“You know what they say,” Donghyuck tells Mark, his lips expanding into a feline grin. “You can never escape from a Slytherin.”
However, Mark believed he could.
When Mark first steps into the Pairing Event, Donghyuck smiles at him across the room, the corners of his lips stretching into a gesture that Mark is terribly familiar with. Despite the years that have gone by, Donghyuck’s smirk remains untouched: wicked, unapologetic, pretentious.
Three years of Auror training for this, Mark bitterly realizes. Three years of sweat, of long nights without a single second of sleep, of putting his life on the line, of emotional and physical pain, culminating in Donghyuck. Because one can never escape from a Slytherin, not if they don’t want you to escape, and Donghyuck has always enjoyed wrapping his fingers around the little freedom of Mark’s life.
Mark wishes this was a dream, a nightmare. The last time he saw Donghyuck, Donghyuck had raised his wand at him with the threat of a fight. It had been just that: a threat. And Mark had wished from the bottom of his heart that, after seven years of a burning, dangerous relationship, Donghyuck had finally dared to show his real face to the rest of the world. Standing on Hogwarts grounds, Donghyuck hadn’t gone further. As graduated wizards, attacking Mark would have tainted his record, and a tainted record was the biggest impediment to be an Auror. Mark should have pushed his buttons. He should have mentioned Donghyuck’s brother, perhaps, to fracture him into the monster Mark knew he could become.
If Mark had been cruel enough, Donghyuck wouldn’t be here today.
Three years of Auror training to be paired up with Donghyuck, standing tall and mature in his wine red tunic, the amulet of his family hanging off his neck, stark green against his clothes. And, three years later, Donghyuck still gathers all the attention around him, even when he’s not displaying his Veela charms. Mark isn’t an exception. He’s drawn to Donghyuck like he’s a fire in the middle of a forest, bright and destructive, and when the Instructor calls his name, Donghyuck lifts his eyebrows at him, challenging Mark to run away. And god, if Mark wouldn’t give up his whole life just to fly away from him.
Mark knows what’s about to happen. Donghyuck and he are two planets in orbit, always in the same trajectory, but never touching each other. Both competing for the best grades at school, aware that they were going to take the same career path; both on opposite sides of a coin, dark and white, white and dark, meshing up to become the perfect gray of an Auror pair.
You can never escape from a Slytherin. Mark will never be able to escape from Donghyuck, not even if Donghyuck himself allows him to.
“Veela,” Mark greets him, a word that shoots him back to the past. It still tastes bitter on his tongue, full of hatred and rancor and all the memories that spin in his head.
Donghyuck tilts his head to the side, blond hair flicking over his eyes. And though the spark of the boy he used to be remains alive, his eyes transmit a sentiment much more profound, much more poisonous.
“Lee,” he spits back at Mark with the same intent, the same bitterness.
He’s so beautiful, Mark thinks. So, so pretty. But there are sins that can’t be forgiven.
Mark’s life doesn’t get tangled into Donghyuck’s life right away.
Waiting is a ticking bomb for him. Mark leaps into the past and faces his own ghosts, his own wrongdoings and the rancor that sits between them, and though Mark would love to revel in his last moments before becoming an Auror, anxiety prickles on his skin with the perspective of his future.
He watches other Aurors get paired up with wizards that complement them in all aspects, and wonders if that’s the case for Donghyuck and him; if other wizards see them as a logical, perfect match. Doyoung, a close friend of Mark that applied to Auror training late in the game, gets assigned to Jeno, a Hufflepuff from Mark’s year. Jeno had always been unexpectedly close to Donghyuck, but Mark had always attributed it to Jeno’s excessive kindness.
Paperwork keeps Mark’s busy and away from his thoughts for a few days, but time runs fast and doesn’t wait for his stability. The night before his first official day as an Auror, he can’t stop thinking about Donghyuck. He thinks about the eleven year-old that entered Hogwarts one year after him, at how his name was on everyone’s lips before he could even set foot into the Grand Hall. It had always surprised Mark that, in the middle of a war, at the beginning of the scariest year at school, students still had the will to gossip.
Mark, just twelve, had never seen a half-Veela.
Twirling on his couch, Mark realizes he needs to drink. He needs to talk, too, to get all this off his chest before taking a new step in his life. Deep inside, he’s aware that it’s not going to work out. Not with Donghyuck, never. They’ve hurt each other enough for a lifetime, and none of them has any reasons to forgive the other.
Mark shuffles out of his couch with a sigh, and blinks up at the stack of Floo Powder on top of the fireplace. Yukhei had invited him to go out with Jaehyun and Sicheng, the three of them, and drink. Mark hadn’t accepted with the excuse that he still had to prepare for tomorrow, and that showing up on the first day of work with a hangover wasn’t a wise decision, but he’s desperate now. A hangover could help him, even, not to focus solely on Donghyuck.
Aware that it’s going to be humiliating to appear in the Hog’s Head at three in the morning, Mark fetches his tunic and dips his hand into the Floo Powder, fisting a good amount of it. The fire is barely alive, but when he throws the Floo Powder inside, the green flames lick at the edges of the fireplace.
Mark steps into the fireplace, lamenting that it’d be much easier to Apparate into the bar, but there have been constant raids at Hogsmeade in the past few weeks, and Apparating is completely forbidden. It’d set an alarm for the guards, and Mark wouldn’t be the first one to get arrested and interrogated for forgetting the prohibition. The only way they have to control who enters Hogsmeade is limiting wizards to travel either by foot or through the Floo Network, and Mark obviously chooses the second despite how unpleasant it can be.
The Hog’s Head is vibrating with life, even so late at night, since it’s a Sunday. Mark gets registered right by the fireplace, and then he’s ushered to move along, for more travelers keep coming after him. It’s so crowded that Mark has to push past people, and he swears someone spills Butterbeer on his tunic.
Finding his friends isn’t that difficult; they frequent the same table, and even though the bar is noisy, their table is always the most boisterous one. Mark scans them from afar first, taking in who joined tonight: Yukhei, Jaehyun and Sicheng, but also Doyoung and Jungwoo. Doyoung, Mark guesses, must be as nervous as he is for tomorrow, and hence why he decided to drink the night before as well.
“Look who it is!” Yukhei screams at him, waving his arms to catch his attention. “Over here!”
Mark strides to their table, hoping Yukhei will stop drawing everyone’s attention to them. It’s never advantageous to have so many eyes on him. The rest of the guys greet him with varying levels of drunkenness, except for Sicheng, who looks completely sober despite the four empty glasses of beer sitting near him. On the other hand, Jaehyun’s head is hanging over his own neck, eyes half closed.
“I’ve got to admit,” Doyoung tells him one hour later, accompanied of a sympathetic pat on his back. “You’re not a lucky one, mate.”
Mark stares at his Firewhiskey and scrunches his nose at it, like it’s the cause of all his problems. He could have been paired up with Jeno, instead of Doyoung, and he’d have loved that: despite being friends with Donghyuck, Jeno never had a bad word or a bad gesture towards him during their Hogwarts years. And he’s hot, minus the lack of malice.
Any other option besides Donghyuck would have been wonderful, in fact.
“You- got this,” Yukhei cheers him up, a hiccup midway. When Mark throws a dirty look at him, Yukhei deflates. “Come on, it can’t be that bad. It’s been three years. Undoubtedly Lee Donghyuck can’t be the same asshole he was.”
Mark doesn’t even have time to contradict him. There’s an ephemeral silence, as though none of them can believe Yukhei has just said that, and then a high pitched laughter slips past Sicheng’s lips.
“Alright, maybe he still is!” Yukhei protests, and Mark can’t help but snicker. If there’s someone that knows how much Mark suffered because of him, and how much Mark made Donghyuck suffer too, that’s Yukhei. “But he’s gone through Auror training, just like you, and will know how to behave on the field.”
“Just maintain a professional relationship,” Doyoung supplies, not having any hope for another alternative. Jungwoo, next to him, nods in agreement. “And the little crush you had on him…”
Blood rushes to Mark’s face in a split second. He attempts to grab his glass, but he’s too agitated and the Firewhiskey nearly falls off his grasp. Sicheng laughs harder, amused at the mess he has become, and Mark lets Jaehyun aid him with the drink.
Flustered, Mark grunts, “For Merlin’s sake, I didn’t have a crush on him.”
Scandalized rather than offended, Doyoung lifts his index finger to point at him. Mark is about to warn him to put that down, for it wouldn’t be the first time Doyoung does wandless magic with his fingers – with alcohol in the mixture, his magical self-control is even weaker.
“You had a crush on him,” Doyoung strictly accuses him, as to challenge him to lie. “Yes, I know, you hated him, but his Veela side was part of the reason you couldn’t stop chasing after him.”
Mark, just twelve, had never seen a Veela before. And Donghyuck was beautiful, not the sort of beautiful that a human could be. Donghyuck, just eleven, had a certain manner of strutting, of raising his head to look at everyone over his shoulder as he strolled across the Grand Hall. There was never fear in his eyes, nerves of steel, beyond all the reasons he had to bow his head and be embarrassed, and throughout the years, only in one instance Mark had witnessed an emotion other than arrogance in him.
But Mark never loved him. It was frustration, for Donghyuck could never change, could never understand why Mark treated him the way he did.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Mark laughs, incredulous.
While Jaehyun cradles a hand around his nape, as to console him, Doyoung just shakes his head.
“Lee is nasty. Was nasty,” he explains. His eyes wander around the bar, and Mark knows that he also has vivid memories of their past. Mark had coincided with Donghyuck due to their age, but Doyoung had shared classes with Donghyuck’s brother instead, so his memories of him are way more sinister. “Anyone in their right mind would have minded their own business, but you kept digging in his life.”
Mark had been a fool, and in a sense, he had deserved all the hatred Donghyuck felt for him. It a matter of self-preservation, for everyone had known not to mess up with the Lee brothers. Mark had lacked such instinct, like a fly bumping into a closed window once and once again.
“Now guess what?” Sicheng’s eyebrows arch, a knowing smirk on his lips. Mark can hide many feelings, but even after so many years, he can’t hide that his obsession for Donghyuck is still as strong. Sicheng mutters, “Now you can dig in his life for real.”
The hangover doesn’t help.
But when Donghyuck shows up without his Auror uniform, a notorious contrast against Mark’s fitting black clothes and the tunic with the Minister of Magic’s symbol, Mark is sure that the hangover prompts him not to be as annoyed as he should be.
Donghyuck racks his gaze up and down on him, a slight air of disgust on his face as he takes the way Mark is accommodated on the couch. The waiting room for Aurors is empty, for they’re being called by pairs, and that’s the reason Mark allows himself to sit like he’s at home, legs spread. Donghyuck has never been fine with comfort. Yet he’s no one to judge, not when he showed up on his first day of work with a dark purple tunic and tight pants and shirt. Mark isn’t used to seeing him in colors other than green, but he’s used to this display of carelessness for the rules.
“Veela,” Mark greets him, straightening up on the couch.
Donghyuck lifts his chin. “Lee.”
Mark doesn’t invite him to join him, but Donghyuck strides to him with the confidence of someone who has never needed permission. He adjusts next to Mark, so close that his thigh presses against Mark's without an ounce of shame. It’s on purpose, and Mark has to make a physical effort not to snap at him. Being touched by a Veela is quite different from touching a human, and Donghyuck is aware of that; he’s also aware that if Mark protests, he can remind him that they’re now Auror partners, and that he should grow accustomed to touching him.
Mark doesn't know what he expected, but he had forgotten quite a few things about Donghyuck. He had forgotten the manner in which Donghyuck could look at people, how he invaded personal space and became the owner of all of it. Mark shifts under his attention, and Donghyuck's analytical, intimidating gaze inspects his face with an unforgivable precision.
Mark only sees the ghost of a smirk when Donghyuck's attention strays away. And then, voice dripping with mockery, Donghyuck says, “I’d have never expected you to drink the night before an important event.”
This time, it's the hangover what protects Mark from the impact of Donghyuck's words. Free from embarrassment, Mark merely just runs a hand through his hair, head falling back as he snickers. He's not sure what's so funny; perhaps the fact that Donghyuck should never expect anything from him, not after so many years. Donghyuck knew little about him back then, and less does he know about who Mark has become.
“We’re not kids anymore,” Mark replies, not bothering to deny the accusation.
Donghyuck turns to him, eyebrows raised. The perfume of his hair blazes into Mark's face, stuns him even if Donghyuck has his Veela effect completely turned off, and for a moment, Mark can only think that Donghyuck's fragance has evolved as well. It's not pure and innocent now, but a fascinating illusion of obscenity.
“We never were kids, Lee,” Donghyuck reminds him. And he's not wrong. “That’s why we’re here now.”
And yet, Mark can't tell why Donghyuck sacrificed so much to be here today.
The war affected both of them, but Donghyuck will never understand how it was for the rest. They were twelve and eleven when Voldemort took over the magical world, and therefore over Hogwarts, and the next years were a constant struggle to forget what they had lived.
Mark will never accept the comparison, the equalization of their experiences, even though both of their childhoods and youths got stolen. It was a contrasted sort of stealth. And if Mark had learned something after the war, it was that one could never go back; his youth was gone, and so was Donghyuck's, and under the possibility of changing their past, Mark is certain that neither of them would act any differently.
That's what empties any hope he could have for Donghyuck, for this match to work.
“What I do outside these walls, when I'm not with you, is none of your business,” Mark throws at him. In a rush of bravery, he reaches out for Donghyuck's tunic, and Donghyuck freezes when Mark hooks his index finger in the fabric, pulling at it. “But what both of us do when we're working is important, and I'd appreciate if you started with obeying the rules, obeying the dress code, and not pretending that you care about my life.”
Mark lets go, and only then he realizes he has tensed up so hard that his thighs hurt, and only then he realizes that Donghyuck's confusion has switched to an entirely different emotion.
He's not hiding his amusement, a spark tingling in his pupils, as he points out, “You still like to fight.” And Donghyuck does, too, because he hastily adds, “But you still don't know how to do it properly.”
Mark unconsciously perches his hand on his wand, hidden in his pocket. It's an old knee-jerk reaction, for he has raised his wand at Donghyuck a thousand times, and even Donghyuck is slightly surprised for a second. They're not teens now, they're not at war, and Mark's self-protective gesture falls odd to both of them.
But before Mark can feel anything akin to shame, the door of the Head Auror's headquarters opens and two Aurors of their batch walk out. They're carrying thick dossiers on their hands, and judging by the expression on their faces, their first assigned mission isn't as easy as they expected. That sends a rush of adrenaline through Mark, for he assumed as well that their first task would be pure routine to integrate them into the job.
Donghyuck stands up right away, smiling at both Aurors with his whole enchants on display, and Mark notices how they visibly relax. He's not sure if Donghyuck does it out of pity or just to remind himself that he can have that effect on everyone, but it irks Mark.
“Want to go first?” Donghyuck asks him, twirling his head to dedicate him a bored glance. Mark nods, straightens his legs and fixes his tunic, not disposed to let Donghyuck take the lead. He scoffs, “I thought so.”
But despite what it might seem, Donghyuck doesn't offer because he's afraid to enter first. In fact, when both of them step into the headquarters, Mark feels dizzy at the view: not only the Head Auror is waiting for them, but also the Auror council, around five people with a whole career in managing the Auror department. All of their faces are familiar to Mark, and all of them were important during the war. It's Donghyuck who greets them first, and it's him who grins at them and asks if they can sit, aware that he's allowed to step over certain social rules just because his Veela side does wonders.
“Lee Mark,” the Head Auror says, looking at him over his glasses while Mark takes the closest chair. And then he observes Donghyuck, handing him a dossier with the symbol of the Minister of Magic and both of his names, Donghyuck's and Mark's, printed on it. “And Lee Donghyuck. You must be wondering what your first case will be.”
After the three years of training, Mark can't help but be suspicious.
Being an Auror, at last, is a big novelty for him. When he takes his dossier, he's prepared for the worst, the subtle trembling of his fingers concealed behind the tension in his whole body. The Head Auror invites them to open the dossiers, but they're not as thick as the dossiers of the Aurors that left the headquarters seconds ago, and Mark has a bad hunch since the beginning.
The case is simple. Easy. Nothing that will require them to put their lives on danger.
Mark throws a confused look at Donghyuck while the Head Auror explains the whole case, and in a strange significant moment of comprehension, Donghyuck returns the same expression. It's nothing but a confirmation that Mark isn't crazy: it doesn't make sense that they're assigning this case to two of the best Aurors of the new generation, unless it's meant to take a toll on their egos, to remind them that they have no power in the Department yet.
Mark reads the dossier once and once again, and he keeps each one of his questions for himself. And when he dares to stare into the Head Auror's eyes, he's welcomed by a placid, intent smile that doesn't settle well in Mark's stomach.
Mark hasn't gone this far by trusting people, by being gullible and innocent. The smile drawn on the Head Auror's lips is a challenge, but Mark doesn't know what sort of challenge yet.
Not even in a million lives Mark would have imagined that one day he would have Lee Donghyuck sitting on his couch, legs crossed and a drink on his hand. And he would have never imagined that, despite the tense air between them, Donghyuck wouldn't stand out in such an intimate place like Mark's house.
All in all, Yukhei and Jaehyun advised Mark against the idea. Doyoung, on the other hand, encouraged him, assured him that it was a good idea to build trust with his Auror partner. It had been Doyoung's words what had driven Mark to take the decision: when Mark asked about Jeno and Doyoung's mission, he had refused to share it. Most Aurors had been forbidden to talk about their projects as well, unlike Mark and Donghyuck. It was nonsensical, and though Mark pretended that he was fine with it during his first two days, the truth was far from that. It was evident that every other Auror team had a serious, dangerous mission that required secrecy. Mark and Donghyuck's mission was a complete joke.
On the third night, without a drop of hesitation, he sent Donghyuck a letter. He could have used other method, but sending an owl his way was the least invading one. It was a first for both of them, and Mark had anticipated silence in response, or perhaps to get his owl sent back with a mocking, humiliating message.
But fifteen minutes later, Donghyuck had Apparated into his house with such grace that Mark had gaped for a second. Mark hadn't questioned why Donghyuck was still wearing his tunic at this time of the night when he should have been asleep instead, and Donghyuck had demanded a drink right away, spinning on his heels as he inspected Mark's living room.
“I'm glad to see you're still willing to put work before your well-being,” Donghyuck says when Mark joins him, lifting his eyebrows at the lack of alcohol in Mark's grasp.
Mark would drink with him, but it's already hard to control himself around Donghyuck when he's sober. And god, perhaps it's the dim light of the living room, but Donghyuck looks beautiful tonight, his blond, almost silver hair entangling with his eyelashes, tongue lapping over his plump lips to lick every drop of his drink.
Mark has little patience for him.
“Because I'm not sleeping?” Mark asks. “We never cared much about our well-being.”
Donghyuck gives him a dark side glance. “Touché.” The path to the Auror career is a tough one, starting from school, and they had to deal with the post-war scenario on top of that. It wasn't just about studying, but about surpassing their own trauma and frustration by becoming those who should have protected them. “Do you think we're being sabotaged?”
Mark hadn't even considered that. While Donghyuck might have some enemies within the Ministry, Mark doesn't, and he doubts they'd have gone as far as dragging Mark along.
“I think this is a test.”
Contrary to what the old Donghyuck would have done, he believes Mark. “What type of test?”
Mark doesn't want to sound like a madman, which given his theory is complicated. That's why he doesn't jump straight to the matter, why he forces himself to lock eyes with Donghyuck without fear, remembering that this is more important than their feud, and it’s more important than the ghosts Mark will have to face with Donghyuck in front of him.
“This mission is ridiculous. Euphoria Elixir smuggling? To find out who's managing Euphoria Elixir smuggling?” Mark asks, resigned. Mark doesn't need to explain further, for both of them are aware that Aurors take on much more serious issues; issues that aren't on the street or on everyone's mouths, and that often are completely secret. “I'll tell you who: poor kids that lost their parents during the war and don't have any other meanings of earning money.”
It should shock Donghyuck that Mark has managed to discover the ending of their mission so fast, so easily, but Donghyuck remains calm, curious.
He caresses the edge of his glass, pensive. “How do you know that?”
Mark doesn't have any excuse for that, so he opts for the truth. Donghyuck knows that Mark hasn't done any field work on the last three days, for they've been together all the time, and it'd have been foolish of Mark to investigate by himself when he has a partner.
Donghyuck’s gaze immediately flickers from his drink to Mark's mouth, as though he's trying to read his lips, as though he has heard wrong. But when he detects the seriousness in Mark's eyes, he realizes that he hasn't misheard it.
“Oh,” he answers, softly. “That's impressive.”
Mark understands it: Donghyuck has missed three very important years of their lives, and consuming Euphoria Elixir doesn't fit the image he has of them, especially of Gryffindor students. Mark has tried the Euphoria Elixir as well, but he isn't disposed to offer that powerful information to Donghyuck. He had his own reasons to try it, his own sufferings, and so does Yukhei. Not everyone has gotten over the amount of horrors they saw back then.
“Does this compromise your ethics?” Donghyuck asks then. He bends over the table, sets his drink there as to show that the drink doesn't deserve his attention when there are more severe matters, and continues, “To strip orphan kids off their business?”
For a second, Mark wants to laugh at his face.
“It's not about that,” he grunts. The good Mark that lives in Donghyuck's head, the forever nice, loyal boy that has been imprinted in his memories will disappear soon. “But if it was, yes, it does.”
Donghyuck is lost, and that feels like a small win for Mark. He has never had the upper hand with Donghyuck, and it's immensely satisfying to be the one teaching Donghyuck a lesson, even if Donghyuck is for once open to accept his proposal.
Upon catching that Mark is extending the silence on purpose, Donghyuck demands, “Then what's the matter?”
“There has to be something behind all this, not related to the smuggling,” Mark whispers, so low that Donghyuck leans towards him by instinct. Mark regrets it, for Donghyuck's proximity is another reason to make this conversation unbearable, but a part of him prevents him from raising his voice. “A matter beyond simple illegality.”
Donghyuck doesn't contradict him with words, but his eyes shift in a manner that Mark has witnessed a hundred times. He's making an effort not to laugh at Mark, whether it's because he deems his theory absurd or because Mark has never shown him such enthusiasm for anything, just insults and hatred.
When Donghyuck speaks again, his pitch is different, pleased, entertained and sort of enchanting, and it pierces through Mark's insides with the force of a whole sea. “What makes you think that?”
Mark wonders if, deep inside, Donghyuck had his own suspicions too.
“Again, we wouldn't have been assigned to such a ridiculous mission.” Mark shakes his head, a subtle smirk perching on the side of his mouth. “But they want us to prove ourselves by hiding certain information.”
And it's then, when Donghyuck breaks into a wide grin, that Mark knows that Donghyuck believes him. He reaches out for his drink again, makes a fake toast in the air, and announces, “The best Aurors of our generation, Lee.” He laughs, gaze shifting to the ceiling of Mark's living room. “Of course it wasn't going to be easy.”
Mark feels cautious. He doesn't trust Donghyuck just yet, and he doubts he ever will.
“And you're glad,” he points out, as he tries not to think about how Donghyuck's laugh sounds, how it vibrates in the silence of his house.
“I'm delighted,” Donghyuck corrects him. But a tiny flame appears on his eyes, just for a second, and he groans, “And so fucking mad.”
Mark doesn't hesitate: he slides his hand under Donghyuck's drink, and with a delicate movement, he guides both the drink and Donghyuck's grip to his mouth. Donghyuck parts his lips, but his gaze shifts to Mark's face with the promise of something; Mark doesn't know what. The bitter taste of alcohol does abate the beginning of an outburst, and the fire in him dies off.
Mark lets go. His fingers burn. “I don't want an angry Veela in my house,” he warns Donghyuck.
Donghyuck doesn't take his eyes off him. “You're a smart one,” he praises, because Donghyuck does know his Veela side better than anyone, and Mark has seen him change, has seen what can happen. The mere thought of it terrifies him. Donghyuck agitates his glass in his face and says, “Give me more of this. If you're right, we can't trace our plans at the office, so I hope you're ready to be up all night, every night.”
Mark doesn't tell anyone.
Having Donghyuck at home makes him feel guilty, makes him feel like he's breaking his principles. It's, in a way, disappointing, and that's the fear that takes over him after that first night: his friends, his parents, even all those wizards that have seen him grow up over the years, teachers, seniors and bosses, being disappointed in him.
Mark tries to tell himself that he's not indulging his past crush on Donghyuck, that he's not pleased with having him close and in an intimate situation, that he just feels that way because Donghyuck's Veela powers naturally mold Mark's thoughts. Yet it's still like a small, secret sin of his, and therefore Mark decides not to tell any of his friends. Not even Yukhei.
During the day, Donghyuck and Mark carry out the daily tasks of the job, pretend to follow the protocol that makes more sense. It's a waste of time, and every second they spend on paperwork or registering places that will lead them to what they already know prickles on Mark's skin like a needle. They stroll around the hot spots of Euphoria Elixir illegal smuggling, Hogsmeade and Knockturn Alley, and Mark watches in irritation how, rather than drawing attention because people know they work for the Ministry, it's Donghyuck who musters all the looks for his charms.
During the night, they meet up at Mark's house, where their true work has moved onto in the form of dozens and dozens of parchments spread on the floor, along seemingly random pages of The Daily Prophet. On the first night, Donghyuck cleared the space by moving all the furniture with a simple flick of his wand, and Mark hasn't bothered to put everything back in place. He will have to, eventually.
And tonight they sit on the floor, both Mark and Donghyuck, as they discuss the true nature of their plans. Every step of the path is a fight, but Mark is comfortable with a Donghyuck that opposes his ideas and his will, so it's known, safe territory.
The clock marks exactly three in the morning when Donghyuck loses his patience, after the tenth fight of the night, and glares at him.
“Pushover,” is what Mark spits at him when Mark rejects, for the fifth time, the proposal of rummaging through the headquarters' paperwork to see if they're indeed assigned to a questionable mission.
Mark knew that sooner or later, they’d resort to insults. Habits hardly die, and someone like Donghyuck, who always gets away with everything he wants, isn’t wired to accept rejection.
Mark doesn't understand why Donghyuck is insulting him until he flickers his eyes up and detects the frustration in Donghyuck's expression. It sends a kick of pleasure through Mark's body, but he pretends to be oblivious.
“What-” Mark begins.
Donghyuck slams his hand on the floor, right next to his parchment, and his Quick-Notes Quill hovers over his fingers like it's scared of its owner.
“You've always been a pushover,” he accuses Mark, lips quirking up in disgust. “You’re not a prefect anymore, Lee, you’re not supposed to make people follow the rules. We’re Aurors. We set the rules.”
That's far from the truth, but even after all the training they've gone through, Mark didn't expect someone like Donghyuck to understand the nature of their job in a humble way. Historically, the Ministry has lifted certain laws off Aurors so that they could work according to the circumstances, but Donghyuck shouldn't feel entilted to it.
Before Mark can remind him how fucked up his view of the world is, Donghyuck continues, “This is why we got paired up.” A sigh, a quiver of his eyelids as he makes the effort not to close them. “Besides the evident.”
After all, it spikes Mark's interest, for he has no idea why they're supposed to form a perfect pairing in the eyes of their seniors. There isn't any reason why Mark would feel comfortable with Donghyuck at late hours of the night, or for that matter, at any time of the day, other than he's incredibly pretty and a sight to see. His Veela charms aren't going to be that useful for Mark's skills when they're on the field, however.
Mark waves his hand, giving Donghyuck permission – which he doesn't need – to speak. “Illustrate me.”
There's a tiny spark of hesitation, not a usual emotion in Donghyuck, but it all makes sense when he decides to explain it to Mark – why they're meant to be together, why he believes in this, even if he doesn't want it either.
“We complete each other,” Donghyuck mutters, and though his voice breaks into the constant stillness of Mark's house, the silence that follows is even deeper. There must be a reason why Donghyuck feels vulnerable, because otherwise he wouldn't use his Veela voice. It's a small unconscious gesture that works as self-protection. Mark recognizes the change, the slight velvet tone that drags his words as Donghyuck says, “You stick to the rules, I skip them. You care about consequences, I don’t. So I pull you, and you pull me back, and that’s how we find balance.”
For half a minute, Mark can't speak, can't even process what he has just heard. He stares at Donghyuck, both of them lying on their stomachs and looking at each other across a pile of documents and parchments. And Mark realizes that, at last, life pulls him into odd paths. Paths where Lee Donghyuck thinks that they should be together, despite their past, despite how immovable their feelings towards each other are.
And it angers Mark, because unlike some wizards, he can't forget with the flick of a wand. He can't forgive Donghyuck just because he has to, because he should, while Donghyuck has forgiven him to some extent. The fact that Donghyuck is capable of moving on from the war so fast, just for the sake of his future, exasperates Mark beyond words. It makes him feel like he's stuck in time, like he has fallen behind.
“It was never that way, Veela,” Mark retorts. He can't conceal the emotions on his face, and Donghyuck slants his head to the side with a blend of curiosity and caution. “I’d say the story goes like this: you push me, and I push you back, and we both fall.”
And Mark has learned to fall, but that doesn't mean he's disposed to let Donghyuck push him down again. Deep inside, Donghyuck knows that he's right. Pretending that their feud doesn't exist is foolish, for it'll meddle between them sooner or later, and they should set up the basis of their relationship now, not in the middle of a mission.
Donghyuck's neutrality fractures, and Mark wants to believe that it's not disappointment what he recognizes at first, right before Donghyuck's features harden. He props himself up from the floor, but remains on one knee, kicking his Quick-Notes Quill with his foot, and then he sends Mark a look that could make any man in the world tremble for many reasons.
“If you don’t want to make this work, I’m not going to help you,” Donghyuck tells him, serious, a threat that is nothing but a mere truth.
Perhaps it'd be more comfortable for them if they kept their old ways, no matter how much that interfered with their work. Mark is tremendously uncomfortable with being on good terms with Donghyuck: it opens doors that should be closed, always closed.
That's why he copes with the situation better now, a bitter huff slipping past his lips. “You should have never been allowed into the Ministry of Magic,” he tells Donghyuck, void of shame, void of mercy. All the thoughts that Mark kept to himself creep on him, scratch at his skin, and bare his real self. “You have something worse than a criminal record.”
Donghyuck lifts his chin, but he doesn't say anything. He knows what Mark is talking about. It's the vilest, most despicable thing Mark could tell him, and it reminds both of them who they are, who they will always be for each other.
“Your blood,” Mark finishes.
It's a matter of luck that Donghyuck doesn't get angry at him. Mark might be a great wizard, might be one of the best of his generation, but Donghyuck is all that and, besides, a Veela. Mark can't assure that he'd be able to beat him, not now that they've received a formal education in the Dark Arts, and he’d have never been sure of it anyhow, considering the record of Donghyuck's family.
Against all odds, after a pause, Donghyuck laughs.
There have been just a few instances during Mark's life when he had the chance to see Donghyuck laugh with honesty. It was always around Renjun or Jaemin, and it was usually accompanied by a mean comment, a nasty look or any gesture that indicated that Donghyuck's joy was based on other people's disgrace.
But Donghyuck sounds happy then and there, in front of Mark's eyes flaming hate at him. Mark never thought there would be a day Donghyuck would laugh at someone picking on his bloodline, on his family, and yet that day has come.
“A Gryffindor talking about blood?” Donghyuck repeats, shaking his head. He isn't capable of erasing the enormous smile plastered on his face as he lifts his eyebrows at Mark. “Is the bloodline important now for you, or just when it comes to me?”
Donghyuck knows which words to choose to embarrass Mark. Believing that people's value is based on blood goes against Mark's ethics, against every fight he has fought, and both his family and friends would be disappointing upon hearing him right now.
Donghyuck manages to discover the worst of him, and that hasn't changed. And, most important, Donghyuck is aware of that.
“You need me,” he tells Mark, and at last, his smile evaporates. “You've always needed me, one way or another.”
If Mark was alone, he'd allow himself to consider that possibility. Donghyuck isn't the first person to point it out: Mark used to be obsessed with Donghyuck, even if it was just as an enemy. Back then, Yukhei told him that during hard times, when everyone wanted to give up, Mark kept going. And that he kept going because the fire of his personal vendetta towards Donghyuck maintained him afloat.
But Mark would never admit that, and less for Donghyuck.
“You're not the center of everything,” he says, sounding weaker than he'd like to. “You give yourself too much credit.”
The reply isn't immediate. There's a good reason for that.
Donghyuck watches him with intent, slowly studies him from head to toe like he's seeing him for the first time. Both of them are new, different persons, and somehow still the same; Donghyuck's silence is measured, the right amount of time for Mark to mull over his own words and his lies.
And then Donghyuck moves. He crawls on the floor, knees crumpling the parchments beneath him, approaching Mark with no rush and no pause. The world freezes around Mark, every particle in the room, and his eyes focus on Donghyuck like there’s no one else in the universe.
Mark doesn't know why he's not able to react. His body refuses to listen to his orders, forces him to sit and catch his breath as he observes Donghyuck creep towards him. Even when Donghyuck rests his hands on Mark's knees, the first intimate touch they share after three years, Mark can't push him away.
And he wonders if, after all, it's not Donghyuck's Veela powers what petrify him, if it's another sort of charm, one that shouldn't be talked about.
“I'm a Veela, Lee. Do you think I don't notice how people look at me, how you look at me?” Donghyuck whispers, with so much precision that Mark's stare is inevitably drawn to his lips, to the way his lips curl around the words.
Donghyuck is too close, and his perfume drowns Mark in a daze, the little bit of consciousness left pulling at the edges of his mind. He's speechless, for Mark might have given signs that he appreciated Donghyuck in ways that weren't emotional, but Donghyuck never acknowledged them. Not until now, when Donghyuck climbs on him like a small, seemingly harmless kitten, and is ready to bite as soon as Mark lets his guard down.
Mark knows how he looks at Donghyuck. He knows what he wants to do to him, and yet he's sure that he doesn't want to do it anyhow. It's complicated, two strings dragging him to opposite sides, one much stronger than the other, and only Mark's will keeping him in the middle.
Donghyuck's breath hovers over his lips, so dizzying that Mark has to make an effort to not roll his eyes at the sensation. And then, in a mutter, he says, “You'd break your wand in two if I told you, just for a kiss.”
Donghyuck could break the string that retains Mark, just if he wished so, and Mark wouldn't be able to stop him. His fingers caress over Mark's thigh, the imprint of his power trespassing the fabric of his pants. It's like acid on Mark's skin.
“And you hate that with your whole soul, you hate that you're crazy over someone whose brother hurt you so much.”
The mention of Donghyuck's brother dwells on Mark like ice; it's a contrast against the warmness he feels, a body full of cables short-circuiting, and Mark stops functioning altogether. Reason subdued, only his feelings remain. Donghyuck has always avoided the connection to his brother, and when Mark wanted to rile him up, his brother was the excuse he used. Donghyuck is throwing that back at him, leaving him disarmed, naked, and proving that he's not a kid anymore. If Donghyuck still laments his family, he won't show it.
A smirk flashes through Donghyuck's mouth, and he curls up his index finger in the collar of Mark's shirt. Mark can't help it this time: he closes his eyes, fearful of what he could do otherwise, and lets Donghyuck wrap a cloud of enchant around him.
“You hate that I'm on your side,” Donghyuck continues, and within, Mark wants to retort that they'll never be on the same side, not with Donghyuck's record. “But I'm on your side now, Lee, and that's what terrifies you the most.”
“For Merlin’s sake,” Yukhei mutters under his breath, half amazed, half horrified at the scenario. “What the hell did you let Lee do here?”
The chaos Mark is living in isn’t evident until Yukhei stands in front of it, wearing his pajamas and hugging a bag full of equipment against his chest. There's a certain beauty in how Mark's house has turned into an investigation office, but Yukhei doesn't seem to agree. Mark knows that he's being judged for it, as though he had lost his mind, and maybe he has, for Yukhei wouldn't be here to aid him if he hadn't.
“It wasn’t just him, Yukhei,” Mark corrects him, voice hoarse with pain.
Mark would have never summoned Yukhei in the middle of the night without a reasonable motive, and less would have he asked for Yukhei's healing skills if it wasn't an emergency. It's Friday night, and after a whole week of enduring the worst of his scar, Mark had to resort to Yukhei. He waited until tonight, for privacy, because he was scared of the effect Donghyuck had on him, and because he suspected he wouldn't be able to bear the loneliness of his own house during the weekend.
“You’re not alright, are you?” Yukhei sighs, dismissing Mark's clarification. He drops his bag next to the couch, the tingling of his healing utensils resonating in the living room, and signals Mark to sit on his own couch. “It’s the weekend, Mark, you should rest.”
Mark follows Yukhei's advice, though his friend means more than that, and huffs when Yukhei squats before him, observing his expression from up close.
“I can’t rest,” Mark confesses.
He couldn't, and he wouldn't. Some nights he's immersed in researching with Donghyuck, but during the last few nights and after his small discussion with him, both have been ignoring each other outside work. They're stuck, and his absence, instead of giving Mark room to relax, unsettles him. Mark isn't sure if it's the present or the past what keeps him awake.
“I see that,” Yukhei agrees. He glances around for a second, and then back at Mark's face. “Inviting Donghyuck into your home wasn’t a good idea, I have to admit that. And I’m not saying this because I don’t trust his intentions, but because I know that you aren’t over what happened.”
Opening his house for an enemy, for someone that had the ability to pulverize him had been absurd. Yet it was unavoidable: as Auror partners, their lives were going to be united forever, lest one of them died. It was either that or renouncing to his whole career, and Mark couldn't tell which option was worse, but he had already chosen.
“It hurts more today,” Mark murmurs, embarrassed.
Yukhei nods. “Let me see,” he whispers.
Mark lets him, the two of them grasping at the buttons of his shirt to undress him faster. When Mark's shirt slides down his shoulders, he avoids looking at his own body, drifting his gaze upwards instead. Yukhei doesn't speak, but his breath hitches at the view, and that's enough of a reaction for Mark to know the gravity of it.
Yukhei's hand lands on his forearm, fingertips softly pressing on his scar. “Did he touch you?” he asks.
The mere memory of it whips through Mark, a wave of heat in the pit of his stomach. It's shameful that Yukhei could guess that by the state of his wound, but the pain partly blinds those thoughts.
“He did,” Mark admits. Donghyuck on his knees, crawling on his lap, looking into his eyes. “I should have stopped him, but-”
“You don’t have to explain,” Yukhei cuts him off. “Unless you slept with him, because then I'll have to ask some ques-”
Bright red, Mark hisses, “I didn't sleep with him!”
Yukhei chuckles, slightly amused at Mark's excessive reaction, and says, “Was joking, Mark. I know you didn't.”
As to ease his embarrassment, Yukhei shifts to his arm again, eyebrows knitted in concentration. He traces the path of his scar, every inch of it despite Mark's groans of pain, from his forearm to his shoulder, and then to his chest. Yukhei knows that scar like the back of his hand, so Mark's magical tattoo, which he got just to conceal the remainders of the wound, doesn't prevent him from following the right path. The tattoo doesn't protect his skin, however, it protects Mark from remembering his past every time he faces a mirror.
“It's tender again,” Yukhei comments, marvels.
It's tender because Donghyuck touched him, and though it isn't a mad outcome, neither Yukhei nor Mark supposed this could happen. In fact, it took Mark a couple of days to suspect why his scar hurt so much.
Once Yukhei's eyes fix on Mark's face, it's obvious that Yukhei pities him. All the utensils he brought, all the medicines, and all the healing knowledge inside Yukhei's head can't break Mark's curse.
“I can give you some drugs for the pain, but there isn't any solution for this,” Yukhei confirms. He grabs at Mark's shirt, carefully slipping it back over his shoulders, and sighs. “Not one that you're disposed to take.”
Mark shakes his head, and with the stubbornness that paints every area of his life, he agrees, “No one that I'm disposed to take.”
He'll take all the pain in the world as long as his pride remains intact.
Mark has only been twice to the Knockturn Alley, so Donghyuck has a huge advantage on him.
On Monday, rather than sitting at their cubicles and reading through the innocent, fake hints of the documents from their dossiers, Donghyuck and Mark decide to take a field trip. They have to justify it first, for it's part of the supervision of their first case, yet Donghyuck barely has to give any explanations. His smile works miracles on their supervisor.
“That wasn't very ethical, Veela,” Mark accuses him once they've abandoned the Ministry grounds and are walking through the busy streets of London.
Mark proposed that, once they left their Office, they could Apparate, but Donghyuck refused to do so. It was Mark's turn to feel an itch of inferiority, since Donghyuck revealed that half of the shops at the Knockturn Alley had dark charms around them that informed them of who, when, and where from wizards Apparated.
They Apparated close to the Diagon Alley, however. Unlike Donghyuck, Mark hadn't brought Muggle clothes to go unnoticed in the streets, but regardless he looked much more sober than Donghyuck did. It was an odd sight to watch Donghyuck with a pair of clear blue jeans and a white simple t-shirt, but Mark had to admit that the simplicity of his choice was a blessing. He had seen wizards wear very ridiculous clothes.
“Wasn't it?” Donghyuck shoots back, shamelessly imitating Mark's reproaching tone. “They knew who they were hiring, thus they'll have to deal with the consequences of it.”
That should have been another reason for the Ministry not to allow Donghyuck into their Auror program, but Mark reckons that they saw more pros than cons in him.
“You're familiar with the Knockturn Alley, isn't that right?”
Donghyuck dedicates him a funny look. “You could say I'd be able to walk around with my eyes closed.”
The image of Donghyuck exploring the Knockturn Alley, alone, with the amount of women and men that would give anything to trap, manipulate or force a Veela, sends a shiver down Mark’s spine. He’s certain Donghyuck can defend himself, but the mere idea of him being used by a dark wizard irks Mark.
“How so? How were you allowed to visit so often without the Ministry questioning you?” Mark asks, because yes, there are undercover Aurors everywhere, and they’d have informed the Ministry of Donghyuck’s activities.
“Oh, you're attributing it to my Veela side,” Donghyuck laughs, absolutely loving that Mark would think so badly of him. That, or it strokes his ego that Mark considers his Veela powers so strong for him to defraud the whole system. He slows his pace, however, to be right next to Mark and whisper, “I don’t have a particular liking for the Knockturn Alley. The Ministry explicitly told me to get acquainted with it.”
Mark breathes in, realizing what that implies.
“You're the corrupted side.”
Donghyuck hums, pleased with the term. “You're the good cop, I'm the bad cop. Who else? Anyone would believe that Lee Donghyuck is devious, like his brother. But you,” Donghyuck scoffs, as if the joke tells itself. “They can believe you went astray for me, though.”
Mark presses his lips into a line in an attempt of containing himself. He shouldn’t fight with Donghyuck once more, for the days they spent angry at each other were an awful waste of time, and Mark dreads feeling like he’s running out of time. Besides, whether it’s because they’re outside or because Donghyuck doesn’t hold a grudge against Mark anymore for mentioning his brother last week, Donghyuck is in a good mood. And Mark needs him in that state.
They enter the Diagon Alley through the Leaky Cauldron, where both of them change into their tunics. Donghyuck attracts more attention than Mark would like to, but when he’s about to complain that he shouldn’t have chosen such clothes to visit this place – a purple, dazzling tunic and black pants that stick to his legs in ways that any dress code would forbid – Donghyuck just smiles at him. Mark is learning that scolding him about purposely being attractive is adding fuel to the fire that burns within Donghyuck, so he makes a mental note not to comment on it. The only consolation is that perhaps wizards that frequent the Knockturn Alley might have a more welcoming attitude towards people like Donghyuck.
Over the noise of the Leaky Cauldron, Donghyuck offers his arm and demands, “Take me.”
Mark’s first instinct is to step back, for he knows that touching Donghyuck will worsen his scar. “What?”
“I said, take me,” Donghyuck repeats. His fingers curl inward, as to attract Mark, and he racks his stare up and down, noticing his sudden reticence. “We’re not walking into the Knockturn Alley without a plan, and the plan is that I’ve got you wrapped around my finger.”
And of course, Donghyuck’s reasoning is that pretending that they’re a couple, or that they’re together somehow, is the best idea. It might not be the best, but Mark knows that if someone that knows them, sees him with Donghyuck in such an atrocious place, they’ll immediately conclude that they’ve been sent by the Ministry. On the contrary, having Donghyuck perched on his arm will justify Mark’s corruption.
“Why not the other way around?” Mark protests either way, trying to delay the moment he has to touch Donghyuck.
“Lee.” Donghyuck rolls his eyes, exasperated. “People aren’t even going to look at you. So would you please stop being stubborn?”
Mark has no excuses, and he’s not going to humiliate himself by showing that he cares too much about this, so he extends his arm for Donghyuck. It’s beyond strange to feel Donghyuck gripping on him, surrounding his arm and pressing his body against his.
As they exit the Leaky Cauldron, Mark reminds himself to breathe. To forget his own tension, to think that it's other boy, not Donghyuck, who is tightly connected to him right now. Luckily for him, the drugs Yukhei lent him subdue the pain he could experience, but Mark is aware that it won't help later tonight. Once the drugs are out of his system, Mark is going to wail for hours.
Donghyuck subtly leads Mark through the Diagon Alley, taking the fastest route to the Knockturn Alley to avoid excessive attention on them. Mark has always felt an emotion akin to amazement at how different both alleys are, for a simple step around the corner changes the whole scenery. It distracts Mark from thinking about Donghyuck, but he makes sure not to stare at any wizard for too long, and dismisses any street vendor that approaches them. Maybe when they've visited the Knockturn Alley together a few times, Mark will be able to afford talking to the vendors, for there's a higher possibility they will know about the nuances of the Euphoria Elixir. They could be involved even, but it's too soon to ask questions.
Tallow and Hemp Toxic Tapers is their first stop, and as they've agreed, it should be the only one. Donghyuck assured him that he wasn't friends with the owner, for the man feared him from the deepest part of his soul, but the owner's son respected him. It was a good start, and if they didn't get the information they needed there, they'd have to try their luck elsewhere.
The door of the shop is, of course, closed. That's the reason Mark could never walk through the Knockturn Alley alone: the magical passwords are passed from mouth to mouth so that they expand across the right kind of wizards, and Mark isn't a wizard that should be here. Donghyuck is, though.
Donghyuck lets go of Mark for a second, and then bends down to press a kiss on the lock of the door. Mark can't help it: he instinctively grasps Donghyuck's tunic from behind, at the level of his hips, to tug him back at any moment. No one in their right mind would ever put their mouth on a lock, not on the lock of a shop that sells poisonous candles, but Donghyuck does.
The door tingles and opens with a click, as though Donghyuck has muttered a spell into its gears, and Donghyuck stands tall again. His hand rests on Mark's hand, a slight shadow of surprise on his face because of Mark's protective gesture, and the next thing Mark knows is that Donghyuck has entangled their fingers and is pulling him inside.
The youth of the man behind the counter indicates that he's the owner's son, and so does the ephemeral smile he flashes at Donghyuck before catching Mark's presence.
“Fancy seeing you back here, Mister Lee,” he greets Donghyuck.
Donghyuck returns the smile, but he tugs Mark close enough for the boy to drift his attention. “I brought company this time,” Donghyuck merrily announces, his Veela tone on full force. “I hope you have what he's looking for.”
Mark clears his throat, and though his discomfort could be interpreted as nervousness, the seller interprets it as mere impatience. They must have plenty of customers that are far from talkative, so Mark fits just right.
Donghyuck doesn't hesitate as they step up to the counter, and when the owner's son has the decency to ask Mark for his preferences, Donghyuck interrupts him. If they weren't in the middle of a mission, Mark would swear Donghyuck is feeling a tiny bit possessive over him, but it's all part of their roles.
After Donghyuck makes sure to indicate the most obscure, strange sort of candles, the man walks into the warehouse to look for them. Mark doesn't know why Donghyuck wants to get rid of him, but he understands that there must be a reason, for Donghyuck immediately spins on his heels and starts inspecting every object in the shop.
“Don't touch anything,” Mark hisses. Donghyuck strides across the shop, hands resting on every surface, slants over every candle to sniff them. “You don't know-”
Donghyuck glances back at him, skeptical. “Are you trying to protect me, Lee?” he mocks him, as to pull at Mark's leg. “Do you need a reminder that this is my natural habitat?”
To prove his point, Donghyuck wraps his hand around one of the red candles resting on a table. Mark can't conceal the faint gasp that leaves his lips, and less can he bear the urge to approach Donghyuck and tug him away. Donghyuck must know that the candle is harmless, because he scrunches his eyes in pleasure at Mark's reaction, and even lets himself be pulled away.
“You're out of your mind,” Mark grunts at him, feeling a wave of warmth in his face.
And he intends to spit a dozen more warnings, because this shop sells poisonous candles, candles that could kill a room full of people just with their scent, candles that could enchant, manipulate and enslave people – the options are endless, and all of them are dangerous – but Donghyuck leaves him breathless.
Mark doesn't understand what's going on when Donghyuck, not braking himself, crashes against him and throws his arms around Mark's frame. Even under the effect of the drugs, pain whips through Mark, and he grumbles with his mouth closed, afraid of having to give explanations. When he opens his eyes to face Donghyuck, eyelashes fluttering up at him, he wonders if he's in a dream; in a nightmare, maybe.
“Darling, I’ve always wanted one of these,” Donghyuck whines, and the voice he uses might be peppered with his usual Veela influence, but Mark has never heard it with so much intensity.
It's a voice that could make any man kneel for him, and Mark claws at his own pain to keep his sanity in place. It's there, in the last ray of light inside his mind, where he comprehends why Donghyuck is being affectionate.
“I’ve spent so many Galleons on you today,” Mark lies, a protest that doesn't sound too convincing. He hears the steps of the owner's son, the noise of the candles being placed on the counter; he has the temptation to check his expression, to know if their little theater is working, but no man would ever look away from a Veela that is pleading for them. That would be telling enough for the owner’s son to kick them out. “Don’t you have enough?”
“Come on, we never have fun,” Donghyuck whispers, just loud enough to be heard by the man. He plays with the back of Mark's tunic, hands so low on his back that Mark swears he's going to hex him later. “You don’t take me to The White Wyvern anymore.”
Behind Mark, the seller laughs, smitten with Donghyuck's begging act. Mark whips his head to look at him at last, and that quick look informs him that he's indeed buying the scene.
“You should take the lad to the pub next weekend,” he tells Mark.
It's not just simple advice. To enter the White Wyvern, you need to be brought as a plus one by their most loyal customers or receive a direct invitation. That's what the seller is offering him: an invitation so that he can indulge his Veela and get the best out of it later. Disgusting, in Mark's opinion, and the reason why he hates that Donghyuck strolled around alone in the Knockturn Alley for so long.
“Should I?” Mark lifts his eyebrows at him, defying.
The guy nods, a nasty smile extending on his face. “It’s going to be quite the event.”
“Really?” Donghyuck chirps up. His words ring in Mark's ears like a melody, and if he's perceiving Donghyuck's charms so strongly, he can't imagine how the other man is taking it. Donghyuck pleads once more, “Babe.”
Mark has to blink for a few seconds, to breathe deeply, to calm himself down. Otherwise, he’d slam Donghyuck against a wall, and then he wouldn't know what to do to him.
His moment of self-control gets mistaken by vacillation, though, because the seller insists, “Boys like him have to be treated well, sir. They have too many options.”
Donghyuck smiles at him, fervently nodding, “We do.”
Mark decides to relent, sighs in resignation, and Donghyuck pretends that it's the sign for him to grab the candle that he wants. He almost floats around the shop, drenched in happiness, and hands the seller a couple of red candles. They join the package of Mark's supposed request, three tiny, pistachio colored candles, and the owner's son chuckles while he packs the last ones.
“Those are good for couples,” he comments, eyes directed at Mark with a clear, indecent message.
It's almost impossible not to roll his eyes, but Mark holds back. Donghyuck is so irritating that he made sure to choose a candle that could shame Mark. It's compromising, insulting to Mark even if it's just an act, and embarrassing. Mark is going to strangle him.
And yet, when the man slips a tiny piece of parchment into the brown package, Mark isn't so exasperated anymore: that's their ticket to the night life of the Knockturn Alley, and that's why they went there in the first place.
Mark's happiness is short-lived.
While Donghyuck sticks to him until they've left the Knockturn Alley, the expression on his face is broadly different. The spark of his flirting has been replaced by a darker emotion, and Mark recognizes the old Donghyuck in him, the boy that would have pushed him off a cliff if it was necessary. Mark tries to talk to him, but Donghyuck shuts him down every time, reminds him to keep an eye on the package – insinuating that he can sense Mark's eyes on him, and that they shouldn't be on him.
Mark convinces himself that it's just one of Donghyuck's humor shifts and he shouldn't worry about it. He should, however. When they arrive at the Leaky Cauldron, Donghyuck doesn't appear disposed to go back into the Muggle streets; in fact, he fixes his tunic, sends Mark a pointed look, and launches towards him.
Despite all the training Mark has received, he doesn't have time to step out of Donghyuck's space. Donghyuck sinks his fingers in his wrist, eyes flashing red, and then they're Apparating.
A wave of panic invades Mark. All of sudden he's not Auror, he's not an adult. All of sudden he's back in the war, he's wearing his Gryffindor robes, and a Slytherin has trapped him in a secret hall. It lasts for a second, and the vision finishes as soon as the Apparition does, but Mark doesn't recover his breath. His surroundings are white, and he can't even feel Donghyuck around him, tied to a past memory that doesn't liberate him. He bends down, hands on his knees, and takes a moment to cling onto reality.
Reality, however, isn't much better. Mark doesn't know where he is, where Donghyuck brought him.
Blinking away the white spots in his sight, Mark wipes his head up. They’re in a spacious, old living room, so empty and desolate that Mark would bet no one lives here; behind Donghyuck, Mark can see the hall, the stairs coiling up to the second floor. It takes Mark a few seconds to realize that Donghyuck has Apparated with him in his house; a house which atmosphere tells more about Donghyuck than any of his words and acts.
Upon inspecting the living room, Mark comprehends why they’ve never switched their little secret headquarters to Donghyuck’s house. The blinds down, the candles off, the dust on the furniture, they all are signs that Donghyuck doesn’t spend much time there.
But when Donghyuck opens his mouth, Donghyuck’s daily life is the last of Mark’s problems.
“Take your top off,” Donghyuck orders him, completely serious.
Mark can choose, though. Donghyuck could have forced that on him, but he hasn’t. It’s a small game of power, and Mark can play it. If Mark has to take his clothes off for Donghyuck, it won’t happen with violence.
“Veela,” Mark scoffs, but his hand unconsciously rests on his chest to protect himself. “Don't think you can just-”
Donghyuck nearly snarls at him, “Take it off.”
And before Mark can process what's happening, why Donghyuck has such a command for him, Donghyuck closes the distance between them. Mark isn't that much taller, but it's enough for Donghyuck to have to lift his head to look at him; that doesn't make him lose even a fraction of his intimidating aura, though. “Mark, freaking Lee, I saw you twist in pain every time I touched you. I touched your arms and I touched your chest, and I know when a man is hiding something.”
All the blood drains away from Mark's face in a split second. He thought he was doing a good job at pretending, but Donghyuck is one of the best wizards of his generation for a reason. Besides, the war taught them to be alert, to beware of any hint or sign, and that's still heavily ingrained in their bodies. Even if Mark does something as insignificant as frowning, Donghyuck will need a reason to justify it; if it's unexplainable, then it's a danger.
By the time Mark finds the words to answer, he's feeling exhausted. “This is none of your business,” he retorts at Donghyuck, not a tiny bit guilty as Donghyuck's fury falls flat.
“It's not my business?” Donghyuck repeats, incredulous. Perhaps it's because the whole house is in silence, but his voice blooms with too much strength, vibrates in every bone of Mark's body. “It is, as long as you're my Auror partner.”
It'll hurt both of them, but Donghyuck doesn't know that yet.
It could be a test for him, somehow, Mark realizes. If he's on Mark's side for real, if he has a heart and some mercy in him, he'll be able to feel remorse for the pain inflicted on Mark. Yet if Donghyuck isn't a monster, showing him his scar will change their relationship forever, even their partnership. For better or for worse, or maybe just to kick them to the starting point, but there's no way Mark will be on the losing side. If Donghyuck is hurt, he'll be glad, because he'll be damned if he wouldn't take the chance to emotionally harm Donghyuck. If he's not hurt, Mark will be relieved that Donghyuck hasn't changed after all, and he'll finally know what to expect from him.
After staring into Donghyuck's eyes for a long while, Mark grumbles, “You always get what you want.”
It sounds like surrender, yet it's a choice. When Mark brings his fingers to the buttons of his shirt, Donghyuck's attention flickers to his chest with an eagerness that would have made him blush years ago. Mark isn't a kid anymore, however, and he can bear the gaze of a man on him while he strips. And Donghyuck has watched many horrors to cower at the sight of a half-naked man in front of him, so his stare remains on every inch of skin that Mark reveals, his impatience palpable and his anticipation betraying him.
For once, Mark holds a great power against him. He unbuttons his shirt slowly at first, but once he reaches the last button, he arches his back and pulls at the sides of his shirt to expose his whole torso.
It's too sudden, and it catches Donghyuck unprepared, a sonorous gasp reverberating in the empty living room.
Mouth agape, Donghyuck's eyes trail all over the imprints on Mark's skin, from the scar to the tattoo, back and forth, back and forth. His shock is evident, but his expression is blank, and Mark can't grasp what Donghyuck is thinking about. He could be thinking about the day Mark got tortured by his brother. Or he could be thinking about all the times Donghyuck gave his back to him, all the times he could have helped.
There’s bile in Mark’s mouth when he shoots, “Too many questions?”
For once, Donghyuck doesn’t seem to be up for a fight. The sight of what Mark has been hiding, what he would have hidden forever had Donghyuck not forced him, is overwhelming. It’s just fair that Donghyuck has to deal with the torrent of memories that Mark’s scar brings. Mark deals with them every day.
“Why is it still alive?” Donghyuck murmurs. Close enough to touch him, his hand hovers over Mark’s chest. He watches how the ink of the tattoo moves under Mark’s skin, how it slips into the scar to conceal it when Donghyuck’s fingers threaten to touch. “The scar, it should have-”
“Disappeared when your brother died, yes,” Mark cuts him off in agreement. But just like the consequences of war, getting rid of a magical scar wasn’t so simple. “The hex had too much soul.”
If a monster could have a soul, anyway.
And it’s right then, with Donghyuck falling into his own despair, that Mark realizes his plan to hurt him is about to backfire. The shock drifts into pity, into empathy, and Donghyuck stares at him like he’s asking for a chance. For redemption.
“Mark-” he whispers.
“Shut your mouth,” Mark grunts. He should have predicted this could be the outcome. It’s the right thing to do, and though Donghyuck has never been too inclined to help people that didn’t belong to his circle, he’s a bit different nowadays. “The answer is no.”
Donghyuck doesn’t relent. He’s confused at the rejection, confused at why Mark would choose pain just not to receive help from him, and overall, he’s stubborn.
Scowling, he insists, “I have, too, Veela blood, and it’s the same blood he had-”
For a second, Mark has the urge to hold his wand and shut Donghyuck up in the wrong way. Fury blinds him, but he promised himself that he wouldn’t let Donghyuck ruin his career; and somehow he deserves that Donghyuck is being so nosy, for Mark was just as annoying when they were in school.
However, Mark doesn’t block his secondary reaction: he holds Donghyuck’s face between his hands, not with delicacy, but with all his force. Donghyuck loses his balance, either because of the surprise or the strength, and a flash of fragility is reflected on his face. Mark’s whole body burns at the contact, not just his scar, but he doesn’t release Donghyuck.
“I said no,” Mark repeats, slow and hard. There’s barely an inch between their faces, but Mark doesn’t care, doesn’t realize he’s invading Donghyuck’s space with aggressiveness. Donghyuck has never cared about his comfort either, and he’s proving that right now, so Mark doesn’t have any reason to be nice to him. “Do you get it, Donghyuck? I said no. And you’re going to respect that, because I can assure you that if you step over this limit, this specific limit, it’s over for us.”
Pain writhes down Mark’s chest with so much intensity that he has to let go. Donghyuck has the same blood that did this to him, and upon rejection, his scar vibes with Donghyuck’s emotions. Mark catches his breath, but as soon as he releases Donghyuck from his grasp, the vehemence of the pain dies own.
Donghyuck’s eyes sparkle in the dim light of his living room, tears that won’t ever come out. Both have cried enough, but the realization that one of them is still physically suffering is hard to process, and Mark watches Donghyuck swallow the knot in his throat.
There’s silence afterwards, just silence that becomes odd to Mark’s ears, for it isn’t natural for Donghyuck not to persist. Without a word, Donghyuck carefully reaches for the edges of his shirt, and as tough the fabric could scratch Mark, he tenderly slides it over his shoulders again. Mark can’t breathe while Donghyuck roams his hands all over his chest, and in apparent calmness, starts doing his buttons one by one.
Mark inhales with long, heavy movements, but Donghyuck doesn’t make fun of him for it. Even though he could use the excuse that it’s because the scar hurts, Donghyuck is aware that it’s because of his Veela aura. It’s too intimate, not only for them two, but for anyone else. By covering Mark’s wounds, Donghyuck is giving him the right to finish this discussion, and Mark is beyond reassured.
When Donghyuck’s fingers are entangled in the buttons over Mark’s abdomen, he sends Mark an undecipherable look and remarks, “The tattoo is illegal.”
It is, but Mark didn’t expect Donghyuck to realize. It means he has seen illegal tattoos before, and though it makes sense given his record and his circle, Mark had hoped for that little fact to remain a secret.
He feels his mouth dry as he says, “Only illegal tattoos respond to the Dark Arts like that.”
A regular, Muggle legal tattoo would have covered his scar, but Mark knew what he had needed back then: magical ink that could slip away from his scar sometimes. It wasn’t a healed scar, thus Mark needed to have access to it every time it got infected; a magical tattoo felt like having a second layer of skin moving underneath, caressing him from inside. Besides, he had just discovered that the ink obeyed to Donghyuck’s touch as well.
Donghyuck’s hands linger on the last button, his whole focus on Mark’s eyes instead. “Mark Lee with an illegal tattoo,” he whispers, like tasting it on his tongue. The corner of his mouth quirks up in a lopsided smirk, but Mark isn’t sure if he likes the concept or just finds it amusing. “Did you get more?”
It’s comprehensible why Donghyuck would be curious. Mark has always loved following rules, has always worn his prefect status on the front; for wizards like Donghyuck, it’s a delight to see how someone falls into corruption. It’d have been even better if Donghyuck had been the cause of it, and Mark has to make an effort not to remind him that, at last, this was his fault too.
Mark never manages to answer, though, because a voice blooms from behind them. Mark’s hearts leaps against his ribcage, since he assumed they were alone, but as his gaze locks with Huang Renjun’s eyes, he realizes that Donghyuck doesn’t live alone.
“Donghyuck? Is everything alright? I heard-” Renjun, standing under the door frame, catches sight of Mark. Of Donghyuck’s hands on his shirt, of their proximity, of how they separate with a snap, as though they’ve been doing something that they shouldn’t. “Oh.”
Observing Renjun, Mark wonders if he’ll ever get used to see the Slytherin students without their green robes. Renjun looks pretty much the same, small and breathtaking, with that air of detachment that reminds Mark of Donghyuck, but the satin blue pajama he’s wearing shows him in a vulnerable position. It makes him human, and Mark isn’t used to seeing them as such.
“It’s fine,” Donghyuck assures him, but his voice breaks. He avoids glancing at Mark, suddenly aware of the intimacy they were sharing, and Mark would swear that he’s embarrassed. He should be, just like he should learn to keep the distance. “We were just discussing some… Ministry related issues.”
Renjun doesn't point out that one does not discuss Ministry's issues with their hands on their partner's abdomen, but he opts for raising his eyebrows at Donghyuck. They've been friends for so long – and more than friends, Mark knows this matter of fact – than they don't need to talk to communicate, and so Donghyuck cowers at Renjun calling him out on his ridiculous excuses.
At Donghyuck's lack of explanations, Renjun shifts his gaze to Mark and with a cordial smile, he greets, “It’s been a while, Lee.”
Three years, Mark wishes he had the courage to tell him. And if it had depended on him, it would have been endless. Mark's plans for his future didn't include being in Donghyuck's house, meeting the boy that had hogged all of Donghyuck's time and kindness – leaving none for the rest. Mark had always assumed that there had to be a seed of evil for Renjun to love Donghyuck so much, and the same applied to Lee Jeno and Na Jaemin. But one had to be clinically sick to end up living with him.
“It doesn't feel like a long while,” Mark retorts, not in the mood to reconcile with any of the Slytherins. Especially those in Donghyuck's life. “You're the same.”
Renjun's lips twist into a feline smile, vulnerability faded away. “And yet you're quite different, Lee,” he whispers, a whisper that feels like a scream among them. “Full of surprises.”
Back then, Mark would have been reticent to confront Renjun. For him, Jaemin and Renjun were just as bad as Donghyuck, and up to this day Mark isn't sure about Lee Jeno. Guilty by association, all of them.
“Renjun,” Donghyuck hisses, flashing an angered glance at his friend. “Leave.”
After all the tension and the humiliation Mark has suffered today, he enjoys that Donghyuck is receiving his own medicine. He appreciates Renjun's presence, no matter how much he has misinterpreted the scene he encountered, for it mortifies Donghyuck.
“It's my house too, dear,” Renjun cheekily shuts him down. He runs a hand through his hair, and though he's talking to Donghyuck, his gaze fixes on Mark's face like he's monitoring every tiny reaction of his. “You know the rule about bringing boys. You have to warn me first.”
It's a provocation, and Mark doesn't fall for it. Doyoung had told him once that even after Hogwarts, wizards never matured, and Renjun is the proof of it. He was one of the few persons that were aware of Mark's crush on Donghyuck – it was easy to guess for him, since he felt the same for Donghyuck. It's natural that he's curious of if Mark has forgotten about it, if he has realized how nonsensical and insane his feelings were.
And god, Mark might never admit it out loud, but he's curious as well. Deep inside he wants to know why Donghyuck and Renjun live together. If they're still fucking. If they're serious about each other. If they're in love. He wonders where Jaemin is, too, and if they've fallen out of touch.
“For Merlin,” Donghyuck grumbles, but against all odds, he doesn't lose his patience. He must be accustomed to Renjun's behavior, perhaps because he's just as rude. And then, for some reason, he rolls his eyes and tells Mark, “We don't have any rules about boys.”
Mark could remind him that such information is meaningless for him, that he doesn't care about his personal life. It'd be a lie, however, and Mark doesn't have any more strength in him to pretend today.
That's why he straightens up, ignores Renjun despite the insistent scrutinizing pair of eyes on him, and proposes, “Shall we go back to the Ministry?”
Donghyuck nods more fervently than ever, and Mark realizes he could have extended his suffering for longer just to get back at him. Not bothering to say goodbye to his friend, Donghyuck clasps his fingers around Mark's wrist for the second time today, and then looks for a confirmation in Mark's semblance.
“Come and have dinner some time with us, Lee,” Renjun chirps up, right before Mark nods at Donghyuck's silent question. He notices how Donghyuck's eyes widen in shock upon hearing Renjun's invitation, and Mark smiles to himself, aware that it's all he needs to show up at the door if he wishes so. Donghyuck doesn't Apparate fast enough for Mark not to hear the last of Renjun's words, an optimistic, teasing, “We could catch up.”