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Where Clarity's Found

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Steve and Bucky have been best friends since they were children. Bucky had always known he was a half-blood, but didn’t know Steve was a Muggle-born until the smaller boy had a bout of accidental magic (thankfully in the Barnes family home; might have been awkward elsewhere). There’s something ironic in Bucky, now, waiting without Steve on the train - something ironic in Steve being a prefect and not Bucky. It may be something in the vein of Steve being approximately three times as “leader material” as him, but that should have nothing to do with it. Set aside, of course, that this is only a line of thinking because Bucky wants to hang out with his best friend. That’s entirely beside the point.

It’s his second to last train trip towards the castle (though maybe his last; he hasn’t decided if he’s going home for Christmas yet), and Steve is down to the front of the train to play prefect. Granted, so are Bruce, Natasha, Janet and Logan. Bucky remains unsure of how his roommate was even chosen for prefect, but Logan had taken it in stride well, so Bucky figures it’s not really his place to question. Well, it’s not like any of the other seventh year Hufflepuff boys are any more responsible than Logan, and Logan is much better with the first years than Bucky or Clint or even Sam, and definitely better with them than Wade .

Bucky would be sitting down inside the cabin with the rest of the non-prefect semi-delinquents, but he finds himself unable to sit still, and twitching is only pissing Darcy off, which is certainly no goal of Bucky’s own. If it was pissing off Clint or Wade, Bucky wouldn’t much worry after it, but he has a history of reasons to have more fear for the female members of their… group. Steve sometimes calls them a team, though it’s surely ironic (that little shit). Tony, in an equally ironic fashion, calls them a squad, but Bucky can’t force himself to call them either or anything at all. They’re just his friends.

He’s missed them all summer, terribly of course. Those of them that come from muggle families or even half-blood families text, of course, but the rest have to visit if they want to get up with Bucky, who completely abhors writing at all. He spent the summer more or less inside of Steve’s pocket, with occasional visits from Natasha (his best not-Steve friend) and even fewer visits from Sam (Steve’s best not-Bucky friend). Despite this, he still wants Steve and Tasha here more than anything, and being stuffed next to Darcy and Clint on the same seat just wasn’t his cup of tea, or whatever.

He can’t believe it’s already seventh year. For a while there, perhaps right around OWLs, he wasn’t even sure he was going to get this far, but here he is. NEWT level examinations this year, and all of his friends to support him and keep him going. Everyone graduates this year. Well, not everyone - it’s not Janet’s final year, and not Darcy or Phil or Bruce’s final year, but it’s Bucky and Steve and Clint and Natasha and Tony and Thor and Pepper and Vision (Victor Shade, who has always gone by Vision for reasons unknown) and T’Challa and Hank’s last year, and that’s enough that Bucky can feel it buzzing under his skin. His hands are shaking when he looks down at them.

“Hey there, jerk,” a voice says from down the corridor of the train, and it hits Bucky just how long he must have been standing right here. Steve’s grinning at him, and Bucky is grinning back, but he’s also realising that they’d only been on the train for thirty minutes when he stepped outside for a moment; prefects have to be at the front of the train for at least the first hour. A hand is on his shoulder and dragging him back into the cabin to grinning faces that don’t ask questions (they’ve been easier about questions since the accident).

Hours pass like minutes with the lot of them on the train, Bucky and Steve packed together like sardines with the rest of their friends loud and raucous around them. Bucky is calm, pressed into Steve’s side with the lack of room in the compartment, and he doesn’t mind the lack of personal space. Sometimes less space is better, and things only get better with the prefects back in the train car. The hours pass like minutes, and then they are at Hogwarts once more, for the last time.

Even if they all sat together on the train, and usually sit together in the Great Hall, they had already caught hell several years before for trying to sit together during the Sorting. Headmistress Hill wouldn’t force them apart for the rest of the year, so long as they sat with their own houses for the Sorting and for the graduation ceremonies. They’ll sit together for breakfast tomorrow, so Bucky is content enough to just wrap his arm around Clint’s shoulders (arm carefully back to avoid his hearing aids) and listen to the other boy talk. It’s something about sharks skating around on ice with a disk of some sort, but Bucky never minds that he can’t keep up. Clint is American and a mite odd, but he’s funny and kindhearted, so it doesn’t matter to anyone in their group, here or there. Either way, Natasha would kill them for saying anything.

For a long time, he kind of thought something was going on between Tasha and Clint, but that has since proven itself wrong in a spectacular fashion. Upon questioning from Tony, Natasha had snapped something along the lines of not having to have romantic feelings to be close to someone, cutting her eyes at someone across the Great Hall whom Bucky couldn’t identify in time. It seemed like a dig with the way Tony went red to his ears, but Bucky still doesn’t understand exactly what happened, and he was there .

He knows with certainty that he won’t be able to catch Steve on the way back to the dormitories, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting to try. Steve has to walk first years down to the damp, drafty Slytherin common room and show them to their dorms, a duty Bucky does not envy. Steve has been a prefect since their fifth year, and Bucky gets a flash of his best friend nearly jumping up and down, bursting with excitement and manic grin on his face. Somehow, they had known to send Steve’s mail to Bucky’s house, even though Steve had only been there for a few days.

He wasn’t there when Tasha reacted to her own prefecture, but, according to Clint, she hadn’t really reacted all that much. More a knowing glint in her eye and more cuddling that night, Clint told him (though Bucky knows for a fact Clint and Natasha are not together and never have been, sometimes he wonders - then Clint and Bruce make eye contact and he knows ). He wonders after the fact that so many of their friends are prefects, with the reputation the rest of them have for different kinds of mischief (and, in some cases, the reputation the prefects themselves have).

He catches sight of almost all of their friends (not Bruce, who tends to duck beneath the ebb and flow of crowds - he thinks Clint saw him though, based on his friend’s glowing smile), spread across the houses as they are, before heading back to his own common room. It is abnormal to walk with one of their friends without some contact, so Bucky reaches out a hand, which Clint quickly takes, though not in the way Bucky had originally thought. This time he locks arms with Clint, both of them seriously considering skipping down to the barrels, if only to spook nervous first years.

This may or mayn’t be why Clinton and himself are not prefects.

Catching the heat of Logan’s glare from the other side of the corridor, they elect not to skip, just walking in a quite dramatic fashion down to the barrels. Bucky has to play the combination; Clint’s hearing aids are good, but not quite good enough for music in a crowded hallway, and there’s no telling when they’ll mess up. Tony has tried to adapt them as much as he can (they certainly frizzle out less than they did in, say, fourth year when they memorably exploded), but sometimes the latent magic of Hogwarts still manages to cause the batteries to drain and eventually die. He wears them as little as possible (easier, now, that most of their friends can sign).

There isn’t much to do, once settled into their usual bed arrangement; there aren’t any windows in the Hufflepuff dorms, so there are no beds by windows to be argued over. Clint and Logan both need to be in beds by walls, and Sam takes the bed against the wall perpendicular to both walls Clint and Logan take. Left are Bucky and Wade, the first of whom has always preferred to sleep as close to Clint (a trusted friend) as possible (this, of course, also put together Wade and Logan, the latter of whom always seems just this close to killing the former). The five of them have shared a room now for six years, on the beginning edge of seven. Bucky isn’t sure how he’s going to sleep in an empty loft after graduation.

“Aw, coffee,” Bucky hears from across the room, swiftly followed by a metallic clang against the floor. Clint is rubbing the back of his neck and blushing when he picks it up. Even if they’ve only been in the dorm for, if even, five minutes, Clint is already changed into sweatpants and a hoodie. Despite the warmth of summer still clinging to the castle, Clint always claims it’s too cold in the school for his American ass. As for the coffee, Clint brings and subsequently drops a jar every single year since third year. Luckily, the canister didn’t break this time.

“That’s three years in a row, Clint,” Sam’s voice comes from the bathroom, startling Bucky. He hadn’t even realised the other boy had already arrived.

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Clint pouts, setting the coffee back onto his and Bucky’s shared bedside table.

“It kinda does,” Sam laughs, and Bucky smirks.

“He’s not wrong, Clint,” he joins in on the heckling, eyebrows raised.

“Bucky-bear! How could you? Join forces with the Man Who Couldn’t Lean Forward,” Clint whined, and Bucky’s smile drops into a false scowl. It’s not uncommon for their friends to bring up this little joke; Bucky is almost surprised it took until after dinner on the first day for someone to tease one of them for it. Upon the beginning of Steve’s friendship with Sam, back in fifth year, Sam had known who Bucky was, but not vice versa. Sam had switched from an American wizarding school to Hogwarts, and had only shown up a week before he met Bucky, who wasn’t in the dorm much.

At one of Steve’s quidditch games, a new guy was sitting in their group, but Bucky paid no mind to it. The others were constantly pulling in new friend after new friend, so this wasn’t a new occurrence. Except, new guy was sitting where Bucky usually did, at Nat’s left. No big deal, Bucky can just sit behind him. Except, when he sits down, the guy leans back into his lap. What the fuck? He asked the guy to lean forward, and he just looked up, smiled, and stayed where he was. What the fuck?

The guy was Sam, and Bucky got bamboozled. He’s still a little pissed.

A year and a half hence, Bucky has mostly gotten over it (and the pangs of jealousy every time Sam and Steve hang out with out him, the hollow feeling behind his vocal chords has mostly gone away). Sam and Clint and virtually everyone else in their squad still teases him for it - save Wanda, who nearly never teases anyone for anything, besides her brother, of course. Sure, she’ll throw around little quips, but timid Wanda rarely really goes for his throat like perhaps Steve or Tasha or even Clint might.

Before Bucky can generate a reply, the door to their dormitory bangs open, hitting against the suitcase Clint still hasn’t moved from where he set it down when they came in. Clint, claiming muggleborn and American for reasoning, never converted to bringing a trunk. Inspecting the bottom of the door to make sure he didn’t break it again, Wade Wilson stands in the doorway with a wide grin.

“Hey, kids, did you miss me?” Wade asks, dropping his things and jumping directly into Clint’s arms. Clint, forever a forgiving soul (as well as having a liking of Wade from years of experience), wraps his arm around their roommate. The American once told Bucky that Wade reminded him of his dog back home.

“Missing you would imply I didn’t facetime you less than a week ago, Wilson,” Bucky teases from where he’s leaning on his bed, grinning at the display of affection. He loves his friends.

“You didn’t facetime me, Barnes,” Sam jokes. Bucky rolls his eyes on cue.

“I hate this fucking family,” he says petulantly, throwing a pillow in Sam’s general direction. Integration of memes amongst their friends is old news, though frequently they still manage to confuse poor Pietro and Wanda, as well as Thor and Loki. The Maximoff twins were pureblood transfers from Durmstrang a couple of years ago, and pop culture is concerningly new to them. Thor and Loki, from what Bucky can tell, are just fucking pretentious.

“Oh my god, shut up, James ,” Clint says, finally putting Wade down. Wade, unsettled, picks back up his things and literally tosses them into his bed. Not much can be said for grace - nor silence. The room, for the next little while, is quiet - Logan slips in without much fuss after ten minutes like this.

“Logan!” Wade says excitedly, leaping out of his own bed and into Logan’s before Logan himself can get there. Logan rolls his eyes, but there’s just enough fondness there that Bucky isn’t worried about any effects to Wade’s person (or Wade’s feelings; they all joke, but they know how delicate Wade is sometimes). With his usual levels of inhuman strength, Logan lifts Wade out of his bed and places him back in his own without saying a word.

“Hey, Logan,” Sam greets him, smile obvious in his voice even though Bucky’s not looking. Logan just raises a hand in a mock salute, still not speaking. Bucky doesn’t really know what goes on when Logan leaves Hogwarts, but it takes him a few days, every year, to start talking like a normal person again. All Bucky really knows about Logan (outside of Hogwarts) is that he grew up in Canada, or something, he thinks. His thoughts are broken up by Clint yawning, attracting his eyes as well.

“You think maybe it’s time for bed, Hawkeye?” Bucky asks, ribbing at his friend a little. Hawkeye is another inside joke - when the rest of their friends found out that Clint regularly, and with skill, used a bow, Tony started using all kinds of archer nicknames and jokes. Teasing and such is one of the only ways one can be sure that Tony Stark cares about you, as well as the immediate invention of items to help with your hobbies. Clint nods and, despite his sleepy state, catches the blanket Bucky throws at him. Bucky brings extra blankets for him every year, given that Clint likes making nests and forgets to bring supplies to do so.

“Thanks, Buck,” he says sleepily, beginning his construction. By the time he’s done and settled in, everyone else is ready for bed too. They all have a soft spot for each other, and there’s no way they’re going to do anything that might keep Clint awake - none of them sleep enough to be losing any. For once, it only takes minutes for Bucky to fall asleep.

The morning light cascades across Bucky’s bed with the kind of softness he usually might associate with having Steve over, a rare morning of waking up before his best friend. Steve has always been an early riser for reasons unknown, while Bucky has always been the kind of young man to get up ten minutes late and rush getting ready so much he’s likely to hurt himself. Waking with his mind clouded with thoughts of Steve isn’t new, but he tries to push them out anyway, pushing himself out of bed. Wade is obviously already awake, though that’s not a surprise. He’s like Steve, jumping out of bed at the crack of dawn.

With Wade and Logan the only ones out of bed, Bucky at least has a ballpark idea of just how early it is. Wade is always up first, around 5:45, then Logan at 6, then Sam at 6:30 and then Clint and Bucky sometime later and disorganised. Half the time it’s Clint hustling Bucky out of bed, the other half the other way around. He hustles himself out of bed this morning and casts a time charm - 6:18. That would explain Sam’s snores coming across the room, and Logan’s absence. Bucky collects his things in silence and runs to shower, closing the door to the bathroom as quietly as he can.

His shower is quick and he abjectly thinks of nothing the entire time, purposefully making the water hot enough he can’t even think cold thoughts. He runs a brush through his hair and puts it up into a bun instead of drying it properly, obstinately working with the stubborn fingers of his left hand. A few strands hang in his face, but he doesn’t let it bother him. He is well-practiced in the fine art of cutting himself a break - except that he isn’t. He just doesn’t make eye contact with himself in the mirror while getting dressed.

When he comes back into the room, Sam is awake enough to flip him off when Bucky throws his towel at him. They don’t say anything to each other before Sam walks into the bathroom and Bucky walks out of the dorm entirely.

Compared to the rest of their friends, Bucky isn’t particularly early to breakfast - it’s only compared to his own usual time that his first morning at Hogwarts always comes up odd. He sleeps well the first night every single year like clockwork, though the rest of the year is always a tossup. Steve, Wanda, Wade, Pietro, Hank, Vision, Pepper, Coulson, Bruce and Loki are already at the table when he sits down, looking to be having a rather in depth conversation for south of seven in the morning. It’s never a surprise to see Wade sitting with them, but always a tossup - he sometimes sits with Charles Xavier and the friends he has collected.

Steve hands him a hot cup of tea without looking up at him, and just pets his hair when Bucky leans his head against Steve’s shoulder. The tea looks to already have cream and sugar in it, so Bucky risks a sip instead of trying to doctor it. The tea is perfectly done and Bucky smiles. He isn’t sure whether he should risk eating yet, with the sick stomach he sometimes has in the morning, so he just waits while the rest of the table fills in around him. He’s not awake enough to talk much yet, he thinks.

Bucky watches as Bruce lights up and knows that Clint has just walked into the Grand Hall. True to his instincts and prior experience, the seat between Bruce and Natasha fills with the archer, grin and all. He watches still as Loki’s usual resting bitch face flows into an easy smile, and feels Steve move closer to him to allow Tony to sit down. The pattern continues with the relaxation of Natasha’s shoulders as Darcy walks into the room, Hank watching Janet walk in, so on and so forth. Bucky just wishes everyone would get their shit together.

An idea strikes him and he immediately physically reacts, sitting up straight and blinking. If they won’t get their shit together… maybe he could get their shit together for them. Steve can tell he’s having an idea, and Bucky wishes they had their phones so he could just text it to him. Again, the rest of their friends allow him to be strange with no reaction - they always let him live when it comes to strange reactions and things that look like symptoms. They’re so good to him - he has to do it. They’ll never get it together otherwise. He has to make them happy together, to pay it back.

Thinking about their friends as he knows them tells Bucky just exactly how this will go down if no one does anything about it. Clint and Bruce only have so much time before the atmosphere dissolves and they miss their chance. Natasha will convince herself she doesn’t have feelings for Darcy, and Darcy will find someone else and make it go away. Tony is graduating in a few months and Loki still has a year left after that. Pepper and Coulson would tuck their feelings away efficiently and stubbornly not think about it. Hank will pretend he and Janet are just best friends, and Janet will let him. Bucky could… Bucky could do something about this.

He wants to tell Steve right away. Usually, this kind of meddling and butting into their friends’ relationships would be Steve’s idea and Bucky would have to say no, but if it’s Bucky’s idea in the first place, Steve will agree. Steve will probably help. One last line of mischief and helping - one last mission - before they graduate.

The rest of breakfast passes quickly with lots of glances heated with longing or some shit - Bucky just puts his head back on Steve’s shoulder and plots quietly, only speaking when spoken to and generally keeping his mouth shut.

Between breakfast and his first class - Potions with the rest of the seventh years that made it to NEWT level - he grabs Steve and drags him into an alcove. Having dealt with all of their friends for six years - and Bucky for longer - Steve doesn’t look surprised by being grabbed, just interested.

“So, what was the idea?” he asks immediately instead of waiting for Bucky to talk. He’s just as ready for mischief that’s Bucky’s idea as Bucky himself is. None of the pranks or missions have been Bucky’s creation since the accident.

“Matchmaking. Our shitty friends need matchmaking and we’ve gotta do it, Stevie,” Bucky announces, gesticulating enthusiastically. He has a lot of feelings, okay? A smile slowly drips into Steve’s expression and Bucky should have enough experience with Steve’s face for it to not affect him, but good God will he ever? He doesn’t realise he’s holding his breath until Steve is speaking again, the tension flowing out of his own shoulders.

You want to matchmake?” Steve questions, eyebrow quirked suggestively. Bucky understands the confusion latent beneath the joking nature of the question, as well as the doubtful nature of asking in the first place. Meddling just is not Bucky’s usual method.

“I don’t want to, but we have to do it. Somebody’s gotta do it - might as well be us. Clint and Bruce are never gonna get their shit together, Tasha isn’t gonna let herself feel shit for Darcy, Hank’s got his head so far up his ass about Jan, Tony and Loki won’t touch that with a ten foot pole and Pepper and Coulson are real good are ignoring things. Somebody’s gotta do it, ” he emphasizes, again gesturing wildly. He knows Steve will agree, he just knows it, but he can’t rationalize how emotional he’s getting about it. He can’t tell Steve his other motivations either (then, Steve would surely say no).

“Alright, Buck,” Steve acquiesces, shrugging one shoulder, “if it’s that important to you.” The shitty smirk says more than Steve does, and Bucky knows he’s just being a shithead, but he’s just glad Steve agreed. He grins up at Steve (he didn’t used to have to look up, he remembers Steve small and looking up at him and - he tramps down on the memories before they can swallow him whole) and shoves him out of the alcove.

“And now,” he says and pauses for additive dramatic effect, “to class.”

The rest of the day passes as the first day always does, the less than addicting mix of too fast and too slow that leaves Bucky reeling. He has friends in every single one of his classes, given that NEWT classes are always mixed house classes, but that only makes it marginally better. He wishes the only people in his classes were his friends, but he knows well enough that it’s never going to happen. Not even Headmistress Hill loves him that much, even if his friends would definitely allow their schedules to be manipulated like that. The day passes, he eats both dinner and lunch with his friends, and he goes straight to sleep as the night before. Unfortunately, things do not go so well from there.

When he wakes up on the morning of his second day of seventh year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Bucky Barnes is covered in sweat and full of fear. He nearly lashes out at the figure above him, but holds himself back as he recognises blue eyes and slow motions. Clint is signing above him in an attempt to avoid any attacks; all of the seventh year Hufflepuff boys have learned well enough to silence themselves while attempting to wake Bucky from his nightmares. They know a lot of them have something to do with noise. Bucky pushes himself out of bed and swallows any of the leftover fear tears, obstinately cracking his knuckles instead of looking at Clint’s still moving hands.

“Have you told Steve about the nightmares yet?” Clint finally speaks aloud after a few moments of letting Bucky pretend not to notice him, tone both clipped and tired. Bucky doesn’t say anything, but the silence is answer enough; Clint doesn’t have to say anything more either, given that the disappointed but not angry look is enough. He can’t go to Steve, Clint should know - Bucky can’t just run to Steve every single time things suck. Bucky flexes the fingers of his left hand and calms himself to the sound of Clint’s slow and even breaths.

Once he feels like he can breathe on his own, Bucky gets up and walks to the bathroom. He still says nothing, but can feel Clint’s eyes on him the entire way to the door, searching and asking questions Clint won’t voice and Bucky won’t answer.

The time charm he casts after leaning his back hard against the door says it’s only 5:30, which means it’s too early for both Bucky and Clint to be awake. How much was he thrashing to wake Clint? If he was making noise, it would have been Wade by his side. Anyway, the early hour means Clint should go back to sleep, though Wade, on the other hand, should be up all too soon. A given explanation for his shitty sleeping habits is the jesting theory that Wade cannot go more than seven hours at a time without speaking, but it could also be that there hasn’t been a night since third year that every single member of the seventh year Hufflepuff boys dorm has slept through the night. It’s not that big of a deal.

A shower is in order to clear his head, Bucky decides, even as he knows it can’t work if he keeps glancing down at his left hand. He keeps his eyes closed as much as he can to avoid looking at it or thinking as much as possible, but a shower is a shower, which usually involves some kind of navigating of an only semi-aqueous machine. He just doesn’t want to think, is that too much to ask?

The shower is quick and it does not clear his head, but by the time Bucky is out, Wade is awake and already talking. He’s quiet as not to face Logan’s wrath for waking the Canadian before his alarm, but Wade is still running a steady commentary on what happened in his dream, a story Bucky can’t force himself to follow. Wade knows that Bucky isn’t always the best tempered in the morning, so he keeps conversation before nine positive and quiet, though he doesn’t let it stop him from talking. Bucky doesn’t quite mind the noise.

Wade talks through him getting dressed, settling down on Bucky’s bed and kicking his feet onto it as well. The comfort and casualness of Wade is reassuring - his friend never treated him different after the accident. He’s still full of questions and words, even if he doesn’t always expect honest answers and just… he doesn’t treat Bucky any differently. Wade has never changed his however limited view on Bucky, never tried to ask him about the accident, never purposely avoided a topic for his delicate sensibilities. It’s cool.

Wade talks, Bucky doesn’t, and eventually Bucky leaves. That’s cool too.

Steve is already at the Hufflepuff table (their usual table of choice - chosen, of course, by Tony, as the most stubbornly headstrong of them) when Bucky gets there and sits down. The familiarity of Steve is even more reassuring than Clint and Wade, and Bucky wants to sink into him like an ocean tide. Steve’s brows furrow with concern (not an unattractive look on him) when his eyes skim down to, probably, the circles beneath Bucky’s eyes. Steve’s mouth opens and already Bucky is so tired, so he shakes his head; he knows Steve is still going to talk, but he might as well get his stance on the matter out early.

“You okay, Buck?” his best friend asks quietly, dipping his head to speak close. The proximity makes Bucky even more sleepy than he was before, so he just leans against Steve instead of replying. Hands move to his shoulders suddenly, and he gets moved in a way that forces him to look Steve in the face. “Are you okay?” Steve asks again, eyebrows raised and concern lacing his voice through.

“Yeah, I’m fine, Stevie. Just slept shitty, you know?” Bucky minimizes the problem and hopes they can go back to his head against Steve’s shoulder, quiet and relaxed.

This is not an unfamiliar conversation, as much as Bucky would like to pretend he is navigating new territory. The argument of Bucky’s disinterest in his own health and the torrent of Steve’s concern washing over him is the oldest one they have, though it used to come from Bucky staying awake at night for fun. What he wouldn’t give for those days now is a short list comprised of very few people and items.

The rest of Steve’s concern is interrupted by Wanda’s arrival at the table, quiet and yet still distracting. Despite having the same past that makes Pietro bitter, Wanda can always be found with a smile, and having her around always makes Bucky’s chest feel lighter. While Bucky gets sidetracked by greeting Wanda and asking quietly after how she is doing, Steve’s arm winds around his shoulders, some of the leftover worry displaying itself as affection. Bucky can’t say that he minds.

Because Wanda is here, Bucky knows from experience that it won’t be long for Pietro to follow after her. The twins always come as a pair and he is not unfamiliar with the weather patterns of their shared sky.

Because Wanda is here, Bucky knows from experience that it won’t be long for Vision to follow after her. Bucky is also not unfamiliar with the patterns of teenagers following around their crushes.

Vision is a seventh year Ravenclaw that Bucky knows more from Tony and Wanda than he does from personal experience, but even he knows that the kid’s real name is Victor Shade. Around fourth year or so, he asked to be called Vision and everyone complied (the complacency of their entire year might have more to do with sharp looks and clever curses from Tony Stark than anything else, but that was neither here nor there). Anyway, what Bucky knows is that Vision and Wanda have been dancing around each other for a while, and they’re on the list as well. He needs to start actually making a list.

Upon arrival, Vision sits to Wanda’s right side; Pietro has already arrived to sit at Wanda’s left and casts a nasty look to Vision as the elder sits down. Vision, to either his credit or his detriment, either pretends not to notice or does not notice at all. With Wade’s arrival, Pietro is distracted, turning instead to listen to the dream Bucky had mostly ignored earlier, but heard enough of to recognise now. Pepper and Phil (Coulson, Bucky reminds himself, because Phil has preferred Coulson since he was thirteen, even if Phil was better than Phyllis) come in together, already having a discussion he could only guess at the topic of.

Becca briefly stops by to just touch fingers to Bucky’s hair, seeing the concern coming off of Steve and the bags under Bucky’s eyes; she can’t kick him when he’s down, little sister duties or not. Even she sees him differently, now. It hurts and hurts, it always hurts, but he tries to distract himself and thinks of the things happening around him instead of anything else. He’s okay, he’d like to think. Distractions.

All of their friends trickle in around him and Bucky’s shoulders are still warm with the weight of his best friend’s arm.

With the Tuesday schedule, Bucky and a great many of the rest are in Transfiguration for their first morning class. The NEWT level Transfiguration class isn’t all that large; their class as a whole is small with having been born only a year after the second wizarding war. Bucky can’t rationalize the fact that his parents were foot soldiers of what was basically a revolution in the second wizarding war, but he tries anyway. His Mom and Dad met Harry Potter before he was a professor, which is kind of wild. It’s sometimes easier to interact with Steve’s mom because she was a muggle at the time.

Sometimes Bucky’s thoughts get so off track that he’s thinking about like what if he and Steve did start dating, but instead of working out, everything fell apart. Bucky had messed up quite a few things in his life - he’s skilled enough to fuck up something even so sure as him and Steve. It’s like - what if their relationship was only a month instead of a marriage, a year instead of a lifetime, and they broke up - what would happen to their friend group, to Bucky’s relationship with Steve’s mom, to Steve’s friendship with Becca? God.

Bucky shakes the thoughts out of his head and continues onto Transfiguration, a mixed house class of all of the kids that made it to NEWT level. Steve is beside him and the back of Tony and Clint’s heads are in front of him. He focuses on Steve and on Tony and on Clint separately before putting all of those positive feelings together, trying to stop the ticking in his hands before Steve notices. He manages it just as Steve looks over.

Are you okay? Steve signs - all of them had learned at least some from Clint years ago. They’re all better at it than even Clint’s brother, from what Bucky understands, including Wanda and Pietro, who’ve only been here a couple of years. He worries about what things are like for Clint at home.

I’m fine , he signs back, and then the name sign for Steve after.

“No talking,” the professor says at the front of the room, “not even if it’s signing.” Clint turns around to look at them, quirking an eyebrow at them. It isn’t as if anyone in their year besides their friends knows sign more than yes or no, so it has to be them (given that, as always, the rest of their friends are in the rows ahead them). Bucky is tempted to flick Clint off, but decides not to risk provoking the professor more than he already has.

“Yes, ma’am,” both he and Steve drone after a moment, and then pause to smile at each other before picking back up their quills for notes.

Bucky is so fucking gone when it comes to Steve. Fuck. He spends the rest of the class actually trying to pay attention, ducking out as soon as the period is over. Steve walks next to him naturally, the rest of their friends dispersing into the nether. Most of them have a free period, or study hall, for the next hour or so, including one Anthony Edward Stark.

“Hey, Buckaroo, you got a minute?” Tony asks, having just somehow swung a corner at a fast enough speed to surprise Bucky and Steve without hurting himself. Tony is really the only one that calls Bucky that, and it’s enough of a calling card that the line of Bucky’s shoulders immediately relaxes. He follows Tony back into the hallway where he is widely gesturing - Tony shakes his head when Steve starts to follow as well. “Just Barnes, here, I’m afraid, Mister Rogers.”

“Oh,” Steve says eloquently, nodding once. “I’ll be in my common room, Buck,” he provides, awkwardly walking away toward the Slytherin dungeon. It displeases Bucky to see him go, but he doesn’t quite mind watching him leave - he’s a fucking pig, he should be ashamed. His eyes snap back to Tony a second too late, but for once, the young Stark heir says nothing, only raising an eyebrow.

“Anyway, my Hufflepuff compatriot, just a quick Q. When is the Archer Americano’s birthday? I have a guess but I think I might be wrong, and I hate being wrong,” Tony says, kind of all at once and kind of in that slow way that’s just shy of pissing Bucky off sometimes. Also, the fast pace at which Tony projects information reminds him of Wade (a reminder that softens any judgement he could really take with Tony).

“Eighteenth of July,” Bucky replies on a semi-automatic timer, not really thinking about it, more thinking about how to actually talk. He knows the birthdays of the entire squad as Tony himself would call it, from Clint to the twins to T’challa and everyone in between. Remembering dates is one of the only things he’s good at - History of Magic would be his best subject if it wasn’t so fucking boring.

“I thought it might be June, but Brucie said July and I knew he was probably right, but I just couldn’t give it up,” Tony explained, gesturing widely as he is wont to do while speaking. Tony is proven to be unable to be trusted holding his own drinks while talking, seeing as he threw an entire tankard of butterbeer onto Thor just last year. Luckily, the blond took it all with good humour, laughing and congratulating Tony on the distance he caught with the liquid. If Thor hadn’t taken it well, there wasn’t really any one of them that could hold him back should he decide to do something about it, though Thor had never been violent.

“Any particular reason you’d like to know?” Bucky asks, quirking a brow and allowing a small smile onto his face. As much as Tony is more Steve’s friend than Bucky’s, every single one of their friends feels close. Actually, most of their friends had been picked up by Bucky or Steve in one turn or another, usually by way of shared classes and passing in corridors. First was Bucky with Clint and Janet, and then Steve with Tony and Thor; the rest had collected around them in swarms.

“I was thinking about doing a birthday thing for all of the kids who have birthdays while we’re on breaks. Steve’s is on the fourth of July, Thor’s is on the twelfth of June, Coulson’s is on the eighth of July, T’Challa’s is on December thirty first, and Loki’s is on the seventeenth of December - just after break starts, poor kid - so I want to do something,” Tony explains in his long winded way, and with the last one comes understanding. Bucky nods and the smile grows larger, until he is fully grinning at the Ravenclaw.

“That’s a really good idea, Tony, I like that. What did you have in mind?” he asks. There are a lot of parts of him riddled with guilt that he ignores, but these parts are also still pleased with the idea of paying back at least some of his friends with celebrations. He pushes that away and makes himself light, focuses on the conversation, and Tony doesn’t comment on any changes in Bucky’s expression or breathing, even though he knows they must have happened (no one ever comments on the changes anymore).

“Do you think we should just do a party - Steve and Phil would want it nonchalant - or should we embarrass them? You know me, I lean towards the extreme, but I want it to be fun for everyone,” Tony sounds just this side of nervous - it shows just how much he’s thought about it, the edge of losing his carefully crafted nonchalance. It also shows who he’s really thinking of - Loki is the only one who makes him so brittle around the edges these days. Bucky doesn’t comment on any changes either, and he wonders when they all got soft on each other.

“It’s Steve, so I say embarrass them,” he laughs, bringing around his thoughts. He feels like he has to chase himself around his head sometimes.

“I was hoping you would say that, Barnes,” Tony says, a smirk stretching across his own face. Despite being just barely seventeen, Tony has the crow’s feet and facial hair of a man several years his senior (it makes it even funnier to see him next to Loki who, despite only being a year younger, wears his youth obviously). Seeing the aging on his friend’s face sometimes worries Bucky, but he pushes that down too.

“And what’s the plan?” Bucky asks, a beat too late but still excited.

“I’m glad you asked,” Tony replies, and launches into a long explanation with what seems like twenty lists. Bucky nods along and listens, stays until he can follow Steve back to the Slytherin common room. Tony comes with, and the lot of the squad hangs out until next class. This seems to a kind of preview for the year, but Bucky mostly just tries to enjoy goods things as they come, these days.

The party, more or less, isn’t to happen for another week (the second weekend of the school year rather than the first, for Tony’s strange reasoning rather than anything else), and Bucky is frankly fucking bored. Nothing of interest is happening in class yet - introductions and syllabi even if they’ve gone to this school since they were knee-high (eleven isn’t knee-high, but Bucky is bitter). It doesn’t seem to matter that he’s known Professors Potter and Longbottom since he was a wee thing, no , he needs the introductions in both Defense and Herbology respectively to keep their names straight, apparently. He should find the lack of activity calming or something, but Bucky has always been most calm under fire.

Steve is restless as well. Bucky can see it in the hard line of his shoulders when he walks up behind him, so he wraps his arms around Steve’s waist. He’s no longer tall enough to hook his chin over Steve’s shoulder, so he just presses his face into the fabric of Steve’s cloak. The Great Hall is mostly empty save the prefects standing in a semicircle and a few stragglers, and Bucky feels safe standing right here. Despite the obvious physical interruption, Steve keeps talking to the other prefects until he’s said what he has to say, only turning to speak to Bucky after.

“Well, hello,” he says, and hearing the laughter crisping the edges of his words makes Bucky feel better automatically. It feels like Steve’s laughter is autumn leaves and spring flowers and summer sunshine all wrapped tightly into one thing and Bucky’s breath is coming short, a little. He wasn’t so poetic even last year, and he hates to think that he is now, because that’s fucking gross.

“Hey,” Bucky replies, and then steps out of Steve’s space when he can’t stop himself from staring at his best friend’s face. Maybe less proximity will make staring less weird. Yeah, maybe. The Great Hall seems to have shrunk to just the two of them without Bucky’s noticing or permission, and he feels Steve’s presence like a physical weight on his chest. He’s inevitably distracted by the pains in his left hand - he wishes he could ignore those just like everything else. Bucky doesn’t realise he’s been drifting until Steve’s hand is cupping his face, tilting his chin up so he has to look at him.

“Where’d you go?” Steve asks, in that calm voice he always uses, soft and sweet and too much for Bucky, he doesn’t deserve this. Steve’s too good for him and they’re not even together - they’re not even together and he already blew it. Of course. If that doesn’t sound like him, he isn’t sure what does. Bitter laughter rises in his throat and coughs itself out, sounding more like the result of a two-pack-a-day smoking habit than the laugh of a teenage boy.

“I’m right here, Steve. I’m right here.” That comes out bitter too and he doesn’t know why he’s doing this - he was fine a moment ago, he could feel the fineness and safety in his bones. It’s Bucky’s own fault he’s acting weird, he just needs to get his fucking head together, for once in his fucking life.

“Where are you going, Buck?” Steve asks again, worded differently but still the same question that Bucky can’t answer. Where does he go? He doesn’t know. Some space inside his own head that feels so gone he’s somewhere else, someone else, something else. He snaps himself back into focus well enough to make eye contact with Steve, resisting the urge to wipe at his eyes to hold tears back. Trying to hold them back would mean admitting they were there in the first place, and he won’t be admitting to that anytime soon. Tears could make trails of his cheeks and work their way down his jaw before he would admit to their existence at all.

“Hufflepuff common room. You wanna come?” he lies - he knows it’s not what Steve is asking, but he says it anyway, asks in hopes to change the subject. Steve folds like a house of cards, more evidence of just how much the accident has changed all of them; he would have fought him on something like this before. This is what Bucky wanted, it shouldn’t be making his shoulders a straight line, his jaw a hard angle, his teeth clenched. He should be happy. He swallows more bitterness, but it doesn’t taste like victory.

“Sure, Bucky,” Steve concedes. None of their half-arguments tainted with worry and anxiety ever feel won, like war-torn battlefields between them that only hold a series of losses. The metaphor is dramatic and laughable but it doesn’t make Bucky laugh - it only feels too apt and like it’s closing his throat with the truth of it. Despite this being Bucky’s idea, Steve ends up leading him to the Hufflepuff common room, half walking him and half dragging him by the arm. It’s his left arm and it’s weird, but Bucky struggles with trying to normalise this anyway. It’s just another part of his body - if Steve’s okay with it, shouldn’t he be?

Clint is sitting in the common room with Bruce’s head in his lap when they arrive, the Ravenclaw snoring quietly with his face turned towards Clint’s stomach.

“He just fell asleep and if you wake him up, I will skin you. He didn’t sleep well last night,” Clint whisper shouts, not risking moving his hands enough to sign at them. He looks down at Bruce fondly with hands in his hair, and if Bucky was in the right mind, he would make a comment about getting a room. Steve’s hand is in his before he can try to wrap his brain around a reply, and his best friend drags him up to his own dorm before closing the door quietly behind them.

“You didn’t sleep well last night either, Buck,” Steve says it like a fact, never even a question, and, well, it’s not like Bucky can deny it.

“How would you know?” He can still ask stupid questions if he would very well like to, thank you very much. Adding spaces between them with words as much as he can, he hopes to somehow make up for how close Steve is still standing to him, both of them nearly in the closed doorway.

“He’s beautiful, American, and shares a room with you,” Steve drawls, raising a single eyebrow. It doesn’t technically implicate either of Bucky’s American roommates, seeing as he and Steve have previously had a discussion of the shared beauty of all of their friends. He still blames Sam, just on the principle of the thing (though that would mean that Clint told Sam in the first place and he was to blame as well - complicated).

“Helpful. Anyway, it doesn’t matter,” Bucky says, but Steve rolls his eyes before he’s three words in and the ending is weak. He wishes he was as strong as he once was.

“Let’s sleep,” Steve offers, and Bucky really wishes he was as strong as he once was.

“Okay.”

Sharing a bed should be awkward between two seventeen year old boys, but with Steve’s hand carding through his hair, Bucky can’t think so. He falls asleep kind of like he’s just waiting for something, and it’s finally there.

Bucky wakes cocooned in warmth and feeling as if weighted sunshine is wrapped around his shoulders like an overcoat. Coming to awareness takes moments rather than minutes, but he’d rather act like it’s taking longer, so he nuzzles his face into the pillows. A soft sound comes from behind his right ear, an exhale of breath he can feel on his neck, and he knows Steve is awake too. For once, Bucky wants to not worry about it, not worry about making it weird or being weird or anything at all, staying not stiffly still but also not getting out bed, just curling back into his best friend. His chest feels light without feeling hollow, like he could float away right now if Steve wasn’t holding him down.

“Good morning, starshine, the earth says hello,” Steve says quietly after a while, another exhale of breath against Bucky’s neck. The familiarity of the quote is comforting, hearing Steve’s mom’s voice trace over Steve’s in his head, a fractured piece of peace. Bucky wants, suddenly, for mornings at Steve’s house, something that had grown old during the last stretch of summer, but he wants to see Steve’s mom and feel calm and settle into the Irish hills where Steve feels like he’s completely in his element.

“I don’t think it’s morning, Stevie,” Bucky replies, judging solely by the lack of light pounding on his eyelids and the lack of sounds of his roommates. Steve laughs, quiet and dry. There’s something incredibly humbling about having someone as good as he knows Steve to be draped over him so casually, so… familiar. Bucky wants to feel like this for the rest of his life, and that’s why he lets himself do it now. He may never get the chance again, for all he knows. Suddenly, everything is less warm, less soft.

“You know, I think you might be right, Buck,” Steve chuckles, and Bucky can feel him lean his forehead against the back of Bucky’s shoulder. For a moment, he can imagine this being an everyday kind of thing, a routine shared between just the two of them - he can imagine this being romantic. He has to get up. He can’t make it weird by getting up too fast either though (having a crush on one’s best friend quickly grows complicated).

“Have I gotten enough sleep, you think?” he asks, keeping the joking air even while trying to navigate his own convoluted feelings. Steve’s forehead is gone from his shoulder, and then one of his hands from Bucky’s waist; he hadn’t realised it was there before it was gone. The time flashes above them in green (Steve’s magic is usually green or blue, though Bucky isn’t sure why; his own is blue, but he knows why for that), though he hadn’t heard Steve say the spell. He must be getting better at nonverbal magic - Bucky only seems to be getting worse.

“I’d say so, jerk. You wanna get up and eat with the others?” Steve offers, his hand coming back to Bucky’s hip. The intimacy is almost too much for Bucky, and he rolls off of the bed and onto his feet in one solid motion.

“Let’s go then, punk,” Bucky replies, offering a hand - always his right, never the left, never - to help Steve up. Steve rolls his eyes but takes it, pulling himself up and throwing an arm around Bucky’s shoulders immediately; he’s really taken to being taller than Bucky, always using it to his own advantage. The doorway should be complicated with the shoulders of two fully grown teenage boys attempting to go through it at the same time, but nothing is ever awkward with Steve and Bucky kind of wants to die. But that’s fine. That’s totally fine. Bucky’s never been finer, thanks for asking.

Clint and Bruce are no longer on the couch when they arrive in the common room, and no evidence of them remains. Bucky wonders idly how awkward dinner is going to be, if awkward at all, from Bruce’s nap in Clint’s lap. Things sometimes were more complicated with the two of them, having danced around each other for so long as they have. He and Steve need to talk about the matchmaking. He gestures to the couch as they walk by it.

“What are we going to do about them?” he asks, thankful for the empty common room and the power to speak freely. Everyone else is likely already down to the Great Hall; he and Steve are nearly twenty minutes late already. Steve shrugs even with Bucky’s shoulders beneath his arm, turning to him to look down as he spoke.

“You know Clint better, and Tony knows Bruce better than me. We’re all friends, but I don’t actually know all that much about Clint or Bruce, you know,” Steve explains, though Bucky knows some elements of that are less than true. Steve knows a great many things about all of their friends, information he remembers scattered over years of living in each and every one of each other’s pockets. They’re too close and codependent to not know at least some about all of them, even the newer ones. Proof enough, Wanda and Pietro only came at the start of last year and Bucky knows enough about them to work with it.

“You know both of them well enough. Clint’s too bullheaded and self-deprecating to do anything about it and Bruce is too shy. They’ll have to be worked around to it,” Bucky replies, bumping his shoulder against the side of Steve’s chest.

“What about the rest of them?” the Slytherin asks, bringing up the true mystery of this entire endeavor.

“I have ideas for Stark and Loki, but for the rest of them… Hank and Jan are too wrapped up in each other for me to get any idea, Clint and Bruce are complicated , Darcy and Tasha, I don’t even know how serious they are - I think they’re serious but what do I know? And Coulson and Pepper, I just - I have no God-given idea.”

The evening passes with laughter shared between them, Steve trying to keep Bucky calm and he knows that. Eventually, they trail over to the kitchens and beg food off of the house elves, as much as Bruce always harps on them for not appreciating the help enough. They go to bed in separate beds and Bucky tries not to ache with the loss, instead just going to sleep and getting up the next morning, actively not making it weird. The next day, a majority of them spend their lunch period in the Ravenclaw common room, the rest of their friends in Gryffindor’s to actually study. All of them can’t be in the same common room save for parties, so they tend to separate if they’re not eating lunch in the Great Hall. They’re still in the corridor on the way to the Ravenclaw common room when two of them start giggling uncontrollably, though one of them has the ability to stop.

“Okay this is a dumb question, but what’s going on?” Clint asks from behind Tony, who seems to be laughing rather uncontrollably. Bucky isn’t entirely sure of when Clint came in or where he came from, but he’s glad his friend is here to witness this majesty none the less.

“Cheering charm. He wouldn’t stop being a little shit, so Bruce cheering charmed him. Pretty clever, isn’t it?” Bucky answers, chuckling and pointing at Tony. Bruce had been purposefully overzealous with his use of the charm, and Tony now has a case of the giggles for his efforts. It’s kind of really funny. Tony tries to look angry at being laughed at, but the cheering charm takes that away too, leaving just a giggling mess. Some of the first years on the corridor look a charming mixture of amused and afraid, a sentiment Clint’s own expression is currently copying. Besides that, Clint also looks impressed.

“Nice job, Freckles,” he says, wrapping an arm around a silent Bruce’s shoulders. The blush that immediately makes its way around Bruce’s ears is some kind of impressive, though that doesn’t mean Clint notices it. Clint never really notices anything to his own benefit, a sad reality of being friends with the American. The boy is too thick for his own good - which immediately becomes a euphemism in Bucky’s head. It’s luck that the laughter looks like more at Tony’s expense, and the older Ravenclaw glares at him for it. Bucky laughs again.

“You’re such - such an ass basket, Barnes.” The insult breaks with giggles and heaving breaths, disturbing the absolute murder in Tony’s eyes. It doesn’t seem to matter that Clint is laughing at him as well, nor that Bruce is still chuckling in his quiet way. With Bucky’s distraction, he doesn’t know Steve is also there and laughing until the Slytherin is wrapped around his back, shaking against him. Bucky can feel himself short circuit and, to his best ability, doesn’t let it show on his face. The eye contact Clint is trying to initiate with him says that it shows anyway, because of course it does.

“And what’s happened to Tony?” Steve asks, hooking his chin over Bucky’s shoulder. The familiarity not just between himself and Steve, but between their entire group of friends, rolls over Bucky like a wave. What Steve’s doing right now, what Clint is doing right now, the displays of affection, they should be weird - it never is, with their friends.

“Bruce here cheering charmed him. Isn’t he charming?” Clint jokes, eye rolls all around. It’s just the kind of shitty joke to bring Natasha out of the woodwork, as she materialises out of the corridor just as soon as Clint says it. Well, or she comes in because she’s reached her destination - Bucky likes his theory better.

“Shut up, Clinton,” Tasha says without preamble, walking past them to sit down on the common room’s biggest couch. Bucky had forgotten they could go sit down, and frog-walks Steve over to one of the big arm chairs to push him into it. The Ravenclaw common room features a great many chairs perfect for a reading nook, as well as large couches and working desks. It looks both similar and nothing like the Hufflepuff and Slytherin common rooms Bucky is typically more familiar with.

Pushing Steve down into the chair, Bucky climbs onto the armrest with his school regulated plain black shoes in Steve’s lap. It’s completely unnecessary with the aforementioned magnitude of seating in the common room, but it’s the amount of little shit Bucky is used to being. The action is punctuated by Tony’s strained giggling, but that’s probably more cheering charm than thinking Bucky’s funny.

“You know, you could sit in your own seat, jerk,” Steve tells him, but puts a hand on Bucky’s calf and makes no move to remove him. Bucky settles in and sticks his tongue out at the Head Boy.

“But I’d miss you, punk,” Bucky replies in a whining voice, settling in even deeper. Natasha laughs her quiet laugh from the couch, realising the joke of it - it’s a jab at Tony, who had once said that if Bucky and Steve get more than four feet apart, they would have separation anxiety. At the time, Bucky had climbed into Steve’s lap, in the Great Hall, and said in a saccharine sweet voice that Tony was right, calling Steve Stevie in a voice that made it sound like more than just a childhood nickname. Clint still cringes openly when anybody brings it up, having been sitting on Steve’s other side at the time.

“You’re gross,” Clint comments from the couch. Bucky hasn’t been paying attention, but now Clint is sitting between Natasha and Bruce, the first of which has laid her legs across his lap and the second of which has a hand carding through Clint’s hair where the archer is leaning against Bruce’s chest. Steve, with a wryness that only comes from dealing with these people for years, raises a single eyebrow.

“We’re gross?” is all he says, but Clint and Bruce both go red around the ears anyway. It makes Clint’s yellow skin pink, but turns Bruce’s darker skin truly red, a charming look for the Ravenclaw. Bucky obstinately does not laugh. Clint does not reply.

“Everyone here is gross. Even you, Brucey-bear. You have wronged me,” Tony says, and the cheering charm seems to have slowly worn off, unfortunately. Every once in a while, Tony giggles like a hiccup, but it’s no longer the laughing fit from before. Bucky doubts he can convince Bruce to do it again, and Bucky himself is much more for Defense or Transfiguration than Charms, regrettably. Bruce, right now, seems completely unconcerned with whatever Tony is thinking of him, focussing on his hand in Clint’s hair.

“Did you die, though?” Natasha says, deadpan, into the relative silence. Every single one of them cracks up, even Tony himself, until all of them are laughing at a shitty meme at one in the afternoon on a Thursday. This, if nothing else, describes their friend group, even if all of them aren’t in attending. The day passes like it always does, and Bucky settles deeper into Steve’s lap, resting his head on his shoulder before he has to go back into the school and go to class all over again.

The next day, it’s only Friday of the first week of school, but Bucky can feel Tony shaking the entire couch as they discuss the final planned details of the party happening next Saturday (he says planned because nothing ever goes exactly to plan with their friends). He supposes he shouldn’t feel like it’s only Friday about a party happening a week from tomorrow, but time isn’t real. Nothing about deadlines ever feels real to Bucky until a couple of hours before it’s due, a trait that has always caused Steve great stress on his behalf. Bucky just can’t be bothered.

“I’m freaking out. How are you not freaking out? I’m freaking out,” Tony is anxious to the point of repetition, though with the amount Tony usually talks, it’s not surprising he talks more under stress. Bucky reigns in his own angrily anxious response - the anxiety of others triggers his own anxiety and he gets angry and makes others anxious and it’s a vicious cycle really. Instead, Bucky tries to formulate a constructive answer, an answer that will maybe calm some of his friend’s nerves. Coming up empty, Bucky goes for something else.

“Why are you freaking out so much? The party in general or just specific shit?” he asks, hoping maybe dissecting the problem will help Tony out. Tony’s the study-studious type, even if he was banned from the library. Last year, Loki had bet Tony that the Ravenclaw could not make an explosive out of just the materials he had on hand. In his inability to let anything go at all, Tony not only made a small bomb, but subsequently set it off to assure his victory. Madame Pince, even in her old age, heard the explosion and, once discovering the source, banned Tony from the library for the rest of his Hogwarts career.

“Just the party in general - why would I be anxious about anything specific, why would you even say that?” Tony questions, too quick. His voice is threading in and out in too high of a pitch to too low, fast and ridden with stress that Tony isn’t hiding well. Bucky’s really not the person to be doing this - he doesn’t comfort well, he doesn’t work with Tony well, he’s not good for calming anyone down. He’s the number one aggravator of Tony Stark, and is only in competition for the position with one Clint Barton (and, in his sneaky Slytherin way, Steven Grant Rogers).

“So, something specific. Thing or person?” Bucky continues his line of questioning, digging in his heels now that he has something to go on. His inquisitive mind is almost as in this as his matchmaking nature is, the urge to root around until he finds something of value rising in the back of his mind.

“Not, not something specific. I’m fine, Barnes, stay in your little emotionless wheelhouse, would you? If I was anxious about something specific, it would have to be a thing right? Not that I’m anxious about anything specific in the first place - it’s really just the party in general. But, if I was, it would be a thing. Only people at the party are our friends and they’re just our friends,” Tony explains, fast-paced and anxiety-ridden. Bucky could crack guesses at what’s going on, but he thinks it might be better for Tony to say it out loud. He feels like it would chase Tony away even faster if he were to make guesses anyway - the Ravenclaw would deny any and all claims immediately.

“Person. Who?” he baits. Tony’s face twists into something bitter and not okay, and Bucky’s sorry , but he can’t stop doing this. It’s not in his own chosen interests to lay off of his friend, but, for a moment, he wishes it could be.

“Nothing specific is making me anxious, Barnes. I’m fucking fine, the party is going to be fucking fine, Steve is going to like it, Coulson is going to like it, Loki is going to like it, everyone is going to like it and it’s going to fine, fuck you, Barnes,” Tony rushes, clipped tone complete with obvious irritation. Bucky fights himself again on snapping back and instead looks at the problem in a manner he pretends is completely calm. Tony’s emphasis on Loki’s name isn’t hard to figure out, but Bucky doesn’t want to push him too hard at once.

“You’re worried about it not being good for - for them?” Bucky asks instead of what he wants to ask, because it’s close enough. Tony laughs, but it’s not his usual full, booming and barking laughter, just some copy soaked in bitterness and anxiety. As much as Bucky tries, he can’t help but relate it to how Bucky himself acted just after the accident - he tries now to eradicate the pain of the memory from how he feels in this moment, but something tell him that he can’t and he won’t.

“Isn’t that what I’m always worried about, Mister President?” Tony says wryly, the laughter not quite leaving his voice and instead turning it sour. Pepper or Steve or Loki himself (anyone who is better with the Stark heir, better with emotions, better ) would be more suited to this conversation, and all Bucky has to work with is his own temperance.

“Can you cut the bitterness? We’re all worried about each other all the time, don’t make me worry about you, Stark. We’re not here to contribute to your inferiority complex. We’re here because we like you. That includes Steve and Coulson and Loki ,” Bucky snaps, taking the last part good and slow so that maybe Tony will understand logic that isn’t flawed with what his father thinks of him. Tony rises off the couch quick and angry, and Bucky knows that he should have held his temper.

“Don’t talk to me about an inferiority complex, Barnes,” Tony hisses, and then he’s gone.

“That went well,” Bucky says to the empty room, attempting to ignore Tony’s words making a resting place of his chest. He leaves and goes about the rest of his day, crashing and not waking up until half past nine in the morning. He sits down in the common room rather than going to breakfast, just waiting for one of his friends to find him. He’s not disappointed when Steve arrives only a few minutes later, crawling into the Hufflepuff common room.

“What’s up with Tony?” Steve asks, settling into the seat on the couch beside Bucky and grabbing his sketch book out of his bag. It’s barely ten in the morning, but Steve already has charcoal on the hinge of his jaw, likely from touching his face after smearing a section of shading. Bucky is minimally familiar with the terminology for Steve’s favourite hobby, organised in the folders in his head directly related to his best friend. He’s only just barely outside of his own head enough to stop one of Steve’s drawing pencils from sliding off of the table with a lazy motion of a hand. Steve notices and smiles gratefully.

“What do you mean? What’s up with Tony?” Bucky turns the question back to Steve. He knows that even if Tony is anxious about the party - about Loki - he won’t want Bucky to ruin the surprise still. He’d probably be really pissed.

“Don’t play dumb with me, asshole, I know how your face works,” Steve answers, raising a single eyebrow in return. Bucky is a weak, weak man when it comes to Steve Rogers, and he admits it when Steve is making faces like that and generally looking good and - he has charcoal on his face. Bucky is weak. As well as the weakness, a feeling of being known sits on Bucky’s shoulders like a warm blanket, comforting and relaxing and the kind of old that only makes it have more value.

“I think I pushed him too hard on the Loki thing,” Bucky provides, not an explanation, but mostly because he doesn’t actually want to talk about it at all. He still has latent anxiety about pissing Tony off at all - he’s bad for being bothersome and bad for being nosy and bad for meddling and he just… he feels bad. He feels like a bad person.

“How so?” Steve asks, his eyebrow raising again, this time with an edge of curiosity rather than being full of doubt. He’s beautiful and Bucky feels sick to his stomach, desperate for a distraction from this conversation and, frankly, a little ready for death. 

“I made him actually think about it. I can’t give context or quotes, scouts honor and all that, but I pushed him too hard and now he’s pissed at me. Big surprise,” Bucky replies, his mouth pulling into what he knows is an unattractive sort of sneer, but he can’t help it. He shouldn’t have pushed Tony, he shouldn’t be doing this, he should have left well enough alone, he should mind his own business, he’s going to ruin everything. The feelings of anxiety and uselessness are a ball in his chest, crawling and clawing its way up his throat, completely uncaring of the gouges it leaves behind.

“What’s with the bitterness, Buck?” is the answering question, a mirror of his own words in the conversation with Tony from yesterday.

“Sorry, Stevie. I just… I’m starting to see risks in this already, you know? This is worse meddling than we’ve ever done and it’s to most of our friends. Was this a bad idea?” Bucky is rambling with anxiety, unusual to him before the accident. Steve’s arm is wrapped around his shoulder in an attempt to soothe him by the time the last sentence is making its way out of his mouth, but Bucky still doesn’t feel safe. With Steve touching him, he feels a little bit of the anxiety stirring his stomach settle, but it doesn’t stop the clawing in his throat nor his rushing mind.

“Even if it doesn’t work out, it was well intended. Our friends are understanding people, Bucky,” Steve attempts to soothe him verbally as well, but when he gets like this, Bucky is sure he’ll never be better again. He’s counting to try to lull his own anxieties himself, tapping the fingers of his left hand against Steve’s thigh; he doesn’t even realise it’s his left hand touching Steve until a moment after it happens, and for once, he doesn’t immediately want to tear it away. He feels a little better.

“Are you sure? Because I think Tasha might actually kill me for this,” Bucky laughs it off like it’s a joke but it hits him exactly how serious he is when he says that. Natasha Romanoff does not like for her life to be meddled with, especially the portions she can manipulate herself - her romantic life would be included in that, he’s sure. Self-soothing like a child, Bucky turns both more into himself and coincidentally closer to Steve, putting his head on his best friend’s shoulder with little care.

“Maybe we should go for something straightforward with her,” Steve suggests, his voice still placating and calm. Bucky can feel the rumbling of it against his temple on Steve’s collarbone.

“I don’t think she’d go for something -” Bucky starts, collecting his good mood off of the floor, but is interrupted.

“You’re about to make a straight joke and I will not stand for it,” Steve says quickly, hand clasping Bucky’s right shoulder tightly. The laughter at the back of his voice is enough to pull Bucky’s lips into a smile, enough to take some of the tension out of his shoulders. Steve is looking at him and Bucky feels like he’s both on top of the world and at the precipice of falling. He saw something online once - something about being in love and feeling on top of the world and isn’t that such a long way to fall . Bucky relates.

“But Stevie -” Bucky laughs, and the eye contact with Steve is killing him slowly and he doesn’t really mind it - what a way to go.

“No,” Steve says simply, still laughing with him and still holding eye contact and oh my god .

“But none of our friends are straight! This is comedy gold,” Bucky says, tone joking and light, and breaks the eye contact himself to look at Steve’s forgotten sketch book on his lap. He has thoughts, he’s sure of it, but he can’t process them before Steve speaks again.

“Shut up, you big nerd,” Steve replies and takes his arm from Bucky’s shoulders to shove at the left one enough to jostle him.

“Punk.”

“Jerk.”

The familiarity feels both light and heavy, and Bucky’s chest hurts in a way entirely different from anxiety.