“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Taehyung woke up not knowing that his life was about to change. That was to be expected. No one knew when one’s life changed. Sometimes it was imperceptible; a tiny procession of casualties, of grains of sand than one after the other, pilled over each other and became a dune—shared looks across crowded hallways, one or two blown cauldrons, a forgotten yellow scarf. Then there were the moments that hit you like the Whomping Willow: fast, unexpectedly, inevitable.
The day Taehyung’s life changed; he woke up to the light of the sun filtering through a slim crack in his curtains. They were green, and the sight of them made the corners of his mouth tilt up, even if it was for a brief moment.
He searched for his wand under his pillow—a bad habit from school that he hadn’t been able to change—and sent a silent accio to the general direction of his wardrobe. His dressing gown hit him in the face harder than he had expected. He sighed as he got out of the bed and wrapped it around him, putting his wand in one of its pockets. His magic and he weren’t in the best of terms before having a cup of tea first.
It was Sunday. Spring seemed to have finally settled, and the sky seemed cloudless from his window. Maybe he could take the day off. Even if his kitchen was full of owls with letters tied to their feet, Taehyung could surely hold off all the orders until the next morning. Maybe he would go to the muggle park not far from his apartment. He could sit with his sketchbook under that sturdy tree that still was fighting the battle against the unrelenting amount of concrete, and not draw for the rest of the day.
But first, he needed tea.
There were five owls waiting for him on the perches he had hung on the side of the fridge. Taehyung sighed and raised his hand in the air to let them know to wait a little longer while he prepared himself some tea. He and food-related charms had never gotten along.
The owls hulled him while Taehyung waited for the water to heat up, urging him on. Taehyung only needed a glance to see that at least four of them were rare species, surely raised by pureblood families. Those were impatient little fuckers that always wanted too many treats after a delivery.
The fifth was a barn owl, and she was the only one who wasn't rushing him. Taehyung looked at her curiously. It wasn’t the owl of any of his friends, of that he was sure, and the circles in which his portraits moved preferred a more sophisticated type of owl. His eyes fell on the envelope attached to its leg and frowned when he saw the red seal.
He turned to pour himself his tea. There was no sign of Geon. If it was something important, he was sure Jimin would have written to him. Perhaps it was another restoration. The Headmistress had sent him the portrait of Newton Scamander a few months ago for Taehyung to repaint and she had mentioned needing his services again.
“Okay, let’s do this.”
He grabbed the letter from the first owl and huffed when he saw it was a commission for a family portrait. Great. He couldn’t wait to spend his afternoon in a stuffy mansion owned by a pureblooded family that not long ago would have wanted him dead. The second and third were much of the same. The fourth was a petition from a woman wanting a portrait of her recently deceased brother and Taehyung put him apart from the rest; he’d started with that one, if the letter from Hogwarts wasn’t something that required his immediate attention.
Finally, only the barn owl was left. She flew away as soon as Taehyung had untied the letter and gave her a generous treat for her patience. He leaned against the kitchen counter and looked at the seal with the Hogwarts’ shield before breaking it.
Estimated Kim Taehyung,
The magical community had suffered the terrible loss of one of our professors and we are in need of your services once again. You are welcome to come to the school grounds and take whatever is needed for the successful creation of the portrait.
That was the sound of his house’s safeguards tearing as an intruder appeared directly inside his kitchen. Taehyung didn’t scream. He didn’t look up from the letter. He didn’t even blink.
He was… numb.
Frantic hands grabbed him by the shoulders, touched his face, his arms. A distant part of him registered that the intruder was cursing loudly, calling his name, but not even all the fighting instincts engraved in himself after all those years in Hogwarts’ Dueling Club could make him respond.
There was something cold, something heavy in the pitch of his stomach.
“Taehyung. Taehyung, did you read it? Merlin’s balls! I told them not to send it. Fuck. Taehyung say something. Please. Please, Tae…”
The name on the letter was blurry.
Maybe he had read it wrong. If it was blurry, then it could be a mistake. His brain making him see things that weren’t there. He blinked and… Oh. Oh, it wasn’t blurry. He was crying. That’s why he couldn’t— but it wasn’t true, right? It couldn’t be. It had to be a joke. Some kind of terrible joke.
The intruder tried to take the letter away from him, but Taehyung tightened his grip until his knuckles turned white. He looked up. Namjoon was there, looking as he had been running his hand through his hair for the past 24 hours.
“Jimin,” croaked Taehyung and the pain that flashed in Namjoon’s eyes was enough to send Taehyung stumbling sideways.
Namjoon was quick to hold him and guide him to the nearest chair. Taehyung was trembling. He felt as if he couldn’t breathe, choked by the sobs that refused to come out.
He pressed a hand to his rib cage, wondering if the pain tearing his insides were the shattered pieces of his heart digging into his chest. The tea was splattered all over the floor. The cup broke. He didn’t remember letting go of it. He didn’t remember hearing the crash.
“They want me to paint Jimin,” he said to a piece of porcelain next to his foot.
Namjoon knelt before him and cupped Taehyung’s face. His bottom lip was bitten red and there were dark circles under his eyes. If Namjoon hadn’t slept all night, did that mean that Jimin had been— that Jimin—? While Taehyung had slept without dreams, unaware.
“I’m sorry. Taehyung, I’m sorry.” Taehyung shook his head. He couldn’t believe it. He was not going to believe it. Namjoon was lying. Namjoon was lying. Namjoon was lying. “I wanted to be the one to—. I told them not to contact you, to pick someone else.”
“It can’t… It can’t be real.” Taehyung shook his head again. He looked at Namjoon with wide eyes, searching for an answer that wasn’t there. “Hyung, tell me it’s not real. Tell me Jimin’s not dead.”
Tears painted Namjoon’s cheeks and splashed Taehyung’s knees.
“T-the Aurors received a call from his neighbors last night. When they arrived there, it was too late. He was… He—”
“He was ki—?” He couldn’t say the word. Not Jimin. Not his Jimin. He couldn’t imagine him like that. “Stop. Stop lying. Stop lying. This is not funny. Tell him this is not funny. The prank is over, Jimin! Show up!”
Taehyung fisted Namjoon’s robes and closed his eyes. He shook his head again, and again as hot tears burned down his cheeks.
“He can’t be. He can’t be, hyung. He promised.”
But Namjoon kept repeating I’m sorry.
Taehyung knew more than felt how his body gave up on keeping him upright. His forehead hit Namjoon’s shoulder and Namjoon’s arm wrapped around his waist to keep him in place. There was nothing that could stop the sobs from escaping now.
The parchment creaked between his fingers.
Professor Park Jimin was in charge of Potions and Head of the House Slytherin.
The last time he had seen Jimin had been four years ago at the King's Kross station. Jimin’s smile had reached his eyes, had brightened his entire face. He was glowing as he hugged Taehyung, tight enough that they could forget they weren’t one.
Tight enough that Taehyung could still feel it now.
It had been a see-you-later.
Now, it was a goodbye.
“The Ministry sent their best Aurors to investigate,” said Namjoon in a hushed tone. Taehyung was tempted to press the palm of his hands against his ears. A part of him didn’t want to listen and another part wanted nothing more than to know how, to know why. “They... They think it was because of his family.”
Taehyung let out a shuddering breath. Death Eaters. He should have known. He should have— Sometimes the war felt like a lifetime ago. It felt like someone’s else nightmare. A thing that couldn’t touch them anymore. But there was always something that woke them up. That made them realize that even if the war was over, the war was never truly gone. The Parks had been a proud pureblood family, new to England, and eager to gain status. They had been on Voldermort’s side since the First War, causing their own downfall.
Jimin wasn’t like them. Jimin didn’t share their views. Jimin hadn’t been able to escape the Mark, but he had done his best to fight from the inside. After the second war, that didn’t matter. That hadn’t saved him from getting trapped in between two sides that didn’t want him.
A marked wizard was a marked wizard, but Jimin had never let that define him. He had dedicated his life to try and fix all the pain his family had caused and that had led him straight to a teaching position in Hogwarts.
Away from Taehyung.
Away from Taehyung.
“Tae, you don’t need to do this. I can talk to the Headmistress. Explain the situation. You don’t have to—”
“He deserves a good portrait.”
The words came out of his mouth but Taehyung heard them far away as if said with someone’s else throat. He didn’t want to open his eyes and see the look on Namjoon’s face. He didn’t want to see the sun shining over the wooden floor as if nothing had changed as if the world was still the same it always was. It wasn’t. It wasn’t. Jimin wasn’t in it anymore. The sun should have shattered. The colors should have disappeared. The air shouldn’t have to smell like spring. Why the world hasn’t ended with Jimin’s life? It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t.
“I’m the only one who knows him best.” He smiled a watery smile. A smile that was only for Jimin because Jimin had never liked to see him cry. “I spent almost my entire life drawing him. No one can paint him as I do.”
Then he broke again. He hid his face on Namjoon’s chest as sobs tore him from the inside out.
“Don’t be silly, Taetae. Even if we’re not together anymore, I’m always going to be your Jimin.”
Those had been his last words.
Taehyung didn’t want to take a Calming Draught but Namjoon insisted and he didn’t have the energy to argue. He drowned the vial like a shot and fell the effects wash over him almost instantly. Namjoon helped him get to the sofa and wrapped him tightly with a blanket. Some part of Taehyung registered that he said something about tea before disappearing inside the kitchen.
Everything was dull. Distant.
The potion had been enough to calm him down, but he didn’t think there was a potion to get rid of the pain of his heart. Maybe there was. He had never been the best at potions, after all. He had always ended up fucking up his homework, blowing up his cauldron after he added the wrong ingredient again.
Jimin would have known.
Taehyung didn’t believe that Jimin would have approved of it, but he would have known if it was possible. He would have known how to prepare it, how to counter it. He would have known the exact amount Taehyung had to take to make all the pain go away as if it had never existed in the first place.
Namjoon returned. His eyelashes were wet, the tip of his nose was pink but he looked determined to not show his pain in front of Taehyung. He probably believed something ridiculous like he had to be strong for him. As if he hadn’t lost Jimin too.
A tray with two cups of tea and some biscuits followed him closely behind.
Namjoon sat down next to him and threw an arm over his shoulders. Taehyung’s head fell on his chest. They watched as the tray positioned itself on the coffee table.
“Did you see him?” asked Taehyung. The question didn’t make sense even to his own ears so he wasn’t surprised that Namjoon didn’t answer him right away. Namjoon mumbled a spell under his breath and the small spoon began to pout sugar into their teas. “His…” Taehyung closed his eyes, fighting against the sickness rising inside his stomach. “His body. Did you see it? Was he hurt? Did he feel pain before…?”
“No. He— It was… It was quick.” Namjoon’s eyes got lost somewhere inside his memories. His face turned greenish. “They bought him to St. Mungo but it was clear we… we couldn’t do anything. It was too late. I’m sorry.” Taehyung kept silent, watching the spoon stir the tea. “I spoke with some of the Aurors that were there. It looks like there was a huge fight. He defended himself but the one who… the intruder probably caught him off guard.”
Taehyung shook his head. His temples hurt. His body hurt. Every single molecule in his body was hurting.
Maybe he was going to need more Calming Draught after all.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “I got his letter a week ago. We were supposed to meet after he finished graduating the O.W.L.S. Was he not in Hogwarts? He didn’t tell me he had accommodations in Hogsmeade.”
“He was... He was alone in his lover’s apartment.”
Taehyung sighed and pressed a hand against his chest. He remembered that old tale of a wizard that had used dark magic to take out his heart from his chest because he didn’t want to fall in love, he didn’t want to hurt, to turn into a fool. It had been one of his all-time favorites. He had asked his mother and then Jimin to read it to him every night.
Before, the wizard’s harsh decision of getting rid of his heart had looked ridiculous, crazy. Now, he could understand him better.
“Did you know—?”
“That he was seeing someone? Yes, hyung. He’s my best friend. He told me about it.”
Silence fell over the room. The tea was getting cold, but neither of them wanted to move. He wondered if it was the Calming Draught that made everything seem so far away. Maybe it was the shock. A mixture of both.
Jimin would know.
“The Aurors would want to speak with you,” said Namjoon after a while. Taehyung nodded. “I know a guy… I can talk to them. Ask him to give you more time.” Taehyung nodded again. “Jimin’s cousin— Seokjin? He went to St. Mungo to… retrieve the ashes. He’s the only relative that responded to our letters. Maybe I can send him an owl? Ask him about the funeral?” Taehyung shook his head. He didn’t want to go. He couldn’t. “Tae, are you sure you want to paint—?”
“He is my–!” He felt Namjoon flinch startled at his outburst. He took a deep breath and swallowed. “Is Jimin. I’m not going to let anyone else paint his portrait.”
Namjoon nodded. Sore throats forced them into silence.
They stared at the tea.
Taehyung had loved magic even before he knew he was magic. Fairy tales of enchanted castles had plagued his imagination since he was a child, so when the letter came, when he sat on the boat next to kids of his age and looked up to the beautiful, impossible castle that rose on the horizon, he had fallen in love with it.
He hadn’t been the only one, of course. Hogwarts had a way of getting into one’s soul and taking root. There was no way of getting ride of Hogwarts without losing a part of oneself.
Between moving stairs, floating candles, ghosts, strange creatures, and even more strange teachers, nothing had fascinated Taehyung as the living portraits. To be a ghost was to be someone so scared of death that they had chosen to stay on earth in a feeble imitation of life. Portraits were much more complicated. Portraits were, in Taehyung’s opinion, a delicate art that depended not on the painter’s skill but on the power of the wizard being painted.
There wasn’t much theory around magic portraits. No one, not even the painters, new the real extent of the insight of a portrait. Many believed that portraits were nothing more but a shadow of a person, nothing more than a simple representation of a living subject as seen by the artist.
Taehyung had always believed there was more to it.
Now, he wanted to believe in it more than ever. He needed to believe.
Taehyung had asked the Headmistress for permission to come and go from the school grounds after he graduated. After all, no place in the world had as many magic portraits as Hogwarts did. Taehyung had spent nearly two years studying all he could from them before wider horizons opened before his eyes.
(“Jimin, I don’t think I’m made for long-distance relationships.”
“We could always try to get authorization for a Portkey.”
“And see each other, what? Once a month? That would only serve to drive me crazy.”
“I know. Me too.” A sigh. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”)
Six years later and he was here again.
Returning to Hogwarts should have felt like a dream, but it was a nightmare. The talk with the Headmistress had been one of the most difficult things he had ever done in his life, and he was a muggle-born that survived the Second War at fifteen. His eyes burned with unshed tears; his throat croaked every word. Every inch on his body wanted to bolt to the nearest bathroom and empty the breakfast Namjoon had forced him to ingest that morning.
He didn’t. He stood with his chin up and his back straight as McGonagall recounted all of Jimin’s feats during and after Hogwarts. As if Taehyung hadn’t been with him in every step of the way. As if Taehyung hadn’t seen him grow from a child to an adult at sixteen. As if Taehyung hadn’t been the one to make him tea at three in the morning while he studied for his master, and lured him to bed with the promises of kisses at four a.m.
It wasn’t her fault she didn’t know the extent of their relationship, but it didn’t make it any less hard.
So, Taehyung nodded, and shook his head, and offered short answers that were satisfying enough for the Headmistress. Yes, he needed to see Jimin’s studio. No, he didn’t need her memories of Jimin to know him better, thank you. Yes, the portrait was going to take him three months to paint. He didn’t want any kind of payment. Not for this one.
Relief washed over him as soon as the Headmistress dismissed him. He had asked to go alone to Jimin’s studio with the excuse that he wanted to take a short walk around Hogwarts first and see how much it had changed. He knew the Headmistress would be occupied with the preparations for the year, she didn’t have time to waste on him.
He walked down the empty hallways. A part of him was glad there weren’t any students there. He was glad that the Slytherin House had still a few more days before they knew about Jimin. The Headmistress had done her best to prevent The Prophet from publishing the news before she could talk with the students herself and for once, The Prophet had relented.
Head of Slytherin and Professor of Potion at twenty-two. Jimin had been so happy when that had happened. Taehyung hadn’t need to hear his voice, the way his cursive jumped from a word to the other had been enough. Taehyung still had the letter saved somewhere in his closet. He had saved all of Jimin’s letters. But he hadn’t been able to touch them since— since.
When he was still studying, he had stayed a few times during Christmas vacations. There hadn’t been many students back then either, but it felt different from now. Hogwarts was empty and Taehyung could feel it ache. He could feel the castle’s longing, the hole that forever needed to be filled.
His footsteps echoed on the stone walls. He felt like a ghost.
A ghost hunt by memories of that’s where I met Jimin, that’s where Jimin said he was my friend for the first time, that’s where I fell in love, that’s where Jimin fell in love too, that's where we kissed for the first time, here we had the first fight.
Jimin’s studio was exactly what Taehyung had expected, and he couldn’t help but chuckle at the ridiculously amount of green and silver decorating every inch of the room. The place was tidy, rows and rows of potions resting on wooden shelves against the left wall. There was a worktable in the middle of the room with a silver, empty cauldron and a mix of ingredients still laying around. Taehyung traced the legs of the cauldron with his fingertips. They were shaped like snakes.
He closed his hand in a fist and rest it behind his back. An ugly part of him wanted to take the cauldron and throw it against the stupid potions. He wanted to hear it all shatter. He wanted to take out his wand and curse the dammed thing until it was nothing more than a poodle on the floor.
Taehyung was never going to forget Jimin’s face when he opened the box and saw Taehyung’s gift. He was never going to forget the happy shriek he let out and the kisses that followed.
Taehyung took a deep breath and his eyes stung at the familiar smell of peach and something spicy permeating the air. He clenched his teeth. He looked around, desperately wanting to find another place where to lay his eyes.
It was the window that got Taehyung's attention. Usually, the Potion Professor’s study was in the dungeons, under the Great Lake just like the Slytherin Common Room. It had always felt claustrophobic for Taehyung but Jimin, like the proud Slytherin he had been, had enjoyed the darkness and the cold, found it comforting in some way Taehyung never had understood.
There was a green armchair facing the window and a book that would never be finished opened on the small, round table in front of it. Taehyung caressed its pages, swallowing down a knot at the sight of Jimin’s neat calligraphy adorning its margins, and finally looked out the window.
The Great Lake. But not just that. From there, Taehyung had a perfect view of that lonely tree that grew on its edges, its roots so thick that they went over the earth and—Taehyung knew it first hand—made a comfortable seat for two students that had forbidden the entry to the library because they couldn’t keep quiet while they studied side by side.
Jimin had sat in that armchair for the past three years he had been Professor and stared at the place where they had told each other I love you for the first time.
Taehyung fell to his knees, no longer able to hold back the tears. He wondered when he would stop crying. Probably never.
Painting a magical portrait required specific skills. It required knowing how to cast difficult enchantments and make complicated potions. Taehyung had been lucky to have someone like Jimin by his side when he was still learning. He had always been excellent at Charms—that didn’t involve food—but Potions was a subject he barely survived.
Jimin taught him. Taehyung was Jimin’s first pupil, as he liked to joke when they were fresh out of Hogwarts and still high from the rush of having their own place to live. Taehyung’s wandering mind and the precise ingredient scales hadn’t got along well for a long time, but he was stubborn and Jimin was patient, and that combination alone had been enough to get them in and out of trouble at Hogwarts more time that he could count.
Those had been very stressful months. Now, Taehyung still may not know how to successfully prepare a Draught Of Living Death but he could make the ones required for his job with his eyes closed.
Taehyung covered his nose and mouth with a mask to protect his lungs from the fumes coming out of the cauldron and stirred the potion to the right seven times, to the left to times, and to the right another five. He tapped the fire under the cauldron with his wand and lowered it to a light flame. He stared at the greenish liquid until it turned light blue.
He nodded and stepped away from the cauldron. The potion needed to stay like that for another hour until it was ready.
He closed the door from the tiny room that had once had been Jimin’s laboratory to prevent the smoke to poison the rest of the house. The hinges of the door squeaked. He paused in the hallway, breathing in and out the clean air.
Once, that house had been theirs. One bedroom, one small room where Jimin could brew his potions, a tiny kitchen where they bumped against each other while making breakfast, and a spacious living room with big windows where Taehyung could paint his portraits. For two years, the house had been their whole world.
Then both of them had left it behind. Hogwarts Professors lived in Hogwarts most of the year. Taehyung’s study of the involvement of the soul of the deceased in their magical portraits had led him back to Korea. The house had been there, empty, longing, waiting to be filled again for almost five years.
I’m thinking of going back, he had written to Jimin in one of his letters not even a month ago, I learned as much as I could. I guess… I’ll have to start looking for a place to live.
Don’t be silly, had been Jimin’s reply a few days later. We already have a home.
Taehyung had been back in England for two weeks. He was supposed to meet Jimin as soon as they were free.
Taehyung gritted his teeth. The mirror hung on the hallway’s wall exploded. Taehyung jumped out of the way of the glass just in time and none of them hit him. He watched with wide eyes the sharp shards scattered all over the floor, reflecting his own pale face back at him. He hadn’t lost control of his magic since he was eleven… but Jimin had always made him lose control of himself.
That’s my heart on the floor.
He angrily wiped away the tears running down his cheek and shot a quick reparo to the mirror.
He didn’t stay to watch it mend itself.
Taehyung had promised the Headmistress to finish the portrait in three months. By now, he knew how he worked. He knew how to manage his times so that he didn’t need to rush to finish a commission at the last minute. He wasn’t one to go over self-imposed deadlines.
Taehyung had been painting for seven years now, but he had never encountered a task so… impossible.
It wasn’t the complicated set of spells he needed to cast over the canvas that made him lose sleep at night. It wasn’t the potions’ fumes that gave him headaches that started in the middle of his forehead and extended all the way behind his eyes.
It was the fact that the sun was still shining when he looked outside the window of his living room. It was the fact that he couldn’t get the exact color of Jimin’s natural blush. It was the fact that every stroke felt like a Crucio on his skin—and Taehyung knew firsthand how a Crucio felt; the Carrows had made sure of that. It was the fact that he had to remind himself to breathe every two seconds. It was the fact that, two weeks after his last visit to Hogwarts, he ended up drunk on Namjoon’s couch, afraid of having forgotten the shape of Jimin’s eyes.
“Look! Look! Tell me… Tell me which one is… is him. I can’t— I can’t remember, hyung,” he slurred as he shoved the sketchbook against his chest.
Namjoon’s eyes were wide open. Somewhere on the back of his mind, Taehyung was aware that it was almost three in the morning and he was standing in front of Namjoon’s door, fingers dirty with charcoal and his breath smelling of firewhiskey. He was aware that Namjoon was wearing his pajamas and he probably needed to sleep because he had work in the morning, but he couldn’t– He needed to know. He needed to know if he could still remember how to draw Jimin.
Namjoon took the sketchbook, circled a gentle hand around Taehyung’s wrist, and tugged him inside. Taehyung protested but his knees were wobbly and soon he found himself seated on the couch with a glass of water between his hands.
Namjoon sat in front of him, his eyebrows furrowed.
“Taehyung. When was the last time you slept?”
Taehyung tried to remember, but his memories were a blur. Everything was a blur. The room was spinning as fast as his stomach. He could almost hear Jimin laughing at him, you’re such a lightweight, Taehyugnie.
Taehyung gagged but managed to maintain his diner where it belonged. Namjoon flinched.
“Merlin, you’re a mess.” He ran a hand through Taehyung’s sweaty hair and sighed. “I may have a Hangover Potion lying around. Please stay here, okay? Don’t move.”
Taehyung shook his head. Instantly, everything started to turn but he managed to grab a hold of Namjoon’s arm before he could walk away.
“Forget about that. Hyung, I need to know!”
Namjoon let out another sigh and flipped through the sketchbook. His eyebrows went up, up, up with every page he turned.
“Taehyung, all of them are perfect. All of them are Jimin’s.”
“But are you sure?” The urgency in his voice terrified him. He sounded so tiny, so lost, so pathetic even to his own ears. Hot tears overflowed his eyes and burned down his cheeks. “I need— It’s been so long since I saw him and now, I’m not going to see him never again, what if—? What if I get it wrong? What if I paint him all wrong and he can’t— He can’t connect with the painting and I can’t tell him I’m sorry and I can’t talk to him again, and—? It’s going to be my fault.”
“Woah, woah.” Namjoon sat next to Taehyung and hugged him, guiding Taehyung head to his chest. “Shh. Breath with me, okay? In… out… In… Like that, just breathe. Good. Good, slowly.” Taehyung squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself to focus on Namjoon’s voice. Little by little, his heart slowed down and the air began to fill his lungs again. “Listen to me. I’m going to look for a few potions, you’re going to drink them, and tomorrow, we’ll talk. Understood?”
Taehyung bit his lip and nodded. Namjoon must have felt his reluctance because he sighed again and stroked his hair.
“Taehyung. We both know you can paint Jimin with your eyes closed. You said it yourself, remember? No one knows him as you do.” He scoffed. “Knowing Jimin, you could draw it with spilled coffee on a napkin and he’d still find you. He will always find you.”
The corners of Taehyung’s lips flickered up. The smile didn’t last long but Namjoon’s words were enough to ease the pain in his heart. Namjoon left a kiss on his forehead and got up. Taehyung watched him disappear in the hallway.
He rubbed his eyes and then stared at his wet palms. Maybe Namjoon was right. Maybe, one way or another, Jimin would find him.
The library was dark, cold, and empty. Everyone was outside, enjoying the warmth of the sunrays before the cold finally began and coated the castle’s grounds with snow. Taehyung walked between the aisles of bookshelves until he found what he was looking for.
“Jimin, what are you doing locked here?” Jimin’s head snapped up. He closed the book so quickly that a loud thud echoed all over. Taehyung’s heart skipped a beat. “What are you reading?”
Jimin pushed the book aside and looked away, tugging on the hem of his left sleeve. Taehyung’s eyes focused there for a second too long before he looked at Jimin’s face. He was pale, his lips were cracked. He looked as if he hadn’t slept for the last couple of months. He looked as if he hadn’t been eating either.
Taehyung sat in front of him and took his left hand. Jimin made a panicked sound and tried to pull it away from him, but Taehyung’s grip was strong. Stronger than Jimin’s.
“Don’t touch me! You can’t— Not you. Don’t. I’m—” His eyes filled with tears. “I’m poison. I’m dangerous to you. You need to get the hell away from me.”
Taehyung’s looked at Jimin’s forearm, covered by the black cloth of the school uniform. His stomach turned with fear, but he didn’t let any of it show on his face. That was the last thing Jimin needed right now.
“Did you want it?”
Hurt and rage flashed through Jimin’s eyes. “How could you ask me that?”
Taehyung nodded and stroked Jimin’s wrist with his thumb. Jimin tried to pull away again, but only half-heartedly.
“Then I’m not in danger because of you. You’re not going to hurt me. Jimin. Jimin, look at me. It’s just a mark.”
“For Merlin’s balls, Taehyung! It’s not just a mark and you know it! It’s the D—” He looked around, lowering his voice. “It’s the Dark Mark. It has a horrible history, and it has power, it connects me to— to him.”
“And one day it’s going to be just another scar.”
“You don’t know that.”
Taehyung cupped Jimin’s cheek and leaned to peck his lips. He did it again when Jimin didn’t respond, and one more time. He did it until Jimin let out a sighed and kissed him back.
“Are you really going to let it— to let him, define you?” Jimin sniffed. He chewed on his bottom lip; eyes fixed somewhere on the table in front of him. He shook his head. “Good. We can… We could go see the Headmaster. He would know what to do, okay?” Jimin closed his eyes. There was a pause, then a nod. Taehyung swallowed down his sigh of relief. “Now, what were you reading?”
Jimin gave him a thin smile and pushed the book towards him. Taehyung cocked his head to the side and read the title. Bonding Magic. Jimin opened one of the last chapters.
“The Red String?”
“A few years ago, I was researching Amortentia—”
“Shut up!” Jimin chuckled.” I was researching and an author mentioned the Red String. I didn’t know what it was so I looked for it and… I think… I think it’s similar to the Mark, in some ways. I think… maybe the Mark is a twisted version of it. Look.” He tapped the beginning of a paragraph. “It used to be part of the marriage ceremony. Ideally, two magical people chose each other as soulmates and bonded by the Red String. It had to be consensual, or the link would fail or worse, get corrupted. Just like the Mark, it has summoning powers that go both ways. But with the String is more of a gentle attraction and not…” He scratched his left arm. “Not like your intestines are being dragged by the hook of a fishing pole.”
Taehyung read until the end of the page and his heart gave a hopeful twitch.
“It could be broken.”
Jimin sighed. “Yeah, but don’t get excited. It had to be consensual, too. And like I said, I think the Mark is a twisted version of it. Born from Dark Magic, made to make someone submit. It’s not a thread with two ends, it’s a leash.”
Taehyung leaned against the back of the chair. They were still holding hands.
“I’m sorry, Jimin.” Jimin shrugged but Taehyung could read on his face how the helplessness was eating him from the inside out. He brought Jimin’s hand to his mouth and kissed his knuckles. “You know that I would have chosen you, right?”
“If we were born when the ritual was still in use, I would have chosen you as my soulmate.”
Jimin’s eyes filled with tears. His Adam’s apple bobbed. He had to clear his throat and even then, his voice came out choked.
“So do I.”
Taehyung woke up slowly. He opened one eye first, closed it. Then opened the other.
He wasn’t home. That explained his stiff neck. He sighed and gave himself a few more minutes to feel the full force of his shame. Luckily for him, Namjoon had made him swallow down a Hangover Potion before going to sleep, and his head didn’t hurt. But that only deprived him of the safety of not remembering his actions from last night.
Stupid wizards with their stupid magic.
He sat up, the blanket covering him falling to the floor. Taehyung stared at it, considering disappearing under it for a few more hours but the sketchbook lying next to it caught his attention. He picked it up, sighing at what looked like a hundred of different sketches of Jimin’s eyes.
His drunken ass had thought them all wrong, but now that he was sober and awake, he could see that Namjoon’s words last night had been true. All of them were perfect. All of them were Jimin.
That didn’t make the fear of forgetting go away. If not now then someday in the future. He had the advantage of magic, of course. He had what muggles didn’t. He could preserve his memories, find a Pensieve, and re-watch them when he needed it. But a Pensieve didn’t preserve Jimin’s touch, a Pensieve couldn’t preserve Jimin’s smell. And neither could a portrait.
If one day he was doomed to forget, then that, without a doubt, was going to be the first.
He rubbed his face until those ideas were locked somewhere at the back of his mind and pushed himself out of the couch. He was glad his drunken self hadn’t forgotten to bring his wand—it had happened before—and he quickly cast a refreshing charm for his mouth and face. He scrunched up his nose at the taste of magic. It wasn’t the same as brushing his teeth and taking a shower but he could do that later, alone in his house.
He looked in the direction of the kitchen where he could smell breakfast.
Namjoon was going to want to talk about feelings. Ugh.
Namjoon was waiting for him with a cup of tea between his hands and a half-finished bowl in front of him. Taehyung sat down and let Namjoon accio food to the table in his place. None of them say a word.
Taehyung could feel the heat starting to rise on his cheeks. He had completely humiliated himself last night.
“No work today?” he asked at last, feeling the tense silence choking him.
“I took a day off. Not— Not because of you.” He added the last part after Taehyung visibly flinched. “I took it before you showed up.”
“Oh.” Taehyung ate, chewing slowly. Namjoon kept looking at him from over his glasses. He sighed and pushed the bowl aside, his stomach tied in knots. “Look, I’m sorry I ruined your day—”
The stiff bubble of tranquility burst.
“Taehyung, I don’t give a fuck about that! Are you kidding me? How long this has been going?” he said, gesturing to all of Taehyung.
Taehyung let out a bitter chuckle.
“This what? My unhappiness? Oh, I don’t know! Remind me, how many days have passed since the love of my life and my only best friend was murdered?”
“You know what I’m talking about, don’t act as if you don’t—”
“Twenty days, Namjoon. Twenty days—” He cast a wandless tempus. “Three hours, and five minutes!”
Namjoon let out a long sight and leaned against the back of the chair, crossing his arms in front of his chest. Taehyung felt on edge. Namjoon’s calmness made him want to bite and hurt and make the stupid tea in front of him explode like a volcano.
He closed his eyes and inhaled through his nose, held the air inside his lungs, and let it out again. He repeated the notion until he was not in danger of losing control of his magic again. Bloody hell, he wasn’t a child.
When he opened his eyes, Namjoon was still looking at him.
“We have to talk about your coping mechanisms.”
“Oh fuck, Namjoon.” Taehyung hid his face between his hands. “I didn’t—! It wasn’t on purpose, okay? You know I don’t like alcohol. I just… I was going through our old stuff, searching for pictures of Jimin I could use as a reference, and I found the bottle of firewhiskey he bought to celebrate when he first moved in and… I just… wanted to feel that night again.” His voice became smaller and smaller the more he talked until it was nothing but a whisper, the hot shame of his actions slapping his cheeks again. “I didn’t even drink much, just three shots, and then I tried to draw him and… Well, you saw me. But I’m not drowning myself in alcohol to deal with it, okay? I swear.”
Namjoon uncrossed his arms and took Taehyung’s hands away from his face. He squeezed them between his and Taehyung squeezed back, smiling just a bit.
“Either way, you should go see a Mind Healer. There’s a fairly new branch, one that’s focused on grief, that became crucial after the war. It may help you.”
Taehyung shook his head. “I don’t know…”
“Hey, listen to me. Just try it. I know one. All Healers have one Mind Healer assigned to help them deal with work. Mine is Hoseok. He, uh. He’s the one helping me with… with Jimin, too.” The name came out of his mouth as if he had to drag it screaming and crying out of his throat. “I could ask him when he’s free to see you.”
Taehyung opened his mouth, but there were no words on his tongue. He closed it again and nodded.
“Does it really help?”
Namjoon shrugged one shoulder. “It works for me. It’s good to talk.”
Taehyung nodded again. Slowly, he brought Namjoon’s hands to his face and pressed them against his cheeks. Namjoon caressed his eyebags with his thumbs. Taehyung sniffed.
“I keep forgetting I’m not the only one who lost him. I… keep dumping all my angst on you, while you’re already dealing with your own feelings. I’m sorry.”
Namjoon’s eyes softened.
“I don’t mind. I like taking care of people. I like taking care of you. It helps me, too. And I think—” He sighed. “I think Jimin would have wanted me to take care of you in his place.”
Taehyung chuckled. “Yeah… yeah, he would. But… if you ever need me, you know where I live. I still have half a bottle of firewhiskey.”
Namjoon’s smile was brilliant. Taehyung realized he hadn’t seen him smile like that in… twenty days, three hours and forty-five minutes.
“I’ll keep it in mind.”
Taehyung ate while Namjoon rambled about work. The food was surprisingly edible–which meant that Namjoon hadn’t tried to cook the muggle way—and didn’t taste like St. Mungo’s food—which meant…
“Hyung, when did you learn how to cook? This doesn’t taste like it’s made with magic.”
Taehyung’s eyebrow shot up at the sight of Namjoon’s blush.
“I, uh. I didn’t…”
Taehyung’s question was answered by the door of the kitchen opening and a handsome stranger walking into the kitchen with his arms full of grocery bags. He glanced at Taehyung, not showing any kind of surprise to find him there, and pecked Namjoon’s lips before he let the bags on the kitchen counter.
Taehyung looked at Namjoon with wide eyes, his mouth open in a way that his mother would disapprove. Namjoon was as red as a Quaffle, bottom lip trapped between his teeth and his eyes firmly fixed somewhere on the table. He was probably considering hiding under it.
Taehyung stopped glaring holes into Namjoon’s forehead and whipped his head around. He accepted the man’s hand and nodded.
“Yeah, that’s me! Sorry, I don’t know your— Wait a minute.” He narrowed his eyes, looking him up and down. Mint hair, pouty mouth, leather trousers, a sweater too big for him, boots made of dragonskin. A melody played at the back of Taehyung’s mind. He gasped. “I do know you. You’re that… the composer, right? The muggleborn that somehow merged muggle tech with magic to create music.”
Yoongi’s eyes crinkled when he smiled. Taehyung saw that he tried not to at first, but it grew on his face, wide and shy.
“Nice to meet you! I—” Memories of last night flashed through his mind. He swallowed down a groan. So, he was the reason why Namjoon had taken a day off. “I, um. Sorry if I… spoiled your night.”
Yoongi shook his head.
“It’s fine, don’t worry. We weren’t doing anything special.”
He gave Taehyung a last tiny smile and went to unpack the groceries and put everything in place. Somewhere to Taehyung’s right, Namjoon sighed.
“How did you two even meet?” he asked, still a little dumbfounded as he followed Yoongi’s movements with his eyes. It was clear that it wasn’t the first time he was there. He was too familiar with it, too comfortable. He knew Namjoon’s kitchen better than Namjoon himself. Almost as if he lived there too.
“We went to Mahoutokoro together.”
Taehyung turned to glare at Namjoon.
“You are banging Min Yoongi and you didn’t tell me?”
Yoongi chuckled, a light pink splashed over his cheeks. He joined them at the table a minute later, three fresh cups of tea floating close behind.
“That’s on me, sorry. We reconnected recently, and… well, the, uh, other stuff is even more recent. The more people know about it, the more chances there are that the rumor will spread and…” He shrugged. “I prefer to keep my private life as it is. I already have to deal with finding Amortentia in my chocolate frogs on a daily basis, I don’t want Namjoon to deal with… worst. But what about you? How did you two meet?”
Namjoon scratched his neck. The tips of his ears were still red. “It was during the internship I did under Pomfrey at Hogwarts.”
Taehyung nodded. Namjoon’s arrival had caused quite a commotion in school. Hogwarts’ students weren’t used to seen students from other schools unless there was a Tournament going on. Namjoon had arrived one year after the end of the war, when the castle was still being rebuilt. It had taken a while for the students to trust a new person; a person that was close at them in age but was free from the burdens of the war and had only read in newspapers about the terrible things going on in Europe. But it turned out, that was exactly what they all needed. Someone without prejudices, someone that wouldn’t hesitate to help no matter what color you were wearing or what was your last name, someone from outside their bubble that reminded them that there was more in the world than just how much they hurt.
Namjoon was always respectful and he was always open to learning. The students went from cold mistrust to a reverential kind of affection in less than four months.
“Jimin and I were on our last year and… well, after the war… Let’s just say Jimin spent a lot of time in the Infirmary.”
Yoongi nodded and shared a look with Namjoon. There was no need to explain further. Yoongi already knew. A part of Taehyung was relieved.
“Namjoon has been telling me about him,” he said after a while. His gaze was firm when he looked at Taehyung, and there was no pity in them. “He seemed like a nice person.”
He remembered how awestruck Jimin had been when they went to Yoongi’s concert. It was when they were still fresh out of Hogwarts. Back then, Yoongi wasn’t as well-known as he was now. It was his first-time touring around Europe and none of them knew who he was, but Jimin was curious about muggle technology and Taehyung had been curious about the theory behind the miracle.
Jimin had held Taehyung’s hand so tightly that night, his eyes sparkling with childlike excitement every time Yoongi pulled a new muggle trick from under his sleeve.
“He’s going to be so big, Taehyungie! I just know it. Do you think he’ll say yes if I ask him to sign my wand?”
As soon as breakfast was over, Taehyung decided to go back home. Namjoon looked as if he didn’t want to let him go but Taehyung assured him that he was fine.
“Go have fun with your man,” he said, his smile was tiny as if his cheek had already forgotten how to do it, but it was genuine and Namjoon noticed it. “I have to… go home to mine.”
Namjoon glanced at the sketchbook carefully tucked against Taehyung’s chest and nodded.
“Okay. Just be careful. And if you want company—”
“I know where you live, Joon.”
Taehyung said goodbye to Yoongi and walked towards the Apparition point a few streets away from Namjoon’s home. He had been lucky to not have splinted his limbs trying to apparate drunk last night.
He hadn’t fixed his house’s safeguards since Namjoon had torn them that one morning, so he appeared right inside his living room. He stood there for a long time, or maybe it was just a second. Who knew? Time had lost its meaning for Taehyung.
He looked around. From the ugly, old couch Jimin and he had bought because it was comfy, to the fireplace that had seen many nights spent wrapped in each other. Jimin was everywhere, constantly surrounding him, forever alive in the memories of the past.
Taehyung’s chest hurt, but his eyes were dry.
“You promised,” he said to the empty room. “You promised.”
He left the sketchbook on the coffee table and went to take a long bath. The silence felt heavy on his shoulders after spending most of the morning with other people. He accio the radio from the bedroom and placed it over the counter. The next time he saw Yoongi—because by the way Namjoon and Yoongi were acting around each other, Taehyung was sure there was going to be more than one next time—he was going to ask how he could bring muggle technology into his house without magic fucking it up. Muggles had way more cool music than wizards.
He found a Jazz station and slowly dived into the warm waters of his bathtub.
The sky was starting to turn orange by the time Taehyung finally got the courage to drag a canvas towards the living room and place it against the wall next to his favorite window. He flicked his wand, so used to the spells to protect the floor from paint that he didn’t need to say them out loud.
He stared at it. He had never been afraid of a white canvas, or a white page. On the contrary, it made him want to fill it with colors. This canvas, though. This canvas terrified him.
The potions were ready—had been ready for a few days. Taehyung had taken more time than necessary to carefully mix them with the colors he was going to use. He had gone to bed at night mumbling the spells he needed to cast as he painted, unreasonably afraid of having forgotten them.
The power of speaking with him again is in your hands, Kim Taehyung.
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and dipped the brush on green paint.
Slowly, the portrait began to take shape. First, the background. After days of going through his memories and erasing countless of sketches, Taehyung had decided there was no better place for Jimin to be immortalized than the place he had loved the most; the place that had felt like home; the place that had shaped his life as a kid and his life as an adult.
In one way or another, Hogwarts was always going to be home.
He started with the shelves filled with potions. He grabbed one of Jimin’s old potion book that had stayed on the house after they had left and carefully read thought it at night. It was boring as hell and Taehyung didn’t understand half of it, but seeing Jimin’s small annotations on the margins made him sleep better. It was easy to recognize the potions that Jimin had liked the best. The edges of the pages were worn out and the section of the instructions was filled with critics and commentaries.
Every night he read a new chapter, paying more attention to Jimin’s sarcastic notes than to the information itself, and slowly, his cheeks started to remember what it was to smile.
Next, it was the window and the Great Lake. It took him twice the time it normally would, for his vision turned blurry and his throat closed up. The green curtains at either side, not much different from the ones adorning their bedroom. The stone floors were easy. Taehyung had walked on them barefoot for so many years he could still feel them now. The chose a deep forest green for the armchair and a dark oak for the table. He left the open book for the end.
Once the faces of his parents disappeared in the distance, Taehyung’s hands began to tremble with nervousness once again. He looked around the empty train compartment. He could hear loud chatter and laughter coming from other compartments, and a part of him wanted to go out and explore, find another kid of his age to share the excitement, but he was frozen on the spot.
He wasn’t shy or afraid of making new friends, but everything was so new… A few weeks ago, Taehyung hadn’t known he was magic. He was still recovering from the incredible things he had seen on Diagon Alley. Magic was real. Magic was real, and Taehyung was on his way to a magic castle. He was going to study magic. How crazy was that?
Taehyung was glad he had insisted on carrying his sketchbook with him instead of stuffing it inside his trunk with the rest of his things. Drawing had always helped him calm down when he was feeling restless. Now, surrounded by so many new things, the familiar weight of his favorite pencil on his hand was a relief.
He could always explore the rest of the train later.
Taehyung had been trying to draw the fast-moving landscape outside of the window for twenty frustrating minutes when the door of the compartment opened and a boy stepped in. Taehyung’s stomach fluttered when he glanced up. The boy didn’t look older than him and he wasn’t wearing any color on his tunic. Taehyung wasn’t sure what the colors meant, but he knew that the lack of it meant the boy was new. Just like him.
“Hi,” he said, once he noticed the boy wasn’t going to talk. “I’m Taehyung.”
“I’m— I’m Jimin. Can I…?” The boy bit his bottom lip and looked at the seat in front of Taehyung. Taehyung nodded, maybe a little too excited. “Thank you.”
Jimin looked at Taehyung’s sketchbook and quickly looked away, choosing to focus his eyes out of the window. Taehyung tilted his head to the side. His mom had told him that staring was rude, but Taehyung still had a hard time trying to contain his curiosity.
Jimin sat on the edge of the seat with his back so straight Taehyung doubted it was comfortable. His hands were tucked together on his lap and his chin was tilted up. He looked like one of the old paintings Taehyung had seen in museums. The people painted forever still; their eyes lost in the distance.
Taehyung’s eyes fell to Jimin’s bouncing leg for a brief moment. He considered going back to his drawing but quickly discarded it. He couldn’t pass the opportunity to make a new friend.
“Where’s your truck?” he asked after a few minutes trying to come up with something cool to say.
Jimin turned to look at him with wide eyes as if he hadn’t been expecting Taehyung to speak to him.
“My cousin has it. He’s, uh. He’s older. I was supposed to stay with him, but…” He scrunched his nose. “His friends are Gryffindors.”
Taehyung frowned. “What’s a Gryffindor?”
Jimin stared. He opened and close his mouth as if he couldn’t believe what Taehyung had just said. Taehyung squirmed in his place, feeling his cheeks heating up with embarrassment.
“You don’t know?” Taehyung shook his head. “You don’t know Godric Gryffindor? Everyone knows Godric Gryffindor!”
Taehyung shook his head again. “Is he magic too?”
“Magic—? Oh.” Jimin blinked, leaning back against the back of the seat. He looked at Taehyung up and down, the mask of composure erasing any trace of emotion from his face once again. “You’re a muggle-born.”
“I don’t know what that is,” mumbled Taehyung, a little bit of frustration bleeding into his tone.
“A muggle-born is a wizard born from non-magic parents,” said Jimin with a little nod, as if he was congratulating himself for having the right answer. “Do any of your parents have magic?” Taehyung shook his head. “Then you’re a muggle-born. Many have a wizard or witch ancestor.”
“Wouldn’t that mean that my parents have magic too?”
“My mom says only special people have magic.” Jimin shrugged. “I never met a muggle-born before. My family doesn’t like them.”
“Oh.” Taehyung frowned down at his lap. His stomach sunk. He felt… so lost. He barely understood what Jimin was talking about. Being magic was harder than what he thought it would be. “Why not?”
Jimin opened his mouth but closed it again after a while. He frowned. Taehyung could see he was not happy that he didn’t have the answer to that question.
“I, uh. I don’t know,” he admitted, a little embarrassed. There was a pause in which they both looked everywhere but the other. “I l-like your drawing.”
Taehyung smiled, happy that Jimin had noticed it.
“Thank you! I’m… I don’t like drawing places.”
Jimin tilted his head to the side. “What do you like to draw?”
“People,” he said and quickly sat up when an idea occurred to him. “I-I can try drawing you!! And you can tell me about Godric Gryffon, or teach me more magic words!”
Taehyung’s heart fluttered when Jimin let out a giggle. His eyes were sparkling, and for the first time since he had stepped inside the compartment, he didn’t look ready to run away.
“Okay,” he said, shyly.
Taehyung watched fascinated how the rosy on his cheeks turned darker. He shot Jimin a big smile and grabbed his pencil. He turned the pages of his sketchbook until he found an empty one and, with a last look up, he started drawing Park Jimin for the first time in his life.
He hadn't stopped since then.
Taehyung’s hand shook with the first stroke and he had to take a few minutes to breathe. He noticed his knuckles were white and forced himself to open his hand. He let the brush rest on the palm of his hand and breathed in and out—just how Hoseok had taught him during their sessions—before he closed his fingers around it again.
He pictured Jimin right in front of him, exactly how he remembered him: eyes shut, cheeks blushed, laughing. A tiny smile grew at the corners of his mouth. Jimin wouldn’t want him to be sad. Jimin never liked it when Taehyung was sad.
Taehyung wiped away his tear. His hand was firm on the next stroke.
Slowly, Jimin began to take shape in front of his eyes. Taehyung’s routine turned simple: he woke up, he ate a quick breakfast while he listened to the radio, he went to his session with Hoseok or spent time with Namjoon (and more often than not, that meant spending time with Yoongi too) and at night… there was only him and the canvas. His nights were for Jimin.
Taehyung had spent many of his nights since he was a teenager tracing the curves of Jimin’s body and that hadn’t changed, not even now.
Taehyung didn’t need to think hard to remember the feeling of Jimin’s favorite black tunic under his fingertips, or how the silver rings decorating his fingers often felt against his waist. Taehyung’s mouth mumbled incantations as he painted the softness of Jimin’s cheeks and the sharp look in his eyes, hoping that his memories would slip into the portrait and his longing would call Jimin home one more time.
He spent a week working on the details of the Dark Mark on Jimin’s forearm. It wasn’t the first time Taehyung painted the portrait of a Death-Eater. Taehyung was probably the only artist willing to do it. Pure-blood families that had lost their children to the War or Azkaban had come to him and asked him to paint the faces of people that would have killed Taehyung without a second thought. They had asked Taehyung to leave out the Mark too, and as much as Taehyung hated them for it: he did.
Jimin wasn’t like that. Jimin had never been ashamed of his past. He had never made excuses for himself, even though he had been a kid; even though he had been forced to get it. Jimin had fought tooth and nails to be an example; to show the world that everyone could do better. Taehyung wasn’t going to erase that.
Jimin and he had spent a lot of time trying to give the Mark a new meaning for them. It had been hard to achieve (the sight of it had made Taehyung sick and Jimin had hated himself for it for a long time) but in the end, Taehyung had colored the Mark enough times that the memory of Jimin’s giggles was imprinted on the back of his mind and now, he couldn't think of anything else every time he saw it.
He smiled as he painted it. He was never going to forget Jimin’s laugher.
Before he knew it, there was only one thing left to paint: the shape of a mouth Taehyung had traced with his tongue countless times.
A sudden commotion on his kitchen startled him. Taehyung looked up just in time to see an owl flying through the door before it landed on his shoulder. He hissed when it dug its talons on his skin. Taehyung let the brush on his palette and took the letter tied to the owl’s feet.
“I don’t have treats for you,” he said and shrieked when the owl bit his ear. “Bloody hell!”
He rubbed his lobe and watched the little beast disappear towards his kitchen. He was probably going to find poop on the table.
Taehyung’s good mood dropped to the underworld when he saw the letter was from the Ministry of Magic. He hesitated before opening it, already dreading the words he knew he was going to find there.
The Ministry was sorry for his loss and understood that Taehyung needed time to grieve, bla, bla, bla… However, Jimin’s case was of utter importance for the Auror Department—Taehyung snorted. He had been surprised they were still looking for the culprit giving the fact that Jimin had been Marked. Maybe it was because of his status as a Professor at Hogwarts. Maybe McGonagall was pushing for it, who knew—and the Auror assigned to Park Jimin’s case, Jeon Jungkook, was in need of talking with Taehyung to proceed with the case.
The letter slid past his fingers and landed on the floor. The Auror Department hadn’t cared about Jimin when he was on trial for something he hadn’t choose. They hadn’t care when things got so bad at Hogwarts that Jimin had to leave his dorm because he didn’t want to cause trouble for his housemate. They hadn’t cared about him when Jimin had received death threats from the relatives of Death-Eaters Jimin had helped uncover.
But now, now they cared?
Now they wanted Taehyung to help them? Taehyung didn’t flinch when the letter burst into flames. He watched it burn until nothing but ashes remained.
It was late, he was tired. Both his heart and muscles were aching. If he stayed awake one more second, he was afraid of what his wild magic would do.
He gave Jimin’s lips one last stroke and went to bed.
He woke up later than he had wanted. The anger that had burned inside him—and had burned the letter from the Auror Department—had vanished and in its place had left a kind of heaviness resting over his limb and chest that made it hard to breathe.
He hated it. He hated feeling so helpless, so fucking weak. There was a hole in his soul and it was shaped like the love of his life.
Taehyung hit the mattress with his fist as tears burned down his face. Fuck. Fuck. He was tired of crying; he was tired of everything. He wanted the pain to stop, but he knew the reason it felt as if his heart was tearing itself apart was because he had loved Jimin with the same intensity that now wounded him. And Taehyung didn’t regret that, not even one bit. He was never going to regret loving Jimin, even if now it made him feel as if he was going to be forever broken.
“Maybe I’m doomed to be in love with you for the rest of my life, like one of those tragic heroes you loved so much” he whispered to the empty room. “It doesn’t sound so bad.”
(“Break up. Do you really think we should break up? What if I fall in love with someone else when we’re apart?”
“Then love them.”
“I want you to be happy. I want us to be happy. If you fall in love with someone else then love them, Taehyung. Don’t wait for me. I’ll always love you. Even if I love someone else. Even if you love someone else. I’ll always love you.”)
He stared at the ceiling until his stomach started to protest with hunger. First, he went to take a shower and change into new clothes. The motions helped lift some of the weight away from his chest. He went straight to the kitchen without even looking into the living room, not feeling strong enough to face Jimin’s portrait right now. He ate in silence, watching the owls with new commissions play between them.
Perhaps he should paint something else, or not paint at all. He could send an owl to Namjoon, ask him if he was free to hang-out. Or simply spend a day by himself in London muggle, away from the magical community, away from the house, away from Jimin’s portrait, just… away.
He could pretend, just for one day, that nothing had happened.
Once he finished eating, he grabbed the letters so the owls could go back to their owners and let the dishes in the sink. He cast a silent accio, grabbing his jacket and the wallet where he kept the muggle money when they flew down the stairs.
He needed to go thought the living room if he wanted to go out of the door. Namjoon had dropped by not long ago to help him put up the protective enchantments around the house, and he could no longer Apparate from the inside.
He took a deep breath and stepped inside the living room.
There, looking at him with a sadness that Taehyung could feel in every bone, was Jimin’s portrait.
“Taehyungie… Oh, Taehyungie, baby. I’m so sorry.”
Taehyung fell on his knees. He had forgotten that he had finished the painting the night before. Tears began to roll down his cheeks again. But he was laughing too.
Jimin was there.
Jimin was there.
Jimin was there.
Maybe he was gone, but he was still there.
Taehyung cried in front of the portrait until he didn’t have more tears, or perhaps because he couldn’t stand seeing the pain on Jimin’s eyes. The pain of wanting to cup Taehyung’s hands between his hands and kiss his tears away.
In Hogwarts, Taehyung had tried to hide his tears away from Jimin, knowing that watching him cry hurt him as much as Taehyung hurt. It was the first time since they had known each other that he had cried in front of Jimin and Jimin hadn’t comfort him.
“Hey…” Jimin’s voice was rough as if he had forgotten how to speak and needed to learn again. “Look at it like this: you always wanted to paint me like one of your French girls.”
“Jimin, that’s not— That’s not funny,” said Taehyung, but he was laughing. There were tears running down his face, and he was laughing because Jimin was still that silly twelve years old boy who had tried to raise a pet snake under his bed and had made Taehyung fall in love with him in the process. “You’re so infuriating. Why can’t you let me be sad?”
“I can’t wipe your tears anymore.” Jimin looked down at his hands and, this time, it was he who seemed on the verge of tears. “I have to find other ways to make you happy.”
Taehyung’s heart ached.
“You always make me happy.”
Jimin smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. He looked around himself, taking in the room Taehyung had painted for him and tracing the rims of the potion bottles. Taehyung had talked with enough portraits that he knew the objects painted with the wizard felt real. Or, as real as a stroke of magic paint could be for another.
“How long has it been since I…?”
“Three months. Almost.” Taehyung took a shaky intake of breath and sat closer. Oh, how he wanted to enter the painting and wrap Jimin’s body between his arms. “I missed you so much. I missed you like a lost limb. I’m so—” He choked; the tip of his fingers brushed the corners of the portrait. “I’m so glad you found me. I have so much to tell you. I have so much to ask you. Fuck, why were you—?”
“Three months and you still… One day you’re going to have to stop doing that, you know?”
Taehyung blinked, the question turning into ashes on his tongue. His stomach turned, knowing without asking what was behind Jimin’s words. A shock of anger rushed through his veins.
“Talk about me as if I’m still…” alive “there. With you. And don’t say but you’re here because you know what I mean.”
“I don’t think I can ever do it.”
“Could you?” he snapped. “Tell me. If you were in my place, could you do it?”
Jimin’s Adam’s apple bobbed. He looked away, outside. Through the window Taehyung had painted with blues and greens. The Black Lake was on the other side, a tentacle of the Giant Squid frozen in a hello. Or maybe in a goodbye.
Taehyung sighed. His temples hurt. His body hurt. His chest hurt. It was supposed to be easier with Jimin there, with him, but it wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t. Jimin was so close but still so far away; maybe even more away than he had been before.
“Jimin, you don’t— You don’t need to apologize for dying.”
“But I left you alone. I promised I wouldn’t.”
Taehyung stood up, putting his fists at either side of the portrait. He wanted to grab Jimin by the shoulders and shake him.
“You are still here! You are not gone! You’re just– It’s… It’s different! But it’s still you!”
“You better than anyone else knows that a portrait is not the same as a person, Taehyung. I’m barely a memory! And don’t start with the soul magic thingy you learn in Korea. Yes, I know all about that. I read your letters. Maybe I’m more than the Hogwarts’ portraits; maybe there’s something more alive about me than them, but how do you know that I’m—?” Two crystalline drops rolled down his cheeks. Jimin wiped them as if they had offended him by falling. “How do you know that I’m your Jimin and not just a mixture of magic, and paint, and old memories strung together by your grieving hands?”
Taehyung swallowed down a sob. He raised a finger and traced the glistening path that Jimin’s tears had drawn on his rosy cheeks. This time, the sob managed to break free from the cage of his throat. His finger had only touched a canvas.
“Do you really think I wouldn’t recognize my own soulmate?”
“That’s not fair.” Jimin pouted and closed his eyes when Taehyung stroked his cheek again. “I wish I could feel that.”
“Me too.” He closed his eyes and tried to remember the feeling of Jimin’s skin, warm and soft under his fingertips. “I miss it. Touching you. I missed it from the moment we stopped. Every second of the last five years.”
“I love you,” the words tumbled out of Jimin’s mouth, rushing out as if they had wanted to scape since the moment he had opened his eyes to this new form of non-life. “I guess that’s something not even death can’t take away from me. I never stopped. I hope you knew that.”
Taehyung nodded. He had never doubted it, not even for a second. Even if he had loved someone else. Even if Jimin had loved someone else. They had never stopped loving each other.
“I did. I know. I love you too, Park Jimin,” he said, and the words lifted some of the weight that had been crushing Taehyung’s chest since that morning. He hadn't realized how terrified he had been of not being able to tell Jimin how much he loved him one more time. “Nothing can’t change that.”
Taehyung didn’t send him to Hogwarts right away. He couldn’t.
He didn’t tell Namjoon either.
Selfishly, he wanted Jimin just for himself. Selfishly, Jimin wanted to stay with him too.
Taehyung sat down in front of the portrait and they talked. Jimin had been a powerful wizard, and like every powerful wizard, his portrait had his memories and personality. It also had his heart.
That night Taehyung fell asleep on the couch. He didn’t want to leave Jimin alone, he didn’t want to stop looking at him, some part of him feeling as if Jimin would disappear the moment he closed his eyes.
They talked almost all night. Jimin didn’t need sleep, not anymore.
He woke up with a stiff neck and his heart drumming inside his chest. It only calmed down when he looked up and Jimin was there, his chin resting on the palm of his hand and watching Taehyung with a tender smile.
“Did you watch me sleep all night?” croaked Taehyung, his cheeks heating up under Jimin’s eyes. Oh, those eyes were always going to have an effect on him.
“Mhm. I missed it.” Jimin sighed and Taehyung saw on his eyes the kiss that he couldn’t give him. “You are beautiful.”
Taehyung swallowed down the knot on his throat and looked away. He rubbed his eyes and tried to ignore the emptiness of his stomach. He took his want and cast a refreshing charm over him. Jimin arched an eyebrow but didn’t ask him why he hadn’t gone to the bathroom.
Taehyung accio a new canvas and put it next to Jimin’s.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m… You’re supposed to…” He didn’t like the taste of the words on his mouth, but he forced himself to say them out loud. “Your portrait is a commission for Hogwarts. McGonagall wants to put you on the Slytherin Common Room. I told her maybe the Potion Classroom would be better, but she suspected you’d help the students cheat just to piss off the new Professor.”
“Dammit. That woman knows me so well.” Taehyung huffed and shook his head, starting to arrange the colors in tidy rows on his side. Jimin pouted at him. “I don’t want to go yet. Not now that I finally got to see you. I’ve been waiting for you to come back to me for the last five years, I don’t want to let you go again.”
Taehyung touched Jimin’s hand with the tips of his fingers. They stared at the place where they connected as if waiting for a miracle, but the minutes passed and neither of them felt the other’s skin.
“Are you going to visit me there?” Taehyung shook his head. Jimin frowned. “No?”
“I can’t go to Hogwarts as I please, Jiminie. You know that. That’s why—” He signaled to the empty canvas. “You’ll have to come visit me. Or go visit your students. Whatever you want.”
“Huh.” Jimin looked to his side. Taehyung didn’t know if he could sense the other canvas; if he could see it. He had never taken much interest in how the painted wizards managed to jump from one painting to another, but now he was dying to know. “Are you going to paint another me?”
“Just the background. I can paint something new, something different if you want. Did I ever tell you about twin portraits?”
“I don’t think so.”
“It’s a term artist use to talk about two, or sometimes more, portraits that share the same sitter. You’re able to jump to other magical paintings around the house, but you can’t jump to any painting outside of the place where you originally are.” He tapped his nose with the tip of his brush. “Except, if you have a twin portrait. That way, you can be in Hogwarts—”
“—and travel here wherever I want.”
Jimin gave him a brilliant smile. His eyes were open wide and glinting with the thrill of discovering something new.
Taehyung wanted to kiss him so badly.
He cleared his throat and looked away. He had thought that not having Jimin in any kind of way was the worst thing that the world could do to him, but having Jimin and not being able to hold him in his arms, to kiss his cheeks and his mouth, to smell his scent or feel his warmth was a kind of torture that he didn’t know how long his poor heart would be able to endure.
“Don’t paint me another studio. If I have to spend the rest of my eternity in two paintings, I want one of them to be on the outside.”
“Okay.” Taehyung gulped, pushing away the thoughts of Jimin staying exactly the same as Taehyung grew older. Jimin couldn’t grow anymore. Fuck. Fuck. He wasn’t ready to face those thoughts. “What should I paint, then?”
“That tree next to the Great Lake. You know which one.” Taehyung knew. Taehyung was never going to forget. “If I’m a memory, then I want to be surrounded by my best ones.”
Taehyung didn’t answer. His throat was closed, filled with cotton.
It took Taehyung two weeks to finish the second painting. Two weeks that he spent locked inside his house, only going out to buy groceries or go to his weekly sessions with Hoseok. The couch had become his new bed and his back was starting to hate him for it but Taehyung couldn’t— He couldn’t leave him. He couldn’t leave Jimin.
Now that Jimin was there with him, the weight of the loss had finally settled on him. He remembered how happy he had been of coming back, of seeing Jimin again, of winning him back. Taehyung had planned to woo him, taking him on dates, going to sleep holding Jimin tight against his chest. They were robbed of all that.
The memories and the past were always going to be there for Taehyung to find comfort and look back, but they were never going to make new ones together. Taehyung was never going to kiss Jimin again, he was never going to stroke his cheeks. Jimin was never going to travel the world. He wouldn’t be able to create new potions. He was no longer able to protect the Slytherin students. He was never going to be able to take an animagus form. Jimin’s hair was never going to grey.
All the possibilities of the world, all the good and the bad gone. Forever.
He tried to hide it. He tried to not let Jimin see the real state of his insides, the way he felt as if he was filled with black goo and despair. He threw himself to the second painting and talked about all those days they spent sitting on the tree on the edge of the Great Lake, hiding from the teachers, pretending to study, making out until the sun hid on the horizon or the Giant Squid drove them away with a squirt of water.
It took Jimin a few days to learn to jump from one painting to the other, but his eyes sparkled when he finally did. His satisfied giggles stole a lovestruck sigh from Taehyung and erode the sharp edges of his sadness.
“Do you like it?”
“Taehyung, this is—” Jimin looked around. Jimin’s cheeks were barely able to contain his smile. Not for the first time since Jimin had awoken, Taehyung wondered how it was to be a painting. “I always knew you were great, but this is something else. It feels… I won’t say real because I know it isn’t. I’m not. But… It feels like one of those days. It feels like I’m inside the most beautiful moment in my life.”
Taehyung sent the first portrait to Hogwarts and hung the second in his living room.
Taehyung should have known that Namjoon was not going to leave him alone after three weeks of no contact.
He was explaining Jimin how the Korean art theory worked when he heard a loud CRACK as the new protections around his house were tore apart again and Namjoon appeared right next to him.
“Bloody hell! Do you not know how to knock?!”
Namjoon looked at him up and down. His eyebrows furrowed when he took in the mess that was not only Taehyung’s house but Taehyung himself.
“When was the last time you showered?”
Taehyung’s clenched his jaw, shame and anger rushing up his face. The fight that was most likely to follow was interrupted by Jimin’s voice.
“Hyung?” Namjoon’s entire body froze. He stared at Taehyung with wide eyes as if he didn’t dare to turn around. “Namjoon-hyung, it’s me.”
Taehyung closed his eyes. He wasn’t strong enough to watch the way Namjoon’s eyes filled with tears, the way he looked over his shoulder and let out a sigh from the bottom of his stomach.
“I’ll… I’ll go take a shower,” he mumbled, but neither of them paid him attention.
Taehyung stood up from the couch, muscles aching, and grimaced at the state of his living room. No wonder Namjoon had looked ready to scold him. Dirty dishes, dirty clothes, and half-eaten foot lay around the floor. He took his wand, but couldn’t bring himself to cast any cleaning spell.
He felt as if his head was full of cobwebs. Moving his body up the stairs was harder than it should have been, as if the weight of the sky was on his chest and there was no way of getting rid of it.
He only let himself cry when he was under the hot water of the shower.
The living room was tidy and clean when he returned. Namjoon’s eyes were puffy and his nose was pink, but there was no trace of tears on his face and he was smiling as he talked with Jimin. Taehyung sat down next to Namjoon on the couch and pocked one of his dimples.
“I missed them.” Namjoon huffed and slapped his hand away. A small frown appeared on his forehead, but Taehyung was quicker. “Not now, hyung. Please.”
Namjoon sighed and continued his chat with Jimin but his pointed look said later. Taehyung didn’t participate much in the conversation. He was happy to lean against the back of the couch and watch them exchange stories. Jimin was curious about the outside world, but Taehyung could see he was a little detached from it.
Taehyung had been waiting for him to ask about his lover during the last couple of weeks but wasn’t surprised Jimin hadn’t brought it up. The Korean theory of magical portraits made the sitters more than just paint and memory, but it made them slower to fully get used to their new way of existing. Thoughts of the outside world were hard to grasp.
Taehyung had told himself that many times for the past weeks, excusing not wanting to walk away from Jimin because he wanted to help Jimin accommodate to his new life.
But if Jimin was starting to ask questions, then that meant Taehyung could no longer use him as an excuse.
He wasn’t surprised when he walked Namjoon to the door and he stopped in front of it, lowering his voice so Jimin wouldn’t hear him. Taehyung had been expecting a talk. He hadn’t been expecting the mix of worry and pity on his eyes.
“I understand why you don’t want to leave your house. Believe me, I do. I miss him too, but—”
“I don’t— I don’t miss him. He’s here,” he hissed.
“Taehyung, it’s not Jimin—”
“Stop! Stop saying that! I’m the expert here. I’m not fucking fooling myself to make me feel better. Believe me, I don’t feel better. Nothing can make me feel better. But I know. I’ve seen it before. It’s not just a memory, it’s him.”
“Okay.” Namjoon raised his hands. “Okay, I believe you. It’s him. It’s still not healthy for you to spend all this time locked in here, living the way you’ve been living. He may not notice it now, but I do.”
Taehyung shook his head and refused to answer him. “Next time just knock the bloody door. I’m tired of fixing the safeguards.”
Namjoon let out a long sigh and stepped out. “Ask him what he thinks of you not taking care of yourself.”
Taehyung regretted slamming the door on his face as soon as he did it, but he didn’t have the energy to open it again and apologize. He shook his head again, but just like the first time, that didn’t help to shake Namjoon’s words away from him.
Whatever. He’ll send him an owl later.
Now, he only wanted to curl on the couch with a nice cup of tea and talk to Jimin until sleep came to claim him.
It happened for the first time a few days after Namjoon’s visit: when Taehyung opened his eyes, Jimin wasn’t on his portrait. Panic shot through him and made him dizzy, but he managed to calm himself and remember that Jimin was most likely gone to his Hogwarts’ portrait. It was meant to happen. Sooner or later, Jimin was going to want to go see his students.
He painted a commission as he waited for Jimin to come back, but Jimin didn’t return that night. Or the night that followed. He came back after three days. They chatted as Taehyung painted—so relieved that he wasn’t able to hide how much it had pained him to see the empty canvas—and disappeared again the next day.
Taehyung couldn’t deny that he was on edge and the new letter from the Ministry reminding him of the Auror’s visit in a couple of days didn’t help to ease his worries. He gave up trying to sleep on the couch. His back was hurting and he had never learned how to prepare himself a potion to help with the pain. If he was going to spend most of the night staring at the painting waiting for Jimin to show up, he at least wanted to be comfortable.
Taehyung should have known that things were spiraling out of control, but it didn’t hit him how bad it was until Jimin came back after another four days of silence and the first thing he said when he saw Taehyung laying on his bed, with his eyes barely open, was not a hello.
“Why am I in your room?” he said and Taehyung hated, hated the way his voice sounded so disappointed.
“You’re here.” Jimin crossed his arms. Taehyung sat up, running a hand through his hair. “I… I missed you. I didn’t want to risk not being there if you… decided to return.”
“Why are you barely here anymore?”
“Because of… this! This is not—! I’m doing it for you!”
“For me? What the hell?” They glared at each other until the pieces of the puzzle finally fit into Taehyung’s head and his eyes widened in realization. “Namjoon. You heard him.”
“And what if I did? He’s right! My presence here is not helping you move on! I want you to move on! I want you to heal. I want you to live a life. You can’t spend the rest of your life locked in here, waiting for me to show up!”
“Don’t lie to me. Just don’t. I may have overlooked it at first because I was new to this type of life. But now I see you and you’re not okay, Taehyung! You need to take care of yourself. If not for you then do it for me.”
“That’s not fair! Don’t Slytherin me. Do you think you disappearing for days and leaving me here not knowing if you’re planning to come back is helping me move on?”
“You’re right. You’re right about that. I’m sorry. I’ll stop avoiding you, but Taehyung you have to promise me you are going to accept it.”
“That I’m dead, Taehyung! I’m dead and you’re alive!” Taehyung flinched, plastering himself against the headboard as if that way he could escape from the sharp pain of Jimin’s words. “Do you think I care about fair, right now? Do you think I want to see you wearing yourself thin because of me? I want you to be happy. I want you to be healthy.”
“It’s not that fucking easy.”
“Do you think I don’t know? You saw me at my worst. You took care of me, you helped me after the war when I felt the entire world was against me. I know it’s not fair that you have to do it alone.” Taehyung buried his face between his hands, his body trembling like a leaf caught inside a thunderstorm. “I know it’s not your fault. I know you hate it and want to be better. I know there’s no instant fix. I know it fucking sucks and it hurts all over. I don’t want you to be happy as if nothing was wrong, as if what you feel is invalid. I just want you to be kinder with yourself. I want you to try. Try, even if it doesn’t work today. Even if it doesn’t work tomorrow. Just… keep trying.”
Taehyung’s squeezed his eyes. He was so, so tired of crying.
“It’s hard,” he managed to say. He wasn’t sure if Jimin heard him, but his voice refused to come out louder. “I want to but it’s so hard, Jimin.”
“I know. I know, baby. I know.” There was a pause. The birds chirped outside of the window. The world continued, unaware. “I wish you would try for yourself, but if you… if you can’t, then try for me. Please?”
Taehyung focused on breathing the way Hoseok had taught him. He focused on his own heartbeat. He became aware of every part of his body, starting from his toes and unhurriedly going up until he reached his hair. He anchored himself to that moment in time and wiped away his tears. That was what Jimin would do if he could; if he was there with him.
Then he looked up. This time he didn’t try to smile; he didn’t try to hide his sorrow.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ll try.”
Jimin smiled. Taehyung didn’t have the energy to return it, but he felt himself soften around the edges.
“I love you,” he said. Three words that carried so many unsaid ones that Taehyung couldn’t bring himself to give them form. Jimin understood anyways. He had always been able to read what he kept quiet.
“Oh, baby. I know.”
The laugh he left out surprised even Taehyung. “Hey!”
Jimin giggled, his eyes turning into two crescent moons. Taehyung missed him. He left himself admit it. Jimin was there and at the same time he wasn’t. And Taehyung missed him.
“I love you too, silly. Come closer.” Taehyung kicked the sheets away and sat at the foot of the bed, right in front of the portrait. “Listen to me. This is going to sound cheesy and we’re both going to be embarrassed about it, but I want you to know, and I want you to never forget it, okay?” Taehyung nodded. “This is a strange way of living. I’m still not sure if I’m me, or I’m a memory of me or… someone else, something else. I’m questioning my very own existence, but something that I never doubted, not even once, is how much I care about you. Nothing will be able to take that away from me, from us. I love you beyond death. I love you more than life. Understood?”
Taehyung couldn’t speak. His body ached with longing. He nodded again, feeling— feeling so much, so intensely, that he couldn’t do anything more than just that. Feel.
“Good. Now, why don’t you go eat something? Take a shower?”
“Yeah, I— Fuck. The Auror assigned for your case is supposed to come today.”
“My case. Right. Because I was…” Jimin grimaced and rubbed his temples as if they hurt. Taehyung made a worried sound but Jimin waved his hand. “I’m fine. It’s a lot to take in. I’m still getting used to this whole being dead thing. You should leave me here until they go, I don’t… I don’t want to meet them. But you should put me over the chimney again after. We should talk more.”
Taehyung got up and got rid of his clothes. He didn’t remember how many days he had been wearing them. Jimin whistled at the sight of his naked butt and that alone was enough to steal a satisfied smile from Taehyung. He grabbed his silken robe and wrapped himself with it as he searched for clean clothes.
He headed towards the bathroom but hesitated a second before leaving the room. He turned around and gulped down his nerves.
“Promise you won’t go?”
“I promise. And this time, I’ll keep it.”
Taehyung didn’t know what he was expecting, but he wasn’t ready for Auror Jeon Jungkook. He was young, a lot younger than Taehyung had expected, and polite. He thanked Taehyung when he offered him tea and sat on the couch with his back stiff and his eyes wide.
“You’re Kim Taehyung, right? Jimin’s ex-boyfriend.”
Taehyung grimaced. “That’s… complicated. I prefer the term best friend.”
“Right. Right, uh.” Jungkook sipped his drink and cleared his throat. He was fidgety, noticed Taehyung, although he couldn’t understand why. “Are you familiar with how these meetings go or should I explain—?”
“Yes. Unfortunately, I’m familiar with Aurors.” Jungkook bit his bottom lip, heat rising on his cheeks. Taehyung let out a sigh and rubbed his face. “Sorry. These last five months have been hard and my relationship with the Auror Department had never been the best.”
“Why is that?” asked Jungkook, and Taehyung had to refrain himself from rolling his eyes at the standard Auror tone of voice that somehow made you feel as if you had done something wrong.
“Because my best friend was almost sent to Azkaban for having a mark on his arm—a mark he didn’t want, and I spent too many hours of my life locked in small rooms with Aurors trying to manipulate me into saying something incriminating about him. That’s why.”
“I… I didn’t know that.”
Taehyung let out a long sigh and waved his hand. “Let’s just go through the questions, okay?”
Jungkook nodded and Taehyung was amazed by how quickly he managed to slip into a more professional mask. Taehyung’s words seemed to have shaken him, though. Taehyung answered all of his standard questions without having to think much about them, his eyes not leaving Jungkook’s. He couldn’t figure out why the Auror was so agitated.
“What were you doing the night Professor Park was killed?” he asked, and Taehyung didn’t miss the way his voice came out coarse.
“Sleeping,” he said, chewing the word bitterly. He had talked with Hoseok about it. He knew there was nothing he could have done to save him, but it was still hard not to blame himself for it.
“Do you know if Professor Park had any enemies? People that wanted to hurt him?”
“I… I don’t know. The last time I saw Jimin was five years ago, and he wouldn’t have told me if someone was threatening him. He wouldn’t have wanted me to worry.”
“He received death threats before. Do you know who—?”
“No, I don’t fucking know because your coworkers never gave a fuck about him!”
“I know. I know, he told me.” Jungkook’s voice cracked. “But you were his boyfriend. Maybe someone tried to hurt him in the past and if you could remember—”
“A lot of people tried to hurt him in the past.” Taehyung’s closed his hands until his knuckles turned white. “His family. Death Eaters. People Jimin thought were his friends and pushed him aside when he got the Dark Mark. Teachers. Aurors. Strangers. The whole bloody magical community. I remember them all. Who do you think had to patch him up every time someone cursed him? If you want the names of every single person that hurt him, then we’re going to need more tea.”
“Then bring more and let’s get through the fucking list!”
Taehyung’s eyebrows shot up. Jungkook looked startled by his own outburst, but he didn’t take it back. He squared his shoulders and lifted his chin as if he was ready to fight Taehyung for the names of those who had wronged Professor Park.
Taehyung watched him in silence; taking in the tense line of Jungkook's jawline and the redness of his ears. Oh.
“You knew him.”
Jungkook squirmed in place, avoiding Taehyung’s eyes. “He helped me in some cases about potion trafficking in the past.”
“You liked him.”
It was you. His lover. It was you. Taehyung shook his head, barely containing his disbelief. An Auror, Jimin? You could have picked anyone and you got involved with a bloody Auror? Seriously?
“I—” Jungkook’s shoulders deflated. “Yes. We… we had a few dates. We were supposed to meet, that night. I was doing fieldwork. He was in my apartment, alone. Waiting for me to come back. I… I didn’t find out what happened until much later and… I couldn’t do anything. He was in my apartment and I couldn’t do anything.” The same rage and helplessness that Taehyung had felt for the last five months flashed through Jungkook’s face. “I’ve been trying to catch the motherfucker who did it since then.”
For the first time since Jungkook had stepped inside his house, Taehyung looked at him. He took in the dark bags under his eyes, the paleness of his face, the chewed-out state of his bottom lip. Jungkook’s hair looked as if he had spent the last couple of months tugging at it in frustration. The rims of his eyes were red.
Taehyung’s heart ached. Once again, it hit him that he hadn’t been the only one who had lost Jimin. Jungkook cared. Jungkook cared a fucking lot.
He’s so sweet and silly and smart, Taehyungie. He’s almost as bad as you in potions, but he’s ridiculously good with transfigurations and he said he’s going to help me work on my animagus form!! Do you think I’m going to be a snake? I want to be a snake (I know what you’re thinking and no. I refuse to be a kitty, thank you very much).
I want you to meet him. I know you’d like him too.
Taehyung let out a sigh and stood up.
“Come. I know someone who can help you with the case.”
Watching Jungkook cry was harder than Taehyung had expected. It had been different with Namjoon. Taehyung didn’t know Jungkook but he knew the pain behind every shaky intake of breath, he knew how it felt to have the weigh of Jimin’s sad eyes on him. He knew how it was to pretend to be okay to not make him worry only to end up sobbing when Jimin tried to comfort him.
“I should have been there with you. I should have protected you. I’m, I’m an Auror and they managed to break the protection spells and hurt my—hurt you.”
“It wasn’t your fault, Jungkook. Please don’t blame yourself. Please. That’s not what I want.”
“I’m going to catch them.” It was the first time all day Jungkook’s voice didn’t waver. “Whoever did this. I’m going to catch them. I promise.”
Jimin’s eyes softened. Taehyung had read enough of Jimin’s letters talking about how good, how sweet was Jungkook to suspect that Jimin’s feelings were tilting on the edge of in love for a long time. He had expected to feel hurt by seeing those feelings unfold in front of him, but the pain never came.
Jimin was looking at Jungkook the same way he looked at Taehyung, and wonder was the only thing bubbling inside Taehyung’s chest. Wonder for the Auror, for the boy that had made Jimin fall in love with him.
After five months of feeling nothing but grief, the curiosity was like the first fresh intake of breath after being underwater.
Jungkook stayed long after the sun had disappeared over the horizon. It was clear that he didn’t want to go, but he had to work an early shift. He kept looking back as Taehyung walked him towards the door. He hesitated, opening his mouth and closing it again before shaking his head and walking out.
Taehyung grabbed his wrist.
“Come back tomorrow.”
“We didn’t get through the list,” he said and smiled when relief flooded Jungkook’s eyes. “And I think… no. I know Jimin wants to see you again.”
“Isn’t it weird? Me coming here? I mean, I know he loved you. Loves you. He told me. It was…” he snorted, scratching his nape. “It was one of the first things he told me on our first date. He was like I like you and I want to date you, but you should know that I’m in love with my best friend and that’s never going to change. Is that a problem for you? I didn’t know what to say.”
“Merlin, he’s so embarrassing,” groaned Taehyung but he was smiling so wide that he was afraid his face would split in half. “I don’t know if it’s weird. This whole situation is… a lot to process. Somehow, finding another person who understands what’s like to be in love with him feels comforting.”
Jungkook spluttered, his cheeks blushing a dark shade of red. He looked over Taehyung’s shoulder, his doe-eyes wide as a kid caught with a hand on the cookie jar.
“How did you know that I—?” He bit his bottom lip before he could finish the sentence.
“You never told him?”
“I never got the chance.”
“Oh.” Taehyung hesitated before taking Jungkook’s hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. “You’ll get a chance if you come back.”
He didn’t tell him that Jimin felt the same, even though he was sure of it. That was something for Jimin to share.
Jungkook left, still looking ashen and shaky but a new glint of hope on his eyes. Taehyung returned to the living room and cast an accio in the general direction of his bedroom. A second later, two sheets of paper and a pen flew to his hands.
“What are you doing?” asked Jimin, watching as Taehyung sat cross-legged in front of the coffee table.
“I’m writing a letter to Namjoon begging for forgiveness.”
“And then I’m going to write a list of suspects for Jungkook.” He paused, looking up. “He’s coming back tomorrow.”
“Really?” Jimin tried to conceal his excitement, but his voice betrayed him. “For Auror work?”
“You don’t have to do that, you know? I know you love him, Jimin. It’s fine.”
Jimin looked down, the corners of his lips curled in a shy smile. “I should have known better than trying to fool you. Are you sure you’re okay with it?”
“It’s— It’s new. I think it’s going to take me a while to get used to it, but it doesn’t hurt me if that’s what you’re worried about.” He shrugged one shoulder. “What can I say? I always thought being in love made you look beautiful.”
“I’ve been in love with you since the moment I met you.”
Jimin rolled his eyes. Taehyung was glad that he could still make Jimin blush. He was glad that he had chosen the right shade of pink to paint his cheeks.
After that, Jungkook came back every day. Taehyung and he sat down in front of the chimney and went through every single name on the list of suspects twice, scratching those who Jungkook had already investigated. Jimin had tried to help them.
“I know him. I’m sure I know him. But every time I try to remember his face becomes all blurry and it hurts almost as much as the pull of the Dark Mark.”
For the most part, they talked.
Having someone coming home every day motivated Taehyung to get out of the bed. Jungkook often arrived with insane amounts of food and wasn’t happy until Taehyung ate as much as he did. Taehyung still fell asleep on the couch sometimes, but Jimin didn’t scold him for it. He was trying and that was enough.
The painting was often empty in the mornings. Jimin liked to go visit his old students and was probably having fun jumping from a portrait to another and terrorizing the pool Sir Cadogan. Taehyung took advantage of the mornings when he was alone to pant the commissions that kept coming and to get used to the idea that this was his new reality.
He went to visit Namjoon. He learned new ways of mixing magic and muggle technology from Yoongi. He went to his sessions with Hoseok. He wrote to Seokjin, Jimin’s cousin, and let him know that he was welcome to visit Jimin anytime he wanted.
Mostly, he spent time with Jungkook.
It was easy to see what Jimin liked about him. Jungkook was attractive. He was sweet, and playful and carried with himself an aura of innocence that pulled Taehyung in. He was determinate too. No matter how little information they got on Jimin’s case or how little help from his coworkers he was receiving, he didn’t give up. He was trying, too.
As the weeks went by and Taehyung watched Jungkook and Jimin flirt with each other, Taehyung began to notice that Jimin wasn’t the only one who looked beautiful when he was in love.
It was Friday night. Exams were near and Jimin had gone to Hogwarts to help the Slytherins study, claiming that their new Professor was awful and he refused to let him ruin the academic success of his kids. Taehyung had planned to go to bed early, but a sudden knock on his door made him freeze on the bottom on the stairs.
He hesitated, gripping his wand tightly. After a month going through the list of suspects and the most gruesome details of Jimin’s case with Jungkook, some of the instincts he had acquired during and after the war had kicked in once again.
Taehyung didn’t let go of the tension until he saw Jungkook on the other side, his hair tied in a messy bun. He looked a second away from falling asleep standing up.
“Hey,” he said and stepped aside to let him in. Jungkook gave him a weak smile, going straight for the couch and letting out a loud groan when his body hit the cushions. “Jimin’s not home, he went to Hogwarts for a few days.”
“Yeah, I. I know that.” Taehyung sat next to him, feeling way too undressed with only the shorts and white shirt he used to sleep. Jungkook rubbed his eyes with the palm of his hands, letting out a long sigh. “I didn’t know where else to go. The Head Auror wants to close Jimin’s case. I fought against it all day,” he added quickly, seeing Taehyung’s face fall. “I convinced him to give me more time, but… yeah. I couldn’t go back to my apartment after that. I can barely stand going there on normal days. Today it made me sick.”
Taehyung’s stomach dropped. How had he been so blind? Taehyung wasn’t the only one living in a place full of memories of Jimin. But Taehyung’s house was mostly filled with loud afternoons and lazy mornings and passionate nights.
He had no doubt that once upon a time, the same kind of memories had found a place on Jungkook’s apartment, but they were now all corrupted by the fact that Jimin had died there.
Every night, Jungkook had to go back to the place where the person he loved had been killed.
“You can stay here.”
Jungkook gulped. “Thank you.”
“You can stay here as long as you need.”
Taehyung watched Jungkook transform his shitty couch into a single bed that looked more comfortable than his own one with a frown. When Jungkook asked him what was wrong, Taehyung admitted—embarrassed—that he had forgotten he could do that.
“How could you forget about being able to do basic magic? Your boyfriend is a moving portrait!”
“My parents are muggles,” he said, laying on the bed just to try it. He tried to repress the satisfied shudder that he got from hearing someone refer to Jimin as his boyfriend again. “I’ve been living in the magical community since I was eleven, but some things just… slip past me, still.”
“Hm. I get that.” Jungkook lay next to him and they locked eyes. He smelled of ink and faint, flowery perfume. For some reason, Taehyung’s heart started to beat faster against his chest. “Mom’s a witch. Dad’s a muggle. We lived in London Muggle when I was a kid but I always knew about magic.”
Taehyung’s eyes flickered to Jungkook’s mouth for a split of second before he forced himself to look up. Jungkook was still looking at him, but this time there was a new kind of curiosity swimming in his eyes.
“Tell me more.”
That day, Taehyung fell asleep on the couch again. But the couch was not a couch, there was a boy sleeping next to him, and he was not waiting for Jimin to come back.
The next day, he did it again. And the day after that.
The morning after the fourth night, he opened he woke up with an unfamiliar weight on his chest. It took him a couple of minutes to realize that it was Jungkook. Tentatively, he raised a hand and ran his fingers through Jungkook’s hair.Jungkook made a soft sound and snuggled closer.
He sighed. Even with the weight of Jungkook’s body on him, it was the first time in a long time Taehyung had felt so light.
When he managed to tear his eyes away from Jungkook’s sleepy face, he found that Jimin had returned to his portrait and was now looking at them with a knowing smile.
It happened seven months after the attack.
Taehyung woke up by Jimin’s cries and he hurried down the stairs to see what happened, the wood of his wand biting the palm of his hand. The rational part of him knew no one could hurt Jimin, not anymore. He knew that even if the portrait was destroyed, Jimin still had the one at Hogwarts. He knew he could always just paint another portrait. But the panic rushed thought him regardless.
His heart only calmed down when he realized the living room was empty. He lowered his wand.
Jimin was clutching his head, his face scrunched up in pain.
“Jimin, what— what did you do?”
“I tried to remember…”
“Bloody hell, Jimin! We told you! You don’t have to go through it again. Jungkook will find them, okay? He’s making progress. He’s not going to let them get away with it. He’s going to catch them and send them straight to Azkaban. Stop forcing yourself—”
“Tae, shut up! Shut up.”
Jimin took a deep breath. He was shaking all over and Taehyung ached with the need to comfort him. He wanted to pull Jimin between his arms, kiss his forehead and tell him everything was going to be okay. He wanted to touch him again, touch him again, touch him again.
“I remember, okay? I remember.” Jimin clenched his jaw and straightened his back. He looked furious. He looked fierce, and Taehyung found himself falling in love all over again. “I know who killed me.”
He never wanted to stop falling in love with his best friend.
It took Jungkook two weeks to find the culprit.
“An old family friend,” had said Jimin, the bitterness clear in his voice. “He used to come to diner with us. I never paid him much attention. He was just another full of himself, pure-blooded kid. After the way, I gave the Ministry the names of all the Death Eaters I knew. His father was one of them. I knew he hated me, but I never thought…”
Jungkook hadn’t waste any time. As soon as Jimin pronounced the name, he as out of Taehyung’s house. He didn’t come back. Front time to time, he sent his Patronus with assuring them that he was okay, but he was on the field and couldn’t risk getting caught.
Taehyung hadn’t been able to do much than pace around the room and biting his nails. Namjoon dropped by a few times to make sure he was eating and drag him to St. Mungo to see Hoseok.
Now, more than ever, he didn’t want to leave Jimin alone. He didn’t want Jungkook to come back to an empty house. But he kept trying. For Jimin. For himself, too.
It was one of those nights where Taehyung had gone to bed but sleep had avoided him until he dragged his limbs down the stair one more time. He was sitting on the couch, a blanket wrapped around his shoulders as he listened to Jimin rambling about potions when the fireplace erupted in green flames and spat a breathless and bloodied Jungkook.
Taehyung was on him in a heartbeat, cupping his face and searching for the injuries. Jungkook rolled his eyes at him, but let Taehyung take care of the cuts on his face and chest. Taehyung put the blanket over Jungkook’s shoulders and hugged him tightly.
“I did it.” Jungkook’s eyes fixed on Jimin. “Hyung, I caught him.”
Jimin let out a broken sob.
“Thank you, Jungkookie. Thank you.”
Jungkook fell asleep on Taehyung’s arms. Taehyung stared at him—at his pouty mouth and his big nose—until sleep claimed him too. He kissed Jungkook’s forehead as soon as he woke up again and almost jumped startled when Jimin chuckled.
“You guys are adorable.”
“Jimin, I— Sorry.”
Jimin cocked his head to the side. There was sadness in his eyes, but fondness too.
“Don’t be. I know what you’re thinking, Taehyungie. I know you better than anyone else. You’re not doing anything wrong."
“I should have known better than trying to fool you,” he tried to joke, but his voice came out weak. He felt guilty for… many reasons. Guilty for falling for Jungkook, for the same guy he knew Jimin loved. Guilty for being able to hold him, to kiss him when Jimin couldn’t. Guilty for all the possibilities the future had for them.
Guilty for wanting more than just Jimin.
"I—Tae… I’m a memory. I’m not really… I’m not me. Not entirely. You don’t deserve half a thing.”
“You’re not a thing,” he protested, although he knew it was a lost cause. No matter how many times he repeated it, Jimin refused to listen.
“I’m a portrait, Tae. You made me. I may still be here in some ways, but I—I’m not with you. I can’t be with you. Not really. Jungkook is a person. Jungkook is alive. You like him. And he likes you. Do you think I didn’t dream of seeing you two like this before? Maybe this is not the way I wanted it to happen, but I’m so glad you two found each other.”
Taehyung rested his cheek on the crown of Jungkook’s head.
“He likes you too.”
“Of course he likes me, I’m lovely.” Taehyung snorted. “I had this conversation with him too, you know? The night you fell asleep over the paint and Jungkook had to carry you to your room. He came down so red and panicky. Do you know what he told me? But, hyung, he loves you. See? You’re both stubborn idiots. You’re perfect for each other.” Jimin’s expression softened. “Be with him, Tae. Date him, kiss him, love him.”
“I want to date you too,” he whispered. Kiss you, love you.
“I know, baby.” They stared at each other in silence. Taehyung ran his hands through Jungkook’s hair and pretended he didn’t notice the longing clouding Jimin’s eyes. Finally, Jimin cleared his throat. “Well. I guess I wouldn’t mind watching you two make out on the couch.”
Jimin laughed so hard that he almost fell off the portrait. Taehyung didn’t care what Jimin said. Portrait or not, he was still his Jimin.
“I love you both. Whatever you decide to do, that’s never going to change.”
Taehyung nodded. He left another soft kiss on Jungkook’s forehead. Jungkook mumbled in his sleep and nuzzled Taehyung’s neck.
When Taehyung looked up again, Jimin’s smile was blinding.
“Seeing you two happy is the only way I want to spend the rest of my eternity.”
It took Taehyung a month to get the courage to ask Jungkook on a date. It had been weird, having Jimin help him pick his clothes and giving him tips to woo Jungkook, but Taehyung was grateful for it. Jimin had always been a good teacher.
Taehyung hadn’t planned to invite Jungkook home after their date. He hadn’t planned on stumbling inside with Jungkook’s mouth attached to his neck when he leaned down for a goodnight kiss. He was definitely not planned Jimin interrupting their kissing with his giggles.
"I guess that was a good first date!" He said, smirking when both Jungkook and Taehyung blushed. He winked. "I'll see you in the bedroom!”
Jimin disappeared, jumping to the painting of the Slytherin dorm that Taehyung had hung in front of his bed. Jungkook chuckled and took Taehyung’s hand, tugging him up the stairs.
It was easier said than done. Taehyung couldn’t resist pressing Jungkook against the wall of the hallway and taking his mouth in a bruising kiss. He groaned when Jungkook’s big, strong arms wrapped around his waist and lifted him up, carrying him towards the bedroom.
Taehyung could hear Jimin yelling at them to hurry up. Their laughter broke their kiss.
“He’s going to want a show,” said Taehyung, running his hands thought Jungkook’s hair. “Ready for it?”
Taehyung snorted, pressing tiny kisses all over Jungkook’s jaw. For a second, his eyes caught sight of the mirror hung on the wall. He saw them, reflected together, embraced.
Taehyung remembered the day he broke it. He remembered how it had shattered, how it had felt like nothing but a reflection of his own heart. But just like the mirror, Taehyung’s heart wasn’t broken anymore. It had taken him many long and torturous months, but he had managed to stitch the pieces back together and, in the process, without noticing, he had made it bigger than it was before.
Big enough to contain not only Jimin’s memory but also Jungkook’s love.