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dark oaken shelves and the smell of old parchment

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  It started, Crosshair likes to think, where many things that happen at Hogwarts do: with the school’s resident idiot couple.

On the first day of December, sixth-year Hufflepuff boyfriends Jesse and Kix had found themselves snared by a charmed sprig of mistletoe above one of the arches in the clock tower courtyard. As surrounded by friends as they ever are, there was practically no time at all until most of the school had heard of how Jesse, muted by whatever innocuous jinx had been placed on the thing, had squeaked and squawked and flailed in indignance until Kix had taken his face between his hands and kissed him, freeing him from the charm. Really, they ought to have appreciated the peace and quiet while they had the chance, but alas. Most of them are bleeding hearts anyway.

No one had thought much of it then—and why would they have? There are always jokers around waiting to capitalise on the excitement and chaos of the Yuletide.

So then came the confusion, when, as others found themselves under the Mystically Manifesting Mistletoe (a term that has nothing to do with Crosshair, thank you very much, please refer all disgust to Wrecker), they often found that just a kiss from the nearest willing person wasn’t enough.

“In short,” Tech summarises, “the latest assumption is that you can only be freed if you kiss the person you most want to kiss. Until then, well—”

They turn the corner together, relaxed and ready to eat, strung along by the drifting scents of dinner and the rabble of chatter from the Great Hall. Laughter echoes off the stone and rings in the vaulted ceilings, but just above the clamour there’s a small, happy little chime, and the four of them freeze in place. 

“Well,” Tech says again, this time far more dryly.

Crosshair purses his lips and tips his head back with the others to look above their heads. Oh, how innocently hangs the white berry twig that’s about to make his life a misery. And right in view of the entire hall, at that.

“Oh no,” he hears Hunter murmur beside him. He rolls his eyes and opens his mouth to cut a snide retort, but all of a sudden it’s as if his vocal cords have been completely removed from his person. He gapes, gasps, chokes slightly, and slaps a hand to his throat with rising alarm.

“Breathe!” Tech says, appearing in front of him and grabbing his arms. “Breathe! Don’t try to speak!”

I can’t, Crosshair tries to shout, and fuck if this isn’t confusing as all hell.

“Cross.” Hunter steps in beside Tech and places a palm flat against his chest. “Breathe in, hold. Out again. In… hold… out.”

Crosshair does as he says, grateful somewhere in the back of his mind that his friends are hiding him from view. He calms slowly, counts every hold of five in his head and relaxes, leaning into Hunter’s firm and comforting hand as he does.

“Okay,” he says, or tries to—he chokes again, prompting Hunter to steady his shoulder with his free hand and repeat his counts of five.

“Don’t try to talk,” he murmurs.

“Keep your mouth closed, just breathe,” Tech agrees.

Until now, Crosshair has never regretted not knowing how to sign more in his life. He keeps his lips firmly closed, breathes evenly through his nose, and tries his best to convey the irritation he feels through expression alone.

“He all right?” Wrecker asks. Crosshair waves him off and shakes his head with reluctant acceptance. He’s… fine.

“Well?”

Crosshair blinks down at Tech. Well what?

Wrecker pokes him in the side. “Yeah, c’mon, Tech just said you need the person you want to kiss. Who is it?”

Fuck.

No one, he conveys with a few adamant dismissive cuts of his hand. It’s nothing.

“What?” Hunter says skeptically. “You don’t want to break the charm?”

Crosshair glares at him. Is he mad? Yes he wants to break the charm! Of course he does. Just…

He waves them off again and steps out of their circle, heading into the hall. Hunter lets him go and he can hear them all muttering behind him, but, well, he’ll just deal with it later, is all. 

For now he’d just really like something to eat, and maybe for his stomach to stop churning with anticipation anxiety like he has an entire Whomping Willow growing in there.

-

They part ways as they always do of an evening. He’s spent the entirety of dinner pretending he couldn’t hear them when they asked how it is they’re going to fix this—no, Tech still won’t allow ‘no one’ for an answer—and capitalising on the fact he can’t actually speak to answer them. So at the foot of the stairs leading up to the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw towers he gets a couple of very unimpressed looks, a thump on the back, and an extracted promise to rethink his reluctance overnight. 

I’ll see you tomorrow, he signs with a few taps beneath his eye and a vague forwards gesture with his fingers.

“See you later!” Wrecker calls. 

“Don’t start an argument tonight,” Tech warns, “because you won’t win it. Be careful.” 

Hunter smiles and pats his shoulder, as if he needs the support. “Sleep well.”

Crosshair rolls his eyes and waves over his shoulder as he heads for the stairs down to the dungeons. He pauses at the top of them, just for a moment, to watch their retreating backs disappear into the rafters of the castle. 

Hunter’s shoe shrieks on the marble landing, and then they’re gone. 

He shakes his head and hurries down the steps in front of him. The sooner he gets to the common room the sooner he can get out of this chill; as it is he folds his fingers into the sleeves of his thick jumper and tries to make it look like he isn’t half a pace away from breaking into a run.

“Hey!” 

Crosshair pauses and turns again, looks over his shoulder in the hopes that whoever it is isn’t talking to him. A girl comes to a stop at his side, one he’s seen before but doesn’t know. She’s dark-haired, round-faced and cute, and the green of her tie makes him feel a little guiltier about his ignorance.

“Sorry,” she says sheepishly. “I was just wondering… I saw you get caught by the mistletoe outside the hall.”

Crosshair waits for her to finish wringing her hands. He doesn’t know what she wants, but if she expects him to answer her… 

“You haven’t broken the charm yet. The, uh, the flowers are still hanging up there. I was wondering if I could try?”

He blinks down at her. If she could…? 

Oh, oh fuck, what the—

Well. She is pretty, he supposes. 

He shrugs, because she’s watching him with a focus that’s beginning to make the hair rise on his arms, and even manages not to flinch back when she smiles and puts a hand on his shoulder.

“Thank you,” she says quietly, and then she’s closing her eyes and leaning in. Crosshair doesn’t move, just lets her do what she wants, and wills himself to want to kiss her. She’s pretty, she’s polite, and better yet she’s from his own house.

She rocks back on her heels, and Crosshair opens his eyes feeling absolutely no different to how he did before. Cautiously he opens his mouth and tries to say something, anything, really, but to no avail. He has to suppress a wince at how her face falls when he shakes his head, but she picks herself up quickly enough, smiling again and waving as she bids him goodnight and hurries off ahead to the common room. It takes him a moment to follow after her. 

Just… Why? Was she taking a chance? No one’s interested in him, and everyone knows he’s a right arse at the best of times. She must have only done it for a laugh, right?

-

Right… So how does he explain everyone else who stops in the halls to ask just the same? He doesn’t know a single one of them past a shared class or a brief word exchanged. 

This whole damned business is beginning to set his teeth on edge.

-

“What’s all this fuss about?” Echo asks. They’re hanging out in the quidditch stands, waiting for Wrecker (and Fives) to come down from practise, and there are still girls giggling at him where they’re bundled up against the cold. Crosshair groans and scribbles mistletoe on his messy bit of scrap paper. He’s fed up of being followed by giggles and whistling everywhere he goes.

“It seems his admirers have begun appearing out of the woodwork,” Tech says from behind his O.W.L. study guide. “They’ve been trying their luck all week.”

“Is that so?” Echo laughs. 

“Apparently,” Hunter agrees.

Echo kicks out his legs, and the tails of his yellow-black scarf tumble from his shoulders. “Well, it’ll be the holidays soon, so they’ll all be going home. Better find yours fast before you’re stuck like this, eh, Cross?”

Crosshair rolls his eyes and points to a corner of the parchment where he’s already written there isn’t anyone before he’d be forced to mime it too many times to count. 

“Bullshit,” Echo says simply. “If that were true, the charm would’ve broken in seconds. Droidbait proved that.”

“That’s what we keep telling him,” Tech mutters.

“Yeah, and he’s being a right stubborn git about it.”

Above them Wrecker bollocks a bludger halfway across the pitch, narrowly missing Secura’s waiting bat. Crosshair elbows Hunter, hard.

“Ow!” Hunter complains. “I’m right!”

“Yeah, yeah.” Echo snickers and twists in his seat, leaning a warm line along Crosshair’s side. “We know you’ve kissed half the school by now—” Crosshair frowns and points the chewed end of his quill at him threateningly. “—five people, yes, whatever. But have you tried anyone you do know?”

“What do you mean?” Hunter asks cautiously on Crosshair’s other side, but Crosshair ignores him in favour of raising one expectant brow at Echo’s falsely-innocent grin. Echo holds his gaze for a few admittedly heart-skipping moments, and then leans in the rest of the way to press a sweet kiss to the corner of Crosshair’s lips. 

Just like before, Cross is pretty much too stunned to get further than thinking sorry, what? and Echo pulls back laughing before he can fully understand.

“You didn’t even do it properly,” Tech says. Echo snickers again and Crosshair blinks back to himself in time to give them both a withering look.

“Why don’t you just tell them no?” Echo asks, more softly now, and Crosshair doesn’t like the pitying tone that’s slipping into his voice. 

Why? Because he hadn’t thought to, you idiots. His acerbic personality usually means he doesn’t have to talk to anyone he doesn’t want to, let alone have to field requests to kiss him. This school really must send people round the bend.

He shrugs. 

“Why did you think you’d work, then?” Hunter asks, leaning into Crosshair’s space to leer at Echo. Strands of hair have pulled free of his house-red bandana and draped themselves across his forehead, threatening his lashes and the bridge of his nose. 

They look soft, even in the murky Scottish winter sunlight. Crosshair inhales sharply and looks away.

“I didn’t,” Echo replies simply. “Or, if it did, then at least he’d be able to talk again. Neither of us lose anything by trying.”

Sighing, Crosshair flops back against the bench behind them. It digs into his shoulder blades uncomfortably enough that he can’t bring himself to be embarrassed by the wink Echo sends him, the bloody cheek. 

So he knows about that period of Crosshair’s terrible emotional inconveniences, huh. Lucky Cross has two fingers saved just for him.

“Yeah?” Hunter says. “Pretty sure he’d’ve been met with endless teasing for the rest of his life if it had worked.”

“Should I be offended by that?”

Tech snorts. “Probably.”

“No, that’s not what I meant—”

Echo laughs and bats at Hunter with a lazy hand. “Calm down, calm down, I’m only winding you up.”

“Oh, you’re winding him up all right.”

Crosshair flicks his gaze to Tech, who from this angle is clearly only pretending to read his book, and then to a slightly disgruntled Hunter, who’s also peering at him.

“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Hunter asks.

Tech flips a page of the index and doesn’t look away from where he’s watching Fives and the Captain practise their Thimblerig Shuffle over the top of it. “I think you know exactly what I mean, Hunter, and you’re just too much of a pansy to admit it.”

Before Hunter can inevitably bite back, Crosshair raises a hand to grab his attention. The three of them turn to him, hesitating when he raises a brow at them all in question.

“It’s nothing,” Hunter mutters. “Just a stupid joke.”

“I don’t know about a joke, but it’s stupid all right,” Echo says gently. “What I was trying to say, is that Cross only really likes a few people. Hangs out with fewer. If it’s anyone, wouldn’t it be one of them?”

For a moment, nobody speaks. A loud whoop of success echoes through the air when Skywalker finishes his round of saves with a perfect record. Crosshair lets his head thunk against the bench behind him and stares up at the bleary, cloudy sky, willing something to come down and put him out of his misery already. 

The gentle touch of an unexpected hand to his doesn’t quite startle him; he fights down the fluttering inside his chest and wraps his frostbitten fingers around Hunter's larger, warmer palm, and squeezes.

Yeah, this mistletoe charm can fuck right off.

-

Fives and Wrecker are arguing when they come stumbling, half-frozen out of the changing rooms.

“—but I saw it!” Fives hisses. “I know what I saw—”

“Well, musta been something else,” Wrecker cuts him off jovially.

“Wh-Hey! Listen to me!”

“Fives,” Echo sighs. “What’s happened now?”

Fives’ expression twists. He grabs Echo’s wrist and drags him back a few paces behind the rest of them to whisper urgently. Crosshair rolls his eyes. Melodramatic twit.

“So, fixed your problem yet?” Wrecker asks. He swings his broom up onto his shoulder and kicks out at Hunter’s ankles, batting away Tech when he smacks his giant arm with his book and laughs.

“You must be joking, right?” Tech says.

“Ah, didn’t think so.”

Hunter laughs derisively. “Crosshair? Co-operate?”

“Never met a guy who could make life harder for himself quite like him.”

Crosshair frowns and punches Wrecker’s other arm.

“Yeah, yeah, pick on the guy who can’t snap back when he wants to,” Tech teases. But that’s hardly fair—give him a little more time to adjust and he’d have sign down well enough to smack them all metaphorically over the head.

A kniving wind whirls past them, grabbing at their coats and cloaks. Hunter shivers and hurries through the gatehouse onto the old wooden bridge and Tech ducks behind Wrecker, using him as a very lively windbreak. Echo and Fives’ argument ramps up in volume. 

“And?” Echo demands in outrage. “Why should I?”

“I thought we were friends!” Fives exclaims. Despite himself, Crosshair winces.

Echo makes several sounds of incredulity, presumably in favour of speechlessness, among which the sound of another dreaded chime is almost lost as they step onto the bridge behind Wrecker. 

The noises cut off abruptly. A few heartbeats of silence pass, a gasp and an indrawn breath.

“See?” Echo bites out rather snidely, and then he’s storming past, his scarf tails flying, followed by the jeering of whistles from the rest of the Gryffindor team.

What? Crosshair signs at Hunter, who had turned to watch and now looks mildly impressed. 

Fives almost crashes into his shoulder as he comes running past.

“Echo!” he shouts, clattering down the rickety wooden boards. “Echo, stop, please!” 

For a moment Crosshair wonders how amusing it would be if he used the broom in his hand instead, but they both quickly disappear around the bend, and finally the Gryffindors see fit to quit their shouting.

“Trust them to be so dramatic about it,” Tano snorts. She elbows the Captain, who sighs.

“It’s about time.”

Crosshair doesn’t need eyes in the back of his head to know what must have happened, but he sure wishes he weren’t technically a part of this drama.

-

If put on the spot and asked his favourite place in Hogwarts, Crosshair might react like any other startled individual and blank completely. He might even blurt out ‘the forest’—because he thinks it’s pretty, not because he’s spent any particular amount of time there. But after a minute or two he’d probably come up with something, and the library would very likely be high on the list. It’s quiet, it’s warm with worn wood and carpet and furnishings that probably all saw through the last several centuries, and it has enough nooks and crannies to hide in that he never really has to worry about being found by anyone he’d rather avoid. 

He spends enough time here, really, that it might as well be one of his favourites regardless.

“So,” Wrecker says. He dips his quill into his inkwell and watches the ink drip back down. “Why’s it you won’t tell us who it is?”

Even Tech pulls his head out of his book to blink up at him. The sound of floorboards squeaking under Hunter’s bouncing leg stops.

“Who what is?” Hunter asks.

Wrecker shrugs and gestures with his quill. “Crosshair. Who his mystery crush is.”

Crosshair chews the inside of his cheek and glares down at his note parchment.

“Most people have gone home for the break,” Tech begins slowly. “You’re not stupid enough to let them go home and keep you stuck like this, are you?”

No, Crosshair writes on the parchment corner, sliding it to the middle of the table. And then, there’s nothing to tell. He thanks his astrological charts that aside from the four of them at this hidden-away desk beneath a single, tall window, the Librarian must be the only person in this section of the castle to overhear.

“We already know that’s hippogriff shite,” Hunter huffs. The three of them are looking at him like he’s being particularly thick, so he frowns and taps the words again, more insistently.

“What about Echo’s point?” Tech suggests. “That it’s someone close to you.”

Wrecker laughs gently. “He said that? Oh, makes sense, doesn’t it? One of us?”

Says who, Crosshair scribbles. He glares for another moment before yanking it back towards him and doing his best to feign interest in his Standard Book of Spells.

“Well, if it’s anyone—-and not Echo—then wouldn’t it be one of us?”

Who says I need to fix this? Crosshair thinks very loudly and very pointedly. It’s unfortunate none of them are Legilimens.

“This is the wrong volume,” Tech announces suddenly. There’s a heavy thunk when he slaps his book shut between his hands and stands, gesturing to Wrecker. “Come with me, I need to reach the shelf.”

Crosshair looks up again. Reach the shelf? The damn things are magic. He’s magic, for crying out loud, he could just—

“I think Wrecker’s right. If it’s one of us, he’s not going to want to say anything because he’s a stubborn prick.” Tech looks down at Crosshair and lifts a brow. “You don’t lose anything letting us try.”

Nothing except his dignity, maybe. But Crosshair can see when he’s cornered, and they have a point he can’t argue (they’ve always had a point, really), so it’s not like running away again will do him any favours. So he rolls his eyes and shrugs, and carefully doesn’t react when Tech leans in and kisses the corner of his mouth. He doesn’t react when Wrecker follows him and does the same, grinning all the while, and only lets himself smile ruefully once they’ve gone, disappearing between the aisles whispering to each other. He hates his friends sometimes.

Crosshair returns to his book in the quiet that follows. He raises the end of his quill to brush over his mouth without thinking, like always. Last yeah Echo spelled it as a joke to taste like peppermint. None of the words on this page seem to string together to make a single sentence, let alone coherent paragraphs.

“Are you going to tell us why you’re being so stubborn about this?” Hunter asks in a low voice. Crosshair shrugs again, trying not to feel his gaze so keenly.

Don’t want your turn? he writes as falsely-sardonic as one can be with a quill and parchment and slides it across the table. Hunter glances at it and looks at him as if he may be mad, but Cross merely watches him, expression unmoved, and pulls his book back towards him. 

Hunter looks down. Crosshair licks his bottom lip and tries, tries to focus on his page. The squeaking of the floorboards starts up again for a long and excruciating minute, and all of a sudden it’s Crosshair’s least favourite noise in all of Britain. 

The moment Hunter stops it’s because he huffs and stands instead, rounding the table to lean against the edge beside him.

“Couldn’t hurt,” he offers, nonchalant. Crosshair tilts his head up to look at him, but he isn’t laughing like the others. He’s picking at a thread on his jumper, looking down at him with eyes framed by thick black lashes. Crosshair’s heart turns, once, slowly and somewhere below his throat. 

He nods. Hunter’s gaze drops to his lips as he leans down, tilts his head, exhales a tiny breath across Crosshair’s cheek before closing the gap. 

Hunter kisses him, then. Properly. Not hard, not overly light, and it’s with mouths closed gently and hesitant, but it’s properly. It’s not… It’s not what he was expecting at all, really. In fact, Crosshair can’t keep himself from leaning into it as his eyes slip shut, savouring it. He has to dig his fingers into the varnished desktop to stop himself pulling Hunter down to kiss him again and again and again—

Hunter sits back, watching him closely. Crosshair swallows and wets his lips. Clears his throat. Takes a breath.

“Thank you,” he says. 

Hunter nearly slips off the table with how hard he startles. Crosshair’s voice, somehow, sounds just as it usually does, and not at all like he hasn’t used it for two weeks, which has them both blinking in surprise.

“You can talk again,” Hunter marvels. “You can—you mean—” He pauses, searching for words that don’t come to him. “What?”

Crosshair tries to swallow the nervous laugh that’s startled out of him by the sound of his own voice. Giddy, he bites down on his lip until he can finally stamp down on the urge to grin like a maniac, but even by then Hunter doesn’t seem to have gotten over his shock.

“Sorry about that,” Crosshair says. “You’re not dying, are you?”

Hunter closes his mouth. He lifts his hand to fidget with his neckline.

“It wasn’t me, was it?” he asks hesitantly. “You’re having me on.”

“Sorry,” Crosshair mutters, feeling his own face fall. He stands and tries to shove his things in his bag, hastily capping his ink when Hunter grabs his wrist to stop him.

“It’s not… Don’t apologise. But tell me, Cross. Please?”

Crosshair chews his lip as he stares down at Hunter’s hand. Warm fingers, smudged with ink and reddened with the chill of the castle draft, firm on the back of his hand. And never mind feeling his fluttering pulse—at this rate Hunter must be able to hear it.

“Not having you on,” he admits grudgingly. “Just didn’t want to cause a problem.”

Breath hisses between Hunter’s lips. His grip tightens, then weakens, then tugs him weakly. “Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I told you,” Crosshair growls. He can feel heat rising beneath his cheeks and he hates it, he hates it he hates it he hates it.

“But you didn’t need to—”

“Well you’re making enough of a bloody fuss about it now!” Crosshair slings his bag onto his shoulder, but he doesn’t quite free his arm from Hunter’s hold. 

He wants to go, he wants to leave. He wants to hide behind his bed curtains like a twelve year old girl and read his book until his racing heart has calmed down and he can at least pretend to look Hunter in the eye again.

But Hunter hangs onto his arm, and so he doesn’t move.

“You could have just said it.”

“Oh really?”

Hunter tilts his head once and again into Crosshair’s line of sight, no matter how he tries to look away. “Really.”

It’s too much. He needs to… He needs to stop. He needs to let Cross go and sulk himself out of his humiliation, and then maybe obliviate himself so they can both pretend this never happened. But no, instead, he hangs on, pleading for Crosshair to meet his coppery brown eyes full of sympathy and regret and… 

Crosshair shakes himself and frowns. “You’re still making a fuss— mnh!”

Hunter ducks in and kisses him again. Cross has half a moment’s thought to smack him for interrupting, but the lips on his are so much more certain, so much more confident than the first time, warm and gorgeous and just a little rough from the cold, and it makes him unbearably weak at the knees. 

One hand fists in thick, scratchy Gryffindor jumper to keep him from stumbling into Hunter’s chest and to yank him closer all at once. Their noses bump, teeth click as they both open their mouths at the wrong time, and Hunter catches Crosshair’s bottom lip between his and kisses him shortly and sweetly. 

Fingers slide under his jaw and draw a small gasp from Crosshair’s lips. It parts their mouths and leaves them breathless where they lean together, forehead against forehead.

“You could have said,” Hunter breathes across his cheek. Cross daren’t open his eyes but he tilts his head, rolling his lip between his teeth. 

“Please don’t say you’re having me on,” he whispers. 

Another kiss, longer, lingering. The hand on his wrist relocating to his waist. “I’m not having you on, either.”

It’s just when Cross has worked up the courage to slide his fingers into the feather-soft locks of hair at Hunter’s neck to reel him back in that he hears the whispers coming from somewhere over his shoulder. There’s a shushing and more giggling, and something of his heart-in-throat panic must show on Crosshair’s face because Hunter rolls his eyes and pulls him closer.

“Ignore them,” he says.

“Don’t mind us!” Wrecker calls from behind a nearby shelf. Tech shushes him loudly and ineffectually between snickers, and Crosshair practically tears himself away from Hunter.

“You blew us,” Tech complains, not at all quietly. “And just when they were finally getting somewhere.”

“Shut the hell up,” Hunter groans. “And stop plotting! It’s annoying.”

“No, I don’t think we will!”

“Fine.”

Hunter grabs his bag and Crosshair’s hand and practically sprints from the library, leaving his abandoned parchments for the house elves and the Librarian’s wrath in their wake.

“Where the bloody hell are we going?” Crosshair asks, bewildered and exhilarated. He has one hand gripping the strap of his bag and the other still held in Hunter’s as they race down the hallways in a pattering of careless footsteps on stone.

“I don’t care!” Hunter shouts back gleefully. “Anywhere!”

Cross laughs out loud at that, taking the first staircase they come to two steps at a time and flying too fast to hear even the reprimands of disgruntled portraits. “Anywhere? Really?” 

“Well, I’d prefer somewhere where we can finish our previous conversation!”

With a sharp tug and a veer to the right, Crosshair steers him towards more familiar and equally as deserted corridors. He might know a place or two that would be suitable.