Harry hanging around if Louis’ going to keep being a giant dick.

“Right.” Harry stands, wincing at the stiffness in her knees. She wipes her hands and face with her shirt, not caring if Louis thinks it’s disgusting, and leaves the room.

Fuck.

***

Harry spends Saturday morning in Leeds with Niall and Sophia, shopping for clothes she could actually ride in, instead of her ratty leggings and vest top she’s been wearing with Louis. She ends up with thermal undershirts and leggings, trousers surprisingly similar to what jockeys wear, a thick jacket which will eventually have ‘STYLES’ and ‘STEVIE’ printed on the back, and a wicked looking pair of leather gloves. She tries it all on back at the training grounds, when she feeds Stevie with Niall, and for once, she actually feels like a legitimate dragon rider.

“It’d help if you’d actually ridden a dragon before,” Niall points out when Harry voices that, finishing with a cackle.

“I take back everything I have said in defence of your hat,” Harry retorts, shielding her eyes from the early June sun and watching Stevie fly closer to them. She’s massive now, longer than the rest of the dragons at the grounds, and her wings have practically doubled in width. Harry doesn’t know when she grew so big, or how it’s even possible for a creature to grow so quickly, but as Stevie flies next to Selene, who used to dwarf her, she’s holding her own.

“I think you need a bath, Stevie,” Niall says when Stevie lands, curling her tail around Harry and Niall. Now that she’s too big to cling to Harry, she’s taken to almost herding Harry and Niall and whoever they’re with into a tight circle with her tail.

“How’d you even bathe dragons?” Harry asks, stroking the dark blue scales between Stevie’s bright eyes. “Bit big for a tub.”

“Thinking too literally, Haz,” Niall says, clapping her on the back and starting to walk in the opposite direction of the blocks of buildings. The sheer size of the training grounds will never cease to amaze Harry. “We use the lake. Dragons need to wash at least once a week, otherwise they start stinking, but any more than that is alright too, cause it’s a lake, it’s not like it’s gonna disappear.”

“Maybe you should bathe in it too then,” Stevie huffs, walking on all fours next to them. It’s kind of hilarious seeing a dragon as long as Stevie try and match their pace. She’s always muttering, “Humans, so slow” under her breath. “Since,” she sniffs exaggeratedly, “you’re stinking too.”

Harry squawks with laughter, clapping her hand over mouth to try and muffle the giggles. Niall looks between Harry and Stevie, bewildered and affronted. “Stevie makes an excellent point, Niall.”

Niall sticks her middle finger up at Harry, scrunching her face into a frown. “Traitor. You’re not invited to the next pub night. Niall Horan officially bans you.”

Harry laughs even harder at that, having to stop and lean on Niall for support otherwise she’d fall over. She’s too busy giggling to notice that Stevie’s taking off into the air, until Niall nudges her shoulder and points to Stevie flying low in the sky.

“Someone’s getting impatient,” she says, starting to walk again and leaving Harry to follow.

Harry nods. “She doesn’t like waiting, yeah.”

The lake is a little ways away from the buildings and the fields that the dragons feed and train in. As soon as it comes into view, Harry can see Stevie leaping out of the water like some kind of sea serpent. Her jumps and dives create huge waves that ripple along the surface, and even metres away from the shoreline, Harry and Niall get sprayed by freshwater.

“She’s like the Loch Ness Monster,” Harry cackles, wiping water from her cheeks. Stevie’s noticed their arrival, waving her tail comically from the middle of the lake. Her scales blend in with the water, so when she dives back under, she’s near impossible to see. “Do you think Nessie is a dragon? I always assumed if it’s real, it’s a dragon.”

“We don’t know,” Niall shrugs, sitting on the pebbles surrounding the shoreline. There are mountains visible in the distance, and the beginnings of a forest on the opposite side of the lake. It’s actually quite picturesque; Harry snaps a photo on her phone to send to her mum when she’s got Wi-Fi. “Some people think she’s an ancient fucking dragon from like, the pre-historic dinosaur years, and some people don’t think she exists at all, and was just an urban legend the Scots made up to fuck with the English. Good on ‘em, if it is.”

“When I get too old for racing, I’m gonna take Stevie up to Loch Ness and we’re gonna investigate the Loch Ness Monster,” Harry decides, sitting next to Niall. “Find out if she’s real or not for sure.”

“Good luck with that,” Niall says, another wave coming out of nowhere and splashing them. It was further away this time, so they mostly get sprayed rather than actually splashed, but even at midday, the sun isn’t hot enough to dry them properly.

They sit in companionable silence while Stevie splashes around in the water, seemingly fascinated by swimming and then floating on her back with her wings spread, arms and legs stuck up in the air like a dog. Apparently her air sacs are good for flying and keeping her buoyant.

Harry’s already shrugged off her riding jacket and boots, too warm to keep them and the thermal kit on at the same time, when Niall breaks the silence. “So,” she says, lying back on her elbows with her head lolling back in the sun. She’ll probably burn, given the whole Irish complexion, but she doesn’t seem too bothered to Harry. “Tell me to fuck off if I’m getting too personal here, but what’s up with you and Louis? ‘Cause I mentioned you and Stevie to her yesterday, just like offhandedly asking how training was going, and I have never seen someone change the subject so badly before in my life.”

There it is. What Harry’s spent all of today and most of yesterday vehemently trying to ignore. Louis.

“Nah, it’s not too personal, it’s like…” She trails off, wondering how she’s going to explain to Niall how she feels, when she doesn’t even know how she feels. Everything about Louis is one jumbled mess of frustration and confusion and a lot more arousal than Harry would like to admit. She doesn’t even know where to start. “Okay, well I’ve made no secret about how she’s really rude and standoffish when we train, right?”

“Yeah, and I still don’t understand that but yeah,” Niall nods, because Harry’s vented to her and Stevie a lot over the past week, and each time Niall insists that she just doesn’t understand why Louis’ acting like that because that’s just not the Louis Niall knows. Even Stevie says that when she sees Louis with Roland and Zayn and Perrie, Louis’ second lieutenant, she’s a lot different to how she acts around Harry, and Harry doesn’t know how to deal with that because that means Louis definitely has a problem with her but she still doesn’t know what the fuck she’s even done.

“Well on Friday, instead of teaching me stuff like she’d done for the past few days, she gave me a test that she compiled from other tests that already exist or whatever, and considering she didn’t tell me about it at all, I thought I did alright? Like, sixty percent or something, which isn’t great yeah, but it’s not awful.” Harry breaks off with a groan, remembering the fed-up look on Louis' face from yesterday and the argument that followed. “Anyway, Louis like, interpreted the result as me not taking this seriously again, or me not meeting her ridiculous expectations. Something that just validated her fucked opinions of me, I don’t know, but she stormed off and I followed her back to her room and confronted her about everything and we… well, we fucked.”

Niall snaps her head in Harry’s direction, grinning wildly. “You what?”

“We had sex,” Harry repeats, laughing at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. “Like, we were yelling and we might have got a bit close, and there was a pause in the argument and she just kissed me. One thing led to another and...” Niall’s grin just gets wider, a little more maniacal, and Harry groans. “Oh my God, Niall, she hates me, like, she actually hates me, and I really don’t like her but I want to spend my life between her thighs. What is wrong with me?”

“Hey, I’ve heard good things about Louis in the bedroom,” Niall says, like that’s actually comforting to Harry and not making her want to scream out of frustration even more. “Not that I’ve ever banged her myself, we’re not like that.”

“Wait, so who has?” Harry asks, just as another wave crashes into the shore. Stevie’s back to leaping out of the water again, roaring at something she’s found.

“A lady doesn’t spill other lady’s secrets, H.” Niall waggles her finger, the fucking tease. “But remember we’ve all known each other for years, and all went through our sexuality crises together. So there are a lot of girls that shared partners in the academy and here.”

“You’re telling me I grew up as the only lesbian in a tiny village, and you’re all here having giant gay orgies.” Harry flops back on to the pebbles, spreading her limbs like a starfish and staring up at the clouds in the sky. “What the fuck, Niall.”

“I don’t think there were giant lesbian orgies,” Niall laughs. “At least, I wasn’t invited to any so if there were I’ll be fucking pissed.”

Harry rolls her eyes and watches the clouds float by for a while, idly wondering how long Stevie will spend in the lake. It’s not like Harry’s bothered to wait, she’s got nothing else to do really, but she didn’t think bathing was this entertaining. And alright, maybe waiting here and talking with Niall is making Harry think about Louis and that’s driving her up the wall.

“Really though, Niall,” Harry says, glancing across at her, pebbles shifting under her movement. “What do you think I should do? Like, I don’t want her to hate me, and I haven’t seen her since we fucked and God, we’re starting flight training on Monday and all I’ll be able to think about is the sex and the fact that she called me kitten and—”

“Yeah, okay, that’s too much information, thanks,” Niall interrupts, slapping a hand over Harry’s mouth.

Harry licks her palm until she wrenches it away, wiping it against Harry’s shirt. “Sorry, got a little carried away. The point, though, is that you said I should give her the chance to warm up to me and I don’t think that’s happening so just… what do I do?”

“I’ll talk to her, yeah?” Niall nudges Harry, her expression serious for once. “See if there’s a reason she’s being a raging bitch—”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Harry frowns.

“Sounds like it to me.” Niall shrugs. “I love Louis, but if she’s being an arse, she’s being an arse, no two ways about it. If I can find out what the problem is, then you two can address it. And maybe you should talk to her too, like, actually talk, not argue, and keep your knickers on this time.”

“Such words of wisdom,” Harry drawls. “But thank you. I’ll try.”

“Settled,” Niall declares. “Now let’s get Stevie out of there before she prunes.”

***

Harry doesn’t see Louis until early Monday morning, back in the same damn field at nine AM. It’s just as awkward as she feared, seeing Louis again. She’s wearing the same tiny shorts that show off her thick thighs that Harry still kind of wants to be smothered by, and when she talks with Roland, waiting for Harry to get close enough, all Harry can hear are her moans, and ‘kitten’ rolling off her tongue.

Harry’s fucked, basically.

“Morning,” Harry greets, smiling at Louis then Roland, who’s already dealing with Stevie trying to crawl up his back to perch on his shoulders. Harry aggressively shoves all sexual thoughts about Louis from her mind, and concentrates on the dewy grass they’re standing on, the pale, watery sunlight that’s doing fuck-all to keep Harry warm. Anything but Louis’ taste on her tongue.

“Morning,” Louis replies, stiff as a board. At least Harry’s not the only one affected by the awkwardness. “Run your laps, then I’ll go over the training plan for today.”

“Can’t wait,” Harry drawls, giving Louis two exaggerated thumbs up and setting off on a quick jog. The early morning runs are getting easier, even if Harry’s muscles still hate her and she’s always out of breath by the end. It also helps that Louis prefers training in fields away from the other captains, so at least Harry’s only getting hot and sweaty in front of Louis.

By the time they’re both finished and stretched, Harry once again copying Louis and resolutely not thinking about her arse, Stevie and Roland have completed their own warm-up flight drills.

“First thing is the harness,” Louis explains, gesturing to the lumps of leather and metal at the edge of the field. Harry nods, recognising one that Liam had been working on specifically for Stevie. “Usually, you’d put it on with your lieutenants since you’ll all train together once I’ve finished bringing you up to speed, but you need to be able to put it on yourself and navigate it in the air for safety reasons. Grab it and I’ll show you.”

Stevie stands on all fours, as still as she can manage, which is apparently not that still since her tail is flicking wildly and she keeps talking about finally getting to fly with Harry. The harness stretches from her front legs to her hind legs, a thick base strip of leather with loops for her legs, wings, belly and neck, heavy metal buckles securing the whole thing together. There are even reins that attach to an extra harness that fits around Stevie’s jaw and snout, which Harry hesitates to put on for fear of hurting her, but Stevie assures Harry that it’ll be fine, and if it’s not she’ll say.

It’s a lot harder to get on by herself than she thought it’d be, since Stevie’s taller than Harry even at a crouch, but Stevie does help with getting the straps in the right place, and Harry manages to buckle them all eventually. It takes a solid fifteen minutes, and by the time they’re finished Louis’s already done with Roland’s, and probably could have taken it off and put it back on again in that time. Which is actually so impressive, considering there’s an even larger difference between Roland and Louis’ height, that Harry can’t even be pissed.

“Saddle next,” Louis announces, jerking her head towards the remaining pieces of equipment. They’re both sleek and small, with a bump down the middle of the saddle to be sat on and a pouch at the front for the flags to be stored in. Despite the size, it’s ridiculously heavy, so Louis helps Harry carry it over to Stevie, only letting go when Stevie surprises them both by picking Harry up in one large claw and dropping Harry on her back.

“Warn me next time, Stevie!” Harry gasps, slapping Stevie’s neck lightly. She’s sitting right between Stevie’s shoulder blades, at the top of her spine. She runs her fingers over Stevie’s dark scales, feeling the muscles ripple under her hide as Stevie picks up the dropped saddle and passes it to Harry. She’s high above the ground like this, and it’s strange to be on Stevie’s back when just last week Stevie was crawling all over Harry.

“Roland said this is the easiest way for you to mount,” Stevie replies, peering back to blink at Harry with amused, yellow eyes. It’s a trait Harry reckons she picked up from Roland, who’d probably have a constant lazy smile curling his lips if he could.

“It’s true,” Roland adds, picking up Louis and dropping her onto his back. Louis looks like she’s biting back a laugh, trying to glare at him but failing miserably. It’s cute, for the few seconds it lasts, but then she’s crawling up Roland’s neck and whispering something into his ear. Before Harry can even wonder what they’re talking about, Louis’ being lifted into the air again and dropped on to Stevie, next to Harry.

“Put the saddle in place,” Louis instructs, moving so Harry can fit it between two leather loops around Stevie’s belly and neck, between her wings. It’s a lot easier than securing the actual harness was, mostly because Louis had shown her diagrams last week, and explained how it all fit together. There are loose buckles on the harness that attach to straps on the saddle, and it’s as simple as that.

Once it’s on, she sits at the front, and Louis positions herself behind Harry. It feels an awful lot like a scene from some kind of period drama with Louis close enough that Harry can feel her body heat through her clothes, the soft press of her breasts against Harry’s back. She’s thankful Louis can’t see her cheeks colour, at least.

“Strap yourself in,” Louis says, patting Harry’s thigh and Harry is definitely glad that Louis can’t see her biting her lip as she does so. There’s no seatbelt on the saddle, but there are loops for her legs to go in, sitting around her ankles, calves and thighs. “First rule. Never unstrap yourself in flight. I fucking mean it. Dragons fly over a hundred kilometres per hour, if you unstrap yourself you’re gonna fall to your fucking death.”

“I’ve got it,” Harry assures her. She has no desire to fall off Stevie in the middle of a race.

“Okay, grab the reins and yank once for up,” Louis instructs, her voice a firm command in Harry’s ear. “Roland has taken Stevie through all of the signals, and he’ll fly with us too, so you just need to get used to them. Also, don’t expect to be able to communicate with anyone you’re not flying with in the air, unless you’ve got your flags on you.”

“Once for up,” Harry repeats, and tugs gently on the reins. Nothing happens, except Stevie cocking her head, like she might have felt something but she’s not sure.

“Harder,” Louis says, an edge to her voice.

“That’s what she said,” Harry mutters, and okay she fully deserves it when Louis digs her elbow into Harry’s side. “Fine, fine, harder. I just don’t want to hurt her.”

“Relationships between captains and dragons are built on trust and respect,” Louis tells her, the edge fading, replaced by something a little softer. The one thing Harry has been able to pin down as belonging to the Louis she knows and the Louis Niall knows, is that every Louis loves Roland to death, and would defend him with everything that she has. Sure, it only complicates the enigma that is Louis Tomlinson, but Harry trusts Louis when it comes to dragons. “You need to trust Stevie to tell you if what you’re doing is hurting her or is something she’s not comfortable with, in the air and on the ground, but you also need to trust your own judgement so she can put her faith in you too. Plus, Harry, you’re not strong enough to hurt a dragon by tugging on a rein. You’re just not.”

“Excuse you, Louis,” Harry lifts the reins again, “I have the arms of Thor.”

Louis laughs, but before she can look to see for herself, Louis’ muttering, “Fucking fly already.”

Harry yanks on the reins, much harder this time, and is so grateful she’s strapped in because Stevie pushes off the ground and soars into the air. Harry barely contains her scream.

It’s like nothing Harry’s ever experienced before. She’s been on planes before, but take-off is a gradual ascent steadied by the plane itself. Riding on Stevie is bumpy, her wings beating in tandem as they climb higher and higher, the wind roaring in her ears. Her stomach is flip-flopping with every movement, her hair slipping from her bun, and not even the adrenaline racing through her veins loosens her grip on Stevie’s reins.

“Pull again to plateau,” Louis yells, her voice mostly carried away by the winds. “Harry! Pull again.”

It takes a couple of tries for Louis to get through to Harry, but she does pull tightly on the reins, and Stevie stops flying upwards and glides through the air. The nausea in Harry’s stomach abates a little, and she can actually turn her attention to their surroundings.

They’re flying just below the clouds, a couple thousand metres high, and everything just looks so tiny. The fields are stretching on for miles, and Harry can spot the lake and the forest and a farm on the other side. If she looks off into the distance she can see a city, a castle just visible. It’s breath-taking. Literally, the air is being stolen from her lungs every time she opens her mouth. It’s also a little sickening.

Stevie flies in wide circles, catching the wind under her extended wings and mimicking Roland’s path. Harry’s content to let Stevie keep flying like that, her own mind cast on the slight bounce of the wind making the saddle tremble, until Louis’ instructions breaks her reverie. “Pull the right rein.”

“There’s a wrong rein?” Harry yells back, startled.

“No, you dick,” Louis snaps. “Right as in opposite of left.”

Oh. Harry pulls on the right rein and Stevie makes a smooth turn, a full 180 degrees, and they’re flying in the opposite direction. Louis continues to instruct Harry when to pull which rein, explaining the different kinds of flight drills she should carry out with Stevie as best she can over the roaring wind. Harry tries not to notice that Louis sneaks her arms around Harry’s waist, except she definitely does notice and almost drops the reins as a result.

By the time Louis tells her to land, two sharp tugs to both sides of the rein, Harry’s arms and thighs are aching from being tense for so long. She’s not completely certain how long they were in the air for, but there are other captains in the fields now, their dragons being harnessed and ready to train.

Stevie’s descent is worse than the take-off, and Harry squeezes her eyes shut while she plummets towards the ground, her stomach feeling like it’s gonna come out of her mouth. They land with a thud, and in the next instant, Harry’s scrambling to unstrap herself from the saddle, climbing down Stevie’s back until she’s low enough to jump off. She makes it three steps before she’s throwing up everywhere.

Vaguely, she registers Stevie’s concerned growl, and Roland landing next to them, but all she can really focus on is the rolling nausea in her stomach.

“Deep breaths,” Louis mutters, dainty hands stroking Harry’s back, over her jacket.

Harry wretches again, whining pathetically when she feels her hair being taken out from the hair tie that was barely holding it up in the first place, and plaited loosely. Louis’ hands gently untangling her hair is the only thing that feels good right now, so Harry tries to concentrate on that and not the low threat of her stomach upheaving for a third time.

Eventually, Harry accepts that she’s not going to throw up again, wiping away the tears that welled up and spilled on to her cheeks, and her mouth with the sleeve of her jacket. Everything about her feels gross and icky, and she just wants to sleep for a decade or two.

“First time’s never easy,” Louis murmurs, and Harry’s too weak to wonder why she’s being so kind now, just because Harry’s feeling like shite. If anything, Harry expected Louis to roll her eyes and comment that clearly Harry’s not cut out for this, but instead she gets soothing whispers and soft touches and Harry wants it so badly she’s frustrated with herself just as much as she’s pissed at Louis. Fucking mixed signals.

“Harry?” It’s Stevie that speaks this time, lying down a metre or so from where Harry’s kneeling, her snout resting on her front claws. “Was it that bad?”

“No,” Harry says weakly, and it’s not really a lie. The flying itself wasn’t bad, that was brilliant, actually. “It was just the landing.”

“It can take a while to get used to that,” Louis adds, more for Stevie’s reassurance than Harry’s, but it works on Harry all the same. “We’ll try again tomorrow. But you did well, Stevie. Really well. You’re making great progress.” She pauses, and Harry is a second away from flopping down on to the grass and napping next to her own sick. “You too, Harry.”

“Thanks,” is all Harry can manage, pinching the inside of her wrist to keep herself focused.

“Come on, I’ll take you to your room so you can lie down for a bit, yeah?I’ve got a meeting with Simon I’ve got to attend soon anyway.” Louis helps Harry to her feet anyway, without waiting for a response, and turns her attention to Stevie. “You two can feed yourselves today, but tell someone what you eat, please. And don’t lie, I’ll know. Got it?”

They nod, and Louis makes an exaggerated ‘I’m watching you’ gesture at them. Harry giggles, leaning into Louis when she wraps her arm around Harry’s waist. They start walking, and Harry thinks it’s probably a lot more attention than a simple throwing up warrants, but Louis’ being nice and Harry wants the comfort. She’ll take it for as long as it lasts.

***

In a stunning turn of events that no one saw coming, Louis goes back to her icy, standoffish self the next flying session. She rides with Harry again that day, but doesn’t touch her once, keeping her instructions brief but harsh, any leftover friendliness out of her voice. After that, Harry rides alone, with Louis on Roland, so their only communication is the coloured flag to signal when either of them wants to land.

It’s lonely, flying without anyone behind her, but at least Harry’s getting better at it. It's going slowly, but she hasn’t thrown up since the first day, and can just about keep her eyes open during the takeoff and landing. And well, Louis might be acting like a drill sergeant between the glimpses of friendliness, but the flying itself is worth all the effort and self-restraint it takes to put up with her. It’s exhilarating discovering how fast Stevie can fly, so fast that Harry’s heart pounds in her chest as the ground blurs underneath them and they’re cutting through the air like it’s second nature. Every time Stevie turns, dips, even does a loop-de-loop once that Harry was not expecting, Harry can feel the shift and contraction of Stevie’s muscles underneath the saddle, can hear her wings beating gracefully.

After they land on the fourth day of flight training, with Louis pushing Harry harder than ever, Louis stops half-way through taking off Roland’s harness.

“You need to work on your turns,” she says, cutting through the quiet between them. Harry drops the buckle she’s trying to undo, and cocks her head at Louis. “The three main areas your training should be focusing on, as a captain, are speed, stamina, and agility. Longwings have excellent stamina naturally, and Stevie’s speed will increase the more you practise, but Longwings can struggle with agility given the length of their wings. A lot of the turns you’re directing Stevie into aren’t sharp enough, and so you need to work on that.”

“Will do, thanks,” Harry says, uncertainty creeping into her voice. It’s not unusual for Louis to actually train her, considering that’s the whole point of these sessions, it’s just usually Louis snaps the directions at her. Now, her brows are pinched and she’s giving off a stressed vibe, but she doesn’t seem mean. Harry’s endlessly confused. “How long is this going on for? Like, how long will it be before you don’t need to train me anymore and I can start with Niall and Sophia and stuff?”

“As soon as you’re ready, but it could be a few weeks,” Louis offers. “Simon said I need to be satisfied that you’re at a stage where you’re capable of creating your own effective training plans and maintaining them, and that Stevie will be able to handle them, but he’s pushing for that to be sooner rather than later.” She breaks off, running her hand over her clipped-back hair. “Tomorrow, we’ll start working on the acid-spitting as well as flying. We work a lot in the morning, but you should be putting extra hours in too during the afternoons, get used to practising by yourself.”

Harry frowns. “You mean I don’t have to do all my training with you? If Stevie and I want to go over drills later, we can? And you don’t have to be there?”

“Exactly.” Louis goes back to unbuckling Roland’s harness. “It’d be better if you did put in extra hours too.” She mutters something else, too quiet for Harry to hear it, and she wonders if it has anything to do with the stress radiating from Louis today.

Harry’s not going to risk replying to that with something that’d spark a confrontation, so she nods, and resumes taking the harness off Stevie.

Later, when Stevie’s been fed and has had her daily cat-nap with the other dragons, Harry decides to act on what Louis said and put in a few extra hours herself. She still needs to get used to thinking up in the air. Her reaction time, as Louis has kindly pointed out, is fucking shit when she’s distracted by how high they are or how fast they’re moving, and if Harry can impress Louis with her dedication and commitment, then maybe Louis will ease up on working her so hard.

She loops around to the equipment storage and garage-type building that she knows Liam works in, ready to collect her harness and saddle before going to get Stevie. Except things never go quite to plan for Harry, and when she’s walking through the workshop, past the scary-looking machines that cut up metal and leather to make the harnesses, and towards the office and storage area at the back of the block, she catches her name.

“—the harness fitting alright? Harry’s not having any problems with it?”

Harry steps closer to the office door, ajar, and resigns herself to eavesdropping. It’s Liam’s voice she hears, which makes sense, if Liam made Harry’s harness, she’d want to know how it’s doing. So the only person she could really be speaking to is…

“Nah, it’s fine,” Louis says, and Harry hears a dull thud, like Louis clapped Liam on the back. “Better than fine. You’re good at this, Li, you make the best harnesses here. One mistake a few years ago doesn’t change that.”

“Don’t let Gabe hear you saying that, he’s still my boss,” Liam laughs, but it’s a flustered kind of laugh, like the compliment from Louis is making her blush. “But thanks. I’ll have to catch up with Harry later, see what she thinks. How’s that been, anyway? She still feeling sick after flying?”

“No, she’s getting used to it,” Louis says, her voice guarded. “Not like you.”

“No, not like me,” Liam counters. “I still don’t know how you stomach it.”

“Some of us are just cut out for this, Payno,” Louis teases.

Liam makes a quiet noise, and there’s a beat before she says, “Harry included?”

“You know how I feel about that,” Louis replies after a long moment of silence, where Harry felt like she couldn’t breathe without disturbing them. There doesn’t seem to be any sign of other people coming in anytime soon, so Harry edges closer to the door where she can hear better.

“I know,” Liam agrees. “But that doesn’t answer my question, and you know what Niall always says, dragons –”

“Have a good eye for this kind of thing,” Louis finishes, and Harry can see her rolling her eyes, even if she can’t actually see it. “Harry is… she’s more confident on Stevie, thank God. Simon would have my head if she wasn’t improving. She could make a great racer but right now she’s still got so much catching up to do. You know she told me I’m doing a shit job the other day? God, Liam, if she thinks I’m harsh she’s in for a major wake-up call when she starts racing. The press, the public, even the other captains, they’re gonna eat her alive. Remember John? Harry wouldn’t have lasted one day with him. She needs to toughen up.”

“Right, right,” Liam says, and it sounds like she’s rolling her eyes this time. “And that’s your excuse for being a giant dick – hey, no, I know why Niall confronted you the other day.”

Harry doesn’t hear Louis’ reply, her fists clenching because what the fuck?

To toughen her up? The whole reason Louis’ a hard-ass during their training sessions, acting cold and standoffish, is because she thinks it’ll get the best results out of Harry and toughen her up? She’s been made to feel like shit since she got here by Louis fucking Tomlinson, and Harry is fucking sick of it.

Without even thinking, too fuelled with white-hot anger, Harry flings open the door to the office and looks straight past Louis, settling her gaze on Liam. “Can I have the key to the storage cupboard please, Liam?” She asks, forcing her features into something much calmer than she feels.

“Uh, sure.” Liam grabs a single silver key off a rack on the wall closest to her, and hands it over to Harry. “Just stick it back here when you’re done.”

“Thanks,” Harry says shortly, spinning on her heel and stalking out of the room.

Her fingers are trembling with anger when she gets to the locked door on the opposite side of the workshop, so much so that she almost drops the key as she fumbles with it. Biting back a frustrated scream, Harry picks them up and tries again.

How dare she, Harry thinks as she unlocks the door, throwing it open and flicking the light switch. The cupboard is really more of a room, free from dust and full of labelled boxes and shelves and hooks. She spots Stevie’s harness and saddle near the opposite corner, and stalks over there, letting the door slam shut behind her.

She’s just loading the equipment on to a trolley, her mind racing with fragmented thoughts – fuck her – when the door opens and shuts again.

“Were you eavesdropping?” Louis asks, her voice brittle and catching Harry’s attention.

“I heard my name,” Harry replies tightly, refusing to move, even when Louis crosses the room and stands behind her, almost too close. “I got curious.”

Louis doesn’t reply to that, just makes a quiet huh. Harry can feel her gaze boring into the back of her neck, her presence tickling her skin like a fine feather and all of a sudden Harry can’t handle it any more.

She whirls around, glaring at Louis. “Is that the only reason you’re such an arse? You think the real world of racing is hell so you treat me like shit to prepare me for it? What kind of fucking bullshit is that?”

“You have no experience as a racer,” Louis snaps back, stepping closer. “You’ve got barely any time as it is to train, so coddling you will get you nowhere!”

“Being a giant dick doesn’t make it any easier,” Harry spits through grit teeth. Her heart races, chest heaving with anger, and as she’s drawn closer to Louis, she can see that she’s the same. “I know I wasn’t first choice for captaincy, but I’m trying to learn and catch up to everyone else’s level. It’s not easy doing that in a fucking fortnight!”

“You think it’s easy teaching you?” Louis curls her small hands into fists. “I get a call from Simon telling me I’m gonna be training a complete rookie. I’ve never trained anyone before! You don’t even have a spectator’s knowledge.”

“Sorry to be such a fucking inconvenience,” Harry hisses. They’re standing barely a foot apart now, and Louis presses her lips together. Harry drops her gaze to them and remembers how they felt on her skin, the burning satisfaction of taking their anger out on each other. It’d be easy to do it again. “Your inexperience doesn’t give you the right to be so harsh just because I’m new to this. And what about those times when you’re not like that? Is that all to toughen me up too? It’s bullshit, Louis.”

Louis doesn’t respond, and Harry’s fed up and angry, but most of all, she wants some genuine response out of Louis that’s not clouded by bitterness or said on the defensive. She wants those flashes of the person she sees underneath the layers of bullshit to stick around for longer, and now Louis’ staring at her mouth and running her tongue over her lower lip, she just wants to kiss her. She shouldn’t, she knows she shouldn’t, but she does.

The kiss is just as biting as their first and Harry melts into it instantly. Her hands coming up to cradle Louis’ face as Louis nips her lip, drawing a gasp out of Harry that enables her to slide her tongue into Harry’s mouth. It’s just as hot as before, Louis’ firm body aligned with Harry’s, pushing her against the nearest shelf – fuck, they’re in a bloody storage room. Liam is probably still in the office wondering when Harry’s gonna return the fucking key.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this again,” Harry gasps out between kisses, her eyes fluttering open and drinking in the sight of Louis’ dark eyes and flushed cheeks. She looks up at Harry under long eyelashes, bold and unwavering, and Harry feels herself getting wet.

“What’s wrong, kitten?” Louis asks, brushing her lips against Harry’s cheek, her voice dropping an octave so it’s low and husky and that fucking pet name sounds obscene rolling off her tongue. “Do you not want to?”

It’s an out, Harry knows it’s an out. If she says no, Louis will back off and Harry will walk away and train with Stevie and get herself off later thinking about Louis’ lips and Louis’ voice and Louis’ everything. It’s what she should do, but just minutes of kissing Louis, of her hands mapping out Harry’s body over her clothes, thumbs tracing the curves of her breasts, has Harry so fucking wet it’s embarrassing.

“Want to,” Harry says, catching Louis’ lips in another kiss. “Want you so badly I hate it.”

Louis makes a frustrated noise at the back of her throat, kissing Harry harder. She unbuttons Harry’s jacket, spreading her hands over her undershirt and curling them into fists. Harry’s skin burns the longer she kisses Louis, her initial anger giving way to something more desperate, but just as intense. She lets Louis push the jacket from her shoulders, her hands flying straight to Louis’ arse when it’s off, squeezing gently and pulling her closer.

“You make it so hard to hate you, kitten,” Louis murmurs into Harry’s skin, pressing firm pecks to the corners of her mouth and peppering them across her cheeks. When she gets to Harry’s neck, she starts with open-mouthed kisses, paying close attention to the underside of her jaw where she lingers, sucking a lovebite. She only left one mark on Louis last time, but with the way Louis’ sucking determinedly, making a satisfied noise when she pulls away, Harry knows that there’ll be a fair few bruises there that she won’t be able to cover with clothes, not in the middle of summer. The thought of people knowing exactly what she’s been up to sends a pulse of heat to her cunt.

But Louis said something, and Harry racks her lust-addled brain for some kind of response that’s not a wanton moan. It’d give away just how needy she is, as if Louis couldn’t tell from the way she’s clinging to her arse like a lifeline. “What the fuck does that even mean?” is all she can muster, too distracted by Louis’ hands slipping underneath the thermal shirt, stroking the soft skin of her stomach and leaving sparks in their wake.

“It means you’re all I think about,” Louis confesses, like it’s some kind of sin. She steps back then, curling her hands around Harry’s left wrist, and tugs her forwards. “Now get on the floor, kitten, I wanna eat you out.”

Harry does, lets Louis pull her down so she’s lying on her back on a surprisingly clear but not clean stone floor, her pants getting sticky with wetness because Louis’ going to put her mouth on Harry’s pussy. She didn’t know how much she wanted that before Louis mentioned it, but now it’s all Harry can think about.

Louis leans over her, bunching up Harry’s jacket and placing it under her head like a pillow. It’s surprisingly sweet for what Harry is still considering to be hate sex, but as Louis straddles her thighs, sitting up straight and pushing Harry’s shirt up to her armpits, there’s something undeniably tender about her touches that Harry just doesn’t want to think about. It’s too confusing to consider, and really, when Louis shuffles back so she can kiss the swell of Harry’s breasts above the neckline of her sports bra, there are better things to pay attention to.

Harry tries to stifle her whimpers when Louis mouths at her nipples through the black fabric, getting her wet as she sucks noisily, but Harry’s nipples are so fucking sensitive on her worst days, and it takes Louis all of thirty seconds to figure that out. Naturally, she uses it to her advantage, pinching and twisting whichever isn’t occupied with her mouth. Harry’s a loud mess in no time, her hands digging into Louis’ shoulders because the thought of not touching Louis right now is unbearable.

“What the fuck are these?” Louis asks, her voice rough and tinged with laughter; Harry blushes. “Are they extra nipples?”

“Oh my God,” Harry squeaks when Louis kisses them both in turn.

Louis pinches both nipples, eyes lighting up when Harry arches into her touch, and idly comments, “Shame you don’t have four tits.”

“Bra-shopping would be more of a nightmare than it already is,” Harry laughs, her grin lingering because Louis actually cracks a smile too, a gorgeous, crinkly-eyed smile that leaves Harry breathless.

“Your actual tits are massive though, so that makes up for it,” Louis teases. She shifts so she’s kneeling between Harry’s legs, leaning forward again to kiss her stomach. Her lips and tongue are just as hot on Harry’s skin here as they were on her neck, and Harry’s beginning to think Louis has a thing for leaving marks, because she ends up with two red spots on either side of her hips. Not that Harry minds, Louis’ fucking obscene bending over her like this, her mouth so close to Harry’s pussy. She's so slick she thinks she’s soaked through her underwear.

Finally, Louis gets to the waistline of Harry’s trousers, unbuttoning them and yanking them down her legs with her pants, until they’re pooled around her knees, stopped by Harry’s boots.

“Sexy,” Harry giggles, as Louis rolls her eyes and unzips Harry’s boots and tugs them both off so she can strip her of her clothing.

“Fuck off,” Louis grumbles, spreading Harry’s legs so she can kneel between her thighs, and – fuck, hitching her knees over her shoulders so Harry’s back is slanted and her pussy’s a breath away from Louis’ pink mouth.

Louis just holds her there for a moment, nails digging into Harry’s thighs as she stares at her dripping cunt, anticipation building in Harry’s abdomen. She’s about to say something, anything, that would make Louis get a move on, but before she can open her mouth, Louis hitches her hips higher and dips her tongue into Harry’s pussy, licking along her slit with broad flicks of her tongue.

Harry falls apart above her. She tenses her thighs, presses her heels into Louis’ back, and moans, a litany of fuck, yes, and Louis Louis Louis pouring out of her. She’s never managed to stay quiet while getting head, and Louis is eating her out like she’s had years of experience getting to know Harry’s body, not the single moment she’s had so far. Each lick of her soft tongue, laving over Harry’s lips, teasing her hole before fucking in with deep, slow thrusts, has Harry crying out with pleasure. It feels like Louis’ everywhere all at once, alternating her time between fucking Harry with her tongue and sucking on her clit, her chin covered in Harry’s slick so much that it’s fucking glistening under the artificial light of the store room.

When Louis starts moaning into Harry’s pussy, the vibrations rocketing up Harry’s spine, she lets her head thump back against the floor and brings her hands to her breasts. The ache in her neck is irrelevant now, and the soreness in her muscles from keeping them tense for so long will be welcomed, if she can keep Louis like this for a few moments longer. Harry plays with her own nipples as Louis keeps lapping at her pussy, each pinch adding to the tightness coiling in her cunt. She’s close, dancing at the edges of her orgasm, her voice rising in a crescendo that only seems to encourage Louis, who fucks her harder, grinds Harry’s pussy against her face until she’s coming hard.

Louis doesn’t let up after Harry’s completely come down from her high, gasping at the overstimulation as her clit twitches in Louis’ mouth. It’s only when she starts wriggling, her thighs knocking against Louis’ head, that Louis sets her down so she’s lying on the floor again.

“Fuck, come here,” Harry says, hoarse and breathless because most of Louis’ face is covered in her wetness and Harry’s desperate to kiss it from her lips. Louis crawls back over her, keeping her weight on her forearms, and leans down to kiss Harry fervently. The taste of her pussy on Louis’ lips has Harry moaning again, curling her tongue around Louis’, eager for whatever she gets.

“Worth it, kitten?” Louis murmurs, breaking the kiss to give them a chance to breathe. She wipes the rest of her face with the sleeve of her jacket, a smirk twisting her lips that feels like a challenge.

Using all her strength and the element of surprise, she rolls them as safely as she can, sticking her hand behind Louis’ head to keep it from hitting the stone floor. Harry stuffs her jacket under Louis’ head then, attaching her lips to Louis’ neck as she slides her hands down to her trousers and undoes the buttons. She slips her right hand underneath Louis’ pants and frowns at the prickle of recently shaved hair.

Harry leans back to pull Louis’ trousers and pants away from her hips, exposing her wet cunt covered with light stubble of pubic hair. She drags her thumb through it, raising her brows at Louis expectantly.

“So I shaved,” Louis huffs, squirming under Harry’s gaze. “Big deal.”

“This better have been for you because you like it,” Harry says, slipping her middle finger between her lips and against the wet heat of Louis’ pussy. “Not because we fucked and you anticipated us fucking again, or anything to do with me, because I don’t care if you’re hairy or not.”

“It wasn’t fucking for you, alright?” Louis grumbles, looking away. Harry rolls her eyes and re-aligns their bodies, circling her finger around Louis’ hole for a teasing moment, before thrusting it in sharply. Louis gasps, a whine escaping her lips, and Harry bites at her shoulder, waiting until Louis’ relaxed enough to add another finger.

In barely no time, Louis’ rocking her hips on to Harry’s long fingers, crooked inside her with her thumb rubbing tight circles around Louis’ clit. The wet slide of Harry’s fingers fucking into her mingles with Louis’ moans; Harry keeps her lips on Louis’ neck and jaw, not wanting to muffle the glorious sounds she’s making with a kiss.

“I’m – ah – I’m coming,” she wails as she crests, thighs trembling as Harry rabbits her hands faster, drawing out Louis’ orgasm for as long as she can.

“Does that mean you’re finished in there now?” Liam says loudly, her voice ringing out in the silence.

Harry claps her hand to her mouth, retracting her fingers from Louis’ cunt and shuffling away from her like it burns to touch. She has to bite her palm to stifle her giggles, because at some point, probably while Louis was eating her out, she forgot that they were in a store room and that Liam could undoubtedly hear everything in the next room.

“Enjoy the show, Payno?” Louis yells back, resolutely not looking at Harry, her voice steady except for the barest hint of breathiness that lets Harry know she’s even the slightest bit affected by her orgasm.

“Get the fuck out of my store room, Tommo,” Liam shouts back, banging on the door once, and then there are footsteps leading away from the entrance. Louis stands and scrambles to get herself dressed again, barely glancing at Harry before she stalks out of the store room.

Harry collapses on to the floor, splaying her limbs and wondering why the fuck she keeps letting this happen. There was nothing angry about the way Louis went down on her, or the way Louis kissed her so easily. Nothing about her makes sense, and Harry wishes she could just detach from her feelings for a day to just figure shit out.

Instead, she slowly puts her clothes back on, since Liam could come back any time and finding Harry flopped on the floor with nothing but an undershirt and a bra on would be a disaster in the making. She loads up her trolley with Stevie’s harness and saddle, tracks down the key she dropped earlier, and wheels out of the room.

Louis’ not in Liam and Gabe’s office when Harry drops the key off, which is unsurprising, but Harry doesn’t stay long anyway. She just hands it back to Liam with a blush on her cheeks, and shame swirling in her gut. She’s hardly opposed to semi-public sex, God knows she’s fucked girls in clubs and parks and even a cinema that one time she doesn’t like to think about too much, but she prefers to not have to see the people that heard her in the throes of passion on a regular day-to-day basis.

Liam doesn’t mention it, thank God, so Harry hurries to meet up with Stevie, coaxing her out for more flying practise, and swearing to herself that that was the last time she’s sleeping with Louis Tomlinson.

***

Despite the incidents of the day before, Harry is actually really looking forward to training with Stevie on her acid-spitting. It helps that Louis must be having a good day, since she smiles at Harry more and even laughs at one of Harry’s jokes. It’s a nice reprieve from the frostiness that can accompany their training sessions, and Harry will take it for as long as it lasts.

They still fly their drills in silence, communicating only through the flags signalling which direction to take and when they want to descend. Louis was right about flying being a strenuous task, Harry’s seriously considering doing more squats to try and build the strength in her thighs, because keeping them tense in the air for so long burns.

Harry gets rid of the saddle and harness while Louis and Roland set up what look like over-sized dart boards Louis had Liam make. They’re almost as big as Louis herself, which makes sense for Roland to carry them in his claws, but Louis seems to be judging where they’re placed, spread out all across the field.

“Can you really spit that far?” Harry muses, watching Stevie work her jaw open in a way that makes her look like a cow chewing grass.

“I hope so,” Stevie says, as Louis and Roland land near them. “It’d be very useful.”

“A good party trick,” Harry agrees idly, a little concerned about what exactly Stevie would be spitting acid for. Most of her attention is on Louis anyway, who’s expertly undoing Roland’s harness, much more graceful than Harry ever is tackling hers, and grabbing a green first-aid kit as they walk to the first target, where Harry and Stevie are stationed in front of.

Louis ushers Harry away from Stevie to give her some room, and drops the kit on the ground. “The first-aid kit is only here as a precaution, so as long as no-one,” she shoots a glance at Harry, “is stupid enough to get in your line of fire, and you keep your aim on the targets, I shouldn’t have to treat any burns.”

“Don’t worry if you don’t master it right away though,” Roland chips in, stretching out on the dewy grass behind them, watching with a lazy curiosity. “Aim and precision can be difficult to achieve as a beginner.”

“Yeah, don’t get frustrated,” Louis adds, and Harry wonders if it should be her assuring Stevie of this.

“I handled flying well, didn’t I?” Stevie says, turning her snout towards them and flicking her tongue out, agitated. Harry moves to go lay a hand on her shoulder, remind her that Louis and Roland aren’t being patronising, just speaking from experience, but Louis grabs her wrist. It’s the first point of contact they’ve had since yesterday in the store room, and Harry hates how one simple touch is enough to make her forget about everything but Louis.

She tears her wrist out of Louis’ grasp and shakes her head. “Yeah, but this is different. Try just spitting the acid for a start, yeah? Aim, obviously, but don’t worry about getting a bullseye straight away.”

Louis nods approvingly, and Harry preens before she can catch herself. Any recognition that she’s not failing as a captain is always welcome, she supposes.

“No bulls in sight,” Stevie grumbles, and Harry grins at the misinterpretation of her words but it quickly peters off into a slack-jawed stare because in the next moment, Stevie’s throat constricts and a glistening silver glob of acid flies from her mouth and hits the first target dead in the centre. It leaves the thick metal fizzling, and Stevie lets out a deafening roar. “See!”

“Well done!” Harry cries, gaining her wits. A few wisps of smoke trail upwards from the target, but it stays standing. “Try again though, make sure it wasn’t a fluke, yeah?”

Stevie does, spitting thrice in succession, each glob of acid hitting the middle of the target perfectly. It burns an actual hole in the metal this time, letting Harry see through to the other side of the field. She claps, figuring Stevie deserves it after managing that.

“Have you been practising this?” Harry teases, tearing her eyes away from the target to look at Stevie. She’s sitting upright, her tail curled around her like a cat, and almost smirking at Harry.

“No, I’m just a natural,” Stevie remarks, a cocky edge to her tone that makes Harry frown. “It’s instinct.”

“Right, well, use your instinct on the next target then,” Harry says, gesturing to the next one in line, a little further away. “The first one’s the easiest, you need to keep practising, just like flying.”

“Do you think I could practise while flying?” Stevie asks, crawling over to the next spot. “I think I could do it.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Stevie,” Harry warns, walking with Louis to stand just off to the side of her again. “You need to get spitting acid on the ground under control first. It’s a lot more complex in the air than it is on the ground, you’ve got winds to consider, and keeping yourself up, and other distractions. This is your first try, let’s take it slow.”

“Watch.” Stevie flicks her tail, spitting another three rounds of acid at the target, all hitting the centre. Harry grits her teeth, almost wishing Stevie had missed so she’d at least see where Harry’s coming from. Instead, she just looks smug as she faces Harry, and even Louis bristles beside her. “I’ll aim for the next one now.”

Stevie gets a bullseye on the next few targets, growing progressively cockier every time. By the time they get to the penultimate target, at least seventy-five metres away, Stevie’s clearly agitated by Harry’s insistence that she practises solely on the ground. She keeps making off-hand comments about flying, and Harry’s getting more and more frustrated.

So much so, that she stops Stevie before she spits at the next target. “You think you can hit that easily?” she asks, remembering what Louis said about relationships between dragons and captain’s being built on trust.

“I know I can,” Stevie replies.

“Alright then.” Harry starts jogging towards the target, only stopping when she’s standing in front of it, turning her back to the metal and raising her hands in a ‘surrender’ position. There’s enough of the target visible around her body that Stevie’s got something to aim for, just not the bullseye. “Make sure you don’t hit me, Stevie!” she yells, unsure if Stevie can actually hear her, but well, it’s not hard to understand what she’s doing.

“Are you out of your fucking mind?” Louis yells back, throwing her hands into the air. Stevie looks back and forth between them, her tail whipping behind her.

“Trust, you said!” Harry shouts, repeating it over and over in her head. Trust that Stevie can do this. Trust that Stevie understands the reason Harry’s doing this, to show her the importance of practise and humility and that Harry has her best interests in mind because Stevie could hurt someone if she fucks up.

Stevie must say something to Louis then, because Louis backs off, picking up the first-aid kit off the ground and gearing up to sprint if she needs to. Harry swallows, grateful she’s too far away for her trembling hands to be obvious. She maintains eye contact with Stevie, lifting her chin and taking deep breaths.

Trust.

Stevie nods, settling into her position on all fours, and spits.

Harry tracks the acid slicing through the air, catching the sunlight. It’s beautiful, in a deadly kind of way, but Harry’s fucking terrified as it gets closer. There’s no time stretching out or her life flashing before her eyes, just the single, solitary thought: ‘I fucked up’.

Acid splashes on Harry’s left hand, and she crumples to the ground in pain. She doesn’t know who screams louder: herself, Stevie, or Louis.

The pain is overwhelming, a searing, burning agony stemming from her left palm and reverberating through the rest of her body. She can’t focus on anything, just cradles her hand to her chest and hopes that it’ll stop soon.

The next thing Harry registers is Louis wrapping delicate fingers around her left wrist and pulling it away from her chest. Harry cries out as the muscles in her palm flex, but Louis doesn’t give her time to focus on that. She’s flattening Harry’s hand on her thighs where she’s kneeling, holding her still with one hand and grabbing something from the first-aid kit.

“You absolute fucking idiot,” Louis snaps, pouring something on to a flannel and rubbing it over Harry’s wound. It stings so badly tears well up in Harry’s eyes, but Louis persists, no matter how much Harry tries to yank her arm away. “Stop it, I’m wiping away the acid. I fucking told you not to get in the way of Stevie and what do you do? You fucking stand in front of the damn target like an idiot. Are you trying to give me a fucking heart attack?”

Harry can only whimper in response, unable to get her voice to work. She’s regretting it now, sure as fuck.

Louis splashes water on to Harry’s hand and keeps wiping with the flannel, griping at Harry while she works. Harry focuses on her voice because the pain’s easier to deal with that way, if she doesn’t pay too much attention to it.

After another moment, Louis finishes cleaning the wound. She chucks the flannel back into the kit and Harry takes a look at her hand. Only part of the acid Stevie spat actually hit her skin, so it’s the right half of her palm and most of her ring and little finger that’s burnt. Nausea churns in her stomach the longer she looks at the disfigured flesh.

Louis stops scolding her long enough to rifle through the kit for whatever comes next, and it’s only then that Harry realises Stevie’s been talking just as long as Louis has been. “I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry, Harry. I didn’t think I’d hit you, Harry, I’m so, so sorry.”

“S’alright,” Harry croaks, wincing as Louis smears something cold and foul smelling on her hand. It stings even worse than the water for a hot second, but then the burning sensation on her palm ebbs a little, and her mind clears. “Tis but a scratch, yeah?”

“It’s not fucking alright,” Louis hisses, spreading the salve out. “Your acid is dangerous, Stevie, you knew that. Being confident in your abilities is great, but don’t get fucking cocky when you could legitimately hurt someone if you mess up. Your acid’s corrosive enough to burn through dragonhide, if it’s left on human skin long enough it’ll burn right through, so if you had hit Harry anywhere else she could have died.”

“I’m sorry,” Stevie all but sobs, lying down next to Harry and nudging her gently with her snout. Harry suspects she’ll be grooming her next, the cat similarities in full force. “I didn’t mean it.”

“I know you didn’t,” Harry assures her, too drained to be angry. Especially not when Stevie’s this apologetic. “But listen to me next time, yeah?”

“I will,” Stevie promises. “I will, I will.”

“You better,” Louis says sharply, grabbing a roll of bandages from the kit and glaring at Stevie. “You fucking listen to Harry, and you think about the shit you’re pulling. You think Roland is just gonna skimp on practising his fire-breathing? No, because it’s a fucking dangerous ability and you need to be able to control it. For fuck’s sake.”

“Lou.” Harry rests her uninjured hand on Louis’ thigh, squeezing gently. Louis inhales sharply, like she’s the one that’s been burned, and starts unravelling the bandage. She presses it to Harry’s palm and wraps it around her hand with precise, measured movements. Whatever was in that salve has reduced the pain to a dull ache that only really stings when Harry curls her fingers, something that’s made difficult by Louis wrapping the bandage around them anyway.

“I’ve cleaned the burn area of all the acid, applied the cream, and dressed it properly,” Louis tells her, ignoring Harry’s hand still on her thigh. “It should be alright for now, but you’ll wanna swing by the medic centre to see James tomorrow and get it redressed, or even tonight if you don’t trust the job I’ve done. I did fucking ace first aid training, but it is an acid burn so…”

“Thank you.” Harry squeezes her thigh again, and retracts her hand. She stands up shakily, wiping the stray tears from her eyes. “Training’s done for the day then?”

Louis laughs, startled. “Yeah, yeah it is. Go feed Stevie then get yourself something, I’ll deal with all this shite.”

“Thanks,” Harry says, pausing for a second to catch Louis’ gaze, shooting her a small smile. “Thank you, really.”

“It’s no problem,” Louis says, ducking her head. “Just try not to martyr when I’m not there to pick up the pieces, yeah?”

“Will do.” Harry laughs this time, lifting her hand in acknowledgement. “Come on, Stevie, I’m fucking starving.”

***

Harry shows Niall her burn later that evening.

“What the fuck happened to you?” is Niall’s initial response, when Harry doesn’t quite slam her hand on the dining table on Niall’s flat, it’s more of a purposeful placing to draw attention to the bandage.

“Acid incident,” Harry dismisses, waving her uninjured hand. “That’s not important though, the important thing, is the bandages. Look at them!”

Niall does, sliding her dish of pasta to the side so she can examine Harry’s hand closely, tracing the bandages with her thumb. “They look normal to me.”

“No, but look how professionally done they are,” Harry goes on, tugging at the material and making a noise when it doesn’t unravel.

“Well, James is a professional,” Niall shrugs, narrowing her eyes at Harry. “Are you alright? The pain’s not making you loopy?”

“It’s not that bad anymore,” Harry says, because it’s really not. It’s just a low throb at the moment that only really twinges with pain when Harry puts pressure on it. “And James didn’t do this. Louis did.”

Niall lets go of Harry’s hand. “Okay, well Louis did a good job then. I don’t get what you’re trying to say.”

“That’s exactly it, Niall! Louis did this. It’s not the work of someone that hates me,” Harry explains. The thoughts have been plaguing her since the incident, and she’s still trying to make sense of them all. “If Louis really didn’t like me, or she really wants to toughen me up, then why wouldn’t she just take me straight to James to treat? Or at least clean the wound and then dump me there? And right, the last time we had sex –”

“You fucked again?” Niall cries, voice loud, so Harry smacks her arm. “Harry Styles, you beast.”

“Fuck off, it wasn’t my finest moment, but just listen, alright,” she continues. “The last time we had sex she said something like ‘you make it so hard to hate you’ and I was like, ‘what the fuck does that mean’ and she says ‘you’re all I think about’. Who says shit like that if they hate someone? She’s so fucking confusing.”

“Is she?” Niall leans back in her chair, levelling Harry with a sharp gaze. “I think it’s pretty clear she doesn’t hate you.”

“Why else would she be so insistent on the ridiculous drill sergeant training sessions then? And even when she’s nice now, it’s like there’s something always hanging over her, stopping her from being nice all the time.” Harry could tear her hair out, she really could. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“I think that’s something you should probably ask her about, to be honest,” Niall says. “And I love Louis, you know that, and you know that I don’t get what’s up either. She wouldn’t talk to me at all. But Haz, you are being trained by Louis fucking Tomlinson, like, take advantage of that, and if that means putting up with confusing shit like this, then do it, because it’s Louis, Haz, there’s not a single captain in all of the UK right now that’s as good as her.”

Harry frowns. “Is she really that good? Like, Stevie’s mentioned it a few times, and she seems pretty confident, but is she good enough to put up with this?”

Niall doesn’t say anything for a long moment, just gapes at her. “Are you fucking kidding me? Have you even Googled her?”

“Um, no?” Harry admits, her frown deepening. “Should I have? Like, I figured I’d be meeting her soon enough and whatever I saw online was stuff I’d see in real life? So I didn’t bother? Jesus, Niall, don’t look at me like that.”

“I can’t fucking believe you don’t know anything about her,” Niall laughs, throwing her head back. “Oh my God, okay, give me a sec.”

She pushes the chair away from the table and hurries down the corridor into her room for a moment. Harry steals some of her pasta while she’s gone, her mind running a mile a minute. Louis’ softened up a little since they first met, but she’s still so confusing to Harry and the longer Harry thinks about it, the more her head hurts, but she can’t not think about it because she sees Louis for hours every day. She doesn’t want to be disliked, she wants to know what exactly Louis’ problem is and how they can move past it. This is fucking exhausting.

Niall returns with a stack of magazines and papers, ranging from glossy, thick magazines to ratty tabloids. She slaps them down on the table, in front of Harry, and folds her arms.

Harry flicks her gaze between the stack and Niall. “These are for some light reading, I suppose?”

“Every magazine and newspaper that has printed some kind of story about Louis,” Niall elaborates, a hint of pride in her voice. “The ones I could get my hands on, at least.”

Harry whistles, staring at the stack. There’s a lot of them. “You bought them all?”

“Of course, she’s one of my best friends, and has been since I was eleven.” Niall picks the stack up and dumps it on Harry’s lap. She scrambles to stop the papers flying everywhere. “I’m fucking supportive, alright? Louis doesn’t like buying them or reading them, so I do. Now it’s your turn, go and read through them and Google her, for fuck’s sake. She’s bloody famous for a reason, and her races are fucking incredible. I can’t believe you don’t know this shit.”

“I was always more into football,” Harry says defensively, clutching the magazines to her chest.

“Well now you’re a captain, and this will be you in a couple of months,” Niall says. “So get the fuck out of here and go research, then talk to Louis, for Christ’s sake. And don’t fuck her ‘til you’ve talked, yeah?”

“You’ve got such a way with words.” Harry gets a better grip on the stack of papers and drops a ‘thank you’ kiss to Niall’s cheek, before heading back up to her room. She boots up her laptop, opens Google, and types in ‘Louis Tomlinson’.

The description on the right side of the webpage shows a couple of thumbnail pictures of Louis from a few different photoshoots and events. The main one is a black and white headshot of Louis staring straight into the camera. Looking at it, Harry kind of feels like Louis’ looking straight at her, and arousal flares in her abdomen. She moves on quickly.

The profile is pretty basic, Louis Tomlinson, born 24th December 1991 (age 23), Doncaster, height 165cm, parents Troy Austin and Johannah Poulston. Louis Tomlinson is an English dragon racer and captain of the Flamme-de-Gloire, Roland. It’s nothing Harry’s too surprised to find out, she knew Louis was from Yorkshire by her accent, and well, Harry’s a solid five-foot-seven, so finding out that Louis’ not even five-five is hardly a surprise.

The very top link is an ‘In the news’ article, ‘Louis Tomlinson lashes out at MailOnline reporter during interview, WATCH’. Harry clicks the link, internally wincing when it actually takes her to the Daily Mail’s website, and plays the video.

It starts mid-interview, with Louis sitting on the settee, legs crossed and arms folded. Her lips are hard-set, jaw clenched, and alarm bells are ringing in Harry’s head because Louis is so clearly on the defensive even Harry’s uncomfortable.

“In light of your recent wins at the 2015 European Cup, many people have speculated that you’re one of the top female racers in the UK right now, what –”

“It’s not speculation,” Louis cuts in, uncrossing her legs and leaning forwards. “In this European Cup just gone, and the UK Cup last autumn I dominated every single one of my races, beating the other female captains and the male ones. I’m not ‘thought to be one of the best female captains from the UK’, I am the best captain in the UK right now. That is fact. You’re not gonna combust on the spot if you acknowledge that I, a woman, am better than a man at my job.”

There’s a cut after Louis finishes, skipping to another question where Louis seems even more tense, her hands balled into fists on her thighs.

“So you allegedly spent a lot of time with Luke Malak, another UK captain competing in the Cup from the Cornwall grounds, this past fortnight. Anything we can expect there?”

Louis blinks, her gaze flicking off screen and then back to the interviewer, like she can’t quite believe it. “I’m a lesbian. I’ve been out since I was a second Lieutenant on Nick’s dragon, Gabriel. There is nothing going on between me and any other male captain, because I am a lesbian. As in, not interested in men. Oh my God, I cannot believe you fucking asked me that.”

The video cuts off there and Harry’s immensely proud of Louis for not putting up with that shit from the interviewer. Her pride merges into disgust when she reads the article, picking out words like ‘unnecessarily aggressive’ and ‘defensive’ and ‘arrogant’. The comments are no better, a hoard of slurs and misogynistic remarks, claiming Louis to be cocky and useless and just… a whole bunch of shit that she’s not.

Harry flicks through some more articles, in addition to Louis’ Wikipedia page and a couple of summaries/reviews of her races. Most of them are the same, undermining Louis’ achievements with the wording of the articles, asking her questions about her diet, making patronising comments about how young she is and about how she’s the first female to ever be a captain to a Flamme-de-Gloire, and does she feel like she deserves that? There’s barely anything of worth that she’s asked, all the questions seem to be thinly-veiled digs at her. The online tabloids are ten times worse, picking out unflattering photos and claiming Louis to be “worst dressed”, “too masculine”, “butch”, like it’s a bad thing, because she wears tracksuit bottoms and football shirts and fucking hell, this is what Louis puts up with?

But when Louis gets the chance to genuinely talk during an interview, when she’s with Zayn or Perrie, or when she’s given an open floor she absolutely shines. She’s witty and sharp and so charming Harry’s sure her face is embarrassingly fond as she watches the videos, sees Louis tease Zayn about shaving her head, or talk about her family back home. It’s so much more of the real Louis, the one Harry’s only seen flashes of, and her heart soars.

She ends up on YouTube after a while, searching through the videos to find actual footage of Louis’ races. The first thing that comes up is a BBC Sport cover of Louis’ first race. Harry loads the video and singles out Louis straight away. She’s sitting with Zayn on the back of Roland, both looking a lot younger than Harry’s used to. Zayn’s still got all her hair for one. They’re both quiet, waiting for the flare that comes just a few seconds in, and when it does Roland’s off like a rocket.

It’s probably a good thing that Niall told Harry to look Louis up, because she’s never actually seen dragons race properly, and so, given that she’ll be racing come autumn, it’s something she needs to see. There’s no track, obviously, but there must be some kind of course the captains know because there aren’t any maps and all the dragons are flying in more or less the same direction.

The video is being shot from a helicopter a couple of hundred metres below the dragons, so it’s a bit shaky, but Harry manages to keep a close eye on Louis. She’s comfortably in second place, and Roland’s flying smoothly, so Harry suspects she’s preserving his energy for the final leg. Louis maintains her second place position until the video’s got about a minute and a half left, so presumably, the race is drawing to a close.

The first sign that something is wrong is that Louis looks away from where they’re going. She’s still clutching the reins, but she angles her head back to whisper in Zayn’s ear. Louis hasn’t taken her eyes off the front since the race started, and Harry frowns while she watches. Zayn shakes her head then, but Louis says something again, and before Harry can even wonder what they’re talking about, Roland’s harness tears.

One of the straps looped around his front-right leg almost snaps in half, a small stretch of leather the only thing holding it together. Harry claps her hands to her mouth as she watches, because Louis’ not holding up the red flag asking for assistance, she’s not carrying out an emergency landing like she told Harry she should if there’s ever a problem with her harness. She fucking hands the reins to Zayn, unstraps herself, and starts crawling along Roland’s body until she reaches the tear, clinging to either side of the straps as they finally break. Harry has no idea how the fuck she’s even staying on, not plummeting to her death, but she is, and Roland’s getting faster, and Harry just cannot believe she’s even watching this what the fuck.

The rest of the race flies by and Roland, at Louis’ insistence given the way she’s yelling up at him, speeds up enough that he overtakes the other dragon to land near a giant fucking cross on the ground. Louis lets go of the harness as soon as Roland hits the ground, dropping to the grass and vomiting. The video cuts out then, and Harry just sits there in awe.

What a reckless fucking idiot, is what takes up most of her thoughts. She yelled at Harry for getting herself in the way of some acid earlier today, but she fucking unstrapped herself from her harness mid-race. Harry can’t even believe it happened. She re-watches the last two minutes of the race no less than five times, her heart plummeting with fear every time Louis hands the reins over. She barely even thinks about it, she just does, just unties herself and holds the harness together so she doesn’t have to stop. She’s unbelievable.

One of the magazines catches her eye then. It’s the very first one now that some of the newspapers have slipped off the top, a thick edition of some racing magazine, September 2012, printed in the corner. What catches Harry’s eye is Louis on the front cover, the same black and white shot from her Google profile, but uncropped. Her sharp blue eyes are staring straight down the lens of the camera, her shoulders squared, hands clasped behind her back, and legs spread. It’s such a power stance that Harry just wants to get on her knees for Louis.

She flicks through the magazine until she finds that it’s actually Louis’ exclusive interview after her first race. Disappointingly, there’s only a little bit on that race, the bulk of it made up of a few questions about her home life, about her dragon, nothing substantial. Still, Harry’s far too distracted by the accompanying photos because seriously, Louis looks like she’s just walked out of the ‘You Can Be the Boss’ music video. She shifts uncomfortably as she feels herself get wet, not quite willing to wank over photos of Louis.

A knock on the door breaks Harry out of her thoughts, and she’s surprised to find that almost two hours have accidentally flown by just reading up on Louis. She sets her laptop and the magazines to the side and goes to open the door.

Louis’ standing in the doorway, sleeves of a baseball t-shirt pulled down over her wrists, rocking back on her heels. She looks nervous.

“We need to talk,” she says, brushing her fringe out of her eyes. “If you’re not busy?”

“No,” Harry answers, stepping back so Louis can walk in. “No, just um, just looking up some of your races online actually. Niall suggested I do it. She even gave me the magazines she has with you in them.”

“Her collection?” Louis smiles fondly, then catches herself, looking back to Harry.

“Yeah, she’s quite proud of it.” Harry laughs nervously. Louis’ presence is making her jittery, she feels like she should be doing something, not just standing around waiting for Louis to make a move. “Sorry about the mess, um, if you push the magazines to the end of the bed you can sit down if you want.”

Louis does, kicking off her trainers and sitting cross-legged in the middle of Harry’s bed. Harry joins her, gently resting her injured hand on her lap. They’re facing each other, knees a couple of inches from touching, and Harry waits patiently for Louis to say something.

“I want to apologise for being a complete bitch to you these past two weeks,” Louis says carefully. “It’s been completely uncalled for because you’ve done nothing wrong, and I’m sorry.”

“Okay,” Harry says slowly. She didn’t expect an outright apology when she let Louis in but she figures it’s about time she got one. “I’ve gotta ask why. There’ve been moments of friendliness, but what was up with everything else? I don’t get it, Louis. I don’t understand why you thought acting like that was necessary.”

“The captain who trained me, John, was a phenomenal racer, but the worst trainer you could possibly imagine,” Louis says. “He was unbelievably strict and downright cruel at points, because I was young and a girl and ‘this is how you get results, Louis’,” she imitates, breaking off and shaking her head. “Every time he told me I was shit, it made me want to work harder, and now I’m one of the best racers in Europe. I thought, since I’ve never trained anyone before, if I took that approach it’d do the same for you.”

“Toughen me up,” Harry says.

“Yeah, and at the same time I had Simon breathing down my neck about getting you ready to race and pressuring me for results,” Louis continues. “You’ve been flying for a week, and I’ve already been to four different meetings with him discussing your progress as a captain.”

Harry blinks, trying to process that information. She knew her progress was being monitored, she’s had to fill in the sheets clocking the hours she’s trained with Stevie and how they’re progressing, but she didn’t know she was that closely monitored. That Louis was going to multiple meetings about her. “That’s a lot of meetings.”

“Yeah, well, this is a completely new situation,” Louis says, running her fingers through her hair. “Both because of your complete lack of experience, and because Stevie hatched at a weird time, so you had half as much time as a regular captain to train her. Simon kept reminding me that how you fare reflects on my abilities as a captain teaching you, and I’m already undermined and dismissed in racing, so the idea of looking even worse had me lashing out against you.”

Harry raises her brows. “That helped no one.”

“Yeah, I know that now.” Louis sighs. “It was stupid but I took the standards I hold myself to as a captain and I forced them on to you when there was no way you could meet them because you’re a complete beginner. When you weren’t perfect straight away, when you needed time to adjust and to try things again, I took my frustration out on you, which was really fucking shitty. I’m sorry.”

Harry bites her lip, replaying Louis’ words in her head. It doesn’t make sense to her in that she doesn’t think she could ever act like that. She’d never take her frustration out on someone else, but Louis’ situation is different to hers. The public scrutiny Louis’ under, her own experience with training, and the pressure from Simon who controls so much of their careers… it doesn’t make it okay, Harry’s still angry about being made to feel so awful, but if this is Louis trying to make amends and move on, then Harry can work with that.

“You’re right. It was really fucking shitty,” Harry tells her, maintaining eye contact. “It’s not like I’ve ever done this before either, and there are like, a million ways you could have handled this better.” Harry breaks off, thinking of the sincerity in Louis’ words. “But I believe you when you say you’re sorry, and just this once, I can wipe the slate clean and we can try and manage being friends.”

Louis smiles in relief, like she expected Harry to reject her apology. “Thank you.”

“But I swear to God, Louis, if you ever try and pull that shit with me again I will,” she pauses, trying to think of something even mildly intimidating. “I don’t know, I took kickboxing for like a week when I was twelve, I’m sure I can still remember something.”

Louis bursts into laughter, covering her face with her hands. “You’re ridiculous,” she says, muffled. “The least threatening person I know.”

“Well, I’ve got Stevie. She can be threatening for me,” Harry adds, giggling herself. Louis moves her hands back to her lap, the crinkles by her eyes softening as the smile lingers on her lips. “What brought this on? Like, I appreciate the apology but I can’t say I saw it coming.”

“I was thinking about that stupid stunt you pulled with Stevie and her acid earlier,” Louis says, visibly tensing at the mention of it. “And I thought you might have done it in a misguided attempt to prove to me you knew what you were doing because I was pushing you so hard to improve.”

“Getting myself burnt by dragon acid doesn’t sound like the best way of impressing you,” Harry remarks. “And that wasn’t even about you! I was trying to teach Stevie a lesson.”

“That’s why I said misguided attempt,” Louis counters. “It showed me my method, and John’s method, is shit. You don’t need to be that harsh to get results, in fact, it puts the person you’re training in danger. And with our argument yesterday when you called me out on my shit, I just realised how unfair I’ve been towards you.”

“Then it’s a good thing we’re wiping the slate clean,” Harry says, squeezing Louis’ knee with her uninjured hand. “What happened to John anyway?”

“In the States,” Louis answers. “Transferred a year after I got made captain. Can’t say I was sorry to see him go.”

Harry nods. Louis’ act was a lot to handle, she doesn’t think she could cope with meeting her ex-trainer. “Hey, you fancy coming to drag Niall out for drinks with me?” she asks. “After this fortnight, I could really do with blowing off some steam.”

“You blow off steam with Niall every other night,” Louis teases.

“Yeah, but it’s only acceptable while we’re under twenty-five, and that’s four years away,” Harry says. “The clock’s ticking, Louis, we’ve got to make the most of it.”

Louis rolls her eyes but she slides off the bed, slipping her trainers back on. “You should probably give those magazines back to her too.”

Harry hums, gathering up all the magazines and papers bar one, the September 2012 issue of the racing magazine where Louis graced the cover. She’ll keep that one.

Chapter Text

Harry’s in the middle of some bizarre dream about trains and dragons and cabbage when she’s rudely awoken by Louis jumping on her bed.

“Rise and shine, Haz!” she’s yelling, bouncing on the mattress and shaking Harry’s shoulders. All Harry can do is groan in response, burying her face in the pillow and shifting so she’s not lying uncomfortably on her breasts. “Don’t you dare go back to sleep.”

“Fuck off,” Harry grumbles, curling up into a ball and trying to get her duvet tighter around her shoulders, but Louis wrenches it off her and chucks it on the floor. “What do you want?”

“We’ve got training, you numpty,” Louis says, slipping her small hands underneath Harry’s vest top to tickle her sides. Harry whines and squirms, lifting her head to look past Louis to the clock on her bedside table. 07:03. She still has another twenty-seven minutes before she needs to be up. Fuck her.

“Fuck you,” Harry voices, pouting at Louis until she relents and stops tickling her. Except she starts bouncing on the bed again and that’s almost worse. “Why are we training so early?”

“Because, young Harold,” Louis says, jabbing her finger in Harry’s face. “It’s been three weeks now, and you and Niall need to start flying actual courses, get used to navigating and stuff.”

“And that requires getting up at six in the bloody morning?” Harry huffs, brushing her hair back from her face, her fingers getting caught in a few knots and pulling her scalp sharply. She winces and extracts her fingers. Louis rolls her eyes.

“Yes,” she says. “Now get up so I can do your hair.”

Harry sits up, narrowing her eyes at Louis. “Not to be judgemental, but you have barely any hair and you keep it clipped back or quiffed. Plus, you let Zayn cut it and she has literally no hair. I think I’ll pass.”

“You forget that I have five sisters,” Louis points out, searching Harry’s bedside table for her yellow bobble. She tugs it from underneath Harry’s phone and rolls it on to her wrist. “I’m just gonna plait it. Your bun’s cute and all, but it’s ruined every time you fly, and if I have to listen to Niall try and give you bad hair advice one more time, I’m going to tape her mouth shut.”

Harry hums in agreement. “She has no idea how to handle curly hair. I mean, mine’s not even that curly, but yeah.”

“Exactly, now turn around.” Harry does, and Louis starts running her fingers through Harry’s hair, getting rid of the major knots with a surprising level of care. She’s gentle as she separates her hair into the necessary parts, and starts plaiting it methodically, only pulling when she has to.

Harry shuts her eyes and listens to Louis’ quiet breaths as she works, her neck prickling as Louis ties the bobble around the end and drops a kiss to the top of her spine. The French plait falls against her back, tight enough that it’s not going to come apart the way her bun always did when she flew, but loose enough that it doesn’t hurt. Louis did a good job.

“Thanks,” Harry says, turning in her spot to face Louis. She’s already in her training gear, must have been up since well before seven. That’s not natural to Harry. “You need to leave so I can change in peace though.”

“You mean I’m not allowed to watch you strip naked for my own pleasure?” Louis gasps, faux-shock twisting her features as she slaps her hand to her chest.

“No, because you’ll end up distracting me,” Harry counters, slipping off the bed and pulling Louis off too. She raises herself on to her tip-toes to be at Harry’s eye level, which is actually really cute but there’s a glint in Louis’ eyes that says ‘don’t fucking mention it’. So of course, Harry does. “For someone so tiny, you’re awfully loud.”

“I’ll show you loud,” Louis snipes, pushing Harry against the nearest flat surface, her wardrobe, and tickling her with a fury only Louis could manage at ten past seven in the morning.

Harry giggles and gasps so loudly Nick, who stays in the room next to Harry’s, throws something at the wall. Louis only relents when Harry begs, “Mercy, mercy,” and flips them so she’s the one pressing Louis into the wood, holding her hands in Harry’s.

“See,” Louis says, smirking at Harry. “Get changed, Niall’s making breakfast and I want a head start before you eat all my food.”

She wriggles out of Harry’s grasp, leaving the room as quickly as she entered. Harry watches her go, biting her lip as a warm smile spreads across her face. It’s been two weeks since the Truce, as Harry mentally (and verbally that one time with Niall) refers to it, and Harry was convinced things would be awkward with Louis, that they’d be unsure of how to move forward. Turned out, it only took a few moments of hesitation and Harry to crack a bad joke for the tension to break and for them to actually get on. Now, a fortnight later, Louis’ comfortable enough with her to sneak into her room and wake her up at seven in the bloody morning.

Breakfast with Niall and Louis involves way more bacon and eggs than Harry can stomach before eight, and a heated debate over which is better, 70s rock or 90s pop. It ends Niall throwing her bacon at Louis when she says Jimmy Page is better than the Spice Girls, and Harry overrules them both with, “We’re currently living in the era of Beyoncé though…” and that wraps that up.

It’s another thirty minutes before they’re out in the fields with the harness set up on Stevie, something that’s much easier to do with Niall helping her. Both Niall and Sophia have flown a few drills with them by now, but the excitement still hasn’t worn off for Stevie, especially with Niall. She corrects her posture every time Niall climbs up the harness (insists on actually climbing up, not being lifted) and is always flicking her tail wildly. Harry doesn’t quite get it, it’s not like Stevie and Niall haven’t spent any time with each other before, but if it distracts the dragon from worrying about Louis, then Harry will take it.

“She’s still kind of terrified of you,” Harry says to Louis when she and Zayn have finished putting her harness on Roland, who’s rolling his wings in preparation for flight. Niall’s chatting to Stevie about something or another, Harry’s not sure what. “You really freaked her out when you yelled at her.”

“Got my point across though,” Louis shrugs, but there’s a crease between her brows that suggests she’s not entirely comfortable with Stevie being scared of her. “It’s not that bad, is it? I mean, I maintain I was justified given the way she hurt you - fuck - does she hate me now?”

“No, not at all!” Harry reassures her, flexing her left palm at the memory of the acid burn. It’s mostly healed by now, just some skin that’s a little pinker than the rest of her hand, and a lot more sensitive to touch. Riding with it was a nightmare, and she’s glad she can actually hold the reins properly now. “It’s like, she’s scared of pissing you off, I think. She values your opinion and doesn’t want to fuck up again, so I don’t think she hates you. Let’s be real, she wouldn’t be able to hide it if she did.”

“You worry too much,” Roland adds, a lazy flick of his tail emphasising his words. Harry’s never seen a dragon as lethargic as him. Zayn nods from where she’s waiting on top of him.

“Okay,” Louis huffs, turning her back on Harry to give Roland’s harness another check. Ever since Harry saw the video of Louis’ harness snapping mid-race, she’s paid a lot more attention to the preliminary checks Louis does before flight. She’s thorough and methodical about it all, yanking and inspecting every buckle before she lets Roland lift her up. It’s exhilarating, watching her work. “You remember the route, Haz?”

“Of course,” she replies, like Louis didn’t make her memorise the course before she even thought about flying it. “Not that spacey.”

Louis laughs, and Harry jogs over to Stevie, letting herself be lifted up and dumped next to Niall. She straps herself in and double checks the flags, making sure she’s got them all. The route they’re flying is a simple one, laid out by the Training Grounds. It’s too short to actually be used in any official races, but Louis insists that they’ve got to work their way up to proper long distance courses.

After barely a moment, Louis waves the bright green flag in the air, and Harry’s pulling on Stevie’s reins, signalling for her to take-off. This part will always make Harry feel a little nauseous but Niall’s laughter is a grounding presence behind her, and Stevie plateaus soon enough.

She darts forward, beating her wings in regular intervals, cruising through the air as fast as she can. Harry keeps an eye on the landscape in front of them, specifically, the hills they’re heading towards. The route is simple: fly to the tallest hill, circle it twice, and fly back to the grounds. The whole thing should take a few moments if Stevie flies quickly, but Harry’s so struck by the beauty of being 2,000 metres high that she wouldn’t even mind if they spent hours flying.

“Descend a couple hundred metres,” Niall yells in Harry’s ear over the roar of the wind. “There’s less wind down there.”

Harry pulls on the reins twice until Stevie’s dipped the right amount, then pulls again to keep her steady. Niall’s right, the winds going against them aren’t as strong here, which means Stevie flies faster, cutting through the air with her long wings.

Before she started training with Niall, Harry wasn’t too sure what the purpose of a first lieutenant flying with a captain actually was. Obviously, Louis had gone over the roles of a dragon’s crew during their first week of training, told her that she’d alternate between training with Niall and Sophia, even though she’d only officially race with her first lieutenant, but after flying with Stevie by herself, she wasn’t a hundred percent sure where Niall would fit in. Now though, she regrets ever thinking that. Niall’s experience means she’s got a much better eye for things like wind-strength and the more technical side of flying than Harry does, so her advice in the air is invaluable.

They reach the hills in no time, and Harry guides Stevie through two wide circles over the circumference and back in the direction of the training grounds. The wind’s behind them now, so Harry has her ascend the distance they dropped earlier, catching on the powerful gusts and speeding toward the finish.

Louis, Zayn and Roland are waiting for them at the finish, Roland’s wings spread to keep them in the air. Stevie passes Roland with a triumphant roar, diving downwards to land. The sharp drop has Harry breathless, but she’s giggling as she and Niall disembark Stevie, giddy on the high of finishing their first course. Niall claps her on the back, eyes bright, and they both turn to praise Stevie, who’s barely out of breath.

“Four minutes forty two seconds,” Louis announces, reading the number off her stopwatch, as she and Zayn unstrap themselves and join them on the ground. “That’s good for a beginner, but you want to be aiming to cut it down to four minutes to start with, probably less in the future.”

Harry nods, forcing herself to pay attention to Louis’ words and not get distracted by the adrenaline still bubbling under her skin (or the wind-burn on Louis’ cheeks). “Stevie’s a middleweight, right? What’s the average time for that kind of length course?”

“Four minutes is the average,” Zayn says.

“But you want to be better than average,” Louis adds. “Roland’s a heavyweight but we’ve got that course down to three and a half minutes, so if we can do it, you can do it.”

“Let’s go again then!” Niall yells, dragging Harry back to Stevie’s torso to scramble up her sides while Harry gets lifted.

They practise the course again and again until Harry’s shaved off a full twenty seconds from their average time, much to Harry and Louis’ delight. Stevie relaxes with each run through, and when they dismount the final time, Louis walks over to Stevie and tells her she did well that session. Harry swears that if Stevie could blush, she’d be bright red.

“Tomorrow, you should keep working on cutting your time down on this course and practising your flight drills,” Louis says after, stretching her legs and staring pointedly at Harry and Niall to do the same. “Don’t wanna move on to the next one when you haven’t mastered this one, yeah?”

“Makes sense,” Harry says, keeping her breaths even as she relishes the burn of her muscles. She’s fairly certain her thighs and calves are much more pronounced now that she’s spending most of her days tensed on a saddle. And, without being too obvious that she’s checking, she’s also pretty sure she’s developed an actual arse now. Since Louis’ been doing this since she was a kid, it’s no wonder she’s got such an amazing arse. Then again, Niall’s still as flat as a board so maybe it’s only the lucky ones.

A shrill wolf-whistle cuts through Harry’s thoughts; she starts paying attention just in time to see Louis roll her eyes and mutter, “fucking hell” under her breath.

Ben Winston’s walking past the field with his dragon, Exodus, and his first lieutenant who Harry hasn’t spoken to very much, but she thinks his name is Julian. Ben stops in his tracks to stare at them, harness slung over his shoulder and picked up at the end by Julian. “You girls finished playing for the day?”

Harry straightens up and crosses her arms over her chest, narrowing her eyes. In no universe is ‘you girls’ not condescending when used to refer to four women over twenty, and playing, as if they’re just fucking about and not actually training.

“We’ve just finished our morning training session, yeah,” Louis replies, acidic. It’s a warning to back off if Harry’s ever heard one, but Ben doesn’t realise or doesn’t care.

“What route did you fly?” Ben asks, handing the rest of the harness to Julian, and walks towards them. He’s smirking at Harry, like he knows exactly what course she flew and wants her to admit to it being the easiest.

“A beginner’s one,” Harry answers, because she is a fucking beginner and there’s no shame in that. “To the hills, two loops, and back.”

Ben laughs sharply, and Niall curls her hands into fists at her side. Stevie and Roland are lying behind them, watchful eyes tracking Ben’s every movement. Harry reaches out her arm and rests it on Stevie’s leg, a firm reminder not to lose her temper. Harry doesn’t want Stevie to hurt Ben with her acid and end up in trouble, no matter how much of a misogynistic dick Ben is.

“And Simon’s happy with that?” he continues, wilfully oblivious to how much they all want him to fuck off. “Four weeks training and you’re only on a beginner’s course?” He smirks again, aiming it at Louis this time. “Maybe you shouldn’t be training her, if these are the results you’re coming up with.”

“Considering I wiped the floor with you every time we’ve raced,” Louis snaps, before Harry, Zayn or Niall can jump in at her defence, “I’d say I’m pretty fucking capable, definitely more capable than you. So how about next time you fuck off instead of spewing bullshit no one wants to hear.”

Ben frowns, all smugness wiped off his face. A surge of pride wells up in Harry at that, and she barely resists high-fiving Louis for her comment. As it is, Louis stares Ben down, a saccharine smile twisting her lips. “We’ll see about that when the UK Cup comes around.”

Louis snorts. “Right, considering you couldn’t even qualify for the European cup just gone, and we won the heavyweight gold medal, we’ll see about that. I’ve never lost to you, Ben, even when I was a fucking beginner, and I’m not about to lose now. You don’t believe me? Try me.”

Ben’s brows arch, surprise colouring his face. “You wanna race now?”

“If it’ll get you to shut up and leave us the fuck alone, sure.” Louis rolls her shoulders and grins. “Unless you don’t want to be beaten by a girl in front of everyone?”

“You’re fucking on,” Ben snaps, and jogs back over to Julian to get Exodus in his harness.

“Men are so easy to manipulate,” Louis huffs, actually stretching out her arms this time. Harry watches in awe. “Insult their masculinity once and they’ll do anything to prove it’s still intact. Male mediocrity at its finest.”

“He’s always been a fucking tosser,” Niall adds, glaring in Ben’s direction. They’re quick about putting the harness on Exodus, who hasn’t spoken once this entire exchange. Stevie’s never had a bad word to say about him; Harry kind of feels bad that he’s stuck with such a shitty captain.

“This’ll knock him down a few pegs,” Louis says, and climbs on to Roland, not letting him lift her up. She straps herself in, Zayn joining her, and grips the reins as Roland slinks to the middle of the field. Both Ben and Julian are on Exodus when he joins Roland in the centre of the field, and Harry can’t wait to see their arses kicked.

“It’s like Fast and Furious,” Niall comments, sparking an idea in Harry. She has Stevie help her grab the green flag from her harness and runs to the grass between the two dragons.

“Your track is to the far side of the hills and back again. First one back on the ground is the winner,” Harry announces, impersonating a sports commentator. “Ready!” She holds the flag in the air. “Set!” She starts waving it. “Go!” she cries, dropping the flag and snapping her neck upwards to watch Louis and Ben take off.

It’s barely even a race.

Roland pushes off the ground and instantly falls into first place, and stays there the entire time. Harry doesn’t know whether she’d rather the race be more tense, like it always seems to be in films, or if she’s just glad that Louis’ absolutely annihilating Ben up there. It’s the latter, she thinks. God, Louis, Zayn and Roland are so far ahead when they get to the hills that Ben doesn’t even stand a chance of catching up. They soar back to the training grounds, and when Roland lands with a thud, he rears back on to his hind legs and breathes a short plume of fire into the air.

The intense heat makes Harry flinch, but the effect is clear. Not only did they win, but they won by enough that the fire has completely faded by the time Exodus comes anywhere near them.

“That was fucking incredible,” Harry says, as soon as Louis’ dismounted on the solid ground. She crashes into Louis, overwhelmed with pride, and throws her arms around Louis’ slim shoulders, squeezing her tightly. “You were so amazing in that race.”

“Not like it was a difficult one,” Louis jokes, but Harry draws back enough to look her square in the eyes.

“Doesn’t mean it wasn’t amazing,” she insists, dropping her gaze to Louis’ lips, wondering if now’s a good time to lean in for a kiss. They’ve only kissed sporadically since the Truce, but with Louis beaming from the win, pink wind-burned cheeks, Harry wants. Louis snakes her hands around Harry’s waist, over the thick training gear, and Harry can almost forget they’re in the middle of a field between three dragons and part of their crews.

Well, Harry almost forgets that, until Ben spits, “Dykes,” at them and Harry’s blood runs cold.

That is, until she hears the smack of Niall’s fist meeting Ben’s jaw, and then Harry’s not entirely sure how she feels any more. Niall’s cussing Ben out, forcibly restrained by Stevie’s tail until she settles down, and then Zayn’s wrapping her arms around her. They glare at Ben while he cradles his jaw, having staggered back into Julian.

“What the fuck?” Ben hisses, before Harry’s even dropped her arms from Louis’ shoulders. “You fucking –”

Ben,” Julian cuts in, shoving Ben’s shoulder roughly. “Let’s just go, alright? It ain’t worth it.”

Ben spits at Niall, shooting a dark look in Harry and Louis’ direction, and turns on his heel to stalk after Julian, Exodus following impassively. Harry’s left reeling, her mind trying to deal with what the hell just happened.

“Does that…” she breaks off, taking a deep breath and looking between Louis and Niall. “Does that happen often?”

“Not a lot,” Louis says, squeezing Harry’s hand before shifting her attention to Niall, drawing her hand from her chest to inspect her knuckles for bruises.

“Still too fucking often,” Niall hisses, flexing her fingers. One punch probably wasn’t enough to do serious damage if Niall can still do that. “What a cunt.”

“Can we report it?” Harry asks, moving to stand next to Stevie, leaning into the crease between her neck and shoulder. It’s a welcomed comfort, feeling the warm scales brush her skin. “Simon has to listen, right? That behaviour’s fucking foul.”

“We can try,” Louis says, letting go of Niall’s hand and shrugging at Harry. “But Ben makes Simon too much money for any serious punishment to be doled out. It’s bullshit, but he’s not gonna be pulled from any races or, fuck, even given a warning. It’ll be a quick tap on the wrist and he’s on his way. Maybe a fine if we’re lucky.”

“Should still report it,” Niall insists. “If you don’t want to, Louis, me and Zayn will. We can’t let him get away with shit like that.”

Harry watches Louis sigh, rubbing her hands over her face. “Fine, we’ll go later. I hope he gets fined enough to bankrupt him.”

“Never liked him anyway,” Roland adds, crawling closer to Louis and nudging her with his claw. Louis leans back into it, the same way Harry’s leaning into Stevie, and Harry struggles to contain the fond smile on her face.

“If he comes near Harry or Niall again, I’ll drown him in acid,” Stevie growls.

“Do not even think about it,” Harry says, over Niall’s cackles. She whirls around to look Stevie in the eyes, poking her hide with a finger. “Promise me you won’t, Stevie.”

“But what if he deserves –”

Stevie,” Harry repeats, giving Stevie her best serious face. “Promise me.”

“Fine,” Stevie relents, her shoulders dropping in a pout. “But I might think about it from time to time.”

Niall bursts into another bout of laughter, with Zayn and Louis joining in. Even Roland’s tail is flicking happily behind him, so Harry lets herself relax, the tension of the situation fading.

“Okay, okay, you can think about it,” Harry says between giggles. “Now it’s lunch time, come on, I’m starving.”

***

Despite the incident with Ben, training continues as normal, if not a bit wetter with rain clouds covering the sky, so when Friday rolls around, Niall calls off their pub night in favour of staying in and getting pissed off cheap vodka and the nastiest whiskey Harry’s ever tasted.

“That’s foul,” she splutters after taking a sip from Niall’s bottle, passing it back to her and trying to ignore the residual ashy taste in her throat. She’ll stick to the vodka, thanks. “How the fuck are you drinking that straight?”

Niall shrugs, knocking back another gulp and Harry winces in sympathy. She leans back against Niall’s headboard, poking Louis’ thigh with her toes. Louis just bats her foot away, only temporarily shifting her attention from the conversation she’s having with Zayn to stick her tongue out at Harry. It’s a nice tongue, Harry thinks to herself, soft and pink, but it hasn’t been in Harry’s pussy since the Truce, and that’s just sad. The few kisses they’ve had have been great, but Harry misses sex and more specifically, she misses sex with Louis.

It’s kind of sad that only two rounds have done that to her, but whatever. She just reaches across Niall and grabs the closest bottle of vodka from the table and pours more into her lemonade.

“Don’t question Niall’s drinking skills,” Liam says, and right, they were talking about Niall and the shitty whiskey. “When we were seventeen, she drank so much on a night out she had to get her stomach pumped.”

“Oh, you were one of those kids, nice.” Harry takes a swig of her drink, glad to be rid of the taste of whiskey.

Harry drops her head to Niall’s shoulder, watching Louis laugh about something with Zayn. Her face lights up with a crinkly-eyed smile that Harry adores, and she doesn’t even realise she’s sighing until Niall’s clapping her hands together, disrupting Harry’s position.

“I just remembered, right, when I went to the shops earlier, I found,” Niall pauses, handing her bottle to Harry and sorting through the crap on her bedside table until she finds a slim packet of cards. “Dragon racer top trumps. Guess who’s on ‘em, Tommo.”

“Fucking sick, let me see!” Louis’ scrambling on top of Harry to grab the packet from Niall’s hands, tearing off the plastic and rifling through the cards until she finds hers. “Oh my God, look at the photo.”

Harry pulls Louis on to her lap so she can hook her chin over Louis’ shoulder, peering down at the card. They’ve used a picture of Louis from a race, her face scrunched up in concentration. “It’s cute,” Harry says.

Louis makes a vague noise of disagreement, and Niall snatches the cards pack. She shuffles them sloppily a few times, relying on Liam to pick up the ones she drops, and starts snapping her fingers.

“Everyone on the floor in a circle,” she orders, clicking until they comply.

Harry pouts at having to give up Louis on her lap, but Louis drags her to sit next to her on the carpet, leaning back against Niall’s bed, so it’s not that bad in the end. Louis steals a mouthful of Harry’s drink, winking as she passes it back.

“Okay, every time you lose a streak, you take a shot,” Niall announces as she deals the cards. The deck is pretty big as far as top trumps go, so they each end up with a sizeable hand. “Every time you lose to Louis’ card, you take a shot, and every time you win against Ben fucking Winston, you take a shot.”

“Niall, are you trying to kill us?” Zayn asks, picking up her hand and flipping the top card.

“Fuck off, you can handle it,” Niall retorts, taking another swig of her whiskey. “Let’s play!”

The top trumps include captains from all over the world, and if Harry weren’t so smashed, it’d actually be useful information. Harry ends up taking far too many shots by the time they finish their fifth game, mostly because she kept getting Louis’ card, and Niall instilled a ‘take two shots every time you lose because of Louis’ height’ rule which fucked Harry over in the end.

Liam’s phone buzzes when Niall’s trying to deal the cards for a sixth game, but she’s too distracted by Zayn talking to do anything other than drop them. Harry’s about to comment on it in Louis’ ear when Liam waves to get their attention, squinting at her phone.

“Soph said that, shit, there’s been a fire in Edinburgh grounds,” she reads out, slapping Zayn’s thigh. “Fuck, it’s really bad, a couple of their dragons didn’t make it.”

“What the fuck,” Niall practically shouts, all of them scrambling closer to Liam’s phone.

“What happened?” Zayn presses.

“They dunno yet,” Liam slurs, shoving her phone in Zayn’s face so she can read the text. “But they think it was a poachers thing that went wrong, like they might have only wanted to cause a distraction or something so they could steal a dragon, but it went tits up.”

“Christ,” Louis mutters, taking the phone from Zayn and reading the message.

“That’s really extreme,” Harry slurs. “Like, who does that?”

“All they care about is money,” Louis says, and Niall cries in agreement.

“They’re bastards,” she adds, her accent thickening from the drink. “Don’t give a fuck about dragons, just what they’re worth. It’s sickening, it is. And it’s a damn good thing you rescued Stevie from them when you did, otherwise she would’ve been torn apart and sold on the black market by those cunts.”

“It’s fucked up,” Liam agrees, pocketing her phone again. Maybe one of them should confiscate it before she can start drunk texting Sophia again, because that rarely ends well. Harry’s about to, but Louis rests her hand high on Harry’s thigh and presses into her jeans.

“Stevie made a good choice, picking you as captain,” she says, her voice dragging but her gaze unwavering. Harry’s breath catches in her chest; Louis complimenting her always makes her a little giddy, especially when it comes to Stevie and being a captain, but that, that approval from Louis who initially hated the idea of Harry as a captain. It means the world.

“I fucking told ya that dragons don’t make mistakes,” Niall cuts in before Harry can reply, thankfully. All Harry would have been able to manage would be a garbled mess of words. “Like, you, Tommo. Roland went rogue picking you and look how that turned out!”

“What?” Harry stares at Niall, then Louis. “I know you’re like, the first female captain for the Flamme-de-whatever, but I thought it was like, a regular picking!”

“Let Niall tell it, Lou,” Zayn says when Louis starts to open her mouth. “She likes telling this story.”

“Especially when she’s drunk,” Liam chucks in with a laugh. She’s on her phone again, but Sophia can handle the mess of drunk texts; Harry’s got more important things on her mind right now.

“Go for it, Nialler,” Louis grants, and Niall fist punches the air.

“Buckle up, H, this is fucking great.” Niall takes another swig of whiskey and rolls her shoulders. “Right, so you know Flamme-de-Gloires never had female captains before Louis. We had Roland’s egg brought over from France in a trade with a Grand Chevalier, and when the egg started hatching they called over the eligible male captains and shit. But the thing about Flamme-de-Gloires is they’re not like Longwings in that they only take on one gender as their crew, it’s just shitty fucking tradition that they’re only given men as choices.

“So when… who was it, Luke? Yeah, Luke, he was allowed to be there, even though Louis had like, ten times more experience racing than him ‘cause she was a first lieutenant with Nick then, and Luke had only just been made a second lieutenant so he shouldn’t have even been eligible to be fucking honest.” Niall pauses to drink more whiskey, and shakes her head in disgust. “Right, so Louis went to Simon like ‘what the fuck, why can’t I try for captaincy if Luke can?’ and Simon gave her some spiel about tradition and working your way up or prettily worded bull, and Louis tried again right before the hatching, like I remember watching them arguing right outside the door to the hatching grounds, yelling about the misogyny of it all, it was glorious.

“But inside the nesting grounds, when Roland hatched, he surveyed the candidates for a bit, you know what it’s like, H, you were there for one, but like Stevie, he didn’t want any of them. Oh no, while he was deciding, he heard Louis yelling outside and demanded to speak to her. You should have seen their faces, fucking incredible. So we all went in with Louis and she spoke to Roland for thirty seconds before he decided, yep, he was having Louis as his captain. The first female captain to a Flamme-de-Gloire, the youngest female racer the UK has ever seen, the top captain in the UK right now, and the first out lesbian captain ever. Fucking incredible.”

“Shut up,” Louis groans, burying her face in Harry’s hair. “You’re embarrassing me.”

“She’s like a proud mother,” Harry laughs, and Niall wipes an imaginary tear from her eye.

“She’s a sap,” Louis says, finishing off Harry’s drink, as if she doesn’t have one of her own within arm’s reach. Harry doesn’t mind though, she’s had more than enough alcohol tonight.

“So are you,” Harry teases, leaning further into Louis so their sides are squished together, her lips a breath away from caressing Louis’ shoulder. She’s a little dizzy and mostly giggly, but coming face to face with Louis’ toned arms in her plain vest top and the comforting warmth from her body next to Harry’s, has something hotter invading her thoughts. She stretches an arm across Louis’ torso to rest her hand on Louis’ thigh, stroking her thumb over the inseam of her jeans.

“Lies and slander,” Louis says, turning her face to Harry’s. She smells like vodka and Coke and heaven; Harry’s only exaggerating a little. Her eyes drop to Harry’s mouth, staring at her lips and working their way back up her face to meet her gaze. Harry feels raw and exposed under the weight of her stare.

“Come back to mine,” she whispers, pressing her fingers harder into Louis’ thigh.

“We all live in the same building, Haz,” Louis says, but Harry shakes her head.

“My room then,” she persists. “Spend the night with me.”

The second Louis nods, Harry grabs her hand and leaps to her feet, pulling Louis up with her. They nearly fall into Niall, Zayn and Liam’s cuddle pile, but Louis steadies Harry with her hands on Harry’s waist, and Harry drapes herself over Louis in return. The world tilts as they shout their goodbyes over their shoulders, tumbling out of Niall’s room, through the communal areas and into the stairwell to reach the next floor.

Climbing the stairs poses the greatest challenge. They end up crawling up the last few on their hands and knees, too uncoordinated for much else. By the time they’re standing in front of Harry’s room, they’re kissing and only paying half-attention to where they’re actually going.

The kisses are drunken and sloppy, which are some of Harry’s favourite kind. There’s a distinct lack of finesse and technique in the way Louis’ mouth moves against Harry’s, but the overwhelming need for more, more skin, more friction, more everything, is fuelled by the alcohol and driving them forwards.

Harry gets the door open eventually, and Louis heads inside first, pulling Harry in straight after her and drawing her close. She thinks she hears the door slam shut with a thud, but honestly, Louis’ mouth against her neck, little sharp teeth dragging over her skin, is commanding her focus right now.

“Bed,” Harry gasps, tilting her head back and allowing Louis more space to mark her. “Fuck, haven’t had you in a bed yet.”

“You been waiting for that?” Louis asks, flitting her hands up and down Harry’s sides, smoothing over the curve of her waist and hips, aligning them with her own. “To get me in your bed?”

“Of fucking course,” Harry replies, righting herself so she can walk them forwards until they’re colliding with the bed and stumbling on top. Harry gets an elbow to the side and she might have accidentally kneed Louis’ hip, but it doesn’t deter them. Louis just shuffles back so she’s lying properly on the bed, and Harry crawls on top of her, latching her mouth to Louis’ collarbones, just visible above the neckline of her top.

“Think ‘m too drunk to fuck you proper,” Louis mumbles, slipping her hands under Harry’s shirt and spreading them over the arch of her back. They’re a warm weight on Harry’s skin, her blunt nails digging in just the right side of painful. “Wasting the bed.”

“Not if we just…” Harry trails off, lifting herself off of Louis to unbutton her own jeans and wriggle out of them. Louis bursts into laughter watching her, throwing her head back as Harry finally kicks them off, taking her pants with them. Harry tackles Louis’ jeans next, and then Louis’ laughs fade to moans as Harry pushes up her vest top enough to kiss her stomach while she undoes Louis’ jeans.

When they’re off, Harry straddles Louis’ right thigh, warm, bare skin pressed against her wet pussy. She moans at the contact, rocking her hips in gentle thrusts, aiming for friction on her clit. Louis’ hands fly to her hips to steady her, the alcohol still present enough in her veins to make her liable to fall at any moment. She slumps forward to remedy that, pushing Louis’ top up so it’s bunched around her armpits, allowing her to run her hands over Louis’ bra-clad breasts.

“You’re gonna ride me like that, kitten?” Louis asks, and Harry muffles a whine in the juncture between Louis’ neck and shoulder, lips pressed to skin. The nickname elicits a pulse of arousal in Harry, getting her impossibly wetter.

“Save a dragon, ride a captain,” Harry giggles, her breath hitching when Louis tenses her thigh under her. Harry rolls her hips faster, smearing wetness over Louis’ skin, her breasts bouncing with the movement. Orgasms have always come a little easier for her when she’s drunk, but she’s been rutting against Louis’ thigh for barely a minute and she already feels like she’s close. It’d be embarrassing if Louis didn’t seem to be into it as well, gripping Harry’s arse as she grinds, letting out little moans in Harry’s ear.

Harry lets her eyes fall shut as she mouths at Louis’ neck, her thumbs rubbing tight circles around Louis’ nipples through the material of her bra. Her breasts are small enough that they practically disappear when she’s lying flat, but Harry’s hopelessly endeared by how her big hands can completely cover them.

Louis uses her hold on Harry’s arse to force her to grind harder, Harry’s clit throbbing as it rubs against Louis’ thigh. She groans into Louis’ neck, sucking a mark that’ll be there for days, and teeters on the edge of her orgasm. It’s Louis whispering, “Come on, kitten, know you want to come,” that pushes her over the edge, riding out the peak of pleasure on Louis’ thigh.

Louis tilts her head to kiss Harry as she comes down from her orgasm, lethargy mixing with the alcohol and making her limbs heavy like they’re filled with lead. She lets Louis take the lead on the kiss, lifting her hands from Louis’ breasts to link with Louis’ hands, their fingers intertwining.

“You should sit on my face,” Harry slurs, smiling lazily into the kiss. It’s counterproductive to actual kissing, but it makes Louis smile too, which is worth it.

“I might smother you,” Louis says, as if Harry wouldn’t be honoured to die between Louis thighs.

“Worse ways to go,” Harry shrugs, and nudges Louis over so she can lie on her back. “I studied linguistics at uni which means I’m a certified cunnilinguist. I got this, Lou, so take your seat.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Louis laughs, but she positions herself so she’s kneeling with Harry’s head between her legs, her hands holding onto the headboard to keep herself steady. “Try not to pass out on me, yeah?”

“Not gonna pass out,” Harry says, drawn to the slick cunt so close to her mouth, she’s actually desperate to taste her. Even better, Louis’ pubic hair has grown out again, a slight reddish tint to it where it curls over her lips. Harry inhales the heady scent of pussy, flicking her gaze up at Louis’ face in time to see her bite her lip as she lowers herself on to Harry’s mouth.

Louis’ pussy tastes just as glorious as Harry remembers, sliding her tongue along Louis’ slit and up to her clit, licking over it with broad swipes. She doesn’t have the energy to eat her out properly, it’s half the reason Harry suggested that Louis ride her face, so she can take her own pleasure from Harry (the other half might have been because Louis’ thighs clamping around her head, her scent and taste overwhelming, making it hard for Harry to breathe otherwise, is all she truly wants in life), but the high-pitched moans of Louis falling apart above her are enough to spur Harry on until Louis comes.

Fuck, kitten, love, you’re amazing – shit – you make me feel amazing,” Louis rambles, keeping both hands on the headboard as she rocks against Harry’s face, getting her chin and cheeks wet with slick, deciding where Harry should focus the attention of her tongue; in pointed circles over her clit, or deep thrusts into her hole. Harry fists her hands in the sheets to keep them from gripping Louis’ hips, wanting Louis to be the one to set the pace.

And much like Harry, it doesn’t take long for Louis to come, a blessing and a curse. Normally, Harry would spend as much time as she could eating a girl out, making her feel good in whatever way she can, and her quick fucks with Louis haven’t allowed her that opportunity yet, but Harry really is too drunk and tired to keep it up for long. So when Louis wails and practically does smother Harry as she comes, it’s a welcome relief.

“Got you all dirty,” Louis mutters when she finally lifts herself from Harry’s face, allowing her to breathe. She bites her lip like she didn’t intend to say it, but Harry preens, her tongue sweeping over her lips to taste more of Louis.

“Like it,” she murmurs, practically purring, eyes fluttering shut already.

“At least take your top off,” Louis grunts, and Harry thinks she might be ripping Harry’s shirt trying to get it unbuttoned, but Harry’s too close to sleep to care about that now. “Come on, kitten, help me out here. I’m too fucking pissed to sort this out by myself.”

Harry mumbles a vague assent and opens her eyes, sitting up enough to shrug off her shirt, actually torn open by Louis, and get rid of her bra. She slumps back on to the bed and lets Louis arrange them under the duvet, warm, naked bodies curled around each other as they drift off to sleep.

And if Louis holds Harry’s hair back when she throws up in the toilet in the morning, murmuring “it’s alright, kitten” and “there you go, get it all out” into her ear softly, Harry still doesn’t regret a thing.

***

It’s a rainy Monday when Niall, Zayn and Louis hear back about their report of Ben. Harry’s sitting with Sophia, Louis, Zayn and Perrie in the dragon’s resting grounds while Roland, Stevie, and most of the other dragons sleep after their lunch. The rain’s hammering down on the roof, heavier than they’ve had for a while so their morning training session ended with everyone getting soaked, especially Stevie, who couldn’t stop shaking her whole body like a dog, spraying water everywhere. The resting grounds are heated, and the dragons themselves provide enough body warmth to keep them from freezing to death while they play cards.

Niall storms into the building right as Harry was about to wipe the floor with everyone, a winning hand of Rummy. She collapses between Perrie and Sophia, sitting on her legs and hissing, “Not even a fucking fine!”

“Ben?” Louis asks, keeping her cards too close to her chest for Harry to sneak a look.

“Yeah, Simon wouldn’t even fine him,” Niall spits. “Can you fucking believe?”

“Told you,” Louis replies, but she doesn’t sound smug or boastful, just tired. “Fucking ridiculous.”

Sophia looks up from her cards. “What happened?”

“Ben’s being a cunt again,” Niall tells her, twisting her fingers together. She doesn’t worry about keeping her voice down, the dragons could sleep through a full-on thunderstorm, and Stevie’s tail is still regularly flicking the tip over Harry’s knee. “If Simon doesn’t want to do something about it, we should.”

“We should leave flaming piles of dragon shit in his room,” Perrie says, completely nonchalant while the rest of them stare at her in horror. Well, all but Niall who cackles gleefully.

Zayn pats Perrie’s thigh, shaking her head. “Bit extreme, Pez.”

“It’d send a message!” Perrie insists, waving her hands at all the dragons surrounding them. “And it’s not like we’re in short supply of it.”

“You know they’re starting promo for the UK cup in a few days, at the beginning of August,” Sophia says, looking up at Louis. “Interviews, photoshoots, pap walks, the lot of it.”

“Shame if his hair turned a funny colour,” Louis muses. Harry can see the plan forming in her eyes already. “Always was a conceited bastard.”

“In uni, a flatmate of mine once rubbed a chicken stock cube on her ex-boyfriend’s shower head,” Harry adds, grinning slyly at Louis. “He smelt like chicken for days.”

“Painting soap with clear nail polish makes it unusable,” Sophia chucks in, and soon enough they’ve got a whole list of things they can do to Ben Winston’s stuff to get back at him for the homophobic comments. Louis sets about picking the best time for them to carry out the pranks, and Harry takes a backseat, a little overwhelmed with the closeness of the girls here and how willing they are to stand up for each other. Harry misses her friends from uni, but she fits in here and she wouldn’t change that for anything.

It’s decided that the fewer of them who actually carry out the pranks, the better, so it ends up with Louis and Harry sneaking into Ben’s room while Niall keeps an eye out. It’s the last day of July, with the promo season starting tomorrow, so Louis figures it’s the perfect time to strike.

“I’ll do the bathroom stuff,” Louis says, taking a box of hair dye out of the plastic Sainsbury’s bag, as well as a new bottle of clear nail polish. “You do the shoes and the glue stuff.”

“I’m on it,” Harry says, striking a dramatic pose and almost knocking the bag into the low-hanging light. Louis heads into the ensuite, laughing, and Harry sets about finding all of Ben’s shoes. Her tasks are simple enough; fill his shoes with Vaseline and sand so that when Ben steps in them, they’ll be all slimy and gritty and he won’t ever be able to get rid of it completely; and superglue all of his stuff in place.

Harry’s just bending over to glue Ben’s bedside lamp and the whole cord to the desk when she hears a camera shutter sound, and Louis making an appreciative noise behind her. She looks over her shoulder to see Louis holding up her phone, snapping another picture with a satisfied grin.

“Taking pics, are we?” Harry asks, layering the last strips of glue on to the lamp. She’s positioned it awkwardly so that it’ll be a constant nuisance, shining light out of his window.

“Gotta document these glorious pranks at some point,” Louis says, watching Harry’s work without shame. Harry fights a blush as she straightens up and Louis’ eyes drag along the length of her body. “I’ve managed to keep pictures of you off my twitter so far, but I think this one deserves to go up at some point, don’t you?”

“I haven’t even seen it,” Harry points out, stepping close enough to Louis that she can see her phone when Louis unlocks it and brings up the photo. It’s mostly Harry’s arse in fitted skinny jeans, but if you look past that, you can see she’s holding the lamp up and fiddling with something underneath. “You can’t put it on Twitter now, Ben’s gonna see it.”

“I’d caption it ‘Late night pranks in Style’,” Louis says, locking her phone. “And there’s gonna be no doubt as to who did this shit anyway, so think of it as taking credit for a job well done, Haz. But I’ll wait for everything to blow over first, upload it in a few days.”

“And you say my jokes are bad,” Harry chides, shaking her head. She looks around the room, everything more or less how it was when they entered, just a few hidden differences.

“You know what would really piss him off,” Louis says, bumping Harry’s hip and grinning salaciously. “If we had sex in his bed.”

Harry hums in agreement. “I’d say we should go for it, but like, he’s so nasty I don’t think I even want to touch his bed. What we should have done, though, is bought a dildo, covered it in lube, like not even use it, just poured lube all over it, and left it in his bed. That would have been great.”

Louis laughs sharply, the crinkly eyes coming out in full force. “Missed opportunities. We’ll save that for next time.”

Niall knocks thrice in sharp succession, meaning they’ve been in there for long enough now and have to wrap things up if they don’t want to get caught. They gather their things and hurry out of Ben’s room, going straight for Louis’ where Harry spends the night, but only because Louis eats her out until she comes so hard she literally can’t find the energy to walk down a flight of stairs to her own room.

***

Promo season starts on the first day of August, and Harry has never been more out of her depth in her entire life, including the day she became a captain.

A phone call wakes her up at six AM, and it’s from Simon himself, telling her she’s scheduled for a meeting in his office at seven. Harry doesn’t question what Simon’s doing awake at six in the morning, just mourns the fact that she has to leave Louis, soft and warm in her bed, so early. She thought she’d at least get half an hour of cuddling before they got ready for the day.

Still, Harry carefully disentangles herself from Louis, who somehow managed to sleep through Harry’s phone call, dresses quickly and heads to her own room to shower and change.

Simon’s office is just as clinical and neat as she remembers, the potted plant in the corner still going strong. He’s sitting in a theatrically large black chair when Harry steps inside, gesturing for her to sit down. Already, Harry feels like she’s done something wrong.

“I won’t keep you long, Harry,” Simon says, opening a drawer in his desk and pulling out a stack of sheets, all but one held together by a single staple in the corner. Harry’s one hundred percent sure Simon put the papers there just before she entered the room to make this more dramatic. “You’ve been here just over a month now, and I feel it’s an appropriate time for you to manage your own training schedule now. You’ve been entered into three different races in the UK cup in late September, the dates and information are on these papers,” he slides the stack over and flattens the loose sheet on top. “All you need to do is sign on the dotted line.”

Harry blinks, staring at the single sheet of paper loaded with printed text, and the pen Simon’s offering. She takes it, scans it quickly, and signs her name on the line. Reading the contract in more detail would have probably been a good idea, but Simon doesn’t seem to want to wait for Harry to read everything and then call Niall to confer.

“Your interviews, photoshoots and everything else has been organised for you,” Simon continues, maintaining direct eye contact with Harry while he speaks. “Your schedule has been emailed to you, but there’s a hardcopy in these sheets as well. You’ll spend this afternoon shadowing Louis for her initial interview and photoshoot to get a feel for it, and there’ll be a PR person there to walk you through some basic media training. As you’re a new racer, you won’t be going through as many interviews as the other, more established captains, so you shouldn’t need much training for now. Does that sound okay?”

Harry suspects that even if it doesn’t, Simon would hardly care. She picks up the rest of the papers and rifles through them, her eyes jumping to the page at the back containing topics that have been blacklisted, and topics she’s encouraged to focus on. She’s not allowed to talk about stealing the egg, but she’s allowed to say that she found it, and she’s definitely allowed to talk about how welcoming the people here were when she first arrived, despite her lack of experience. Right.

There is one giant, rainbow-coloured elephant in the room, though. At no point on the page does it mention the subject of her sexuality.

“Yeah, um, am I allowed to talk about being gay?” Harry asks, unsure.

Simon narrows his brows, lips curling down at the corners. Harry thinks she sees a grey hair or ten spring up near his temples. “You’re gay?”

“Yep.” Harry nods. “I kinda thought that was implied when Louis, Zayn and Niall reported Ben for shouting homophobic slurs at me and Louis.”

“Right,” Simon says slowly, taking a deep breath. “I was under the impression that you and Louis were close friends, nothing more.”

It’s Harry’s turn to take a deep breath this time, forcing herself to stay calm. Sure, she and Louis haven’t technically put a label on what they are, but she’s pretty certain that neither of their feelings stop at ‘close friends’. Plus, it’s not like they’re not really fucking obvious when they flirt and kiss and hold hands in the resting grounds or by the lake or in the fucking communal areas.

“We fuck,” Harry says crudely, holding Simon’s stare. Instinct is telling her to shut up, but fuck that and fuck Simon. “I’d say we’re very close friends.”

“Then no, you’re not allowed to talk about your sexuality until we have a definitive plan in place, should you wish to come out to the general public,” Simon replies, hints of anger lacing his voice. “And I would be very careful with how you speak about Louis to the press, as, if you do come out, the nature of your relationship will be analysed and speculated upon, regardless of how we spin it.”

“I want that,” Harry declares. She’d come out to her family when she was sixteen and dealt with the consequences; gossip being spread, friends cutting off ties. University had given her the chance to thrive when she joined the LGBT society, and she doesn’t want to go back into the closet. Not if she can help it. “To come out, that is. I don’t want to be closeted.”

“We’ll start looking at that another time then. You can go,” Simon finishes, and Harry’s just standing up when he holds up a finger and glares. “But before you do, Harry, remember how privileged you are to be training at the best grounds in the UK with some of the top European captains right now. If you ever speak to me like that again, I will transfer you to the worst training grounds in Europe and end your career before it’s even started. Do you understand me?”

Harry bites the inside of her cheek and nods. “Yes, Simon.”

Simon leans back in his chair, satisfied. “You’re dismissed.”

***

Louis’ up and eating breakfast in her shared kitchen when Harry returns, her mood a little soured from the meeting with Simon.

“Didn’t think you were coming back,” Louis says when she sees Harry, bacon butty halfway to her mouth.

“Sorry, had a surprise meeting with Simon.” Harry yawns, taking the seat opposite Louis at the table. Louis’ not changed yet, just in a thin vest top and joggers. Her hair’s all sleep-rumpled and her eyes are still a little hazy; she’s undeniably gorgeous and Harry feels more at ease just looking at her. “Didn’t want to wake you.”

“Nah, s’alright.” Louis takes a bite of the sandwich, shrugging. “How’d the meeting go?”

“Well, he knows I’m gay now,” Harry laughs, still not entirely sure how Simon couldn’t have known. It’s not like she’s ever hid it while she’s been here. “And we’re not training together anymore, which is sad.”

Louis frowns. “We can’t train together?”

“He says I can do it by myself now,” Harry clarifies. “Which is fair enough, I mean, I’ve gotta get used to that at some point, right? But I’m gonna miss training with you.”

“Haz, it’s not like we don’t live in the same building, you know,” Louis laughs, setting her sandwich on the plate. “We’ll see each other plenty. Besides, we can still train together, or well, at similar times. Captains decide their own schedules, remember?”

“Oh!” Harry’s morning just got a lot better. “Sounds good. Also, is there more bacon? Because I’m fucking starving.”

“Nah, these are my last few pieces,” Louis says, pulling her plate away from Harry and covering it protectively. “But there are eggs you can scramble or something. They need to be used soon, I reckon.”

“Sick, thanks.” Harry presses a kiss to Louis’ temple and sets out to scramble some eggs.

***

It’s Louis’ third try answering a question when Harry successfully gets a laugh out of her. She’s standing behind the fancy cameras, behind the people with mics and the runners that are supposed to be keeping everyone on schedule, pulling ridiculous faces and doing stupid dances. Every time Louis catches her eye she seems to lose her train of thought, stumbling over the question and having to start again.

It’s pissing the interviewer off, Harry can tell. He’s a middle-aged man with a stack of cards in front of him, probably full of stats and questions he should be asking. Instead, he seems more interested in asking Louis what she thinks of her co-captains, probably angling for something scandalous to come out. He deserves to have his interview ruined.

“Sorry,” Louis giggles, brushing her fingers against her cheek. “Harry’s behind the camera making faces.”

“Harry?” The interviewer follows Louis’ gaze and frowns at Harry, who’s lifting her hands up in a mock-surrender.

“Yeah, she’s actually the new captain I’ve been training,” Louis says, and starts talking about what it was like training Harry (“awful, absolutely awful, she’s never gonna win anything, are you, Haz?” “The sponsors will love that, Lou!” “I kid, I kid, she’ll do brilliantly!”) and if Harry’s fit in, despite being new (“No, everyone hates her, she’s a social pariah,” “They worship me, Lou”). It ends up with Harry sitting on the chair, squished next to Louis. The whole interview may well have to be scrapped, and Harry’s sure they’ll be in for stern words with Simon, but fuck him, they’re having fun.

“…but at the end of the day,” Harry drawls, smiling widely at the interviewer who looks bored out of his skull. “Just don’t believe your dragon when they said they ate one cow, because they probably ate three.”

“Fascinating,” Louis deadpans. “All he asked was how you found it working with me, and you go on a ten hour ramble about Stevie lying to you about her meals. You’re something else, Styles.”

“Oh, we’re using last names now, Tomlinson?” Harry counters, prodding Louis side. It’s blatantly flirty but Harry can’t find it in herself to care, and Louis just matches Harry’s grin.

A cough bursts their little bubble; the interviewer seems to be on his last nerve. “I think that’s all I’ve got time for,” he says, thanking them both for the interview but Harry can tell he doesn’t really mean it.

“You’re distracting me,” Louis whispers in Harry’s ear while people move around, adjusting the lighting and briefing the next interviewer, a woman from BBC Sport. Harry and Louis are back in their own personal bubble again, heads bent together, bodies angled towards each other and away from everyone else. Harry barely realises they’re cutting themselves off, she’s too caught up in Louis’ magnetism.

“I’m just sitting here,” Harry protests, faking innocence. “If you don’t want my help making interviews enjoyable, just say the word and I’ll leave.”

Louis barely blinks. “Leave.”

“You know what? Nah.” Harry throws her arms around Louis’ shoulders, hugging her tightly and rocking them back and forth. Louis squirms, trying to wriggle her way out of Harry’s anaconda-grip, but she’s unsuccessful. Harry doesn’t ease up until one of the handlers tells them Louis has ninety seconds to her scheduled interview, and Harry needs to fuck off this time. Well, she didn’t say it in so many words, but the filthy look implied it.

The BBC Sport interview is a lot better from where Harry’s standing, and even better for Louis who’s actually smiling and engaging with the questions. It helps that the interviewer is a relatively young woman who Louis looks like she’s flirting with, and Harry might be bothered by that if it weren’t for the fact that Louis keeps smirking in her direction like she knows exactly what she’s doing to Harry. The interviewer asks her about her race times and what she thinks about the new routes being added to the cup, and Harry can tell it’s exactly the kind of question Louis wants to answer. She ends it with asking Louis about the increasing rumours about dragon poaching and if that’s anything to worry about.

“Well, there have always been poachers,” Louis says, expression serious. “Dragons are pretty good at taking care of themselves though, and more often than not we can stop awful things like the Edinburgh fire happening. They haven’t been too successful so far, so I guess their tactics aren’t working which hopefully means they’ll stop soon.”

The interviewer wraps things up with a final good luck wish, and the cameras stop rolling. Harry launches herself at Louis, ending up in her lap with her arms looped around Louis’ neck, only partially to spite the cute interviewer.

“Clingy,” Louis teases, but she holds Harry close so she doesn’t have a leg to stand on, really. “I think that was my last one, want to get out of here?”

“Don’t you need to film promo shots of you all dramatic and flying on Roland?” Harry asks. She’s scheduled to do that with Stevie tomorrow; get some footage of her flying on a sunny day, doing some tricks in the air and everything, so they can splice the footage with her interviews and races.

“That’s tomorrow, I think,” Louis answers. “Definitely not today, they’ve got Ben and Nick to interview today. We’re free until tomorrow. Then there’s the pap walks to do, but they’re easy enough.”

“You know that means we’re probably gonna end up fucking about with the dragons then.” It’s what they usually end up doing when they’ve got time off, neither of them capable of spending too much time apart from their dragons.

“Well, to be fair, Haz,” Louis starts, “when you’ve got dragons why would you waste an opportunity to spend time with them?”

“Point,” Harry concedes, fumbling off Louis’ lap and pulling her up to her feet. “Let’s go see our dragons!”

Going to see their dragons turns into actually trying to get their attention, since Roland and Stevie seem far too focused on their own conversations than Harry and Louis’. They’re muttering about something worryingly quiet. Dragons have never had a knack for whispering, especially Stevie, and they keep shooting calculated glances in their direction.

“Should we be worried that they’re not paying attention to us?” Harry asks, tugging the sleeves of her thin cardigan down. The resting grounds were packed with sleeping dragons, so Louis convinced them to come outside since it’s actually sunny for once. Too bad Louis forgot to factor in the wind, so Harry’s sitting in the middle of a field, trying to pretend she’s not shivering.

“Nah, you’re paying attention to me, that’s enough.” Louis sits a little closer to Harry, throwing her arm around Harry’s shoulders. Louis typically absorbs heat like nothing else, so she could be trying to steal some warmth from Harry, but Harry prefers to think she can recognise that Harry’s cold and is sharing her body heat.

“Like penguins,” Harry mutters absent-mindedly, earning her a bemused look from Louis.

“Do you ever stop talking shit?” Louis asks, amusement colouring her tone.

“We’re like penguins huddling for warmth,” Harry says by way of an explanation. “You know some penguins mate for life.”

“Only some?” Louis echoes, removing her arm from around Harry’s shoulders and linking it with Harry’s arm instead. The casualness with which she does it has Harry’s heart fluttering. “That’s a bit shit.”

“Something about Emperor penguins not wanting to wait for the same bird every mating season,” Harry says, sighing.

Louis scoffs. “Romance is dead.”

“They’re still cute though.” Harry strokes her thumb over the back of Louis’ hand, tracing the edges roughened by years of captaincy. “Though they’ve got pretty solid gender roles which is kind of off-putting when you’re ranking your favourite animals, you know?”

“I don’t, actually,” Louis replies bluntly. “I can’t say I’ve ever thought about gender roles in penguins, and how that corresponds to my feelings about them.”

“Well you should think about it,” Harry says.

“I’ve always been a fan of pandas,” Louis offers, ignoring Harry’s words. “Eating and sleeping all day, that’s the life.”

“They also do handstands when they piss to make themselves seem taller,” Harry smirks. “That’s a very you thing to do.”

“Hey!” Louis cries, shoving Harry’s shoulder. Harry loses her balance, flopping on to the grass and dragging Louis down with her. They burst into giggles, Louis wriggling so she’s lying more comfortably on Harry, their chests pressed together, grass tickling Harry’s ear.

Stevie’s snort of amusement interrupts them, loud enough to startle. She’s staring at them with something almost accusatory in her eyes, like she knows they’re keeping something from her. Harry’s yet to find a way to describe her and Louis’ relationship to Stevie in explicit terms, but maybe assuming Stevie wouldn’t pick up on the intimacy between them was selling her short.

“You alright, Stevie?” Harry asks, not moving from underneath Louis.

“Just wondering if Roland and I should leave you for some alone time,” she drawls the last two words, Roland flicking his tail in amusement.

“We’re being picked on by our dragons,” Louis says, like she can’t quite believe it. “The betrayal.”

“We can make it up to you with food and wine and more food,” Stevie says. “The way to a person’s heart is through their stomach.”

Harry has to close her eyes and just take in the absurdity of the situation. “I didn’t realise you got a crash course in human romance from Niall,” she laughs, and Louis snorts on top of her.

“Niall was very informative,” Stevie huffs, and Harry laughs again because she fucking called it. “She said you like to eat three things: chocolate, chicken, and pussy.”

Louis absolutely loses it, rolling on to her back and clutching her belly with laughter, while Harry mouths wordlessly, trying to come up with something to say to that. “Stevie!” is all she can manage, too startled to say anything else.

“Is she –” Louis wheezes, descending into another round of cackles before she can finish her sentence. “Is she wrong though?”

“Fuck you too!” Harry cries, burying her face in the grass. She feels Louis tremble next to her, and she can’t help but join in with the laughter herself. Stevie clearly had no idea what she was on about, and Harry can’t believe her life has come to dragons inadvertently making pussy jokes.

Louis nudges her, waiting until Harry’s looking at her before speaking. “Be proud of your love for eating pussy, Haz. Don’t be ashamed.”

“See if I ever eat your pussy again,” Harry mutters but she can’t stop grinning now that there’s a smile lighting up Louis’ face, feeling a little giddy with happiness. Her eyes drop to Louis’ lips, and there’s not a lot of space between them. It’d be easy to close the distance and steal a kiss.

“Am I missing something?” Stevie asks loudly.

Harry drags her gaze away from Louis to make a vague gesture at Stevie. “It’s, um. Pussy isn’t technically a food, Stevie.”

“The way you eat it, it might as well be,” Louis quips, and Harry digs her elbow into Louis’ side. “You eat it tongue first, just like you do with other food.”

Harry turns to Roland, who’s been watching the whole exchange with a casual interest. “Roland? Can you like, help me out here? There are some conversations a captain does not need to have with her dragon.”

“Sure.” Roland bats Stevie with his heavy claw, snapping his tail in the opposite direction. “We’ll give them their private time after all.”

Stevie shoots a last confused look in their direction, but dutifully follows Roland away from where they’re still lying in the field. Harry kind of wants to watch for Stevie’s reaction, but Louis’ getting up and dragging Harry with her, away from the dragons.

“Where’re we going?” Harry asks, catching up with Louis enough that she can link their hands, smiling when Louis just lets her.

“Back to my room,” Louis answers, “If we’re being given private time, we’re gonna make use of it.”

Harry sees no reason to argue with that, walking hand-in-hand with Louis up to her room at the top of the block of flats. They pass Sophia and Perrie on the way, Harry gives them a short wave but Louis drags her away before they can be sucked into a conversation or anything that would encroach upon their private time.

“I hate these stairs,” Harry pants as Louis guides her through to her room, locking the door behind them.

Louis waves her hand dismissively and latches on to Harry’s cardigan, falling loosely around her waist. “Simon’s never gonna add a lift so we’re stuck climbing.”

“A true tragedy,” Harry says, getting cut off by Louis surging forward and kissing her fiercely. Her body reacts before her mind does, listening to the slick slide of mouths moving together as she kisses Louis back. “That was unexpected,” Harry voices when they break apart, Louis’ breaths warm against Harry’s cheek.

“Was it?” Louis replies, staring at Harry’s lips, a little crease between her brows making it seem like it’s painful not to be kissing Harry. “I’ve been waiting to do this all day, since you first started pulling those stupid faces earlier and then you crashed my interview.”

“You must have strong will power if you’ve been holding off since then.” Harry leans back down to fit her lips against Louis’ again, bringing her hands up to cup Louis’ jaw as she deepens the kiss, sliding their tongues together. “I would have caved already.”

“I’m caving now,” Louis breathes, pushing Harry towards her bed. Harry falls on to the mattress with a thud, leaning back on to her elbows, and studies Louis as she strips. Her shoes come off first, no socks because she’s an animal, and she stretches her torso as she tugs off her t-shirt. Harry stares at her exposed belly, the gentle swell and curves of her hips, her eyes fixating on Louis’ small breasts, clad in a plain white t-shirt bra.

Harry’s fingers twitch with desire to reach out and touch, but she waits until Louis climbs onto her lap to settle her hands on Louis’ waist. “Not taking the leggings off?” she asks, thumbing the elastic waistband.

“On my period,” Louis answers, pausing, then sliding off Harry’s lap and heading straight for her bedside table. She opens the bottom drawer and pulls out a tampon, taking it into the ensuite, calling out, “Just be a sec” from behind the closed door.

“And here I was hoping to eat you out,” Harry sighs, kicking off her shoes and flopping back on to the bed. Fucking periods.

“Aw, poor you,” Louis gripes, the tear of plastic audible through the door. “You’ll just have to settle for me giving you head. What a martyr you are.”

Harry rolls her eyes, picking up a picture frame on Louis’ bedside table, just in front of the stuffed toy, Charizard. It’s a fair-sized photo of Louis and what looks to be her family, arms thrown around her mum’s shoulders, a hoard of girls grinning around them. Louis doesn’t look too different from how she looks now, so the picture can’t be more than a few years old. “That doesn’t seem very fair,” Harry says when Louis comes out of the bathroom. “Me getting an orgasm and you going without.”

Louis raises her brows. “Are you turning me down?”

“No,” Harry says quickly. She’s really not passing up on opportunity to get Louis’ mouth on her pussy. “Just making sure. You certain you don’t want me to get you off? We could do it in the shower, all the blood would go straight down the drain.”

“It’s fine,” Louis assures her, climbing back on the bed and straddling Harry’s hips. She takes the frame from Harry and sets it back on the bedside table, linking their hands. “Maybe next time, now we can have fun with you.”

The casual “next time” has Harry grinning. It means Louis’ thinking about a future involving Harry, and Harry’s always been easy for domesticity. She pushes up to catch Louis in a kiss, nibbling on her lower lip until it’s swollen and a deep red.

“Lie down,” Louis instructs, pressing chaste kisses to the corners of Harry’s lips. She lifts herself off Harry so she can move, propping her head up on Louis’ pillow and her hair fanning out. Louis helps her get rid of her own cardigan, vest top and jeans then, until she’s in nothing but her underwear. “You’re beautiful, kitten,” Louis says breathlessly, drawing lines across Harry’s torso with delicate fingers, fiddling with the little bow at the centre of her bra, between her breasts. Harry comes alive under Louis’ touch, her skin prickling in Louis’ wake.

“Like it when you touch me,” Harry hums, her belly shivering as Louis flits her warm hands over it, thumbs ghosting over Harry’s naval.

“I want to touch you all the time,” Louis tells her, eyes sweeping over Harry’s body, drinking in the sight of her. “You don’t even know. When you were distracting me earlier, all I could think about was calling you over and kissing you senseless.”

Harry grins, wiggling her eyebrows. “Would have made a good headline.”

Louis just hums non-committedly and ducks her head to kiss a slow, wet trail down Harry’s neck to her sternum. Her lips are soft as they press on the swell of Harry’s breasts, a quiet noise accompanying each kiss, followed by Harry’s soft gasp. “You’d like that,” is all Louis says, slipping her hands underneath Harry and feeling for the clasp of her bra. It takes a few tries to get it undone, the angle isn’t the best and Harry suspects Louis’ not had much experience with three-clasp bras when her own never go above two, but she gets it in the end. Harry extends her arms for Louis to pull it off, not bothering to watch it fly across the room because Louis’ subconsciously licking her lower lip, staring at Harry’s breasts.

“And you like my tits,” Harry counters, the cool air of the room making her nipples stiffen under Louis gaze.

“Never a question about that,” Louis says, leaning in and resuming her trail of kisses, this time with intent. She holds Harry’s hands to the mattress as she wraps her lips around Harry’s right nipple, sucking it into her mouth and flicking it with her tongue. Harry moans softly, arching up as Louis sucks harder, humming so the vibrations rack through Harry. She switches to the other nipple quickly, letting one of Harry’s hands go to roll the other between her fingers, the residual spit only amplifying the cool air.

Lou,” Harry gasps, tangling her free hand in the sheets, heat flaring in her cunt as Louis alternates her attention between her nipples, her hand massaging whichever breast is unoccupied. Louis’ little moans fill the room, with the wet sucking sounds, and Harry thinks Louis would be happy to do this forever. She certainly would be. With the right kind of attention, Harry suspects she could come from just having her nipples played with.

Louis pulls off before Harry can get there though, kissing down her stomach and along the waistband of her underwear. She pulls it off slowly, casting it aside and pushing apart Harry’s thighs. Warm breath tickles over her cunt, and Harry bites her lip as she watches Louis move.

“Been thinking about this all day,” Louis says before parting Harry’s lips and dragging her tongue along her slit, flicking it over Harry’s swollen clit. Harry shudders, her eyes fluttering shut as Louis repeats the motion, licking into Harry’s pussy until her slick is coating Louis’ cheeks.

When Louis starts sucking Harry’s clit, holding her hips down as she works, Harry’s moans get louder and more desperate. She doesn’t think she can be blamed, when Louis’ deft, wet tongue is laving over her clit until she’s on the verge of coming, and switching to lap at her hole, fucking inside and eating her out until she’s cooled off again. Harry’s hot and squirming after a couple of cycles, sweat beading at her temples from being kept on the edge. Louis’ barely coming up for breath, throwing herself into it completely and making sure she wrecks Harry with her mouth. It’s fucking working.

“Kitten,” Louis whispers when she sucks a bruise on to Harry’s inner thigh, the red blotch stark against Harry’s pale skin. One of her hands creeps across Harry’s abdomen to tug at Harry’s pubic hair, the sharp twinge of pain only amplifying how turned on she is. “Ready to come?”

“Yeah,” Harry gasps out, nodding eagerly. Anything to get Louis’ tongue back in her pussy. “Fuck, Lou, ‘m ready.”

Louis nods, kissing Harry’s thighs one final time, leaving splashes of slick on Harry’s skin, before diving back onto her cunt. She eats her out with renewed vigour, her jaw working to get her tongue as deep into Harry as she can, and Harry’s thighs are shaking, her fists balled up in Louis’ duvet. All it takes is for Louis to switch, licking over Harry’s clit with her pointed tongue, and Harry’s coming against her mouth.

It takes a long moment for the pleasure to fade, what with Louis persistently eating her out, and Harry’s a mess when she finally pulls away. Her body’s red all over, hair mussed from her head tossing about on the pillow, and she’s sure she looks like she’s well out of it. Louis isn’t faring much better, with Harry’s wetness smeared all over her lower face, lips plump and eyes obscenely dark. She really hopes Louis’ reconsidered letting Harry get her off in the shower.

“I have something,” Louis rasps, her voice sending chills down Harry’s spine. She wipes her face clean and rubs the wetness on her leggings, and Harry only pouts a little at not getting to lick it up. “If you can go again?”

“I can go again,” Harry replies, because how could she not? Louis’ in front of her looking like sin personified after eating her out. She can definitely go again. “What mysterious thing do you have?”

“It’s not that mysterious. Just something I’ve been thinking about.” Louis reaches over Harry back into the bottom drawer of her nightstand and pulls out a pale blue vibrator. Harry’s heart picks up instantly, her mind flooded with images of Louis lying right where she is now, fucking herself with the vibe, trying out the different settings until she finds one she likes and drives it into herself until she’s coming.

“Fuck, um,” Harry breaks off, swallowing air.

“It’s not going in your arse or anything, so we shouldn’t need a condom,” Louis says, cradling the toy in her delicate fingers. Arousal spikes inside Harry just watching her touch it, let alone thinking about Louis using it on her. “I’ve never shared it before and I’m clean, so...”

Harry blushes. “You clean it, right?”

Louis nods, tapping the rounded tip of the vibe. “Yeah, after every use.”

“No condom is fine then,” Harry declares. “I’m clean too and I trust you. We’ll just make sure it’s clean before you use it again. Going downstairs and getting one of mine would be a lot of hassle anyway.”

Louis smirks, sliding the tip of the vibrator over Harry’s stomach. “How many d’you have?”

“Three, it’s not that many!” Harry protests, tracking the vibe’s every move. It’s not too thick, and more or less the same length as Louis’ hand from her middle-finger to the base of her palm. The silicone is cool against Harry’s heated skin, her pussy clenching at the prospect of getting fucked with it. “Just a finger thingy for clits, a bullet, and a remote controlled one.”

Louis stops. “You have a remote controlled vibe?”

“Yeah, I bought it with my ex in my second year of uni,” Harry says, biting her lip. “But like, it was technically mine because only I ever used it, so I still have it.”

Louis starts moving the vibrator again, dragging it over dark hair and to the edge of her lips, teasing it in slow circles. “Did she ever use the remote?”

It takes Harry a moment to collect her thoughts enough to answer. “In bed, she’d use it sometimes, like, if we’d want to draw it out, she’d tease me with it. But um, one time,” Harry cuts herself off with a gasp; Louis dips the vibe lower, brushing over her sensitive clit. “Fuck, one time I wanted to use it outside, like the vibe in my underwear and her with the remote.”

Louis turns the toy on and Harry’s words are swallowed by a sharp moan, the vibrations powerful on her clit. They rack through her body, making it difficult to focus on anything but the firm silicone buzzing over her pussy. “Did you use it?” Louis asks, pressing the vibe harder against Harry until she answers.

“Yeah,” she gasps, squeezing her eyes shut, brows creasing. “Yeah – ah – we went shopping for um, for clothes, I think, and she had the remote in her pocket. She kept – oh fuck.” The vibrations get stronger and Harry’s memories get more unclear. She can’t think about her ex when Louis’ right here, teasing her slit with her own vibrator. “She’d like, surprise me with it, turn it on when I’d least expect it. In the changing rooms and – Louis – when I bought something.”

Louis turns the vibrations off, and Harry can finally breathe again. She presses the tip to Harry’s slick hole, feeding it in an inch of two, just enough for her to feel it. “Did you like that, kitten? Getting all worked up in the middle of a busy shop, only the two of you knowing you had a vibe working your clit.”

Yes,” Harry moans. Louis pushes the toy in another inch.

“What about her having control over the remote?” Louis continues, breathless herself, like she’s the one getting fucked. “I bet it got you so wet, knowing she could make you come at any point and you were helpless to stop it.”

The vibrator slips in all the way and Harry groans at the fullness. The toy is firm inside her, thick enough that she feels the stretch, but not so thick it hurts. Louis keeps it still until she adjusts, but Harry starts bucking her hips almost straight away, desperate for her to start fucking her with it.

“She did,” Harry adds as an afterthought. “Make me come. We were in a café, my favourite one in the city, and I had to order our drinks – oh my God.”

The vibrations are back, more intense than before, and Louis’ thrusting the toy slowly, the wet drag of silicone through her slick. Harry can’t even think, she’s so turned on. Her eyes fly open to take in the sight of Louis, staring right back at her as she moves the toy.

“What then, kitten?” Louis asks, voice low.

Harry whines at the memory of standing in front of a faceless girl at the counter, trying to remember their order when all she could focus on was the intense buzzing inside her. “The girl at the counter, she – she asked me if I was alright when I couldn’t – ah, ah – remember the order. Said I looked warm and flushed, and then – Lou, fuck – my ex, she turned it up to the final setting, I think, and it was so intense, God, I just came.”

Louis’ pace is relentless now, fucking her deep and hard, the vibrations reverberating to Harry’s core. Her clit aches for some stimulation too, and like Louis can read her mind, the next moment she’s rubbing the thumb of her free hand over it, playing Harry’s body like an instrument. “Bet it didn’t feel as good as this,” Louis whispers, barely loud enough to be heard of the vibrator.

“It didn’t, it didn’t,” Harry repeats, tossing her head back and clutching the sheets. All her muscles are tensed up, her body on edge, on the verge of coming a second time. She remembers the humiliation of coming in the middle of a café, and how hot that made her. How she had to run into the bathroom and take the vibe out before she came again.

All it takes is Louis closing her lips over Harry’s clit, wet and warm over the nub, and Harry’s coming with a shout. The vibrations drag her orgasm out until she’s a panting, overstimulated mess on Louis’ bed, and Louis finally grants her the relief of turning off the toy and pulling it out.

“Just gonna wash it,” Louis says, kissing Harry’s cheek and darting into the bathroom.

Harry spends the few minutes alone catching her breath and cooling down. She stares at Louis’ ceiling as her heart slows, her pussy aching as a result of two orgasms. She should probably clean up or something, there’s a few damp spots on the duvet, but she honestly can’t find it in herself to move.

“You alright?” Louis asks when she returns from the ensuite, putting the freshly cleaned vibrator back into the bottom drawer and lying next to Harry on the bed. She lies on her side, resting a hand on Harry’s stomach, tracing idle patterns on to her skin.

“Yeah,” Harry says, her voice cracking at the end. “Yeah, that was really good. Kinda liked the possessive undertones, but only because it wasn’t too much, you know?”

Louis hums, looking up at Harry from underneath her lashes. “Yeah, I promise I’m not a jealous kind of person or anything. Not like that.”

“I get it,” Harry assures her, because Louis really isn’t like that. She never has a problem with Harry spending time with other people that aren’t her, unless it’s a jokey ‘why aren’t you paying attention to me’ kind of way when they’re in a big group, which Harry finds endearing. Even if she’d never admit that to Louis. “It was hot. And besides, I like you more than I ever liked her, so…”

Louis visibly perks up at that. Harry has to resist the urge to laugh. “So did you really come in front of a barista?”

“I did and it was fucking embarrassing,” Harry groans, burying her face in the pillow. “I had to sneak out of the café and send my ex back in with a huge tip and an apology, oh my God. I could never go there again. It was my favourite place and I couldn’t even walk past it without remembering.”

“That is embarrassing,” Louis says, kissing Harry’s shoulder lightly.

“Your turn now.” Harry prods Louis’ side. “Come on, you must have some embarrassing sex stories.”

“Alright, alright, I’ve got a few.” Louis rolls onto her back, fingers drumming against her stomach as she thinks. “So me and Liam used to have this like, casual sex kinda thing, right? And you know how Liam’s always been a bit intense about her workouts, uses actual weights and shit? Well, we were about to fuck one evening and she picked me up to throw me against the wall all sexy like, except she underestimated her own strength and slammed me too hard. Ended up with a concussion and everything. Had to spend my evening under the watchful eye of James down at the medical centre. The fresh lovebites were pretty hard to explain.”

“Suddenly I feel a lot better about coming in public,” Harry laughs and presses her lips to Louis’ cheek. “So you and Liam, huh? That’s pretty hot.”

“God, that was so long ago.” Louis tries to cover her face with her hands but Harry doesn’t let her, twining their fingers together and squeezing. “Like, there was never anything romantic, me and Liam were never like that, but I don’t know, it was just a thing. We stopped when Sophia moved here from the Welsh training grounds after like, half a year? We’re not isolated here, like, the city isn’t that far away and I travel for the European cup pretty much every year now, and I’m friends with a lot of other captains from other training grounds, but growing up with the same people since you were eleven and knowing them for so long… I dunno, romantic relationships never really formed for me.”

The ‘until now’ is silent, but with how Louis’ looking at Harry as she speaks, soft and almost wistful, Harry thinks she can hear it anyway. “Nothing wrong with that,” Harry adds. “I suppose it made racing easier?”

“Well, I found plenty of ways to distract myself otherwise,” Louis says. “I’ve always been committed to racing, and nothing changes that, but it doesn’t mean I can’t do romance at the same time, you know? It’s not all or nothing. And I think.” Louis pauses, taking a frustrated breath. “I think that’s part of why I wanted to be out straight away, like. I never wanted to hide, be it my sexuality or my girlfriend, and I mean, I was single at the time but I knew I wouldn’t be single forever and racing is…it’s not like other industries. I’m a guaranteed money-maker because I was good then and I’m even better now. So like, sure, being a lesbian and being kinda butch earns me a lot of grief, and they can undermine my achievements all they like, but I’m consistently winning and earning them money, so they can go fuck themselves if they don’t like it.”

Harry just stares as Louis finishes speaking, so overwhelmed with admiration and pride for Louis. She can’t believe that anyone would say a bad word about her. “You’re fantastic,” Harry says, eventually. “As you know, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to racing before all of this, but there are gonna be girls all around the world that love it, and some of those girls will be into girls too, and you’re an inspiration to them. You deserve all the praise in the world for that.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Louis dismisses, and Harry squeezes her hands again.

“I would go that far, Lou,” she insists. “You must know how important representation is, and for all those girls seeing you achieve so much despite the bullshit, it’s honestly inspiring. You’re making it easier for other people to come out too, now that you’ve paved the way. Like me. I told Simon the other day that I want to come out. I’ve been out of the closet since I was sixteen, and I’m not letting them put me back in it. Not when me and well, Stevie mostly, are so valuable, even if we’re not quite as promising as you and Roland were.”

Louis nudges her knee against Harry’s, hands occupied. “Hey, you’ll do really well, okay? Trained you myself, didn’t I?”

“Yep, and everyone’s gonna know it once those interviews air.” Harry grins.

“Speaking of which, we should probably get back and maybe terrorise Ben during his.” Louis smirks. “I wanna see if anyone comments on his hair.”

***

Harry’s debut interview goes well, all things considered. She manages to nail everything they wanted her to talk about, and avoids the blacklisted topics. Promo shots of her and Stevie flying are filmed, print articles are written, and Harry gains a couple thousand followers on Twitter. She even gets coerced into setting up a Twitter account for Stevie, and tweeting for her since Stevie’s smallest claw would smash Harry’s phone. She keeps training with Niall and Sophia, and by mid-August Harry’s genuinely excited for the races to begin in September.

It’s the last week of August when Harry’s woken up by Louis whacking her with a pillow. It’s almost pitch black in Harry’s room, only the thin sliver of moonlight shining through the white blinds, but she can tell that Louis’ enjoying every second of waking Harry up.

“Can you ever just let me live?” Harry groans, weakly pushing at Louis’ thighs from where they’re straddling her hips. The pillow on her face muffles her voice, so Louis tears it off and chucks it to the side.

“Get up and get dressed,” Louis instructs, way too chipper for whatever time it is. Harry glances at her clock. Fucking 00:37. “We’re going out.”

Why?” Harry whines, trying to tug the duvet over her shoulders again but Louis just rips that off too, chucking it onto the floor. Harry doesn’t bother to cover herself, it’s nothing Louis hasn’t seen before, and instead digs her palms into her eyes. “I fucking hate you.”

“Because, dear Harold, we’re going racing,” Louis says, reaching over and flicking Harry’s lamp on. “I’ll explain while you get dressed. Let’s go.”

“Fine,” Harry relents, wriggling out from under Louis and squinting until she adjusts to the bright light. Louis’ actually in her full riding kit, hair clipped back and everything, so unless she’s gone for a very elaborate prank (not out of the realm of possibilities), this is a legit thing.

“Back when it was deemed unethical to use dragons in military and dragon racing was first being set up, the government had to do a lot of appealing to the general public,” Louis explains, while Harry sets about finding her kit. “Because of course, everyone thought dragons were these big scary beasts that would eat everyone, and they thought riders were nothing more than uneducated animal tamers. So, they put a law in place that made it illegal to race dragons outside of government monitored and authorised races, with exceptions for training purposes.”

Harry dresses quickly and grabs a hair tie from her nightstand, holding it up to Louis in offering. Louis takes it, gesturing for Harry to sit in front of her, and starts on her plaits. “Still doesn’t explain why we’re riding at one in the morning, Lou.”

“I’ll get there,” Louis chides, tugging on a lock of Harry’s hair. “Well, once every year, most of the captains in the UK get together at night and have one big, unauthorised drag race. The date changes every year and different captains are in charge of organising it so it can be kept a secret easier, and tonight is this year’s race. It’s just captains and their dragons, no lieutenants or anything, and the weight class divides still stand in the interest of fairness, but it’s a lot of fun. You in?”

Louis finishes Harry’s plait, so Harry thanks her with a kiss on the cheek. “I’m already dressed, aren’t I? Do we have to sneak out the dragons? Because I don’t think Stevie can do sneaky. And how are we meant to sneak out past the guards? They do night shifts, don’t they?”

“I went and told Roland so he’s gonna rally all the dragons,” Louis says, sliding off the bed. “I reckon at least Nick, Ben and Cheryl are coming too, probably the other lads as well. I don’t know if Caroline’s coming since she lives outside of the grounds and she might not think the trip is worth it. Nick’s taking care of the guards. He’s talked them into letting us leave, he’s just got to convince them not to tell Simon. I reckon he’ll end up bribing them.”

“That doesn’t look good on them if Simon finds out,” Harry says. The whole reason the training grounds are guarded now is to protect the dragons and eggs from poachers after the Edinburgh fire. Security guards that accept bribes aren’t exactly trustworthy.

“Simon doesn’t stay here, he’s got a place in the city,” Louis replies, taking Harry’s hand and pulling her off the bed. “We’ll be back before he arrives, so he shouldn’t find out. If he does, we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it. Now let’s get a move on.”

Stevie and Roland are waiting in the gravel carpark at the entrance to the grounds when Harry and Louis arrive with their harnesses and the flags specifically for night use. They’re outlined with reflective stripes that match the colour of the flag, made of high-visibility material. They make quick work of getting them on, and join a few other captains to follow Louis to some random location not too far from their grounds. The guards give them clearance to go, not that they could stop them if they hadn’t.

The flight isn’t that long and they don’t go too quickly so as not to risk tiring their dragons out, but it’s the first time Harry’s ever flown at night and it’s incredible. Sure, it’s a lot colder, but the sky is pretty clear of clouds, and the stars are bright in the countryside. It makes for an incredible sight. Harry even risks losing her phone to snap a quick picture of the horizon, and maybe one of Louis flying a little ways in front of her too. She’ll upload them to Twitter later.

Harry spots a horde of dragons in the distance after twenty minutes or so, marking their destination. Even in the dark, Harry can see the muted colours of different scales, flashes of giant teeth glinting in the moonlight, and even the captains standing around as they fly closer. The group is larger than Harry’s ever seen before, too many dragons moving around too much to count, but there must be three times as many dragons here as there are back at the training grounds.

Louis signals for them to land, reflective stripes catching the light. Harry’s glad she can manage it without wanting to throw up now. No better way to endear herself to new people than throwing up right in front of them. Once she’s off Stevie, she sticks close, overwhelmed by the many pairs of eyes trained on her.

“Took you long enough!” Someone calls out, walking over to Nick and clapping him on the back.

Louis appears at Harry’s side, resting her hand on the small of Harry’s back and leaning close. “That’s Peter, he’s the one that organised it this year. Captain of that Grand Chevalier, Hector, over there.”

Harry spots Hector easily, the dragon’s larger than the rest, even Roland. He’s staring at them with luminescent yellow eyes, so Harry offers a tentative wave in his direction. Spurred on by Harry’s gesture, Stevie crawls over to where he’s sitting, striking up a conversation and leaving Harry in the dust.

Before Harry can comment, Louis’ waving over a middle-aged woman and a long, slim red dragon. “Kate!” she greets, smiling warmly at the woman. “It’s been a while. This is Harry, our newest captain this year.”

“Hi.” Harry offers her hand, shaking Kate’s. “Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Kate replies, an Edinburgh accent prominent even after just one word.

“Who’s left to come?” Louis asks, intercepting smoothly.

“Just the Cornwall lot,” Kate answers, reaching out to stroke the snout of her dragon, who’s yawning widely. Harry can sympathise. “Should be here any minute. Lightweights are racing first too, so you got a lot longer to wait, lass.”

“Eh, I’ve got Harry here to keep me company.” Louis winks and slides her arm around Harry’s waist. “Oh, how’s it up in Edinburgh after the fire?”

“A few days ago we scattered the ashes of the dragons that passed,” Kate says solemnly, her hand resting protectively on the top of her dragon's head. Harry watches, completely unable to imagine losing Stevie and she’s only been a captain for a few months. “And we’re looking at trading for some new eggs, a lot of ours got lost in the fire. Good thing is they caught the cunts that started it.”

“Poachers?” Harry asks.

“Aye, the police found their base in Scotland and shut it down,” Kate says, fierce satisfaction painting her face. “They’ve got leads on some of the other bases in the UK. The scumbags are getting desperate, but they won’t be around too much longer if we’re lucky.”

“Hopefully,” Louis adds, squeezing Harry’s waist. “It’s fucking disgusting what they’re doing.”

Kate nods, her hand dislodged by her dragon sitting up straight, craning its neck in the air. “I see more dragons,” it rasps.

“Best be getting ready then,” Kate says, reaching out to pat both of their shoulders. “Best of luck to you both.”

“You too!” Harry replies, watching Kate and her dragon slink away so it’s just her and Louis left. She pushes thoughts of poachers and losing Stevie out of her mind, covering Louis’ hand with her own and beaming brightly. “You know a lot of the people here, right? Fancy introducing me to some more?”

It turns out Louis knows everyone here, and they end up networking, as Louis jokingly puts it, right up until the middleweights are called to starting position, and Harry has to track down Stevie amongst the crowd. Louis sticks with her until she’s ready to be lifted to strap herself in, the realisation that this is her first race actually hitting her.

“What if I’m shit?” She hisses, gripping Louis’ forearms with tight hands. “What if I come last?”

“I’ll eat my fucking shoe if you come last, babe,” Louis says, leaning her face close to Harry’s. “Here, a kiss for good luck.” She pecks Harry’s cheek and steps away. “Now get on before you don’t race at all.”

Harry ducks in for another kiss, on the lips this time, and winks as she taps Stevie’s arm, signalling for her to be lifted. Strapping herself into the harness is routine at this point, and she checks to make sure she’s got all the flags in place, the reins firm in her grip.

Louis’ too far away for Harry to locate her now, so she focuses on Peter, standing in front of all the dragons. He’s yelling something about the route, directly west until the lighthouse, follow the coastline south until the cliffs, and back east then to the starting point. The whole thing should be around fifty miles. He holds up a chequered flag, ready to be dropped, and Harry takes a deep breath.

When the flag drops, Stevie’s off like a rocket, and Harry just manages to keep her wits about her long enough to guide her in the right direction. Over the summer, Harry’s worked on increasing Stevie’s stamina as much as she can, so fifty miles is doable at a fairly high speed, but Harry doesn’t want to push it so she pulls the reins for Stevie to keep her flying steady.

Her surroundings blur as she focuses on the winds, indicating for Stevie to rise or fall as needed. By the time she hooks around the lighthouse, she can spot six or so dragons ahead of her, with Nick leading. She pushes Stevie to go a little bit faster, carefully edging on the racer in front without wearing her out.

When they reach the cliffs, turning sharply, the winds are coming from behind them so Harry uses it to her advantage. She tugs on the reins to tell Stevie to speed up, feels her body shift as she beats her wings in powerful movements, gliding between. Harry’s heart is racing in her chest as she overtakes a dragon, and then two more. She catches a glimpse of the finish line in the distance and pushes Stevie harder for the final stretch.

Finishing her first race is exhilarating. When Stevie dips suddenly, careening towards the ground at an insane speed, an elated scream is torn from Harry’s lips. The dropping sensation in her stomach is welcome now, the gap between the ground and Stevie closing by hundreds of metres every second. Harry can see the dragons that have already finished and the other captains watching, all giving them space to land. With the wind rushing in Harry’s ears, Stevie veers sharply at the last possible second, hitting the ground with a heavy thud.

There’s a moment of Harry sat in shock, trying to wrap her head around finishing her first race — fuck, she did that — and then she’s grinning wildly. She unstraps herself and crawls off Stevie, praising her for earning them a fourth place position. Louis comes barrelling into her when she finally stops kissing Stevie’s lowered head, almost knocking her over.

“You fucking smashed it!” Louis cries, peppering kisses all over Harry’s face this time, hugging her from behind. “You and Stevie are naturals.”

Harry squirms, her grin getting impossibly wider, and turns so she can return the kisses. “I had so much fun,” she says breathlessly. “It was fucking incredible, oh my God.”

“It really is,” Louis agrees, casting a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure they’re not being stared at. Harry follows her line of vision, not picking up on anyone sending them filthy looks, and if there were, she’s sure Stevie would have something to say about it. “I’m up in a few minutes. Should probably find Roland.”

“Might be difficult to race a dragon without a dragon,” Harry hums, coaxing Louis into another, slower kiss. Even in the cold of the night, with wind burnt cheeks and trembling fingers, Harry feels safe and warm in Louis’ arms. When the kiss ends, it ends all too soon.

“If you keep training and getting better, you’re gonna be unbelievable come September,” Louis says earnestly, putting some distance between them. Harry barely resists the urge to get rid of it. “You too, Stevie, you work together really well,” she adds, beaming at Stevie who’d been catching her breath as she watches them with a fond expression. As fond as a dragon’s face can get, at least.

At Louis’ compliment, Stevie turns bashful, ducking her head and flicking her tail excitedly. It’s possibly the cutest thing Harry’s seen.

“Good luck,” Harry says to Louis, returning the good luck kiss Louis bestowed on her earlier. “Not that you’ll need it, you know. I have complete faith that you’ll dominate this race.”

Louis’ answering smile is breathtaking. “A little luck never hurt,” she says, squeezing Harry’s hand once before heading off in search of Roland.

Experiencing her own race was amazing, but there’s a thrill to watching Louis race that Harry’s never been able to find anywhere else. She can’t see much of her, especially when they take off hundreds of metres in the air, but Harry can picture her determined expression, the cool set to her jaw as she makes perfectly calculated decisions mid-flight. It’s incredible to witness, and no surprise at all when Louis returns in first place, a good thirty seconds before everyone else.

“Amazing,” Harry whispers in her ear when she finally pulls Louis away from everyone, the congratulations coming from every angle. “I told you you’d smash it.”

“My biggest fan,” Louis teases, but Harry just nods in agreement because it’s true. She’s unbelievably proud of Louis, and loves watching her race. Though maybe to be her biggest fan she should steal Niall’s collection of magazines. She’s already stolen one, to be fair. The others wouldn’t be hard to liberate.

Harry yawns, the adrenaline of her own race wearing off, and the crowd slowly dispersing. She hasn’t checked her phone in a while but it has to be somewhere gone three AM, and the lack of sleep is really catching up to her. “Your biggest fan needs to crash, we’ve still got training in the morning, right?”

“Correct,” Louis allows, linking their arms and waving at Stevie and Roland where they’re wrapped around Nick’s dragon, Gabriel. “Let’s head home, yeah?”

Sneaking back into the training grounds and up to Harry’s room takes longer than Harry anticipated, so they’re not crashing in Harry’s bed until quarter to four. It’s not quite getting light outside, but give it an hour and there’ll be birds chirping and sun shining. The thought makes Harry want to groan and bury her face in Louis’ shoulder, but of course, the second her head hits the pillow she’s too wired to sleep.

“Thanks for taking me tonight,” she whispers after ten minutes, just to test if Louis still awake.

“Of course I took you,” comes Louis’ croaky reply. She stares softly at Harry, bringing a hand up to caress her jaw, and Harry feels breathless. Louis is exquisite in the moonlight.

“You know, when I first came here and had to call my mum to tell her I accidentally became the captain of a dragon, I said it all felt a little like fate,” Harry says quietly. “Think about how one little thing could have changed everything. If I had taken a taxi home instead of walking, if I had left the egg, if I hadn’t gone into the hatching grounds with Niall, if Stevie hadn’t picked me. And that was before I met you and thought you were an absolute arse for the first two weeks, but looking back on it and just meeting…” Harry trails off, thinking you. “Meeting everyone, it kinda feels like it was meant to be. I had until September to decide what I wanted to do, like did I want to start a career? Get a job to save money to go travelling? Anything, I guess, but I had no idea what I wanted to do. So yeah, fate.”

“I’m glad you did steal the dragon egg,” Louis murmurs, stroking Harry’s cheek. “I’m glad you came here and that I met you. God, you don’t know how much more enjoyable things are with you around. Not that they were bad before, but like, all those interviews earlier this month were so much more bearable with you coming and derailing them so I didn’t have to listen to and answer the same awful questions. And like, I know a lot of the other girls here aren’t straight and I don’t wanna like, dismiss that, but none of them are captains like we are so they’re not in the public eye in the same way, and I didn’t realise how badly I wanted someone to understand what it’s like until you came along. To be able to go to things like this race and just be with you, it’s like…”

Louis breaks off, turning on her side and resting her weight on her elbows, leaning over Harry. “When I first saw the comments and responses to my debut interview and my first race, I cried. Proper ugly sobbing in my bed for hours, 'cause like… I had these two friends in primary school that I was really close with, but as we got older it was clear that our interests didn’t…mesh. When they started taking an interest in make-up and fashion and boys, when they started caring about shaving, I didn't. But I still considered them to be my friends, and when I came back from the academy for the summer, I was excited to see them. I stupidly thought that nothing would have changed, but that summer was hell. They were constantly making fun of me for my short hair and the fact that I didn’t shave and how I dressed like a boy, not to mention that at this point I had a pretty good indication I was into girls the way they liked boys. Whenever they actually included me in their plans it was awful, but they were my only friends in Donny, so what could I do? But at the end of the summer they’d had enough or something, and just turned on me. Started calling me a dyke, said they thought I was nasty and that they didn’t want to spend too much time with me in case I tried something.”

Harry’s heart hurts. “Louis—”

“So they were right foul,” Louis continues, ignoring the welling of tears in her eyes. “And when I went back to the academy in September, I started shaving, tried using make-up and wearing nicer, more feminine clothes, and I tried so hard to find boys I could stand liking. And it was awful. It was my worst year, it really was. I was so fucking miserable, and Zayn, Niall, Liam, they didn’t care that I was a tomboy, or that I never found a guy I liked. They loved me as I was, but it took me so long to get there myself.

“And there is a point to this sob story, I promise. When I read those comments and saw my reception, slurs everywhere, people saying I shouldn’t be allowed to ride, doubting I’d do a good job, it put me back to that hell year and I just bawled until I literally couldn’t anymore.”

Harry flashes back to reading the articles online a few weeks ago, the onslaught of hate in the comments. Just thinking about it has Harry’s eyes burning. She’s dealt with homophobia in the past, and she’s not naive, she knows so many sports communities aren’t exactly tolerant, but seeing the shit Louis deals with on a daily basis and how she thrives despite it all… it’s important to Harry.

“Being twenty at that point and a lot more sure of myself than I was when I was thirteen, I decided to use those feelings to make myself better, you know?” Louis brushes her fringe to the side. “Prove that I could be the best and be butch as hell. That just because I’m a lesbian doesn’t mean I’m not a good captain. And like, I know I’m the only out captain right now, and I resigned myself to living like that for years, so when you showed up, gay and proud and accepting me, even after I made you feel like shit for two weeks, Harry, it means the world to me, and I can’t tell you enough how glad I am that you’re here. Babe, are you crying?”

I love you sits at the tip of Harry’s tongue. She’s never been in love before, always thought it’d be this dramatic realisation full of butterflies in her stomach and sweaty palms. Instead, it’s Louis in the moonlight, pouring her heart out to Harry and then asking if she’s okay. It’s an oh in the back of her mind, a deep feeling of satisfaction that this is what’s right. It’s infinitely better that what she ever imagined.

“Only a little,” Harry chokes out, letting Louis wipe the tears from her cheeks. “I just…God, you’re the best person I know and you always pull out these fucking soliloquies that make me cry.”

“You’re gonna give me a big head,” Louis giggles, blinking back her own tears. Harry’s so fucking in love with her.

“You’ve already got a big head,” Harry says around a yawn, and maybe she’ll actually get some sleep now. “Can you use it to block the sun when it rises? I kind of want to get some decent sleep.”

“Fuck off,” Louis grumbles, flopping back on to the pillow and aligning herself against Harry’s back. She presses her lips to the nape of Harry’s neck, her arm around Harry’s waist. They’ve got this cuddling thing down to an art.

***

“You know, for all the time that I’ve been here,” Harry starts, approaching Louis after they’ve finished running morning drills. Since they’re not flying proper courses, it’s just her and Louis, Niall and Zayn helping Liam finalise the details on new harnesses for the races in a week’s time. “We’ve never actually raced against each other.”

Louis pauses, mid-way through unbuckling part of Roland’s harness. “Really?”

“Yeah,” Harry confirms. “Like I thought for sure we’d race in the first two weeks ‘cause I’d have to defend my honour or something, otherwise you’d kick me out or just refuse to train me, and I would have failed miserably. So, d’you fancy it?”

“Racing you?” Louis cocks her hip, smirking at Harry. “Babe, you know we have the weight classes for a reason. Smaller and lighter dragons are more aerodynamic and therefore faster.”

Harry smirks. “Sounds like chicken talk to me. What d’you think, Stevie?”

“You are making an awful lot of excuses, Louis,” Stevie teases.

Louis narrows her eyes at them. “Oh, you’re on. Never let it be said that Roland and I back down from a challenge. You wanna make it interesting, though?”

“A bet?” Harry asks.

“Loser has to do something for the winner,” Louis says, re-buckling Roland’s harness. “Sounds fair?”

“Sure.” Harry ducks in for a quick kiss, winking over her shoulder when she hurries over to Stevie. “Better start thinking of what I’ll get you to do when I win.”

“Cocky,” Louis retorts, but Harry’s being lifted back on to Stevie before she can get any further with her reply. “To the hills and back?”

Harry gives her two thumbs up and grabs Stevie’s reins tightly. Louis quickly assembles herself and starts the countdown. When she gets to ‘Go!’ Harry snaps the reins and Stevie takes off, soaring up high. The course Louis picked isn’t difficult, they both know that, and it’s not long, so Harry pushes Stevie as hard and as fast as she’ll go. She keeps her distance from Louis, knowing that Roland’s powerful wings will fuck up Stevie’s glide if she gets too close.

They’re more or less neck-and-neck when they circle around the highest hill. Harry can barely breathe, she’s so wired, her heart pumping a million miles a minute. It’s a testament to Louis and Roland’s skill that they’re drawing with her, a slimmer, naturally quicker dragon, but Harry’s determined to win this. To prove to herself that she can, at the very least.

Just as they’re reaching the finish line barely a minute later, clouds rushing past them, Stevie edges forward, diving quickly and crashing to the ground seconds before Louis. Harry holds on for her life as she jolts forward, immensely grateful for the straps keeping her from flying off the saddle. It doesn’t hit her that she won until she’s sliding off Stevie and staring at Louis’ bright grin.

“Congrats, babe,” Louis says, giving her a slow clap. “You earned that.”

“Why thank you.” Harry does a mock bow, winking. “What to ask for, now that I’ve won the bet?”

“The world’s your oyster,” Louis says. “But pick wisely because you’re not beating me again.”

Harry thinks for a long moment, chewing on her lip and ignoring Louis’ exaggerated tapping of her wrist. There are plenty of things she could ask for, but one thing is standing out for certain. “A date,” Harry declares. “An official date, just the two of us tomorrow evening. We go into Leeds and have a good evening out, yeah?”

“If you insist,” Louis says, like it’s a chore, but the warmth in her eyes and smile has Harry feeling weightless. “I suppose I could give you some more of my time. Better make it worth my while though, I’m not an easy date.”

Harry laughs, like she hasn’t been dating Louis already for months. “Well, you haven’t experienced the full Styles Romance Package,” she says, linking their hands and pulling Louis close enough that their foreheads rest together. “It’s very impressive.”

“We’ll see.” Louis tilts her head up to capture Harry’s lips in an easy kiss, the rest of the world fading away as she focuses on Louis in front of her. Until Stevie whispers “I thought they were already dating,” and Harry starts giggling too much for her kisses to be any good.

From then on, Harry’s literally buzzing with excitement. The prospect of an actual, official date with Louis where they do sappy couple things like hold hands over the table in a restaurant and kiss under streetlamps and stare lovingly into each other’s eyes, has Harry ready to burst at the seams with glee. She spends an embarrassingly long time conferring with Niall and Sophia over her outfit and make-up, but still ends up at the entrance to the grounds five minutes early. They were set to meet at six, so Harry could drive them (or try and convince Louis to let her drive them) into Leeds for a dinner reservation at seven. It’s hardly a surprise that Louis’ not there, Harry anticipated her being late which is why she gave her extra time.

Except fifteen minutes and three texts later, there’s still no sign of Louis.

Harry rocks onto her heels, the gravel crunching beneath her boots, and calls Louis’ number. Nothing. Straight to voicemail. There’s nothing on her Twitter either, her last tweet “Big day today!” that Harry replied to earlier. Neither Paul nor Alberto are here either, and Harry knows they were meant to be watching the main entrance this evening.

“Calm,” Harry whispers to herself, fiddling with the zip of her shoulder bag. She doesn’t know where Paul or Alberto are, but there’s got to be some rational explanation. Louis’ probably just really late and forgot to charge her phone again. She might even have lost track of time terrorising Liam or Niall. There’s no way she stood Harry up, no way. Louis would never have agreed to this if she didn’t want to come. Louis trusted Harry with her best and worst memories, with things she’d never trust anyone else with. Harry can’t be a hundred percent certain, but she knows Louis loves her. Louis would never just stand Harry up like this. She wouldn’t.

It’s half-six and Harry’s been directed to Louis’ voicemail three more times. She’s verging on frustrated tears now, opening her contacts and calling Zayn with shaking fingers.

“Have you seen Louis?” she asks the second Zayn picks up.

“Um, no? She’s with you, isn’t she?”

“No, I’ve been here waiting like half an hour and she’s not replying to my messages and I can’t get hold of her at all, Zayn –” Harry cuts herself off with a strangled noise, inhaling sharply. “Paul and Alberto aren’t here either.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Zayn says. “I was with her when she was getting ready an hour and a half early, fucking hell, I had to force her to stay in her room so she wasn’t waiting for you and even then she left like twenty minutes before you said you were gonna meet. She should be there. Paul and Al definitely should be there, this place is guarded twenty-four-seven.”

“Well she’s not,” Harry snaps, wincing at her tone. “Sorry, sorry, I just… I don’t know where she is, I don’t know why she’d just not show up! I have no clue where security is, I can’t see anyone.”

“Let me ask Niall, one sec.” Muffled movement drifts through the speakers; Harry focuses on that rather than the rapidly growing feeling of dread and nausea in her stomach. “Hey Ni, you seen Lou?”

“On her hot date with Haz, isn’t she?” Niall says, though Harry has to strain to hear it.

Harry’s phone buzzes as Zayn replies. It’s a text from Louis, causing Harry’s heart to skip a beat. She puts Zayn on speaker, minimises the call, and opens the text.

Lou [18:43]: Clarke J A, Woodale, Leyburn. DL8 4TY.

“What the fuck,” Harry mutters, copying the address and opening up the Google Maps app. She pastes it into the search bar and waits for it to load. “What the fuck.”

“Haz? What is it?”

“I just got a text from Louis,” Harry explains, frowning at the screen. She taps the little pin in the map to get the details of the address. “It’s just an address, no context or anything. It’s a fucking farm and a… a bed and breakfast? In the middle of nowhere, what the fuck.”

“A farm? Oh shit, Harry, you need to stay there, me and Niall will be there in a minute.”

“What? Why – Zayn? Fuck’s sake.” The call ends and Harry sinks to her knees, the gravel digging sharply into her legs.

Louis’ fine, she’s fine, Harry repeats to herself. She’s fine and Paul’s off with Alberto on a break or something and Harry’s overreacting because this is probably some elaborate plan on Louis’ behalf to get them a weekend in an isolated farm and Harry will be so pissed when she finds Louis but they’ll be fine and happy and safe.

Zayn and Niall appear a moment later, breaths coming in pants. Niall helps Harry to her feet, keeping an arm around her waist for moral support, and Harry leans into her gratefully.

“I think,” Zayn starts, running a hand over her buzzed hair. “It’s gonna sound fucking ridiculous, but I think Louis might have been kidnapped by dragon poachers.”

Harry blinks, unable to even process that because what?

“Hear me out,” Zayn rushes to add. “I was reading some articles about the poachers a week ago, and the base they found in Scotland was an abandoned farm. The barns are big enough to chain dragons up in and farmhouses can be used for storage of… of parts, and who’s suspicious of a farm in the UK? If the police really do have a lead on the other bases, it’s not surprising they’re getting reckless and poaching as much as they can.”

“But why would they take Louis and not Roland?” Harry asks, frantic. “It doesn’t make sense!”

"Can you imagine trying to steal a Flamme-de-Gloire?" Her eyes widen. "Why would you steal it when it can come willingly?"

"What are you talking about?"

"You know the second Roland finds out Louis' missing, he's gonna flip. It's almost impossible to steal a full-grown dragon, but if you take the captain, the dragon will do anything to get them back and keep them safe."

“They used to do that during the wars, didn’t they?” Niall adds, squeezing Harry’s side. “Not poachers, but enemies. They’d capture the captain and force the dragon to join the enemy's army. Fucking disgusting.”

“We have to go get her then,” Harry says, borderline hysterical now. Her chest is heaving, she can’t get enough air into her lungs with her throat feeling like it’s closing up. Her blood's pounding in her ears. All she can think about is Louis getting snatched up and stuffed in a van; Louis being gagged and tied up and hurt for trying to struggle, fuck.

Harry sags against Niall, her knees giving out. She can’t – she can’t focus on anything but flashing images of all the horrible things that could be happening to Louis right now and the longer she thinks, the worse the images get but she can’t stop them and she’s useless, she’s fucking useless just waiting here all this time while Louis’ been in danger.

“Harry, Harry, look at me, Harry.” Niall’s setting her on the ground and cradling her face, forcing Harry to focus on her. “Breathe. They won’t have hurt Louis until they’ve got Roland. They sent you that message for a reason, alright. Breathe.”

Harry does, or tries. She stops hyperventilating, mimicking Niall’s breathing pattern, but she’s still a little short of breath. With her limbs feeling like lead, she can’t move much, just concentrates on what Niall said. They need Louis alive right now, and for Harry’s sanity she has to assume that means unharmed too.

“We can’t go after her, Harry,” Zayn says gravely.

Harry whips her head up. “What the fuck do you mean?”

“Niall’s right, they saw you ringing and texting Louis and they sent you that address for a reason.” Zayn throws her hands up in the air. “They’re expecting you, for fuck’s sake. We need to tell Simon and call the police.”

“We can do that and go rescue Louis! We’ll get there before the police.” Harry scrambles to her feet, smoothing her hand over her hair. She’s so fucking jittery and breathless and useless. “I can’t just sit around and wait while she’s in danger. I won’t.”

“What are you gonna do?” Zayn presses. “Show up with two valuable dragons? You think they’ll just let Louis walk away? You think you can trick them into letting Louis go? Or are you gonna use force? What if Stevie’s acid or Roland’s fire kills someone? Can you live with that?”

“I can’t do nothing!” Harry all but screams. “I’m going. I’ll go without you if I have to, but you are the only other person Roland will let ride him, Zayn, please.”

“I’m with Haz on this one,” Niall adds. “I mean, if she’s gonna go anyway, we need to go and stop her from doing something stupid. And it’s Louis, mate. You know she’d do it for us in a heartbeat.” Niall turns to Harry. “Forward the address to Liam and get Stevie and Roland harnessed, I’ll text Li about going to Simon and the police. She’ll check if the hatching grounds is still safe too.”

Harry nods, forwarding the message faster than she’s done anything in her life, and takes off sprinting towards the equipment rooms. Even going as fast as she can it’s still too slow. Dragging the saddle and harnesses to the resting grounds, coaxing Stevie and Roland away from the other dragons not to rile them up, explaining the situation and actually getting them harnessed costs them valuable time they can’t afford to spend.

But when they’re up in the air, Zayn on Roland and Niall with Harry on Stevie, they’re flying faster than Harry thinks she’s ever flown before. Niall knew the general area the farm is in, so she’s directing Harry who’s leading the way. Harry just prays that Louis is unharmed.

They cover the distance quickly, only to stop when Zayn insists on landing a mile out from the farm. Roland dips suddenly, and as much as Harry would like to keep flying and just get to Louis, she’s not quite so reckless. Stevie lands smoothly, crawling over to Roland so Zayn, Harry and Niall can talk without having to unstrap themselves.

“We need some kind of plan,” Zayn yells loud enough for them to hear. “It doesn’t have to be a detailed masterpiece, okay, just something.”

“Harry doesn’t leave me,” Stevie growls, craning her neck around to see Harry. “Do not leave that saddle.”

“If we stick to the harnesses, they can’t take us,” Niall reasons, saving Harry from promising anything. She knows the logic in staying with Stevie, and she probably will, but if she has the chance to get Louis then… Harry doesn’t want to promise anything. “And we need to drive the poachers out. We don’t know how many there are or anything, so we stick to the dragons and… and the roofs. If they think the houses are crumbling, they’re not gonna hang around for long.”

Harry bites her lip. “What if we hurt Louis?”

Roland hisses, fire spitting from his mouth. Harry can sympathise.

“They need her until they’ve captured Roland, remember?” Zayn reminds Harry just as much as she reminds Roland. “They’re not gonna leave her in a collapsing building. Just be careful not to do too much damage in case Paul or Alberto are in there. We don’t know what’s happened to them either. What if they have guns? We don’t even have our riding kit as extra layers.”

“We’ll deflect,” Roland growls. “Bullets are less dangerous to us. Stevie can spray them with acid before they have the chance to shoot.”

“Try not to kill if you can help it, Stevie,” Zayn instructs.

Stevie defers to Harry, blinking as she waits. The temptation to go against what Zayn says and give Stevie the okay to use her acid fatally is strong, but Zayn’s words from earlier echo in her mind. Can you live with that?

“Aim for arms and legs, not faces or chests,” Harry says heavily. “Don’t kill unless you have to. Now let’s go.” Harry pulls the reins and clenches her eyes shut as Stevie takes off again.

It’s a minute’s flight until the farm comes into view, a few buildings clustered together off the side of a winding country road. The barn is the biggest, at the head of the farm with wooden walls and a rusting, metal roof. It’d be easy for Roland to burn it to the ground, Harry thinks with a vengeance. There’s a smaller stable just to its left, a one storey farmhouse and a two storey bed and breakfast in front. Other than the road leading through, there’s nothing but fields surrounding the farm for miles. The thought of any dragon being locked up here, torn apart for raw materials to be sold, makes Harry sick to her stomach.

Zayn gestures to Harry, pointing at herself then the roof of the bed and breakfast building as they approach. Harry gives her a thumbs up in understanding, and guides Stevie towards the barn. She lands on the roof with a thud, the whole building creaking under the force of her weight. Harry grips the reins tightly, waiting. Stevie digs her claws into the metal, so sharp they crack through the rusted roof enough to give her some purchase. She stills, looking to Roland for her next move.

Roland’s crouched on the rooftop, every bit as terrifying as he was when Harry first saw him. He’s stark black against the grey overcast sky, practically the same size as the building he’s resting on. His wings are spread, streaked with yellow, and his horns make him look like he’s come from the devil himself. Harry swallows loudly, watching as Roland sniffs the air and roars.

It’s louder than anything Harry’s heard in her life, a physical rush of air that slams into Harry and Niall on Stevie’s saddle. He roars again, all the anger and hatred seeping into his voice, and Harry swears the Earth shudders. Stevie answers him with a growl of her own, and, moving so quickly everything blurs, Roland smashes the roof with his tail.

He slams it down again, and again, tearing at the tiles with strong claws. The whole building shakes, windows rattling and shouts echoing up from inside. It just spurs Roland on, breaking through the roof with an onslaught of well places strikes.

Stevie twists around on top of the barn and rakes her claws through the metal again. It’s heavily scratched, thick cracks appearing, but not enough to destroy it entirely. Niall holds on to Harry tightly as they jerk on top of her, trying to steady themselves as she keeps up the assault.

A chorus of shouts catch Harry’s attention, whipping her head around.

“Poachers,” Niall hisses in her ear. Ten or so men are standing in between the buildings, shell-shocked and horrified as they stare up at Roland and Stevie. They’re covered in brick dust and a dark, thick substance that Harry doesn’t want to think about. She’s mostly focusing on the fact that none of them are Louis, and all have a gun in their hands.

There’s no time for any of them to react, not the poachers or Harry, Niall and Zayn, because Stevie’s leaning over the roof of the barn and spitting ball after ball of acid on to them. It hits their arms and shoulders and thighs, incapacitating them, but not killing them. The smell of searing flesh and burning clothes drifts up from the ground, all ten men screaming in agony, collapsed on the ground. Harry squeezes Niall’s hand and grips the reins tighter with the other, trying her best not to be sick.

“Where is Louis?” Roland bellows, the poachers all scrambling as far away from him as they can. A few try and struggle to their feet, aiming their guns at Roland, but Stevie opens her jaws wide and sprays them with more acid.

Roland repeats the question, fire licking from his mouth as a threat. Harry avoids looking at the poachers on the gravel, the sight of their acid-splashed skin and faces contorted in pain is too much to bear. She’s not sorry for them, by any means, but she’s desperate to find Louis and throwing up from the gory sight isn’t lending itself to that task.

“Can you see what’s in the barn?” Harry asks Niall, angling her head around and trying to peer through the cracks, thickening under the constant weight. It won’t be long before the roof caves in completely, unless Stevie moves.

“I think,” Niall says, squinting. “I can’t see it properly but I think there might be eggs in there. Like, a lot of them. That golden glint, that’s a Regal Copper egg.”

“Shit.” Harry bites her lip, looking around. “We need to get off the roof before it collapses. Stevie!” Harry tugs on the reins, yelling, “To the farmhouse!”

Stevie leaps from the barn to the farmhouse roof, landing on it with a crunching thud. The building groans, a gun rings, and Stevie lets out a hiss of pain simultaneously.

Harry’s stomach drops, fear flooding her veins. “Stevie? Stevie!”

“A bullet,” Stevie growls in response, lifting her left arm and shaking it out. Thick, dark blood splatters the ground, matching the substance on the poacher’s clothes. “Just a scratch, nothing serious.”

“Nothing serious, my arse,” Harry snaps, reaching forwards and smoothing her hand over Stevie’s dark scales. Stevie shoots a glob of acid at the poacher that fired the gun, hitting him square in the jaw. The man collapses. Harry looks away.

Louis!” Roland yells, followed by his loudest roar yet. Niall slaps Harry’s shoulder and points to the ground.

Stumbling out of the farmhouse is a final poacher with Louis, limp as a ragdoll, held against his chest. He tilts her head up with a large hand, pressing a gun to her temple with the other. Her face is bruised and bloody, cuts along her cheekbones and a split lip, and there’s a gun to her fucking head. She’s too far away to see if she's even breathing. Harry stomach drops.

“Stand down, or I shoot,” the poacher yells, looking back and forth between Roland and Stevie. “I mean it!”

A sob racks Harry’s chest, panic clawing at her throat. “Louis!” she screams, struggling to unstrap herself from the saddle without taking her eyes off the gun.

“Don’t be a fucking idiot,” Niall hisses, grabbing her hands and wrapping her arms around Harry’s torso, trapping her. For someone a lot smaller and slimmer than Harry, Niall’s irritatingly strong. “He has a gun.”

Louis,” Harry cries weakly, watching the man lift Louis higher, her limbs flopping in his grip. “We’ll stand down! Just please, please, don’t hurt her.”

“Get off your dragon,” the man orders, his voice wavering as he angles his body to make sure that Harry and Niall are following his commands. Zayn’s ducked behind Roland’s neck, not quite visible to the poacher. He looks away for a second too long and before Harry’s even fully aware of it, Roland’s swooping down from the bed and breakfast roof, snatching the poacher between his claws and flying directly upwards at full speed.

The gun falls from his hand, but he seems to grab hold of Louis instinctively, clinging on to her for something to ground him while he’s ascending, getting smaller and smaller the further away they get. Louis dangles from his grip, not actually held by Roland.

“Stevie!” Harry yells, all of a sudden full of energy. She snatches up the reins and tugs sharply. “Stevie, follow them!”

Stevie launches into the air, soaring upwards and catching up to Roland quickly. Even over the wind rushing in Harry’s ears, she can hear the screams of the poacher. His grip on Louis is slipping, her torso sliding down his body until she’s falling away from them, plummeting to the ground.

Harry can’t tell if she screams, if Niall shouts something or if it’s Roland that roars. All she can hear is the thud of her heartbeat racing in her chest as Stevie lurches forward, flying alongside Louis and intercepting her a few hundred metres down. Stevie cradles Louis to her belly and Harry doesn’t even know if Louis’ alive, if she was alive when the poacher came out of the farmhouse or if she survived the fall from his grasp. The wind force could have snapped her neck; her heart could have given out; they could have killed her as soon as they had her. Harry’s barely aware of her surroundings anymore, chanting Louis Louis Louis in her mind and maybe out loud, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Stevie lands gently in a field outside the farm, and Harry’s never unstrapped herself from the harness faster. She scrambles off Stevie’s back, running to where Stevie laid Louis out on the soft grass.

When Harry sees that Louis’ chest is rising and falling in an even rhythm, she collapses to her knees and sobs with relief. She’s alive runs rampant in Harry’s mind, Harry can’t even entertain the thought of anything else, until Niall kneels beside her and gestures to arm.

“That doesn’t look good,” she whispers, voice hoarse.

Harry wipes the tears from her eyes and takes in the awkward angle of Louis’ wrist, twisted at the joint. Bile rises in her throat, and she manages to crawl a few metres away before she’s throwing up on the field.

“When I caught her, there was a crack,” Stevie rasps, just loud enough for Harry to hear her over the sounds of her own retching. “I think it was my fault.”

“You saved her, Stevie,” Niall jumps to tell her, and Harry wishes she didn’t feel like death so she could reassure Stevie too. If she hadn’t caught Louis…Harry doesn’t even want to think about it.

“Why won’t she wake up?” Stevie asks.

Harry wipes her lips and crawls back to them, meeting Stevie’s worried stare.

“They must have drugged her,” Niall offers, brushing hair from Louis’ face, careful not to touch any of the dark bruises around her eyes. She must have styled her hair in a quiff for their date, Harry notes, and the tears start flowing again. “Like, a lot, since she’s still out now. We need to wait for an ambulance to get her to a hospital.”

Roland lands near them, dropping to his belly and resting his snout next to Louis’ head. “Louis,” is all he says, squeezing his eyes shut.

Zayn hurries close, sliding off Roland’s back. “The police are on their way,” she tells them, breathless. “I saw their cars a couple miles out. Ambulances too. The other poachers aren’t going anywhere, but you, Harry, should go with Louis to the hospital. Me and Niall can stay and explain what happened and try and find out what happened to Paul and Alberto. You both need to be treated.”

“Both?” Harry croaks, rubbing her face.

“Mate, you’re probably in ten kinds of shock right now,” Niall says softly. “Louis’ the priority, but you should at least see if there’s anything a doctor can do for you. It’s better than waiting here for the police to collect statements and whatever else they need.”

“Okay,” Harry agrees. All she wants is to curl up with Louis where they’ll both be safe. “What about the other poacher?”

“Dead,” Roland hisses, venomous.

Harry nods, squeezing her eyes shut. Barely minutes have passed when the police and ambulances arrive. Everything blurs as paramedics swarm the scene, carefully wrapping collar around Louis’ neck and placing her on a stretcher, rolling her into the back of an ambulance. Harry follows on instinct, answering the few questions that she can, her hands trembling as she hovers, trying not to get in the way.

Stevie and Roland stay behind with Niall and Zayn, talking to a few police officers while the rest move further into the farm. Harry watches through the small window as Stevie flicks her tail, gaze tracked on the ambulance as it drives away.

***

It’s past three AM when Louis finally wakes up, and Harry hasn’t slept for a second. She’s lying in Louis’ cot in the hospital listening to the rise and fall of Louis’ chest, when a croaky, “Kitten?” disrupts her thoughts.

Harry lifts her head, a smile breaking across her face as Louis blinks blearily. “Lou?”

“I feel like shit,” she rasps, followed by a weak laugh. Harry wants to cry, but her tears have all dried up. “Must have been one hell of a date if I can’t remember a thing.”

“Nothing?” Harry echoes, biting her lip. “Lou, you were kidnapped.”

“Oh fuck,” Louis groans, shutting her eyes again. “That does ring a bell, I guess.”

“You guess?”

“I remember getting to our thing early,” Louis says, sighing heavily. Her voice is still weak and Harry wants to tell her to slow down and stop talking, but hearing her speak is oddly comforting. “I was sitting on the bonnet of Zayn’s minivan and these two – three? – guys came up to me and asked if I knew Harry Styles –”

Harry pales. “Me?”

“Yeah, and I was like who the fuck are you? ‘Cause I couldn’t see Paul or Alberto and I dunno, a look passed between them and I think… I think I saw a needle? And that’s it. Just a lot of pain and – and falling? Who the fuck knows. Also, did something happen to my wrist, 'cause it hurts like a bitch and I don’t wanna look?”

“You sprained it,” Harry chokes out. “Um, it’s a long story that I’ll tell you in the morning, but… I’m sorry, Lou, I’m so sorry.”

Louis frowns, opening her eyes again. “What for?”

“You were kidnapped by poachers, Lou,” Harry explains. “Poachers that were probably after me, or, well, Stevie, 'cause she was in the egg I stole from them. They… they must have figured it out somehow, seen my interview, I don’t know, but if they came here for me then… it was my fault.”

“It was the poachers’ fault,” Louis says firmly, trying to sit up and wincing. Harry flutters her hands over Louis’ body, unsure what to do to make her feel better. “Don’t be a fucking martyr, kitten. And when I’ve had more sleep, you’re telling me everything, okay?”

“Okay,” Harry says, burying her face in Louis’ shoulder and biting back a sob. “Do you – are you in a lot of pain? The doctor said to like, alert them if you woke up and he’d see if he could do anything for you. I don’t think you can have painkillers yet, 'cause they drugged you with a lot of Valium, but there might be something else?”

“Nah, it’s…” Louis sighs. “It hurts, but I can manage ‘til the morning.”

“Okay,” Harry repeats, snuggling closer and kissing Louis’ cheek.

It’s not easy for either of them to fall asleep, but they manage at some point and don’t wake up until somewhere near nine when a nurse comes to check up on Louis. She runs through a few tests, Harry tries to pay attention but she’s too drained to focus on much more than the colour slowly returning to Louis’ cheeks and the pleased smile on the nurse’s face.

Simon enters the hospital room around ten. He sits in a free chair, looking ever the professional in a crisp suit and tie, leans forward and clasps his hands together.

“How are you feeling, Louis?” he asks, barely giving them time to gather their wits.

“Like I really need to piss,” Louis answers, looking tired as hell with bags under her eyes and a tight set to her jaw. Even still, Harry’s breath catches just looking at her.

“I won’t keep you long then,” Simon says. “The police have successfully arrested the remaining poachers, and are tackling the leftover bases as we speak. Since only Stevie and Roland harmed them, and they are technically not subject to UK law, there’ll be no punishments for the damage done. A police officer will be along later this afternoon to collect statements from you both.”

Harry swallows loudly, dreading having to recount everything that happened yesterday. Fuck, she hasn’t even changed out of her date-clothes, still wearing last night’s make-up and everything.

“We’ve given the details to BBC News with a rep confirmation that you’re alive and recovering well,” Simon continues. “We’ve also notified them that we rescued eleven dragon eggs from the barn, all in various states of hatching.”

Eleven?” Louis repeats, raising her brows. “That’s more than we’ve got at the grounds.”

“It is.” Simon nods. “We’ve given five to the Edinburgh grounds as reparations for the fire, caused by the poachers. Four, still a long ways from hatching, we’ve sold to the French, and two, very, very close to hatching eggs, we’ve kept. In fact, one egg, an Irish Sharpspitter, has already hatched and taken Niall for its captain. Zayn has been offered captaincy of the other, a Kazilik.”

“Niall’s a captain?” Harry echoes, torn between proud and shocked, completely thrown off-kilter. “And I thought dragons got to choose their captains?”

“Yes, she is, and usually they do,” Simon says. “But in special cases, such as Zayn aiding the rescue of one of our best captains and numerous valuable eggs, we grant special rewards. If Zayn accepts, when the egg hatches she’ll be the only one in the room with it. If the Kazilik decides to reject her, then we bring in other hopefuls, if it accepts, then she becomes a captain. It’s not common practise, but as I said, this is a special case.” Simon levels his gaze at Louis. “How is your wrist? We’re concerned that you won’t be fit to race in the UK Cup next week.”

“Of course I’m gonna race,” Louis snaps, startling Harry. She hadn’t even thought about that, too concerned with whether Louis was safe. “I’ll race one-handed if I have to. I’m going for the Global Cup in 2017 and to qualify for that, I have to qualify for the Euro 2016, which means I need to race in this cup.”

“We’ll have James double check to see if you can handle it,” Simon says firmly, shooting Louis a warning look. She returns it with a glare. “It’s also been recommended that you receive one-to-one counselling to identify and deal with any emotional trauma residing from last night. For you as well, Harry. James will have details when you go see him. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of business to take care of.”

He leaves the room and both Harry and Louis breathe for what feels like the first time in over twelve hours. Harry goes to slide off the bed, figuring she should give Louis some space, but Louis grabs her wrist before she can go and tugs her close again.

“If I play up the sick card, will you give me a piggy back to the toilets?” Louis asks, giving Harry her best pleading eyes, as if the fact that she asked wasn’t enough in the first place.

“Of course,” Harry replies, leaning in to kiss her briefly before hopping off the bed and crouching enough for Louis to get on her back.

Louis peppers chaste, noisy kisses over Harry’s neck and shoulders as she carries her, legs tight around her waist.

By the time they get back from the toilets, Niall and Zayn are waiting in the hospital room. Niall gestures for Harry to come outside with her as soon as she lets Louis off her back. Harry kisses Louis a final time, and slips out of the room.

“Congrats on the captaincy,” she says, smiling warmly, despite how drained she feels. “I didn’t expect to be woken up and told that this morning, but you really deserve it.”

“You knew?” Niall gapes. “Fucking Simon. I was gonna talk it through with you but the egg hatched and Patrick, that’s what I named him, liked me because I’m Irish too and it just happened before I even realised it.”

Harry leans against the wall and bats Niall’s shoulder playfully. Seeing Niall worried is almost physically painful. “Hey, no hard feelings. You’re gonna be a great captain, dragons have an eye for this kind of thing, remember? And I mean it, you really deserve this. Especially since you didn’t bother with fancy names for your dragon either. Just don’t go after Sophia or I’m fucked.”

“Nah, I’m gonna ask Bressie if she wants to be my first lieutenant,” Niall laughs. “Christ, it’s weird saying that. Never thought I’d get here.”

“I didn’t think you would either,” Harry deadpans, managing to hold a scowl for half a second before she bursts out laughing, shaking her head. “Nah, you should be proud, mate. Any word on Zayn’s decision?”

“She hasn’t said much.” Niall rocks back on her heels and sighs. “I don’t think either of them expected to be separated. Pretty sure Lou was planning on competing together when they’re both grannies.”

“Sounds like her,” Harry says fondly. “How’re Stevie and Roland?”

“They’re alright as they can be with you two here. Sleeping in the resting grounds,” Niall answers, biting her lip. “James had specific cows drugged so that when we flew back, Stevie got told to eat one straight away and it knocked her out. Made it easier to treat the wound on her arm that way, and so she didn’t tear up the place waiting for you. Roland was harder to convince, but we got him in the end.”

“Shit, the bullet! Is Stevie alright?” Harry can’t believe she forgot, Christ.

“Oh, yeah,” Niall assures her. “Their bullets aren’t what we expected, like, they’re more specialised to cut through dragonhide than we realised which could have gone really fucking wrong, but it caught Stevie’s arm, so no real damage was done. And you know dragons, they’re giant babies. Such drama queens. So Roland and Stevie are both out cold in the pavilions, letting their bodies heal naturally. Should be waking up soon. You and Lou should probably be there when they do.”

Harry nods, looking down the corridor. “Any news on Paul and Alberto? Simon didn’t say anything about them.”

“Yeah, they’re alright,” Niall says. “Drugged, just like Louis, and were tied up in the farmhouse. No serious injuries, but they’re here somewhere just to be safe.”

“Thank God,” Harry breathes. It’s only been a few minutes and she’s already sorely missing Louis. She pokes her head inside Louis’ room, giving a little wave and asking, “Are me and Niall alright to come in? Or do you want some privacy?”

“It’s alright,” Zayn says, hugging Louis tightly. “Just telling Lou that I won’t be taking up Simon’s offer.”

“You won’t?” Harry hadn’t the time to give it too much thought, but she’s surprised Zayn isn’t taking the opportunity to be a captain. Harry kind of assumed it was everyone’s dream to be a captain.

“No, I’m gonna try and convince Simon to send the egg to Turkey or somewhere with a warmer climate,” she says, still not letting go of Louis. “Kaziliks are Turkish fire-breathing dragons so they need a really hot climate to thrive, and that’s not what it’d be getting here. I don’t want it to get sick or not reach its full potential just because of the weather. And if I did become its captain, I’d probably have to move to a hotter place and leave everyone behind which is shit so… I don’t want it.”

Harry can’t help it, she just has to turn Zayn and Louis’ hug into a group one, carefully sandwiching Louis between herself and Zayn. Niall jumps in as well, throwing her arms around them all until they’re a tired, aching but ridiculously soppy mess in the middle of the hospital room.

It’s not long before Zayn has to leave to speak to Simon, and Niall needs to go back to Patrick who, after just a few hours of being alive, has a tendency to sneak off and hide in the most ridiculous places.

“We should call a nurse to see when I can get discharged and actually take some painkillers,” Louis voices when Niall lets the door shut behind her. They’re sitting on the bed again and Harry can’t stop threading her fingers through Louis’ soft hair. She’s still hungry, desperate for a shower, and to sleep for a lifetime, but she’d stay here all day if it meant staying with Louis. Maybe she’s not quite ready to let her go after last night. “I want to go see Roland, God, it must have been hell for him.”

“Niall said he and Stevie were sedated or something, they should be waking up soon,” Harry murmurs, catching Louis’ hand as she reaches over Harry’s body to press the button for the nurse. “Hey, Louis?”

Louis pauses. “Yeah?”

Harry watches the bright sunshine illuminate her bruised face, watches her blink slowly as she waits for whatever it is Harry’s going to say. She’s everything Harry wants and needs in one adorably tiny form, and Harry is so, so in love with her.

“I love you,” she says, shrugging. The simplicity of the statement is what makes it powerful, she thinks. It makes Louis blush and bring her injured hand up to her mouth, trying to hide the glowing smile on her lips.

“I love you too,” Louis says on an exhale, letting Harry pull her closer until they’re bumping noses and grinning madly, exhausted and weary and completely gone for each other. “I love you so much.”

It’s hard to kiss when they’re smiling so much, but they manage, whispering ‘I love you’s between every peck of lips. Outside the little room, there’s interviews to be given, families to call, stories to be told over and over again until their lips run dry, but here, with Louis in Harry’s arms, between soft kisses and earnest confessions, they’re content for now.

***

The UK Cup is chaos. Organised chaos. Between memorising flight courses for all of her races, training with Stevie, press interviews and photoshoots, and actually racing, Harry has barely any time to breathe.

She’s never had more fun in her life.

There’s a points system in place for the tournament, she finds out. Twenty points for a win, ten for second place, and five for third. After taking part in three races over four days, Harry’s sitting second on the leader board for the middleweights, trailing five points behind Nick. If she can just beat Nick in their final race, the one hundred kilometres on the fifth day, she could actually win gold and qualify for the European Cup next Spring.

It would help if she could actually find Stevie first, though.

Harry’s forgone a lie-in with Louis, whose race isn’t until after Harry’s, in the afternoon, to train with Stevie before they’re called up to the starting point. Except it’s nearing eleven now, the lightweights are already racing, and Harry still can’t find Stevie.

The only thing stopping Harry from losing her fucking mind after Louis’ kidnapping barely a week ago, is that the Welsh village the cup is being held in is absolutely crawling with security, reporters, captains, and fans alike. If there were even any poachers left after the police shut down the bases they were aware of, there’s no way one could run off with a dragon here. Still, Harry would feel much more comfortable if she knew where Stevie was.

“She’s literally massive,” Harry whines to Louis over the phone. She’s sitting in one of the communal areas for captains, half-heartedly watching the lightweight’s race on TV while Sophia gives the makeshift feeding grounds another sweep. “Where the fuck can she be?”

“I have no idea, kitten,” Louis laughs down the phone. She sounds like she just woke up. “Does Niall have any idea?”

“I haven’t seen her,” Harry huffs. “Our race is in two hours, Lou!”

Louis laughs again, the speakers rustling like she’s shifting under the duvet. Christ, Harry can’t believe she got out of bed early for this. She could be with Louis having lazy morning sex and cuddling while they watch the race, but instead she’s searching for her runaway dragon.

“You might want to check her Twitter.”

Harry groans, minimising Louis’ call and opening up Stevie’s Twitter profile, which she got locked out of a few days ago when she refused to tweet jokes about her and Louis for Stevie. The dragon had Niall change the password, and then got Niall to tweet the joke for her anyway.

The first tweet is a shaky picture of Stevie and Patrick sitting on a hill, the blue open sky in the background. It’s captioned ‘watching the races!’ and a tagged username. Harry cannot believe it.

“She actually snuck out to watch the race, found fans to take a picture of her, and gave them her Twitter password so they could upload it.” Harry puts her head on the table, groaning again. “Why am I captain to an absolute muppet of a dragon?”

“Like dragon, like captain,” Louis teases. “I’ll text Niall to change Stevie’s password now and make sure the fans don’t stay logged in to her account. Though it’s a good thing you didn’t do extra training today, Haz. You know she’ll need all the energy she can get for this race. You would have just worn her out.”

“I suppose,” Harry sighs. “You think she’ll be back on time?”

“‘Course,” Louis answers. “She wants that gold medal more than anything. Plus, I’m tweeting her now telling her that if she doesn’t get her scaly arse back to the base in the next fifteen minutes, Roland’s going to eat her lunch for her.”

“I can’t believe my dragon is more Twitter-obsessed than I am.” Harry shakes her head. “I better go track down Sophia then and let her know we found her. I’ll see you before my race?”

“Of course,” Louis says. “See you then. Love you.”

“Love you too,” Harry replies giddily, still riding on the high of saying that to Louis, even if she has to keep it quiet. Well, quiet around reporters at least. Any of the captains that pay her and Louis the slightest bit of attention have undoubtedly figured out they’re not just friends.

Stevie does make it back on time, wandering into the feeding grounds about forty-five minutes before they’re due to start. Harry gets her fed and harnessed, trying to find the balance between berating her for leaving (almost giving Harry a heart attack in the process), and getting her excited for their final race.

Louis shows up ten minutes before the race begins, when Harry and Sophia have just finished the final checks to Stevie’s harness. It’s complete madness surrounding them, other captains checking their own dragon’s harnesses, the people that are officiating the race are getting in position, cameras are everywhere capturing last minute photos and video of the captains before they set off. There’s even a few helicopters on the opposite side of the field they’re all in, preparing for takeoff. It’s easy for Louis to slip through the crowd and sling her arm around Harry’s waist.

“This okay?” she asks, keeping her face a careful distance from Harry’s. Her gaze flicks to the reporters all around them, and back to Harry.

“Yeah.” Harry smiles, resisting the urge to lean in for a kiss. “How’s your wrist?”

“S’alright.” Louis shrugs, lifting her injured wrist, the wrist support visible without Louis’ gloves on. “Hurts, but I’m being careful. Not using it unless I have to. How’re you feeling?”

“Pretty good,” Harry says. “Absolutely bricking it, but good. We can do long distance. Just gotta beat Nick.”

“Remember the strategy?” Louis leans close, whispering in Harry’s ear. “Shadow him, stay near the front but don’t push for first until the last stretch. Nick’s gonna want to secure the lead early on and he’s gonna wear Gabriel out, don’t do that to Stevie. Remember what we practised.”

Harry nods, and someone starts calling for racers to mount their dragons. Louis kisses Harry’s cheek quickly, giving a thumbs up to Sophia and Stevie, before she’s disappearing again.

Stevie lifts Harry then Sophia onto her back, and they strap themselves in, waiting for the chequered flag to drop. When it does, Stevie launches into the air, speeding upwards in a blur of dark blue until Harry pulls for her to plateau just below cloud level. There are a few low-lying clouds in the sky, but it’s mostly clear, and Harry takes in their position.

Just like Louis predicted, Nick is edging out in front, Gabriel’s wings flashing red as he flies. Harry guides Stevie behind him, far enough away that her own wing beats aren’t disturbed by his, but close enough that they’ll be a constant presence on Nick’s mind. Stevie matches her speed to Gabriel’s, keeping them equidistant as they soar above the ground.

The route is straightforward, flying from the village in North Wales to the coastline, up North towards Snowdon, around, and then back down across specifically marked fields until they’re crossing the finish line. Sophia keeps a look out for the landmarks they were advised to follow, while Harry keeps Stevie’s speed steady, making sure she doesn’t wear herself out.

The arc around Snowdon is the halfway point, and Stevie’s still holding second place, a few other dragons hot on their tails, according to Sophia. Harry doesn’t push Stevie yet though, waiting for the right time. They fly over the green fields, the occasional village crossing their path, but Stevie doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Harry has no way of actually telling what her speed is, but with the earth blurring underneath her and the wind biting any exposed skin, she figures it’s fast enough to win them a place in the top three.

When they’re nearing the end, Harry spots a helicopter in the distance, a few hundred metres below their level, cameras aimed at them. Curling her hands even tighter around the reins, Harry waits. The overtake needs to be timed carefully, if Nick gains the lead again afterwards, it’ll be difficult to get it back. The finish line is still a few minutes away, but the closer they get the harder it’ll be.

“Ready, Soph?” Harry calls out.

She feels Sophia nod, steels herself, and pulls the reins. It’s a manoeuvre Louis had Harry and Stevie practise until they perfected it, and Harry can feel them pulling it off when Stevie darts forward, closing the distance between herself and Gabriel. She dips at the last second, gliding underneath Gabriel and speeding out on the other side.

From then, Harry pushes Stevie as fast as she’ll go. They cut through the air smoothly, gradually dropping lower the closer the finish line gets. Harry doesn’t check to see if Nick’s gaining on them, just sits on edge until the final field is in sight and Stevie’s hurtling towards the ground, finishing the race.

Harry slumps in the saddle as other dragons land around them, legs aching. Holy shit. They won. They actually won. She shakes her head, letting out a breathless laugh. Sophia hugs her tightly from behind, and Harry remembers that it’s her first official race too.

“We won gold!” Stevie crows when Harry and Sophia slide off her back, coming to stand in front. Stevie ducks her head so Harry can stroke her snout, unable to keep the grin off her face. “We get a gold medal!”

“I think you’re more fond of the gold than the title,” Harry teases, and Stevie bumps her head against Harry’s hip.

She’s swept away by reporters then, giving short interviews about the race, the whole tournament itself, how it feels to come in as a beginner and win gold, how she’s feeling after the incident with the poachers.

The adrenaline still hasn’t ebbed when Louis finally appears and drags her off the field, away from where the dragons and crews are being ushered, and into the nearest building. Harry doesn’t have time to check what building they’re actually in, Louis’ just pulling her into a supply cupboard of some kind and pressing her against a wall.

“Hello to you too,” Harry laughs, stripping her gloves off and resting her hands on Louis’ waist.

Louis aligns their bodies, fitting her hips against Harry’s, and tilts her head up so her lips brush against Harry’s. She kisses her once, chaste, and again, deeper. The slow open-mouthed kisses leave Harry short of breath and with swollen lips.

“Congratulations, kitten,” Louis says, breaking away. She places her uninjured hand on Harry’s side, slipping her fingers under the thick jacket and undershirt. Her fingers are cold against Harry’s skin, a sharp contrast to the heat pumping through her veins. “I saw the overtake on telly, best one you’ve done yet.”

“Thanks.” Harry’s voice hitches at the end as Louis’ fingers skim her stomach, tracing her naval and travelling down to fiddle with the button of her trousers. “Um, Lou, your race is in like, twenty minutes.”

“Better make this quick then, kitten.” Louis smirks, capturing Harry’s mouth in another kiss, undoing the button and zip. Her hand in the wrist support comes to rest on the back of Harry’s neck, scratching lightly over her bare skin. Harry squirms, feeling herself get wetter the longer Louis kisses her. “You think someone saw us run off?”

Harry whines, letting Louis bite her lower lip as she slips her hand into Harry’s underwear. She spreads Harry’s pussy with two fingers, gathering slick with her middle finger and rubbing it over her clit, swallowing Harry’s moans. Louis circles it teasingly, keeping her touches light, the complete opposite of what Harry wants.

“Maybe they’ll send someone looking for me,” Louis comments, kissing a trail down Harry’s neck now. Harry gasps, biting down on her own lip to try and keep herself quiet, but it’s not easy when Louis’ talking like this, rubbing her clit and whispering in her ear because she knows this gets Harry off. “Maybe they’ll walk in on us. This room doesn’t have a lock, you know.”

“Fuck, Lou,” Harry whines, getting wetter so Louis’ finger is sliding easily over her clit now, faster and pressing harder. She doesn’t know if Louis’ bluffing, but the walls are thin in this old building and fuck, it’s hard to keep quiet when there could be people just outside listening to Harry. They wouldn’t be able to hear Louis, she’s keeping her voice too low, soft in Harry’s ear, but Harry’s moans aren’t muffled enough to stay between the two of them.

“You think I wouldn’t pick up on this, kitten?” Louis whispers, warm breath ghosting over Harry’s skin. “You’ve got an exhibitionist streak a mile-wide, Haz, and I know you get off on a little bit of humiliation. Maybe someone seeing how easy you are for me?”

Lou.” Harry’s head falls back against the wall, embarrassment washing over her but Louis’ right, it just gets her hotter. She bucks against Louis’ hand, pleasure coiling tighter in her abdomen. “Louis — fuck — Louis, please.”

“Come on, kitten,” Louis says, kissing Harry again, commanding. “Come for me, love.”

Harry does, whining into Louis’ mouth and clinging to her hips, her brows pinching as she crests. Louis withdraws her hand when Harry’s got her breath back, and Harry catches her wrist before she can wipe the mess on Harry’s trousers. She brings Louis’ fingers to her lips and licks up the wetness, humming as she works.

“That’s filthy,” Louis says, shaking her head. “And shit, I really need to go.”

Harry laughs, pressing kisses to the tips of each of Louis’ fingers. “Before you do,” she says, cradling Louis’ hand between hers. “You kissed my cheek earlier, in front of all the captains and press and everyone—”

“Shit, did you not want that?” Louis looks so panicked, Harry squeezes her hand instantly.

“No, I did!” she assures her. “I did, that’s what I’m getting at. When I come out, I’m coming out as a lesbian but also as your girlfriend, right? But what if I don’t want a big song and dance with an exclusive and press shoots and whatever? What if I just want to be out? What d’you think?”

“I’ve got nothing to lose, love, I’m already out. However you want to do it, I’m happy,” Louis says. “But I’m not… what are you planning?”

Harry grins, bringing Louis’ hand to her mouth. “Go win your race, Lou.”

Louis rolls her eyes, but there’s a matching smile on her face as she draws her hand back. “I’m doing more than winning it, kitten. Me and Roland are going for a record-breaking time. The fastest heavyweight time for a hundred kilometres is fifty-seven minutes, thirty nine seconds. We’re going for fifty-five.”

“You’re such an overachiever,” Harry says fondly. “Go smash some records, I’ll see you after.”

“Love you,” Louis says, barely giving Harry time to say it back before she’s stealing a kiss and hurrying out of the cramped cupboard, out on to the field to race. Harry shakes her head and redoes her trousers, trying to make herself look a little more presentable before she picks up her gloves and follows Louis in time to catch the start of the race.

Louis, Zayn and Roland finish in fifty-four minutes, sixteen seconds, well ahead of everyone else.

Harry’s waiting at the edges of the field with other spectators when Roland lands, nerves thrumming. She gives Louis a few minutes to speak with him and Zayn alone, and then she’s running towards her, throwing her arms around Louis’ shoulders and hugging her tightly.

“You were amazing,” Harry says, burying her face in the juncture between Louis’ neck and shoulder. “Absolutely amazing.”

Harry pulls back just enough to see Louis’ face, the red burn to her cheeks from the wind, the knowing smile curling her lips. Harry waits a beat and then crashes their mouths together, kissing her fiercely in plain sight of everyone.

“I love you,” she murmurs against Louis’ lips, reaching to hold her uninjured hand.

“I love you too,” Louis replies, squeezing Harry’s hand. “Even if Simon’s literally going to kill us.”

Harry kisses Louis again, softer this time. When she breaks away, Louis’ smile is everything. “It was worth it.”