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The Spell That Binds

Chapter Text

Johnny Seo stepped onto Platform 9 ¾ with exactly five minutes to spare. This close to departure, the platform was brimming with people. Older students were running around yelling for their friends, while some of the younger children sobbed into their parents' arms.

Johnny smiled at the sight. He didn’t remember much from his first day of school, but he remembered his mother’s tight embrace and the way his father had murmured stern words of encouragement into his ear. It had been the only time Johnny’s parents had seen him off, so that time had ingrained itself into his memory.

He was careful not to trip over any of the cats prancing around as he maneuvered his way through the crowd, pushing his cart along the train until he had made it to the penultimate wagon. A short flick of his wand sent the cart rolling back to its origins and Johnny boarded the train with his trunk in hand. He passed the first few compartments filled with giddy looking first-years and another couple of empty ones until, finally, he found the one he had been looking for. A short glance at the watch strapped around his wrist told him that there was half a minute left until departure. The final whistle blew, just as Johnny pushed the sliding door open and stepped into the compartment his friends had claimed for them.  

There were certain privileges to being fifth-years, and one of them was the ability to claim an entire compartment for themselves with no one there to tell them off for it. Not that anyone would have dared to anyways. Johnny smiled as he hoisted his trunk on top of the two chests already stowed in the storage corner.

“Johnnyboy!” A moment later, he had an armful of Ten. “How nice of you to join us!”

Johnny laughed, patting his friend on the head before pushing him off. He accepted Jaehyun’s high-five while Ten draped himself half over the seats opposite of Johnny’s and half over Jaehyun, who had the decency to sit in his window seat normally.

“And Johnny Seo arrives with not a second to spare.” Jaehyun grinned as the train rumbled to live beneath their feet. “How do you do this every year and never miss it?”

“It’s a talent.”

Johnny shrugged and used the motion to shrug off his coat. Jaehyun and Ten were in their robes already, but Johnny hadn’t had the time this morning when, halfway to the train station, he had realised that he had forgotten his brand new set of quills.

“More like dumb luck,” Ten muttered.

He lifted his head from Jaehyun’s thigh when there was a familiar clattering sound outside and a moment later their compartment door was pushed open to allow in a familiar, dimpled woman.

“Anything off the trolley, dears?”

Ten returned with his arms full of chocolate frogs and pumpkin pasties, spilling it all into a mountain on his lap.

“Do you plan on eating all that?” Jaehyun folded up his Daily Prophet in order to whack Ten on the head with it. “You’re gonna get sick again!”

“Am not!”

“Yes, you will! Remember what happened last year when you went on that date with the third year and ended up vomiting all over her shoes?”

Johnny tuned out his friends' bickering in favour of pulling his sweater over his head. The air inside the compartment was cool enough against his bare skin to make him shiver, so he hurried to step out of his trousers and over to his trunk, flicking it open. The maid, bless her soul, had set his robes on top. Johnny smiled at the familiar sight of the thick, black fabric, his fingers gliding over the silver and green crest embroidery.

He pulled a bundle off the pile and set it down on the empty seat closest to him before he leaned back over and grabbed the book stowed next to his robes. After he had dropped the book on the free window seat, he began to redress.

The constant movement of the train made stepping into his slacks a little harder than normal, but years of changing five minutes before classes started had turned Johnny into an expert when it came to dressing himself under pressure. He made sure that the zipper was pulled up properly before he slipped his arms into the sleeves of his dress shirt. He had just begun to fiddle with the buttons when Jaehyun’s voice caught his attention.

“Guys, look! It’s Taeyong Lee.” He let out an irritated groan. “Oh, fuck this, I knew they would make him a prefect!”

Johnny turned around just in time to see a familiar mop of fluffy black hair appear in front of their window. Taeyong was turned away from them, upper body bent down to direct a huddle of first years into the empty compartment next to theirs, but Johnny would have recognised that backside everywhere. He had spent a good portion of the past two years staring at the back of Taeyong’s head where he had sat behind the Ravenclaw in Potions class, wondering how Taeyong’s head could hold so much knowledge while sitting on such a slender body.

Taeyong straightened his back then, turned and indeed, pinned to his robes, right above his heart, was the shiny badge that announced him prefect. Not that Johnny was surprised. Taeyong Lee had been headed for the prefect position since their first year. Rumour had it that his name had already been engraved into the Head Boy pin as well. There was so much ambition in Taeyong, Johnny often wondered how he hadn’t ended up a Slytherin.

Subconsciously, he straightened his back when Taeyong stopped in front of their compartment. A miniscule furrow appeared between Taeyong’s brows when he spotted them inside, but his expression didn’t darken properly until he set eyes on Johnny, more precisely the lack of clothing covering Johnny’s bare chest.

Johnny grinned and raised a hand, curling his fingers into a wave.

Taeyong rolled his eyes at that, uttering a visible huff before he straightened his robes, prefect badge glistening, and took off further down the corridor.

“Square,” Ten muttered under his breath while Johnny turned his attention back to the buttons of his shirt, a smile lingering on his lips. “Seriously, no wonder he always looks like he’s in pain. I’d be pissy too, if I had a stick that far up my ass.”

“And here I always thought you would just prefer it to be a dick.”

“Oi!”

Jaehyun laughed as Ten sat up to punch him in the shoulder.

“What, is it not true? Tennie, you know I found your porn stash in third year. Don’t even deny it.”

“That was one magazine,” Ten hissed. “Besides, last time I checked, Johnny was the only gay one among us.”

“Bisexual,” Johnny corrected him without looking up from where, shirt buttoned up and starched collar popped, he had turned to tying his tie. “I don’t like to discriminate.”

“Whatever, you’re beating it for team dick, so my point stands.”

Sighing, Johnny pulled on his school sweater, leaving the cloak open for comfort before sitting down. He fixed Ten with a sweet smile. “I’m going to be beating something else really soon, if you don’t shut up.”

It was an empty threat, they both knew it, but it was still enough to make Ten lower his head back to the mountain of candy in his lap. Johnny caught the chocolate frog aimed at his head with ease. For a moment, there was nothing but the sound of wrappers rustling and Ten’s open-mouthed chewing.

Johnny watched in amusement as Jaehyun nearly choked when his frog threatened to jump right back out of his mouth. He made sure to pinch his own between steady fingers before placing it on his tongue, biting down immediately.

“Which one did you get?” Jaehyun asked once he had swallowed down his frog.

Johnny squinted at his card. “Circe.”

“Oh, that’s cool. I got Harry Potter.” A dejected sigh. “Lame, he’s on pretty much every card. I have all of the Golden Trio like seventeen times.”

Rolling his eyes, Johnny tossed his card at his friend. “Here, don’t wet your pants.”

At Jaehyun’s excited squeak, him and Ten exchanged an amused glance. People would lose their minds, Johnny thought, if they knew that Jaehyun Jung, Captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team and son of Chief Warlock Jung of the Wizengamot Jaehyun Jung, geeked out over chocolate frog cards.

Once Jaehyun had stowed the card safely into the breast pocket of his robes, Ten pushed their friend’s arms away to pillow his head back onto Jaehyun‘s lap. Johnny took the opportunity to pick up his book, half paying attention to where Ten and Jaehyun were trading stories of their summers that had been too long to be told in letters. Johnny felt himself relax as he listened to his friends bicker, the countryside flying by the window. He had missed them terribly.

*

They took their time once the train arrived at Hogsmeade Station. With the first blow of the whistle, all hell broke loose on the corridor, students tripping over each other on their quest to get out, the owls screeching in their cages at the chaos of it all.

“You’d think they set the damn train on fire,” Jaehyun grumbled as he lifted his head from the window pane, the Daily Prophet he had used as a pillow falling onto his seat when he stood up. He stretched before pulling his cloak from the overhead compartment.

Ten, who some time during the afternoon had relocated himself onto Johnny’s side of the compartment, groaned when Johnny carded his fingers through his hair. Johnny slapped his friend’s cheek twice in quick succession.

“Whassappen’n?” Ten asked, wiping the drool from the corner of his mouth. He groaned when his balled-up cloak hit him in the stomach.

“We’ve arrived.” Jaehyun pointed his wand at him. “So get your lazy ass up. I’m not carrying your trunk for you.”

Ignoring the clamor and panicked yells of “Where’s my tie?” and “Has anyone seen my wand?” filtering into their compartment, Johnny hummed while he focussed on the last pages of his book.

“Stop reading, Johnnyboy, and help me get your trunk off of ours! What are you carrying anyway that’s this heavy?”

Johnny closed his book, a small, satisfied sigh leaving his lips. He had made it to his favourite part, at least. He stuffed his book into the breast pocket of his robes before he stood up, obliging Jaehyun but ignoring his scolding.

“I can’t wait for dinner.”

“Don’t mention that,” Ten said, looking slightly green, “I think I can still feel the chocolate frogs dancing around in my belly.”

Johnny only laughed.

It was drizzling by the time they had lugged their trunks to the point where the carriages would pick them up. The first students were already climbing into the coaches, the thestrals steadily keeping the flow of carriages going. Johnny trailed after his friends, busy brushing his damp hair out of his eyes, when loud cheering diverted his attention to their right.  

A small crowd had formed around the commotion and it was only due to his height that Johnny was able to see what was going on. Not that he needed to. Johnny would have recognised that obnoxious laughter everywhere. He felt Jaehyun next to him tense.

Standing on the seat of the carriage that had just pulled up was Doyoung Kim, his golden and red tie tied around his head like a bandana, robes fluttering in the wind where he hung off the lantern post of the carriage like a pirate. He held his wand raised as sparks spilled from its tip, more and more until it were enough to take the shape of a dragon, the beast flying through the air, roaring as it brushed its wings over the heads of the small crowd that had formed. Doyoung beamed at the cries and cheers he earned for his shenanigans and it was all so boastful that Johnny thought his eyes might pop out of his head he was rolling them so hard.

A short glance at the rest of the carriage and Johnny was able to make out the rest of Doyoung’s band of miscreants. Taeil was seated next to the Gryffindor captain, doubled over in laughter while Yuta had taken the bench opposite of them, his arm, as it was more often than not, slung around the shoulders of Sicheng, the only Hufflepuff of the group.

“Fucking showoff,” Jaehyun spit out next to him. Ten on his other side sneered.

Jaehyun hadn’t bothered to lower his voice, yet Johnny had assumed that the cheering of the crowd would have overtoned his voice. Apparently, it hadn’t when Doyoung’s eyes zeroed in on them and the mirth in his eyes was replaced by a different kind of glee.

Here we go again, Johnny thought. Fifth year’s a charm.

“Yah, Jung! I thought it was smelling slimy out here. Look, guys, the snakes have returned from their country estates! You look stressed, Jung. Are you already preparing to get your ass handed to you on the pitch this year?” 

Johnny could feel Jaehyun next to him vibrate with anger, but so far his friend was holding his tongue. Johnny was impressed.

“What, no response? Do you have such little faith in your team? Not that that wouldn’t be justified.”

Johnny tilted his head when Ten sidled up next to him, the younger whispering into his ear. “A galleon says Jaehyun has hexed our Gryffindor Almighty by dinner time.”

Johnny fished a gold coin out of his pocket and pressed it into Ten’s hand. “Deal,” he murmured back, just when Jaehyun took a step forward.

His demeanor was calm, but his voice was every bit of scathing disdain when he said, “You’re ridiculous.” Doyoung only laughed at that and Jaehyun narrowed his eyes. “Merlin, you Gryffindors disgust me. Always posing as if you’re Flamel’s gift to the world.” Jaehyun sneered before a smug smile made its way onto his face. “You talk like a champion, Kim. Remind me again who won the Quidditch Cup last year?”

Doyoung’s expression darkened. “Just you wait, Jung. Last year was foul play, and you know it.”

Jaehyun rolled his eyes. “Sorry to disappoint, Captain, but despite what you might believe, not every point scored against you and your team of flight-impaired losers is foul play. Try practising for once, and maybe you get better results.”

“You self-imposed, little…” The rest of Doyoung’s words where lost to the grinding of his teeth, his hand flying to his pocket.

Jaehyun was just as quick. Within the blink of an eye, he had pulled his wand from the folds of his robe.

“Give me a reason, Kim.” Jaehyun smiled haughtily as he took a step closer to the coach, wand raised to duelling height. The bystanders, sensibly, drew back. “Just one.”

“Doyoung,” Taeil spoke up, placing a hand on his friend’s arm. The warning was clear in his voice.

“That’s right, Doyoung, listen to Moon. He’s the only sensible one of you bastards anyway.”

“You conceited piece of shit!” This time, it was Yuta who stood up.

Johnny sighed and reached into his cloak. Once his fingers closed around the familiar cedar of his wand, he went forward until he was shoulder to shoulder with Jaehyun.

“Two wands against one is bad sport,” Johnny said when Doyoung’s gaze fell on him and he raised his wand. Johnny smiled. “Not that you’d know anything about good sport.”

The gleam in Doyoung’s eyes turned into a spark and Johnny had the deflection spell on his tongue already, when suddenly, Johnny watched his wand fly out of his hand.

“Expelliarmus!”

Following the direction his wand had disappeared in with his eyes, Johnny turned his head to the right. Of course, he thought as he recognised the person pushing through the crowd. Four wands in hand and his own still raised from casting the disarming spell, Taeyong Lee broke through the front row of the crowd.

“What the heck,” the prefect seethed as he arrived in front of them, “do you guys think you are doing?”

“Oh, hey, Yong!” Yuta waved at the Ravenclaw. “You wanna ride with us to the castle? Winwinnie and I’ll make some space for you!”

“No,” Taeyong snipped as he turned towards Doyoung. “Really, Doyoung?”

The Gryffindor captain had the decency to look sheepish as he accepted his wand back. “Sorry, Yong.”

Johnny allowed himself another eyeroll. Weak.

Jaehyun snorted and Johnny grinned at the quiet "uuh, put into his place by mummy" Ten uttered. Johnny sobered up when Taeyong whirled around to glare at them, stabbing Jaehyun in the chest with his own wand.

“And you, Jaehyun? Don’t think I don’t know you provoked him!”

Baring his teeth, Jaehyun snatched his wand out of Taeyong’s hand. He sneered before he walked off, not bothering to dignify Taeyong’s scolding with an answer. Ten was quick to follow him, but not without offering a rather crude gesture to the Gryffindors. Johnny raised a brow when he found himself face to face with Taeyong, the Ravenclaw glaring up at him.

Expectantly, Johnny held out his hand.

Taeyong huffed, drawing back out of principle, but Johnny knew what was coming so he only raised his hand higher and watched with satisfaction as his wand began to quiver in Taeyong’s grip. A moment later, it had slipped from Taeyong’s fingers, landing in Johnny’s hand instead. Staring at his empty hand, the anger in Taeyong’s eyes temporarily faded into confusion.

“What in—”

“Cedar and unicorn hair,” Johnny supplied helpfully, stroking a loving finger along the wood before he slipped his wand into his pocket. He was unable to keep the grin off his face as Taeyong flushed, visibly upset at his own unknowing. It must have been an unfamiliar sensation to the other boy. “Both the wood and core are known to be extremely loyal. My wand only accepts me as its master. It doesn’t like to be held by others. I’m sure you can relate.”

Smiling at Taeyong’s sharp intake of breath, Johnny turned and went after his friends. Jaehyun was already seated in their carriage by the time he had made his way over. Johnny took the time to pet the thestral on the boney neck before he walked up to Ten, who was waiting for him by the foot iron. Pouting, the other boy handed him back his galleon. Johnny pocketed it with a smile before climbing onto the carriage after his friends.

*

He pulled out his book about halfway through the Sorting Hat’s song.

“Pinch me once Headmaster Heechul is done with his speech, please,” he murmured at Jaehyun, who was seated next to him at the table.

“Look at the first years, they look so scared,” Ten whispered from Jaehyun’s other side. “I don’t think I was that scared.”

Jaehyun shrugged. “There’s no reason to be scared if you already know what house you’re going to end up in.”

Johnny smiled down at his book. He had known beforehand that he was going to be a Slytherin and he had still been scared when he had stepped up on the podium. Only when the Sorting Hat had cried out Slytherin house and he had made it to the table on wobbly legs, Ten’s arms throwing themselves around him in excitement, had the anxiety eased up. Despite what people were likely to assume, Johnny hadn’t been worried about breaking legacy. His mother had told him that it didn’t matter what house he ended up in (no matter if another house than Slytherin would have meant breaking five hundred years of family tradition) so Johnny hadn’t been worried about that.

What Johnny had been worried about was losing his friends. He had been scared that another house meant losing Ten and Jaehyun, both of whom he had known since birth, their family ties reaching back almost as far as the history of Johnny’s family itself. It had been the foolish worries of a child, back before he had learned how terribly unimportant houses were without the people that lived in them.

“No Slytherin yet.” Jaehyun frowned, pulling Johnny from his thoughts.

“It’s been only four kids, Jae, calm down.” Ten perked up when Professor Choi called out the name of a tiny, slender boy with firetruck-red hair and even redder cheeks. “Renjun Dong,” Ten said as he pulled on Jaehyun’s sleeve to get his attention. “That’s Winwin’s little brother. I saw them outside.”

“Hufflepuff,” Jaehyun predicted. “My dad works with Sicheng’s mum on the Wizengamot. The whole family is a bunch of fucking marshmallows.”

“I have nothing against Sicheng,” Johnny said, giving up on his book for the moment. “At least he keeps Nakamoto in check.”

“That’s true,” Ten agreed. “Well, most of the time, at least. By the way, Johnny what does your gaydar – or bidar, seriously whatever – say about those two, like do you think they are doing it or—“

“Slytherin!”

Unanimously, their heads turned to the front. Oh, Johnny thought as the table around them erupted into cheers. Up front, the younger Dong handed the Sorting Hat back with quivering hands, his bottom lip wobbling dangerously as his eyes fell on the Hufflepuff table. Ten turned toward them, eyebrows raised.

“Well,” Jaehyun said after a moment of consideration, “maybe there’s some hope for the family at last.”

With that, he pulled the both of them up to cheer for their new housemate. Renjun’s face was as red as his hair by the time he had managed to get to the Slytherin table. Johnny watched as he was greeted by the second years, his face losing a bit of mirth with every clap on the back he received.

Interesting, Johnny thought.

He didn’t pay much attention to the sorting ceremony after that. He cheered when Jaehyun jabbed him in the side, but apart from that he focussed on finally getting to the end of his book. He finished it in time with the arrival of the food.

“Merlin’s beard, I missed this,” Ten groaned through a mouth full of mashed potatoes. “I love my mum, but she can’t cook for shit.”

“Clearly, she forgot to teach you table manners as well.”

Ten flipped Jaehyun off.

“Oh, cry me a Lethe, Ten.”

Savouring the familiar sound of his friends’ bickering, Johnny dug into his food until he couldn’t anymore. He pushed the last of his éclair onto Ten’s plate once he was done and the food vanished soon after. Johnny was careful to keep his voice low as Professor Chen lead them through the school hymn.  With the first students leaving the table, Ten flopped to the side dramatically, clutching his stomach.

“Ugh, cut me open.”

Jaehyun and Johnny exchanged a glance before they got up, pulling Ten up by his arms until his feet couldn’t reach the ground anymore. Ignoring the scrambling of the shorter boy, they carried him out of the Great Hall.

“Hey! No! Okay, you got me, I can—I can walk!”

Unceremoniously, Johnny let go of his friend’s arm. “Good, because I forgot my book at the table. I’ll catch you later and Ten, don’t even think about spreading your shit on my bed.”

“I wasn’t even gonna—“ Ten started, but Johnny had already turned around.

He found his book where he had left it. It was a rather battered copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, the binding frayed and golden lettering fading. Johnny ran his hand along the spine, savouring the familiar imprint of letters before he picked the book up and pressed it against his chest.

On his way out, he passed by the Ravenclaw table. In front of it, the Ravenclaw prefects were currently busy keeping the group of first-year Ravenclaws in line. Johnny chuckled at the way Taeyong frowned at the boy at very end of his line who was chewing on his wand like it was a particularly crunchy piece of bread.

Johnny made sure to come up to Taeyong from behind, breathing into his neck as he said, “Looking good there, Prefect. Hopeful prospects, eh?”

Taeyong’s shoulders stiffened and his head whipped around to glare at Johnny. This close of a proximity, his eyes were mesmerising even when filled with anger. Then, a slow smile spread over Taeyong’s lips.

“I wouldn’t say that too loudly, Johnny,” Taeyong said sweetly. “According to your prefects, Slytherin caught the real enfant terrible this time.”

“Damn, I didn’t know you hated Sicheng’s little brother that much?”

Taeyong scoffed. “Obviously I’m not talking about Renjun. I was thinking more about your cousin. It must run in the family, being the devil reincarnate and all.”

“Ouchie!” Johnny rubbed his chest. “Now that one hurt my feelings.”

“Sorry,” Taeyong said, so clearly not sorry that it made Johnny smile.

He inclined his head. “Good luck with the babysitter gig, Taeyong. I’m sure you’ll do great.”

Taeyong only bared his teeth in answer before he turned back to his first-years.

Johnny left the Great Hall with his book clutched to his chest and a smile on his face. It was going to be a good year, indeed.  

Chapter Text

The next morning found Johnny at the breakfast table before anyone else, nursing a cup of pumpkin juice and a mild hangover. One of the sixth-years had managed to smuggle a bottle of firewhisky into the dorms the night before, so the older Slytherin had sat around the couches in the common room until the wee hours of the morning, celebrating the beginning of the new year by playing drinking games.

Johnny attributed it to the incessant pounding behind his temples that he didn‘t notice the person hovering behind his shoulder until the seventh-year girl sitting opposite of him pointedly cleared her throat. Johnny turned around to find an all too familiar Hufflepuff towering above him. He knew something was up the moment he saw that Sicheng was alone, no annoyingly brash Gryffindor Beater hanging off of his shoulders.

“Yes?” Johnny asked, perusing the Hufflepuff for any hidden weapons or itching powder. If this was the start of a prank, he’d be sure to tell the other boy that it was frankly too early to get into it yet.   

Sicheng shifted under his gaze, clearly uncomfortable. His hands came up to fiddle with the knot of his black-and-yellow tie, but his eyes were full of determination as he slightly bowed his head. The gesture made Johnny raise his eyebrows.

“Can I talk to you—" a low Chinese word slipped over Sicheng’s lips before he waved his hands at the doors— “outside?”

Johnny looked at the doors, looked at Sicheng, looked at his breakfast and sighed. He took the time to wipe his mouth with a napkin before he pushed his cup from himself and pulled himself to his feet. When Sicheng didn’t move, Johnny rolled his eyes and lead the way out of the Great Hall. Sicheng’s springy legs overtook him once they had made it to the entrance hall and Johnny made sure to keep a hand in the same pocket as his wand as he followed.

The Hufflepuff steered them up an entire flight of stairs and down two corridors before they took a sharp left and Johnny found himself crowded into an alcove. A quick look around confirmed that they were alone, safe for the suit of armour occupying the space.

“Wow.” Johnny ran a hand over the knight’s shield, tracing his finger over the raven embossed into the metal. He chanced a glance at the other boy. “Is this where you take all your dates to to make out? Because if that’s the case, then I’m sorry to tell you that I’m not interested.”

Sicheng recoiled. “No.“ The Hufflepuff shook his head, brows furrowed, and Johnny sighed. Clearly his humour was lost on the other boy.

“What do you want, then? Any particular reason you thought it was necessary to drag me here?”

Sicheng stared at him, wide-eyed and clearly conflicted before he took in a deep breath. “Help.“ He ducked his head. “Please. I need… your help.”

“Oh?” Johnny kept his face carefully blank. “Is that so?”

The other boy nodded, though he looked like it pained him to do so. Johnny took a closer look at his face but found no hint of deceit, no twitch in his expression that might have given away a greater scheme.

They called him Winwin, Johnny knew, because back at the beginning of fourth year when Sicheng had transferred into Hogwarts, the only way of communicating with the Chinese boy had been to play cards against him. And Sicheng had never lost.

Johnny had never played against Winwin himself, but he wasn’t particularly good at cards in the first place and by the time Johnny might have been interested in seeing what all the fuss was about, the Gryffindors had already claimed the Hufflepuff for themselves. Johnny had always just perceived Sicheng as a part of Doyoung‘s group, always with them but never in the centre. Belatedly, Johnny realised that this was probably the first time the two of them were talking to each other directly.

Johnny tilted his head to the side. “Well, what is it then?“

“It’s about… my brother. His name is Renjun.”

Johnny nodded. He knew as much.

“He was sorted into Slytherin last night, but he’s—he’s not like you.” The concern on Sicheng’s face was so blatant it made Johnny’s wonder for a moment what it was like to have siblings. Then he remembered that he had two of them, two brothers who were surely starting to miss him at the breakfast table right about now.

“Like us?”

“He doesn’t belong with you.” Sicheng looked down, clearly aligning the words in his head before he looked back up at Johnny. “Renjunnie, he doesn’t belong in the—the snake pit.”

Johnny knew those were Yuta’s words, so he let it slide. Almost.

“Well, if you’re worried about your little brother, you should talk to Hansol. He’s our prefect, not me. What the first-years get up to is none of my business.”

Johnny made to brush past Sicheng, done with this conversation, but he was held back by a hand around his upper arm. Johnny stared down at it in disbelief before he raised his eyes to meet the other boy‘s.

“No. Please—” Sicheng let go off him as swiftly as he had grabbed him, binding Johnny to the spot with the desperation in his voice instead— “Please. Help. You help.”

Johnny made sure to take an elaborate step back before he tilted his head to the side, “And what do you want me to do?”

Sicheng shook his head. “You have might. Influence. You have influence over the—the others. You are Johnny Seo. The Slytherin, they listen to you.”

“Really?” Johnny wondered out loud. “Who says that?”

“It’s what Tae—” Sicheng started before he quickly cut himself off, slapping a hand over his mouth.

Johnny narrowed his eyes. “Listen, whatever Taeil has to say about me, it’s probably worth jack shit.”

“But it is true, no?” Sicheng looked at him imploringly. “You can protect him? Protect my brother? You can? You’re Johnny Seo.”

For several seconds, Johnny allowed himself to just breathe. Then he took a step forward.

“Tell me, Sicheng, do you love your brother? You care about Renjun?”

Sicheng seemed confused at the question, but his answer came just as confidently. He squared his narrow shoulders. “More than anything else.”

Johnny nodded. “Okay.”

“Okay?” Sicheng asked, eyes widening with hope.

Marshmallow, Jaehyun’s voice scoffed in his mind.

Johnny turned around, walking back the way they had come. Sicheng’s hurried footfalls followed him. As soon as they had crossed the entrance hall, now bustling with students eager to get breakfast, Johnny stopped, extending his arm so Sicheng ran against it.

Without looking at the other boy, he said, “I’m sure you didn’t drag me all the way to the second floor so that your friends can see us walk in together. You can stop following me now, Pet. It’s okay. I’ll take care of your little brother.”

Johnny didn’t give Sicheng the chance to answer. He entered the Great Hall with long strides and made a beeline for the Slytherin table. Johnny ignored Ten’s waving from their usual spot at the centre in favour of walking down the length of the table to the front, where the first-years were sitting. A quick scan and he had found his target. Without preamble, he grabbed the boy with the auburn hair by the neck, pulling him away from where he was half-sprawled over the top of the table, huddled together with his friends.

“Ow! What the fu—oh, Johnny!”

“What’s going on, Hyuck?” Johnny smiled sweetly down at his cousin. “You having a nice breakfast with your friends?” Out of the corner of his eyes he could see Jisung and Chenle pale. “I see you’re all wearing your scheming faces. Already up to something, I see?”

“Nu-uh.” Donghyuck lied badly, face flushing red, though that might have been the grip Johnny had on his neck.

With a mild scoff, he let go. “Sure. You’re aware I’ve already been told about your shenanigans? How long did it take you to own yourself the title ‘troublemaker of the year’ this time? On the train already?”

“It wasn’t even that bad? Just a bit of itching powder—ouch!”

Johnny rolled his eyes and retracted his hand from where he had slapped the back of his cousin’s head. “Well, it doesn’t matter. That’s not what I’m here for anyways.”

Johnny looked around for a mop of firetruck-red hair and found it a couple of seats down the line. “You see that boy with the red hair?”

“Who, the Chinese kid? Yeah, he’s in our year. He’s weird though.” Donghyuck huffed. “He doesn’t talk and he cried himself to sleep last night and he didn’t even want to see Jisung’s chocolate frog card collection when we tried to approach him!”

“Don’t speak badly of him,” Johnny admonished. “That’s your new best friend.”

Donghyuck’s eyes widened almost comically. “What?”

“I want you to be nice to him. Make him a part of your group, and make sure no one messes with him. Include him in your shenanigans if you must, but make sure he doesn’t get caught. All right?”

Donghyuck was already nodding along, but his eyes narrowed. “Wait, why?”

“Because I say so.” Johnny flicked him on the ear. “That’s good enough of a reason, isn’t it?”

“Yes, of course, Cousin.” Donghyuck lowered his head, rubbing the back of his neck. “Anything you ask.”

“Good.” Johnny ruffled Donghyuck’s hair before he turned to his cousin’s friends. “You two as well, got it?”

Chenle and Jisung nodded in unison, eyes wide as saucers.

Johnny grinned, making sure to show all of his teeth as he did so. “Great! I’m sure your mothers will be delighted to hear your social behaviour is already improving here.”

With that, Johnny turned around, internally smiling at the fading sound of whispers behind him.

“He wouldn’t, would he?”

“I don’t know, Le, but I’m not risking it. Your cousin is mad scary, Duck.”

“Whatever, let’s go and sit with the weird kid. Maybe we can ask him what his favourite Quidditch player is or something.”

It wasn’t until Johnny had sat down with his friends, Jaehyun pushing a plate full of toast into his hands while Ten drawled a “and how’s the spawn of satan doing?” into his ear that Johnny chanced a glanced at the Gryffindor table. As usual, he found Sicheng next to Yuta, hand resting on the arm Yuta had slung around his neck, but his eyes were trained on Johnny’s face. They exchanged a miniscule nod, and then Johnny turned to pay attention to his friends.

When he looked away, his attention was caught by another pair of eyes. Johnny looked over to the Ravenclaw table and found Taeyong staring at him, eyes narrowed in suspicion. Something told Johnny that the Ravenclaw had watched the entire exchange Johnny had had with the tikes. Johnny tipped his head in a silent greeting before he turned toward Ten, grinning.

*

Objectively, Johnny knew that taking History of Magic first thing on Monday mornings was a terrible idea. Every bout of wakefulness he might have mustered by then was sure to get robbed from him by Professor Boa‘s tranquil voice, but right now, he couldn’t help but rejoice at the idea of another two hours of sleep.

Besides, Johnny thought as he let himself fall into the seat next to Jaehyun, there was no way he was going to subject himself to mandrake screaming first thing every Monday morning. Herbology was the easier O.W.L, which was Ten’s reasoning for ditching them, but for now, Johnny was perfectly content sitting at their table in the back and dumping his head on his arms, his eyes drifting shut on their own accord. Well, almost perfect.

“Oh shit, everybody bow on your way in! Nobility is among us.”

“Does he ever shut the fuck up?” Jaehyun mumbled next to Johnny. He was mirroring his position, cracking one eye open to trail the Gryffindor captain with his eyes as he strolled into the room.

“I don’t think he’s been taught that by his grandmother,” Johnny said, loudly enough for Doyoung to hear.

The reaction was imminent. He could hear Doyoung take in a sharp breath and Johnny’s hand had already closed around the wand in his pocket, but then there was a short scuffle, followed by Taeil’s voice hissing out a “Don’t!”

By the time, Johnny had lifted his head, it was just in time to see Taeil retract his hand from his best friend’s mouth and Johnny felt his expression darken. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what Doyoung had been about to hurl at him. Johnny’s grip around his wand tightened.

There were certain things that were off-limits, even among them. Things that both the Gryffindors and Slytherin had silently but unanimously agreed upon to keep out of their taunting, because dragging these things into it would have meant crossing the line into the most personal of their business. The most personal of their business such as Yuta’s obvious obsession with a certain Hufflepuff, the divorce of Taeil’s parents or the faded, jagged scar on Doyoung’s face that scraped along the left wing of his nose and enclosed his eye in a perfect circle, precisely the size of a bottle bottom. Those were all things Johnny and his friends never touched upon, because making it personal was the way madness lay and Doyoung knew that too. Johnny’s secret was an open one, but that didn’t mean he would let the Gryffindor get away with bringing it up.

He glared at Doyoung. The Gryffindor stared back, shoulders squared but with a hint of remorse in his eyes. Johnny continued to stare him down until the moment was broken by Professor Boa’s arrival, history tome in her arms and a pleasant expression on her face as she told everybody to sit down. Doyoung shuffled into his seat, accepting Taeil’s hand that came up to pat him on the shoulder.

“You okay?” Jaehyun asked him when Johnny dumped his head back onto his arms. The look in his eyes – half concern, half rage – told Johnny that Jaehyun had understood as well.

“Of course.” And Johnny was. “He’s no one. His words don’t matter.”

Jaehyun hummed, but his eyes filled with a kind of determination that Johnny had come to know all too well over the past five years.

“We’ll think of something.” A sly grin spread over Jaehyun’s features. “Tonight. I’m pretty sure Ten already made a list over the summer.”

Johnny felt the corners of his mouth tug into a smile. He didn’t find himself to be lying when he said, “Good.”

He spent the rest of the lesson napping as planned and was pleased to find that his headache had subsided by the time Jaehyun shook him by the shoulder to wake him up. They parted ways in the hallway. Jaehyun left for his Arithmancy class while Johnny headed down to the dungeons.

Ten was waiting for him in front of the Potions classroom, grinning around a cauldron cake.

“Man, you look like shit. History with Boa, huh? How long till you fell asleep?”

Johnny took the time to break off a piece off the cake, drizzling the crumbs into his mouth before he answered, “Not long. Jaehyun hexed his feather to take notes for him, so after that staying awake was kind of a lost cause.”

“I told you, you should have taken Herbology with me. Professor Byun is awesome!” Ten shoved the remainders of the cake into his mouth. “When he’s not trying to convince us to become vegans at least.”

Johnny shrugged as he followed Ten into the classroom. “I don’t like to get my hands dirty.”

Professor Do was a man of small but compact stature, with dark eyes and heart-shaped lips pressed into a perpetual line of disapproval.  Johnny knew that somewhere behind that expression, a very charming personality must have been hidden. Professor Do was married to a part-Veela after all, a man Johnny had once caught a glimpse of during Professor Do’s office hours and that his thirteen year-old self had struggled to forget for months afterwards. So Johnny knew Professor Do had to have an abundance of alluring, pleasant qualities beneath the unimpressed furrow of his eyebrows. None of these qualities were about to be displayed to them, however, Johnny realised as the teacher appeared in front of their table.

“This is not happening,” Professor Do announced, glaring down at them with a level of exasperation it had taken Ten years to cultivate. “I’ve put up with the two of you messing around in the back for long enough. Mr Seo, gather your things. There is some semblance of hope for you, so you’ll be sitting in the front with Mr Lee this year. Maybe he will get you to apply all the theoretical knowledge I know you have. As for you, Mr Leechaiyapornkul—” Johnny couldn’t help but marvel at the way the professor managed to pronounce Ten’s last name without a single stutter. Most of the other teachers had given up on even trying some time into their second year— “you’re allowed to remain in your seat, but Seulgi will come work with you and I gave her permission to take away house points from you, should you purposefully compromise her work.”

Ten groaned as he looked at the Ravenclaw girl. “Really, Professor? I thought you were supposed to be on our side, being Head of House and all that?”

“Me being Head of House Slytherin does not constitute favouritism,” the teacher snapped before he turned around. “After me, Mr Seo.”

Johnny and Ten exchanged a glance before Ten groaned and buried his face in one hand, using the other to wave Johnny off. Johnny hurried to drop his things into his cauldron before he picked it up and followed Professor Do to the front.

“I expect great results,” Professor Do warned as Johnny set his cauldron down on the assigned table. Another threatening twitch of his eyebrows and he left.

Johnny took the time to wrangle his copy of Advanced Potion-Making back out of his cauldron before he turned in his seat enough to look at his new neighbour. Taeyong wasn’t looking at him, eyes fixed on where he had been magically rinsing out his vials. His wand had stilled the moment Johnny had sat down next to him, though, and now he was glaring at the granite table top as if it had personally offended his mother.

Johnny rolled his eyes. “Oh, don’t look so sullen, Taeyong. It’s not like I resettled on purpose.”

“Trust me,” Taeyong gritted out, looking decisively unimpressed, “this is as much of a punishment to me as it is to you.”

“Merlin’s beard,” Johnny mumbled. He gripped onto the school-issued cauldron Taeyong had been cleaning and replaced it with his own, brand new copper one. “It’s the first day back, Taeyong. Unclench.”

It was the sharp intake of breath that made Johnny look up, just in time to see the flash of anger in Taeyong’s eyes. “I’ll say this right now, Johnny, I’m taking an O.W.L in this class so if you don’t take this seriously—”

“Yah!” Johnny frowned. “What makes you think I’m not?”

“Are you serious?” Taeyong’s eyebrows disappeared into the fluffy strands of his fringe. “You and Ten blew up seven cauldrons last year! Seven!”

Johnny couldn’t help the smile that tugged on the corner of his lips. “So?”

“So?” Taeyong looked seconds from blowing up properly before he seemed to think better of it. Snapping his mouth shut, he turned back towards the front. A growl. “Whatever, you can do what you want. That’s what you guys do all the time anyways. Just don’t hold me back.”

Cute, Johnny thought and turned to his book, flipping it open on the page Professor Do had scribbled on the blackboard. In the front, the teacher commanded silence with a wave of his hand. His voice was quiet, but so menacing that no one dared to do so much as cough.

“As many of you will be pleased to hear, we are going to ease into the new year. Madame Amber asked me to brew Pepperup Potion for her to replenish the infirmary‘s stock, so that is what we are going to do today. Pepperup is a third-year level potion so I am positive all of you will have no problem producing a passable result until the end of this lesson, especially those of you who are considering taking an O.W.L in this class. If any of the instructions are unclear to you, raise your hand.” Professor Do’s gaze swiped over every single one of their faces before he continued. “You may start now.”

Before Johnny could do so much as move, a folded up piece of paper landed in front of him.

“Ingredients,” Taeyong said. His eyes were glued back to the instructions in the book, wand moving over the cauldron already. “Go get them.”

Johnny forced his eyebrows back down from where they had wandered to the middle of his forehead. Lips twitching, he snatched up the paper before he got up.

There was a huddle around the glass with the mandrake roots, so Johnny went for the bicorn horns first. He rummaged through the box, searching for the biggest one he could find. He had just retracted his hand, sizable horn clasped between his fingers, when a familiar, twitchy warmth pressed into his back. A moment later, Ten had weaselled his way into the space between the shelved wall and Johnny’s body, snatching the bicorn horn right out of Johnny’s hand.

“That was mine.” Johnny sighed as he  stuck his hand back into the box.

“Diligent,” Ten commented. “You’re already being whipped into shape by our great Ravenclaw master brewer, I see.”

Johnny grunted as he pushed his arm further into the box, a low hiss of triumph escaping him when his fingers closed around another horn that was big enough. “I’m not being whipped.”

“I am.” Ten grinned, nodding back to his table. “Seulgi is terrifying.”

As if summoned, the shrill voice of the Ravenclaw girl cut through the room, “Hurry up, Ten! The water is already boiling!”

Terrifying, Ten mouthed, waving the bicorn horn in goodbye as he skipped back to his table. Johnny sighed before he turned to gather the rest of Taeyong’s list. The task was taken from him, however, when the remaining ingredients were pushed into his hands.

“Here you go, Johnny. I collected two of everything so you wouldn’t have to.”

Johnny peered down at the Slytherin girl that had popped up in front of him. He accepted her offering with a smile. “Thank you, Yeri.”

“No problem. Good luck with your potion!” With that, Yeri took a step around him and walked back to her own table.

Johnny perused the items in his hands, made sure he had indeed gotten everything on Taeyong’s list before he returned to their table. He was surprised to find Taeyong awaiting him, an unreadable expression on his face. The one emotion Johnny could clearly make out was annoyance.

“What?” Johnny asked as he dropped their ingredients on the table. “I got everything on the list. You’re not gonna complain about the ripeness of the mandrake root, are you?”

Taeyong continued to stare at him for another few moments before he blinked. The frown disappeared from his face and he averted his eyes to the cauldron in between them. The steam must have made his face heat up, because his ears were turning red.

“No.” He cleared his throat. “Thank you.”  

Johnny grinned. “You’re welcome.”

“Can you dice the mandrake root? Not too finely.”

“Sure.”

Johnny picked up his scythe and got to work. Fighting with Taeyong about him sidelining Johnny  was not worth the hassle, Johnny had decided. Being ordered around wasn’t something he usually allowed, but Taeyong was good at what he was doing. There was a reason he was at the top of the class in every class and while Johnny didn’t bow to people, he bowed to competence. Besides, it gave him an excuse to study the way the other boy worked.

Johnny watched as Taeyong prepared the potion with nimble fingers and muttered words, wand moving in circles over the cauldron as he spoke the necessary charms to turn the potion from a clear grey to bright orange. Johnny handed him the diced mandrake root and Taeyong thanked him without taking his eyes off of the cauldron, stirring the potion as he read over the instructions yet another time. Johnny could hear Taeyong count under his breath, finger moving along the page with every step they ticked off. Even during the thirty minute boiling period, Taeyong never stopped working. He cast cleaning spells over the jars, the mortar and even Johnny’s scythe, while simultaneously scribbling down their progress on a piece of parchment. Johnny kept himself entertained by studying the fine, sharp lines of his face.

“I think it’s done,” he said once the clock above Professor Do’s desk had passed the thirty-minute mark and Taeyong startled.

“Yes,” he said, pushing his fringe out of his eyes. Some time during the brewing process, he had rolled up his sleeves, revealing slender but surprisingly defined arms.

Beads of sweat gathered at his temple when Taeyong leaned over the cauldron, adding the bicorn horn dust Johnny had ground for him. The potion turned purple with it and a breath-taking smile bloomed on Taeyong’s face.

“It worked.” His smile persisted as he looked at Johnny and Johnny wondered whether Taeyong was part-Veela too. “It’s done.”

“That remains to be seen, Mr Lee.”

Taeyong’s bottom lip disappeared into his mouth as Professor Do appeared in front of their table. Johnny watched Taeyong’s shoulders tense up with unwarranted anxiety as the teacher leaned over their cauldron. Professor Do’s face showed no reaction as he perused their efforts. Eventually, his eyes narrowed as he raised his wand and, with a flick of it, the fire beneath the cauldron went out. The teacher looked up at them. His face remained indifferent, but the furrow between his eyebrows had disappeared.

“Well done,” Professor Do said as he tapped his wand against the rim of the cauldron and its contents began to swirl upwards, filling themselves into the vials Taeyong had prepared. Johnny could feel Taeyong next to him sag with relief. Professor Do took the rack before he nodded at them appraisingly. “You’re the first ones to finish, so you may leave to get an early lunch once you’re done cleaning up.”

Johnny waited until Professor Do had went off to another table before he looked over at Taeyong, who was already busy gathering up the mortar and school-issued cauldron Johnny had discarded at the beginning.

“Hey, Prefect!”

Taeyong turned around to look at him. His expression had returned to its usual closed-off state, but there was no hostility in his eyes.

Johnny leaned back in his seat. “Good work.”

Taeyong searched his eyes, as if to gauge whether Johnny was making fun of him or not. When he found nothing but earnestness in Johnny’s eyes, a tiny smile made its way onto his face. He inhaled, but whatever Taeyong had wanted to say in response got lost to a deafening bang. A moment later, the air was rapidly filling with acrid, poison-green smoke.

Johnny jumped when the collar of his school sweater was grabbed and pulled up over his nose, protecting his airways. He looked up to find Taeyong staring down at him with resigned exasperation in his eyes, his own robes pulled up in a similar fashion to Johnny’s.

Somewhere in the smoke, Ten’s voice cheered, “Number eight!”

Chapter Text

The sensation was that of cold water seeping over his head, soaking his skin and spreading all over his body to leave an uncomfortable sheen. Johnny shivered and watched with detached wonderment as his body disappeared from sight. It were only the ripples in the air surrounding his cloak, the millisecond it took the fabric to obtain the colour of the stone wall behind him that gave away his presence at all.

“Wow, freaky,” Ten whispered to his right, his voice coming out slightly strained as he struggled to keep still. His arms where securing a rattling, cloak-covered box against his chest. Whatever was inside was desperate to come out and Johnny almost felt an ounce of sympathy for its recipients, but then he remembered the slug he had found in his breakfast that morning, and the notion disappeared as quickly as it had come. “Do me next, Jae.”

Jaehyun hummed in concentration as he raised his wand and tipped the top of Ten’s head. Ten disappeared much like Johnny had done before, the rattling of the box becoming the only indicator of his location.

“Try to keep that in check until we’re in the tower,” Jaehyun instructed while he performed the disillusionment charm on himself. “It’s no use if we get caught before we’ve made it into their dormitory.”

“You think I’m not trying?” Ten’s voice snapped, but the rattling subsided slightly, as if he had gripped the box tighter. “I had to promise my uncle Mongkut that I’d sit next to him during the next family function so that he’d ship me these and you damn well know that he has this nasty habit of chewing tobacco and spitting it on his plate so you better appreciate this—”

“Quiet now,” Jaehyun’s voice sounded to their right and the door of the Dungeon cupboard that they had squeezed into opened. “After me.”

The way up to the seventh floor was a long one, and Johnny’s muscles tensed with every unusual flicker of the candles along the walls, every slap of their shoes against the stone floors. Taking the Grand Staircase would have been way too risky, so Jaehyun lead them through secret passages and hidden stairways. It was undoubtedly the scarier route.

By the time they had made it to the portrait of the Fat Lady, Johnny’s nerves were frayed with the fear of being caught and a prickling sense of anticipation was making his skin tingle. He let none of it show on his face as he produced his wand from his pocket and tapped himself on the head, the illusionment charm spilling over his lips with ease. Once he was visible again, he stepped up to the portrait in front of him, clearing his throat.

“Excuse me.”

The Fat Lady woke with a start, her chins lifting from where they had rested on the expanse of her bosom, the frills of her dress crinkling.

“Oh!” Johnny winced as she began wailing. “Oh, young man, do you even know what hour it is!”

“I’m so sorry,” Johnny cut her off before her clamouring could wake up any of the other portraits, or worse, alert the caretaker. “It was not my intention to wake you at this hour, M’lady, but I fear I must ask for your services. May I come in?”

The Fat Lady blinked at him, a meaty hand coming up to fan her reddening cheeks. “Why… of course, if you ask so politely.”

Johnny was about to sag in relief when she leaned forward, squinting. “Wait, you’re not one of mine, are you? I see it! You’re not wearing the right colours! An intruder!”

The last word came out in a high-pitched screech and Johnny quickly raised his hands. “No, no, M’lady, you misunderstand! I’m not an intruder. I’m just here to… pick up a book I Ient out. It’s terribly important that I get it before the morning, you see, and I was sure such a gracious painting as yourself would surely help me?”

The Fat Lady mustered him with doubt in her eyes, but Johnny could see the pink return to her cheeks.

“Please.” He plastered his most charming smile onto his face. “It would mean a lot to me personally.”

“Well, if that is the case.” The Fat Lady’s frame shook as she repositioned herself on her stool. “Do you at least know the password?”

Johnny nodded. It had taken him an entire lunchbreak, but eventually he had gotten the password from a rather starry-eyed third-year Gryffindor boy. “Parrotcake.”

“Correct.” The Fat Lady sighed as she swung open. “Be quick.”

“Oh, I will be.” Johnny promised, sending her a wink that elicited a terribly off-pitch giggle.

Johnny waited until the tell-tale rattling of Ten’s box had passed him before he climbed through the hole in the wall she had revealed. This late at night, the Gryffindor common room was deserted, the last embers of the fireplace providing the only source of light.

“Lumos,” Johnny muttered, holding his wand high as he lead the way over to the spiral staircase that lead to the boys’ dormitories. Halfway up the stairs, Jaehyun’s figure reappeared next to him. Ten behind them cursed as he nearly tripped over his own feet before Jaehyun performed the illusionment charm on him too.

A slow grin spread over Johnny’s features as he stopped in front of the door with the plaque that read Fifth-Year Dormitory.

“You ready, Tennie?” Jaehyun asked and received more rattling in return, followed by a winded, but undoubtedly excited. “As ready as I’ll ever be, Captain.”

“Nox,” Johnny whispered against the tip of his wand, just as Jaehyun carefully opened the door.

The Gryffindor dormitory lay in complete darkness, nothing but the occasional snore and shuffling of sheets disturbing the silence. Ten positioned himself in the middle of the circular room, setting the box down on the hardwood floor while Jaehyun crouched down next to him. He produced a giant, silken green ribbon from his robes and attached it to the side of the box before he pushed himself back to his feet. Ten’s teeth gleamed white, even in the darkness, as he grinned and the both of them snuck back to the door where Johnny had remained waiting.

“You want to do the honours, Johnnyboy?” Jaehyun asked, and Johnny nodded.

Feeling a smile tug on the corner of his mouth, he lifted his wand and pointed it at the box. “Wingardium Leviosa,” he whispered and watched in satisfaction as the cloak lifted off the box. For the duration of a heartbeat, the rattling from inside subsided, silence reigning over the room. And then all hell broke loose.

Ear-splitting shrieking accompanied the two dozen Cornish pixies that broke out of the box. The whir of tiny, blue bodies took the room by storm, upending trunks, ripping curtains of the canopies and attacking the occupants of the beds below.

Johnny allowed himself a single, glorious moment of taking in the screams and chaos before he bolted after his friends, Ten’s mad cackling leading him down the stairs. Johnny had just made it to the bottom of the them when a flash of light brushed by his shoulder, followed by the angry scream of a certain Gryffindor captain.

“After them!” Doyoung’s voice yelled, interrupted by a groan of pain and a manic pixie giggle. “They can’t be far! Don’t let them get away!”

Johnny dodged another two hexes before he had made it through the common room and back to the hole in the wall, scrambling through. Once he had made it to the corridor outside, he legged it.

Ten was already out of sight, his lithe stature and scrawny limbs making him the fastest out of all of them. Johnny knew that Jaehyun was faster than him too, as his friend had spent the summer sticking to his iron-clad practice regime while Johnny had spent most of his time lounging around reading, but Jaehyun kept pace with him as they sprinted down the hallway, a hand secured around Johnny’s arm.

It wasn’t until they had made it down to the third floor that Johnny felt himself getting winded. Jaehyun’s breathing next to him had turned ragged as well, and they let their leaping steps fade into long strides.

“Fuck, that was glorious,” Jaehyun wheezed out. His face was red with exertion, but the grin on his face was so broad it threatened to split his face in half.

Johnny wholeheartedly agreed, keeping his laughter muffled with one hand.

“That’ll teach them to keep their mouths shut,” Jaehyun said darkly before another grin bloomed on his face. “Did you see Doyoung’s face when the pixie dragged him out of bed by the hair? Fuck, I thought I’d die from laughter right then and there.”

Angry footsteps, followed by another flash of light at the beginning of the hallway made them break into another sprint.  By the time they had made it back to the Dungeons – out of breath but unharmed – Johnny’s lungs were screaming, but he couldn’t help the grin that was still manifested on his face.

“Good job, men,” Ten greeted them when they slunk back into the dorm. He was changed back into his pyjamas already, sitting on his bed with a mischievous smile still bright on his face.

Johnny contemplated changing out of his robes as well, but then decided that he couldn’t be arsed. Heaving in a breath, he let himself fall onto his bed. A quick flick of his wand rid him off his shoes at least. It was Jaehyun and Ten’s snickering, eventually interrupted by Hansol’s grumbled, half-asleep demand for quiet in the dorm, that lulled him to sleep.

*

The next morning, Johnny entered the Great Hall in fresh robes and with his hair still wet from the shower he had taken. A precautionary glance at the Gryffindor table told him that none of the fifth-years had made it down yet, safe for Yuta.

The Gryffindor Beater looked worse for wear, his mouth moving in a steady stream of what Johnny knew to be swear words. Yuta’s head was resting on the shoulder of a concerned looking Winwin. The Hufflepuff noticed Johnny’s gaze and reciprocated it for only a second before he quickly averted his eyes to his breakfast, hands steadily moving to smooth down the ruffled strands of Yuta’s hair.

Ten greeted Johnny with his usual cheerfulness, seemingly unaffected by their shared lack of sleep. “Morning.”

Johnny reciprocated his smile before he accepted the cup of pumpkin juice Ten held out for him.

Jaehyun looked up from his Daily Prophet to hold out a crisp, wax-sealed envelope to him. “Chicago dropped this off for you.” A quick glance at the seal told Johnny that it was a letter from his father. “I sent her back to the owlery already, but if you want I can take your reply with me later, I have to go up there this afternoon anyways.”

Johnny pocketed the letter before he nodded. “I’ll have it ready by practice.”

Jaehyun’s lips quirked up at that, as the mention of Quidditch usually did.

Johnny fixed himself a plate of peanut butter on toast and dug in. It was only Ten’s gleeful “uh-oh” that prompted Johnny to look up from his plate.

In between the double doors, a rather ruffled-looking Doyoung had appeared. His robes were open, the loose ends of his tie hanging from his neck. A string of reddened clawing marks ran down the unmarred side of his face where one of the pixies had presumably tried to get to the golden ring looped through his ear. Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny saw Yuta get up from his seat, pushing off Winwin’s hands as the Hufflepuff tried to hold him back. Even Taeil, who usually stuck to being the more level-headed member of their party, looked positively pissed off as he followed his friends to the Slytherin table.

Johnny helped himself to more juice. Just as he had set the pitcher back down, a familiar, silken green ribbon landed in Jaehyun’s bowl of porridge, sending chunks of oat and apple flying everywhere. The gaggle of Slytherin girls sitting nearest to them moved their plates out of harm’s way with a collective sigh. Johnny shot them an apologetic smile, receiving pink cheeks and frantic whispering in return, before he averted his attention back to the unamused group of Gryffindors looming over their table.

“Got your present,” Doyoung ground out.

Jaehyun quirked an unimpressed eyebrow while Ten snickered into his porridge. Johnny hid his smile behind his cup.

“I do not know what you‘re talking about,” Jaehyun said as he used his Daily Prophet to fish the bow out of his bowl. It landed on the table between them with a soggy squelch, “but thank you for ruining my breakfast, I guess.”

“Stop playing dumb, you slimebag!” Doyoung roared. “We know it was you who released the pixies in our dorm. The Fat Lady told us all about the ‘oh so charming young man with the well manners and shiny hair’ that requested entrance at arse o’clock in the morning and whether ‘he got his book back alright’.” Doyoung’s glare fell on Johnny. “That was you, Seo, everybody knows your silver spoon rubbed off on your tongue.”

Johnny kept his face impassive as he set his cup down and reached for a breakfast muffin instead. Before he bit into it, he met Doyoung’s eyes and winked.

Doyoung was halfway across the table before Taeil and Yuta could pull him back, though Yuta’s attempt at holding back his captain looked more than half-assed.

Doyoung’s gaze screamed bloody murder as he shook off the hands of his friends. “You better sleep with one eye open from now on. Especially you, Jung. I know this was your idea. You’re all fair game now.”

Jaehyun answered Doyoung’s threat with a polite smile, waving his porridge-soaked newspaper after him as Doyoung stomped off. Taeil was hot on his heels. Yuta lingered for a moment longer, taking the time to glare at each of them individually before he followed his friends back to their own table.

“Rude,” Ten breathed out as soon as they were gone. “The pixies were my idea. You totally stole my credit there, Jae!”

Jaehyun chuckled as he discarded his newspaper in favour of picking up his cup. “I’m sorry. We’ll make sure to correct their mistake the next time.”

“How long do you think it will take them?” Johnny asked.

Jaehyun shrugged. “Doyoung is smart for a Gryffindor, but that still makes him dumber than about anyone else at this school. A week, maybe. Less and worse if they allow Yuta to contribute.”

“He looked seconds from exploding,” Ten giggled. “God, this is definitely worth the tobacco spit balls.”

“Your family is so weird, Tennie.”

“Excuse you, at least my family didn’t use to marry each other for the sake of keeping up the pureblood status.”

“That was in the sixteenth century!”

Johnny finished off the last piece of toast before he dragged himself to his feet. “Alright, that’s my queue to leave. I gotta head to class. I’ll see you later.”

“Bye, Johnnyboy!” Ten waved after him, maneuvering a piece of toast over the arm Jaehyun had squeezed around his neck.

Johnny went back to the Dungeons to retrieve his books before he headed up to the third floor. The corridor leading to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom was empty, so he let himself fall onto the stone bench opposing the classroom door and pulled out the letter his father had sent him. The seal broke with a satisfying crack, thick parchment crinkling beneath Johnny’s fingers as he unfolded the paper.

The letter wasn’t more than half a page, brisk words inquiring about his well-being, about the start of the school year, whether his friends were well, how cousin Donghyuck was getting on now that he had begun school and lastly, of course, a stern warning to keep his grades up. Johnny smiled as he read over the words again and again, allowed his father’s care lull him in. Contrary to what people believed, Johnny and his father weren’t distant. Johnny knew that his father cared deeply about him even if they didn’t see each other often. He knew it every fortnight when their family owl dropped off another letter for him.

“Johnny?”

Johnny looked up to find a familiar set of large, deep brown eyes peering down at him, beautiful features marred by concern.

“Yes?” He quickly folded up the letter and let it disappear into his breast pocket. Johnny smiled at the bronze and blue crest in front of his eyes. “How may I help you, Taeyong?”

Taeyong blinked at him. For just the fraction of a second he looked out of his element. Then he seemed to remember why he had come up to Johnny. He jutted a thumb over his shoulder. “Class is about to start.” Taeyong cleared his throat. “Professor Minseok is already in and you’re the last one missing, so.”

Johnny nodded and stood up. He walked over and opened the classroom door with an exaggerated bow, gesturing for Taeyong to walk in first. “After you, Prefect.”

Taeyong rolled his eyes at him as he stalked past, but it had worked. The concern had cleared from his face and was replaced by his usual holier-than-thou expression. Johnny relished it as he followed Taeyong into the classroom.

“Ah, Mr Seo, finally.” Professor Minseok clapped his hands as soon as Johnny had closed the classroom door behind him, welcoming him with a cheery smile. “Thank you for retrieving him, Taeyong. A point to Ravenclaw. Now that we’re complete, we can finally begin!”

Johnny watched Taeyong take his seat in front of the teacher’s desk, the Ravenclaw girl next to him – Jennie, Johnny thought her name was – pointing out the page they were on with a smile. Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny could see Yeri wave at him from the back, but he forewent her in favour of taking the empty chair next to Hansol by the windows. The prefect seemed half-asleep, elbow propped on the table and head resting on his head. He acknowledged Johnny with a spasm of his fingers and a yawn.

“You really should stop sneaking out at night,” Johnny murmured as he opened his book to the page Professor Minseok was projecting onto the wall next to the blackboard. He couldn’t quite keep the grin off of his face. “It’s bad form. You’re not being a good role model.”

“Only if I get caught,” Hansol answered with his eyes still closed. “Now stop being an asshole, Seo, and take some notes for me too, would you? It’s not like you and the rest of the triumvirate have any room to talk. You came in after me.”

Johnny hummed, uncorking his ink bottle. He didn’t get any further in his answer than that, because the moment he had pried the cork off the bottle, it exploded. The ink shot out of the glass in a spout, dousing the front of his robes and face in dark blue. Johnny blinked, half-aware that the entire class was looking at him now, a few snickers from the Ravenclaw side being hastily repressed behind hands.

“Dude,” Hansol muttered next to him.

Johnny took a deep, calming breath before he raised his hand. “Professor Minseok?” It was a needless gesture. Professor Minseok was already looking at him, elfish features widened almost comically in shock and Johnny thought how ironic it was, that the Hogwarts teacher with the softest heart was teaching the darkest subject. “May I be excused? I think I need to go to the bathroom.”

“Why—” Professor Minseok stared at him for another moment before he snapped out of it— “Why, yes of course, Mr Seo. Go ahead.”

“Thank you.”

Wand in hand, Johnny made his way to the door. The ink was running into his eyes now, tinting his vision a faint blue. He ignored the sting until he had made it onto the corridor. Halfway to the bathroom, he was stopped short by a terrible thought. His calm demeanor broke as he reached into his breast pocket with shaking fingers.

Pressing his lips into a tight line, Johnny pulled the letter from his pocket. He held the envelope up against the light to inspect it for damage and was rewarded by another few drops of ink on his face.  The letter was ruined, the parchment soaked through and unintelligible. Johnny didn’t realise he had yielded into a crouch until a hand landed on his shoulder.

“Johnny?”

Johnny jumped up as quickly as he had went down, paper tearing with how tightly he balled his hands into fists. He spun around. His heart was beating too fast, erratic. The tint in his vision blurred into purple, blurred into red.

“What?” Johnny snapped. “What do you want?”

Taeyong flinched as if Johnny had hit him. For a moment, it looked like he was going to back away, but then he took a step forward instead. “I-I came to check up on you. I thought maybe I could help you clean up—”

“Now,” Johnny interrupted, his voice entirely too calm. The letter in his hand squelched as he raised his fist, “that would be a bit counterproductive, don’t you think?”

“What?” Taeyong’s eyebrows drew together. “What are you talking about?”

Johnny felt the muscles in his jaw twitch. He hated being lied to. “You mean to tell me that this,” he gestured at his ruined robes and face, “was not you?”

“Me—what?” The concern in Taeyong’s eyes was replaced by abrupt anger. “Are you kidding me right now?” In an instant, every bit of haughty prefect returned to his posture. Taeyong squared his shoulders, arms crossed in front of his chest as he lifted his chin up high. “You really think I would ever involve myself in that childish feud you and the others have going on?” Taeyong scoffed.

“Oh, please.” Johnny scoffed right back. “Taeil is your best friend. Even if you didn’t put the bottle in my bag, you still knew about it.”

Taeyong was silent for a moment. Then, “It’s not like you have room to talk, Johnny. Half the school was woken up by your little pixie stunt. Did you even know Professor Park dragged me and two other Ravenclaws out of bed because he had trouble getting the pixies back into their cages?”

It was the unforeseen pain in his chest, mostly, that made Johnny say, “Not my problem your friends are idiots. That’s what you get for hanging with Gryffindors.”

“That’s what I get for hanging with—” Taeyong’s eyes widened in disbelief. “Are you serious right now? What? You’re one of those Slytherin now? All obsessed with house morals and blood status? What? You going to call me a mudblood next, too?”

Johnny felt his anger dissipate with shock. “Don’t even joke about that.” He growled when his brain registered the other implication of Taeyong’s words.  “And who said that? Who called you that?”

“No one,” Taeyong snapped, too quickly. He rolled his eyes. “Obviously. No one said that.” Taeyong crossed his arms in front of his chest. “It was just an example.”

“Yeah, well, it was a bad one.”

Taeyong averted his gaze, but his posture remained ramrod straight. “Why would you even care?”

“Wow, Taeyong.” By the look in Taeyong’s eyes, his teeth were stained blue too. “And here I always thought you were supposed to be the smartest of us all.”

Taeyong frowned at him. “I really don’t see how these two things correlate with each other.”

Johnny pushed a hand through his hair but regretted the gesture when his hand came back streaked in blue. “I’m suggesting that you need to stop asking stupid questions if you want to keep up your know-it-all reputation.”

Johnny held Taeyong’s gaze for several long moments, watched a range of emotions flicker over the Ravenclaw’s eyes before eventually, Taeyong nodded his head.

“I’m sorry,” he said slowly, surprising Johnny.  It almost gave Johnny whiplash, how quickly Taeyong was back to being earnest. “In any case, I really would appreciate it if you all kept me out of your stupid house rivalry game.”

“I can’t promise that,” Johnny felt his lips twitch at the exasperated eye roll Taeyong gave. “You’re too good at cleaning up after us, Taeyong.” Johnny looked down. “But I apologise, too. It wasn’t fair of me to snap at you. My anger, it—” His gaze fell to the clump of mush in his hand— ”It was misplaced.”

Taeyong’s gaze followed his and for a moment it looked like he was going to ask. Johnny was thankful when he didn’t. “Now, if you excuse me, I have some cleaning up to do. And don’t worry. I was there during the first year of Charms. I remember the cleaning spell.”

“Tergeo,” Taeyong mumbled, just as Johnny was about to walk away.

Johnny halted in his step. He was careful to wipe the smile off his face before he turned back around. He took a step closer and then another one until he was crowding into Taeyong’s space. Johnny watched the way Taeyong’s eyes widened as he leaned down, lowering his head until their faces were only millimetres apart.

“Careful, Prefect,” he murmured as he placed a hand on Taeyong’s chest, right where his heart was betraying the frozen expression on his face. Johnny tapped his finger twice against the thundering beneath his fingertips. “Any more of your concern, and it might thaw.”

With that, Johnny retracted his hand and took a quick step back, using his momentum to make a beeline for the bathroom. The hitch of Taeyong’s breath replayed in his mind.

*

Johnny was still tasting ink by the time he made it down to the Quidditch pitch that afternoon. The lawn was packed, a sea of green and silver greeting Johnny as he walked up to where the remaining members of the Quidditch team had gathered in a line. Johnny took his place to Jaehyun’s left, watching in amusement as the captain’s scowl deepened by the second. It seemed like half the house had come to try out for the team, a mass that they now needed to weed through.

“Maybe we should start out by sending the first-years back to the castle?” Ten suggested from Jaehyun’s right. It was a mild, cloudless day so his goggles were sitting on top of his head, slightly askew.

“Nah.” Jaehyun shook his head, eyes remaining locked on the mass in front of them. “They’re too small for either position, but who knows? Maybe one of them is good enough to replace you as Seeker.”

“Oi!”

Visibly cheered up, Jaehyun took a step forward. It didn’t take more than the clearing of his throat for the Slytherin gathered in front of them to stand to attention.

“Everybody, I welcome you to this year’s Quidditch tryouts! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Jaehyun Jung, the captain of this team. Before we start I want to thank every one of you for your interest in becoming a member of our Quidditch team. I am sure among you we will find the three people we need to win the Quidditch cup for Slytherin this year.”

The crowd cheered at that and Johnny leaned against his broom, settling in for the speech Jaehyun was about to give. He probably would have listened, had he not witnessed Jaehyun give it the year before already. As it was, he allowed his thoughts to drift off, blue ink and bronze swirling in his mind as he let his gaze wander. He only tuned back into his surroundings when he felt Ten’s hand on his shoulder.

“Look who’s come to watch,” Ten whispered, eyes glimmering, and Johnny followed his gaze to the stands.

The first few rows of benches were packed with Slytherin. Among them, Johnny spotted the tikes and sent a quick prayer of gratitude heavenwards that neither his cousin nor any of his friends had thought to try out for the Quidditch team. He knew that Donghyuck might have had the reflexes and mercilessness to be a Beater, but Johnny was not going to subject himself to his aunt’s yelling when she found out her only child was participating in a sport where he could potentially get hurt and Johnny had allowed it. Maybe when Donghyuck was in his third year, Johnny reasoned with himself and reciprocated his cousin’s eager waving with a small wave of his own.

Then he let his gaze wander further upwards. The higher ranks were more sparsely filled with people from other houses. Most of them were lounging in the sun or talking amongst themselves, few of them watching the tryouts with real interest. Among those, Johnny found a familiar cluster of red and golden robes in the top right-hand corner of the stands, a single fleck of yellow and black wedged in between erasing any doubt.

“Jae!” Johnny called out. He beckoned the other boy over from where he had taken to dividing the prospects by age.

Jaehyun jogged over, quaffle in hand. “What’s up?”

Johnny nodded at the stands. “We’ve got ourselves an audience.”

Jaehyun searched the stands with mild interest. His eyes darkened when he spotted the Gryffindor team.

“Well.” He clacked his tongue after a moment of contemplation. “I don’t think they’re here to start something, not with your ink bomb incident this morning and the indecent howler Ten and I got delivered in Divination, but watch out for any signs of your brooms being cursed or something like that. Until then, I say let’s get going.”

Jaehyun waited for Johnny and Ten to nod before he turned back to where he had come from.

“Vic?” The Slytherin girl and fourth remaining member of their team looked up from where she had been talking to a few of her friends. “You got your groups ready?”

She gave a thumbs up.

“Alright, then!” Jaehyun tipped the ground with his broom before he turned towards Johnny and Ten. “Johnnyboy?”

“On it.”

A grin made its way onto his lips as Johnny swung a leg over his Firebolt, the broom lifting off with the slightest nudge of his hand. He had missed flying, had missed the rush of adrenaline as he watched the ground dwindle underneath him and the wind tugging at his clothes, whipping him in the face. After the ink bomb incident in the morning, Johnny was itching to release some of his pent-up frustration. He took his position in front of the rings, adjusting the strap of his helmet while Jaehyun instructed the first group of possible Chasers.

“Alright,” Jaehyun’s voice carried over the wind where he had steered his broom to hover roughly at the height of the middle line, a shaky, undoubtedly excited cluster of first-years gathered around him. “The first position we’ve got to fill is that of a Chaser to complement Vic and I. Your goal is it to score on Johnny, who is our Keeper. Give us a wave, Johnny? Yes, thank you. Each of you will get three tries, if you have failed to score a goal by the third try, you’re out. Understood?”

A resounding choir of “Aye, Captain!”

“Great! Who wants to go first?”

Much like Ten had predicted, the first-years, for lack of a better word, turned out to be a total catastrophe. Johnny spent more time dodging broomsticks and catching limbs than deflecting any quaffles and by the time the third overly zealous first-year had managed to hurl themselves off of their brooms instead of the quaffle, Jaehyun came to agree with Ten and sent the whole group down out of principle.

“Told you so,” Ten lilted as he zoomed past them on his Thunderbolt.

Because there was nothing to do for him during this part of the tryouts, he had opted to playing catch with the snitch, making a show out of it for the people in the stands.

Jaehyun grumbled, and Johnny couldn’t help but smile. He threw the quaffle he had been holding back at his friend, who caught it with ease. “Relax, Jae, it can only get better from here on out. We’ll find some good people.”

“Merlin, I hope so.”

In the end, Johnny was right. They found a third Chaser in a third-year Slytherin boy with an aim so precise even Johnny couldn’t stop the quaffle he fired at the rings from halfway across the field (a motion that made Jaehyun nearly weep in joy, even though he insisted that it was the wind stinging his eyes) and two Beaters in a set of sixth-year twin girls. During the final practice game another Beater prospect, a seventh-year boy Johnny knew from around the common room, made the mistake of sneering at them for being short and female, which brought upon the first knocked out teeth of the day. Ten beamed with pride.

“Well done everyone!” Jaehyun called out once they had set down on the ground, sweaty and tousled but brimming with the energy of a game well played. “Jaemin, Luna, Krystal, please stay back. The rest of you may go.”

Disappointed groans and a couple of angry (now toothless) swears could be heard from the crowd of failed prospects, but Johnny paid them no mind as he unstrapped his helmet. The leather gave a squelch, leaving his hair matted against his forehead. Johnny pushed the sweat-soaked strands out of his face before he turned to look at the new members of their team. They looked worse for wear, all of them sweaty and beat, but the underlying joy that was radiating off of each of them was contagious. They were good players, able and quick-witted in a way that Johnny was thankful for and it made him feel hopeful for this years Quidditch cup. He made sure to offer congratulations to each member personally when they trudged into the changing rooms.

“Thank you,” Jaemin squeaked when Johnny approached him. “I’m so happy that I made it honestly. I wanted to try out for the Quidditch team last year already but I hurt my back two weeks before the new school year so any form of contact sport was a no-go from then on. I’m all better now, though!” Jaemin assured them upon Jaehyun’s panicked look from the bench over. “I even went to St. Mungo’s to get cleared and all. Wanna see me do a backflip? Because I could!”

“No, no! You’re fine!” Jaehyun waved him off. “For now just focus on keeping that golden aim of yours.”

“Thank you!” Jaemin rocked on the balls of his feet in excitement. “Oh, I can’t wait to tell Jeno! That’s my best friend. He was the one who told me I should give it a go this year.”

“He as good as you too?” Ten inquired from next to Jaehyun.

“Yeah.” Jaemin grinned. “He’s a Puff, though and a Seeker. He’s trying out for the Hufflepuff team tomorrow.”

Ten’s grin broadened. “If that’s the case, tell him good luck from me personally.”

“Will do!” Jaemin promised excitedly, as he seemed to do everything else.

Johnny peeled himself out of his chest armour, letting the leather strappings fall into a heap before he bent down to work onto his knee-pads. As Keeper, his armour was more extensive than the simple gloves and knee-pads of the others, and so he was the last one to lock his gear and broom away. He made sure to engage Jaemin in conversation while he did so, watching Jaehyun and Ten disappear into the storage room out of the corner of his eye.

As soon as they reemerged, Johnny hurried over to the door where Jaemin was waiting for him and rested his hand on the third-year’s back, steering them out of the changing rooms. Jaemin seemed a little bit confused at their sudden closeness, but accepted the gesture nonetheless. A hesitant hand came to rest between Johnny’s shoulders. Johnny rewarded with an encouraging smile.

Vic and the twins were waiting at the southern exit of the stadium. Johnny made sure to position himself in a way that put Jaemin next to the twins before he let go of him, backing away. His place was taken over by Ten, who had to reach up to throw an arm around Jaemin shoulders but managed to do so while keeping his other arm behind his back anyways.

“Luna,” Jaehyun said as he arrived at their little circle, hands behind his back and a stern expression on his face. “Take a step forward, please.”

The twin in question looked at Vic for answers, but the Chaser just pushed her into the middle of the circle with barely suppressed laughter.

Johnny’s lips twitched into a smile when he watched Luna lower her head, cheeks burning, as if she expected to be chastised. Jaehyun kept the act up for another heartbeat before he broke character. With a beaming smile, Jaehyun thrust a brand new set of Quidditch robes into her hands, the embroidery on the back spelling out her name and team number.  “Congratulations, Number Five.”

Luna’s eyes widened in surprise before they filled with glee, a happy chortle escaping her lips as she turned to her sister.

Jaehyun laughed. “You too, Krystal.” He waved the second set of robes that he had hidden behind his back. “This one’s for you.”

“Here you go, Jaemin!” Unable to wait just a second longer, Ten pushed Jaemin’s new robes into his hands, coaxing a happy shout out of the third-year when he spotted his own name on the back. “Oh, this is awesome!”

The new team members flocked together, comparing their robes before pulling Vic and a flustered looking Jaehyun into their middle.

Ten, who had stepped away in time alongside Johnny, made to wipe a tear out of his eye, “Look at ‘em, Johnnyboy. They grow up so fast.”

Johnny only grinned. He remembered his own joy when he had made it onto the Quidditch team. Back then, it had been a relief more than anything else. Ten and Jaehyun had tried out for the team during their third year already and Johnny remembered an entire season of getting more and more fed up with all the Quidditch talk before he had finally joined them at the beginning of their fourth year.

Johnny had fought hard for his position as keeper, both against the other prospects and the begrudged, now-graduated older members of the team calling nepotism because Jaehyun had been given captaincy that same year. But looking back at it, the year before had been the most rewarding of his life, no matter how many long nights he had spent playing scrimmage with Jaehyun while Ten slept on the stands, or how many Gryffindor pranks he had to suffer through for it. He slung an arm around Ten’s shoulders, ignoring the indignant squawk the shorter boy let out when Johnny put the majority of his body weight on him.

It was because of him leading the whole of them out of the stadium like this that Johnny saw them first. They weren’t the only ones on the path back up to the castle, the majority of the stands having cleared out with the end of the tryouts, but the timing was just too perfect. And then, of course, Doyoung opened his mouth, letting out a sharp wolf-whistle that gathered the attention of the rest of the Slytherin team.

Jaehyun was next to Johnny within a heartbeat, greeting the Gryffindors with a sneer. Johnny was surprised to find Taeyong among them. He hadn’t noticed him on the stands during tryouts, but there the Ravenclaw was next to Taeil, a rather sour look on his face. Johnny smiled when their eyes met.

“Spying is low, even for you, Kim,” Jaehyun said as he took another step forward. “But then, who can fault you? Coming to see what a real quidditch practice looks like is probably what I would have done, too, if I was you.”

Johnny was thankful that Vic had the foresight to make sure their new members kept walking. Krystal and Luna, who had seen what was about to happen plenty of times before, obliged with a synchronised eye roll, while a confused-looking Jaemin seemed eager to stay before Vic managed to drag him away by the arm too.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Jung.” Doyoung’s grin was too wide to be pleasant, his eyes trailing after the retreating forms of the rest of their team. “We merely came for entertainment purposes. It’s not often you get to see such a sad bunch of untalented ground cobblers after all.”

“Really? I always thought you’d get enough of that sight during your own practices.” Jaehyun acknowledged the annoyed twitch of Doyoung’s jaw with a condescending smile. “Which reminds me, you might want to get back on that. Our first match isn‘t that far away and I doubt your team has much improved since then. Looking at Yuta right now I can tell you’ve only gotten worse.”

“Yah! You—” Yuta was held back by Sicheng before he could properly get heated, Sicheng’s slender arms around his middle and a silent plea from big, imploring eyes apparently enough to make the fury seep right back out of his body.

Johnny watched the exchange with fascinated amusement, quirking his brows when Sicheng noticed his gaze. Sicheng looked away, burying his face in Yuta’s shoulder instead, his grip around the other tightening. Johnny quickly smoothed out his expression when Yuta followed the gaze of the Hufflepuff and landed on Johnny. Johnny shot Yuta a sardonic smile and received a glare in return.

“Oh, please.” Doyoung declared loudly, effectively gathering back the attention of the group. Johnny felt Taeyong staring at him, but resisted the temptation in favour of keeping his eyes on Doyoung. The Gryffindor captain jutted his chin forward. “We could take you tomorrow, and you know it.”

“What, can’t wait until November?

Doyoung raised his hands in mock surrender. “Just say right now if you’re scared, Jung, it’s okay. We accept your forfeit.”

“Oh, you wish.” Jaehyun gritted his teeth. “It’s on.“ He raised his head high. “A practice match, then, Gryffindor versus Slytherin. See it as warm-up for the real deal, a chance for you to practice your brave faces already before you have to show them to the rest of the school when we crush you.”

“Don’t be so sure of yourself, Jung. Your arrogance isn’t half as charming as you might think it is.” Doyoung cocked his head to the side. “When?”

“We’re up on, what, the first weekend of November this year? I say we meet each other on the last of October then. Seven weeks from now. You think you can manage that?”

Doyoung’s grin returned to his face. “Easy.”

“Easy,” Jaehyun echoed and proffered his hand.

Doyoung took it, Jaehyun’s knuckles turning white as he did.

“For the record,” Johnny could hear Taeyong’s hushed voice whisper into Taeil’s ear. “I don’t approve of this. It’s a really stupid idea and—”

“Relax, Yongie,” Taeil said good-naturedly, patting the air above Taeyong’s shoulder, untouching. The row of beaded bracelets around his wrist shifted with the motion, their crystal charms clinking against each other. “It’s not against school rules, is it?”

“No, but—”

“See.”

Taeyong let out a frustrated sigh and, to Johnny’s surprise, looked straight at him. Taeyong visibly startled when he found Johnny looking at him already, but now that he had Taeyong’s attention, Johnny refused to let it go. It was only when he felt Jaehyun return to his side that he pried his eyes away to look at his friend.

“Let’s go,” Jaehyun said. “Dinner’s almost over and I’m so hungry, I could eat a lion.”

Ignoring the hiss Yuta uttered at the jibe, Jaehyun started to trudge up the path that lead to the castle. Ten followed him with a broad smile on his face. Johnny tilted his head back, breathing in deeply. He paid the several pairs of eyes still resting on him no mind as he took long strides to catch up with his friends.

Chapter Text

Johnny was lounging on his favourite sofa in the Slytherin common room. He had his sock-clad feet propped up on the plush leather of the chesterfield while his book rested on his thighs. It was a Saturday so the Dungeon was mostly empty. Jaehyun and Ten had left for Hogsmeade in the morning to get a book Ten needed for his Herbology class, while Johnny had chosen to catch up on some much needed sleep and thus he had spent the better part of his morning in bed before relocating to the common room. He was engrossed in The Warlock’s Hairy Heart, his favourite tale of Beedle the Bard and so he didn’t notice the commotion going on near the doors until he heard his own name.

“What do you want from Johnny?”

Johnny frowned. He recognised that voice, its normally sweet undertones laced with venom now.

“Yeah, did you get lost? I don’t think you’re supposed to be down here. And Johnny wouldn’t want to talk to you anyways.”

Johnny dog-eared the page he was on before he closed his book and shoved it into the breast pocket of his robes. Focussing to make out more of the words that were exchanged on his behalf, he pulled himself to his feet.

“I have already told you,” an icy voice countered the one laced with venom, “I’m here to talk to him and not you, so if you would just let me through—"

“I don’t believe you.” A huff that Johnny had seen making seventh-years cower. “I bet you’re just here to play a prank on him like those debilitated Gryffindors like to do. I’ve seen you hanging around with them. If I were you, I’d better get lost before Johnny finds out you’re here.”

Johnny rounded the corner and couldn’t help the smile that tugged on the corner of his mouth. It was a sight for sore eyes, really, the way the fifth-year girls had crowded around an exasperated looking Taeyong. The prefect was hovering just outside the doors, hands resting on his hips and head held high to make use of the few centimetres he had on the girls.

“Good morning,” Johnny said, effectively gathering the attention of the group. He buried his hands in his pockets as he shot each of them a smile, settling on Taeyong at last. “What’s going on here?”

Johnny didn’t miss the flash of relief in the eyes of the Ravenclaw before it was drowned out by hot, white anger, matching the rest of his posture. Over the heads of the Slytherin girls, Taeyong jabbed a finger at him. “You! You’re coming with me right now!”

“Yah, don’t talk to him like that!”

Johnny turned towards the girl that had spoken up, smiling in gratitude. “Thanks, Yeri. I got it.”

With that, he made his way through the gaggle of girls and grabbed Taeyong by the wrist, pulling him into the Dungeon. Taeyong was sensible enough to wait until they were halfway through the common room before he dug his heels in, pulling them to a hard stop.

“Where are we going?” He freed his wrist from Johnny’s grip, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Johnny wasn’t all that surprised. He had expected Taeyong to pull away from his touch sooner. “I said I needed you to come with me, not the other way around.”

Johnny allowed himself a miniscule sigh. “And I will, Taeyong, don’t worry your pretty little head. I’d like to put on some shoes first, though, if you don’t mind. Also, I have to stow away something that is too precious to me to potentially be ruined by another ink bomb. So, if you want you can either come with me or you can wait right here. I’ll promise I’ll only be a minute and I’m sure Yeri and her friends would love to keep you company while you wait.”

Taeyong stared at him for a couple of seconds, lips pressed into a tight line and hands clenching at his sides. Eventually, he took a shuddering breath. “After you, then.”

They walked the rest of the way to the dormitories in silence.

“What’s gotten into you anyways?” Johnny asked as he pulled open the door to the fifth-year dormitory. “What could be so important that you’re entering the snake pit for my sake?”

“You’ll see,” Taeyong grumbled, but didn’t say anything else.

Johnny left him to it, walked over to his bed and opened the uppermost drawer of his bedside table. He carefully placed his copy of Tales of Beedle the Bard inside it before closing the drawer and hexing it shut. Then he went to the chest at the foot end of his bed.

“Are we going outside?”

“Huh?” Taeyong looked up from where he had been mustering the stack of chocolate frog cards on Jaehyun’s nightstand.

Johnny smiled, crouching down to put on his shoes. “I wouldn’t touch those if I were you. Doyoung makes it look like fun, but Jaehyun really is the last person in this castle you want to piss off. And he really values those, so.”

Taeyong quickly retraced his hand, ears reddening. “I wasn’t— No.” He cleared his throat. It was such an unusual sight, seeing him flustered that Johnny couldn’t help savouring it, committing it to memory. “I mean, no, we’re not going outside. You don’t need your cloak or anything like that.”

“Good.” Johnny pulled himself to his feet. “All good to go, then.”

When Taeyong had said that he needed to talk to him, Johnny had expected to be lead a lot of places, but the first-floor corridor that lead to the library wasn’t one of them. Even less so, he had expected to be met with the sight of his own cousin. Donghyuck was sitting on the very edge of the stone bench that stood opposite of the library’s heavy, wooden doors, one hand clasped around his cheek while he was busy glaring at the Ravenclaw boy that was cowering on the opposite end of the bench, as far away from Donghyuck as possible.

The Ravenclaw boy was about the same age as Donghyuck, eleven or twelve at most, with cropped hair and thick glasses perched on his nose that were held together by tape. The red-rimmed state of his eyes told Johnny that he had been crying, presumably because of his cousin, and an eternal sigh left his lips. It made sense now, why Taeyong had insisted on Johnny coming with him. Swallowing down the disappointment curling in his stomach, Johnny crouched down so that he was on eye-level with the Ravenclaw boy.

“Hello,” he said gently, proffering his hand in greeting. “I’m Johnny Seo. What’s your name?”

The Ravenclaw boy hesitantly grabbed onto his hand before his eyes widened, the effect magnified by his glasses. “Seo,” he repeated. “Seo like the—”

“Yes,” Johnny cut him short, willing the smile to stay on his face. He let go of the boy’s hand. “Do you want to tell me who you are?”

“This is Mark,” Taeyong cut in, coming up from behind Johnny to place a hand on Mark’s shoulder. “He’s one of the second-years I tutor. I found him and the enfant terr—your cousin having a bit of an altercation in the library.”

“An altercation?” Johnny turned to look at his cousin who had spent the past minute trying to blend in with the stone wall behind him, his glare having been replaced by an innocent expression that did little to mask the fear in his eyes. He blanched when Johnny’s eyes fell on him, arms flailing as he pointed an accusing finger at the other boy.

“I’m not the one at fault, Johnny, you have to believe me! See my cheek?” Donghyuck gestured at the red, vaguely hand-shaped blotch on his face. ”He slapped me!”

“It wasn’t on purpose!” Mark cried out, voice creaking at the end with indignation. “I was just trying to get my glasses back and I hit him with the back of my hand because I couldn’t see!” He turned toward Taeyong, eyes welling up. “Please, Taeyong, you have to believe me. I didn’t do anything wrong. I was just looking for the book that Professor Kyuhyun told us we could use as an additional source for our Charms homework when he attacked me!”

“I didn’t attack you!” Donghyuck protested. “You’re just being a cry baby!”

“You’re the cry baby! You stole my glasses because I wouldn’t let you have them! That’s childish so you’re the cry baby!”

Donghyuck’s fists balled in anger and Johnny moved himself until he was sitting in between them, ready to catch his cousin should he try to lunge at the other boy. “I just wanted to try them on!”

“Yeah, well, you’re not allowed to! They are mine and you can’t just take them when I tell you no! He can’t, can he?” Mark looked to Taeyong for confirmation.

“He can’t,” the prefect confirmed before he glanced at Johnny, shooting him an expectant look.

Johnny turned towards his cousin. “I fear they are right, Hyuck. You can’t just take things that don’t belong to you, that’s not how it works here.” He smoothed out the hairs sticking up at the back of Donghyuck’s head before he levelled him with an even gaze. “You have to apologise to Mark.”

The betrayal was evident in Donghyuck’s eyes, but Johnny didn’t let his stern expression falter, stared his cousin down until Donghyuck yielded, even if he did so with gritted teeth.

“Fine!” Donghyuck exclaimed, hopping off the bench with all the petulance an eleven-year-old could muster. Stepping over Johnny’s long legs, he thrust his hand in Mark’s direction. “I’m sorry.”

“For what are you sorry, Donghyuck?” Taeyong asked.  

Donghyuck glared at the older boy for a good couple of seconds before jutting out his bottom lip and turning back to Mark. “I’m sorry for taking your glasses. I won’t do it again. You can keep them.”

“Gracious,” Mark bit out in reply, a word that Johnny was a hundred percent sure he had learned during one of those tutoring lessons Taeyong had mentioned.

“Mark,” the prefect in question admonished and Mark’s shoulders sagged. “I accept your apology.”

“And?” Taeyong pressed on.

Mark sighed. “And I’m sorry I hit you in the face… even if it was accidental!”

Donghyuck’s shoulders began to quiver so Johnny slung an arm around his middle, keeping him in place. Before his cousin could open his mouth, Johnny clasped a hand over it, shooting Mark the most non-threatening smile he could muster. “Thank you for your apology, Mark. Donghyuck accepts it and is really glad that you accept his apology too.” He glanced at Taeyong. “Now that the issue is resolved, I’m sure there are no detentions to be given and no house points to be taken anymore, right?” Taeyong looked like he was about to protest, undoubtedly about to spout some school rule paragraph, but Johnny didn’t give him the chance to speak up. “Great! think I ought to get Donghyuck back to his books now, so we’ll see you around. It was nice to meet you, Mark.”

“Oh, uh, yes, Mr Seo, Johnny, Sir,” Mark spluttered with a beet red head. “You too!”

Johnny smiled before he pulled himself to his feet. He used the arm he had already slung around Donghyuck’s middle to pull up the eleven-year-old alongside himself, tiny fists coming to pound against his thigh as he picked up his cousin like a cat. With a flailing Donghyuck secured under one arm, he gave the Ravenclaws a wave before he turned on his heels and walked into the library. He waited until they had made it all the way to the Care of Magical Creatures section before he dropped Donghyuck back on his feet. While his cousin was busy straightening out his robes, Johnny crossed his arms in front of his chest. Donghyuck looked up and squirmed under his stern gaze. After a moment of heavy silence, Johnny flicked his forehead.  

“Ouch!” Donghyuck whined, rubbing the sore spot. “No fair, Johnny! I apologised like you told me to!”

Johnny huffed. “That was for lying to me, you brat. Saying that you didn’t start it when you clearly did? You may lie to the world, Hyuck, but you don’t lie to me. Not ever, understood? I don’t care what kind of trouble you get yourself into, but you have to be honest with me about it so we can fix it.”

“Yes, Cousin,” Donghyuck mumbled, gaze falling to the tips of his shoes.

Johnny felt his demeanour soften. “Now, you want to tell me what that was all about? Why’d you take that boy’s glasses?”

Donghyuck shrugged, the nonchalance returning to his posture so quickly that it made Johnny’s brow furrow. Donghyuck huffed. “Because he’s a nerd, obviously. Chenle and I see him in the library all the time. He’s always there doing his homework or some extra assignment. He probably even sleeps there! I just don’t like him… and he looks stupid with those glasses!”

Johnny wanted to sigh. “That doesn’t give you the right to bully him, Hyuck. You’re lucky Taeyong got me instead of a teacher, or you might have gotten into serious trouble for it. And Mark seemed perfectly fine to me. He didn’t provoke you, did he?”

“No, but what does it matter?” Donghyuck kicked the ground. “He’s just a stupid Ravenclaw.”

“Ravenclaw or not, as long as he’s not being mean to you, you have no reason to be mean to him.” Johnny frowned. “And you shouldn’t reduce him to his house. Not every Ravenclaw is the same.”

Donghyuck’s head whipped up so fast Johnny was scared the younger boy was going to crack his neck. “But you do it!” Donghyuck cried indignantly. “Everyone knows you, Jaehyun and Tennie are in a fondue with the Gryffindors.”

Johnny winced at how fast his cousin had latched onto his hypocrisy. If only he used his brains to study instead of being an evil mastermind, Johnny thought. He wiped his expression clean. “That’s different.”

“How is that different?” Donghyuck jutted out his bottom lip. “I bet you wouldn’t complain if Mark was a Gryffindor. Jaehyun would give me one of his chocolate frog cards if he found out.”

Johnny sighed, suppressing the urge to rub at his face. Instead, he crouched down and placed his hand at the base of Donghyuck’s neck, tilting his cousin’s head until they were eye to eye. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret, okay, tike?”

Donghyuck’s eyes widened at that prospect. He nodded frantically, placing a small hand on his heart. “Yes! Tell me! I promise to never tell no one, Cousin!”

Johnny smiled, giving in to the urge to hug his cousin shortly before he returned them both to their original position. “Okay, the secret is this and listen carefully: That feud we got going on with the Gryffindors? That was never about us being Slytherin and them being Gryffindors. I mean, it does look like that and at this point we’ve played into the house rivalry so much that it’s definitely a big part of everything but that was not how the whole thing started, okay? We never hated them because they are Gryffindors. Hating someone because of the house they belong to is stupid.”

Donghyuck’s forehead wrinkled in confusion. “Why do you fight with them, then?”

Johnny averted his gaze, weighing his words. He didn’t doubt that Donghyuck would have understood the truth, it was just that he didn’t want to burden an eleven-year-old with such things. Still, Johnny wanted to be as truthful as he saw fit. “You obviously know who my Jaehyunnie is, but the captain of the Gryffindor team, Doyoung Kim, do you know who he is?”

Donghyuck scrunched up his nose as if offended that Johnny had doubted him. He puffed his chest. “Of course. He’s your archemphasis.”

Johnny bit down on the twitch of his lips before it could turn into a full-fledged smile. He made sure to keep his expression serious so that Donghyuck knew this wasn’t a laughing matter. “Right, he’s something like our archnemesis. Jaehyun’s, to be more precise.”

“Wait,” Donghyuck tugged on his sleeve in confusion, “but you all fight, right?”

This time, Johnny did smile. “If someone hurt Chenle or Jisung, what would you do?”

“Hurt them back,” Donghyuck answered without hesitation. “Then tell you,” he added after a moment, looking proud of himself for remembering Johnny’s earlier scolding.

“Yeah. And you see, Jaehyun and Doyoung, they’ve hated each other for a long time. Since our first year, really, and it all started out with an… altercation. It wasn’t—” Johnny cut himself off. This was the part he had to omit. “It wasn’t like the one you and Mark had, but it was still a bad thing that happened between them and because Jaehyun got hurt, Ten and I sought revenge against Doyoung which in turn caused Doyoung’s friends to get involved and, well, do you understand what I’m trying to tell you?”

“Uhm,” Donghyuck rubbed the back of his head, causing the strands Johnny had smoothed down for him to stick up again. “I think so?”

Johnny squeezed his shoulder. “What I mean to say is… you should be nice to Mark. No more bullying him, or anyone else. It’s not worth it. I’m sure you and your friends can use all that criminal energy of yours for better things.”  

Donghyuck’s eyes lit up with mischief.

“Such as studying,” Johnny added.

His cousin groaned. “But that’s no fun.”

“I’m sure you and the other tikes can think of something.” Johnny pulled himself to his feet. “Speaking of the little devils.” Loudly, he said, “You can come out now. I’m done chewing him out.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny saw two heads of unkempt hair duck behind the shelf with the tomes on woodland creatures. A thud and some shuffling later, Jisung and Chenle crept into the aisle, a third boy with firetruck-red hair following a couple of steps behind. Jisung was quick to backtrack and pull him forward, “Come on, Injun, we have to see if he’s alright!” while Chenle went straight for Donghyuck.

“Duck! What happened? I went to the bathroom and when I came back you were gone and then Jisung found you outside with that nerd and the stuck-up Ravenclaw prefect. You didn’t get detention, did you?”

“Eh, I’m alright.” Donghyuck put on a long-suffering expression like a soldier returning from war. “Johnny convinced him to let me go.”

Three pairs of eyes looked at Johnny like he was some magical creature from the books surrounding them, a fourth joining them once Renjun had caught onto what the others were doing. Johnny winked at Chenle before he began to backtrack. Now that Donghyuck had his friends to fuss over him, he wasn’t needed anymore.

“That’s right, but that favour only works once so you better not get in trouble again.” Johnny shot Donghyuck a warning glance. “Especially when Renjun is with you. You remember what I told you about that, Hyuck, don’t you?”

“I do, Cousin,” Donghyuck replied dutifully, slinging an arm around the shoulder of the Chinese boy, who had perked up upon hearing his own name. “No troublemaking for Injunnie here.” Donghyuck smiled broadly when Renjun looked at him in confusion. When Donghyuck’s smile persisted, Renjun was quick to mirror it.

Satisfied, Johnny turned to leave. “All is well, then. I’ll see you all at dinner.”

“Bye, Cousin!” Donghyuck cheered after him while his friends crowded in.

Johnny made a detour over the Charms section to pick up a book that he had meant to borrow for one of his assignments before he left the library. He was thumbing through the pages, his eyes scanning the first couple sentences, so he was already a couple of steps down the hallway when he was called back.

“Johnny, wait!”

He turned on his heel just in time to see Taeyong get up from the bench that Donghyuck and Mark had been sitting on before. The prefect was alone, causing the corners of Johnny’s mouth to turn upwards.

“Were you waiting for me?”

Taeyong’s cheeks were dusted a light pink, panted breaths coming over his lips from the short jog over. “Yes.”

Pleased, Johnny snapped the Charms book shut and jammed it under his arm. Illuminated from behind, the angular features of Taeyong’s face seemed even more clean-cut, sharp enough that Johnny presumed they might have cut his skin, had he tried cup the side of Taeyong’s face. He shoved his hands into his pockets instead. “Well, here I am. How can I help you? You don’t have any more first-year squabbles I’m supposed to resolve for you, have you?”

“Uh, no.” Taeyong had the decency to look sheepish. His gaze fell to the book underneath Johnny’s arm. His arm twitched in an aborted motion. “Do you mind if I come back to the Dungeon with you?”

Johnny felt his jaw drop. He just so managed to wipe the surprise off his face before Taeyong lifted his gaze.

“Oh, Taeyong.” At the confused twitch of Taeyong’s nose, Johnny took a step forward, tilting his head to the side as he leaned down. He let his voice drop low. “Now, if that’s what you had in mind you should have told me beforehand.” Taeyong flinched when Johnny gave into the urge and laid a hand on his face, but Johnny didn’t lift his fingertips from where he had them pressed against the underside of Taeyong’s jaw. It took every bit of his self-control not to dissolve into laughter as he watched the way Taeyong’s eyes went wide when he said, “I’m not sure whether the dorms are clear at this time of day, but don’t worry, I can kick the others out if they’re in there. That shouldn’t stop us from having some fun.”

“What are you—oh, no! No! Absolutely not!” Taeyong jerked back, stumbling in his haste to get away and Johnny was pretty sure that he would have fallen had Johnny not caught him and pulled him back to his feet by the lapels of his cloak. As soon as he had regained his footing, Taeyong shoved him off with more strength than Johnny would have attributed his small frame. “That’s not what I meant and you know it! I-If you really think I was soliciting you in any way then—"

This time, Johnny couldn’t help the fit of laughter that bubbled up in his throat as he watched Taeyong’s ears and face turn an alarming shade of red. It was around then that Taeyong noticed the amused expression on Johnny’s face and his demeanour turned from embarrassed to murderous.

“What I meant to ask,” Taeyong hissed, straightening his robes, “was whether you would mind if I talk to you on the way there.” He huffed. “Obviously. That you would even assume—"

“Don’t worry, Taeyong.” Johnny stifled the last of his chuckles with his hand before running it through his hair. “I know you’re not that self-confident.”

“You’re an asshole, Johnny Seo.”

“So, I’ve been told. Mostly by your friends, but I doubt it’s the first time you’ve thought that about me either. Then again, ‘all is fair in love and war’ or how do the muggles say?” He beckoned Taeyong to follow him as he resumed his way down the hallway. “You wanted to talk to me? Even if that’s considerably less fun than hooking-up with me would be, might I add.”

“Yes, so I’ve heard.” Taeyong mumbled under his breath before he cleared his throat. “I wanted to thank you.” When Johnny turned his head, Taeyong wasn’t looking at him, instead he was watching the way their feet moved in unison. “For helping me with your cousin, I mean. He wouldn’t really listen to me, so thank you for coming with me, even if I wasn’t necessarily nice about it. I admit I was a bit… vexed when I came to get you.”

Johnny buried his hands back in his pockets. He had pushed Taeyong’s boundaries enough for the day and it was easier to keep the book fixed beneath his arm like this. They were crossing the entrance hall now, another set of stairs and they’d be in the Dungeon. He shrugged. “It’s okay. Donghyuck tends to have that effect on people. But he’ll leave Mark alone from now on, probably.”

Taeyong raised an eyebrow. When he met Johnny’s eyes, his gaze was as intense as ever, but the edges seemed to have softened. “Probably?”

“I accept your apology.” Johnny lead them to the wall behind which the door to the Slytherin common room lay hidden. “After all, it wouldn’t be a good day if you didn’t yell at me at least once.”

“I don’t—” Taeyong’s brows knitted together. “I don’t yell at you that often.”

Johnny smiled. “Sure, Prefect, whatever you say.” He turned towards the wall and whispered the password against the cool tiles. The wall melted away, the door to the common room springing open for him.

“Yah! I don’t yell at you that often!”

“You’re only proving my point, Taeyong,” Johnny sang back before he threw the door shut behind him, leaving the Ravenclaw prefect on the other side.

The common room was a lot more lively than it had been when Johnny had left, and he was quick to locate the source of all the commotion. On the ground between the sofas allotted in the middle of the room, Ten was lying, twitching and giggling while the small crowd that had gathered around him cooed. Johnny would have been worried, hadn’t it been for Jaehyun, who was standing above Ten’s head with his arms crossed in front of his chest and a long-suffering, but unconcerned expression on his face. Their eyes met and Johnny raised an eyebrow. He had the sensibility to place his book on the nearest table before he took a step closer.

“Oh, Johnnyboy, there you are!” Ten was on his feet within a heartbeat, breaking through the circle of people and walking over the couch to get to him.

“What’s going on here?” Johnny asked in lieu of a greeting.

And then Ten purred at him, or rather the front of his shirt purred at him and a furry head popped over the collar of Ten’s shirt. Johnny spared the creature only a fleeting glance before he turned towards Jaehyun, who had the decency to look guilty. “You let him buy a cat?”

“Meet your goddaughter!” Ten cheered and pulled the bundle of unevenly cropped, onyx-coloured fur out of his shirt. He thrust it into Johnny’s direction, seemingly unaware of the claws digging themselves into his arm. “Her name is Nine!”

“Nine?”

Johnny accepted the cat before it turned the underside of Ten’s forearm into raw meat. He was rewarded with a single fang digging into his palm and Ten’s jubilant smile. “Yes, I’m Ten and she’s my daughter, so she’s Nine. Also because she’s a cat and cats have nine lives, you know? Isn’t it brilliant?”

“Brilliant,” Johnny echoed weakly, adjusting the animal in his arms before carding a hand through its fur. Admittedly, it was a pretty cat, if her fur was growing in a bit unevenly where it had been sheared by inexperienced hands, leaving a few bald spots down her back. The bumps and marks Johnny could feel on the skin told Johnny that she had probably been living on the streets for some time.

“We found her at the book store," Jaehyun explained. "She seemed to have been a stray before the shop owner took her in, says she was severely malnourished when he found her.”

“Can you imagine that,” Ten seethed as he took back his new pet, cradling her protectively against his chest. “Some stupid family probably got her for their bratty kid’s birthday and then when they tired of her they set her out on the streets to die.”

Johnny met Jaehyun’s eyes over their friend’s head and a silent sigh left his lips.

“That’s okay,” he amended and took a step closer. The cat blinked up at him with sharp, green eyes that drooped further shut the longer Ten petted her. Johnny savoured the happiness in Ten’s eyes when he realised Johnny was conceding. “She’s with us now. We’ll take care of her.”

*

Johnny could tell that they were in trouble the moment they entered the History of Magic classroom on Monday morning and found Professor Boa already inside, slender arms crossed in front of her chest and a stony expression on her face. He jabbed an elbow into Jaehyun’s side, jerking his friend awake where he had been dropping off against his shoulder.

“Huh?” Jaehyun blinked up at him out of bleary eyes before turning his attention to the front. Jaehyun stiffened, unlatching himself from Johnny’s side in order to smooth out his robes. “Shit, she looks pissed.”

They joined the rest of the class that had assembled at the back of the room, bags in hand. There were a couple of students who trailed in after them, but soon enough the classroom door flew shut with a flick of Professor Boa’s wand.  

“It has come to my attention,” she began as she made her way over past the empty desks, “that there has been some discord between the Gryffindor and Slytherin students of this class. This is not a learning environment that I want to nurture. I also believe that if history has taught us anything, it is that most major conflicts throughout history could have been resolved if only the involved parties had sat down at the same table and talked to each other…”

“I don’t like where this is going,” Jaehyun muttered. Johnny silently agreed.

“… hence I have decided to reassign you all your seats.” An unanimous groan went through the room. Professor Boa continued unperturbed, returning to the front of the class room to pick up a scroll from her desk, “If I call out your name, you may take a seat.”

She began calling out pairs of names then, pointing at the respective tables. There was a pattern to it but it took Johnny the first couple of names to figure it out. As soon as he did, he felt his eyes widen in alarm. He grabbed onto Jaehyun’s underarm so tightly it made the other boy yelp.

“She’s doing it by last names,” Johnny hissed out, just as Professor Boa in the front called out, “Jung, Kim. You’re right here up front!”

A moment of silence encompassed the entire class. All eyes moved to either Johnny and Jaehyun or the window, a few whispers audible behind hands.  Jaehyun grabbed onto the hand Johnny had curled around his arm, looking up at him with imploring eyes.

“Kill me, Johnny,” Jaehyun pleaded, tone just a tad too sober to be joking. “Just do it quickly before I have to spent the next two hours next to him.

Johnny chanced a glance over his friend’s shoulder to watch Doyoung slide off the window sill he had been perched on. His movements were slow, almost sluggish, but Johnny could see the tension in his muscles. The condoling pats on the back that his friends offered him went unnoticed as Doyoung’s gaze settled on the back of Jaehyun’s head and remained there. There was such burning hatred in Doyoung's eyes that Johnny knew it was more than enough to spark an explosion.

“Don’t commit a murder,” Johnny warned Jaehyun as the other boy turned to leave. “Your dad would be heartbroken if he had to convict you and your mum would definitely cry.”

Jaehyun shot him a strained smile before smoothing out his expression. He arrived at the table first, sneering up at Doyoung when the Gryffindor slammed his book onto the table with more force than necessary. Doyoung made a show of pulling his chair as close to the edge of the table as possible before sitting down. Jaehyun’s shoulders shook in a silent huff before he opened his book, but neither of them said anything. Johnny nodded to himself. So far, so calm.

He was so focussed on watching Jaehyun and Doyoung interact that he almost missed it when his own name was called, “Qian, Seo, you’re the last ones on the list. You may sit in the back.”

Johnny dragged his feet over to the table, careful to keep an eye on the front of the room. As soon as he felt a body settle down next to him, he turned his head. They stared at each other for a long moment.

“You wanna see a magic trick?” Kun asked, producing a deck of cards from the folds of his robes.

Johnny looked at the deck, looked at the Gryffindor and tried his best to keep the condescending tone out of his voice when he asked, “You are aware that this is a school for witchcraft and wizardry?”

“C’mon, man.” Kun rolled his eyes, nudging the deck closer to Johnny’s chest. “Just pick a card.”

“Fine.” Johnny obliged with a sigh. “But if this blows up in my hand—”

“It’s a muggle deck,” Kun reassured him, an edge of excitement making its way onto his face. “Now look at your card and memorise it, but don’t show me!”

Johnny squinted down at his card. He didn’t know what any of the symbols on it meant, but at the bottom of the card, in sprawling font the words King of Diamonds were written. Johnny smiled. He liked that. He pushed the card back into the deck and watched as Kun shuffled the deck with nimble hands, cards flying through the air.

“Okay, see, I’m going to count out the cards in three stacks and if you see your card you have to remember which stack it went on, but don’t tell me until all the cards are gone, okay? We’ll do that three times.”

Johnny nodded, allowing his gaze to wander back to the front. Neither Jaehyun nor Doyoung seemed to have moved much since the last time Johnny had checked. Jaehyun had placed his elbow on the table top, forming a physical barrier between him and Doyoung as he leaned over his book, pretending to be reading up on the battle that Professor Boa was droning on about in the front. Meanwhile, Doyoung sat with his back straight, left hand curled around the edge of the table.

“Which deck?”

Johnny blinked his gaze back to the card stacks in front of him. “Middle,” he guessed and Kun nodded, gathering the cards back up to start over. This time, Johnny was careful to actually pay attention to Kun’s efforts. He spotted his card going onto the stack closest to the Gryffindor and averted his eyes back to the front. Doyoung had turned his head to glare daggers at the side of Jaehyun’s face, lips pressed into a tight line, but remained unmoving otherwise. They went through another round of stacking like that, until Kun eventually gathered the cards up one last time and counted them out. A triumphant sound escaped his lips as he seemed to have found the right card and pulled it out of the deck, hiding it against his chest.

“Okay, you’re ready?”

Johnny shot him a fleeting smile. He was about to answer when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Johnny moved before he could think, shooting out of his chair. He wasn’t the only one. Near the windows, Johnny saw that Yuta had reacted the same as him. Together, they watched Doyoung walk around his seat, passing behind Jaehyun’s back, and head to the sink in the far corner of the room. Jaehyun, still in his seat, had visibly frozen. Doyoung turned the faucet, shoving his hands under the spray before running a wet hand over his face.

“If you’re done there, Mr Kim, I’d appreciate it if you would return to your seat. It seems you’re distracting the other students.”

And for the first time, Johnny thanked whatever spirit had taken over Professor Boa that morning that she had decided this day to be the day she begun to start paying attention to what was going on in her class.

Doyoung shot the teacher a nonchalant smile as he walked back to his seat. “Of course, Professor.”

Johnny waited another couple of seconds before he slowly lowered himself down into his seat, making sure that Yuta did the same.

“Is this your card?” Kun asked as soon as Johnny returned his attention to him, holding out the Jack of Hearts.

“Yes,” Johnny said and smiled at the happy whoop Kun gave.

He spent the rest of the class keeping an eye on the front of the classroom under the guise of taking notes, but nothing more happened. By the time, they were let out, he felt about as exasperated as Jaehyun looked. His friend groaned as he draped himself back over Johnny’s shoulders.

“Did he say anything?” Johnny asked as he carried his friend in the direction of the Arithmancy classroom. He had seen Doyoung’s lips move from time to time during the second hour, but Doyoung had spoken far too quietly for the words to carry over the classroom noise.

“Nah, just the usual bullshit.” Jaehyun rolled his eyes. “Merlin, I can’t wait to get to Arithmancy. No one but me, myself, and a bunch of reasonably quiet Hufflepuffs. Seriously, the loudest of them is Sicheng and at least he’s nice to look at.”

The curse hit Jaehyun in the back, causing him to trip on air. Johnny staggered with the sudden shift of Jaehyun’s weight around his shoulders and Jaehyun almost took Johnny down with him, had Johnny not managed to save them both from kissing the ground face-first by holding onto Jaehyun’s waist at the last moment. As soon as he had made sure Jaehyun was standing securely on both feet again, he spun around, but not fast enough to keep Yuta from knocking his shoulder into Jaehyun from behind.

“Watch your ssstep, snake,” the Gryffindor Beater sneered as he walked past. Doyoung and Taeil were a couple of steps behind him, but fastened their pace in order to keep up with their friend. Doyoung’s face was expressionless while Taeil mustered them with slight curiosity.

“No,” Jaehyun said as Johnny raised his wand. “No, Professor Boa is going to come out of the classroom any moment and I’m not getting detention for this. C’mon, we’re going to walk away or you’re going to be late for class.”

“Fine,” Johnny conceded after a moment, swallowing the curse from his tongue. “But he’ll get what’s coming for him, too.”

“Of course.” Jaehyun smiled as he smoothed out his robes. “We'll make sure of it.”

Chapter Text

“We seriously gotta stop meeting like this.”

Johnny grunted as he was pushed into the by now familiar alcove on the second floor. He took the time to smooth out his robes before he leaned against the wall, levelling the Hufflepuff in front of him with an unimpressed gaze. “You care to tell me what you dragged me here for this time?”

Sicheng only stared at him, a hand coming up to play with the knot of his tie. He kept silent long enough that Johnny contemplated leaving again before he spoke up, “Thank you.”

Johnny cocked his head to the side, looked the other boy up and down before he inclined his head. “You’re welcome.”

“My brother…” The smile that bloomed on Sicheng’s face made Johnny understand why the Gryffindors always seemed to trip over themselves to make Sicheng feel welcome in their middle. “… he is happy. He smiles much. He talks much. He says his friends take good care of him and,” Sicheng’s voice quivered, “none of the older kids make fun of him for his… his language. Thank you. Thank you for helping.”

Sicheng’s smile faltered into something more solemn and then he bowed, bending his upper body at a perfect ninety-degree angle. Johnny rushed forward, grabbing onto his arms before the Hufflepuff could drop into a full kowtow or do something equally as embarrassing. Sicheng looked up at him with confusion in his eyes, but allowed Johnny to pull him back into an upright position.

“No need to bow, Pet.” Johnny suppressed the urge to pat him on the head. “I told you it’s fine, didn’t I?”

Sicheng nodded, a small, but grateful smile making its way onto his face. Johnny was about to let him go when a voice piped up behind them, uncomfortably loud in the otherwise silent corridor.

“What the fuck?”

The effect was imminent. Sicheng went rigid in his arms, eyes going almost comically wide, and Johnny lifted his gaze slowly over the other boy’s head to meet brown eyes alight with fury. He couldn’t help but smile. “Nakamoto, fancy seeing you here.”

The Gryffindor snarled at him, a more effective shut the fuck up than if he had said the actual words. He was quivering, Johnny noticed, one hand coming up to grab onto the hem of his sweater, bunching the fabric in his hands as if he had trouble breathing. Yuta’s eyes flitted from the back of Sicheng’s head to his arms where Johnny’s hands were still resting to the space between them, or rather the lack thereof. It was then that Johnny realised how the position him and Sicheng were in must have looked to anyone stumbling upon them.  

Johnny uncurled his fingers from around Sicheng’s arms one by one, flicking his tongue against his upper lip before he took a step back. Sicheng remained frozen in place. Johnny wasn’t sure he was breathing still, the only sign of life was the barely-concealed panic in his eyes. Johnny could practically see the cogs turn behind his forehead and so he also saw when Sicheng came up empty. Johnny wanted to sigh. The Hufflepuff was going to owe him big time if Johnny ended up having to duel for his life this early in the morning.

He fixed Yuta with a cold stare. “Uhm, excuse you, but Sicheng and I,” Johnny placed a hand on the Hufflepuff’s shoulder, “were kind of having a private conversation right now, so if you don’t mind?”

“You—” Yuta gaped at him for several seconds before his mouth snapped shut and then he was moving, one hand procuring his wand from his back pocket. “Get the fuck away from him. Whatever twisted bullshit you think of parseling into his ear, he isn’t interested!”

Johnny moved back with every step Yuta took forward, allowing the Gryffindor to crowd into the space between him and Sicheng.

“Woah, woah!” Johnny clacked his tongue as his back hit the wall. He pushed the tip of Yuta’s wand off his chest with his free hand, letting the other disappear into his pocket. He relaxed as soon as his fingers curled around the familiar cedar of his own wand. Stroking a hand over the front of his sweater to iron out the crease, he met Yuta’s gaze. “Back off, man. We were just talking, weren’t we, Sicheng?”

They both turned to look at the boy in question, who still hadn’t moved.

“Winwinnie?” Yuta asked slowly, with just a hint of uncertainty in his voice, and Johnny wanted to roll his eyes at how pathetic the Gryffindor was.

Sicheng startled upon being spoken to, eyes flicking back and forth between them. “Yes,” he said. “Just talking.” He exhaled shakily, reaching out a hand. “Yuta?”

Yuta stumbled forward as if pulled by strings. Johnny watched the tension seep from Yuta’s shoulders and he would have found it disconcerting how quickly all the rage had disappeared from Yuta’s demeanor, had he not seen it happen so many times before. Gently, Yuta grasped the hand Sicheng had extended while pushing Sicheng’s hair out of his eyes with the other. Sicheng smiled, leaning into the gesture while his other hand moved behind his back, waving. Johnny needed a moment to understand that Sicheng was motioning for him to leave.

“Well, I guess that’s my cue to go.”

Yuta turned around long enough to sneer at him.  

Johnny smiled, baring all his teeth. And he could have left, then. With Yuta preoccupied and Sicheng clearly having managed to weasel himself out of an explanation for the moment, Johnny could have turned around and left them be. But there was also an opportunity here, and Johnny wasn’t keen on passing it up. Not when he had the chance to make Yuta trip, trip like Jaehyun had tripped when the Gryffindor’s curse had hit him in the back, if in a different way.

After a moment of consideration, Johnny circumvented Yuta to approach Sicheng from the behind, effectively knocking Yuta’s arm out of the way as he slung an arm around Sicheng’s waist and turned them to the side. Sicheng looked up at him with confused, panicked eyes but Johnny had purposefully moved him so Yuta wasn’t able to see the Hufflepuff’s face anymore.

He leaned down so he could stage-whisper into Sicheng’s ear, “I’ll see you later, Winwinnie.” Johnny smiled, running his tongue over his bottom lip before he stepped back as quickly as he had come and spun on his heel. A grin tugged on the corner of his mouth when he heard Yuta inhale sharply behind him. He backed away with long strides, calling over his shoulder, “We’ll talk later!”

There was no need to be more explicit. Yuta’s own mind would fill in the blanks Johnny had left, and the images wouldn’t be pretty. Johnny rounded the corner before any curses could hit him in the back.

He was still grinning by the time he made it to the Great Hall for lunch. Ten was at the table already, feeding chunks of meat to the onyx-coloured furball on his lap. Nine looked less than happy to be where she was, a shudder running over her back with every clink of a spoon, every shriek of laughter down the table.

“I don’t think she’s a fan of the crowd,” Johnny commented as he sat down next to his friend.

“She’s just not used to people.” Ten curled a protective arm around Nine, scratching her head. A clawed paw swiped at him, but Ten ignored it in favour of cooing at her. “But we’ll get her there in no time, won’t we?”

Johnny hummed and helped himself to some soup. He prepared another bowl when he saw that Jaehyun was approaching their table, deep in conversation with Vic. The female Chaser was nodding at something Jaehyun had said. She patted him on the arm before she left to sit with her own friends.

“I take it we’re on for the night practice tomorrow?” Ten asked.

Jaehyun sat down opposite of them. 

“We are.” He accepted the bowl Johnny had prepared for him with a smile and ripped his roll into three pieces before dipping one chunk in. “Vic will tell the girls and I can talk to Jaemin after choir practice this afternoon. It’s important we get used to playing in the dark. I’m not losing to Doyoung just because none of us is used to playing at night.”

“Speaking of the devil,” Johnny warned.

Between the entrance doors, the Gryffindor captain had appeared. Doyoung split from his friends once they entered the Great Hall, his usual cocky smile falling from his lips as he made a beeline for their table. While Doyoung made his way over, Johnny met Yuta’s burning gaze, pulling his lips into a smirk before he turned his attention to Doyoung’s approaching figure.

“Jung.”

Jaehyun sighed into his food. Doyoung had come to a halt behind him, arms crossed in front of his chest. Jaehyun turned his head slowly, just as Nine began to hiss at Doyoung, swiping her paw at the intruder.

“Ew,” Doyoung commented, pushing his black hair out of his forehead. “You better keep that fleabag away from me, Ten.”

Ten bared his teeth, but was too busy struggling to keep Nine on his lap to retort.

“Can I help you?” Jaehyun asked, effectively gathering Doyoung’s attention.

Doyoung stared at him for a couple of seconds before he produced a crumbled slip of parchment from his pocket. He dropped it onto the table in front of Jaehyun, the slip narrowly missing Jaehyun’s bowl of soup.

“History of Magic,” Doyoung said, waving his hand as if he was swatting at a fly. “I’ve outlined what we need to do for Professor’s Boa assignment and underlined what I’d like you to do. I’ll do my half, you’ll do yours and we only have to get together once to turn our individual halves into a whole essay. This way we don’t have to spend more time than necessary together and we keep Professor Boa off our asses with the whole house rivalry thing.”

Jaehyun picked up the piece of parchment with two fingers, shaking it out. He looked over the list before he dropped it back onto the table. Then he looked back up at Doyoung and shrugged. “Fine by me.”

Doyoung narrowed his eyes, searching Jaehyun’s face before he nodded his head. “Fine.”

Jaehyun simply turned his back to him, snatching another roll from the bread basket. Doyoung stared at the back of his head for only a moment before he seemed to shake himself out of it.

Before Doyoung left, he glanced at Johnny, mustering him up and down. With his spoon raised halfway to his mouth, Johnny raised a single eyebrow, challenging him. Doyoung’s lips curled in distaste. “I don’t know what you think you’re doing, Seo, but you better stop.”

Johnny shot the Gryffindor a close-mouthed smile. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Doyoung rolled his eyes. “Sure. But I‘m not holding him back if he tries to kill you.” And with that, he left for the Gryffindor table.

“What was he on about?” Jaehyun asked the moment Doyoung was out of earshot.

“Nothing.” Johnny shrugged. “Just Doyoung being his usual, unpleasant self. What’d you expect?”

“He insulted Nine,” Ten gritted out, pouting as he ran a hand down her back. With Doyoung’s absence, the cat had calmed down considerably. Ears turned sideways and tail curled around herself, Nine went still. The green flash of her eyes was the only sign that she was awake still. “I’m tempted to set off a dung bomb on his bed just for that.”

“We can buy one when we head down to Hogsmeade this weekend. You’re coming too, right, Johnnyboy?”

Johnny averted his eyes from the Gryffindor table and nodded at his friend, “Yes. There’s this new antiquarian bookshop I wanted to check out.” Johnny ignored his friends’ groans in favour of stealing half of Jaehyun’s roll. He used it to mop up the last of his soup before shoving the soggy bread into his mouth. “I hope it has a book I’ve been looking for for some time.”

Ten leaned into his side, fluttering his eyelashes. “You won’t mind if we ditch you for that and plunder Zonko’s while you’re busy jerking it to some old, dusty tomes, right?”

Johnny frowned down at his friend. “But who’s going to protect you from the shrieking shrunken heads then?”

Ten scowled. He covered Nine’s ears before jabbing a finger at Johnny’s chest. “Fuck you! Those things are scary as fuck and you know it too! Tell him, Jaehyun!”

Jaehyun grinned. “They don’t impress me.“

Ten huffed, jutting out his bottom lip as he picked up his cat and settled her against his chest. Surprisingly, Nine let it happen, a low purr making her entire body vibrate when Ten buried his face in her fur. “You’re terrible friends, the both of you.”

“I’ll remember you said that once we’re inside Honeydukes.”

Ten lifted his face from Nine’s fur long enough to gasp at him. “But you’re still going to pay for me, right?”

Johnny stood up. He made sure to dust any crumbs off of his robes before he met Jaehyun’s amused gaze. “I wonder why he keeps acting like his family is not richer than both of ours combined.”

Jaehyun shrugged. “No idea. I think he’s compensating.”

“Yah! I’m right here!”  

Johnny leaned down to run a gentle finger over Nine’s head, relishing the pleased purr he received in return. “Anyways, I have to go. I’m meeting Taeyong in the library. I’ll see you guys later.”

“Potions homework?” Ten asked while Johnny fished for his book bag under the bench.

He nodded. “Yes, Taeyong wanted to get a head start on it.”

Ten grinned and made a whipping motion. Johnny ignored him in favour of slapping his hand against the one Jaehyun had raised for him. Jaehyun’s eyes remained fixed on the crumbled piece of parchment Doyoung had given him. Johnny patted his shoulder before he grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl and left.

*

The library was decently crowded at this time of the day, students milling around the long tables in the centre or browsing the aisles. Johnny wasted no time making his way to the Potions section, checking each of the aisles until he found what he had been looking for. A small smile made its way onto his face as he saw that the table that Taeyong had claimed for them was already covered in books and scrolls.

Johnny’s smile dropped when he walked up to the table and saw that Taeyong’s figure was slumped over the table top, his cheek squished against the open pages of a book, hand stilled where it had been writing something down on a piece of parchment. Taeyong’s eyes were closed, his mouth open. Holding his breath, Johnny stepped close enough so he could hear Taeyong’s breath come over his parted lips in slow, even intervals that were too shallow for real sleep but too deep for full wakeness.

Slowly, Johnny crouched down, leaned in and tilted his head until they were eye to eye. It was such a rare opportunity, getting to look at the other boy’s face up close without living in fear of being hexed for it. In the orange lighting filtering in through the windows, the dark circles underneath Taeyong’s eyes looked much more prominent than usual, shadows digging into the hollow of his cheeks and the valley of his throat where there seemed to be no flesh at all left between his skin and bones. Johnny frowned.

Taeyong had been wiry as long as Johnny could remember, all sharp, angular features on a skinny frame, but he usually didn’t look like this worn-down and emaciated until the end of the year when he would burrow himself into the library for two weeks with the other over-achieving Ravenclaws, a time during which they would sustain themselves on the smell of parchment and oak resin coffee alone. Seeing the other boy like this already made Johnny ache. He didn’t doubt that Taeyong had begun studying for their O.W.Ls during the summer already, he just hadn’t expected him to fall into his usual frenzy this early-on.

“Stupid overachiever,” Johnny mumbled as he pulled himself back to his feet. He regarded the other boy for another moment before he shrugged out of his cloak and balled it up. Taeyong’s head lifted with a swish and flick of his wand and, with Taeyong’s head still suspended in the air, Johnny pulled the book Taeyong had fallen asleep on from under his head and replaced it with his cloak. He moved his wand slowly once he was done, gently lowering Taeyong’s head onto the makeshift pillow.  

Taeyong twitched in his sleep, mumbling something unintelligible before he tightened his arms around the cloak, burrowing his nose deeper into the fabric. He didn’t rouse and Johnny exhaled. He rounded the table and let himself fall onto the seat opposite of Taeyong, careful not to make any noise as he dropped his book bag on the empty chair next to him.

Taeyong had pulled a decent amount of books from the shelves for their assignment, so Johnny pulled those closer to him and flicked through the pages. Taeyong’s steady breathing calmed his mind as he took notes, assembled them into an outline and started on the first rough draft of their essay. They were supposed to do it in pairs, thirteen inches on a potion of Professor Do’s choice, but Johnny didn’t see the need to wake up Taeyong when he was more than capable of doing the essay on his own. Despite of what Taeyong might have thought of him, Johnny wasn’t bad at Potions. He just had no interest in applying himself to something he didn’t feel any passion for. This was different however. This time, he had incentive and Taeyong needed the rest.

Johnny was at eleven inches, sketching out the last lines of their closing argument when Taeyong’s breath fell short and a shudder went through his body. Johnny set his quill down in order to watch as Taeyong’s eyes fluttered open, hazy eyes flicking around for a moment before his lids fluttered back shut. A low groan left Taeyong‘s lips as he bunched a hand into Johnny’s cloak and buried his face in fabric. Johnny counted to three in his head before Taeyong jolted upright.

“Johnny?”

He smiled. “Taeyong.”

Taeyong rubbed his eyes, not harshly enough to get rid of the dark circles beneath them, but Johnny was pleased to see that, when Taeyong lifted his hand from his face, his expression wasn’t as guarded as usual. Taeyong looked around, taking in their surroundings with bleary eyes before they settled back on Johnny. “Wha-what time is it?”

Johnny turned his head to look out of the window. “About an hour until dinner, I’d say.”

“What?!”

Johnny shrugged. “It’s not a problem.” At Taeyong’s scandalised expression, he sighed.

“Yes, it is actually.” Taeyong’s movements became frantic as he began searching through the scrolls scattered on the table. “We—I just lost an entire afternoon! We were meant to start on the essay for Professor Do. Hold on, I have some books lying around here somewhere. I’m gonna find them! Just give me a minute—”

Taeyong stopped short when Johnny placed the apple he had brought earlier on the table in front of him. Johnny was glad he hadn’t gotten around to eating it himself. Taeyong looked at the apple as if it was a two-headed pygmy puff.

“Eat,” Johnny instructed when Taeyong made no motion to do so.

“W-what?” The scrolls he had been sifting through fell from Taeyong’s hands.

“Eat, Taeyong.” Johnny gave his voice the kind of unrelenting undertone he normally only used when he had to keep his cousin from sneaking firecrackers into the cake at the annual Zhong dinner party. “We’ve been here the entire afternoon and I didn’t see you during lunch, so I assume you’ve haven’t eaten anything since breakfast. So, eat.” Taeyong met his eyes, his teeth digging into the soft flesh of his bottom lip and Johnny rolled his eyes. “I swear I didn’t poison it.”

“No.” Taeyong cleared his throat and picked up the apple. “No, I believe you.” He rubbed the fruit against his chest before taking a small bite out of it.

Pleased, Johnny leant back in his chair and watched Taeyong eat. Eyes remaining on the table between them, Taeyong mirrored his position and pulled his knees to his chest, playing with the crest stitched onto the front of Johnny’s cloak while he ate. Occasionally, Taeyong would sneak glances at him, but whenever he found Johnny already looking him, Taeyong quickly averted his eyes back to the bundle of fabric on the table. It wasn’t until he had finished the apple that he seemed to realise what he was doing. He pulled his hand back as if the cloak suddenly had grown fangs and snapped at his fingers. “It—is this yours?”

“It is.” Johnny leaned over the table and picked the bundle up. He pretended not to notice the small drool stain next to the crest embroidery as he shoved it into his bag. “The book you were using seemed a bit uncomfortable as a pillow, so I replaced it with my cloak. I hope you don’t mind.”

“No, I—” Taeyong’s breathing sounded laboured, his face turning red as he coughed. “Thank you.”

“Don’t worry. I couldn’t have you drool on a library book now, could I? Mr Zhang would’ve had your head.”

“Yixing likes me,” Taeyong mumbled under his breath before he dropped his feet back to the ground. He frowned at the mess of parchment and books between them. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have fallen asleep. We can—if you have time some other day this week? I promise I’ll be all yours then.”

Johnny felt his lips twitch. “As promising as that sounds, I don’t think that will be necessary.” He picked up the parchment with their essay on it and handed it to Taeyong. “I’m almost done.”

Taeyong’s eyes scanned the parchment, eyes growing wider with every line he read. Eventually, he looked up, waving the scroll. “You did this? All by yourself?”

“Yes.”

Taeyong frowned down at the parchment. “This is really good.”

“Yes.” Johnny scoffed. “Of course, it is.”

Taeyong ducked his head. “I didn’t mean—” He let out a frustrated noise, dropping the scroll on the table before burying his face in his hands. “Sorry. I’m sorry. I’m just out of it, I’m—”

“Taeyong.”

“Yes?”

“I’ve told you this before but I feel like it’s appropriate to tell you again. You gotta unclench.”

Taeyong lifted his face from his hands to gape at him. Johnny didn’t so much as blink, just held Taeyong’s gaze until the other boy snapped his mouth shut and looked away.

“I mean it,” Johnny added. He picked up the stem of the apple Taeyong had discarded on the table and transfigured it into a fresh piece of parchment. With nimble fingers, he folded the parchment until it took the shape of a bird. Another tap of his wand and mumbled "Vivete!" and the bird fluttered its wings, hopping onto its legs before it took off. Johnny watched it flutter around their heads before it landed on the window sill at the end of their table. He looked back at Taeyong, whose eyes seemed pitch black in the waning light of the breaking dusk. Johnny frowned. “It’s no use pushing yourself this hard if you just end up exhausted and falling asleep in the middle of the day. I just don’t think it’s worth it stressing yourself out over some course work like that.”

Taeyong stared at him, his mouth moving in silent words until they became audible. “Oh, I shouldn’t now, should I?” he asked quietly, but there was nothing meek about his tone. Nothing about Taeyong had ever been meek. “Well, excuse me.” Fire ousted the void from Taeyong’s eyes, then, and Johnny realised that he had made a mistake. “Unfortunately, Johnny Seo, not all of us have a family fortune and our father’s connections to fall back on. You see, unfortunately, some of us have to actually put in some work and get good grades to have a chance at the job we want. And, unfortunately,” Taeyong squared his shoulders, “I’m one of them. So, thanks, Johnny, really, thank you for your gracious advice, but I think I’ll pass.” The legs of Taeyong’s chair scraped over the ground as he pushed himself to his feet. He snatched up their near-finished essay and shoved it into his bag before he slung the strap over his shoulder and turned to leave. “I’ll finish up the essay and hand it in next lesson. You don’t have to worry about it anymore. Or me, for that matter. You’re not supposed to, anyways. Bye, Johnny.”

With a sweeping gesture, Taeyong pulled his wand from his pocket. Johnny flinched as the books and scrolls around them lifted themselves into the air at once, fitting themselves back into their places on the shelves. By the time Johnny had dodged the last of the flying tomes, Taeyong had already made it to the end of the aisle.

“Taeyong, wait!”  

Taeyong turned around, raising his wand. For a moment, Johnny thought that Taeyong was going to scold him some more, or worse, that he’d have to spent the better part of his night in the infirmary while Madame Amber tried to turn him back from a ferret into a human, but neither of those things happened.

“Incendio!” Taeyong hissed out and Johnny watched, wide-eyed, as the paper bird he had enchanted went up in flames. Their eyes met for only a second before Taeyong disappeared around the next row of shelves.

Looking at the small, smoking pile of ashes on the window sill, Johnny didn’t try to call him back a second time.

Chapter Text

With the beginning of October came fall weather and sharp winds whipped Johnny in the face as he walked down Hogsmeade’s High Street. It wasn’t raining, not yet, but the cold, dry winds alone were enough to make Johnny shiver. In an attempt to protect his gloveless hands from the cold, Johnny pushed them deeply into the pockets of his cloak.

The antiquarian bookshop he wanted to check out was located in a narrow alley off High Street, a good walking distance away from Honeydukes. He had accompanied Jaehyun and Ten to the sweets shop (and paid for Ten’s bucket as well as his own) before they had split outside of the sweets shop with the promise of meeting up later at the Three Broomsticks.

As it was the first weekend trip of October, High Street was filled with Hogwarts students hurrying from shop door to shop door, their purchases cradled protectively against their chests. Sucking on a splinter of toothflossing strongmints, Johnny weaved his way through the crowd. He waved whenever someone called out his name, but kept walking until he had made it to the corner where he had to take a right.

The side street he entered narrowed into a single shop door, the sign above the door identical to the one on the pamphlet in Johnny’s breast pocket. Johnny strode past the trinket shops crammed along the way and pushed open the door to the bookseller’s, a little bell above the door announcing his entry. Johnny sighed with relief as the warm air inside enveloped him.

The shop seemed to be empty safe for the tiny, ancient-looking lady behind the till counter. She looked up long enough from the book she was reading to croak out a cheery, “Oh, hello, dear!”

“Good afternoon.” Johnny inclined his head.

“Are you looking for anything specific?”

“No.” Johnny smiled politely. “I’m just looking around. Thank you.”

The shop owner shot him another cheery smile and returned to her book.

Johnny turned to browse the aisles. He quickly moved on from the historical tomes displayed at the front and sauntered further into the shop. The book he was looking for was one of his mother’s favourites. Johnny had forgotten to take the book out of their library when he had packed for Hogwarts and having it sent over seemed like too much of a hassle, so he opted to find it in this shop instead. As he walked past the wall-high shelves, Johnny struggled not to pull out every single book on display, to run his hands over the intricate covers. The smell of leather and parchment was overwhelming but soothing in its familiarity, lulling his mind into a rare state of peace.

He passed by the astrology section, ignoring the eerie humming that a large, velvet-clad tome titled Fifteen Constellations That Will Predict Your Fate gave off and found what he had been looking for in the next aisle over. The collection of romance novels wasn’t as extensive as he had hoped for, but Johnny was still pleased to find that his mother’s favourite novel was among them.

Carefully, he pulled the silk-covered book from the shelf, realigning the other books with the edge of the shelf board before he inspected the novel in his hands. The edges of the silk binding were frayed, but the parchment itself was immaculate. Johnny thumbed through the pages, making sure none of the pages were stained, missing, or burned before he got caught on the last page of the book. It was filled with an illustration of the lovers’ death at the end of the story, a series of miscommunications and a poisoned apple leading to their death in each other’s arms. As a child, Johnny had been puzzled by the fact that his mother could be so enamoured by a story that didn’t have a happy ending.

“The main point of the story is not that they die at the end,” his mother would explain to him, carding her fingers through his hair. “It’s that they loved each other beforehand. Their tragic end can not take away the time they shared, however brief it was, and it does not erase the love that they had for each other.” Johnny’s mother would smile at him then. “True love, however long we are granted such a privilege, is always worth whatever we have to endure for it.”

Johnny smiled at the memory and pressed the book shut, checking the cover one last time before he wedged it under his arm. He was on his way to the till when his eyes felt on the shelf next over, filled with Quidditch-themed books. Feeling his lips twitch, Johnny stepped closer and skimmed over the shelf, his hand running along the boards.

Johnny’s hand stopped on a gilded edition of an old Quidditch chronicle. He pulled the book from its shelf and opened it gently, careful not to break the spine as he thumbed through the first couple of pages. Johnny got so lost in the retelling of the World Cup finale of 1896 that he missed the sound of the bell above the door chiming. He only looked up when a familiar, pleasant voice reached his ears.

“… moons don’t align right, he seemed really upset. I tried asking him what was up, but he didn’t answer. He just kept staring at the Hufflepuff table like the lovesick fool that he is. As if he wasn’t the one who sent Winwin there in the first place. I just don’t understand what is going on between them.”

There was a noncommittal hum in return, but the simple sound was enough to make Johnny stare back down at the book in his hands as all of his attention focussed on the two sets of footfalls that were making their way into the aisles. It had been several days since Johnny had last heard Taeyong’s voice. He had tried apologising to the other boy the day after the library incident, but every attempt at conversation Johnny had made had been resolutely ignored by Taeyong and the note Johnny had tried passing him during their Defence Against the Dark Arts class had suffered the same fate as the paper bird.

“It must be all the bad energy going around,” Taeil continued, the familiar clinking of his crystal penchants accompanying his voice. “The cards don’t like the idea of the practice game anymore and with the way Yuta has been acting since Monday, I’m inclined to agree. But then there is no way in Styx that Doyoung would ever agree to us backing out of that one. It’s his obsession with making Jaehyun’s life a living hell, seriously.” There was the sound of a book being pulled from its shelf and the eerie humming Johnny had heard before became louder. It was the astrology book he had taken notice of, which meant Taeil and Taeyong were in the aisle next over, standing on the other side of the shelf Johnny was in front of. Taeil’s voice overtoned the eerie humming, “Of course I get why he’s doing it, but it’s been years and it wasn’t even Jaehyun’s fault in the first place, back then. It’s not like he was there in the court room. It’s not like he spoke his father’s verdict.”

“Chief Warlock Jung ruled by the law,” Taeyong‘s voice supplied, somber in the way it always got when he cited a rule or restriction. He sounded tired, Johnny noticed. “There is no contestation to that. Even the jury vote was unanimous. I mean, just look at Doyoung’s face. She deserved Azkaban. It’s a horrible thing to say, but it is still the truth.”

“Mhm, no, I agree. I think Doyoung knows it too, deep down, which is why I don’t get why he’s still so obsessed with Jaehyun. Sometimes I almost think it’s like he’s crushing on him or something.” A melodic chuckle. “Even though I can’t imagine how you could crush on a Slytherin. But then you’d know all about that, wouldn’t you, Yongie?”

Johnny froze.

“We’re not talking about that,” Taeyong’s voice snapped.

“Alright, alright, I’m sorry I brought it up.” Footfalls again, drawing closer. “I know you’ve been sulky these past few days. So, tell me again what was the name of that muggle book that we came in here for?”

“It’s called Alice in Wonderland, it’s—”

Johnny could tell the exact moment Taeyong stepped into his aisle and spotted him, the atmosphere suddenly charged. Johnny turned his head slowly, his eyes finding Taeyong‘s without problem despite the dim lighting at the back of the shop. Taeyong’s eyes were almost comically wide, lips parted still to speak the rest of his sentence.

Holding his gaze, Johnny raised a hand and curled his fingers into a wave. Then he used the same hand to press his finger against his lips. Taeyong followed the motion with his eyes before he whipped around to look at Taeil, still in the aisle next over.

“It’s not here,” Taeyong announced loudly, taking a step back into the aisle he had come from. He cleared his throat. “The book, I mean. It’s not here. We-we should go.”

“Really? Because I distinctly remember you dragging me here past the three perfectly good bookshops on High Street because ‘such a gem would only be found in an antiquarian bookshop.’”

“I’m sure. Let’s go.”

“Well, okay then.” Taeil’s voice was nothing but amicable as he lead their way out of the shop, the clinking of his crystals becoming more faint with every step. Johnny waited until the door had fallen shut behind them before he allowed himself to breathe.

Taeyong had a crush on another Slytherin.

Johnny watched his knuckles whiten where he was holding the Quidditch book still, the hand at his mouth balling into a fist. Jealousy was such an ugly emotion, leaving his teeth clenched and bile rising in his throat. Breathing deeply, Johnny forced his muscles to relax. No, he decided, he shouldn’t worry. Whoever it was, he would be able to compete. He was a Slytherin, after all. He was nothing if not able to see things through.

Puffing his chest, Johnny added the Quidditch chronicle to the novel under his arm and made his way to the front of the shop.

“Found something, dear?”

“Indeed.” Johnny placed the books on the counter.

The shop owner punched in the prices for both into the old, iron till before she looked up at him. “Would that be all?”

Johnny hesitated. “Actually, no.” He shot the lady his most charming smile to make up for the inconvenience. “I meant to ask, do you have a muggle section?”

*

As noon had turned into early afternoon, it had begun to drizzle outside and by the time Johnny made it to the Three Broomsticks, his hair was matted against his forehead, his cheeks burning from the cold. The pub was filled to the brim with regulars and people seeking shelter from the rain, small groups of Hogwarts students occupying most of the round tables. Thankful for the wall of warmth and chatter that greeted him, Johnny made his way to a table near the far wall of the pub, next to a disconcertingly high stack of parcels.

“Did you clear out the entire town?” Johnny asked as he let himself fall onto the empty chair against the wall. After a moment of contemplation, he placed his own bundle of purchased books on top of the pile.

“It’s cat paraphernalia,” Jaehyun explained, looking up from the piece of parchment he was scribbling on. “Mostly.”

“Johnnyboy!” Ten cheered, eyes twinkling and cheeks flushed. Johnny was sure the liquid inside his tankard would have sloshed over the edges at the gesture, had there been any left. “Just at the right moment! Do you mind getting something for me too, if you’re getting yourself something to drink?”

Johnny was about to protest, he didn’t feel like moving for the next half an hour or so after he had stalked through the rain, but then his eyes fell on the bar and he changed his mind.

“Sure,” he said, using Ten’s sleeve to dry his face. “Butterbeer?”

Ten nodded, smooching his elbow in thanks when Johnny pulled his hand away quickly enough. “Me too,” Jaehyun confirmed and Johnny got up.

He waited until Madam Rosmerta was at the other end of the bar before he approached the boy waiting for his turn on one of the stools, sidling up next to him.

“Hey, Hansol.”

The prefect turned to look at him, blinking in surprise. “Oh, hey, Johnny.”

Johnny averted his eyes, made sure that Madam Rosmerta was still preoccupied with another patron before he turned back to Hansol with a smile on his lips. “What’s up? How‘s it going?”

At that, Hansol narrowed his eyes. “No,” he said slowly, shaking his head. “No, I don’t believe you. Spit it out, Seo. What do you need?” Hansol groaned. “Wait, don’t tell me. Does Jaehyun want to convert the Dungeon closet into a storage room for the Quidditch team again? Because if so, then you can tell him what I’ve told him a million times before and that is that the Slytherin Quidditch team will continue to store their gear in the lockers at the pitch just like all the other houses and—”

“Actually,” Johnny interrupted before Hansol could talk himself into a rage, “that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Oh.” Hansol visibly relaxed. “Okay, if it’s not that then I’m all ears.” Johnny hated how amiable his smile became, how earnestly he knew Hansol meant his next words. “How can I help you, Johnny?”

From up close, it was easy to see what Taeyong might have liked about him. Hansol was handsome, tall and lean without being lanky, outspoken without being annoying and dutiful, at least good enough at keeping up the pretense of being dutiful that he had been named prefect. Even now, the shiny badge was pinned to his robes. Hansol was as close to what must have been Taeyong’s ideal type that it made Johnny nauseous with disdain.

He let none of it show on his face as he leaned forward. It satisfied Johnny to know that as tall as Hansol may have been, Johnny was still a bit taller. “It’s about Taeyong Lee.”

“Taeyong?” Hansol asked and Johnny nodded. “What about him?”

“Do you like him?”

“Do I like him?” Hansol‘s brows shot up in confusion. “Uh, yeah sure, I guess? I haven’t really talked to him outside of prefect meetings but he’s nice enough? A bit high-strung for my taste, but if I had as much going on as he does, I’d be like that too, I think. Oh! He brought brownies to a prefect meeting once. Those were amazing!”

“That’s sweet,” Johnny forced out through his teeth, “but what I want to know is whether you like like him?”

Like like him?”

“Romantically,” Johnny snapped before he quickly plastered a smile onto his face. “Like a crush. Do you—" Johnny fought hard against the clenching of his jaw— “want to date him?”

Hansol’s eyes widened. “Dude,” he said, jutting his thumb over his shoulder, “my girlfriend is sitting right there.”

Johnny looked in the direction Hansol was pointing to find a girl sitting at a table near the windows, her eyes already trained on them. Johnny thought that he vaguely recognised her from around the common room. She smiled when she noticed his staring and waved, her eyes softening when her gaze fell onto the back of Hansol’s head.

“Oh,” Johnny said and felt his boiling blood cool down rapidly. “My mistake.”

Hansol laughed. “It’s all good man. But why’d you wanna know about Lee in the first place?” Before Johnny could come up with an excuse, his expression darkened. “Wait. This isn’t about that stupid prank war you guys got going on with the Gryffindors, right? Because if you guys make a mess that’s on me to clean up and I’ve already got my hands full with the first-years. More specifically your cousin, actually.”

“No, it wasn’t.” Johnny reassured him quickly. Suddenly, it was easy to smile earnestly at Hansol again. “Don’t worry about it.” Johnny dropped a couple of sickles onto the table. “Sorry for the interruption. First round’ is on me. Enjoy your date.”

“Uh, okay.” Hansol levelled him with a confused gaze before he picked up the coins. “Thanks, Johnny.”

“Don’t mention it.” Johnny hesitated before he turned to leave. “Seriously, don’t mention it. I’d prefer it if you didn’t tell anyone what we just talked about.”

Hansol shrugged, already too busy waving down Madam Rosmerta to pay him much attention anymore. “You got it, Seo, but if this ends in another dung bomb set off in our dorm, just know that I will ban you, Ten and Jaehyun from the Dungeon. The great triumvirate can sleep in the library for all I care.”

When Johnny returned to their table, Ten had wandered off to entertain a table of giggling Hufflepuff girls. Watching his friend conjure a bouquet big enough to hold a tulip for each of them, Johnny let himself fall back on his chair.

“Did they run out of butterbeer?” Jaehyun didn’t look up from the piece of parchment he was still scribbling on.

Johnny froze, realising belatedly that he had come back empty-handed. “No,” he said slowly, “I forgot. Sorry.”

Jaehyun hummed in acknowledgement, reading over his letter once more before he folded it up. He put it in the crisp envelope that he had used as a blotting pad before procuring a short stick of wax from his breast pocket. Hand still in his pocket, a frown made its way onto his face. “You mind lending me your signet ring? I forgot mine.”

Johnny pulled the ring off his left hand and handed it over. Jaehyun accepted the ring while he held the wax stick to the candle in the middle of their table. Once the wax had molten, he dripped a decent amount onto the back of the envelope and quickly pressed Johnny’s ring into the purple liquid, sealing the envelope.

“Is it okay to use mine?” Johnny asked as he accepted his ring back, sliding it back onto his finger.

“Yeah, the letter is to my father.” Jaehyun grinned, blowing onto the wax stick to cool off the rest of the molten wax. “No unsuspecting commoner will get a heart attack once they look at the seal, don’t worry.”

Johnny picked up Jaehyun’s half-full tankard and took a sip before he asked, “Why did you write him?”

“Eh.” Jaehyun shrugged and slid the letter into his breast pocket before he leaned back in his chair. “I just answered some things he asked about in his last letter.”

Johnny tilted his head to the side. “Things?”

“Weird stuff,” Jaehyun explained, a slight frown making its way onto his face. “Whether I’ve seen anything unusual happen at the castle, whether there’s been a ‘commotion’ – don’t look at me like that, I don’t know what he means by that either. I think something is going on at the Ministry, but then there’s always something going on at the Ministry, isn’t it? In any case, I told Father that nothing unusual has been happening here.” Jaehyun shrugged. “If it’s something serious I’m sure he will be more explicit in his next letter.”

Johnny hummed, taking another sip of butterbeer. After a moment of contemplation, he tilted his head back and finished the tankard off before he set it back down. He flinched when he noticed Jaehyun watching him closely. His gaze was much too alert for Johnny’s liking, and it was then that Johnny realised that he hadn’t fooled his friend at all.

“You okay, Johnnyboy?” Jaehyun asked, voice gentle.

Johnny feigned surprise at the question. “Of course.”

Jaehyun searched his eyes before he lightly shook his head. His expression softened. “I don’t believe you.”

Johnny rearranged his features into a frown. “What makes you say that?”

“You’ve been quiet these past few days. Well, quieter than usual. It makes me worry.” Jaehyun took the tankard from his hands and replaced it with his own hands, forcing Johnny to look at him. “Usually, when something is bothering you, you tell us after a couple of days, but it’s been almost a week and you still haven’t said anything.”

Johnny forced his lips into a smile. “You worry too much, Captain.”

“I have to, you idiots would be lost without me.” Johnny remained silent. He couldn’t argue with that. “Which is why I’m not letting this go,” Jaehyun continued, squeezing Johnny’s hands. “So, you can either tell me now or I’ll get Ten on your case.”

Johnny narrowed his eyes. “You wouldn’t.”

“It’s about your happiness, Johnny, of course I would. And, you know, it’s been a long time since Tennie’s had the chance to get the waterworks going properly. You wouldn’t want to ruin his excitement over Nine and,” Jaehyun nodded at the pile of boxes between them, “all this because he had to guilt-trip you into telling him, right?”

Johnny remained silent for a moment. “Fine,” he gritted out eventually, but couldn’t help the feeling of relief tugging on his heart, loosening the tension in his shoulders. He looked over the rest of the pub. “Today I learned that I’ve been put in competition.”  

“Competition? What kind of competition?”

“What kind doesn’t matter.”

“Okay." Jaehyun’s brows furrowed. "Against whom, then?” Before Johnny could answer, Jaehyun’s expression smoothed out, eyes calculating as he looked around the pub. “Anyone we know? Are they here?”

“No.” Johnny sighed. “That’s pretty much the root of the problem. I’m not sure how to win because I don’t know who I’m playing against.”

“Can you figure out who it is?”

“I have to.” At that moment, Johnny wished he hadn’t finished off the rest of Jaehyun’s butterbeer already. “Losing is not an option.”

Jaehyun nodded, more to himself than at Johnny. “Is there any way I can help?”  

“No.” Johnny shook his head. “No, I have to figure it out on my own. Well,” a small smile made its way onto his face, “you can help me dispose of the body once I’ve figured out who I’m up against.”

“Fine by me.” Jaehyun shrugged. They sat in silence for a while until Jaehyun suddenly hummed. He got Johnny’s attention by squeezing his palm. “Tell me,” he said, “whatever you’re competing for? Is it worth how much it‘s affecting you?”

“Yes,” Johnny smiled and for the first time that day, he felt the expression come easy to him. Yes, he is, he thought.

“Well,” Jaehyun said, “if that’s the case, maybe you need a different approach.”

Johnny frowned. “What do you mean?”

“I mean focus on the price itself than whoever your opponent is. Who cares whether there is someone else. You’re Johnny Seo. Who could compete with you?”

Johnny didn’t get a chance to answer that because Ten chose that moment to return to their table, draping himself over Jaehyun’s back.

“Firewhiskey,” he slurred happily, hiccuping right into Jaehyun‘s ear. “So much firewhiskey. ”

Jaehyun sighed as he held onto Ten’s arms, used them to manhandle their friend onto the empty chair next to him. Then he looked at Johnny. “We have to remember to not let him drink with the Hufflepuffs again. Their livers are made of stone. It’s all those niceties they churn out on the daily.”

Johnny nodded and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a handful of sickles and placed them on the table before he got up. “Ten or the cat paraphernalia?” he asked.

Jaehyun contemplated this for a moment. “The cat paraphernalia.” He grinned. “The cat tower won’t throw up on me if I jostle it too much.”

Johnny sighed, but resigned himself to his fate. “All right.”

“Johnny,” Ten lilted when Johnny slung his arm around the smaller boy’s waist and pulled him to his feet. “You’re tall.”

Johnny smiled and steered them towards the door. “Thanks, Tennie.”

“Welcome,” Ten hiccuped, smiling brightly.

Once they had made it outside, Johnny crouched down and let Ten clamber onto his back. Ten shrieked in delight at having gained roughly four feet in height and clapped Johnny on the back repeatedly. Johnny laughed and adjusted his grip so Ten’s knee didn’t press into his spleen. With Ten’s Jaehyun-legged pile of boxes following closely behind them, Johnny got ready to carry his friend back to the castle.

Chapter Text

Johnny skipped down the steps leading to the Dungeon two at a time. He rounded the corner without losing momentum and sprinted to the end of the hallway, but it was all in vain. The door to the Potions classroom was closed and he was late. Johnny squinted at his wrist watch. Nearly half an hour late. Professor Do would have his head.

Panting, Johnny ran a hand through the tangled mess on top of his head and knocked on the heavy wooden door. He didn’t wait for an answer before he slipped into the classroom. Professor Do was turned toward the blackboard, not paying him any attention, so Johnny lowered his head and hurried towards his seat. He made sure to walk by Ten’s table on his way to the front, grabbing onto the note his friend was holding out for him before he slipped it into his pocket.

“Mr Seo.” Professor Do turned around and waited until he had sat down before he approached his table. “How gracious of you to join us. I assume you have a reasonable explanation for your tardiness?”

Johnny nodded. “There was an incident in my History of Magic class.”

“Really?” Professor Do’s expression didn’t change. “What kind of incident?”

Johnny thought for a moment. “One of the hare-y kind.”  

“Hairy?” For a split second, Professor Do’s eyes flickered to the top of Johnny’s head before his lips pressed into a tight line. “Well, I fail to see how that constitutes you being late.” Johnny could hear some people behind him snicker. “Ten points from Slytherin.”

That caused some of the Slytherin present to groan, while Ten yelled out an “Unfair!” from the back.

Johnny accepted the punishment without arguing any further, averting his eyes to the table. He waited until Professor Do had returned to his desk before he slowly tilted his head to the side. Taeyong wasn’t looking at him, instead he was focussing on grinding what looked to be pixie wings into fine dust.

“Hey,” Johnny tried.

It was only the twitch of his jaw that told Johnny Taeyong had heard him, the way Taeyong scraped the pestle over the bottom of his mortar just a bit too harshly. Johnny waited a couple of seconds for Taeyong to answer him, but when the silence between them stretched on, Johnny sighed and leaned back in his seat. He pulled Ten’s note out of his pocket, skimming over the bullet points on what he had missed. Apparently, they were doing Draught of Peace.

“Did you get lost in a broom closet again?”

Johnny looked up so fast he nearly snapped his neck. Taeyong still wasn’t looking at him, but his hands had ceased their work. He was staring blankly down at the pixie dust, his knuckles white where he was clutching the mortar.

“Huh?” Johnny was still reeling over the fact that Taeyong had spoken to him and so he didn’t realise until a moment later why Taeyong’s words sounded so familiar to him.

It was an excuse, Johnny realised, his own excuse which Johnny had used several times during the past year whenever he had been late to class. He had liked to use it because it had been the truth and none of his teachers had ever questioned him enough to find out that he hadn’t been alone in the various broom closets that he’d gotten lost in. That, of course, didn’t extend to the student body and it seemed that even someone as uninterested in the rumour mill as Taeyong had caught onto the fact.

“Oh.” Johnny willed his heart to stop pounding. “You mean, because I was late?”

Taeyong looked at him then, dark eyes flashing with something that lay somewhere between anger and disappointment and Johnny would have thought it to be betrayal, had he not known that that was far too personal of an emotion for Taeyong. No one could be that upset about Johnny missing the first quarter of their lesson, not even Taeyong, who wouldn’t have let him help with their Draught of Peace anyways.

“Your hair looks like you were attacked by a bird.” Taeyong spit, levelling him with a scathing gaze before he picked up the mortar and dumped its contents into the concoction that was blubbering in the cauldron.  

Johnny waited until Taeyong had set the mortar back down before he said, “It was a rabbit actually.”

Taeyong glowered at him. “Sure.”

“What?” Johnny fought hard to keep the smile off his face. Taeyong was still talking to him, and he was too happy about that to care much about Taeyong scolding him for his tardiness. “You don’t believe me? You can ask Qian.”

“Kun?”

“Yes, Kun. He’s the one who lost our History assignment in his stupid enchanted top hat and had me hold onto the bunnies while he tried pulling it back out. One of them jumped onto my head and until we had stuffed them all back in, it was already ten minutes after class had started. So you can see that me being late really was perfectly justified as well as completely Qian’s fault.” Content with his explanation, Johnny leaned back in his seat.

Taeyong watched him do so, opened his mouth and closed it again before he turned back to the table, lips pressing into a tight line. Taeyong picked up his quill. “Whatever. Don’t be late again.”

“I won’t be. I’m holding onto Kun and I’s History assignments from now on and, just so you know, closets aren’t really my style,” Johnny pushed his hand into his hair, willing it to fall into its usual side part, and because he could see Taeyong’s attention shift back to their assignment, he took on a more serious tone and added, “Taeyong, can I talk to you? After class?”

Taeyong took just a moment too long before he scribbled something onto the parchment he was using to document the progress of their potion. “We can talk,” he said, “after class.”

Johnny smiled. “Can I help with the potion?”

“No.”

“Okay.” Content for now, Johnny leaned back in his seat. He spent the rest of class watching Taeyong while he brewed their Draught on Peace to perfection, trying to look busy whenever Professor Do walked by their table.

Once class let out, he told Ten to go ahead and save him a seat at lunch before he leaned back against the wall next to the door, waiting and waving off Yeri’s inquiry whether he would join them for lunch. As expected, Taeyong was the last one to leave the classroom.

Smiling, Johnny pushed himself off the wall, “Hey.”

“Everything okay, Taeyong?” Seulgi asked, her eyes narrowing suspiciously at Johnny.

“Yeah,” Taeyong smiled at her, pushing his fringe out of his eyes. “You can go ahead without me. I’ll see you at the prefect meeting.”  

“Okay.” Seulgi looked Johnny up and down, probably calculating how much force she’d have to use to throw Johnny onto his ass, no wands involved, before she left. Johnny saw her off with his most charming, fake smile.

Taeyong’s own smile fell the moment Seulgi was gone. He crossed his arms in front of his chest, jutting out his chin and Johnny was surprised when, for the fraction of a second, something akin to fear flashed across Taeyong’s dark eyes. But the emotion was gone as quickly as it had come, disappearing behind the ice that erased all emotion from Taeyong’s features. “You wanted to talk to me?”

Johnny nodded, gesturing at the closest stone bench. “Do you want to sit down?”

“I’m fine standing, thank you.”

Johnny walked over to the bench anyways. He was pleased when Taeyong followed him, sitting down at the edge of the bench while Johnny placed his book bag next to himself.

“I want to apologise,” Johnny said once they had settled down, angling his head so he could look at Taeyong. Even with his ramrod posture, Taeyong was still half a head smaller than him. “I misspoke the other day and upset you. That wasn’t my intention.”

Taeyong’s hair fell into his eyes when he looked down. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“I’m talking about last Monday, in the library.” Johnny felt the corners of his mouth curl downwards. “It wasn’t my place to tell you how to live your life, but I want you to know that I did so because I wish you would take better care of yourself. You look tired, Taeyong. Bone-deep.” Taeyong’s expression hardened, but no amount of ice in his veins, no amount of keeping his appearance impeccable could hide the circles underneath his eyes, the exhaustion in his movements when he thought no one was looking. And Johnny was looking. He was always looking at Taeyong. “I wish you wouldn’t.”

Taeyong looked at him then. “What’s it to you?”

Johnny knew that was it, this was the moment for him to confess. Taeyong was watching him with intense, expectant eyes, and for the first time in his life, Johnny wished that he were a Gryffindor, that he could be brave enough to be upfront and honest, but he wasn’t and so he opened his mouth, ready to finally say the words that had been playing on his mind for months, just to find that he had none. He couldn’t speak.

Taeyong’s face gradually closed back up the longer the silence between them dragged on, until he broke it himself. “You don’t know me Johnny.”

Taeyong averted his eyes from his face and Johnny sighed inaudibly. Taeyong’s voice remained eerily calm as he spoke, but Johnny didn’t miss the way his hands balled into fists. “You don’t—you don’t know anything.” Where Taeyong had curled his hands into fists, they fell to his side. “We’re not even friends. You don’t care about me and you don’t have to pretend that you’re sorry. I get that you’re trying to be nice to me because I’m making your life easier in Potions, but please just stop. Just stop. I don’t have the energy to—you’re right, I’m tired. And you don’t know anything.”

Johnny watched the way Taeyong’s mouth pressed together at the end of his speech, watched the way Taeyong’s adam’s apple bobbed when he swallowed and slowly, gently he took Taeyong’s hand in his. Taeyong flinched at the contact but Johnny didn’t let him go. He refused to let go. He encircled Taeyong’s wrist and turned his hand until Taeyong’s palm was facing up. In it, Johnny placed the parcel he had pulled from his bag.

“You forgot this the other day,” he said, finally able to swallow past the lump in his throat, and he savoured the way Taeyong’s face scrunched up in confusion, bitten-raw lips pressing into a frown as he perused the wrapped gift.

“What is this?” he asked, voice sharp but his eyes were brimming with curiosity, and Johnny felt secure enough to let go of Taeyong’s hand. Whoever it is, Johnny thought as he watched Taeyong tear into the silk paper, please consider me too.

“A book?” Taeyong asked as he placed the torn wrapping paper on the bench beside him. Then he turned the book around and his breath hitched. He looked up at Johnny with wide eyes, so many emotions flashing over his dark irides that Johnny had trouble making out a single one. “Alice in Wonderland?”

Johnny smiled helplessly. “You said it was your favourite.”

Taeyong looked back down at the book, opening the binding with such reverence that Johnny felt his heart skip a beat. Taeyong lifted the first page carefully, eyes skimming over every detail of the yellowed paper before they stopped, along with his breathing.

“Johnny,” Taeyong said, but the tone of his voice dropped into something far too serious for Johnny’s liking. Johnny frowned. “This is a first edition. The publication date says 1865.”

“Oh.” Johnny had known that. His coin pouch knew that, but it was worth the awe on Taeyong’s face. “Really? It was the only one they had.”

“Johnny,” Taeyong said, lifting the book slightly, searching his eyes for something Johnny tried hard to hide. “Do you know how much this is worth?”

“I admit I mostly slept during Muggle Studies last year.”

Johnny could see the protest rise in Taeyong’s throat, but then Taeyong’s eyes fell back onto the book and Johnny didn’t miss the longing in his eyes, the way his hands lingered on the cover for just a tad to long.

“It’s a gift.” Johnny whispered gently and because it was Taeyong, and Taeyong was worth it, he also added a plea, “Please, don’t refuse my gift.”

“Why?” Taeyong asked, but his hands moved to press the book against his chest and Johnny exhaled. He knew he had won.

He met Taeyong’s eyes, allowed his gaze to wander over Taeyong’s face, from the fluffy tufts of his fringe, down the straight line of his nose to the plump flesh of his lips. Johnny willed his throat to open up enough for him to speak. “Because you were wrong,” he managed eventually. “I do care about you.”

Taeyong’s expression changed, then, but Johnny didn’t get to see what it changed into, because in that moment they were interrupted by a scream, a high-pitched, breathless version of Johnny’s name. Johnny looked up in confusion, his eyes flickering to the end of the hallway where a familiar figure was running towards them on stick-thin, shaky legs.

Johnny was off the bench in a second, crouched down to catch the trembling boy who barrelled into his chest at full-speed. “Jisung?”

The eleven-year-old looked up at him with panic in his eyes, his fists coming down to pound against his chest in an attempt to get the words across that wouldn’t come out of his mouth. Dread settled in Johnny’s stomach. “What is it, Jisung? What happened?”

“Breathe, Jisung,” Taeyong said, coming to crouch down next to them. His hand settled on Jisung’s upper arm, gently rubbing up and down. “Breathe, and then you can tell us what happened.”

Jisung stared at Taeyong for only a moment before he looked back at Johnny with urgency in his eyes, arms flailing to gesture behind him.

“Duck,” Jisung wheezed out eventually, and Johnny didn’t wait any longer. For the second time that day, he ran.

*

The first thing Johnny saw when he reached the quad was a pair of broken glasses on the ground. Johnny stared at the shattered lenses for a moment before he remembered on whom he had seen the thick-rimmed frame before and bent down. He picked the glasses up and slipped them into his pocket. Then he turned towards the sizable crowd that had formed in the middle of the quad. Johnny didn’t have to guess who was responsible for all the commotion. Breathing deeply, he pushed his way through the crowd until he had made it to the middle.

At the centre of the crowd’s attention, Mark Lee lay sprawled out on the ground. The Ravenclaw boy had his arms raised to protect his head from the punches of the small, livid-looking boy on top of him. Renjun’s face had taken on the colour of his hair as he pounded his tiny fists against Mark’s chest, face and every other part of him he could reach, and Johnny thought that though Renjun’s hits didn’t look particularly strong, they certainly were mean.

It seemed that Johnny had come just at the right time, because at that moment, Renjun was pried off of Mark by two older boys, one of which Johnny recognised as Jaemin, as well as a peroxide-blond Hufflepuff Johnny didn’t know. Jaemin slung his arms around Renjun’s waist from behind, the veins on his neck straining with the effort of pulling the smaller boy off of Mark.

Jaemin’s face lost all its colour when Renjun’s foot hit him in the groin, but Jaemin didn’t let go. He dragged Renjun a safe distance away before he pulled the younger boy with him to the ground, caging him in between his legs and slinging his arms around his upper body in a vice-like grip. Johnny could see Jaemin whisper soothing words into Renjun’s ear while Renjun kicked against shins, scratched at his arms.

Johnny looked back at Mark and found that the Hufflepuff had gathered Mark’s form against him in a similar fashion to how Jaemin was holding back Renjun, but instead of spitting out a string of angry Chinese, Mark was sobbing against the Hufflepuff’s chest, his cries only interrupted by a broken string of “I’m sorry—I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to do it—I’m sorry.”

Johnny’s stomach tied itself into knots. “What is going on?” he called out, causing the excited chatter of the crowd to fall silent.

It was then that he heard the first quack, followed by a prolonged screeching sound. Slowly, Johnny turned around and realised that Renjun’s attempt at ending Mark’s life had distracted him from the real source of the crowd’s excitement. He was met with the sight of a distressed-looking Chenle, but it were not Chenle’s flailing gestures or the weird bird noises that came out of his mouth that caught his attention. It was the duck that he was trying to lure in.

Johnny only needed one look at the animal’s ruffled, auburn feathers, at the way it was flapping its wings threateningly at its spectators to realise what was going on. He felt an unnatural calm settle over him.

“Johnny!” Chenle’s face lit up with relief as he noticed Johnny bridging the distance between them with long strides.

“Le,” Johnny said without taking his eyes off the duck. He plastered the calmest smile onto his face that he could muster, but it must’ve come off as more terrifying than he had intended, if the way Chenle paled was anything to go by. Johnny fought to keep his voice gentle as he looked down at his cousin’s friend. “Why don’t you go and find Jisung, Le? Jisung came to get me, but I left the Dungeons without him. He’s probably very upset right now.” Johnny had spent more than one summer chasing after his cousin and his friends at their summer home, so he knew Jisung didn’t deal well with drama, especially if he didn’t have Chenle by his side to reassure him. “Take care of him and I’ll take care of this, okay?”

“O-okay.” Chenle still looked terrified as he nodded, but did as Johnny had told him.

He moved along the first  line of spectators to avoid the duck’s sharp beak before he ducked between two seventh-years and disappeared into the crowd.  Johnny turned back around and squatted down, slowly undoing the buttons of his cloak.

“Hey there, Duckie,” he said.

At the sound of his voice, the duck stopped flapping its wings, its head swivelling until Johnny was looking straight into a single, beady eye. The iris was solid black, but Johnny could still see the glint of fear in the animal’s eye. Johnny held eye contact as he shrugged off his cloak and pulled it in front of him, folding the fabric blindly.

“It’s okay, Duckie,” he soothed. The duck let out a row of high-pitched, distressed quacking sounds but otherwise didn’t move. “You don’t have to be scared. I’m here. Cousin Johnny is here. It’s going to be all right. I’ll make sure of it.” Johnny patted the ground in front of him. “Come here, Donghyuck.”

The duck blinked, flapping his wings one last time and then it took off, wadding straight into the makeshift pouch Johnny had placed on the ground in front of him. Johnny swaddled his cousin before he could escape and scooped up the bundle, holding it securely against his chest. A row of low, terrified quacks came from the inside of the pouch before the duck’s head popped out of the fabric. For a moment, Johnny thought he was going to lose a finger to the the sharp beak, but then Donghyuck bumped his head into his chest, his wings moving in the bundle almost as if his cousin was trying to press himself closer, beady eyes falling shut. Johnny exhaled, tightened his hold on the bundle and turned around.

To his surprise, the crowd behind him had mostly dispersed. It was the courtesy of Taeyong, Johnny realised, when he watched the Ravenclaw prefect adamantly tell a giggling cluster of Gryffindor girls that there was nothing to see. Those few who seemed immune against Taeyong’s threats of taking away house points scrambled away when they saw Johnny approaching. Johnny ran a hand through the soft feathers at the back of Donghyuck’s neck and turned to the few people who had remained.

Renjun was still struggling against Jaemin’s grip, though he had given up on clawing his way out of the older’s hold, it seemed. When Johnny met Jaemin’s eyes over the top of Renjun’s head, the Chaser winked at him. Johnny shot him a grateful smile before he turned towards Jaemin’s friend, still holding onto a crying Mark. Johnny was about to make his way over, but Taeyong got there first. He pulled Mark from the Hufflepuff’s lap and settled him on his own, whispering into Mark’s ear as he pushed a soothing hand into his hair. Realising that he wasn’t needed anymore, the Hufflepuff got to his feet and made a beeline for Jaemin.

Johnny took the opportunity to approach him. It was time to resolve this mess. “Hey, Jeno, right?”

The peroxide-blond Hufflepuff stopped short and smiled at him. “Yes, that’s me.” Jeno’s eyes fell to the bundle in Johnny’s arms, a pitiful expression taking over his face. “Will he be alright? Mark over there babbled something about accidentally having turned him.”

“He’ll be fine. May I ask you for a favour?

Jeno perked up. “Of course. Any way I can help.”

“Could you get Professor Hani and send her to the infirmary? Tell her it’s a transfiguration emergency. And once you’ve talked to her, can you also get Professor Do and Professor Minseok?”

“Sure, no problem.” Jeno saluted before he took off. “I’ll make sure she’s waiting for you once you get there.”

“Thank you,” Johnny called after him before he turned towards Jaemin.

The Slytherin Chaser grinned at him. “Big fight, huh?”

“It seems like it.” Johnny adjusted the bundle in his arms. “I’m taking Duckie to the infirmary. Do you mind bringing Renjun there, too? He looks like he could use some Draught of Peace.”

“Sure, no problem.” Jaemin looked down at Renjun, who was half-heartedly kicking at his leg. “You mind if I carry you to the infirmary, angry boy?”

Renjun cursed at him in Chinese, which had Jaemin looking at Johnny with mirth in his eyes. “Oh, I like him.”

Johnny turned towards Mark and Taeyong, both of whom had made it to their feet by the time Johnny had made his way over. Mark hid himself nearly completely behind Taeyong’s leg, fresh tears springing to his eyes when he looked at the pouch Johnny was holding against his chest.

“Mark,” Johnny said, adjusting his grip on Donghyuck once again so he could extend one hand, “take my hand. You’re coming with me.”

“Johnny,” Taeyong tried, but Johnny shook his head. “No. Either you come with us or you stay away, but don’t try to speak for him. He knows what he has done.”

Mark let out a whimper at that and Taeyong’s expression hardened. “Fine. Do you mind if I take him there?”

Johnny shrugged and, placing his hand back on the bundle containing his cousin, took off without sparing either of them another glance.

As promised, Professor Hani was already waiting for him in front of the doors of the infirmary.

“Oh dear!” she exclaimed when Johnny pulled his cloak apart to reveal Donghyuck’s form to her. “What happened here?”

“Transfiguration accident,” Johnny explained. “Do you think you can turn him back, Professor?”

“Of course.” Carefully, Professor Hani took the bundle from him, her expression turning more serious when Donghyuck let out a protesting quack at being jostled. “Follow me inside. The young Mr Dong is already in there. Was he involved, too?”

“I’d say he involved himself, but he wasn’t the one who turned Donghyuck, no.”

“Ah, so it is Donghyuck.” Professor Hani smiled down at the bundle in her arms as she lead them to a bed near the windows. On the bed next over, Madame Amber was currently coercing Renjun into drinking what Johnny recognised as a diluted cup of Draught of Peace. Jaemin was standing next to them, a hand on Renjun’s shoulder. He grinned at Johnny and gave him a thumbs-up when Johnny looked his way. “I thought so when I saw you carrying him. Quite the troublemaker, your cousin, isn’t he?”

The duck quacked indignantly at that. Johnny sat down at the foot end of the bed, keeping an intent eye on his cousin as Professor Hani pulled the last of Johnny’s cloak off of Donghyuck’s form and pulled her wand from her robes.

“Well, however this happened, it will be over in a second. Revelio!”

Black smoke spilled from the tip of Professor Hani’s wand, enclosing Donghyuck and with a sizzle and a bang, the untransfiguration was over. When the fog dissipated, Donghyuck was sitting where the duck had been, his uniform was torn in places and his hair was sticking up in all directions, but he seemed otherwise unharmed. Johnny barely had time to pull him against his chest before his cousin burst into tears.  

“Shh,” Johnny soothed, rubbing a hand up and down Donghyuck’s back. “You’re okay, Hyuck. It’s okay. See, it’s over. You’re all human again. You’re going to be okay.”

Donghyuck only sobbed harder, pushing his face into his shoulder. Johnny held him tightly, smoothing down the soft tufts of auburn hair while he rocked them back and forth gently. He looked up only when he felt a small hand tug on his sleeve.

“Sure,” Johnny smiled at Renjun, who had left his bed and was standing next to theirs on wobbly legs, a questioning look in his eyes as he looked between Johnny and Donghyuck, “you can come and join us.”  

Jaemin jumped to help Renjun get up on the bed, answering the boy’s glare with a broad grin. Jaemin stepped back the exact same moment the doors of the infirmary flew open and in stepped Professor Do and Jeno, as well as a frantic looking Sicheng. Sicheng pushed past his fellow Hufflepuff and the teacher and made a beeline straight for his brother, pushing Jaemin out of the way so he could pull Renjun off of Donghyuck and onto the bed Renjun had deserted.

Johnny was surprised how pliantly Renjun went with his brother. Renjun endured Sicheng’s fawning with a long-suffering expression on his face, holding onto his brother’s hands and reassuring him in low Chinese when Sicheng tried to pat him down for injuries.

Sicheng furrowed his brows, asking something that made Renjun look away with guilt in his eyes. Sicheng’s frown deepened before he looked at Johnny and repeated his question in English, “What happened? Why is my brother in the…the sick room?”

“Yes, that is a question I’d like answered as well,” Professor Do said as he came to a halt in the space between the beds, his eyebrows drawing together as he took in Donghyuck’s frazzled state. “One of my students was hurt?”

“Oh, don’t look so grim, Kyungsoo,” Professor Hani rolled her eyes, patting Professor Do on the shoulder good-naturedly. “Just a minor transfiguration incident.”

“It was not a minor incident,” Johnny said, carefully disentangling himself from Donghyuck. Donghyuck let out a whimper at the loss of contact and Johnny tried hard to keep himself from yelling. He looked at Chenle and Jisung, who had snuck into the infirmary closely behind Professor Do. Upon Johnny’s nod, they crawled up on the bed and sandwiched Donghyuck between them.

“It’s okay, Duck, we’re here for you—ow!” Chenle paled when Jisung hit him in the arm. “Oh, we shouldn’t call you that anymore, right? Sorry.”

“It’s probably better if you don’t,” Johnny agreed and slid off the bed. He turned towards Professor Do. “May I talk to you outside, Professor?”

“That’s where Professor Minseok is as well,” Jeno piped up from where he was leaning onto Jaemin, slightly out of breath. “He’s outside with Mark and the male Ravenclaw prefect – sorry, I don’t know his name.”

“The stuffy one?” Jaemin perked up, a grin making its way onto his face. “That’s Taeyong Lee! I’ve heard—” Jaemin faltered when he noticed the two teachers and Johnny glancing at him curiously. “Uh, nothing. I’ve heard nothing. Come on, Nono, let’s see if we can help Madame Amber.” With that, he pulled his best friend away.

Johnny followed Professor Do down the middle aisle of the infirmary and out the doors.

Taeyong and Mark where perched on a bench next to the doors, Professor Minseok crouched in front of them. Professor Minseok pulled himself to his feet when he saw Johnny and Professor Do approaching, his elfish features distorting into a tight smile.

“Mark is very upset,” Professor Minseok said as he met them halfway, “I think it best if we leave him be for the moment. My office is just down the hall, so we can go and talk there. Soo, you can draft the letter to Donghyuck’s parents in my office as well.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Johnny interrupted, straightening his posture when both teachers looked at him with raised eyebrows. “When it comes to Donghyuck, my word is the word of his parents. They still need to receive an owl, of course, but I can assure you that I have full authority to decide whatever is best for him.”

Professor Do and Minseok exchanged a glance.

“The Seo family.” Professor Minseok shrugged and smiled at Johnny. “If that’s the case, Johnny, then you’re welcome to join us. Taeyong will take care of Mark while we’re gone.”

Taeyong, who was still trying to console an unconsolable Mark, looked up when Professor Minseok returned to their bench. They exchanged quick words, Taeyong nodding and tightening his grip on Mark’s shoulders before Professor Minseok turned away.

Their eyes met only for the fraction of a second, Taeyong’s near black against his own amber. Johnny was the first one to look away. He was well aware of the plea in Taeyong’s eyes.

Professor Minseok’s office was as neat yet stuffy as one would expect from the Head of House Ravenclaw. Every surface that wasn’t covered in books or scrolls was taken up by a dangerous-looking contraption, some of which Johnny recognised from their Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons, and he was sure that there had to be some kind of order to the chaos, but it was none Johnny could see.

“You need to clean this place up, Min,” Professor Do remarked as he picked up a sevenfold-locked chest and heaved it off the leather chairs in front of the desk, something Johnny wouldn’t have expected a man of his stature to do with such ease.

“I apologise for the mess.” Professor Minseok smiled as he took a seat behind his desk. “Classes have kept me busy.”

Johnny picked up a tome about werewolves and placed it on a precariously leaning tower of lizard cages before he sat down in the chair next to Professor Do’s.

“Now,” Professor Minseok began, his face losing a lot of its mirth, “we have to talk about the incident. Mark has given me a short explanation of what happened and he has admitted to hexing Donghyuck, but during all that, he did not say a word about what might have provoked him to attack Donghyuck like that. Has your cousin said something to you on the matter, Johnny?”

“No, he mostly cried.” Johnny sighed, well aware of the two pairs of prying eyes resting on him. “But I know my cousin and I’ve got an idea of the kind of person Mark is, so I am well aware that Mark’s attack wasn’t unprovoked.” Johnny pushed a hand into his pocket, closed his fingers around the broken glasses inside. He felt his jaw set, his teeth grinding against each other. “Nonetheless, Mark attacked Donghyuck. He transfigured my cousin into an animal and humiliated him in front of half the student body and that’s not something I or Hyuck’s parents will be willing to let slide.”

Johnny saw the way Professor Minseok’s face was overtaken by heartbreak before he smoothed out his expression into something more neutral. Professor Do inhaled deeply beside him.

“But I admit,” he quickly continued, “that Donghyuck’s behaviour has been… lacking ever since he started schooling. So, we won’t press for an expulsion.” Johnny pretended he didn’t see the relief on Professor Minseok’s face. “Instead, I want to suggest a punishment that I think will be beneficial to both parties.”

“What do you have in mind, Mr Seo?” Professor Do asked, his expression as impassive as ever but Johnny didn’t miss the hint of a proud smile that passed over his face.

“Detention, and I mean detention for the both of them. Frankly, I don’t care much for what kind of punishment Mark receives, but I think it would be good for Donghyuck if he were forced to spend time with someone that doesn’t abide by his every word. I want my cousin to learn to be respectful towards people he doesn’t get along with and I can’t think of an experience more certain to teach him humility than a couple of nights spent scouring the Forbidden Forest. He might not like it, but it will help him in the long run.” Johnny sighed, suppressing the urge to run his hand through his hair and using it to play with his signet ring instead. “Besides, I know Professor Park is always looking for volunteers to help him take care of the pumpkin patch. If you agree, I’m sure it will be a valuable lesson for them both.”  

Silence followed Johnny’s proposition, and he fought hard to not let any emotion show on his face as he watched the two professors exchanged glances, seemingly an entire conversation passing between them.

“I’m sure Chanyeol would be delighted to have some help,” Professor Minseok said eventually, cocking his head to the side as he looked at his colleague.

Professor Do frowned. “I agree, but I still want your student to receive an additional task. Whatever Donghyuck did to provoke him, Mark was the one transfiguring him against his will.”

Professor Minseok hummed. “What do you have in mind?”

Professor Do leaned back in his seat. “Thirty inches on anger management techniques and calming spells. I want him to explain why we do not raise our wands against each other inside this school and how he could have handled the situation better.  Also, he has to make sure it contains a theoretical part that pertains to your class, because I refuse to be the one to grade it. Jongin’s parents are coming to stay with us next week, so I don’t have the time to read over anything additional. I’ll leave that to you.”

“I’ll take it.” Professor Minseok smiled. “So, it’s settled then? Detention for both and an additional essay for Mark?”

Professor Do nodded. Professor Minseok turned towards Johnny. “Do you agree, Johnny?”

“I agree.”

“It is settled then.” Professor Minseok rose from his seat, but before he could say anything else, there was a knock on the door, three urgent rasps against the old wood. Professor Minseok barely had time to call out a “Come in!” before the door was pushed open and Taeyong stumbled into the room.

“I’m sorry, Professors, I don’t mean to interrupt, but I managed to calm down Mark enough so that I could get him settled in the infirmary and now that he’s there I wanted to use the opportunity and speak on his behalf, I—“

“Oh,” Professor Minseok cut him off with a wave of his hand, “don’t bother, Mr Lee. The issue has already been resolved.”

“It—what?” Taeyong’s eyes widened in surprise, a gust of air leaving his lungs at once. Johnny studied the way his cheeks flushed before he averted his eyes to the trinkets on Professor Minseok’s desk.

“Yes, Mr Seo here assured us that Donghyuck’s parents won’t press for an expulsion.” Johnny could feel Taeyong’s eyes settle on him. “The both of them will get detention and Mark will write an additional essay to reflect on what he did wrong. Mark has been nothing but an exemplary student so far, so I’m sure he will have no problem handing it in by the end of next week.”

With that, Professor Minseok rose from his chair and walked over to the door. “Now, I think it’s time to break the news to Mark and Donghyuck. Soo?”

Professor Do waved him off. “I’ll stay here and write the letters to their parents.”

Professor Minseok only smiled. “Muggle stamps for Mark’s letter are in the top left drawer of my desk. Mr Seo, Mr Lee, will you join me?”

“Yes,” Taeyong said, and hurried over to the door. Johnny followed with a small smile on his face.

By the time they had made it back to the infirmary, Donghyuck seemed to have calmed down considerably. He was playing snap dragon with Chenle while Jisung had migrated to Renjun’s bed, retelling how he’d run to get Johnny while the red-haired boy listened to him with a drowsy expression on his face, slumped back against his brother’s chest. It seemed the Draught of Peace was finally working.

Professor Minseok and Taeyong left for the back of the infirmary where Madame Amber was currently tending to Mark while Johnny sat himself down on Donghyuck’s other side, lifting his arm so Donghyuck could rest his head against his shoulder.

“How are you feeling, Hyuck?” he asked as he watched Chenle slap his hand against Donghyuck’s, his cousin not fast enough to lift his palm before their hands collided. Donghyuck let out a dissatisfied grunt and grabbed Johnny’s hands to align them with his own, pressing his palms together and pointing them in Chenle’s direction so they could play another round. Johnny indulged his cousin and made sure to slap Chenle’s hands when it was their turn, the victory making Donghyuck perk up visibly.

“I’m okay,” Donghyuck mumbled when Chenle got distracted by Jisung getting a detail of his story wrong and Chenle scrambled to correct him.

Johnny hummed. “What did you do to Mark, Hyuck?”

Donghyuck kept silent, so Johnny waited.  

“I hate him,” Donghyuck said eventually. “He’s annoying and he knows everything better. I can’t stand his stupid face.” He sniffed. “He turned me into a duck.”

Johnny tightened his grip on him. “I’m sure he is very sorry.”

“I don’t care. Everyone was laughing at me and this one stupid Hufflepuff nearly stepped on me. I hate him and I’ll never ever forgive him.”

“Hyuck…”

Before Johnny could say any more, Professor Minseok, Mark and Taeyong returned from the back of the infirmary and the atmosphere shifted, became heavy. Judging by the look on Mark’s face, Professor Minseok had told him his punishment already.

Johnny watched Mark’s resolve of taking it in stride crumble right in front of his eyes, his face turning beet-red as his eyes flickered to meet all the different pairs of eyes watching him before they seemed to settle on the least threatening option, which turned out to be Sicheng. Taeyong seemed to have noticed Mark faltering too. He moved to place himself in front of Mark, but before he could do so, Renjun shot up from his brother’s lap, hissing out something in Chinese that made Sicheng’s eyes widen and Chenle next to Johnny gasp.

“What did he say?” Johnny asked Chenle while Sicheng began scolding Renjun with a horrified expression on his face.

Chenle swallowed, pressing closer to the arm Johnny had draped over Donghyuck’s shoulders before he looked up at him. “Don’t look at my brother,” Chenle translated, his voice dropping into a whisper, “or I’ll kill you.”

Johnny looked at the younger Dong, who didn’t seem the least bit repentant as he let his brother’s scolding wash over him. His eyes remained fixed on Mark, who didn’t seem to have understood him, but had clearly sensed the meaning of the words. He made it all of another two seconds before he bolted. Taeyong was after him in a second.

“Le,” Johnny said as he lifted his arm from Donghyuck’s shoulders, “please hold Donghyuck back when Professor Minseok tells him his punishment. I think there has been enough commotion for today.”

Ignoring his cousin’s protestant spluttering, Johnny got off the bed and made a beeline for the doors. Out on the hallway, Johnny just caught the tail end of Taeyong’s cloak disappearing around the corner, head whipping around in frantic search and he was about to run after him when he heard a clank, followed by the rush of water.

Of course, Johnny thought and turned in the direction of the bathroom two doors down, he’s smart.

There was no trace of an upset second-year having used any of the basins when Johnny stepped into the bathroom, but the lack of water on the floor didn’t make up for the muffled sounds coming from the stall at the very end of the line.  Johnny approached the stall with slow, measured steps, pushing his hand into his pocket. He used the other to knock against the varnished wood of the stall door.

The muffled sniffles broke off and Johnny could hear Mark hold his breath.

“Mark,” he said, gripping onto the stall handle. “I know you’re in there. Will you please let me in?”

Another couple of seconds of silence passed and Johnny waited patiently until there was the sound of the lock being flicked and Johnny pushed the stall door open slowly. Mark was perched on the toilet seat with his knees pulled to his chest. His eyes were puffy from all the crying and he kept blinking, rolling his eyes in an attempt to see without his glasses.

“Hey.” Johnny crouched down so he wasn’t towering over the younger boy and was pleased to see some of the fear drain from out of Mark’s eyes. Johnny pulled his hand out of his pocket, fingers curled around the broken glasses he had kept there. He performed a quick repairing spell on them before he held them out for Mark. “I came to bring you these. I found them on the quad. They’re yours, right?”

Mark blinked at him, searching his face before he hesitantly reached out a hand to take his glasses from Johnny. The moment he had put them on, a tremor went through his body.

“I’m sorry,” Mark rasped out. “I don’t know what happened. I swear, I didn’t mean to transfigure him! He just scared me when he snuck up to me from behind and I got so mad when he tried to steal my glasses again. I got mad. I’m sorry I got so mad. He’s just so—” Mark broke off into a frustrated grunt, rubbing at his forehead. The gesture was so entirely Taeyong that Johnny felt his lips pull into a smile.

“I think the word you are looking for is ‘vexing’. Donghyuck can be very irritating if he wants to be. I want to apologise to you. I’m sure he must have teased you a lot before you hexed him.”

Mark looked away, hiding his face in his knees. “You shouldn’t apologise to me,” Mark mumbled, almost too quietly for Johnny to hear. “I attacked him. I–I disappointed everyone. Taeyong won’t want to tutor me anymore. He always says how much he hates it when people fight. He says you have to use your words to resolve conflicts and that only bad people use their magic against others. What if–” Mark’s eyes widened in terror– “what if they’re going to take away my magic from me?”

“No one is going to do such a thing.” Johnny quickly reassured him. “No one could do such a thing. Your magic is a part of you. And I’m sure Professor Minseok already told you that you’re not getting expelled. Taeyong is right in pretty much everything he says, but doing one bad thing doesn’t make you a bad person, Mark, and I promise you that Taeyong still cares for you even if you did a bad thing. In fact, I know that he is very worried about you right now, so what do you say I take you to the Ravenclaw common room and you can talk to him and tell him all that you’ve just told me, okay? I’m sure Taeyong will even help you with your essay.”

“You really think so?”

Johnny smiled and pulled himself to his feet. “I know so.”

He extended his hand and Mark took it, using his free hand to push his glasses higher up his nose when they threatened to slide off his face. Johnny lead them out of the bathroom, allowing Mark to pull him along once they had made it onto the hallway. Mark let go of his hand only when they neared the Ravenclaw tower and by the time Johnny had climbed the tight spiral staircase, Mark had already answered the knocker’s riddle and the door had swung open.

“... not listening to me, he could be anywhere!”

“You need to take a deep breath, Tae,” Seulgi’s voice answered, sounding only a tad bit calmer than Taeyong’s. “We’re not going to find him if we panic.”

“Taeyong!”

“Mark!”

Johnny rounded the corner just in time to see Taeyong on his knees, squeezing the air out of a squirming Mark.

“We were worried about you,” Seulgi said, pushing Taeyong out of the way so she could pull Mark into a hug as well. “Where were you?”

“I hid in the bathroom,” Johnny watched Mark hang his head, “I’m sorry, I should have come out myself before Johnny found me.”

“Johnny found you?”

Upon the mention of his name, Johnny backed away, retreating back onto the staircase. He descended the stairs two at a time, but still wasn’t fast enough to escape the hand that curled into the back of his cloak when he reached the bottom of the staircase.

“Johnny, wait.”

The hand let go of him just as fast as it had held onto him, but Johnny felt the air knocked from his lungs just as much as if he had been punched. He took a deep breath before he turned around.

“I found him in the bathroom.” With Taeyong still standing a step above him, they were the same height. “He was upset, but I managed to calm him down a bit before bringing him back. He should be fine now. Although he seemed a bit worried about what you were thinking of him now.” Johnny smiled. “He adores you.”

For a second, it looked like Taeyong was going to say something on that, but then he seemed to change his mind. “Donghyuck?” he asked instead. “How is he? I was so busy with Mark, I didn’t even–” Taeyong frowned. “I forgot to ask.”

Johnny shrugged. “He’ll be as good as new tomorrow. I think all the detention waiting for him will give him some time to clear his head.”

Taeyong nodded, his brows drawing together in earnestness. “Thank you for that, by the way. Your cousin got hurt. I know you could’ve gotten Mark expelled if you really would have wanted to.”

“Mark is just a child.” Johnny shrugged. “Children make mistakes. Besides, by that logic neither House Gryffindor nor House Slytherin would have any fifth-year students left.”

The joke fell flat, but Johnny couldn’t concentrate on that when Taeyong bit his lip, looked at him with wide, open eyes. It was such a contrast to the cold shoulder he had been dealing with in the morning that Johnny felt his heart skip a beat.

“Still.” Taeyong smiled, nothing but a hesitant pull at the corner of his mouth, but Johnny didn’t miss it, wouldn’t have missed it for the world. “Thank you, Johnny. I mean it.”

And then slender arms wrapped around his neck and a bony chin dug into his shoulder. Johnny had barely had the time to register the feeling of Taeyong’s body pressed against his, the faint scent of lavender filling up the air before Taeyong pulled away again.

“I’ll see you in DADA tomorrow.” Taeyong’s ears were pink when he took a step back. His tone was scolding, but there was no heat behind it, no cold in his eyes. “Don’t be late.”

“I won’t be.” Johnny said, long after Taeyong had disappeared back into the Ravenclaw common room. It was an even longer time before he moved. He still had some things to take care of. None of them seemed to daunting with the scent of lavender lingering in the air, clinging to his clothes.

Chapter Text

Johnny managed to push his plate out of the way just before Jeffrey face-planted into his toast. The scops owl recovered quickly, dropping the envelope it was carrying into Johnny’s porridge before it hopped the remaining distance over to Jaehyun and fluttered onto its owner’s shoulder. Johnny hurried to grab onto the envelope before it could sink any further into his food. Wiping the remaining droplets off the waxed parchment, he handed it over. While doing so, he caught a glimpse of the seal.

“Your father wrote to you again.”

Jaehyun looked up from the Daily Prophet Jeffrey had dropped into his lap to accept the letter, a small furrow appearing between his brows. Just then, a package landed on the bench next to Johnny and Chicago landed on his outstretched arm a moment later. Johnny smiled as he reached out his hand to card his fingers through the soft feathers at the top of her head.

“Thank you, love.”  

Chicago let out a low caw, flapping her tawny wings before she took off again. Jeffrey followed shortly after. Jaehyun picked up his knife and cut the envelope open. He unfolded the letter and skimmed over it, the furrow between his brows deepening with every line he read.

Johnny watched with interest, but before he could ask, Ten appeared at their table, an excited glint in his eyes. Johnny scooted over for him, blindly catching Ten’s hand when the shorter boy began hitting him in the arm repeatedly.

“Spit it out, Tennie, please. You know I bruise like a peach.”

“Dramarama,” Ten sang, pointing his finger in the direction of the doors. Johnny turned in his seat, just in time to see Yuta storm into the Great Hall.  

The Gryffindor Beater was closely followed by Sicheng, who was trying to hold onto Yuta’s arms, get him to stop walking. Yuta shook him off every time until Sicheng called out his name, loudly enough for the majority of students to raise their heads. Yuta came to an abrupt stop, whipping around just in time for Sicheng to barrel into his chest. Johnny felt his eyes widen when Yuta pushed his best friend off of him, seemingly unfazed when Sicheng stumbled back, nearly fell. Yuta’s lips began moving, rapid-fire words that were drowned out by the general clamor of the students having lunch.

“What are they saying?” Jaehyun asked, craning his neck to see.  

“I can’t tell.” Ten frowned. “It’s too loud in here. Merlin-forbid the Gryffindors would learn to chew with their mouths closed for once.”

Johnny turned further in his seat to look at the Gryffindor table. As he had expected, Doyoung was already on his way over to his friends,  Taeil right next to him. Taeil’s fingers were twitching over his necklaces, concern and a weird kind of resignation etched into every of his features while he tried to keep up with Doyoung’s long legs.

Yuta was properly shouting by the time Doyoung reached him, jabbing his finger in the air in front of Sicheng while Sicheng seemed to shrink in on himself with every word Yuta spit at him. The moment he had reached them, Doyoung slung his arms around Yuta from behind, effectively pinning the Beater’s arms to his sides. Yuta struggled against his friend’s grip for only a moment. Then he went still, his body sagging. Yuta’s head fell back against Doyoung’s shoulder, pressed into the crook of Doyoung’s neck for comfort, but Johnny saw the way his hands quivered as he balled them into fists. Johnny couldn’t make out what Yuta said next, but the reaction was imminent.

Four heads whipped around in unison, Doyoung’s arms falling from Yuta’s side as he turned to stare at Johnny along with the rest of his friends. Taeil blinked at him owlishly and Yuta glared at him with such burning disdain that Johnny felt his hand wander to his wand. Sicheng was the one that looked away first.

He stumbled forward, vehemently shaking his head as he curled his fingers into the front of Yuta’s sweater, but Yuta swatted his arm away and began moving, pushing past his friends and stalking off in the direction of the doors. Doyoung hurried to follow him, staying two paces behind until they had left the Great Hall. Taeil, after having shot Johnny an impressively dark look, moved to guide Sicheng to the Gryffindor table, keeping an arm slung around Sicheng’s waist while the other buried his face in his hands.

“Uh, Johnny?”

“Interesting,” Johnny said. He turned back towards the table to smile at his friends. “It seems that there are dishonest Hufflepuffs after all.”

“What did you do?” Jaehyun asked, using his Daily Prophet to slap Ten’s hand away from his plate. He narrowed his eyes as he peered at the Gryffindor table. “Why’d they look at you like that?”

Johnny turned to his own food, taking a sip of his pumpkin juice before he answered, “I’ve been trading favours with Sicheng.”

Ten, having snagged a piece of Johnny’s toast, spluttered half of it over the table. “You’ve been hooking up with Winwin?!”

Johnny scrunched up his nose as he met Ten’s disbelieving eyes. “Absolutely not.”

“He’s hot enough,” Jaehyun argued, dodging the fist Ten aimed at his upper arm.

“Yes, but I’m not interested.” Johnny scrunched up his nose. “And you’re forgetting the obvious.”

“Winwin’s in love with Yuta.” Ten grinned. “Oh, this is too good. No wonder Yuta looked like he wanted to kill you. He totally thinks you two are getting it on!”

Johnny fished an owl feather out of his porridge before he sunk his spoon in. “He caught me and Sicheng talking the other day. It seems that Sicheng is keen on hiding that he’s come to me for help, so if he wants to keep our agreement a secret, that’s on him. I don’t know why he does it and I don’t care either. All I know is that Yuta is drawing all the wrong conclusions.” Johnny allowed himself a miniscule smile. “Maybe I helped.”

“Wow,” Ten whistled, a gleeful expression on his face. “You have no mercy, Johnnyboy.”

Jaehyun scoffed, lowering his Daily Prophet for good. “Oh, please. If Nakamoto and Sicheng both are too dumb to pull their heads out of their asses, that is hardly Johnny’s fault. But what I want to know is what kind of arrangement we are talking about here?” Jaehyun looked at Johnny. “You said something about trading favours? Something we have to rectify?”

“No. Sicheng’s favour was about Renjun. He asked me to keep an eye out for his little brother at the beginning of the year, so I told Hyuck to make Renjun a part of the tikes. Considering the alternative, I think it was smart of Sicheng to come to me.”

“You really saved Baby Dong’s life.” Ten shook his head in awe. “Did it work?”

Johnny thought about Renjun’s hands reaching for Mark Lee’s neck. “Better than I thought.”

“But that’s it? You just made sure Baby Dong got to be part of the tikes instead of being obliterated by them?” Ten sighed, dipping his finger into Jaehyun’s rice pudding before he lifted it to his mouth. “Lame.”

Jaehyun pushed the rest of the pudding over to their friend while he perused Johnny’s face with sharp eyes. “What did you ask of him in return?”

“Nothing yet.” Johnny sighed as he picked up two more slices of toast from the bread basket. “There’s nothing he has that I want. Right now, I just want peanut butter.”

Jaehyun handed him the jar, humming, before he picked his Daily Prophet back up. “Regardless, it’s always good to have someone owe you a favour.”

“That’s what I thought, too.”

Johnny picked up his knife. He prepared two slices of toast with the peanut butter before he pushed them into Ten’s awaiting hands. Ignoring Ten’s sticky kiss of gratitude, he picked up his spoon and turned back to his porridge. He was about to sink his spoon into the bowl, when his attention was caught by movement out of the corner of his eye, and Johnny felt his hand still. His heart followed a moment later.

They walked into the Great Hall together, their arms nearly brushing as they walked side by side and Johnny saw both Jaehyun and Ten flinch at the sharp sound his spoon made when he scraped it over the bottom of his bowl with enough force to nearly break the ceramic. Johnny couldn’t bring himself to care as all his attention was caught by the bright smile on Taeyong’s face, the way he bowed several times to the older boy as they parted ways at the Ravenclaw table.

Johnny didn’t know what surprised him more. That his rival turned out to be someone he was intimately familiar with, or that Taeyong’s smile was reciprocated. Not many people managed to elicit that reaction from the seventh-year Slytherin, Johnny knew.

“Excuse me for a moment,” he mumbled as he got up.

He ignored the confused looks both Ten and Jaehyun sent his way as he walked alongside the Slytherin table. Johnny willed his heart to stop hammering in his chest as he approached the bench opposite of where the older boy had sat down. It was impossible to miss him amongst the other seventh-years, his rainbow-coloured hair standing out like a sore thumb.

Just as Johnny tried to come up with a way to approach him, the older boy looked up and saw him first. His reaction was nothing more than a quirk of his lips, but Johnny knew that on anyone else‘s face that reaction would have been a full-fledged smile. As flamboyant as the rainbow hair was, the rest of him was stoic. Timidity, not disdain, Johnny knew, though he was one of the very few people who enjoyed that knowledge.  

“Johnny Seo,” the older boy greeted him, effectively gathering the attention of the other seventh-years. He beckoned him closer with a slender, long-fingered hand. Johnny felt several pairs of eyes settling on him, but all of his attention was on the other boy.

“Sehun Oh,” Johnny gave back and felt his lips quirk into a smile on their own accord.

And that was the thing about it being Sehun. Johnny liked him. It being Sehun meant that Johnny was competing with a friend. And going against a friend was something Johnny was more than loathe to do, especially if it was a friend like Sehun.

They had fooled around for a couple months at the end of Johnny’s third year, back when Johnny had still been starry-eyed at the idea of having another boy’s hands down his pants and before Sehun had ended things between them to pursue a relationship with the Head Boy at that time. Johnny had been angry, but Sehun had been adamant about taking care of him, had made sure he ate right and gained back all the weight that he had lost during his second year. The older boy had written him daily letters asking for updates even when Johnny had ignored him for the entire summer between third and fourth year, and by the time Johnny had realised that his wrath had been more founded in a bruised ego than a broken heart, Sehun had already manifested his position as the closest thing to an older brother Johnny had in his life.

And then Sehun’s face broke into a smile, broad and blinding and Johnny felt his chest contract. “Come and sit.”

As if on command, the seventh-years scooted over.

Johnny did as he was told and folded his legs under the table, unable to avert his eyes from Sehun’s face. It made sense, Johnny acknowledged bitterly, that Taeyong had chosen Sehun. If it wasn’t someone as dutiful as Hansol, it had to be someone as stunningly handsome as Sehun.  

“How have you been, Johnny?” Sehun placed his elbow on the table and rested his chin in his hand, blinking at him expectantly as he waited for Johnny to answer. When Johnny remained silent, Sehun started to prepare himself a plate full of breakfast, but Johnny was well aware that Sehun’s focus never left him.

“What are you doing with Taeyong Lee?” he asked then, his voice coming out barely above a whisper. The other seventh-years were engrossed in their own conversations, nearly drowning out his words, but Sehun had heard him.

“Taeyong Lee?” Sehun lifted a single, sculpted brow. He was about to turn around to look at the Ravenclaw table, but Johnny was reaching over the table top in a second, holding him back. “Don’t look. Just answer my question.”

Sehun’s eyes widened almost comically as they fell to the hand Johnny had wrapped around his underarm. Then they filled with mirth. “Johnny,” he said, his voice taking on a lilting tone. “Taeyong Lee? Are you sure?”

Johnny let himself fall back onto the bench and suppressed the urge to bury his face in his hands. “Please, just answer the question.”

“No,” Sehun shook his head, still smiling as he ran a hand through the multi-coloured strands falling into his forehead, “it’s way funnier if I don’t. Oh, you’re going to suffer, Johnny, but don’t worry. It’s not going to be because of me. Your loverboy will do that all on his own. You can go now, and when you come back you better be coming back because you want to spend time with me, Johnny, or I’m not sharing my fire whiskey with you anymore.”

Johnny rose to his feet with a sigh. He knew he wouldn’t get any more out of Sehun, so he might as well oblige the older boy. Inclining his head, he took the hand Sehun had extended and held it for a moment, forcing a smile onto his face before he left the table and Sehun behind, heading back to his own friends.

“Everything alright?” Jaehyun asked when Johnny fell back onto his seat.

Johnny nodded, slinging his bag onto his shoulder. “I just wanted to catch up with Sehun. I have to go now.” He smiled and rose to his feet. “Can’t be late to class.”

“Don’t forget your package!” Ten called after him, holding out the parcel Chicago had dropped off.

Johnny walked back and picked it up, pressing a kiss of gratitude into Ten’s hair. “Thanks, Tennie. I’ll see you guys later!”

Jaehyun gave a disgruntled noise around the piece of bread in his mouth.

“Oh, don’t worry, Jae, you’ll get a goodbye kiss from me!” Ten cheered, already halfway over the table when Johnny turned to leave.

*

After a short detour to the dungeons, Johnny arrived in front of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom ten minutes early. He felt his lips tug into a smile when he spotted a familiar figure perched on the bench opposite of the door. Taeyong’s nose was buried in the book he was reading, his lips moving in silent words as his eyes followed the page.

“I’m very happy to see you’re enjoying your gift.”

Taeyong startled, instinctively moving to press the book against his chest. ““Hey.” He smiled when he met Johnny’s eyes. “Yes, thank you. It’s great.”

Johnny willed his heartbeat to remain steady as he sat down next to Taeyong, leaning in so their shoulders brushed. Taeyong’s shoulder twitched, but he didn’t move away. “What is it about?” He tapped the cover. “Alice in Wonderland? You said it was your favourite?”

“It’s, uh, it’s a children’s book, actually.” Taeyong’s cheeks reddened as he looked down. “It’s about this little girl who falls into a rabbit hole and through what you could call magic she ends up in this place called Wonderland where she meets all kinds of weird creatures. I didn’t explain it well, but it’s this amalgamation of weird things that happen in the Under Ground and I love it. It’s been my favourite book ever since I was young. I think I liked it because it made me feel more sane as a child.” Taeyong rubbed his nose. “Because I didn’t know before I got my letter, you know, why I was weird and why I saw things others couldn’t. My mum always used to tell me it was because I had a vivid imagination, but,” the smile on Taeyong’s face was so delicate it made Johnny’s chest ache, “as it turns out, I’m really more magical than the Cheshire cat.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Johnny said quietly, Taeyong’s eyes flickering to meet his gaze, “but I do know that you’re showing up all of us.”

Taeyong ducked his head at that, but Johnny didn’t miss the small, pleased smile on his face as he closed the book and put it into his bag. The door to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom opened, and Johnny hurried to follow Taeoyng as the other boy got up.

The first thing Johnny saw was that the tables and chairs inside the class had been relocated to the very back of the room, stacked on top of each other to create an open space in the centre. Johnny’s first guess would have been that they were duelling today, but there was no stage set up. Instead, there was the sevenfold-locked chest that Johnny had seen in Professor Minseok’s office before. Six of the seven locks were undone and the chest gave a rattle when Johnny walked past. He perched himself on one of the window sills and watched as Taeyong approached Professor Minseok to lend him a hand in shrouding the standing mirror in the corner of the room.

The rest of the students trickled in soon after. Johnny put on a smile when Yeri engaged him in a conversation about the homework they had to do for their Charms class and focussed on nodding at the appropriate times. He jabbed his elbow into Hansol’s side from time to time, prohibiting the other boy from dropping off against the window pane behind them.

“All right, all right, gather around, students,” Professor Minseok started the class, waving for them to assemble around the chest. “Can anyone tell me what’s inside this chest?”

“Pixies?” Jennie guessed. Taeyong next to her frowned.

Professor Minseok smiled at the Ravenclaw girl. “An excellent guess, Ms Kim, but unfortunately wrong. Does anyone else have a better idea?”

Lisa, next to Yeri, raised her hand. Johnny could hear a collective, wistful sigh go through the room when she did so. Lisa was half-Veela and had inherited a great deal of her mother’s charms. Johnny might have been foolish enough to fall victim to her allure too, hadn’t he witnessed first-hand what Lisa had done to the middle-aged man that had come on to her at one of the family gatherings that Ten’s family loved to hold. Johnny grinned when he saw Taeyong roll his eyes at the low “wow” one of the Ravenclaw boys uttered. “Is it a doxy?”

Professor Minseok shook his head. “No.”

“A poltergeist?” Yeri asked.

“Neither that, but that was a very good guess.”

“It’s a very angry goblin,” Hansol muttered under his breath, causing Johnny to grin.

The chest gave a rattle. Yeri next to him squeaked and grabbed onto Johnny’s arm.

“It’s a boggart,” Taeyong announced. Judging by the annoyed expression on his face, he was fed up by the struggling of the other students.

Professor Minseok beamed at him. “That’s right, Mr Lee, it is a boggart! Five points to Ravenclaw.” Taeyong’s sour expression was replaced by a pleased smile and the rest of the Ravenclaw students whooped. Jennie patted the air above Taeyong’s shoulder and Johnny narrowed his eyes.

“Can you explain to the others how you guessed correctly?” Professor Minseok asked.

Taeyong shrugged. “We’ve been talking about non-beings since the beginning of the year, and you said it wasn’t a poltergeist”—Yeri let out a hiss—“so it had to be either a boggart or a dementor, but dementors have been banned from school grounds since 1998, and it was the Riddikulus spell that we practised last week.”

Johnny watched as Professor Minseok left his place in the circle they had formed to walk up to the chest. “Very well deduced, Mr Lee. Now, before we begin, there are some things all of you should be aware of. For one, I am not forcing anybody to participate in the lesson. Should you feel uncomfortable at the idea of facing a boggart or should you not want to do so in the presence of your peers, I will also accept a written essay on the topic, ten inches in length to be handed in by Friday. If you prefer the written essay, you may leave now and go to the library. Does anyone want to leave?”

No one moved.

Professor Minseok smiled. “That’s great to see. You’re all very courageous.”

“Did he just call us Gryffindors?” Hansol sneered and Johnny jabbed his elbow into his side.

“Pay attention, Ji. Or are you scared?”

“No,” the grin on Hansol’s face was blinding, “I’m going first! Professor Minseok, may I start, please?”

“I commend you taking the initiative, Mr Ji. Two points to Slytherin. Please, go ahead and take a stance about three metres in front of the chest. Others, please, move to the back of the room.”

Hansol’s worst fear, as it turned out, were heights. Professor Minseok pointed his wand at the seventh look, hexing it open before he positioned himself behind the chest. Johnny watched as the top of it flew open and not a moment later, the ground beneath Hansol’s feet began to crumble away, leaving him to stare into an abyss.

Hansol paled, his face taking on an unnatural green colour before he raised a shaking hand, but his voice was steady as he yelled out, “Riddikulus!”

The abyss was filled with giant building blocks out of foam. Hansol giggled as he waded through them. Professor Minseok slammed the lid of the chest shut when the boggart returned to its keep. “Very well done, Mr Ji! Ten points to Slytherin!”

Hansol returned to Johnny’s side on shaky legs, but with an undeniably proud smile on his face. “T-told you so.”

Johnny smiled at him, patting him on the back. “Now I know why you never tried out for the Quidditch team.”

“Please.” Hansol rolled his eyes. “That’s because I actually care about my life.”  

One of the Ravenclaw girls went next, and Johnny stopped paying attention after the third over-sized spider. He busied himself with playing snap dragon against Lisa behind Yeri’s back, until he saw Taeyong step forward out of the corner of his eye.

Taeyong planted his feet on the spot Professor Minseok had assigned them and squared his shoulders, his wand held tightly in this hand. Johnny ignored Lisa slapping his hand, winning the game and turned his attention back to the classroom. 

“Ready?” Professor Minseok asked and Taeyong nodded.

Professor Minseok opened the chest and for a moment, nothing happened. Johnny furrowed his brows, looked at the back of Taeyong’s head, but when he looked back at the chest, a slender hand had curled around the edge of the chest. It was shortly followed by a thin arm and then a petite woman was rising from the depths of the chest, stepping out of it. Johnny felt his eyebrows rise. Taeyong’s boggart was the first to take a human form.

The woman was dressed in muggle clothes, her dark hair curling around her face. Johnny needed a moment to realise why she looked so familiar to him, but then he recognised the deep brown of her eyes, the straight slope of her nose and jaw. The woman had Taeyong’s face and something was wrong. She was petite, built the same slender way that Taeyong was, but where Taeyong was skinny, she was emaciated. Her cheeks were hollowed out, bruises pressed under her eyes, jaw and into the crooks of her elbows.

“Taeyongie,” the woman rasped out, and Johnny noticed that she was still changing. Where her eyes had retained a certain spark in the beginning, they turned dull. Her skin turned ashen, adopted an unhealthy yellowish colour and her lips became chapped.  She was wasting away, right in front of their eyes. “Taeyongie, please.”

The woman uttered a terrible, pained noise as she reached for Taeyong’s cheek, but before she could touch him, her legs gave out from under her. Taeyong went down with her, clutching onto the blouse she was wearing. No sound came over his lips, but his shoulders were shaking.

“Have you found it yet?” the woman asked, her voice barely there as she peered up at her son with bloodshot eyes. “You have to help me, Taeyongie. You have to find something!”

“I’m sorry,” Taeyong whimpered. “I’m trying, I swear I am.”

“You have to help me,” the woman begged again and Taeyong frantically nodded his head. Johnny felt his hand twitch to his wand but then he saw Taeyong’s hand move, his wand pressing against his mother’s chest. “I will.  I will find a way to help you. Please, Mum, please just hold on.”

“Taeyongie—”

“Riddikulus!”

The woman wailed and crumbled into dust. Once she was gone, the dust swirled together, spiralled through the air and back into the chest. Professor Minseok threw the lid closed with a twitch of his wand, his eyes not leaving Taeyong.

For several seconds, there was nothing but silence in the room. Then there was the shuddering intake of breath and Taeyong pulled himself up from where he had fallen to his knees. A quick hand to wipe the tears off of his cheeks and his expression returned to his usual stoic form. It was only the slightly reddened state of his eyes and face that revealed that he had been crying at all. Out of the corner of his eyes, Johnny could see several of the girls in the class dab at their eyes. With a sigh, he took a step forward, just as Taeyong walked back to the rest of the Ravenclaws.

“I want to go next.”

Professor Minseok looked at him with unseeing eyes before he blinked and his usual cheery expression returned to his face. “Oh, of course. Ten points to Ravenclaw for you, Mr Lee. Come forth then, Mr Seo.”

Johnny walked to the middle of the room, rolling his shoulders as he took position.

“Ready?”

Johnny pushed his hands into his pockets and nodded his head, just as the chest began to rumble. He was sure he knew what was coming for him. Professor Minseok pulled the lid up and, much like Johnny had expected, the chest opened to reveal the Minister for Magic.

Johnny could hear several people gasp, and a few surprised murmurs, but his eyes stayed on the tall, elegantly dressed man in front of him. He took a step forward, just as the Minister did.

“Youngho,” the Minister said, inclining his head. “It’s good to see you.”

Johnny felt himself smile. This was not what he was afraid of. Not yet. “Hey, dad.”

The Minister nodded to himself, searching Johnny’s face. Johnny stood still. He didn’t have to wait for long. Just like Taeyong’s mother had wasted away within moments, the Minister’s expression changed quickly, darkened and Johnny felt his chest seize up, seize up when he had sworn himself it wouldn’t. It’s not real, Johnny yelled at his frozen body. He never blamed you.

The Minister jabbed a finger at him, face reddening with anger. “You were there! Why didn’t you do anything?”

Johnny swallowed the bile rising in his throat. The scent of his father’s cologne, normally a smell of comfort, made his head feel woozy.

“I didn’t know, dad,” he said quietly, the words dragging along his throat. “I couldn’t have known what to do. No one did.”

“Yes, you could have!” the Minister roared and pulled himself to his full height. He was taller than Johnny by a few centimetres, imposing. “You were at Hogwarts already! You learned spells already! You were the only one with her when she died! It’s your fault!” His father’s eyes turned cold. “How could you do that, Youngho? How could you let your own mother die when she was right next to you?”

Johnny closed his eyes. It’s not real, he thought. It’s not your fault. You couldn’t have done anything. He recalled it in Jaehyun’s voice, in Ten’s, his aunt’s, his uncle’s, and of course, his father’s. His father who had never blamed him. Johnny’s was an irrational fear. He opened his eyes and found his father staring at him with unaltered hatred in his eyes.

“This house is not yours anymore, Youngho. You’re no longer my son.”

Johnny pulled his wand from his pocket, the cedar vibrating in his hand as he gripped it tight. And he thought of Ten’s arms wrapping around his middle, pulling him out from under the piano in the library of Seo Manor, Jaehyun’s soft smile as he pulled his mother’s favourite book from his hands. It’s time to come out, Johnnyboy. You can’t be hiding under there forever. It’d be quite cramped to fit three and you know Ten’s allergic to dust. It‘s time you come back to us. 

“Riddikulus!” he said, clearly and calmly, a bolt of light spilling from the tip of his wand.

It hit his father right in the chest. The Minister stumbled back, fell to his knees as light spilled out of his eyes and mouth, and in the next second, he had turned into a patch of flowers. Johnny smiled down at the assortment of geraniums and put his wand back into his pocket. He looked at Professor Minseok with expectant eyes.

Professor Minseok cleared his throat and swung his wand, banishing the boggart into the chest once again. “Very clearly enunciated, Johnny. Ten points to Slytherin!”

Johnny nodded and turned around. He pretended not to feel the two dozen sets of eyes on him as he retook his spot next to Hansol.

“That was amazing, Johnny,” Yeri told him and Johnny smiled at her.

“Thank you, Yeri.”

After Johnny, there were only a handful of people left to go. It was Lisa, who went last. Sneering at the corpse of her dead twin brother, she turned him into a teddy bear. Johnny had the feeling she made a point of cuddling the bear to her chest before she let the boggart flee back to its keep.

“I have to commend you all” Professor Minseok said as he let them out, waving them off with a cheery, if strained smile. “Thank you for your great cooperation today. I’ll see you all on Friday.”

Johnny was one of the first people out of class, but as soon as he was out in the hallway, he let most of the people pass him by. He waited on the bench opposite of the door until he saw Taeyong break away from the Ravenclaw group heading for the Divination Tower. He followed him as Taeyong walked in the opposite direction at a quick pace, his hands curled into fists by his side.  

Taeyong had been quiet for the rest of the lesson, head held high and lips pressed into a tight line while he had watched the other students face their boggarts, but Johnny had seen the slight quiver to his hands before he had hid them in his pockets, the way he had been blinking more often than usual.

When Johnny pushed open the door to the third-floor restroom, it didn’t take him long to find Taeyong, who was leaning over one of the washbasins, splashing water into his face.

“It’s weird,” Johnny said loudly enough to be heard over the sound of the running water. Taeyong’s head whipped up, their eyes meeting in the mirror above the basin for only a second before Taeyong dumped his head back under the spray. “Somehow, I always find you Ravenclaws crying in the bathroom.”

Taeyong ignored him in favour of drying off his face with the hem of his sweater. Once he was done, he walked past Johnny and let himself fall against the wall behind Johnny, sliding down the tiles until he was sitting with his back against the wall. Johnny followed him down, folding his legs against his chest as he watched Taeyong press the palms of his hands against his eyes. Deep, shuddering breaths made his shoulders quiver, but no sound came over his lips.

They were sitting so close to each other that their arms almost brushed. Johnny could smell the faint lavender scent, that was so inherently Taeyong, with every breath he took. He lost track of how long they remained like this.

“You shouldn’t have followed me,” Taeyong mumbled eventually, lifting his hands off his face. His eyes were red-rimmed still, but the swelling had gone down slightly. “You’re missing class.”

“It has happened before.”

“That’s hardly a valid excuse.”

Johnny shrugged. They fell into another lapse of silence before he gathered up the courage to ask, “Can I ask what is wrong with her? Your mother? She’s wasting away. Why?”

Taeyong didn’t look at him. Instead, he kept his gaze straight ahead, trailed the plumbing of the basins with his eyes. “She has cancer.”

“Oh.” Johnny wasn’t quite sure what to do with that information. “I’m an Aquarius?”

“No.” The smile on Taeyong’s face was miniscule, faded out too quickly, but it had been there so Johnny counted it as a win. “No, cancer is a type of muggle disease. It’s a bit like dragon pox?” Taeyong rubbed a hand over his eyes. “It’s bad. She’s not—she doesn’t look as bad as the boggart looked, but that’s a yet. She will get that sick, eventually. The chemotherapy—the muggle therapy that they’re doing to heal her, it’s not working.”

“Oh.” Johnny was overwhelmed with the need to reach out and pull Taeyong against his chest, console him where his words failed them both. “I’m sorry.”

Taeyong shook his head. A shudder went through his body and his hands balled into fists. When he opened his eyes, they were alight with anger. “You know what’s so ironic? I’ve got all these magical abilities and spells and yet I don’t know a single one that could help her. I’m too young and dumb and helpless. What good is being a wizard when I can’t use my magic to save my mum’s life?”

The anger was coming off Taeyong in waves and Johnny was almost glad for it, because he knew that anger, he recognised it and knew how to deal with it. Taeyong’s fist hit the tiled floor hard, twice, before his whole body slumped and his arms fell to his sides. His knuckles brushed Johnny’s thigh on the way down.  

“I’m scared,” Taeyong admitted, voice barely above a whisper and Johnny watched as his eyes filled with new tears when he looked at him. “I’m scared, Johnny. I’m scared I can’t save her.”

Slowly, Johnny placed his hand on top of Taeyong’s. To his surprise, Taeyong didn’t pull away. Instead, he intertwined their fingers, squeezed so hard it hurt but Johnny wasn’t about to complain. Whatever Taeyong needed from him, he would willingly give.

“I’m scared,” Taeyong repeated and Johnny gave in to the urge and pulled Taeyong closer.

“If she dies—” Johnny didn’t flinch when Taeyong violently jerked away from him, pulled his hand out of Johnny’s and held it against his chest like he had been burned. Johnny didn’t let him go, grabbed onto his arms. “If she dies,” he emphasised, “it won’t be the end. It will feel like it. It will feel like the end for a long time, but her death won’t mean yours.”

When he was sure Taeyong wasn’t going to pull away any further, he reached out with the same hand that Taeyong had let go of and pinched Taeyong’s chin, tilting his head up until the other boy was forced to meet his eyes. The pain in Taeyong’s eyes was unbearable, but Johnny knew that, too.

“You will live on. Whether you like it or not, you will live on and you will be happy again and she will be so happy for you, every part of her within you will vibrate with happiness whenever you feel it.” Taeyong’s eyes filled with tears, spilling over. Johnny shook his head. “Don’t give up on her. It would be foolish of me to tell you to give up on her because I know you never could. But just know that if you really can’t save her in the end, then that will neither be your fault nor your end. Believe me. I know.”

Taeyong stared at him, eyes wide and scared and childlike and Johnny did what he had always done when someone had looked at him like that. He opened his arms.

Taeyong slumped against him, his nose cold against the side of Johnny’s neck. Tears and snot soaked the collar of his dress shirt, stained the seam of his sweater, but Johnny couldn’t have cared less. He breathed in the scent of lavender and rubbed circles into Taeyong’s back while the other boy cried silent tears, cried until there were no tears left and he lifted his head from Johnny’s shoulder with swollen eyes and reddened cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” Taeyong said as he pressed his sleeves against his eyes.

“There’s nothing to be sorry for.”

“I was wrong.” Their knees knocked together as Taeyong leaned back against the wall and Johnny pretended he didn’t feel Taeyong’s elbow digging into his side. “When I said you didn’t know anything, I was wrong.”

Johnny smiled. “Yes, you were.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Again, there is nothing to be sorry for.”

“Yes, there is.” Taeyong used his free hand to wipe at his eyes. “I’m sitting here crying like a baby when my mum is still alive. Meanwhile, your mum…”

Johnny felt his smile die, and let his head hit the tiles behind him. He watched the way the light reflected in the surface of the mirrors that hung above the basins, watched the way the light split into all the colours of the rainbow. “My mother died of blood malediction when I was twelve. She was in and out of the St. Mungo’s pretty much all my life, but eventually it consumed her. There is nothing I or anyone else could have done to help her. Don’t pit your suffering against mine. It’s of no use.”

Taeyong’s voice was quiet, barely above a whisper, “Does it hurt?”

Johnny smiled. “Every day.”

“How do you bear it?”

He shrugged. “It’s an open wound, and it forever will be.” Johnny stretched his legs out, moved his right leg until his thigh was pressing into Taeyong’s ankle. He kept his eyes on the mirror glass above. “Some days I’m angry. Some days I don’t feel at all. But most days I remember how much she loved me. I remember what she told me whenever we talked about what life would be like after her passing. There are still people that love me. I still have a family. I still have my life. My mum wanted the world for me and I intend to take it.” Johnny let his head loll to the side so he could look at Taeyong. “I intend to take everything.”

The look in Taeyong’s eyes was indecipherable, but then Taeyong lifted a slender hand, picked up one of Johnny’s hands where he had been resting them in his lap and intertwined their fingers once again.

“We’re a mess,” Taeyong stated seriously, squeezing his hand, and Johnny laughed.

“I don’t know about you, prefect, but I’m quite enjoying myself.”

Taeyong hummed and let his head fall back against the wall. Johnny mirrored the action and let his eyes flutter shut. He felt his lips tug into a smile when he felt Taeyong’s head land on his shoulder a moment later.

“Hey, Johnny?”

He hummed.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Taeyong.”

Chapter Text

Johnny closed his book with the last dying embers of the fireplace, rubbing his eyes as he blinked against the darkness of the common room. The oil lamps along the walls gave just enough light for him to make out the hands of his wristwatch. It was nearing midnight. He sighed and stretched until his back gave a satisfying crack, rolling his shoulders.

He was alone in the common room, the last of the other Slytherin having clambered up to their beds nearly an hour ago. Ten had been adamant about staying up with him, but had dropped off against Jaehyun’s shoulder around eleven. Jaehyun had left Johnny with the task of carrying their friend into his bed while he disappeared into the bathroom opposite of their dormitory.

Johnny let his head loll against the backrest, willing his eyes to stay open. He didn’t have to wait for long until, finally, there was the familiar sound of the common room door being opened, allowing the high-pitched whispering of his cousin to carry into the room.

“… totally fine, I promise. Jisung and Chenle sleep in the same bed all the time because Sungie gets really bad nightmares when he’s alone. Don’t worry. I’ll protect you from your nightmares.”

Johnny frowned as he made out two sets of footsteps. Donghyuck was supposed to come back alone. He hoisted himself over the back of the couch and landed smoothly on his feet. The layout of the common room was familiar enough to him that he didn’t have to use his wand to light the way as he walked over to the door that lead to the dormitories. He leaned with his shoulder against the wall, crossing his arms in front of his chest, and waited until Donghyuck rounded the corner. His cousin was halfway past him before Johnny cleared his throat.

Donghyuck jumped. “Oh, Cousin! You scared me!”

“Donghyuck,” Johnny tilted his head to the side. “Mark.”

The Ravenclaw boy turned beet-red under his attention, shuffling on his feet until he was half-hidden behind Donghyuck.  They looked worse for wear, Johnny noticed, their faces covered in dirt and some kind of feathers sticking to their clothes and hair. “Hello.”

“I take it detention went well, then?” Johnny directed at his cousin, raising an eyebrow as his eyes fell to their intertwined hands. “You two have become friends?”

Donghyuck let out a pitiful whine, letting go of Mark’s hand in order to gesture at the damage done to his uniform and hair. “Professor Park sent us into the Forbidden Forest.” Donghyuck shuddered for dramatic effect. “We ran into a group of three-winged magbirds. They tried to eat Mark!”

Something flitted over Mark’s face then, something very similar to the face Taeyong always made when someone gave a wrong answer in class and he knew the right one, and Johnny got the feeling that he wasn’t the only one who knew that three-winged magpies were herbivores.

“But I defended him,” Donghyuck announced proudly, puffing his chest before he scratched the back of his head. “I mean, I kind of had to. He had the lantern. Anyways, he was really scared so I promised him he could sleep in my bed tonight. That’s okay, right, Cousin? I have to protect him from his nightmares!”

“I don’t know, Hyuck.”

“But he needs me! You said you get nightmares often, don’t you, Mark? What if the magpies try to get him in his dream?!”

Mark was turning redder by the second, and Johnny felt his brows furrow. Looking at Mark, the second-year didn’t seem all that fazed, embarrassed mostly, but not truly frightened. He thought that Mark was probably much too rational of a wizard to get scared of creatures as physically imposing yet harmless as three-winged magpies, and definitely not scared enough to fear them in his dreams.

But then Johnny thought about how Mark had been alone when he had turned Donghyuck into a duck, with no one there to defend him from Renjun’s wrath. Johnny thought about how Mark had been alone in the infirmary and alone when Johnny had found him crying in the bathroom and suddenly he had an idea why Mark didn’t contest anything Donghyuck was saying. A small smile made its way onto his face.

“Well, I suggest you hurry and go to bed then. It’s late and you both have class in the morning. Mark, you’re welcome to sleep here if it helps your… nightmares.”

The relief on Mark’s face was so evident it made Johnny want to give him a hug. He had his arms full of Donghyuck a moment later.

“Thanks, Cousin!” Donghyuck cheered as he disentangled himself and grabbed Mark by the sleeve of his robes, pulling him in the direction of the first-year dormitory.

“De-feather yourself before you go to sleep!” Johnny called after them.

Rubbing a hand over his face, he walked back to the sofas to retrieve his book. It was due time that he went to bed.

*

“Johnny!”

Johnny walked out of the Dungeon the next morning to run straight into Taeyong, a slender hand grabbing onto his forearm. Taeyong seemed slightly out of breath, cheeks flushed and shoulders heaving. Johnny was about to reach out and steady him on his feet when Ten slid into the space between them.

“Remove that hand or you’ll lose it.”

Taeyong stared at him in disbelief. His eyes flickered up to meet Johnny’s for only a second before he looked back at Ten. Holding Ten’s gaze, Taeyong obliged and uncurled his hand from Johnny’s forearm. The moment he had taken a step back, Ten moved forward, crowding Taeyong back into the middle of the hall. “Don’t bother trying to sneak into our common room, square. Nothing you may want to do will save your friends from the embarrassment of a lifetime tonight.”

In an instant, Taeyong’s expression hardened. Despite his frazzled state, his tone was perfectly calm, sharp as a whip when he said, “If you really think I have any interest in your stupid Quidditch game, then I’m sorry to tell you that you’re wrong. I didn’t come to talk to you anyways. Now, move out of my way.”

Ten snarled, but Johnny placed a hand on his shoulder and pulled him back, gently pushed him in the direction of the stairs leading up to the entry hall. “It’s fine, Tennie. You can go ahead without me. I’ll be right there.”

“Are you sure?” Jaehyun asked, coming up from Johnny’s other side.  

Johnny didn’t bother looking away from Taeyong. “Positive.”

“Okay, then.” Johnny watched as Jaehyun slung an arm around Ten’s shoulder, pulling him up the stairs. “Come on, Tennie, leave the square be. Johnny is more than capable of handling himself.”

When Johnny turned back towards Taeyong, the other boy was already looking at him. Taeyong raised an expectant eyebrow.

“I’m sorry about that,” Johnny said, taking a step forward so he could take Taeyong’s hand in his, inspecting the skin for any damage. He knew Ten hadn’t touched Taeyong, but it still eased Johnny’s mind. Taeyong allowed the gesture for a couple of seconds before he pulled his hand out of Johnny’s grip. He took a step back, levelling Johnny with an unimpressed look. “You’re aware that Ten’s gone mad?”

“He’s just a bit grumpy because Nine ran away this morning. It took him two hours till he found her near Gryffindor Tower.”

“Nine?”

“His cat. Don’t ask.”

Taeyong sighed, but nodded in understanding.  

“You came to talk to me?” Johnny asked, smoothing out his robes. “Is everything alright?”

“Right, uh.” Taeyong shuffled on his feet. “I know this is kind of weird of me to ask, but I was wondering whether you’ve seen Mark? He wasn’t there when I went to check up on the second-years this morning and I’ve already talked to Bambam and Kun and he’s neither in the Hufflepuff nor the Gryffindor common room, so I’m starting to get really worried and—”

“He’s here,” Johnny interrupted him, waving his hand. “He came back from detention with Hyuck late last night, so I allowed him to crash in the first-year dorm. They already left for breakfast, though. I’m sure you’ll find them in the Great Hall.”

Taeyong worried his bottom lip between his teeth. “Are you sure?”

Johnny smiled, leaning in. “Yes, Taeyong, I’m sure.”

Taeyong nodded and took a step back, his shoulders sagging a bit. “Okay,” he rubbed a hand over his face. “Okay. Thank you, Johnny.”

Johnny buried his hands in his pockets, feeling his smile soften. “You care about Mark a lot.”

Taeyong began walking and Johnny followed him, taking the stairs one step at a time.

“He reminds me a lot of myself, I guess.” Taeyong took a deep breath, straightening his posture. “Besides, I’m a prefect—”

“How could anyone forget?”

Taeyong shot him a scathing look, but it lacked its usual heat. “—it’s my job to look after the younger ones.”

Johnny smiled. “You’re probably the best thing that could have happened to them, especially to Mark. I know he really looks up to you.”

Johnny relished the way Taeyong’s cheeks turned pink at the compliment, feeling a smug grin tugging on his lips. Taeyong shook his head so his fringe fell into his eyes, busied himself with stroking it back into place while they ascended the last of the steps.  

Johnny’s heart sank when he spotted Sehun waiting next to the doors of the Great Hall. He looked like he had been waiting for a while, watching the people leaving and entering. Sehun pushed himself off the wall when he saw them approaching.

He greeted Johnny with a quirk of his lips before he turned towards Taeyong. “Good morning. You’re coming with me?”

Johnny willed his heart to continue beating when Taeyong nodded. He seemed giddy as he ran his hand through his hair. “Yes, just a second.”

Sehun shrugged, turning in the direction of the stairs that lead to the second floor. Johnny pretended he didn’t see the wink Sehun shot him when he walked by. Instead, he turned towards Taeyong.

“Thanks for taking care of Mark.” Taeyong laid a hand on his arm and squeezed before he let go. “I’ll see you later, Johnny.”

Johnny felt his throat close up so he simply nodded, forcing a small smile onto his face. Taeyong reciprocated it tenfold and then followed Sehun, who was halfway up the stairs already. Taeyong had nearly caught up to him when Johnny felt a jolt go through him.

“Taeyong, wait!”

Johnny hurried up the stairs to catch up with him, grabbing onto Taeyong’s hand once he was within reach. Taeyong stopped and looked down at him with questioning eyes. At the top of the stairs, Johnny could see Sehun watch them with a gleeful expression on his face.

“Today’s the day,” Johnny said. His voice came out raspier than usual, so he cleared his throat. “We’re playing the Gryffindors tonight. Will you come and watch?”

Taeyong looked at him for several long moments before he sighed. “I promised Doyoung as much.”

“I’ll take it.” Johnny smiled. “I’ll be looking for you in the stands.”

Taeyong swallowed before he averted his eyes to their joined hands, a frown making its way onto his face. “For the record, I still think it’s a terrible idea, you guys playing each other at night and without any supervision around. Someone could get seriously hurt or fall of their broom or—”

“You worry too much prefect.” Johnny squeezed his hand before he let go, slowly descending the steps backwards. “The only thing that will be hurt is your friends’ feelings when they have to deal with losing. Sorry about that in advance, by the way.”

“You’re awfully confident in your team.” Taeyong crossed his arms in front of his chest, tilting his head up in an obvious challenge. “Who’s to say you’re going to win?”

Johnny’s smile only broadened. “Of course I’m confident in my team. I’m on it. I’ll see you tonight, Taeyong.”

Taeyong rolled his eyes, but Johnny could see the fondness underneath. “Bye, Johnny.”

Rubbing the prickling skin of his right hand, Johnny headed for the Great Hall.

*

Johnny pulled the strings of his shin pad tight, hooked the leather cords into their nooses before he tied them with a double knot. He stretched his leg back and forth to make sure the pad sat right against his shin, then he repeated the process with his other leg. Once he was done, he made sure the rest of his armour was fastened properly and got up. The familiar weight of the leather armour on his body made his heartbeat speed up with excitement, his muscles straining to finally move.

They had practised nearly every night of the past month for tonight’s game, and Johnny hadn’t lied when he had told Taeyong they were going to win. He trusted in his team and in his own abilities. The Gryffindors didn’t stand a chance, not as long as Johnny was guarding their rings.

He saw Jaemin struggle with his gloves on the bench next to his, so Johnny grabbed his helmet and went over. Jaemin was cursing under his breath, pulling on the lacing of his glove with shaking fingers. Johnny grabbed onto his hand before the younger boy could deck himself in the face and pulled on the strings until the lacing came undone. Jaemin shot Johnny a sheepish smile, keeping his hand still so Johnny could redo the lacing properly.

“Nervous?”

“A little bit. I wasn’t this morning, but right now…” Jaemin rested his free hand on his stomach. As if on commando, it gave a low rumble.

“It’s your first game.” Johnny smiled. “Don’t worry. I was nervous, too.”

“He was,” Jaehyun piped up from the other end of the changing room where he was busy renewing the cushion charm on his broom.

“Johnnyboy nearly threw up,” Ten added gleefully. “He begged Jaehyun to take him off the team last minute.”

“I just don’t want to let you guys down.” Jaemin worried his lip between his teeth, his eyes following Johnny’s fingers as they grabbed onto his other hand and repeated the lacing process. “What if I ruin it for you?”

Ten cooed and walked over to sling an arm around Jaemin’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, Young Chaser. You’ll do great. And if anyone were to ruin the game, it’d be Jaehyunnie here.”

“Oi!” Jaehyun slapped Ten on the shoulder as he walked past, broom in hand. “You better make sure you catch that snitch! If Vic, Jaemin and I score our asses off just to lose because Taeil catches the snitch before you, I’m striking you out of my will. Then Johnny gets everything.”

Ten gasped. “You wouldn’t!”

“I would, too. He’d take better care of my chocolate frog cards anyways.”

“All done,” Johnny announced, clapping Jaemin’s hand before he let go to look at Jaehyun. “Looks like we’re ready, Captain.”

Jaehyun gave a solemn nod and made his way over to he door. Johnny walked back to his spot to get his own broom before he followed behind Jaemin, closing the rear. They reunited with Vic and the twins outside the changing rooms, walking up the tunnel that lead onto the pitch. Before he lifted the gate with his wand, Jaehyun turned to face them.

He extended his hand and they huddled in a circle, covering his hand with their own.

Jaehyun looked each of them in the eye, dimples on full display, before he chanted, “Dum vincamus!”

They shouted it back at him, throwing their hands in the air. Jaemin bounced on his feet and Luna and Krystal knocked their bats together while Johnny brought his hands down on Jaehyun’s back, narrowly missing Ten’s as he did the same. Feeding off the energy of his team, Johnny squared his shoulders and turned towards the gate, knocking his broom against the ground once.

The moon hung bright and full in the sky, casting an eerie glow over the stadium. The Gryffindor team had assembled in the middle of the pitch, forming a half circle around the chest that held the quaffle, bludgers and snitch. A bit to the side stood Sicheng and Jeno, the latter bounding over to them with a huge smile on his face. Jaemin squeaked and left Ten to catch his broom as he launched himself into his best friend’s arms.

“You snuck out?!”

“Of course.” Jeno grinned. “I promised, didn’t I?”

While Jaemin and Jeno performed a long, intricate handshake, Johnny first searched the rest of the field and then the stands for any sign of a sourly looking Ravenclaw, but found that there was none. Taeyong was nowhere in sight.

Johnny frowned, but forced himself to smile when Jeno greeted him. The younger Hufflepuff was wrapped up in his own scarf as well as a Slytherin one that Johnny assumed to be Jaemin’s. The silver clasps of his winter cloak had been enchanted to resemble snakes and his ear muffs were covered in green fuzz. As it was the end of October and long after sundown, Johnny wasn’t surprised to see both Hufflepuffs all bundled up to combat the freezing temperatures.

Sicheng was wearing his own house colours only, his earmuffs yellow and his neck bare. A shiver seemed to run through his body from time to time and Johnny was about to ask Jeno for his Hufflepuff scarf, but then he noticed the way Sicheng kept glancing at Yuta, a hopeful glint in his eyes, and Johnny sighed.

Yuta stood with his back to them. He was in deep conversation with Doyoung, who looked up only when Jaehyun came to a halt in front of him. They stared at each other for a moment before Jaehyun turned towards the chest at their feet.

“I trust you didn’t hex any of the balls to act in your favour?”

Doyoung raised a single brow. “You want to check for yourself?”

“No,” Jaehyun shot him a condescending smile. “I don’t think that’s necessary. Even if you did, we’d still win so it doesn’t matter.”

Doyoung huffed, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “We play according to the normal rules. No fouls, no enhanced gripping charms and no flacking.” Doyoung’s fell onto Johnny and Johnny bared his teeth.

“Speak for your own Keeper, Doyoung,” Jaehyun warned. The Gryffindor Keeper in question, a fifth-year girl named Jisoo, gave a huff, squaring her shoulders.  

Unfazed, Doyoung continued, “Winwin and… sorry, what‘s your name?”

“Jeno,” Jeno provided helpfully, gaving a small wave to the round.

“Right,” Doyoung continued, “Winwin and Jeno will keep score from the stands. Winwin volunteered to release the snitch, if that is okay with everyone?”

“Oh, it’s fine,” Johnny spoke up, gathering the attention of the crowd. “He won’t do anything to manipulate the game. You’ll be fair to us, won’t you, Winwinnie?”

Sicheng blanched under the weight of all the eyes that settled on him. His eyes flickered over to Yuta, who was too busy staring at Johnny to notice. Johnny met the eyes of the Gryffindor Beater and smiled.

“Alright then!” Doyoung proclaimed, his hand coming to rest on Yuta’s shoulder, his grip white-knuckled. “Enough of the talking. Let’s play Quidditch!”

Jaehyun nodded, crouching down in front of the chest. Doyoung was next to him in a second, fumbling with the chains of the bludger that wasn’t being freed by Jaehyun. Both bludgers shot up into the sky not a moment later, disappearing into the darkness. Jaehyun grabbed onto the quaffle and handed it to Jeno.

“You don’t mind our Hufflepuff throwing up the quaffle if yours is releasing the snitch?”

Doyoung shrugged, and swung his leg over his Nimbus. “Won’t help you either way.” A nasty smile made its way onto his face. In the bright moonlight, his scar seemed to glow. “I’d say may the best team win, but we all know who that is.”

Jaehyun waved him off. “Keep stalling, Kim.”

Doyoung scowled. “You’re going to eat your words soon enough, Jaehyun. That’s a promise.” In unison, the Gryffindor team took off.

“Merlin, I can’t wait for him to lose,” Jaehyun mumbled under his breath before he lifted his arm. Johnny mounted his Firebolt and watched the rest of his team get onto their brooms. Jaehyun let his arm fall and Johnny pushed himself off the ground, pulling his broom up until he was flying vertically, ascending higher and higher.

Sharp winds greeted him at the rings, biting into his skin and making his eyes water. Johnny hurried to pull down his goggles. His vision lit up, the colours more dull than was normal, but apart from that Johnny could make out every detail of his surroundings as if they were playing in broad daylight.

Enchanting their goggles had been Ten’s idea, one they had gratiously shared with the Gryffindors. It made any illumination spells superfluous, saving them the embarrassment of being caught by one of the teachers because they had happened to look out of their window and in the direction of the Quidditch stadium to find it lit up as if Hogwarts was hosting the World Cup.

Tightening his grip on the handle of his broomstick, Johnny looked back down at the ground. A flash of desaturated gold near the chest told him that Sicheng had released the snitch. Above them all, he could see Ten scout along the lines of the pitch. Taeil at the other end of the stadium was doing the same, if a bit closer to the ground. Jeno sent the quaffle up a moment later, and the game began.

Johnny watched as the quaffle was caught by one of Doyoung’s fellow Chasers, a lithe boy whose name Johnny didn’t know. The Gryffindor Chaser didn’t get farther than a couple of metres before he was hit in the leg by a bludger. His broom jerked off course, and he lost the quaffle in an attempt to stay on his broom. Vic was there to catch it and with Jaehyun by her side, they shot off in the direction of the Gryffindor rings. Johnny could see Krystal’s satisfied smile out of the corner of his eye.

Johnny kept his eyes on the quaffle as Vic and Jaehyun tossed it back and forth. A low wince came over his lips when Vic was intercepted by Doyoung, the quaffle knocked from her hands, but then Jaemin was there, snatching it right out of Doyoung’s grip and with a grin as broad as ever, Jaemin threw. His golden aim didn’t fail and even Jisoo’s somersault didn’t prohibit the quaffle from shooting through the top ring.

Johnny could hear Jeno cheer from his seat on the stands.

“That’s ten points for Slytherin!” Jaehyun shouted just to see the pissed off look on Doyoung’s face, and Johnny found himself grinning.

He focussed back on the game when he saw Doyoung and the third Gryffindor Chaser, a brash boy named Jackson, head towards him. Jackson dodged the bludger Luna sent his way and tossed the quaffle to Doyoung, who caught it blindly and wedged it under his arm, kicking at Jaehyun’s broom when he tried to knock it out of his grip from behind. Johnny watched the two of them knock brooms again and again on their way over, and he was distracted only when he noticed a flash of silver out of the corner of his eye. Instinctively, Johnny’s eyes fell to the stands and what he saw made his heart stop.

Taeyong had come. Taeyong was there, in the stands, taking a seat next to Sicheng, but he didn’t look like Taeyong at all. Gone were the fluffy tufts of black hair, the too long fringe that fell into his eyes. Instead, his hair was coloured a silvery white now, like moonlight had been poured over his head and clung to the strands of his hair. He wore it up in a quiff as well, pushed away from his forehead to showcase the elegant arch of his eyebrows. Suddenly, Johnny had an inkling what Sehun had meant when he had told him that Johnny was going to suffer because of Taeyong. Taeyong had been unnaturally beautiful before, but now he looked positively ethereal, intouchable. It took the air from Johnny’s lungs.

“Johnny!”

Johnny blinked, the urgency in Ten’s voice making him look up, and he realised too late that Doyoung had dodged Jaehyun’s last attempt at intercepting him and was raising his arm, quaffle in hand. Johnny threw himself back on his broom, lifting both hands off the handle to reach out but it was all in vain. The quaffle shot by his fingertips and went through the ring behind him.

The Gryffindors cheered, Doyoung shooting him a nasty grin before he went after the quaffle. Jaehyun had caught it and, steadily dodging Doyoung’s attempts at ramming into his side, was moving back to the centre of the field. Johnny placed his hands back on the handle of his Firebolt, swallowing the curse on his tongue.

“You okay?” Ten asked him as he flew by, voice filled with concern. His eyes never left the field, constantly roaming.

Johnny shook himself out of it. “Yes. I’m sorry. I got… distracted.”

Ten shrugged. “Just make sure you focus from now on.”

Before Johnny could answer, Ten tilted his head suddenly, his eyes narrowing, and like that he took off, chasing a glint of gold near the ground.

Johnny didn’t allow himself to look at the stands again. He couldn’t allow himself any more distractions. The game continued on.

Jaehyun scored and narrowly dodged the bludger the female Gryffindor Beater sent his way for it. She was the only one Doyoung didn’t glare at as he flew past.

With every goal scored, the air inside the stadium became more charged, the tension rising higher until Johnny could feel it prickle at the back of his neck, his fingers numb from how tightly he was holding onto his broom.

Sweat was trickling from his hair past the goggles into his eyes, but that didn’t stop him from deflecting the quaffle Doyoung threw at the bottom ring. He stopped the quaffle with the bristles of his broom and sent it flying right into Jaehyun’s awaiting arms. Jaehyun saluted him before he flew off, Doyoung not a broom’s length behind him.

As much effort as both teams were putting in to score and keep the other team from doing so, their captains were fighting ten times harder, most of the time each other. Johnny was thankful that Jaemin had quickly taken to keeping his distance from other players, scoring from farther away whenever the quaffle was passed to him. Jaemin was the youngest on the pitch, and Johnny would have hated for him to get hurt.

He pulled his broom up when he saw Doyoung approach once again. Jaehyun behind him was immobilised when Jackson and the other Chaser slammed into him from both sides, jamming him between them. Doyoung looked over his shoulder and grinned, dodging the bludger Krystal sent his way, and kicked at Vic’s leg when she tried to take the quaffle from him.

Johnny narrowed his eyes, nudging his broom slightly downwards. He knew that Doyoung preferred the bottom ring. His favourite strategy was sending the quaffle soaring right past the Keeper’s legs in an upwards curve. Johnny had fallen for it before, so he lowered his broom, letting himself lose height. Doyoung raised his arm to throw, releasing the quaffle just as Jaemin, coming out of nowhere, rammed into his side.

The quaffle shot through the air in a straight line and Johnny’s eyes widened. He pulled on his broom with all his might but he knew he wouldn’t make it. Cursing under his breath, he did the only thing he could think off. Pushing his broom back into the horizontal, he pulled his knees up and launched himself off his broom. He could hear Jaehyun scream his name, but Johnny only focussed on catching the quaffle. He managed to pluck it right out of the air, cradling it against his chest as he began to fall.

As he had hoped, his broom had come to a halt right below him. He landed on the handle with his feet first but slipped off, falling forward. Dropping the quaffle, he managed to grasp onto the handle of the broom at the last second, his right arm straining with the effort of holding up his entire body. His broom dropped off several metres with the sudden weight, but Johnny held on. Forcing some air into his lungs, he pulled himself up millimetre by millimetre, a low grunt escaping him as he gritted his teeth.

It was Ten’s warning shout that made him look forward, made the fingers of his left hand slip from where they had been grazing the handle of the broom. He heard the bludger before he saw it, a sharp whistling sound cutting into his ear drums. And then he saw the bludger coming towards him. He saw Luna and Krystal simultaneously yank their brooms around to race towards him, but it was too late. The bludger slammed into the handle of his broom full-force, shattering the wood and taking his wrist with it. There was no air in his lungs to produce a scream as he fell.

White, hot fire filled his arm, clouded his vision as he dwindled through the air, saw stars, saw the ground, saw stars again. Bracing himself for impact, Johnny raised his intact left arm to his head. A glint of gold passed by his eyes and he heard somebody shout, words that didn't carry over the wind. There was the sensation of something hot hitting him in the back, his vision was drowned out in white, and then everything stopped.

*

When Johnny came to it was to the taste of blood on his tongue, the smell of grass, sweat and leather clogging his lungs.

The first voice that reached him, surprisingly, was Doyoung's, “Careful, careful!"

“Johnny,” Ten whimpered somewhere behind his head and Johnny would have frowned would he have been able to feel his face. He hated it when his friend was upset.

“No time to cry, Ten." Johnny felt relief oust some of his disorientation. Jaehyun was there. He was safe. "We have to get him the infirmary. You ready? Yes, thank you, Jeno, grab onto his legs.”

“I got the cot!” Jaemin’s voice resounded against the back of his skull.

Johnny felt hands on his body, holding onto him, lifting him up, but he couldn’t move any of his limbs. His entire body was numb except for an unpleasant, hot pulsing sensation in his right arm. His head lolled to the side as he was heaved onto something hard and wooden. He pried his eyes open a millimetre by sheer force of will, and was greeted by a sea of red.

The Gryffindors had huddled together and positoned themselves off to the side of the pitch , half of them sitting on the ground with their brooms discarded near their feet, their goggles littering the grass between them. The only two people who were standing were Taeil and Yuta. Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny could see Sicheng approach with long strides, but before he could reach them, he was overtaking by Taeyong.

Taeyong's eyes seemed black against the contrast of his white hair, no emotion in his eyes as he blocked Sicheng’s path with his own body, planted his feet in front of his friends. Taeil reached out a hand, seemingly trying to placate him but Taeyong shook him off. Taeyong’s lips were moving, but Johnny couldn’t hear any of the words he was saying. He didn’t need to, however, because then Taeyong was throwing his arm up, opening his palm and he brought his hand down on Yuta’s cheek with enough force that the Beater stumbled backwards, his hands flying up to clutch at his face.

Johnny felt a smile tug on the corners of his mouth before his vision faded into nothingness again.

Chapter Text

Johnny was awoken by a dull, unpleasant sensation in his right arm. The throbbing intensified by the second, became incessant, became pain. Johnny groaned as he pried his eyes open to make out his surroundings, to make out the source of the pain, but his face was grabbed before he could look down at himself, firm fingers tilting his head back up.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t think you should look at what Madame Amber is doing right now.”

Johnny gaped at the man holding onto him. His vision was blurry, wouldn’t focus however often he blinked, but he could still tell that the man was stunning, beautiful in a way that was almost unnatural. Even his voice was alluring. Johnny found it entirely too easy to oblige his request.

With a pained grunt, he let his head fall back down onto his pillow. The throbbing in his side was still getting worse, concentrating in his arm. Johnny could feel sweat trickle down the sides of his face. His entire body was tense with the effort of holding himself back from thrashing around.

The man smiled sympathetically at him, his purple eyes gleaming in the weak lighting. Vaguely, Johnny thought that he had seen him before, but he couldn’t recall where or when. “I’m sorry. You must be in a lot of pain, right now.”

Johnny was struggling to breathe evenly so he only nodded. The urge to look down at himself to see what was happening to him was overwhelming, but so was the desire to do what the purple-eyed man had asked of him. He allowed his eyelids to droop when the stench of iodine cut into his nose and Madame Amber’s voice reached his ears.

“Could you administer this to him, Jongin? I’d rather not have him awake for the next part.”

“Of course,” the man’s smooth voice answered and then cool glass was pressed against Johnny’s lips. “Drink this. It will help you go back to sleep. That sounds good, doesn’t it?”

Johnny felt his mouth part before he could tell it to do so and then honey was sliding down his throat, honey and something bitter underneath that almost made him retch but his jaw was pressed shut by firm fingers before he could do so. The effect was imminent.

Whatever bit of clarity he had regained since he had woken up was taken from him. A sigh left Johnny’s lips as his senses numbed, sickly sweet mist filling his brain, lulling him in. He had almost fallen back into unconsciousness, the pain in his arm having long faded into a dull throbbing, when the haze clouding his mind was cut through by a single, sharp jab of pain.

A sickening crack reverberated throughout his entire body, his back arching with the force of it. His eyes and mouth fell open as a scream was ripped from his throat. Immediately, he was pushed back down by several pairs of hands, but it didn’t help. It didn’t make the waves of white hot fire consuming his arm stop, it didn’t stop the moving of his bones.

He screamed until his throat closed up and all that would come out of his mouth were hiccuped whimpers. His body was getting heavier, the mist returning, but it wasn’t enough.

“Please,” he retched out, “please, make it stop.” Blindly, he reached out with his left hand for the purple-eyed man, Madame Amber, anyone. “Please, make it stop. Please, please!”

His voice was drowned out by a loud slam somewhere beyond the white curtains surrounding them, and then the voices reached his ears. There were too many to make out a single one, overlapping, shouting over each other, drilling against his skull and then a familiar one rose above them all, came closer just as the rest of the voices were cut of by another slam of what Johnny now recognised to be the heavy doors to the infirmary.

“Johnny!”

Johnny wanted to answer, but all that came out of his mouth were more pleas for mercy. Vaguely, he registered that his muscles were relaxing, his thoughts slowing with every second but there was still too much pain carrying him over.

The last thing he registred was Professor Do’s voice, accentuated by two sets of quick-paced footfalls, “Mr Leechaiyapornkul, you come back here right this second!”

*

The second time Johnny woke up, it was to the feeling of sunlight tickling his nose. He swallowed, unsticking his tongue from the roof of his mouth, and slowly pried his eyes open. It took him several minutes of staring at the high ceiling of the infirmary, the fugues between the stone tiles bending and blurring in front of his eyes, before he figured out where he was and why he wasn’t in his four-poster bed at the dorms.

He wasn’t in pain, he couldn’t feel much of his body at all, but he remembered the pain of his wrist bones realigning themselves. The pain of his wrist being shattered. Taking a deep breath, Johnny looked down at himself. His torso was bare, the leather armour and Quidditch robes gone. Instead, his skin was stained a faint orange where it had come in contact with the iodine. The thin infirmary blanket had slipped down to his navel, and on top of his stomach, his right arm was resting.

Beneath the cast and bandages, there was not much to see. Johnny tried moving his fingers and was relieved to see the tips of them twitch against the edge of the cast. The movement made a dull throb run up his arm, but it was worth it. The numbness was slowly fading from his body. His legs were prickling with pins and needles.

Johnny looked further down to find a mop of black hair fanned out over his knee. Ten was sprawled out over his shins, his hand resting on Johnny’s calf. Ten’s bottom half was sat in a chair that had been pulled up to the foot end of Johnny’s bed and he was sleeping with his mouth open, a line of drool cutting through the dirt and grime on his face. Ten let out a low snore when Johnny tried jiggling his leg, but remained asleep.

Johnny turned his head and felt a smile tug on the corners of his mouth. On the chair next to his bed, Jaehyun had curled up. He was sleeping with his legs pulled to his chest, his head resting on the arm that he had sprawled across the back rest. Like Ten, he was in his Quidditch uniform still, dirt and sweat matting his hair against his forehead. The front of his robes were stained with splatters of what Johnny recognised as blood. He tried not to think too hard about the fact that it was his own.

“Jae.” Johnny winced at how raw his throat felt.

Jaehyun twitched in his sleep. His head lolled forward before it dropped of his arm and he jerked awake, his eyes flitting around in confusion before he spotted Johnny. Jaehyun’s eyes widened almost comically.

He was out of his seat in a second and climbing onto Johnny’s bed, reaching across Johnny so he could grab onto his left hand. Johnny shared the sigh of relief that made Jaehyun’s entire body sag forward until their foreheads knocked together.

“You’re awake.”

Johnny smiled, using their intertwined hands to push Jaehyun off of him. “And you smell atrocious, Jaehyunnie.”

Jaehyun laughed at that, even if it came out a bit more strained than Johnny knew he had intended. Jaehyun pulled away to take a seat on the edge of Johnny’s bed, squeezing Johnny’s hand while he draped his free arm over Ten’s middle.

Johnny jiggled his legs once again, but Ten didn’t move. He frowned. “Ten won’t wake up.”

Jaehyun’s smile turned sheepish. “I might have convinced Madame Amber to give him some Draught of Peace. He nearly gave Professor Do a black eye last night trying to get into the infirmary after Madame Amber threw us all out. Then he fainted when he—uhm, when he saw the blood. I thought it best if he stayed asleep until you woke up.”

Johnny hummed, letting go of Jaehyun’s hand so he could rake his fingers over the bird’s nest on top of Ten’s head.  Johnny could feel Jaehyun’s gaze on him, searching, scrutinising. He focussed on combing the knots out of Ten’s hair, humming from time to time. When Johnny finally looked at him, Jaehyun’s eyes were brimming with determination.

“We’re to come to Headmaster Heechul’s office first thing Monday morning. He’s in London for some school-related business right now, but the moment he’s back, we’re up.”

Johnny nodded. “I heard the yelling last night. How bad was it?”

Jaehyun blanched, even now. “Professor Do was furious. Pretty sure the only reason he didn’t strangle us all was because we interrupted his date night and Mr Do was there too. Mr Do volunteered to help Madame Amber with you in here, but once he came back he talked Professor Do into sending us to bed and dealing with it in the morning.”

“Did Professor Do say anything about punishments?”

“Not much. Doyoung and I kept our mouths shut.”

Johnny raised an eyebrow. “Doyoung and you?”

He vaguely remembered that Doyoung had been there, had helped carrying him to the infirmary.

“Professor Do singled us out the moment he arrived at the infirmary. He just knew. He just knew what happened was our fault.” Jaehyun lowered his gaze to his lap. “Not that it was hard for him to guess, with us all in our Quidditch uniforms and your arm…” Jaehyun bared his teeth. “If Yuta doesn’t get expelled, I’m going to murder him. I’ll make an Unbreakable Vow to you right now that I’m going to kill him for what he did to you.”

Johnny let his head fall back onto his pillow. “Yuta hit the bludger.” It wasn‘t a question.

Jaehyun nodded, gritting his teeth. “He did it on purpose, too, that bastard. If Taeyong hadn’t—”

Johnny felt his heart skip a beat. “Taeyong?”

“He cast a suspension spell.” Jaehyun furrowed his brows, as if he couldn’t believe that Taeyong had done such a thing. “Some seventh-year hex that made you freeze right there in mid-air until Ten and I could get to you and pull you onto my broom. I never thought I‘d have to thank him for being such a square.”

While Jaehyun let out a mirthless chuckle, Johnny averted his eyes to the ceiling. “Nothing,” he said.

“Huh? What do you mean, Johnnyboy?”

Johnny looked at him. “We’re going to do nothing. You made the right decision. Until we‘re sitting in Headmaster Heechul‘s office, not a word about this will come over any of our lips. No matter who asks, no matter how much Professor Do or any of the other teachers press. Make sure Jaemin and the girls know that. Tell Doyoung, too. Go to him and tell him to make sure his team sits tight.”

Jaehyun narrowed his eyes. “What are you planning?”

“I haven’t decided yet.“ Johnny closed his eyes for a moment. He willed his breathing to remain steady. Jaehyun couldn’t know how much pain he was in right now. “But I need you to back me up when I do, no matter if you agree with my decision or not.”

Jaehyun‘s expression darkened. “Johnny.”

“Jaehyun,” he gave back in the exact same tone of voice. “Do you trust me?”

Jaehyun glared at him He ran a hand through his hair, tugging at the strands in frustration, but in the end, he conceded, “Yes. Yes, of course.”

“Thank you. Then trust me on this one. I’ll figure it out.” Johnny plastered a smile onto his face. “I just need some sleep beforehand.”

“Okay.” Jaehyun rubbed a hand over his face. “Okay.”

He turned his attention towards Ten, shaking his shoulder and slapping him lightly on the cheek. Ten grunted in his sleep. Jaehyun grinned and tugged on his hair. Ten’s face scrunched up, his arm moving as if he were to swat Jaehyun’s away and then his eyes fluttered open. When he found Jaehyun grinning down at him,  Ten attempted to push himself off of Johnny‘s legs to get away from him, but promptly fell back down. Jaehyun caught him before he could face-plant into Johnny‘s knee. He pulled Ten up, turned him around and settled him against his chest so Ten was facing Johnny.

“Look who’s awake, Tennie.”

Johnny smiled when Ten’s half-lidded eyes landed on him and flew open, gaining focus. “Johnny?”

Johnny just so managed to lift his injured arm out of the way, ignoring the protestant scream of his shoulder, before Ten threw himself forward, hugging Johnny’s chest tightly enough to squeeze the air out of his lungs.

Johnny laughed and patted Ten’s back. “Hey, Tennie.”

Jaehyun took pity on him a moment later and pried Ten off of him. “C’mon, Tennie, we have to let him sleep. We can come back after breakfast.”

“No fair,” Ten wailed, but let Jaehyun pull him off the bed and onto his feet.

“Take a shower too, while you’re at it!” Johnny called after them when Jaehyun dragged a stumbling Ten towards the doors of the infirmary.

Johnny exhaled the moment his friends were gone. His vision was blurring again, and and his eyes were burning with unshed tears. He allowed them to fall as he covered his mouth with his left hand, digging his nails into his own cheek in an attempt to stop himself from yelling.

“Madame Amber?” he called out.

There was the familiar sound of the curtain surrounding his bed being drawn before she appeared by his bedside. “Mr Seo! I’m very glad to see you awake.” Her smile fell the moment she saw his face. “Oh dear, why didn’t you say something? You must be in tremendous pain right now!”

Johnny only nodded.

“Well, that’s no surprise.” Madame Amber turned to his bedside table and began sifting through the vials and potion bottles stacked there. “The numbing potion was supposed to wear off an hour ago. Emendo Brackium realigned your bones, but they are still growing back together. A fracture like that takes weeks to heal, Mr Seo, even with continuous healing charms. See, here we go. This should help.”

Johnny obediently parted his lips when he felt the neck of a bottle being pressed against his mouth.

“Three sips, Mr Seo, not more.”

Johnny obliged. The taste of the potion was just as sickly sweet as the first time and the effect just as imminent.

“Thank you,” he coughed out the moment Madame Amber lifted the bottle from his lips.

Madame Amber smiled at him, if it seemed a bit more strained than usual. “Be honest about your pain, Mr Seo. It's the only way we can help you.”

Johnny nodded, allowed his muscles to relax when he felt the familiar numbness spread throughout his body. He welcomed the mist that took his thoughts from him.

*

Johnny looked up from the book in his lap when he heard the commotion behind the curtain that shielded his bed from the rest of the infirmary. He had woken up from his potion-induced sleep an hour ago, the sun hanging low enough in the sky for it to be past noon and a stack of his favourite books sitting on his bedside table. Ten and Jaehyun had been nowhere in sight, but the sourly expression on Madame Amber’s face every time she came to check up on him told Johnny his friends hadn’t gone without a fight. Johnny put the book away to listen more closely, but not without taking another look at the pretty cat illustration he had been staring at for the past hour.

“... brought his homework.”

“It's Saturday evening.”

“We… have to hand it in by Monday.”

Madame Amber let out an unimpressed sigh. “Ten minutes, Mr Lee, and not a second longer. I explained this to Mr Jung and Mr Ten already. It's admirable that you all care so much about your friend, but for his arm to heal, he needs to rest.”

“I know that. Thank you, Madame Amber.”

Johnny leaned forward in anticipation when the curtain moved, was pulled to the side.

“Taeyongie!” he chimed happily when Taeyong stepped through. “You came to visit me!”

Taeyong jumped at Johnny’s loud greeting, seemingly caught off-guard. “Johnny?”

Johnny waved.

Taeyong pulled the curtain close behind him with a little too much force. The moment he was done, he wrapped his arms around himself, levelled Johnny with dark eyes. “You’re alive.” There was little to no emotion in Taeyong’s voice as he spoke.

“No need to sound so sad about it.” Johnny grinned. He couldn't stop grinning. Taeyong was here. Taeyong had come to visit him. “I know what you did, Taeyongie.” He squinted and raised his left hand. His grin becoming so wide it hurt his cheeks. He pointed his finger at Taeyong's chest for emphasis. “I know it was you. You saved my life.”

Taeyong nodded, a short jerk of his head, and then he pressed his hands against his eyes.

“No, no.” Johnny tried moving but was promptly held back by a painful jolt running up his arm. “Don’t cry!”

Taeyong’s shoulders shook as he took a shuddering breath. When he lifted his hands from his face, he was scowling, his eyes pure black in the bright sunlight.  “I'm not crying. I'm fine.”

“Good.” Johnny nodded in earnest. “You're way too pretty to cry, Taeyongie.”

Taeyong stared at him for a moment before realisation dawned on his face. He walked up to Johnny's bedside. Johnny was about to reach for him when Taeyong walked past his hand and stopped in front of Johnny's bedside table. He picked up the vials stacked there and read the label on each one of them before he stopped at a glass vial filled with a milky, nacreous concoction. A small sigh of relief came over Taeyong's lips.

“Madame Amber is giving you Draught of Bliss.” He looked at Johnny, scrutinising him once again. “You're totally doped up right now.”

“Do you wanna see my cat picture?”

“Do I—?”

Johnny picked up his book. “It’s a really pretty cat. She’s got white fur and dark eyes. If I think about it, she reminds me of you actually, now that you’ve dyed your hair. Look, she even has that disgruntled expression you always get when Professor Kyuhyun gets the development date of a spell wrong.”

Johnny turned the book so Taeyong could see. Taeyong stared at the picture for almost a minute before he lifted his gaze back to Johnny’s face. A small pout formed on his lips. “I don’t look like a cat.”

Johnny furrowed his brows, but the motion made his face feel funny so he stopped and smiled instead. It was much easier of an emotion. “Maybe. But that doesn't change the fact that you're pretty. No, that's not right. You're more. You're so much more, Taeyongie. I wish—” A shiver ran through Johnny's body. There was something clawing at the back of his mind, warning him, making the words die on his tongue. Johnny broke off.

Taeyong looked at him expectantly for a couple of seconds before a miniscule smile made its way onto his face. He leaned forward and Johnny was overwhelmed by the scent of lavender, the way Taeyong's hair glowed in the sunlight, the way his eyes were so deep Johnny felt like he could drown in them if he just held Taeyong's gaze long enough. He never wanted to look away.

“I have a wish too,” Taeyong whispered. Their faces were close enough that Johnny felt Taeyong's breath against his lips. “Do you want to hear it?”

Johnny nodded. He thought he might die if Taeyong didn't tell him.

“One of the side effects of Draught of Bliss is short-term memory loss, so you might not remember this in a few minutes, but I hope you do. I hope a part of you will.” Taeyong looked down and took Johnny’s unscathed hand in his, pressing it against his chest. Johnny could feel Taeyong’s heart beat against his fingertips, just a tad too fast. “Do you know what happens to a block of ice when you hit it with a bludger, Johnny?”

Johnny shook his head and Taeyong’s smile grew. Johnny didn’t like it. It looked wrong. It looked sad.

“It shatters,” Taeyong told him, his smile dropping. “That’s my wish. I wish you would have known that. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to see you fall then.”

Johnny wanted to say something, anything that would take the unnatural shine off of Taeyong’s eyes, but then Taeyong’s arms wrapped around his neck, the soft skin of his cheek pressing against Johnny’s own as Taeyong hugged him.

“You told me once that you care about me,” Taeyong whispered into his ear. “I care about you too, Johnny Seo. I wish you would remember that.”

“I’ll remember,” Johnny promised as Taeyong pulled away.

Taeyong smiled and pushed himself off the bed. “Maybe.”

He left then, disappeared behind the curtain and left Johnny to clutch at his own chest.

*

The Headmaster’s office was spacious, but even so it was not big enough to fit this many people. Johnny watched as the Slytherin filed in first, lining themselves up behind the chairs that had been dragged in front of Headmaster Heechul’s massive desk. Johnny was sitting in one of them. Professor Do had gotten him straight from the infirmary so Johnny had spent the past ten minutes waiting for the others to arrive, declining Headmaster Heechul’s occasional offer of crystallised pineapple.

Johnny felt something akin to pride when he took in the dignified expressions of his team. Even Jaemin, who had looked close to vomitting at the breakfast table, seemed unimpressed at the whole ordeal as he stood next to Ten. He shot Johnny a shaky smile when he noticed his gaze. Jaehyun took the seat next to Johnny when Professor Do told him to do so, squeezing Johnny’s shoulder before he sat down.

The Gryffindors came in next, lining themselves up much like the Slytherin had done when Professor Hani told them to. Doyoung was the only one who took a seat. He met Johnny’s eyes for only a split second, long enough to send him a curt nod, before he took to studying his own hands.

Professor Hani positioned herself next to Headmaster Heechul’s chair, mustering her House students with a disapproving frown. None of them were brave enough to meet her eyes. Instead, they kept their eyes lowered much like their Captain. The only one looking up was Yuta, who was looking at the door.

Sicheng walked through it not a moment later, closely followed by Jeno and Professor Kyuhyun, their Head of House. While Jeno bounded over to Jaemin’s side with an unbothered smile, Sicheng came to a halt next to Taeil at the very end of the Gryffindor line and wrapped his arms around himself. Johnny tried his hardest not to roll his eyes at the longing glances he sent Yuta’s way, who had averted his eyes to the ground. Yuta looked sickly, Johnny noticed, a lot of the tension that usually held his body together seemingly having seeped from his muscles. Johnny found satisfaction in that.

The last one to come in was Taeyong. Professor Minseok closed the door behind them and Headmaster Heechul stood up, causing the feathers braided into his hair to flutter while Professor Kyuhyun and Professor Minseok joined their colleagues at the sides of his chair.

“Good morning, students.”

“Good morning,” the most of them gave back in low whispers, the loudest of which were Jeno and Jaemin.

Headmaster Heechul smiled at them before his expression turned solemn. The many rings on his fingers clinked together when he folded his hands.  “I am sure you are all acutely aware of why the Professors and I have gathered you here today. And though almost all of you have made a valiant effort to keep quiet about the affair, I am sorry to tell you that there will still be consequences.” His eyes flickered over to Johnny. “Some of us are living them already.

“Now, the esteemed Professors and I have tried to piece together what happened on Friday night despite your admirable if inappropriate silence. We have determined your punishments accordingly. Though, of course, all of you are welcome to correct us at any time should we get something wrong.”

Johnny could see some of the Gryffindors twitch, but they stilled with a single glance from Doyoung.

Professor Minseok took a step forward, the disappointment on his face so poignant that even Johnny felt uncomfortable. “Mr Lee, please come forward.”

Taeyong’s eyes were shaking as he made his way past both teams and came to a halt behind the empty chair that separated Jaehyun and Doyoung. He hunched his shoulders when Professor Minseok looked at him, hung his head low. Johnny couldn’t remember the last time he had seen Taeyong this clammed up. There were red marks on the backs of his hands where he had raked his nails over the skin too often in the past few minutes.

“From what I’ve gathered, you didn’t participate in the match?”

Taeyong shook his head, his white hair falling into his eyes.

“But you were there?”

Taeyong nodded.

Professor Minseok crossed his arms in front of his chest and though he was the shortest person in the room, Johnny thought that in that moment, no other teacher was more imposing than him. “I’ve talked with Mr Zhang and he expects you at the library after classes for the remainder of the week. This will be your punishment for breaking curfew and leaving the castle past midnight. Oh, and Mr Lee?” Professor Minseok waited until Taeyong looked up to meet his eyes. “I would have expected better from a prefect.”

Johnny thought that he would have shattered his wrist a thousand times more over if he never had to see the distraught expression on Taeyong’s face ever again. He could see even Jaehyun glance at Taeyong in sympathy.

Doyoung shifted in his seat. He reached out his arm so he could curl his fingers into the hem of Taeyong’s sweater, but Taeyong shook him off by taking a step back. He shot Professor Minseok a tight-lipped smile and bowed his head. “Thank you, Sir.”

Professor Minseok only nodded. Johnny watched as Taeyong walked over to Taeil and Sicheng, allowed his friends to offer him small pats of support on the back.

“The same punishment awaits you, Mr Dong and Mr Lee,” Professor Kyuhyun spoke up. His voice was pleasant, even if the Head of House Hufflepuff was clearly trying his hardest to sound stern. Johnny could hear Jaemin mutter words of encouragement to Jeno under his breath. “Detention for the rest of the week, though I have arranged for you to help out Professor Byun at the greenhouses. There are a lot of Mimbulus Mimbletonia that need repotting and I do hope the smell of stinksap will clear your mind enough that you can reflect on your actions.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Jeno replied dutifully while Sicheng remained silent, his brows furrowing. Taeyong took his hand and squeezed.

“Now,” Headmaster Heechul said. “I guess it’s time to deal with the real issue here. Kyungsoo?”

Professor Do nodded and took the time to glower at each and every one of them before he said, “Both Team Slytherin and Team Gryffindor are banned from competing for the Quidditch Cup this year.”

“What?!” Doyoung and Jaehyun exclaimed in unison while the Gryffindors broke into protestant chatter. Ten uttered a curse word that made Jaemin pale and Luna and Krystal looked downright murderous as their gazes settled on Yuta, who was looking at Doyoung now. For the first time, Johnny saw something akin to remorse in the Beater’s eyes.

“That’s not fair!” Jackson cried out and pointed at Johnny. “He didn’t even die!”

Ten was halfway over on his way to strangle him before Vic could pull him back.

“Quiet!” Professor Hani demanded, resting her hand on her hips. “I can assure you that Professor Do and I have discussed at length what punishment would be adequate to handle the situation with and this is what we have agreed upon. By holding a practice match at night, without any adult supervision not to mention permission, you’ve not only broken more than a dozen school rules, but you’ve also endangered the life of a fellow student, and anyone else who might have come to harm that night.”

“All of you, together,” Professor Hani continued, “are a disgrace to this school and the Houses you are supposed to represent as part of the Quidditch teams. Hence we are stripping you of that privilege. Team Ravenclaw and Team Hufflepuff will be the only ones competing this year. They’ll be playing each other on the final date and the winner of that match will determine the winner of the Quidditch Cup this year. And that’s final.”

A long, tense silence followed Professor Hani’s words. Not even Jackson seemed brave enough to talk back to her a second time.

It was Headmaster Heechul who spoke up eventually, “Do any of the Captains have anything to say on behalf of their team?”

Doyoung and Jaehyun looked at each other. Johnny was only able to see Doyoung’s face and watched a plethora of emotions pass over it before Doyoung’s expression turned impassive.

“No,” Doyoung said, holding Jaehyun’s gaze.

“Me neither,” Jaehyun confirmed.

“Right,” Headmaster Heechul clapped his hands once. A smile bloomed on his face. “The issue of the practice game is settled then. All that is left to discuss now, is you, Mr Seo.” Johnny didn’t move when Professor Heechul turned to look at him, “Your teammates and schoolmates have kept their silence on this matter, especially, so I’d like to hear from you what happened to you and your arm.”

Johnny felt every single pair of eyes in the room settle on him. He felt Ten’s hands on the backrest of his seat, Jaehyun reaching over to squeeze his shoulder. Johnny smiled at his friend, met Doyoung’s intent gaze and then turned to look Headmaster Heechul straight in the eye. “It was an accident.”

He could hear Ten’s disbelieving gasp, felt Jaehyun’s gaze burn into the side of his face, but he kept his voice steady as he elaborated. “I jumped off my broom in an effort to catch the quaffle and didn’t catch myself in time. I broke my wrist when I flailed and hit the rings behind me. It was an accident.”

“Are you sure about that, Mr Seo?” Professor Do asked. The glimmer in his eyes told Johnny that Professor Do knew he was lying.

Johnny smiled. “Yes. I didn’t want to lose and made a stupid decision by hurling myself off my broom.” He raised his injured arm, the sling tugging at his shoulder with the movement. “I can assure you it won’t happen again.”

Professor Do frowned before he turned to the rest of the Slytherin team. “And the others? Do you attest to what Mr Seo is saying?”

Johnny looked at Jaehyun. Jaehyun shook his head, an infinitesimal jerk of his head. Johnny continued to look at him.  Jaehyun’s next exhale was just a tad too forceful.

“That’s what happened.” Jaehyun’s expression was perfectly calm as he met every single teacher’s gaze head on, but Johnny saw the way his nails dug into the leather-clad armrests of his seat. “Johnny is a good Keeper. It was an accident.”

“And you, Mr Kim?” Headmaster Heechul inquired. “Do you agree with Mr Jung and Mr Seo that Mr Seo’s injury is the result of an accident?”

Doyoung averted his eyes from Johnny’s face to look at Headmaster Heechul, eyes wide. It made him look like a rabbit caught in a trap, Johnny thought. His eyes flickered over to Yuta for a split second. Yuta stood with his arms crossed in front of his chest, but there was a hint of disbelief on his face, just a fraction of humility that pleased Johnny endlessly.

After looking at Yuta, Doyoung nodded. It was a curt, jerky movement, but it broke the tension in the air. “It was an accident.”

“Well, if you all say so, then we,” Heechul gestured at the Heads of Houses gathered behind him, “are inclined to believe you. We remain with detention for the spectators and the Quidditch ban for both teams. All of you may go back to your classes now. Professor Minseok, if you could stay behind?”

The moment they were let out of the Headmaster’s office, Johnny headed for the Dungeons. He could feel Jaehyun vibrate with anger next to him, but he paid him no mind as he made sure his team was following him. While doing so, he caught Taeyong looking at him where he was standing with his friends. The Gryffindors had huddled around Doyoung at the far end of the hallway, listening intently to the low words he was speaking. The only one who wasn’t participating was Yuta.

He was standing a little bit to the side, staring at the stained-glass window opposite of the Headmaster‘s door with unseeing eyes. Johnny watched Sicheng approach with timid steps, a small call of Yuta’s name, a light hand against his back. Yuta didn’t react at first. He remained still until Sicheng was right beside him. Then he turned his head, slowly, and said Sicheng’s name, one syllable repeated twice. He opened his arms.

Sicheng rushed forward, threw himself into Yuta’s arms and clung to him like a vine. Yuta nearly stumbled with the force of it, but caught them both. Johnny saw the beginnings of a smile form on his face as he buried his face in Sicheng’s neck, even if his eyes were still glazed over.

Johnny averted his gaze to meet Taeyong’s eyes. He tried to memorise the way Taeyong’s face looked in the multi-coloured light that fell in through the stained-glass window, tried to memorise the wonder on his face, the way confusion made a small furrow appear between his brows and that there was anger too, anger on Johnny’s behalf.  He smiled at Taeyong and kept walking.

*

As it as the middle of the second period, the common room was as good as empty.

“Jaemin,” Johnny said. It had been hard to pry their youngest from Jeno’s side after they had both emerged from the Headmaster’s office relatively unscathed. “Could you go to our dorm and get…”

“It’s a black leather pouch,” Ten supplied helpfully. He was busy helping Jaehyun remove the iron grid from the hearth of the fireplace. “It’s under my bed. Probably smells really bad.”

Jaemin blinked in confusion but saluted, sensing the solemn atmosphere. He was off in a second.

“Can we do anything, Johnny?” Luna and Krystal asked in unison.

He smiled at them. “No, thank you. Maybe help Ten, he looks like he’s gonna collapse any second.”

“Oi!” Ten yelled at him, but he was clearly struggling to hold up his end of the heavy grid. It was as tall as him, after all.

The twins grinned at Johnny before the went over to help.

Vic bent down as soon as Jaehyun and Ten (with the help of the twins) had discarded the grid. She placed a fresh staple of logs in the hearth and got the fire going with a flick of her wand and a mumbled “Incendio.” She shot Johnny a grim smile when she took a step back.

Johnny looked down at the slowly developing fire and waited, his team gathering around him. Jaemin returned soon after, the black pouch in his hands. Breathless, he handed it over to Johnny, who thanked him with a smile. Ten slung his arm around Jaemin’s shoulders, patting his arm in reassurance while Johnny opened the pouch. Ten had been right. It did smell terrible.

Johnny let Jaehyun hold onto the pouch while he pulled the bundled up scraps of fabric out of the pouch with his unscathed hand. He didn’t bother unfolding the fabric or taking one last look at it. He had seen his blood imbued in the emerald green before.

Better luck next time, Johnnyboy, he thought and threw the bundle into the flames. The fire flared, embers flying into the air as the bundle was set ablaze. Johnny watched as the flames licked higher, slowly but surely turned the remnants of his Quidditch robes into ashes and dust.

“Good,” he said, breaking the heavy silence that had fallen between them. “Now that that is done, we can move on.” Johnny sought out Ten’s gaze. There were many grapes on his vine, but no one had as many vines as Ten. “Go and get me Sicheng.”

Ten’s eyes widened. “Winwin?”

“Yes, Winwin.”

“What are you planning, Johnny?“ Jaehyun asked, his words heavy with concern.

“I’ve decided.” Johnny smiled at his friend before he looked back down at the flames. “Sicheng has something that I want now.”

Chapter Text


Johnny adjusted the knot of his sling, moved it further up his shoulder as he let his head fall back against the cool tiles of the Dungeon wall. The stone bench he was sitting on was uncomfortable, staunching his lower back, but Johnny was patient. He smiled when he heard footsteps approach and smoothed out his expression just in time for the two boys to round the corner.

Sicheng looked nervous, Johnny noticed. The knot of his tie was nearly undone with how much he had tugged on it, the yellow colour making him look sickly pale. His eyes flitted along the Dungeon walls before they settled on Johnny, his face paling another few shades. Johnny straightened his posture when they came to a halt in front of him.

He perused Sicheng for only a moment before he turned to look at his friend. “Thanks, Ten. You can go now.”

Ten nodded, eyeing Sicheng with so much disdain the other boy took a half-step back.

“Right,” Ten said, not taking his eyes off of Sicheng. “I’ll save you some lunch, Johnny.”

“Thank you.”

Ten disappeared, leaving a heavy silence in his wake. Johnny basked in it, watched as Sicheng fidgeted under his gaze. He was curious to see how long he could drag this out before Sicheng finally broke down. He didn’t have to wait for very long. 

“He—” Sicheng waved in the direction Ten had disappeared in. His hand twitched to his neck to fiddle with his tie once again, but this time he aborted the motion and splayed his hand out on his stomach instead. Johnny sincerely hoped Sicheng wasn’t going to vomit. Showering with his cast on was hard enough without the stench of vomit permeating the air. “Ten said I have… something that you want?”

Johnny snorted. “Trust me, there is only one thing in this world I want that I don’t already have and neither you,” he eyed Sicheng up and down, “nor anything you own is it.” Upon Sicheng’s confused gaze, Johnny gestured at the spot on the bench next to him. “Sit down. Your fidgeting irritates me.”

Sicheng did as he was told. Johnny leaned his head back against the wall, closed his eyes to align his thoughts. Next to him, he could hear the rustle of fabric as Sicheng perched himself on the edge of the bench. Johnny opened his eyes.

“Do you know how trading favours works, Sicheng?”

Sicheng was holding his head high, but Johnny didn’t miss the slight quiver to his hands as he shoved them between his thighs. He shook his head.

“It’s when you do something for someone and then they owe you. Like I did something for you when I told my cousin to befriend your brother. You see, normally both parties get something out of it. It’s called a win-win situation. Yet when it comes to our little agreement, it seems I’ve only lost-lost so far. That means you owe me, Sicheng.”

Sicheng lowered his head. Johnny was thankful that the other boy wasn‘t fighting him on this. It meant that their meeting would be over sooner rather than later.

“What do… you want?”

Johnny smiled. “I must admit, I lied earlier. You do have one thing that I want. Funnily enough, it’s the same thing you asked of me. You have might, Sicheng, influence and I want to use it.”

Sicheng furrowed his brows, but Johnny could see the way his arms tensed with how hard he was pressing his palms together in his lap. “I don’t understand.”

“It’s okay. I’m going to explain it to you.” Johnny watched the way Sicheng’s eyes widened as he laid out his plan for him.

The moment he stopped talking, Sicheng vehemently shook his head. “No.”

Johnny sighed. “Your defiance is admirable, but I promise you that this is already the nicest option I’m offering. Apart from that, it‘s either this or I’m ending our agreement and your brother is friendless by the time lunch is over.”

Sicheng’s head whipped up.

“You want that?” Johnny pressed on. “You want your brother all alone in the snake pit?”

Where Sicheng had been pale before, he now turned slightly green. “No. Not Renjun. You can’t—”

“Oh, but I can.” Johnny leaned forward until he was looming over Sicheng enough that there was no way Sicheng could miss the void Johnny’s eyes. “You think Donghyuck wouldn’t do that for me? Your brother is Donghyuck’s friend, but I’m his cousin. I’m more important to him than his own parents. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do if I asked him to and that includes breaking your little brother like a twig.

Sicheng continued to frantically shake his head, having understood perfectly well.

Johnny bared his teeth. “You love your brother so much, Sicheng, don’t you? You loved him enough that you asked a snake, that you asked me, for help at the beginning of the year. And I did what you asked. I helped you and now look where that got me.” Johnny leaned back and adjusted his sling once again. Sicheng’s eyes followed the motion, filled with guilt. “Your best friend broke my arm. Not that I would’ve expected different from him. We all know Yuta is unhinged like that. But I would have expected different from you. You Hufflepuffs are supposed to be honest, are you not? You weren’t with him. Why didn’t you tell him about our trade-off, Sicheng?”

Where Sicheng had been squirming, he stilled. Johnny waited such a long time for an answer that he nearly missed it when it came over Sicheng’s lips, “Because he loves me.”

Johnny felt his eyebrows rise.

Sicheng took a shuddering breath, dragged his gaze up to Johnny’s face. “Yuta loves me. Right now. I can’t lose that. He won’t love me when he knows…. that I went to you. Instead of him. Right now... he thinks it’s your fault.” Sicheng hung his head low. “He thinks you came after me. He hates you. Not me.” Sicheng’s voice became almost inaudible. “Never me.”

Johnny almost felt a pang of sympathy in his chest. It was overshadowed by the pain surging up in his right hand, jolting up his arm when he moved his shoulder and got up. 

“It’s funny,” he said. “I haven’t seen the two of you be apart for more than a minute ever since you came here and yet you don’t seem to know him at all.”

Sicheng’s eyebrows scrunched up, his eyes glimmering with confusion when he looked up.

Johnny dusted off his robes and looked down at Sicheng. “I’m a nice person, so I’ll give you until dinner. Either you do what I asked of you, or you don’t and your little brother suffers the consequences. But I can tell you right now, it’s terrible to see someone you love lose something they hold dear because of a mistake you made. It’s up to you, Sicheng. Choose.”

With that, Johnny left. He climbed the stairs up to the Entrance Hall, adjusted the knot of his sling once again and smiled. For the first time in days, he felt no pain at all.

*

“Okay, so what I got is that you’re either going to be eaten by a horde of trolls during the second full moon of this year—”

“Which was nine months ago.”

“Right, or you’re pregnant with fraternal twins.” Ten’s eyes widened as he looked up from his Divination book. “Jae! You should have told us!”

Johnny looked up just in time to see Jaehyun grab the back pillow of his chair. Johnny dodged the pillow tussles swinging by his face and grabbed onto the pillow before Jaehyun could use it to whack their friend over the head. Upon Jaehyun’s betrayed expression, he shrugged. “Dibs on the godfather gig.”

Ten spluttered in protest. “There’s two of them! I want at least one!”

“I'm not pregnant!”

“Uh, your dregs look like a two-headed snake and that means 'two forces growing inside, springing from the same yet they are nothing alike',” Ten recited from the book. “Sounds like pregnancy to me.”

Jaehyun rolled his eyes. “Fuck it, I’m doing the damn tea leaf reading myself. Give me your book, Tennie.”

“Are you in need of assistance, Mr Jung?”

Johnny hurried to look like he had been diligently studying his own tea dregs when Professor Solar approached their roundtable.

“No, thank you, Professor.” Jaehyun shot her his most charming smile.

“That’s good to hear. Now, please return your attention back to your task. The key to a successful tessomancy reading lies in not disrespecting the tea leaves' power to show us a reflection of the strings that tie our fates together.” When Jaehyun’s expression didn’t change, Professor Solar’s expression darkened. “It’s a very serious matter, Mr Jung.”

“Yes, of course, Professor.” Jaehyun hung his head low.  Johnny could hear Ten snicker into his hand.

Professor Solar moved on, running her hands along the crystals embedded into her wrist bands as she muttered on about the importance of tessomancy. Johnny waited until she had left for the table next to them before he dropped his tea cup back onto its underplate. Leaning forward, he rolled his neck, massaging the strain in his shoulder with a low groan. When he looked up, his eyes fell onto the round table opposite of theirs, right next to Professor Solar’s desk. Johnny was about to let his gaze wander on when he saw something unusual.

Taeil was hunched over, rocking back and forth as his quill moved over the piece of parchment in front of him, his lips moving to form silent words. That wasn‘t an unusual sight. Johnny had watched Taeil get weird like that countless of times in class. What was unusual was the milky state of his eyes, the way his hand continued to move even after his quill had slipped off the paper. Johnny frowned and looked over at Doyoung and Yuta. Neither of them had seemed to notice what was going on with their friend. They were busy using their tea leaf dregs to fill out the patterns of the crochet tablecloth on their table.

Johnny got up, taking his cup with him.  “I don’t see anything in my leaves. I'm getting a new cup.”

“You're dedication to the strings that tie our fates together is admirable, Johnnyboy.”

Jaehyun smiled when Johnny looked at him, seeming more content now that he was squeezing the merry life out of Ten, who was flailing against the arm Jaehyun had wrapped around his neck. Johnny only had one hand to hold the tea cup so he lifted his middle finger from the handle and wriggled it for Jaehyun to see. Jaehyun grinned and sent him off by blowing a kiss into the air.

Johnny rolled his eyes and made his way down the rows. He waited until he was close to the Gryffindor table before he stumbled, his tea cup falling from his fingers. It hit the ground with a low thump, spilling tea leaf dregs all over the floor as it rolled right in front of Taeil’s table. Johnny let out an annoyed sigh and walked over. The moment he stood in front of Taeil’s table, he adjusted his sling and motioned to bend down, let his eyes roam over the parchment in front of Taeil while he did so. Taeil’s scrawl was messy, but even so Johnny could make out the same two lines, written over and over again.

“... one out of three for one and one… eight to six as nine from ten...”

“Here you go, Johnny.”

Johnny looked up at Doyoung, who had moved from his seat to pick up the tea cup, holding it out for him.

Johnny smoothed out his expression and took it. “Thank you.”

Doyoung shot him a tight-lipped smile. For a moment, it looked like he was going to say something, but Johnny turned away before he had the chance to do so and resumed his way over to Professor Solar’s table. While he cleaned his cup with his wand, he glanced at Taeil, whose eyes had regained their usual brown colour. He was frowning down at the parchment now, his lips moving in silent repetition as he played with the crystals hanging from his neck.

 Johnny placed a fresh handful of tea leaves in his cup and poured some boiling water over it before he carried the cup back to his own table. He couldn’t help the slight pang of annoyance he felt at his wasted efforts. Taeil’s premonition made about as much sense as Ten’s. It was useless.

“Did Doyoung say anything?” Ten asked as soon as Johnny had sat back down at their table. “I watched him get out of his seat to help you.”

Johnny shook his head. “No, but it’s weird. If I didn’t know better I’d almost say he has a bad conscience.”

“Well, given that Yuta almost killed you and you let him off easy in Headmaster Heechul’s office, it makes sense, I guess.” Ten shrugged before a devious smile made its way onto his face. “Not that any of it matters. How long did you give, Sicheng?”

“Until dinner.”

Ten nodded, his lips dropping into a pout. “I still think you should tell us what you asked of him. Shouldn’t he, Jae?”

Jaehyun, who had been intently staring at Doyoung, flinched when Ten placed a hand on his shoulder. He remained still for a moment before he shrugged, averting his eyes to Ten’s Divination book. “I trust Johnny. I’m more concerned with getting this damn reading done. We should just wing it.” He held the book out to Ten. “Close your eyes and drop your finger anywhere on the page.”

*

Johnny looked up from the tome he was balancing on his legs and tilted his head to the side. He was sitting in one of the reading corners of the library, his back propped against the arm rest of a worn-out leather settee and his legs sprawled out in front of him. Closing his eyes, Johnny turned his head so his face was fully turned towards the window, allowed the sun to burn the world behind his eyelids. Now that there was no Quidditch practice to fill his afternoon, he had opted to spend it in the library instead, catching up on some readings for his Charms class.

“You’re scheming.”

Johnny felt a smile tug on his lips. He turned and moved his body with it, his sock-clad feet hitting the floor with a low thump. The tome was heavy, more so because he had to lift it with one hand, but Johnny did it without letting his smile falter.

“Good afternoon to you too, Taeyong.”

Johnny set the tome down on the low reading table next to the sofa and beckoned the other boy forward.

Taeyong went with a sigh, abandoning the loaded book cart he had dragged behind him. He let himself fall onto the settee next to Johnny, practically melting into the sofa as he rubbed a hand over his face. From this close of a proximity, Johnny noticed that Taeyong’s eyes were reddened, his skin blotchy and nose slightly swollen.

“Are you allergic to dust?” Johnny asked, placing his arm on the back rest of the settee so he could lightly drag his fingers over the back of Taeyong’s neck.

Taeyong nodded, wiping his nose with his sleeve. “It’s usually not that bad. I practically live in the library so I’ve had some exposure therapy, but Yixing sent to get some older books from the History of Magic section earlier and nobody ever goes in there, so.” Taeyong sniffed, rubbing at his nose with a disgruntled expression before he melted into Johnny’s touch and let his eyes flutter shut with a silent sigh.

 “You still look beautiful,” Johnny told him, because Taeyong did.

Taeyong’s eyes fluttered open before he squinted at Johnny. “Are you still on Draught of Bliss?”

Johnny felt the smile die on his lips. He wasn’t. Madame Amber had cut him off when he had been released from the infirmary yesterday morning and though Johnny knew that she was right to do so, it didn’t help him to block out the pain still coursing through his arm in uneven intervals.

“No,” he quipped.

Taeyong watched him for a moment, something akin to regret flashing over his eyes. “I’m sorry.” His ears turned pink, the colour even more prominent against his silvery white hair. “Thank you.”

Johnny smiled. Taeyong stared at him, dark eyes roaming down his face, neck and chest before they settled on his arm. Slowly, Taeyong reached out a hand. Johnny held his breath as Taeyong’s fingers brushed against his exposed finger tips, ghosted along his wrist and up his underarm until he had reached the end of the cast right below the crook of Johnny’s elbow.

Taeyong’s voice was quiet when he asked, “Does it hurt a lot?”

 “Yes.”

Johnny was careful not to let any of his discomfort show on his face as he lifted his arm out of the sling and carefully stretched it out. The healing spell had realigned his bones and was speeding up the process of them growing back together significantly, but even so it would take another couple of weeks until he would lose the cast. Taeyong reached his hands out as if to touch. Johnny let him and waited patiently. He hadn’t forgotten why Taeyong had come to him.

Taeyong held up Johnny’s arm with one hand while he soothed his other hand down the length of it. Johnny could feel the pressure of Taeyong’s hands against the bandaging, but he didn’t feel much more. It didn’t hurt. Taeyong’s eyes remained on Johnny’s broken arm when he spoke up, his voice as gentle as his hands, “I was with Winwin when Ten came to get him. Ten said Winwin had something that you wanted and it was time that Winwin gave it to you, because he owed you. I haven’t figured out yet what it is that you want to do, but I know you and I know that you’re capable of terrible things, so whatever it is—” Taeyong took a shuddering breath, his eyes wide and imploring when he looked up at Johnny. “Whatever it is that you’re planning to do, please don’t do it.”

Johnny looked down so Taeyong wouldn’t see the light seep out of his eyes. He felt his jaw clench as he spoke, carefully pulled his arm out of Taeyong’s grip, “You’re pretty, Taeyong, but so was my hand.”

Taeyong stilled and Johnny tried hard to ignore the desperation on his face.

“They’re my friends, Johnny. I know—I know what Yuta has done to you is unforgivable, I know that and I’m angry. I’m very angry at them all for what has happened, but they are still my friends. Please, don’t hurt them. Do you hear me? I’m asking you not to hurt them.”

“For you,” Johnny said and watched Taeyong’s face light up with gratitude and relief. And then he lied, “it’s almost enough.”

Taeyong’s face fell as quickly as it had lit up. “No.” He shook his head. “No, Johnny.”

Johnny looked away.

Taeyong took a shuddering breath and Johnny could feel his body quiver. He expected Taeyong to yell at him, plead some more, or even slap him like he had slapped Yuta. Instead, Taeyong curled in on himself. He pulled his knees to his chest and flopped to the side, his head landing on Johnny’s thigh. Johnny stared down at him in confusion before he noticed the way Taeyong’s breath was coming just a little too fast. Biting the inside of his cheek, he placed his hand on Taeyong’s hip.

“I’m sorry,” he murmured.

Taeyong shook his head and when he stopped, his entire body stilled. His voice was unwavering when he said, “I watched you fall.”

Johnny inhaled deeply. He remembered the last time Taeyong had told him almost these same words. Do you know what happens to a block of ice when you hit it with a bludger, Johnny? It shatters. That’s my wish. I wish you would have known that. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to see you fall then.

Johnny ran his hand back up Taeyong’s spine, over his shoulder and let it rest on Taeyong’s heart, feeling the heart beat just a tad too fast against his fingers.

“I know.”

For you, Johnny thought, it’s enough.

*

Johnny waited until Donghyuck had cut the entirety of Johnny’s baked potato into bite-sized pieces before he sent his cousin back to sit with his friends at the front of the Slytherin table.

“But I want to sit with you,” Donghyuck protested. “You might get hurt again and then I’m not there to protect you. Again.”

Johnny couldn’t help but smile as he used his unscathed hand to smooth out the messy strands sticking up at the back of Donghyuck’s head. “Nothing’s going to happen to me here, Hyuck. Besides, Jaehyun and Ten are here to take care of me, aren’t they?”

Donghyuck turned his head to squint at the two boys sitting opposite of them. “That didn’t help you the first time either.”

Johnny moved his hand over Donghyuck’s face to shield him from the death glare Jaehyun sent his way.

“I’ve told you that it was neither their fault nor anybody else’s. Now go back to your friends, Hyuck. See, Renjun looks a little lost. Why don’t you go and hug him for a bit, yes? Really tightly.”

Donghyuck grumbled, but climbed off the bench. He hugged Johnny from behind, pushed his face into Johnny’s back before he skipped over to where his friends were waiting for him. Donghyuck plopped himself down on the bench next to Renjun and, much like Johnny had hoped, threw an arm around Renjun’s shoulders, patting his hair when Renjun beamed at him. Satisfied, Johnny turned towards the remnants of his potato.

“Are you sure you don’t want to tell him?” Jaehyun asked the moment Donghyuck was gone.

“I second that.” Ten shuddered. “I still expect the little hellspawn to seek revenge against Jae and I. He was so furious when we told him about your ‘accident’, Johnnyboy, you have no idea.”

Johnny had a very good idea of how much of a temper tantrum his cousin had thrown when he had heard about Johnny getting hurt. Johnny had relived it on Sunday afternoon when Madame Amber had let Donghyuck visit him. Donghyuck had used the ten minutes she had granted him to yell at Johnny, then bawl the extra five minutes Johnny had begged off of Madame Amber until, eventually, Jaehyun had come and dragged him away with the promise of sneaking the tikes into the kitchen so they could have some cauldron cake before dinner. 

“It’s better this way,” Johnny said. “He is not going to seek revenge against you two because he knows I would disapprove and you’re not really at fault. But what do you think would happen if he knew it was Yuta? Aunt Boreum would have my head if I let him get himself expelled before he’s even finished his first year.”

“It’d be a shame, too,” Jaehyun added, lifting his eyes from the letter in his hands, “after you’ve invested so much time into socialising him this year.”

“I still don’t like it.” Ten grumbled.

“I said no.”

“And I hear you, Johnny,” Johnny raised his brows at how upset Ten seemed, “but you haven’t done anything yet. You won’t even tell neither Jae nor me what you’ve planned. I just think we should—”

“Sicheng is here,” Jaehyun interrupted Ten, nodding his head at the entrance doors. Ten immediately perked up, whatever tension might have taken a hold of him seeping from his body. Johnny craned his own neck as he watched Sicheng walk into the Great Hall.

“Merlin’s beard,” Jaehyun cursed under his breath before he turned to look at Johnny. “He looks absolutely miserable. What did you do to him, Johnnyboy?”

Johnny watched Sicheng as the Hufflepuff lingered by the doors, the knot of his tie coming undone with how forcefully he was tugging on it. Johnny sighed. “I told him I’d have Donghyuck come after his little brother if he didn’t do what I asked him to.”

“And he believed you?” Ten raised an unimpressed eyebrow, his eyes not leaving Sicheng.

Johnny shrugged. “Donghyuck would do it.”

“Yes,” Jaehyun smiled at him, “but you wouldn’t.”

Johnny reciprocated his smile and took another sip of his pumpkin juice. “Just watch.”

Sicheng sat down at the Hufflepuff table first. The rest of his fellow fifth-years began to fawn over him, but he didn’t pay attention to any one of them. Instead, his eyes flickered up to meet Johnny’s across the room. Johnny held his gaze as he lifted his left hand, turned the back of his hand and curled his fingers. Sicheng stared back at him, his eyes dark, unwavering, but then they flickered over to the front of the Slytherin table, to the small boy with the firetruck-red hair sitting there and Johnny watched him falter, break apart. It was more satisfying than Johnny would have imagined.

Sicheng got up slowly, straightened out his uniform before he began walking back in the direction of the doors. Johnny averted his eyes to the Gryffindor table. He watched the broad, blinding smile on Yuta’s face when he saw Sicheng approach, watched the way it fell when Sicheng walked past him, his face carefully blank, and continued on to the Slytherin table.

Yuta’s mouth moved, his eyebrows drawing together as he called out Sicheng’s name, but Sicheng ignored him.

“Can… I sit?”

Johnny’s smile widened and, slowly, he lifted his unscathed arm. Sicheng sat down next to him and Johnny wasted no time throwing his arm over the Hufflepuff’s narrow shoulders. He inclined his head, whispered into Sicheng’s ear loud enough for his friends to hear, “Congratulations, Sicheng. You chose right.”

Sicheng turned his head and shot him a close-mouthed smile. It was all for show, but that was all Johnny needed. He laughed as if Sicheng had said something extraordinarily funny and handed him a plate.

“Here. While you’re sitting with us, you should eat. Make yourself comfortable.”

Sicheng took the plate from his hand, his grip white-knuckled around its edges, but he did as Johnny had told him, jerking his head in gratitude. Jaehyun watched the motion with unveiled interest before he dropped his knife and pulled his wand from his pocket, placing it on the table next to his plate. Ten hurried to do the same.

Johnny would have told them off for it, but his attention was caught by movement at the Gryffindor table. As it turned out, Jaehyun had excellent instincts. Feeling anticipation seizing his stomach, Johnny focussed on his own plate. It was then that he realised that he had no hand left to eat with.

“Sicheng,” he said, tapping the other boy’s shoulder.

Sicheng looked up. His face was slowly but surely turning a disconcerting shade of red.  

Johnny smiled at him sheepishly, but knew that it didn’t reach his eyes. “It seems like I don’t have a hand free. Could you help me eat?”

Sicheng stared at him, stared at the food on his plate and opened his mouth.

“Normally, Donghyuck helps me,” Johnny continued before Sicheng could say anything. “But I told him to eat with his friends today. They missed him, you know? It’s so important for a boy his age to be with his friends.”

This time, Sicheng didn’t bother to mask the hatred in his eyes.

Johnny simply raised an expectant eyebrow.

Sicheng snapped his mouth back shut and picked up the fork Donghyuck had discarded earlier and speared a piece of baked potato onto the tines. His hand was slightly quivering as he lifted it to Johnny’s mouth.

Johnny smiled around the fork. “Thanks.”

“Winwin.”

Jaehyun’s hand fell to the wand he had prepared, but he aborted the motion when Johnny lightly shook his head.

Doyoung was standing right behind Jaehyun, his arms crossed in front of his chest and his smile more than a little strained as he looked at his friend. “Winwin,” he repeated and leaned forward, whispered as if Johnny wouldn’t be able to hear him if he just got close enough, “what are you doing here?”

Winwin raised his head slowly. He tilted his head, furrowed his brows as if he hadn’t understood Doyoung’s question. “I sit here.”

“Yeah, I can see that. But, uhm, don’t you want to sit with us?” Doyoung gestured behind himself. “Yuta’s been saving you a seat.”

Johnny could feel a slight tremor go through Sicheng’s body. A short glance at the Gryffindor table assured Johnny that Yuta hadn’t moved from his seat. His hands were balled into fists on the table, but apart from that he sat perfectly still, the only moving thing where his eyes, wide with disbelief and trained on them. Johnny met his gaze and ran his tongue over his bottom lip, plastered the nastiest grin onto his face that he could muster. The disbelief on Yuta’s face turned into outrage.

“No,” Sicheng said and Johnny was impressed. There was no waver in his voice, no shine to his eyes that would have given away the lie. “I want to sit here.”

Doyoung’s smile faltered. “Oh.”

“I’m sure,” Sicheng said before Doyoung could ask and then he curled his hand into the front of Johnny’s sweater. “Please, leave now.”

Doyoung shook his head, but took a half-step backwards when Sicheng didn’t say any more. “Okay, if you say so…?”

“I say so.”

Doyoung nodded and pressed his lips into a tight line. There was a loud bang then, like the sound of ceramic shattering, followed by several cries of surprise. Johnny looked towards the Gryffindor table just in time to see Taeil fall to the ground bottom-first. He sat there with a dazed expression, rubbing his arm as Yuta stormed past him. Doyoung cursed under his breath and took off. He went for Taeil first, but Kun was already with him, helping him up. At the Ravenclaw table, Johnny could see Taeyong get up as well. Doyoung fastened his pace and ran out of the Great Hall.

“Well,” Johnny said, “that was dramatic.”

Upon his comment, both Ten and Jaehyun turned away from where they had watched the scene to stare at him with wide eyes.

“Merlin, Johnny,” Jaehyun said.

Ten nodded, his eyes slightly glossy from the spectacle. “You just murdered him. In front of everyone, you just tore out Yuta‘s heart and murdered him.”

Sicheng next to him let out a single, dry sob.

“He shattered my wrist.” Johnny shrugged. “Now I’ve shattered his heart. A part of him for a part of me.” Johnny made sure to look at Sicheng when he said, “We’re nothing but even.”

Chapter Text

Taeyong and Taeil left shortly after Yuta and Doyoung, Taeyong leading Taeil out of the Great Hall while the Gryffindor boy kept rubbing his arm. Johnny averted his eyes when Taeyong looked in his direction, entertained himself by asking Sicheng to refill his cup instead. When he looked back up, Taeyong and Taeil were gone, leaving Kun to sit alone at the table.

Johnny watched as Kun stared after his friends, slightly shaking his head before he reached into the breast pocket of his robes. Johnny tensed, thinking that Kun might pull his wand, but instead the Gryffindor prefect procured a purple pygmy puff from the depths of his robes. The deep-set frown on Kun’s face melted into a small smile when the pygmy puff rolled around in his palm, nibbled on his fingers. Setting the pygmy puff down onto the table next to his plate, Kun began to eat.

Johnny lifted his arm from around Sicheng’s shoulder and picked up his fork. With no one there to watch, there was no need to keep the show going much longer. Sicheng didn’t react to the loss of contact. He was too busy staring down at his plate with his lips pressed into a tight line, his shoulders heaving from time to time. Johnny tuned into the conversation Ten and Jaehyun were having about the Herbology essay Ten had been struggling with for days now. He hurried to eat before the food would vanish.

The last of the dinner had just cleared itself from their plates when Luna walked up to their table, Krystal following right behind her.

“Jaehyun,” they said in unison.  

Jaehyun looked up from Ten’s essay and turned his head. He frowned when he saw he urgency in their eyes. “What’s wrong?”

“You should come with us,” Luna nodded her head at the double doors.

“Right now,” Krystal added.

“Why?” Ten asked as he pushed himself to his feet. Jaehyun was stepping out of the bench already.

“It’s your father,” Luna directed at Jaehyun. “He’s outside with Heechul and Professor Minseok.”

Jaehyun froze with his leg halfway over the bench before he set his foot down. “Thank you for telling me.”

Johnny hurried to set his cutlery down. He was about to get up when he was caught by his sleeve. He looked down at his arm, followed Sicheng’s hand up to his face. Johnny raised a single brow.

“Done?” Sicheng’s voice was quivering as he spoke, his eyes flitting to where Ten and Jaehyun were heading for the doors. Johnny saw the spark in them. He waited for it to ignite, waited for all the anger and misery he had put upon Sicheng to serve its purpose. When nothing happened, Johnny plastered a smile onto his face. He’d have to try harder tomorrow.

“You can go, Pet.” After a moment, he added, “I’ll see you tomorrow at breakfast.”

His smile only broadened when Sicheng’s gaze filled with unaltered hatred. Freeing himself from Sicheng’s grip, Johnny hurried to catch up with Jaehyun and Ten. He fell into step with them just as they exited the Great Hall.

As promised, Headmaster Heechul and Professor Minseok were standing in the middle of the entrance hall. With them stood a tall, slender man dressed in plum-coloured dress robes, the deep, rich colour announcing to everyone who might not have known what office Jaehyun’s father held. Even from afar, Johnny could feel the air of venerability that surrounded the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. He was no stranger to the sensation, but still Johnny straightened his posture almost instinctively, adjusted the knot of his sling on his shoulder.

“Jae?” he asked quietly.

“He told me he might come by.” Jaehyun ran his hands down his front, smoothing out any potential wrinkles. “I didn’t think he’d actually do it.”

Chief Warlock Jung extended a beringed hand for Headmaster Heechul to shake, speaking in low tones. Professor Minseok nodded along and took the proffered hand as soon as Heechul let go.

“Father,” Jaehyun said, causing all three men to look at them.

“Jaehyun?” The blasé expression on the Chief Warlock’s face was broken by surprise before his expression shifted into something much more pleasant. He reached out a hand and Jaehyun hurried to take it, bowing lightly as his father pulled him close. The Chief Warlock inspected Jaehyun from head to toe. Jaehyun kept his eyes on the ground, only lifted his gaze when his father ran a hand through his hair. “You look well, son.”

Jaehyun’s ears turned red, deep dimples digging into his cheeks as he smiled at his feet. Chief Warlock Jung looked at his son for only a moment longer before he looked up and looked at Johnny. Johnny instinctively squared his shoulders.

“It’s good to see you up and walking, Youngho.” Chief Warlock Jung’s gaze was as unsettling as it was reassuring when he scrutinised Johnny the same way he had perused his son. “Your father asked me to make sure of your well-being. He was very upset when the news of your accident reached him. Your arm is healing well?”

“It’s healing very well. I’m fine.” Johnny inclined his head. “Thank you, Sir.”

The Chief Warlock nodded, satisfied, before he turned towards Ten. “And you, Ten? Are you keeping the boys out of trouble?”

Ten’s smile was brilliant. “Always, Sir.”

Chief Warlock Jung turned back towards Professor Minseok and Heechul. “I think we have discussed everything of importance. I trust you to report back to me with any findings on your side, Minseok.”

Professor Minseok nodded again, his expression unnaturally grim as he did so. Johnny marvelled at the darkness pooling in his eyes, the air of danger surrounding Hogwarts’ cheeriest teacher that hinted at what exactly qualified him for the teaching position he held.

Headmaster Heechul cleared his throat, shaking the hand of Jaehyun’s father once again, their jewellery clinking together. “We will send an owl by the end of the week.”

“We are thankful for any kind of cooperation.” Chief Warlock Jung latched the clasps of his cloak. “I fear it’s getting late and there is still work at the Ministry waiting for me. Professor Heechul, would you think it possible for Jaehyun to accompany me back to Hogsmeade? I’d love to spend some time with my son before I floo back.”

Professor Minseok and Headmaster Heechul exchanged a quick glance. “Of course.”

“Thank you.” The same dimples that Jaehyun had inherited dug trenches into the sides of the Chief Warlock’s face. Jaehyun’s father lead the both of them out of the castle by keeping his hand against his son’s back.

Johnny watched them go, lifting his arm and resting it on Ten’s shoulder when he felt Ten press into his side. He waited until the castle doors had closed behind Jaehyun and his father before he looked down at his friend. Ten opened his mouth, his eyes twinkling, but the spark in his eyes died when his eyes fell onto something behind Johnny. A single, angry scream fell from Ten’s lips and he took off, chasing after a small, black shadow disappearing up the last step of the Grand Staircase.

“Nine! Come back here! Don’t you dare go back to that terrible tower again! That’s not where you belong!”

Johnny couldn’t do much more than stare after him before he turned towards the teachers. Neither of them paid him much attention as they conversed quietly amongst themselves. Professor Minseok waved him off with a distracted smile when Johnny excused himself. Johnny sighed and turned in the direction of the Dungeon. He’d have to wait in the common room for his friends to return.

He hadn’t made it down the first set of stairs when a hand came down on his shoulder, causing him to flinch and miss a step.  He regained his footing at the last moment, turning so he was standing sideways on the stairs, and glared up at whoever had startled him. Johnny quickly smoothed out his expression when he saw who was standing on the steps above him.

“Taeyong.”

As soon as the word had left Johnny’s mouth, Taeyong joined him on the lower step and pushed him backwards by hitting his chest with his palm, pushed and pushed until Johnny’s back hit the wall. Taeyong didn’t stop, just kept hitting Johnny’s chest until Johnny caught his hand.

“Taeyong!”

Taeyong tore his wrist out of his grip, knocked Johnny’s hand out of the way and curled his fingers into the front of Johnny’s robes as if to hold him in place. His eyes were blown-out black with rage when he met Johnny’s gaze.

“Did it feel good?” Johnny opened his mouth to answer, but Taeyong didn’t let him. “Did you enjoy it? Do you feel better now? Tell me,” Johnny could feel the bluntness of Taeyong’s nails dig into his skin even through the fabric, “did you have a good time?”

“Taeyong—"

“That you wanted to hurt Yuta, I understand. But doing that to Winwin? I can’t believe you—you…” Taeyong’s hand fell from his sweater, his face turning a sickly green as he stumbled back.

Taeyong looked seconds from throwing up and it took Johnny a moment to figure out where Taeyong’s mind had gone wrong, but when he did, he felt anger build up in his own chest. Johnny pressed his lips together, it was all he could do not to start yelling. Gritting his teeth, he stepped forward until he was crowding into Taeyong’s space, forcing Taeyong backwards until they were standing in the middle of the stairs.

“Taeyong Lee,” Johnny couldn’t help the growl that escaped his throat, “you must be out of your mind if you think I’d ever force Sicheng to sleep with me.”

“He’s pretty enough.” Taeyong’s eyes fell onto the tiles behind Johnny’s shoulder, his voice losing all intonation when he said, “You like pretty.”

This time, it was on Johnny to feel bile rise in his throat. “I wouldn’t want Sicheng even if he was the last boy in this castle. Do you really think that lowly of me that you believe I would ever consider doing such a thing?”

It tasted bitter, the feeling of betrayal, his lungs hurting with every breath as he tried to breathe past the pain. But he couldn’t blame Taeyong. Please, Johnny thought, please, hold on a little longer.   

“Winwinnie sat with you at dinner. He spoon-fed you.”

“Because I told him to . Remember the favour Sicheng owed me? That was it. I told him to ignore Yuta and sit with me. That’s all I asked of him.”

Taeyong’s frown deepened. “That’s all?”

“It worked, didn’t it?” Johnny shrugged. “Yuta’s heart is broken. I broke his heart just like he broke my arm.”

Taeyong stared at him for a long moment, his eyes losing a little bit of light with every emotion that flashed over his irides. Eventually, Taeyong took another step back. “You’re cruel.”

“When I need to be.”

“No.” Taeyong shook his head, and Johnny watched the anger return to his features. “You didn’t need to be. Not to this extent. You didn’t just break Yuta’s heart, Johnny.”

Johnny felt his expression harden. “Sicheng deserved it.”

“No, he didn’t.”

“He lied.”

Taeyong scoffed. “Everybody lies! Everybody, Johnny! You lie all the time, you’re just good enough at it that no one else notices.” Taeyong took another step back and hit the wall behind him, his hands coming up to cover his face. “I can’t believe I was stupid enough to believe you might listen to me. I can’t believe I was stupid enough to believe that you meant it when you said that you care about me.”

“I do.” Where Johnny had been hurting before, he now felt numb with shock. “I do, Taeyong.”

Taeyong vehemently shook his head. “I asked you not to hurt my friends, and what did you do? If you really would have cared about me, you wouldn’t have gone through with your plan. I begged you. You don’t know Yuta, Johnny. You don’t know what Winwin means to him.”

Johnny stared at him blankly. “I have an idea.”

“No, you really don’t. You’ve never been poor. You’ve never had to fight to hold onto the things that mean something to you. You wouldn’t understand what it’s like.”

“Then tell me.” When Taeyong scoffed at him, Johnny took a step forward. “No, tell me, Taeyong, what do you mean? What is it like?”

Taeyong’s smile was all teeth and betrayed by the unnatural shine to his eyes. Johnny held his breath when Taeyong pushed himself off the wall and closed the distance between them. He grabbed onto Johnny‘s left hand, gently this time, and lifted it into the air between them so that the signet ring around Johnny’s pinkie finger glistened in the light of the torches. “Take away your name, Johnny Seo . Take away what all the people in this castle think of you because of it and the fortune it entails. What do you have left?”

Johnny smiled. Maybe Taeyong was right. He didn’t understand what Taeyong was trying to tell him. “I’d be fine. I’d have Jaehyun and Ten.”

“What if someone tried to take them away from you, too?”

“They’d never leave me.”

Taeyong was so close to him, Johnny could count the lashes on his eyes, smell the faint lavender scent of his hair. He breathed in deeply when Taeyong leaned forward.

“What if there was someone who was cunning enough to take them away from you? If they were the greatest thing in your life, how desperate would you be to keep them? How much would you sacrifice to not have them leave you?”

“You don’t understand, Taeyong.” He shook his head. “They’re my brothers. They’d never leave me.”

Suddenly, Taeyong looked tired. He took a step back, letting go of Johnny’s wrist. “If Jaehyun and Ten are your brothers, then Yuta is mine. I know you hate him, but he is the best person I know. So I’m asking you again. Let it be over, Johnny. You broke two of my friends already, and Jaehyun is about to break Doyoung. You’ve won. Let it be over. You don’t listen to me when I beg, but if anything you’ve told me is true and you care about me even a little bit, then please stop. You got your revenge on Yuta. Let it go, let… let Winwin go. He doesn’t belong in this game you’re playing.”

Johnny draped his unscathed arm across his chest. He felt annoyance at how adamant Taeyong was to be on Sicheng’s side. “Sicheng is responsible for himself. He came to me. He asked me to take care of his little brother, and I did.”

“Yeah?” Taeyong let out a dry, humourless laugh. “Who do you think told him to ask you? That was me, Johnny. I told him that if he was worried about Renjun, he should ask you for help. I thought that it couldn’t be true what Doyoung and Yuta had to say about you.” Taeyong pressed his palms into the sockets of his eyes. The rest of his words were spoken so quietly that Johnny struggled to hear them, even if they were standing only centimetres apart. “I shouldn’t have listened to Taeil. I actually fooled myself into thinking that you were a good person, somewhere underneath this untouchable front you present to the world. This—this whole mess, it’s my fault.”

Johnny watched as a single tear make it past Taeyong’s hands, watched as it ran down his cheek and chin until it fell onto the collar of his undershirt, staining the pristine white fabric. Johnny suppressed the urge to reach for Taeyong and make him understand with his touch what he couldn’t tell him in words yet. It was too early. This was the ugly part, and he’d have to endure it, so he took a step back.

“I’m not a good person, Taeyong. All my ambition to be good got shot out of the sky with me. Now I’m in pain.”

Taeyong lifted his hands from his face, wiped his nose with the corner of his sleeve and smiled. Johnny would have preferred it if Taeyong had scowled at him. “I was there, Johnny. You always seem to forget, but I was there. It was me who cast the suspension spell. It was me who saved your life.” And then Taeyong’s expression changed. “If Sicheng owes you, you owe me.”

Johnny watched as Taeyong walked the remaining two steps between them. He swallowed when Taeyong curled his fingers into the front of his robes once again, forced him backwards until Johnny’s back hit the tiles behind him once again, his head following shortly after.

“Woah.”

Johnny was pretty sure he heard something in Taeyong’s neck crack with how fast whipped his head around. Feeling his heart skip a beat, Johnny turned his head slowly, feeling the cool surface of the tiles against the side of his face.

At the top of the stairs, Jaemin was standing with Jeno, as always, right beside him. While Jeno was watching them with mild confusion in his eyes, Jaemin was outright gaping at them, his eyes glued to where Taeyong was holding onto the front of Johnny’s robes still. Before either of them could say anything, Taeyong was pushing himself away from Johnny and bolting up the stairs, stopping only when he realised that Jaemin and Jeno were blocking his path.

“Excuse me,” Taeyong directed at Jaemin, who was promptly pulled out of the way by Jeno.

Taeyong squeezed himself past and disappeared around the corner. Johnny blindly rightened his tie before he looked at Jaemin and Jeno. To his surprise, neither of them paid him much attention.

“Jeno,” Jaemin was whispering, his eyes glued to the spot where Taeyong had disappeared. He was hitting his best friend’s arm repeatedly, oblivious to the slight wince Jeno let out. “Jeno, that was Taeyong Lee. Remember when I told you I heard some girls in Transfiguration talk about him?” Jeno was quick enough to catch him when Jaemin threw himself into his arms. “Oh, he’s just as handsome and brooding as they say! And he just talked to me! Did you hear?”

A giddy smile made its way onto Jaemin’s face when he looked up at Jeno, who nodded dutifully. “He did. He said ‘excuse me.’”

“Taeyong Lee acknowledged my existence.” With Jeno supporting the majority of his weight, Jaemin’s smile turned dopey, his next words lost to a dreamy sigh. “Best day of my life.”

When Jaemin began to relay the details of Taeyong’s face into the crook of Jeno’s neck, Johnny turned around. He descended the stairs two steps at a time, stopping only when he reached the door to the common room. While he waited for the tiles to melt away, he ran a hand through his hair, breathed in deeply until his breathing had calmed.

The common room was bustling at this time of the night. Johnny plastered a smile onto his face when he waved off Yeri’s invitation to join her and her friends in the game of goblin’s gold they were playing. Instead, he secured himself one of the few, empty armchairs near the book shelves and let himself sink into the leather. He bedded his head on the edge of the backrest, turning the signet ring on his pinkie with his thumb while he tried to fathom his thoughts. He had just closed his eyes when his hand was pushed away, bony knees digging into his thighs as a weight settled on his lap. Short fingers pulled on his ear to get his attention.

“Ow.” Johnny frowned and pried his eyes open.

Donghyuck ignored his complaint and placed his hands on his cheeks instead, squishing Johnny’s face together. “Where’s Tennie? I want to play with his cat.”

Johnny sighed. “Nine ran away again. He’s chasing after her.”

“Oh.”

Johnny lifted his hand and used his thumb to smooth out the small pout that had formed on his cousin’s lips. “I’m sure he’ll be back soon with her and maybe, if it’s not too late by then, you can help him feed her.”

“Okay.” Donghyuck shrugged and Johnny felt some of the tension leave his shoulders. He loved his cousin dearly, but he was not in the mood to deal with a temper tantrum right now.

He hummed as Donghyuck pulled the signet ring off his finger and put it onto his own thumb, pressing the pad of his thumb against his palm so it couldn’t slip off while he reached into his sweater. He pulled out the slim silver chain that lay hidden around his neck.

“Mine doesn’t fit yet,” Donghyuck whined as he let his own ring dangle in front of Johnny’s eyes. It was smaller than Johnny’s, a woman’s ring made up of two winding silver snakes intertwining to encase the Seo family crest.

Johnny smiled as he caught it in his hand, let his finger glide over the detailing. “Do you want me to resize it for you? Then you can wear it like I do.”

Johnny let the ring drop from his hand in favour of feeling around for his wand. Before he could wriggle it out of his pocket, Donghyuck caught his hand, shaking his head. “No, I like the chain you gave me. I might lose the ring without it.”

Johnny watched as Donghyuck stuffed the ring back under his sweater, his chain disappearing under the hem of it. Donghyuck patted the small bump on his chest where the ring sat before lifting Johnny’s hand and making him pat the same spot.

“All safe.” Donghyuck smiled up at him, brilliant and bright enough to rival the sun and for the first time that day, Johnny found himself smiling back with ease. “Since Tennie and Nine are not here, will you come help me beat Jisung at Wizard’s chess? Mark showed me how it works earlier and I couldn’t beat him, but I bet I can beat Jisungie.”

“Mhm, where’s the rest of your friends?”

“Chenle and Renjun are doing homework.” Donghyuck let out a pitiful sigh and pointed at the tables near the doors that lead to the dormitories. “Injunnie doesn’t know how to do the homework on his own, so Chenle translates it for him. It always takes ages, though, and Chenle says it’s distracting when Jisung and I are there. So, will you come and help me beat him?”

Johnny thought for a moment. “I will come and watch you beat him on your own.”

Donghyuck let out a dramatic sigh before he wriggled off his lap, conceding. Johnny grinned and allowed Donghyuck to drag him over to the homework tables. He smiled when Donghyuck deliberately chose the table furthest away from where Chenle and Renjun were sitting. Renjun was frowning down at the scroll on the table in front of him while Chenle patted his head, encouraging him in his high Chinese trill. Donghyuck told Johnny to stay put before he disappeared, returning shortly with Jisung in one hand and a Wizard’s chess board that had the words Mark Lee chipped into the bottom in the other.

Jisung faltered when he noticed Johnny sitting at the table Donghyuck had chosen. “That’s not fair! Your cousin is way older, he’ll know all the right moves!”

“Hence, I’m only here to watch.” Johnny shot Jisung a reassuring smile while Donghyuck climbed into his lap, accidentally jabbed his elbow into Johnny’s ribs as he set up the board. “Don’t worry, Hyuck will play all on his own.”

Jisung narrowed his eyes before he looked at Donghyuck. “Promise.”

Donghyuck sighed and stopped setting up the board to lift one fist into the air, stretching out his pinkie and thumb. Jisung mirrored his action, aligning the tips of their fingers before he settled into his chair, consoled. Johnny pulled his injured arm out of its sling and rested it on the table so Donghyuck could sit properly against his chest. He rested his chin on his cousin’s head and watched as Donghyuck began to explain the different tokens to Jisung. With Donghyuck’s steady weight against his chest, it was easier to breathe.

*

Johnny didn’t make it to breakfast the next morning.

He had stayed up late the night before, a sulking Ten taking up the better part of his bed. Ten had demanded that his hair be patted while they waited for Jaehyun to return. When Jaehyun had done so, he had merely sighed at the sight of an unconsolable Ten and claimed Ten’s bed for himself, promising Johnny to help him deal with it in the morning.

After a restless night, Johnny had woken up when Nine had sauntered into their dorm the next morning and jumped onto the foot end of Ten’s bed, demanding food by meowing loudly and clawing her way through the better part of Ten’s comforter until Hansol had thrown a pillow at her. Eventually, Jaehyun had taken pity on her and hexed open one of the gold-lidded cans of cat food Ten kept in his bedside table for her. Johnny had merely reacted by pulling his pillow over his head.

With his hair still wet and struggling to loosen his tie after he had used a spell to tie it, Johnny hurried up the stairs that lead to the Entrance Hall. He had chosen ten more minutes of sleep over heading up for breakfast with the others and now he’d have to hurry if he wanted to eat before classes. Before he could set a foot into the Great Hall, a firm hand wrapped itself around his upper arm. Johnny had been halfway dragged out of the throng of people trying to enter the Great Hall before he managed to pull himself free, glare down at the person who had intercepted him.

“Moon.” Johnny didn’t bother concealing the surprise in his voice. He took the time to look around, look for any hint of Yuta and Doyoung nearby before he pursed his lips, pushing his left hand into his pocket. “Is this an ambush? Should I pull my wand?”  

Taeil wasn’t looking at Johnny as he shook his head. Instead, his eyes were constantly roaming their surroundings. When he spoke, his voice was quiet and so uncharacteristically somber that it made Johnny actually listen to him.  “You need to come with me.”

Johnny snorted. “Yeah, I don’t think so.”

“It’s Taeyong.”

Johnny felt his breath fall short. “What?”

This time, Taeil did look at him. The Gryffindor studied his face for a moment, something akin to wonder flickering over his eyes before he settled on an annoyed glare. “There is no time.” He grabbed onto Johnny’s unscathed arm. “Come with me.”

“What happened?” Johnny struggled not to yell as he followed Taeil up the Grand Staircase. “What happened with Taeyong?”

His head was spinning with images of Taeyong losing his footing on the big ladder in the library, Taeyong casting a spell that backfired, Taeyong slipping on the spiral staircase leading up to the Ravenclaw Tower and busting his head open. Objectively, Johnny knew that Taeyong wasn’t prone to do either of those things, but he had been so angry the evening before. He had been so upset because of Johnny. Johnny felt nauseous with all the possibilities of what might have happened because of him.

Taeil let out a small, incoherent noise and pulled him in the direction of the second-floor bathroom. Of course, Johnny thought , of course, he’s in the bathroom.

As soon as the bathroom door had fallen shut behind them, Johnny looked around, searched the foreroom with his eyes. He was about to move closer to the basins when one of the stall doors at the far end of the bathroom opened. Johnny caught a glimpse of red and golden robes and his heart skipped a single beat before he turned back around and looked at Taeil.

“That was two-faced of you.”

Taeil’s expression didn’t change as he let himself fall back against the door, his fingers reaching for the charms dangling from his bracelets. He shrugged, tilting his head so he could look past Johnny’s shoulder. Johnny rolled his eyes and turned to face the Gryffindor.

Yuta wasn’t looking at him as he walked down the line of stalls, instead he was focussed on the small heap of golden hoops in his hands. It was a Chinese ring puzzle, Johnny realised, one that if solved aligned into an intricately detailed piece of jewellery. Yuta’s eyebrows scrunched up when he hooked two of the hoops incorrectly and then he lifted his gaze to look at Johnny. Whatever joy he might have found in the puzzle faded from his eyes.

Johnny sized Yuta up, let his gaze take the flesh off of Yuta’s bones before he tilted his head to the side. He narrowed his eyes. “Did you have Taeil bring me here to break another one of my bones?”  

Yuta’s mouth twitched, his eyes moving to look past Johnny’s shoulder. Johnny heard no words come over Taeil’s lips, but he watched as Yuta yielded nonetheless. He gave the ring puzzle one last look before he let it disappear into his pocket. Johnny expected him to pull out his wand with the motion, but Yuta’s hands were bare as he let them fall to his sides.

“I’m not here to break another one of your bones.”

Johnny raised a single brow.

“I want to,” Yuta admitted and Johnny felt himself relax a little more. He stood still as Yuta stared at him, long enough that it would have made people less used to being scrutinised squirm. “I think you’re way too full of yourself.” Yuta’s gaze became more intense with every word he spoke. “I think you walk through Hogwarts’ halls as if you owned them and the thought that there are people in this castle who worship the ground you and your friends walk on makes me sick. You make me sick.”

“Likewise.” Johnny smiled the most unbothered of his smiles. “Is that what you summoned me for? To tell me how much you hate me?”

Yuta’s eyes filled with fire. “You’re such an arrogant piece of—”

“Yuta.”

Johnny could hear Taeil move behind him, the crystal pendants of his necklaces clinking together with the movement.

Yuta caught himself. Snapping his mouth closed, he rubbed a hand over his face. When he looked back at Johnny, his eyes were empty, the spark gone as quickly as it had come. Johnny struggled to mask his disappointment.

“You did something.”

“I did something?”

“You did something and Winwinnie—” Yuta broke off, choking on whatever words night have followed.

Right,” Johnny stretched the word out. “Me and Winwin.”

Johnny allowed some of the satisfaction he felt to show on his face. He could see that Yuta saw, could see the way it riled him up.

Yuta quivered when he said, “Whatever it is that—whatever it is that you’re doing that makes him even look at you…” And then it broke him. “... please.”

Johnny felt his eyebrows rise when Yuta let his head fall.

“Please, let him go.”

Johnny opened his mouth and closed it again. He hadn’t expected that.

When he didn’t answer, Yuta raised his arm slowly, the sleeve of his robe falling to reveal his right underarm. His eyes were full of determination when he said, “I know you couldn’t care less about me asking you to leave him alone, so I’m offering you a trade. That’s what you Slytherin like, isn’t it?"

Johnny cocked his head to the side, silently beckoning Yuta to continue. 

"I’ll come with you right now and you can have Jung break my arm. I know he wants to for the Quidditch ban. I know you want him to. I’ll let you, if you let Winwin go. He doesn’t—he doesn’t belong with you. Let him go and you can do to me whatever you want. Have your revenge for me hitting that bludger, I don’t care, but leave Winwin out of it.”

Johnny perused Yuta for a long moment, searched his eyes and found nothing but sincerity in them. A small smile made its way onto his face. “That’s a tempting offer. Unfortunately, your pain is not what I want.” Johnny took a step back.  “Admittedly, in the beginning I might have been angry enough to consider your offer, but I’ve had some time to think about it and I have to say no. No. It was nice seeing you grovel, though. Humility suits you. You should try it more often.”

Johnny moved back just as Taeil passed him, bridging the distance between Yuta and himself and hugging the other boy tightly, tightly enough to keep him in place. Johnny took one last look at Yuta’s face. Johnny hoped that it hurt as much as he thought it might, hoped that it was enough to reignite the spark he had seen before, but Taeil was in the way. Yuta was shaking in his friend‘s grip, his eyes unseeing as they followed Johnny on his way to the door.  

“Seo!” Yuta called after him when Johnny pushed the door open, but Johnny didn’t pay him any attention as he stepped back onto the hallway. He had missed breakfast. He didn’t want to be late to class.

Chapter Text

Johnny made it to the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom just as Professor Minseok was about to close the door. Sprinting the last few metres, he came to a slithering halt, right as Professor Minseok pushed the door open further for him.

“Right on time, Mr Seo.”

“I try, Sir.” Johnny smiled his most demure smile as he slunk past the teacher.

Much like during their Boggart lesson, all chairs and tables had been pushed against the walls to make space for the long, wooden walkway that had been set up in the middle of the room. The boards of the duelling stage had been painted a deep midnight blue, celestial bodies adorning the sides. Johnny walked around the head end of the stage to join the other Slytherin near the windows.

He winced when Lisa punched him in the ribs, struggling to catch the small package she threw at him with one hand.

“Best regards from my cousin dearest. You better eat up, too. I promised Ten you would.”  

Johnny forewent flipping her off in favour of pressing the tied napkin against his chest. He struggled to open the bundle before Yeri took it from him. She opened the napkin with nimble fingers, handing him the bread roll inside.

He smiled at her. “Thanks, Yeri.”

Lisa demanded her attention a moment later by tugging at her arm and Johnny waited until Yeri had turned back around before he shoved the roll into his mouth in one go. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Hansol frown at him.

Chewing, he raised a questioning eyebrow at him.

Hansol sighed. “How anyone thinks you’re slick is beyond me.”

Johnny took the time to swallow the greater part of the roll before he shrugged. “I was busy during breakfast.”

Hansol’s huffed at him, but quieted down when Professor Minseok climbed onto the duelling stage. Soon, the rest of the students caught on and all chatter fell silent as Professor Minseok raised his voice, “Good morning, students. As most of you know, the primary aim of this class is to teach you how to defend yourselves and others from harm. We have talked about a great number of spells this year, but our emphasis should always lie on perfecting the defensive spells rather than the offensive ones. It’s in the very name ‘Defence Against the Dark Arts.’"

"Brilliant,“ Hansol muttered and Johnny suppressed a sigh, leaning forward to catch the rest of Professor Minseok‘s speech. 

“Yet,“ the teacher said, "you might find yourself faced with an enemy who doesn’t share the same sentiment as you and you’ll be forced to find the middle ground between drawing back and gaining the upper hand on your opponent by attacking them. As a good friend of mine always says ‘It‘s all about balance.’”

Professor Minseok smiled as he took a step forward, his foot hovering in the air above the edge of the stage before he let himself fall back, standing securely on both feet. “This is why we are going to duel today, and your goal will be to disarm your opponent in a manner that would allow you to subdue them if needed. Do we have any volunteers who would like to go first?”

Johnny cocked his head to the side when Hansol breathed into his ear,  “Wanna dance, Seo?”

Johnny hummed, struggling to keep the smile off his face. “After you, m’lady.”

Hansol slapped the back of his head before he dragged him forward, “Johnny and I want to go first, Professor.”

Professor Minseok sized up the both of them, his gaze catching on Johnny’s bandaged arm. “Are you sure you want participate in this lesson, Mr Seo? I’d be fine with you sitting out until your dominant hand has recovered.”

“I assure you that my left hand is fully capable, Sir.”

Somewhere behind him, Johnny could hear Lisa snort.

Professor Minseok beamed. “Excellent. Then you may enter the stage, gentlemen.”

Johnny was quick to climb the short set of stairs to his right while Hansol headed for the left side of the stage. Professor Minseok pulled his blackthorn wand and swung it, the stairs retracting into the inside of the stage once they had taken position. He left the stage walking backwards, landing smoothly on his feet as if he hadn’t let himself fall backwards down a one-metre drop.

“I bet a galleon on Johnny’s win.” Johnny could hear Yeri whisper as he pulled his wand. He grinned at Hansol from across the stage.

“I bet a galleon on Hansol’s win.”

Involuntarily, Johnny looked over to his friends. His heart skipped a beat before it continued beating twice as fast.

Yeri wrinkled her nose as she turned around. “You? I doubt you have that kind of money.”

Johnny watched as Taeyong glared at her. Taeyong pulled himself up to his full height, pushed his hand into his pocket and pulled out a galleon. “As I said,” holding Yeri’s gaze, he pressed it into Lisa’s hand, “I bet a galleon on Hansol’s win.”

Lisa studied the both of them, her gaze flickering over to meet Johnny’s for only a second before she grinned. “All right,” she pushed her hand into her own pocket, “so do I.”

“Rude, Lisa!” Johnny heard himself call out.

When all three of them turned to look at him, Johnny found that Taeyong’s expression was just as unamused as his own, his lips pressed into a tight line and chin tilted upwards. Taeyong held his gaze for several, long moments before he raised a single brow. Johnny felt his grip around his wand tighten and forced himself to focus back on Hansol.

Hansol smiled once he held Johnny’s attention and began walking. Johnny followed suit, raising his wand to his face when they met in the middle.

“Ready, gentlemen?” Professor Minseok asked.

“Yes,” they answered in unison.

“Bow and return to your end of the stage.”

Johnny inclined his head, his eyes never leaving Hansol’s as the prefect mirrored him. Johnny didn’t wait until he had reached the end of his side before he whirled back around. He faced forward just in time to deflect the curse Hansol had aimed at his back. Hansol’s smile only broadened as he deflected the leg-locker curse Johnny sent back.

“Snakes in the pit,” Johnny could hear one of the Ravenclaws murmur. “This ought to be interesting.”

The cedar in his hand vibrated as Johnny swung his wand, “Impedimenta!”

“Protego!”

Johnny dodged the slowing spell coming back at him by dropping into a crouch. He lost his balance when Hansol sent a stunning spell right after and his knees hit the boards of the duelling stage hard, sharp pain making his eyes water. Rapidly blinking, he lifted his wand. “Locomotor Mortis!”

This time his leg-locker curse hit and Johnny used the time Hansol needed to regain control of his legs to pull himself to his own feet. He shook out his arm in a sharp gesture before he flicked his wand in a perfect half circle. “Flipendo!”

Hansol was knocked back a good metre, but his back never hit the boards. Instead, his fall was cushioned mid-air and he levitated until he was floating upright, three consecutive stunning spells keeping Johnny busy until Hansol had regained his footing.

“Excellent use of the Ascendio spell, Mr Ji!” Professor Minseok called out and Johnny gritted his teeth.

“Expelliarmus!”

Johnny knew his aim was off even before Hansol deflected the hex. His wand was growing hot in his hand, his wrist hurting from the unusual effort of keeping it steady. He could hear the excited chatter of their classmates, the low whoops and gasps whenever one of the curses hit.

“Not good enough, Seo!” Hansol taunted him, but Johnny didn’t miss the way his breathing was growing more laboured with every stunning spell Johnny sent his way.

Johnny swished his wand before raising it, watched with satisfaction as several side panels of the stage broke off and shot through the air to form a shield in front of him. It was time to up the ante. “Oppugno!”

The panels swung around and shot off in Hansol’s direction. Hansol’s eyes grew wide and he barely managed to swing his wand in time, the reduction spell coming over his lips slightly garbled.

Johnny threw his arm up and covered his eyes as the panels exploded into splinters and dust. A mistake, Johnny realised, when he heard Hansol bellow. “Alarte Ascendare!”

Johnny’s lungs constricted as he was dragged into the air, ascending higher and higher until he was close enough to touch the ceiling. Before he could gather his bearings, gravity caught up to him and he dropped down. His wand slipped from his fingers as he landed flat on his back, stars exploding in front of his eyes as his head hit the boards hard. With a low groan, he rolled himself onto his side, his shoulder aching with the strain of keeping his injured arm out of the way.

When he managed to pry his eyes open, he could see Hansol walking toward him, a triumphant smile on his face. Johnny looked around, craned his neck and found his wand lying just a little more than an arm’s length away. Grunting, he reached out, dug his nails into the wood to pull himself closer.

As soon as he was almost within reach, Johnny stretched out his fingers and waited. His wand quivered, twitching in his direction, but then it stilled. Johnny frowned, tried to reach just that little bit farther so his wand would return to his grip, but the cedar didn’t move any further, remained still until it was too late.

Hansol smiled down at him. He had the decency to help him into a sitting position before he lifted his wand, the aspen wood glowing. “Incarcerous.”

Johnny glared at him as ropes began to tie themselves around his chest and legs, effectively immobilising him. He closed his eyes and sighed while Hansol turned towards the room and bowed, basking in the cheers of their classmates. A moment later, Johnny felt the familiar cedar of his wand knock against his fingers. He opened his hand and the wand slipped into his palm.

“Secaro,” he murmured and breathed in deeply when the ropes fell from his chest, their cut ends glowing before the ropes dissolved into nothing.

Professor Minseok was there a moment later, helping him to his feet. “Are you all right, Mr Seo?”

Johnny nodded. “I’m fine. Thank you, Professor.”

As soon as Professor Minseok had left to congratulate Hansol, he lowered his gaze to his wand, inspecting the wood for any kind of damage. The cedar gave a content hum when he ran his thumb along the length of it. Johnny frowned. He pinched his wand between two fingers and let it fall, just to have it surge up back into his hand, sticking itself to his skin.

Johnny felt the side of his face prickle and looked up. He found Taeyong looking at him with an expression on his face that was gone too quickly for Johnny to decipher. Before Johnny could study his face any further, Taeyong shook his fringe into his face and looked away, his hands buried deeply in his pockets. Johnny jumped off the stage and walked towards him, came to a halt in front of him just as Lisa threw an arm around his shoulder.

“Looks like we won, Prefect.” She offered him a palm full of galleons, oblivious to the way Taeyong squirmed at her touch.

“You bet on me?” Hansol asked, coming up from behind Johnny, and Johnny struggled not to roll his eyes at the entirely too pleased tone of his voice.

Taeyong smiled at him, too bright and too earnest, taking one of the galleons and offering the coin to him. “Prefect’s honour.”

Yeri, on Lisa’s other side, merely huffed before she turned towards Johnny. “You did great, Johnny.”

“Thanks, Yeri.” Before he could say any more, he was interrupted by a scoff.

“Johnny lost.” Johnny turned his head to look at him, but Taeyong’s sole focus was on Yeri. “He’s clearly not as great as you think!”

Where Yeri had been red-faced with anger before, she paled, taking a step back as her eyes flickered over to Johnny. Johnny felt himself grow very still. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Lisa’s eyes widen, the smile slipping from Hansol’s face. Taeyong noticed the shift in atmosphere a beat too late, his brows drawing together as he looked at each of Johnny’s friends before he followed their gazes, meeting Johnny’s eyes.

Johnny stared at Taeyong for a long moment, well aware of the three pairs of eyes following his every move as he leaned forward. He perused Taeyong’s face, so familiar to him by now that he could have drawn it while sleeping, saw it while sleeping. Johnny watched with satisfaction as a blush creeped up Taeyong’s neck, his cheeks turning pink under all the rapt attention. Nonetheless, Taeyong’s eyes remained hard, not a hint of apology in his posture.

“Does it make you happy?” Johnny asked. “That I lost?”

Taeyong eyed him with little mercy in his eyes. "I think it’s what you deserved. I think you need to remember what it feels like to lose. Stay down for a change.”

Johnny struggled not to smile at that. “I can’t do that, Taeyong. I like being on top too much.”

Johnny knew that if the two of them had been alone, he would have found himself with a wand against his throat by now. As it was, Taeyong only looked at him with fire in his eyes before he turned on his heel.

Johnny watched as he walked back to where the Ravenclaws had gathered closer to the stage to cheer on their duelling housemates. Then he turned to his own friends and punched Hansol in the shoulder.

“Don’t think you’re getting any money from me because you’ve outduelled me.”

Hansol laughed. It came out a little forced, but it was enough for the tension in the air to dissipate. “No, don’t worry.”

“C’mon, Yeri,” Lisa piped up, grabbing her friend’s hand and placing it on the top of her head. “I’m bored. Braid my hair while we watch Jennie kick Youngjae’s ass.”

Johnny smiled at the both of them before he stepped closer to the windows, perching himself on one of the tables. Hansol joined him a moment later and together they watched the two Ravenclaws on stage duel. It was Hansol who broke the silence between them.

“You let it slide.”

Johnny turned to look at him and Hansol added, “When Taeyong insulted you. You let it slide. At first, I thought it was just because you didn’t care enough, but when he kept going, I was really scared for his well-being for a moment.” The admission was accompanied by a small chuckle, but Johnny didn’t miss the nervous undertone, the real question underneath. Hansol knew him too well.

“I would never raise my wand against Taeyong.”

Johnny buried his hand deeply in his pocket and closed his hand around his wand. Upon Hansol’s sceptical gaze, he shrugged.

“What he said to me was right. I deserved to lose. I can’t fault him for pointing that out to me. And I can’t fault him for being angry, either, when I’ve been making him very unhappy lately.”

“Right,” Hansol shifted so he was sitting more comfortably on the hard tabletop, “I take it that you’re still torturing Yuta?”

Before Johnny could raise an eyebrow at him, Hansol rolled his eyes. “Don’t give me that look, Seo. Just because I use most of my free time to hang out with my girlfriend instead of you goobers doesn’t mean I don’t hear you talk at night.”

Johnny couldn‘t argue with that, so he answered honestly, “At the moment, yes. It’ll be over soon, though. Yuta‘s almost paid his dues.”

“Merlin, Seo, don’t make it sound so omnious,” Hansol muttered under his breath.

Johnny only smiled and pushed his friend off the tabletop.

*

Johnny looked up from his lunch when Ten let out a low gasp, knocking shoulders with Jaehyun as he craned his neck to see. “Oh, this is going to be too good.”

Johnny turned around in his seat just in time to see Sicheng walk towards the double doors of the Great Hall, trailing after a gaggle of chittering Hufflepuff girls. Doyoung was the only one of the Gryffindors who had shown up for lunch, so Johnny had sent Sicheng off to eat at his own table when it had become clear Yuta wasn’t going to come. Johnny searched the area around Sicheng with his eyes, but he didn’t realise what Ten meant until the gaggle of Hufflepuff girls moved aside to reveal Taeil and Yuta, the both of them on their way in.

Yuta was walking with his head lowered, too focussed on ring puzzle in his hands to look where he was going. Taeil was a half-step behind him, but he, too, realised too late what was about to happen. Sicheng froze the moment he caught sight of them.

The heap of golden hoops spilled from Yuta’s hands as he walked straight into Sicheng, causing the other boy to stumble. Yuta’s hands shot up to steady him and for a long moment, time seemed to stand still as the two of them stared at each other. Opposite of him, Johnny could hear Jaehyun take a bite out his toast.

Johnny watched as Sicheng raised his arm, reached for Yuta’s hand still holding onto his robes, but before their hands touched, Yuta pushed him away, tripping backwards. He didn’t bother picking up the parts of his puzzle before he spun on his heel and left the way he had come. Johnny saw the way Sicheng’s hand began to quiver, hanging uselessly in mid-air. Doyoung was there a moment later, gripping Sicheng by the wrist and pulling him out of the Great Hall before the Hufflepuff could do so much as think about crumbling. Taeil crouched down and hurried to collect all the golden hoops on the ground before he ran after his friends.

“Sad,” Ten commented when Johnny turned back to face the table, “I was hoping for a little more action.”

Johnny picked up his cup, ran his thumb over the rim. “Mhm.”

Jaehyun lowered his Daily Prophet and opened his mouth to speak, but whatever he had been wanting to say got lost when his eye got caught by something behind Johnny’s shoulder, his eyes widening in surprise. Johnny whipped his head around just in time to see Jaemin approach their table in a full sprint. He skidded to a halt not a metre in front of them, garbled words falling out of his mouth as he struggled to heave air into his lungs. Johnny hurried to get up and help him breathe.

“Hansol…” Jaemin retched out eventually. “Hansol sends me… you… you have to… Dungeon…” He wheezed. “All of you.”

"Ten, you’re the fastest,“ Johnny said. 

Ten nodded and was gone before either of them could do so much as blink.

“Johnny?” Jaehyun pressed out as he struggled to free his long legs from under the table.

“I got him.” Johnny didn’t look up from where he was busy rubbing circles into Jaemin’s back. “You, too, go!”

Jaehyun nodded and ran after Ten, who was already at the doors.

“Sorry.” Jaemin coughed as Johnny guided him to sit down on the seat Johnny had vacated. “I inhaled some of the smoke before I went to come and get you. The stairs took the last out of me. Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it, Jaemin. You did well.” Johnny tried hard maintain his calm demeanor. “Will you be okay if I leave you here?”

“Sure.” Jaemin coughed again and when he wiped a hand over his face, his fingertips left streaks of grey on his cheeks. Nonetheless, his smile was as bright as ever when he looked up at Johnny. “I’m really okay, I promise. Hansol told me to get all of you. He seemed really mad. You should go.”

“Okay.” Feeling his heart beat against his throat, Johnny nodded. “Okay.”

Sparing Jaemin one last glance, he turned and ran after his friends. Minutes later, he arrived at the dormitory to find the room in complete disarray.

Clothes were strewn all over the place, spilling from upended trunks and covering a majority of the floor. The mattresses had been pulled from the beds, the heavy fabric of the canopies torn in places. The air had been cleared, but the smell of burned parchment lingered heavy in the air.

Slowly, he made his way into the room. He passed Hansol and Jaehyun, who were yelling at each other over the remnants of Hansol’s bed. Johnny was grateful to notice that most of the damages were superficial. A long night of repairing spells would be able to mend most of them. There were some damages that couldn’t be undone, however. Where Johnny’s heart had been beating frantically, he felt it still.

Ten was kneeling in the middle of the room, hunched over what was now not more than a smoking pile of ashes and dust. His wand lay a good metre behind him in a puddle of water that the extinguishing spell must have left. Instead of his wand, he was clutching the remnants of a book. 

Johnny lowered himself to his knees next to his friend. Ten’s cheeks were tear-streaked when he lifted his head. The backs of his hands were raw and shining where the flesh had been seared during his attempt to pull the book from the pile when it had still been burning. “I’m sorry, Johnny. I’m so sorry, I tried to save it but it was at the very bottom of the pile and I couldn’t—”

Johnny shushed him by taking the book from his hands. He felt his ribcage constrict as he recognised the frayed binding, the faded golden lettering. With shaking fingers, he set the book on the ground and opened it. The pages inside were scorched, falling to ashes beneath his fingertips. A single, animalistic sound escaped him. Both Jaehyun and Hansol stopped arguing to look at him.

Where Hansol’s face had been red with anger, it lost all its colour as his eyes fell onto the book in Johnny’s hand. “Oh, Merlin, I—I thought it was only our homework and school books… Johnny.”

Johnny shook his head. He gritted his teeth to keep himself from throwing up and looked at Ten. “Find out where they are.”

Ten was up within a second. Using the sleeves of his robes to wipe the tears off his face, he didn’t spare any of them another glance as he went for the door. Johnny lowered his eyes back to the remnants of his book. Jaehyun was by his side not a moment later, ghosting his fingers over the singed cover, letting them hover over the only letters that were still legible. ...Bard.

“Maybe we can—” he tried.

“No.” In that moment, Johnny thought that most of all, he hated the fear in Jaehyun’s eyes. He forced himself to pull up the corners of his mouth. “It’s burned to ashes. There’s no restoring it.”

“And the photo?” Jaehyun grasped at the remnants of the pages as if it might have been hidden in there. “Her photo?”

Johnny shook his head. He knew Jaehyun was asking to keep him talking, but his head was filling with fog. He couldn’t let it consume him.

They both looked up when Ten returned, not bothering to make his way through the chaos. They wouldn’t stay any longer, so he remained at the door. “They’re out on the quad.”

Johnny nodded and pulled himself to his feet. He felt Jaehyun rise right behind him. As soon as they had made it to the door, Johnny turned back around to face the room. “Hansol?”

The prefect shook his head. “I can’t come with you. Whatever you’re going to do, I’d have to try and stop you.” His eyes fell onto the pile. “And I don’t think I want to.”

Johnny nodded and turned back around. Breathing in deeply, he lead his friends out of the dorm, through the Dungeon and out of the castle. 

It was snowing outside. The few students milling around the quad were bundled up in their thickest scarves and winter cloaks, but Johnny felt no cold as he made out his target.

Yuta was loitering near the Eastern wall of the quad. He was standing with his head tipped back, his eyes squeezed shut as he held his face towards the sky. It was only the rapid beat of his fingers against his legs that gave away his restlessness, the way his feet never quite stopped moving.

“Watch out,” Ten warned and Johnny cast a short glance to the side. Doyoung and Taeil were perched on a bench several metres away from Yuta, an anxious-looking Sicheng trapped between them. Doyoung was intently talking to Sicheng, his eyes never leaving the Hufflepuff’s face while Sicheng’s eyes remained glued to the ground. It was Taeil who noticed them, his eyes widening in alarm.

“Keep them away!” Johnny called over his shoulder before he fastened his pace, left Jaehyun and Ten to guard his back.

Yuta’s eyes fluttered open at the sound of Johnny‘s boots crushing the snow on the ground. “I told you, Doyoung, I don‘t want to talk to—”

The rest of Yuta‘s words got cut off when Johnny crashed into him. He wrapped his unscathed hand around Yuta’s throat as they fell and once they had hit the ground, Johnny pressed his knee into Yuta‘s chest, leaned his full weight on it to force the last of his air out of Yuta’s lungs.

Yuta‘s reaction was imminent, his eyes bulging, arms flailing as he fought against Johnny‘s grip on his throat.

Yuta punched against Johnny‘s chest, kicked out his legs and even aimed at his injured arm, but Johnny felt no pain. He felt nothing except the hot, unbound rage coursing through his veins. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Doyoung run towards them, Taeil and Sicheng hot on his heels, but he wasn‘t worried.

Taeil was intercepted by Ten with a swift kick to the stomach. The Gryffindor stumbled and Ten swooped Taeil’s legs out from under him, causing him to fall to the ground. Before Sicheng could pass Ten on his other side, Ten had already pulled his wand, forcing Sicheng to slither to a hard stop. Johnny couldn’t see Ten’s face, but he could hear the cold undertone to his usually cheerful trill when he said, “Don’t even think about moving.”

Doyoung had been faster than his friends, but he, too, was caught by Jaehyun before he could reach them. Jaehyun wrapped his arms around Doyoung from behind, effectively caging Doyoung in. Doyoung tried to break free with all his might, but Jaehyun‘s eyes were empty, his grip iron as he held on. When Doyoung called out Yuta’s name, Jaehyun moved one of his arms higher up his chest, curled his hand into Doyoung’s jaw. Doyoung continued to thrash around until Jaehyun forced his head to the side, hooked his chin over his shoulder and murmured words into his ear that made Doyoung still in his grip.

Johnny averted his attention back to the struggling body under him and tightened his grip around Yuta’s throat. He leaned down so he could hiss right into Yuta‘s face, “You crossed the line.”

Yuta smiled up at him, all teeth and a wicked kind of mirth in his eyes. “Hurts,” he croaked out, “doesn’t it?”

Johnny growled. He could feel Yuta’s pulse against his hand, spit collecting in the corners of the Gryffindor’s mouth when his smile broadened. “Are you… angry... now?”

Johnny roared, “You think I need two hands to end you, you vermin?”

“Johnny!” He could hear Sicheng call out. “Johnny! Please! Stop!”

Johnny snarled and turned his head. He ignored the punch Yuta aimed at his ribs. “Why should I, Sicheng?”

Sicheng frantically looked between him and Yuta, his eyes welling up with tears that Johnny had no patience for.

“Tell me why? I said tell me why!” Johnny roared and lifted Yuta’s head off the ground by his neck, slammed it back down. “Tell him why! Tell him why you were so dead-bent on keeping the favour a secret, Sicheng! For once in your cursed life, tell the truth!”

“Win—” Yuta garbled, but broke off when Johnny pressed down on his windpipe.

“Please,” Sicheng begged. “Please, let go of him.” His eyes remained on Yuta, and Johnny watched as the desperation in his eyes ignited into panic, burned and burned until finally, it consumed him. “He’s my love! Okay? Please, Johnny! I lied. I lied… because I didn’t want him... to hate me! He’s my love.” Tears were running freely down “Let go, Johnny, please. He’s my love.”

Johnny turned his head just in time to watch the way Yuta’s eyes widened in disbelief, his limbs going slack. He didn’t move even when Johnny let go of his throat, only stared and stared at Sicheng. Johnny felt his limbs grow heavy with the last of his rage burning out, leaving him hollow.

“Ten, let him through.”

Johnny had pulled himself to his feet. The moment he taken a step back, Sicheng scrambled into his space. He fell onto his knees and pulled Yuta’s head into his lap. The motion made Yuta cough and splutter, but even then he was struggling to keep his eyes open, keep looking at Sicheng.

Sicheng fumbled his wand out of his pocket and pressed it against Yuta’s neck, frantically whispering “Episkey!” over and over again until all traces of the already forming, hand-shaped bruise had disappeared from Yuta’s throat.

“Did you mean it?” Yuta croaked out, his eyes having gained a feverish glint.

When Sicheng wouldn’t meet his eyes, Yuta reached his hands up, rested them against Sicheng’s cheeks. His hands were shaking slightly, his breathing uneven. “Winwinnie, did you mean it?”

Sicheng met his eyes, then, his gaze unwavering when he nodded.

Johnny turned away when Yuta pulled Sicheng down, crashing their lips together. Sicheng sobbed into his mouth, jumbled Chinese tumbling over his lips the meaning Johnny of which mostly distinguished as “sorry.”

“Johnny!” Johnny could hear footfalls approach, their pace quickening into a run as they drew closer, but Johnny paid them no mind.

“We’re leaving,” he told Jaehyun.

Jaehyun stared at him for a long moment, doubt filling his eyes, before he let go of Doyoung, pushing him forward. Doyoung stumbled until he had made it to Yuta’s side, falling to his knees and grabbing onto his shin.

“Ten,” Johnny beckoned quietly.

Ten perked up where he and Taeil had been watching the scene in front of them unfold with complementary expressions of disbelief. Johnny waited only until Ten was hurrying towards him before he turned to leave and turned straight into Taeyong.

Taeyong’s hand hit his chest hard, his wand boring into his sternum. “What did you do?” Taeyong’s face was red from the cold and his sprint across the quad. His hair had been blown in all directions by the wind, catching snowflakes. “Is anyone hurt? What did you do, Johnny?”

Johnny used his left hand to catch Taeyong’s wrist, forcing his arm down until Taeyong’s wand was pointing away from him. He leaned down, watching the way the clouds of their breaths mingled together. He studied Taeyong’s face, the worry in his eyes and the furrow between his brows, the way his lower lip was bitten raw and chapped by the cold. Johnny pulled the corners of his mouth into a smile, well aware that it didn’t reach his eyes. “You should go to your friends, Taeyong. They’ve finally paid their dues.”

“Johnny—”

Johnny pulled himself up to his full height and focussed on a point somewhere above Taeyong’s head. If he had looked at Taeyong any longer, he might have caved and he couldn’t have that. Not with the remnants of his mother’s memory still occupying his mind, the only place they existed now. Not when there was so little of his own binding left.

“We’re leaving,” he announced and waited until Jaehyun and Ten had walked past him.

While Jaehyun headed straight for the doors, Ten walked backwards, keeping an eye on the Gryffindors. Johnny shook off the hand Taeyong had curled into his robes. He ignored the small noise of protest Taeyong uttered and took a step to the side so he could push past him.

As soon as Johnny had caught up with his friends, Jaehyun rested his hand on the small of his back. Allowing Jaehyun to guide him inside, Johnny used his hand to wipe at his mouth. He was unsurprised when his fingers came back coated in diluted red. Rubbing his fingertips together, he watched as the red faded into orange, faded into his skin.

His secret had been an open one. Everybody knew about his mother’s death. Everybody had known about his copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard and what it had meant to him. Johnny remembered how his photo had been plastered over the front page of the Daily Prophet every day for two weeks straight after his mother’s death, headline after headline pitying him with the same photo printed beneath, showing the poor Minister’s son clutching his father’s hand while they wept at his mother’s grave, her copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard pressed tightly against his chest.

Johnny’s secret had been an open one, just as open as Yuta’s and just as deeply lodged in his heart. There was nothing left of it now. Johnny felt a smile tug at his lips. He breathed in deeply and felt the gap in his chest crack just that little bit further. It was a terribly ugly feeling.

Chapter Text

Johnny felt his friends hover in front of his bed even before he could hear them arguing. Instinctively, he burrowed deeper into his pillows, trying to cling to the last scenes of his dream, but he was too accustomed to the sound of his friends’ voices, too used to making sure he didn’t miss a single syllable of what they had to say.

Ten’s frantic whispering got to him first, “I don’t care, Jaehyun, I’m not waiting any longer. It’s been two weeks.”

“I know that, Tennie, but it’s not like we can force him out of bed.” The awake part of Johnny’s brain registered how exasperated Jaehyun’s voice sounded, though Johnny could tell that he was trying to keep calm.

His friends had had the same argument in front of Johnny’s bed every morning for the past couple of weeks. At first, Jaehyun had tried to get Johnny to get up with them in the morning, but eventually, he had relented.

“I don’t see why not. It worked the last time.”

“He was worse the last time. And even then, he was ready to come back. He obviously isn’t now, so we have to be patient. You know he has to come back to us of his own volition.”

“I still don’t feel good about just letting him be. What—what if he thinks we’re not there for him?”

“We are there for him.” The affront in Jaehyun’s voice cause it to rise in volume. It softened again when he continued, “Johnny knows that. Now, come on. He’ll be hungry in Potions so we have to make sure we’ll make him some sandwiches and you get whiny too when I don‘t feed you in the morning.”

Their voices became fainter as they neared the door. Johnny waited until the door had fallen shut behind them before he pulled his blanket up to his chin. Slowly, his breathing evened out. The remnants of his dream were still there, lingering at the back of his mind, so he allowed himself to chase them.

It were mere minutes until Johnny was awoken again by a sticky hand slapping his cheek. Groaning, he moved to pull his blanket over his head, but all attempts at hiding were made futile when the blanket was lifted, the mattress dipping, and a moment later, the sticky hand returned to tug at his hair. The tugging continued until, eventually, Johnny gave up. He pried his eyes open and was met with the face of his cousin, mere centimetres from his.

“Hyuck.“ Johnny grunted and rubbed a hand over his face. “What are you doing here?”

“Will you come to breakfast today?” Donghyuck’s eyes became wide and imploring and Johnny hated to disappoint him.

“I’m sorry. Not today, tike.”

Donghyuck’s pout was imminent.

Johnny sighed. “I know. I’m just tired is all.” He forced a smile onto his face and smoothed out Donghyuck’s hair for him. “Why don’t you go to breakfast without me? I’m sure your friends are waiting for you.”

“I don’t care.” Donghyuck’s knees dug into Johnny’s stomach as he shifted and Johnny could tell by the deepening frown on his face that his cousin wasn’t going to let go. “I want you to come with me. I never see you at breakfast anymore and when I ask Jaehyun and Tennie they say you’re fine, but I know they’re lying!”

Johnny sighed. “Hyuck, I—"

“It’s because of Aunt Iseul’s book, isn’t it?”

Johnny felt his throat close up. “How—” he cleared his throat— “how do you know about that?”

Johnny felt a surge of anger in his chest. He had made Jaehyun and Ten swear to him that they wouldn’t tell Donghyuck what had happened.

His cousin squirmed, some of the anger in his voice waning as he bit his lip. He went to fiddle with the lapel of Johnny’s pyjama shirt. “Yesterday, I was in the library with Mark and I saw Jaehyun and Ten walk in, so I hid behind a shelf and listened to them talking. They talked about how the book is gone and they also said that all you do is go to class and sleep.” When Donghyuck looked up at him, his eyes were suspiciously shiny. “I don’t like it. It’s not right. You’re not supposed to do it for more than a day. If I was doing that you would take me to St. Mongoose’s.”

Johnny tried hard to breathe against the way his chest had grown incredibly tight. Before he could answer, Donghyuck was pushing away from him and Johnny was about to pull him back in so he wouldn’t fall backwards off the bed when Donghyuck began to fiddle with the collar of his own robes. He loosened his tie until he could grasp onto the necklace hidden underneath and pulled it out from underneath his sweater. Donghyuck looked at the ring with longing for a moment before he held it out for Johnny.

“If you want it back, you can have it.” Donghyuck sniffed. “Maybe if you have something of hers again, you won’t want to sleep anymore.”

Johnny swallowed and took the ring between his fingers. It was a thin silver band, the tiny emeralds lining the Seo family crest glistening in the weak light. He could remember how the ring had looked when it had been worn still.

“No.” Johnny shook his head. “No, I gave it to you. It’s your ring now, not Mum’s. You’re the only one that’s worthy of wearing it, Hyuck. It belongs to you.”

Donghyuck watched him for a moment before determination took over his face and he closed his tiny fist around the ring. “I’ll keep it safe.”

“I know you will.” For the first time in the past two weeks, Johnny felt his smile come easy. “I think I might be a bit hungry after all. What do you say, do you still want to take me to breakfast?”

Donghyuck beamed at him and climbed off the bed. “I’ll wait outside!”

Johnny sat up in his bed and allowed himself another minute of quiet before he got up and clambered over to his trunk to get dressed. His eyelids were heavy still, his bones feeling too hollow to support his weight, but Ten had been right. Two weeks were enough. They had to be.

He hurried to pull on his robes and slung his book bag over his shoulder before he met Donghyuck in the common room. He listened to his cousin’s retelling of how exactly he had managed to finally beat Mark at wizard’s chess as they made their way out of the Dungeon.

The clamour of the Great Hall was too loud for his taste, the cloudless, pale December sky mirrored on the ceiling bright enough to make his eyes hurt as he let Donghyuck pull him in the direction of the Slytherin table. Getting out of bed became worth it when he saw the expression on Ten’s face, the quiet relief in Jaehyun’s eyes when Johnny sat down next to Ten. He lifted his arm so Ten could latch onto his side properly.

“Hey, no fair!” Donghyuck complained, clambering onto Johnny’s lap. “I took him to breakfast.”

Ten merely bared his teeth at him before he scooped Donghyuck up and settled him on his own lap, peppering the side of his face in kisses while Donghyuck giggled at the attention. “You need to learn to share, little demon.”

“You okay?” Jaehyun mouthed as he handed Johnny a bowl of porridge.

Johnny shrugged. His head hurt. He wasn’t unaware of the eyes boring into his back and the side of his face. His absence hadn’t gone unnoticed, it seemed. When he saw the concern in Jaehyun’s eyes, he smiled and shoved a spoonful of porridge in his mouth. He had made it to breakfast. That would have to be enough for now.

*

Ten scrunched up his nose the moment they set foot into the Potions classroom.

“Oh wow,” he breathed out and when Johnny looked down at him, Ten’s eyes had turned glassy, his pupils dilating as he staggered the few metres to his table. His bag slipped from his shoulder as he fell into his seat. Johnny got his answer within the next breath when the smell of lavender took over his senses, mixed in with the smell of old parchment, lemon grass and dark chocolate.

“Oh wow,” he repeated and turned to the front.  

The scent of lavender got more pronounced with every step he took forward and Johnny made sure to shake his head a couple of times before he took his seat in front of the teacher’s desk.

He could see the steam spiralling up from the potion brewing there, slowly filling the air in the classroom. Professor Do was standing next to the cauldron, his face impassive as ever and Johnny tried to mirror his expression, but it was hard to remain still when all he wanted to do was climb over the table and dunk his head into the cauldron.

He lowered his eyes to his desk when he felt movement behind him.

“Hey.“ Taeyong’s greeting was quieter than usual, would have been gentle if it hadn’t come out so strained.

Johnny couldn’t tell whether Taeyong was affected by the potion or simply exhausted. He lost the feeling of curiosity before he could hold onto it and lowered his head onto his arm, closed his eyes as Taeyong took the seat next to him. Taeyong’s hand brushed against his shoulder, just as Professor Do’s voice coerced Johnny to pry his eyes back open.

“Copper, allyssum and scornberry wine,” Professor Do listed off and Johnny watched as he positioned himself next to his desk. “That’s what I smell when I inhale the smell of this potion right next to me. Does anyone know the name of this particular concoction?”

Several seconds passed without anyone raising his hand. Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny could see Taeyong lean further over the table. His eyes were fixed on the cauldron, a deep-set frown on his face as he kept taking deep breaths to inhale more of the iridescent steam. Johnny would have expected him to be giving the answer by now, but it seemed that Taeyong wasn’t paying attention to the class at all. Johnny felt the ghost of a smile tug on his lips, before he lost that feeling, too.

“It’s Amortentia!” Seulgi answered from the back and Johnny redirected his attention back to Professor Do.

“That’s right, Ms Kang. Five points for Ravenclaw. It is Amortentia, the most powerful love potion known to wizardkind.”  

Professor Do swung his wand and more of the iridescent steam spiralled into the air. Johnny tried hard not to choke at the overwhelming sensation of want that made his chest constrict. The two Ravenclaws at the table next to him twitched in their seats. Taeyong on his other side had gone still.

“From its nacreous colour to its taste, everything about Amortentia is made to be alluring. Its smell, especially, adapts to whatever the potential victim finds the most enticing. Is anyone willing to reveal what they smell when they inhale the scent of Amortentia? Yes, Ms Kang?”

“I smell petrichor and fresh parchment and—” Seulgi sniffed loudly enough for it to be audible over the blubbering of the cauldron. “—oh, cornbread! Like the one my mum bakes.”

Professor Do’s smile was miniscule, but appraising. “Very good, Ms Kang, thank you. Anyone else? How about you, Ms Kim? You seem to be awfully invested in taking notes.”

A couple of tables behind him, Johnny could Yeri clear her throat, followed by the shuffling of parchment. “Jasmine,” she started off, “and silk… and cologne.” When Johnny heard the Slytherin girls sitting behind him break into giggles, he pulled himself upright enough to turn in his seat. Yeri had gone bright red under the attention of the class. Her eyes met Johnny’s for only a moment before she looked at the desk in front of her. “It’s called Victoire D’Ambre.”

Johnny could see Ten’s mouth drop open at the back, could feel the weight of every single Slytherin in the room turning their heads to look at him. A dull, pounding ache built up at the back of his skull. Slowly, he turned back in his seat to face the front and raised his left arm.

Professor Do was squinting slightly when he looked at him, clearly having noticed the shift of atmosphere in the room. “Yes, Mr Seo?”

“Old parchment, dark chocolate and lemon grass.” Johnny kept his voice even as he spoke. “That’s what I smell. And lavender. That’s the most prominent one. Amortentia smells like lavender to me. I guess that is what love smells like to me.”

“Thank you for the addition, Mr Seo.” Professor Do let his eyes wander across the room once before he continued, “Five points for Slytherin, and another five points for your addition, Ms Kim.”

Professor Do swung his wand. The Amortentia vanished from its cauldron and the air cleared of any residue steam. Johnny found his sigh of relief echoed throughout the classroom.

“Though, it it is important for us to note that even if Amortentia is commonly referred to as a love potion, love is definitely not the proper term here. There is no potion in the world that is able to instill the feeling of true love. Infatuation is a better name for the effect this potion has on its recipient, though that doesn’t mean that the potency of Amortentia should ever be underestimated.”

Professor Do turned and raised his wand. On the blackboard, page numbers appeared. When he turned back to face the class, his expression was grim.

“People have murdered for the subject of their affection under the influence of Amortentia. It is one of the most potent draughts we will recreate in this class, which is why I commend all of you to take extensive notes this period. We will begin with the first brewing attempts next lesson and I’d rather have them be successful. Now, everybody, take out your quills.”

Johnny waited until Professor Do had made it past the first row of tables before he rested his head back on his arm. The pressure at the back of his skull had become incessant, causing his thoughts to blur, so he allowed his eyes to slip back shut. He didn’t know how much time had passed until he felt a hand brush against his back.

“Johnny?”

Johnny raised his head slowly, blinked the wetness out of his eyes before he turned his head to the side.

Taeyong was looking at him with intent eyes,and Johnny relished at the hint of worry in them. “Can we talk?”

Vaguely, Johnny registered that the people around them were getting up. Class was over, and he had missed it. Rubbing a hand over his face, he pulled himself upright in his seat. He studied Taeyong’s face for only a moment, the sincerity in his eyes and the way he was slowly but surely worrying his bottom lip raw. Johnny grabbed onto the strap of his bag and slid out of his seat.

“No.”

With that, he turned around and strode towards the door, stopping short only when he noticed Jeongyeon and Sana lingering near door. Their whispers were loud enough to cut through the haze clouding his mind.

“Johnny,” Ten’s voice reached him, a clear warning, but Johnny paid him no mind.

“You shouldn’t laugh at her,” he said, loudly enough for the rest of the remaining students to fall silent.

The two Slytherin girls looked up at him with wide eyes, their laughter breaking off abruptly.

Jeongyeon looked like she was about to say something, but Johnny didn’t give her the chance to speak, “It’s cruel and you’re supposed to be her friends. We’re Slytherin.” Johnny glanced into the mirrors that hung between the shelves lining the back wall. When Johnny met his eyes, Taeyong’s expression was all carefully layered ice to hide his real emotions. “The only ones who have our backs are our own.”

He looked back at the girls in front of him. Sana’s cheeks had turned pink in embarrassment while Jeongyeon’s shoulders were uncharacteristically hunched. “You’re right,” Jeongyeon said, running a hand through her short bangs. “Sorry, Johnny.”

Johnny shrugged. “I’m not the one you made feel embarrassed. Don’t apologise to me. Apologise to Yeri.”

“We will!” Sana assured him.

Johnny couldn’t find it in him to smile at her. Tightening his grip on his book bag, he continued his way to the door. Ten caught up to him before he had passed the threshold.

“Nayeon was with Yeri when she bolted,” he told him. Ten waited until they had overtaken Seulgi and her friend, a fellow Ravenclaw girl named Mina, before he continued, “Yeri should be fine.”

Johnny sighed. “She shouldn’t have done that.”

“I think most of the Ravenclaws didn’t realise she was talking about your cologne.” Ten scrunched up his nose. “If it’s just the Slytherin, we can contain it and save her some embarrassment. Lisa is in Herbology with me, I’ll talk to her so she knows.”

“Good.” Johnny adjusted the knot of his sling. Over the past month and a half, the motion had become habitual to him. “I‘m pretty sure her friends knew beforehand anyways, so there won‘t be any problem there.”

They parted ways in the Great Hall and Johnny took the Grand Staircase up to the first floor. Jaehyun was waiting for him in front of the History of Magic classroom and at first, Johnny almost missed him where he was leaning against the wall, the better part of his body hidden behind Sehun’s taller, broader frame.

Sehun had one hand rested on the wall behind Jaehyun’s head, their heads stuck together as they talked with each other in low voices. Johnny felt a wave of apprehension as he approached them. If Sehun was here that meant that Jaehyun had sought him out. Johnny pushed past the Gryffindors clogging the hallway and made his way over.

“Johnny,” Jaehyun perked up when he spotted him.

Sehun turned around and shot him a miniscule smile, that would have been a full-fledged grin on anyone else’s face. Johnny noticed that Sehun had cropped off a good portion of his hair, dyed the rainbow strands into a coherent shade of orange. It made the fluorescent green of his contact lenses all the more piercing.

Sehun beckoned him forward and Johnny managed half a smile as the older boy pulled him into his side. Sehun wrapped a hand around his nape and used his grip on Johnny’s neck to force his head onto his shoulder. With an inaudible sigh, Johnny resigned himself to his fate. Sehun was one of the few people at Hogwarts that he could physically lean on without causing them to yield, so he allowed himself to slump against the older boy. It was worth the relief in Jaehyun’s eyes in any case.

“A little magpie told me you haven’t been feeling well.” Sehun’s voice was perfectly pleasant as he spoke, amused as always, but Johnny knew him well enough to hear the dissatisfaction underneath. It also meant that Sehun wouldn’t tolerate any of his lies, so Johnny opted to remain silent instead.

Jaehyun looked like he was about to say something, but, much to Johnny’s surprise, Sehun was already shaking his head. “No, leave him be. He’s allowed to mope for another couple of hours.”

Johnny furrowed his brows and lifted his head to shoot Sehun a questioning look.

Sehun’s smile distorted in that certain way that always made him look like the cat that ate the canary. He used his free hand to flick Johnny’s hair out of his face before he elaborated, “You have until dinner, to be specific. Make sure you eat a lot, Johnny, and then meet me at the Statue of the Mewling Merchant on the third floor. You’ll make sure he’ll do that, won’t you, Jaehyun?”

Jaehyun nodded, his forehead creasing as his eyes flickered to the side, got caught by something behind Johnny‘s shoulder. It wasn’t until Sehun ruffled his hair that Jaehyun jolted, his ears turning pink as he tried to flatten his hair back down. “Hey!”

“It’s rude not to look your elders in the eye when they talk to you. I raised Johnny to do it, I’ll raise you too.” With a clack of his tongue, Sehun disentangled himself and left Johnny to stand on his own again. “Now, excuse me, I have places to be that are certainly more enticing than this stuffy hallway.” Sehun paid his goodbyes with a firm nod before he began to walk away. He had only taken a couple of steps before he turned around, walking backwards as he said, “Oh, and dress warmly! We’re going to take a walk!”

Sehun turned back around just in time to stop short in front the body that had moved to stand in his way, staggering a bit. Once he had caught himself, Johnny could see the way Sehun cocked his head to the side. He didn’t have to be able to see Sehun’s face to know of the small furrow that had undoubtedly appeared between his brows when his path had been blocked.

“Excuse me?”

Doyoung looked up at Sehun slowly and Johnny could tell by the darkness pooling in his unusually empty eyes, the slight quiver to his hands that this wasn’t going to end well. Johnny had wilfully ignored any and all flashes of red and gold that had appeared in his periphal vision throughout the past two weeks, but it seemed that was a luxury he could not longer afford.

“Jae,” Johnny said, but Jaehyun was already moving. Johnny took a deep breath and followed behind. He was glad to find that it were only Taeil and Kun that were with Doyoung. It meant that Yuta wasn’t there to make matters worse.

“Move out of the way, Doyoung.”

A slight twitch of his jaw was the only indication that Doyoung had heard what Jaehyun had said. His eyes remained on Sehun, seemingly emotionless in their examination. Now that Johnny had come up on his other side, he could see that the usual apathy on Sehun’s face was indeed betrayed by a small furrow between his brows.

At Jaehyun’s words, Sehun quirked an eyebrow. “Doyoung Kim?” he asked, a flicker of amusement grazing his features before they dropped into something much more dangerous. “Mhm, Doyoung. I’ve heard things about you. The Gryffindor Captain. You’re one of them, I think. You’re one of the people that put my little brother in the infirmary.” Sehun looked Doyoung up and down. “You’re quite insolent, aren’t you?”

Johnny didn’t miss the way the quivering of Doyoung’s limbs got worse, the shaking of his hands becoming more severe by the second. It wasn’t the first time that he saw Doyoung being off like this, and Johnny swallowed hard against the darkness tugging at the frayed edges of his mind, willing him to grant him entry. It was too dangerous. He knew too many spells, had read too many of them in books that stood in the library of his family home, protected by iron-wrought gates that were never be opened again. None of the spells in these books were truly for protection.

“Sehun,” he said quietly, but Sehun didn’t budge when Johnny tried to move him backwards.

Doyoung tipped his chin up, the black strands of his hair falling to reveal more of his forehead when he all but growled, “You’re a seventh-year. You shouldn’t be here.”

“Is that so?” Sehun snapped back.

“I’ve heard things about you, too.” For the fraction of a second, Doyoung’s eyes flickered over to Jaehyun before he bared his teeth. “You should prey on someone your own age.”

“I’m sorry?”

“Sehun,” Johnny said more firmly, just as Taeil slid into the space between Sehun and Doyoung.

He wrapped his arms around Doyoung’s shaking form, low, soothing words spilling over his lips as he pushed Doyoung backwards in the direction of the wall and Johnny thought that it was brave of him to turn the three of them his back like this.

“Doyoung? Doyoung!”

Johnny looked past Doyoung and Taeil just in time to see Yuta approach from the end of the hallway. His purple hair was mussed, the golden-red tie hanging loosely from his neck. The dopey smile he had been wearing slipped off his face when his eyes fell onto Johnny, his eyes widening when he saw Doyoung, now pressed against the wall.

Yuta broke into a sprint and Johnny would have paid more attention to him, had Sehun not taken a step forward then. This time, he looked at Johnny when Johnny called his name and though his expression was smoothed out, Johnny could tell that Sehun was not amused.

“That’s the one, isn’t it?” Sehun asked, following Yuta with his eyes. “The one that hit the bludger? The one that burned the book? He has purple hair. Ten said he has purple hair.”

“Yes, that is him,” Johnny said. He had to strain his arm muscles to force Sehun back, “and I already punished him for that.”

“Clearly not enough.” Sehun narrowed his eyes into slits. “He’s still walking. Why is he still walking?”

“I asked that, too,” Jaehyun murmured. His eyes were glued to Doyoung’s form, now nearly obscured by Taeil bodily pressing Doyoung against the wall and an awkwardly hovering Kun.

“It’s a bad day,” Johnny could hear Taeil say when Yuta reached them, so quietly that Johnny almost missed it. Taeil didn’t move even when Doyoung pushed against him. “He’s been stretched thin since breakfast.”

Johnny thought that maybe it had been worth it when he watched the way Yuta’s expression changed, the fire in his eyes simmering down as he beckoned Taeil to take a step back. Johnny had never heard him speak so gently as Yuta slung his arm around Doyoung’s shoulder, knocking their heads together as he slowly but surely pulled him in the direction he had come from. “Come on then, Doy. Bad day, huh? Let’s get you out of here.”

“He paid his dues when I choked the merry life out of him,“ Johnny said and finally, Sehun yielded to his pushing. “He has paid his dues.”

“I don‘t think so, Johnny.” Sehun’s eyes were gleaming when he looked at him, and then his expression softened. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here.”

Johnny closed his eyes for a moment. His headache had wandered to his temples. “It’s late. You should go to your class, Sehun.”

Sehun jutted out his bottom lip, but relented with a sigh. “Fine, if you say so, but I’ll still see you later. Don’t forget to dress warmly. Goodbye, Jaehyun.”

Jaehyun hummed when Sehun passed him, his eyes remaining glued to Doyoung’s retreating form. Sehun buried his hands deep in his pockets as he strode down the hallway, making a wide berth around Doyoung and Yuta as he overtook them to disappear around the corner. Jaehyun’s eyes narrowed.

Johnny adjusted his sling before he laid a hand on Jaehyun’s shoulder. “Let it go, Jae, please.”

Jaehyun blinked, pried his eyes away from the end of the hallway and looked up at Johnny with a small smile, “Come back, and I might.”

Johnny smiled. It was overwhelming, the love he felt for his best friend who was still pulling him out from under the piano three years later. “Jae...”

Jaehyun shook his head. “I trust you, Johnny. I just wish you would talk to me and Tennie.” Jaehyun’s smile faltered as he looked over Johnny’s shoulder and instead his expression smoothed out into indifference. His people face, as Ten liked to call it. “Professor Boa is here.”

Johnny sighed and nodded. While Jaehyun trotted over to the door, Johnny remained motionless for another couple of seconds, willing the pounding in his temples to cease. When it wouldn’t, he turned around and it was only then that he noticed that Taeil was staring at him, a small furrow between his brows. Johnny didn’t bother raising an eyebrow. He simply looked away and followed Jaehyun into the classroom.

Kun was already sitting at their table when Johnny slumped into his chair, letting his book bag drop to the ground with no intentions of picking it back up. With Yuta and Doyoung gone, he had no qualms spending the better part of the lesson asleep. Johnny watched Kun writhe under the awkwardness between them for a couple of seconds before he seemed to calm. Johnny leaned back in his chair, just as Kun reached into his robes.

“Do you want to hold Susan for a minute?”

Johnny squinted as he looked at the Gryffindor, “Do I want what now?”

Kun smiled as he extended his arm and opened his palm. In his hand, he was holding the purple pygmy puff Johnny had seen him with before. Johnny stared down at the tiny animal for a good few seconds before he gentle took the fluffball into his hand. Immediately, the pygmy puff began to roll around in his palm, uttering tiny squeaks of joy when Johnny moved his thumb to stroke her soft, purple fur.

“It always makes me feel better when I hold her,” Kun explained.

Johnny pretended not to see the sympathy in Kun’s smile when he lifted Susan to his face so he could rub his face against her soft fur. Between holding the pygmy puff in one hand and having his injured arm in bandages still, he didn’t have a hand free to shove Kun off his chair. “She’s very soft.”

“She likes you.”

Johnny suppressed the snort that built up in his throat, if only because it might have scared the pygmy puff.

“If you want to, you can have her until the lesson is over.”

Johnny looked up to find nothing but sincerity in Kun’s eyes as he smiled at him. One out of five, Johnny thought and nodded, reciprocating his smile when Kun beamed at him.

*

“Sehun,” Johnny wheezed out, breathing hard against the sharp winter night’s air that cut into his nose, burned his throat as he tried to catch his breath.

“Sorry, sorry. My apparition skills aren’t the most refined yet.”

Johnny swallowed down the nausea rolling through his body as his organs rearranged. “If you had told me we were going to apparate, I could have apparated myself. Ten’s father taught us how to do it.”

“Yes, and in all your crankiness you might have splinched. Not bloody likely I was going to let that happen.” Sehun brushed him off in favour of pulling the hood of his winter cloak over his head, the black fabric sliding down to hide the better part of his face. “Follow me.”  

Johnny took another couple of seconds to gather his bearings before he stumbled after his friend, down the street they had landed in. Looking around, he recognised the cowering shops and dark store fronts they were passing by.

“Knockturn Alley?” Johnny stopped to pull up the hood of his own cloak. “Are we here to buy flesh-eating slug repellent?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Johnny.”

Sehun rolled his eyes and grabbed him by the arm, dragging him further along the cobblestone. They came to a halt in front of a leaning, two-story building that turned out to be a seedy-looking pub. The windows were so grimy that it was impossible to peek inside. A rickety wooden sign above the door proclaimed the pub’s name to be D&E’s.

"We‘re here to get drunk.“

As dingy as the outside of the pub had looked, the inside turned out to be surprisingly roach-free. Iron-wrought chandeliers hung from the low ceiling, casting the main room in a soft glow while a dark-brick chimney in the corner kept the cold outside. As expected from the kind of people who would spend their Friday night in a pub in Knockturn Alley, the few patrons sitting around the mismatched tables seemed shady at best, the degree of their concealment varying from heavy cloaks not unlike the ones Johnny and Sehun were wearing to dark mist curling at their feet.

Johnny was careful to keep his eyes on the ground as he followed Sehun through the maze of tables. The bar, carved from the same wood as the walls and floor, stretched along the entire back wall of the pub and was manned by a wiry man with blue hair. Sehun garnered his attention by taking off his hood. Coming up to stand beside him, Johnny followed suit.

“Sehun,” the barman said, looking up from the glass he was polishing, and Johnny thought that he and Sehun shared the same glint of mischief in their eyes. It wasn’t an uncommon feature among the people one would encounter in Knockturn Alley. "You‘ve come back already?"

“Hello, Eunhyuk.” Sehun’s smile was small but sincere as he rested one of his elbows on the bar counter. “Do you have a table for us?”

“Don’t I always?” The barman deigned Johnny only with a fleeting glance before his eyes widened and he whipped his head back to look at him. A moment later, he was glaring at Sehun. “Sehun Oh! Are you out of your mind?! He better not be who I think he is.”

“He isn’t,” Sehun replied, leaning back to throw an arm over Johnny’s shoulder. “Tonight, he’s just my little brother that I’m taking out for a drink. Just pretend he’s my little brother, Eunhyuk, please.”

Johnny was careful not to move when the barman sized him up.

“Right.” Eunhyuk didn’t seem impressed. His customer smile revealed two rows of sharp teeth. “In that case, I can fix you up with a butterbeer and some cookies?”  

Sehun’s upcoming protest was interrupted when the door to the side of the bar swung open and they were joined by another man, this one with dark hair and even darker eyes.

“Let them drink, love,” the newcomer said, tapping Eunhyuk’s waist to get him to move.

Eunhyuk, looking thoroughly unamused, did.

“If they want to get drunk, they better do it in here than out there. Besides,” the newcomer said, sizing up Johnny much like Eunhyuk had done before, “I’m vouching for our special guest.”

“This is why you’re my favourite, Donghae,” Sehun piped up, blowing the man in question a kiss.

The way Donghae’s eyes crinkled around the edges when he smiled was oddly familiar and Johnny wondered whether he had met him before. He discarded the thought in order to pay attention when Donghae turned to look at him, dark eyes inquisitive. “Johnny Seo, is it?”

Johnny nodded and Donghae’s eyes flickered to his bandaged arm for only a second before the smile returned to his face. “You must excuse my husband. We’re not used to such… eminent patronage in our establishment. But that doesn’t mean we don’t welcome you."

Johnny had a hard time getting used to the older man‘s smile.

"My son’s best friend, he talks about you all the time. He says you take very good care of him now that he’s on the Quidditch team.”

Johnny needed a moment to process that information before he felt his eyes widen. “Jaemin?”

Donghae nodded and this time Johnny recognised the eye-smile that took over his face. “I’m Jeno’s father if you have met Jeno, which I’m sure you have since you’ve been around Jaemin for more than two seconds, but Jaemin lives with us too. He’s like a second son to Eunhyuk and I.”

The barman grumbled something akin to a confirmation where he had turned to wiping down the counter with a scrap of black cloth.

“Our Jaemin had a hard year last year, dealing with his back injury and all, so we’re really glad to see him happier this year. He speaks very highly of you.”

While talking, Donghae, turned around and plucked a bottle from the shelf behind him. As he did so, the sleeve of his shirt slid down to his elbows, revealing toned underarms.

Johnny was careful not to let his eyes linger on the sizable patch of marred skin making up the inside of Donghae’s left inner forearm. He didn‘t let his thoughts linger on the twitching, curling dark lines that remained around the edges of the branding and what they meant.

Johnny met Donghae’s eyes when he turned back around and watched as the man aligned two rows of half a dozen shot glasses on the counter. Donghae filled them with a bright green liquid that sizzled upon being poured. Then he pulled his wand and flicked it. The shot glasses lifted into the air.

Donghae turned to Sehun. “Take these and sit down at the table near the chimney. Eunhyuk will bring you some crackers to munch on in a second.”

The barman looked up at that, “Will he?”

There was a flash of something in Donghae’s dark eyes when he turned towards his husband. “Yes, he will.”

Johnny could hear the two men start to bicker as he followed Sehun to their assigned table.

“They seem nice,” Johnny said as he sat down on the chair closest to the fire. It was surprisingly comfortable.

“Oh, Donghae and Eunhyuk are two of the finest people I know.” Sehun picked up two of the shot glasses that had arranged themselves into a pentagram on top of their table. “Eunhyuk is just protective. He’s very nice once you get to know him.”

Johnny found that hard to believe as he watched Eunhyuk approach their table, a bowl full of crackers and assorted nuts in hand. Two goblets filled with a fruity smelling substance followed behind his shoulder, setting themselves down at the edge of the table as Eunhyuk came to a halt in front of them. But then, Johnny thought, this was apparently one of the two men who had raised Jeno, who in turn was about the politest boy Johnny had ever met, so he might have misjudged the barman.

“I don’t want any trouble, Sehun,” Eunhyuk said as he planted the bowl in the centre of the pentagram. “I mean it. I have no interest in the Ministry snooping around here just because the Minister for Magic caught wind of his son sneaking in here to get drunk.”

“Don’t worry, Eunhyuk,” Sehun batted his eyelashes in a spiel of complete innocence, “if there’s any trouble, I’ll call the auror myself.”

Eunhyuk merely rolled his eyes at that. “Right, as if he’d ever arrest you.”

Johnny stopped blinking when the barman looked at him.

“Just call when you need something or get hungry. Kitchen’s open until midnight. Understood?”

Johnny nodded, feeling a bit dumb-founded as he turned to look at Sehun, who waited until Eunhyuk had left them before he met his eyes. “As I said, he’s very nice once you get to know him.”

Johnny picked up one of the shot glasses Sehun had placed in front of him, inspecting the liquor inside before he looked at Sehun. “What are we drinking again?”

“Bubbling bellberry liquor. Romanian.”  

Johnny furrowed his brows. “I‘m not sure I want to drink that.“

He pried his eyes away from the fluorescent green concoction when Sehun’s hands reached over and clasped his face, turning Johnny’s head so he was forced to meet Sehun’s gaze.

Despite the disgruntled expression on Sehun’s face, his voice was gentle when he said, “I know you prefer to work things out on your own, Johnny, but that clearly isn’t working this time if the other two thirds of your brain came to get me. So I’m here for you. Make use of it like I know you can.”

Sehun tapped Johnny’s cheek with his thumb, smiling, and Johnny hated the knowledge that he had disappointed him.

“I’d have you spill your little, heavy heart out to me sober, but we both know you won’t do that, so instead you’re going to take that shot and then you’re going to tell Sehunnie about everything that’s going on in your head, understood?”

Sehun let go of his face and Johnny nodded. He trusted Sehun. Sehun had promised him that he would take care of Johnny when they had fallen apart, and he had made good on his promise every single time Johnny had needed him since. If Johnny could do this with anyone, it would be Sehun, who was just close enough to him to be privy to his thoughts, and just far enough from his heart that Johnny would survive it if he cut them out.

“Great! Now, bottoms up!”  

Johnny closed his eyes as he set the glass against his lips. The concoction burned all the way down, making him cough, but it also helped. If he could focus on the burning in his throat, it was easier to ignore the pain in his chest, the dark thoughts rising at the edges of his mind whenever he lost focus for too long. Setting the shot glass down, he said, “I miscalculated.”  

Sehun hummed. “I thought so. None of these Gryffindors could be dumb enough to just take the book and burn it. It was collateral damage, wasn’t it? You have a bigger plan?”

Johnny picked up another shot. Like the one before, it burned all the way down, but this time the sensation was a lot more pleasant. Then he nodded.

“I didn’t see it,” he admitted. “I should have known when Nakamoto begged me to let go of Sicheng, but I didn’t realise how literal he would take my words. Someone like Yuta Nakamoto doesn’t beg, yet I made him. I told him that I would have torn into him instead of his love if he’d made me angrier, so that’s what he went to do and I didn’t see it coming. I just didn’t think—I thought the book was safe. I didn’t think he’d know where it was. But he found out and now it’s gone.”

The noise that escaped him was entirely undignified and Johnny hated it, hated everything, hated how there was no rage left within him and he was left hollow. “My mother’s book is gone and it’s my fault. I miscalculated.”

Johnny was thankful when Sehun didn’t try to refute him, didn’t try to shift the blame because he knew Johnny wouldn’t have admitted to it if it wasn’t the truth. Instead, Sehun pulled his chair closer and forced Johnny’s head onto his shoulder once again, carded his fingers through his hair while Johnny tried to blink the wetness out of his eyes. As soon as his breathing had calmed, he pulled away enough to pick up one of the goblets Eunhyuk had brought them, sniffing it cautiously.

“It’s just juice,” Sehun said and Johnny took a sip. It was overly sweet, tasting of cinnamon and cherries, but it was good. He gratefully accepted the handful of crackers Sehun held out for him.

“You know, I’ve seen Taeyong Lee mope around the Ravenclaw table these past few weeks.” Johnny made sure to keep chewing as Sehun continued on, “It’s been a pitiful sight, really. He even refused to let me touch up his roots for him when I offered.”

“His roots?”

“Yes, his roots.” Sehun pointed at his hair before he picked up another shot, holding it out for Johnny.

Johnny took it without hesitation. Thinking of Taeyong hurt, and the longer the bellberry liquor bubbled in his stomach, the easier it became not to think about the things that hurt him.

“At the beginning of the year, your precious prefect approached me to ask me for advice on how to dye his hair.” Sehun’s smile turned impish. “Clearly he saw me around the Great Hall and realised that there is no person more knowledgeable than me when it comes to dyeing spells, so he asked me for help. He told me he wanted to become a little more noticeable so I agreed. Merlin knows I’m a bleeding heart when it comes to clammed-up chickenlings, or how do the muggles say?" Sehun chuckled. "In any case, it took me a whole hour in the library until I had found a spell that would lift his hair enough for the dyeing spell to take. So, you’re welcome.”

“You dyed his hair.” It wasn’t a question.

“I dyed his hair. That’s all I did, might I add.” Sehun reached over to rasp his knuckles over Johnny’s cheek. “Jealousy wasn’t a good look on you two years ago, Johnny, and it still isn’t now. You get all unsettling.” Sehun shuddered, though that might have been due to the shot he took a moment later.

“I have a reason,“ Johnny hated the way his chest constricted as he conjured up the words that lay so heavy on his heart. His tongue wouldn‘t wrap properly around the words, refusing them. "Taeyong has a crush on someone else.”

He couldn’t find it in him to look Sehun in the eyes, so instead, Johnny gripped onto the shot glass that kept bumping against his fingers and lifted it to his lips. “I overheard him talk to Taeil about it. It’s a Slytherin, but I can’t figure out who it is when it’s neither Hansol nor you.”

Johnny frowned when Sehun laughed at him. His thoughts had begun to slow, his tongue feeling fuzzy as he asked, “What?”

“Merlin, you really don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?” Johnny asked, causing Sehun to groan before he shook his head.

“No, I can’t tell you. It’s not my place to tell. Just know that I can promise you it wasn’t me who Taeyong wanted to impress.”

“I wish he would want to impress me.”

“Yeah, Jaehyun told me you might say something like that.” When Johnny looked at him, Sehun tipped Johnny’s shot glass for him, causing the liquor to slosh into his mouth. “Drink up, brat. You’re the one paying for these.”

Johnny wiped his mouth before he raised an eyebrow at the older boy. The motion made his face feel funny, but the feeling was gone as quickly as it had come. "I am?"

Sehun rolled his eyes at him. “Don’t look at me as if it’d actually bother you to pay, brat. If you must know, I’ve been saving my money.” Sehun’s smile turned private then, subdued in a way that was much more telling than the front of apathy he usually put on. “Myeon is looking for a bigger flat so that I can move in with him after graduation. I want to pull my own weight when it‘s time.”

“You’re back together?”

“Myeon and I were never apart.”

Johnny frowned, though that might have been the fourth shot still fizzing in his stomach. “I don’t know," he hiccuped, "I distinctly remember you showing up at my house last summer with the gloves he gave you for Christmas and a bottle of firewhisky, demanding that we ritually burn his picture.”

Johnny remembered that he had been very pleased that day, uncaring of how petty that might have made him. It hadn’t been one of his finer moments, but that had been before Taeyong.

Taeyong, whom he loved.

The thought made Johnny’s heart clench in such a way that he almost missed the smile on Sehun’s face, so rare in its gentleness that Johnny felt something tug at his own heart.

“I love Junmyeon, Johnny. His heart is too big and his insistence to be a good person is bothersome, but I love him for all that he is and all the he makes me. Even his attempt at being proper and breaking up with me once he graduated,” Johnny mirrored Sehun’s eye roll at that one, “Myeon did that because he thought it was the right thing to do. Even you wouldn’t have done that for me.”

“I wouldn’t have.” Johnny couldn’t deny that. “I’m too selfish.”

“Which doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I mean, look at me. If I was less of a selfish person, Junmyeon and I wouldn’t be together right now, and neither of us would be happy.”

Johnny thought about that for a moment. Maybe it was the cherry juice that made him say, “I want to be happy, too.”

He sniffed when Sehun’s hand pushed his hair out of his face for him. “I know. And you will be, Johnny Seo.”

Johnny realised too late that he was pouting and smoothed out his expression. “Taeyong doesn’t care about that. He resents me for who I am more than anything else.”

“Well, if you wanted easy, you shouldn’t have chosen Taeyong Lee of all people.”

Keeping his eyes open was uncomfortable, so Johnny closed them for a moment. “It wasn’t much of a choice.”

“Yes. It never is, is it?”

Johnny hummed in agreement and picked up another shot. This time, he felt nothing when the liquor slid down his throat. He tried to set the shot glass down, but missed the edge of the table by a few centimetres. Johnny watched with trepidation as the glass landed on the ground and shattered.

Before he could fumble his wand out of his pocket, Sehun had swung his own and the shards had realigned themselves, the repaired glass flying up to rejoin the others. Johnny reached out a hand and patted the shot glass in apology.

“He’s not afraid of me.” Even now, he could see it in front of his eyes, Taeyong staring up at him with his arms crossed in front of his chest and his chin slightly raised. When Sehun’s fingers dug into his nape, Johnny went without protest, bedding his head on his friend’s shoulder. “I think that’s why I love him. He will never let me tear him apart.”

“And here I thought you only liked him because he was pretty.”

Even through the haze clouding his mind, the slight blur to his vision when he craned his neck to glower at Sehun, he could tell that his friend was teasing him. “I don’t like you,” he told him as earnestly as he could. “You’re the worst thing that ever happened to me. ”

The hum Sehun gave him in return sounded nothing but pleased. “I love you too, brat. It’s getting late, though, so we should get going if we want to make it back to the castle before midnight. Do you think you can walk?”

Johnny groaned at the thought alone, but obediently pulled himself to his feet. The room tilted dangerously as he did so, but Sehun was there a moment later, wrapping Johnny’s good arm over his shoulder. “Don’t throw up until we’re outside.”

“I’ll do my best.” Even Johnny could tell that his words came out slightly slurred. Silently, he vowed to never drink anything green or fizzy ever again.

Sehun shoved his hand into the pocket of Johnny’s robes, pulling out a handful of coins. He placed them in the middle of the pentagram, the shot glasses closing over the money, before he snaked his arm around Johnny’s waist.

“Tip’s on the table, Eunhyuk!” Sehun called out as he dragged them both towards the door.

“Do you need help with him?” came the barman’s voice in reply, drawing closer. “He doesn’t look so good.”

“No need, thank you. He’s just about to get better.” Johnny closed his eyes when Sehun patted his waist. “Come on, brat. Let’s get you out of here.”

Chapter Text

Sehun tightened the grip he had on Johnny’s waist and pulled him backwards just in time to keep Johnny from staggering into a portrait of Thelmoth the Magic Theorist. Johnny licked his lips as he stared at the elderly man, who was fast asleep on his painted armchair. Slowly, Johnny leaned backwards until he wasn’t in danger of planting face-first into the canvas anymore.

“Careful,” Sehun scolded him, steering them further into the middle of the corridor. “If we wake up just one of these portraits, we’re busted.”

“Sorry.” Johnny swallowed against the nausea rising in his throat. Ever since they had apparated back into Hogsmeade, his stomach had been roiling. “I still—still don’t know why we couldn’t take the tunnel that we used the first time? Would have been much—so much closer.”

The secret passageway Sehun had insisted they take on their way back into the castle had spit them out on the fifth-floor, about as far away from the Dungeon as possible.

“It only goes one way.” Sehun smiled when Johnny squinted at him.

Then another wave of nausea hit him and Johnny clamped his mouth shut, keeping it so as they stumbled down the hallway. All their efforts to keep quiet and not get caught turned out to be in vain when they rounded the next corner.

“Hey, you two! What are you doing here?!”

“Oops,” Sehun whispered. “Looks like we’ve been caught.”

Johnny felt a new wave of nausea hit him as he watched the all too familiar figure approach from the end of the hallway. It was about the last thing he wanted to deal with right now. Clinging to Sehun for balance, he squeezed his eyes shut. Maybe, if he focussed enough, he’d be able to apparate into his bed.  

“Johnny?” Taeyong’s voice was too close, way too close. “Sehun, what’s going on? What happened to him?”

Johnny knew that if he had been sober, he might have relished in the outrage in Taeyong’s voice, but as it was, it just hurt his head.

“A wonderful evening to you, too, Taeyong. How’s patrol going?” Sehun sounded way too chipper for how deeply they were in trouble, Johnny decided. “You caught anyone outside of their beds yet?”

“You mean besides the two of you?” Johnny felt his lips quirk up at the heavy sarcasm in Taeyong’s tone. He liked it that Taeyong was mean to Sehun. It meant that Taeyong really didn’t have a crush on the older boy. Johnny hummed when a cold hand touched his cheek, gentle fingers lifting his chin.  “Merlin, is he drunk? What did you do to him?”

Johnny pried his eyes open just enough to make out Taeyong’s face in front of him. It was marred with concern, his dark eyes roaming over Johnny’s face. The white of Taeyong’s hair gleamed in the light of the torches and Sehun had been right, Taeyong’s roots were showing. It didn’t detract from the effect he had on Johnny.

“Taeyong,” he managed just before Sehun clasped a hand over his mouth. Johnny furrowed his brows. He licked Sehun’s palm, but Sehun’s hand didn’t budge.

“You’ve caught us,” Sehun said. “Johnnyboy and I might have enjoyed some bubbling bellberry liquor on this fine Friday night.”

“Romanian,” Johnny added when Sehun finally lifted his hand from his mouth. It came out as more of a groan than he would have liked.

“Right, it was Romanian.” Sehun patted his hair in reward. “But actually, I’m glad you’ve found us, Taeyong.” Johnny vaguely registered Sehun looking at him before Sehun turned towards Taeyong. “Do you mind watching him for a minute? If you do, I can get Jaehyun and Ten so they can help me carry him the rest of the way. Make sure he gets into bed all right and all that.”

“What?” Taeyong sounded about as confused as Johnny felt. “Sehun—”

“Great! I’ll hurry!”

Johnny felt himself sway on his feet when Sehun’s hands disappeared from his waist so he stuck out his good arm, stumbled to the side until he hit the wall. Without Sehun there to support his weight, his legs easily folded under him and he slid down the wall until he hit the ground, his legs splayed out in front of him.

“Johnny!”

Keeping his eyes open was too much of an effort, so he closed them.

“Johnny, open your eyes!” Taeyong’s voice was so terribly demanding. “Johnny, please. Open your eyes! Can you open your eyes for me?”

Groaning, Johnny pried his eyes open. Sometimes he hated how helpless he was when Taeyong ordered him around. He looked up just in time to watch as Taeyong stepped over his legs. With one foot planted on either side of his thighs, Taeyong crouched down. Johnny was rewarded with a much gentler tone as Taeyong’s hands clasped his face. He savoured the way Taeyong’s cool fingertips felt against his cheeks as Taeyong said, “Merlin, what were you thinking drinking this much?”

Johnny shrugged because his brain was mush and Taeyong’s hands were still on his face. Taeyong was touching him.

The grip Taeyong had on his head became almost painful when he sighed. “You’re so stupid.”

“Stupid for you.”

Taeyong stared at him with his mouth ajar before he snapped it shut, his bottom lip catching between his teeth. Johnny mourned the loss when Taeyong let go of his face to reach into the breast pocket of his robes. His prefect badge glistened with the movement.

“Sorry,” Johnny mumbled.

Taeyong shook his head and then he was grabbing onto Johnny’s unscathed hand.

“I’m sorry,” Taeyong said, meeting his eyes. His face was close enough that Johnny felt his breath graze over his cheeks.

Johnny’s fingers closed automatically around the item Taeyong placed in his hand. He felt his eyes widen when he lowered his gaze to the battered photograph in his hand, and then his own breathing stopped.

“Taeil took it out of the book before Yuta burned it. I wanted to give it to you sooner, but you wouldn’t really talk to me, so.”

The woman in the photograph stared up at Johnny with little emotion in her eyes, looking intouchable with how beautiful she was and the way her smile didn’t quite manage to pull her lips apart. She would have seemed almost brittle, but the illusion was broken when her eyes caught on something behind the camera. Her whole face lit up with joy as she reached out her arms, beckoning.

Johnny knew that if the shutter had remained open for just a second longer, he would have seen himself toddle into the frame, still small enough to fit onto his mother’s lap. He couldn‘t recall the memory, but he didn’t need to be able to. The memory was right here, in his hands. Returned to him.

Johnny didn’t realise he was crying until the first tear drop fell onto the photograph, running down the magical paper and warping the folds of his mother’s dress. Panicking, he let the photograph drop onto his lap, dabbing his fingers at it to dry off his tears before they soaked through the paper, ruining it.

Taeyong caught his hand, taking the photograph from him. “It’s okay. I got it.”

Johnny didn’t take his eyes off the photograph as Taeyong dried it off gently with his sleeve. Then he opened Johnny’s cloak and slid it into the breast pocket of his robes. “There, it‘s safe.“

The noise that escaped Johnny was entirely undignified.

“I’m sorry, Johnny.” Taeyong was blinking rapidly when Johnny looked up at him and for the first time Johnny noticed the wetness in his eyes. And even with blotchy cheeks and swollen eyes, Taeyong was still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

He let his eyes flutter shut when Taeyong clasped his face between his hands once again, committed the feeling to memory as best as he could. A part of him longed to sling his arm around Taeyong’s waist, pull him closer until Taeyong could never leave him again, but he couldn’t feel his limbs.

Johnny’s breath fell short when Taeyong’s lips pressed against his cheek. “I’m really sorry.”

Johnny’s vision went blurry then, the tears that had gathered at the corners of his eyes overflowing. His lungs constricted and his chest grew tight, a pitiful whimper escaping him as he tried to heave air into his lungs. Taeyong wound his arms around his shoulders. The pressure of Taeyong’s body against his helped. It alleviated some of the pain the he carried on his blood.

“Thank you,“ he wretched out as soon as managed to breathe again. “Thank you for giving it back.”

He could feel Taeyong shake his head against his neck. Their cheeks brushed when Taeyong pulled away far enough to look him in the eyes. “I didn’t know. I swear I would have stopped Yuta if I had known that he would go for the book. You have to know that.”

Johnny nodded, his eyes drooping as he swallowed. His throat felt raw. “I know.” He wished Taeyong would know, too.

Johnny savoured the feeling of Taeyong’s fingers returning to his cheek, stroking his hair out of his face for him. Taeyong’s hand fell from his face when the sound of footfalls reached them and Taeyong pulled himself to his feet.

Johnny turned his head to the side. He watched with half-lidded eyes as his friends rounded the corner.

Sehun had pulled Jaehyun and Ten straight from their beds, it seemed. The both of them were clad in the matching velvet pyjamas Johnny had given them for Christmas last year. The sight of Ten in his red pyjamas with the heart on the breast pocket were enough to make him smile when his friend reached him.

“Hey, Tennie.”

Ten’s smile was tight-lipped when he knelt down beside him. Concern wasn’t a good look on him. “Hey, Johnny. You look like shit.”

Johnny hummed as Ten grabbed onto his uninjured arm, pulling on it. Getting up became considerably easier when Sehun appeared on his other side. He helped get Johnny back onto his feet by grabbing onto his waist. Johnny would have dropped right back to the ground, hadn’t it been for his friends holding him upright.

“Listen, we would really appreciate it if you could overlook this.”

Jaehyun was standing in front of Taeyong with his arms crossed in front of his chest, the sleeves of his green pyjamas bunched around his elbows. There was an angry red mark running down his forearm. Nine must have scratched him in his sleep again.

Because Jaehyun was several centimetres taller than him, Taeyong had to tilt his chin upwards to look him in the eye. Squaring his shoulders, he opened his mouth, but he was cut off by Sehun before he could utter so much as the first vowel, “Oh, Taeyong here is not going to report this to anyone. He still owes me a favour. Don’t you, Taeyong?”

Taeyong only shot him a fleeting glance before his eyes landed on Johnny. “Yes. That’s right.”

Johnny tried his best to smile at him. Taeyong’s expression softened, even if it was almost imperceptible.

When he looked at Jaehyun, his voice was hard again. “Sehun helped me, so I‘m not going to say anything. But you better make sure that Johnny gets into bed all right. One of you should watch over him. You got him so wasted, he might throw up in his sleep or have actual alcohol poisoning or—”

“All right, square,” Jaehyun cut him off.

Ten, sounding slightly winded, scoffed. “We know how to take care of him, thanks.”

Taeyong ignored them both in favour of turning towards Sehun. “Avoid the Grand Staircase. Professor Yoona is on parole tonight and if she catches you, you will get detention until you graduate.”

“Thank you, Taeyong.”

Johnny squinted at the way Sehun all but purred Taeyong’s name.

Taeyong rolled his eyes and, with one last look at Johnny, turned to leave.

“Come to me up if you want me to touch up your roots after all!” Sehun called after him.

Johnny felt the strange urge to punch his friend in the stomach, but then he was distracted by Jaehyun stepping closer to him. Jaehyun exchanged places with Ten, who had gone as red as his pyjamas with the strain of having held up Johnny for this long.

“You think you’re gonna make it back to the dorm, Johnnyboy?”

Johnny only grinned at Jaehyun, though it was mostly to keep his teeth together. Standing had made his nausea return in full-force.

Jaehyun seemed to understand him nonetheless. “All right, let’s get going then. I’m really not that keen on that run-in with Professor Yoona.”

“Agreed,” Sehun muttered.

Much to Johnny surprise, they made it to the Dungeon undetected. Ten, walking a good few paces ahead, steered them around any potential trouble and by the time Sehun paid them his goodbyes in the common room, Johnny felt somewhat steady enough on his feet to make it to his bed with Jaehyun’s support only.

“Ten, get a bucket,” Jaehyun said when they entered the dormitory.

“Don’t need one,” Johnny slurred. His legs gave out just as Jaehyun helped him collapse onto his bed. He grunted when Jaehyun rolled him onto his back.

Pulling out his wand, Jaehyun smiled at him, “Of course. Just to make sure, you know?”

Johnny nodded, a light giggle escaping him when his shoes slipped from his feet and the clasps of his winter coat sprung open. Obediently, he moved in whichever way Jaehyun pushed him to get the coat off along with the rest off his clothes. Once he was left in nothing but his cast and his underwear, Jaehyun pulled the duvet over him.

“How do you feel?”

“Everything’s...” Johnny freed his hand from under the duvet to motion with his fingers. “... spinning a little.” He swallowed. “Just a little, though.”

Jaehyun nodded. “Say the word when a little becomes a lot.”

Ten returned with the bucket not a moment later and placed it on top of Johnny’s bedside table. “Please make sure to wake up one of us if you barf. If you don’t and Hansol wakes up to the smell of vomit in the dorm, he might actually kill us.”

“I’ll try my best.”

“Good. Sleep tight, Johnnyboy.” Ten deigned him with his broadest grin before he blew him a kiss, then turned to collapse onto his own bed. A yelp and a very disgruntled meow later, Ten lay sprawled out on his blanket, Nine curled up on the small of his back.

Jaehyun watched their friend with fond exasperation before he turned back towards Johnny. “Tomorrow is Saturday, so I’ll forgive you breakfast, but lunch isn’t negotiable. If you don’t come, I’ll send Donghyuck after you again.” His tone became much gentler as he squeezed Johnny’s shoulder. “Good night.”

“Jae.” Johnny caught his arm before Jaehyun could leave for his own bed next to Hansol’s.

“Yes?”

Keeping his eyes open was getting harder by the second, but Johnny had to get the words out. “I think I’m ready now. To come back, I mean. I think I’m ready to come back now.”

Jaehyun’s dimples formed craters in his cheeks as he smiled, and even in his drunken state Johnny didn’t miss the way he started blinking just a tad too quickly. “I’m glad, Johnny. I’m really glad.”

*

Johnny sat down at the foot end of the infirmary bed, the mattress creaking with the added weight. He made sure to keep his eyes on the tiny stain of mustard that ordained the collar of Madame Amber’s nurse robes as she lifted his injured arm out of its sling. The bandages fell with a tip of her wand and Johnny held his arm out while she palpated his wrist and hand with gentle fingers.

“Does it hurt when I move your wrist?”

Johnny shook his head. “It feels delicate, mostly.”

Madame Amber hummed, seeming pleased as she stretched his fingers. “Circle your wrist for me. Do you feel any pain or soreness?”

Johnny took in a deep breath and finally lowered his eyes to his hand. The skin of his wrist was ruddy, irritated from the bandages, but apart from that the lower part of his arm looked almost as good as new. It felt as good as new. He stretched his fingers before he balled his hand into a fist. There was no pain. “No. It feels good.”

“That’s excellent, Mr Seo. Considering the state of your wrist when your friends brought you in—” Madame Amber cut herself off when he looked up at her, smiling at him instead. “As far as I can tell, your bones have fully grown back together and all your fine motor skills seem intact, which is what we were hoping for. I think we can end your treatment here.”

She perused his arm one last time before turning away, towards the bedside table filled with all kinds of phials and remedies. She picked up a small, corked jar filled with a thick, brownish paste and handed it to him. “Should you experience any soreness, use this ointment and it should get better.”

Johnny took the jar from her and pocketed it before he looked up at her. “Thank you, Madame Amber.”

Her eyes softened. “You’re very welcome, Mr Seo.”

They both turned their heads when the curtain surrounding the bed was pulled apart, a familiar head of auburn hair popping up between the seams. A moment later, Donghyuck had squeezed himself through. “Is it off?”

Madame Amber pursed her lips at the intrusion. She had explicitly told Donghyuck to remain in front of the curtain, but her voice was as good-natured as ever when she said, “Indeed, Mr Seo. The older Mr Seo is all good to go. You may take him to lunch now.”

“Okay!”

Donghyuck climbed onto the bed and Johnny grunted when chubby arms snaked around his neck, Donghyuck’s short legs wrapping around his waist like a vice. With his cousin hanging off his back, Johnny slid off the bed, uttering another bout of thanks in Madame Amber’s direction before he stepped through the curtains.

As he carried them out of the infirmary, Donghyuck lifted one arm from around Johnny‘s neck to tug on his arm instead. Obediently, Johnny lifted his right hand so Donghyuck could grab onto it, poke and prod at the remnants of his injury.

“You have a scar now.”

Johnny hummed. “I do.”

“Are you sad about it?”

Johnny glanced at his wrist. For a moment, he perused the thick, red line running down the back of his hand. Where there once had been unmarred skin, the scar now slashed across his wrist, stopping short at the beginning of his radial bone. Donghyuck prodded at the scar, pressing down on it as if it would disappear if he just rubbed hard enough.

Johnny smiled. “No, I’m not sad.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

“Okay.” Donghyuck buried his face in his shoulder and Johnny grabbed onto his legs just in time to prohibit Donghyuck from sliding off his back. Donghyuck went limp against him, leaving Johnny to keep him on his back. Suppressing a smile, Johnny carried them the rest of the way into the Great Hall.

His cousin protested when Johnny crouched down to let him clamber off his back, but eventually he relented at the mention of food. With one last hug to Johnny’s waist, Donghyuck ran off to join his friends where Chenle and Jisung were already waving at him. Johnny waited until Donghyuck had slid onto the seat next to Renjun before he turned around and headed for the Gryffindor table.

He didn’t need long to find the fifth-years. Johnny was pleased to find that not only were all the Gryffindors eating at their table, Sicheng and Taeyong were sitting with them too.

Doyoung, sitting opposite of Kun, Taeyong and Taeil, jabbed his elbow into Yuta’s side when he saw Johnny approach, causing Yuta to jerk awake from where he was napping on top of Sicheng. The Hufflepuff had fallen asleep with his head next to his plate and he twitched in his sleep when Yuta jostled him, his face scrunching up. Yuta’s disorientation lasted only for a moment. He straightened his back when he saw Johnny approaching, pulling Sicheng closer into his side. Johnny came to a halt behind Taeyong and Taeil. He felt the both of them turn their heads to look at him. Kun, farther to Johnny’s right, waved at him as he craned his neck to see. Johnny waved back.

“Can we help you?” Doyoung spoke up. Johnny was glad to see that Doyoung seemed to have recovered from his lapse the Friday before. The Gryffindor Captain was carrying himself with poise again, the golden hoop in his ear glistening as he cocked his head to the side.

“Don’t bother, Doyoung.“ Johnny shot him a perfunctory smile before he focussed on Yuta. “I’m here to talk to him.

Yuta narrowed his eyes, his grip on Sicheng tightening another fraction. “What do you want?”

“Johnny,” Taeyong said. He placed a hand on Johnny's stomach that Johnny supposed was meant to be placating.

Johnny ignored him in favour of leaning forward. He placed his hand on the table between the plates, splaying his fingers on the varnished wood. The scar running down the back of his hand bulged with the movement and Johnny could see Doyoung’s eyes catching on it.

“I’m here to give you some friendly advice, Yuta.” Johnny glanced at Taeil, who was staring back at him with furrowed brows. “First off, your friends are smarter than you. Be glad that you have them.”

When he looked back at Yuta, the Gryffindor was glaring at him. Still, he was smart enough to remain unmoving. Only his eyes followed him when Johnny reached over Taeyong, plucking Taeyong‘s cup from where it sat next to his plate. Johnny straightened out his back and pushed his free hand into the pocket of robes. He levelled Yuta with a stern gaze as he took a sip.

“But mostly, I’m here to tell you that I forgive you for burning my mother’s book. I’ll let you keep your arm, and your heart...” Johnny smiled fleetingly at Sicheng, who was awake now and staring at him with wide, bleary eyes, clearly focussed on trying to understand what he was saying. “...too. Just don’t forget that if you ever touch something of mine again, I will not hesitate to break both. Understood?”

“Yuta,” Sicheng said quietly, cupping his cheek in the same moment that Yuta said, “I understand.”

His gaze was as unwavering as the grip he had on Sicheng and Johnny smiled. “Good.”

Holding onto the cup he had stolen, he turned around and left for his own table.

“What did you do over there?” Jaehyun asked as Johnny fell into the seat beside him.

Johnny carefully placed Taeyong’s cup next to his plate before he plucked this week’s edition of Seeker Weekly out of Ten’s hand, pushing the Charms essay he was supposed to be looking at closer to him. Ten uttered a disgruntled noise that turned into a squeak when he noticed Johnny’s right hand. “She took it off?”

Johnny smiled and nodded, leaving Ten to prod at his hand while he turned to Jaehyun. “Wait for it.”

Jaehyun furrowed his brows in confusion and Johnny picked up his cutlery with the hand that was not currently palpated by Ten’s fingers. Wednesdays meant that there was casserole for lunch. He liked casserole.

“Johnny, what—”

Jaehyun was cut off by shouting, and the unmistakable sound of someone falling backwards off their bench. Jaehyun and Ten turned their heads to watch the Gryffindors scramble away from their table, yelling over each other while Johnny smiled into his food. He felt pleased when he saw the slow grin that spread over Jaehyun’s face.

“What did you do, Johnnyboy?“ Ten asked, Charms essay forgotten as he watched the chaos at the Gryffindor table unfold with glossy eyes.

“Slug worms in their goblets.” Johnny picked up Taeyong’s cup and took a sip. His smile broadened when he realised Taeyong had gone for pumpkin juice. “Now that Taeyong has returned my photograph to me, I told Yuta that I forgive him for burning my mother‘s book. I couldn‘t let him off that easy, though. His temper cost us this year’s Quidditch Cup. The others are collateral damage. I had to hex blindly.”

“Beautiful”, Ten commented, wiping an invisible tear from his cheek as he turned back to their table.

“Beautiful,” Jaehyun agreed. He was watching Doyoung scrub his tongue with his sleeve with mirth in his eyes. Sicheng, apparently having escaped the slugworm attack, was doing the same to Yuta next to him.

Johnny basked in the sight for a moment before he let his eyes wander and found Taeyong staring at him with exasperation in his eyes while he was helping Taeil get back on the bench. Smiling, Johnny picked up Taeyong’s cup and raised it to salute him.

*

Johnny opened his hand and watched as the knarl shuffled closer. It sniffed his palm cautiously before placing its two front feet on Johnny’s fingers and then the knarl’s spiky tongue darted out of its mouth, snatching the small heap of daisies from his palm.

“Ouch!”

Johnny was careful to set the knarl back down into its wooden crate, lest the small creature ran out of daisies and moved onto his fingers, before he turned to his right. Jaehyun was sitting on the ground next to him, sucking on the ridge of his hand while he glared at the knarl that was running circles in the enclosure of his legs.

He grumbled. “Don’t say anything.”

Johnny smiled. He caressed the back of Jaehyun’s neck, earning himself a huff, before he picked up Jaehyun’s knarl and placed it back with its friend in the creatures’ crate.

Jaehyun had been in a special kind of sour mood since this morning, something that Johnny had been waiting for ever since they had been banned from participating in this year’s Quidditch Cup. Johnny loved playing as much as everyone else on the team, but he didn’t suffer from withdrawal in the same way that Jaehyun did. Without the physical outlet, Jaehyun was left restless and more grumpy than he usually would have been so Johnny made a mental note to talk to Ten about sneaking in a secret night practice on the weekend, just between the three of them. With a little bit of planning, they would be able to use the Room of Requirements to fly for a bit.

He looked over at their friend, who was working on his own crate of knarls with Lisa. Ten was feeding the creatures while his cousin was braiding some of the daisies into his hair and Johnny could practically hear the stones of the rumour mill turn as he watched them talk. He looked up when Professor Park called his name.

“Mr Seo, would you mind coming over here for a minute? And bring Mr Jung with you, while you’re at it.”  

Johnny felt a strange sense of foreboding as he saw Professor Park stand near the pumpkin patch. Jisoo and Doyoung were standing next to him, the both of them holding buckets brimming with raw meat. Johnny took care to brushing the snow off his trousers before pulled himself to his feet. Jaehyun lead the way and he followed him through the maze of knarl crates and students huddled around them that littered the lawn in front of the groundkeeper’s hut.

“I’m sure the abundance of animal cadavers has already given it away, but you all have the great honour of helping me feed the thestrals today!”

Professor Park grinned from ear to ear as he handed Jaehyun one of the buckets he had been holding. Johnny took the other bucket the teacher held out. He had expected as much when he had seen the raw meat.

“Sir,” Jaehyun spoke up, his words came out much more irritated than he usually would have allowed them to be. Johnny really needed to talk to Ten about that Quidditch practice. “I don’t think I’ll be of much assistance if I come with you. I can’t see the thestrals.”

“Me neither,” Doyoung said. His eyes remained firmly on the ground as he spoke.

Johnny felt Jaehyun twitch next to him.

“Oh, don’t worry about that, Mr Jung.” Professor Park’s smile didn’t falter as he waved them both off. The heavy furs of his cloak rustled with the movement and Johnny thought that he saw a small, furry head pop out from one of the many pockets of the coat. “Truthfully, you and Mr Kim are just tagging along to help carry the fodder. As Quidditch Captains, your arms should be strong enough, wouldn’t you agree?”

Jaehyun barely had the time to nod before Professor Park started for the edge of the Forbidden Forest. “Now, after me into the Forest! And don’t get lost, or the centauri may have you for dinner. They always get a bit more inclined to eat meat when it’s winter.”

Johnny used his free hand to drag Jaehyun with him by the arm as he followed the teacher. He knew that resistance was futile. Two sets of footfalls and Jisoo’s melodic voice assured him that the Gryffindors were following behind. Professor Park lead them up a trodden path into the Forest, delving into the story of how he had once lost to the leader of the local centauri clan in a game of sticks. Johnny made sure to pretend he was listening while he focussed on not losing his footing on the frozen ground.

By the time they reached their destination, it had stopped snowing and the forest opened up into a wipe-open plane, sheltered from the worst of the winter weather by an abundance of tall, spindly trees that lined the edges of the clearing. Against the stark white of the frozen ground and sky and the ashy colour of the trees, the thestrals stood out like splatters of ink on a fresh scroll of parchment.

It wasn’t the first time Johnny saw the thestral herd. Besides Jisoo and himself, there was only one other student in their year, a Hufflepuff girl named Wheein, who was able to see the dark creatures, so Johnny had been solicited by Professor Park to help out with the feeding before.

Professor Park began to coo the moment they had stepped out from under the trees, rattling the bucket in his hand to coax them closer. “Feeding time!” he called out, and the thestrals closest to him raised their heads in interest. “Make sure that everyone gets a nice chunk!"

Setting down his own bucket for the moment, Johnny turned towards Jisoo. She was eyeing the thestrals with apprehension, looking like she’d rather be anywhere else. Johnny didn’t blame her. With their skeletal bodies and white eyes, the thestrals looked rather ghastly and Johnny knew that Jisoo was fond of things that were more on the non-threatening, fluffy side. She had been on the clearing just as often as he had been, but that didn’t mean she liked the thestrals any better.

“I think it’s easiest if we split into pairs. Jaehyun and I will take the right side of the clearing, and you and Doyoung can take the left. Is that all right with you?”

Jisoo pried her eyes away from the thestrals to look at him and nodded. She followed the gesture up by uttering a deep sigh and then, squaring her shoulders, she motioned Doyoung to follow her.

Doyoung’s eyes met Johnny’s only briefly before he obliged, carrying both of their buckets.

Jaehyun was watching them too when Johnny turned back around, his eyes narrowed. Johnny decided to leave his bucket for the moment and clapped Jaehyun on the arm to get his attention. “You ready to prove how strong your arms are, Captain?”

Jaehyun’s smile was thin as he focussed on Johnny, though that might have been the cold. “Keep talking, Johnnyboy, and maybe I’ll feed a chunk of you to the thestrals.”

“Oh, please.” Johnny felt a grin tug on his lips as he began to move into the clearing. The presence of the Gryffindors aside, he liked being on the clearing. He stopped in front of an mother thestral standing with her foal, petting the mother on the leathery neck. “They’d never hurt me. The thestrals love me. They associate me with food. Now hand me some meat, please.”

Jaehyun did as he was told, scrunching up his nose as he picked up a chunk of raw intestine. With Johnny’s direction, Jaehyun joined him in throwing out the fodder and soon their bucket was empty.

“Care to get the other one?”

Grumbling something under his breath that sounded a lot like “your legs are longer than mine,” Jaehyun obliged. He didn’t leave without kicking Johnny in the leg, though.

Ignoring the pain in his shin, Johnny turned to pet the thestral closest to him, chuckling when the creature nudged him in the chest with its massive head. “You see, his skull is almost as thick as yours.”

The thestral clacked its jaw in what Johnny understood as agreement. It was Jisoo’s voice that caused him to look up. “Jaehyun!”

The first thing Johnny noticed was the fine trail of blood staining the snow between where he was standing and where Jaehyun was walking, his back turned to the clearing. The second thing he noticed was that he wasn’t the only one who had noticed the blood, of course he wasn’t. He could see where the blood was seeping from the ridge of Jaehyun’s hand. The knarl’s bite was small, nothing but two small puncture wounds, but that didn’t matter.

Jaehyun bled, and so the mother thestral Jaehyun had passed on his way to the bucket could smell it, was stalking towards Jaehyun on bony legs, her massive wings fluttering as she picked up speed. Johnny knew that she was just curious. The Hogwarts herd was domesticated, tamed by Professor Park himself, but Jisoo didn’t share his confidence, so she screamed again.

Jaehyun turned around and went down, just as the mother thestral reached him. She scattered when Jaehyun hit the ground and Johnny cursed, let his bucket drop in favour of running over. At first, all he saw was the black of their school robes, and then slithers of green and silver and golden and red.

Jaehyun was sprawled out flat on his back on the ground, his scarf having fallen to cover the better part of his face. Doyoung was on top of him, his hands fisted into the lining of Jaehyun’s winter cloak where he had grabbed onto Jaehyun’s collar to pull him to the ground with him.

Jaehyun seemed to realise what had happened the same moment that Johnny did. His face contorted with anger, but Doyoung wasn’t looking at him. Instead, he was searching the area where the thestral had been with blind eyes. He didn't turn his head until Jaehyun kicked out. Knocking Doyoung’s hands off of his collar, Jaehyun pushed against his chest. “Get off of me!”

Doyoung looked down at him, his eyebrows furrowing into a frown.

Squirming, Jaehyun bucked his hips and this time he was successful in throwing Doyoung off. Doyoung landed on his side and Johnny thought that with his eyes widened like that, the Gryffindor looked almost confused. The expression didn’t last long. Doyoung’s eyes filled with rage, too, when Jaehyun sat up enough to grab onto his collar much like Doyoung had done to him before. Jaehyun pulled them both to their feet just so he could push against Doyoung‘s chest once again.

Johnny staggered to a halt at the uninhibited rage in Jaehyun’s voice when he yelled, “You want to be a hero so badly, don’t you? You want to be a hero like Potter or your dad or even Godric Gryffindor himself, but I’ve got bad news for you, Doyoung! You’re nobody and no one and nothing you can do will ever change that! So don’t you ever dare to touch me again!”

“Mr Jung!” Professor Park’s voice boomed across the clearing, and Johnny could see him hurry over, but it was already too late.

All Johnny could do was catch Jaehyun when Doyoung punched him square in the face, causing Jaehyun to stagger backwards.

Doyoung’s eyes were alight with fury, his shoulders shaking with every breath he took and Johnny had the distinct feeling that Doyoung would have punched Jaehyun a second time, hadn’t it been for the arms Professor Park slung around him from behind. Professor Park dragged Doyoung a good few metres backwards before he let go to grab onto Doyoung’s arm instead.

“Mr Kim! What in Merlin’s name is going on?”

Doyoung merely bared his teeth, his eyes not leaving Jaehyun’s face as he balled his hands into fists over and over again. Johnny tightened the grip he had on Jaehyun’s upper arms when he felt Jaehyun lean forward.

Professor Park stared between the two of them with a deep-set frown before he shook his head. “Fine, if none of you have anything to say for yourselves, I will do the talking. All four of you, to my hut!” He turned towards Jisoo. “Ms Kim, you can leave the buckets for now. I will retrieve them later. Mr Seo?”

Johnny lifted his head when Professor Park addressed him.

“I think it is best if you and Mr Jung wait a couple of minutes before you follow behind. I assume you are capable of finding the way back on your own?”

“Of course, Sir.” Johnny ignored the way Jaehyun strained against his hold. “We’ll be right there.”

“Good.”

Johnny thought that he had never seen Professor Park look as grim as he did in that moment. Professor Park didn’t let go of Doyoung as he dragged him towards the edge of the forest. Jisoo tripped after them, her bottom lip caught between her teeth as she came up on Doyoung’s other side. Jisoo was the Gryffindor’s Keeper, so Doyoung was her captain. Johnny waited until they had disappeared behind the first line of trees before he let go of Jaehyun.

Jaehyun didn’t meet his eyes when Johnny stepped around him so they were standing face to face. Jaehyun crossed his arms in front of his chest and Johnny suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. He let out a sigh instead and pulled his wand from his pocket.

“You’re an idiot, Jaehyun.” Johnny grabbed onto his face, placing his wand against the split in Jaehyun’s top lip. “Episkey!”

Jaehyun winced as the healing spell took effect. “I wasn’t thinking,” he admitted once his lip had closed up. When Jaehyun did meet his eyes, they were filled with guilt.

“I know that.” Johnny forced his tone to be more gentle, less dry as he continued, “But seriously, bringing up his dad like that? I’m surprised he didn’t break your nose.”

“He came at me first.” Jaehyun raised his hand to his face, ghosting his fingertips over his nose before he let them drop to his mouth. Jutting out his bottom lip, he rubbed fingertips over the fresh skin. “He shouldn’t—why did he do that? Thestrals aren’t dangerous. You say that all the time.”

Johnny suppressed a sigh and slung his arm over Jaehyun’s shoulder. “I don’t know, but we’re in for it nonetheless. Come on. I think the others have had enough of a headstart. Let’s find out how much trouble we’re in.”

Chapter Text

Johnny had been to Professor Park’s hut before so he was careful not to let doorknocker bite him as he knocked. When there came no answer, Johnny pushed the door open. The inside of the hut was mercifully warm in comparison to the snow outside, heated by a small fire going in the cobblestone chimney. Professor Park was nowhere in sight, but Doyoung and Jisoo were seated on one of the three mismatched sofas cramped into one nook of the circular room.  

Doyoung looked much more composed than he had on the thestral clearing. He was sitting perfectly still in his spot, his hands folded in his lap as he stared at the creature swimming in the basin beneath the vitreous coffee table. From time to time, a three-pronged tentacle would latch onto the glass before it disappeared back into the muddy water.

Johnny grabbed Jaehyun by the arm and pulled them over to the sitting area, steering them past the stacks of empty cages littering the floor. Johnny made sure that Jaehyun didn’t steal any of the knitting needles sticking out of the gigantic heap of yarn that sat on the dining table in the middle of the room, lest Jaehyun used them to stab Doyoung in the neck. He pushed Jaehyun down on the sofa opposite of the Gryffindors before he took the seat next to him.

Doyoung raised his eyes away from the aquarium to stare at Jaehyun.

“Where is Professor Park?” Johnny asked.

Jaehyun next to him twitched.

“He left to get some other teachers,” Jisoo answered. “Hani and Professor Do, probably.”

Johnny hummed and relaxed into the fur throwings of the sofa. He could see the apprehension he felt mirrored on Jisoo’s face as she moved to lay a hand onto Doyoung’s arm. Doyoung averted his eyes to his lap, his jaw clenching.

“Jae,” Johnny murmured when he noticed Jaehyun next to him shifting in his seat. “Calm down.”

Jaehyun blinked at him as if he hadn’t heard a word of what Johnny had said, but he leaned back into the cushions when Johnny pulled him backwards. For a moment, Johnny believed that they’d be able to spend the rest of their time waiting for Professor Park in tense, but peaceful silence.

And then, “You’re such an asshole, Jung.”

Doyoung didn’t look up from his lap as he spoke, but Johnny didn’t miss the way his hands balled into fists. The knuckles of his right hand were busted. Jaehyun jerked forward, but Johnny held him back before he could leap over Professor Park’s coffee table.

“Doyoung.” Johnny waited until Doyoung was looking at him before he continued, “I know you’re pissed off right now and I can even understand why, but I recommend you watch your mouth.”

Doyoung narrowed his eyes at him.

“You don’t have to listen to me, of course.” Johnny plastered the most superficial smile onto his face that he could muster. “But I was nice enough to pretend my broken arm was an accident and not the consequence of your best friend’s ill-tempered attempt at murder, a stunt for which I could still get him expelled might I add, so I’d appreciate it if you would sit down and shut up.”

Johnny thought that Doyoung might have come over to strangle him instead of Jaehyun, but then Jisoo spoke up, “I think Johnny’s right.”

Doyoung wasn’t the only one looking at her in surprise.

“Professor Park is probably debating the amount of detention you two will get as it is.” Jisoo turned to look at Doyoung. “Don’t make it worse. Please, Doyoung.”

Doyoung stared at her for a long moment before he conceded. Squeezing his eyes shut, Doyoung leaned back against the sofa cushions.

“I knew you were smart, Jisoo,” Johnny said. “It must be a Keeper quality.”

Jisoo shot him an unimpressed look. “You can follow your own advice, Seo.”  

Johnny raised his hands in mock surrender while Jisoo ignored him in favour of watching Doyoung with barely masked concern in her eyes. Johnny felt bad for her.  She hadn’t chosen to be a part of this. When Johnny turned his head to the side, he found Jaehyun already looking at him.

Jaehyun leaned over to whisper into his ear, “Just one punch?”

“No.”

Jaehyun pulled back, his bottom lip jutting out as he crossed his arms in front of his chest. Johnny rolled his eyes.

All four of them looked up when the door of the hut was pushed open and Professor Park trudged into the room. Much like Jisoo had predicted, he had brought two other teachers with him, but neither of them turned out to be their respective Heads of House. Instead, it were Professor Minseok and Professor Chen that entered the hut after Professor Park.

“Merlin, it’s cold!” Professor Park exclaimed as he pulled the door shut behind them, shaking the snow off his coat. “Min, would you mind putting on the kettle?”

Johnny watched as Professor Minseok walked over to the kitchenette. He must have been at the hut before, because he pulled the kettle off the right shelf without having to search for it. While the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher tinkered around in the kitchen, Professor Park and Professor Chen walked over to the sitting area.

They took the remaining arm chair. Professor Park sunk into the cushions while Professor Chen perched himself on the arm rest, smiling at his colleague when Professor Minseok handed him a steaming mug, placing the tray he had brought over on the coffee table. Another tentacle latched onto the top of it before it recoiled, presumably at the heat seeping through the glass.

“Please, everyone grab a cup,” Professor Park said as he did so himself.  “Mr Seo, Mr Jung, I’m very glad you made it back to the hut in one piece.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Johnny said when it became clear Jaehyun was still too busy sulking to answer. Johnny thought he could hear Doyoung mutter a “sadly” under his breath.

Professor Park must’ve heard it too, because his expression darkened before a small sigh left his lips. “All right, we should get to it right away, then. If I could have your undivided attention.”

Professor Park waited until everyone was looking at him before he continued, “Now, contrary to what you might think, the discord between your friend groups isn’t news to me, or any other of us teachers for that matter.”

“We’re all very aware,” Professor Chen said.

The long-suffering expression on his face reminded Johnny why he had refrained from joining the Frog Choir. Listening to Jaehyun and Doyoung fight over who got to sing the solo part of each song was not how he wanted to spend his Thursday evenings. Not for another year.

Professor Park nodded. “And while there’s nothing wrong with a bit of good ol’ Quidditch rivalry, I must admit that resorting to physical violence is taking a little far. Mr Kim, do you have an excuse as to why you thought it necessary to punch Mr Jung in the face after you so valiantly ran to defend him from an approaching thestral?”

Doyoung’s eyes remained fixed on the coffee table. He said nothing, even if his face was getting redder by the second. The silence that reigned over the room was uncomfortable, Johnny could tell by the way Jisoo shifted in her seat.

“It was my fault.” Johnny felt his eyebrows shoot up as he looked at Jaehyun. Jaehyun was looking at Doyoung as he spoke, “I said something that I shouldn’t have, that’s why Doyoung got mad. I can’t say that I deserved it, but it’s my fault that he punched me.”

Professor Park smiled at him. “Thank you for being honest, Mr Jung. I did hear what you said to Mr Kim, but it is good that you know that it was wrong of you to bring up Doyoung’s father in such a way.”

“I don’t want to talk about my dad.”

When Johnny looked at him, he noticed that Doyoung’s knuckles had started bleeding again with how tightly he was balling them into fists.

“It doesn’t matter what Jaehyun said.” This time, Doyoung looked up, right at Professor Park. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh, that’s a pity, Doyoung.” Professor Park looked genuinely saddened, but there was a glint in his eyes that Johnny couldn’t decipher. “You see, I dragged the other professors all the way out here because I thought you might want to learn a little more about him.”

Where Doyoung had been all high-rising tension, he went still. “What?”

The three teachers exchanged a glance before Professor Minseok took a step forward, away from the fire. His smile was gentle as he looked at Doyoung.

“We knew him, your father. Well, Professor Chen and I did. Professor Park thinks it might be good for you if we talked to you about him.”

“What?” Doyoung repeated.

The smile faded from Professor Minseok’s face, but his expression didn’t become unkind. “This might be hard to imagine, but during the war, the other Professors and I, we weren’t teachers yet. Chany—Professor Park was working as a magizoologist for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures while Professor Chen and I, we were training to be aurors, much like your father was. In fact, your father was the leader of our squad.”

Doyoung blinked when Professor Minseok crouched down in front of him and Johnny averted his eyes. Though what Professor Minseok was talking about was a story Johnny had heard more times than he could count during his childhood, it felt different to hear the story with Doyoung in the room. It was a different story if you knew the hero of the story was going to die at the end while his son was sitting in front of you.

“Your father was very valiant. Even that night, when the Death Eaters set fire to the Ministry, he did not once recoil in fear of the flames. Without him, hundreds of wizards and witches would have died that night. I was with your father when he saved all those people from burning to death and to this day, I’ve never witnessed a greater act of bravery.”

Professor Minseok raised his left arm, peeling away the sleeve of his robes. The skin underneath was marred, and, judging by the size of the scarring, the wound must have taken up his entire arm and maybe parts of his chest. Belatedly, Johnny realised he had never seen Professor Minseok in short-sleeved robes before.

“I was almost among those who didn‘t make it, but your father saved my life, too.”  

“We did lose three of ours friends that night,” Professor Chen said, his expression far away before his eyes fell onto Professor Minseok. “Some of us lost more.”

Professor Minseok’s smile faltered for only the fraction of a second before he looked up at Doyoung. “I made the mistake of running back into the fire when I shouldn’t have. Your father pulled me back out. He is hailed a hero for a reason, so I understand your urge to protect him. But, Mr Kim, you should never strive to fight. I understand you were not older than two when he died and your memories of him, if you have retained any, must be muddied, but that is not something that he would have wanted for you. Your father’s dream was to give you a peaceful life. All the wizards that died that night, in the Ministry and across the country and at Hogwarts itself, they all gave their life so neither of you,” Professor Minseok turned to look each of them in the eye, “would have to.”

“What we are trying to tell you is that war, raising your fist or wands against each other, that is not the answer.” Professor Park set down his tea cup. A furry paw emerged from one of his robe pockets before he shoved it back inside. “Instead, you should try to understand each other, because it’s hard to hate somebody that you understand. No matter what has happened between the Slytherin and the Gryffindors in the past, you should try to understand each other, and be kind.”

“The world was an unkind place for a long time,” Professor Chen said. “And the discord between Slytherin and Gryffindors played a big part in that. We hope that you can do better.”

Professor Minseok smiled. “We hope that you will at least try.”

With that, he pulled himself to his feet, returning to his spot by the fireplace.

“We will try, Professor,” Jisoo said eventually, addressing the room at large.

Johnny echoed her a moment later.

“I’m sorry, Doyoung,” Jaehyun said.

Doyoung’s eyes, looking unnaturally shiny in the firelight, widened almost comically as he looked at Jaehyun. And then he nodded, nothing more than an infinitesimal jerk of his head, but it was enough. At least for Professor Park.

“Excellent!” He clapped his big hands, causing Professor Chen next to him to dodge the elbow heading in his direction. “Now, that that issue is resolved and an apology has been accepted, I think we’ve kept you long enough. You may leave now, and hopefully will make it to your next class. If any of the teachers reprimand you for your tardiness, don’t hesitate to redirect them towards me.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Jisoo said as she stood up.

Johnny would have expected Doyoung to follow her as she made a beeline for the door, but Doyoung remained motionless in his seat. Jisoo seemed to realise this at the same time that Johnny did. After a few seconds of awkward hovering, she turned around and continued her way to the door.

Johnny watched Jaehyun lean forward and grabbed him by the arm before he could get any further, pulling them both to their feet. “Come on, Jae. Let’s go.”

For a moment, it looked like Jaehyun might protest, but then he stumbled after Johnny.

“Professor Minseok?” Johnny could hear Doyoung ask as they surpassed the dining table. The heap of yarn was leaning dangerously close to one side.

Johnny lengthened his steps.

“Yes, Mr Kim?”

“Would you mind if I—I have no class until lunchtime and I don’t—could you tell me more? About my dad? Just a little bit? My mother she never—I don’t really know much more than what my grandmother told me.”

“Oh. Of course, Mr Kim. It’d be my honour.”

The rest of their conversation fell into hushed whispers and was overtoned by Professor Chen’s voice when he asked, “Hey, Yeol, is that thing under your coffee table the fire squid that attacked Baekhyun in third year?”

“The very same.” Johnny looked back to find Professor Park shooting his colleague a jovial smile. “I named him Frank the Fiery.”

Johnny pushed the door to the hut open and it was only when he felt the first flakes of snow sting his face that he felt as if he could breathe again.

“That was intense,” Jaehyun said as soon as they had left the hut.

Johnny hummed, burrowing deeper into the warmth of his scarf. “I think it was good that you apologised.”

“I had to.” Jaehyun’s words were nonchalant, but his expression was pensive as they trudged the way up to the castle.

Johnny hid his smile in the silver-green fabric of his scarf. “We should hurry. Tennie’s probably really mad right now, wondering whether we’ve ditched him for Charms.”

“You think he’s been taking notes?”

“Probably.”

Jaehyun was quiet for a moment. “Maybe Hansol will share.”

Johnny felt a grin tug on the corners of his mouth. “Let’s hope so.”  

*

Doyoung didn’t like his new hair. It was too short. No matter how many times he smoothed it down with his hands, the cropped strands barely came down to cover the middle of his forehead.

His grandmother had insisted that he had to look dapper for his first day of school and so she had sat him down at the kitchen table the night before the first of September and chopped off all the long, black hair that he had been able to tie into a ponytail once.

In the week since then, none of the spells Doyoung had learned in his Charms class had been very helpful in helping him regrow his hair. It wasn’t that Doyoung missed his long hair per se. Doyoung simply hated the way his exposed face made other kids stare at him. It made him feel angry, and he had promised his grandmother that he wouldn’t be angry anymore.

With that thought in mind, Doyoung squared his shoulders and tried to listen to Yuta while his new friend chewed off his ear about the battle they had just learned about in History of Magic. Doyoung hadn’t paid much attention, but judging by Yuta’s excited yelling and hand gestures, the battle had involved goblins for sure.

Yuta was weird, Doyoung had come to learn as much in the five days he had known him. The other boy was funny and even scrawnier than Doyoung, though Doyoung had never seen a boy his age stuff his face with as much food as Yuta had done during dinner their first night. Yuta always smiled and Doyoung thought that it couldn’t be right, for Yuta to always smile and be excited about things.

When he had first seen Yuta bounce around their dormitory, Doyoung had thought the other boy must have been muggle-born, with how excited he seemed to be at everything. It turned out that he was not, he was a half-blood like Doyoung himself. He was just excited to be at Hogwarts, Yuta had assured him, and in his excitement, he had promptly bowled over the quiet, jingling boy that had been shadowing them ever since they had been sorted into the same house.

The boy’s name was Taeil and the only thing he was attached to more than his tarot cards, Doyoung had soon discovered, was a Ravenclaw boy named Taeyong. Yuta had introduced Taeil and Taeyong on the train where Taeyong had shared a compartment with them and Doyoung was very envious of the long, fluffy strands of Taeyong’s hair. Taeyong swam in his hair like he swam in his robes and when he spoke he sometimes used words Doyoung had never heard of, but Yuta had found him, like he had found Doyoung and Taeil and so they were friends now.

Taeyong was the only one missing from their group as they walked down the History corridor and entered the Grand Staircase. Taeyong was a Ravenclaw, so he shared only a handful of their classes, but Doyoung knew that Taeyong was probably already waiting for them at the Gryffindor table, ready to fill Taeil’s silence with more of his big words. The thought made Doyoung smile. Even if he was envious of Taeyong’s hair, he liked the other boy, especially because he tended to share his dessert with Doyoung.

The thought of lunch made Doyoung’s stomach rumble, and he placed a hand on his belly. Yuta, having heard, interrupted his reenactment of a goblin death to shoot him a broad grin.

“Hungry?”

Doyoung always felt a little bit dazzled by Yuta’s smile. Doyoung knew that they were friends because Yuta had told him so numerous times, but Doyoung wasn’t sure what that entailed yet. He only knew that he wanted to try to be kept. His grandmother had said that it was important he tried to make friends.

“Yes,” he admitted, just a beat to late, but neither Yuta nor Taeil looked at him weird for it.

“No wonder, Professor Boa talked for ages.” Yuta let out a dramatic sigh. “I’m so hungry, I could eat a whole batch of cauldron cakes on my own! Don’t you agree, Taeil?”

Taeil, walking on Yuta’s other side, nodded dutifully.  

They had nearly made it to the first floor platform of the Grand Staircase when the sound of laughter rang up to them from the bottom of the stairs and Doyoung felt his skin crawl. He had been at Hogwarts for five days, and five days had been plenty of time to become acquainted with Jaehyun Jung and the sound of his laughter.

Jaehyun was never whispering about him like the other first-years liked to do, but Jaehyun would always stare at him when Doyoung walked past and while Doyoung could endure it if the other students did it, he couldn’t stand it when Jaehyun looked at him. Because Jaehyun knew too much. Because Jaehyun had been there, in the courtroom, when Doyoung‘s mother had been sentenced.

Jaehyun had no right to look at Doyoung with pity in his eyes, not when Jaehyun had left the courtroom with his mother that day and Doyoung hadn’t. Not when Doyoung had had to watch as Jaehyun had ran into the arms of his father as soon as the court proceedings had closed, the same man that had taken Doyoung’s mother away from him minutes prior.

The Chief Warlock hadn’t listened to Doyoung. None of the jurors had listened to him as he had tried to tell them that his mother hadn’t meant to take the bottle to his face, that it had been a bad day and Doyoung had shattered the bottle in the first place. But no one had listened and Jaehyun’s father had spoken the verdict no matter how loud Doyoung had protested, had begged him not to do it. Then the aurors had taken Doyoung‘s mother away, to Azkaban, where Doyoung would never see her again. What a pity, Doyoung could still hear the whispers of the elderly witch that had sat in the row above his, the boy is an orphan now and marked for life.

And through all of that, Jaehyun had been sitting high up in the benches of the courtroom, folding paper planes out of a Daily Prophet while his mother conversed with the other spectators. Doyoung had watched him throughout the court’s proceedings, drawn in by how close they were in age and the deep dimples digging into Jaehyun’s cheeks whenever his mother would run a hand through his hair. Back before he had known of Jaehyun‘s last name and who his father was.

Deep dimples dug into the chub of Jaehyun’s cheek now as he laughed at his friends’ antics. Jaehyun, Doyoung had come to learn, was never alone. He was always sandwiched between his two friends, the smaller of which had just jumped onto the back of the tallest of their group. The tall boy’s name was Johnny Seo and Doyoung knew this because he was maybe the only boy in their year that the rest of their classmates talked about even more than Doyoung. While Jaehyun laughed at his friends, Johnny let out a shout of “Ten!” and Doyoung wondered whether they were playing an Arithmancy game.

Doyoung was pulled from his thoughts when, suddenly, he was jerked forward and pain erupted in his leg as he fell, his knee hitting the stairs hard. The other knee, along with the rest of his leg, had sunk through the vanishing step below him.

“Doyoung!” Yuta cried out and pulled on his arm to get him back to the safety of the step above.

With Taeil’s help, he pulled him out of the hole.

“I’m okay,” Doyoung wheezed out once he was standing on two feet again. “I forgot to skip the step.” For a moment, Doyoung wondered whether Yuta would think he was dumb now. “Sorry.”

“Oh. Don’t worry about it!” Yuta waved him off with a smile while Taeil patted the dust off his robes.

Despite Yuta’s reassurance, Doyoung felt his cheeks heat up with embarrassment. And then his gaze fell to the bottom of the stairs and he felt his blood boiling for a different reason.

Jaehyun’s dimples had disappeared from his face and Doyoung had promised his grandmother that he wouldn’t get angry anymore because bad things happened when he got angry, but there it was again, this concern in Jaehyun’s eyes that he had no right to and Doyoung felt himself stalking down the steps before he knew what he was doing.

“What’s your problem?”

Doyoung knew that his voice was too loud and now the rest of the first-year Gryffindors and Slytherin that were descending the stairs were looking at him, but he didn’t care, not even when Yuta called out his name. All he cared about was to see the concern wiped off of Jaehyun’s face.

His wish was granted when Jaehyun looked up at him with confusion in his eyes, his brows drawing together the closer Doyoung got. Doyoung could feel his hands shake. It wasn’t good. He wasn’t supposed to be this angry but Jaehyun was still staring at him, hadn’t even moved from his spot at the bottom of the stairs.

It was the smaller of his friends who bit back, “What’s your problem?”

He had clambered off of Johnny’s back when Doyoung had called out Jaehyun’s name and, now that he was standing in front of him, Doyoung could tell he was even shorter than Taeyong. Doyoung all but snarled at him, a motion that caused the smaller boy to recoil, the half-step he took back conveniently hiding him halfway behind Johnny’s back.

“Ignore him, Ten,” Jaehyun said, his voice gentle as he spoke to his friend but Doyoung could tell there was an edge to it.

There was no confusion left in his eyes. Doyoung could also tell Jaehyun wasn’t used getting talked down to and Doyoung revelled in that. He wanted Jaehyun to feel ugly, as ugly as it made him feel when Jaehyun looked at him and said, “Do you see his scar? He’s the son of that crazy woman I told you about. The one that took a bottle and smashed it in her own son’s face. That’s him.”

When Doyoung had been young, there had been times when he had found himself in places he had no memory of going. More than once he had woken up in the bathroom of his grandmother’s house, her jars of dragon eye cream and Wendall’s wrinkle-free moisturiser scattered around him while he found himself shaking out of his skin with no recollection of how he had gotten there. Back then, his muggle-born grandfather had suggested that he had been sleepwalking as magical children were prone to do sometimes, but Doyoung had seen it on his grandparents’ faces that neither of them believed so. He had also seen the tight press of his grandmother’s lips whenever Doyoung’s grandparents had brought him back to his mother’s house across town.

His disapparitions had stopped eventually, but the gaps in his memory had continued, and so had the destruction they had left in their wake. That was the worst aspect of it all. His blackouts were destructive.

Doyoung didn’t know how it happened, he only felt the quiver in his hands take over his whole body, the edges of his vision blurring as a jolt of energy zipped up his spine and then Jaehyun was flying down the stairs, sailing through the air before he crashed in the middle of the stairs that lead to the entrance hall, tumbling down the remaining steps until his body came to a halt at the bottom of the stairs. Doyoung felt his heart sink when Jaehyun made no move to get up. Even from the top of the stairs he could see the trickle of blood that ran down Jaehyun’s temple, painting a scarlet line across his face before it dripped onto the ground beneath him. He wasn’t moving.

There were voices shouting, Doyoung could hear them even if they reached his ears muffled. He felt his limbs turn into jelly, his vision crumbling around the edges. All he could see was the blood on Jaehyun’s face, layered with distorted images of his own hands coated in red. Echoes of his own voice resounded in his head, scream after scream ripping from his throat in hopes it would end the fire enclosing his eye, would stop the wet, hot liquid running down the side of his face. He had been hurt. He had hurt someone else.   

Doyoung’s knees buckled even before he was punched in the gut. He fell to his knees and the next fist that hit him connected with his face. Doyoung didn’t bother fighting back. He knew that he deserved whatever Ten wanted to do to him. Judging by the vicious look in Ten’s eyes, it was a lot. I’m sorry. Doyoung tried to convey with his eyes what his mouth wouldn’t let him say. If the hot tears running down Ten’s cheeks were any indication, he wasn’t interested in listening.

“Ten!”

Doyoung had never heard Johnny Seo speak before, but he didn’t need to look away from Ten’s angry face to know that it was Johnny that had barked out Ten’s name. The tall boy was ascending the stairs two at a time, Jaehyun’s limp form cradled in his arms. He didn’t spare Doyoung a single glance as he reached the platform they were on. Behind him, one of the stairways moved, aligned itself with the platform and Johnny made a beeline towards it.

“Ten, leave him! We have to get Jaehyun the infirmary! Now!”

This time, Ten listened to his friend. He let go off Doyoung with a sneer, his eyes promising vengeance as he ran off. As soon as he was gone, Doyoung fell back onto his haunches. His eyes were brimming, blinding him as he stared at the spot where Jaehyun had landed. The small pool of blood from Jaehyun’s head wound was still there. He didn’t dare look away from it until gentle hands pried his fingers open where he had fisted them into the front of his robes.

The smile on Taeil’s face was as gentle as his touch when he slotted their fingers together and his eyes were filled with so much compassion and so little anger that it made the tears brimming in Doyoung‘s eyes spill over.

“I’m sorry,” Doyoung finally wretched out, his throat seizing to produce a single whimper. “I didn’t mean to do it, I swear. I didn’t mean to hurt him. I didn’t mean for--for that to happen.”

“It will be fine,” Taeil told him.

Doyoung pulled up his nose. “How do you know that?”

“I’ve seen it.”

Doyoung pulled back enough that he could search Taeil’s eyes. And then Yuta’s voice reached his ears, “Stop staring at him, you vultures! That’s right, get going! There’s nothing to look at.”

Doyoung watched as Yuta pushed up the sleeves of his robes, flexing his arm muscles at anyone who tried to get a glimpse at Doyoung as they walked past. Yuta waited until the staircase was empty before he hurried over to them.

“Doyoung! Are you okay?”

Doyoung didn’t want to lie to his friend, so he shrugged, averting his eyes to the ground. The image of Jaehyun’s lifeless form kept replaying in his mind. He had broken his promise. He had promised his grandmother he wouldn’t get angry anymore, but he had and now a bad thing had happened.

“Jaehyun will be fine,” Taeil said. He sounded so sure of himself that Doyoung wanted to believe him.

“Of course he will be,” Yuta scoffed, smiling widely when Doyoung squinted at him. “He’s a snake. He’ll recover. Madame Amber will fix him right up and he’ll be back by lunch, trust me.” Yuta perused him with furrowed brows before he poked the side of Doyoung’s jaw, where Ten’s fist had hit him. “Did his goblin friend hurt you?”

“His name is Ten,” Taeil said while Doyoung shook his head.

When he met Taeil’s eyes, Doyoung felt his heart sink a bit at how worried his friend looked.

“You shouldn’t go alone,” Taeil said suddenly and Doyoung thought that just for a second, he saw the pupils of the other boy turn white. “Upside down is never the right way around.”

It was the gravity with which Taeil spoke that made Doyoung nod at him as if he had understood.

Taeil seemed relieved at that. “I can’t see it, but… something…” his voice dropped off into unintelligible mumbling as he began to descend the stairs.

Doyoung exchanged a glance with Yuta, who shrugged. “Don’t ask me, I don’t know either. But don’t worry,” Yuta’s smile was blinding as he steered them to follow Taeil, “you’re not going anywhere alone.”

In that moment, Doyoung hadn’t known yet how sincerely Yuta had meant his promise, but over the course of the following week, he found out. Heeding Taeil’s warning, Yuta practically glued himself to his side, only ever dropping Doyoung off at Taeyong’s table in the library whenever he had to leave for all the clubs he was a part of, and the only times Doyoung found himself alone were when he crawled into bed late at night.

Doyoung knew that others might have found such behaviour overbearing, but Doyoung savoured every moment of it. Yuta was still his friend, despite what Doyoung had done, despite what Doyoung had shown himself capable of, and that was more than Doyoung would have ever dared to ask for.

He knew growing too attached to Yuta was a mistake, but Doyoung couldn’t help himself. He had only ever read about having a best friend in the muggle books his grandfather kept around the house, and experiencing the real thing was like walking in a dream where nothing could reach him.

Nothing bad reached him until Yuta wasn’t by his side.

Doyoung was running late when vengeance came for him. He was sprinting up the stairs leading to the third-floor with his Transfiguration homework clutched to his chest. In his haste to get up this morning, he had forgotten the scroll on his bed and had hurried after first period to retrieve it. Knowing that Professor Hani was strict when it came to the tardiness of her students, Doyoung rounded the corner at full speed, entering the Transfiguration corridor.

He hadn’t made it two steps down the hallway when he found himself lifted off his feet, flipped over until he was hanging upside down in midair. His Transfiguration homework fell from his hands as Doyoung thrashed around. He tried to turn himself around in midair, but it was futile. His robes fell over his face and once he had pushed and pulled them so they were not covering his face anymore, he realised what had happened.

Johnny Seo didn’t say anything as he walked towards him with measured steps, his wand still raised. Doyoung couldn’t help the relief he felt when he realised Johnny was alone, though the feeling didn’t last. Johnny slipped his wand back into his robes with such nonchalance as if he had used it merely to clean a spot of dirt from his shoe and Doyoung wouldn’t realise until later that night that that was exactly how Johnny felt about him.

Once they were face to face, Johnny tilted his head to the side, his eyes narrowing into slits as he perused Doyoung.

Doyoung gave up on his attempt at freeing himself and waited for Johnny to curse at him, maybe even punch him like Ten had punched him, but Johnny did neither. He just stared at Doyoung while Doyoung felt the blood rush to his face and he couldn’t help but think back to how Yuta had called Jaehyun a snake, like all Slytherin were. In that moment, Doyoung felt very much like a rabbit.

It was the cry that resounded from the other end of the corridor that shook Doyoung out of his stupor. The pout that formed on Johnny’s face at the interruption was that of a petulant child that had been robbed off its favourite toy, but the expression was gone as quickly as it had come, disappearing behind the mask of careful apathy that took over Johnny’s face.

“What are you doing? Merlin, liberacorpus!”

Doyoung wasn’t prepared for the counterspell that freed him from his invisible binds. Unable to catch his fall with his hands, he landed in a crumpled heap on the ground. With a low groan, he rolled onto his side, pulled himself onto his hands and knees as he tried to figure out which way was up and which way was down. His face felt hot, whether it was from all the blood that had shot to his head or embarrassment, he wasn’t sure.

As soon as he had gathered his bearings, he found that Johnny was currently being crowded against the nearest wall by his friend Taeyong.

Taeyong was an entire head smaller than Johnny, but he looked fearless as he pushed his wand into Johnny’s face, causing the Slytherin to raise his hands in surrender. Doyoung might have missed the mocking undertones to the gesture, but the smile playing on Johnny’s face was nothing but amused, maybe a little curious as he sized up Taeyong’s smaller form.

“What is wrong with you?” Taeyong demanded, his wand nearly pushing up Johnny’s nose when Johnny‘s back hit the wall.

Johnny shrugged, his eyes finding Doyoung’s. “He broke my Jaehyun.”

Doyoung felt his heart stop. It wasn’t true. He knew it wasn’t true. Jaehyun had returned from the infirmary the day after the incident, with a big bandage around his head but otherwise unharmed. Doyoung hadn’t broken him.

But then Johnny bared his teeth at Taeyong and Doyoung felt the venom dripping from them in his blood. “Who are you, anyways? This has nothing to do with you. Why do you care about the headcase?”

“I’m Taeyong Lee,” Doyoung couldn’t help but marvel at the way Taeyong puffed out his chest. In that moment, he felt ashamed to be a Gryffindor when he was so utterly helpless and Taeyong was so utterly brave, “and that headcase is my friend so you better get lost, you stupid Slytherin!”

Taeyong jabbed his wand into Johnny’s chest for emphasis before he pulled back, creating enough space between them so Johnny could leave. Johnny stared at Taeyong for a long moment before he did as Taeyong had told him to, shooting Taeyong a blinding smile and Doyoung a disdainful glare as he walked past.

Taeyong kept his wand raised for as long as it took Johnny to round the corner, and then he was kneeling on the ground next to Doyoung, helping him up.

“Thank you,” Doyoung said as soon as they were both back on their feet.

He felt awkward now that Johnny was gone, embarrassed that Taeyong had seen him like this. Self-consciously, he tried to straighten out his robes.

While he did so, Taeyong picked up Doyoung’s Transfiguration homework for him, pressing it into his hands. “Don’t worry about it. That stupid Slytherin used the levicorpus spell on you. That jinx has been forbidden on school grounds since 1976.”

Doyoung felt a smile tug on his lips at the indignation in Taeyong’s voice. In the two weeks that he had known him, Doyoung had learned that Taeyong was a stickler for rules and there was no greater sacrilege in his eyes than breaking one of them.

“If a prefect had come along instead of me, that guy would have gotten detention. Sadly, I’m not one. Well, yet. I want to be, when I’m older.” Taeyong smiled at him and Doyoung nodded. He had no doubt that Taeyong was the perfect man for the job.

“I can‘t believe you just threatened Johnny Seo like that.“ Even with his deeply running detestation for all the Slytherin, Doyoung felt himself shudder at the memory.

“Huh,” Taeyong jutted out his bottom lip, “so that’s his name.”

Doyoung felt his eyes bulge out of his head. “You didn’t know?”

“No?” Taeyong’s brows knitted together as he looked up at him. “Why? Is he someone special?”

Doyoung felt his heart skip a beat.

“No.” It was in that moment that he decided that whoever wanted to get to Taeyong Lee, would have to go through him first. “He’s no one special at all.”

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

Johnny pulled his robes off with a wince, the wet fabric clinging to his skin. Their snowball fight had ended with both Donghyuck and Mark tackling him to the ground, lathering him with snow while Taeyong had stood by being too busy clutching his sides laughing to help him, so now that the snow had molten, his clothes were drenched.

He let his robes fall into a wet heap on the ground, stalking over to his trunk on frozen legs to find something suitable to wear for Christmas dinner. He had just pulled on a pair of chequered slacks when he heard the door to the dormitory open, the familiar pattern of his cousin’s footsteps causing Johnny to look up.

“No,” he said.

“But—”

“I said no.” Johnny hated the way his resolution was already melting away at the way Donghyuck’s lower lip wobbled.

Donghyuck whined. “But Mum specifically sent one for you as well!”

“Hyuck, I said no.”

“Please?”

Johnny suppressed a groan at Donghyuck’s puppy eyes. He perused his cousin, glaring at the bundle in his hands before he snatched it up and turned to back around. He dropped the card his aunt had sent him onto his bed and finished dressing himself. Once he was done, he extended his hand. Donghyuck jumped up from where he had flopped himself down on Ten’s bed and grabbed onto his fingers, jumping up and down in excitement as Johnny let him lead the way out of the Dungeon and into the Great Hall.

“Nice sweater,” Taeyong greeted him with a grin so broad it looked like it would split his face in half. 

Johnny scowled as he took the seat opposite of him, slapping a hand over the glittering, bright green reindeer embroidered into the front of his newly acquired Christmas sweater. “It was a gift.”

Taeyong hummed, eyes brighter than the tinsel stitching currently making Johnny’s chest itch. “Sure.”

“Isn’t it great?” Donghyuck was practically vibrating with excitement as he climbed on the bench next to Johnny. “Mum buys them every year, but Johnny and Uncle Youngho never come around for Christmas Day so this is the first time Johnny is wearing his.” Donghyuck pointed at the front of his own sweater. “We’re matching.”

Taeyong perused the tree stitched onto the front of Donghyuck’s sweater with interest before he assured him, “You look great.”

Donghyuck preened. The smile on his face dropped when Mark walked up to the table, Jungwoo in tow.

 “Why does he have to sit with us?” Donghyuck complained when Jungwoo took the seat next to Mark.

“Play nice,” Johnny admonished. “It’s Christmas.”

“I don’t like him.” Donghyuck looked up at him with shiny eyes. “He’s not supposed to be here. He’s stealing my Mark”.

Johnny suppressed a small sigh. He had been through this with Donghyuck before, back when Jisung had come into Chenle’s life and the nature of their relationship had bound them to each other in ways that Donghyuck couldn’t understand at the time, but inevitably felt left out of.

“Hyuck, Mark is allowed to have other friends besides you. You have Chenle and Jisung and Renjun, too, haven’t you?”

“That doesn’t count.” Donghyuck sulked. “I share my friends with him.”

“Jungwoo,” Taeyong said loudly enough to gather the attention of the second-years. “Mark told me your favourite subject is Herbology. Donghyuck, you’re good at that, too, aren’t you?”

“You like plants?” Jungwoo chirped, his eyelids fluttering in excitement as he looked at Donghyuck.

Donghyuck turned red under the sudden attention. He looked down at his plate, scraping his fork over the empty gold. “Only the flesh-eating ones.”

A broad grin took over Jungwoo’s face. “I have a toad-eating tentacleleaf. Do you want to see it? I can show you tomorrow, if you like?”

Donghyuck squinted at him, the hostility in his eyes giving way to curiosity. “Does it really eat toads?”

“Yes.” Jungwoo’s smile faded into distress for a moment. “It almost ate my friend’s toad at the beginning of the year.”

Donghyuck giggled at that and Mark, looking slightly dazed, smiled at him while Jungwoo began to reenact how he had saved the toad from its death. While Donghyuck cheered him on, Johnny glanced at Taeyong and found him already looking. And then Taeyong winked.

Johnny wanted to kiss him. The realisation that he could was exhilarating, set his every fibre alight with the urge to lean over the table and grab Taeyong right then and there, but half of the teacher body was sitting less than a metre to their left, and it was just in that moment that Headmaster Heechul entered the Great Hall.

“Merry Christmas!” The little elves stitched onto his festive robes began to dance. “Oh, Mr Seo, that is a splendid sweater.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Johnny and Donghyuck gave back at the same time.

Headmaster Heechul laughed before he walked over to the head end of the table. He picked up the knife from his plate, clinking it against his goblet and Johnny settled into his seat for the speech that was sure to follow. He couldn’t help but chuckle at the way Taeyong was listening to Headmaster Heechul with rapt attention. Some habits, he supposed, were hard to get out of.

Johnny looked down when he felt Donghyuck’s fingers poke into his side about halfway through Headmaster Heechul’s soliloquy about the merits of eating an éclair under the Christmas tree at precisely midnight. Donghyuck’s lips were pressed together in a closed-mouth smile, his eyes brimming with enough emotion to make them water.  

“Oh, Hyuck,” Johnny murmured, opening his arms so Donghyuck could burrow into his side. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see both Mark and Jungwoo shoot them bemused glances, but he paid them no mind. He knew it would be over in a moment.

“I like being here with you, Cousin,” Donghyuck mumbled into his shoulder. 

Johnny thought of Donghyuck and the wails of an even younger, chubbier-cheeked version of his cousin. He thought about how Donghyuck had cried snot and tears into his shoulder while Johnny had carried him back to Seo Manor, the remnants of the broom Johnny had gotten for Christmas clutched in one hand while he kept Donghyuck on his back with the other. The then eight-year-old Donghyuck had scraped both of his knees during the fall, his small fists pounding against Johnny’s back so that he’d make it better and Johnny remembered it well, the realisation that he wasn’t the only one in pain. That he wasn’t the only one left, but that he had people that needed him still. That Donghyuck needed him still.

“I’m happy you’re here with me, too, Hyuck.”

Johnny let go of him when the rest of the table broke into polite applause at the end of Headmaster Heechul’s speech and then into earnest cheering when the golden plates and platters in front of them filled with food. Johnny made sure Donghyuck didn’t place an entire rotisserie chicken on his plate before he started loading rice casserole onto his own plate. He smiled when Taeyong handed him a bowl full of goblin roots, their fingers brushing.

“Excuse me, Johnny, would you mind handing me the plum sauce?”

Johnny felt his eyes widen as he looked to his left. With Donghyuck to his right and Taeyong in front of him, Johnny hadn’t noticed who was sitting on his other side. Purple eyes bore into his as Johnny stared and then he quickly snapped his mouth shut. “Of course, Sir. Here you go.”

“Thank you.” Mr Do smiled at him, his eyes falling to Johnny’s wrist, on full display now that he was holding the bowl out. “I’m glad to see you have recovered from your accident.”

“I have.” Johnny blinked against the unnatural allure of Mr Do’s smile, the piercing intensity of his gaze. “You were there, weren’t you?”

“I was.” Mr Do’s laughter was subdued, but enchanting. Johnny found that he could tell, objectively, all the allure that Mr Do’s veela blood endowed him with, but it was different than before. It was like looking at a painting. Johnny could appreciate the art, but it was just a pleasant sight. Nothing more than that.

“I’m very relieved to see you have healed. Kyungsoo was worried about you for some time. He’s always so worried about you students.”

It were only years of training that prohibited Johnny from pulling a face of disbelief. Instead, he inclined his head. “I’ll try my best not to worry him in the future.”

Mr Do deigned him with a final smile before he turned back to his husband. Professor Do’s gaze softened when he accepted the sauce boat his husband was holding out for him, mouthing a silent word of gratitude before he tuned back into the conversation he was having with Professor Byun.  

Johnny was about to dig into his own food when his eyes were drawn towards Taeyong, like they always were, but Taeyong wasn’t looking at him. He was staring down at his plate, his lips pressing into a thin line. Mark was telling him a story that Taeyong clearly wasn’t listening to. Johnny was about to speak up when Taeyong lifted his head, but instead of Johnny, his eyes fell onto Mr Do.

Johnny knew that Taeyong’s distaste expressed itself in apathetic consideration and sharp words. More than once Johnny had been on the receiving end of Taeyong’s cold, degrading stare himself, the lack of emotion making the gesture all the more powerful. But this time, there was emotion in Taeyong’s eyes. Before Mr Do could notice him glaring, Taeyong was already lowering his head back down at his plate, his shoulders hunching. The way he was dragging his fork through his mashed potatoes made him look almost disheartened and Johnny frowned.

“Taeyongie.” Taeyong only looked up at him after Johnny had repeated himself. Johnny picked up the pitcher between them. “Would you like some scornberry wine?”

Johnny’s arm got heavy with how long Taeyong just looked at him before he eventually nodded, the corners of his mouth turning upwards. “Yes,” he cleared his throat. “Yes, thank you.”

Johnny filled Taeyong’s cup for him, watched as the smile on Taeyong’s face grew the longer Johnny looked at him.

“I’m looking forward to tonight.”

Donghyuck perked up at that, as he always did at the prospect of presents. “Oh, it’s going to be great! Christmas Eve eve is the best part of Christmas! Are you excited, Mark?”

Mark looked nervous for a moment before he smiled around the fork full of shepherd’s pie in his mouth. “Yef.”

Taeyong giggled, hiding his mouth behind his hand and Johnny was mesmerised for a moment before he saw Donghyuck raise his spoon out of the corner of his eye, laden with a glob of mashed potatoes. Johnny took it out of his hand before he could aim it in Jungwoo’s direction.

They ate until they couldn’t anymore and then some, judging by the look on Mark’s face. The main course disappeared with a clap of Professor Heechul’s hands and dessert appeared not a moment later. Johnny was halfway through his first bowl of berry compote when Professor Chen called out his name, “Mr Seo! Will you play for us?”

Johnny looked up to find the majority of the table looking at him. He swallowed before he inclined his head, setting down his spoon and bowl. “Of course, Sir.”

Professor Kyuhyun clapped for him as he got up and soon the rest of the teachers joined in. Johnny walked over to the grand piano that he had helped Professor Chen roll into the Great Hall before lunch. The grand piano was ancient, maybe as ancient as Hogwarts itself, with two rows of keys and a body made from ostentatious, gold-embossed wood that had darkened with age. The piano bench was made from the same material and let out a low creak when Johnny sat down.

He pushed his hair out of his eyes before he leaned over the lower claviature. The keys were uneven, layers scrubbed away by the countless hands that had played it. Subconsciously, Johnny flexed his left hand. The skin on the back of his hand was pulled taut by the scar, but he knew it wouldn’t inhibit him.

“A Christmas song,” Donghyuck’s eager voice chirped from where he was still sat at the table. “Play a Christmas song, Johnny. Please!”

Johnny took the time to smile at his cousin before he obliged his wish, his fingers easily finding the right keys. The Skeleton Jingle was one of the first songs that Johnny had learned to play on the piano. He remembered his father teaching him how to move his hands fast enough so that he could bridge the distance his toddler hands hadn’t been able to span yet. The upbeat tune of the jingle ensured it to be a crowd favourite, as it had been at every Christmas dinner his aunt had held so far, and this time was no different.

Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny could see Mr Do pull Professor Do out of his seat and onto the makeshift dancefloor Headmaster Heechul and Professor Hani had opened. Two Hufflepuff girls that Johnny didn’t know followed soon after, as well as Donghyuck and a red-faced Mark. Johnny smiled as he gradually transitioned the song into a slower waltz. The song was coming to an end when Donghyuck climbed onto the bench next to him, holding onto Johnny’s shoulder so he wouldn’t fall off.

“Will you play my song?” Donghyuck asked. “For the end, will you play it?”

Johnny smiled, kept playing. “Of course, Hyuck.”

Donghyuck let out an excited gasp and beamed at him before he ran back over to Mark, who was waiting for him at the table. “Listen, Mark, it’s my song! Johnny made it just for me!”

Johnny let the waltz fade out before he let his fingers find the familiar keys of the song. It was a slower, deeper tune than any of the songs before and Johnny could see the pairs on the dancefloor slow in their movements along with it. He closed his eyes, relished in the happiness the melody of the song evoked in his heart. He didn’t open his eyes until he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.

“You’re really good,” Taeyong murmured into his ear.

Johnny tried hard to focus on his fingers pressing the right keys while Taeyong pressed himself against his back, but it was hard when there was nothing more distracting than Taeyong and the way his breath ghosted over the fine hairs of Johnny’s nape. Johnny allowed the last note of Donghyuck’s song to fade out and basked in the applause that erupted before he turned around on the bench and curled his fingers into the starched collar of Taeyong’s dress shirt. Their faces were so close, mere centimetres apart. “Has no one ever taught you that it is rude to disturb an artist while he is honing his craft, prefect?”

There was a playfulness to Taeyong’s smile that Johnny had never seen before as Taeyong leaned down further. “I’m sorry.”

Taeyong didn’t kiss him, but Johnny hadn’t expected him to. He let his hands fall from Taeyong’s collar and grasped onto his hands instead, using them as leverage to pull himself up. As soon as he was on his feet, he let go of Taeyong to bow lightly.  “After you, my love.”

Taeyong had already begun to walk away by the time Johnny had straightened his back out, but Johnny hadn’t missed the way Taeyong’s breath had fallen short, or the blush that was creeping up Taeyong’s nape, even more prominent against the white of his hair. Johnny kept a respectable distance between them as they walked back to the table.

If the expression on Professor Minseok’s face was any indication, the lack of hostility between them hadn’t gone unnoticed by the other people in the room. Any last efforts to be subtle about the change in their relationship were made futile when Donghyuck greeted him with a loud, “Johnny, ew! I thought you were going to suck on his face again!”

Johnny could hear Taeyong choke on his breath, saw him almost trip in his haste to get back to his seat so he cleared his throat, effectively garnering the attention of the table.

“Not this time, Hyuck.” Johnny took a seat next to his cousin, picking up his spoon from where he had put it down. Before any kind of silence could ensue, it was thankfully broken by Professor Byun.

“That was delightful, Mr Seo.”

Johnny inclined his head. “Thank you, Sir.”

“I’m still offering you a position in the Frog Choir,” Professor Chen chimed in. “Poor Jinyoung is always complaining that he has to play the old lady when I’m conducting.”  

“Stop hassling the poor boy,” Professor Byun hit his colleague on the arm. “I’m sure Mr Seo is very busy with his studies.”

Johnny shot the Herbology professor a thankful smile. “I’m indeed very busy, Sir.”

When he looked at Taeyong, Taeyong’s face had regained its normal colour and to Johnny’s surprise, Taeyong looked almost smug. Johnny followed his line of sight to the Dos, who were in hushed conversation with each other.

Johnny supressed the smile that threatened to take over his face just in time to shoot Donghyuck a stern glance as his cousin raised his spoon once again, this time laden with a cream puff. Johnny snatched the cream puff from the spoon and popped it into his mouth before Donghyuck could protest. The plates cleared for good soon after, and Headmaster Heechul ended the dinner with another short speech and a final “Merry Christmas!”

Johnny found himself heaving slightly as he got up.

“I never want to eat again.” Mark looked slightly green as Taeyong helped him off the bench.

Johnny leaned down when Donghyuck tugged on his sleeve. Donghyuck’s eyes were trained on Mark, his bottom lip disappearing into his mouth as he chewed on it anxiously. “You think he won’t like my present now?” 

“Which one of them?” Johnny mused, chuckling when his cousin whined and ran off, undoubtedly to get all the presents ready.

“Is Donghyuck okay?”

Johnny smiled as he felt Taeyong’s hand graze the small of his back. He turned around and found Taeyong looking at him with worry in his eyes. Mark, hanging onto his elbow, looked slightly nauseous.

Johnny lifted his hand and smoothed out the furrow between Taeyong’s brows with his thumb, resisting the urge to kiss him. “Oh, Hyuck’s fine. He’s just excited for his gifts. What about Mark? He doesn’t look so good.”

“Ice cream,” Mark hiccuped. “So much ice cream.”

“I think he might be lactose-intolerant.” Taeyong frowned down at the second-year. Johnny resisted the urge to ask what that meant. It couldn’t be a terminal illness, because in the next moment, Taeyong shrugged. “I’ll give him some Cure-All before we come over.”

Johnny nodded. “The password to the common room is Pâquerette.” He frowned when Taeyong snorted. “What?”

“Nothing.” Taeyong’s eyes filled with mirth as he began walking towards the doors. “I just wouldn’t have expected that to be the password to the Slytherin common room.”

“What’s wrong with daisies?” Johnny followed Taeyong as he approached the doors of the Great Hall with long strides. Mark, still hanging onto Taeyong’s elbow, struggled to keep up. “Hey, prefect! What’s wrong with daisies?”

“I’ll see you in a few.” Taeyong waved as he dragged Mark over to the stairs, left Johnny to stare after him. Shaking his head, he found that his smile came easy to him when a passing Professor Chen wished him a merry Christmas. Despite the cold, drafty air in the entrance hall, Johnny felt warm inside. Running a hand through his hair, he made his way to the Dungeon.

To his relief, the Christmas tree in the corner was still standing when Johnny entered the common room. Donghyuck was lying flat on his back in front of it, surrounded by the mountain of presents they had wrapped the evening before.

Johnny decided to leave Donghyuck to it for the moment and headed for his dormitory. He knew he wouldn’t get away with taking the Christmas sweater off before they had exchanged presents, so he headed straight for his bedside table. Johnny pulled open the bottom drawer and pulled out the package that Chicago had dropped off for him weeks ago. Her claws had damaged the purple packaging so Johnny tore it off and took the wooden box with him as it was.

“Is that for me?” Donghyuck asked as Johnny placed the wooden box under the tree.

“No, the one in the silver wrapping paper is yours.” Johnny pointed at the present in question, broader and sleeker than the wooden box.

Donghyuck prodded at it curiously before Johnny slapped his hands away. “No peeking!”

“But—”

“I said no peeking.” Johnny willed his expression to be as stern as possible before he let his voice drop low, conspiratorially. “Now, can you go into my dorm and crack the lock on Jaehyun’s trunk? There’s a bottle with a red label somewhere in there. Do you think you can get that for me?”

“Of course.” Donghyuck puffed out his chest, a mischievous twinkle making his eyes shine as he took scrambled to his feet.

Johnny walked over to the fireplace and pulled out his wand, watching with satisfaction as flames began to lick on the logs upon his fire spell. He looked up when he heard the door to the common room open. Mark entered first, his arms full of what Johnny assumed to be his and Taeyong’s presents. Taeyong was right behind him, carrying a basket.

Johnny noticed that he had changed. Taeyong was still wearing the slacks he had worn to dinner, but instead of the dress shirt and tweed jacket that had completed his outfit, he had changed into a stretched-out sweater with a logo that Johnny assumed would have meant something to him had he been muggleborn.

“Nice sweater.” Johnny didn’t bother concealing the smile that pulled on his lips.

“I thought we could be matching, so I changed into my oldest sweater.” Taeyong looked nervous suddenly as he smoothed a hand over the worn fabric, his finger tips digging into the holes near the hem.

Mark let out a retching noise, though it also might have been a sigh of relief as he finally got to set down the presents he had been carrying.

“You look perfect,” Johnny told him, taking the basket from him.

This time, Mark was definitely retching. Taeyong shot him a reprimanding, albeit fond look.

“Lemon muffins?” Johnny asked as he peeked into the basket. 

“Yes. I made them myself.” Johnny didn’t think he’d ever get tired of Taeyong turning crimson under his gaze. “I like to bake sometimes. The kitchen elves let me use the kitchen.”

Of course they love you, Johnny thought as he set the basket down on the sofa table. “They smell amazing.”

“They taste really good, too!” Mark chimed up.

He turned beet red when Taeyong’s expression turned dark. “Mark.”

“Uhm, I mean—”

“How do you know that, Mark?”

“Uh—” Mark was saved when Donghyuck returned to the common room, brandishing the bottle Johnny had ordered him to get. “I got it! The lock was really easy to crack. It was Tennie’s birthday. Oh, Mark! Hi!”

“Hey, Duckie!” Mark forgot to look guilty for a moment when Donghyuck skipped over to him.

“Johnny,” Taeyong said. “Is that—”

Johnny placed a finger on his own lips before Taeyong could continue. “Yes, but don’t say it out loud.”

Understanding dawned on Taeyong’s face and he nodded. Johnny took the bottle from Donghyuck’s hand, just as he was brandishing it over his head to show Mark the way the particles of the liquid inside glittered in the firelight.

“Thanks for fetching it, Hyuck.” Johnny walked over to the fireplace, setting the bottle onto the mantel piece out of reach of any curious first-year hands. He also took the time to turn on the radio sitting there, soft Christmas music filling the air, before he turned around. “As the oldest in the room, I say let the unwrapping begin!”

Donghyuck let out an excited scream, pulling Mark with him. Taeyong had the sense to step out of the way when Donghyuck pushed Mark to sit on the floor in front of the tree, dropping the first of many presents into his lap.

“Everything that’s wrapped in chequered paper is yours, Mark,” Johnny said as he walked over to where Taeyong was still standing.

While Mark spluttered, he grasped onto Taeyong’s hand and pulled them down onto the sofa. Taeyong landed half in his lap and Johnny gave him the chance to scoot away. He was pleased when Taeyong merely slid off his thigh, settling into his side.  

“All this is mine?” Mark gestured at the mountain of presents surrounding him.

“Yup.” Donghyuck placed another present on top of the previous one. “I picked them all out for you!”

Mark’s face turned red at that (slowly but surely Johnny was forgetting how Mark looked when he wasn’t blushing) and tore into the first present. A pack of Flamingo Flame Fuzzers, judging by the size of it.

“I shouldn’t condone this,” Taeyong murmured as he grabbed onto Johnny’s arm and, after a brief moment of contemplation, laid it around his shoulder. “This is way too much.”

Johnny smiled and because he could, he pressed his nose into the soft tufts of Taeyong’s hair, leaving a kiss on the side of his head. He relished in the way it made Taeyong’s breath hitch. “Let them have fun. Besides, most of the things Donghyuck got him they’ll end up using together anyways. I doubt Mark has the criminal energy to plant a Blaring Bubble Bomb by himself.”

Taeyong groaned. “You are such an enabler. You’re aware I am the one who has to clean up after them, right?”

“Say the word and I’ll help you.” Johnny smiled when Taeyong squinted at him.

“Taeyong?” Taeyong perked up when Mark walked up to the sofa. There were flakes of chequered wrapping paper splattered in his hair and he was holding a small, neatly wrapped gift. “I got you this. I wanted to say thank you for helping me study and thank you for—” Mark looked down at his feet. “—for always being there for me.”

 “Oh, Mark.” Taeyong inconspicuously wiped his eyes as he accepted Mark’s gift. Johnny made a mental note to keep tissues around next Christmas. “Thank you.”

Mark surged forward to hug Taeyong before he rocked back on his feet. He turned towards Johnny, looking sheepish. “I’m sorry, Mr Johnny. I don’t have a present for you.” 

“It’s fine, Mark. Donghyuck loves the present you got him and I love Donghyuck so I’m happy as is.”

Mark smiled when he looked back at Donghyuck. Donghyuck was hunkered over the muggle chess board Mark had given him, holding up the wooden tokens as if they were made from glass. The fake glasses Johnny had gotten him, round and not unlike the ones Mark was wearing, were perched on top of his head, dangerously close to sliding down his fringe. Mark skipped over, crouching down next to him to help him set up the game.

Careful not to jostle Taeyong, Johnny reached out and pulled the basket Taeyong had brought closer to him, taking out a lemon muffin. He peeled back the paper and watched as Taeyong unwrap his gift. Taeyong’s eyes widened before they filled with glee.

Peeking into the package, Johnny leaned into him. “What is it?”

“It’s herbal seeds.” Taeyong happily ran his hand through the small satchet assortment in the carton box. “Basil, chives and parsley. I complained to Mark once that the herbs in the green houses always get eaten by the bigger plants so he got me a kit to grow my own.”

“That’s very thoughtful.”

Taeyong smiled, his expression almost reverent as he closed the box back up and set it down on the sofa table. Johnny bit into his muffin. The taste of sugar exploded in his mouth, the citric flavour leaving his tongue tingling. Johnny groaned. “These are really good. I didn’t know you could bake like this.”

Taeyong looked at the muffin, looked at Johnny and swallowed. “I bake to relieve stress sometimes.”

Johnny held the muffin out, pleased when Taeyong took a bite. In front of the Christmas tree, Johnny could see Mark and Donghyuck finish off their first box of nougat. They both had flopped onto their bellies, the chessboard set up between them as they moved the pieces. When Johnny looked back, he found Taeyong already staring at him, his bottom lip worried between his teeth.

He cocked his head to the side. “Is something wrong?”

Taeyong shook his head, releasing his bottom lip as a small smile made its way onto his face. Gently, he grabbed onto the arm that Johnny had still draped over his shoulders, as if he wanted to reassure himself that it was still there, as if he was scared it might disappear. Johnny squeezed lightly.

“It’s nothing. I just—I’ve spent the past three years thinking about what it would be like to be with you and it’s different. You’re different.”

Johnny felt a cold hand seize his guts. “Is that bad?”

“No.” The smile that bloomed on Taeyong’s face oust any cold from Johnny’s bones. “It’s better. You’re better.”

Johnny smiled, feeling warm inside, and leaned forward until his face was close enough to Taeyong’s that their breaths mingled. “Do you mind if I suck on your face now?”

Taeyong groaned, his cheeks heating up in embarrassment. “Stop it.”

Johnny smiled and leaned in, letting their lips brush together until Taeyong parted his mouth for him. The hand Taeyong placed on his chest was searing right through the stitching on his sweater, left his skin tingling when Johnny licked along the seam of his mouth. Taeyong let out a small whimper, angling his head so Johnny could slot their mouths together properly and Johnny thought that he could have spend an eternity like this, with nothing but Taeyong beneath his hands and on his tongue and on his mind.

Eventually, they had to break for air and it was only once the Taeyong-induced haze in his mind had cleared somewhat that Johnny noticed something he had missed before. “Wait,” he said when Taeyong leaned back in. Johnny hated how the smile on Taeyong’s face dimmed and placed a hand on his waist. “You said you had spent the past three years thinking about me. What did you mean by that?”  

Suddenly, Taeyong seemed incredibly busy with the sleeve of his sweater.

“Taeyong.” When Taeyong didn’t look up, Johnny lifted his hand from Taeyong’s waist and cupped his jaw instead, tilted his head up so Taeyong was forced to look at him. “Three years? Really?”

Taeyong held his gaze for only a moment before he averted his eyes to his lap, letting out a small sigh. “I really didn’t like you when we first met.”

Johnny felt a smile tug on his lips. “I remember. You called me a stupid Slytherin and nearly stabbed me in the nose with your wand.”

“Well,” Taeyong lifted his chin, “you were a stupid Slytherin and you would have deserved me stabbing you in the nose for using that Levicorpus spell on Doyoung. You were so full of yourself back then, I really didn’t like you and I wasn’t even involved in any of the fighting.”

Johnny swallowed the rebuttal on his tongue. That wasn’t the direction he wanted this conversation to go. “What changed?” he asked instead.

“You did.” Taeyong’s smile was warm, but there was a sadness in his eyes that told Johnny what was coming, even if he had had an inkling as to what had changed Taeyong’s opinion of him. “Even less than house feuds, I like to involve myself in the rumour mill, but even I didn’t miss it when the entirety of Slytherin house wore black for days after the holidays. I didn’t get any Daily Prophets while I was at home, but back at Hogwarts, it was impossible to miss the big news.”

“Second year.” Johnny focussed on the feeling of Taeyong’s skin against his palm, Taeyong’s knee digging into the side of his thigh, Taeyong’s heart in his hands. It was too early to immerse himself in memories. He still had hours. Johnny closed his eyes and only opened them when he felt the ghost of Taeyong’s fingertips across his cheek.

“I remember the day you came back.” Taeyong’s smile was gentle now. “The whole school had been in uproar for days by then, but Headmaster Heechul held a speech that morning that we shouldn’t give way to the curiosity in us or whatever other veiled way he used of telling us to leave you alone, so no one dared to ambush you.”

“I don’t remember much from that time,” Johnny admitted.

“You were different.”

“I was less.”

Taeyong nodded. “I was worried about you. I’d never felt that way about you before.”

“So you pitied me.” Johnny felt that the thought left a bitter taste on his tongue. He was going to accept it if that was Taeyong’s reason for giving him the time of day, but it still left him feeling disheartened. “Pity changed your opinion of me?”

“No,” Taeyong’s voice was firm as he spoke. “My pity would have lasted you a week. It merely made me look. I’d never looked at anyone before, mind you, I never really cared for anyone like that, but you were so easy to block out when you were being obnoxious and haughty and mean to my friends that it left me looking for you when you went silent.

“You hold a lot of power over me, Johnny. You always have, even if you were just a nuisance to me. Whenever you‘re in the same room as me, it‘s like my mind refuses to focus on anything but you, anything but the words you say, the way you hold yourself and never punch Ten in the face even if he deserves it and I just—I like you. I shouldn’t and I know better, but I like you. Three years later, and I’m still not over my crush on Johnny Seo.”

Taeyong let out a laugh that sounded so self-deprecating, Johnny felt an almost violent urge to punch a couple of well-deserving Gryffindors in the face. Instead, he took Taeyong’s hand in his. It was so easy to intertwine their fingers. It was so easy to love Taeyong.

“Did you know that you were the first person in my entire life to ever threaten me?” He allowed the ghost of a smile to play on his lips. “When you pushed me against that wall and shoved your wand into my face, that was the first time someone ever dared to lay their wand on me. I was very impressed. You’ve held my attention since then.”

Taeyong’s eyes grew wide. “Since then?”

Johnny felt his smile widen. “You’re extraordinary, Taeyong, in more ways than I could begin to tell you. I haven’t liked you as long as you have liked me, but I’ve always liked that you weren’t afraid of me. When, at the end of last year, I realised that something had changed, I knew you were it. You’re it, Taeyong. You’re my love.”  

Johnny felt Taeyong’s cheeks burn hot under his hands when he cupped his face and tilted his head to the side to place a single, chaste kiss on his cheek. Taeyong followed him when Johnny pulled back and pressed their lips together. Johnny let him take control of the kiss, allowed Taeyong to do with him whatever he wanted. It was a power Taeyong would have to get used to.

It was a loud snore that made the both of them look up, and turn their heads to the area between the Christmas tree and the fireplace. Donghyuck and Mark were sprawled out on their backs, fast asleep with Donghyuck’s new chessboard and an abundance of empty nougat boxes between them. Johnny chuckled at the sight, grabbing onto Taeyong’s arm when Taeyong tried to get off the sofa.

“It’s okay, don’t bother waking them. Mark can sleep in Chenle’s bed. I’ll carry them over.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.” Johnny hoisted himself off the sofa and walked over. “Mark sleeps here all the time. It’s not a big deal.”

When he looked back, he found Taeyong looking bemused.  

“Taeyongie,” Johnny whispered as not to wake Donghyuck and Mark. “You didn’t know?”  

Taeyong shook his head. Johnny frowned at the way Taeyong looked small all of a sudden, hunched in on himself. “Did he say why? Mark, does he—does he have problems with his dormmates?”

“No.” Johnny watched the tension bleed from Taeyong’s shoulders. “As far as I know, he just likes to spend time with Donghyuck.”

“Okay,” Taeyong relaxed back into the leather cushions.

Johnny smiled and turned back to hoist first Mark and then Donghyuck over his shoulder. “I’ll be right back.”

This time, Taeyong’s smile was a lot more sincere. “Okay.”  

Johnny tried hard not to jostle either of his charges as he made his way across the common room and into the hallway leading to the dormitories. The door to the first-year dormitory was ajar, undoubtedly having been left open by his overeager cousin. Johnny was thankful for it as he pushed the door open with his foot and entered the room. Donghyuck dropped like a stone when Johnny let him fall onto his bed, landing on the mattress with a low thud and an even quieter snore. Mark stirred when Johnny laid him onto Chenle’s bed, his eyelids fluttering, but he didn’t stay conscious long enough to utter more than an incoherent noise before he nodded off again. Johnny made sure to rid Donghyuck of his sweater and the both of them of their shoes before he left, closing the door on his way out.

When he returned to the common room, he found Taeyong on the sofa right where he had left him. Johnny might have thought he had never gotten up at all, had it not been for the present that sat next to the basket on the sofa table now. Johnny smiled and made a beeline for the fireplace.

“Do I want to know where you got firewhisky from?” Taeyong asked when Johnny set down the bottle with the red label and two glasses on the sofa table.

“It’s not technically mine, if that makes you feel better.” Johnny made one last detour past the Christmas tree before he settled back into the sofa. He picked up the bottle and filled each of the glasses halfway before he picked them up, offering one to Taeyong.

Taeyong took it, inspecting the clear amber liquid inside by sniffing it. He wrinkled his nose.

“You don’t have to drink it, if you don’t feel like it.” Johnny set his own glass to his lips. “It’s a bit of a Christmas tradition that I used to do with my friends, but you can just sit this one out.”

Taeyong shook his head and held his gaze as he placed the rim of the glass against his bottom lip. Johnny willed himself not to get distracted by the sight. They took a sip in unison, and though Johnny was used to the burning sensation, he still pressed his lips together as the liquor slid down his throat. Taeyong shuddered through it, his face scrunching up before it smoothed out.

After a moment of contemplation, he looked down at the glass, licking his lips. “This wasn’t so bad.”

Johnny grinned and set his glass down. “It better not be. This is Blishen’s.”

Taeyong took another sip, his nose twitching, before he set down his glass next to Johnny’s. “I’m sure that’s very impressive to people who care about spirits.”

“And here I thought I had corrupted you." Johnny let out a deep sigh. "It’s good to know you’re still you, prefect.”

“You’re so mean to me.” Taeyong’s nose was slightly reddened when Johnny looked at him. “I don’t know why I like you.”  

“I’ve been told I have a very dazzling smile.”

Taeyong shoved him and Johnny caught his hand. He used the opportunity to reach behind himself and picked up the wooden box he had retrieved from under the Christmas tree, placing it in Taeyong’s hand.

“Merry Christmas,” Johnny told him when Taeyong shot him a questioning look.

Understanding dawning on his face, Taeyong grabbed onto the box with both hands and set it down on his lap, keeping it level with his thighs. “You shouldn’t have gotten me whatever this is,” he mumbled as he let his hands trail over the carvings on the box. “It looks expensive.”

“I had my father sent this to me weeks ago,” Johnny explained as he pressed his thumb against the keyhole of the chest. His skin stung with the prick of a needle, the loss of a single drop of blood, and then the lid of the box sprung open. Johnny leaned back to let Taeyong explore the contents of the box on his own. “It’s an heirloom so I technically didn’t pay anything for it.”

Taeyong’s brows furrowed as he pulled apart the velvet draping, and then his breath hitched. “Johnny.”

When it didn’t look like Taeyong was going to move continue unwrapping his present any time soon, Johnny took the box out of his hands and took out the jewellery inside. It was a bracelet, not thicker than his thumb, a solid band of silver forged into the shape of a snake twice winding itself around the wrist of its wearer. Two tiny emeralds glinted in the firelight where the snake’s eyes sat. 

“I won’t make you wear it if you don’t want to, but it’s one of two.” Johnny used his free hand to pull down the sleeve of his sweater, revealing the twin piece that curled around the wrist of his left hand. “They belong together.”

Taeyong’s eyes were pitch black in the fire light when he lifted his gaze from the bracelet to meet Johnny’s eyes. “They belong together?”

Johnny nodded, his heart skipping a beat when Taeyong lifted his arm, slowly pulling back the sleeve of his sweater. Johnny pressed a kiss to the inside of his wrist before he slid the bracelet over Taeyong’s hand. As soon as the band came into contact with the skin of his wrist, the silver snake shuddered, its body winding until the bracelet sat snugly against Taeyong’s skin.

“What do you think?”

Taeyong rubbed a hand over the snake’s head and Johnny tried hard not to feel too exhilarated at the awe in his voice. “It’s warm.”

“The silver is charmed. As long as I’m wearing mine, your bracelet will give off the warmth my bracelet receives from my skin and vice versa. You’ll never have to feel cold again, no matter where you are.”  

Taeyong looked up at him then, and Johnny thought that whatever they had been through, it was worth it for the way Taeyong smiled at him in that moment. “I like that. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, my love.”

Johnny could feel his own bracelet warm up against his skin, and just so managed to swallow down the happy burst of laughter that threatened to bubble up his throat. He schooled his expression into something more serious when Taeyong placed the present wrapped in nondescript, brown paper on his lap. “My present is not an heirloom, but I still hope you'll like it.”

Johnny knew he would, if it was for the look of anticipation on Taeyong’s face alone. He was careful not to tear the paper as he opened the string that held the wrapping together. Inside was a carton box, just as nondescript as the paper it had been wrapped in. Johnny took off the lid and placed it on the sofa table before he looked inside.

Securely swaddled in an abundance of fabric scraps lay a crystal ball, maybe half the size of the ones that Johnny had used in Divination before. Carefully, Johnny picked it up and held it against the light. The surface of the crystal ball was smooth against his palm and inside the vitreous outer layer, a smaller, brazen globe was levitating, turning slowly in its orbit. If Johnny squinted, he could make out mountains and country lines carved into the brass, seas and oceans and two tiny, golden dots where Hogwarts was on this miniature version of the world. It was absolutely breath-taking, and Johnny knew that Taeyong hadn’t bought this.

He looked up when he felt Taeyong’s fingertips graze his cheeks, and his chest constricted at all the affection in Taeyong’s eyes when he held his gaze. "You’ve told me once that you intended to take the world. Now you’ve got the world, Johnny Seo. What are you going to do with it?”

Johnny felt his heart expand in his chest, his blood searing as it rushed through his veins. Carefully, he set the globe back down into its box and the box onto the sofa table before he leaned over Taeyong. Taeyong went pliantly, his mouth falling open when his back hit the arm rest behind him. Johnny took the opportunity to seal their mouths in an open-mouthed kiss. He could feel the silver of Taeyong’s bracelet dig into his spine when Taeyong clutched onto the back of his sweater. The sensation made a jolt of electricity zip up his spine.

“The world is not enough.” Johnny smiled as he grazed his teeth over the sensitive skin of Taeyong’s neck. He savoured the way it made Taeyong shudder. “Now I want everything else.”

Chapter Text

Johnny didn’t bother getting out of bed the next morning. A short push against the curtains surrounding his bed reassured him that it was still dark out, probably only hours after he had walked Taeyong back to Ravenclaw Tower. Pulling his duvet up to his chin, he let the darkness lull him back in.

He had been drifting in and out of consciousness for hours when he heard the door to the dormitory open, the familiar pattern of his cousin’s footsteps alerting him before the curtains on the side of his bed were drawn. Johnny knew that Donghyuck wasn’t alone. His cousin would have never thought to disturb him on Christmas Day.

"See, I told you he was alright.“

"He was here the entire time?”

“It’s what he does.” Donghyuck‘s voice dropped to a whisper and Johnny could picture the solemn expression on his face. "Christmas Day is when Aunt Iseul died. That‘s why Johnny stays in bed. My mum says it‘s because he is commemorising. I‘m not sure what that means, but he never does it for more than a day, so you don’t have to be worried. Are you still worried?”

"No, that—that makes sense. Thank you for showing me, Donghyuck.“

“No problem,” Donghyuck sounded cheery again. “I‘m going to go back to the Great Hall now because I promised Mark I‘d show him how to throw the fanged frisbee I got him without losing a finger. Do you need me to show you the way out of the Dungeon?”

“No, you can go, Donghyuck. Thank you.”

Johnny listened to the sound of Donghyuck’s retreating footsteps, the sound of the door opening and closing, and then silence. The heaviness of his mind and limbs made it easy for him to keep his breathing even and he might have drifted off again, but then there were fingers in his hair, gently carding through the knotted strands.  

Johnny reached up and caught Taeyong by the wrist, pulling him forward. Taeyong let out a startled yelp as he fell, landing on top of him. Slinging his arms around Taeyong’s waist, Johnny rolled them over so he was straddling Taeyong’s thighs, his hands braced on either side of Taeyong’s head.

He took a moment to just bask in the sight of Taeyong, the only thing bright enough to shine through the haze in his mind. There was not a detail of Taeyong’s face that wasn’t familiar to him, that he couldn’t have summoned from memory. Johnny didn’t miss the way Taeyong had gone rigid at being caged in by Johnny’s body, his mouth was parted slightly to allow quick, shallow breaths to pass over his lips.

“You can leave if you want to.”

Taeyong’s fingertips were scalding when he cupped Johnny’s cheek, his brows furrowing. “Do you want me to leave?”

Johnny smiled into the touch. He lowered himself down until they were close enough that Johnny could feel the warmth of Taeyong’s breath against his face. “No.”

A smile bloomed on Taeyong’s face and Johnny ached when it withered because of him.

“I’m sorry we woke you,” Taeyong spoke quietly as if to not disturb the peace of the dormitory. “You didn’t show up to breakfast and I thought—I wanted to talk to you so I asked Donghyuck whether he could tell me where you are. I didn’t know it was today. I’m sorry.”

Johnny hummed. His arms were straining from the effort of holding himself up. He didn’t want to crush Taeyong beneath him, so he let himself fall onto his side. Taeyong followed him, shifting until they were lying face to face.

“I fear I’m not going to be good company today.”

It hurt when Taeyong’s nails dug into his arm. “Don’t push me away.” Taeyong’s voice softened when Johnny stilled. “You said you want me to be by your side. So let me be by your side. I don’t think you should be alone today.”

Johnny thought that he would have had words, words to tell Taeyong how thankful he was, how much he needed him, had he been anything other than a son on this day. As it was, all he could do was close his eyes. Taeyong’s hand returned to his hair, his lips ghosting over Johnny’s cheeks before he settled in. “Let’s just stay like this for a while.”

Between the warmth of Taeyong’s body and the zoetrope of memories in his mind, it was easy for Johnny to assent to Taeyong’s suggestion. He went willingly when Taeyong pulled on his shoulder. He let his body fall forward until he was lying on his stomach, lying half on top Taeyong. With his ear pressed against Taeyong’s heartbeat, it was easy to lose himself in the shadows of things that were no longer.

Johnny didn’t know how much time had passed when he woke up again. Judging by the dry state of his mouth, it must have been hours. For a moment, Johnny thought Taeyong might have left him after all, but then he felt a hand against his cheek and realised Taeyong had merely scooted to the edge of the mattress when Johnny had sprawled out on his back. Taeyong’s entire body stiffened when Johnny threw a leg over his hip, so he rolled himself onto his other side. He scrambled for his wrist-watch for a moment before he found it, squinting as he tried to decipher the time. It was past midnight. His day of mourning had passed.

Letting the watch drop back onto his bedside table, he rubbed a hand over his face before he chanced a glance in Taeyong’s direction. Taeyong was watching him and Johnny hated the concern pooling in his dark eyes.

“We should eat something.” Johnny felt no hunger, but he knew that he had to eat and, more importantly, so did Taeyong. “I think I have macaroons lying around here somewhere, though they might have my face on them.”

Taeyong shot him a bemused glance before he shook his head. “No, we should go into the kitchens.”

“At half past midnight?”

A small smile made its way onto Taeyong’s face. “Don’t worry about that.”

Johnny shrugged and pulled himself out of bed. His muscles were stiff after an entire day of lying around, a low groan escaping him as he rolled out his shoulders. He didn’t bother changing out of his pyjamas. He only pulled on his shoes and the Christmas sweater he had discarded the night before. Taeyong’s eyes twinkled with amusement at the sight and Johnny found that a smile came to easy to him as he extended his hand for Taeyong to take.

Despite the late hour, the kitchen was still bustling with several dozen house-elves flitting around, preparing the food for the next day. Johnny felt a pang of satisfaction at the sight of their small, mustard-coloured kitchen uniforms. The Elven Liberation Act had been a cornerstone of his father’s election politics during his first term and Johnny was proud to see all of his father’s efforts come to fruition.

“Master Taeyong!”  

“Mimsy!” Taeyong crouched down to hug the small kitchen elf that had hurried over to greet them. “How are you?”

“Mimsy is just fine, Sir, but Master Taeyong should not worry about Mimsy if he is stressed again. I will get the flour and the eggs and your apron right away.”

Taeyong laughed. “No, Mimsy, thank you, but I’m not here to bake.”

“Master Taeyong is moving on to savoury dishes then? No problem, Sir! Mimsy will get ingredients from the cooler and I will get a blanket and pillow for Master Kim!” The eyes of the kitchen elf grew wide when they fell onto Johnny before she frowned. “You’re not Master Kim.”  

“Mimsy!” one of the elder kitchen elves screeched, extracting herself from the mass of elves crowded around the stoves.

Unlike the younger elves around her, she was wearing a frayed pillowcase as her uniform, though there was not a single thread astray on the Hogwarts emblem stitched onto the front.

“So sorry, Sir,” the kitchen elf bowed deeply, and Johnny winced in sympathy as the joints of her knees cracked. “Mimsy didn’t mean to disrespect you, Sir.”  

“It’s okay.” Johnny quickly raised his hands. “I’m not offended in any way.”

Taeyong interrupted any further protests from the elderly house-elf before they could arise. “We’re here to ask whether you might have some dinner leftover for us. Johnny and I missed it.”

“Oh,” Mimsy perked up. “Of course, Sirs! Mimsy and Miss Peeky will be right back!”

Both kitchen elves scrambled away and Johnny followed Taeyong as he lead them over to one of the kitchen islands. Johnny rested his chin on his hand and watched Taeyong while Taeyong watched the kitchen elves around them go about their work.

Mimsy returned shortly, an abundance of steaming dishes levitating behind her before they set themselves down on the kitchen island in front of Taeyong and Johnny.

“Please enjoy, Young Masters! And if there is anything else you need, don’t hesitate to call for Mimsy!”

“Thank you, Mimsy!” Taeyong called out and Johnny echoed him not a moment later.

He didn’t miss the way the kitchen elf perused him with curiosity before she turned away and, to his surprise, a pleased kind of appraisal. Johnny might have asked Taeyong about it, but his attention was caught a moment later when Taeyong let out a loud moan around the mouthful of soup he had spooned into his mouth. Taeyong seemed to realise what he had done a moment later ducked his head. “Sorry, I was really hungry.”

“I’m the one who should apologise. I kept you from attending dinner.” Johnny frowned as he looked down at his soup. He needed more words, better words to apologise to Taeyong, but he still felt tired in his bones, subdued in his thoughts.

He looked up when he felt a warm hand on his cheek.

“You didn’t keep me from anything. I’m my own person, Johnny, and I chose to be with you. Besides,” Taeyong’s expression turned sheepish. “I actually did find those macaroons you were talking about and I might have eaten some while you slept.”

Johnny laughed. “Did they have my face on them?”

“They did. Should I be concerned?”

Johnny grabbed onto the hand that still rested on his cheek. He pressed a kiss to the back of it before he let go. “No. They’re a gift from a friend, and I believe that that friend likes you even more than they like me.”

Taeyong frowned. “Now I’m definitely concerned.”

“Don’t be.” Johnny smiled. “You’re all mine now and I think they’ll understand.”

“Are you sure?” Despite the worried tone of his voice, Taeyong looked content as he picked up a piece of bread, dunking it into his soup.

Johnny’s smile only widened. “They’ll have no other choice.”  

*

The students that had left to spent Christmas with their families returned to Hogwarts on the last day of the holidays and as was custom, Johnny was awoken by a loud crash in the common room, the muffled cursing that followed ensuring that he stayed awake.  With the clamor in the common room becoming louder the more students trickled back into the Dungeon, Johnny savoured the last precious moments of peace in the dormitory before he sat upright in his bed.

A smile made its way onto his face when he heard the familiar trill of Ten’s voice cutting through the noise outside, telling a couple of students off for clogging the hallway with their luggage. Jaehyun’s lower pitch redirected the other Slytherin towards Hansol, who had undoubtedly taken up post in the common room along with the other prefects to bring some order into the chaos.

Johnny felt a smile tug on his mouth when the door to dormitory flew open. The first thing he saw was a floating cat-carrier, Ten following right after. Nine’s dark form was almost invisible against the black of his travel robes.

“Johnnyboy? Are you in here?”

“Hey, Tennie.” Johnny allowed the smile to take over his face.

Ten’s eyes found his and his greeting cut off into a gasp. His hand flew up to shield Nine’s eyes. “Jaehyun!” Ten wailed. “Jaehyun, get in here! Johnny got laid and didn’t tell us!”

Jaehyun’s eyebrows were nearly touching his hairline as he set foot into the dorm. The luggage levitating behind him fell to the ground with a low thump when he laid eyes on Johnny. “Oh.”

Johnny sighed, and dragged himself out of bed. “The both of you are insufferable,” he went for Ten first. Nine let out a protesting meow as she was squished between their bodies, “and yet I missed you.”

Jaehyun wrapped his arms around them both, squeezing until Ten let out a yelp when Nine dug her claws into his arm. While Ten cooed at her in apology, Johnny climbed back into bed. Jaehyun followed him, making himself comfortable at the foot end of Johnny’s bed while he undid the clasp of his travel cloak. Johnny turned to rummage through the drawer of his bedside table. Somewhere in there were the remnants of Jaemin’s macaroons. At least Taeyong had told him so before he had left the afternoon before.

“You didn’t deny it.”

Johnny turned back to gauge his friend’s reaction. Jaehyun was looking at him with interest in his eyes. Johnny suppressed another sigh and blindly let the pack of biscuits fall back into the drawer. He had planned to tell his friends in a different way, not on an empty stomach, but he might as well get it over with.

“Ten,” he said without breaking Jaehyun’s gaze. “Come here.”

Ten seemed to sense the shift in the atmosphere, because he set down Nine without any protest. Johnny watched as the cat promptly scurried over to Jaehyun’s bed and made herself comfortable on top of the duvet.

Ten settled on his own bed next to Johnny’s, kicking his legs. “What is it?”

“Something has changed.” Johnny took a deep breath. It had been a long time since the attention of his friends had last weighed heavy on him. “Over the holidays, something has changed that you need to know about.”

“Oh, no.” Ten’s expression turned horrified. “You didn’t contract anything while fucking around, did you? Because that would be one humiliating trip to St Mungo’s and if any of my aunts caught wind of this, they’d never let me live it down and—”

“It’s not an STD!” Johnny suppressed the urge to tug on his own hair. “That’s not what this is about.”

“What is this about, then?” Jaehyun asked.

Johnny forced his breathing to remain calm. “Taeyong Lee.”

“Arguably worse than an STD.”

“Ten,” Jaehyun said and Johnny was surprised at the scathing quality to his voice. “Shut up.”

Ten’s eyes widened, his lips pressing together. Jaehyun held his gaze for another couple of seconds before he turned back towards Johnny. “What did you want to say about Taeyong, Johnny?”

“We’re together.” Johnny couldn’t help the warm, tingly feeling that spread through every cell of his body at the thought. “Taeyong and I are together.”

Johnny had expected shocked gasps, exclamations of disbelief or an abundance of questions. What he didn’t expect was for Ten to throw a hand over his eyes, letting out another wail. “Oh, look at him glow.”

Johnny felt his mouth drop open at the utter lack of surprise on his friends’ faces. “You’re not surprised? You knew?”

“Of course, we knew.” Ten scoffed at him while Jaehyun cleared his throat. “We didn’t think you liked him to that extent, but we knew you had an interest in Taeyong.”

“But—” Johnny found himself lost for words. “How?”

“The day of the practice game.” Jaehyun shrugged. “I knew you were pursuing someone after what you told me at the Three Broomsticks about having been put into competition, but I had no idea who you were talking about until that day when Taeyong came to the Dungeon. He was looking for one of his little Ravenclaws and you sent us away to talk to him. You told Ten off for threatening him and that’s something you never would have done if you didn’t have an interest in him. From then on, I just kind of knew. Tennie came to me after he caught Taeyong visiting you at the infirmary.”

“Your boy is a terrible liar.” Ten wrinkled his nose. “He tried selling me some excuse about bringing you your homework as if I wasn’t in Potions with you.”

“But why—why didn’t either of you say anything?”

Ten and Jaehyun exchanged a glance. This time, Ten’s scoff was affectionate.

“We were waiting for you to tell us, Johnnyboy,” Jaehyun said. “We figured you would tell us once there was something to tell.”

“It’s not our fault you took your sweet time,” Ten added.

Johnny frowned as he tried to wrap his head around just how little credit he had given his friends. Of course they had known, Johnny realised in retrospect. These were the people that had raised him. He couldn’t have hidden the truth from them any longer than he had been able to hide it from himself.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologise.” Jaehyun patted his shoulder. “What I want to know is whether you are sure about this.”

Johnny furrowed his brows. “What makes you say that?”

“Five years is a long enough period of time to get to know someone. I know Taeyong, Johnny, and I’m not telling you that you can’t have him. If you choose him, then that’s that. I just want to make sure that he’s really what you want. Taeyong isn’t exactly your usual type. He’s pretty, yes, but he’s also…”

“… a stuck-up bitch,” Ten supplied. He raised his hands when Johnny glowered at him.

“I will not have anyone speak badly of him.”

“And we won’t,” Jaehyun said, “if you’re sure about him.”

“I am.”

Jaehyun nodded. “Okay.” A small smile appeared on his face. “I’m happy for you, Johnny.”

“The Gryffindors won’t like this,” Ten said. “You’re stealing their precious prefect. Doyoung’s gonna pop a vein. Yuta might try to kill you a second time. This is going to cause a lot of trouble.”

“I’m in love with him.” The admission was easy, as easy as breathing. As easy as loving Taeyong. Johnny inhaled. “I will not let go of him.”

Ten’s grin was brilliant. “We know.”

Having rid himself of his travel cloak, Jaehyun toed off his boots. “Have you talked to Taeyong about this?”

Johnny shook his head. “No, but I’m meeting him tonight. He told me he wouldn’t have much time for me during the day because of his prefect duties, but I’m meeting him in the owlery tonight.”

“Romantic.” Ten merely stuck out his tongue when Johnny glared at him. “What? Just because Taeyong’s off-limits now doesn’t mean I can’t make fun of you, Johnnyboy. The last time any of us dated was Jaehyun’s two-week stunt with Vic and that was so painful to watch. Remember how awkward he was when Vic tried to hold his hand? A tragedy.”

Ten dodged the boot Jaehyun sent flying in his direction. Johnny laughed when Ten let himself fall back, using his momentum to do a backwards roll off the bed. Jaehyun caught him by the arm, dragging him back onto the duvet. “Oh, no, Tennie, you come back here! You want to talk about our dating history? Okay, let’s talk about that time you vomited on the shoes of that third-year!”

All three of them looked up when the door opened and Hansol walked in. Hansol stopped short when his eyes fell onto Jaehyun and Ten, who was struggling in the headlock Jaehyun had put him in. Johnny could see the sigh pass over Hansol’s lips before he turned on his heels and walked right back out of the dormitory.

“Welcome back, Hansol!” Johnny called after him.

This time, it was Johnny who dodged a stray boot.

*

He got to the owlery early, his leg muscles straining with the effort of carrying him up the worn, uneven steps. The circular room was drafty, snow coming in through the paneless windows and many of the owls had huddled together on their perches. Johnny walked into middle of the room before he extended his arm, letting out a single, drawn whistle. He looked up as the familiar sound of wings reached his ears, squeezing his eyes shut as his hair was dissheveled by the wind they created. Sharp feathers grazed his cheek as Chicago landed on his arm.

“Hello, beautiful.” Johnny smiled as he carded his fingers through the soft feathers at the top of her head.

Chicago cawed, flapping her wings before folding them against her sides.

Johnny chuckled, reaching into the breast pocket of his cloak. “Can I interest you in stretching your wings for a bit?”

Chicago blinked at him, letting out a soft hoot.

“Thank you.” Johnny held out the envelope he had prepared. “You have to be careful with this one, though, it’s very precious.”

Chicago opened her beak, unblinking until Johnny had placed the envelope in her maw.

“Home,” he said and Chicago took off, circling around his head once, twice before she flew through one of the windows in the ceiling and her tawny form disappeared into the night.

“Your owl is beautiful.”

Johnny smiled and turned around. “You’re one to talk.”

Taeyong looked positively ethereal, standing on the threshold of the owlery. His hands and the tip of his nose were tinted pink from the cold, his eyes shining as they followed Johnny’s approaching form.  

“I’m going to buy you gloves.” Johnny took Taeyong’s hands in his, blowing on the frozen digits. “Shouldn’t you know better, prefect?”

Taeyong groaned, whether he did it because of the warmth returning to his fingers or what he said next, Johnny didn’t know. “Please, don’t call me that for the rest of the night. Have you ever tried hassling two dozen children sugar-high on Christmas cookies into unpacking their luggage, Johnny? I did my duties for the day. For the rest of the night I just want to be Taeyong.”

Johnny smiled. “Just Taeyong is fine with me.”

He held onto Taeyong’s hand as he guided them down the step, careful not to have either of them slip on the thin layer of ice that covered most of the steps. Johnny waited until they had made it to the bottom of the staircase before he said, “I told my friends about us.”

Taeyong’s breath fell short along with his footsteps and Johnny caught him just in time to not have Taeyong slip on the very last step. Taeyong didn’t even seem to register it. For a long moment, Taeyong said nothing, worrying his bottom lip raw before he looked at Johnny. With Taeyong on the bottom step, they were almost the same height. It was an awfully familiar scene.

“What did they say?”

Johnny smiled. “I chose you, Taeyong. They respect that.”

Taeyong nodded, his gaze falling somewhere behind Johnny’s shoulder. “They don’t like me.”

“They don’t know you.”

“No.” A small furrow appeared between Taeyong’s brows. “I’m pretty sure they hate me.”

“Hate is a strong word, Taeyong. Neither of my friends feel that way about you. Whatever dislike they might have felt for you before, it’s become irrelevant now. I like you and so they do too.”

“But what if—” A look of such intense anxiety crossed Taeyong’s face that Johnny felt the need to step closer to him, reassure him with his presence if he couldn’t do it with his words. “They’re your best friends, Johnny. You care about them so much, their opinion must matter to you. What if they make you change your mind?”

“Taeyongie.” Johnny couldn’t help the smile that threatened to take over his face. Nonetheless, he willed the expression in his eyes to remain as serious as Taeyong needed him to be. “If you will believe nothing else, will you try to believe one thing?”

He waited until Taeyong had nodded before he continued, “If I lost you, I would be inconsolable and neither Jaehyun nor Ten would ever let that happen to me. Can you believe that?”

While Taeyong mulled that over, Johnny lifted his hand to Taeyong’s face and brushed his fringe out of his eyes for him. He waited until Taeyong had nodded before he leaned in, pressing their lips together once, twice.

“I’m cold.”

Johnny pulled away far enough to shoot Taeyong a questioning look.

“I’m cold,” he repeated and Johnny found that he couldn’t quite read the expression on his face. “We should go somewhere warm.”

“Do you have somewhere in mind?”

Taeyong nodded, and Johnny let him lead the way. He felt his eyebrows rise when he saw where Taeyong had taken them, but he didn’t comment on it. If this was where Taeyong wanted to go, Johnny would follow him.

Taeyong let go of his hand to place it on the wooden carvings in the door. “Pine fresh,” he murmured, and the door sprung open.

Chapter Text

It was warm inside the prefect’s bathroom, almost unbearably so. The air was humid, heavy with the scent of bathing oils and Johnny could feel his skin stick with sweat. It wasn’t the first time he visited the prefect’s bathroom, but it had been a while since he had been here.

After locking the door behind them, Taeyong passed him and made a beeline for the pool-sized tub. He procured his wand from his pocket, swinging it with a murmured spell and the taps surrounding the tub sprung to life. Johnny watched the tub fill with interest. Sweat trickled down his nape and temples.

“I must admit, I didn’t bring my swimming trunks.”

Taeyong smiled at him, his fingers working open the knot of his tie. “Neither did I.”

Johnny shook his head, suppressing a laugh as he began to undress. The fastenings of his winter cloak were intricate and so he needed almost twice as long as Taeyong to rid himself of his clothes. For a brief moment, he wondered whether Taeyong had planned this, whether that was the reason Taeyong had come to the owlery in no warmer clothing than his school robes. Johnny might have thought about it more profoundly, but Taeyong was shedding the last of his clothes, standing slightly angled away from him, and Johnny hurried to do the same.

Once he was naked, the humid air inside the bathroom became a lot more bearable, prohibiting him from shivering his way to the edge of the tub. Taeyong kept his eyes set on the purple, lavender-scented water and Johnny thought that the smile on his face was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Taeyong turned to look at him. “Do you want to go in?”

Johnny might’ve cracked a joke at the question, but he wasn’t oblivious to the slight nervousness to Taeyong’s smile, so instead he nodded. He took a step closer, resting both of his hands on Taeyong’s neck before he pressed their lips together. “Yes.”

Johnny let himself fall sideways off the edge, breathing out as he broke the surface to keep any of the water from filling his lungs. The water was scorching, near-painfully hot in the first few seconds before his body adapted to the heat and he felt himself go boneless. Finding his footing, he pushed himself up until he was standing in the chest-high water.

Taeyong was wading over to him where he had entered the water through the stairs. Johnny let himself fall back, dunking his head under water once again to get rid of the hair hanging into his face. By the time he resurfaced, Taeyong was in front of him, swaying with the movement of the water.

Johnny could tell by the way Taeyong was squirming slightly, his eyes never roaming lower than Johnny’s shoulders, that a great deal of the confidence with which he had lead Johnny into the bathroom had vanished, now that they were standing in front of each other, nothing but the steam rising from the water between them.

“Taeyong.” He kept his eyes resolutely on Taeyong’s face as he spoke. “It’s okay. You can look, if you want to.”

Taeyong’s eyes flickered to his chest for only a moment before his cheeks turned bright red, but there was also a newfound determination in his eyes when he came closer. A miniscule, annoyed groan escaped his lips as he placed his hand on Johnny’s stomach. Johnny ignored the way his muscles jumped at the contact.

“It’s not fair. You have abs.”

Johnny chuckled as he allowed Taeyong to peruse him, allowed Taeyong to learn his body like Taeyong learned anything else, methodically and with determination. “I play a lot of Quidditch. Not all of us can be born with angelic faces, my love. Some of us have to make an effort.”

He heard Taeyong choke on a breath as Johnny spun around slowly, guided by Taeyong’s fingertips pressing into the dip of his waist. It left his blood thrumming, having Taeyong’s undivided attention like this. He looked over his shoulder when Taeyong let out a scandalised gasp. “You have a tattoo?!”

Johnny felt Taeyong’s nails scrape over the Roman numerals inked into his right shoulder. The sensation made a pleasant bolt of energy zip down his spine.

“Yes.” He craned his neck further so he could meet Taeyong’s eyes and shrugged. “Sehun did it. He has a whole chest piece, so I figured he’d be adept at it.”

Taeyong huffed. “Were you drunk?”

Johnny felt a grin tug on his lips. “Possibly?”

Taeyong narrowed his eyes at him and Johnny might have felt bad about it, but all he could think about was how Taeyong had regained his poise, looked at ease in the water again. He was also really glad that Taeyong had never seen Sehun’s chest piece.

“Why am I not surprised?” Taeyong murmured, his finger tracing each numeral as he read it out, “Why the number seventeen?”

Johnny smiled as he let his head loll forward into a more comfortable position, watching the water ripple in front of him with every breath he took. “Because it’s my name. I originally wanted him to do the Seo family crest, but Sehun would have been too drunk to get it right, so I had him do the XVII instead. Youngho Seo XVII, that’s my name. I am the seventeenth heir to my family name.”

“Mhm.” Taeyong’s voice softened and Johnny felt his lips fall open when Taeyong’s lips fell onto his skin, right onto the centre of his back. “I think I like it.”

Johnny let Taeyong turn him around, the water around him sloshing with the movement. Taeyong’s fingertips were gentle against his skin, exploring and Johnny smiled when Taeyong framed his face with his hands, pushing himself up on his tiptoes so he could slot their mouths together. Johnny rested his hands on Taeyong’s shoulders for only a moment before he slid them down Taeyong’s chest, and grabbed onto his thighs.

Taeyong let out a low shout when Johnny picked him up, his hands falling from Johnny’s face to grab onto his shoulders as he fell forward, his legs clamping around Johnny’s waist. Once he had settled into the new position, Taeyong glared down at him, but Johnny could see the excitement in his eyes. Johnny waded through the water until they had made it to the edge of the tub. He lowered Taeyong onto the tiles there so he was sitting at the edge, his legs hanging into the water.  

“My turn,” Johnny said and leaned forward.

He could hear the way Taeyong’s breath hitched when he placed a row of open-mouthed kisses on his chest, tasting soap and Taeyong’s skin.

“Johnny,” Taeyong tugged on his hair.

Johnny hummed, licking over the bruise he had sucked onto Taeyong’s clavicle before he pulled away. Taeyong squirmed under his gaze, his eyes near-pitch black in the light of the torches that burned along the stone walls.

“Tell me what you want,” Johnny mumbled as he ran his pruned fingers over Taeyong’s ribs, watched the way Taeyong’s breathing faltered at the touch, “anything you want.”

Taeyong looked at him for a long moment before he licked his lips. “I’m the same as you, Johnny. I want everything.”

Johnny hid his smile in Taeyong’s thigh, lightly bit into the flesh. “Everything? You’re quite something, Taeyong Lee.”

He loved the love in Taeyong’s eyes when Taeyong smiled down at him. “Right back at you, Johnny Seo.”

Johnny made sure to rest his hand on Taeyong’s other thigh, close enough to the juncture of his hip that his intent was unmistakable when he asked, “Are you sure?”

Taeyong didn’t react the way Johnny had expected him to. Johnny had thought Taeyong might squirm, or might guide him eagerly, but he hadn’t foreseen the way Taeyong hunched in on himself.  “Why are you asking?”

Johnny furrowed his brows, wiggled his fingers so he was caressing Taeyong’s hip in reassurance. “I just don’t want you to do something you don’t want, or feel ready for.”

The look Taeyong shot him was unimpressed, almost defensive. “I’m not a virgin, Johnny. I’ve done this before.”

“You have?” Johnny pulled back and, upon seeing the anger on Taeyong’s face, he quickly rearranged his expression into something softer, “I mean, I believe you. I believe in you. I’ve just never seen you with anyone before so I thought…”

“… that I’m frigid?” Taeyong let out a snort. “Yeah, I know what people say about me.” Johnny’s gut twisted at those words. “I’ll have you know that it’s not true.”  

“It’s not true?” Johnny banned all the wonder from his voice because he knew that was what hurt Taeyong the most. Instead, he asked earnestly.

“It’s not true.” Taeyong’s voice softened. He bent forward, cupping Johnny’s jaw, the metal of his bracelet warm against Johnny’s skin. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here, would I?”

“I’m very lucky,” Johnny mused, savouring the way it made Taeyong smile again, the way it made the tension leave Taeyong’s shoulders. “I’m very lucky,” Johnny repeated, murmured the words into the skin of Taeyong’s thigh as he bent his knees so he could slide Taeyong’s legs over his shoulders. “I’ll give you everything,” he said as he pressed a kiss to the juncture of Taeyong’s hip. “I promise I will.”

“Please.” Taeyong swallowed, eyes wide and blown-out black and Johnny couldn’t have refused him even if he had wanted to. He would have torn down the whole castle stone by stone to give Taeyong whatever he asked for.

Taeyong let out a gasp when Johnny grasped onto the base of his cock, his hips stuttering. He bucked up into the friction Johnny’s hand was offering until Johnny used his free hand to hold his hips in place. Taeyong whined but gave in, letting himself fall backwards instead until his back was pressed flat against the tiles.

Johnny slid his hand along his cock once, twice in reward before he sucked the head into his mouth. Taeyong wasn’t fully hard yet so Johnny had no problem sliding down his length until his nose was pressed into the soft skin below his navel. He swallowed, savouring the weight of Taeyong’s rapidly hardening cock on his tongue before he pulled off. Taeyong whimpered at the loss and Johnny savoured that, too.

He worked his hand over the base of Taeyong’s cock while he lapped at the head, pressing his tongue into the slit until Taeyong whined out his name. Swallowing the bitter taste of precome, Johnny moved to mouth at his balls, sucking each of them into his mouth before he moved even lower.

“Johnny.” He was stopped by a hand in his hair.

Pulling away slightly, he blinked a couple of times before he looked up. “Yes?”

“When I said I had done this before—” Taeyong was panting, urgency in his eyes as he fought to breathe. “We kind of never got to the point where we—”

Johnny understood. “—not this far?”  

“Not this far,” Taeyong confirmed, flushing down to his neck.

“Do you trust me?”

Taeyong’s eyes widened and Johnny felt nothing but awe as he saw the fight between Taeyong’s nerves and his unbreakable will to have whatever he had set his mind on in them. Johnny smiled, reassured Taeyong with his touch more than he could have ever done with words.

Gently, he caressed Taeyong’s side, his fingers still wet with water and spit. Gently, splayed his fingers out on Taeyong’s stomach and pushed him to lie down again. Taeyong went willingly, a shiver running through his body when Johnny grasped onto his cock again, working it more slowly than before. Taeyong shivered with the need for more but Johnny was pleased to see that he had learned. Taeyong kept his body still as Johnny pressed kisses to the inside of his thigh, as he moved higher and higher up until there was nowhere higher to go.

Taeyong’s legs slid from his shoulders and hit the water when Johnny pulled his cheeks apart with one hand, licking a stripe over his hole. The tight ring of muscle gave under the force of his tongue and soon he was able to wiggle the tip inside. Taeyong let out a noise that lay somewhere between a whine and a moan and Johnny felt his own stomach tighten as he pulled his tongue out to suck on Taeyong’s rim.

Above him, Taeyong was breathing harshly, blunt nails dragging over the tiles below him in search of any kind of purchase, any kind of relief, but Johnny was giving him none. He licked and sucked on Taeyong’s hole until Taeyong’s legs began to shake, causing ripples in the water around Johnny and Johnny was quick to let go of Taeyong’s cock.

“No,” Taeyong whined and Johnny soothed him by pulling back enough so that he could press heated kisses to the inside of his thighs.

“Not yet, my love.”

“Please, Johnny, please, I was close.”

Taeyong’s eyes met his, brimming with unshed tears and Johnny felt almost high on the feeling of having Taeyong looking at him like this, like Johnny was more important to him than the air in his lungs, like there was nothing and no one in the world he wanted more.

Spitting on his fingers that were already slick with Taeyong’s precome, he rubbed two of them over Taeyong’s hole before working one of them inside, the loosened muscle giving to one digit. Taeyong cried out.

“It’s okay,” Johnny breathed against Taeyong’s cock, hard and leaking against his stomach. “I’ll get you there.”

Taeyong sobbed when Johnny ducked to suck on his rim again. He let saliva dribble from his mouth as he pushed in his tongue alongside his finger, circling both to work Taeyong open enough to add a second one. Taeyong’s hips jerked when he did, Johnny coaxing another string of moans out of him when he crooked his fingers inside. He rubbed the pads of his fingers over his walls, searching.

“Johnny, fuck, Johnny!” Taeyong screamed when Johnny found what he had been looking for. He marvelled at hearing Taeyong curse for the first time in what Johnny thought might be the entire time they had known each other.

He brushed his fingertips against the gland in quick succession, causing Taeyong to writhe on the tiles. Mercilessly, Johnny worked his fingers in and out of Taeyong, keeping his hole wet with spit and the oil-slick water until he felt Taeyong clench around his fingers, another scream ripping from his throat and then he went still, a single, punched-out attempt at Johnny’s name spilling over his lips as he shuddered through his orgasm.

Mouthing at his hip, Johnny continued fingering him until Taeyong was heaving with overstimulation, lines of come running from his stomach down onto the floor. The moment Johnny had pulled out his fingers, Taeyong went boneless, his eyes slipping shut as he blindly reached out. For all that he had just taken from Taeyong and Taeyong had just given him, it was this gesture that made Johnny’s heart melt.

“Come here.” Johnny gave one of his hands for Taeyong to hold on to while he used the other to pull Taeyong off the edge and back into the tub.  

“Don’t let me drown,” Taeyong forewarned, his voice thicker than usual, but he slid into the water easily.

Johnny laughed and pulled him into his arms. Taeyong went boneless in his embrace, softly panting into the crook of Johnny’s neck. Johnny rubbed his back and buried his nose in the wet strands of his hair.

“Thank you,” Taeyong mumbled eventually, cracking his eyes open so he could look at Johnny.

He puckered his lips and Johnny smiled as he leaned down to kiss him. “Thank you for trusting me.”

“Do you—“ Taeyong glanced down, his eyes widening as they fell onto Johnny’s crotch. “I’m sorry, I can—”

Johnny caught his wrist before Taeyong could move any further. “Don’t worry about it.”

“No.” Taeyong frowned and Johnny was amazed at how authoritative Taeyong managed to sound even after Johnny had just fingered the merry life out of him. “Let me reciprocate.”

Johnny wanted to protest further but then Taeyong’s hand wrapped around his cock that hung heavy between his legs, painfully hard from being neglected for so long, and Johnny felt his brain short-circuit.

“Don’t worry,” Taeyong mumbled when Johnny slumped forward, his head falling onto Taeyong’s shoulder. “I’ve done this before.”

Johnny groaned, whether it was because of Taeyong jerking him off or his words he didn’t know himself. “Please, don’t say that while your hand is on my dick.”

Taeyong only chuckled, pressing feather-light kisses against his cheek while he sped up his hand. Johnny groaned when Taeyong circled his fingers around the base of his cock, dragging the pad of his thumb over the head. “Fuck.”

“Don’t curse,” Taeyong admonished him, not a hint of seriousness in his voice and Johnny couldn’t contain the smile on his face, if it was distorted by a moan.

“I’ve— ah —corrupted you, haven’t I?”

Taeyong only hummed, angling his head so they could kiss, not more than the press of their open mouths together but Johnny savoured every single one, every single moment he got to spend with Taeyong. He busied himself with sucking bruises into the side of Taeyong’s neck while he revelled in the feeling of Taeyong’s hand on his cock, Taeyong’s body pressed against his own and the heat pooling in his stomach.

“Taeyong,” he warned, feeling his body tense, his stomach muscles contracting.

“You made me feel so good, Johnny.” Taeyong sounded breathless. “I want you to feel good, too.”

Johnny felt every single of his nerve endings light up when he came, his vision whiting out and his toes curling for a few, precious seconds before he returned to reality. His knees went weak but he forced himself to remain upright, if he used Taeyong’s shoulder to steady himself

Taeyong gave a small laugh when Johnny blinked his eyes open. “Good?”

“The best.” Johnny pressed a kiss to Taeyong’s temple, his cheek and nose before he pecked his mouth.

Taeyong smiled at him, looking sleepy and sated and happy in a way that made Johnny’s heart skip a beat. Taeyong wrinkled his nose as he pulled his hand from the water before scratching it over his own stomach. “I’m glad we did this in the bath.”  

“Doesn’t matter, I would have swallowed.” Johnny savoured the way his words made Taeyong momentarily choke on his breath as he pulled him over to the taps. “Do you know which one of these gives shampoo?”

Taeyong’s smile was soft, his eyes drooping as he turned the right faucet, catching some of the shimmering shampoo it released in his hand before he smeared it onto Johnny’s head. Johnny did the same and worked the shampoo into Taeyong’s scalp, the dark roots and silvery-white strands before he told him to rinse. Taeyong did, dunking his head under water before he lifted his hands to Johnny’s hair, spreading the shampoo he had put there.

“Johnny?”

Johnny hummed, keeping his eyes closed as to not get any suds into them, but he angled his head so he was facing Taeyong. Taeyong was silent for a moment before he took a shuddering breath. “Why do you like me?”

Johnny smiled, tilting his head so his smile was lopsided. “What do you mean?”

Another moment of silence passed before Taeyong continued, “On Christmas Eve, you told me you started liking me at the end of last year and I was just… wondering why?”

“Oh, Taeyongie.” Johnny dropped down to wash the shampoo out of his hair before he resurfaced. He wanted to be able to look Taeyong in the eyes when he told him this. “You know that you’ve always held my attention.”

Taeyong nodded. Johnny had told him as much that night.

“But it was always just something that played on the back of my mind. There isn’t a specific time or date that I can tell you because falling for you, I did that gradually. But what I can tell you is that I remember waking up one day and realising that I couldn’t take my eyes off of you anymore when you were in the room and it wasn’t just because you’re beautiful, which you are.”

Taeyong ducked his head, a low, pleased noise falling from his mouth and Johnny wished that was what Taeyong had heard people say about him.

“But you’re also the strongest, most stubborn person in this castle I know and I missed you. Those three weeks before we took our exams that you spent in the library? It nearly killed me to know you were in there while I only ever saw you in class, and then you looked dead on your feet.”

“I don’t really remember much from that time.” Taeyong looked sheepish for a moment. “I studied a lot.”

“I know, I was worried about you.” Johnny could laugh about it now, but he had not been laughing back then. “There were so many times I wanted to walk up to your table, incur the wrath of the entire Ravenclaw study brigade and carry you out of there just so you would sleep for a change. I realised then that I wanted the right to do so. I wanted the right to see you and know how you were doing and care for you. I wanted to be with you. Really, that’s all I’ve been wanting ever since.”  

Taeyong looked at him for a long moment, his eyes brimming with so many emotions Johnny struggled to catch them all but he could decipher the most prominent one.

Taeyong grabbed onto his hand, placed it onto his chest, right where his heart beat just a tad too fast. Johnny kept his hand there when Taeyong let go to cup his face, pulling him down. Taeyong placed a gentle kiss on his lips before he moved to whisper into his ear, “Can you feel it? How warm it is now? You really did it, Johnny Seo. My heart thawed.”

*

Johnny watched as Susan nibbled on his fingers, the small ball of purple fluff rolling around in his palm while they waited for her owner to return. Johnny had lost sight of Kun once he had joined the crowd of students at the front of the classroom, trying to collect their marked essays from Professor Boa. Class had ended a couple of minutes ago already and the urge to get out of the stuffy room ran deep with the students. Johnny extended his arm across their table and propped his head up on his hand, lifting Susan to his face. The pygmy puff let out a happy squeak as she brushed against his cheek.

“What did she say?” Johnny asked when Kun eventually returned to their table.

“Outstanding.” Kun grinned as he waved their essay on the Great Wizard Convent of 1667 at him. “She really liked your idea about prying deeper into the Witches Rights movement at the time and how it influenced the Chief Warlock’s decision to make peace with the trolls.”  

“Peace is always the aim.” Johnny made sure to safely transfer Susan to Kun’s hand before he took the scroll from him. He smiled at the big O scribbled at the top of it in red ink. “Do you want to keep this?”

Kun laughed. “Merlin, no. Just looking at it makes me feel tired.”

Johnny smiled as he slipped the scroll into his bag before shouldering it.

Jaehyun was still at the front of the classroom, trying to get his essay back. He dismissed Johnny with a small shake of his head when Johnny caught his eye. Doyoung next to Jaehyun was standing on his tiptoes, trying to peek at the overview of marks Professor Boa always kept on her desk.

He lost his balance when one of the Gryffindor girls behind them pushed forward to receive her essay, his hand falling onto Jaehyun’s shoulder to steady himself. Johnny waited another moment to see whether Jaehyun would elbow Doyoung in the stomach for it, but Jaehyun remained calm, if he breathed in a bit more deeply than usual until Doyoung had removed his hand from his shoulder.

“I’ll see you around,” Johnny told Kun, who waved him off with one hand while placing Susan in his hair with the other.

Johnny hurried to get to the Potions classroom. He found Ten leaning against the wall next to the door, working his teeth on a scornberry sucker. He flashed Johnny a brilliant, purple-stained smile when he arrived.

Johnny let himself fall against the wall next to him before he asked, “What is it?”

“Oh, nothing,” Ten sang in that tone of voice that told Johnny there was clearly something. “I just saw Taeyong this morning when I was on my way to the greenhouses with Lisa.”

“Okay.” Johnny cocked his head to the side so he could glance down at his friend. “And?”

Ten’s smile widened impossibly at his question. Pushing the scornberry sucker into his cheek, he pointed it in the direction Johnny had come from. “Your timing is impeccable, Johnnyboy.”

Johnny turned his head in the direction of the stairs. He flinched when Jeongyeon standing next to them let out a gasp.

"Holy shit,” Nayeon uttered, “what the fuck happened to Taeyong? I thought he was frigid.”

“You’re an animal, Johnny Seo,” Ten lilted as Johnny pushed himself off the wall, slowly making his way over to where Taeyong had come to a halt in the middle of the corridor, bound to the spot by all the eyes trained on him.

It was obvious that Taeyong had made an effort to look put together this morning, but even his immaculate robes and clean face couldn’t hide the fact that he looked absolutely ravaged. The circles underneath his eyes were as dark as the bruises that littered his neck, dotted lines running down both sides of his throat.

“Oh, this ought to be good,” Johnny could hear Yeri whisper as he walked past and Johnny smiled. It would be.

Taeyong‘s eyes met his over cluster of students between them and for a second there was a flicker of insecurity in his eyes, his face slowly but surely turning red under the attention of the crowd. Johnny knew that Taeyong was normally above such things, but even he felt the attention of the crowd weighing on him. By the time Johnny came to a halt in front of him, Taeyong‘s face had assumed the colour of an overly ripe tomato, his eyes glued to the ground.

Johnny pulled his hands out of his pocket and used them to cup Taeyong‘s face, tilting his chin upward so they were looking at each other. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Taeyong mouthed back at him, no actual sound making its way out of his throat.

His wonderful, marked throat that he could have episkey-ed a thousand times over the moment Johnny had walked him back to Ravenclaw Tower the night before. But he hadn’t. He had chosen to leave every single mark Johnny had put onto his body for the world to see.

Johnny smiled, flicking his tongue against his upper lip and he could see the relief in Taeyong’s eyes, the confirmation that he wanted to do this just as much as Johnny did and that was all Johnny needed.

Well aware of the rapt attention they were holding, he grinned as he leaned down and pressed their lips together. Kissing Taeyong always left him a little breathless, a little dizzy with the realisation that it was possible to feel this happy and Johnny savoured every moment of it before he pulled away to breathe. He pressed another kiss to Taeyong’s cheek before he took a step back.

“Everybody,” Taeyong licked his lips, blinking the last of the kiss-drunken haze out of his eyes, “is staring at us.”

“I know.” Johnny felt all the stares burning holes into his back. “Does it bother you?”

“Does it bother you?

Johnny would have laughed at the question, but the fear in Taeyong’s eyes was real and so he smiled, put all the love and adoration he felt for this boy, his boy, into it.

“Not in the least, my love.”

Taeyong turned impossibly redder at that and Johnny intertwined their fingers, pulled him into his side as he lead them over to the door of the Potions classroom. Ten popped his sucker out of his mouth when they arrived in front of him, tapping it against his lips in contemplation. Johnny could feel Taeyong’s grip on his hand tighten. Ten seemed to notice Taeyong’s apprehension, too, because not a moment later, he broke into a broad grin.

“Spicy,” he said before he popped the scornberry sucker back into his mouth. “Do you need some concealer for,” he waved his hand in the general direction of Taeyong’s neck, “all that, Taeyong?”

Taeyong cleared his throat, his free hand ghosting over his neck before he aborted the motion. “No, thank you.”

“All right, then.” Ten’s grin persisted as he fell back against the wall.  His expression only darkened when he turned his head to the side. “Oh, stop looking at him like that, Sana. Did no one ever tell you that it’s rude to stare at people?”

The Slytherin girl ducked her head, hiding behind Jeongyeon, and with that, the moment was broken and Johnny felt the balled attention on them disperse.

“Sorry about that,” Ten told Taeyong. “If any of them bother you, just tell me.”

“Uhm.” Ten used the time Taeyong needed to regain his speech ability to shoot Johnny a wink. “Thank you?”

“You’re welcome.” Ten beamed at him before he turned to face the door.

Johnny leaned down so he could whisper into Taeyong’s ear. “See, I told you.”  

Taeyong smiled up at him, his eyes bright despite the dark circles under his eyes that they shared. “I think I’m just not going to question it.”

The door to the Potions classroom sprung open to reveal Professor Do’s unamused face and Johnny mourned the loss of Taeyong’s hand in his when Taeyong let go of him.

“No touching in class,” Taeyong told him, sounding stern despite the way he was still pressing into Johnny and Johnny couldn’t help the grin that spread over his face. It was such a Taeyong thing to do. “We’re not going to do anything but work during class, understood?”

Johnny smiled as he followed Taeyong into the classroom. “Of course, Prefect. I wouldn’t have expected anything else.”

*

“Do you want to eat with us?” Johnny asked as soon as Taeyong and he set foot into the Great Hall. Ten had skipped off to sit down at the Slytherin table already.

“No, I—” Taeyong fidgeted, his eyes falling onto the Gryffindor table where his own friends were sitting. “I was so busy with prefect duties and then meeting you that I didn’t get the chance to see any of my friends yesterday and I really want to tell them. About us, I mean.”  

Taeyong smiled up at him, his eyes drooping with happiness and Johnny felt his gut clench in apprehension. He had suspected that Taeyong hadn’t told his friends about the change in their relationship when he had entered the History of Magic classroom that morning and Doyoung hadn’t pummelled him on sight. And it wasn’t that Johnny was worried that Doyoung would. It was the total lack of apprehension in Taeyong’s eyes that worried him. There was nothing but faith in Taeyong’s eyes, faith in his friends and their support of him, of them. Johnny wasn’t so confident.

Yet, he forced himself to smile, because Taeyong had trusted him when it came to his friends and so he had to do the same.

“Of course.” He drew a circle over the back of Taeyong’s hand with his thumb before he pulled away. “I’ll save you a seat, just in case.”

“I’ll see you later.” Taeyong leaned up to kiss him on the cheek before he walked off.

Johnny watched the group of Ravenclaw girls sitting closest to them collectively choke on their drinks before he turned and walked over to his own friends.

"Your affair is gaining some attention," Jaehyun greeted him when Johnny sat down opposite of him, his back to the Gryffindor table. “Sehun told me to congratulate you earlier, and I think the entirety of the Ravenclaw table is staring at you right now.”  

“You should have been there in Potions,” Ten chirped. “Johnny gave Taeyong the big smooch in front of everyone. I think Youngjae swallowed a fly he gaped at them for so long and Nayeon had to run after Yeri who ran off after it happened.”

“It’s not an affair,” Johnny directed at Jaehyun, rolling out his shoulders to get rid of the feeling of being watched. He smiled at the two plates his friends had prepared, pulling the one lacking meat in front of himself. Before digging in, he picked up his fork and dragged it through the heap of peas on the other plate that had been rearranged to spell out a rather vulgar word. “What’s that about Yeri, Tennie?”

Ten shrugged. “I don’t know what’s up with her exactly, but I can ask Lisa about it?”

“No,” Johnny shook his head. “I’ll take care of it. She deserves as much.”  

Jaehyun hummed at that, picking up his cup of water. “Where is Taeyong anyways? I’d figured you’d drag him over here for lunch.”

“I wanted to, but he’s telling his friends that he’s dating me right now.”

Jaehyun choked on his drink, water dribbling down his chin before he wiped it off. He took care to clean himself up before he looked at Johnny with his eyebrows raised. “Doyoung doesn’t know?”

“No.”

“Taeyong hasn’t told any of them yet?” Jaehyun furrowed his brows.

“He didn’t have time yesterday inbetween managing the return of the Ravenclaw first-years and,” Johnny couldn’t quite help the grin that tugged on the corners of his mouth, “meeting me.”

“Ew!” Ten wailed, shielding his eyes. “Jaehyun, tell him to stop.”

Jaehyun patted their friend on the back before he looked over to the Gryffindor table. A frown distorted his face.

Johnny felt his heart skip a beat. “What? What is it?”  

Jaehyun shook his head. “Nothing. They’re talking to him normally? Doyoung’s got his arm around his shoulder and,” Jaehyun squinted, “Taeyong looks happy.” He met Johnny’s eyes, raising a single eyebrow. “It seems that your prefect was right. They’re taking it well.”

It took every ounce of self-control Johnny possessed not to turn in his seat. Maybe, he thought. Maybe he shouldn’t have doubted the love Taeyong’s friends had for him. If nothing else, it was the one thing Johnny could relate to them on.

Chapter Text

The staircase that lead up to North Tower seemed to spiral near endlessly upward and Johnny felt his breath become more laboured with every step he took. By the time he reached the circular trapdoor that lead to the Divination classroom, he was panting. Johnny took a minute to compose himself before he climbed through. It was still lunchtime which meant that the classroom was empty. Or it should have been.

Pushing his hair back, Johnny made his way down the rows of circular tables to where the small group of students had squished themselves into the plush satin settee that Professor Solar kept pushed against the wall next to the blackboard. It stood there in case one of her students got dizzy from all the incense and had to lie down. His footfalls echoed loudly on the lithic steps and he stopped when four heads turned to stare at him. Lisa was on her feet within a second, walking up the steps between them with big strides to meet him halfway. The expression in her eyes was unamused, but not nearly as murderous as Johnny had expected.

The faint scent of her jasmine perfume tickled his nose when she planted herself in his way, propping her arms on her hips. “You can’t be here right now.”

Johnny looked past her, to where Yeri was sitting with Nayeon and Lisa’s twin brother Bambam. Yeri was hiding her face in Nayeon’s shoulder but even so Johnny could that she was crying. “Would you let me talk to her?”

“No.” Lisa’s expression hardened. “I like you, Johnny, you’re one of the few people at this school who’s never lusted over me, but I need you to stay away from her right now.”

Johnny wanted to sigh. “I can’t fix anything if you won’t let me talk to her.”

He waited patiently as Lisa regarded him, her bottom lip caught between her teeth. Briefly, Johnny thought of the family gathering Ten’s family’s had held during the summer and what he had watched Lisa do to the elderly man that had groped her brother, lured in by Bambam’s veela blood and one too many firewhiskys. Johnny wondered whether he’d suffer the same fate too. He quite liked walking upright with all his limbs in order.

“Fine,” Lisa relented eventually, “but she’s already hurting. Don’t make it worse.”

“I’m here to make it better. She’s my friend, too, you know that.”

“Sometimes I wish you were a bigger arsehole.” Lisa sighed as she stepped aside. “It would make this so much easier. I could just hex you ugly and be done with it.”

“Ten would avenge my beautiful face.”

Lisa rolled her eyes. “Unfortunately.”

Johnny sidestepped her and descended the last of the lithic steps, just as Nayeon and Bambam got up from the settee.

“Thanks, Johnny,” Nayeon mumbled as she approached. There was a silent plead in her eyes that Johnny’s answered with a reassuring nod before she had passed him.

Bambam shot him a curious, but not unfriendly look before he grabbed onto Lisa’s hand, pulling her towards the trap door with him. At the glare she sent his way, he flicked her forehead, giggling when she chased after him. Johnny made a beeline for the settee.

“Oh, Yeri.” He sighed as crouched down in front of her, pulling her hands away from her face.

“Don’t look at me.” Avoiding Johnny’s gaze, Yeri averted her eyes to the ceiling as if that would make Johnny miss the tears streaking her cheeks, the red-rimmed state of her eyes. “I look ugly.”

“I disagree.” Johnny shook his head. "You‘re a bright witch, Yeri. It‘s below you to cry over some stupid boy."

Yeri’s smile was watery as she finally met his eyes. "But it‘s not some stupid boy, Johnny. It‘s you.“

Johnny reciprocated her smile, well aware that it didn’t reach his eyes, and he could see Yeri’s heart break all over again when she realised that he wasn’t here to tell her what she had hoped for. “You have to know that it makes no difference to me.”

“But why?” Yeri’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Why? Why can’t it, Johnny? I like you so much, it’s not fair. Why can’t you like me back? Even if you did just a little bit—"

“Yeri.” Johnny frowned.  

A shiver went through her before she curled in on herself, burying her face in her hands once again. “I know, I know. Forget I said that. That was below me.”

Johnny kept the stern expression on his face. “I’m glad you realise that.”

“Lisa would be so mad at me now.” Yeri sniffed, letting her hands fall from her face to knot them together in her lap. “She’s been telling me to move on for ages, that I should give you up and that you’re never going to like me back, but I—it’s hard. It’s so hard to give you up. I really like you, Johnny.”  

Johnny propped his elbows on his thighs as to not lose his balance. He kept his voice firm as he spoke, because he had to have his words get through to Yeri and make her understand. "Someday, someone will fall madly in love with you, Yeri. Maybe somebody already has. But that person is not me.” He looked down at his wrist, looked at the bracelet that sat there, warm and snug against his skin. “I’m in love with Taeyong. He makes me very happy and I hope one day you can be happy for me too.“

When he looked back up at her, Yeri’s eyes were brimming with more tears and a heartbreak Johnny couldn’t spare her from, but there was also an air of determination to her movements, more of the girl that Johnny knew would never beg anyone, lest of all to love her.

“I will be.” She faltered slightly. “One—one day, I will be.”

Johnny held her gaze until he was sure she had understood before he nodded, once and sharply, and pulled himself to his feet. He was about turn around to leave when Yeri caught onto his hand.

“Johnny?”

He looked down at her in question.

Yeri’s voice was small when she asked, “Do you hate me now?”

He felt his expression soften. “No, of course not. You were the first friend I made outside of Jaehyun and Ten. You’ll always have me, just not like that, okay?”

“Okay.” Yeri mustered up a half-smile, pressing her sleeve to her eyes to dry the last of her tears. “I’m sorry, too. I embarrassed you when I told everyone I smelled your cologne in my Amortentia.”

“You should know me well enough that you know I don’t care about that. So forget about it.” Johnny let go of her hand, pacified in the knowledge that she would make it through. She was strong, and supported. “I’m leaving now. Do you want me to send Nayeon and the twins back in?”

Yeri gave a nod. “Yes, please. Oh, and Johnny?"

"Yes?"

Yeri rubbed her eyes. "Tell him sorry."

"Who?"

"Taeyong, I— I’ve said some really nasty stuff to him. Please, tell him that I‘m sorry."

Johnny inclined his head. "I will. Thank you."

"Of course. You have me, too, you know. I’ll try to make it not like that.”

“That’s all I ask of you.” Johnny was about to leave for good when another thought crossed his mind, and he felt his expression darken, along with the rest of his soul. “Yeri.”

Where she had sunken back into the cushions of the settee, Yeri sat up straight. “Yes?”

Johnny struggled to keep his voice level when he asked, “Did you ever call Taeyong a mudblood?”

“What?” Yeri’s eyes widened in shock. “No, of course not! I—I would never, ever say something like that! You have to believe me!”

Johnny held her gaze for another moment before he relented, shaking his head to clear his mind from the thought. A sigh passed his lips. “Don’t worry. I do.”

“Is there someone who called Taeyong that?” Yeri’s face scrunched up in disgust.

“I’m not sure, but I think there might be.” Johnny felt anger coil in his stomach at the thought alone.

“If you find them, tell me and I’ll tell Irene.” Yeri’s eyes glimmered when she mentioned of her sister. “She’s Head Girl now so she can have them expelled.”

“Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.”

“If you find them, tell me,” Yeri amended, “and I’ll tell Irene, so she makes sure you won’t get expelled.”

This time, Johnny smiled. “That I’d be thankful for. I’ll see you at dinner, Yeri.”

Yeri waved at him and Johnny pretended he didn’t seen the remnants of longing in her eyes when he walked away.

Much like Johnny had expected, Yeri’s friends were waiting right below the trap door. He had barely made it off the last peg before Lisa was on him, asking him what had happened, and Johnny felt himself smile with how much she was like Ten in her impatience. He waved at Bambam and Nayeon before he kept to the right side of the spiral staircase so Lisa could walk down the steps next to him.

“She should be better now,” he told her.

“But you didn’t promise her anything, or—”

“Lisa.” Johnny stopped short to raise a single eyebrow at her, let all the unamusement he felt show on his face. “You’re stretching it.”

She winced. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. I know you’d never give her false hope.”

“I’m Taeyong’s.” Johnny kept his tone sharper than he would have. He was patient, but even his patience knew an end. “I won’t have anyone question that. I know that you care deeply about Yeri, but that doesn’t give you the right to question my devotion to my relationship. I never asked for Yeri to like me and I certainly didn’t encourage her just now.”

“Sorry, Johnny.” Johnny allowed his shoulders to relax at the earnestness in Lisa’s eyes.

“I’d never lie to her just because it would be easier for me if I didn’t have to see her through her pain. I didn’t.”  He let a beat of silence pass. “Does she know you’re in love with her?”

Lisa stiffened, and Johnny wondered whether he would find himself hexed by her after all. Instead, Lisa seemed to fall into herself, as if a weight had been lifted from her shoulders. “Did Tennie tell you?”

“He didn’t have to.”

Lisa sighed. “As much as I hate to see her cry, I’m almost glad that this all went down as it did. Maybe she’s finally going to get over you now.”

Johnny felt a smile tug on his lips. “She told me you’ve been saying that to her.”

“Trust me, if my cousin wasn’t so dependent on you, I would have found a way to get rid of you ages ago.”

Johnny stopped on the stairs once again to shoot Lisa a mock-challenging look. “Try me, Manoban.”

Lisa grinned at him, proud and vicious and gratified in a way that told Johnny that things would work out for her, as they tended to do. “Thank you, Johnny. I mean it. Despite what I said earlier, I know that you let her down as best as you could.”

“She’s my friend, too.” Johnny bumped his fist against the one she held out for him. “I’ll see you later.”

Lisa waved at him before she hurried back upstairs. 

Johnny looked after her until she had turned the corner and then resumed his way down the spiral staircase. He had almost made it to the bottom of it when he was forewarned by the jingling of pendants and jewellery. Johnny made sure to press himself against the outer wall so the person coming up the stairs didn’t run straight into him.

Taeil rounded the corner not a second later, a heavy tome wedged under one arm while he was running his fingers over the crystals hanging from his neck. He only shot Johnny a fleeting glance before he seemed to realise who he was looking at and slowed in his step.

Johnny inclined his head. “Taeil.”

The tome fell from Taeil’s arms, clattering open on the steps below them as Taeil fell forward. Johnny winced when Taeil grabbed onto his arm, his grip tight enough to bruise. Johnny was about to shove him off when he noticed the milky state of Taeil’s eyes, his eyeballs moving rapidly from side to side.

“When the time comes, think of nothing but home.” Taeil’s voice grave, and solemn in a way that was so different from how soft-spoken he usually was that Johnny felt himself recoil, his back hitting the stone wall behind him.

“What?”

He frowned but Taeil had already let go of him. He stumbled backwards and his eyes returned to their normal brown as he blinked. When Johnny took a step forward, Taeil looked at him as if he had turned into one of the house ghosts.

“Johnny.” The way Taeil said his name lay somewhere between acknowledgement and a question. And then he straightened his back, his voice having regained its usual gentle tone when he nodded at him. “Hello.”

“Taeil.” Johnny waited another moment for something unusual to happen before he bent down to pick up the tome Taeil had dropped. Fifteen Constellations That Will Predict Your Fate , the title read. “You dropped this.”

Taeil took the book from his hands, his brows smoothing out as he ran his fingers over the cover. There were words forming on his lips, but none of them were audible and Johnny doubted that they were intended for him. “Thank you,” Taeil said eventually. “It’s heavy so it must’ve slipped from my hold.”

Johnny nodded. He knew that Taeil wasn’t dangerous, far less inclined to raise his wand against Johnny than his friends were, but something about the words Taeil had spoken, the eeriness with which he had spoken them, made the hairs at the back of Johnny’s neck stand up. He wanted to leave, and so he turned around.

“Johnny,” Taeil called him back.

Johnny felt his gut clench with unease as he turned back to face the Gryffindor. “Yes?”

“Whatever I just saw—said to you,” the grip Taeil had on one of his necklaces tightened so much that Johnny was scared for a moment the fine golden links would tear, “did it make sense?”

Johnny didn’t know whether he felt pity or relief at Taeil’s knowledge of his own condition. He shook his head and for some reason, Taeil looked relieved. “Taeyong is waiting for you in the library.”  

It was a dismissal.

“I’m on my way to him right now.” Johnny tried his best to smile before he turned to walk away. 

“Be careful,” Taeil mumbled after him, his words almost drowned out by the jingling of his crystals as he continued his way up the stairs.

*

Johnny found Taeyong at a table deep in the Transfiguration section. He was hunched over a tome even bigger than the one Taeil had been carrying, making notes on a scroll he had laid out beside him. Taeyong looked up at his approaching footfalls and Johnny felt his heart seize with happiness at the smile Taeyong gave him. Johnny found himself smiling back as he watched Taeyong get out of his seat to greet him. It was a sincere smile, despite the fact that Taeyong wasn’t alone.

“Hey.” Johnny felt the tension in his shoulders ease when Taeyong fell into his arms, the familiar scent of lavender intoxicating him. “Doyoung said he needed help with his Transfiguration essay, so I offered him to join us. I hope that’s okay?”

Johnny didn’t allow his smile to falter as he slid his hands over the small of Taeyong’s back, reassuring. “Of course. I just want to spend time with you. I don’t mind him being here.”

Taeyong’s sagged in relief and Johnny found himself rewarded with a kiss before Taeyong pulled him over to the table Doyoung and he had claimed. Doyoung looked up from where he had been brooding over his essay when they sat down opposite of him. His fingers fell from where he had been tracing the part of his scar that curved over his temple.

“Seo.” Doyoung’s tone was entirely neutral as he spoke and Johnny counted that as a win.

“Doyoung.” In the knowledge that Taeyong was watching them, he made himself sound as civil as he could.

Doyoung mustered him for only a moment before he averted his eyes back to his essay. When Johnny turned his head, he found Taeyong beaming at him. Forcing the tension out of his body once again, Johnny grabbed onto his hand under the table, squeezing it before he let go to get his own books out of his bag.

He worked on his Astronomy homework while Taeyong and Doyoung scoured the books scattered on  the table between them on the hunt for a secondary source that Doyoung could use in his essay. Their whispers were the only noise to break the quiet of the library, along with the occasional sound of Mr Zhang walking by. The librarian tended to hum while he was putting books back into their places on the shelves. Johnny found himself reading the ending paragraph of his own essay for the third time when he decided that he needed a break. Lifting his arms above his head, he stretched until his back gave a satisfying crack before he pulled himself to his feet. The movement made both Taeyong and Doyoung look at him.

“I’m going to see whether I can find something good for my conclusion in the open stacks,” Johnny answered Taeyong’s inquiring gaze.

Taeyong pouted at him and Johnny savoured the giggle Taeyong let out when he pressed a kiss to the crown of his head.

"I'll be right back," he whispered into Taeyong's ear before he made his way out of their aisle.

The open stacks where at the front of the library near the entry doors, containing all the books that were either too dated or too miscellaneous to fit into any of the subject-themed sections. Despite his best efforts, Johnny felt his smile drop as he stopped in front of the magazines that pertained both to Astronomy and Divination. Taeil’s words rung in his head and he spun around, just in time to find himself pushed back against the shelf. A noise of surprise escaped him, despite the fact that Johnny couldn’t really find the emotion within himself.

He smoothed out his expression when he met Doyoung’s eyes. “I guess I should have seen this coming.”

Johnny suppressed a wince when the grip Doyoung had on the front of his robes tightened, his knuckles pressing into Johnny’s sternum.  Johnny could feel the raw magic pulsing beneath Doyoung’s skin even through the layers of his clothes and he was thankful for the clarity in Doyoung’s eyes. He could deal with Doyoung as long as Doyoung was in control of himself.

“Tell me, Seo,” Doyoung’s lips curled in distaste as he held Johnny’s gaze, “how stupid do you think I am?”

“Oh, I don’t think you’re stupid at all.”

Doyoung bared his teeth at him until his gums were showing. “Then you remember that I know you, as much as I'm sure we both wish I didn't. And I don’t care how deep you’ve dug your fangs into Taeyong. I’ll break them of one by one if I have to. You don’t get to play with him, I won’t let you.”

Johnny felt an eternal sigh leave his lips. “I’m not playing with him, Doyoung. I love him.”

“Sure.” Doyoung scoffed. “After what you pulled with Winwin, you’re surely focussing on Taeyong now because you love him. You really are a snake, aren’t you? Don’t think I’ve forgotten what you did to Winwin, and Yuta. If you think I’m going to sit around and wait for you to chew up another one of my friends before you spit him out, then you’re sorely mistaken. I’m ending this little game of yours right now. Leave, and don’t ever come near Taeyong again.”

Johnny forced his tone to remain calm, friendly even when he said, “Taeyong is his own person. I’m not leaving him unless he tells me to and he can decide for himself what he wants.”

“But he doesn’t want you!”

Johnny felt his thread of patience thinning, fibre after fibre ripping with every word Doyoung threw in his face. “You should watch your mouth, Doyoung.”

“Or what?” The triumphant smile on Doyoung’s face told him that he had made a mistake. “Go on, Seo. There it is. We both know you’re not as nice as you pretend to be. You're very good at pretending you're domesticated, but snakes never really are, are they? You're merely waiting. You may be waiting, but you're always a monster.”

“Let go of him, Doyoung.”

Johnny felt his blood cool in an instant at the familiar voice reaching his ears. He turned his head, just as Doyoung’s expression froze on his face.

Jaehyun looked decisively unimpressed as he made his way down the aisle over to them. His eyes met Johnny’s for only the fraction of a second, a flicker of concern that Johnny answered with a minimal shake of his head, before he focussed back on Doyoung. “I said let go of him.”

Doyoung stared at Jaehyun for a long moment before he uncurled his hand from Johnny’s robes finger by finger, his eyes never leaving Jaehyun’s as he flattened all of them against his palm except for the middle one.

Jaehyun merely smiled at the gesture, sickly sweet and venomous. “Leave, Doyoung.”

Doyoung ignored him in favour of looking at Johnny. “If you think I will stand for this—”

“Leave, Doyoung,” Jaehyun repeated louder, pushing his way in between them and suddenly his hand was on Doyoung’s neck, no hint of tightness to his grip, his fingers simply resting there. Doyoung still choked. Jaehyun raised his other hand and balled it into a fist for Doyoung to see. “Or I might remember I still owe you a punch in the face.”

Doyoung bared his teeth, his gums on display at the gesture and then he was jerking Jaehyun’s hand away from his throat. “Tell your rattlesnake of a best friend to quit playing games with mine.”

“Johnny’s not playing any games with Taeyong.” Jaehyun raised his eyebrow at Doyoung. “Didn’t Taeyong tell you that they’re together?”

The way Doyoung shook his head was almost violent, as if his entire body was rejecting Jaehyun’s words. “He doesn’t know what he’s saying! Johnny has put some kind of spell on him or love potion or—”

“Are you even listening to yourself right now?” Jaehyun cut him off, sounding almost bored, but Johnny could hear the threat underneath. Judging by the cold rage in Doyoung’s eyes, the Gryffindor had heard it too.

“I don’t believe it.” Doyoung’s eyes met Johnny’s. “Not for a second. You’re snakes, the both of you. None of you have the capacity to love.”

Jaehyun went still, and Johnny felt as if the pressure in the room had dropped, his lungs constricting with the change.

“You’re out of line, Doyoung,” Jaehyun’s voice was eerily quiet as he spoke, but in the silence of the aisle it was deafening. “I told you to leave twice already. Don’t make me say it a third time.”

Doyoung met his gaze head-on, defiant in his stupid, stupid bravery and Johnny watched as Jaehyun stared him down. Johnny had played this game with Jaehyun for fun before and Johnny had lost every single time. Much like him, Doyoung had to look away first.  

He glared at Johnny instead. “I’ll figure out what you did to him, and whatever—whatever spell you put on him that binds him to you, I will break it. You’re not getting Taeyong. He’s too good for you. I won’t let you destroy him.”

“Taeyong loves me.” Taeyong had never told him so, but Johnny had hope. He had always had hope. So he bared his teeth, showed Doyoung all the venom that he could spit. His civility was a courtesy. He had been civil to Doyoung for Taeyong's sake, because Taeyong was by his side now. As much as Doyoung hated it. “Taeyong loves me and I love him. That’s my truest feeling. And you can hate me and you can threaten me, but that won’t change the fact that it’s true. Taeyong and I are together. You say you want to protect him from being distraught? How devastated do you think he would be if he had heard any of what you just said to me? Choke on your sins, Doyoung.”

Johnny let himself fall back against the shelf, just as Jaehyun moved forward. Doyoung dodged the hand Jaehyun reached out for his neck and began walking backwards out of the aisle. His gaze was burning, brimming with hatred, but Johnny could see it in his eyes, the faintest hint of doubt. It was all Johnny needed. He had always had hope.

Shooting Johnny one last glare, Doyoung stalking off, his robes billowing to reveal the scarlet lining as he turned the corner. Johnny felt rage his rage burn out the moment Doyoung had disappeared, the edges of his vision turning fuzzy.

“Johnny.”

He turned his head in the direction of Jaehyun’s voice. “Huh?”

“Breathe.”

Johnny obliged his friend out of reflex more than anything. His sight cleared when the air streamed back into his lungs. “Merlin,” he cursed under his breath.

“I guess I was wrong.” Jaehyun pried his eyes away from the corner Doyoung had disappeared around. The expression on his face seemed almost apologetic. “He didn’t take it well at all.”

"It doesn't matter." Johnny shook his head, cleared the rest of darkness from his mind. “There's nothing he can do. Why are you here, anyways?”

Jaehyun perked up at that, his hand disappearing into the inner pocket of his robes. “I came to give you this. It’s your turn to look it over.”

Johnny looked over the scroll in Jaehyun’s hand, recognising the familiar handwriting. “What grade does he need?”

Jaehyun sighed. “At least an Acceptable. Professor Choi almost gave him a Dreadful on his last essay. I tried to talk to him on Ten’s behalf, but he won’t have any of it. He doesn’t believe him when Tennie tells him the letters are dancing. Professor Choi thinks he’s trying to get out of having to do homework in the first place.”

Johnny allowed himself a sigh, laying all the pent-up frustration he felt into it. “I’ll look over it and see what I can do.”

Jaehyun nodded. “Are you going back to studying with Taeyong?”

“Oh, definitely. Even if Doyoung went back, he’s not stupid enough to do anything while Taeyong is right there. He’ll come up with something else, ambush me with Yuta or something.”

Jaehyun’s brows knitted together. “Do you want me to come with?”

“Not today.” Johnny pocketed Ten’s essay. “I’ll see you at dinner.”

Jaehyun nodded, a grin pulling his lips apart as he pushed his hands into his pockets. “Bring Taeyong with you this time. Then Doyoung can choke on his sins and his food.”

Johnny reciprocated his grin. “An excellent idea.”

He dodged the fist Jaehyun aimed at his shoulder and watched as his friend sauntered out of the aisle. Once Jaehyun was gone, Johnny took another minute to compose himself. Taeyong was waiting for him. That was all that mattered.

Chapter Text

“Don’t touch those, those are poisonous. Or venomous. I forget which one means you’ll die if they bite you.”

Johnny was quick to retract his hand.

“That’s venomous,” Jungwoo chirped from where he was crouched down in the plant bed next to Ten, watching with rapt attention as Ten repotted the Spitting Spewlip he had been sent by his uncle.

Johnny took a cautious step away from the plants that sat on Professor Byun’s work table, their crawling, tentacle-like leaves twitching as if to pull him back. He yawned into the sleeve of his winter cloak as he walked over to where Ten and Jungwoo were working to give the Spitting Spewlip a new home. The sun had barely risen outside the vitreous walls of the greenhouse, which was, according to Ten, the very point of them being here to repot the bulbous, acid-shooting plant. Jungwoo seemed exhilarated at the sight.

Johnny had watched with bemusement when the second-year Hufflepuff had appeared at their table the night before, ready to beg Ten to let him come along to see the Spitting Spewlip be replanted.

“He chose me,” Ten had said as soon as Jungwoo had run off, who was beaming despite the fact that they were meeting up at five in the morning the next day. Ten’s eyes had been shiny as he had looked after Jungwoo. “I’m adopting him. He’s mine now.”

“You could have chosen one of the tikes as your new protegé.”

It had been the first thing Jaehyun had said at dinner. Up until then, he had been busy brooding over the letter he had received from his father. Upon Johnny’s questioning glance, Jaehyun had only waved him off.

“Yes, but none of them care about plants except for maybe Chenle and you know he doesn’t go where Jisung isn’t. Renjun is out of the question because Winwin would hex my arse off and Donghyuck listens to me only because he knows my word is yours. But Jungwoo came to me . He’s mine now and he’ll love me the most.”

“Last it be on us to keep you from adopting another pet.” Johnny had decided to placate Ten, careful not to ruin his friend’s good mood. He hadn’t felt particularly inclined to deal with both of his friends in a sour mood that night.

Jaehyun had conceded with a sigh, and a finger to trace the most recent scratch mark on his arm. “At least the Puffling doesn’t have claws.”

Jungwoo didn’t have claws, as far as Johnny knew. He only had cute button eyes and a soft voice and, apparently, a preference for plants that could cost him a finger.

“All done,” Ten announced, Jungwoo’s gloved hands patting the earth in the Spitting Spewlip’s new pot until it was firm. “Jungwoo, do you want to set the pot next to the wailing bushes?”

Jungwoo was on his feet within seconds, cooing as the plant shuddered in his grip.

“That was pretty painless.” Johnny offered Ten a hand, helping him out of the plant bed.

“Spitting Spewlips are practically harmless as long as it’s dawn. It’s around midday that they get fussy.”

“Huh, fascinating.”

Johnny savoured the happy smile on Ten’s face as he began to recount how his uncle had come into the possession of the peculiar plant. Johnny listened while he followed Ten over to the working tables. Jungwoo seemed to nearly vibrate out of his skin with excitement when Ten handed him his own pair of pruning scissors.

“You want some, too, Johnnyboy?”

“No, thank you. I’m good.” Johnny pulled out one of the stools for himself while Ten and Jungwoo remained standing. “I have to leave in a few minutes, I’m meeting Taeyong for breakfast.”

“Hey, Jungwoo, here’s a life lesson.” Ten smiled down affectionately at the second-year as he picked up a rose from the pile in the middle of the table. The scarlet colouring of the petals made it seem like they had been soaked in blood. “Never fall in love. It makes you incredibly stupid.”

Johnny shot him an unimpressed glare as Jungwoo giggled. “You’re funny, Ten.”

“Thank you, little one.”

Johnny forewent flipping Ten of in favour of resting his head on his arms, letting his eyes flutter shut as another yawn threatened to escape him. He scrunched up his nose when he felt his head being showered in petals, but he let it happen. It gave him an idea as he rested, lulled in by Jungwoo’s soft giggles and Ten’s gentle voice as he explained the process of how to snip the thorns off the roses.

“Yah.” A flick to his head. “Get up, Johnnyboy, or you’re going to be late for your date!”

Johnny forced himself upright with a groan, scarlet petals falling from his head and shoulders. He brushed the last of them out of his hair as he got up from the stool.

“Do you mind if I take one of these?”

Ten waved him off as Johnny picked up one of the roses he had dethorned already. Johnny was careful not to break the stem as he slipped it into his pocket.

“Bye, Johnny!” Jungwoo called after him when Johnny made a beeline for the door. “I hope you don’t fall stupid!”

“I’ll try my best.” Ignoring Ten’s snort of amusement, Johnny winked at the Hufflepuff before he slipped out of the greenhouse.

It was still freezing outside, snow covering the ground and the tops of the trees. Johnny was thankful for the way the sharp, cold air woke him up properly as he trudged the trodden path up to the castle. As it was still early on a Saturday morning, the castle halls were near deserted as he made his way up to Ravenclaw Tower.  

Johnny felt his heart skip a beat at the thought of Taeyong waiting for him, the corners of his mouth curling upwards on their own accord. His thighs burned with how fast he was climbing up the stairs, but Johnny couldn’t find it in him to mind. He slowed down only when he reached the fifth floor, and took a moment to catch his breath. Carefully, he pulled the rose out of his pocket and smoothed out the stem, ghosting his thumb over the petals before he moved his hands behind his back.

Like he had promised, Taeyong was waiting for him in front of the door that lead to the Ravenclaw common room. Unlike he had promised, he wasn’t alone. It took Johnny a moment to read the situation, but once he did, he felt cold rage flood his veins and it took every ounce of self-control he possessed not to bridge the distance between himself and Taeyong, pull him back while he pulled out his wand and start shooting curses. But he couldn’t.

Because those were Taeyong’s friends that had lined themselves up in front of him, one expression more grim than the other, and Johnny knew that if he involved himself in this now, he’d never be forgiven by neither Taeyong nor himself. So he retreated back behind the corner he had come from, edging forward until he could peek into the hallway without being seen.

“I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Johnny could tell by the high pitch to Taeyong’s voice that he was lying, but there was a difference between knowing the truth and accepting it, Johnny knew that well.

“Yong,” Doyoung said, his tone gentle in the way he was trying to sound placating, and Johnny gritted his teeth at the pain in his eyes. Doyoung had the audacity to look like he was hurting when he was the one standing with Taeil to his right and Yuta and Sicheng to his left. Doyoung wasn’t the one cornered. “You do understand.”

“You didn’t say any of this when I told you about him.” Taeyong crossed his arms in front of his chest, his posture straightening with the truth of his words, his voice becoming louder with every word. “Why are you saying this now? I thought you were okay with it? I thought you were happy when I told you he likes me!”

“It’s Johnny Seo .” This time, it was Yuta who spoke up. Sicheng next to him frowned.  “Yongie, you can’t really think he’s doing any of this without any ulterior motives.”

“He can like me.” Johnny felt his heart seize with pride at the sharpness of Taeyong’s words. “He can like me for me. Is it that hard for you to imagine that he might like me back? Taeil?”

Taeil was staring at the ground, a furrow etched into the space between his brows.

Doyoung shook his head. “Listen, Yong, we just think it’s better if you don’t see him anymore. I know you want to believe that he really likes you, but—”

“No!” Johnny thought that he’d rather have Yuta break his arm again than listen as the defiance in Taeyong’s voice gave way to hurt. “Stop saying that!”

“You have to hear this, Yongie, he doesn’t like you! He only likes what he can get out of you!”

Taeyong lifted his hands as if to cover his ears and Doyoung took another step forward, catching his wrists to stop him from doing so. Johnny saw red at the way Taeyong struggled against his grip, determination making his muscles tense. He couldn’t intervene, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t protect Taeyong. He had sworn himself he always would. Pushing the sleeve of his robes up to his elbow, he lifted his left hand to his face. It came naturally to him, switching tongues.

“Sssesstra,” he whispered, letting his breath fan over the warm silver.

He watched with satisfaction as the twin snake around Taeyong’s wrist quivered to life, a mirror image of Johnny’s own bracelet. He relished in the pained cry Doyoung let out when the fangs of the silver snake dug into the side of his hand. Taeyong’s wrist fell from his grip as Doyoung cradled his hand against his chest. “What the fuck, Taeyong? What the fuck is that thing?”

“You let him cuff you?” Yuta asked incredulously, staring at the bracelet writhing around Taeyong’s wrist, returning to its original shape.

Doyoung took a step back, blood trickling down the back of his hand. There was nothing but venom in his eyes and voice when he said, “What kind of traitor are you?”

Johnny couldn’t see Taeyong’s expression but he could see the way his hand came up to hide the bracelet from sight, the way his shoulders drew up nearly to his ears as he hunched in on himself.

“Enough!” the voice was so deep and unexpected that Johnny felt himself press closer to the wall on instinct.

Oh , was the most prominent thought in Johnny’s mind as he watched Sicheng move, Yuta’s arm falling from his waist as he took a step forward to stand in front of Taeyong.

There was a flicker of something so true, so kind in Sicheng’s eyes when looked at Taeyong that it made the anger on his face all the more frightening when he turned around to face the rest of his friends. Johnny couldn’t remember having seen Sicheng this furious before. Even when he had pressured the Hufflepuff into breaking Yuta’s heart, Sicheng had never openly hated on him, had never yelled like he did now, “You’re not… good…to him!”

“Winwinnie,” Yuta tried whilst reaching out to pull him back into his side, but Sicheng seemed to be having none of it.

Doyoung took a step forward. “Winwin, we’re doing this to help him.”

“Stop!” Sicheng stomped his foot. “He’s not...what you say.”

“Winwinnie—”

But it didn’t seem like Sicheng was interested in listening. He grabbed onto Taeyong’s wrist gently, much more gently than Doyoung had done, and glared at Doyoung until he moved out of the way. Taeyong had answered the riddle before the bronze, eagle-shaped door knocker was finished talking and the door to the Ravenclaw sprung open. Sicheng let go of Taeyong’s hand, just as Taeil took his place. Taeil wrapped his arm around Taeyong’s shoulders and Sicheng waited until they had disappeared into the common room before he turned around to face the rest of his friends.

“Yuta?” Sicheng asked, something like longing in his eyes.

Sicheng reached out his hand and Johnny watched Yuta’s hand twitch towards him before he balled his own hand into a fist. “It’s Johnny, Winwinnie, don’t you remember what he did to you? What he did to us?”

“My choice…” Something in Sicheng’s expression hardened and Johnny needed just a moment too long to recognise it as shame. And then there was hope smoothing out Sicheng’s features. “Will you come? No more fight?”

Yuta shook his head and Sicheng’s eyes turned shiny.

“Try to talk him out of it,” Doyoung said as Sicheng turned them his back. “He’s going to hurt Taeyong so much, Winwin, you have to try!”

There was little warmth in Sicheng’s eyes when he looked back at his friend. “You hurt him.”

The door swung shut behind him and Johnny closed his eyes for only a moment before he forced his feet to move, forced himself to back away before he could take advantage of the empty hallway and the Gryffindors with their backs turned to him. He could hear Doyoung and Yuta talk, but their words held no meaning to him now so he left. It wasn’t until he had made it back to his own common room that he looked down and found the petals of his rose crushed.

*

It was afternoon by the time Taeyong found him in the library. Johnny had retreated onto his favourite sofa, the library’s copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard balanced on his knees as he read. Taeyong almost caught him off-guard, but then his footfalls gave him away. Johnny recognised the way his feet hit the floor in their familiar, springy pattern. He smiled when he felt Taeyong’s face press into the crook of his neck, slender yet strong arms wrapping around him from behind as the scent of lavender enveloped him.

“Hello, my love.”

Taeyong mumbled something unintelligible into the crook of his neck. His breath and the touch of his lips left the skin of Johnny’s neck tingling before he let go of Johnny in order to join him on the sofa. Johnny lifted his arm for him and was rewarded with a small smile while Taeyong settled into his side. Taeyong all but melted into the cushions, letting his head fall back so he could use Johnny’s arm as a pillow. “Hi.”

Johnny leaned down to kiss the corner of his mouth. If he hadn’t known better, he might have mistaken the slightly red-rimmed state of Taeyong’s eyes for having a different cause. Gently, he raised his hand and pressed a thumb to the circles underneath Taeyong’s eyes. “Your dust allergy again?”

Taeyong shook his head and Johnny thought he might have cried too with relief at the fact that Taeyong had chosen not to lie to him. It also meant that he needed to do the same for Taeyong. He couldn’t lie to him. Taeyong’s trust was among the most precious things he owned and he couldn’t lose that.

“I came to pick you up for breakfast this morning.”  

Taeyong’s expression melted into one of guilt. “I’m sorry I stood you up. Something came up.”

“I saw.” Johnny took a deep breath. “I saw you talking to your friends.”

Taeyong went rigid in his grip.

“What—” Taeyong cleared his throat. “How much did you hear?”

“Not everything, but I got the gist of it. ”

Taeyong nodded, his mouth forming silent words but none of them made it past his lips. The outgrown strands of his hair fell into his eyes when he averted them to Johnny’s chest and then the tears brimming in his eyes were spilling over. “Fuck.”

“Taeyongie, I’m sorry—”

“No!” Taeyong’s gaze was alight with fury when he lifted his head. “Don’t say that! Don’t—” he took a shuddering breath—”don’t think I’m crying because I’m sad because I’m not. I’m angry!”

Johnny couldn’t help the relief he felt. If Taeyong was angry, it meant that he didn’t believe anything of what Doyoung and Yuta had told him. “I’m still sorry.”

Taeyong shook his head and Johnny hated how the soft edges of Taeyong hardened. “They had no right, no right to say what they said to me.”

And then he was getting to his feet.

“Taeyong—”

But Taeyong was already walking, walking out of their secluded corner of the library and Johnny hurried to follow after him. Taeyong’s legs were shorter than his but Taeyong’s strides had purpose. Johnny just so managed to keep up.

He waited until they had left the library before he asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.” Taeyong’s tone was just as sharp as the smile he gave some passing Ravenclaws that greeted him. Taeyong waited until they were out of earshot before he met Johnny’s gaze. He didn’t falter in his step. “I don’t want to talk. I’m sick of talking. I’ve been talking for five years and it’s gotten me nowhere.”

“Okay.” Johnny could see the tension in Taeyong’s shoulders ease with Johnny’s easy acceptance, if only marginally. “What do you want to do then?”

Taeyong smiled at him. His hands were steady as he pulled them to a stop, grabbing onto Johnny’s hand. He intertwined their fingers and his grip was just a fraction too tight, but Johnny didn’t mind. “We need to find Sehun.”

“What?” Johnny coughed when Taeyong shot him a bemused look. “I mean, why?”

Taeyong smiled. “Because he told me I should come to him if I’d ever want him to touch up my roots and I want him to do it now.”

Johnny inhaled. “I see. He’s probably in the Slytherin common room right now, so we can—”

He was cut off when Taeyong pushed him. The motion caught Johnny off-guard and he stumbled backwards. The way Taeyong kissed him was laced with anger, all clashing teeth and fingers pushing under the fabric of his robes, scratching over the bare skin of his abdomen. It took the air right out of his lungs. Johnny struggled to hold back a moan when Taeyong bit into his bottom lip, but then Taeyong was already pulling away and pulling him down the hallway. I'm sick of talking, Taeyong had said. Sealing his lips and his memory, Johnny followed.

*

Sehun looked absolutely delighted to be sought out. Eyes glimmering, he beckoned them to follow him after they had found him reading by the fire place in the Slytherin common room. The seventh-years that sat with him looked up when Sehun left, but they made no move to follow him after he had waved them off with a smile.

Very aware of all they eyes on them, Johnny lead them into the Dungeon bathroom, locking the door behind them. Sehun lifted an eyebrow at the gesture, but shifted all his attention towards Taeyong, his expression brightening.

“Oh, Taeyong, it’s lovely to see you again!”

Taeyong didn’t falter under the intensity of Sehun’s gaze, even if his smile came out a little strained. “Hey, Sehun.”

Sehun seemed to notice the tension in the air. Folding his arms in front of his chest, he leaned back against the sinks that lined the wall, his eyelids drooping as he seized them up. Eventually, he let out a low hum.

“I was waiting for you to come to me,” Sehun’s eyes met Johnny’s for a split second, “both of you.”

Johnny let out a long-suffering sigh. “I’m sorry, Sehun.”

Sehun sniffed. “Oh, it’s fine. I’ve been your older brother for almost two years, I’ve come to learn how it is having a younger sibling. You raise them and love them and share all your wisdom with them and then they don’t even come to tell you the big news themselves. But don’t worry, I got all the juicy details from your other thirds. Or should I say fourths?”

Sehun’s smile widened when he pushed himself off the sinks and walked towards Taeyong. Taeyong let out a startled noise when Sehun enveloped him in a hug. “Welcome to the family, Taeyong Lee. You may share your list of people you want disposed of now, if that’s why the both of you have deigned to come see me.”  

“Sehun.” Johnny couldn’t quite rein in the smile that threatened to take over his own face. “That’s not what we’ve come here for.”

“Be quiet, brat. I’m talking to your lovely boyfriend. You’ll let me know at a more opportune moment then, Taeyong.” Sehun squeezed Taeyong’s shoulder before he let go of him and took a step back, mindful. Johnny felt the smile split his face. Sehun knew him very well.

“Actually, I wanted to ask you whether you would dye my hair again.” Taeyong looked sheepish as he pushed a hand into the bleached, outgrown strands.

“Oh.” Sehun’s eyes gleamed as he trailed the movement with his eyes. “Splendid! What colour do you have in mind? Something vibrant, or something more subdued now that I think you’ve caught Johnny’s attention?”

Taeyong spluttered before he caught his breath, his cheeks flaming as he met Johnny’s eyes for only a moment before he turned back to Sehun. “I thought of something more vibrant.”

Sehun hummed, seemingly pleased and procured his wand from his pocket. “Come here, then. Whisper it in my ear. Whatever colour your heart desires, I can endow you with.”

Taeyong did as he was told and Johnny let himself fall back against the door as he watched Taeyong lean up so he could whisper into Sehun’s ear, shielding his words with his hand. Sehun looked absolutely ecstatic at whatever Taeyong had told him, and then he looked at Johnny.

“Johnny, wait outside.”

“What?” Johnny frowned. “Why?”

Sehun rolled his eyes. “Because I say so, brat. Now do as I say. I promise you I will give him back to you in one piece.”

Johnny looked at Taeyong, who smiled at him. “Please, I want you to see it when it’s done.”

Johnny sighed. And because Taeyong had asked him to, he went to wait outside.

*

Taeyong’s grip on his hand tightened when they entered the Great Hall. Johnny couldn’t blame him. What started out as a few, singular gasps soon turned into an ocean of whispers and craned necks until it seemed like the entire Hall was looking at them, was looking at Taeyong. Johnny could even see some of the teachers at the High Table stare at him. He was pretty sure Professor Minseok was suffering from heart palpitations right this moment, while Professor Byun gaped at them until Professor Do closed his mouth for him.

Johnny tried to shield Taeyong from view as best as he could while he lead him over to the Slytherin table, but he knew it was all in vain. Taeyong’s hair was vibrant, seemed to glow in the bright light of the candles floating above their heads. Sehun hadn’t disappointed.

Ten let out a squeak when Taeyong sat down opposite of him. Jaehyun, who had been busy writing a letter, dropped his quill into his porridge.

“Is this real?” Ten asked, eyes gleaming as he reached out a hand as if to touch.

Taeyong nodded, dodging Ten's hand. “I’d let you touch it, too, but Sehun said I’m not allowed to touch it or get it wet until tomorrow.”

Ten’s expression turned mournful and Johnny was about to stop him from whining when he noticed Jaehyun turning in his seat, his eyes finding the Gryffindor table without fail. Johnny followed his line of sight and felt his jaw clench.

Yuta looked sickly pale as he stared at Taeyong, his cup raised halfway to his mouth. Yuta didn’t move at all until Sicheng forced him to avert his eyes, forced him to listen to the words he had been saying into his ear by tilting his head to the side. Johnny was thankful for that because it gave him time to focus on Doyoung, who was looking at him instead of Taeyong. Johnny knew Doyoung might have climbed over the table to strangle him right this moment, hadn’t it been for the hand Taeil placed on his shoulder, a warning just as much as an attempt at consolation. Johnny knew that there was none, for neither of Taeyong’s friends.

He looked away. Sehun had forbidden him to touch Taeyong’s hair as much as anybody else, but even so Johnny found that he couldn’t resist the urge to smooth his fingers over the side of Taeyong’s head, trace the letters that Sehun had shaved into the shorter hair there. There were seven letters in total, making up a single word. TRAITOR.

He had done so upon Taeyong’s request, Sehun had told him, and Johnny smiled when Taeyong turned to look at him, a pout forming on his lips as he caught Johnny’s hand, pointedly pushing it down. Johnny felt a laugh bubble up inside his chest and held onto Taeyong’s hand, intertwining their fingers. In the bright light of the candles floating above their heads, his fingertips were stained a vibrant emerald green.

Chapter Text

Johnny woke up to a small army of eleven year-olds gathered around his bed. The mattress dipped when Donghyuck jumped on top of the covers, his chubby hands digging into duvet as he flopped into the space the curve of Johnny’s body left. Johnny was just coherent enough to catch onto Donghyuck’s hand before he could accidentally slap him in the face.

“Hyuck,” Johnny barely suppressed another groan as he caught a glimpse of the time his wrist-watch showed, “what are you doing here?”

His cousin smiled at him, his eyes turning deceptively wide and innocent and even through the sleepy haze clouding his mind, Johnny could tell Donghyuck was up to something.

“Chenle got a model dragon from his parents. Will you help us build it? None of us know the spell to make it fly afterwards.”

Johnny peered at Chenle and Jisung, who had wandered off to the other side of the room where Chenle was now struggling to hold Jisung back from roaming through the pile of chocolate frog cards on Jaehyun’s bedside table. Under Jisung’s arm, Johnny spotted a sizable carton wrapped in the trademark, light blue silk paper of the Zhong family.

“So you brought all your friends to ask me?”

“Of course,” Donghyuck glanced at Renjun, who was hovering near the foot end of Ten’s bed, watching Nine as she blinked back at him from her spot on top of Ten’s drooling, fast-asleep frame, “where else would they go?”

“Right.” Johnny groaned and rubbed a hand over his face before he sat up. “Give me a minute.”

Renjun, who’d been steadily sneaking closer towards Nine with his hand outstretched to pet her, sneezed.

“Seo!” Hansol roared from his bed closest to the door. His pillow hit the floor between their beds.

“Wha—” Jaehyun sat bolt-upright in his bed, causing Chenle and Jisung to make a hasty retreat. “What’s happening?”

Donghyuck, to whose side Renjun had run the moment Hansol had started yelling, looked at Johnny with wide eyes while he covered Renjun’s nose with his hands.

Johnny tried his best to smile. “Maybe you should wait outside.”

“We’ll wait in the common room,” Donghyuck agreed before he clambered off the bed, pulling Renjun with him towards the door.

Jisung, now carrying the carton with both of his arms, joined them while Chenle lagged behind, having run back halfway on his way out to give Jaehyun a quick hug.

Johnny sighed, withstanding the temptation to let himself sink back into his pillows. Instead, he scrambled off the bed to pull on some robes and he was already tying his tie by the time he noticed Jaehyun blinking at him with bleary eyes.

“Go back to sleep, Jae. It’s barely seven.”

Jaehyun looked like he was all to willing to follow Johnny’s instruction, but then he was sliding out of his bed. He punched Johnny in the arm as he passed him and Johnny grinned when Nine rose from her curled-up state on top of Ten to defend his honour. Jaehyun ignored the cat’s protestant hissing as he slid under the covers of Ten’s bed.

Ten himself let out a small, protestant noise at being jostled, but he settled when Jaehyun threw an arm over his back. Unamused at being displaced, Nine jumped off the bed, but not before she had swiped at Jaehyun’s arm, her claws glistening in the light of the torches. Jaehyun merely shot her a half-hearted glare before he rested his cheek on top of Ten’s head, his body going limp as he closed his eyes.

“Don’t take it personally,” Johnny mumbled as he picked up Nine, scratching the top of her head. “Ten’s human Draught of Peace. Sometimes Jaehyun needs that.”

Jaehyun had yet to open up to them about what had been keeping him up at night lately, but a look at the pile of letters on Jaehyun’s bedside table gave Johnny an idea. Johnny carried Nine over to Jaehyun’s bed, fluffing up the sheets for her before he set her down.

“Oh, and don’t even think about peeing on Jaehyun’s pillow. If he sees that, he’s going to make Ten clean it.”

Nine let out a purr, flashing her single fang before she settled onto the pillow. Johnny shot her a stern glance before he walked back to his own bed, picking up the cloak he had laid out on the duvet. He was pleased to find that there were no cat hairs on it as he pulled it on. The common room was near deserted when Johnny emerged from the dormitory hallway, but that wasn’t surprising. There were few early risers among the Slytherin, especially on a Sunday morning.

Donghyuck and his friends were waiting for him near the door, chatting amongst themselves. They had arranged themselves into a line, Donghyuck in the front still holding onto Renjun’s hand, then Jisung and the carton with the model protected in their middle while Chenle brought up the rear.

“Are we ready to go?”

Donghyuck nodded, Jisung shouting out a “Yes!” while Chenle giggled. Renjun looked a little lost at all the excitement surrounding him but he visibly relaxed when Donghyuck swung their intertwined hands between them, smiling broadly. Renjun grinned, showing off the snaggle tooth that he shared with his brother.

“All right, then.” Johnny suppressed a yawn. “Hyuck, lead the way.”

Johnny made sure to stay a half-step behind everyone as they walked to the library, careful to watch that none of his ducklings left the row. He smiled when Chenle grabbed onto his hand once they had left the Dungeon, eagerly pulling him along.

“Don’t get lost, Johnny,” Chenle scolded him. “It’s bad if you get lost.”

Johnny barely suppressed a laugh. “I’ll try, Le.”

“Woah,” Jisung gaped into the opened carton as soon as they had reached the library, and claimed one of the bigger working tables for themselves. “This must be at least a thousand parts!”

“One thousand three hundred and zero and five,” Donghyuck read out from the manual.

“Mama says it’s the newest one they had.” Chenle beamed with pride, swinging the accompanying letter. “No one else has it, only us.”

Johnny took the the manual from Donghyuck’s hands and skimmed through the instructions. “Everyone grab one of the smaller boxes inside, those are the different body parts. We’ll assemble the body parts first and then put them together to make one whole dragon. Okay?”

Johnny smiled at the chorus of “Yes!” and excited shouting he received. He knew that Mr Zhang was probably on his way to scold them right now, but Johnny doubted that this early on a Sunday morning anyone else was around that would have been disturbed by them making some noise.

“I want the head!”

“No, Johnny and I will do the head!” Donghyuck climbed onto the tabletop between them to take the carton with the head pieces from Jisung’s hands. “It’s big and Johnny is big, too, so he has to help. You can do the body with Chenle.”

Chenle, who was already happily puzzling the curved, wooden pieces of the dragon’s body together, smiled when Jisung flopped down on the chair next to him.

Johnny glanced downwards when he felt a hand tug on his sleeve and found Renjun looking up at him with wide, hopeful eyes. He glanced at the carton, at the manual in Johnny’s hand and then back up at Johnny. Johnny smiled and picked a box out of the carton, pulling Donghyuck off the table in the process.  

He made sure to speak slowly, enunciate his words much more cleanly than he usually would have bothered to do as he handed Renjun the box. “Do you want to make one of the wings?”

Renjun nodded eagerly, taking the box out of Johnny’s hands and running around the table so he could sit down next to Chenle. Chenle grinned at him, whispering something in quick Chinese that made Renjun giggle as he sat the box down on the table in front of him.

“He said that if Renjun does the wing, it will end up looking like a chicken.”

Johnny looked down at Donghyuck in surprise. “Since when do you speak Chinese?”

Donghyuck shrugged. “I don’t, but Le said the word chicken because that’s what his dad says when there’s chicken for dinner and the rest is just what he would have said to me.”

Johnny snorted, secretly marvelling at Donghyuck’s quick thinking. “Maybe they should have put you in Ravenclaw after all, huh?”

Donghyuck gasped in offense. “I’m not a nerd!”

Johnny shrugged as he let himself fall into the chair behind him. “Nerds can be cool. Mark is a Ravenclaw, and you think he’s cool, don’t you?”

Grumbling his assent, Donghyuck pushed against his knees so he could climb onto Johnny’s lap. Johnny smiled, winding one of his arms around him so Donghyuck didn’t slide off when he pulled their chair closer to the table. With nimble fingers, Donghyuck tore apart the lid of their box, flipping it over.

“And make sure not to mix up parts from two different boxes!” Johnny said as he helped Donghyuck lay out their pieces in front of them.

Chenle shot him a sheepish look as he drew a line between his own pile of pieces and Renjun’s. Jisung on his other side let out a whoop when he slotted two of the pieces together correctly, the carved wood interlocking to form part of the dragon’s underbelly.  

Johnny watched him and Chenle squabble over who got to add the next piece before he focussed on helping Donghyuck start on the dragon’s head. The model was intricate, would probably end up being the size of Johnny’s arm if they managed to align it correctly, and so Johnny spent the next few hours building the head with Donghyuck.

It became evident early on that the dragon’s head was the most complicated of the dragon’s body parts and Johnny felt his mind tire at trying to find fitting pieces. It was close to midday by the time he rested his chin on top of Donghyuck’s head, the soft, auburn strands of Donghyuck’s hair cushioning his cheek and Johnny might have dozed off like this, hadn’t it been for the excited shout Renjun let out a moment later.

Johnny forced his eyes back open just in time to see Renjun hop off his chair. Renjun grabbed onto the dragon’s wing he had completed before he ran down the aisle, right into his brother’s arms. Sicheng caught him with ease, making appropriate noises of wonder when Renjun held out the wing for him to admire.

“Donghyuck,” Johnny murmured into his cousin’s ear, “my legs are falling asleep. Would you mind sitting on your own chair for a moment?”

Donghyuck craned his neck backwards enough so he could pout up at him, but Johnny didn’t let it make him yield. With a sigh, Donghyuck scrambled off his knees and onto the chair next over, taking the dragon’s snout he had been working on with him.

Johnny turned his head back to the end of the aisle where Renjun, seemingly content with his brother’s praise, was holding the wing out for Yuta now. Smiling, Yuta crouched down, procuring his wand from his pocket, and pointed the tip of it at the wing.

Renjun let out a shout of glee when the wing began to flutter in his grip, the wooden pieces moving as if alive. He spun around and ran back to his friends, brandishing the wing for them to see. Johnny didn’t let it distract him. He kept an eye on Sicheng as he followed after Renjun, pulling Yuta along by their intertwined hands.

Yuta’s smile died the moment their eyes met.

“Hello, Johnny.”

Prying his eyes away from Yuta’s face, Johnny inclined his head. “Sicheng.”

Sicheng seemed to sense the tension in the air because Johnny could see his grip on Yuta’s hand tightening. “Yuta,” Sicheng’s voice was quiet, but unwavering in its reprimand.

Both of them looked down when Renjun called for their attention, the dragon’s tail Chenle and Jisung had finished in his hands. Yuta’s expression brightened instantly as he picked it up. On his ring finger, Johnny noticed a hefty, golden ring shaped like the head of a lion.

While Yuta inspected the dragon’s tail, Sicheng said something to Renjun that made the younger Dong shake his head. Sicheng frowned, repeating his words more firmly, and Renjun’s head-shaking turned frantic. Sicheng looked like he was about to repeat himself for a third time when Chenle perked up.

“Hey, I want lunch! Don’t worry, Renjun, we’ll go with you!”

“Lunch?” Jisung asked, looking excited.

“We’ll go with you, Injunnie,” Donghyuck decided and Chenle and Jisung got out of their seats. “We’ll eat and then we’ll come back and finish the dragon. Right, Johnny?”

Johnny smiled at him, feeling Yuta’s gaze burn the side of his face. “Of course. You go eat, I’ll finish the dragon’s head and then I’ll come join you.”

“Won’t you come with right now?”

Johnny smoothed out the furrow that appeared between Donghyuck’s brows. “Don’t worry, Hyuck,” he looked up at Sicheng, “you can go with Sicheng. He’s a Hufflepuff, so you know he’s really nice.”

Sicheng held his gaze for only a moment before he nodded, his expression softening when he looked at Donghyuck. He beckoned him with one hand while Renjun, bouncing on his feet, grabbed onto his other. “Come...with.”

Donghyuck went with a spring in his step, joining his friends at the end of the table. Johnny waited until they had rounded the corner before he carefully lowered his eyes to the model in front of him, picking up two of the pieces he hadn’t been able to place yet. The sound of the chair opposite of him scraping over the floor was deafening in the silence the tikes had left.

"You know, I've been trying to be a better person, lately."

Johnny took the time to slot the model pieces into their respective places before he looked up at Yuta. "I can imagine it must be very strenuous, attempting such a big change."

Johnny had expected Yuta to leap over the table in response, or brandish his wand at him, but Yuta remained relaxed in his seat, his feet propped up against the edge of the table and his hands folded on his stomach. It was only the spark of anger in his eyes that gave away his true feelings.  

“It must have been terrible."

Johnny didn't say anything in return. He didn't feel like giving Yuta the satisfaction of asking, so he kept silent and waited for Yuta to say what he needed to. The silence between them dragged on, but Johnny was patient and eventually, Yuta did continue on.

"Whatever I've done to you in a past life," the ghost of a smile passed over Yuta's face, "it must have been terrible for you to make my life as miserable as you do in this one."

Johnny leaned back in his seat, resting one hand on the table while pushing his other into the pocket of his robes. “I think we’re pretty evenly matched when it comes to making each other miserable, wouldn’t you agree?”

“No, Seo.” Yuta shook his head, his feet slipping from the edge of the table as he leaned forward. “We’re nowhere near even. You used my boyfriend, my… Winwin against me when you knew he wouldn’t be able to differentiate between you helping him and you using him and then when that didn’t work out, you moved on to Taeyong, who is like a brother to me and now—” Yuta cut himself off, taking several deep breaths. “Now, Taeyong is in love with you.”

Johnny felt his own mask of indifference falter at Yuta’s admission. Yuta laughed at him.

“What, does that surprise you? I’m not Doyoung, Seo, I can say it out loud. Taeyong is in love with you. It burns like acid saying it, but I know Yongie and I know it’s true. He’s always been so obvious when it came to you.” Yuta pushed a hand into his hair, tugging on the purple strands. “I hoped that you’d never notice, but clearly you did and now here we are.”

“It’s not a game to me, Yuta.” If Yuta didn’t have to be convinced of Taeyong’s feelings, Johnny had to convince him of his own, so he leaned forward, gave up on his indifference to show Yuta how sincere he was. “Taeyong is not a game to me. I’m not using him to get to you. I fell in love with him because of him, not because of you. On the contrary, I fell in love with him despite of you. Going for Taeyong meant going against you, Taeil, Sicheng and Doyoung all at once. Do you really think I would have done that if I didn’t love him truly?”

“You love him truly?”

There was no real question in Yuta’s voice, but Johnny still nodded.

Yuta’s hand fell from his hair. "Taeil told me that you're sincere."

"I am. I love Taeyong."

Yuta grinned, his eyes falling to the tabletop between them and Johnny had the feeling Yuta was talking more to himself than him when he said, "Same. Yongie is the best."

When Yuta looked up, Johnny found newfound determination in his eyes.

"I don't know whether I believe you. I don't know which one of my friends I should believe either, but I'm not stupid, Seo, and I learn." Yuta’s hand fell from his hair, trailed along his throat as if he was trying to remove a phantom grip. "I learned that brute force doesn't make you move, it only makes you wind a little more. You’re not going to give up on Taeyong, are you?”

"An astute observation." Johnny let his eyes wander over the shelves behind Yuta’s head before he met his eyes. "You couldn't give up on Sicheng when he sat at our table, and I can't give up on Taeyong even though he's always sat at yours. I guess that's what love makes us do."

“I guess it does.” Slowly, Yuta rose to his feet. There was no anger in his eyes when he looked down at Johnny, there was only a warning. "Yongie is my brother. I was his friend even before Taeil was. I found him, alone on the platform on our first day when he was drowning in his robes and his big words and his muggle-born unknowing. He was the first person I made my family and now he won’t speak to me, because of you. But stuff like that doesn’t really matter when it comes to family, does it? It doesn’t matter to me, at least. If you hurt him, I will murder you in cold blood."

"Trust me," Johnny trailed his fingers over the scar on his left hand, "I know."

"Good.” Yuta turned around, making a beeline for the end of the aisle. Johnny watched him go, poised and proud and so very strong that Johnny thought if there had to be someone who was as bent on protecting Taeyong as he was, he was glad that it was Yuta.

"Hey, Yuta?"

Yuta turned around, shooting him an expectant look.

"I'm sorry about meddling in Sicheng’s and your relationship. He came to me for help, but I encouraged it when you drew all the wrong conclusions."

Yuta looked at him for such a long time that Johnny thought he might just leave without saying anything, but then Yuta inclined his head, if it was nothing more than an infinitesimal tilt of his head. "I'm sorry for burning your mother's book."

Johnny closed his eyes at the twinge of pain in his chest, and wondered whether this was what absolution felt like. "Thank you."

Yuta nodded, a grin pulling his lips apart. "I'm not sorry I hit that bludger, though. You deserved to be knocked down a peg or two."

Johnny reciprocated his grin. "Choking you was very satisfying, I'd find it hard to feel remorse about that."

"I guess that makes us two of a kind." Yuta looked contemplative for only a moment before he added, “You gave Sicheng to me, so I will give you a piece of advice.”

Johnny didn’t bother masking his surprise. “I’m listening.”

Yuta smiled at him, even if it didn’t reach his eyes. “There are things you don’t know about Taeyong yet, Seo, sides of him you haven’t seen. When you do find out, don’t turn away from him. He’ll never forgive you and neither will I.”

Johnny understood a warning when he heard it, and silently promised himself to heed it. “I’m not ever going to turn away from him, but thank you.”

Yuta nodded and, rubbing his thumb over the lion’s head engraved in his ring, he left.

*

Johnny couldn’t have been asleep for more than half an hour when he was awoken by his bladder. Johnny cursed Sehun and his fondness of watery beer as he pulled himself out of bed, not bothering to search for his wand in the trousers he had discarded at the foot end of his bed. He didn’t need light to navigate himself through the dark, instead following the sound of Hansol’s light snoring as he neared the door. He only stopped in his tracks when he passed Jaehyun’s bed, the light falling in from under the door enough to make him do a double take. Jaehyun’s bed was empty, the curtains drawn to reveal neatly made sheets.

Johnny frowned. He’d gone to bed early, leaving Jaehyun and Ten to finish Ten’s Transfiguration essay, but a glance at Ten’s half-drawn curtains and the sleeping Nine on top of the mountain of duvets in his bed reassured him that Ten had already turned in for the night. Johnny moved on when his bladder reminded him why he had gotten up in the first place and he hurried to make his way to the door.

There was no hint of Jaehyun or anyone else out on the hallway. The bathroom turned out to be empty, too, but nonetheless Johnny made sure to check each of the stalls after he had relieved himself. To no avail. Once he was back out on the hallway, Johnny thought about waking Ten up to ask him whether he had an idea about their friend’s whereabouts, but then he heard noise, the familiar noise of the common room door locking shut and his feet carried him down the hallway, closer to the common room.

Jaehyun’s voice was the first one that he heard, and the sharp edge to his voice made Johnny wish that he hadn’t left his wand in their dorm. “You must truly be brave to show your face here.”

“You let me in.”

It was the second voice that cause Johnny to falter in his step, come to a tripping halt. He’d nearly made it to the end of the hallway, less than a metre separating him from the archway that would lead him into the common room. If he took just two steps forward, he’d be stepping into the low light that the dying embers in the fireplace gave. Then both Jaehyun and their visitor would know that he was there. But it wasn’t their visitor. He hadn’t come for Johnny and so Johnny pressed himself closer to the wall, let the shadows on the walls swallow him as he watched Jaehyun sit down on the sofa closest to the fireplace.

“Of course I let you in.” Jaehyun swung one of his legs over the other, folded his hands on his knee and raised an expectant eyebrow at his visitor. Johnny knew that every bit of ease Jaehyun portrayed was a lie. “I expect you’ve come to grovel.”

“Fuck you, Jung.”

Jaehyun scoffed. “Bold words coming from someone who ruined my History of Magic notes to get me to meet them at arse o’clock in the morning. You came to me, Doyoung, so make it worth my while.”

Doyoung was out of Johnny’s line of vision, but Johnny could hear his footsteps draw closer. “I want to talk to you about Johnny and Taeyong.”

Johnny shared the sigh that left Jaehyun’s lips.

“Right,” Jaehyun said drily, “and with that I think you’ve just become not worth the breath I’m wasting talking to you.”

Jaehyun made to get up from his seat, but then Doyoung was in front of him, pushing him back down.

“No, don’t leave! I have to talk to you!”

Johnny wasn’t sadistic enough to feel anything but pity at the frantic tone to Doyoung’s voice, the way even his neat robes and combed hair couldn’t hide the misery underneath. Jaehyun was quick to shove Doyoung off of him, with enough force that Doyoung fell backwards and landed hard on his tailbone, the wood of the coffee table he landed on groaning under the sudden weight.

Jaehyun pulled his wand out of his pocket and pointed it at Doyoung. “What, Doyoung? What can you tell me that I don’t already know? That you don’t like Johnny? That you disapprove of his relationship with Taeyong? I suggest you get over it soon, Doyoung, because Johnny chose Taeyong and Taeyong chose him, too, if you somehow managed to miss his recent change of hair.”

“No.” Doyoung shook his head. “You could talk to him.”

Jaehyun snorted. “I doubt Taeyong would listen to me.”

“Not Taeyong. You could talk to Johnny. He listens to you. Merlin knows, he doesn’t listen to anyone but you and Ten, but if you talked him and told him you didn’t want him to be with Taeyong--”

“Oh, but I want him to be with Taeyong.”

Johnny could tell by the way Doyoung faltered, his shaky intake of breath that Doyoung hadn’t expected that. “What?”

“What?” Jaehyun gave back, raising both of his brows. “Did you think that I didn’t? Did you think it would bother me that it’s Taeyong Johnny chose? You really don’t know us then, Doyoung, and you clearly don’t know me if you really think I’d ever let anything as inconsequential as Taeyong’s past associations take away from Johnny’s happiness. Johnny chose Taeyong. I know that means nothing to you, but it means something indubitable to me. I’m not going to let anyone come in between them, certainly not you and your delusions.”

Johnny wasn’t able to see Doyoung’s face from this angle but he could see how Doyoung’s shoulders tensed, the way he hunched in on himself. “They’re not delusions--”

“But they are!” Johnny instinctively pressed back into the wall at the way Jaehyun raised his voice. “You’re so lost in your anger, Doyoung, you can’t even see what’s right in front of you!”

Doyoung’s fist hit the wood underneath him, hard and Johnny knew that it wasn’t the force of his punch that made the wood crack. “What’s right in front of me is that Johnny is trying to use Taeyong against me, he--”

“Johnny loves Taeyong, can’t you get that through your thick skull?” Jaehyun swung his wand, a gritted Reparo! causing the crack in the wood to close back up. “What kind of friend are you that it is that unimaginable to you that someone could fall in love with Taeyong?”

“It’s not--of course, it’s not unimaginable to me.”

Jaehyun sneered at him. “Well, but that’s what you told Taeyong, isn’t it? You essentially told him Johnny couldn’t possibly fall in love with him, because Johnny couldn’t ever see him as anything more than a pawn. Taeyong cried about it too, and Merlin blessed you that it was Ten who caught him doing it and not Johnny.”

Johnny felt his stomach drop with the knowledge of how deeply Doyoung’s words had affected Taeyong without his knowledge. He felt anger rise up in his chest, but he forced himself to remain calm.

Jaehyun calmed too as he continued on, his expression returning to its most blasé state. “You really amaze me, Doyoung. You’ve got the audacity to tell Johnny and I that we can’t love but that’s all you. You don’t know how to love, let alone be a friend.”

“I didn’t do it to hurt him, he had to hear the truth!”

“It’s merely your truth, Doyoung, not the truth. The truth is that you say you want to protect Taeyong from whatever big, bad thing Johnny is supposedly planning, but all you’ve done so far is destroy Taeyong’s self-esteem and call him a traitor. If there’s anyone who deserves the title, it’s you, Doyoung. The bad blood between us was never on Taeyoung’s hands until you ousted him.”

“We didn’t oust him! Taeyong left us because Johnny made him!”

“Funny. To me, Taeyong seems perfectly capable of thinking for himself.”

“So Johnny put a spell on him!”

Jaehyun scoffed. “Did it ever occur to you, Doyoung, just for a moment, that maybe Taeyong and Johnny really just have fallen in love? And that the only reason Taeyong is refusing to even look at you at the moment is because you couldn’t love him enough to listen to him when he told you that he was happy? That you couldn’t be happy for him regardless of who made him feel like that?”

Johnny expected Doyoung to shake with anger, he expected the walls to floor to crack open and the fire in the fireplace to soar, but none of these things happened.

Instead, Doyoung yielded, his head falling to his hands as he covered his ears and when he spoke, his voice was so small that Johnny struggled to understand him, “Can’t you understand it, Jaehyun? Can’t you understand what it would mean if I let this happen and it turns out I was right? That Johnny was playing with him all along? I swore to myself that anyone who would want to get to Taeyong would have to go through me first. If I just let Johnny Seo of all people sweep him off his feet, what kind of friend would that make me?”

“The Slytherin kind.” To Johnny’s surprise, Jaehyun’s expression was gentle as he took a knee, pulled Doyoung’s hands away from his face. “We stand by each other, even if it goes wrong and if it does, then we’ll fix it. But we never, ever leave each other behind. If you can’t trust Johnny, can you trust me when I tell you that it’s real? It’s not a scheme, Doyoung. They’re in love.”

Doyoung shook his head, but his voice was filled with doubt as he spoke. Johnny could imagine that it was a terrible feeling, having your beliefs falling apart in a way that it left the edges of your mind exposed, so very vulnerable. “I can’t let him get hurt, Jaehyun. Everybody always gets hurt because of me, I can’t let it happen to Yong. He doesn’t have anybody else. If I give up on him, then he’ll be alone when it falls apart.”

“Taeyong will never be alone.” Jaehyun’s voice was firm as he spoke. “Nobody’s asking you to give up on him either, Doyoung. On the contrary, he needs his friends. He needs you. It’s not too late. You can still go to him and ask him for forgiveness. He’ll give it to you, too. No matter the colour of his hair, or what word he’s gotten shaved into the side of his head, he’ll forgive you.”

Doyoung didn’t respond, merely breathed in deeply before he pulled his wrists from Jaehyun’s grip. Jaehyun followed him when Doyoung pulled himself to his feet, and didn’t move any further when Doyoung began to walk away from him. The noise of the common room door unlocking was deafening in the silence of the room.

“Doyoung.”

“Yes?”

Johnny thought that it might have been a trick of the low lighting, the way Jaehyun’s face darkened. “I can imagine that it must have been hard for you with everything that’s been going on outside of the castle, but you need to get a grip.”

There was silence for such a long time that Johnny thought Doyoung might have left, leaving the door open behind him, but then he answered, his voice so sharp and biting that Johnny felt his heart sink, “Shut the fuck up, Jung.”

It wasn’t a trick of the light when Jaehyun recoiled.

“You still have a mother, so don’t you dare speak about mine. She’s gone, Jung, and that’s your father’s fault. If it wasn’t for you and your Merlin-forsaken family, I would have never lost her, so don’t talk to me as if you’d care what happened to me, or my mother. It’s too late for the both of us, anyways.”

Doyoung’s last word was accentuated by the sound of the common room door slamming shut. Jaehyun remained frozen in his spot and Johnny held his breath. He counted to ten until he stepped out of the shadows.

Jaehyun jumped when he noticed him. “Johnny! What are you doing here?”

“I couldn’t sleep and then I noticed your bed was empty, so I came out here to look for you.” Johnny bridged the distance between them to lay a hand on the back of Jaehyun’s head, tilt his skull until he could look him in the eyes. “Are you okay?”

Jaehyun sighed, rubbing a hand over his face. “How much of that did you hear?”

Johnny pursed his lips. “Pretty much everything.”

Jaehyun nodded, and then sagged against him. “Merlin, his existence exhausts me.”

“You were trying to help him.” Slinging an arm around Jaehyun’s shoulders, Johnny steered them in the direction of their dormitory. “He could have been thankful.”

“Doyoung Kim being thankful to me?” Jaehyun laughed, and Johnny pretended that he didn’t catch the hint of bitterness underneath. “Not in this life.”

“It’s late,” Johnny amended. “We should go to bed.”

“We should. Will you carry me the rest of the way?”

This time, it was on Johnny to laugh. “Not in this life, Jae.”

Chapter Text

Johnny gentle plucked the petals of the rose he had been given, savouring the silky feel of the petals as he arranged them into a neat pile on the table in front of him.

“No, roll your shoulder a bit more. Yes, like this! Your aim is already impeccable, now if you use your whole arm to support your throw, no Keeper in the world will be able to catch the quaffles you send their way.”

Johnny felt a smile tug on his lips as he looked up and at the table next over, where Jaehyun was sitting with a zealous-looking Jaemin by his side. They were going through the motions of the throwing technique Jaehyun was explaining, the flush of Jaemin’s cheeks darkening another shade when Jaehyun patted his shoulder in acknowledgement after he had gotten the motion right. Jaemin’s blush had been ever-present since he’d asked Jaehyun for some tips to better his game play and Jaehyun had subsequently dragged him along to the greenhouse where they were now cowering over a felt layout of the Hogwarts Quidditch stadium.

Johnny felt bad for Jaemin, who had waited so long to try out for the Quidditch team just to find himself suspended from the game for another year. It was another year he had to sit out through no fault of his own and Johnny felt that very same fault weigh down on him as he watched Jaemin eagerly follow the player stones Jaehyun was moving across the felt. Tracing a finger along the scar on his wrist, Johnny glanced over to where Jeno was kneeling in one of the plant beds closest to the door. Jeno was watching with interest as Ten demonstrated to Jungwoo how to uproot a Gillyweed plant, if he looked up from time to time as if to make sure that Jaemin was still where he had left him.

Maybe, Johnny thought. Maybe there was something Jaemin wanted more than Quidditch. And if anyone would know, it had to be Jeno. Watching as Jeno smiled at his best friend when Jaemin noticed him looking, Johnny postponed the thought for now. He knew that Jaehyun, as Captain, felt as guilty about their Quidditch ban as Johnny did and he would want to be involved if Johnny chose to make it up to Jaemin. It made Johnny wonder, whether there would ever come a time when they deserved the hero-worship in Jaemin’s eyes.

For now, Johnny settled back into his seat, focussing on the rose in his hands. He plucked the last petal, careful not to let any of the thorns sting him as he laid the stem to the side. Smiling, he scooped the pile of petals into his palm, lifting his hand so he could drop the petals one by one to form a halo around Taeyong’s head. Taeyong had fallen asleep about twenty minutes into their study session, with his head bedded on the Arithmancy book he had been reading and his fingers still curled to hold the quill he had been using to take notes. Johnny had taken out it out of his hand as soon as he had noticed that Taeyong had dropped off, so that none of the ink could ruin Taeyong’s half-finished notes.

Taeyong’s nose twitched when one of the vivid, blue petals landed in his hair, but he remained fast asleep. Johnny was careful not to wake him as he plucked the petal from his hair, let it fall close to Taeyong’s forehead instead. Johnny knew that a nap wouldn’t cure the dark, bruise-like circles pressed underneath Taeyong’s eyes, but it was better than nothing. He was about to lay his head down on his arms, his own notes long forgotten in the middle of the table, when the door to the greenhouse opened, letting two students and some of the cold afternoon air in.

Ten, closest to the door, was on his feet within a second, wiping his hands on the front of his gardening apron as he planted himself in front of the two. “Are you looking for something?”

Kun’s smile was genuine as he raised his hands. “Easy, Ten, we come in peace.”

Ten scoffed. “You may come in peace, Prefect, but he doesn’t.”

Kun’s smile didn’t falter as he took a step forward, his tone remaining pleasant as he moved himself in front of his fellow Gryffindor. “You’re Head of the Herbology Club, aren’t you? Do you happen to know where Professor Byun grows his Dittany? Yuta and I need to take a look at it for our Magical Theory essay.” Kun chanced a glance around the room, his smiling widening when his eyes settled on Johnny, and he waved. “Hey, Johnny.”

“Hey, Kun.” Johnny nodded at him. “Yuta.”

Yuta didn’t acknowledge him. His eyes were transfixed on Taeyong’s slumped-over form and for the first time since he’d known him, Johnny thought that he could see something akin to fear in Yuta’s eyes.

“Ten,” Jaehyun spoke up, effectively gathering the attention of the room. His gaze flickered between Johnny and Yuta for only a second. “Help Kun out.”

Ten pulled the second syllable of his answering “okay” as long as it would go before he turned back to Kun with a devious smile. “Jungwoo,” Ten added without taking his eyes off of Kun, “be a darling and keep tickling the Gillyweed’s roots while I show this Gryffindor where he can find the Dittany plants, yes?”

“Will do, Ten!” Jungwoo dutifully reached for the plant’s roots with his gloved hands. He beamed at Jeno when his fellow Hufflepuff leaned forward to help him.

Johnny imagined Kun’s smile growing tight for only a moment before Kun followed Ten deeper into the greenhouse, leaving Yuta with a squeeze of his shoulder. Yuta left his spot at the door almost at the same time as Kun did.

“We don’t want any trouble, Yuta.”

Yuta merely bared his teeth at Jaehyun, undeterred on his way over to Johnny and Taeyong. Johnny locked eyes with Jaehyun over the top of Jaemin’s head and shook his head, nothing more than an infinitesimal tilt of his chin, but it was enough to have Jaehyun turn his attention back towards Jaemin. Johnny liked to think that him and Yuta had come to a truce, but even if Yuta disagreed, Johnny knew that Yuta would have never raised his wand at him as long as Taeyong was in the room.

Yuta’s expression softened as he followed the slow rise and fall of Taeyong’s shoulders. His eyes trailed over the letters shaved into the side of Taeyong’s head, clearly visible now that he was sleeping with his head propped on his book, but even that didn’t stop Yuta from reaching out as if to touch Taeyong’s quill-less fingers before he pulled back his hand, crossing his arms in front of his chest instead.

“How’s he been doing?” The words came out hoarser than Yuta had probably intended. “He’s been studying at night, hasn’t he? You can’t let him do that, Seo, he thinks he doesn’t need sleep but he does.”

“Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

“No.” Yuta shook his head, his hands knotting together so he could fiddle with his ring. “He wouldn’t want me to.”

“I disagree.” Johnny lowered one of his hands under the table and ran it along the length of Taeyong’s thigh, squeezing his knee.

“You don’t understand, Seo, Yongie doesn’t—”

Yuta fell silent when Taeyong stirred in his sleep, a low groan falling over his lips as he blinked his eyes open. His fingers twitching over his notes as if searching. “Johnny?”

“Hello, love.” Johnny didn’t look away from Yuta’s rapidly reddening face. He savoured the murder Yuta’s eyes promised. “Look who’s come to see you.”

Another couple moments of disoriented blinking and Taeyong followed his line of sight, his body falling into Johnny’s side when he pulled himself upright. “Yuta?”

Johnny watched the anger leave Yuta’s body as if someone had cut the strings that had held him up. “Hey, Yongie.”

Taeyong painted a streak of blue ink onto his cheek as rubbed a hand over his face, his voice soft and small still when he asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Kun and I need some plant for our essay.” Yuta backed away until he hit the edge of Jaehyun’s table. “Seo lied. I didn’t actually come to see you. I mean, I didn’t even know you were here.”

Where Taeyong had been soft and pliant, the lines of his body grew rigid. “Oh.”

Yuta looked like he was about to say more, but Taeyong cut him off, defiance causing his chin to tilt upwards and his spine to straighten,  “Well, maybe you should leave then. I’m sure Kun can get you the plant of his own and I wouldn’t want to bother you with the sight of my boyfriend and I.”

“Yongie—”

“No.” Johnny grasped onto Taeyong’s hand in silent support and Taeyong intertwined their fingers automatically. Yuta followed the motion with his eyes. “I don’t want to talk to you. Leave.”

Yuta began to fiddle with his ring once again, his gaze falling onto the faint hint of silver that peeked out from under Taeyong’s sleeve and then the fiddling of his own fingers stopped.

You let him cuff you? Yuta had asked and Johnny thought of the time months ago when Yuta had approached him in the second-floor bathroom to barter for Sicheng’s freedom, playing with the golden ring when it had been a puzzle still. Johnny thought of Renjun sharing a compartment with the rest of the tikes on the train home for the holidays, shoving the rings into each other until they aligned into the shape of the lion’s head they were in now. Some time after, Renjun must have given the solved ring puzzle back to Yuta and it made sense, Johnny supposed, because the ring had always been for Yuta, clearly given to him by the older Dong. A piece of jewellery, a sign of love. Flexing his wrist against the warm silver curling around his own wrist, Johnny thought that Yuta should have been able to recognise these things.

And it seemed, against all odds, that Yuta did.

Yuta moved slowly and for a moment, Johnny thought he might leave, but then Yuta was rounding the table, coming to halt right by Taeyong’s side. Taeyong pointedly looked away, meeting Johnny’s eyes instead. Johnny smiled at him. He cupped Taeyong’s cheek with one hand while tracing the letters shaved into his hair with the other and for a moment, there was nothing in the world but the feeling of Taeyong’s lips against his own. Then Johnny forced himself to pull away and used his grasp on Taeyong’s face to tilt his head around so Taeyong was facing Yuta.

Holding onto the edge of the table, Yuta kneeled down so Taeyong and him were eye to eye. “I’ve been talking a lot with Winwin. He says he doesn’t believe that Johnny is playing with you.”

“He isn’t.” Taeyong’s voice was unforgiving, but Johnny could hear the wobble underneath.

Smiling, Johnny buried his nose in the hair at back of Taeyong’s head, pressing a kiss there. It was meant to be soothing as much as it was meant to be reassuring. “He’s right. I am not.”

Yuta didn’t pay Johnny any mind. His sole focus was Taeyong. Johnny watched in amazement when Yuta’s eyes turned shiny. “You can come back to us, Yongie.”

“What? So Doyoung can tell me some more about how I’m a traitor and my relationship is a scheme?”

Yuta recoiled like he had been slapped by Taeyong. Again.

“You hurt me so much.” The wobble in Taeyong’s voice was clearly audible now. “You know my mind is the only the thing I have, how could you tell me I was wrong?”

“I’m sorry, Yongie.” Yuta looked heartbroken. “I—I didn’t mean to do that.”

“But you did.” Taeyong curled in on himself like a wounded animal and Johnny barely suppressed the urge to pick him up and carry him out of the greenhouse, to a place where Taeyong could lick his wounds in peace. “You did and now we’re not friends anymore.”

“You don’t mean that.” Yuta shook his head. “Yongie, you don’t mean that. I know I’ve been a terrible brother to you, but—"

“I don’t want to hear it, Yuta.”

Yuta’s breath faltered. “Yongie, please.”

“No!” Johnny braced Taeyong with his arms when Taeyong leaned back into him. “Do you even know what you did?”

Johnny watched as Yuta’s expression fell with hurt, and rose with anger. Yuta tried to conceal it, but Johnny saw through him. That was Yuta’s fatal flaw. It was so easy to see through him.

“You can’t fault us for trying to talk some sense into you, Yongie.” The lines of Yuta’s face hardened, and Johnny knew Taeyong wasn’t the only one hurting. “What did you think was going to happen when you told us you were dating Johnny Seo?”

“I didn’t think you would turn away from me,” Taeyong’s voice was eerily quiet at first but quickly rose in volume, “I was always on your side and the moment I did something you don’t approve of, you and Doyoung both turned away from me. And for what? Because I’m dating someone you don’t like? Well, you don’t have to like Johnny. I’m not asking you to. But I’m also not going to let go of my love because you can’t let go of that stupid fight you’ve been holding onto for five fucking years!”

Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny could see Jungwoo pale, his mouth dropping open at the curse word Taeyong had used. Jeno, looking panicked, quickly moved to cover his ears.

“Taeyong.” Johnny took his hand to get his attention.

“What?” Taeyong snapped, his expression faltering when Johnny raised an eyebrow at him.

Johnny could see the apology form on his tongue, but Johnny turned towards Yuta before Taeyong could utter it. “I’m sorry, Yuta, maybe you should go.”

To Johnny’s surprise, Yuta nodded, pushing himself onto his feet, but he didn’t leave yet.

“I’m sorry, Yongie.” The anger in Yuta’s eyes fizzled out as he buried his hands in his pockets. “Winwinnie was right when he said that we hurt you. I understand that now and I’m sorry. Please, believe me.”

“Will you talk to Doyoung?” Hope, Johnny thought as he watched Taeyong seek out Yuta’s gaze, hope wasn’t a light but a knife. “Will you tell him that Johnny really likes me? Even if you don’t believe it, will you do that for me? I’ll forgive you.”

Johnny felt it when Yuta pushed the knife into Taeyong’s side. “I’m sorry, Yongie. I can’t.”

It had been a long time since Johnny had last seen Taeyong grow as cold as he did now.

“Right.” The grip Johnny had on his hand grew impossibly tight. “I forgot. I’m a traitor.”

Yuta shook his head. “It’s not that, Yongie, I told you we want you to come back to us. It’s Doyoung. He never meant to hurt you, you know that, but he’s been spread so thin since—” Yuta broke off, glancing around the room. “You know what’s been happening with him. If he thinks he’s lost me too, he might—I can’t let that happen, Yongie, don’t you understand?”

Taeyong shook his head, a sharp jerk of his head. “You could talk to him. You could change his mind.”

Yuta’s smile was mirthless. “I don’t think even Merlin himself could convince Doyoung to change his mind, Yongie.”

Johnny could feel the shudder that ran through Taeyong’s body, could feel the way his hand began to quiver against his palm.

“Ten and Kun should have found the Dittany by now.” Johnny pried his eyes away from Taeyong’s profile to meet Yuta’s eyes. “You should go find them now, Yuta.”

Yuta held his gaze for a second too long before he nodded, turning to leave.

“Yuta.”

Yuta stopped.

Taeyong bit his lip as he reached out a hand. Yuta didn’t hesitate to take it, his fingertips grazing the winding silver around Taeyong’s wrist. It was a silent gesture, but Johnny knew that it carried more meaning than he could think of. Yuta squeezed Taeyong’s hand before he let go.  

“It will be all right, Yongie.” Yuta’s eyes turned shiny, but the smile on his face was blinding, determined. “Whatever happens, you have me, okay? Even if you say we’re not friends, I’ll always be your brother, just like I promised you.” Yuta’s smile dimmed when he looked at Johnny, but Johnny didn’t take it to the heart. “I’ll go see if I can find Ten and Kun now.”

“I’ll come with you.”

All three of them turned their heads to watch as Jaehyun slid off his stool.

When Yuta looked at him, Jaehyun’s smile turned saccharinely sweet. “Don’t get me wrong, Nakamoto, I’m primarily doing this so Ten doesn’t hex you on sight.”

Yuta glared at him, but didn’t stop Jaehyun when Jaehyun trailed after him as he made a beeline for the back of the greenhouse, hidden by a line of Heightless Hedges. Johnny waited until they had disappeared out of sight before he pulled Taeyong into a hug.

Taeyong clung to him, breathing deeply into his shoulder while Johnny rubbed his back.

“He’s right, you know?” Johnny smiled, brushing Taeyong’s hair out of his eyes when they pulled apart. Running his fingers through the green strands didn’t feel as victorious as it usually did. “It will be all right.”

“They’re just so stubborn.” Gritting his teeth, Taeyong let out a frustrated noise. “They don’t see.”

“Taeyong?”

Taeyong pulled further away from Johnny, hastily wiped his eyes as he turned to look at Jaemin, who was hovering in front of their table. Johnny hadn’t noticed him moving.

“Yes, Jaemin?”

Jaemin turned beet-red when Taeyong said his name, shuffling on his feet. “I’m sorry about your friend. If it makes you feel any better, I really like your new hair.”

“Oh, thank you, Jaemin.” The smile on Taeyong’s face was watery but genuine when he squeezed Jaemin’s hand in gratitude. “You know, I like it too.”

*

 “Are you sure the kitchen elves aren’t going to mind if we hijack their kitchen at,” Johnny chanced a glance at his wrist-watch, “nearly one in the morning?”

“They won’t.” Taeyong took his hand as they entered the kitchens, squeezing in reassurance. “Don’t worry, I do this often.”

“Master Taeyong!”

Taeyong broke into a smile when they were greeted by Mimsy. She did look delighted to see them, despite the late hour.

“Have you come to bake, Master Taeyong?” the kitchen elf asked as she beckoned them to follow her.

“I have.”

Taeyong laughed and Johnny found himself smiling as he let Taeyong pull him along, past the stoves and to the working tables in the back. Mimsy cleared one of them with a snap of her fingers, beaming up at Taeyong when he thanked her.

“I’m making blueberry muffins. Could you get me these ingredients, Mimsy?” Taeyong held out a small scroll for her and Mimsy took it with reverence.

“Right this second, Sir.” Hurrying off, she called out, “Tonbey! Tonbey, come and help Mimsy gather ingredients for Master Taeyong!”

Johnny watched one of the younger kitchen elves run over to her before he turned back towards Taeyong. “No lemon muffins this time?”

“Mhm, no.” Taeyong poked out his tongue. “I’m feeling more like blueberries tonight.”

Johnny smiled and leaned down, slinging his arms around Taeyong’s waist. He flicked his tongue against Taeyong’s before kissing him properly, uncaring of the curious glances he felt lingering on them. Johnny didn’t mind being seen by the kitchen elves if Taeyong didn’t. Taeyong buried his hands in his hair, letting out a small sigh when Johnny pulled away.

“Master Taeyong?”

Taeyong jumped and Johnny tried hard not to laugh when Taeyong began to struggle against his grip. He didn’t let Taeyong step away from him, pulled him into his side instead. Taeyong shot him an exasperated look before he settled into his side.

“We gathered all of Master Taeyong’s ingredients, Sir.”

Taeyong leaned himself from Johnny’s arms so he could accept the basket Mimsy was holding out for him. “Thank you so much, Mimsy. Johnny and I got it from here on.”

“Of course, Sir. If you need anything, just call for Mimsy and Mimsy will come and help.”

Taeyong nodded, his ears turning pink as Mimsy bowed. Tonbey next to her was staring up at them with wide eyes, his mouth ajar. He was still gaping by the time Mimsy dragged him away. Johnny waved at him in goodbye.

Taeyong sighed, turning in his arms to set the basket down on the kitchen table. “That was embarrassing.”

Johnny smiled, letting go of Taeyong to help him unpack the basket full of their ingredients. “I don’t regret it.” He frowned when his hand touched something soft. “Why’s there a pillow and blanket in here?”

Taeyong took the bundle from his hands, stuffing it back into the basket before Johnny could take a look at the patches sown onto the blanket. Johnny didn’t miss the way Taeyong’s shoulders grew tight when he shook his head, his smile growing thin when he looked up at Johnny.

“They’re for Doyoung,” he explained. “He’s the one that usually keeps me company while I bake and he tends to fall asleep so the kitchen elves, Tonbey and some of his friends, they made him these so he would be more comfortable.”

Johnny was careful to gauge Taeyong’s reaction, ready to backtrack at any moment when he asked, “Did you spent a lot of time with Doyoung down here?”

Taeyong shrugged, keeping his eyes on the basket. “Neither of us like to be alone.”

Johnny might have asked, but then Taeyong shot him a smile, beautiful and reassuring and not reaching his eyes. Johnny inhaled deeply. It had been a week since Yuta had talked to them in the greenhouse and Taeyong had been good at keeping up pretences, but Johnny had spent a long time learning the details of his face and how to decipher every of his expressions.

“I’m sorry.”

Taeyong looked up at him in surprise. “What for?”

Johnny would have given Taeyong all the gold stored in the basement of Seo Manor, his name and those that belonged to him if it meant making him happy, but there was one thing Johnny couldn’t do. Smiling past his own sins, he cupped Taeyong’s cheek with one hand and placed the other on Taeyong’s heart, right where Johnny knew Taeyong was hurting even now that they were right in front of each other.

“You miss your friends.” It wasn’t a question. They both knew it was the truth.

Taeyong’s ribs gave way as he inhaled, breathed in and lied, “I don’t.”

“But you do.”

The pain in Taeyong’s eyes was masked by stubbornness as he shook his head, pressing his face more firmly into Johnny’s hand. “You don’t know that.”

“You’re right, I don’t. But losing Ten or Jaehyun would be like losing a limb to me. I can’t imagine that kind of pain, but looking into your eyes gives me an idea.”

Taeyong pressed his eyes and lips shut and Johnny smiled.

“I love you, Taeyong.”

It was so easy to say it, finally say it to Taeyong’s face. He savoured the way Taeyong’s eyes flew open, his mouth dropping ajar. Johnny placed the gentlest of kisses on Taeyong’s lips.

“I love you and I’m sorry that means that I can’t give you up. It would make it easier for all of us if I was selfless enough gave you back to your friends, but I can’t do that. I’m too in love with you and I’m selfish. Please, don’t resent me for it.”

Johnny wanted to pull away to gauge Taeyong’s reaction, but he didn’t get very far before Taeyong was wrapping his arms around his neck, tightly enough that it lifted him off his feet when Johnny straightened his back.

“You love me?” Taeyong mumbled into his neck and Johnny smiled, tightened his grip around Taeyong’s waist and lifted him up properly so he could sit him down on the edge of the table, stepping in between his legs so Taeyong didn’t have to let go of him.

“So much, it sometimes feels like I can’t breathe with how happy it makes me.”

Johnny felt his heart give out when Taeyong pulled away to frown at him.

“You got it wrong, though. All of you have it wrong. My happiness is not your decision, not Doyoung’s or Yuta’s or anyone else’s. It’s my decision who I’m with and no one, not even you, will ever have the right to take that away from me. I chose you because I love you, Johnny.” Taeyong smiled at him and Johnny felt his heart come alive. “You’re my choice.” And then Taeyong let his voice drop low as he spoke in an echo of what Johnny recognised to be his own voice. “You’re my love.”

Johnny went easily when Taeyong tightened his embrace around his neck to pull him in, smiling into their kiss. He felt drunk, drunk on the taste of Taeyong’s tongue and the smell of lavender filling his lungs and I chose you because I love you, Johnny.

It was the sound of ceramic shattering that made Johnny pull away. Feeling sheepish at the idea of what kind of nightmares they might have just given to Tonbey, Johnny let go of Taeyong and turned around. He frowned when he noticed that the bustling of the kitchen had ceased, and all the kitchen elves were focussed on the source of the noise.

Doyoung only stared met his eyes for the duration of a heartbeat before he dropped to his knees, reaching for the shards of the bowl that had shattered.

“Master Kim, no!” Mimsy called out but it was already too late.

Doyoung let out a cry of pain, pulling his hands back against his chest when the shards he had been trying to pick up sliced into his hands.

“Doyoung!” Taeyong was off the table in a second, pulling his wand from his pocket and swinging it mid-run. “Reparo!”

The shards whirled into the air, realigning themselves before the intact bowl landed on the shelf it had fallen from. As soon as the shards were out of the way, Taeyong bridged the remaining distance between himself and Doyoung, falling to his knees in front of him.

“What were you thinking, Doyoung?” Doyoung tried to cover his ears when Taeyong yelled at him, but Taeyong wrenched his arms away from his face one by one, pointing his wand at each of his palms. “Episkey!”

Doyoung whimpered as the wounds closed up, leaving his skin unmarred, hadn’t it been for the blood coating his palms, the hem of his sleeves. Belatedly, Johnny realised that Doyoung was wearing pyjamas.

“I didn’t mean to break it.” Doyoung shook his head, his eyes filling with tears as he looked at Taeyong. “I was looking for you. I thought you might be here. I didn’t think—” Doyoung’s eyes flickered over to Johnny and he broke off.  

Johnny had never quite understood what Yuta and Taeil had meant when they had said that Doyoung had been spread thin these past months. He understood it now, as he saw the way Doyoung looked like a child, frightened and on his knees, as he saw the way Doyoung’s gaze kept flickering around and the way his body, limbs and lungs and body, never truly seemed to rest. Doyoung looked harried. He looked haunted. Johnny needed to talk to Jaehyun.

“Oh, Doyoung.”

Doyoung clung to Taeyong when Taeyong pulled him into a hug.

“What were you thinking, Doyoung?” Taeyong didn’t yell this time, and Johnny could tell by the way Doyoung’s face contorted that it hurt more this way.

Taeyong pulled away to grab onto Doyoung’s head, shaking it lightly as if to shake the sense back into him. “You can’t just grab onto broken glass like that!”

“I broke it, so I have to fix it.” Doyoung looked down, his eyes glazing over as he mumbled, “I have to fix it.”

“Yes, well, I’m mad at you,” Taeyong sniffed, sitting back on his haunches, “so you don’t get to scare me like that.”

Doyoung blinked, ducking his head. “I’m sorry.”

Taeyong went still and Johnny knew that Taeyong had understood that Doyoung wasn’t talking about the bowl.

Doyoung inhaled deeply before he looked up, repeating what he had said before, “I was looking for you. I thought you might be here.”

Johnny supposed that it made sense, if Doyoung was struggling with his words, for him to use the ones he had already managed.

“I am here.” Taeyong’s tone was wary, but his arms were still open.

Doyoung seemed to notice too.

“I was a bad friend,” he said. “I know I was now, Yong, and I’m so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I—I don’t care.” Doyoung stumbled over his lie, but Johnny supposed that it was the thought that counted. “I don’t care if you dye your hair green, or date Johnny Seo. I’m sorry, Yong, and I promise I’ll try. I’ll stand by you and if it goes wrong, I will fix it but only then, and I’ll never ever leave you behind. Can you believe that?”

Taeyong’s breathing stuttered when he inhaled, reaching for his side. Hope was a knife. “You made me feel worthless, Doyoung.”

“No. You’re not worthless, Yong.” Doyoung shook his head as if in disbelief at the hurt he had caused. “You’ve always been the best of us, don’t you know?”

Taeyong shivered, his voice heavy with tears when he said, “You really think so?”

Doyoung nodded. “Even Taeil says so, and he’s always right.”

It caused Taeyong to laugh, the sound more pained than anything else, but he was also letting himself fall forward, throwing his arms around Doyoung’s shaking frame and Johnny felt himself exhale. He watched as Doyoung wrapped his arm around Taeyong’s middle, his eyes fluttering close as he buried his face in Taeyong’s shoulder. The expression on his face was one Johnny recognised and it made him smile. It was bliss, Johnny knew, to find redemption when you were someone who didn’t deserve it.

He was careful to make noise as he moved forward, causing both Doyoung and Taeyong to look at him. Johnny helped Taeyong to his feet first, picking up his wand for him before he turned towards Doyoung. Doyoung’s eyes filled with apprehension him and Johnny smiled.

He savoured the way Doyoung’s eyes widened when Johnny offered him his hand. After a moment of hesitation, Doyoung took it. His stance was wobbly once Johnny had helped him to his feet, but Johnny knew that Doyoung wouldn’t fall. His smile widened when he felt Taeyong grasp onto his hand, squeezing tightly.

Squeezing back, he said, “We were about to make blueberry muffins. Would you like to join us?”

Doyoung’s brows furrowed in confusion. “You want me to?”

“Taeyong wants you to, and I want what he wants.”

It was an easier truth than the fundamental one Johnny could have thrown in his face, that he loved Taeyong and that was what loving Taeyong meant, but Doyoung had given in. He had given in and sought out Taeyong and if Doyoung was willing to give him peace on this night, then Johnny would uphold it. It became worth it when he felt Taeyong’s hand leave his to press against his back, a silent thank you.

The motion didn’t go unnoticed by Doyoung. “I’ll stay then.”

“I will find Master Kim’s pillow and blanket!” Tonbey piped up, bouncing on his feet as he beamed up at Doyoung. “Master Kim will sleep well now that he has returned to the kitchens!”

*

Johnny mourned the loss of Taeyong’s hand in his when they entered the Great Hall the next morning.

“Are you sure you don’t want to eat with us?”

Taeyong smiled at him, looking just as tired as Johnny felt. Johnny struggled not to yawn into it when Taeyong kissed him. “I can’t, but I already told you I’m going to eat lunch with you. I promised Ten to look over his Divination essay anyways.”

“I can’t believe Doyoung beat me at snap dragon,” Johnny grumbled. “His reflexes are so much slower than mine.”

“I’d argue that the two of you wagering who gets to eat breakfast with me goes against my morals, but,” Taeyong’s eyes crinkled with happiness when he looked at the Gryffindor table.

“You missed them.”

Taeyong shook his head, his eyes shining when he looked back at Johnny. “You were right, you know?”

“I generally am,” Johnny grinned when Taeyong rolled his eyes at him, “but what are you referring to specifically?”

“It does feel like losing a limb.”

Johnny felt his smile soften as he raised his hand, tracing his fingertips over the letters in Taeyong’s hair before he let him go. “I love you, Taeyong. Don’t let any of them stomp on my heart while you’re over there.”

“I’ll be careful.” Taeyong leaned into him, rested his forehead on Johnny’s chest for a moment before he pulled away. “I’ll see you in Potions.”

I miss you, Johnny thought as he watched Taeyong walk away from him.

He watched in amusement when Yuta jumped up, nearly bowling Taeyong over in his excitement to hug him and pull him onto the bench next to him at the same time. Doyoung, looking well-rested despite having stayed in the kitchens with them until the wee hours of the morning, laughed when Yuta began to pepper the side of Taeyong’s face with kisses, up until Sicheng pulled him off, enlisting Taeil for help when Yuta wouldn’t budge.

Johnny savoured the way Taeyong beamed, surrounded by his friends, before he made a beeline for the Slytherin table. He could see Jaehyun spoon porridge into his mouth as he read his Daily Prophet, oblivious to the corner that hung into the bowl he had prepared for Johnny. Johnny didn’t make it further than a couple of steps before he was knocked into from behind, sent stumbling, and it took him another couple of seconds before he recognised the flash of black, silver and green that ran past him.

“Ten!” Johnny called out, but Ten didn’t listen to him. He just kept running, always the fastest of them.

For a terrible moment, Johnny thought that Ten was headed for Taeyong, but that was not who he dragged off the bench. Yuta let out a strangled cry when Ten pulled him to the ground by the hood of his robes, pushing his knee into his chest and bringing his fists down on Yuta’s head in rapid succession. The clamour of the Gryffindor table fell silent with the first of Yuta’s cries and Johnny felt his feet move before his brain could register what he was seeing. As soon as it did, Johnny turned to look for the only source of help he could think of.

Jaehyun was faster than him, pushing himself up and out of his seat with a bellow of Ten’s name. Ten didn’t listen to him either, and Johnny ran as he watched Jaehyun climb over the Slytherin table, take a leap and land on the Ravenclaw table. Jaehyun wasn’t standing still long enough for Seulgi to curse at him over her splattered breakfast before Jaehyun had already jumped off the table and landed in the middle aisle. He sprinted the short distance between himself and Ten, just in time to pull him off of Yuta before Taeyong and Sicheng could.

 “Ten!” Jaehyun broke off into a cough when Ten elbowed him in the stomach, struggling to get free. “Tennie, stop!”

Knowing that his interference would only upset Ten more, Johnny surpassed them to help Taeyong as he was struggling to help Yuta sit upright, but he was stopped short when Sicheng pushed him back, cursing at him in angry Chinese. Johnny understood Sicheng’s anger and he quickly lifted his hands in surrender. Sicheng waited until he had stepped back to Jaehyun and Ten’s side before he turned away to kneel down behind Yuta, propping him up against his chest while Taeyong moved his wand across Yuta’s face, healing the cut above his eyebrow, the split in his lip and the swelling of his cheekbone.

Johnny felt himself sag in relief when he saw Professor Hani approach from the High Table, Professor Do right behind her.

“What is going on?” Professor Do barked out, and with that the rest of the Great Hall fell silent.

Ten let out an angry cry, calmed only when Jaehyun loosened his grip on him and began to stroke his hair instead. Where Ten had been thrashing, he began to shiver, his body shaking with the force of his sobs. “He’s a murderer!”

Johnny felt his lungs constrict at the raw pain in Ten’s voice, the tears rolling down his cheeks. It had been so long since he had last seen Ten cry real tears of emotion.

“What?” Professor Hani asked.

Professor Do next to her shook his head. “What are you saying, Mr Leechaiyapornkul?”

“He’s a murderer,” Ten whimpered, hiding his face in the front of Jaehyun’s robes. “He’s a murderer, Jae.”

Johnny saw his own confusion mirrored on the faces around him, the silence that ensued weighing heavy until a small voice cut through it. “Professors.”

Johnny reflexively took a step to the side when he felt an elbow push into his side and then Jungwoo was pressing himself forward, coming to a halt in their middle. Vaguely, Johnny remembered Ten telling him that he had planned to meet up with Jungwoo before classes started, but he had been so distracted by Ten he hadn’t notice Jungwoo come in.

He watched as Jungwoo came to a halt in front of Professor Hani, Jungwoo’s shoulders shaking as he lowered his hands from where he had been pressing them against his chest. Blackened petals fell from Jungwoo’s hands as he tried to showcase them to the teachers and it took Johnny a moment to recognise the flowers as the same kind he had held in his hands not a week earlier.

“The plants in the greenhouse,” Jungwoo said and it was then that Johnny noticed the red-rimmed state of his eyes, the unmistakable quiver to his bottom lip. “They’re all dead.”

Chapter Text

Ten’s movements were a lot more practised than Johnny’s own. He dug his hand spade into the earth of the plant bed with practised ease, upheaving the spitfire succulent that they were kneeling in front of. Jaehyun had been against allowing Ten the hand spade, mindful of its sharpened edges and Yuta’s proximity to them where he was working at the hanging shelves with the other Gryffindors, but Johnny knew that Ten needed this. It was the last time Ten got to take care of the plants he had cared for since the beginning of the year, and he had to be allowed to do it properly.

Ten grabbed the succulent by its roots and pulled it out of the earth, setting it down carefully in front of him before he ran a gloved hand over its blackened leaves, searching for green. Johnny watched with a heavy heart when the leaves crumbled into dust upon Ten’s touch. Ten hadn’t cried since they had left the Great Hall, but Johnny could see how weary Ten grew with every dead plant they pulled out of the earth.

Ten’s shoulders tensed up before he forced them to relax and he placed the succulent’s remnants in the waiting hands of Jungwoo, who promptly ran off to add the plant to the ever growing pile of dead matter at the front of the greenhouse. It was all dead matter, Johnny realised, as he looked around to find dust rising into the air wherever students were trying to find some surviving plants. There were none. The entire greenhouse was a sea of black and withered greys.

“A curse.”

Johnny looked over to where Professor Byun was kneeling in the center of the greenhouse, his hands and wand buried in the earth in front of him. Johnny had to strain his ears, but eventually he could make out the rest of the words Professor Byun was whispering to his colleagues, “ Silvamortis. It's like blood malediction but for plants.”

Johnny felt the leather of his gloves stretch against his skin when he balled his hands into fists.

“I've never seen it unfold like this, though.” Professor Byun’s voice sounded almost awestruck, dirt falling through his fingers as he lifted his hands from the earth. “It spread so fast. Normally, it takes years for the curse to take full effect, and if you unearth the affected plants the surrounding vegetation may survive, but this--” Professor Byun inhaled deeply and when Johnny glanced at him, he looked absolutely helpless. “The closest thing to describe it is murder.”

Professor Minseok, standing by his side, rested a comforting hand on his colleague’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Baek.”

“This is powerful magic,” Professor Do said, moving so he was standing in front of both of them. “ Dark magic. Minseok?”

Professor Minseok nodded, his expression grim. “We have to send word to the Ministry. If one of our students has done this…”

“...they have to be expelled,” Professor Do finished.

Johnny pulled himself to his feet. Neither Ten, focussed on uprooting another spitfire succulent, nor Jaehyun, focussed on Ten, paid him any mind as he stepped out of the plant bed and walked over to the teachers.  

“Professor Do.”

“Yes, Mr Seo?”

“Are we going to burn the plants? Those that haven’t turned to dust already, I mean.”

Professor Do perused him for a moment before understanding dawned on his face. He turned towards Professor Byun. “Is that okay with you, Baekhyun?”

Professor Byun nodded, pulling his wand from the earth before rising to his feet. “I was a Slytherin too, Soo, I know of the saying. We have to free the earth of any remnants of the curse either way, so we might as well follow your suggestion, Mr Seo. Minseok, care to help?”

Professor Minseok clapped his hands, effectively gathering the attention of the students littered around the greenhouse. “Everyone, listen up! We thank you all for your help, but we fear that there’s no salvageable vegetation left. Please, return your gardening equipment to the tables and then you may head back up to the castle. Mr Qian, if you would be so kind to head over to Professor Park’s hut and request some fast-burn cinder from him?”

Kun, who had been working at the hanging shelves alongside Yuta and the rest of the Gryffindors, was quick to pull of his gloves and hurry over to the door.

“What is happening?” Johnny could hear Jungwoo ask when he returned to his friends.

Jaehyun took Jungwoo by the hand, leading him over to the working tables to lay down the hand spade he had taken from Ten. “They’re going to set fire to the greenhouse. Come, we have to leave.”

“What?!” Jungwoo pulled his hand from Jaehyun’s grip. “They can’t do that! The plants! We have to find the ones that survived! Ten?”

Ten’s eyes had fallen shut upon Professor Minseok’s words, his hands buried in the earth still. He pulled himself to his feet slowly, his smile empty when he looked down at Jungwoo. “It’s okay, Woo, we tried. There’s no alive plants left.”

Jungwoo’s bottom lip wobbled dangerously. “But you said--not even the Spitting Spewlip?”

“Come here.” Ten beckoned him over and Jungwoo ran into his arms. Johnny saw a spark of life in Ten’s eyes as he carded his gloved hands through Jungwoo’s hair. “There is a saying that we Slytherin believe in, do you want to hear it?”

Jungwoo nodded frantically before he buried his face in the front of Ten’s robes.

“We Slytherin believe that you have to burn what hurts you, so it may never come back to haunt you. That’s why the fire is a good thing. We’ll let the fire burn everything that is dead and then once spring comes, we’ll plant new seeds. Doesn’t that sound like a plan?

Jungwoo sniffled. “Even the Spitting Spewlip? We’ll replace even that one?”

“My uncle will send me another one.” Gently, even more gently than he had handled the plants, Ten disentangled Jungwoo from around his middle. “Come now, we’ll go outside and there we can watch the fire.”

“Wait! But if they burn the greenhouse, where will we plant our new seedlings?”

“Nothing will happen to the greenhouse,” Jaehyun reassured him. “The glass walls are fireproof and the the professors will cast protection spells over all the equipment. Only the earth will burn.”

Jungwoo seemed consoled by this. Johnny shared a glance with Jaehyun as they watched Ten walk past them, leading Jungwoo by the hand. Jaehyun sighed inaudibly before he pressed his gloves into Johnny’s hands and hurried after them.

Johnny hung back to collect the rest of their equipment, the iron bucket Jungwoo had used to carry the plant matter and his hand spade before he made a beeline for the working table Professor Minseok had pointed out. Once he had discarded the bucket and gloves, he leaned with his hip against the edge of the table, waiting.

Taeyong was standing at the back of the greenhouse with the other Ravenclaws that had come to help. He excused himself from his conversation with Seulgi when his eyes found Johnny’s, a small smile appearing on his face as he made his way over. Despite the solemn atmosphere, Johnny found it in him to smile back when he noticed the dirt on Taeyong’s cheek. He took care to wipe it off before he leaned down to pull of Taeyong’s gloves for him, throwing them onto the ever growing pile in the middle of the table. Taeyong was quick to interlink their hands once his own were bare too, leaning into him.

Taeyong sniffed as he rubbed his head over the front of Johnny’s robes. “Merlin, my head hurts. It’s all the dust, I can feel it triggering my allergy.”

Johnny frowned as he ghosted their intertwined fingertips over Taeyong’s temples. “Do you want me to go to the infirmary with you? Maybe Madame Amber can give you some Cure-All.”

Taeyong shook his head. “I can’t. I have to make sure that my Ravenclaws make it back to the castle in one piece.”

Johnny smiled at Seulgi when she walked past them, the rest of the Ravenclaws trailing behind her. “I assume that means you won’t stay and watch the fire?”

“No.” Taeyong sighed, burrowing deeper into Johnny’s chest before he pulled back, his brows furrowing in concern. “Will Ten be okay?”

Johnny thought of blood-soaked leather and stained green fabric carrying the smell of sweat, broom oil and grass. The taste of failure was dull on his tongue, not nearly as bitter as it had been when his arm had been broken still. “The plants were very important to Ten. He’s inconsolable now, but burning their remnants will help him get over it. In my experience, it works wonders.”

“That is good.”

Johnny hummed. “How’s Yuta? Ten got some pretty nasty hits in when he thought it was Yuta who did this to his plants.”

Taeyong looked over to his friends. The Gryffindors and Sicheng were lingering at the door, clearly waiting for Taeyong to join them. Johnny’s eyes met Doyoung’s and he felt relieved when he saw the lack of hostility in Doyoung’s gaze. Doyoung looked at them until Yuta, after having been fought off by Taeil, squished his cheeks together to gain his attention.

“Yuta is fine. He’s satisfied with Ten getting detention for the rest of the year.”

Johnny tried hard to ban all disbelief from his face, but Taeyong saw right through him. He smiled, “I told you Yuta is not a bad person.”

“Not to you, maybe not even to me, but it was Ten who hit him and as much as Yuta tolerates my presence in your life, he still hates my friends.”

Taeyong’s smile didn’t falter as he let go of Johnny. “Remember when you told me that my friends could never hate you as much as they like me? Well, you are you, but you are also Ten and Jaehyun. Yuta is not heartless, Johnny. He understands that Ten lashed out at him because he was grieving, at least after I explained it to him. Ten loved his plants and if there is one thing Yuta forgive, it’s how helpless we all are when it comes to love.”

“Fine.” Johnny groaned. “Maybe he is a better person than I want to admit.”

Taeyong beamed. “You’ll see soon enough, he’s the best person!”

Johnny rolled his eyes at that, but savoured the way his heart skipped a beat when Taeyong leaned up to press a kiss to the corner of his mouth. “I love you.”

“As I love you.”

“Yongie!” Taeil called from the door. “Seulgi’s waiting for you outside!”

Taeyong sighed, moving to walk away from him, but Johnny pulled him back at the last moment. It was neither the right time nor the right place, but he had to ask. He didn’t think he could have withstood another moment without asking. “Taeyong?”

“Yes?”

“Would you--” Johnny’s heart was beating too fast, irrational fear seizing his guts. He cleared his throat. “Would you like to go on a date with me?”

Taeyong’s eyes widened in surprise, his mouth falling open.

“I mean,” Johnny winced at how lamely the words left his mouth, “there’s a trip to Hogsmeade scheduled for next Saturday and we’ll be together for a month by then, so I thought we could go to Madam Puddifoot’s? Or if that’s not your thing then we can go to the Three Broomsticks, or something else if you’d like that more?”

“No,” Taeyong said and Johnny swallowed the disappointment tearing at his heart. And then Taeyong smiled. “No, Johnny, I’m not having our first date at the Three Broomsticks where both of our friend groups can watch us. I would love to go on a date with you to Madam Puddifoot’s, however.”

Johnny needed another moment to gather his bearings, which was enough time for Taeyong to giggle at him, press a kiss to his cheek and then skip away. Johnny remembered how to breathe just when Taeyong was about to follow his friends outside.

“Hey, Prefect!”

Taeyong turned back to him. “Yes?”

“I’m looking forward to Saturday.”

Taeyong grinned, poking his tongue out. “Me too, Johnny Seo, me too.”

Johnny waited until the last of the students had left the greenhouse before he followed after, bumping into Kun on his way out. He caught the fast-burn cinder in Kun’s hands before Kun could drop it.

“Oh, thanks, Johnny.” Kun’s cheeks pulled up in a smile when Johnny handed him the bundle of wooden sheets.

“No problem. The professors went to the back the seal the equipment there, so you should find them by the shelves.”

Kun nodded, reaching upwards to adjust Susan where she was sitting on top of his head, before he hurried in the direction Johnny had pointed him.  Johnny found Jaehyun and Ten waiting for him outside, their eyes fixed on the roof of the greenhouse where the vitreous shingles moved to stack themselves on top of each other.

“Where’s Jungwoo?” Johnny asked as he joined his friends.

“Momo came by,” Jaehyun explained. “She insisted Jungwoo come back to the castle with her and the rest of the Hufflepuffs. Bambam tried to convince her to let it slide, but as her co-prefect he can’t bend the rules either, so they left.”

Johnny nodded in understanding. Ten didn’t react when Johnny ran a hand through his hair, no emotion passing over his face when Johnny scratched the spot behind his ear that usually made him squirm and giggle. Johnny could see Jaehyun move his hand up and down Ten’s spine in soothing circles, but that didn’t elicit a reaction from their friend either. Instead, he shook them off.

“It’s starting,” Ten said, his eyes falling from the opened roof to the door Professor Do and Professor Byun were emerging from, Kun in their middle.

Professor Minseok followed after a moment later, turning around on the threshold. He raised his wand, sparks flying from the tip as he pointed it inside of the greenhouse. Purple light illuminated the greenhouse when the fast-burn cinder caught fire, fading into a bright orange glow as it set the plants and earth ablaze. Professor Minseok closed the door with a swish of his wand, casting another spell to seal it before he backed away.

Johnny watched as smoke billowed over the edges of the opened rooftop, flames licking higher and higher into the sky. Even contained by the walls of the greenhouse, the fire seemed all-consuming. Johnny felt a shiver run through Ten’s body when he turned to look at him, though no sound came over his lips.

You are you, but you are also Jaehyun and Ten, Taeyong had said. Johnny felt his heart seize with all the pain that he hadn’t been able to spare his friend from, felt it echoed in his chest as he watched Ten watch the fire burn and burn that which he had loved.

It wasn’t until the last of the flames had died out, the air cooling with ceasing of the fire that Professor Do spoke up, the first to break the silence.

“Come on, Baek,” he took Professor Byun by the arm, steering them both in the direction of the grounds, “we’ll go visit Chanyeol. I’m sure he still has some of that Irish whisky Jongin gave him for his birthday. Are you coming with, Min?”

“In just a moment.”

Johnny averted his eyes to the ground when the teachers passed him, mindful of the red-rimmed state of Professor Byun’s eyes. He knew that it had nothing to do with the smoke in the air.

“Mr Seo?”

Johnny looked up when Professor Minseok approached him. “Yes, Sir?”

Professor Minseok’s smile was thin, but sincere. “Curfew is soon. Please see to it that you and your friends return to the castle shortly.”

“Of course, Sir,” Jaehyun answered.

Professor Minseok smiled at Jaehyun too before he turned to follow his colleagues, patting Kun on the shoulder as he went. It seemed to shake Kun out of his fire-induced haze, a tentative smile making its way onto his face as he walked up to them.

“I’m heading back to the castle. Do you guys need anything?”

“No, we're going to stay for a bit longer.” Johnny tried to smile. “Thank you, though, Kun.”

“Don’t mention it.” Kun’s eyes lingered on Ten’s face for only a moment before he reciprocated Johnny’s smile. “I’ll see you in History of Magic.”

Johnny waved in goodbye. He watched Kun leave until he felt movement to his right. Ten was walking, moving towards the greenhouse. Johnny and Jaehyun moved in unison, following closely as Ten strode over to the vitreous wall of the greenhouse and crouched down. Johnny shared a glance with Jaehyun before they took a knee by Ten’s side. Ten ran his fingers over the grass growing closest to the greenhouse, green at the bottom and charred where it was touching the vitreous wall.  

“I’m really sorry, Tennie.”

Ten's face scrunched up, as if it pained him to speak. “I want them dead, Johnny.”

Johnny felt his heart sink. “Tennie--”

“No.” Ten shook his head. “I don’t care. Whoever did this to my plants, I want them dead and withered away and burned so that they may never come back to haunt me.  Will you promise me?”

“Ten,” Jaehyun said from Ten’s other side.

Ten gritted his teeth, his eyes returning to the charred grass. “Promise me. Promise me both that you’ll burn them. Promise me!” Ten’s voice grew in volume with every repetition before it broke.  “Jae,” he whined out and Jaehyun was quick to wrap his arms around him, pull him into his side so Ten didn’t have to hold up himself. Ten went boneless in Jaehyun’s grip, as if it was him that had been burned from the inside out. “It’s not fair. Some of them I’d just planted. They--they didn’t even get to bloom.”

Johnny shifted onto both knees so he could wipe the tears off of Ten’s cheeks that wouldn’t stop coming. “We’ll figure out who did this, Tennie.”

He found his own determination mirrored in Jaehyun’s eyes as he pressed his face to the crown of Ten’s head. “Johnny is right, Ten. We’ll find them. We promise.”

Johnny let himself fall back onto his haunches, grabbing onto Ten’s hands and squeezing them while Jaehyun murmured soothing words into his hair. A quick glance at his wrist watch told Johnny that it was several minutes after curfew now, but Johnny discarded the idea of them leaving as soon as it crossed his mind.

Ten had been there, had crawled under the piano to make sure Johnny wasn’t alone during his time of mourning and so Johnny would have spent the whole night sitting on the damp grass in front of the greenhouse, breathing in the smoke-imbued air and reassuring Ten in every way possible that he wasn’t alone in his grief, if that was what Ten needed him to do. You are you, but you are also Jaehyun and Ten, Taeyong had said and Johnny loathed being in pain.

*

It was nearing midnight by the time Ten fell asleep, shivering in his sleep at the cold that had crept beneath all of their cloaks. Jaehyun’s teeth were chittering as he hoisted Ten into his arms and Johnny desperately wished he he could have remembered the warming spell they had learned in Charms during third year, but he found no recollection of the spell in his mind as he followed his friends up the downtrodden path that would lead them back to the castle. Johnny nearly groaned once they had made it inside and he felt the feeling return to his limbs. He was silenced by the warning look Jaehyun shot him. They hid behind the statue of a fifteenth-century merchant until Professor Solar, on curfew patrol, had walked by them and rounded the corner. It was when they were sneaking down the kitchen corridor that Johnny noticed movement out of the corner of his eye and he came to a halt.

Jaehyun grunted when he noticed the lack of Johnny’s footfalls, turning around. “What’s wrong, Johnnyboy? Why’d you stop?”  

“Go on without me.” Johnny smiled when Jaehyun frowned at him. “Relax, Jae, I just have to go to the bathroom.”

“Can’t you go once we’re back in the Dungeon?”

“No, I have to go really badly. Like, right now.”

Jaehyun blinked at him in disbelief before he sighed. “Fine, that’s your ass on the line.” After a moment, he added, “Don’t take too long,”

“I’ll be right there." 

Johnny waited until Jaehyun had rounded the corner, Ten still fast asleep in his arms, before he followed the sliver of black and yellow that had caught his attention, stepping into the nook to his right. It opened up into a corridor, illuminated by the soft light of torches.

“Were you waiting for me?”

Sicheng looked up upon his words, rising off the wooden bench he had been sitting on. He was wearing his winter cloak, Johnny noticed, his neck still wrapped in his scarf and his hands still gloved as if he’d never bothered to take them off. “Johnny.”

“Sicheng.” Johnny inclined his head. “I apologise for being late. I didn’t know you wanted to talk to me.”

There was the flicker of something in Sicheng’s eyes before it disappeared, vanished behind the mask of careful consideration Johnny was used to from the other boy.

“Come…” Sicheng gestured at the wooden bench. “...sit.”

Johnny took the offer, curiosity winning out against the absurdity of the situation. Though he had an inkling, why Sicheng had beckoned him here, why he had waited four hours for Johnny to pass by the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room. And so he sat, Sicheng following suit once Johnny had made himself comfortable.

“You’re angry.” It wasn’t a question. Johnny could see it in every rigid line of Sicheng’s body and the way his jaw worked relentlessly. “I’m guessing, though, that you’re not angry on behalf of yourself.”

Sicheng furrowed his brows, looking lost until Johnny clarified, “Yuta. You’re angry because of Yuta. You’re angry for Yuta.”

The look in Sicheng’s eyes told him that he was right, and this time Johnny recognised the flash of emotion in them as the same spark he had seen in Sicheng’s eyes when he had forced him to confess to Yuta on the quad what felt like a lifetime ago. There was love in Sicheng’s eyes, such ardent and fierce love for his boyfriend that Johnny wondered how there had ever been a time when Yuta had been oblivious to the way Sicheng felt about him.

But Johnny supposed that they fit together well, Yuta and Sicheng, in the way that they never fought for themselves but always for each other, and that with such ferocity that it forced even Johnny to yield. He would yield now, Johnny knew. He was pleased to find that the thought didn’t bother him.

“Your friend… hurt Yuta.”

Johnny nodded. “And Yuta will get over it, but you won’t, won’t you, Sicheng? You’re angry.”

There was little love left in Sicheng’s eyes when he sized him up. “Ten had no right.”

Johnny didn’t disrespect Sicheng by trying to smile. “Ten made a mistake, but I understand that you’re not forgiving him. It builds up, yes? All the hurt. We hurt Yuta so much and you’ve been hurting for Yuta for a long time.”

Sicheng lowered his gaze to his hands, a tiny furrow appearing between his brows. “Yuta forgives because Taeyong... loves Johnny and Yuta don’t want to lose Taeyong. But Ten had no right. None of you can hurt Yuta.” Sicheng straightened his posture then, meeting Johnny’s gaze head on. “I won’t allow.”

“I understand.” And Johnny did. “So you are here for Yuta, and I am here for Ten, which leaves just one question. What do you want me to do, Sicheng?”

Sicheng stared at him for such a long time that Johnny thought he might have misunderstood the question, but then.

“Apologise.” Sicheng raised his chin. “You apologise. You never… make that.”

Johnny wanted to laugh at the demand before he realised what Sicheng was aiming for and then he felt himself smile for a different reason. Johnny supposed that it was fair, Sicheng wanting to break his pride. Sicheng wasn’t the first person to assume that it was something Johnny cared about deeply. But like everyone else who had done so, Sicheng was wrong. Johnny had never cared about his pride. He had only ever cared about his people.

Slowly, Johnny slid off the bench and lowered himself to his knees. The ground was unforgiving beneath him, cold seeping through his trousers as he kneeled, but Johnny paid his own discomfort no mind as he leaned forward and touched his forehead to the stone.

“I’m sorry,” he said, enunciating every syllable clearly so there was no chance of Sicheng mistaking his words. Johnny counted to one, two, three in his head, a second for every time Yuta had been left torn apart by Slytherin hands that year, and then he pulled himself to his feet.

“I will kneel for my friends’ mistakes and my own.” Johnny brushed off his robes, holding Sicheng’s gaze as he did so. “I hope you can accept my apology.”

Sicheng’s expression was unreadable, but then he nodded, a sharp jerk of his head to contradict the softened lines of his body. “I accept.”

Johnny inclined his head, waiting for Sicheng to say some more and when he didn’t, he turned to leave.

“Johnny!”

He whirled around. “Yes?”

“Don’t...forget.” Sicheng’s gaze was full of determination when Johnny searched his eyes. “I won’t allow Yuta hurt. No more.”

“No more,” Johnny agreed.

It was the right thing to strive for. No more. When he turned to leave this time, Sicheng didn’t call him back.

Chapter Text

"Morning, Seo.”

Johnny looked up from his breakfast when he felt a body settle down on the bench next to him. A heavy arm landed on his shoulder and Johnny suppressed a groan when he saw who had come to assault him this early in the morning.  

“Can I help you?”

Yuta’s smiled. “Oh, for sure. You don’t mind accompanying me for a bit, do you?”

“What do you want Johnny for?”

Yuta turned his head to shoot Ten a mirthless smile. “None of your business.”

Ten glared at him, a low growl building in his throat but he was promptly distracted by the purr Nine let out. She blinked her eyes open, stretching herself out on the table next to Ten’s plate. Yuta perused her with interest, his hand twitching as if he wanted to reach out and pet her.

Johnny cleared his throat, effectively causing Yuta to abandon Nine and look at him again. “I’ll come with you, but just so you know you and your boyfriend have terrible table manners, never letting me eat my breakfast.”

Yuta lifted his arm from his shoulders to punch him in the bicep instead. “Shut up, Winwin’s manners are impeccable.”

Ignoring the sting in his upper arm, Johnny pushed his bowl of porridge away from him. “I thought you wanted me to go somewhere with you?”

Yuta’s smile broadened as he got off the bench. “That’s right. Slither after me.”

With a sigh, Johnny extracted his long legs from under the table.

“Are you all right, Johnny?” Jaehyun’s eyes remained glued to the front of his Daily Prophet, his tone bored, but Johnny noticed the way Jaehyun was holding up the newspaper with his left now, his other hand having disappeared under the table.

Johnny waved him off. “I’ll be right back.”

Jaehyun nodded before he returned his attention back to his Daily Prophet, slapping away Ten’s hand that was wandering towards his toast.

Johnny followed Yuta out of the Great Hall and up the Grand Staircase, five flights until they had made it the Music corridor.

“You’re not going to drag me all the way to Gryffindor Tower, are you?”

Yuta rolled his eyes. “Keep dreaming, Seo. Let’s sit.”

Johnny looked at the stone bench Yuta was pointing at. “You couldn’t have picked a bench on the first floor?”

Yuta ignored him in favour of taking a seat, sprawling his legs out in front of himself as he folded his hands on his stomach. Johnny looked up and down the corridor, checking for any signs of prospective danger before he joined him. He had expected Yuta to start talking and reveal what they had come here for, maybe spontaneously pummel him, but Yuta only hummed under his breath, clearly unbothered by the silence between them. Johnny was pleased to see that their truce was holding up.

Leaning back against the wall, he wondered whether it was inappropriate for him to take a nap. Yuta might hex of his eyebrows while he slept, but Johnny was pretty sure Madam Amber had a draught for that. He was just about to close his eyes when there was noise, a door opening and Professor Chen stepped out of the Music classroom. Right behind him was Doyoung. Oh, Johnny thought, puzzle pieces sliding into place.

Professor Chen stopped short when he noticed them. “Mr Nakamoto, Mr Seo, how delightful to see you!”

“Hello, Sir,” Yuta chirped while Johnny inclined his head.

“Are you here for my office hours?”

“No,” Doyoung said, pushing past the Music teacher, “they’re waiting for me.”

Johnny had the presence of mind to nod when Professor Chen looked at him questioningly.

Professor Chen smiled. “Oh, splendid! I’m so happy to see you boys finally getting along.”

“Thank you, Professor.”

Professor Chen’s expression softened when he looked at Doyoung, the mirth in his eyes giving way to something more somber, more gentle. “You’re very welcome, Mr Kim. Come visit me anytime. I’ll have more stories about your father and more glazed peanuts as well.”

Doyoung nodded, bowing his head before he began to walk away. Johnny found himself pulled along by Yuta. They had barely rounded the corner when Johnny was pushed into an alcove, out of sight from anyone who might have happen to walk down the hall. Johnny wondered, whether Sicheng had gotten that from Yuta or the other way around.

He watched as Doyoung pulled his wand, pointing it at the draping hiding the alcove from sight. “Muffliato.”

Johnny pushed his hands into his pockets. “I guess this is the part where you tell me why you dragged me here?”

Doyoung took the time to put his wand away before he answered him. “We’re here to talk to you.”

“About?”

Yuta snorted. “About Yongie, obviously.”

“Okay.” Johnny leaned back against the wall. He couldn’t quite keep the grin off his face when he asked, “What do you want to know about him?”

Johnny savoured the way Yuta’s face scrunched up in indignation. Doyoung merely rolled his eyes, rubbing at them before he took a step forward to invade Johnny’s space. His gaze was just the tiniest bit unfocussed when he looked Johnny in the eyes. “We’re here to tell you that no one will find your body if you fuck this up.”

Johnny nodded. “I figured.”

“We mean it, though.” Yuta crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Just because we’re allowing you to take Yongie on a date doesn’t mean we’re not watching you. He probably didn’t tell you, but this is Yongie’s first date and he’s nervous about it, so you better make sure he has a great time with you. Bring him flowers, pull his chair out and make him feel like the most special boy in the world. Also you’re rich, so you better pay for him.”

“Be a gentleman,” Doyoung emphasised.  

Johnny smiled. “I’m always a gentleman.”

“And keep your hands over the table.” Yuta crossed his arms in front of his chest. “He’s my brother, so you better keep his... virtue intact.”

Johnny felt his smile broaden. “I’m sorry to inform you, Yuta, but I’ve literally had my tongue in your brother’s asshole before, so I fear it’s a little late for that.”  

Yuta let out a noise that lay somewhere between the whine of a dying kneazle and a hiccup, looking faint as he leaned onto Doyoung for support. Doyoung looked like Johnny had stupified him before he shook his head, clearing his throat. “Right, anyways, the point is that we’re not letting you hurt our best friend. Do you understand that?”

“I’d rather die than hurt him. He’s my love.”

Doyoung closed his eyes with a sigh. “Unfortunately.”

It was a dismissal as much as a blessing and Johnny smiled. He turned to leave, but stopped short before his fingers could touch the draping.

“Wait,” frowning, he looked back at the two Gryffindors, “you said it’s his first date? Didn’t Taeyong have a boyfriend before me?”

Yuta and Doyoung exchanged a glance.

Doyoung’s eyes fell to the ground, the muscles of his arms straining as he crossed them in front of his chest. Yuta watched Doyoung for a moment before he met Johnny’s eyes. “That doesn’t count.”

“Why?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Doyoung’s eyes were hard when he looked up. “He never took Yongie out on a date, so you’re his first one, which means you won’t fuck this up. Or we’ll fuck you up, understood?”

Johnny nodded. “I understand.”

Doyoung turned away then, his jaw clenching as Yuta pushed his hand into his hair and this time Johnny didn’t stop when he left. The last thing he heard before he let the draping fall back into place behind him was Yuta muttering something that sounded a lot like “Fuck the French.”

*

Johnny thought that if the colour pink had a scent, it was probably the same smell that permeated the air inside of Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop. The coffee shop was filled to the brim with people, couples seated around the abundance of gaudy round tables and everything from the frilly drapings on the walls to the pink tablecloths made Johnny want to turn on his heel and leave. But Madam Puddifoot’s was also the place Johnny had heard Yeri and her friends gush about every Friday Night for the past three years and he wanted to give Taeyong something that he could gush to his friends about. Taeil would probably be nice enough to listen to him without retching.

“Do you want to sit by the windows?”

Taeyong looked as overwhelmed by the onslaught of noise and sugary-sweet smell in the air as Johnny felt, but there was also a spark of excitement in his eyes as he nodded and that was enough for Johnny to lead them further into the shop. Taeyong was happy to be here, and so Johnny was too. Yuta and Doyoung had been right about one thing, Johnny would not mess this up.

“It’s so cute in here,” Taeyong remarked once they had taken a seat, unwrapping Johnny’s scarf from around his neck.

“It’s a bit more intensely pink than I’d expected, but I do agree.” Johnny lifted one of the coasters from their table, turning it so Taeyong could see the cat enamelled on it. He imitated its smile. “It’s very cute.”

Taeyong’s nose scrunched up with the force of his giggle and Johnny thought that he would have died a hundred kitsch-induced deaths if it meant making Taeyong this happy.

“What?” he asked, feigning hurt.

Taeyong shook his head, covering his mouth with his hand, but his eyes were alight with emotion. “You really do love me.”

“I do, but what makes you say that?”

Taeyong’s smile softened as he took Johnny’s hand. “Because, Johnny Seo, you look about as excited to be here as you did when Professor Minseok brought that embalmed acromantula to class so we could practice our multi-shot jinxes on it.” Johnny shuddered at the memory alone. “Which is to say, I know you’d rather be anywhere else than here right now.”

“First off, that big spider was terrible to look at. Second and most importantly,” he grasped onto Taeyong’s hand, intertwining their fingers on top of the table. “I am excited to be here, my love. I’m always excited when I’m with you. It’s just different from what I expected this place to be like, I promise.”

Taeyong frowned. “But I thought you’ve been here before?”

“The only dating kind of relationship I had before you was Sehun and he wasn’t really the type to, well, take me out on this kind of date.”

Taeyong squeezed his hand, swiping his thumb over the back of his hand. “He should have.”

Johnny smiled. “Sehun did what he needed to do to make me more of a person again, when I had been less for so long after my mother’s death. At that time, I needed quiet places. I needed places where less people were watching.” Taeyong’s eyes flickered across the tearoom and Johnny could see in the way his expression changed that Taeyong hadn’t noticed the stares they were given. “Sehun is very good at finding them. He was very good to me.”

When Taeyong looked back at him, there was heartbreak in his eyes that Johnny hadn’t foreseen. “Do you want to leave?”

“No.” Johnny shook his head. “I’m not like that anymore and I’ve made peace with the fact that people will always look at me, whether it’s because I’m the son of the Minister for Magic or I’m a Seo or my mother died and they once read a heart-breaking article in the Daily Prophet about it that makes them pity me. They can look. It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change me.”

“They can look.” There was fire in Taeyong’s eyes when he echoed him, burning for him.

Johnny felt his heart skip a beat when Taeyong pulled on his arm, pulling him to lean over the table. Taeyong met him halfway, their faces so close that Johnny could smell the mint on Taeyong’s breath. He wanted to taste it so badly.

“I ought to behave in public, but I don’t think I can keep myself from kissing you right now.”

“If I end up on the cover of the Daily Prophet for kissing you in public, you have to make Jaehyun give me his copy so I can cut out the article. I’ll send it to my Mum to assure her that her son is doing very well for himself.”

“You can borrow my owl.”

Taeyong smiled and then he surged forward, slotting their mouths together in a deep, near-obscene kiss that left Johnny’s head spinning.

He felt breathless as he fell back onto his chair. “Front-page worthy.”

The tips of Taeyong’s ears turned pink at the compliment, but there was also a glint in his eyes that told Johnny Taeyong knew exactly what he was doing. Both of them flinched when Madam Puddifoot appeared at their table seemingly out of thin air, two steaming mugs in hand.

“Have you dears chosen already?” She placed the mugs in front of them.

“Oh,” Taeyong’s cheeks reddened with embarrassment, “we haven’t had a chance to look at the menu yet, I’m sorry.”

“It’s no bother, dear.” Madam Puddifoot perused him for a moment before blinking her friendly button eyes. “Lemon tea with a bit of ginger and four cubes of sugar?”

Taeyong nodded in surprise, and she swung her wand.

Fascinated, Johnny watched a tea egg appear in Taeyong’s mug, slices of ginger floating up from the bottom of the cup, before Madam Puddifoot turned towards him. “And for the young gentleman, coffee, yes? Strong, almond milk but no sugar?”

Johnny nodded, smiling when the water in his own mug darkened, the welcome, bitter smell of roasted beans wafting up his nose. “Thank you, Madam.”

“You’re welcome, dear. If you handsome boys want anything else, just call out and I’ll be right with you, yes?”

“We will, thank you,” he said before Madam Puddifoot scuttled away.

Johnny waited until the tea shop owner had left fully before he picked up his mug. “How’s your mother doing?”

It wasn’t something they had talked about often ever since that morning they had spent in the bathroom after they had faced their boggarts in Defence Against the Dark Arts class. Taeyong would mention her here and there, but whenever he did, there was rarely any mention of her condition.

Yet, Johnny had witnessed the moments Taeyong took before he opened every letter from her where Taeyong would close his eyes and call to the muggle deity his mother believed in. During these moments, Johnny rarely found himself able to relax until Taeyong did, until the tension bled from Taeyong’s shoulders as soon as he made it past the first paragraph.

Taeyong’s smile didn’t falter as he picked on the chain of the tea egg, swirling the egg around in its mug. “She’s doing well. She switched doctors again, but this time she has a lot of faith in the new one.”

Johnny breathed past his relief. “I’m glad.”

Taeyong nodded. However well his mother was doing, it was not a topic he liked to stay on for long ever and Johnny respected that. “What about your dad? Is he doing well?”

Johnny smiled. “My father keeps himself busy with work, but so far there hasn’t been any big report in the papers, so he’s probably doing fine. Our housekeeper writes me that he comes home regularly to sleep and eat though, so I’m not worried.”

“Did he not do that?” The way Taeyong asked gave Johnny an out, and he was thankful for that.

He took another sip of his coffee, marvelling at Taeyong’s incandescence, his vibrance against their soft surroundings. “I didn’t really see my father, the first week after my mother was buried.”

Taeyong furrowed his brows, and Johnny smiled at how upset Taeyong looked on his behalf. Once upon a time, he had been upset about it too. “Of course, I was stricken with grief then and I don’t remember much from that time at all, but I remember being angry, angry that he wasn’t there to hold me and tell me it would be all right. I understand now that he couldn’t.” Johnny looked down at his mug. “His heart died that day.”

When he looked back up, Taeyong’s eyes were uncharacteristically shiny and Johnny smiled. “Please, don’t cry, my love. Not because of this. I assure you that my father has found a way to live on. He still has me. Not his entire heart lays buried.”

“Johnny?”

“Yes?”

“Blood malediction, it’s—” Taeyong closed his eyes and for a moment, Johnny felt worried he might bite his lip harshly enough to procure blood— “it’s hereditary.”

Taeyong didn’t say anything after that and it took Johnny some time to realise what Taeyong had meant to ask.

“I don’t have it.” He took Taeyong’s hand again, repeated himself when Taeyong wouldn’t open his eyes immediately. “I don’t have it, Taeyong. The curse only affects the female descendants of my mother’s bloodline, and hers ends with me. This is not something you have to worry about ever. I promise you, I won’t leave you.”

Taeyong’s shoulders sagged in relief. “Good.” His smile was nearly as shaky as the breath he let out. “I’m sorry for asking. I read up on it when you told me about your mother and I’ve been wondering ever since then.”

“Don’t apologise. You should have asked sooner, Taeyongie. You know I’ll always tell you the truth about whatever you want to know, you know.”

“I love you.”

“As I love you.”

“A love confession on the first date, Mr Seo?”

The joke fell flat, but Johnny smiled nonetheless. “A love confession on every date, Mr Lee, every day of the year if that’s what you’d like.” More somber, he added, “You’re my chance, Taeyong, I hope you know that.”

Taeyong lifted his sleeve from his eyes. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that with your big brain and your indominable will and your heart, Taeyong, your heart that beats for everyone and me, you’re my chance at love in this life. When I was mean to your friends, you shoved your wand up my nose. When I told you I loved you, you threatened to kill me should I be making fun of you. When I told you people would likely always look at me in public, you gave them something to look at. You don’t yield, Taeyong, not to me and not to anyone else and that’s why I love you and I chose you, and that’s why you’re my chance.

“You were the first person in my life to ever threaten me, and not for a moment since then have you ever looked at me and seen me as anything else but me. I am not an influential means to an end to you, a walking bag of gold or the son of someone famously powerful or famously dead. You’ve never cared about that, and I can’t tell you how thankful I am that I get to have you in this life, Taeyong. You’re my heart now.”

Johnny allowed his eyes to fall shut when Taeyong cupped his cheek, moved his hand up to card his fingers through his hair. “I’m really in love with you, Johnny Seo.” Soft lips pressed against his, bringing the taste of salt and sweet lemon tea. “Thank you for choosing me.”

“Wasn’t much of a choice,” Johnny recalled something that he had once told Sehun.

“For me neither.” Taeyong looked down at his hands. “It’s always been you, since I was thirteen and even when—it’s always been you.”

Johnny felt his heart skip a beat when he realised what Taeyong had omitted.  “Will you ever tell me who it was? The other guy?”

“Why?” The smile playing on Taeyong’s lips gave Johnny hope. “So you can fight for my hand?”

“I would,” Johnny furrowed his brows, “if I had to.”

“You don’t have to and you never will,” Taeyong perused him for a moment, his eyes twinkling still, “and I will tell you if you promise me to just listen and then never think about it again. Because I’d hate for the Minister for Magic to end up in the papers because his son caused an incident threatening our international relations.”

“International relations?”

Taeyong bit his lip, the red of his cheeks contrasting heavily with the green of his hair. He sighed. “Do you remember the student exchange that happened last year? When we hosted that study group of Beauxbatons students?”

Johnny did remember that, if only faintly. He’d been busy with proving himself on the Quidditch team during that time and while everyone else had been excited about the arrival of the exchange students, the novelty had worn off quickly. Johnny tried to remember whether he had ever seen Taeyong walk around with one of them more than the others, but there was only one person he could think of. He felt his jaw drop.

“No!” he exclaimed, causing several of the other patrons to look at him. Quickly, he lowered his voice. “You had something going on with the head boy? The one that lead their study group. What was his name? N—something?”

“His name is Hakyeon.” Taeyong smiled and despite Johnny’s racing heart and above all else that he was feeling, Johnny was relieved that there was no bitterness in Taeyong’s voice when he said his ex-boyfriend’s name. “He told me he liked my rather outspoken opinions on the Great Wizarding War of 1588.”

“You had a thing with the Beauxbatons head boy.” Johnny tried hard not sound as faint as he felt.

“I did.” The giggle Taeyong let out made Johnny feel proud instead. “I admit, I thought it was very cool too until his boyfriend found out.”

Johnny let a beat pass. “You know, on second thought France is supposed to be lovely in the summer. We could take a vacation there. I’m sure you wouldn’t miss me for a day or two, would you?”

“It’s okay, Johnny.” Taeyong patted his hand. “Doyoung already punched him in the face for it and after the initial shock, we left things in an amicable manner. We even write each other from time to time.”

“I think I like Doyoung,” Johnny mused, well aware of the way Taeyong’s eyes crinkled up in happiness.

“He likes you too, you know.” Taeyong took a sip of his tea. “Doyoung, I mean. Even if he won’t admit it. He respects you, especially after you apologised to Winwin.”

Johnny bit the inside of his cheek to hide is wince. “Sicheng told you about that?”

“Of course, Winwinnie tells me everything.”

“I’m not sure if I like that.”

Taeyong laughed, his eyes dark as jabuticaba fruit as he leaned forward.  “I know of all of your sins, Johnny. You’re a good liar, but you’ve been my crush for three years. I know your ways.”

For you, Johnny thought, it’s been enough. “And yet you still love me.”

Taeyong took another sip of his tea. “It’s the hair.”  

Johnny laughed, pushing his fringe out of his eyes. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

He didn’t know for how long they lost themselves in conversation after that, but by next time he managed to pry his eyes away from Taeyong’s face, night had fallen outside of the window and the tea room had become considerably less populated.

“We should head back to the castle soon. I can’t have Ravenclaw’s best prefect miss dinner.”

“That’s Jaebum,” Taeyong said as he stood up, but Johnny didn’t miss the blush on his cheeks. “He’s got way more sway with the third-years than me.”

Johnny placed a handful of sickles on the table. “I’m sure his mediation skills got nothing on yours.”

“You flatter me too much.”

As soon as they were all bundled up, Johnny took Taeyong’s hand, savouring the feeling of their warm bracelets pressing against each other. “I’m your boyfriend, my love, that’s my job.”

*

Johnny took care to kiss Taeyong long and languidly before they entered the Great Hall, savouring the last, precious moments he had where it was just the two of them. Doyoung had insisted on getting Taeyong’s dinners during the weekends, so Johnny had to make peace with leaving Taeyong to return to his own friends. When he eventually did manage to pull himself away from Taeyong and they walked into the Great Hall, he didn’t expect to come back to a riot.

All four house tables seemed to be up in arms, excited chittering and shouts creating a near unbearable level of clamour and Johnny felt his stomach clench with unease at the sight of students running from table to table, sticking their heads together with their friends.

“What’s going on?” Taeyong’s eyes went wide as he watched some of the first years from the Ravenclaw table crowd around one of their friends, who was crying into her hands while a concerned-looking Seulgi rubbed her back. In front of her, balled-up, lay a Daily Prophet.

Johnny frowned. 

“I don’t know, but I’ll find out. Go to Yuta,” Yuta would protect Taeyong, “and the rest of your friends and I’ll come over as soon as I know what’s going on.”

“Okay.” Taeyong pressed a quick, burning kiss to his lips before he hurried off.

It went against every of Johnny’s instincts to let him go, but he had bigger things to deal with right now as it seemed.

Ten was pacing up and down behind their usual bench when Johnny arrived at the Slytherin table, looking unsettled as he stroked the top of a sleepy Nine’s head. Jaehyun was sitting on the bench, unresponsive to the clamour around him, but Johnny could see the way the soft gold of his spoon was bending in his grip. Jaehyun’s Daily Prophet had fallen into his soup, slowly soaking up the liquid.

It was Hansol who greeted him, standing up as soon as he noticed Johnny approach. “Johnny! Have you heard?”

Johnny shook his head, and Hansol’s expression twisted. Johnny felt his heart sink as he took the unscathed Daily Prophet Hansol held out for him, unfolding it slowly. The entire front page was taken up by a wanted poster. In the very center of it was the photo of a woman that Johnny had only ever seen on photos before, but he recognised her by her gummy smile alone. At the very top of the page, in large, emboldened letters, it said Wife of Deceased War Hero Escapes Azkaban.

He felt his lungs give out. “That’s—”

“Sooryun Kim,” Hansol confirmed. “It says that she broke out of Azkaban. They don’t know how she did it, but there’s rumours that the Ministry has been trying to cover it up and—”

Johnny turned towards the Gryffindor table, finding it empty of any fifth-year boys. Only Taeyong was there, his searching gaze meeting Johnny’s across the hall. Johnny felt the paper in his hands crinkle when he balled them into fists at the helplessness in Taeyong’s eyes. Over their heads, up at the ceiling of the Great Hall that mirrored the weather outside, there was a storm brewing. 

Chapter Text

Johnny closed the door to the fifth-year dormitory firmly behind him. For the first time that night, he was thankful for the uproar that dinner had turned into. It meant that Hansol would be busy for the next hour or so, calming everybody's nerves, and the dormitory was all theirs.

"You can sit on my bed."

Taeyong's nod was solemn, distracted and for a moment Johnny felt bad that he had asked him here. Taeyong had wanted to search for his friends right away, but Johnny had asked him to come back to the Slytherin dorms with them instead.

Ten was already sprawled out on Johnny's bed by the time Taeyong sat down next to him, curled around Nine's purring form. He bedded his head on Taeyong's thigh as soon as Taeyong had settled down and Johnny smiled when, after a moment of hesitation, Taeyong rested his hand on top of Ten’s arm. Ten let his eyes flutter close, painting a perfect picture of disinterest, and Johnny was grateful for the way Taeyong's shoulders seemed to lose some of their tension the longer he tapped his fingers against Ten's shoulder.

Johnny felt his smile falter when he sat down on Ten's bed. Jaehyun was staring at his hands, pushing his signet ring from finger to finger. He didn't look up when the mattress dipped under Johnny's weight and so Johnny remained silent, patient even though he felt anything but. Betrayal was pain and pain was unbearable to him, but there were bigger things to be concerned about right now.

He didn't know how much time passed until Jaehyun spoke up. "I didn't know right away."

Johnny hummed. He could feel Jaehyun’s anxious heartbeat echo in his own chest just by looking at him, even if they sat a metre apart. “But you did know?”

The fiddling of Jaehyun’s hands stilled. When he looked up, his eyes were uncharacteristically shiny. “I thought Father might be asking about Doyoung because of the rivalry, because he wanted to know whether I was getting myself in trouble again, but…”

“It was about her, Doyoung’s mother.”

Jaehyun nodded. His shrug looked helpless. “They can’t find her. It’s like she vanished into thin air. Neither the Dementors nor the Auror Department have been able to find a single trace of her and they’ve been searching for months.”

“Months?” Taeyong looked enraged. “She’s been missing for months and they haven’t told the public?”

“Taeyong.” Johnny raised his hands in a placating manner. “This is standard Ministry procedure. If something like this happens, the Auror Department has to contain it.”

Taeyong scowled. “That’s easy for you to say when your father is the one who gave the order.”

“Actually,” Ten opened his eyes, gazing up at Taeyong with his teeth on display. Nine, on his stomach, licked her single fang, “they do it to prevent a wide-spread panic among the wizard population, because it would inevitably hinder their search. But then why should they do that, right? It’s better to let anyone know right away that some crazy bitch escaped from Azkaban so that everyone and their muggle grandfather may start flooing into the Ministry because they saw Doyoung’s mother in their garden hiding behind the rose bushes.” Taeyong faltered at the sharpness of Ten’s words. “Apart from that, the one who decides the investigation procedure is the captain of the Auror brigade, not Johnny’s dad.”

“I’m sorry,” Taeyong mumbled. “I’m just—”

“We get it.” Ten closed his eyes again, grabbing onto Taeyong’s hand to squeeze it. “You’re worried about Doyoung.”

Taeyong looked like he was about to cry, and Johnny wished he’d been able to comfort him, to procure Doyoung from his pocket so that Taeyong would have been able to fuss over him and lose the tension in his shoulders. “Doyoung doesn’t talk about her, so we don’t ask him, but reading this in the papers—”

“Doyoung knew.”

Johnny turned to look at Jaehyun in surprise, whose ears turned pink under the sudden attention of the room. He cleared his throat. “Doyoung is her next of kin. The Ministry notified him of her disappearance as soon as the legally allowed time period for covert proceedings ran out. My father sent me a blind copy of the letter.”

Taeyong’s eyes widened. “When was this?”

Jaehyun bit his lip, looking back down at his hands. “I tried to talk to him that day, you know, but all he did was tell me to get lost. And then later on, he asked me not to tell anyone.” When Jaehyun looked up at Taeyong, his gaze was scrutinising, as if he was trying to solve a riddle. “He was scared that his friends would leave him if all of you knew she was on the loose, though I don't think he meant to tell me.”

Johnny furrowed his brows. “When was this, Jae?”

 “The letters, Doyoung and I got two months ago. Missing, she’s been since the beginning of September.”

Johnny breathed in deeply. Betrayal was pain and pain was unbearable to him. “Why didn’t you tell me?"

Jaehyun shrugged. “I had bigger things to worry about then.”

Johnny frowned. “Like what?”

“Like you, Johnnyboy," Ten said, his maths always so much quicker than Johnny's. "If it’s been two months, Doyoung and Jaehyun got the letter two weeks after Yuta burned your book.”

There was no mirth in Jaehyun’s smile when he looked at him. “You had enough on your plate. Do you remember the day Sehun took you out drinking?”

Johnny did remember that day. He also remembered what had happened that morning. He’s been spread thin since breakfast, Taeil had said as he had pressed Doyoung against the wall. Breakfast was when the morning mail was delivered. It made so much more sense now. Johnny leaned forward and curled his hand around Jaehyun's nape, pressing their foreheads together. It was a silent apology, but Jaehyun accepted it all the same. When he looked to the other bed, he found Taeyong staring at the ground, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth.

“Taeyongie?”

Taeyong shook his head, his eyes brimming when he looked up. “It’s been such a long time and he never—he didn’t tell any of us. For months. He could have told me. He could have told Yuta, Taeil, Winwinnie. How could he think we’d ever leave him alone with this?”

Everybody always gets hurt because of me, Doyoung had said. Johnny rose to his feet, extending his hand. “Come on. I’ll walk you to Gryffindor Tower and we’ll figure it out together. If it’s necessary, I’ll hex the door to their dorm open for you.”

Taeyong’s lips twitched into a smile at that, if it never fully formed. He took Johnny’s hand, letting Johnny help him to his feet. Johnny used the opportunity to pull Taeyong into his arms, pressing his nose in his hair for only a moment. “It’ll be all right.”

Taeyong buried his face in Johnny’s chest before he pulled away. This time around, his smile was a lot more real. “Thank you.”

Johnny let him go. While Ten demanded Taeyong’s attention by stretching his arms out for a hug, Johnny turned to lean down when he felt Jaehyun grasp onto his underarm.

“Johnny,” Jaehyun’s whisper was almost frantic. “Doyoung, he—”

“I know.” Johnny watched as Ten squeezed the merry life out of Taeyong, loudly cooing into his ear while his eyes met Johnny’s over Taeyong’s shoulder. Johnny kept his voice barely above a murmur. “Wait two minutes and then follow us. Taeyong doesn’t want to see it, but there is no way Doyoung is stable right now. I’m not risking anything.”

“Okay.” The urgency in Jaehyun’s eyes faded into determination, almost relief. “We’ll follow you.”

Johnny squeezed Jaehyun’s shoulder before he pulled away and went to free Taeyong from Ten’s embrace. Nine swiped her paw at him, just as Ten let go of Taeyong. Ten picked her up immediately, lightly scratching the top of her head, much to her purring delight. His eyes met Johnny’s. “Good luck with the Gryffindor Almighty.”

“Never needed luck.”

Johnny dodged the kick Ten aimed at his shin, pulling Taeyong out of harm’s way with him. He opened his palm when Taeyong grasped onto his hand, allowing their fingers to slide together. Johnny could feel Jaehyun looking after them until the door to the dormitory fell shut behind them.

The common room was bustling as they passed through. It seemed like all of House Slytherin had gathered on the sofas in the common room to discuss the evening issue of the Daily Prophet. Johnny could see Hansol and the other prefects try to bring order into the chaos. He could Sehun try to catch his eye from one of the sofas in the back corner of the room, but a quick shake of Johnny’s head had Sehun turn back to his friends.

“I hate it,” Taeyong said once they had made it out of the Dungeon, ascending the steps that lead to the Entrance Hall. “I hate that they’re all talking about her as if it’s any of their business.”

“No one has managed to escape from Azkaban since the war. It’s big news, especially because no one knows where she is. Don’t forget that, to the public eye, Doyoung’s mother is a threat. Tonight, everyone will go to sleep seeing her hiding under the bed.”

“She’s not a threat.”

“She stabbed her own son in the face with a bottle, Taeyong, I’d say she’s a threat to everyone that comes close to her.”

Taeyong bit his lip, swallowing more words that weren’t meant for Johnny’s ears. Johnny didn’t resent him for it. It wasn’t Taeyong’s own secret Taeyong was keeping. “Do you think they’ll catch her soon?”

“Probably,” Johnny inhaled sharply as they jumped to catch a shifting stairwell leading up to the fourth floor. “She can’t hide forever, especially because she has nowhere to go. I doubt Doyoung’s grandmother will welcome her with open arms, and that’s about the only living relative she has left.”

“No,” Taeyong said as they reached the fifth floor. His voice came out mumbled, lost in thought. “No, she’s not.”

It was the sound of voices rising that made Johnny pull Taeyong behind his back as they rounded the corner to the Gryffindor corridor. Taeyong didn’t stay there for long.

 “Taeil!” Taeyong cried out, taking off, and Johnny hurried to run after him.

Taeyong pushed Sicheng to the side and Johnny felt his heart sink when he got closer to Taeil, Yuta and Sicheng, who were standing in front of the door that lead to the Gryffindor common room. Or had been. Only Sicheng was left standing. Taeil was writhing on the floor, and even from a distance Johnny could tell that his pupils were milky, his eyelids fluttering rapidly. Yuta had thrown himself on top of him, trying to contain his thrashing but it was to no avail. Taeil was fighting against him, fighting against something with all his might, clawing at his throat like a man drowning. All that came out of his mouth were gargled sounds.

Johnny grabbed Sicheng by the arm. “What happened?!”

Sicheng didn’t look at him as he shook his head, his eyes widened in terror.

“Taeil!” Taeyong repeated, pointing his wand at his throat. “Anapneo!”

“Sicheng tried that.” Yuta winced when Taeil’s knee hit him in the side. “There’s nothing actually blocking his throat. He’s just--”

“—having a vision.” Johnny pulled his wand.

“His visions don’t look like this.” Yuta growled, whether that was because he was still struggling to hold Taeil down or he knew he was wrong. “He maybe mumbles a bit and falls out of bed, but this—”

“Taeil not… choking.” Sicheng looked close to crying as he stared at his friend and then he tapped his fingers against his cheekbone, drawing a circle around his eye. “Seeing.”

Taeyong pocketed his own wand. “We have to get him to the infirmary.”

“I agree.” Johnny nodded. “Can you carry him on your own, Yuta?”

“I got it.” Yuta grabbed onto Taeil’s knees, narrowly avoiding being kneed in the eye. Sicheng was there a moment later, slinging his arms under Taeil’s shoulders. They shared a glance before they rose to their feet, lifting Taeil with them. Taeil’s trashing receded once he was in the air, if his fingers remained at his neck. The sounds escaping from his throat were still unintelligible. Yuta and Sicheng being moving in unison, carrying Taeil down the hall.

Johnny held Taeyong back when he was about to follow his friends. “Taeyong, wait a moment. Doyoung isn’t with them.”

Taeyong pried his eyes away from Taeil’s twitching form to look up at him. He blinked at him before Johnny’s seemed to sink in and his eyes widened. “Yuta!” he called out, causing the Gryffindor to turn his head where he was still holding onto Taeil’s legs. He didn’t stop walking. Taeyong freed himself from Johnny’s grip to run after him.

Johnny tightened his grip on his wand before he followed with long strides. 

“Where is Doyoung?”

Yuta’s eyebrows knitted together in confusion before his eyes became impossibly round. It made him and Taeyong look scarily alike. “Fuck.”

Yuta faltered in his step and Sicheng was quick to stop, too, so they wouldn’t drop Taeil.

“What do you mean ‘fuck’? Where is he, Yuta?”

“Heechul,” Sicheng said.

“Doyoung got summoned to Heechul’s office,” Yuta explained. “Professor Hani came by to tell us before she went back to the Great Hall to calm everyone down. Taeil offered to go with him. They were together, he—when I saw Taeil on the floor, I didn’t even think of it.”

Taeyong crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Doyoung wouldn’t leave him.”

“Maybe he didn’t have a choice,” Johnny said at the same time that Yuta said, “Maybe he went to get help.”

They looked at each other, and Johnny was surprised to find that Yuta wasn’t glaring at him. Instead, his expression shifted, laced with concern, but above all, there was a plea in his eyes. Yuta looked at Taeil’s form, and then back up at Johnny. It took Johnny a moment to understand.

“Go.” Johnny squared his shoulders. “Get Taeil to the infirmary. Taeyong and I will find Doyoung. My friends will help, too.”

Yuta gritted his teeth and, adjusting his grip on Taeil’s legs, he nodded. “That’s my best friend, Seo.” His eyes flickered over to Taeyong. “The both of them.”

“I know.” Johnny forced his voice to remain as calm as he wished he could feel. But he didn’t lie when he said, “You can give them to me.”

Yuta held his gaze for only a moment longer before turned away. “Let’s go,” he told Sicheng before they continued their way down the hall.

Johnny grasped onto Taeyong’s hand, gently pulling him in the opposite direction. “Come on, love, I know a short-cut.”

Taeyong didn’t take his eyes off of his friends, but followed him all the same. Johnny steered them towards a wall draping further down the hall. Johnny knew that it lead to a tunnel which would spit them out on the second floor. Jaehyun and Ten had discovered it after a playing a prank on the Gryffindors the year before.

“It’s not Doyoung’s fault.” Taeyong followed him into the narrow stairway once Johnny had pulled the draping to the side. “Sometimes, when he gets upset, he does things he doesn’t mean to do, but it’s not his fault. He would have never left Taeil alone.”

In the dark, Johnny squeezed Taeyong’s hand in reassurance. “We’ll find him.”

They found Ten and Jaehyun in the Great Hall, Johnny having to call them back from the first steps of the Grand Staircase. He was still waving when he was barrelled into, short arms wrapping around his torso.

“Cousin!”

Johnny had to let go of Taeyong’s hand to pry Donghyuck off of him. “Hyuck, what are you doing here?”

A short glance upwards reassured him that Donghyuck hadn’t left the Dungeon alone. Renjun, Chenle and Jisung had come with him. Mindful of his condition, they had taken Chenle into their middle and Mark was there too, struggling to push up his glasses while holding onto Renjun’s hand at the same time. Johnny looked back down at his cousin when he felt a small fist pound against his stomach.

“You weren’t there!” Donghyuck’s cheeks were red with agitation. “Everyone in the common room is yelling and you weren’t there to make it quiet! Tennie said you had left and they were leaving, too!”

“Duck,” Ten said exasperatedly, coming up from behind them, “didn’t I tell you to stay with Lisa?”

Donghyuck ignored him to tug on Johnny’s sleeve instead. “What’s happening, Cousin? Is it the bad lady?”

Johnny could see by the way Jisung was leaning forward that the rest of the tikes were interested too. Even Mark let his glasses slide down the bridge of his nose to listen. Taeyong, next to him, cleared his throat.

“It’s nothing, Hyuck.” He cupped his cousin’s cheeks for emphasis, lightly shaking his head for him. “You have nothing to worry about. None of you.” He made sure to meet both Jisung and Chenle’s eyes, smile at Renjun and Mark. “Go back inside and find Lisa. Yeri must be with her, ask her to play Goblin’s Gold with you. I’ll come by tonight and then you can tell me who won, yes?”

“But—”

“Donghyuck Seo,” Johnny regretted the harshness of his tone the moment he saw Donghyuck flinch away from him, but he had no time to apologise. “I just told you what I’d like you to do, so what will you do?”

Donghyuck sulked. “Go back to the common room. Ask Yeri to play Goblin’s Gold.”

“And don’t leave until I’m back.”

Donghyuck looked like he was about to protest again, but then Mark was calling out for him, smiling as he held out his hand. “Come on, Duckie, we should go back if Mr Johnny says so.”

Donghyuck hesitated for another moment before he went. Chenle and Jisung were quick to follow him. Mark took the time to shoot Renjun a reassuring smile before he lead him towards the stairs by their intertwined hands. Johnny waited until Renjun’s flaming red hair had disappeared around the corner before he turned towards his own friends, finding both Jaehyun and Ten looking at him expectantly already.

There was no way to break the news gently, so Johnny didn’t, “Doyoung is gone.”

“What?” Ten gasped while Jaehyun paled.

“He was supposed to go to Headmaster Heechul’s office, but it’s safe to assume he never made it there. Taeil was having a vision when Taeyong and I arrived. He was supposed to be with Doyoung, but Doyoung was nowhere in sight. Taeyong says Doyoung wouldn’t have left Taeil behind if he hadn’t felt like he needed, so something must have happened.”

“Maybe it was the vision. Taeil does this weird muttering when he’s seeing something, right?” Ten looked at Taeyong for confirmation. “Maybe Taeil saw something that scared Doyoung.”

Taeyong’s eyes widened. “That’s actually a sound idea.”

“Merlin, thanks.”

“Ten,” Johnny and Jaehyun said at the same time and Ten rolled his eyes. “I’m smart,” he grumbled, “just saying.”

“I’m sorry, Ten,” Taeyong said earnestly. “I didn’t mean to insult you.” He lifted his hand to bite on the skin of his thumb, “I’m just worried.”

Johnny forced Taeyong’s hand away from his mouth while Ten beamed at him. “Don’t worry, Taeyong. We’ll find your idiot friend.”

“So what do we do now?” It was the urgency in Jaehyun’s voice that made the air turn somber.

Johnny looked at Taeyong. “Is there any place Doyoung usually goes when he’s upset? Even if he’s not himself, his muscle memory might have lead him there.”

“No, Yuta usually just takes him back to their dormitory, unless—” Taeyong inhaled sharply. “The Astronomy Tower. It’s out of bounds except for classes. When we were younger, he used to go there when he wanted to be alone. That was before I started taking him to the kitchens, but he—he might be there.”

“Then you’ll go there first.” Johnny squeezed his hand, willing the hope in Taeyong’s eyes to prevail. “Take Ten with you. He’s a better tracker than both Jaehyun and I, so if you don’t find Doyoung there, you can go back to the Gryffindor dorm and try to cast an owner-token tracking spell.”

“You’re not coming with us?” Ten pulled his wand from his pocket.

Johnny shook his head. “We can cover more ground if we split up. I have another idea where he might be, but that’s just a hunch. If it turns out I’m wrong, we’ll come find you.”

Ten didn’t look amused, but a look at Taeyong had him concede. Grabbing onto Taeyong’s underarm, he steered them in the direction of the Grand Staircase. “Good luck.”

Johnny felt the ghost of a smile pass over his lips. “Never needed luck.”

He allowed himself another moment of watching Taeyong ascend the stairs, his green hair vibrant in the firelight of the torches, before he turned towards Jaehyun.

“You lied to him.” There was no accusation in Jaehyun’s voice, simply wonder. “You are a better tracker than Ten is. Why’d you sent Ten to go with him?”

Johnny went for the doors that lead out of the castle, secure in the knowledge that Jaehyun would follow him. “I’m a better tracker than Ten, but Ten’s Incarcerous is better than mine.”

Understanding dawned on Jaehyun’s face, easing the lines of worry marring his features. “What do you think where Doyoung is?”

The night’s air was cold, biting despite the slow arrival of spring, and Johnny pulled up the hood of his robes. “When Taeil was having a vision, he kept clawing at his throat. It was like he was trying to speak but he couldn’t.”

“Merlin, you think he was being choked?”

“No, I think he was drowning.” Johnny reached out his wand, pointing it in the direction he was leading them.

“The lake?” Jaehyun frowned. “Why would he go there?”

“I don’t know, but if he is there, I’d like to be there to pull him out when he falls in.”

Johnny noticed that Jaehyun faltered in his step, his steps becoming hesitant before they slowed to a stop. “Johnny—”

“I know.” Johnny smiled, allowed his features to soften. “You’ll run, yes? You’ll get help while I go into the water.”

“Maybe—” Jaehyun bit the inside of his cheek—“maybe it’s not enough. Maybe you’ll need me if he’s too heavy and then I can’t—”

“You don’t have to go into the water, Jaehyun.” Johnny grabbed onto his underarm, gently pulled him along. “I’ll get him out of the water, you’ll get help. That’s how we’ll do it, okay?”

Johnny pretended he didn’t see the way Jaehyun’s eyes clouded over for just a moment before he nodded, and then his feet picked up pace. Johnny groaned internally before he matched his footfalls and together, they ran down the path that would lead them to the lake.

It wasn’t until they had passed by the Groundkeeper’s Hut that Johnny stumbled when Jaehyun pulled him to a hard stop, causing Johnny to fall. Johnny caught himself by taking a knee, surprised when Jaehyun followed him down. Johnny wanted to ask what was going on, but he was cut short when Jaehyun slapped a hand over his mouth. Jaehyun used the other to push against the space between Johnny’s shoulder blades until they were both lying on their stomachs, hidden by the outskirts of Professor Park’s pumpkin patch.Silenced, Johnny followed Jaehyun’s line of sight. He exhaled sharply when he saw what had made Jaehyun drag them to the ground.

Doyoung was walking not a hundred metres to their left, his school robes billowing in the wind as he calmly, steadily trotted down the path that lead to the Forbidden Forest. In the dark of the night, there was little visible except for his face and hands, illuminated by the moon light, but even from afar Johnny could make out the eerie expression on his face. Doyoung wasn’t angry, Johnny noted. He didn’t seem to be much of anything. In his hands, there was a sliver of white, something Johnny couldn’t make out.

“Where is he going?” Jaehyun murmured, causing Johnny to lick against his palm. “Oh, sorry.”

Johnny inhaled deeply once Jaehyun had lifted his hand from his mouth. “I don’t know, but I think this is the part where we follow him to find out.”

Jaehyun was already on his feet, using Professor Park’s pumpkins for cover. Johnny made sure his wand was still in his pocket before he followed. It wasn’t until they breached first line of trees of the Forbidden Forest that Jaehyun cursed. “I can’t see anything. How are we supposed to follow him in this darkness?” 

“We can’t cast a Lumos charm, he might see the light and run away, or worse, start shooting curses at us.”

Jaehyun groaned, almost inaudibly. “I’m so going to beat him up once this is over. You can’t hold me back this time, Johnny.”

“I don’t think I want to. Hold on, I have an idea. Sequitur,” Johnny mumbled, watching as the footsteps Doyong had left lit up like glowing embers. He was quick to follow them before they faded. 

Jaehyun’s breathing was loud behind him. “You’re a genius, Johnnyboy.”

“I used to use that one to find Donghyuck during hide-and-seek.”

“You cheated during hide-and-seek?”

“The swords that are hanging above the chimneys at Seo Manor are real, Jae. Of course I cheated.” 

“Fair,” Jaehyun breathed, right into his nape when Johnny came to an abrupt stop. This time it was Johnny who cursed.

They had made it to a clearing, thick trees lining the edge which kept them hidden for now. Doyoung had made it to the middle of it. He was standing with his back to them, nearly indistinguishable against the dark backdrop of the forest surrounding them. That was until he shifted, moving to reveal a smaller, more slender frame that had been hidden by the width of his shoulders.

The first thing Johnny noticed was that she was smaller than Ten even. Her hair was cropped short, grown out unevenly where it once had been shaved and Johnny could tell by the mismatched quality of her clothes that she had scavenged them. Johnny’s stomach dropped when he recognised the shirt she was wearing, deep red in colour with a heart on the pocket. It was made from velvet, Johnny knew, because he had bought it.

“Jae,” he heard himself whisper.

Jaehyun next to him was silent. When Johnny chanced a glance at him, he found Jaehyun motionless in his spot next to him. His expression was void, shuttered and Johnny realised with trepidation that it wasn’t Jaehyun’s people face. It was the mask of his that hid fear.

The mask shattered when Jaehyun looked at him. “Her teeth, Johnny.” Jaehyun’s voice broke as he covered his mouth with his hand. “Look at her mouth.”

Johnny turned his head to watch as her lips pulled into a gummy smile, and Johnny might have marvelled at how much she looked like Doyoung when she did so, or how beautiful she must have been once upon a time, but that was not what caught his attention. What caught his attention was that her right upper tooth was missing, leaving her with a single incisor. A single fang.

Johnny turned around when he felt nausea take over him. A single press against Jaehyun’s back was all Johnny managed to instruct him not to move. He traced their path backwards until he deemed it safe, and then forced himself to breathe. His wand was vibrating in his hand, humming in worry and Johnny forced his shaking hands to grip it more tightly. He needed to focus.

It was easy to summon a memory, the recollection a perfect moment suspended in time. Johnny closed his eyes as he thought of slender fingers curling into his waist, a sharp smile from kiss-swollen lips and soft, glimmering eyes that were open, unafraid and I chose you because I love you, Johnny. The spell came easily over Johnny’s lips, silver spilling from the tip of his wand bright enough to light up the dark, bright enough to light up his heart until he was met with half a dozen greyhounds peering up at him from where they had fallen onto their hindlegs, tails wagging expectantly.

“We are at the clearing that marks the entrance to the Forbidden Forest,” Johnny told his patroni. “Sooryun Kim has come for her son. She is an animagus. She—“ Johnny swallowed down the nausea causing his stomach to roil once again—“She can turn into a black cat. Help us. Be quick.”

With that and another flick of his wand, the greyhounds jumped up, chasing each other in the direction of the castle. Once the last glimmer of silver had faded from the air, Johnny fought his way back through the shrubbery to Jaehyun’s side. It didn’t seem like Jaehyun had moved at all since Johnny had left him, but he was holding his wand now. On the clearing, Johnny saw that Doyoung had fallen to his knees. With their breathing held and the Forest swallowing all other sound, the voices of Doyoung and his mother carried over to them.  

“Mum.” It was the whimper of a child that Doyoung uttered.

Sooryun smiled, and in the night Johnny thought he saw her green eyes reflect like a cat's. “My sweet, sweet boy.” She reached out a hand, cupping Doyoung’s cheek. “It’s been so long.”

“Mum,” Doyoung repeated, reaching out his hand as if to touch her. “You’re really here.”

Sooryun caught his wrist, twisting it back in a way that Johnny knew must have hurt, but Doyoung didn’t even react. He quickly pulled back his hand, hunching his shoulders as he averted his eyes to the ground. “I’m sorry.”

Where Sooryun’s face had been marred with anger, her expression softened. “Don’t say you’re sorry, sweet. There’s nothing to be sorry about. I forgive you. I know you would have come for me if you had known how.”

Doyoung’s shoulders drew back, causing him to fall onto his haunches and Johnny felt Jaehyun twitch next to him. He caught him by the arm, shaking his head vehemently when Jaehyun glared at him. Wait, Johnny mouthed.

They both turned their heads back to the clearing when Sooryun continued, “But all that doesn’t matter anymore.” Her voice was akin to a purr. “I’m here now. We can leave together.”

Johnny knew there was no holding Jaehyun back this time, even before Jaehyun moved. Johnny tried, struggled to catch onto the back of his robes, but the silken fabric slipped right through his fingers. Jaehyun broke past the bushes hiding them from view and the sound of twigs breaking, leaves crunching was enough to make both Sooryun and Doyoung look at him. Curse this Gryffindor for making him brave, Johnny thought.

Jaehyun’s voice was too loud, too light when he called out, “Hey, Doyoung, you’re not leaving, are you?”

Doyoung's expression was overtaken by confusion when his eyes found Jaehyun's. "Jaehyun?”

“Don’t go with her, Doyoung.”

Doyoung stared up at him, the confusion in his eyes giving way to hurt. “You can’t be here.”  

“Yet I am.” Jaehyun took another step towards him, ignoring the way Sooryun snarled at him. “Don’t go with her, Doyoung. I know you want to, but you can’t, okay? Don’t leave with her. She’s a criminal and they’ll never stop searching for her. They’ll never stop searching for her for what she did to you. Don’t you remember what she did to you?”

Jaehyun raised his hand, covering his left eye. Doyoung swallowed, his eyes following the movement, his hand twitching to mirror the action. He didn't take his eyes off of Jaehyun until Sooryun cupped his cheek once again, forcing his head to the side. Standing up, she was only a head taller than Doyoung was kneeling.

“We have to leave." Her voice was saccharine, hushed as if to exclude Jaehyun from their conversation. "You got my message. You saw the newspaper. Jaehyun is right, they’ll never stop searching for me. You don’t want them to take me away from you again, do you? You know I never meant to hurt you, sweet. We have to go now.”

Doyoung shook his head, an infinitesimal jerk of his head, but it was there. His eyes returning to fixate on Jaehyun. “No, we shouldn’t, we—”

The sound of Sooryun’s palm connecting with Doyoung’s cheek was deafening in the silence of the clearing.

Johnny cursed under his breath and, praying that his greyhounds had run fast, he rushed forward.

Jaehyun mirrored his action, pushing against Sooryun's chest until she stumbled backwards. “Don't touch him!"

Where Sooryun had looked bemused upon Jaehyun’s appearance, her expression darkened when she regained her footing. She swiped her arm at him as if she had claws. Johnny quickened his pace and raised his wand. Sooryun’s expression darkened another fraction when she saw him approach.

"Doyoung!" she cried out, wailing as if she had been hurt, and Doyoung moved to cover his ears with his hands. "We have to leave! Now!"

"No!" Jaehyun put himself between her and Doyoung's quivering form. Another push to her chest, anything to keep her away. "You can't have him. He belongs to us!"

Johnny saw the flash of danger in her eyes, the Incarcerous spell on his lips when he was blinded by white light, heat passing through his body as he felt his wand fly from his hands.

“Expelliarmus!”

It was the sudden satisfaction on Sooryun’s face that scared Johnny, more than the familiarity of the voice that had just disarmed him. Wandless, Johnny felt his heart sink to his knees as he watched the familiar figure emerge from the trees surrounding them.

There was an eerie smile on his face as he caught Johnny’s wand. “Hey, Johnny.”

“Kun?” Jaehyun asked incredulously.

Kun ignored him as he walked past, undeterred until he came to a halt in front of Sooryun. Jaehyun’s mouth dropped open when she greeted Kun with a smile and a gentle touch to his cheek. Johnny felt a surge of anger when he saw Kun hold out Johnny’s wand for her, her fingers curling around the lacquered cedar. Kun turned around to face them and once he had done so, Johnny realised what made Kun’s smile eerie. It didn’t reach past his lips. Kun’s eyes were empty, glazed over.

The words slipped out of Johnny’s mouth before he could stop them. “You put an Imperius curse on him.”

He took a step back when Sooryun laughed. There was no sweetness left to her. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Doyoung start to rock back and forth, Jaehyun moving instinctively to cover him more.

“Johnny Seo,” the way his name rolled off of Sooryun’s tongue made Johnny feel nauseous, “always the smartest of your friends, are you not? If someone had to figure it out, it had to be you.”

“Let him go,” Johnny demanded. “Kun has nothing to do with this.”

“He has not, which makes him so perfect. He’s invisible, and not just to my very oblivious owner.” Sooryun spit out the word like a curse. “You didn’t saw him coming, Johnny, and there’s few things you miss, are there? Nothing escapes you, really, except the things that are right in front of you. Like I was.”

Jaehyun snarled. “You’re crazy.”

Sooryun scowled at him. “I should have clawed your eyes out in your sleep when I had the chance, Jaehyun Jung.

Jaehyun raised his wand at her, but before he could cast any kind of spell, Kun had moved in front of her, his face impassive as he took a duelling stance. Jaehyun faltered. Slowly, he lowered his wand.

Sooryun’s laughter persisted. “Oh, he’s great, isn’t he? And so handsome, too. If only he spent less time with that purple dust ball, he could be so much more noticeable. Then, he did try to warn you.”

Sooryun clacked her tongue as if she was reprimanding a child. Johnny took a glance at Doyoung, who was still rocking back and forth. There were red marks on his face where his own nails were digging into his skin, his eyes screwed shut tightly.

“Such a stupid, brave boy. He tried to run away, you must know, when I found him. An unfortunate decision on his part, that he didn’t want to help me get back to my son, but now he listens very well. He cried a bit when I made him cast the Silvamortis, but he has learned to obey me. I’ll show you.” And then her expression darkened. “Get rid of the Jung for me, darling. Dongyeon and I should leave now.”

With his wand in Sooryun’s hands, Johnny was forced to watch as the jinx left Kun’s lips. Jaehyun was quick enough, raising his wand as he bellowed out “Protego!”

The force of the two curses colliding sent both of them a step back. Kun’s expression darkened, his eyes just as reflective as Sooryun’s when the moonlight hit them. He swung his wand once again.

“Stupefy!” The curse came out of left field, too weak to do any real damage, but it made Kun stumble. “Johnny!”

Johnny felt his heart stop when he whirled around to find a mop of auburn hair appear at the edge of the clearing, his cousin’s form emerging from the trees not a moment later.

“Donghyuck!” he roared. “Get back! Run!”

It was Doyoung’s scream that made him turn back around. Where Kun had turned towards Donghyuck, Sooryun had raised Johnny’s wand at Jaehyun now, a mad glint in her eyes. She fended off Jaehyun’s disarming spell and then cast a curse of her own. Johnny moved without thinking.

“Jaehyun!” he called out, pushing him out of the way just as the tip of his own wand lit up red. “Crucio!”

The curse hit Johnny square in the chest, sending him crumbling to the ground. Johnny never felt the impact of it when the world was swallowed by white, hot pain. It cut off his senses at once, until all that was left were a thousand knives pushing into his skin. Johnny felt his lungs constrict, his mouth falling open and he knew that he must have been screaming, but there was no sound reaching his ears, no world past the walls of his own agony surrounding him.  

Until there was a ripple in the wall, a brief moment of the fire in his bones dimming, and Johnny managed to blink past the pain, long enough to catch sight of Sooryun standing over him. The cedar wand in her grip was quivering and Johnny felt the pain abate further, only for a fraction, but it was enough for him to gather back some of his bearings. It was enough for the voices to reach his ears, Donghyuck’s scream of his name, Doyoung’s faint whimpering behind him and Jaehyun’s roar of anger. And then another voice, reaching his ears faintly as if from far away and incredibly close at the same time, casting the spell that bound him to the world once again.

“Johnny!” followed up by the spell that set him free, “Bombarda!”

Johnny felt himself lifted into the air with the force of the explosion. The aftershocks of the Unforgivable were still coursing through his blood, but the sharp pain that zipped up his spine when he landed was enough to give him back his mind. Coughing, Johnny fought to get onto all fours, chunks of earth and grass raining down on him. His left hand threatened to give out when he put weight on it, but he managed to pull himself along with his right.

The explosion had ripped a huge hole into the ground where they had been standing and he could see Sooryun lying less than half a dozen metres away from him, his wand held loosely in her open palm. Gritting his teeth, Johnny forced his limbs to move, dragged himself across the ground until he had reached her. Her chest was heaving in uneven intervals, her leg kicking out when she saw Johnny approach, but Johnny paid her no mind as he threw a glance across the clearing.  

He saw Ten, dragging a scream Donghyuck in the direction of the trees. He saw Jaehyun, crawling over the torn ground until he had reached Doyoung and collapsed on top of him, a last bodily shield against the curses flying through the air. He saw Taeyong, always Taeyong, a vision in the night as he answered every single one of Kun’s curses with disarming spells of his own.

Taeyong would win. Johnny knew this. Taeyong would defeat Kun and Jaehyun would take care of Doyoung and Ten would drag Donghyuck to safety. The people that made him up would do what Johnny couldn’t. There was only one thing he could do.

Ignoring the ringing in his ears, he grabbed onto Sooryun’s throat, just as her hand closed around his wand.

“Av—” she tried, but Johnny tightened his grip. He didn’t need two hands to choke her. His other hand, he curled around the tip of his wand, feeling the wood come alive upon his touch. He savoured the way Sooryun's eyes grew wide in terror when he held onto her and rolled them over, once, twice.

As the world began to fall away around him, Johnny closed his eyes and thought of nothing but home.

Chapter Text

The sensation was that of being sucked through a tube too small for his body. Pressure enveloped Johnny's body from all sides, squeezing his limbs and lungs and pushing his eyeballs further into their sockets and then it was over, just as quickly as it had begun. Where the world had fallen away, it reassembled in a different shape, as familiar as the vision Johnny had clung to in his mind. They apparated in mid-air.

Johnny’s knees hit the ground hard, tiles shattering upon impact, creating a mosaic on the floor where they had landed. His ears popped with the sensation of having apparated, but he had no time to fight against the nausea in his stomach. Sooryun recovered faster than him. She dug her nails into the back of his hand, leaving angry red scratches as she struggled to remove the grip Johnny still had on her throat. She tried to push him off where he had landed on top of her.

Letting go of her neck, Johnny focussed on wrenching his wand from her grip. "Let go, you bitch!"

Sooryun let out an angry roar in response.

The wand slipped from both of their hands when Sooryun pushed her palm into his face, just as Johnny slammed her wrist into the floor. Watching his wand skid over the wooden floorboards, Johnny dove after it, but he was stopped short when Sooryun's knee connected with his stomach. It hurt so badly Johnny thought he might vomit. He cried out, his vision blurring and when it refocussed, he found his own wand pushed against his chest.

"Relashio!" Sooryun spit in his face, a triumphant glint in her eyes.

The jinx sent Johnny flying into the air, streaks of black and gold and peacock blue passing by his eyes. He had no time to breathe in before he hit the water, going under. Panic welled up in his chest as his robes soaked through in an instant, dragging him down. He knew there was less than a metre separating him from the surface, could see the golden ornaments on the ceiling twinkle like stars, but the stroke of his arms was not strong enough to bring him any closer to them. Water rushed into his mouth when his feet hit the ground.

Spluttering, bubbles streaming from his mouth, Johnny clawed at his own throat. He kicked his legs, willed the movement to be strong enough to propel him back to the surface, but it was to no avail. Letting go off his own throat, he moved his hands to the clasp of his robes. He tried to rid himself of the fabric that was weighing him down, but his fingers weren't cooperating, near-frozen by the cold water. The golden specks in his vision dimmed to black before Johnny felt his limbs grow numb, his mind growing hazy.

No , he thought and closed his eyes, focussed on moving his arms in an upwards stroke once again. As he drew his arms back towards his body, his elbow collided with something solid, moving. Reaching behind himself, Johnny grabbed onto it, thought Sestra! and felt his bracelet unfurl to attack, but the grip on the back of his robes didn't loosen. Instead, a strong arm wrapped around his middle. It dragged him upwards, upwards until they broke through the surface and then there were more hands, pulling on his clothes, keeping him afloat as he coughed up water.

"Merlin, get him out of the fountain! That's the Minister's son!"

There were several voices yelling over each other as Johnny felt himself being lifted, hoisted over the edge of the fountain and then he was dropped onto solid ground. He landed on his side, curling in on himself instinctively as a strong hand came down to pound against his back. It forced him to cough up the last of the water in his lungs.

“There you go.” The pounding turned into gentle rubs. “Just like that, get it all out, Johnny.”

Johnny’s forced his eyes open when he recognised the voice. He was met with the sight of a familiar pair of boots. They were black, endowed with two buckles on either side as was customary for Aurors to wear and Johnny knew them, because he had helped Sehun pick them out. With burning lungs, he struggled to lift his gaze.

He had hated him, once upon time, for stealing what Johnny had considered his, but now it was the familiarity of the Auror’s face alone that was enough to make Johnny reach out. “Junmyeon.”

“Hello, Johnny.” The Auror smiled from where he was kneeling by his side, grasping onto Johnny’s outstretched arms to help him sit upright. Junmyeon’s silver hair was matted against his forehead, droplets of water running down his face, dripping from his clothes. “You know swimming in the fountain is prohibited, right?”

Johnny’s answer was swallowed by an explosion to their right, shards of glass raining down from the windows of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. They had been shattered by a stray curse, Johnny realised, as he took notice of what was going on around them.

Half a dozen Aurors were moving through the Atrium of the Ministry of Magic, two of them standing with their backs to Junmyeon and Johnny, shielding them with protection spells, while the other three Aurors fought to apprehend Sooryun. They had cornered her in between two of the gilded fireplaces lining the walls. Johnny’s wand was clutched tightly in her hand as she shot blasting curse after blasting curse at the Aurors.

“Dongyeon!” she screamed in between curses. “Help me, Dongyeon!”

Another one of her curses hit the centaur statue of the fountain, cutting the centaur’s bow in half and sending the top half sliding into the water.

Junmyeon swore before he offered Johnny his hand. “Do you think you can walk, Johnny? We better get you out of here.”

Johnny nodded, even if he still felt shaken. Junmyeon helped him to his feet and though he was nearly a head smaller than Johnny, he remained steady when Johnny leaned on him. With Junmyeon’s arm around his waist guiding him, Johnny focussed on setting one foot in front of the other. They had nearly made it to one of the gilded fireplaces lining the walls when green fire billowed lit up their insides and another Auror team appeared.

They were lead by a man that Johnny recognised to be Captain Leeteuk, the Head of the Auror Department. Captain Leeteuk was closely followed by a tall, elegantly dressed man, the light grey of his robes of whom made him stand out against the sea of black Auror uniforms surrounding him. Captain Leeteuk’s face scrunched up in surprise when he was pushed to the side. No one but the Minister for Magic would have dared to do so.

“Youngho?”

It was the first time Johnny thought about what he might have looked like to an outsider, drenched like a cat and with scratches down his hands and face, the Auror next to him being the only thing keeping him upright. Johnny pushed himself away from Junmyeon, stumbling forward.

“Dad,” the word came out more like a sob.

Tears sprung to Johnny’s eyes and he allowed them to fall. The scent of fresh parchment and amber enveloped him as the Minister rushed forward and Johnny felt his knees buckle with relief. His father caught him, like he always had done. Johnny used the last of his strength to cling to him. He had made it home.

“Youngho,” his father’s panicked voice reached his ears. “Youngho, what’s wrong? What are you doing here?”  

“Dad.” Johnny buried his face in his father’s shoulder. He felt another sob build in his chest. Parchment and amber and home. His father would take care of it. He would take care of everything.

“Sir, we’ve apprehended Sooryun Kim in the Atrium, but she is resisting arrest. It seems that your son has brought her here, it seems—”

The rest of Junmyeon’s words were swallowed by another explosion and Johnny could feel his father go rigid against him before he moved.

“Captain Leeteuk, move to arrest the fugitive at once.”

“On it, Sir.”

Through the blurred edges of his vision, Johnny could see the Aurors move, black shadows surpassing them until he was left alone with his father.

“Youngho.” A gentle push against his shoulder forced him to pull back from his father's embrace, but his father’s hand remained at the back of his skull, holding him upright. “Are you hurt? What happened?”

Taeyong, Johnny thought, Taeyong and Kun and Ten and Donghyuck and Jaehyun and Doyoung. So many people he could have lost . “I left them, Dad. I left them to take her away. I didn’t know where else to go--I just had to get her away from them.”

“‘Her’ is Sooryun Kim? She was at Hogwarts?” The barely concealed anger in his father’s eyes made Johnny want to burrow into his chest once again, but he knew he had to remain on his feet for now.

“She’s an animagus. A cat.” Johnny focussed on getting out the words his father needed to know. “She—she lived with us. Ten took her in as a stray. You know how he is, there’s not a monster he doesn’t want to coddle. We—we didn’t know until she revealed herself." 

“How did that happen?" 

The question was enough to make his stomach clench painfully. 

“She tried to take him away, Dad, she tried to take away Doyoung and when he wouldn’t come with her, she—” Johnny remembered a thousand knives pushing into his skin, the world dissolving into white, hot fire when the Unforgivable hat hit him. “She cast an Unforgivable, Dad, two of them. She imperiused one of my friends so he would protect her while she escaped, but then Taeyong showed up and he—I had to take her away, Dad, she was going to kill somebody. Donghyuck was there, he would have run right into a stray curse. I had to take her away, so I apparated.”

"You broke the Hogwarts barrier?”

Johnny squeezed his eyes shut. "I'm sorry." 

“Don't say that, Youngho. You did the right thing. You did the right thing by coming here." 

“I’m sorry.” Somehow, it was important to Johnny, saying these words. He had said them so rarely in his life.

His father hushed him, beringed fingers carding through his hair.

Johnny blinked, tried to keep his eyes open, but the edges of his vision turned fuzzy. His throat and chest felt like they had been scrubbed raw. Most of all, his stomach hurt. Johnny let go of his father with one hand and pressed it down on his middle to alleviate the pain.

There was a scream and Johnny craned his neck to the side to make out the source of it. A faint smile spread over his lips when he saw that his wand was no longer in Sooryun’s hands. Two of the Aurors had advanced on her, their subjugation spells hitting at the same time, causing her body to convulse until she fell onto all fours with her head bent down. A third Auror, Captain Leeteuk, procured a set of iron shackles out of thin air, but Johnny couldn’t keep his eyes open long enough to see him fasten them. His knees gave out and he sagged to the ground, too fast for his father to hold onto him. The last thing he saw was his own hand falling to lie next to his head, and his fingertips that were stained with diluted red.

*

Cold.

The earth was cold as Taeyong kneeled down. He watched Kun struggle against the bonds of his Incarcerous spell for only a moment before he pressed his wand to his friend’s temple.

“It’s okay, Kun.” Taeyong sniffed, his nose runny from the cool night’s air. “It’ll be over in just a moment.”

Kun bared his teeth at him, spit gathering at the corner of his mouth and for a moment Taeyong felt himself burn with rage against the woman who had done that to his friend. But Taeyong couldn’t allow his mind to linger on any thoughts of her. It wasn’t productive.

“Liberate!”

Taeyong felt himself nearly sag with relief when Kun stopped struggling, his expression relaxing as the light returned to his dull eyes.

“Taeyong?” Kun blinked at him in confusion before he nearly face-planted in an attempt to look around while his limbs were still bound. “What’s going on? Where am I?”

Taeyong cut the ropes binding him with a swish of his wand. “You were put under a spell, Kun, but it’s okay now. Everything will be okay.”

He rose to his feet, pulling Kun up with him. Kun looked unsteady for a moment, but he regained his footing, even if the ground beneath them was still moving. Kun smiled at him gratefully when Taeyong pressed his wand back into his hands.

“What can I do?”

Taeyong didn’t have to think twice about it.

He pointed towards the edge of the clearing where Ten was sitting on the ground, holding onto a thrashing Donghyuck for dear life while the younger boy screamed at the top of his lungs, his wailing only interrupted by hiccuped whimpers whenever he ran out of air. “Help them.”

Kun faltered, the tips of his ears turning red but there was nothing but determination on his face as he stumbled forward. Taeyong didn’t bother looking after him before headed in the opposite direction.

Cold.

Taeyong had nearly reached Jaehyun and Doyoung when the ground beneath his feet shifted, the intensity of the quake causing his teeth to clash against each other. The crack that ran through the earth was accompanied by a sound as loud as the clasp of thunder, and Taeyong felt his mouth fall open as he watched the rift in the earth expand, sending him stumbling backwards as the ground split apart.

It was a barrier, Taeyong realised, as his eyes locked with Doyoung’s on the other side of the rift. Doyoung was kneeling, his hands buried in the earth, his expression torn as he held Taeyong's gaze. It’s not your fault , Taeyong wanted to say, but he knew his words wouldn’t carry. He tried, still, raising his wand into the air and forcing his mind to shed all other memories except the one he needed.

He remembered it well, the last day of his first year when they had gotten their report cards. There had been a red-written Outstanding next to every single one of his subjects and Taeyong had cried into the collar of Yuta’s school sweater for a good ten minutes after having received the roll of parchment. Back then, he had been overwhelmed by the affirmation that he had a future. The knowledge that that wasn’t true anymore dimmed the memory, but Taeyong banned the thought before it could unfold.

He held onto the memory and watched as silver light spilled from the tip of his wand. His goshawk patronus circled around his head once, twice, before it took off, crossing the rift and flying in circles around Doyoung and Jaehyun as Jaehyun held onto Doyoung and Doyoung made the world split apart.

Cold.

The earth settled, just as Taeyong could see Professor Chen and Professor Minseok appear at the edge of the clearing, closely followed by Professor Do, Professor Hani and even Headmaster Heechul himself. Professor Do remained near the first line of trees, crouching down next to Ten and Donghyuck while the rest of the teachers went straight for Taeyong. Taeyong felt his lips pull into a smile as he thought of the explanations that he would have to give. He couldn’t remember it, the time when obeying school rules had been the most important thing to him. It seemed so unimportant to him now, his grades and his prefect badge and the future he had worked so hard to secure.

Cold.

Taeyong looked down at his wrist. The silver bracelet curled around it was cold against his skin. Taeyong felt the cold of the metal spread from his wrist, travelling up the veins of his arms until it reached his heart, freezing it over. On the other side of the rift, Taeyong saw his patronus flicker before it vanished.

*

The first thing that reached Johnny’s ears was his father’s voice, soft murmurs that weren’t directed at him. “…am asking you, Yunho.”

It was the absence of all pain that alerted Johnny to the fact that he couldn’t move his limbs. It felt like he was floating, every sensation that reached his body dulling within moments. None of his muscles moved upon command, yet he could feel the indents of the leather couch he was lying on. The familiar smell was as soothing to him as his father’s voice. Johnny didn’t have to be able to open his eyes to know where he was. The smell of leather, wood and parchment was as familiar to him as the smell of his home. As a child, he had spent hours upon hours in his father’s office at the Ministry, lying below the coffee table and folding paper birds from old Ministry memos.

“What you’re asking for is against the law,” the Chief Warlock’s voice answered. “It’s dark magic, Youngho. I say we wait for Changmin.”

The noise Johnny’s father let out in response was one of displeasure, impatient in a way Johnny rarely knew his father to be. “Look at him, Yunho! Look at my son. Half of the skin covering his stomach is missing. Even if Changmin gets here within the hour, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to heal the wound without complications.”

“Have a little more faith in our friend, Youngho.”

“I have faith in Changmin, but whatever it is he can do for my son, it’s going to leave a nasty scar regardless of the outcome.”

The Chief Warlock inhaled sharply. “So you want me to break the law for the sake of your son’s vanity?”

Johnny felt the grip his father had on his hand tighten, his voice softening in return. “He’s got a boy that he likes. He writes to me about him in every letter. You know my son as well as I do, Yunho. These things matter when you’re young. I won’t allow for him to lose this boy of his just because he left half his abdominal wall behind when he tried to disapparate from Hogwarts grounds. That’s not what he deserves. That’s not what Iseul would have wanted for him.”

Johnny could hear the Chief Warlock shift, the fabric of his robes rustling. “Transferring his wound to your body will mean taking on a lot of pain, Youngho, a lot of healing time and I’m going to need you on the bench once we bring Sooryun Kim to trial.”

“I’ll bear the pain and Changmin can treat me here after his shifts.” There was silence for a moment and Johnny could feel both men peruse him. “He’s my son, Yunho, my one and only Johnny. Wouldn’t you do the same for Jaehyun?”

The sigh the Chief Warlock let out was one of defeat. Johnny could hear him step closer, could smell the Chief Warlock’s cologne, tinged with dark chocolate like the chocolate frogs Johnny knew the Chief Warlock always kept in the left pocket of his robes.

“Thank you,” Johnny’s father said.

“Don’t thank me for breaking the law.” The Chief Warlock paused. “The dark magic, it will take a toll on Johnny as much as it will on you.”

“And he will recover from it just like the Zhong boy did. But he’ll be at Hogwarts with his friends.”

A deep sigh. “Grab onto his underarm.”

Johnny felt his limbs being moved when his father did just that. The cool metal of his father’s rings dug into the skin of Johnny’s elbow as he curled his fingers around the joint and Johnny wished he could have spoken. He wished that he could have broken the paralysis spell that kept his body still, but he knew that it was also the only thing keeping his body from bleeding out.

“Are you ready?”

“I thought he was dead when he dropped from my arms, Yunho. I thought my only son was gone. This is nothing.”

“I have a feeling you won’t say that in a moment, my friend. Acerbo fero!”

The curse was golden, chains of light that lit up the world behind Johnny’s eyelids in hues of pink and orange as Johnny felt the chains wrap around his upper body. Their touch wasn’t gentle because dark magic never was, but Johnny could feel it, could feel how every ounce of magic seeping into him erased a bit of damage from his body, tissue knitting together and skin regrowing until his stomach was whole once more. Scathless, Johnny knew even if he couldn’t yet move to touch, because dark magic was never gentle but always perfect.

The end of the curse broke his paralysis spell and Johnny sagged into the sofa when every of his muscles that had been held in suspension relaxed. Uncaring of the fatigue clouding his mind, Johnny fought to turn his head to the side, pried his eyes open millimetre by millimetre.

“Youngho.” His father’s eyes were bloodshot, but he was smiling, propped up against the coffee table. The front of his robes was rapidly soaking red.

“Dad,” Johnny wanted to say, but no real sound came over his lips before the dark magic took his consciousness from him.

**

The first thing Johnny saw when he woke up was white, the walls surrounding him seemingly caging him in before he blinked and realised that it weren’t walls at all but fabric, curtains meant to grant him some privacy. Johnny blinked another time and found imperfections in the fabric, a short glance at the ceiling reassuring him where he was. He recognised it without effort. He had spent hours staring at the ceiling of the Hogwarts infirmary when he had broken his arm.

His lungs expanded with the sharpness of his inhale, every of his muscles protesting before he abandoned his attempt at sitting up. His entire body felt sore, as if he had swam miles without rest and his stomach itched. Johnny moved his hand to pull down the blanket covering his body, discovering the white gauze wrapped around his hands. There were marks on his skin, his arm and stomach, fine red lines that would disappear with time. Johnny squeezed his eyes shut when images of his father flooded his mind, his father’s smile and the light grey of his robes staining red as fine, golden chains of light had wrapped around Johnny’s torso like a cage to keep all his organs inside while it tore his father’s open.

It was the sound of retching that made him open his eyes again and it was then that Johnny noticed the book. It was splayed open on his shin, upside down as if someone had left it there in a haste yet had been mindful not to lose the page. There was also a chair, pulled up to the foot end of his bed. Johnny turned his head to the side, and found that the curtain surrounding his bed had been drawn in a haste, too, creating a gap that allowed him to catch a glimpse of the bed next over.

Johnny felt relieved when he found Doyoung sitting in the bed next to his, even if he was shaking, spewing into the bucket on his lap. A shiver ran through Doyoung’s body with every new wave of nausea that hit him, but he was alive and at Hogwarts where he belonged. That was all Johnny could gauge before his vision was blocked by peroxide blond hair and the ugly mustard colour of the nursery robes that marked their wearers as student help.

“Hey, it’s okay.” Johnny watched as the student help laid a hand on Doyoung’s back, rubbing it in encouraging circles. “Get it all out. Madame Amber will be here in a moment. Your friend is running to get her. Until then, I’ll stay with you, yes?”

Johnny felt his lips twitch into a smile, would have laughed had he felt less exhausted. For all the bad in the world, he was sure, there existed a Jeno Lee. Jeno sat down on the edge of Doyoung's bed until Doyoung stopped retching and even more than finding him safe and sound, Johnny felt relieved that Doyoung's eyes were bloodshot but clear, focussed as he looked up at Jeno.

The question that came out of Doyoung’s mouth sounded as weak as Johnny felt, “Are you not scared of me?”

Jeno laughed, squeaky when his voice broke halfway through, but his tone was gentle as he took the bucket from Doyoung’s hands. He cleared it with a swing of his wand before setting it down on the bedside table. “Why would I be?”

Doyoung’s eyes widened at that, confusion marring his features before he looked down at his hands, shrugging. Johnny could feel Jeno smile as he stood up, pictured the way his eyes crinkled up into crescents of happiness. “I don’t think you’re very scary. I think your friend with the purple hair is scarier. He properly yelled at Madam Amber when she made him leave yesterday.”

The ghost of a smile grazed over Doyoung’s face as he recalled a memory which Johnny didn’t share, but could imagine very well. He himself had found himself more than once at the receiving end of Yuta Nakamoto’s furious yelling.

“Oh, dear.” Madam Amber’s voice cut through the quiet of the infirmary and then she sweeped into Johnny’s line of vision, placing her hand on Doyoung’s forehead whilst cupping the back of his head with the other to keep him from flinching away. “Another spewing incident, Mr Kim?”

Doyoung averted his eyes to his blanket, his shoulder drawing up in a helpless shrug.

Madame Amber let go of his head to pat his back. “Oh, it’s fine, my dear boy. Your nerves were frazzled. Better to get it out than keeping it in, as I like to say.”

“I think he just needs to rest,” another voice cut in.

Madame Amber’s expression shifted into one of amusement. “I’m inclined to agree, Mr Jung. The same goes for you, if I might add. Don’t think I don’t know you snuck back in here last night after I managed to kick out the rest of your friends. Or that you’re technically supposed to be in class right now. Arithmancy, if I’m not mistaken.”

Jaehyun was silent for a moment. “I’m sure Professor Choi will forgive me if you do, Ma’am.”

Madame Amber snorted. “You may stay, Mr Jung, but just because it seems Mr Kim finds comfort in the way you read to Mr Seo. Now, follow me, Jeno dear. We’ve got some more Draughts to sort through before lunch.”

With that, Madame Amber left, taking Jeno and Doyoung’s bucket with her. Once she was gone, Jaehyun sat down at the edge of Doyoung’s bed. 

“How are you feeling?”

Johnny was surprised at the casualness with which Jaehyun spoke, as if he had asked Doyoung the question a hundred times before. And maybe, Johnny realised belatedly, maybe he had. Doyoung didn’t look up at Jaehyun. Instead, he began to pull on a loose thread of his blanket.

His voice sounded weak still when he asked, “Why do you care?”

“You must know why.”

Doyoung looked up at that, just a glimpse before he squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head. “No.”

Jaehyun reached out as if to touch him before he thought better of it. “Is that your reaction, or your answer?”

“You’re lying to me.” Doyoung kept his eyes shut even when his posture relaxed. He repeated the words more quietly, more to himself, almost convincing enough.

Johnny had expected Jaehyun’s chest to rise with anger at the accusation, for him to press on and insist like he usually would have done. Instead, Jaehyun tilted his head away from Doyoung to face the window high up above Doyoung’s bed. In the bright light of the morning sun, Johnny could see the dark circles pressed underneath Jaehyun’s eyes, the unusual pallor of his skin.

“You know, I thought your smile was nice, the first time I saw you in that courtroom.” Jaehyun closed his eyes, a smile grazing his features as he let the sunlight wash over his face. “Everyone up in the stands was talking about what your mother had done to your face, or how skinny you were, but I thought that your smile was nice. You only smiled once that day, mind you, when your grandmother snuck you that cookie from her purse, but I caught it. I got to see your smile that day, Doyoung, when all the world was judging your misery and it made me want to be your friend.”

“We were never friends.”

Jaehyun’s smile broadened, deep dimples digging into his cheeks before it fell. “No, we were never. But it’s been five years since then, Doyoung, and I’m tired. I’m tired of pretending I’m still that boy you pushed down the stairs for saying your mother was crazy and I’m tired of you pretending that all that happened was ever our fault. It’s been five years, Doyoung. Maybe it’s time you start hating her instead of me.”

Doyoung’s hands on the duvet stilled. He looked up at Jaehyun properly this time, his lips moving to form words but there were none. Hope was a knife, Johnny knew, and so was the truth. Jaehyun had buried both blades in Doyoung’s heart.

“I do hate her.” The admission came out like a whisper, but Johnny heard it and so Jaehyun did too.

Jaehyun faltered. “What?”

“I do hate her,” Doyoung repeated, louder this time. “I hate her for what she did to Kun and to Johnny and to me.”

Doyoung’s breath fell short, but his voice remained firm. My mother doesn’t love me. Maybe she did, once upon a time, but after the war and after my dad died she just…stopped. I look like him, did you know?”

Doyoung waited for Jaehyun to nod at him before he continued, “I don’t think she could ever forgive