Excitement bubbles in eleven-year-old Jeno’s gut as he stands proudly amidst the madness of Platform 9¾. Before him is a luggage cart heavy with a leather trunk of textbooks and magical paraphernalia, a few duffle bags of clothes, and a small wicker cat carrier. A small yowl issues from the cage and Jeno spares no time opening it and slinging his cat around his shoulders with a coo.
The platform is a mess. Parents hover around their children and children hover around carts of luggage twice their size. There's no space for anyone to maneuver but the crowd is somehow slowly queuing, feeding sluggishly into the two dozen doors that lead to the scarlet, steaming Hogwarts Express. It’s like a dream. No, it IS a dream—his dream. This is the beginning of everything for Jeno Lee. First day of school, first day at Hogwarts, first day of the rest of his life.
His mother tutts behind him, her hand casting shade over her eyes as she stands on tiptoes to search for his older sister, who disappeared as soon as they were all safely through the magical wall leading to the platform. His sister, like his mother, father, grandparents, and great-great parents, is a proud member of Hufflepuff house. All of the Lees are Hufflpuffs, even his extended cousins and those that marry into the family, it's kind of bizarre. Every single one of them except that strange Slytherin great-uncle of theirs, but they don’t talk about him.
Jeno is already in his first-year robes, willow wand with unicorn hair core in his pocket, cat around his shoulders. He’s as ready as he possibly could be.
But his mother is definitely not.
Without warning she glomps him from behind, resting her soft chin on the top of his head to avoid squishing the cat on his shoulders. As a rule, everyone in his family gets their own cat at age ten. His mother has been loath to part with his young cat, Bongsik, her being just as much her baby as Jeno himself is. He and his kitten are the youngest of the family and his mother apparently has no choice but to make a whole scene of it.
“AwwWW! I love you, Nono, so much. Definitely more than that disappearing sister of yours.” She mutters to him, kissing the top of his head.
A nice slot of space opens up in the line in front of Jeno but before he can make up the ground another boy slips in quickly, emanating stress with his hands tight around the handle of his luggage cart and shoulders stiffened all the way up to his ears. He’s a bit smaller than Jeno, with a sleek, brown and white barn owl in a large cage coolly observing Bongsik. Jeno would call the kid’s move Serious Budging but the line hasn’t exactly formed where they are yet so it’s actually just good positioning on the boy’s part.
He’s alone. Chalk it up to Jeno’s cat-centric family but he considers owls poor companions in comparison to the warm weight of a cat who actually likes you. Owl or not, this kid is completely alone.
Jeno would give almost anything to be alone right now.
“Come on Mom… you don’t need to backhug me all the way to the train!” He whines. If anything his mother tightens her hold on him.
“Of. Course. I. Do!" She punctuates her words by rocking them side to side. "Knowing you, you’d get lost between here and the door. I still cannot even… your very first day and that wicked sister of yours runs off as soon as we pass the barrier—she can expect a howler, mark my words. First day. First howler of the Hogwarts year.”
Jeno sighs, wiggling a bit in her embrace. “She’s a Prefect, she HAS to help deal with this mess. You can’t howl at her for doing her job…”
The loner boy shuffles in place, turning sideways so he isn’t quite facing them but Jeno can make out his profile. Lightly tanned skin with thick fluffy black hair, strong eyebrows, and a thin chin. He’s not too much shorter than Jeno but is definitely wirier, wearing a light Muggle kind of hooded sweater Jeno thinks is known as a hoodie. Hooder? Doesn’t matter.
His mother doesn’t seem to notice the boy and continues to rant. “Yeah, and part of that first day duty is to look out for first years like her beloved little brother!”
Jeno makes another move to be free of his mother when the boy in front of him twists fully on his heel to face them, taking a deep breath. First he makes eye contact with Jeno then he purses his lips into a slight pout as he looks to his mother.
They focus on the boy with immediate, equally sympathetic gazes. He's taken aback by the sudden unison of the mother-son duo but eventually finds his tongue. “Sorry to… overhear. But, I, um?" He flashes Jeno a weak, crooked grin. “I’m a first year as well but I… ah…”
His mom opens her mouth to speak but Jeno beats her to it. “Why are you alone?”
“Uh, well, my Welcome Wizard thought my parents would be a little… out of place, so. Ta-dah!” He wiggles his fingers in the air, an attempt at pizazz that falls quite short of its intended effect. “Here I am…?”
His mom’s eyes widen and she releases Jeno in order to bring her hand to her heart. “Oh, my poor dear…”
Jeno takes a step forward, eyes shining. Is this his chance to make a friend right away, and a Muggle-born at that? “So you’re Muggle-born? For real? Have you ever driven a char?”
The boy tilts his head in confusion. “You mean a… car?”
Jeno smiles brightly, nodding multiple times as he holds his hands on an imaginary steering wheel. “Yeah, the roadmobile!”
“Uh, no? You have to be 17 to drive a car in England.” The boy looks confused about this interaction but his lips are slowly starting to tug up into a sincere little smile. “I hear you ride broomsticks in this world.”
Jeno’s smile breaks, shifting into a furrowed brow as he pokes the boy in the chest. “WE ride broomsticks in this world. I’m Jeno Lee, what’s your name?”
Bewildered but pleased, the boy takes a moment to recover from Jeno’s enthusiasm. “I’m Jaemin. Na. Um…?” Jaemin looks at Jeno’s outstretched hand for a long moment before grabbing it. “Nice to meet you, Jeno.”
Jeno shakes their hands up and down with excess energy before pulling Jaemin in a step closer. “You wanna sit together?”
He looks confused for a moment and Jeno is about to elaborate when Jaemin catches his drift. “Oh, on the TRAIN. Yeah? I mean, yeah! I, uh… sorry I just… this is all a little… bonkers.”
Jaemin flicks his eyes to his mom awkwardly then back to Jeno before looking shyly down to his shuffling feet. Jeno wants to ruffle his hair and keep him safe, especially when he says stuff like, “I’m not sure I’ll be the best company though. I don’t really... get this stuff yet.”
“I can teach you!” Jeno declares proudly. “Mum, leave us alone, okay? This is probably crazy enough for him. What was the word you used?"
“Bonkers.” Jaemin repeats with the tiniest laugh.
“It must be absolutely bonkers. So maybe just…?"
She considers the matter, looking very much like she wants to hug both Jeno AND Jaemin all the way to the train but eventually nods. “Okay, love. I’ll leave you two to it.” She rests her hand on her cheek fondly. “Aww, Jeno’s first school chum.”
Jeno blushes, rolling his eyes, but Jaemin smiles brighter than the sun. “Thank you, Mrs. Lee!”
She looks confused. “What’s this, I didn’t do anything…”
“You raised my first friend.” Jaemin sucks up. Jeno doesn’t know if he’s being honest or just turning up the charm but he’s helping to get her off his back so Jeno is grateful. On top of that, Jeno really does have questions about the Muggle world and, armed with all the knowledge and wisdom of his eleven years he is happy to answer any that Jaemin might have. He and Jaemin grin at each other, the latter a bit more reserved but equally as conspiring.
His mother blushes at the clever compliment, kisses Bongsik between the ears, kisses Jeno on the cheek, then kisses her pointer and middle finger and stamps them straight on Jaemin’s forehead. Judging by the bulging of his eyes, the touching sentiment blows Jaemin’s mind and he brings his thin fingers to his forehead, blushing.
Suddenly embarrassed, he bows slightly as she leaves and grabs Jeno’s elbow. “I have questions.”
“Me too.” Jeno beams. He means it. Jaemin’s tight grip relaxes, his face softening into relief.
This really could be his first friend at Hogwarts.
Sixth year can be a pleasant one, basically nine months spent in relative leisure reviewing compulsory courses and dipping toes into the elective subjects that help chart a student's magical future. Jeno came out of last year’s O.W.L. gauntlet quite nicely, scoring Exceeds Expectations or higher in every course necessary for him to pursue a career as a Healer. This didn’t actually come as any surprise to him—Jeno is good at studying, diligent enough to sit down and chomp his way through the subjects that don’t come naturally to him.
That’s probably why he always enjoys the study hall period a bit more than some of his housemates and peers. Some bemoan it as a waste of what they view as a ‘free hour’, and then there’s the other particular type of student who would rather be in an actual lesson than spend time reviewing what they already know. Mark, his fellow sixth year Gryffindor, is a perfect example of the latter, sitting across the library table from Jeno, grumbling to himself as he studies N.E.W.T.-level Transfiguration theory. His sheer academic determination often gives off Ravenclaw vibes but to become an Auror in this day and, age one must overachieve and Mark knows how to put in the work.
Sitting three tables away is the perfect example of the other type of student, the ones who would rather be napping or literally anything else. He’s bored, he’s handsome, he has never actually been seen studying: the silky, charming Slytherin Prefect Jaemin Na. He shares his table with two fellow snakes but instead of studying with his friends he's flipping distractedly through a Charms lexicon, his mind clearly elsewhere. Jeno wishes this type of idle behavior manifested in the horrible grades it should but the reality is much, much worse.
You could call Jaemin a Teacher’s Pet but in practice the power dynamic is reversed: teachers are Jaemin’s Pets. He’s supremely charming and also fantastic at Charms on top of it, the type of student who only listens in class instead of taking any notes but somehow ends up absorbing the topic a bit more naturally than his peers. It’s not just Charms either—in every class he and Jeno have shared since their first year Jaemin always scored high marks. Not as high as Jeno, mind you, but Jeno has always had to really work for it.
Jaemin Na: smart, sanguine, beloved by students and faculty alike. He’s also a fucking asshole but apparently only to Jeno.
Snapshots of a memory flit through Jeno's mind: a small eleven-year-old gripping his wrist in a vise, his own preteen self muttering useless nothings into the ear of his new friend. Don’t worry, The Sorting Hat knows what it's doing, he remembers assuring. I’ll meet you in Gryffindor, he remembers declaring, willing himself into the house he thought his new friend belonged in.
Funny how that turned out.
Yeri Kim, Slytherin seventh year queen-of-all-everything, is at Jaemin’s table being tutored in Defense Against the Dark Arts by Renjun Huang, a sixth year snake. She’s not having a good time of it, alternating between checking out her split ends and sighing with her whole chest. For his part, Renjun is unbothered by her resistance and continues to describe a mnemonic device for remembering Voldemort’s Horcruxes.
“I hate this. I mean he’s dead, super dead by now. Why do I have to learn this?” Yeri complains.
“Because it’s important to understand the nature and build up of his psychopathology.” Renjun schools, trying very hard not to roll his eyes.
“Especially for Slytherins." Jaemin adds, still flipping through his book. "Especially when some of us haven’t fully internalized today’s condemnation of his atrocities. If we know what led to it, we can see it in ourselves and in others and stop it.”
He might be a jerk (again, only to Jeno) but major props to Jaemin for being liberal as hell. Yeri comes from an old Slytherin family, one of those slow to adapt to the tangible shift in political attitude away from the oligarchy that defined it in the pre-Potter era and towards the liberality ushered in by the Order of the Phoenix. Yeri isn’t evil, not at all, but she (and many Slytherins of this generation) underestimate the embedded ideals of their forebears and how they’ve been shaped by them.
Comparably, Jaemin wasn't shaped by any magical ideology at all. He might be a Slytherin but being Muggle-born allows him to really see the state of things from an outside perspective and he has the self-assurance to call out dumb shit like outdated dogma. He's still a dick though.
Like most Slytherins, Yeri is beautiful and powerful—people like her have always been Jeno's type. He likes the sheer power she emits and the intelligence in her eyes in the same way his gaze gravitates towards a certain asshole bully who he thinks about way too much given the circumstance. Fuck, Jeno is just attracted to Slytherins, isn’t he?
Yeri is definitely his type but the only problem is that she actually has the hots for him and Jeno’s backwards intimacy issues send him screaming in the opposite direction when anyone actually returns his interest. He is, after all, Gryffindor’s Cowardly Lion. Last year, Jeno turned down her advance to become fuck buddies (fuck enemies, maybe?) and she's been a bit hostile ever since.
“I wasn’t trying to…” She sighs, a lick of shame crossing her expression but not quite enough to appear perfectly genuine. “You don’t have to go all sociology on me, Nana, I get it. I do care and I do understand.”
“If you understand it, recite the mnemonic.” Renjun shoots at her, smiling wanly.
Yeri winces. “Dogs Run… Loops? Cats… fuck.”
Jeno snorts at this before he can stop himself, bringing his Potions textbook up off the table to cover his face.
“You laughing, Lee?” Yeri bites across the room at him, pulling her wand from where it had been tucked above her ear. “How about I hit you with an endless giggle hex? You’ll be laughing until you suffocate. Or maybe I should just skip a step and suffocate you right from the start."
Needlessly harsh. Jeno buries himself deeper into his book, ears flaming red while Mark twists in his chair to glare back on his friend’s behalf. “Come on, Kim, everyone knows Jeno’s the only person you wouldn’t hurt. He’s far too cute for that.”
Mark’s intentions are admirable but he seems blind to the fact that telling Yeri Kim what she wouldn’t do is a surefire way to get her to do just that.
“Not talking to you, Other Lee.” She growls. Jaemin gingerly sets his book down and Renjun sighs, shaking his head at how easily his senior got triggered. Yeri spins her wand around her deft fingers, wrinkling her nose in contempt. “What do you say, Jeno? You want to giggle to death?"
Jeno peeks above the book with a forced eye smile. “Not a bad way to die, but no thank you."
The air shifts, suddenly heavy with magical intent. Mark’s wand is in his hand and in the same heartbeat Jaemin draws his own. Renjun sighs again, shutting his book with a soft snap. Yeri cocks her head and aggressively raises her wand, lips pursed in the beginning of some spell. Mark matches her aggression with defense, flicking his wand in the tell-tale pattern of a protego charm. All of this in a single moment.
Before Mark or Yeri’s spells take form, before he can even recall where his own wand is, the Potions book Jeno hides behind snaps shut on his face. It’s quick, subtle spellwork that could only belong to Jaemin, widely known to be an ace at nonverbals. It’s a quick little nip instead of what might have been a bloody chomp—less severe than what Yeri was threatening or whatever would have come from the rebound against Mark’s protection spell. It gives off the impression of a warning instead of an attack.
The book snaps heavily on his nose and Jeno squeals, tossing it away before his knuckles fly to his nostrils to check the damage. Yep, that's blood. He pinches his nose, uttering a muffled curse at Jaemin.
“Fuck you, Na.”
“Fuck you right back, Lee.” He parries easily, already on his feet and packing his books into his bag. Jaemin grabs Yeri’s shoulder, pulling her up and away from the table. He helps her collect her things as well, muttering, “Let’s continue this outside of the Gryffindor stupidity bubble, shall we? Their idiotic energy is getting in the way of your understanding.”
Mark turns back to Jeno, still fired up and plainly confused about their abrupt departure. He twists around to face the retreating Slytherins with a, "Yeah, you better run!" before turning back to Jeno once more with a huff. “Seriously, why is their existential condition just ‘the absolute worst’?”
Jeno just sighs, still muffled, still wiping the blood from his face. He finally locates his wand (being used as a bookmark in the very text Jaemin used against him) and taps it to the tip of his nose, neatly siphoning the rest of the blood away. He realizes Renjun is taking his sweet time packing away his things even though his housemates have already vacated the library.
“Okay, yeah, I understand Little Miss Kim’s rage…” Mark starts, unaware Renjun is lingering. “You rejected her last year and she's always had a mean streak. But I still don’t get why Na is such a dick to you. It’s been six years of this.”
“Looks like we’ve finally reached bloodshed.” Jeno mutters, wiping the remains of the blood on his hand inside the pocket of his robes.
“Oh please.” Renjun heaves a sigh behind Mark, slinging his heavy book bag across his torso and readjusting it without sparing the Gryffindors a glance. “Seriously the stupidest house…”
Mark jumps, shooting out of his chair and turning to face Renjun. “Hnngygk! Yah! Sneaky little doxy...”
“Try using your eyes. Or your brain. Anything.” Renjun finally looks at Mark, wholly unimpressed. Then he turns his knowing gaze to Jeno. “Trust me, Lee, Jaemin did you a favor today. We all know if he really wanted to draw blood you’d be exsanguinated fourteen times over by now.”
“Yeah, and if Jeno actually crawled down to his level and retaliated he’d… you know… he’d. Uhhh. He’d be very good at it!” Mark tries miserably.
Renjun stands still, blinking as he tries to infer any meaning or insight from that trainwreck of a comeback. Finally he just shakes his head with another solemn sigh and turns fluidly on his heel without another word. Renjun is twice as formidable as Jaemin and infinitely untouchable, somehow above it all despite his height placing him underneath most of it.
“Rude.” Mark sniffs at his retreating back.
The Slytherin stops in place at this but doesn’t turn around. Instead he cracks his neck slowly to the left and then to the right, the sounds echoing straight up Jeno’s spine. In another moment he turns a corner around a bookshelf and disappears from their sight.
Jeno waits a whole minute just to be sure Renjun wasn’t still within earshot. “Merlin’s fucking fuck, that kid is scary. He is physically half of me and I’m still terrified.”
Actually, all Slytherins are scary. Except for Jaemin Na. He’s just mean.
After finally depositing their luggage at the rear of the train, Jeno and his new friend get off to a great start by nearly getting into a fight with a trio of third year Slytherins. Free of their possessions (save one bag each for robes and other essentials) the two attempted to maneuver through the train hallway and find a compartment only to be muscled against the wall by a group of thugs completely out of their weight class.
He and Jaemin had very different reactions to this:
Armed with generations worth of Hogwarts advice, Jeno already knew that a) he shouldn’t mess with anyone older than him, b) he shouldn’t mess with Slytherins, and c) he really should NOT mess with Slytherins. There’s also, d) be cautious of Gryffindors, but Jeno doesn’t quite understand that one yet. Jeno planned to let it be, to continue on and find another compartment.
Then there was Jaemin, a bright-eyed Muggle-born who either didn’t know that Slytherins are Bad News or simply didn’t care. Jaemin’s entire demeanor changed when the green-clad students knocked him and Jeno out of the way. After recovering from the shove, Jaemin grit his teeth and actually rebalanced his posture as though to find better footing to fight back. In the end he took a step towards the third years and Jeno reflexively stopped Jaemin before any harm could come to him.
Jeno’s instinct screamed to defer to the bullies' larger size and mean attitude but Jaemin (smaller than Jeno by a centimeter or two with a thin neck and even thinner wrists) set himself up to defend their ground. It took Jeno grabbing him by the back collar of his hoodie and tugging him away to save both of them from being decked. Or hexed. It’s hard to tell—Slytherin retaliations are rumored to be notoriously hard to predict except for the fact they’re always extreme.
“You’re definitely going to be a Gryffindor.” Jeno mutters to Jaemin after the scuffle, now directing him further down the train to find another compartment. He’s been scruffing Jaemin from behind like a cat this whole time while Jeno's other hand hugs Bongsik (his actual cat) to his shoulder.
“That’s the house of the brave and stupid, right?” Jaemin asks, turning his head around with an amused eyebrow raise. Suddenly his entire aura screams Slytherin. “My Welcome Wizard gave me a bit of a rundown. A biased rundown, I’m sure.”
Jeno is eleven, he doesn’t know what biased means but Jaemin clearly does so maybe he’s got some Ravenclaw in him too. They pass by four more parallel compartments, all of them occupied. “Did your Welcome Wizard tell you his house?”
“Ah, Taeil? The bird one. Ravenbeak. Wait…”
Someone crowds Jeno from behind and he takes a step closer to Jaemin while also dragging him closer. Jaemin stiffens slightly but doesn’t resist. Right, Jaemin is probably overwhelmed and confused and if Jeno is being perfectly honest, he hasn’t exactly been giving off touchy vibes from the start. He hopes he’s not being too clingy but the Lee family is indeed a tactile one, especially when emotions run high. “What’d he say about the other houses?”
Jaemin looks up to the roof of the train, either trying to remember exactly what his Welcome Wizard said or putting together his own interpretations. “The crows are the best at existing but the worst at making friends. Bubblepops are trustworthy but a bit easygoing, a bit slap-happy. Griffins are brave, surprisingly competent, and super self-absorbed. Sly… er, whatever the green snakes are called aren’t as evil as their reputation but are as clever and cutthroat as they come.”
The names might be completely off but his analyses are pretty spot on. Jeno doesn’t even know how to correct him so he just laughs. “So you knew those jerks were Slytherins and you still tried to fight them? Gryffindor.” ‘Or Slytherin’ Jeno thinks but doesn’t dare say it aloud for fear channeling any Jaemin Na energy in the serpentine direction.
Jeno knows he himself would never, ever be sorted into Slytherin. He also really wants to be in the same house as his new friend, regardless of having met him less than thirty minutes ago. So no snakes here, no sir. Jeno thinks he might actually have some Gryffindor chops himself though admittedly his backbone has always taken on a quieter form, something less apparent than Jaemin’s impulse to stand his (and Jeno’s) ground against formidable foes.
But if he’s being perfectly honest, the look in Jaemin’s eyes during their confrontation with the Slytherins didn’t speak to bravery for the sake of bravery, it was just raw, unbridled irritation. Irritation and spite. Very Slytherin of him.
“Maybe…” Jaemin answers after taking the time to think it through. “Well… at this point the only thing I’ve completely ruled out is Puffpod.”
Jaemin nods, the majority of his attention focused on looking for an empty compartment. “Yeah, that one. The circle-jerkers.”
Jeno tilts his head innocently. “What does that mean?”
“Dunno. Something Taeil said when my parents weren’t in the room.” Jaemin responds absentmindedly. “Ah! Okay, here we go.”
They finally come across an empty compartment, a small one with only four seats. Jaemin twists on his heel with a short cheer, shooting Jeno a charming, successful grin and tossing the sliding door open with so much force that it bounces back and almost closes again. With a jolt, Jaemin jerks his hand into the gap to stop it before sliding the door open again gingerly. It’s empty, a little cramped, and absolutely perfect for two young boys and a cat.
“This’ll do nicely.” Jeno nods, shuffling up against Jaemin to force him inside. Jaemin takes a careful seat, eyes flicking from the upper luggage racks to the hazy yellow lights, then to the checkered green and blue upholstery and eventually to each of the old moving photographs in the compartment.
This is all new to him but by Jeno’s estimation he’s adapting quite well. He’s heard stories of new Muggle-borns crying, fainting, even backing out before they even got to Platform 9¾. Jaemin is a little unsure but he’s poised within his puzzlement, gauging his surroundings as though to figure out how to take advantage of this new world instead of merely survive it.
Jeno takes a seat directly across from Jaemin, unwrapping a dozing Bongsik from around his neck and plopping her neatly on the seat next to him. “So, are Muggle trains like this?”
Jaemin does a thing with his face, a quick battle between confusion and offense that eventually ends with understanding. “Ah, well? Maybe like fifty years ago trains were like this. Most of our transportation now is electric or gas-powered and like… sleek. Ish.”
Ah, nice. Muggles are pretty advanced in their own ways. Jeno always wondered how on earth they got through life without magic but at the same time they are the highly successful population majority so maybe it’s the magical world that’s the odd one. “It’s cool that you have a foot in both worlds.”
He snorts. “Trust me, the magical one is still very new.”
Jeno points to himself with a bright grin. “That’s what I’m for."
Jaemin relaxes into a sweet smile at this, raising his hand in the air with his palm facing Jeno. They eye each other for a few moments before Jeno realizes he’s expected to do something and pokes the middle of Jaemin’s palm with his forefinger, causing Jaemin to burst out laughing and drop his hand to his side.
“I was going for a high-five, Jeno! Do you not have those in the wizarding world?”
Ah! Actually Jeno does know about those. He giggles sheepishly before raising his hand, mirroring what Jaemin had done. They attempt to slap palms but miss the timing three times before being more deliberate about it, staring determinedly into each other's eyes and counting down. They finally high-five successfully, the noise bouncing sharply around the small compartment.
“We’ll work on it.” Jaemin says, leaning back in his seat satisfyingly.
That ‘we’ll’ sounds pretty nice to Jeno. He beams at the idea of already finding a friend. A cool Muggle-born friend with a strong backbone and admirable adaptability. Jeno doubts he would take to being thrown haphazardly into the Muggle world nearly half as well.
Eventually Jaemin asks Jeno to tell him about Hogwarts and he gets right to it, parroting what his family has been telling him over the years. He talks about his sister, a fifth year Hufflepuff Prefect, and his own desire to play Quidditch for whatever house he ends up in.
When Jaemin asks about Quidditch Jeno launches straight in, growing increasingly more animated as he describes the sport. Jaemin doesn’t seem too into it (he’s much more interested in the social structure and oddities of Hogwarts itself) so Jeno eventually reins himself in. There will be time to evangelize Jaemin into the beauty of Quidditch, it doesn’t have to be now.
Jeno has time.
Jaemin gets a chance to be publicly cruel to Jeno again a month after the bloody study hall, during the first Quidditch match of the season. Jeno and Mark have both been on the Gryffindor team for years as Chasers and are close with everyone on the team regardless of age. Jeno loves Quidditch, loves the wind in his air and the smack of leather on leather, but it just so happens that Jaemin fucking Na has been commentating Quidditch matches for two years now and often takes advantage of his podium to tear Jeno a whole new asshole.
“Bad shot by No-Jam Jeno of Gryffindor. You know you’re supposed to get it PAST the Keeper, right?”
“For being on the team for three years, you’d think someone would have taught Jeno Lee how to intercept by now.”
And that’s just Jaemin’s warm-up shit-slinging. Sadly, Jeno’s aggravation at Jaemin’s nonsense never rises high enough to overshadow his quiet admiration at how clever and charismatic Jaemin can be, even when he’s hurling verbal bricks at him.
“Dude, seriously?” Their Keeper Yukhei mutters, uncharacteristically troubled by Jaemin’s latest quip about Gryffindor reconsidering their sixth year players (“… you can keep Mark Lee though, he’s passable” ). “Come on, you’re not that bad…”
Jeno lets out a whine of offense and throws one of his leather gloves at the Keeper. Yukhei utterly fails his function by letting the glove slip through his fingers and fall 25 meters to the ground. Ears burning, Jeno sheepishly floats down to the grassy field to retrieve it. He’s actually good at Quidditch, more confident in this than in a lot of his academics, and maybe Jaemin knows that. Maybe he knows this is where Jeno feels strong and needs to knock him off his game and that’s why the Slytherin announcer is bringing his A-game today.
A for Asshole, obviously.
After snatching his glove from the grass, the match continues. There’s a notable absence of shade being cast by Jaemin for a good thirty minutes, almost as if some professor took pity on Jeno and scolded the Slytherin for rudeness. He even compliments some nice Gryffindor bludger work and goes so far as to lightly disparage a few Hufflepuffs for bad form.
Despite the respite from the abuse, it takes Jeno some time to get his athletic mojo flowing again. Gryffindor starts to pull ahead of Hufflepuff, not enough to foreshadow a victory but enough for the audience to feel the tide turning. Jeno doesn’t get his hand on the quaffle for more than a few quick passes during this time but his assists are enough to help score some much-needed points.
He’s hovering near the Hufflepuff goals when the opposing Chasers botches a combo against Yukhei. The Keeper snags the quaffle with one hand and in the same heartbeat winds up for a colossal throw. Making the Herculean feat look far too easy, he launches the quaffle on a trajectory that will take it straight across the pitch to the Hufflepuff goals—right where Jeno happens to be.
This is it. This is where he clears his mind and gets his bounce back.
The pass is remarkable, the Hufflepuffs aren’t ready for the quick counter, and Jeno readies himself to receive. The audience holds their collective breath as the pass soars over the midfield point, still with a lot of ground to cover until it reaches Jeno.
“Uh oh…” Jaemin’s magically magnified voice cuts softly but pointedly through the tension. He speaks sotto voce—quietly, almost intimately, as though muttering directly to Jeno and Jeno only.
Jeno imagines Jaemin’s face, a strange combination of the bright-eyed kid he met on Platform 9¾ and the fluffy-haired asshole he knows now. He remembers Jaemin’s disinterest in Quidditch half a decade ago. Why would he commentate the sport if he never cared about it? The guy is all over the place. But people have full allowance to change their minds so Jeno really has no reason to grumble about it, does he?
He’s thinking about that handsome son-of-a-harpy so of course he totally fumbles the catch.
The audience erupts in a very noisy combination of laughter and jeering, with a bit of consolation on the side. Jeno hangs his head, outwardly appearing ashamed but inside he’s livid. Jaemin’s commentator spot is actually pretty close to Jeno right now and he turns to him, glaring daggers. What is Jaemin’s problem? Is this just general Slytherin awfulness? Why is it only Jeno he picks on? Sure, it’s never as bad as most Slytherin bully targets receive, mostly just a bit of verbal abuse here and there, but it uniquely and unfairly targets him.
Further, what is Jeno’s problem? Why does Jaemin have so much power over him? It only took him muttering “uh oh” for Jeno to lose his mind and forget he was in the middle of a Quidditch game. He glares and Jaemin stares right back at him. Jeno was expecting Jaemin to look smarmy, superior, even cruel but no. He just shrugs at Jeno, face composed and wholly unconcerned.
“And there you have it, folks. Even a blind dog would be better at playing catch than Jeno Lee.”
Jeno flicks him off. Jaemin flicks him off right back, expressionless.
The taunting starts up again a minute later with a quick little, “looks like Lee’s butterfingers are contagious! The Other Lee lets Wong’s pass slip right through his hands.”
Chenle, their feisty fifth year Seeker, spins his broom around to face Jaemin, finally fed up with the abuse towards his teammates. He begins to fly towards Jaemin and give him a piece of his mind but Jeno manages to intercept him, grabbing his shoulder in a vice grip. “Cool it, Lele.”
“Why the hell should I? He’s a dick! Why do you let him get away with this?” Chenle storms but relents to Jeno’s hold.
Jeno opens his mouth to speak but finds he really doesn’t know why. He's angry, especially right now, but it fades as quickly as his ire from Jaemin's torment always does. He hates that Jaemin targets him (again, only him) with all this unwarranted enmity. He hates how lowkey it is, how his bullying never truly reaches the level of outward hostility.
But he just doesn’t hate Jaemin.
And at his core, Jeno doesn’t think Jaemin hates him either.
The game ends fifteen minutes later when Chenle snatches the snitch near Yukhei’s goalposts. Gryffindor wins 290-140 and even Jaemin congratulates them from his podium on a match well played, though not without one last little remark about Jeno needing to shape up before they play against Slytherin.
Used to it by now, Jaemin's words don't sting and Jeno barely even hears them but from the looks on his teammates' faces, they certainly do. Jeno shakes it off, still thinking about what Chenle said, about why he lets Jaemin just get away with picking on him.
Sometimes he thinks it’s just the Hufflepuff in him, the boy his mother raised. The one time Jeno mentioned being bullied by a Slytherin three years ago (of course omitting that it was Jaemin, his ‘first friend’) his mother’s advice had been to kill them with kindness, which also happens to be the Lee family’s motto. But that doesn’t quite get to the core of why Jeno tolerates Jaemin’s abuse.
There’s another thing that wiggles enduringly in his heart: a strange debt to him. He’s never revealed this, not even to Mark, but Jeno knows that the reason he’s a Gryffindor, the reason he’s made his best friends and grown into his own as Gryffindor’s Cowardly Lion is because of Jaemin Na. Meeting Jaemin on the Hogwarts Express six years ago and watching him summon his own bravery from the unfairly disadvantageous position of a Muggle-born inspired Jeno to find his own courage.
It’s because he wanted to be in a house with Jaemin that his blood now runs scarlet and his heart beats gold. That's totally fucked.
The Sorting has just as much to do the choice made while sitting under the hat as it does the preexisting traits that people carry with them. More often than not, those personality quirks and attitudes match the choice—the individual raised a certain way most often leans into that identity. Motives, hopes, fears, dreams, all of these are formed by society and experience. Nurture begets nature, and those raised a certain way nearly always continue that course.
But not always. Sometimes a person can choose to be something other than what they were raised to be. Something other than what others think they should be.
Sometimes a Hufflepuff can choose to be a Gryffindor.
Hours pass as quickly as the clouds outside as the Hogwarts Express leaves the city, then clears the suburbs. It’s not until they’re well into the countryside that Jeno buys a ton of candy from a passing cart, footing the bill and happy to share because he likes Jaemin—he likes him a lot.
After getting a bit of sugar into him, Jaemin starts talking about himself a bit more, things like helping his mother with her flower shop and volunteering at an animal shelter in his spare time. He’s kind, curious, and oddly formidable for an eleven-year-old. Sure, he’s a little guarded, but that’s perfectly reasonable considering he’s new to moving pictures and munching on chocolate that moves.
Jeno’s mother always boasts about his disarming smile but he can actually see its effect in real-time, here with Jaemin. The kid relaxes but also grows more energetic; smiling more and wider, cackling with laughter at Jeno’s stories and offering some of his own. Honestly, the only thing wrong with Jaemin Na is that he doesn’t like cats and Jeno has no choice but to let him have that single character flaw.
When they are an hour from arrival Jeno recommends Jaemin put on his Hogwarts robes and Jaemin jumps, wide-eyed, as though he had forgotten they have an actual destination. After digging in his bag he takes out the full suite of them, realizing his current clothes are far too Muggle-looking even to be worn under robes so he has to change fully in the lavatory. Jeno waits excitedly when he’s gone, kicking his legs with excess energy.
Finally, after what Jeno considers to be way too long, Jaemin slides open the compartment door looking uncomfortable and self-conscious. His robes are new, properly tailored all the way from his grey sweater to his crisp pants. His wand is sticking out of his pocket. He looks like a wizard.
“I look like a clown.” He says.
“Is this what Muggle clowns look like?”
Jaemin blushes, taking a seat quickly. “Uh, no. But.” He raises his billowy sleeves helplessly, saying nothing. Jeno just laughs and offers him more candy.
The Hogwarts Express arrives when Jeno and Jaemin are fat off Chocolate Frogs, sugar and adrenaline coursing through their veins. Perhaps it’s the beginning of a sugar crash, perhaps it’s that Jaemin let his guard down around Jeno and realizes now it has to go right back up, but suddenly he looks about as lost as Jeno has ever seen him. It's much worse than his trepidation when he was alone on the platform, and Jeno's pretty sure his hands aren't shaking because of the sugar.
They leave the train, the first years queueing together before being slowly led towards the boats that will whisk them across the Great Lake and into Hogwarts. Jaemin hovers to the side of and eventually behind Jeno, eyes bright with alarm as he takes in his new surroundings. At one point, when they’re next in line for their boat, Jaemin actually grabs the sleeve of Jeno’s robe tightly, tugging back slightly.
Jeno looks over at him with a small smile before facing ahead again, entwining his fingers with the ones Jaemin has clinging to his sleeve and pulling both of them into the boat. Jaemin squeezes his hand once, Jeno squeezes back without looking, and eventually Jaemin slips his hand away with a deep, quiet breath.
While Jeno wants to geek out about his surroundings—this is HOGWARTS, this is the beginning of his life—something softer and stronger inside him is only focused on Jaemin, on being brave FOR Jaemin. It’s unfair that he has to face this all alone without any real foreknowledge of what this world really is. It’s unfair that Jaemin only has a short summer of knowledge and Jeno here has a head start of eleven years. It’s unfair that Jaemin begins his life at a severe disadvantage.
Jeno feels a rush to make things right for him, to balance the scales and stay by his side. He's not going to let him deal with this on his own. “It’s okay to be scared.” He says, still without looking at him.
“I know.” Jaemin responds in a tone of voice Jeno has never heard before, something both wistful and annoyed.
It’s enough to draw his gaze towards the boy and what he sees tugs his heart straight up into his throat. Jaemin is looking over the expanse of the lake, his hands tight in the pockets of his robe as he clutches it tighter around himself. The lanterns at the front of each boat reflect spots of warm yellow on the black surface of the lake while a bright moon and huge smattering of stars cast a pale light from above. The moonlight casts a silver glow over Jaemin’s face, just as pretty as the reflections of gold in his eyes.
“I AM scared.” He observes calmly before looking sideways at Jeno with that now-familiar crooked grin. “I’m scared, but that doesn’t mean I’m not strong.”
The statement socks Jeno in the gut with the force of a bludger. It’s simple, so simple. So true. Suddenly Jeno understands he can't be brave for Jaemin—he can only be brave for himself. He once heard that courage is choosing to be brave, so he decides to grab Jaemin’s hand again in the hopes of siphoning some of his lionhearted spirit.
The rest of the journey into the belly of Hogwarts goes by in a quick blur, everything anchored by the heat of Jaemin’s palm. Eventually he pulls his hand away in favor of stuffing it in his robe. Jeno can see the handle of his golden wooded wand (alder wood, maybe red oak? Jeno should have asked on the train but there's time for that later) shifting around, as though he were fiddling with it in his pocket. As though reminding himself that this is real.
They are led to the foot of the stairs where two men stand side-by-side five steps up. One is lithe and handsome, draped in tight-fitting, fashionable robes of black velvet with bronze and creamy-yellow accents. The other is taller, dressed less flashily though no less elegantly in charcoal grey and navy robes with a matching beret. They look intimidating, even modelesque, but as soon as the first years quiet down they smile in unison.
“Welcome!” Says the smaller of the two, his grin warm enough to melt winter. “Welcome to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”
His fellow sighs at this. “You’d think we’d get with the times by now, at LEAST rename ourselves something gender neutral.”
The other’s smile falters slightly but he powers through, “Welcome to Hogwarts School of Magical People Doing Magical Things Without Conforming to Outdated Gender Normativity.”
“Ehh, a bit of a mouthful.” The other comments, shrugging. A few first years giggle at their antics which Jeno realizes now might be the point.
“I am Taeyong Lee, Professor of Potions, Head of Hufflepuff house, and Deputy Headmaster of Hogwarts.” The smaller introduces, lifting his arms welcomingly.
“And I’m Doyoung Kim, Head of the Hospital Wing, and fellow Deputy Headmaster of Hogwarts. A Ravenclaw, if you’re curious..” Follows the taller, bowing neatly to them.
“You’re probably going to pick a favorite between the two of us over your years here with us.” Professor Taeyong continues. “We won’t take it personally.”
Doyoung leans forward, covering his mouth against Taeyong as he conspires with the first years. “Except I WILL take it personally because it’s always him.”
Taeyong rolls his eyes fondly. “Just know we’re both here for all of you, along with the other professors and Heads of houses. Maybe check with us before dropping in on Headmistress McGonagall, though, just to be safe.”
“In a few moments, we will lead you into the Great Hall where a number of ravenous students will be vaguely entertained watching you get sorted into your houses. Fair warning, most are hungrier than they are interested.” Doyoung warns them. “This will be your house for the remainder of your time here at Hogwarts, though, so try to play nice with them.”
“There’s so much more to cover but as he said, there's food that needs eating and believe me when I say no one wants a riot of hungry magical teenagers. So without further ado, off we go!” Taeyong smiles before leading the way up the stairs, Doyoung at his side.
The path to the Great Hall is another blur of excitement that shifts to collective nervousness once they’re ushered in and lined up against one of the walls. The floppy Sorting Hat sits on a nondescript stool, eyeing the first years with a warped grin and a few waggles of the folds that make up its eyebrows. Jaemin grabs at Jeno's wrist tightly, not for attention but for anchoring as he gazes around at the majesty of the clear ceiling above and the roaring fireplaces around them.
Suddenly the Hat begins to sing off-tune but Jeno is more focused on Jaemin than on the words. As his friend listens, he pulls a little closer to Jeno, eyes furrowed as his quick wit attempts to analyze the meaning and implications of the Hat’s song. Jeno contents himself with watching the flickers of understanding and confusion flit across Jaemin’s expressive face, figures he'll be probably be answering some more questions when they're chowing down together at the Gryffindor table.
“Don’t worry,” Jeno mutters to him when the song ends, “The Sorting Hat knows what it's doing.”
Jaemin looks over at him, opening his mouth and then shutting it with a quick shake of his head before letting go of Jeno. The Sorting begins quickly now that the song is over, and the students begin to be called up in alphabetical order. They get to the Ls when Jeno’s sister at the Hufflepuff table catches his attention, giving him an excited little wave and gesturing at Jaemin curiously, as though surprised he’s already made a friend. Jeno smiles and throws an arm around Jaemin’s shoulders, tugging him closer to show him off to his sister.
Jaemin looks at him oddly but doesn’t push him away.
The Sorting Hat sends a young girl off to Ravenclaw before calling, “JENO LEE.”
Jeno gives Jaemin’s shoulders one last squeeze, muttering “I’ll meet you in Gryffindor,” before making his way to the hat.
He takes his seat and plops the hat on his head, smiling as it falls over his eyes.
‘Another Lee, I see…’ the Hat begins, chuckling. ‘And one with all the same ingredients that made up the rest of the family. Hardworking, open-minded, helpful, strong.’
Jeno doesn’t know whether or not he should be mentally conversing with it when it continues.
‘A Healer, I see. Decided that pretty early, huh. I applaud your determination. You have good discipline. You go out of your way to help people, to be strong when they cannot. Easily frightened but not a true coward.’
Jeno remembers what Jaemin said and repeats it in his head. ‘I’m scared, but that doesn’t mean I’m not strong.’
‘Indeed. You made a choice before you sat on my stool and I sat on your head. And unlike most, I think you made the right one. Could have been a Hufflepuff, but in no uncertain terms I declare you:’ “GRYFFINDOR!”
Jeno did well in his O.W.L.s but he will easily admit that Herbology was a near miss. Professor Jungwoo only accepts those who score an Exceeds Expectations into his sixth and seventh year classes and, full transparency, Jeno doesn't have the greenest thumb. He’s actually pretty sure the only reason he scored that E is because of a few lucky guesses, but perhaps that in of itself could classify as a special skill.
“Wow, Jaemin. Wo~ow. This is professorial-level nurturing.” Jungwoo is practically glowing, poking around a flourishing, chatty pot of Magi avis paradisum that of fucking course belongs to Jaemin Na, plant prodigy. “Thirty points to Slytherin.”
It’s the penultimate checkpoint of their first semester project: growing any flauna (a flora-fauna hybrid) from bulb to adolescence. No one in the small class is surprised Jaemin showed them all up. Jeno is better in a lot of subjects than Jaemin but the sheer difference of skill in this particular arena is staggering.
Jaemin isn't just good, he's the Herbology student of the decade and rivals their own professor in terms of latent skill. Jeno looks to his own sad little Amaryllis leo barely sneaking out of its half-buried bulb, the telltale furry petals that give it its name only slightly poking out beneath dull bronze sepals. It’s not technically a failure, just a bad showing.
He needs to pass but more importantly, he wants to do well in this class. Doyoung, the shrewd Ravenclaw Head of the Hospital Wing (and Jeno’s professional mentor) warned him not to underestimate the significance of Herbology within the Healing Arts. True, the bulk of the skillset is Charms and Potions and while Charms requires knowledge of basic Magical Theory, the key to practical Potions is understanding the nature of the ingredients involved, many of which come from the Herbology and Magical Creatures disciplines. Magical Creatures has always been a breeze for Jeno but Herbology is thus far proving to be quite the pitfall.
Perhaps that pitfall is just sharing the class with his nemesis.
“Jeno. Jeno Lee.” Jungwoo snaps in his face, alerting him to the fact that Jeno dozed off into his musings. Behind the Professor, Jaemin snorts and shakes his head. He has a little smudge of soil on his cheekbone and it looks cute as all hell. What an asshole.
Jeno rubs the back of his head sheepishly, shooting Jungwoo a bright grin. “Sorry Professor, just admiring Na’s project.” He’s technically not even lying, how fucked is that. “I mean how often do you get to see plants talk to each other?”
Jaemin’s flourishing Magi avis paradisum is, in fact, talking to each other. To itself? The entire pot has 5 fully autonomous, singing flowers that resemble colorful crane heads, all grown from the same initial bulb. Two of them seem to be deep in conversation while the other three lean slightly away as though judging the louder duo. Okay, yeah, Herbology is kind of cool. Jaemin didn’t just grow this creature; because of flauna’s partial animal genes, he kind of birthed it. Like a mammal finding a Runespoor egg and giving it enough warmth to hatch.
“At least he knows enough to see it’s worthy of admiration.” Jaemin sighs, shrugging. “Want me to take that Amarylleo off your hands, Lee? Give it an actual shot at a life well lived?”
Mean. Mean and rude. Jeno's Hufflepuff heritage starts spitting to life inside him, as it always does around bad manners. He may be the first Gryffindor his pureblood Hufflepuff family has ever produced but Jeno will always give off the aura of a Puff. Anyone who knows him well enough understands and recognizes the core of fire that threw him in with the Gryffs in the first place, but a Lee is still a Lee. He opens his mouth to shoot something—anything—back at Jaemin but Jungwoo puts a placating hand on Jeno’s shoulder, successfully stifling what was probably going to be a poor comeback.
“Save your venom, Jaemin.” The Slytherin Herbology Professor throws out, defending the horticulturally lackluster Gryffindor. Jeno briefly wonders if this is opposite day before Jungwoo turns, smiles prettily at his favorite student, and shatters that notion entirely. “No one can be as good as you.”
“True that.” Jaemin finishes, rolling up his sleeves and spinning on his heel to address others in the class. “Soo~oo? Anyone other than Lee totally failing?”
“Don't listen to him, you’re not failing.” Jungwoo mutters quietly to Jeno, leaning in to check out his slow-blooming Amarylleo while his star pupil actually starts to give sincere advice and assistance to the rest of the Hufflepuff-dominated class. Jaemin's natural state seems to be helpful and buoyant like this, especially when he's in a domain he excels in. Jeno can't argue that he knows how to shine, how to be genuinely captivating and considerate.
Just to everyone but him.
After a few low hums and a little shimmy of consideration, Jungwoo continues his appraisal of Jeno’s project unnoticed by the rest of the class. “Honestly? You picked a late-blooming bulb from the start but you wouldn’t have known that. Fecundity indicators aren’t introduced until my N.E.W.T. course and not even Mr. Na reads that far ahead.”
Jeno’s lips lift with his spirits, emboldened by the Slytherin teacher throwing a bit of shade on Jaemin. Is that rude? Probably. Whatever. Jaemin deserves it.
"Though I bet he'd just... understand it, huh." Jungwoo ends up complimenting Jaemin and Jeno has a strong urge to sigh dramatically.
With a furrowed brow Jungwoo slips his wand out of his sleeve and points it as the still-closed bloom of his Amaryllis leo, whistling lightly as he traces small curlicues in the air. The Amarylleo squeezes its sepals like a tightening fist before unfurling the tiniest bit more than before. “There we go, little one. Find your heart.”
Blatant favoritism aside, Jeno wishes all Slytherins were like Jungwoo—sympathetic, equitable, silver-tongued but less irascible than most that grow up in his house. He’s the brand of Slytherin that picks favorites rather than enemies, pedestals some without feeling the need to bring others to their knees. It's refreshing.
“What did I do wrong?” Jeno asks, genuinely wondering if he can make it right for his Amaryllis leo.
Jungwoo repeats his magical whistle-coaxing technique before humming thoughtfully. “Well, at first I thought you actually did something to piss him off, but now…?”
What? “Huh?” Jeno’s jaw drops and he screws up his brow. What?
The Professor turns to him, tilting his head in true confusion. “Jaemin…? You’re the only person in this school he’s actually mean to.”
“I… uh… no, I meant…” Wow. Okay. “I meant what did I do wrong with the plant.”
“Oh!” Jungwoo brightens, packing whatever interpersonal advice he felt like dishing back behind his mask of pretty inscrutability. “Not enough sun, Jeno. Not nearly enough sun. Also…” He pokes at the unsteady stem. “You gave it one too many fertilizer dips. That or too strong a mixture. Have you not been paying attention or is it just not clicking with you?”
Okay, that last sentence seems directed at both his attention in class and the fact that Jaemin is an actual bully to him. He wants to trust Jungwoo—he might be a newly minted professor, only five years older than Jeno, but he’s very supportive despite being a Slytherin. “No offense Professor, but your house just tends to hate mine.”
Jungwoo laughs breezily, shaking his head. “It’s not that simple, Jeno.”
Uh? Jeno’s pretty sure it is. He looks back at Jaemin leading his own mini-lecture on soil aeration before shaking his head and gingerly petting his awakening Amarylleo. “What, did you pick on someone in your time? I find that hard to believe.”
“See, that’s what I take offense to, you not thinking I had my own mean streak.” Jungwoo laughs to himself, leaning his long body against one of their laboratory counters. “Everyone goes through one, it just manifests in different ways. Unfortunately the Slytherin house atmosphere breeds a culture that is very conducive to acting on whatever teenage hormonal nonsense brews in your heart. For better or worse.”
Jeno is a bit wary that Jungwoo is revealing so much but nothing he’s said sounds incorrect. “You sure you’re allowed to be telling me this?”
Jungwoo melodramatically looks over his shoulder at the preoccupied students, then right and left for good measure. Finally he hunches over, holding a long finger to his lips with a sly, endearing smile. “We Professors can do whatever we want. Just don’t tell Jaemin, he’d get jealous that I’m talking to you.”
This drags a bark of a laugh from Jeno before he realizes what Jungwoo actually said. Jealous of Jungwoo, not of Jeno. “Wait…”
Jungwoo doesn’t elaborate, instead he goes once more through the same spellwork that slowly brings his Amarylleo out of its slumber. It begins to peek its head out from the sepals, its fur shining a dull gold in the diffused light of the greenhouse. After Jungwoo teaches Jeno the same technique he tries it himself and his heart actually soars when the flauna reveals itself enough for him to get a tiny look at its sleepy face.
“You asked me if I bullied anyone when I was a student here.” Jungwoo picks up the conversation after Jeno coaxes his flauna a bit more. “Technically yes. I was a stupid hormonal boy, doing stupid things for someone’s attention even if it was negative in nature.”
“What, you liked this girl? Guy? Sorry, not trying to pry, uh…” Jeno trips and falls face-first into a discussion about his Professor’s sexuality. Nice.
“Guy. Taeil Moon.” Jungwoo lets out a huge nostalgic sigh, smiling both sadly and fondly. “Yes, I really did like him. A lot. He was… inattentive to my affections and I kind of... lost it. Have you ever heard the term ‘pulling pigtails’? I believe it’s American in origin.”
Jeno shakes his head but gets a sense of meaning based on context.
“I suppose here we could call it ‘pulling plaits’ but it refers to the behavior of children who bully or harass the object of their secret affection; like a stupid boy pulling on the hair of the girl he likes because he doesn’t know how else to get her attention.” Jungwoo laughs, clearly reminiscing his own teenage years though technically they aren’t that far behind him. “I resorted to pulling his pigtails.”
“Ah. Okay, so. What? So Jaemin…?” He can’t even say the words, suddenly blushing all the way to his ears. No way. Isn’t Jaemin straight? Jeno doesn't actually know, the Slytherin has always been something of a school mystery when it comes to his sexual inclinations, and if he does date it’s always on the down-low. Jeno’s dated girls but he’s definitely also into guys and—nope, Jeno has to stop right here because this mental track is leading straight the fuck to Jaemin's pretty lips.
Jungwoo looks over at Jaemin and tilts his head in consideration. “Dear me, I’ve already said too much. I’m kind of a mentor of his, I can’t just be reading you his diary…”
'No diary reading' Jungwoo says, while totally doing exactly that. Jeno keeps his mouth shut and beats back a blush, sure Jungwoo won’t be able to help himself from continuing. After a brief pause and a fond smile at Jaemin, Jungwoo proves him right.
“Jaemin isn’t exactly pulling your pigtails, Jeno. Not in the same way.”
Why does Jeno’s heart actually fall as he says this? It’s as if he wanted Jaemin’s, what did Jungwoo call it, ‘secret affection’. Why is it taking him every fiber of self-restraint not to look over at Jaemin right now? He should have never gotten Jungwoo to dish. Not enough—he should have never taken Herbology in the first place, ever.
“No, what Jaemin’s doing is more… hm. It’s like he’s protecting your pigtails. You follow?”
No, he does not follow. None of this follows. Jeno shouldn’t have pulled at this thread because what’s unraveling is one long, looping, red string of fucking fate between him and his bully. His first friend. His nemesis. Jaemin fucking Na.
“You’re saying he shits on me at every given opportunity because he’s protecting me?”
“Language, Lee. One point from Gryffindor.” Jungwoo smiles and suddenly Jeno remembers he’s a professor as well as a gossip. “It’s more complicated than that. You really don’t know anything about Slytherin politics, huh.”
Clearly not. Then again, Renjun’s mutterings regarding Jaemin’s behavior that one time in the Library suddenly come to mind: “Try using your eyes. Or your brain. Anything.” and, “Trust me, Lee, Jaemin did you a favor today.”
If he’s being perfectly honest Yeri would have had his ass and it would have been Hospital Wing-worthy regardless of Mark’s intervention. At the very least, detentions for days on days. Jaemin’s little nose snap was tame in comparison.
Jeno recalls horror stories of Slytherin preemptive harassment and bloody retribution, remembers last year a Slytherin bully squad knocked a Ravenclaw off the 9th floor of the moving staircase. They aimed their throw so the hapless student hit another set of stairs instead of fall all the way to the ground floor, which is protected by a spell to stop all falling material (humans included) before impact. The Slytherin’s knew the staircases themselves lack that charm and the poor girl broke half of her bones and ruptured enough organs that she would have died within minutes had the staircase she landed not been heading towards the Hospital Wing in the first place.
Doyoung called Jeno in for her preliminary treatment, both because he needed a hand and as a lesson in when you absolutely have to ship somebody off to St. Mungo’s Hospital. He remembers her looking inhuman, mangled, a caricature of what a body should be. Jeno’s resolve to become a Healer strengthened that day.
That and other stories like it are another reason why Jeno puts up with Jaemin’s largely verbal abuse. Even the bloody nose in the library seemed more like an accident and certainly less than what might have occurred. Slytherins bully inimically but Jaemin is just… mean. To Jeno. Only.
But protecting him? That’s taking it too far. Right? “Well, it’s not like they just hand out Slytherin political pamphlets to Gryffindors…”
“A shame, really. We’d all get along better if we understood each other a bit more.” Jungwoo muses. “Oop! I think your Amaryllis leo is pretty happy to see you, Jeno.”
Under his and Jungwoo’s coaxing, his Amarylleo is indeed awake, its whole face displayed as it shakes the sleep out of its mane and tilts its head at Jeno. His affection for it momentarily stifles the impact of the bomb his Professor just dropped on him and he goes to pet it lightly. “Oh, wow. Look at you. Hello there!”
“The little thing found its heart after all.” Jungwoo beams and once again Jeno doesn’t know if he’s talking about the plant. “Hold out a finger, Jeno.”
Jeno does, pointing at Jungwoo, who laughs and pushes his finger to the lion plant. “Not to me. Hold it to its mouth.”
Jeno brings his pointer finger to the Amarylleo’s mouth, eyes wide as it sniffs and eventually nuzzles the finger. Without warning from the flauna or the Professor, it bites the finger, sending thin, razor thorns straight into his flesh.
Jeno cries out lightly but doesn’t rip his hand out. “A little warning, Professor?”
“Hey now, I’m still a Slytherin.” Jungwoo says with a pretty shrug. “Got to get the better of you Gryffs somehow. Ideally with as little pain as possible.”
When the (his, it really feels like his now) Amarylleo stops biting him, Jeno brings his finger in front of his face, marveling in the two tiny puncture wounds already healing before his eyes. Barely any blood was drawn and the pain is nothing compared to the camaraderie he now feels for his flauna.
He feels a sudden scorch on the back of his neck—not magical in origin, no actual fire—and turns his head the slightest bit to see Jaemin's eyes on him, flicking from Jeno’s face to the blooming Amarylleo and back again. He narrows his eyes, still painfully handsome through his anger, so Jeno shoots him his loveliest close-eyed grin in return.
“Alright, the blood is shed and consumed.” Jungwoo calls with a few claps of celebration, looking over at Jaemin as well before turning back to Jeno’s project. “It’ll never let anyone else care for it now—one of the perks of cultivating an Amarylleo from its bulbous state. They’re intensely loyal when they come around.”
Why, oh why, does it seem like Jungwoo is using the Amarylleo is some strange metaphor for Jaemin Na? Or maybe their own strained relationship as a whole? Not enough sun, too much fertilizer—that’s a bit of a stretch. Jeno is overthinking the metaphor but he does appreciate the whole pulling pigtails conversation for what it was.
Wait, no, ‘appreciate’ isn’t the word. That would mean he appreciates the notion of him and Jaemin… not hating each other. Which Jeno already knows they do. Not. They don’t hate each other. But they don’t like each other. No pigtails here, no sir.
“I think I’m going to be sick.” Jeno says, suddenly slammed with too many implications to wrap his head around.
“Good thing class ends in ten.” Jungwoo smiles, patting Jeno on the back kindly. “Go on, break early. Head to the Hospital Wing if you’re actually feeling woozy. Something tells me you just need to air some thoughts with your beloved mentor. Good thing it’s the same destination.”
Jeno nods appreciatively, already stuffing his things into his bag and slinging it over his shoulder.
“Leave your flauna here, it still needs a bit of special attention in this environment before you can safely take it to Gryffindor tower. Also fifteen points to Gryffindor for blooming your Amarylleo. And one more point for… you know… stuff."
There’s a short silence as Jeno rips the hat off his head. Once his eyes adjust to the sudden light, he searches for Jaemin who shoots him bright eyes and a quick thumbs up. The crowd mutters to itself as Jeno finds his way to the Gryffindor table and it's not until he sits down that one of his new housemates informs him he spent more than five minutes under the hat without knowing it, a rare phenomenon known as a Hatstall. Funny, it felt like moments to Jeno.
Eventually they reach the Ns and Jaemin is at the head of the pack. He walks quickly but carefully to the stool and puts it on his head with more caution than Jeno had.
Also unlike Jeno, Jaemin’s own Sorting takes less than a minute.
When he pulls the hat off his head, Jaemin is unrecognizable.
“Uh oh… I know that look...” Doyoung teases Jeno as soon as he arrives in the Hospital Wing.
There’s a rolling table with a number of small glass vials near Doyoung’s office, ready for bottling. On the table is also a cauldron stand and burner but no bubbling brew to speak of yet. Doyoung’s office door is wide open and the Ravenclaw Healer/Deputy Headmaster has his head buried in what looks like requisition papers but can apparently still see Jeno’s expression despite not actually looking at him.
“What look?” Jeno grumbles with dead inflection, tossing his bag on a vacant hospital bed and walking over to inspect the vials on the table. They look about the right size for single shots of Pepperup Potion, which makes sense since cold season is just around the corner.
“Oh, you know.” Doyoung stretches in his chair before standing up and walking out of his office only to lean languidly against the doorframe, readjusting his round glasses. “The Jaemin Face.”
Throwing a huge sigh, Jeno rounds on Doyoung. “What, did Professor Jungwoo send you an owl or something?”
Doyoung shakes his head, shooting him a sad, knowing look. “No, I just know you, Jeno. You two at it again, huh?”
“Shut up. There’s no ‘you two’. There’s no ‘it’. And if there is an ‘it’, that snake starts it, continues it, and finishes it.” Jeno bites, feeling far too irritable to deal with Doyoung or pigtails or pulling or Jaemin fucking Na.
“Come now, you know that’s not going to work on me.” Doyoung pushes off the door frame and walks over to the table, rearranging the standing vials slightly. “I saw how close you two were at the Sorting Ceremony. I saw the look in your eyes when he was sorted into Slytherin.”
Jeno grumbles to himself for a moment, still not meeting Doyoung’s eyes. “Yeah, well. Then you saw the look in his eyes too.”
“Yeah. Steeled, lucid, guarded. A little watery.” His mentor leaves the table to tidy up some of the bedding nearby. “Little hands clasped into shaking fists. You wonder why that might have been?”
Yeah, Jeno wonders. Sometimes when he’s going over his day, going over his life, he wonders what the fuck happened between them and why it had to. Why Jaemin didn’t even look at Jeno after being sorted, why he didn’t lobby himself into Gryffindor as Jeno had. “Snakes gotta snake.”
Jeno actually looks at Doyoung and is shocked to find him a little thrown. Not confused—Doyoung is rarely confused—but truly surprised by Jeno’s answer. “Uh, well... yes. You’re exactly right.”
“Explain.” He growls before catching himself and tacking on, “please.”
“There’s the polite young man I love.” Doyoung smiles, tossing the pillow he's been fluffing at Jeno who catches it easily. “You thought he would be in Gryffindor—accurately, mind you, Jaemin Na is a near perfect example of a Slytherdor if I’ve ever seen one before. Whether you realize this or not, you were his first true, trusted introduction to the magical world. Good intentions aside, you led him to believe that he would be a Gryffindor. He trusted that. Trusted you.”
“I was eleven, I wasn’t trying to—” Jeno starts but Doyoung interrupts with a raised hand.
“Do you ever think his tension and avoidance after being sorted away from you is because he thought he let you down? That he just lost the one and only connection he had in this wackadoodle world?” Doyoung presses. “He is truly a Slytherin, you must know and believe that by now. Have you ever met a Slytherin who wears his emotions on his sleeve, particularly the painful ones?”
“No, no, and no.” Jeno begrudgingly admits, throwing the pillow back at Doyoung who barely catches it.
“You ever think maybe he couldn’t let himself dwell on what might have been, especially as a Muggle-born? A Muggle-born Slytherin. Can you even imagine what that must have been like for him?”
Jeno turns away and goes to refold blankets on the other side of the hall. “So that’s why he’s an asshole to me?”
“Five points from Gryffindor.” Doyoung shoots immediately, never ever going to let him get away with anything close to a swear in his presence.
“Jungwoo only took one away.” Jeno mutters stubbornly.
Doyoung laughs. “Well maybe you should be his apprentice, then. You and Jaemin would get to work together elbow to elbow, repotting fluxweed and tentacula sprouts, flicking soil at each other. Ooh, maybe you'll brush hands while reaching for the same tool. Sounds better than your gig here.”
“Gross. You're not being serious, are you?"
Doyoung beams. "Good heavens, no. I need you as my assistant, no one else has ever put up with me for so long.”
Inaccurate, technically. Jeno knows for a fact that Doyoung and Taeyong have quietly been married for almost a decade. He appreciates the thought though. “You didn’t answer the question.”
“Oh yeah, why is he being an a-hole to you. A mild a-hole, mind you.” Doyoung puts a palm on his hip, pillow in his other hand. “You really don’t know anything about Slytherin politics, huh.”
Jeno turns to him, actually stomping his foot on the floor like a child. “You are the second know-it-all to say those words to me. Verbatim. Second in thirty minutes. WHAT are Slytherin politics?”
Doyoung waits for Jeno to recover from his fit before explaining. “It's bully or be bullied, basically. A Muggle-born is the natural bottom of the Slytherin pecking order. They’re easy pickings for upperclassmen and even their juniors feel compelled to go after them. They are the b-words of Slytherin house."
“So Na’s had a hard time. What does that have to do with me?” Jeno asks, annoyed but cautious because Doyoung has a tendency to rain truth like a hailstorm—sudden and painful.
“Your situation is interestingly similar to his, in a weird way…” muses Doyoung, as though he was only coming to truly understand it at this very moment. “You know how Slytherins never go for Hufflepuffs?”
“Yeah, because they’re too easy of targets.”
Doyoung snorts. “Yes and no. There’s a bit about opposites and mutual respect, but I suppose they really do make easy targets, huh. Anyway, you give off Hufflepuff vibes, Jeno. Serious Hufflepuff vibes. Sure, the staff already know of your illustrious family so we saw that coming but even the students can tell. It's the way you smile, the way you act, even the subjects you excel in.”
“But... I AM a Gryffindor...” Jeno talks it out before freezing in place. “Oh. OH. Based on that reasoning I’m the only 'Hufflepuff' they can pick on.”
“Messed up logic, but definitely real to them.” Doyoung agrees. “You’ve told me how protective Mark is over you and I think that’s because he sees that. Or senses it. Either way, you’re snake bait.”
“I do not like the sound of that.”
“And neither does Jaemin.” Doyoung fakes hurling the pillow at Jeno who falls for it, jerking forward to catch something that wasn’t thrown. “Jaemin Na might be a Muggle-born but he’s been climbing the Slytherin social ladder with the right people. Hell, I think they might be trying to destroy that ladder, him and his friends. But even with all his well-earned clout Jaemin can’t just say, ‘hey, maybe don’t pick on Jeno Lee?’ Not yet anyway.”
“He’s protecting my pigtails.” Jeno mutters quietly.
“What? What is that. What are pigtails.”
“Plaits. Or bunches. Whatever.” Jeno informs, still focused on what Jungwoo had said. How he said it. Lowkey protecting him from Yeri. Bullying him so he won’t be bullied worse, harder, more painfully by others. Picking on him because he’s Gryffindor’s easiest target. It’s absolutely fucking idiotic but it makes sense. Twisted, serpentine sense.
A memory hits him like bludger: little Jaemin Na two seconds away from picking a fight with three Slytherin third years on the Hogwarts Express, wanting to strike back, to avenge both himself and Jeno. Avenge, protect, show some eleven-year-old muscle to let others know he wasn't going to be easy pickings. Little Jaemin Na, protecting Jeno's pigtails from the start.
“You have to give me a little more than that, Jeno.” Doyoung pleads, still confused at 'pigtails'.
Jeno puts his head in his hands, grabbing his bangs tightly. “He’s… protecting me. He’s actually protecting me. And himself. He’s been protecting both of us…”
Doyoung seems to get the point from context. “Yeah, protecting you from worse treatment than he dishes out and protecting himself by appearing like a true Slytherin bully so they won’t pick on him in-house.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Jeno deadpans, lifting his head again and running a hand through his hair forcefully. He gets it. But it’s still the stupidest thing he’s ever heard. Slytherin house is a mess.
Doyoung laughs and hurls the pillow at him again but in his attempt to throw with more force the illustrious Head of the Hospital Wing and Co-Deputy of Hogwarts accidentally tosses the fluffy projectile right into his table of glass vials, knocking it over and shattering every single one.
“Wooooow.” Comes a low, rough voice from the entrance to the Wing.
They both turn in comical unison to see Co-Deputy Taeyong standing just inside the double doors, holding a steaming, medium-sized copper cauldron by its handle with a cutely tilted head. He’s clearly here to deliver the Pepperup Potion to the Wing for bottling, taking advantage of the errand to visit his husband.
“He did it.” Doyoung points at Jeno whose jaw drops at the level of immaturity.
“I saw it happen.” Taeyong raises his eyebrows incredulously, walking towards the mess. “With my eyes. You always did have a terrible throwing arm, Doie.”
“Yeah, well, not all of us played Chaser in school. Get over yourself.” Doyoung is blushing now, fumbling for his wand. “Let me just repair—”
Jeno jumps in at this. “I’m on it, sir.” He waves his wand widely over the mess, muttering “Vitrum Reparo.”
It takes a bit longer for the pieces to mend themselves than it would have if a powerful wizard like Doyoung or Taeyong did the spellwork but eventually all of the vials repair themselves and Jeno flips the table back up and directs the glass back where it was before. He looks to Doyoung for approval and smiles brightly when his mentor shoots him a wide grin and a double thumbs-up.
“You have yourself a nice little apprentice here in Mr. Lee…” Taeyong turns to Jeno with that warm smile he recognizes from his very first day. “If you ever want to ditch this nightmare and help me down in the dungeons, I’d happily accept you.”
“You are married to this nightmare. Also word to the wise, if you’re trying to make your classroom even vaguely appealing, try not saying ‘down in the dungeons’.” Doyoung flutters his eyes at Taeyong, who places the Pepperup cauldron on its stand before dipping a finger in and flicking some of the potion at his husband.
Doyoung flinches, bringing a beautiful smile to Taeyong's face. They look at each other for a long, communicative moment and Jeno wonders if being a third-wheel can actually be fatal.
"A-anyway he only listens to me, so." Doyoung breaks their connection for a moment, finally turning to Jeno. "Like this: get your butt out of here, Mr. Lee.”
“I… what? I thought I was—”
“You get a free night. Taeyong and I can handle bottling. Be gone with you.” Doyoung shoos him away, ears still burning about the pillow fiasco and also that Taeyong was there to witness it. “New Hospital Wing rule, no pillow fights. I’ll make a sign.”
“Okay, sir. No more pillow fights.” Jeno laughs as he retrieves his bag, happy for a free evening. When he leaves the Wing he takes one look back to see the Deputy Headmasters much too close to be professionally decent. Ah, yeah, that's why Jeno got punted from the premises. The most powerful couple in the United Kingdom wants to make out a bit. Cute.
It’s heart-lifting to see two people so outwardly different be so important to each other. They’re both competent, powerful, and knowledgeable, and by all rights they don’t need each other. That’s how Jeno recognizes that they really, really do.
It takes about a week for Jeno to actually SEE Jaemin after the soul-crushing Sorting, something more than a passing glance at his back as he eats (alone) at the Slytherin table or spotting him way down the hall as he walks (always alone) hurriedly to his next class. Jeno finally sees his face in an early morning History of Magic class, as Jaemin bursts through the door ten minutes late, panting and apologizing. His robes are heavy, wet and as the entire first year class looks at him, a bit of watered-down mud drips from the hems of his sleeves and cloak onto the stone floor.
Professor Kun barely notices his rather dramatic and pitiful entrance, but every single student obviously does. Jaemin avoids their gazes but Jeno can see the deep bags and sallow skin of sleep deprivation, which doesn't actually make sense because it's only a week in, how can Jaemin be so tired? Everything is still fresh and shiny and novel, so why does Jaemin already look like he aged five years?
There's an empty spot in front of him and Jeno ALMOST calls him over to it, but a sudden tension in the room stays his hand. He doesn't know names yet, but at least two of the other Slytherins are eyeing Jaemin predatorily, both haughtiness and cruelty in their eyes. The other two snakes in class aren't bothered, the tan-skinned boy already half-asleep and the small, elven one doodling aimlessly in his notes.
"Bloody Slytherins..." Scoffs Mark Lee, Jeno's Gryffindor peer and friend since the Welcoming Feast.
Yeah sure, all Slytherins are nuts, but not Jaemin...? Jaemin is Jaemin.
"Find a seat, Na." Professor Kun smiles scarily, apparently deciding that Jaemin was taking far too much time to do so.
Jeno's eyes follow Jaemin as he bites his lip and shuffles to the empty seat in front of him, pulling his sopping robes tight around his body as though to present less of a target. When he finally takes the seat, Jeno can better see the mud-drenched robes.
The seat Jaemin took happens to be next to the Slytherin elf, who looks him up and down with an unreadable expression before pulling out his wand and waving it over Jaemin's robes, employing a drying charm two years ahead of their current level.
"What happened?" The elf asks quietly once Jaemin is no longer dripping, almost bored, turning back to his doodles.
"Fell in the lake." Jaemin mutters.
"Sure you did."
His robes are dry now, but they're still covered in mud.
A week later Jeno finds himself in the Library, having spent the last forty minutes looking for a particular tome on Muggle cures for magical diseases that he finally has tucked in his bag. It’s late on a Saturday, about a week before students really start to feel the looming terror of semester final exams so the Library is actually quite empty at this time. Not that Jeno ever needed it to be empty—he knows a perfect spot that was quite literally designed to never be discovered by the student body. Doyoung gave him the instructions to find it when he first became his mentor in his fourth year as a reward for sticking with him for longer than one semester and he’s quite fond of it.
The instructions are as follows:
Walk up the stairs to the northwest corner of fourth level of the Library (unofficially known as the Muggle Corner) where there will be small mahogany shelf tucked nearly out of sight with a faded, peeling label reading: ‘Books About Muggle Things That Have Been Written By Confused Magical People Seeing Them For The First Time’. Pull back (do not remove, very important note) the book Egad, Guns are Bad! by Thackerry Ponderrub and a rickety step ladder unrolls from the top of the shelf. Climb up, over, and down on a similar ladder that takes you down two whole levels of the Library. This treacherous climb leads down into what is known only to the Hogwarts professors (rather cutely) as the Book Nook.
Plush olive green carpeting spans the floor except for the charcoal grey slate stones arranged with artful naturalness around a cozy fireplace. The walls are just bookshelves that house a random hodge-podge of subjects in no order—the myriad books restock themselves with new options at dawn each day. The only wall space not being used to house books houses a nonmoving oil painting of the entire galaxy, a strangely scientific (read: Muggle) display for a magical castle such as Hogwarts. Three nondescript black leather sofa chairs and matching ottomans surround the fireplace, remarkable for the curious fact that when you sit in one it takes on the form of the most comfortable chair in the sitter’s memory or imagination.
There are two tables in the cozy area, each comfortably seating four people while providing enough space to spread out their work and reading materials. There’s a smattering of mismatched lamps, with enough light to hit all corners of the room but not enough to make it uncomfortably bright in any spot. The entire ceiling is the twinkling night sky against a navy backdrop, also not bright enough to easily distract but mesmerizing enough to watch instead of read if the mood strikes.
It’s a fantastic place to study and most importantly Jeno has never actually seen anyone else here, student or faculty.
And yet. There sits Jaemin Na. Late on a random Saturday night. In Jeno’s fucking nook.
He’s just sitting there, studying, striking as a black-haired Veela and equally as dangerous. What’s more, he looks fitting in this atmosphere, handsome and competent in his rare, immense focus. It hits Jeno that he’s never actually seen Jaemin study—something more than idly perusing a textbook or doodling on scraps of parchment.
It’s obvious now that he’s faced with the evidence. How could Jaemin get the grades he does without studying? Honestly, Jeno just allowed himself to believe he cheated through most of it despite having seen the quality of Jaemin’s spellcraft in every single class they’ve ever shared.
He doesn’t know this person at all, does he? The only comfort that comes with this realization is knowing that Jaemin doesn’t know him either. They never really did.
But they are connected. Even now.
If Jaemin heard Jeno stumbling down the ladder he makes no show of it, still sitting at the table in the back corner nuzzled between two small stacks of books. There are parchments, charts, and uncurled scrolls strewed about, their corners held down by other books, inkwells and in one curious situation what looks like Jaemin’s left shoe.
Jeno seems to have stumbled onto a serious study session and in any other situation he would probably just leave as unobtrusively as possible but finds his feet oddly planted. His conversations with Jungwoo and Doyoung come screaming to the forefront of his mind. He is a Gryffindor, Jeno reminds himself. Regardless of how he came to make that choice, the Sorting Hat accepted it. Jeno is a competent, capable wizard who is pretty sure he can confront his bully. Scratch that, he's very sure. He has to, now that he has stumbled his way into the ideal situation to take him on. Courage is choosing to be brave so Jeno clears his throat once.
It doesn’t take.
Jaemin is still completely absorbed in whatever he’s working on, making no note of what Jeno dubbed as a valiant effort to get his attention. But now that Jeno is committed to his goal his confidence comes in spades as he walks strongly over to the other side of Jaemin’s table and slams both hands flat on the lacquered wood.
Jaemin startles violently, flailing and knocking one of his book piles to the carpet below. His eyes widen and his hand flys to rest on his heart as looks up at the culprit. “Bloody FUCK. What the hell!? Fuck you, Lee!”
“Fuck you right back, Na.” Jeno smiles, shooting him a winning grin.
Jaemin glares. “What… how are you here?”
Jeno still has the edge here and takes initiative before Jaemin can get his bearings and take control of the conversation. Because oh, this will be a conversation. A confrontation, in fact. Jeno plops his book bag—one measly book compared to Jaemin’s Great Wall of Literature, but whatever—on the table loud enough to make Jaemin flinch again. Soon they’re sitting across from each other and Jeno leans a bit closer.
“Doyoung told me about the Book Nook. I’d ask how you know about this place but I don’t actually care.” A lie, he’s tremendously interested but he’ll just have to absorb that hit.
Jaemin mouths the words Book Nook curiously and now Jeno is doubly intrigued at how he found it but shakes his head of his interest. He slaps his palms on the table again, hands spaced widely as he looks Jaemin dead in the eyes.
“Why do you pick on me?”
Jaemin blinks rapidly for a few moments as though processing this wholeheartedly unexpected question. He gathers himself quicker than Jeno expects though, flicking a bit of his dark, side-parted hair off his face to reveal one effortlessly raised eyebrow. “You make it very easy.”
An unexpected counter to an unexpected attack, and no, Jeno is not just talking about those eyebrows. He’s still got this. “Oh yeah, I know. I’m snake bait.”
Jaemin has clearly never heard the concept phrased quite like that before but he seems to get the meaning and leans back into his plush chair, finally setting his quill down and crossing his arms over his chest. “So you’re aware.”
“Yeah, I’m aware.” Recently, sure, but aware nonetheless. The table between them is a bit wide but it’s physically the closest the two of them have been in half a decade. “I’m juicy, wiggling snake bait. So why don’t other Slytherins pick on me?”
“Because I do.” Jaemin says obviously, rolling his eyes before catching what he just revealed and narrowing his brows. He flicks his hair to partly cover his eyes again, clearly preparing for a counterattack.
It doesn't take long. “I didn’t know you wore glasses.”
Counterattack successful. If this were Magical Chess Jeno just saw one of his white knights get clobbered by the black queen. He’s completely thrown by Jaemin’s casual observation despite technically still having the upper hand in this conversation.
Jeno’s fingers fly to this round, black browline-framed glasses, suddenly self-conscious. “I, uh… do. Sometimes. When I study.”
Jaemin nods, propping his elbow on his chair arm and resting his sharp chin in his palm. “You know there are simple spells to fix eyesight, right? Even simpler healing procedures.”
“Of course I do…” Jeno shoots back, crossing his arms over his chest and retreating the slightest bit in his chair.
“Right, you would know that, you’re on the Healer track. Apprenticing with Doyoung, right?” Jaemin goes to confirm though Jeno senses he already knows the answer. He would only tack that ‘right?’ on the end if he wants to continue talking, otherwise why would they have gotten this far in the conversation? Fuck, did Jaemin just psyche him out and take control of the situation exactly like Jeno thought he might?
“Yeah.” Jeno admits, lengthening his posture in an attempt to sneak a glance at whatever Jaemin is working on but can't discern much. “And you? Jungwoo mentioned he was your mentor.”
“And I, what?” Jaemin asks shittily, catching on to the fact that Jeno’s question didn’t actually ask anything.
“You have any career in mind?” Jeno tries, waving his hand vaguely.
Suddenly defensive, Jaemin leans out of his pose of consideration and actually drags some of his notes and sheets closer, away from Jeno’s eyes. “If Jungwoo said he’s my professional mentor he’s lying. I just spend a lot of time in the greenhouses, occasionally helping. That’s all.”
Strange thing to get standoffish about. “So nothing with Herbology, then?”
“I’ll always have Herbology.” Jaemin almost smiles at this. “More people should respect the discipline, anyway.”
“Because of your mom right? Her flower shop?” Jeno blurts out, eyes widening slightly when he realizes what he just said. That happens to be information gleaned from the one day they were friends, when Jaemin willingly shared himself with Jeno.
And just like the Hogwarts Express, Jaemin has that look on his face, a sudden clash of confusion and offense that ends in understanding. “Probably."
Gotcha! But instead of revel in this small victory Jeno thinks about Doyoung expounding on the merits of a strong herbological background for the Healing Arts. Then he goes closer to home, to the thriving Amarylleo now happy on his bedside table, getting plenty of sun from their south-facing window and snapping at Mark whenever he gets too close.
He doesn’t want to pick on Jaemin for being a mama’s boy even though he knows he could. Hell, he knows he should, that technically he has some sick right to do so. But Jeno just doesn't want to. In fact, he'd rather keep talking about Herbology which is insane, out of character, and somehow not at all disingenuous.
“I, uh, agree though. About Herbology.” Great start, Jeno. “Sure, it took me a while to come around but Herbology is so important, one of those cornerstone disciplines that’s easy to overlook. And honestly? I get a lot of joy from seeing my Amarylleo every morning. Not just because I helped it grow but—”
“—but because it grows?” Jaemin finishes, pursing his lips and stiffening his jaw to beat back a fond smile. “Amarylleos are really touchy. Hard to nurture, especially if you get off to a bad start but once you get there it’s known to be one of the most fulfilling flauna to be around.”
“You sure you’re not on a Herbology track?” Jeno jokes, not expecting an answer. “What did you do with your birdplant?”
“Magi avis paradisum.” Jaemin corrects reflexively, then stops and tilts his head, eyebrows rising into his bangs. “Whoa.”
Whoa, indeed. That exchange felt an awful lot like Jeno correcting Jaemin whenever he didn’t know the house names back on the Hogwarts Express. They both silently decide not to bring that up.
“I gave it to Professor Taeyong to help brighten up his dungeon.” Jaemin admits finally, forcing a laugh.
“Suck up.” Jeno bats at him.
Jaemin rolls his eyes. “I like to call it facilitating goodwill.”
Slytherin politics, flashes through Jeno’s mind. “Very political of you.”
“You have no idea.” Jaemin’s hands float to more of his study materials, pulling them further away from sight. Jeno stretches his head to catch another glance but only sees only one sheet: a historical list of Ministers of Magic and their demographics ranging from two hundred years ago to present day.
Why is Jaemin studying politics? It’s just a boring subject in their History of Magic curriculum, a course Jeno (and almost every other student) abandoned after fifth year. No one cares about that sort of thing, not unless they mean to get into magical politics themselves. Is that what Jaemin wants? Is that the path he’s trying to hide from Jeno? He starts to stew over that idea before becoming distracted by Jaemin’s hands handling his papers, then up to his wrists exposed by rolled-up sleeves.
With quick, tense movements Jaemin collects his scattered sheets and shuffles them into a grey folder. He also packs away his inkwell and quill then lifts his shoe from where it had been holding open one corner of an old scroll. The scoll curls back immediately and Jaemin places this neatly on top of one of the stacks of books, tossing the shoe back on the table as he continues to collect his things.
“Anything else?” He asks lightly, stretching to his feet with a few pops of his spine. He collects one of the book stacks and walks it around the table, passing right by Jeno as he makes his way to the only shelf in the entire Book Nook that is always empty and deposits the books there. “Because it’s late, I’m done here—” a lie, probably, “—and you clearly came here to study, not to ambush me.”
Well he is right about that. Jeno came to study and found himself completely sidetracked by Jaemin’s presence. But this is his chance. “I… asked you why you picked on me and you never gave me a straight answer. You hijacked the conversation and asked about my glasses.”
“I mean, they are cute.” Jaemin shrugs without a blush. Jeno is the one who blushes. “And then we actually started having what one might call a friendly conversation. Strange, now that I think about it.”
“Yeah, why aren’t you being an asshole right now?”
He shrugs. “Assholery has no merit if there’s no one around to witness it.”
It’s at this moment Jeno remembers Jaemin is only wearing one shoe. It’s cute and humanizing, especially coming from someone as perfect and popular as him. “So you’re saying you have no reason to be mean to me when we’re alone like this?”
Suddenly the Slytherin is on his guard. “Not… necessarily.”
“Which means you don’t actually hate me.” Jeno states. “Not really.”
Jaemin looks caught, as though suddenly trapped within multiple lies even though Jeno can only really pinpoint one of them. He shakes his bangs to cover his eyes and walks back around the table to collect the other books, giving Jeno as wide a berth as possible in the narrow space.
“Jaemin.” Arms crossed over his chest, Jeno slides to block him as he returns to put the books on the same shelf as the others. Jeno doesn’t think he’s ever been this brave and straightforward before.
Jaemin flinches at the sound of his own name coming from Jeno’s lips and hugs the books closer to his chest. His posture is lopsided, offset by the lack of a slightly heeled shoe, and Jeno doesn’t actually know which one of them is taller at this point. It used to be him, he used to be the larger of the two. Right now Jaemin has the shoulders but Jeno has the legs and wow, he should probably stop appraising his bully’s body.
“Jaemin.” Jeno repeats, stronger. “Do you hate me?”
“I do right now. Get out of my way, Lee.” He growls, shouldering his way past Jeno to put the rest of his books back. In a moment all of the materials Jaemin put in the empty shelf disappear with a small pop, magicked away to where they belong in the Library proper.
“No, you don’t.” Jeno says, twisting around on his heel to face Jaemin. “You don’t hate me, and you bully me in order to stop others from doing the same. Admit it.”
Jaemin turns to him, brows furrowed in annoyance. “You seem to have come to your own conclusion.”
Jeno lets out a burst of exasperation at this. “Stop deflecting. Just stop, please, I’m not… I wish I could hate you. I should just punch you out right now. I should hate you for all the shit you’ve put me through, but I just don’t. Maybe it’s my Hufflepuff aura, whatever it is that makes it impossible not to pick on me. Maybe it’s the fact that I blame your shitty house for your assholery, not you.”
Taken aback, Jaemin fists his hands by his sides, opening his mouth to snap something back but Jeno keeps on going. “I don’t hate you and you don’t hate me. You’re right, I’ve come to my own conclusion but I want to hear you say it. I want to hear an explanation come out of your mouth right here, right now. Tell me why you pick on me.”
Jaemin looks like he wants to lash out at Jeno but there’s a quiver of something else behind his eyes. Uncertainty. “Or what?”
Or what? Or… uh. Jeno twists around and snatches Jaemin’s shoe from the table, holding it in the air above his head. “Or you won’t get your shoe back.”
The sheer stupidity of Jeno’s threat shatters the tension into too many pieces for Jaemin to collect or control. He stands there, gaping, eyes comically incredulous. For once words completely fail him. Instead he lets out a strange whine-sputter-snort, blinking rapidly and tilting his head in sheer confusion.
“W-what?” He finally manages, pretty lips lifting into a crooked grin. “You… what?”
“I am holding your shoe ransom in exchange for information.” Jeno leans into his idiocy, very aware of how silly it is. “Trust me, this is as close to bullying as a Gryffinpuff like me can ever get. You’re welcome.”
Jaemin actually laughs at this, flashing his perfect teeth before reigning himself into mere giggles. “T-thank you? I have to say, you drive a hard bargain.”
Inwardly Jeno lets out a sigh of relief. He didn’t actually think the shoe thing would work at all. In fact, it shouldn’t have worked because Jaemin could easily summon it back or just tackle Jeno to the ground for it. Jaemin has options here besides ransom and he surely knows that but maybe he’s just as tired of their games as Jeno is. Maybe the Book Nook is a safe space for more than just reading.
“You’re an entire dumbass but you’re right, I don’t hate you.” He starts with a sigh, collecting himself once more. “In fact, I owe you.”
“Owe me?” Huh? “For what? ”
“For the Hogwarts Express.” Jaemin shrugs. “Not sure you picked up on it at the time but I was... scared. Really scared. I was out of my depth—out of my mind—and you helped me through that. You brought me through my fears and safely into this world when I needed it most. I didn’t know how to ask for help but you just… gave it. Because that’s who you are.”
Now that Jaemin is meeting his childish ransom with pure sincerity Jeno realizes how dumb he looks and brings the shoe down to chest level, turning it over in his hands as he listens.
“We weren't together for very long but I thin—know you cared. And I cared. We cared. So I owe you for that, just as I owe you for your kindness at the time."
Well, shit. This is not what Jeno was expecting. He gapes, shaking his head slightly. “W-what? You don’t owe me anything. You never did. I didn’t befriend you thinking I would get anything in return besides, well, a friend. That’s how friendship works.”
“And that sure went well.” Jaemin rolls his eyes, trying to save some face.
“Hey, I held up my end.” Jeno defends lightly, raising his hands (and the shoe) defensively. “And here I was spending the last six years thinking I was in your debt…”
Jaemin's eyes bug out at this. “Come again?”
Jeno nods with a shrug. “I… you know… chose to be a Gryffindor. Because of you. Because I thought…”
“Ah.” Jaemin chokes out, blanching. “That.”
“Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be a Gryffindor. That’s why I owe you, I guess. I’m proud of myself and my accomplishments. I’ve made my best friends here and I’ve been able to become more of myself. The lion was always there and just… needed a reason to roar. So thank you for the Hogwarts Express.”
“You’re welcome.” Jaemin says easily, stuffing his hands in the pockets of his slacks.
He realizes belatedly that Jaemin never actually thanked Jeno, he only expressed his debt to him. Now Jeno's one to roll his eyes. “Well, glad we got that cleared up. Let’s consider both our debts wiped clean, then. But you still haven’t explained the bullying.”
“That’s how I'm clearing the debt.” Jaemin laughs without humor, biting his lip. “I thought that was kind of obvious at this point in the conversation.”
“Not everyone understands Slytherin politics…” Jeno says, smiling with fake sweetness.
“Trust me, nobody wants to. It’s a twisted, corrupted social hierarchy governed by too many factors that are hardly relevant anymore. I’m sure Gryffindor has its own shit going on—adhocracy butting heads with notoriety from what I can tell—but at least you don’t prey on your own weak.”
“Prey...?” Jeno starts, then stops, gesturing for Jaemin to continue. It takes the Slytherin a few moments to ramp up to his explanation again and Jeno is happy to give him the time as long as he actually gets there. Also because Jeno kind of likes listening to him talk, especially when it's not insulting or hurtful.
“From the very first day they… that is… um, the upperclassmen…” Jaemin eventually starts again, eyes suddenly out of focus as he recalls his past. The atmosphere changes and Jeno might be imagining it the fireplace dies down a bit to match Jaemin’s mood. “When they figured out I was Muggle-born they went right for me. I’d wake up missing half my teeth, they’d burn my stuff, they'd soak my robes in this magical mud that was just impossible to get out. And other things. Worse things.”
“Fucking hell…” Jeno mutters, gripped by a wave of sudden anger. Doyoung mentioned Slytherins going after their own but to hear it firsthand is something completely different. From Jaemin Na of all people, one of the most popular boys in the school. But at the same time, there's something familiar about all this.
Dripping mud. History of Magic. Jeno was there, he saw some of this. He bore witness to what actually might have been the first step towards Jaemin and Renjun becoming friends. Why didn't he internalize any of that? Why is he only remembering now? The facts were there, Jeno just didn't understand them at the time.
Jaemin waves it off. “At the time I didn’t have any friends or a guide or, well, you. I needed to protect myself first and foremost. This was also when your Hufflepuff ancestry became public knowledge and… fuck. You should have seen them. Eleven, twelve-year-olds cracking their knuckles, knowing that there was an easy Gryff target for once. I didn’t… well, I wasn’t about to let that happen. Not when you didn’t even do anything.”
“Neither did you.” Jeno angrily points out.
“Wrong.” He replies, suddenly quiet. “I started bullying you, didn’t I? I’m not proud of it. I beat out some of the other first years and even some second years for the right to… shit, it sounds so awful out loud, but I busted some heads for the exclusive bullying rights over the Cowardly Lion. Interestingly, that’s how I made my friends."
“Renjun and Donghyuck.” Jeno supplies.
Jaemin nods, smiling fondly when he thinks of his companions. "Renjun has never been into any of that, and funnily enough I actually had to fight Donghyuck for you."
"For bullying rights over me, you mean." Jeno snorts, pausing to think about it a bit more. "And then Donghyuck picked a new target."
Donghyuck Lee, the bohemian spitfire, took to Mark in a very similar way that Jaemin ‘claimed’ Jeno, but that situation is more like traditional pigtail pulling. Then there’s Renjun who really has been above it all even from first year and was probably the first Slytherin to actually accept Jaemin. Doyoung’s words suddenly spring to mind, his casual mention that Jaemin and his sixth year friends were trying to break the patterns set by their house.
Jeno looks down at the shoe in his hands. He’s surprised Jaemin is being so forthcoming but whatever distrust he had from the beginning dissipated pretty much as soon as Jaemin called his glasses cute, which must be a personal failing of his but now is not the time to dwell on his weakness for this guy. He really wants to hear Jaemin’s story, he’s just not sure how apparent he wants to make that sentiment. “Slytherins are awful, huh.”
With a sad smile Jaemin leans against the bookshelves again, hands still in his pockets. “Some of us are. The dogma is entrenched, especially with this year’s regime. Next year is shaping up to be different though.”
Finally Jeno is on the safe side of Jaemin’s crooked grin again and it does something perilous to his heart. “Hm, well? Renjun is the most powerful student in this school and doesn’t give a shit about politics. Donghyuck was adopted by a wandering band of Romani as a child and trust me, it shows. And then there’s me, the liberal-ass Muggle-born. We’re progressive as hell.”
“And you three run snake town?”
Jaemin considers the matter for a moment before shrugging with a knowing smirk. “We will next year.”
Merlin’s Dick. Jeno wishes he had even a measure of the confidence Jaemin expresses with that single statement. “I can’t believe I’m going to say this but… I’m looking forward to it.”
Jaemin’s face softens and he lets out a quiet sigh and an even quieter smile, deflating with his exhalation. “As you should. Now, can I have my shoe back, please?”
Oh yeah. Jeno actually forgot he had it. He starts to hand it over before freezing in place then bringing it back to his chest. “So you’ve been picking on me to protect me.”
Jaemin winces but nods. “When you say it like that it sounds completely asinine.”
“It is asinine. Ass-y. Assholey.” Jeno grins. “But it means you don’t hate me. Which means...”
Everything, somehow. Jeno decides not to express that, opting to go with, "... it means a lot to me."
He shakes his head, dropping his gaze to his shoeless foot. Jeno watches Jaemin wiggle his sock-covered toes before he whispers, “I’m glad you don’t hate me either.”
Jeno heard him but it doesn’t stop him throwing a hand behind his ear and leaning closer. “What was that you said?”
Jaemin looks back up, eyes suddenly sharp and dangerous, and Jeno gulps. So maybe he took it a little too far. “A-and to think there was a time I actually thought you would be a Gryffindor.”
“I… well… I wanted to be one. With you. Please believe that.” Jaemin admits, honesty on full. “But it really wasn’t up to me and once the decision was made there was no turning back. But by the looks of things we both turned out pretty okay, huh?”
Jeno beams. “Well, duh. I’m going to rise to the top of St. Mungo’s and you’re going to become the Minister of Magic. That doesn’t have anything to do with our houses, does it?"
Taken aback, Jaemin’s eyes betray him by shooting over to his grey folder of notes. “How did you…”
So he is right. Laughing, Jeno wiggles his eyebrows up and down. “You didn’t do a good job of hiding it, Minister Na. No one at this school goes out of their way to study political history unless they want to take over the world.”
“Government.” Jaemin corrects with a chastising finger. “I want to take over the government. Maybe fix it along the way.”
“Puh-lease, nobody plans for that at our age…”
The future Minister of Magic rolls his eyes. “And no one who gets there doesn’t. If you play nice maybe I’ll put in a good word for you as Head Healer at Mungo’s. It is an elected position, after all.”
“It… it is?”
Suddenly they’re making plans again, happily, together, kind of like they did when they first met. Jaemin Na: first friend, bully, and now political collaborator. Jeno wishes the real world were like the Book Nook, that this peace between them could exist in the light of day. Maybe it can.
“This place is like another world, huh? We actually get to be civil.” Jaemin says in sudden awe as he looks around the room, clearly thinking the same thing as Jeno. “What did you call it?”
“The Book Nook. It’s the special professor hideaway to escape from ‘awful children’, as Doyoung puts it.” Jeno explains. “How did you find this place?”
Jaemin laughs brightly, toothily, throwing his head back and revealing his slender neck. Actually, no he didn't reveal it, Jeno just can't stop looking at it. Luckily Jaemin doesn't notice his staring. "I… oh man. I was picking through the Muggle Corner at the beginning of the year and Egad! Guns are Bad! was too goofy to pass up. I went for it but in the same moment found another, more relevant book—”
“—and you pulled it back without taking it out fully. Damn. That’s some serious luck.” Jeno whistles.
It’s kind of annoying that Jaemin has already flipped from ‘principal antagonist’ to ‘person of sincere interest’ in Jeno’s mind, and so quickly too. Jaemin likewise seems thrown by how easy it is for them to exist together when there are no inter-house politics at play. The ease at which they’re now conversing only reminds Jeno of how effortless it was for them to fit together in the first place.
Jeno realizes that they’re both still standing and wishes they were sitting. Not at the study tables, at the fire, sitting together in the most comforting armchairs of their respective memories. Jeno wonders what type of chair Jaemin’s heart would conjure, if he's ever sat in one of the magical chairs before.
“I have to admit, I got seriously spooked when the ladder unrolled out of nowhere, right on top of me.” Jaemin laughs, touching the top of his head and wincing at the memory. He looks Jeno up and down, pursing his lips in consideration. “Why are we still awkwardly standing around like this? If we’re going to, er, talk, we should maybe…” He gestures weakly to the chairs around the fire, apparently reading Jeno’s fucking mind.
Jeno is already mid-nod, mid-step towards the fire when Jaemin backtracks. “Ah, but that’s only if you want to! Talk. I… I mean there’s no reason for you to want to talk to me. I get it if you don’t want anything to do with me.”
Too late, Jeno is already in one of the fireside chairs with a closed-eyed grin. The armchair takes the form of a worn, well-used wooden rocking chair with pumpkin-colored cushions and a colorful hand-knit throw blanket draped over the back—his Granny Mavis’ favorite knitting chair. Jeno rocks forward, patting the seat of the chair next to him invitingly.
“I’d like that. Talking.”
Jaemin raises his eyebrows incredulously, clearly not believing Jeno. His Slytherin is showing.
Jeno sighs with an amused eyeroll. “You can trust me, I think you know that. I’m a simple guy, Minister Na, I think the first step towards forgiveness is actual forgiveness.” Jeno relaxes into his chair as it rocks back. “I know that's suspiciously uncomplicated for a Slytherin and I’m fucked if you’re not actually being sincere here but—”
“I am.” Jaemin interrupts. “Being sincere.”
He hesitates for another moment before taking a seat next to Jeno. When Jaemin leans back into his chair it transforms into something plush and cushioned that immediately swallows him. The chair is covered by well worn grey-brown corduroy fabric with a high back and plump arms that look crazily comfortable. There’s a wooden lever on the side that Jeno doesn’t know the purpose of. It’s clearly a Muggle chair, completely unlike anything he’s seen in his life.
Quickly gathering himself after the initial shock of the chair’s transformation, Jaemin notices Jeno’s wide-eyes at the Muggle contraption and shoots him a wicked grin. “Looks like these things turn into something from your memory, right? Never thought I’d sit in my pop’s TV chair until summer...”
TV… televisor? No. Television. Muggle moving pictures. “What’s the stick for?”
Jaemin’s grin deepens and he reaches to the side of the chair, bony fingers wrapping around the handle. “Observe.”
He pulls the horizontal lever vertical and the bottom of the chair pops up, lifting Jaemin’s legs at the same time the back of the chair springs into a severe recline. Jaemin basically went from comfy to super-fucking-comfy and he giggles as he nuzzles into the fabric.
“Muggle magic?!” Jeno gasps dramatically.
“Physics~!” Jaemin sings out of tune, preening as he pushes the lever down and the chair flips back to its normal setting so aggressively he’s almost thrown right out of it.
Holy hell. Jaemin might just be the cutest person on the planet. Jeno supposes he’s known that from the start but basic survival dictates you don’t develop a crush on your bully and at the very least you don’t admit it to yourself. But here in the safety of the Book Nook where there’s no need for political posturing, Jeno finds himself happily slipping into Jaemin’s whirlwind. His heart lifts along with the corners of his bully’s smiling lips.
Jeno is kind of fucked, isn't he.
“Did you really… uh… hm.” He starts, biting his lip.
“You really wanted to be a Gryffindor?” Jeno chokes out, looking into the fire. “Is that what you were thinking when the hat hit your head?”
“Yeah, I did.” He mutters quietly, suddenly forlorn. Jeno can’t help but look at him again, at the warm glow of firelight on his face and the golden reflections of the flames in his eyes. He reflects gold, but the wan silver of the stars on the ceiling actually illuminates his features. It’s a strangely familiar sight. Silver and Gold, Slytherin and Gryffindor, both sides striking and real.
“Well, technically no." Jaemin blurts out suddenly, rubbing the back of his head sheepishly. "I wasn’t thinking ‘I want to be a Gryffindor’ because I just kind of… thought I would be.”
That’s on me. Jeno admits to himself.
“Maybe if I would have…” Jaemin sighs, wrinkling his nose. “Mentally declared it? Actually asked for it? I don’t know. But I am a Slytherin and I’m proud of that. Like you, I made my best friends and became my true self. I wouldn’t trade that for anything, even a shot at whatever we were building.”
Jeno nods but doesn’t speak, both touched and confused that Jaemin shares his exact sentiment. The fact truly, finally settles: he and Jaemin were never going to be in the same house.
And that’s okay.
“Sometimes I resent it, even lament it, but in the end think we ended up where we belong. I just wish I didn’t have to bully you because of it. I guess I never had to but the fact is I did. I do. Fuck.” Jaemin’s eyes meet Jeno's. “I am sorry, Jeno.”
Jeno stiffens at the sound of his given name spoken like that. By him. “I…”
He doesn’t even know. His heart is telling him to trust Jaemin, that he’s already well on the way towards forgiving him but his mind keeps clanging pots and pans together, screaming, Don’t trust a Slytherin! Don’t trust your bully! Don’t be a fucking fool!
“Thanks.” Jeno finally says, lamely. “I believe you? Yeah. I think this conversation proves that you’re speaking from your heart. I just…”
“Can’t take it at face value.” Jaemin finishes with a self-deprecating scowl. “I deserve that.”
“No, that’s not what I was going to say.” Jeno laughs once, shaking his head. “I just wish we could be like this for real. In the open. Because clearly this,” he points back and forth between him and Jaemin, “has a tendency to work.”
“You’re not wrong.” Jaemin burrows into his comfy chair, eyes on the fire. "Weird. It's weird that it's not weird."
Jeno snorts. "Well, now that I understand the twisted logic of you bullying me… now that I know you don’t actually hate me… I’ll know whatever shit you sling from now on isn’t sincere. That it doesn’t come from your heart.”
Jaemin furrows his brow, still looking in the flames. Jeno watches his struggle against locking eyes with him for a few moments and smiles sweetly when he gives in and looks right at him. Jeno holds his gaze for a moment before shrugging. “So keep it up.”
“W-what?” A confused Slytherin is a sight to see. A confused Jaemin Na is even better. “What are you talking about?”
“Keep doing it. I’ve always been able to take it and it’ll be a breeze now that I know it’s fake. You still need to be a dick to protect yourself from your shitty seventh years, right? By bullying me?”
Jaemin winces but nods in affirmation.
“Then come at me!” Jeno invites, spreading his arms wide. “I’ll make myself even easier to pick on."
“Impossible.” Jaemin snorts, the bite not reaching his eyes.
Jeno laughs once. “I’ll let Mark know, too, so he doesn’t come rushing in to defend me.”
“Please, your golden boy would protect you anyway. I’ve always known to lay low when he’s around.” Jaemin admits, smiling fondly. “I doubt he’d be in any way forgiving towards me even if he knows the actual... situation.”
He’s probably right. “Well that’s what you get for messing with Gryffindors.”
“Protectors to the last.” Jaemin rolls his eyes. “Blind defenders of the downtrodden.”
“Keyword ‘blind’. I think we might benefit from some Slytherin-style strategy and, you know, forethought.”
Jaemin bursts out laughing, bright as a star. "Maybe our houses are dead-end enemies because we both understand we’d be too powerful if we ever managed to reconcile. We’d take over the world if we ever got over our shit.”
“Take over the government, Minister.” Jeno quotes Jaemin. His giddiness fuels his bravery so he tries (and fails) to wink. “I thought that was the plan.”
“You better watch your words, Healer. I might just hold you to them.” Jaemin winks more successfully than Jeno.
Suddenly a chill streaks through the warm air, the telltale sign of an approaching ghost. Both Jeno and Jaemin whip their heads around to get a look at the newcomer, both anxiously aware that they’re not supposed to be seen fraternizing.
A low hum echoes around the Book Nook before the Library’s resident ghost floats through the wall closest to the study tables. Poor Jisung Park, a seventh year Ravenclaw student who died 27 years ago here in the Library but has never told anyone exactly how. He’s one of the younger ghosts at Hogwarts and just doesn’t really like people very much. He’s handsome if a bit dour, trapped forever in his student robes and the sloppy posture of a lanky teenager. The only outward appearance of his death is the fact his neck doesn’t exactly work and his head always just hangs there.
“Uh oh.” Jaemin mutters, suddenly all smiles. “Are we too loud? Smiling too much?”
Jeno turns to Jaemin in sheer confusion. He’s behaving as if he’s actually close with the Library ghost, a feat that has never, ever been achieved in his generation.
“No.” Jisung shrugs, floating straight through a table to the center of the room. “But it’s nearing 1 in the morning on what is now a Sunday…”
Jaemin nods in understanding. “… and Professor Kun approaches. Wow, I didn’t realize so much time passed. We’ll get out of here.”
The ghost nods solemnly, turning his attention to Jeno while still addressing Jaemin. “I thought I told you not to tell anyone about this place.”
Jaemin stands with a hop and a laugh and his chair immediately shifts back into its neutral setting. “Deputy Doyoung gave him the instructions as a gift. Technically he has more allowance to be here than I do.”
“Whaaat is this?” Jeno daws out, getting to his feet as well and pointing a finger back and forth between Jaemin and Jisung.
“Ah, right.” Jaemin beams. “Jisung here watched me stumble my way into the Book Nook and eventually came to like me, right?”
“Debatable.” Jisung shrugs. “But anyone who finds this place by accident was supposed to find it.” He narrows his eyes at Jeno, “For a reason.”
Totally lost, Jeno wrings his hands before stuffing them in his pockets. Jaemin crosses the distance to stand directly between him and the ghost before turning to Jeno. “Once upon a time a cute Ravenclaw was also intrigued about Egad! Guns are Bad! and stumbled across access to the Book Nook just like me. He climbed up and around and then lost his grip and fell to his death.”
Yikes. That's really sad, actually. And kind of lame.
Jisung narrows his eyes at Jaemin for revealing his secret past so easily. “And now I’m cursed to guard other students from the same fate. Also to protect you from being caught by the faculty after hours in a place you’re definitely not supposed to be. Professor Kun loves his Sunday morning studies and loves handing out detentions even more so you and your friend have to make scarce like, yesterday.”
Friend, huh? Jeno smiles at this, bowing slightly to the Ghost of the Library. “I appreciate the warning.”
He rolls his eyes. “If you do then get the hell out of here.”
“So mean, Jisung.” Jaemin chastises, gesturing for his shoe from Jeno who finally gives it back. Both are very obvious about avoiding their fingers touching during the handoff. After slipping the shoe back on, Jaemin quickly goes to collect his bag and materials which prompts Jeno to do the same. “What’s our ETA?”
Jeno doesn’t know what that means but apparently Jisung does. “An optimistic five minutes. You’re lucky he likes the exercise of the ladder so you can escape through the solar system. Kun got distracted by the new historical fiction section so you have enough time if you leave now. Stick to—”
“—to the shadowy Potions shelves, I know.” Jaemin finishes, walking towards Jisung and holding his hand up in the air. Jeno stifles a smile at the familiar sight of Jaemin going for a high-five.
To his surprise, Jisung returns it as well as an incorporeal remnant can, smiling faintly when Jaemin mimics the sound of the slap. “Love you, kid.”
“I’m older than you.” Jisung reminds, rolling his eyes fondly.
“And cuter too.” Jaemin ends with a bright grin and an eyebrow wiggle.
Both Jisung and Jeno screw up their faces in clear disagreement.
Jaemin just laughs before affirming, “I can count on you to distract if need be?”
“Always.” The ghost says with a little smile. Wow, he and Jaemin really are friends. “But really, you guys have to get out of here. Now. Right now.”
Jeno is already at the ladder when he says this, propping his foot on one of the rungs as he waits for Jaemin to join him. Both Jisung and Jaemin raise eyebrows at him. “What?”
“There’s a backdoor…” Jaemin informs, dramatically indicating the painting of the universe. “Wow, you really don’t deserve this place, do you?”
Jeno blushes, shuffling over to Jaemin. “Shut up. Like I’d know that…”
“Don’t worry, Doyoung doesn’t either. He doesn’t come here anymore because he’s a lazy ass and thinks the only way in and out is the rope ladder. Poor soul.”
“Holy shit, is that true?” Jeno shakes with restrained laughter. “Rest assured I am never telling him about the backdoor. Ever.”
After shooting Jeno a fond little smile he no doubt thinks is sneaky, Jaemin rearranges his bag before walking to the large painting, taking time they probably don’t have to admire it. “Get over here, Lee.”
And they’re back to surnames. If Jeno didn’t already know their peaceful time together was ending that would be a prime indicator. He follows Jaemin’s instruction, Jisung floating sideways to give him space to stand in front of the painting. “What do we do?”
“There’s a twin painting in the upper level of the Restricted Section. It’s not particularly hidden, just easily overlooked.” Jaemin stretches out the fingers of his right hand and hovers it above a particular pattern of galaxies. “You put your fingers on the same pattern as this and declare, 'still learning’. It zips you right here where we stand now. To get back you touch the same galaxies on this painting and say, ‘until next time’.”
“That’s kind of… cute.” Jeno admits with a short laugh.
“It’s very cute, especially now that I know this place is actually called the Book Nook.” Jaemin shoots Jisung a betrayed look for withholding this information and the ghost just shrugs. “Okay let’s do this. Go for it.”
Jeno points to himself with a confused noise.
“Yes you.” Jaemin steps aside, indicating Jeno should take his spot. “We have to get going. You might not take History of Magic anymore but I sure as shit do and the good Professor Kun will skin me and wear me like a cape if he catches us after hours.”
Very vivid imagery. Jeno takes Jaemin’s place, holding his hand out blankly. Maybe it’s proximity to the Slytherin that scrambles his brain but he completely blanks on where to position his fingers. Jaemin scoffs without malice and reaches for Jeno’s hand before realizing he was about to touch him and aborts the gesture stiffly.
“Seriously, you guys have to GO.” Jisung says, suddenly alert.
Jaemin jumps and just goes for it, wrapping his fingers around Jeno’s wrist to direct his hand to the correct galaxy cluster. They both stiffen at the contact, each taking in a small breath. Jeno extends his fingers like he remembered Jaemin doing but he doesn’t recall which spots to press and Jaemin lets out a breath of laughter, his fingers drifting loosely up the top of his hand to rest directly on top of Jeno’s in order position him properly.
“Remember the words?” Jaemin mutters, suddenly intimate, his fingers lingering light and electric.
The Library Ghost snorts at this “Wow. You probably don’t even have to go one at a time if you stay this close to each other.”
In a flash Jaemin’s hand is gone, leaving Jeno with his fingers positioned correctly. Jeno’s ears burn crimson and if he looked over at Jaemin he’s sure he would be suffering a similar affliction. Jeno wastes no more time and mutters, “Until next time.”
It’s similar to the lifting of a portkey, dizzying and immediate. All of the sudden Jeno is on the very top floor of the Restricted Section, fingers still on the same spot on the twin painting. He jumps away just in time for Jaemin to appear with a light pop, his hair ruffled from the transportation. Jeno’s hand flies to his own locks and finds it in a similar state of disarray.
He opens his mouth to say something but Jaemin turns to him wild-eyed, hovering a finger above Jeno's lips. Jeno nods before Jaemin pulls away and quietly approaches the balcony of the top level of the Library, eyes peeled for Professor Kun below. He's wandering through the Muggle Corner two levels below their perch, running his hand across books absentmindedly as he passes them. Jeno joins Jaemin at the wooden balcony railing, close enough to almost touch elbows.
Jeno wants to. He doesn't really understand it in himself but he wants to touch Jaemin again. Just a brush of their elbows, a sharing of warmth as they conspire to get away with their after-hours shenanigans. He almost does it too, sidles a centimeter towards him, but a sudden loud sneeze from Kun causes both of them to jump in shock, moving further away from each other as they do. Probably a good thing because Jeno has no clue what possessed him to go for it, but he certainly knows he almost did.
What was he really going for though? Platonic affection? Just two guys bopping elbows. Riotous laughter erupts in his head and it sounds a hell of a lot like Doyoung's.
After another sneeze Kun finally pulls on Egad! Guns are Bad!, quickly scales the ladder and disappears from sight. Jaemin holds a hand out as if to hold Jeno back without touching him, waiting for a good half a minute before letting out his breath. Jeno’s heartbeat is rapid, probably loud enough for Jaemin to hear.
He knows it's not because of narrowly avoiding detection, either. That would be healthier and much simpler than what’s really going on in his heart. This shit is not just two guys bopping elbows.
Now that the danger has passed, tension settles over them again. Jaemin turns his head, shaking his bangs out of his eyes and looking at Jeno from behind long lashes. Suddenly Jeno is very aware of how loud he’s breathing, of how close they are and the energy between them. Both open their mouths to say something, notice the other’s attempt to speak, and neither actually end up saying anything.
After a few more painful heartbeats Jeno opens his mouth and is vaguely successful at forming words. “W-what happens now?”
Jaemin looks out across the dark library, pursing his lips. “I guess we go back to normal.”
He’s pouting a little, his brow furrowed. Maybe he’s not happy about the prospect either. Is this their turning point? Jeno meant it when he said that Jaemin should keep up bullying him to protect his reputation as a charming badass but Jeno would give pretty much anything not to return to the charade. “Keep doing what we’re doing, huh?”
“Knowing it’s a farce.” Jaemin laughs quietly, shaking his head with a sigh and a hum. He turns to Jeno, eyes bright in the dim light of the Library. “It is a farce, Jeno. I’m relieved, so relieved that you know that now. That we know that. I should have… I don’t know, told you sooner. Not sure when but I just. Should have.”
Fuck, he’s being so nice. Jeno doesn’t stand a chance here. “I should have confronted you years ago."
Jaemin hums in response, nodding and then shaking his head ambiguously as he looks back out over the Library. “Who fucking knows.”
He’s exhausted. Jeno didn’t really see it before but there are deep bags under his eyes and tension in his neck and shoulders despite his lax posture.
“You should get some sleep.” He mutters, looking away right as Jaemin looks back at him.
“Yeah.” He agrees but doesn’t move. Neither does Jeno.
I believe you, floats through his head. I miss you. I might even like you. But Jeno can’t say these things.
“Thank you.” Jaemin says quietly.
Jeno doesn’t need to ask what for. “You’re welcome.”
“Now get out of here before I pull out my Prefect card and dock some points.” Jaemin bats, shooing him away with him a fake grin.
“I would. You leave first, just in case anyone…” Jaemin trails off, realizing how unlikely it is for anyone to catch them ‘together’ at this point.
Still, Jeno gets it. He turns to Jaemin, studying him for a moment before smiling with all of his heart. It’s not his beaming grin or his disarming one. It’s just quiet, true happiness. Maybe it’s the new Jaemin Face. While a burden has lifted from both there’s no doubt in his mind that Jaemin went through more of an emotional ordeal tonight. Jeno wants Jaemin to know he understands that and cares about it but he doesn’t know which words to use.
So instead he just raises his hand for a high-five. Jaemin smiles and slowly brings his palm to Jeno’s and leaves it there for a moment. He starts to draw it away but Jeno weaves their fingers together and holds Jaemin’s hand there, giving it a squeeze. Jeno waits for Jaemin to squeeze back before dropping their hands, giving him a last little grin before walking away.
It takes Jeno some time to walk down the staircase of the Restricted Section and traverse the rest of the Library as quietly as possible. He makes sure to keep himself within Jaemin’s sight, wanting his eyes on him. When Jeno finally leaves his line of sight he pauses and rests his back against a bookshelf to take a deep breath. After spending a few moments to gather himself a thought hits him and he peers back around the shelf to take one last look at his bully.
Jaemin is too high and too far away to see any detail, but it’s clear he’s slumped sluggishly over the railing, his arms crossed around his head. Suddenly the feeble white glow of Jisung appears next to Jaemin, and the ghost puts an awkward but comforting hand on his shoulder.
Jeno swears he hears a quiet, echoing sob.
It only takes a month for Jaemin to turn into the Slytherin he truly is. No more sopping tardiness, no more mud, Jaemin starts to really blossom as a wizard, proving himself charming, clever in class, quicker to understand spells and theory than his pure and half-blood peers. Quicker than Jeno, than Mark, second only to the Slytherin elf, Renjun, whose name the entire student body was quick to learn, muttered alongside such words as "astonishing" and "terrifying" and "prodigy".
There's a new friend now, Donghyuck Lee, equal parts loud and quiet, as unpredictable as the toss of a coin except for when it comes to defending his friends. He's as formidable as Renjun is sharp and Jaemin is charismatic, and the three of them are fast becoming their own nation-state within not only Slytherin house but the first year as a whole. Jeno can't say he's GLAD for Jaemin's newfound security though, not when Donghyuck likes to pick on Mark at every available opportunity, but it's nice to see he's not completely alone anymore.
Then one sad, soggy Tuesday everything changes—the world rights itself and their new roles solidify. Jaemin shows his scales, his fangs, his venom and Jeno wonders how on earth he EVER thought this snake could have been a Gryffindor with him.
It happens near the end of their Charms lesson, the subject of the day arguably the goofiest spell of the first year curriculum: Spongify. A softening charm, one that simply softens an object to make it rubbery, bouncy, or otherwise baby-proof. According to Professor Johnny, there are apparently a ton of applications for this particular spell, but most of the first years are content to giggle as random objects like books and chairs are now capable of bouncing off the walls and floor. Mark is quicker to learn the basic spell than Jeno, but that's probably because he can't stop laughing at Professor Johnny awkwardly bouncing a stool up and down and between his legs like an absolute goofball. It's a ton of fun, a great class despite the rotten weather.
Fun until a large, leather-backed spell lexicon comes out of nowhere and bounces straight into Jeno's gut where they stand to practice the spell, knocking the wind right out of him and sending him to his knees. The book was under the effect of Spongify, so it didn't have the firmness to do any real damage it was just well aimed enough to nail him in the solar plexus. Sniggers erupt from the class, led by the Slytherins—led by Jaemin Na, wand in the air as he sneers at Jeno.
He's the clear perpetrator, obvious when the two other Slytherins in their year that Jeno hasn't cared to learn the names of pat Jaemin on the back, muttering words of praise and camaraderie for the stunt.
Jeno feels nauseous and it's not from getting nailed in the gut.
Despite Jeno giving Jaemin full permission to continue bullying him, he doesn’t. It’s not very strategic of him but Jeno can’t say he minds Jaemin’s sudden public approval. Approval here meaning ‘lack of active shitslinging’ but the difference even that makes in both of their lives is enough to slowly send their respective friend groups into a tizzy.
It starts simply, barely eight hours after they parted in the Library. Jeno and Jaemin make eye contact at breakfast and nod subtly, each stifling a smile. The next thing Jeno’s eyes flick to is Renjun, who tilts his head in consideration once to the right, once to the left, and then nods at Jeno with the barest hint of a smirk. Jeno doubts Jaemin would have told Renjun about what transpired the night before so soon but he’s perfectly certain Renjun already knows somehow. All that kid has to do is catch this one tiny interaction between them and he probably understands more about them than they ever will. For once Jeno is in awe of the Slytherin instead of mildly frightened of him.
That was the first ‘event’ and the most subtle. From there things begin to change quietly, in that sneaky way where everyone who matters notices the difference but most of them realize commenting on it might break the spell. As though one errant observation would either force a more public confrontation or just bring the whole thing tumbling down.
Mark notices in Defense Against the Dark Arts the following Wednesday when Jeno misidentifies the time period of a dark artifact and Jaemin quietly corrects him instead of raining fiendfyre on him as he would have the week before. It’s obvious, so obvious compared to the normal dynamic and Mark even opens his mouth to bring it up but closes it as he quickly realizes he was about to call Jaemin out for not shitting on his best friend. Jeno had half a mind to tell him about the Library but didn't dare for fear of it all revealing itself to be a fluke.
Chenle and Yukhei notice during the next Quidditch game when Jaemin gives Jeno the single greatest compliment he’s ever given a player during his tenure commentating matches: "Fantastic interception, Lee's field sense really is the best in the school." The Seeker almost brings it to the entire team’s attention during a time out but holds his tongue, making deliberate eye contact with Yukhei who merely shakes his head. Jeno was having the match of his Hogwarts Quidditch career and maybe it was because Jaemin was publicly praising him instead of tearing him down. That was more than a lack of bullying, that was fucking flattery.
Donghyuck notices one fateful Potions lesson when an overly-focused Jeno quietly asked Jaemin for some of his leftover dittany from two rows away. Jaemin nodded, stopped carefully weighing starthistle spines, capped his cauldron, and stripped off his leather handling gloves before strolling over to deliver his extras to Jeno. No muss, no fuss, just helpfulness and consideration. He even imparted a bit of advice about cleaning the dittany which Jeno took to heart. Donghyuck dropped his spoon in his brew at this before quietly declaring, “What the bloody fuck.”
The biggest changes are only seen between the two of them. Driven by something subtle and powerful, Jeno goes to the Book Nook when Saturday turns into Sunday to catch Jaemin there again. Sometimes Jaemin has been studying there for hours, sometimes Jeno has to wait almost until Kun appears for Jaemin to pop in, but he always does. They never actually made any plans to meet but after three weeks of them both showing up unbidden it becomes a habit.
It becomes something to look forward to.
They never really talk during their shared time together, not like they did that first night. In fact, they really just study, at first across from each other at the table and then eventually side-by-side. Jaemin’s workload is completely different from Jeno’s both in form and function—Jaemin has more essays about society and magical theory while Jeno has more practical work like problem-solving and chart building. They sometimes work together whenever their subjects align but always dissolve into gossiping about professors and swapping harmless stories sooner rather than later and have to stop themselves before they forget the work they have to be doing.
When they boot their butts back to studying, they really do study. But sometimes Jeno’s head starts to swim with medical facts and Jaemin’s eyes glaze over as he reads yet another boring magical law text and eventually they retire to the fireplace chairs, one of them or both. Jaemin’s chair takes on a different form every time but Jeno’s is always the same, minus that one time he actually willed Jaemin’s father’s TV chair into being just to try it out.
The Book Nook is their hideaway, the core of their secret, fast-blossoming friendship-thing. As the weeks go on, sometimes Jeno finds himself wishing he were there instead of fooling around with his housemates or apprenticing under Doyoung.
But whenever he is there, all Jeno wants is just to be closer to Jaemin. A little bit closer each time, closer than sharing one side of a table, closer than sitting side-by-side at the fire. He wants to look at him longer than he does, let his fingers linger on his sleeve when they brush. By now Mark knows about the first Library night and their newfound civility. He likes to call whatever this is a 'tender armistice' and Jeno hasn't yet admitted that are some very real feelings now in play.
But with the lifting of his bullied confusion regarding Jaemin comes a fresh, new burden: the weight of his monster crush on him. Jeno finds himself daydreaming in classes, especially the ones he shares with the Slytherin, and brings himself back to focus with the instant realization that, oh, it's fine, I can just ask Jaemin about what I missed. Which is insane. He doesn't know if this is just a crush grown out of hand or if this is what you feel and think when you're truly fond of someone. Jeno is just so, so fond of the real Jaemin.
By now it's been month and a half since they reconciled and it’s a little past eleven on a Saturday night. Jaemin is taking a break in one of the armchairs, currently in the form of a high-backed leather chair Jeno recalls seeing in the headmistress’ office once. The back of the chair obscures Jaemin from his sight but Jeno finds his eyes floating to his space anyway, enough to distract him from his notes on the properties of various magical reptilian scales. The fire crackles low and Jeno has to illuminate another lamp on the table to finish his work. Finally Jeno ends the last bullet point with a loud sigh, hoping to catch Jaemin's attention with the noise.
He gets nothing so Jeno blows noisily across the wet ink on his parchment, once, twice, three times.
It doesn’t fly. Fine. More drastic measures, then. Jeno removes his glasses with an actual sigh and massages the bridge of his nose before getting up to join Jaemin by the fire. When he rounds Jaemin’s chair with a small taunt ready on his lips, he sees the Slytherin in perfect repose, breathing steadily and quietly in the way that only comes with deep sleep. His mouth hangs open slightly as he sits curled up in an uncomfortable-looking knot and Jeno has a vague idea to unwrap his legs for him but opts to lay his school robe over him like a blanket instead. Jaemin sighs into the new source of warmth, cuddling it close, and suddenly Jeno doesn’t ever want it back.
Tired and wholly done with studying, Jeno just looks at Jaemin sleep for a few moments, watching shadow and firelight flick across his face, casting his skin in a warm, healthy luster. That fucking face, and similar thoughts are floating through Jeno’s mind with increasing frequency lately, though they’re almost always followed with less superficial observations like how hardworking he is and how much of a difference he could make if he were given the opportunity.
He's sincere, he's ambitious, and he's really fucking tired lately. It's not exams either, those passed a while back. Jeno doesn't want to admit it to himself but the beginning of Jaemin's ever-present exhaustion more or less correlates with the night they sorted out their shit. Of course Jaemin says nothing of it, and Jeno doesn't ask. He should ask. Maybe he'll ask next week, when they meet up again and study and maybe talk more. Maybe Jeno will bring snacks next time, nick a bottle of Firewhisky from the kitchens—wait, no, Jaemin doesn't like Firewhisky, two weeks ago he mentioned he was more partial to Daisyroot Draught or Elderflower wine.
Jeno takes a seat directly across Jaemin instead of next to him, thinking about the unopened bottle of Elderflower wine Doyoung keeps 'hidden' in his office, and is surprised that the chair turns into the exact same chair that surrounds the Book Nook's study tables. He’s a little too tired to think that one through, though he assumes it has something to do with how special these late night sessions are becoming to him.
With a sleepy little mutter Jaemin shifts in his seat, burrowing deeper into himself and tugging Jeno's robes even tighter, messing up his hair before he finally finds some peace and stills again. The bags under his eyes look too deep in the dim firelight and Jeno's heart squeezes at the knowledge that his eyes also look like that in the light of day.
It's definitely inappropriate but Jeno lets himself just look at Jaemin like this, lets himself take advantage of a unique opportunity to let his eyes linger. It's all good and fun for a few moments but then Jeno's eyes catch on a slash of a burn on the back of his neck leading down beneath the collar of his shirt. Even in the dimness Jeno can diagnose it as one of the legs of a Jellash Hex, a nasty electrical burning curse that impacts with a sting and immediately erupts in raking burns stretching from the epicenter like the tentacles of a muggle jellyfish.
Jeno was only just tutored on treating this hex—it's been trending among duelists and Slytherins—but for the life of him he can't recall a word of what Doyoung said. Not when it's Jaemin on the end of it, suddenly victim to abuse on a level that Jeno has never endured before. He's on his feet, wand in his hand before he even knows it, quickly and quietly at Jaemin's side with bated breath as he begs his brain to remember how to fix this. Jellash is a nasty piece of work, something that hurts once and keeps on both burning and shocking until it's siphoned out. This is the kind of thing that leaves a scar if left untreated, even in this magical world.
This is the kind of thing you go the Hospital Wing for, and the only reason Jaemin wouldn't that Jeno can think of would be because he didn't want anyone to know. He didn't want Doyoung to know, because the Head of the Hospital Wing would have told Jeno. Why? Does his pride matter more than constant, painful sparking up his spine?
"Despite giving the appearance of burns, the nature of the Jellash hex isn't flame, but lightning. You have to numb the patient and siphon the trapped energy through the wall of an earth-based dampening spell." Doyoung's words ring through his brain finally, and Jeno battles between leaving Jaemin to his pride or healing his stupid ass for a whole moment before nodding strongly.
Sparing no more time he draws a circle with his wand in the air around Jaemin's scrunched back three times, muttering, "Lenio" to numb the area and dampen existing pain. He even doubles down and casts the pain relief charm once more, to make sure Jaemin stays asleep through his ministrations. If Jaemin didn't want to tell Jeno he had been attacked, that's fine, but Jeno can't possibly leave him like this.
In magical theory, lightning energy is negated by earth energy, and Jeno quickly conjures a small earth-based magical filter that blows slowly from his wand like a small bubble and grows until it's the size of a fist before stopping and hanging on the tip of his wand. It's translucent, with a hazy emerald shine to it, and feels solid and heavy at the end of his wand. The weight of earth negates the wild snap of lightning, allowing Jeno to siphon out the bad shit without it shooting back at him or growing further under Jaemin's skin.
Jeno takes a step closer, silent, and brings his wandtip as close to Jaemin as he dares, aiming at where he thinks the core of the damage is on his back. He waits, ascertaining that Jaemin is still asleep, and considers himself lucky that his face is half turned away from Jeno at this angle.
Here we go. "Tergeo fulgur," Jeno mutters quietly, a Healing adaptation of the standard siphoning spell created for dealing with lightning energies. For a moment he fears it didn't work and is about to repeat the charm before Jaemin stiffens a bit, face scrunching in pain but he doesn't wake. Instead he burrows more into himself and reveals more of the spot of his injury.
Before his eyes, the burn trail that extends up his neck begins to recede and the earth-energy bubble at the tip of his wand fills with a small tuft of thick, charcoal smoke. It's working.
As Jeno's confidence lifts, the siphoning spell increases its efficacy to match and he knows the siphoning is complete when Jaemin lets out a small moan of relief in his sleep. Jeno's earth dampener is now completely full, swirling with the thick black smoke of lightning remnants and he lifts it up and away from Jaemin, turning towards the fire. He realizes a bit late that he doesn't really know what to do with the drained magic now that he has it but another tidbit of Doyoung reminds him, "Fire destroys everything," so he tosses the bubble straight into the flames.
The fire roars upward, consuming the bubble with a small pop and a soft sigh as it destroys the Jellash remnants. Nothing seems out of place with the world, the energy turned back to energy safely, but instead of reveling in the confidence that a successful heal normally brings Jeno, he turns to Jaemin to make sure he's okay.
He is. Jaemin is still asleep, looking considerably more comfortable than he did before. Relief fills Jeno at the same time his energy leaves him, and he stumbles back into his own chair to take a few deep, centering breaths. That was no easy combination of spells and it was his first time at this particular sequence to boot—he's rightly exhausted by it.
Considerably more tired than minutes before, Jeno settles into his chair, once again watching flames dance over the sliver of cheek and collarbone Jaemin has exposed. What about Jaemin's pigtails? Who's protecting them? The implication that Jaemin is once more being bullied by his own house is alarming, viscerally heavy on his chest.
“I don't want to see you hurt. I kinda like you too much for that.” Jeno admits quietly, pouting at his sleeping bully.
He tries to blink his own sleepiness away but his lids prove too heavy to fight and soon falls victim to the warmth of the fire and Jaemin’s comfortable presence. He falls fully asleep ten minutes before Kun arrives in the Library and the two are saved from a medley of detentions only by Jisung faithfully coming to their aid and successfully distracting Kun enough for him to skip his Book Nook session altogether.
When Jeno wakes up the next morning Jaemin is gone and Jeno’s robes are now blanketing him. There’s a note magically stuck to the lapel that reads,
I don't want to see you hurt either, I definitely like you too much for that.
They don’t talk about what basically amounted to a passive, mutual confession, but Jeno gives in to his heart and keeps the note. It now sticks to the side of his Amarylleo pot, greeting him every morning and wishing gentle dreams every night.
It's one day before winter break in their third year and Mark walks into the Gryffindor Common Room with a dozen welts on his face and arms, bearing a look of sheer defeat.
Jeno, sitting by the fire tutoring a second year Chenle in Potions, looks up and frowns immediately. "Let me guess, Donghyuck Lee and his army of bees?"
The Slytherin likes bees as a mode of prank. They probably sprung out of Mark's goblet at dinner or worse, his dessert. Donghyuck Lee really knows how to catch you off guard and Jeno doesn't envy Mark being the general target of his wrath. In fact, Mark gets it worse than he has been getting it from Jaemin lately.
"Yeah, something like that." Mark drags himself to the fireplace, dropping to his knees next to Jeno in his armchair. "If you could...?"
Tutting, Jeno draws his attention away from tutoring his junior and brings his wand to Mark's face. "I got you."
Jeno has been amassing his repertoire of Healing spells ever since first year, and by now knows how to properly treat bruises, sprains, minor cuts and, well, bee stings.
"He's a mean one, that Lee." Jeno mutters when he's done, turning back to Chenle. "Don't mess with him, little one."
"Happy to let Marko over here take the brunt of it." Chenle cackles. "Did you at least get him back for it?"
Mark sighs heavily, plopping further on the floor with a huff. "No. I got mad, I knew it was him and rounded on his table but as soon as I saw him he just SMILED like a fucking cherub and I... I mean I wasn't going to hurt him."
"Did he say anything?" Jeno asks.
"Of course he did. Little shit has to have the last word." Mark shakes his head, fingers feeling for the welts that no longer plague him. "'Wanted to give you your Christmas Gift before the break' he says, in that shitty voice of his, with that shitty little grin. "
"Well that was nice of him." Jeno mutters, smiling fakely. "At least his gift wasn't, you know, death or something. He's surely capable of it."
The third year counterparts at Slytherin house that matter are, quite simply, terrifying. Jaemin Na, equal parts rose and thorn; Renjun Huang, already more powerful than many seventh years; and Donghyuck Lee, as unpredictable and threatening as a hurricane.
But the last one, Donghyuck, is the snake in the grass you really have to keep an eye out for. He's more nefarious than his friends, less restrained by classic morality, and apparently picks on Mark for sport. The only thing scarier than Donghyuck's whirlwind is when it calms. The eye of his storm is quiet, still, could be called tranquil if not for the tangible power he still holds.
And his storm only calms for his friends.
Not one minute after Jeno arrives at his Hospital Wing shift he's immediately shuffled off by his mentor, who flings a shopping list at him as soon as he's through the door.
"I need ingredients. Be a good little dog and fetch them for me." He orders with a quick grin before turning back to whatever he was working on in his office. "You'll see the majority of them are from the greenhouses so be sure to fix yourself up a bit before you go."
Jeno blushes, betraying himself by checking out his reflection in the nearest mirror. It took a whole two weeks for Doyoung to become aware of the difference in status between Jaemin and Jeno, starting from an appraisal of his moods and ending with a full interrogation. Doyoung now knows as much as Mark does but understands even more and has been hinting at Jeno's crush for at least a semester by now anyway.
But Jeno is pretty sure Doyoung hasn't sensed their strange little... admission. It wasn't really a confession, right? Jaemin said it back though, and raised him one whole 'definitely'.
I definitely like you too much for that.
The trek to the greenhouses doesn't take long, owing to the Hospital Wing being on the first floor. It's a Thursday, after classes but before dinner, which means there's a chance Jaemin will be there. That or Doyoung already knows he's there—it wouldn't surprise Jeno at this point if he and Jungwoo had some sort of penpal system alerting the other to the state of their assistants—and is sending Jeno for that very reason.
There must be some rule about professors trying to play matchmaker with their students but he and Jaemin seem to be doing pretty well on their own.
It's a chilly day, with winter heavy in the air but not quite here yet, and Jeno welcomes the humid heat of the greenhouses when he enters the main building. Sweat immediately begins to bead on his temples and the back of his neck so he strips off his heavy cloak and hangs it over the arm holding Doyoung's shopping list.
Pickled Nux Myristica, at least one bottle
Foxglove, a dozen stalks
Cobra Lily sepals, don't think they're in season but try
Tentacula shoots, please be careful handling them
Peppermint, a good handful
Spearmint, a good handful
Amarylleo fur, just a pinch will do (might have to get it from your own?)
Bubotubers, at least a dozen
Atropa belladonna rhizome cuttings, as much as Jungwoo will part with (remind him he owes me for his skin emulsions)
MAGICAL CREATURE PENS:
Abraxan hair, a handful
Hippogriff feathers, sixish
Firecrab shell gems, as many as Yuta will part with (remind him he owes me for getting Taeyong to make his hair tonic)
The grand majority comes from the Greenhouses, but as Jeno begins to wander through the rows of magical plants he finds no trace of the Herbology professor, which is saying something because the young man is quite tall and normally towers over the majority of the plant displays and laboratory fixtures. Jeno strolls through the desert magical plant section to get to Jungwoo's open office but doesn't find him there either.
He wanders back to the center of the main greenhouse, straining his ears to sift through the rustle of moving, sometimes groaning plants. Finally Jeno picks up on a quiet, ongoing conversation in an adjacent greenhouse and scampers in that direction, tugging at his collar and undoing one of his shirt buttons as the sweat accumulates. It might be hot but the air hangs heavy and breathable with life and soil, so different from the crisp, dryness outside. Jaemin probably likes this sort of environment. Maybe this place somehow feels like his mother's greenhouse, different in scent but no doubt sharing that lively quality all greenhouses seem to share.
His feet bring him to the next greenhouse and he slips in between two rows of muggle plants—common vegetables flourishing out of season on one side and a natural spread of wildflowers dominating the other. As he walks along, little channeled rain clouds hovering above the vegetables start to rain gently on them, a timed watering. Jeno sticks his hand under the misty spray as his passes and uses that cool hand to wipe more sweat from his forehead. How the hell does Jaemin put up with working in such humid conditions? Jeno feels like he wants zero clothes on immediately.
The voices are getting louder but they're still hushed by nature of the conversation, out of sight around a corner. It could very well be Jungwoo and some student or professor so Jeno clutches the list tight in his hand and mentally prepares himself to be rude and interrupt a conversation in order to get what he needs.
It's only a few paces further into the next greenhouse, one that houses tropical plants of both magical and muggle origin, and Jeno both hastens and quiets his steps before coming to an abrupt halt in the doorway as he finally recognizes the voices.
Jaemin, lower and dismissive, talking to an annoyed and grating Donghyuck. The person he wants to simultaneously be with and run from, and the person he's spent the better part of his school career avoiding the living fuck out of. The shock of coming across the two of them here, alone, stills everything in Jeno but his heart, still mercifully beating hard in his chest.
"—st say you are! You don't actually HAVE to just... just don't open yourself up for it. Why the fuck would you? I still—"
"Don't pretend you don't get it, Hyuck. You're as sick of it as I am."
"Yeah, I am, but that's NOT the topic at hand."
"And you get the other thing too, don't fuck with me. Wouldn't you give up a bit of security if it meant fixing everything you've done?"
Donghyuck scoffs loudly, and Jeno jumps back at the loudest noise so far before sidling over to a large-leafed palm and hiding as well as he can while still being able to peer at the two boys. He can't see Jaemin because Donghyuck is blocking him, leaning back against a plant shelf huffily.
"I don't harbor the same shame as you, I mean come on, my exploits are fantastic."
"That was three years ago, I've evolved since then."
Jaemin snorts. "Same target though. Again, don't fuck with me, I know you'd rather suck face with Mark than torture him."
"Well yeah, but ideally I'd be able to do both. So you're doing this to suck—"
Donghyuck squeals, obviously at the receiving end of some punch or pinch to the side. He shoves himself off the railing before circling around his friend and taking a place on his other side, finally revealing Jaemin.
Jeno's question about how Jaemin puts up with working in such a hot and humid environment is answered immediately. Jaemin's uniform pants are rolled up to his knees, and his white button-down is tied around his waist, leaving him in a light, sleeveless undershirt that shows off tough arms and well-defined shoulder muscles. His dark hair is held back by a green headband, revealing his handsome brows and forehead. He's busy with moving a gnarled mass of Sleeping Ivy into a larger pot, tucking it neatly into the soil and clipping weak stalks here and there with effortless competency.
Jeno gulps. That's stupid, why is he gulping? Fuck.
I definitely like you too much... Jeno can clearly imagine the note stuck to the flauna that, thanks to Jungwoo, he now associates with Jaemin Na.
"Listen. I know you're worried. So am I. But I know it's coming now, I can plan for it."
"I am worried, thanks for noticing." Donghyuck sighs. "At least go to the fucking Wing. I don't see why you don't."
Jeno shouldn't be here but oh, does he want to hear this.
"Because Doyoung will definitely tell him."
"But he already knows. He healed you after that backstab of Jellash Hex, very cutely I may add."
"Thought you didn't like him."
"You kidding? He's cute as hell, and have you seen those arms? Obviously you have. He's smart and sweet and definitely bangable, but I just don't like that he's putting you in danger."
"Danger?" Jaemin snorts. "Hardly. And if anything I'm putting myself in danger."
So, clearly the situation is worse than Jeno thought. Worse than the Jellash Hex, worse than bees, worse than being taunted during Quidditch and getting your nose snapped in a book.
"I don't like it. I won't ever like it."
"It's not up to you."
"It's not like I need permission to protect you."
"Maybe not, but I won't have you fighting my battles either."
"Okay well... permission to nail our eavesdropper in the eye with a stinging hex?"
Jeno jerks back, disturbing the tree, just as Jaemin jumps and turns from his work, both Slytherins suddenly looking right at the palm Jeno hides behind. He peers through the leaves again to see Donghyuck with his wand out and Jaemin reaching for his own. The joking way Donghyuck revealed the situation belies how tense the two are, suddenly ready for a duel.
They probably think he's from their own house. Slytherins are the worst.
Taking a deep breath, Jeno takes a small step forward, still half-concealed in the leaves of the palm. He extends his hand out and waves it in what he hopes is a friendly way before stepping all the way out, his free hand running through his hair and hanging sheepishly behind his head.
They recognize him immediately but Donghyuck raises his wand higher with a glare that punctures through Jeno like a javelin. Jaemin's eyes bug out and he freezes before covering Donghyuck's wand with his hand and lowering it.
"Jeno Lee, what the fuck are you playing at?" Donghyuck asks, calmly. It's when he's calm that you know you're fucked.
"I... uh...? Errands?" Jeno stammers, holding up his list. "Doyoung needs, you know, things. Supplies. Foxglove and spearmint and fire crab gems—though I'll get that last from Professor Yuta, but... wow, I'm sorry. I should have just—"
"—announced yourself?" Donghyuck feeds quietly, taking a step away towards him, slightly in front of Jaemin.
"Hyuck..." Jaemin warns, grabbing his friend's upper arm but he shrugs him off.
"So how much of that did you hear?" Donghyuck continues, hand on his hip, other hand fingering his wand antagonistically. "Stuff about dear Jaemin here getting fucked with? All because of you?"
"It's not—" Jaemin tries and is interrupted by Donghyuck.
"Try standing up for yourself for once Lee, you would take a literal hell of a burden off him." Donghyuck growls, but his wand is pocketed now, which must be a good sign. "I can hardly see what he sees in you."
"A PERSON." Jaemin snaps, placing himself in between Donghyuck and Jeno. "I see a person. There's nothing special about it, just the fact that he is a living and breathing person means he should be protected from harm. It's bigger than me and him, Hyuck. Bigger than all of us. This shit has to stop."
A good speech, as heartening as it is surprising. Jaemin raises the point of the distraught optimist, a desperate pleading for a better way he doesn't know how to bring about. It touches Donghyuck, who now sports a look of shame and horror. It should touch Jeno, a victim of the abuse, but all he can seem to think about is that 'there's nothing special about it.' There's nothing special about him to Jaemin.
"Just get out of here, okay? I'm watching the greenhouses while Jungwoo is gone, I have to deal with his errand list." Jaemin says in a quieter voice, suddenly tired. Donghyuck looks hesitant so Jaemin presses, "Please Hyuck. Just let me deal with it."
Donghyuck sighs and hangs his head for a moment before he squeezes Jaemin's shoulder tightly with a loaded nod and strolls past him, pretty eyes now on Jeno. Every step he takes closer makes Jeno feel smaller but he stands his ground. Donghyuck stops right in front of Jeno and despite his smaller frame Jeno is very aware that the Slytherin could make him eat dirt right now, with or without a wand.
"I still blame you." He says, donning that powerful calm. "Jaemin's too good for this world, that's why he's trying to make it better. I do not share his goodness."
Jeno prepares himself for death before saying, "I don't think that's true."
Donghyuck raises a curious eyebrow but lets Jeno continue his point, "He wouldn't be friends with you if you weren't good."
Wow. Jeno doesn't know where that came from but he knows it's true. Donghyuck is utterly thrown for a moment before laughing once and slapping Jeno on the shoulder. "Look at you roar, Cowardly Lion. You might be worth his heart after all."
Jeno really doesn't know what to say to that so he just nods. Donghyuck turns back to Jaemin with a small, lazy salute before sauntering on his way and disappearing behind the foliage. Silence falls, bringing with it the shifting of leaves and whistles of some nearby flauna. They stand like that for a few moments before Jaemin looks to his feet and returns to his station to keep potting the ivy.
He's silent for about half a minute before calling, "I know you're still there, Hyuck..."
There's a dramatic sigh from around the corner and Donghyuck bites, "Ugh, fine. Go be all cute and good together."
"Sorry, he's most likely gone by now," Jaemin assures, flashing a soft smile at Jeno before turning back to his work. "Donghyuck is almost always set on noisy and kill modes. To think all you needed to do to shut him up is call him 'good'..."
A laugh works its way out of Jeno's mouth and he walks towards Jaemin. The Slytherin turns his head to look at him, smiling brightly as he says, "You're right though, he is good. He just likes the idea of being bad."
"I meant it." Jeno mutters, taking his place next to Jaemin to watch him work. "You wouldn't be his friend if he were a baddie. Simple as that."
Jaemin hums to himself, blushing at the flattery without responding to it. He tops off the repotting with a bit of loose soil and dusts off his hands. "Let me see your list?"
Okay, so Jaemin wants to completely breeze over what just happened. That works. Jeno hands over the list, testing Jaemin by lingering his fingers on the parchment even as Jaemin grabs it. They brush fingers at the hand off and Jeno really hopes his stupid heart isn't bewitching him when he notices Jaemin's touch lingers as much as his did.
Jaemin's brow wrinkles as he appraises the list. "Hrmm, uh? Okay we got this. You have a basket?"
Basket? Jeno's confusion must be plain because Jaemin's face breaks out into a fond smile. "To carry these ingredients?"
He shakes his head, feeling like a real dumbass. "Didn't think that far ahead, sorry..."
"No problem, you can just take one of ours. Something tells me you'll be sent on greenhouse errands from now on anyway, might as well have your own basket." Jaemin mutters with a smirk, looking to list once more. "The hell does he need Belladonna rhizomes for? Unless our fine Deputy wants to whip up some Nightshade hallucinogens, I don't really see why."
Jeno opens his mouth to answer but Jaemin raises a hand with a smirk. "Ah, no, don't correct me. I choose to believe in the reality that our hardass Deputy trips hallucinogens and micro-doses Nightshade on the sly."
They laugh at the idea of Doyoung tripping on Nightshade and it's easy to shuck off the tension of the interaction before. So clearly they aren't so good at being together if they're not alone, but it also seems like Jeno received some sort of important endorsement from Donghyuck, permission to breathe the same air as Jaemin. It feels like a milestone, like Jeno is one step closer to bringing what they share in the Book Nook to the greater world.
Once they secure a deep wicker basket, Jaemin starts leading Jeno around the greenhouses as they collect the items on his list together. Jeno doesn't really know what to say but that's fine with Jaemin, who runs his mouth about the plants as they come across them, enlightening him about properties and proper trimming methods. This is the first time they've been together in the light of day and Jeno learns more about Jaemin just by watching him in his element.
Jaemin Na is chatty, not necessarily to hear himself talk (though that sometimes is the case) but to impart knowledge and commentary on what he's gathered about the world around him. Jeno likes listening to him, that has never changed. Even since the first year on the Hogwarts Express, that fact has never changed. He makes Jeno carry the basket as he loads handfuls of plants, each tied off, wrapped, or bottled appropriately for travel.
Occasionally they bump elbows as they walk side-by-side through narrow aisles and by now they're doing it on purpose, and even get into little fake scuffles with hips and elbows that Jeno always lets Jaemin win.
I definitely like you...
They come to the end of the list, with Jaemin even going so far as to steal a bottle of Nux Myristica from Jungwoo's private stores. The only thing left is, "Amarylleo fur, huh?"
Jeno nods, craning his neck around the flauna section for any glimpse of the furry plant but finds nothing. "I don't see any... is it that hard to grow?"
Jaemin falls silent and Jeno picks through more plants before turning to him with a raised eyebrow. "What?"
"I mean, yeah, it's hard to grow. It's a higher order flauna, more sensitive and emotionally attuned even before it tastes your blood. It basically has to know you care about it to bloom." Jaemin screws up his face a bit before softening it into a strange grin. "So yeah, they're hard to grow. Kudos to you for that."
Jeno blushes. "Jungwoo did most of it..."
"Yeah, but also no. A lion bloomed for a lion. Point is, you have to grab the fur from your own but be gentle. Amarylleo is sensitive and even if it's loyal to you it'll bite back."
I would never hurt you. Jeno can't help but think. Fuck Jungwoo and those metaphors, now deeply embedded in his perceptions. Maybe that was the point. "It sheds sometimes, I can pick up those..."
"That'd make them less potent." Jaemin shrugs. He's definitely only talking about the flauna.
"Jaemin—" Jeno starts, turning to him and taking a small step closer.
"If you're going to grab the creature ingredients, you better catch Professor Yuta now, he likes to dip for an early dinner most days—"
"Jaemin, look at me."
Jaemin turns, hands stiff and awkward by his side. Jeno is overladen with his cloak and the basket but manages to shift his burdens so he has a free hand. "I'm sorry I eavesdropped."
This clearly isn't what Jaemin was expecting and Jeno gets lucky enough to see a look of cute confusion. "A-apology accepted. I'm, uh, well, I'm definitely sorry you heard that. It really has nothing to do with you, Donghyuck doesn't know what he's talking about."
Maybe Jeno is getting used to Jaemin's kneejerk equivocations because he can see through them much better now. "My offer still stands: come at me. Plan A, pick on me to protect me. I really mean it, pick on me again. I'll know you don't mean it and you'll not get hurt like that Jellash hex..."
"Thank you. For that." Jaemin bites at the inside of his cheek, successfully changing the subject. "For healing me that time."
Jeno wants to rain sweet things like, I'm your personal Healer, or, it hurts me to see your pain, but instead he goes for, "You were awake the whole time, weren't you, asshole?"
"Hahhh, maybe." Jaemin winks. Jeno blushes. "I woke up about halfway through the siphoning. Perfect numbing charm by the way, I didn't feel a thing."
They're just not going to talk about liking each other, huh. Good, because Jeno just doesn't feel prepared for that and Jaemin is clearly trying to avoid it so maybe this isn't the time. But they are still here, lingering together like a couple on a date that doesn't want to part yet.
"So..." Jaemin says suddenly, taking a small step closer, his eyes on the list in his hand but not reading it. It's like he needs a focal point that isn't Jeno.
"Hm?" Jeno looks at his face to determine where Jaemin is going with this, and after he bites his bottom lip and leans in a bit closer Jeno thinks he gets the point—for whatever reason, Jaemin needs Jeno to make the first move here, the first touch. It fits with the pattern they've been developing and Jeno is okay with it as long as Jaemin wants to be touched.
Without another word Jeno reaches for Jaemin's hand, encircling his fingers around his bony wrist, loose and gentle but definitely there. "Hey."
Jaemin sighs and leans into it, shifting his feet for better balance in this new position. His eyes catch on Jeno's pale fingers around his wrist as he responds, "Hello."
"Tell me how I can help you." Jeno whispers, soft as the brush of leaves.
"You... can't." Jaemin still can't make eye contact but follows when Jeno pulls him a bit closer.
"I don't believe that."
Finally his eyes flick up, filled with strength and fondness. "Well, maybe you can make sure I'm not making a stupid decision here."
"Because I am special?" Jeno asks, his fear from before echoing back.
Jaemin is confused by this. "O-of course. Yes, obviously you are." He isn't thinking of what he said when he defended Jeno against Donghyuck and it becomes perfectly clear that he didn't mean it that way at all. There's nothing special about protecting people in general. There's just something special about Jeno.
"Good." Jeno's fingers leave his wrist in favor of weaving their hands together.
"Maybe you can help. Make sure this, whatever we're doing here... just make sure it's all worthwhile." Jaemin mutters, squeezing his hand. "For us."
Us. Fucking us. Jeno squeezes back and begins to pull him along, intending to bring him with for the remaining errands at Yuta's animal pens but Jaemin holds his ground.
"I, uh, well, I have to stay here until Jungwoo gets back. It's policy, you know." Jaemin explains, still holding his hand. He doesn't want to let go.
"You sure?" Jeno asks, not wanting to pressure Jaemin but very aware that the only thing he wants to do right now is spend more time with him. In the light. "Yuta likes me, he'd probably let us ride the hippogriffs—well not ride-ride, just like, trot around a bit. And he's always trying to get people to help socialize his new kneazle kitten..."
It's the only pitch Jeno has besides, hey, maybe let's just keep spending time together, and he's surprised when it actually works. Jaemin bites his lips (drawing Jeno's attention right there, obviously) and swerves his head around ambiguously before ending with a hard nod. "Okay. Let me just get my things and lock up the place."
Jaemin and Jeno have only just reached Jungwoo's office when the professor comes bursting out of it, three large pots of flitterbloom in his arms. Jeno and Jaemin don't hesitate to each grab one to lessen his burden.
"Yahah! Thanks, Jaemin—oh! And Jeno too!" Jungwoo looks too excited to see them together, which only lends credence to the idea that he and Doyoung are invested in setting them up. Or betting on them, it really could be either one. "Okay, just help me get these to their spot..."
Together they each bring one flitterbloom pot to their proper spot and Jungwoo takes a deep breath before looking between the pair of them. "Going somewhere?"
Jeno blushes to his roots and Jaemin rolls his eyes with a scoff but neither denies it.
"Hmm, too bad. I would have liked to see this flourish but Jaemin I really do need you right now, we have to tackle the Japanese knotweed situation before it takes over the entire castle."
Jaemin blanches as he remembers this task and turns to Jeno with a pinched face. "Ah, yeah, that's actually right. It's a time-sensitive eradication and I totally blanked, just, yeah. I'm sorry..."
Jeno waves his hands in front of his chest. "No problem! I get it, when Doyoung needs something, he needs it, I totally understand. Thank you for helping me gather what I needed. I—we'll, uh, yeah."
"Yeah, we'll... uh. Yeah." Jaemin stumbles through the same words, finally blushing.
Jungwoo is watching this like it's the greatest thing he's ever seen and if he weren't a professor Jeno might smack him for it. But he is, so. "Okay, cool. Go kill that stuff and I'll... see you around."
"Yeah, Saturday?" Jaemin asks, hopeful.
As if Jeno would miss their Book Nook nights. Please.
"Always." Jeno flirts. That was flirting, right? Based on the surreptitious thumbs up Jungwoo gives him, it must have been successful.
Jeno bolts before he can make up entirely new stammers to showcase, awkwardly putting on his cloak while still hanging on to his basket. Once properly bundled, he leaves the greenhouses with a gust of pressure change and trudges back to the castle, completely forgetting he was supposed to go to Professor Yuta and get the animal ingredients.
Hell, he makes it three floors up to Gryffindor Tower before he realizes he has to drop off the ingredients with Doyong on the first floor.
Was that a date? Would that have been a full date if they actually went to visit the Care of Magical Creatures yard to ride hippogriffs and pet magical cats? Does he want to kill Jungwoo for his piss-poor timing?
Maybe, yes, and definitely yes.
It's fifth year, two weeks before first semester midterms, and a third year Ravenclaw bursts into Jeno's Charms classroom with tears in her eyes and a note in her hand.
"Jeno Lee! Jeno Lee, are you here?" She cries, visibly shaking. Professor Johnny looks up from a chalkboard in shock, his eyes seeking out Jeno in the back row.
He rises from his chair slowly, confused as he looks at the girl. "I'm Jeno Lee..."
She rushes over to him, tripping over the hems of her robe in haste to get to him. Jeno meets her halfway, reaching for the note. During the handoff he notices her hands are bloodstained, as is the letter. He unfolds it quickly, wit catching up with his eyes as he recognizes Doyoung's elegant, spiky handwriting:
'Hospital Wing, NOW. Unidentified Ravenclaw female was just admitted with at least two dozen breaks and fractures, internal bleeding, collapsed lung, and too much more. Prepping her for transport to St. Mungos, need your assistance.'
Professor Johnny is at their side now and he's good enough not to read the letter over Jeno's shoulder but his curiosity turns to horror when he too notices the blood on the note.
"I... I need to go to the Hospital Wing. The Deputy needs my help with something." Something really bad. In his time at Hogwarts, no student has been injured direly enough to require true hospitalization before.
Johnny nods him off, and Jeno and the third year leave the class in a flurry. The girl takes off at a sprint at once, sobbing, and Jeno quickly hastens his steps to catch up with her.
Blood. Everywhere. Spots on the floor, drips leading to the hospital bed closest to Doyoung's supply closet. There's a smear on the white linen window curtains, some on the window itself, and the normally crisp bedsheets are soaked crimson. Doyoung is at the bedside working furiously over the patient, wand flying so fast it seems like there are three of them. The third year hangs on the threshold with her hand over her mouth but Jeno rushes immediately to his mentor's side, tossing his cloak and bag aside and whipping out his own wand.
The patient is luckily unconscious but she's only breathing because Doyoung flicks his wand at her chest every few seconds. The rest of his time is spent alternating between siphoning the blood and mixing up a number of elixirs to mitigate internal bleeding, replenish blood, and seal any open wounds. He's doing too much at once.
"Tell me what to do." Jeno says strongly, and Doyoung turns to him with wild eyes, blood on his face, hands, and white cloak.
"Keep her breathing." He barks, and Jeno is quick to take over the task. "Can you siphon while pumping air?"
Jeno has no idea but he's lucid and his adrenaline is pumping so he nods, crying, "Tergeo!" as he continues the same pattern of wandwork Doyoung was doing before. It's his first time pumping air AND siphoning blood, but everything works perfectly, allowing Doyoung to focus his full attention to stabilizing her injuries enough so they can floo her over to St. Mungos without further damage.
Things calm down a bit now that the Head of the Hospital Wing isn't doing fifty things at once and Jeno finally takes stock of the victim. Her face is swollen, hair matted and covered with blood even as Jeno strives to clear her of it. Her body is (for lack of a better word) mangled, her arms broken at the elbows and wrists, a bloody rib protruding from her abdomen. Her knee cap looks like it exploded. From the twisting of her body he can tell her back is broken, most likely her neck too.
Merlin's fuck. What happened? Jeno looks over at Doyoung once more, currently pouring some improvised potion down her throat with an admirable steadiness. This isn't the time or place, but in this moment Jeno admires his mentor with every part of his being. This is what he wants to do with his life, Doyoung is who he wants to be.
And Jeno jumped right into it and isn't currently vomiting everywhere in the face of such a heinous scene so maybe he might be able to handle this madness for a career.
"What happened?" Jeno finally asks, continuing to siphon and work her lungs for her.
"She was assaulted on the ninth floor and then tossed down to the first floor stairwell." Doyoung spits, still hard at work. "Slytherin bullying at its absolute worst. As close as they could come to killing her without actually doing it."
Jeno's jaw drops. He knew Slytherins could get nasty, but this? "W-what."
"They'll be expelled, immediately. They'll be arrested, sent to juvenile penance or even general population if the assailants are of age." Doyoung growls, conjuring wrapping tape out of the end of his wand like a ribbon and directing it around one of her broken wrists. "If she survives this, she can identify them."
If she survives. If she survives her Slytherin bullying.
Six floors pass by in a scared blur, more like a fever dream than anything else. Jeno knocks over at least two other students and barrels right through a small group of visiting parents in his haste. For once in his life he doesn’t care, doesn’t apologize for his rudeness because Jaemin Jaemin Jaemin.
When he bursts into the Hospital Wing, he’s immediately paralyzed by the sight before him: Jaemin with half his face swollen, bruised, bleeding. Jaemin with broken fingers and terribly bruised ribs, breathing shakily in a hospital bed. Doyoung busily mixes a poultice for his face and exposed torso, calmly talking to him. Jaemin responds as well as he can in the state he’s in but Jeno can’t hear anything over the fire coursing through his veins.
Jeno doesn’t notice he’s wearing slippers and loungewear, he’s doesn't care that his heart rate is out of whack and that his body forgot what breathing was. The only thing on his mind is Jaemin Jaemin Jaemin.
Doyoung starts to apply the salmon-colored goop to Jaemin’s face and rib bruises, his back turned to Jeno at the doors. Jaemin notices Jeno standing wildly in the doorway and waves sloppily with his unbroken hand, smiling as well as he can when half of his face isn’t working. He says something but Jeno doesn’t hear. Doyoung turns his head, jumping in surprise that Jeno got here so quickly.
It’s a lazy Sunday and Jeno was awakened from a fireside nap by Doyoung’s little elf owl tapping on the window of the Gryffindor common room. Tied to its leg was a small scrap of parchment with a hastily scrawled message: Hospital Wing, NOW. Jaemin Na was just admitted with a concussion, severe bruising, three cracked ribs, two broken fingers, and more.
That was five minutes ago.
“What the fuck happened?” Jeno growls, vaguely aware that he's never heard his voice so hostile before. He jumps to Jaemin’s bedside so quickly he might have actually apparated. Thoughts of keeping their still-developing relationship hidden from the public fly out the fucking window.
Jaemin and Doyoung are both taken aback by the sheer force of Jeno’s malice, unexpected and unfamiliar. The former attempts to whistle appreciatively but it doesn’t come out quite right. “Chill out, Jeno. I’m fine.”
“You are clearly not fine.” Jeno gestures aggressively to Jaemin, eyes lingering on his bruised chest and ribcage. “Who did this?”
Doyoung doesn't add any of his own commentary, smart enough to keep his mouth shut as he does his job.
“What are you gonna do, bring me their heads?” Jaemin asks goofily, his concussion clear as day.
“Then no, I’m not going to tell you.” He mutters, rolling his eyes. His eye. One of them is too swollen to get the job done.
It has to be Slytherins because Jaemin would only defend his own housemates like this. It has to be seventh years because Jaemin is strong enough to defend himself but he’s been truly fucked up. Jeno looks at Doyoung angrily and his mentor abandons his work, raising his hands defensively as he backs away. What’s left is elementary healing, well within Jeno's ability—especially because Jaemin is right, he’s actually fine. His bones are already prepped for mending and Doyoung’s poultice is already making quick work of the bruising.
But it's not about the nature of the injuries, it's why they occurred in the first place.
Doyoung retreats to his office but Jeno rounds on him before he can shut the door. “How the hell could you let this happen? You’re the Deputy Headmaster of this school, why haven’t you made it safe?!”
It’s scarily uncharacteristic coming from Jeno which is probably why it’s so effective. Doyoung freezes, eyes wide. “I… it’s—”
“Don’t cry ‘Slytherin politics’ to me either!” Jeno growls. “You have to do better, you—”
“JENO.” Jaemin cries, grabbing him by the elbow. His touch isn’t calming but it does manage to control Jeno’s sudden, overwhelming anger. "Cool it. This isn't his fault!"
His rage simmers but logic starts to seep through the veil of red. Of course this isn’t Doyoung’s fault, what was he thinking?
“I… sorry. I'm sorry. That was... inappropriate, Doyoung, sir.” Jeno starts, most of the fight leaving him as quickly as it came on. “It’s not your fault at all, how could it be? I... fuck."
“No, this is on me.” Doyoung admits quietly, looking sadly over at Jaemin. “We need to be more proactive about this. I… Jeno can you take over for me? I need to owl Taeyong.”
Sheepish but still charged, Jeno nods, eyes still on Jaemin’s bruises. He shouldn’t have blown up like that. He’s actually never blown up like that in his entire life. Doyoung quickly shuts himself in his office, giving them privacy.
Taking a deep, calming breath, Jeno picks up the healing where Doyoung left off, applying the rest of the poultice to Jaemin’s face and torso before moving to brace and wrap his broken fingers. Already under the effects of a pain relief potion, Jaemin says nothing while he works, watching Jeno’s nimble work with mild awe.
Jeno’s anger helps him focus and once Jaemin’s fingers are braced properly he whips out his wand and nonverbally casts a bone regrowth spell. He’ll deal with the ribs next but there’s nothing to be done about the concussion. Only time will heal that. Only time will heal all of it, but magic will certainly speed the process along nicely.
Once the poultice dries Jeno puts a steady hand under Jaemin’s uninjured ribs, muttering, “Up.”
Jaemin obeys, sitting up immediately with his eyes on his face. Jeno doesn’t meet his gaze, instead he starts to wrap medical tape around his torso, around and around, not too tight but enough to hold his ribs into a better position to heal. After tying off the wrapping, he uses the same spell he used on Jaemin’s hand on his ribs, knowing they will take a bit more time and natural energy to heal than his fingers.
“I got ganked.” Jaemin admits as Jeno slaps a bandaid over a cut on his eyebrow.
“I don’t know what that means.” Jeno breathes, still mad but more in control.
Jaemin laughs but it comes out as a wheeze. “Attacked, jumped, three on one. They were just... there. Strategizing about how to terrorize some Gryffindor and I got mad. I decided I was just done with it. So I talked some shit, said some things about cowards and weakness. That they were lame, juvenile, undeveloped. They didn’t like that so they pounced. You’re right, Slytherins are the woooorst.”
“Only some.” Jeno admits, still seething. He observes his handiwork for the tenth time and realizes he’s done all he can for the moment.
“Hey.” Jaemin mutters, reaching for Jeno’s hand with his uninjured one. “Jeno. Look at me."
He finally does. The swelling is under control now and before his eyes, the bruises are slowly receding. There’s still blood in Jaemin’s eye, still blood seeping from his split lip. He looks like hell, but he’s smiling.
“I brought this upon myself.” He says, narrowing his good eye. “It doesn’t have anything to do with you.”
“How can it possibly have nothing to do with me?” Jeno bites, looking away.
“Eyes, Jeno. I know half of me is minced meat right now but the other half is still lookin’ good. Pay attention to the good half.” Jaemin waits for Jeno to look at him again, squeezing his hand. “They didn’t beat me up because I stopped picking on you, they did this because I made it clear I was going to stop playing their useless game. That it was time for us all to stop. This happened to me because on this fine day I called them cowards and insulted their mothers. I insulted a lot of mothers, and fathers, and dogs. Don’t know why I went for their pets but I definitely did. I just got sick of the attitude and needed them to know that. Come what may. Came what may, I guess, hah.”
“Stupid. Dumb. Rash and brave and foolhardy. Very Gryffindor of you." Jeno grumbles. "I thought the plan was to wait until you ruled the school next year before breaking the system.” Jeno takes a seat on the bed, still holding his hand. Jaemin twists into him slightly, shifting his body with a small wince.
“Yeah, well. I hit a wall. I just... snapped. I'm done with it all.” Jaemin tries to shrug but his rib situation makes it difficult. “It’s hard to recall with the concussion and everything but I may have wanted to be brave. At the very least I chose to be."
His Gryffindor is shining. Jeno rubs his thumb across the back of Jaemin’s hand, saying nothing.
Eventually Jaemin fills the silence. “You really ran all the way here from Gryffindor Tower, huh.”
“You kinda like me too much, huh?”
Jeno shrugs, still moody. Then he nods.
“I’ll take that.” Jaemin mutters, grinning wider than he should and devolving into a wince. He rubs his own thumb in small circles on the back of Jeno’s hand. “I wonder who liked who first?”
“You.” Jeno answers at the same time Jaemin says, “Definitely you.”
Their unison finally shatters Jeno's reticence and with a little laugh, Jeno brings their entwined hands close and kisses the back of Jaemin’s hand. Lightly, afraid of hurting him further. Jaemin’s uninjured half of his face looks supremely fond and make a kissy face.
Rolling his eyes, Jeno kisses his pointer and middle fingers and stamps Jaemin on the forehead.
“Thanks mom.” Jaemin scoffs. “If I wanted forehead kisses I’d just write Mrs. Lee and—”
Jeno shuts him up with a gentle kiss on the lips. Then one to the nose, to the forehead, and back to his swollen lips. Jeno cradles his jaw softly, despite knowing that such gentleness is unnecessary given the effects of the pain relief potion. He just wants to treat him well, to let Jaemin know without words that he's worth being cared for. Jaemin might be okay with being hurt like this but Jeno is not. He can't protect him the way Jaemin did for him, but he can do this.
"I'll make it worthwhile." Jeno whispers on his lips before snuggling closer.
Jaemin smiles softly before chasing his lips again. "You better."
"I will. You go make the world better for all of us and I'll give you bandaids and kisses—"
Stealing another kiss, Jaemin pulls away to nuzzle their noses. "My very own Healer. And you wonder why I stopped you from taking heads for me? Your hands are for healing, not harming. That's what Donghyuck is for."
"Damn straight." Comes the voice of Donghyuck.
Jeno draws away from Jaemin and turns to see three unlikely companions in the doorway. Donghyuck looks pleased as a fat cat at the sight of them together, rubbing his hands together as he follows up with, "These hands are for beheading."
Renjun looks a bit shaken but he's smiling, obviously determining the situation to be under control and undeserving of his superior skills to assist.
Mark stands between them with his hands covering his eyes, shoulders hunched and ears red. "Oh God, what... what are my eyes seeing?" He moans.
“Kissing.” Renjun’s clear explanation follows.
It makes sense that they’re all here, now that he thinks about it. Mark was there in the common room when Jeno received Doyoung’s message and obviously followed him at his own pace. Renjun and Donghyuck would no doubt have known that Jaemin got, what was it, ganked and from the looks of Donghyuck’s bloody knuckles he went for some retribution of his own.
Mark opens his mouth, shuts it, and then opens it again, his hands dragging down his eyes. "I'm sorry, this is just... breaking my brain."
"Good. Your noggin could use a good scramble." Donghyuck nudges him. Mark jumps away on impulse but then realizes that the Slytherin means him no harm for once and relaxes a bit. "Reset the system, start from scratch."
"Is this a trap? Some long con?" Mark mutters, side-eyeing Donghyuck and then looking back to Jeno.
"No, this is real. Real liking. Emotions and stuff." Jaemin calls from the bed. Jeno just laughs and cups the side of his neck.
"Is it that hard to believe Slytherins and Gryffindors can get it on?" Donghyuck asks, way too lecherously for Mark's virgin ass to handle.
Renjun sighs. "You're scaring the Golden Boy, Hyuck."
Mark and Donghyuck both open their mouths to retort when suddenly Doyoung comes flying into the scene, knocking the three a few steps back with a flick of his wand. “Buh-bye kids. Hospital Wing is now off-limits to non-essential personnel.”
Waving his wand once more, the Hospital Wing’s doors shut in their faces. Doyoung turns to Jaemin and Jeno with a satisfied smile, pocketing his wand and dusting off his hands. “Never thought I’d aid and abet a teenage makeout, but here we are. And what, it's Sunday right? Looks like I won the pot!”
So they were betting on Jeno and Jaemin. Rude. Doyoung saunters triumphantly back into his office and peeks his head out for a parting shot. "I officially declare this space a temporary make-out zone. Knock on my door when it’s safe for me to come out.”
Jeno hasn’t stopped blushing the whole time but Jaemin just laughs and salutes Doyoung.
When he shuts his door Jaemin flutters his lashes at Jeno, puckering for another kiss. Jeno gives it to him because he’s a sucker for Jaemin Na. Always has been.
Jaemin laughs through the kiss, pulling away slightly. “Seriously though, what kind of idiot falls for his bully?”
“What kind of bully falls for his victim?” Jeno shoots back.
“Um? All of them.” Jaemin answers with a sly smile. “I mean, have you ever heard the term, ‘pulling pigtail—”
Jeno is going to have to kiss Jaemin into silence from now on, huh. He can't say he's bothered.