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BAZ

Snow isn’t here.

It’s the kind of thing I notice. (The kind of thing I wish I didn’t notice, but beggars can’t be choosers. And when it comes to Simon Snow, I’m positively destitute. I don’t have his smiles, or his attention – not his positive attention, anyway – and I don’t have any dignity.) I clocked his absence the moment I arrived in the White Chapel for the evening’s carol service, and I’m still noticing it after an hour of bad singing, non-alcoholic mulled wine, and mince pies.

It’s not like Snow to miss an event that involves food. Or singing, actually. (He thinks it’s funny to stand right behind me and try and put me off by being both loud and flat. I’d mock him for it, but we both know he’s doing it on purpose. Snow is actually a rather passable tenor.) (And when I say passable, I mean that the first time I heard him sing I thought I was going to pass out. Just faint dead away in the music room with longing. Thank Crowley he thinks he’s torturing me by singing badly; I couldn’t handle it if he sang well.)

We only have a few days left of term, and I was looking forward to seeing him tonight. Trying to burn the image of him into my brain before spending the next two weeks with my family. Trying to remember the sound of his voice. We have an exam tomorrow – but he can’t be studying. This is Snow we’re talking about.

Normally, I’d assume he was out on a mission for the Mage. But Bunce, Wellbelove, and our esteemed headmaster are all present and Snow doesn’t usually work alone. That means it probably isn’t ‘official’ business. So, where is he?

I’m missing him butcher Once in Royal David’s City – and it’s annoying.

I’m missing his eyes sparkling because he knows he’s being annoying.

I’m missing the flush of his cheeks because of how warm it is in here. It’s snowing outside – one benefit of attending a magical school – but the White Chapel is so well heated that even I’m only wearing a jacket. Meanwhile Snow would be ruddy and probably have his sleeves rolled up. Or at least, he would if he was here.

What if I don’t see him again before Christmas? I don’t know if I can handle that.

Bunce catches my eye as I do another sweep of the room. (Obviously I don’t need to look at my hymn sheet, I’m not a heathen.) She glares. Clearly, she thinks I’ve done something with Snow.

I raise my eyebrows, letting her know I’m as mystified as she is. She frowns harder.

Next to her, Wellbelove sees me staring and gives me a distracted smile before looking down, which is interesting. Normally, with Snow out the picture, she’d be sparkling at me. Trying to convince me to steal her away. I’m not sure if I’m reading too much into it, but it could be a lead.

When the song ends, I slip out of my row under the cover of students applauding themselves (despite an extremely mediocre performance) and slide in next to Wellbelove.

I give her my best smile. “Agatha. You’re looking lovely this evening.”

“Oh. I suppose,” Wellbelove says. I must look confused because she tries to smile.  “Thank you.”

Bunce rolls her eyes. “Don’t think you can steal Agatha away just because Simon isn’t here to stop you, Basil.”

Around us people begin to sing again. (Oh Holy Night – one of my favourites.) She doesn’t join in. Nor does Wellbelove, but that’s not surprising. Unlike Snow, who only pretends to sing badly to piss me off, neither of his friends can hold a tune to save their lives. I’m fairly sure they were only mouthing the words earlier and now I’m here they both have an excuse not to participate.

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” I say – which is completely accurate, even though I’m sure they both think I’m lying. I try to sound casual as I ask my next question. “Where is the Chosen One, by the way?”

“He’ll be here soon,” Bunce says firmly.

“Then I’d better make myself scarce.”

“No, you don’t have to,” Wellbelove says. “I don’t think Simon’s coming.”

I raise an eyebrow, as though I’m surprised.

“Busy saving the world? Or did he just fall asleep after too much eggnog?”

Wellbelove doesn’t even pretend to smile at that one.

“Crowley, he isn’t bleeding to death somewhere, is he?” I prompt.

I’m trying to keep my voice light, to show I’m only joking, but at this question Wellbelove sits down heavily on the pew behind her.

Bunce gives me a stern look as I sit down too, but I think she allows it as her friend is clearly as white as a sheet.

“What is it?” I say softly.

I’m trying not to panic. To keep my voice low, considerate - as though I’m concerned about Wellbelove, rather than about to shake her until she talks.

“I forgot the carol service was today,” she tells me, close to my ear. “Simon and I were supposed to meet under the yew tree. We were going to talk – I left him a note, asking him to meet me.”

I nod, although I have no idea where this story is going.

“I did send him a bird once I realised,” Wellbelove continues as the song breaks into the magnificent chorus. “Telling him I couldn’t make it. But – well, he isn’t here, so I’m not sure he got it.”

“You mean,” I say as it dawns on me. What she’s saying. “That he’s still outside. Waiting for you?”

“I don’t know.”

“It’s snowing,” I say – quite loudly. And probably with rather more alarm than she expected.

Wellbelove wrings her hands. “I know. And I did try and tell the Mage. Just before the concert started. But he said it would be a good test of Simon’s survival instincts. He also said that we have curfew for a reason – he wouldn’t make an exception.”

The corner of my eye twitches.

I’m remembering how the snow started falling more heavily once we were all inside. I’d assumed that was for aesthetic reasons, but now I’m wondering if that wasn’t Simon’s mentor making the test harder.

“Why didn’t you tell Bunce?” I ask.

(I don’t ask if she’s told. Bunce is here - not chasing after her friend. She doesn’t know where he is.)

“The Mage told me not to,” Wellbelove says. “He said if Penny went, then it wouldn’t be a challenge for Simon.”

I wait for more - for her to tell me that he spelled her silent, or threatened her with detention. But it doesn’t come.

She tries smiling at me again. And I realise she’s only telling me because she thinks I’ll reassure her she’s done the right thing.

“I’m probably worrying about nothing,” she says. “I’m sure he’ll be fine. He’s Simon. And the Mage is right - he didn’t have to stay out past curfew. Anyone normal would have come in, even if they didn’t get a note.”

She does have a point. About all of it.

Anyone normal would have come in. (But Snow is loyal. I’ve always liked that about him. He’d wait as long as it takes for his lady love to join him.)

And he probably will be fine. 

Simon Snow has dealt with far greater enemies than the weather. He’s too powerful to be truly inconvenienced by the cold. He can spell himself inside. He can stop it snowing.

There’s no reason to worry.

Probably.

Snow will be fine – a little damp, more than usually irritable – but I’ll see him tomorrow at breakfast after they lower the drawbridge. He’s the Greatest Mage. The Power of Powers. What’s snow to him? A last name, not a threat.

I know all of that. But somehow I find myself moving anyway, without thinking about what I’m doing. Leaving Bunce and Wellbelove and all the other students still singing and striding down the aisle towards the exit.

“Baz?” Wellbelove calls after me.

I don’t turn around.

I hung my winter coat up by the door when I arrived. My gloves and scarf are tucked in the pocket. I pull them all on and cast a quick weatherisation spell over myself before stepping out. It’s still bitterly cold. The wind lashes against my face. It’s much worse than it was on the way in.

And Snow is out here. Somewhere.

I just need to know he’s all right.

I can still hear the singing now I’m out, but fainter. The drawbridge is up and the gates are locked, but that won’t stop me. I run up the steps to the ramparts and jump off the edge, slowing my fall to the ground below with magic. I almost sprain my ankle as I land – the spell wasn’t perfect. My magic comes from fire and isn’t always reliable in the cold. (What am I doing? I should turn back. I should tell someone else to find Snow. I should tell Bunce.) (I don’t – I press on.) 

I can’t really see, but I’ve lived on these grounds all my life. I know how to get to the yew tree. (A symbol of death. The tree of the graveyard.) And as I get closer, I smell him.

Snow.

I can smell the delicious, intoxicating scent of his skin. But it’s muted today. Muffled, by his namesake.

He’s sitting under the tree. His arms wrapped around himself, his head nodding.

He’s asleep. Or I suppose I should say unconscious because he isn’t dozing in bed at the top of our tower, or even thrashing about in the midst of another nightmare. He’s literally out cold.

I don’t know how long he’s been out here, but he doesn’t seem to have thought about casting a weatherisation spell. (Idiot. He should have just gone in. Anyone else would have gone in. He doesn’t even have gloves – the tips of his fingers, usually the palest gold, are white.)

There are a few snow devils fluttering around him, packing more snow around his body. Making him even colder.

“Fuck off,” I shout as I approach – and they scatter. (Good. I don’t care if they’re a protected species. If they hadn’t gone, I’d have set the lot of them alight.)

I grab my roommate by the shoulder and shake him. “Wake up, Snow.”

He doesn’t. He doesn’t wake up.

But I can still hear his heartbeat. Slow. Achingly slow, but there.

I cast You’re getting warmer and a little colour returns to his cheeks, but not much. I try it again, and a Get well soon, but my magic is definitely on the fritz and, anyway, I can barely concentrate. With Snow like this. With snow swirling ‘round me, freezing my eyelashes. I need to get him back inside.

I can do that.

But first I tug my gloves off and push them over Snow’s icy fingers, wind my scarf around his face. Then I hoist him into my arms.

There’s no one to see me do it. No one to see me rescuing my sworn enemy, cradling him against my chest in a bridal carry. No one to see me hefting his weight far more easily than I’d ever be able to if I were really human.

Snow whimpers in my arms. Presses his face into whatever warmth is coming from my body. I hold him tighter. I want to tell him it’s going to be all right, but I don’t know. I don’t know if it is. He still isn’t conscious. Did I get to him in time?

My eyes are stinging. With the cold, I think, but I might be crying. I’m not sure. I pick up the pace, walking as fast as I can, until I see the school walls again. At this point, I realise that I haven’t thought how to get back inside. I know a few levitation spells, but none that I’d risk using on Snow – we don’t cover human transportation until next year.

I’ll just have to do it. Spell the drawbridge down – which will make a fucking racket and probably bring the whole school out to gawp at me and Snow.

There’ll be questions. From Snow - and the Mage. I’ll almost certainly get detention, given that Wellbelove will attest that I knew categorically I shouldn’t go.

But I don’t care. It doesn’t matter if everyone sees. If everyone knows. And what’s another detention? At least I’ll spend it with him.

Strangely, though, there’s no one on the other side of the gate as I spell it down.

I carry him up the winding stairs to the nurse’s office. It’s empty too. The nurse must be in the Chapel, too. Singing with the rest of them. Either that or the school trusts its students not to injure themselves on the final week before Christmas – a ridiculous idea, if true, given that the student body includes Simon Snow. At least it’s warm in here.

I lower Snow gently down onto one of the metal-framed beds. I don’t even try and undress him – I just spell the water out of his clothes, and tug the sheets up over his duffel coat and boots. Then I try and remember all the healing magic my parents and aunt have ever cast on me.

“Get well soon,” I cast until my voice breaks and my knees give out. Until the colour begins to return to Snow’s cheeks.

Please, I think to myself. Please.

“Get well soon.”

 

SIMON

Baz must have left the window shut.

At least, that’s what I think at first – but it’s worse than that. It’s not just stuffy. I’m boiling. And weighed down under something heavy, like I got buried alive and didn’t notice.

I push up – my heart racing – but it’s just blankets. Also, I seem to be wearing my duffel coat for some reason, and my boots. And a pair of posh gloves I don’t even recognise. (I yank them off.) That’s not the weirdest thing, though.

The weirdest thing is that I’m not even in the room I share with Baz at the top of the tower, although Baz is here. Sitting on the floor next to my bed, with his head pillowed on his arms on the mattress. Sleeping, I think. (Maybe that’s the weirdest thing. Baz would never sleep on my bed – or the floor.) (Not that this is my bed really. Just a bed I happen to be in, but still.) He’s in his coat too. His hair must’ve got wet last night because it’s dried in waves.

I’ve watched him sleep before. Not like this, though. Not from so close. He looks exhausted. His skin’s more grey than ever. And he’s frowning, even though he’s asleep. Like whatever was troubling him during the day is still a problem.

If it was anyone else, I’d let them rest. Lift him into the bed. (Why is Baz sleeping on the floor? There are other beds.) Maybe even cast something soothing like Sweet Dreams – or at least ask Penny to do it.

But it’s Baz.

And now that I’m more awake, I’m remembering more about yesterday. Not how I got here – that part’s still a blank – but enough to work out what might have happened. And I’m pretty sure whatever happened is his fault.

(Penny would say I always think everything is Baz’s fault, but this time it really is.)

Baz.” I give his shoulders a bit of a shake. He groans. (Baz hates getting up in the morning.) I shake him again. “Oi, arsehole. Wake up.”

That does it.

He blinks, raising his chin to look up at me. “You’re all right.”

His voice is rough, like he’s used it too much. And his eyes are red-rimmed. I almost feel bad about waking him again, but then I remind myself that he deserves it. That he brought it on himself. Like he always, always does.

“Disappointed?” I ask, even though he doesn’t look disappointed. He looks more relieved than anything. And tired – so tired.

“Snow––” he starts, but I don’t want to hear whatever he has to say.

You wrote the letter, didn’t you?”

Baz blinks again. “What?”

I pull it out of my coat pocket. The letter I thought came from Agatha – the letter that asked me to leave the school just before a massive snowstorm and wait for her under a tree.

I should’ve known Agatha wouldn’t ask me to do something like that (she isn’t big on romantic gestures) but our relationship isn’t that great right now and I didn’t want to risk letting her down. Which Baz must have known because he watches me all the time.

He must have counted on it.

And on me being unable to cast a heating spell, which is embarrassing. But I guess he was right about that too.

He’s always so many steps ahead of me.

Except if Baz’s plan was so brilliant, why am I here in what I now realise in the nurse’s office, with Baz, instead of frozen to death under a tree?

His eyes flick to the letter. (I wonder how he did it – whether he forged it with magic, or whether he’s just good at disguising his handwriting, even from me.) (I look at Baz’s homework all the time, so I can recognise his handwriting – I’m not really sure what Agatha’s looks like, as I only really see it in cards. But this looks about right. Large and round. Nothing at all like Baz’s, which is tiny – presumably so he can fit more words into his essays – and slopes in the opposite way you’d expect because he’s left-handed.)

“Oh,” he says. “That letter.”

He reaches out to take it from me, but I yank it back. I might need it as evidence later.

“I can’t believe you’d use Agatha against me. Do you even care about her? She could’ve got into real trouble if your plan had worked.”

“It’s lucky I brought you in, then,” Baz snaps.

That sounds like bollocks.

Although it would explain why I’m here – if he brought me in. And where I got these fancy gloves. And if he did rescue me, then I guess it makes more sense that he did it because he realised he was implicating Agatha than because he felt guilty about his plan to kill me almost succeeding for once.

“Don’t expect me to thank you,” I say.

“I don’t,” Baz says shortly. He pushes himself to his feet and holds out a hand. “Can I have my gloves back? And my scarf.”

I snatch the gloves back up. The scarf is still around my neck. (It smells like our bathroom.) I don’t think he’s going to grab for it.

“Fuck off.”

I’m going to need them as evidence too.

“Fine,” Baz says. “I’ll get them later. While you’re asleep.”

Normally, he’d make that sound threatening, but today he just sounds tired.

He walks out without another word.

I’d like a shower – I feel like I’ve sweated all the way through my clothes and even I think it’s gross– but unless I push Baz out of the way, he’ll get there first. So, I just try and spell myself clean and head down to breakfast.

Agatha’s at our table, which is good. She even looks weirdly pleased to see me.

“Oh, thank magic you’re all right,” she says as I sit down next to her. “I was so worried when you didn’t come to the carol concert last night.”

“I’m fine,” I say soothingly.

“It’s all my fault, Simon. I’m so sorry.”

I put my hand over hers. She doesn’t pull away. (Which is progress on last week.)

“There’s nothing to be sorry for. You know Baz and I have hated each other since first year. He didn’t do this because he likes you.”

“What does Baz have to do with it?” Agatha says.

“He lured me away. Before the concert. That’s why I didn’t show up.”

Agatha looks surprised – like even after six years of knowing Baz she still doesn’t believe he’s evil and wants to kill me.

“He did?”

“Yes,” I say – a bit harshly, but honestly. He’s tried to kill me a lot. “He sent me some stupid note in your handwriting.”

“Asking you to meet him by the yew tree?”

“Yeah. He told you about it?”

“No,” Agatha says. She frowns. “Simon – that note wasn’t from Baz. It really was from me.”

“You don’t need to cover for him.”

She really doesn’t. I mean, yes, I’ve got Baz’s gloves and scarf and the note as evidence, but I’m probably not going to do anything with them. The Mage has never punished Baz for trying to take me out (he thinks it’s character-building) and this time Baz didn’t even go through with his plan.

“I’m not covering for him,” Agatha says, and she sounds almost angry. “I think Baz is covering for me. I don’t know why – I didn’t ask him to.”

“Because he wants you to like him,” I say, even though I’m still not really following, to be honest. I’m just reacting instinctively at this point.

(Baz likes Agatha. It drives me mad, but it’s true.)

But she just shakes her head. “If he liked me that much, he wouldn’t be lying to keep us together. I wish he hadn’t. Particularly because – I’m sorry, Simon – but there was a reason I asked you to meet me yesterday.”

And she breaks up with me.

I suppose I knew it was coming. It’s not like we were happy.

It hurts – I think it always does to be rejected – but less than I thought it would. Maybe because Agatha just admitted to leaving me to die last night, even if it was by accident and the Mage told her to. And even if I did bring it on myself a bit. (It feels like maybe I should’ve been the one to break up with her after that, rather than the other way around – no matter how bad a boyfriend I was, I never did that. I actually saved her a lot – but at least it’s done.) We can still be friends, I suppose. If she wants to.

I’m not sure what Penny would say about still wanting to be friends with someone who accidentally almost killed you. I’m not sure she’d be in favour of it. But it feels like the right thing to do.

I’m going to have to tell Penny at some point, and she’s going to say I told you so, because she always said Agatha and I wouldn’t last. I’m not looking forward to that.

I’m also going to have to work out where I’m going to stay for Christmas, since I guess Agatha probably won’t want me at her house.

But, honestly, the thing I find myself really worrying about as my now-ex-girlfriend walks away from me, is Baz.

I don’t understand him.

I thought I did. I really thought I did. I thought he was a complete dickhead – and he is. He definitely is. But he also saved my life.

Baz.

Saved me when he didn’t have to. When my girlfriend (ex-girlfriend now) – the person who really should have cared about me – just left me out there.

He had to break curfew. He had to go outside, in the snow – and Baz hates being cold.

He had to miss the carol concert – which sounds like nothing, but Baz loves singing. (Or, more like: he loves to show off, because of course his voice is good. Rich and deep, like the colour of his eyes made audible.)

It wasn’t even his fault I was in danger.

And what I really don’t get is, if he’d just left me, he could’ve got everything he wanted. Everything he’s always wanted.

There has to be some angle I haven’t thought of. Something I’m missing. (Baz would say I miss everything.) (I’m beginning to think he’s right.)

I watch him when he eventually comes down to breakfast, his hair slicked back in that stupid way that makes him look more like a mob boss than a boy. Just in case he’s going to give anything away, but of course he doesn’t.

I watch him when I’m supposed to be doing our Magic Words exam and the rest of the day.

And the day after.

I’m not sure why. I don’t want to go out with Agatha anymore, but I feel like I need to make sure she was right. About Baz and him not being interested in her. If he asks her out, once he knows she’s single, then it means he probably did do what he did for her, even if it seems like he didn’t. But he doesn’t – and I know he knows; I told him.

We were up in our room, the evening after it all happened. Baz was getting ready for bed and I dropped it casually into the silence. 

“Agatha and I broke up.”

“Why in magic would I care?” Baz said.

Obviously, I checked with Agatha the next day. (Or rather, I got Penny to check with Agatha.) But Agatha said Baz hadn’t spoken to her. I guess that means she was right. Baz didn’t save me for her.

I’m watching him again, right now. Across the dining room.

He’s sitting with Dev and Niall, but I don’t think he’s listening to them. He’s just staring dreamily at his own reflection in the shiny surface of one of the metal teapots. Like he’s lost in contemplation of his own eyes. 

I’ve still got his scarf, and his gloves. I’ve hidden the gloves, but I’m still wearing the scarf two days later. I can tell it pisses him off that I’ve still got it – that’s mostly why I’m doing it. But it’s also soft and it smells nicer than anything I own. Like Baz, I suppose.

I think I’m getting closer to what all this means. (The scarf is definitely helping.)

One of the kids serving tries to take Baz’s teapot away from him. He snatches it back and I can hear him bollocking them from across the room – but he can’t quite put it back in the right position. That’s when I realise he wasn’t looking at himself at all - he must’ve been looking at a reflection of the dark window behind him.

Which means he was looking at me. (Looking at me like that.)

I catch his eye as he looks up to check I haven’t noticed, which I have, then I duck my chin down into the scarf to hide my grin.

And breathe in the smell of him.

 

BAZ

I’m packing my leather trunk for Christmas on the last day of term when Snow finally confronts me.

I knew it was only a matter of time. He’s been stalking me more persistently than ever since the night I carried him back inside. Trying to find out what my game is. What I’m up to.

I thought about asking Agatha Wellbelove out, just to cover my tracks, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. And apparently now he knows it wasn’t guilt that drove me to do it, either. Or fear of the consequences of my actions.  

So now here I am, without an alibi.

But Snow will assume the worst, anyway. He always does.

“Why’d you do it?”

I allow myself to glance up at him.

He’s standing in the doorway of our room, blocking the exit. His hair is tousled from the wind, his cheeks are flushed. He’s still wearing my scarf and the deep Watford-green of the wool makes his eyes even brighter. (I have thought about taking the scarf off him, for my sanity's sake if nothing else. But it looks good on him. And I like it. It’s like seeing into another universe where he’s mine, and I’ve marked him so that everyone knows.)

I turn back to my trunk. It’s too painful to look at  him.

“When has that strategy ever worked, Snow?”

“Huh?” he says, coming closer.

“You demanding answers. When have I ever given them? Why would I give them?” 

He shrugs. “The villain always does a long monologue in the movies.”

I allow myself to sigh. “This isn’t a movie.”

“And you’re not a villain?” Snow suggests.

I don’t look at him. It’s too dangerous.

Even now I’m imagining tearfully confessing my real motivations – that I’m in love with him, that I couldn’t bear to live without him. And then Snow pulling me into his arms and telling me that he’s always known there was good in me. (And then he’d tell me he’s always been in love with me too and we’d get married and defeat the Humdrum and my mother would come back to life to bless our union – all very plausible. Crowley, get a grip, Basilton.)

I sneer down at my trunk. “Aren’t I?”

“You wouldn’t have saved me, if you were,” he says.

“Unless I knew I’d be blamed for your death, even if I wasn’t responsible for it,” I point out. I’m still staring fixedly at the pairs of socks I’m tucking into the gaps around my other clothes. “Wellbelove’s methods were sloppy. She left evidence and a body.”

“She wasn’t trying to kill me.”

“No? Well, when I do it, I won’t be caught.”

Snow huffs. “Why do you always have to make everything so difficult?”

The honest answer is that I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t.

Thank Crowley I don’t have to be honest.

“It’s what I was put on this Earth to do,” I say, reaching for the top of my trunk.

I’m about to close it – to pack up another painful term at Watford, and go. But Snow stops me.

“Wait.”

He’s much closer than I realised. Right next to me, in fact, his hand braced just above mine on the lid.

“I got you something,” he says, voice soft. “For Christmas.”

Now, I do look at him.

“What?”

“And to say thank you,” Snow continues.

He looks awkward – as well he might. (Most people do get their roommates something. But most people aren’t me or Snow. The most we’ve ever given each other for Christmas is a black eye. And even I found it hard to treasure that.) But because he’s Simon Snow, he keeps going – even though he knows what he’s doing is ludicrous.

He drops an only slightly gaudy package into my trunk. I snatch it up.

“You can’t open it now,” Snow protests – as though I’m being ridiculous.

“Why not? Is it cursed?”

“No.”

“Hm. I’d still rather open it here, if it’s all the same to you. So that whatever happens to me happens to both of us.”

“It’s not cursed,” Snow says sulkily, but he’s getting more and more agitated as I peel tape away from the folds of paper, so it is something. I can smell his magic. And see him pulling at his hair. “I told you,” he says, “it’s just a Christmas present.”

I guess what it is seconds before I reveal it.

A scarf.

I have lots of scarves, of course – I practically collect them – but none in this particular, very familiar shade of blue. The wool is soft. Not cashmere, but thick and high-quality. Honestly, I’m having a hard time imagining my roommate – a man who wears his school uniform every day – buying it; let alone for me.

“Agatha helped me pick the right one,” Snow explains as though my thought process is written on my face. “I needed someone to drive me into town - and I think she felt guilty. About last week.”

He’s babbling; I still haven’t said anything.

“Do you like it?” Snow asks anxiously.

I do like it.

I think I’d like it even if I didn’t like it, because of where it came from, but I also genuinely like it. (Wellbelove and I have the same taste in men and knitwear. Apparently.) I want to wrap it around myself immediately. Bury my face in it.

But at the moment I’m too distracted to answer him, because I’ve also found the card tucked between the folds.

I hold it up towards him. “What’s this?”

Snow looks like he wants to avoid my gaze, but is forcing himself not to. He pushes his chin forward.

“Don’t your family do Christmas?”

“I know it’s a card,” I say impatiently. “What does it say?”

“You know what it says.”

I shake my head. “I can’t read your writing.”

I can actually, but I want him to say it out loud.

Snow sighs. (I think he knows I’m lying.)

“It says – Will you go out with me? And possibly Merry Christmas. I can’t really remember.”

“You want to go out with me because I didn’t leave you to die. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Well,” Snow says. “Partly.”

Partly? Good grief.

I look down at the card. It’s still easier than looking at him.

(He did write Merry Christmas. And he signed his name Simon. He put a fucking kiss.)

I honestly don’t know why I’m stalling. Why I’m not just saying yes. (I think it’s because I can’t believe it’s happening. And because Snow was right – I have to make everything difficult.)

“And you wanted me to open this in front of my parents?” I say instead of any of the things I should be saying.

“I didn’t think you’d read it out to them, did I?” Snow says. “I thought you’d just, you know, read it. Quietly. And have some time to think over the holidays. And then let me know.”

Let you know?” I repeat. “How? A trail of smoke in the sky? A series of birds sent to your house in increasingly large numbers? Or simply throw myself into your arms on the first day back at school?”

This is why I didn’t want you to open it now,” Snow says irritably. “I knew you’d be a dick about it. Even if you wanted to say yes.”

“Well. You were right.”

He sighs. “Anyway, think about it. Merry Christmas, Baz.”

“Wait.”

He turns in the doorway. I’m already moving towards him, tucking the scarf into my pocket as I do it. I take his face in my hands and pull it towards mine.

Our mouths don’t quite meet (Crowley, this looked easier in the movies). I end up kissing his chin because I ducked my head too – but before I can retreat in embarrassment, Snow has his hands in my hair. He tugs me back down. He’s determined. He wants this. His lips slide over mine and I melt into him.

When he tries to pull back (to breathe, I think – something unimportant), I chase after his lips and feel him smile against mine.

“Is this a yes, then?” he says when I eventually let him go.

“It is.”

Snow’s smile is dazzling up close.

I let him tug the scarf from my pocket and drape it around my neck. (Suddenly all my earlier fantasies about my scarf marking him as mine seem significantly less far-fetched.)

“I’m afraid I didn’t get you anything,” I confess as he uses the ends to pull me back into him.

Snow scoffs. “Yeah. You did, though.”

I’m not sure what he means – whether it’s the scarf he’s still wearing, or the gloves I still can’t find. Or whether he thinks his own life is a gift. (It is, obviously. But I’m surprised Snow realises that. He’s always treated it with disdain.)

Then he starts humming a familiar tune – grinning and humming – and I realise what he’s getting at.

My heart.

I gave him my heart, like the soloist in the carol he’s humming.

I can tell he expects me to give him shit for it. (I said I’d go out with him; I didn’t tell him I was in love with him.) (And even Simon Snow is pushing it when he starts comparing himself to Jesus.) I can tell it’s the reaction he’s counting on.

It would be easy to give it to him.

But I’m not annoyed. At all. How could I be? I feel drunk on him.

More than that, I love knowing what it feels like to be teased by Simon Snow. He’s never done it before. He’s called me a vampire, he’s insulted me - but he always meant it. He’s never been comfortable enough around me to flirt.

Which means what comes out of my mouth is different.

“Are you going to sing properly now? I know you only pretended to be terrible to annoy me.”

Snow’s shit-eating grin relaxes into something warmer. Almost sheepish.

“Yeah,” he says. “If you want me to.”

I do.

Which means that – somehow – Simon Snow and I spend the final hours of the term trading snatches of Christmas carols between kisses.

I’m not sure which is my favourite, honestly.

(No, that’s a lie. I know what my favourite thing is. It’s that he seems just as affected by me as I am by him, shuddering into my mouth as I kiss him or watching me with heated eyes as his voice harmonises with mine.)

Eventually, it has to end. My phone buzzes to let me know my father’s outside in the Jag.

“Write to me,” I tell him as he follows me down the stairs. “By email. Or text. Definitely not in the awful chicken-scratch you call handwriting.”

Snow has been invited to spend Christmas with the Bunces. When he told me this, I was doubly relieved. Firstly, that he wasn’t staying with Wellbelove, even if they aren’t dating anymore. But more than that, if he’d told me some pitiful story about staying at Watford alone, I’d have been forced to invite him home with me. Which would have been both pathetic and dangerous, since most of my family still want to kill him.

(Obviously, I still considered it.)

“It’ll only be chicken-scratch if you insist on sending three French hens to Penny’s,” Snow says as we reach the ground floor.

I give him my sharpest grin. “Don’t tempt me.”

(Truthfully, I’m not planning on birds, but I am going to send him something. He’s my boyfriend and this is our first Christmas together. I refuse to be upstaged by a scarf chosen by Wellbelove.)

He kisses me once more while we’re still out of my father’s sight and releases me into the snow. My father helps me stow my trunk in the boot and I settle myself in the passenger seat.

I tell him I’ve had a good term. He complains about driving in this sort of weather.

Once the engine starts, I turn and look back at Snow, standing in the doorway of Mummers House.

He waves.

And I try and burn the image of him into my memory.

Flushed cheeks. Eyes the colour of the scarf he gave me. Snowflakes settling in his curls.