Chapter One

Dean was waiting for Seamus to return. It was cold outside, and Dean was wearing only his sweater and his ancient Gryffindor scarf, which he'd draped haphazardly around his neck before dashing outside. After all, it wasn't a terribly long walk from his flat to Seamus's, and his friend had promised he'd be back on the dot. Dean checked his watch—seven thirty. Seamus was half an hour late. Shuddering, Dean wrapped his arms around himself, readjusting the exceedingly large roll of paper in the crook of his arm. Snow had begun to settle in lumps upon his dark curls, melting partially and freezing again. Dean closed his eyes, sucking in a deep breath and holding it for as long as he could. It was a warming trick, one his parents had taught him before he'd discovered magic, something he couldn't use at the moment due to the fact that he was standing in the midst of a Muggle residential street.

"Hey," came an unexpected voice, a hand clamping down on Dean's shoulder.

Dean jumped, his eyes popping open. At the sight of his long-awaited friend, he relaxed, exhaling quietly.

"'Lo," he replied.

"Hope I haven't kept you waiting too long?" checked Seamus, his brows knitting in concern.

Dean shrugged, too busy taking in Seamus's appearance. His hair was disheveled—more so than usual, almost as though he'd gone and blown something up again—and his cheeks were glowing about as much as his twinkling eyes. The remnant of a smile still danced about his mouth. Hurriedly, Dean tore his gaze away from Seamus's face, staring at the salt-flecked sidewalks.

"Only a bit," he lied, shrugging.

Seamus frowned, knotting his fingers in Dean's snow-piled hair and brushing all the cold powder away. Dean flinched as his friend's hand brushed the side of his face.

"Merlin, you're freezing," he exclaimed, blue eyes wide. "How long were you out here? Why didn't you put anything else on?"

"It was only half an hour," protested Dean. "I'm fine, really."

Seamus's eyebrows shot up, striving to become one with his hairline. He glanced down at his watch and swore loudly.

"Oh, bloody—" he began, cutting himself off and grabbing Dean's free wrist. "C'mon, we're going in."

Dean's wrist was warm. It was a pleasant change, one he didn't resist. Seamus fumbled with his keys, not loosening his grip for a moment, and dragged Dean inside.

"It's cold in here, too," he remarked, his voice muffled slightly by his scarf. "Mind turning the heater on?"

Seamus didn't respond, simply tugging his wand from his coat pocket and pointing it at Dean. Briskly, he muttered a hot air charm. A warm gust breathed over Dean, encapsulating him as effectively as his comforter.

"Better?" the half-blood asked, glancing up at Dean.

Dean cracked a grin.

"Much," he replied, "and you didn't even blow me up. I'm impressed."

Seamus laughed, a strange expression flickering over his face. Dean blinked and it was gone.

"Been practicing," Seamus replied, grinning.

"All to warm me in midwinter? I'm touched," he chuckled.

Seamus's grin wavered for a moment.

"You're an essential fixture in my life," Seamus told him sincerely. "Can't very well have you freezing to death, and I figured I should know how to save you from such a fate without killing you."

Dean blinked.

"I...ah...thank you," he managed, feeling heat rise in his cheeks.

Quit it, he silently commanded his face. Quit that...oh, bother... Dean felt the warmth spread all throughout him, and he shuddered slightly.

"Oops," murmured Seamus, gnawing on his bottom lip. "Hey, Dean, ah, do you remember the charm that spouts the water?"

"Yeah, it's aguamenti. Why—oh, Merlin, Seamus, I liked these pants!" cried Dean, frantically slapping at the flaming cuff of his right pant leg.

"Um...it's...er...aguamenti!" managed Seamus, splattering water all over Dean.

Dean sighed, closing his eyes. A small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, and an insistent laugh bubbled up in his throat.

"Fantastic job, Seamus," he congratulated his best friend. "However, I'm afraid I didn't bring a change of clothes. I hadn't anticipated the need for it."

Seamus stared at his work in dismay, frowning.

"What size are you?" he demanded.

Dean blinked.

"'Scuse you?" he coughed.

Seamus turned a brilliant shade of tomato, his expression contorting into the exceedingly familiar face of confused embarrassment.

"'Cause I might have...ah...spare pants," he mumbled.

"No, thanks," chuckled Dean hesitantly. "Er...we should...ah...get to work, yeah?"

Seamus nodded, freeing the roll of paper from Dean's arms. He frowned, examining it for any water damage.

"I splattered it. I'm sorry, Dean, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to, and I know you worked so hard on this—" apologized Seamus, biting his lip.

"It's all good. Should dry out soon," Dean reassured him, unrolling the paper. "How do you like it, though?"

Seamus stared at it, eyes wide.

"This is stunning, Dean," he gasped. "Thank you. It'll look amazing where I've left the spot!"

Dean grinned.

"Glad you approve. Now, let's start with the decorating," he prompted Seamus.

They moved on into the living room, which was already nicely arranged. Dean raised his eyebrows, impressed.

"You did this yourself?" he asked. "Wow. There just need to be a couple touches, and it should all be done."

"I've got to live in this place for another two weeks without breaking anything. I'm not sure I'll manage," sighed Seamus glumly. "Don't think I thought the whole 'preparation in advance' business through."

Laughing, Dean shook off the handmade banner, pulling out his wand and flicking it so that it levitated.

"Where do you want it?" he asked.

"There," replied Seamus decisively, pointing.

Dean nodded dutifully, directing it with his wand and planting it up on the wall. The adhesive charms came into effect, clamping it there firmly. Seamus beamed. The two moved on, working to fix other things.

"Done," declared Dean, stepping back and bumping into Seamus. "Er...oops. Sorry."

Seamus jumped, spinning around to face Dean, eyes wild. His arms flailed, finally flinging around Dean's shoulders, hands gripping the fabric of his shirt tightly for balance. Dean blinked rapidly, quelling his racing heart at the proximity and grabbing Seamus's elbows. His lips parted slightly, yearning to press against those of his friend. Gritting his teeth, Dean resisted the urge and pulled away. He's got a girlfriend, idiot, thought Dean, swallowing.

"Sorry," exhaled Seamus awkwardly.

"Graceful," joked Dean, cracking a smile.

"Aye. Astonishingly so," agreed Seamus cheerfully. "Always been, y'know."

Dean laughed, ruffling Seamus's tawny hair and dropping into a chair. Seamus raised an eyebrow, sticking his lower lip out.

"I worked for you. What're you going to do, boot me out?" demanded Dean, burrowing stubbornly into the comfortable chair.

"No, I was going to tell you to quit sprawling. You're taking up the entire chair," Seamus reprimanded him.

With that, the wizard promptly planted himself on Dean's lap, blue eyes twinkling mischievously. Dean tensed, caught between conflicting emotions. He sucked in a tight breath, battling the yearning to wrap his arms around Seamus. Instead, he made a mewling noise of protest and slid off to one side, sending an indignant Irish boy tumbling beside him.

"At least warn me next time," he scolded Seamus. "That was quite something to just drop on me."

Seamus pouted.

"Are you calling me fat?" he asked, lower lip trembling.

"No, not at all," replied Dean, giving him a stern look. "Don't be ridiculous."

"Then why does nobody love me?" cried Seamus, flinging half himself over the side of the chair. "Am I ugly?"

"You have this perpetual swarm of females wherever we go," sighed Dean tiredly. "I do believe we've been over this before, you drama queen."

"I'm not a drama queen," retorted Seamus, releasing a wail. "Oh, Dean, you're so impossibly cruel!"

Dean frowned, recalling Seamus's prior rosy complexion and silly smile.

"That reminds me," remarked Dean, "why were you so giddy when you bumped into me earlier? Did you and your girlfriend have a particularly pleasant snog, or perhaps a pint too much to drink?"

The absurd grin dropped from Seamus's face.

"Not exactly," he muttered. "We...ah...she isn't my girlfriend anymore."

The words effectively caught whatever sarcastic words Dean had been preparing to spew in his throat. He closed his mouth, reopening it for a second. Much as he tried, he couldn't stifle the joyful leap inside his stomach, nor could he bring himself to truly be sorry. Carefully, Dean wiped any traces of jubilation from his expression, replacing it with a guarded sobriety.

"I'm sorry," he managed gravely. "However...what about this is a happy matter?"

Seamus perked right up, but there was a peculiar gleam in his eyes.

"We had a brill goodbye kiss. It was all passionate and teary and everything," announced Seamus, grinning.

"Teary?" demanded Dean. "Don't tell me you're going to be hung up on her for weeks. I'm not having you drunk and crying on my shoulder for the holiday party."

There was a jesting tone to his voice, but Seamus grimaced, not noticing it.

"Her tears, not mine. It was less of a mutual breakup and...more on my side. I honestly didn't mean to make her cry, though," sighed Seamus.

Dean pointedly ignored the little leap his heart gave at this new piece of information. Stop it, he told the offending organ irritably.

"Well...it's not your fault," was all Dean could think to say.

His voice came out hoarse, likely from the effort of not screaming several things. Cringing at the roughness of its tone, Dean rubbed his throat. Seamus's blue eyes zeroed in on the movement.

"I'll get you some pumpkin juice," he offered.

"Oh, no, it's fine," Dean assured him hastily.

"I need some, too, so I'd have been getting up anyway," responded Seamus, "and I can't stand your scratchy voice."

"Er...right. Yeah. Thanks," rasped Dean, surprised by his own voice.

Seamus winced at the sound, squirming to get free of the small space between Dean and the arm of the chair. He disappeared into the kitchen, and Dean oozed into the warm space left by Seamus. After a few moments, he returned with two goblets of orange liquid.

"Budge over," he commanded Dean. "I need space for my fat bum."

Reluctantly, Dean rolled over to one side, making room for Seamus, who planted himself there and handed him a goblet. He sipped at the pumpkin juice.

"So," he started, "why didn't you think to tell me about...your girlfriend?"

"You don't tell me about yours," pointed out Seamus. "Why should I tell you about mine if you don't spill? Speaking of which, I fully expect some information."

"I don't really date," replied Dean with a shrug. "Nothing to tell."

He filled his mouth with pumpkin juice, effectively excusing himself from the task of speaking.

"Why don't you date?" interrogated Seamus, leaning forward. "Or do you just have a secret lover?"

Dean choked on the pumpkin juice, the liquid shooting through his soft palate and out his nose.

"E-excuse you?" he coughed, shaking with laughter.

"It's a valid question," harrumphed Seamus, pouting.

"You think I, Dean Thomas, have a secret lover," he repeated, a grin spreading across his face. "Just the idea is so very...not me. The concept is likely more exciting than my entire self and life events."

"You're perfectly exciting," Seamus assured him. "But anyway, it's still a fair enough question. I mean, you're a shy person, and you might not be intentionally hiding this lover, but it's in your nature to avoid being all out there with your personal life."

"No, in all seriousness, I don't have a secret lover of any sort. I'd tell you, if no one else," Dean told him sincerely. "What, are you jealous?"

Seamus laughed, a concerned crinkle in his brow.

"Do I really come off as that clingy?" he inquired, his laugh fading into a frown.

Dean shook his head rapidly, wishing he could suck the words back in and swallow them. Stupid mouth.

"It's...I was joking," he finally covered, his gaze straying over to the clock. "Oh. Er, I've got to go, now."

Seamus made a face.

"Already?" he asked.

"Already," answered Dean, resigned. "I can come over tomorrow to help a bit more, if you want."

"Absolutely. Seven—actually seven this time, I swear," chuckled Seamus. "I won't stay out late snogging any exes this time. Actually, I'll be coming back from meeting Hermione and Ron's new baby, Rosie, so I shouldn't be out late."

Dean grinned and saluted, standing.

"Bye," he called over one shoulder.

Seamus caught his arm, tugging him close for a hug. Dean clenched his jaw, forcibly relaxing and restricting himself to patting his best friend's back.

"See you at seven," he promised.

Dean grinned and dashed off into the frigid winter.