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The Spell That Binds

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Taeyong was leaning over one of the school-issued cauldrons when Johnny sat down at their table. Taeyong’s face nearly disappeared into the cauldron with how resolutely he was jabbing his wand at the bottom of it. Johnny watched Taeyong cast cleaning spells at the glob of unidentifiable potion for over a minute before he had enough.

"Alright," he said and forced the cauldron out of Taeyong‘s hands. "That‘s enough pitiful sight for one day."

"Hey! I was using that!“

"No, you were cleaning that.” Johnny sent the school-issued cauldron back to its place with a flick of his wand. "We can just use mine instead.”

Johnny could see the protest rise in Taeyong’s chest so he put his wand down and took Taeyong’s hands into his own. It was enough to have Taeyong fall silent. “Listen, this is not about me having to show off my shiny copper cauldron, but the school cauldrons suck and you know it. There’s no shame in using a resource if it’s there for the taking and you want us to get a perfect result, don’t you?”

Taeyong pulled his hands out of his grasp, but the sigh he let out was one of surrender. “I don’t like you,” he murmured under his breath as he took Johnny’s cauldron and placed it on the trivet. “I don’t like anything you do.”

“Now, one of these is a lie.” Johnny grinned when he felt Taeyong stiffen. “But I’ll let you choose which one.”

Taeyong was silent for a long moment before he scoffed. “You’re so full of yourself, Johnny, it’s really not as charming as you think.”

“Thank you.”

Taeyong looked at him with furrowed brows. “Why are you thanking me?”

“Because you’re honest with me.” Johnny smiled as he leaned in a little closer. “I really like that about you.”

Taeyong stared at him for several seconds before he uttered a noise that lay somewhere between a grunt and a whine and turned back to their cauldron. Johnny didn’t miss the slight blush on his cheeks as Taeyong pointed his wand at their new cauldron and cast a water spell. Content with having won for now, Johnny sat back.

“Good morning, class!” Professor Do’s voice cut through the chatter filling the classroom.

Johnny could see Taeyong straighten his posture next to him so he followed suit, tried to look as attentive as he could when Professor Do came to a half next to his desk.

“After our preparations throughout the last week, today we’ll commence with our first brewing attempts. I’ll trust you all to produce a passable result—yes, even you Mr Leechaiyapornkul, you may collect your jaw from the floor and for the love of Merlin please stop fake crying.” Professor Do brandished his wand and the fire beneath the trivets flickered to life. “If you have any questions, raise your hand.”

Johnny turned to his left and found Taeyong already at work, his eyes glued to the instructions as he began to add ingredients to their potion. Johnny watched him patiently, keeping his hands to himself. He was rewarded when Taeyong eventually lifted his nose from his book, pointing at the small heap of adorerose thorns he had prepared. “Can you grind these?”

Johnny grabbed onto his mortar and scooped the thorns in with a flick of his wand. “Sure.”

The smile Taeyong shot him in answer was fleeting but sincere. Johnny revelled in the way it made his heart seize. Once they had added the majority of the ingredients, Taeyong began to steer the potion according to the instructions in the book. Johnny knew they had been successful when the smell of lavender began to waft into his nose, hints of lemon grass, dark chocolate and parchment following with every curling spiral of steam that billowed up from the cauldron.

Taeyong, having steered the potion to completion, took in a deep breath, and then grew still.

“What do you smell?”

Taeyong blinked at him, the furrow between his brows deepening as he leaned closer to the cauldron, simultaneously leaned closer into Johnny. “It looks right, but—” Taeyong turned his head so he was looking at Johnny. “We have messed up.”

This time, it was on Johnny to frown. The Amortentia was the right colour, and he could smell it, taste it with every inhale, his own personal scent of seduction enticing him to lean closer, take a sip. Johnny swallowed down the urge and focussed back on Taeyong, “What makes you say that?”

“Because I don’t smell anything.” Breathing through his nose, Taeyong searched Johnny’s eyes before he turned away, back to his instructions.

With a sigh, Johnny got up. “I’ll see if I can find some more pixie dust.”

There was little commotion at the shelves, so Johnny had no problem finding the cupboard that said pixie dust and forest folk ingredients on it. He frowned when he saw it was empty and looked around. Scanning the tables around him, he eventually spotted the jar of pixie dust on Ten’s table. He walked over and picked up the jar, frowning at how light it was. Holding the jar against the light, he shook it a little bit, but there was not a speck of pixie dust left inside.

“Tennie, did you use all of this?”

Ten squinted up at him, his eyes widening when they fell onto the jar in Johnny’s hands. “Wait, you’re not supposed to put in a whole jar?”

“No, one tablespoon.”

“Oh.” Ten frowned at his cauldron. “Well, this is a goner then.”

Johnny suppressed a sigh. “Where is Seulgi?” 

“Out sick, firebreather flu or something.” Ten shrugged as he poked his wand at his potion. It had adapted the consistence of jelly, a string of glittery pink mass sticking to the tip of Ten’s wand when he pulled it back. “Normally, she does the brewing and I put in the troll’s knee hair when she tells me to.”

“I’m sure you tried your best.” Johnny chanced a glance back at his own table, where Taeyong was still perched over the instructions. “Maybe you can try again.”

“Maybe it’s better that I failed.” When Johnny looked at him, Ten grinned. “Were you successful with yours?”

“It’s done, but Taeyong isn’t satisfied yet.”

“Is it even possible to satisfy him?”

“I don’t know, but I’m trying my best.”

Johnny dodged the pink glob Ten aimed at his head and made his way back to his own table. He looked up at the low gasp Taeyong uttered when he sat back down.

“There wasn’t any pixie dust,” Johnny said slowly, feeling confused at the way Taeyong was staring at him, so intensely as if he was looking for something. His breathing was going heavier than usual too. “Taeyong, is everything alright?”

Taeyong blinked. His face was slowly but surely taking on the colour of the pink glob Ten had produced.

"Yes." He coughed. “I fixed it. I fixed the potion, I mean.” He gestured at their cauldron. “It’s perfect now.”

Johnny smiled at him. “That’s great, Taeyong.”

Johnny wanted to ask what was going on with him, but he knew that Taeyong wouldn’t have told him even if he had asked. So he turned towards the table instead, scribbling down some of the notes he had taken from Taeyong’s mumbling while he had prepared their potion.

“Johnny?”

“Yes?” Johnny didn’t look up until he realised that Taeyong hadn’t continued. When he looked at him, Taeyong was staring at Johnny’s hand where he was still holding onto his quill.

“Do you really smell lavender?” Taeyong pushed a hand into his hair, tugging at the faded, silvery strands before he lifted his gaze and met Johnny’s eyes. “When you breathe in the Amortentia, do you really smell lavender?”

“I do.” Johnny paused for a moment. “Will you tell me what you smell?”

Taeyong bit his lip. “Lemon muffins,” he said carefully, “broom oil and roses.”

Johnny smiled. “That’s lovely.”

“And amber.” There was such intensity in Taeyong’s eyes when he looked up at Johnny that Johnny felt his heart skip a beat. “I smell amber, too.”

Johnny wet his lips. “You do?”

Taeyong nodded.

“That looks very good, Mr Lee, Mr Seo,” Professor Do said as he appeared behind them.

It took every ounce of self-control Johnny possessed to pry his eyes away from Taeyong’s face. When he did, he found Professor Do levelling them both with his usual, unimpressed gaze. He wasn’t glaring though, which was praise on its own.

“Thank you, Professor.”

The left corner of Professor Do’s mouth twitched in the imitation of what might have been a smile. “If you are done, you may leave early as soon as you have cleaned up your table.” Professor Do tapped the brim of their cauldron with the tip of his wand and the Amortentia vanished. “Ten points to Ravenclaw and Slytherin each.”

Johnny breathed in deeply once the air had cleared while Taeyong began casting cleaning spells on their utensils. His ears were still pink, but the rest of his face had regained its normal colour. Johnny watched him, watched the way Taeyong’s fingers flexed with the intricate wand movements he carried out and the way his lips pulled into a pleased little smile when the vials he had cleaned arranged themselves back into their holder without breaking. Taeyong was breath-taking whilst doing the most mundane tasks and there were words playing on Johnny’s mind, begging to be spoken out loud, but he knew that he couldn’t. Not here and not yet. Johnny smiled when Taeyong glanced at him and got to packing up his things. He had been patient for a long time. He could be patient for a little longer.

*

The small, dark platform of Hogsmeade Station was bustling with students eager to board the train. The prospect of going home had painted a smile onto most of the students' faces, their chatter and shrieks just that much louder as they fought to make their way onto the train.

Johnny walked along the edge of the platform to the penultimate wagon before he turned around. Carefully, he set down the wicker basket he had been carrying. Nine inside the basket let out a loud, protesting meow at being jostled. They had spent a good two hours this morning trying to wrestle her into the cat carrier until she had eventually fallen for the open can of tuna Jaehyun had placed inside. Ten was on her within a second, cooing at her through the magically enforced grid of the carrier. He pulled his hand away just in time to evade the clawed paw that swiped at him. Johnny grinned at the face Jaehyun pulled behind Ten’s shoulder before he dragged Ten back onto his feet by the hood of his winter cloak.

Ten punched him into the arm before he wrapped himself around Johnny’s middle. “You suck.”

Johnny chuckled as he patted Ten on the head. “I know.”

Ten sniffed into his chest before he let go. If Johnny hadn’t known that it had been years since Ten had last cried real tears of emotion, he might have been worried. As it was, he simply helped Ten heave the cat carrier into his arms, Nine letting out another set of unamused mewls as Ten climbed up the metal stairs leading onto the train. 

Johnny waited until Ten had disappeared into the wagon before he pushed his hand into the front pocket of his robes. He handed Jaehyun two silk-paper wrapped parcels, one containing the flea-repelling cat collar he had gotten Ten and the other containing the Quidditch chronicle he had bought at the antiquarian bookshop all those months back. “The one wrapped in green is yours. Don’t let Ten open his present beforehand. You know he gets curious.”

“I won’t,” Jaehyun’s smile was wistful as he put Johnny’s presents into his bag. “We put yours on your bed. Don’t open them early either!”

Johnny pulled him into a quick hug. “An unbreakable vow says that I won’t.”

There was shouting closer to the front of the train, and Jaehyun’s brows furrowed as he looked towards the commotion. Johnny pushed him up the boarding stairs. “See you next year.”

Jaehyun rolled his eyes at that. He boarded the train, mumbling under his breath, “That joke is never funny and you know it.”

Johnny waited until the door had closed behind him before he buried his hands in his pockets and took a deep breath. The crowd had thinned out with the train’s departure approaching, but there was still an abundance of students waiting to board the busier wagons closer to the middle of the train. Slowly, he made his way around the crowd, but he was stopped short when a short but bulky body pushed itself into his way.

“Oh.” Johnny rocked back on his feet. “Hey, Jeno.”

“Johnny Seo,” Jeno greeted him, a solemn look on his face. The seriousness of his expression was betrayed by the knitted, bumblebee-patterned beanie hat he was wearing. Johnny decided that it was best not to tell him so. He was surprised when Jeno pushed a small package into his hand. “I’m supposed to give you this.” 

Johnny looked down at the parcel, the pink wrapping paper crinkling between his fingers. “Thank you?”

“It’s macaroons,” Jeno explained, the hint of a blush appearing on his cheeks. It was second-hand embarrassment, Johnny realised. “They’re from Jaemin and they might have your face on them. He hopes you have a merry Christmas.” Jeno shot him a brilliant smile, his eyes crinkling around the edges as his eyes slid shut with the expression. “Merry Christmas!”

Johnny smiled down at the present in his hands, before he looked back at Jeno, inclining his head in gratitude. “Tell him thank you from me, and a merry Christmas to you too, Jeno.”

Jeno nodded solemnly before he bowed slightly and turned to leave.

After a moment of contemplation, Johnny called him back. “Hey, Jeno?”

Jeno stopped short, swivelled back around to face him with expectant eyes and a pleasant smile.

“Jaemin,” Johnny ran his next words through his mind before he spoke them out loud, “he has no parents?”

For the first time since Johnny had met him, he saw something akin to anger flicker in Jeno’s eyes, intense enough that Johnny knew it had to stem from the love Jeno held for his best friend. Johnny was curious as to what Jaemin’s parents had done that made sweet Jeno hate them, but he knew it wasn’t his to pry.

Jeno’s voice was nothing but polite when he said, “Jaemin has me and he has my dads. He doesn’t need his parents.”

“I don’t doubt that. I’m glad he has you to spend Christmas with.”

Jeno puffed out his chest at that and Johnny smiled at the fact that pride didn’t seem to be lost on the Hufflepuff after all.

He rummaged around in his pocket for a moment before he extended his hand. “I’m sure you can think of something that you two can do with this. Just don’t spend it at your parents’ pub, okay?”

Jeno’s eyes widened as he stared at the sickles Johnny had placed in his hand, before he quickly closed his fist around the money. “Thank you!”

“Thank you,” Johnny gave back and then he looked over Jeno’s shoulder, waving the parcel Jeno had given him. “Thank you, Jaemin!”

Jaemin stumbled out from the lamp post he had been hiding behind, hiding his blush with one arm while waving with the other. Jeno laughed, his eyes crinkling as he ran over to his friend, pulling them through the crowd so they could board the train.

Johnny found himself smiling as he looked after them. Carefully, he slipped the parcel Jeno had given him into the inner pocket of his cloak before he turned to search for the platform exit. What he found instead were the heads of Chenle and Jisung, poking out from a train window a couple metres to his right. In front of the window, Donghyuck was jumping up and down, trying to catch onto their reaching hands.

Johnny’s brows knitted together as he walked over and picked up Donghyuck from behind, a surprised squeak escaping his cousin. Johnny lifted him up high enough so Donghyuck could reach the window.

“Don’t you think it would be easier to board the train through the door?”

With the assurance that it was Johnny who had picked him up, Donghyuck settled into his grip. He propped his feet on Johnny’s thighs for balance before he finally grabbed onto the hands of his friends, smacking a resounding kiss onto each of their palms before he let himself fall back against Johnny’s chest. “I’m not boarding the train.”

“Excuse me?”

Ignoring the noise of protest Johnny uttered, Donghyuck waved while Chenle and Jisung wriggled their way back into the compartment. Through the train window, Johnny could see Renjun sitting on the seat closest to the door, focussed on the ring puzzle in his hands. He seemed to have solved it just in that moment, as the rings slid together and aligned into a finger ring that was shaped like a lion’s head. Renjun beamed as he slid it onto his thumb.

“I’m not boarding the train,” Donghyuck repeated, smiling just as brightly when Johnny looked at him. “I’m staying at Hogwarts this Christmas.”

Johnny felt a wave of nausea hit him as he thought about the howler that was surely on his way to chew him out right this moment. “Does your mother know about this?”

“Of course. I wrote her a letter and told her that I wanted to stay with you at Hogwarts this year and she said I can.”

Johnny squinted. “Aunt Boreum really said that?”

Donghyuck nodded and there was nothing but earnestness in his eyes. With a huff, Johnny let him down. “Okay.”

Donghyuck beamed. “Oh, it’s going to be great! Mum said she’s going to mail us our presents so they arrive tomorrow!”

“That’s great, Hyuck.” What Johnny could envision even better than the howler his aunt would have sent him if his cousin hadn’t told her about his absence at the Christmas dinner table was the mountain of presents Donghyuck’s poor owl Coco was probably struggling to fly halfway across the country right this moment.

Donghyuck nodded, then took his hand, tugging him into the direction of the exit. “Can we go into Hogsmeade, Johnny?”

With the way Donghyuck was jumping from one foot to the other, Johnny thought his cousin might need to use one of the stores' bathrooms so he nodded, let Donghyuck tug him in the direction of the station’s exit. They took one of the carriages into the village. With it being Christmas Eve tomorrow, Hogsmeade’s High Street was bustling with wizards and witches crowding into the shops to buy some last minute presents. As it turned out, Johnny and Donghyuck were two of them.

“I need a present for Mark,” Donghyuck explained as he pulled Johnny into Zonko’s Joke Shop. “He said his parents are on a crusade ship this Christmas, but he gets seasick so he’s staying at Hogwarts.”

Johnny accepted the empty basket Donghyuck pushed into his hands, following his cousin with long strides as Donghyuck ran over to the first shelf of products.

“Do you know what he likes?”

“Boring stuff,” Donghyuck let out a loud sigh. He debated between a Fanged Flyer and a Fanged Frisbee before putting both into the basket.

Johnny hummed. “Maybe we should go into a book store, then. I’m sure we’ll find something he likes in there.”

“No,” Donghyuck pouted as he jumped to get to the shelf that held the Feathery Flamingo Flame Fuzzers. Johnny took down a box for him before they moved on. “That’s boring. I don’t want to get him a boring present.”

“Hyuck—”

“Will you get me this?” Donghyuck interrupted him, holding up a bright pink bottle. Calamity Lotion, it read on the label.

“Sure,” Johnny held out the basket for him. “But Hyuck, I really think you might want to get Mark a present that he has an interest in.”

Donghyuck looked insecure for a moment, his chubby fingers pressing dents into the box of Peace Disturbers he was holding. His eyes turned glassy as he looked at their shopping basket. “You think he will hate these?”

“No, Hyuck, I think he will like whatever you get him, but he’ll find more joy in something that suits his interests. He’s your friend so you want to give him a present you know he will like for sure, don’t you?”

Donghyuck seemed to think that over for a moment. Johnny hated the unhappy expression on his face, but he knew he couldn’t yield to it like his aunt and uncle liked to do. His patience paid off when Donghyuck’s expression smoothed out a moment later, was replaced by a shy smile. “Maybe we can go to the book store afterwards?”

Johnny smiled, ruffling his free hand through Donghyuck’s hair. “Yes, we can do that.”

Donghyuck swatted at his hand, but he was giggling as he bounded over to a dung bomb display. 

They left Zonko’s half an hour later, after Johnny had paid for their basket and asked the red-haired girl behind the counter to send their purchases straight to the castle. They found a book about The 100 Greatest Magical Inventions of The Past 100 Years at Tomes and Scrolls and purchased a set of sapphire blue quills at Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop on top of it. Donghyuck was about to pull Johnny into Spintwitches Sporting Needs too until Johnny reminded him that Mark wasn’t a Quidditch player.

“But you will think he will like one of these?” Donghyuck asked after they had left Honeydukes with a carton full of nougat and a scornberry sucker for each of them.

“I’m sure,” Johnny assured, pushing his sucker from one cheek to the other with his tongue. “It’ll be a good Christmas.”

Donghyuck beamed up at him. He didn’t point out Johnny’s half-truth and Johnny was thankful for that. Snow started to fall, just as they began their trek back to the castle.

*

The snow didn’t let up and by the morning of the 24th, the entire school was blanketed in a thick layer of snow. Apart from Donghyuck and Johnny himself, the Dungeon was empty as the Slytherin students that had no families to return to had been taken in by either their friends or other Slytherin willing to host them. Johnny savoured the peace and quiet by spending the better part of his morning bundled up in front of the chimney in the Slytherin common room, reading the novel Jaehyun had gotten him for Christmas while flexing his hands to wear in the dragon-leather gloves Ten had gifted him.

Johnny didn’t realise he had skipped on breakfast until it was too late, but he knew Donghyuck would get upset with him if he passed on lunch as well, so he made his way to the Great Hall once lunchtime rolled around. He ran into Professor Chen in the entrance hall, who was busy pushing the grand piano from the music room into the Great Hall.

After Johnny had watched him struggle for a couple of seconds, he joined him at the back of the piano, pushing alongside him.

“Oh, Mr Seo,” Professor Chen greeted him, sounding relieved and a little out of breath. “Thank you for coming to my aid! Professor Park was supposed to help me get the piano through the door originally, but then he had to go cut down the tree for tonight’s dinner, so I’ve been struggling to get the old lady through the door for the past twenty minutes or so.”

“Couldn’t we use a levitation spell?” Johnny wheezed out as they finally got the piano to move.

Professor Chen let out a triumphant shout once they had rolled the piano through the door. He pulled Johnny back by placing a hand on his shoulder and pulled out his wand with a grin. “I will do that now, but I couldn’t risk her crashing into any of the doors. Thank you again, Mr Seo. Will we hear you play tonight?" 

Johnny didn't have it in him to disappoint the blatant hope on Professor Chen's face, so he nodded. 

He was rewarded with a clap on the shoulder. "Fantastic! Go ahead and join the others at the lunch table now. I’ve got it from here.”

Johnny nodded, bowing his head before he walked around the piano.

The Great Hall was decked out in full Christmas galore. Twelve big fir trees stood in even intervals along the walls, bending under the weight of their decorations, and snow was falling from the ceiling, dry and warm to the touch.

Johnny sat down next to Donghyuck, pulling him back from where he was halfway lying on the table.

“Johnny,” Donghyuck whined at him, “I was winning.”

Johnny glanced at the chessboard in the middle of the table before he plucked the black rook from Donghyuck's hand. After a moment of contemplation, he placed it back on the chessboard. It caused the king piece to move two squares to the side and out of the way of the white knight that was threatening to checkmate him. The black rook did a little somersault to land on the square the black king had passed over.

“That’s not fair,” Mark complained from the other side of the table, pushing up his glasses as he stared at the chessboard with a forlorn expression. “Castling is a special move. Duckie would have never known that!”

“Hey!” Donghyuck was already halfway over the table before Johnny pulled him back once again. The movement caused Donghyuck to elbow the Hufflepuff boy next to him in the face, who let out a surprised yelp.

“Oh, no!” Mark exclaimed. “Sorry, Jungwoo! Duckie didn’t mean to!”

The Hufflepuff boy, Jungwoo, rubbed his face, blinking his button eyes before he smiled at Mark. “Don’t worry about it, Mark,” he chirped, eliciting an answering smile from Mark. "It doesn't even hurt." 

Johnny could see the way Donghyuck’s eyes narrowed at the interaction between the two second-years, so he pressed a sandwich into his hand.

“Food,” Johnny told him. “Eat, Hyuck.”

Donghyuck pouted, but obliged him. Johnny was about to load up his own plate when he suddenly felt warmth against his back.

Mark’s face lit up in a smile, his glasses sliding down his nose again. “Hey, Taeyong!”

“Hi, Mark,” Taeyong said as he leaned over Johnny’s shoulder, his fingers digging into Johnny’s bicep as he used his other hand to steal Johnny’s cup. “You don’t mind if I take this, do you?”

Johnny swallowed before he shook his head.

The smile that took over Taeyong’s face was blinding. “Thank you.”

Johnny watched as Taeyong took his cup and walked halfway around the table so he could sit down next to Mark.

“Taeyong, look! I’m winning.” Mark pointed at his chessboard, glowing at the noise of appraisal Taeyong let out.

Taeyong held Johnny’s gaze as he took a sip of his cup.

“Not true!” Donghyuck protested through a mouthful of sandwich. “Tell him I was winning, Johnny!”

“No, you just didn’t lose because Johnny helped you!”

Johnny could see Donghyuck’s chest rise with protest, so he diverted his cousin’s attention to his sandwich once again. “Food, Hyuck.” Johnny frowned when he noticed the untouched sandwiches on Mark’s plate. “You too, Mark.”

Mark turned red when Johnny addressed him directly and nearly faceplanted into his food with how quickly he ducked down. Johnny glanced sideways to find Taeyong looking at him curiously.

Johnny gestured at his plate. “You too, Taeyong.”

Taeyong raised an eyebrow at him, but obliged nonetheless, amusement bright in his eyes.

Once Johnny had gotten them to focus on their food instead of their game of chess, Mark and Donghyuck promptly ate themselves into a food coma so severe that Johnny had to carry both Donghyuck and Mark into the Slytherin common room after lunch, dropping them onto the sofa closest to the chimney. Taeyong followed closely behind, carrying Mark’s chessboard for him.

“Dinner,” Donghyuck slurred when Johnny pried his hands from his collar. “It’s Christmas Eve. We can’t miss it.”

“I’ll wake you up in time for dinner. Now I think you need a nap.”

Mark, wedged in between the backrest of the sofa and Donghyuck, let out a protestant grunt when Donghyuck threw his arm over his face, but otherwise didn’t move, his hands clutching his stomach. Donghyuck shifted once again before he settled against Mark’s side, half-heartedly kicking him to get more leg space.

“I think you can put the chessboard on the table, they might want to play once they’ve recovered.”

Taeyong startled when Johnny talked to him, but recovered quickly from where he had been staring somewhere lower than Johnny’s eyes. He placed the chessboard on the coffee table like Johnny had told him to before pushing his hands into his pockets.

Johnny watched him hover awkwardly on his feet for a moment before he smiled. “Do you want to take a walk with me?”

“Postprandial walk?” Taeyong asked.

Johnny stared at him, forced the smile to slide off his face when Taeyong turned red.

“I’ll meet you in the entrance hall in fifteen minutes,” Taeyong told him, sounding more clipped than he had before, before he stalked over to the door.

“I’ll be there,” Johnny murmured, just a beat too late.

Looking down, he noticed the slight quiver of his hands, so he balled them into fists and headed for his dormitory to bundle up.

*

The cold bit into Johnny’s face when they set foot outside the castle, sending a shiver down his spine. His fingers were protected by his new dragon-leather gloves, though, and Johnny flexed them in amazement. He could hear Taeyong come to a halt next to him.

“It healed.” Taeyong was staring at his hand when Johnny looked at him.

Johnny hummed, proffering his right hand. “It did. The scar remains, but everything else is as if nothing ever happened.”

Taeyong gently grabbed onto his hand, running his own gloved fingers over the spot where Johnny’s scar was before he intertwined their fingers. “But it did happen.”

Johnny suppressed a smile. His palm tingled where Taeyong's fingertips were pressing into it.

“Will you come to the Dungeon later?” He had meant to ask at lunch already, but had forgotten to do so over Mark and Donghyuck’s bickering. “In my family, we always do the whole gift exchange on Christmas Eve already and Hyuck wants to give Mark the presents he got him.”

“Yes, of course. I’ll drop off Mark after dinner.” Taeyong didn’t look at him as he spoke and Johnny rolled his eyes.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Taeyong. You’re invited to join us, too.”

Taeyong didn’t say anything to that, but Johnny didn’t miss the way his ears turned pink. Though it might have been the cold. Johnny used his free hand to untangle his scarf and wrapped it around Taeyong’s neck instead. He fluffed it up so it covered Taeyong’s ears too.

“There you go,” Johnny murmured as he pulled away.

Taeyong’s smile was warm, warm enough to oust the cold from Johnny’s bones. “Thank you.”

They began to walk down the path that lead further out onto the grounds, Taeyong pulling Johnny along by their joint hands. They walked in silence for a while, clouds of frozen air forming in front of their faces with every breath. 

They had nearly made it down to the Great Lake when Johnny asked, “A knut for your thoughts?”

“I’m just thinking.”

“Thinking about what?”

Taeyong was silent for a moment before he took a deep breath. “I’m thinking about everything that has happened this year, and how it has been the best and worst year of my life at the same time.”

Johnny frowned. “Why the worst?”

Taeyong shot him an unimpressed look. “What do you think?”

Johnny furrowed his brows. “Taeyong—”

“No." Taeyong shook his head. "No, don’t you dare ‘Taeyong’ me, Johnny. It’s been five years. Five years, and you’re still at each other’s throats, literally at each other’s throats when it comes to you and Yuta, and it doesn’t stop. It never stops. Everywhere I look my best friends and you and your friends are trying to tear each other apart and nothing that I can think of, nothing that I can do seems to make it stop. You’re just all so wrapped up in this feud that you’re not willing to let it go and I hate it.”

I know, Johnny thought. He said, “In my defence, I’d like to say that Yuta tried to kill me first.”  

“Neither of you have exactly covered yourselves with glory." Taeyong huffed. "You went after Winwin. How would you feel if my friends would go after the person you love?”

At that, Johnny felt his lips pull into a smile. “That’s never going to happen.”

He could see Taeyong squint at him out of the corner of his eyes. “Why are you so sure about that?”

“Because your friends could never hate me more than they like you.”

Johnny waited patiently for the words to register, and he knew that they had when Taeyong faltered in his step, their joint hands pulling Johnny to a stop with him. Taeyong stood slack-jawed, the grip he had on Johnny’s hand tightening as he searched his eyes for the truth. A truth that Johnny was willing to give him.

He took a deep breath, let the winter air burn in his lungs as he said, “I like you, Taeyong.” Johnny felt a small smile tug on the corners of his mouth. It felt good to finally say out loud what had been playing on his mind for months. “I like you and I think it’s time that you know that.”

Snowflakes caught in the tips of Taeyong’s hair as he stared up at him with his eyes widened and his lips parted. Johnny could see the cogs turn behind his forehead, so he leaned down. A millimetre in front of Taeyong’s face, he stopped, waited for Taeyong to push him away and hex him into the next year, but nothing of the sort happened. Instead, Taeyong pressed his lips together and swallowed, his hand landing on Johnny’s shoulder. Johnny let another heartbeat pass and then he closed the distance between them.

Their first kiss was a chaste kiss, nothing but the gentle press of their lips together. Johnny pulled back to gauge Taeyong’s reaction, but he didn’t get very far because the moment Johnny pulled away, Taeyong was chasing after him, reeling Johnny back in by their intertwined hands. Taeyong pushed himself up onto his tiptoes to slot their mouths together again. Johnny slung his free arm around Taeyong's waist until Taeyong’s body was flush against him. The lavender scent of his hair filled Johnny's senses as Taeyong tipped his head back and parted his lips. Johnny used his free hand to cup Taeyong’s jaw and deepened their kiss, licking into Taeyong’s mouth. The taste of Taeyong’s tongue was sweet as molasses, tasted faintly citric from the lemon drop he had eaten after lunch. Johnny thought his heart might burst out of his chest when they broke for air.

“You like me?” Taeyong whispered against his lips as soon as he had taken a step back, sounding breathless and disbelieving and desperate in a way that made Johnny’s heart seize.

“I do.” He disentangled their hands to sling his arms around Taeyong’s waist, pulling them flush together like they had been before. He let his voice drop into a murmur when he added, “You have no idea how precious you are to me, Taeyongie.”   

Taeyong’s eyes fell to his lips, his tongue darting out to wet his own chapped lips. Johnny suppressed the urge to smooth out the furrow that appeared between Taeyong’s brow with his thumb.

Taeyong exhaled through his nose as he looked down, the furrow between his brows deepening. “If this is part of the feud—if you’re lying to me, I will kill you.”

“I’d let you.” Johnny tightened his grip around his waist, and pressed their lips together once more before he let go. Taeyong’s face fell with the motion, but the fear disappeared from his eyes when Johnny grabbed onto his hand, intertwining their fingers. “And I’m not lying, Taeyong. I want us to be together. That’s all I’ve been wanting for a very long time. I want to have you by my side because I am on yours. Don’t cry,” Johnny smiled as he brushed his thumbs over Taeyong’s cheeks, “not because of me.”

“I’m not crying.” Taeyong shook his head, another tear falling down his cheek, but his voice was stable as he spoke. “I like you, too.”

Johnny smiled. His cheeks hurt from smiling so wide because it was Taeyong. Taeyong, whom he loved and who liked him back. “I hoped so.”

Taeyong rolled his eyes, but the blush that was taking over his face betrayed the motion. It was hard to kiss him when they were both smiling like fools, but Johnny didn’t mind it one bit. Taeyong had accepted his confession. Taeyong had chosen him. It was then that he noticed Taeyong the way Taeyong was shivering in his arms. It hurt to let go of him after he had waited so long to hold him in his arms, but Johnny found solace in the knowledge that he would be able to hold him inside the castle walls as well as out here, preferably in front of the fireplace. 

“We should probably head back to the castle.”

Taeyong looked remorseful as he nodded, a miniscule sigh slipping out of his mouth. He burrowed deeper into Johnny’s chest for only a moment before he let go. “We should."

They hadn’t taken three steps when Johnny felt his head rock forward. Frowning, he grabbed onto the back of his head and felt his hand come back cold, snow falling from his fingers. He looked around, but a manic, high-pitched giggle gave him all the answers he needed.

“Johnny?”

Taeyong was hit in the shoulder by a snowball not a moment later. “It seems,” Johnny told him, “that my first and your second-year have joined forces.” Another snowball hit Johnny in the back. “Against us.”

Taeyong spluttered when a snowball hit him square in the face, his expression darkening in a way that made the back of Johnny’s entire body tingle. “Yes, it seems so.”

Johnny couldn’t help the grin that formed on his lips as Taeyong dragged him to the ground. A feverish look in his eyes, Taeyong gathered a fistful of snow in his hands, pressing it into a perfectly formed ball. When his eyes met Johnny’s, a manic grin took over his face. Johnny felt the same exhilaration run through his veins because this was real, and they were together.

“Watch my back while I show these insolent children what it means to disrespect a prefect.”

“I got you.” Johnny’s grin widened as he dug his gloved fingers into the snow. Just then, his back was pelted by another two snowballs. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see two mops of hair disappear behind the closest heap of snow, one of them auburn and the other black. “I got you, prefect.”