“So, how did Taehyung's brother take the news?”
Sehun answers with a noncommittal noise. In his pathetic attempt to avoid the question he starts looking at Minseok's office. It's his real office this time, not his personal apartments, and it looks bare and sad. Minseok clearly doesn't spend a lot of time here.
“According to the furious letter he wrote us, he is quite angry. That doesn’t surprise me.”
A noncommittal noise, again, is Sehun's answer.
Minseok is probably thinking about Baekhyun, one of the most cunning, manipulative snakes the Slytherin House has ever raised among its silver and green walls. Brilliant, restless, impudent. He talked too much and fought even more, viciously, when someone tried to talk back. He laughed and mocked and made everyone feel like they would never be enough to spar with him. Loud, cruel and not quite used to forgiveness, Baekhyun had quite a reputation during his Hogwarts years.
Kris was the lonely king with too many girlfriends, Jongin was the reckless hooligan with enough money to cover the proofs of his foolishness, Zitao was the spoiled kid who could buy the entire school if only he asked with enough grace and Sehun was the cold, bored prince. But Baekhyun was the emperor no one in Hogwarts really wanted to mess up with, the one who came from a family who was rumored to still practice Dark Arts, a family who had close links with criminals and murderers.
Byun Baekhyun always gets what he wants, is what they whispered at midnight, when someone felt like scaring the freshmen. Byun Baekhyun is dangerous.
Baekhyun reveled in the attention, in the hiss of whispers that followed him like an unmistakable signature as he crossed the corridors. “Let them murmur,” he would say every time Zitao came to him with juicy gossips about Baekhyun's last jinx.
“Are you sure?” Jongin would ask, “Rumor is that you jinxed Park Chanyeol because he dared to watch you yesterday at dinner. He woke up tonight feeling like he was dying and we could hear him from the Gryffindor table this morning, swearing on his right hand that he heard your evil laughter before he fell down the bed and threw up.”
Baekhyun would've laughed for real then, long and outright amused. “Maybe Chanyeollie should've laid down on the pudding yesterday at dinner, don't you think so? But I'm quite flattered that he thinks about me even in the middle of such a severe indigestion. I'll let him know that the feeling is mutual.”
Zitao would pout, Kris would sigh, Jongin would ask if he really can't do anything about those punks who trash talk his dear Baekhyun and Sehun would yawn and go back to napping on the breakfast table, next to the scrambled eggs. Baekhyun would simply scroll his shoulder and say, “Let them talk. What can they do to me anyway?”
He didn't mind the words, but he wouldn't forgive physical violence against him or his friend and family, like Yoo Youngjae had learnt at his own expenses.
Sehun knows what Minseok is thinking right now. But if the rest of Hogwarts only knew a violent, despotic emperor, his fellow Housemates only remembered Baekhyun's loud, silly laugh every time Park Chanyeol tried to trip him in the hallways and failed miserably. “That Gryffindor seriously has a crush on me,” he would say. They remembered his pretty hands, the way his hair would bounce as he jumped down the stairs of the boys' dorms because he was late to class and the way he always made sure no one of them was hurt when he could, and that everyone who hurt them was punished when he couldn't keep them safe. Slytherin knew Baekhyun's wit and his love for Italian Muggle sweets and Italian Muggle opera, and the way his eyes shone when he found a way to break the rules and do things his own way. We break the old rules to make new ones, was his motto.
Baekhyun was manipulative, overdramatic and smarter than everyone else. He tutored Wendy during her first year and he was the one who taught her how to be the best of her classes, always. Baekhyun didn't have any power, he never became Head Boy or Quidditch Captain and he refused to be Prefect because he was too lazy for the night strolls, but there was no one more respected than him in Slytherin.
Sehun respected him too. Like a friend and like the brother he never had.
A few hours ago, in front of the green fire of Wendy's fireplace, Oh Sehun nervously swallowed a lump of acid and fear. He didn't fear Baekhyun's revenge - he will never have to fear Baekhyun's reaction that way because Baekhyun is vicious with his enemies and forgiving to a fault with his friends - but his disappointment, and even more his sadness. Baekhyun cares about Taehyung in a way that Sehun, only and lonely child of two only and lonely children, will never understand.
If Sehun closes his eyes, here in Minseok's office, he can still taste that mix of failure and self-repulsion on the roof of his mouth and at the back of his throat.
When Sehun told him the news, Baekhyun didn't - as Minseok probably expected him to - shout or have a nervous fit or threaten someone. There was always time to do that later. Baekhyun listened, in silence, his eyes focused only on Sehun. He asked a few questions - whether Taehyung was alright, what happened, why did it happen. Who did it. Then he closed the communication, disappearing in a spiral of angry flames. He didn't spare a word for Sehun.
Sehun waited there for hours, sitting on the edge of Wendy's empty bed, as a cold that not even the magic fire could mitigate slowly penetrated deep in his bones.
Wendy came back, disheveled, exhausted and smiley, and Sehun didn't have to ask to know that Seulgi had said yes. She collapsed on the bed and he didn't have the heart to tell her that, a few floors above their heads, Taehyung was still unconscious, Sooyoung was sleeping the sleep of a spell and Jimin and Ren were waiting, watching over them.
“Go to bed,” he simply said, leading her to the bed.
“And what about you?” she asked, between yawns.
“I'm waiting for a call from Baekhyun, don't worry.”
And she didn't. She fell asleep. Now, with dawn barely visible through the cape of clouds carelessly draped over the castle, Sehun knows that it's only a matter of time before Wendy wakes up and someone tells her. News travel fast in Hogwarts. They crawl on the walls and fall from the painted mouth of a portrait to the translucent ears of a ghost, and the story changes its shape every time is told anew by someone else. Sehun has no doubt that at breakfast everyone will talk about the epic fight of the Forbidden Forest, where the Gryffindor hero Yoo Youngjae defeated alone an army of evil Slytherins. He hopes Youngjae enjoys this last moment of popularity because Baekhyun will probably have him expelled.
“Do you want to tell me what happened, Sehun?” Minseok's voice is a tired as his face is, strained in the faint light of dawn.
“Is Taehyung awake?” he asks, instead of answering. Minseok frowns but answers anyway. “Yes, he is. He's with his brother at the moment.”
“Is he alright?”
He already knows he's alright. He ordered one of Slytherin's House Elves to inform him if Taehyung woke up, but he needs to hear it from Minseok's lips. He need that kind of reassurance to keep breathing normally.
“Taehyung or his brother? Because Byun Taehyung is perfectly fine, but Byun Baekhyun was seconds away from having a nervous fit. The Headmaster says Baekhyun is going to press charges and that he wants the culprit out of the school before the end of the week. And that brings us back to the original question.” He intertwines his fingers and drops his chin on his joined hands. “Do you want to tell me what happened, Sehun?”
“I've already told you yesterday night, I think.”
Minseok sighs, running his finger through his hair. “I can't do my job if you don't help me, Sehun. Why did those students target you and your friends?”
This time Sehun feels it, a little bubble of irritation, growing inside his stomach and ready to expand, slowly but surely. “Are you really asking myself why? Isn't it obvious?”
“It's not obvious to me,” retorts Minseok.
“You were a student less than four years ago, do you want to tell me you don't remember?”
Gryffindor against Slytherin. Scratch that, everyone against Slytherin. Sehun has spent almost seven years in this school and nothing has ever changed.
Minseok frowns. “This has nothing to do with me. A student could've lost his life and no one wants to tell me the reason. Not a simple student, one of your friends, Sehun. We need to know what happened, we need a reason or-”
“Or you'll be forced to acknowledge that a Gryffindor student, one of your precious Gryffindor friends, attacked a Slytherin student simply for the sake of doing it. Because that's what happened.”
“No, it can't be true.”
But it is. Minseok shakes his head, stubbornly. Now Sehun can't see it, the cage, red and golden. Gryffindor. Graduated or not, Minseok is still part of his old House.
“I know Youngjae and he's a good boy. He would never hurt someone like that.”
“Then ask him, not me. Ask Taehyung now that he's awake, whether he did something to deserve a wand pointed to his head.” Taehyung, who doesn't know how to fight but is so good at Wizard's Chess.
“I'm asking you.”
“I'm answering!” His voice rises and falls in a broken murmur, “But you're not listening. What's the point of asking the truth if you won't believe me?”
What’s the point of being a teacher who can’t treat all his students in the same way? What’s the point of graduating if by doing that you can’t also scroll the colors of your House away, if Sehun will forever be Slytherin’s prince and doomed to fight with every Gryffindor he meets in his life?
Minseok has no answers to Sehun’s question and for a moment Sehun wants to hurt him, say something even worse, something that will make Minseok feel the same shame Yoo Youngjae felt yesterday.
But the teacher looks as lost as Sehun is. Minseok is only twenty one years old, barely graduated. They took him out of the university and threw him back in the same classrooms where he lived a few years before, with the same boys and girls who were his juniors. He's still a Gryffindor, blind to the truth, firm believer of the moral righteousness of his House.
He's still one of them.
“I thought you were different,” Sehun says, in a broken sob. I thought you were kind and wise, I thought you looked at me, four years ago, and saw the real Sehun, the kid who was so scared of his own father that he had to call you Mudblood just to get his approval. But I never looked at you and saw a Gryffindor, I never saw a Mudblood. I just saw a boy with the nicest smile and pretty eyes who saved me from Pebbles and didn’t treat me any different just because I was a Slytherin.
That boy was a lie, now Sehun knows, the dream of a fourteen years old kid who wanted so desperately to love and to be loved to fall for the first kind hand extended in his direction.
There’s another Kim Minseok now in his heart, a boy who likes to teach and follows Sehun to the Astronomy Tower bathroom just to make sure he eats and doesn’t smoke on the school ground. A boy who wears a dragon leather jacket, drinks pumpkin juice at breakfast and likes to read young adult sci-fi books. A boy who steals long glances at Sehun when he thinks Sehun can’t see him and quickly averts his eyes before he’s caught staring. The same boy who looks flustered when Sehun gets too close but he’s the first to get close, almost as if he can’t get enough of Sehun - that’s what Sehun likes to think, anyway.
Before he realized, Oh Sehun fell out of love with Head Boy Kim Minseok just to fall in love with Minseok, simply Minseok. But Sehun is seventeen years old, young - more like childish, and proud, so proud - and his heart can’t contain more than one emotion at a time. So he pushes the memories of Minseok’s dark eyes away, deep inside his heart - like he's always done, that’s why he’s so good at doing this - and feeds on the anger, on the compelling, scalding sense of injustice blazing in his chest, a cold fire that turns his face into a mask of stone and contempt.
Kim Minseok realizes, with a cruel, painful clarity, the moment he stops being someone Sehun trusts and respects. He tries to stop Sehun from standing up and leaving, but Sehun doesn't want to listen.
He's still one of them and he doesn't trust me. I can't trust him either.
Baekhyun is joking with Sooyoung when Sehun arrives at the Infirmary, tucking a runaway strand of hair behind her ear and being unnecessarily flirtatious just to make her blush and laugh. He's come alone, no mother, no father and no brother in tow, and Sehun knows it couldn't have been any other way, not since he and Taehyung left the family house to never come back, according to Baekhyun.
When Sehun arrives, Jimin is the first to notice. He gets up to greet him, together with Ren. Sooyoung smiles, but it's Baekhyun's reaction that Sehun fears. Baekhyun smiles too and Sehun replies weakly.
“How is he?” he asks, sitting next to Ren on the bench.
“He's fine. They're running the last check-up before he can meet these rascals.”
When finally Madam Lee gives them permission to see Taehyung, Sehun doesn't follow the other sixth-years inside the soundproofed room. Baekhyun doesn't go either.
“I already saw him. Besides, I need to talk to Sehunnie here,” he says with a wink, when Jimin sends them an unsure glance. “Just go and cheer him up, he's been in a sour mood since when he woke up this morning. He needs his best friend.”
Sehun starts rehearsing an apology in his mind, but Baekhyun doesn't wait for him to talk.
“You don't have to apologize, you know. Taehyung is not your responsibility.”
“I still should've been with him.”
“He was with his date, how strange would've been for him to have you tagging along? Be realistic, Sehunnie.”
Baekhyun ruffles his hair and Sehun shakes his head, annoyed. “I'm trying to apologize here!”
“Taehyung is fine.” There's a sort of finality in Baekhyun's words. An entire set of wrong turns and scary possibilities, what-ifs in which things didn't go so well and maybe now they would be mourning a friend and a brother. But Baekhyun has never been the type to linger on possibilities. There is only one reality and Taehyung is fine. “You don't need to apologize, it was not your fault Sehun.”
“But it was. Yesterday night Jimin came to look for me, because he relies on me. He expected me to do something. But I've always relied on someone else and I didn't know what to do...”
“There is no instruction book for life, Sehun. There is no right or wrong behavior for a situation like that. But what you did yesterday night probably saved a few lives.” Baekhyun pauses. He ruffles Sehun's hair again, and this time Sehun lets him. “Thank you for looking out for him. You're growing up, Sehunnie.”
“Are you really not angry?”
“Oh, I am. I really want to file a lawsuit against the school for what happened, but should I have to remind you that both me and my brother have been disowned? Oh, well, Taehyung has been disowned. My accounts have only been frozen until I come back home, but you know too well why I can't do it.”
“But I'm not that angry. It happened to everyone of us, at least once in our life, to get involved in a stupid fight among different Houses. House pride, Quidditch and girls are the most common reason for a brawl in Hogwarts and all three were involved yesterday night.”
“He could've been seriously hurt.”
“Sure enough, and that's why the people who hurt him will be in serious trouble after I'll be done with them.”
“The thing that hurts me the most is that none of thing would've happened if Taehyung had been Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw instead of Slytherin. Doesn't it bother you? We can't drop our guard for a single night... It was just a party, for Salazar's sake!” The people in our House are really good people. Me? I’m just your regular spoiled Slytherin heir. But they deserve better. “We’re always the outcasts, the traitors, the cheaters, the targets, and I’m tired of people judging me my whole life. I’m sick of this stupid rule that states that we are the bad guys!”
Baekhyun’s smile is light, almost patronizing, but there’s an edge to his eyes. Something glistens dangerously under the calm surface.
“Who are you fighting for, Sehunnie? Are you angry for your House, for your friends or simply for yourself?”
He doesn’t answer, because he doesn’t know. His life used to be so simple, flat and plain, grey like the misty hills around the castle. Why is everything so difficult now?
“You know, Sehunnie, I’ve always wanted to be in Slytherin, because Slytherin means you have the power to change things. Breaking the old rules to make new ones, that's what we do.”
Baekhyun knows it better than anyone else. Slytherin from a family of Slytherins, he left his family immediately after he graduated. He just took his brother Taehyung and disappeared, hired a lawyer to deal with the legal consequences of his actions. It was a scandal – the two younger sons of one of the wealthiest and most influential Pureblood families running away from home, the news filled the first pages of every magic newspaper for the whole summer – but only Baekhyun’s closest friends know why he did it. Sehun has seen the ugly scars on Taehyung’s back, signs from both hexes and belts, signs that Baekhyun’s father put there after he found out that his third son was not his son, but a bastard, the son of a Muggle librarian. A Half-Blood. A shame on the Byun lineage. Baekhyun spared his father the trouble of throwing Taehyung out and simply walked away with him.
Baekhyun, who was the bravest out of them, who laughed at the Sorting Hat suggestion to go to Gryffindor and chose Slytherin instead. “That's what we can do. That's what you have to do now. It doesn't matter if there's a rule that states that Slytherin shouldn't be trusted. There's also a rule that says that Hufflepuffs are weak and Ravenclaws are stuck up. This whole castle is built from dust and prejudices, unspoken rules that have dictated our life since forever. In this world, rules are everything. But it doesn't have to be like this. You have the power to change things, if you want. But only if you want, Sehunnie.”
“But I don't know what to-” he stops mid-sentence and thinks of Seulgi bringing him lunch and Jung Ilhoon whining because Sehun beat him at Mario Kart. He thinks of Jung Hoseok and Yoo Youngaje staying behind to help Taehyung, even if they were just solving the mess their carelessness had created. He thinks of him and Youngjae, talking in the darkness of the Arithmancy class, and it felt like it was the first time they were having a real conversation in seven years - they have talked before, but never like this, never like equals. He thinks that even the better people can fall prey of misconceptions, people like Seulgi, like Minseok, even people like himself. Sehun has lived in a world made of darkness and prejudices for most of his life, but now he's different and maybe he's the one who can make that difference for someone else. Maybe he knows what to do. He can be that change.
Baekhyun smiles to someone behind Sehun, standing at the door.
“See? I told you, my juniors are so much better than yours. My Sehunnie is so smart, he doesn’t even need my life lessons anymore.”
Sehun turns to face Park Chanyeol, Baekhyun's rival during Hogwarts years. The boy ignores Sehun but rolls his eyes at the ceiling at Baekhyun's words. “Yes, Your Supreme Wisdom. I've talked to Youngjae and I know the name of the culprit. The real culprit. He's a Third Year Gryffindor.”
“Will he confess?”
Chanyeol nods. “Actually, it was really difficult to get a confession out of him. He kept saying he didn't do anything back and that it was the Slytherin who attacked him. But Minseok really insisted, he didn't let him go until he got the truth out of him.”
Sehun freezes but it's Baekhyun who asks, “Minseok?”
“Yes, Kim Minseok, do you remember him? He was two years our senior. He was hired as substitute teacher for Professor Jung after she got married and he really helped me and Youngjae to make that kid confess.”
Sehun barely hears the rest of the conversation, Chanyeol talking about the kid facing his punishment - “Expulsion!” singsongs Baekhyun gleefully - “... which will not be expulsion,” continues Chanyeol, with a glare.
“Oh, it will definitely be expulsion, Park, I'll make sure of it.”
They keep bickering and they barely notice Sehun, who slides back on the bench and wonders if his words actually managed to reach Minseok. He knows he wasn't only because of him, but he hopes that, if Yoo Youngjae and Minseok have convinced the real culprit to come out and admit his faults, it was also because of him. It won't change everything, but it's a start, nevertheless.
“And anyway where are those two slackers?”
Chanyeol's voice booms through the Infirmary, interrupting Sehun's thoughts and getting him a glare from Madam Lee Soonkyu, the school nurse.
As if summoned by the question, other two people enter the room.
“Look who's talking... We should've let you come alone with Byun, Park.”
Sehun blinks, twice, to be sure he's not hallucinating.
“Oh, Sehunnie, since you're here I'll introduce you to the rest of my team. You already know Park Chanyeol - how could you forget? seeing that he not-so-secretly pined for me for seven years.” He quickly avoids getting stabbed between the ribs by Chanyeol's wand.
“Stop doing that Chanyeol! It's very dangerous, what if you hit him with a spell?”
Baekhyun points to the boy who's just talked. “That one is Kim Jongdae and the bored short thing near the door is Do Kyungsoo.”
Sehun remembers about them. Kim Jongdae was a Ravenclaw with terrible grades who used to sell Love Potions in exchange for homework and Hufflepuff Do Kyungsoo was Head Boy in Baekhyun's year. Sehun weakly greets them.
“They're your team?” he asks, to Baekhyun.
“We're still trainers, but if we survive this year together we'll become real Aurors, next year.”
Baekhyun smiles brightly but Do Kyungsoo is practicing his most murderous face, Park Chanyeol looks resigned to his sad destiny and Kim Jongdae is outright amused. Sehun wonders who the hell decided that putting a Slytherin, a Gryffindor, a Hufflepuff and a Ravenclaw together in the same team could be a good idea. There should be a rule against this, because those four together just means trouble.
But then Baekhyun winks and Sehun remembers his motto. We break the old rules to make new ones. Baekhyun is shaping his own future, fighting his own battles. It's time Sehun starts doing the same.
The wind howls in the Forbidden Forest, stripping the trees of their dresses made of mist and dried leaves and leaving only dark, gnarled wood behind. But in the safety of the dungeons, protected by cold stone and surrounded by the water of the lake, Oh Sehun can't hear the cries of the winds.
The dungeons are cold, even the fire is cold - blue and green flames, burning bright but not hot - but with Taehyung back the Common Room has never felt warmer. Wendy leans over to pinch Sehun, hard and vicious. Tomorrow, a purple dark bruise will blossom on his white skin. He sighs and scoots over to make space for her in the overcrowded coach and he almost pushes Yerim out. He ends up with Yerim on his lap, the rest of the House snickering and whistling, but she blushes and smiles and politely thanks Sehun before she goes back to watch Taehyung's and Jimin's game of Wizard's Chess. They're both in the Wizard's Chess Club and they're pretty good. Sooyoung is cheering for Jimin just to spite Taehyung while Ren whispers strategy advices to Taehyung's ear. The rest of the House is scattered across the Common Room, studying, chatting, or watching the game. It feels really warm.
Taehyung's right arm is in a cast and he winces every now and then. They still can't use magic to heal him. “A side effect of the failed curse,” assured Madam Lee, “that will disappear in a few weeks.” Now, every time Taehyung leaves the dungeons, a tiny shadow follows him everywhere, carrying his books and cutting his Potion ingredients for him. His name is Jeon Jungkook and he's the Fourth Year Gryffindor who hexed Taehyung that night in the forest. Sooyoung and Jimin hate him but, surprisingly, Taehyung has taken a liking to the kid.
“He's not a bad person. He feels guilty for what happened, you know? And they told him that when a Slytherin draws his wand you have to be faster than him or he'll Avada Kedavra you without regrets.”
Sooyoung grumbles something on the lines of kids who know curses at such a young age can't be trusted and Jimin simply crosses his arms and never lets Jungkook out of his sight when he's with Taehyung. When they ask him, Sehun simply sighs and reminds them that Taehyung has no survival skills. “You better give up. If Taehyung is stupid enough to take a boy who almost killed him under his wing there's nothing we can do. He's beyond salvation.”
He doesn't remind them that a long time ago, when Taehyung became friend with Half-blood, Slytherin reject Park Joy Sooyoung, Jimin reacted in the same exact way, and now he worships the ground she walks on. He doesn't tell them that Taehyung chooses his friends very well and maybe there's a reason he trusts this scrawny, quiet boy who plays Seeker for Gryffindor's team and is willing to learn how to play Wizard's Chess from Taehyung.
To be honest, Jungkook is not so bad. Whenever Sehun is around, he's usually too terrified to bother him and Sehun prefers the nervous silence he keeps with him to his awkward, pathetic attempts to make friends with Jimin and Sooyoung.
The game ends with Jimin's victory and Taehyung throws the rests of his fallen pieces at Ren for his bad advices. Sooyoung and Jimin highfive, Yerim laughs and Wendy complains she can't read her book like this, but she's trying so hard to keep the corners of her mouth from curling upwards in a laugh. Sehun feels warm.
He likes these Slytherin nights, spent all together in the Common Room. He feels protected in the snakes' den, wrapped in the cocoon of laughs of his Housemates in the belly of the castle. He doesn't have to think of all the problems that await him outside the dungeons. Teachers have begun to pester the students about things like career orientation and the necessity of doing well for their N.E.W.T. exams. Wendy is still thinking of going to Germany with a scholarship, together with Seulgi, and Sehun... Sehun usually shrugs and avoids the question but the truth is he has a very detailed idea of what he would like to do, but his parents would never let him so there's no point in thinking about it.
Minseok would probably know what to say and Sehun wants nothing more than to talk to him, again, but Minseok doesn't want to talk. Not anymore.
Since the Halloween incidents, Minseok has gone back to pretending that his and Sehun's friendship has never happened - that the almost kiss has never happened. They meet every week for the Muggle Studies class, but the teacher has never made an effort to talk to him and Sehun, after stupidly hoping that Minseok would make the first move, hasn't found the courage to do it himself. Not yet.
Sehun wakes up at dawn, the memory of a dream - the dream of a memory - still swirling in his sleepy eyes. He dreamed of that day Minseok almost kissed him. In the dream, Minseok was wearing the dragon leather jacket and his hair was dark and messy, falling over his eyes in a way that made Sehun's heart flutter.
There are no classes today, so he just lets himself lie down in bed, reveling in the warmth accumulated under the covers, his eyes closed as he relives the almost-kiss moment countless times, wondering what could've happened if he had just leant down and met Minseok midway. His heart beats so fast it almost hurts in his chest. He touches it, slowly, feeling it throb under his fingers, tumtumtumtum...
A knock on his door shatters the atmosphere of peace he's managed to create. He ignores it, grumbling angrily when the knocking persists.
“What the hell do you want?” he growls, hoping it's not Wendy. Wendy would kick his ass for weeks if he dared answer like that to her. It can’t be her – she was supposed to take part in the Head Students meeting with the rest of the Student Council. But if it’s not her, coming to drag him back to the world of the living and make sure he doesn’t waste his entire Saturday, Sehun doesn’t know who could be. His morning caprices are legendary and all the underclassmen are scared of waking him up without a good reason. Freshmen don't even dare to walk near his room at the wee hours of the morning.
A nervous face appears in the crack between the door and the wall. Sehun recognizes Taehyung, his features twisted in a hesitant expression. Oh, it makes sense that they would send a sixth year, and one of the few people in his entire House whom Sehun likes, to knock at his door.
“Prefect Oh, there are two Gryffindors at the door. They're asking about you.”
Gryffindors? He has nothing to say to Gryffindors and he clearly doubts that they have something interesting to tell him. And why is Taehyung calling him Prefect Oh? “Send them away. What time is it? Isn't it rude to bother someone at dawn?”
“It is midday, Prefect Oh,” says Taehyung, immediately stepping back in front of the venomous glare that Sehun sends to him. “They're bothering the gargoyle at the main door and everyone who comes inside to let them in. The girl says she's a friend of Wendy, but we can't open the door without permission. And the boy says he needs to talk with you.”
“Who is the boy?” he rasps, feeling his throat screech and protest. He's reluctant to admit it, but he's a little curious. The girl is probably Seulgi, come to talk with Wendy. But he's really at loss about who the boy might be.
Ah, Ilhoon. The Muggle Studies project. Sehun’s numb brain slowly collects the dots until the boy takes a deep breath and gets up, his entire body weakened by the sickness and the usual low blood pressure.
His head spins and he winces. “Fetch me a House Elf, I need some coffee,” he hisses, and Taehyung nods and disappears.
The glorious House of Slytherin was built under the lake, where it’s always humid and cold. They can hear the song of the water, travelling through the stone and dripping in the long, narrow corridors of the dungeon, but they can also feel the humidity, like a monster with thousand hands ready to sneak under light shirts to grip limbs in a cold, tight hold. Sehun especially regrets having been chosen to be part of this House when he's sick and he clearly feels his limbs aching and shivering, his bones creak and his muscles scream. Wrapping a nightgown around his body, he crosses the few corridors that brings him to the Common Room and the giant door that leads outside the dorms.
Slytherin’s Common Room is dark, only lit by little candles and the blue-green flames dancing inside the fireplace. The heavy velvet tapestries in green and silver hanging from the walls make the room feel even more claustrophobic. But it’s not the furniture that worries Sehun.
There’s a knot of younger students hovering near the door, loudly debating whether they should come out and tell the Gryffindor students on the other side of the stone portal to go away. They turn towards Sehun and watch with wide eyes as he cuts his way through them, probably surprised to see him already up and walking around on a festive day with no mandatory classes. Luckily, being a seventh year student and a prefect still gives him some kind of power over them, so he glares at them until they teem away. Then, sighing, he opens the door to find Seulgi and a dejected Jung Ilhoon arguing with the gargoyle.
“Look, I told you I’m friend with Son Wendy, didn’t I? Oh, Sehunnie, you’re here.”
He flinches at her loud voice. “Keep it down, please. Why are you here?”
“Oh, Ilhoonie here needed to talk with you for your Muggle Studies project, but he was too shy to come on his own so I just came along with him, to protect him from the big bad Slytherins!”
Color creeps on Ilhoon's face at her words, and even though Seulgi, like too many students in her House, is too loud, bratty and also a bit of a busybody, a girl who can make Jung Ilhoon blush is a girl who has Sehun's respect.
“He could’ve simply asked me during lunch, in the Great Hall,” he answers, hiding a snicker.
“If only you still went there to eat lunch,” she counterattacks, “but we haven’t seen you among us poor peasants since the last time I bothered to fetch you from your Muggle Studies class and dragged you there, more than a week ago. Desperate times call for desperate measures, Oh Sehun.”
This time it’s his turn to blush, and he turns towards the door to hide it, muttering slowly. “Why would I want to eat my lunch there? Too many Gryffindors. And Hufflepuffs. Loud people. Terrible for my migraines. I hate peasants,” he bites back. He can hear Ilhoon’s outraged huff and Seulgi’s annoyed snort. Suits them. He’s Slytherin’s prince and these two fools woke him up early on a Saturday morning to talk about something as vulgar as a Muggle Studies project. He shivers. There are too many drafts in the corridor and he still feels a bit sick.
“Come on,” he says, patting the gargoyle’s arm with an exasperated sigh. “Get inside. It’s not that much warmer but at least there are magic fires in the Common Room.”
“Are you inviting us? Inside? After you just insulted us?” Ilhoon protests vehemently, but he’s as curious as Seulgi and they sneak inside cautiously, almost as if they’re expecting this to be a trap, an invitation into enemy territory that hides an ambush attack.
Sehun ignores the indignant whispers of his House mates at the sight of two Gryffindors crossing the holy doors of Slytherin. It must be the first time in decades. He leads them in front of the fire, glaring at everyone, almost challenging the other student in the room to say something. No one dares.
Sooyoung’s favorite blanket, enchanted by Sehun himself four years ago so that no one can steal it from her – back then, it happened way too many times - lies abandoned on the sofa. The spell recognizes its maker and Sehun wraps the warm fabric around himself. It smells like long nights spent studying in front of the magic fire, it smells like Sooyoung and laughs and her kind smile. He sniffs a little and gestures for the two Gryffindors to sit on the elegant armchairs.
“Where is Wendy?” asks Seulgi.
“The Headmaster called a meeting,” he simply answers. “I don’t know when she will be back.”
“It was nice of you, to let us in. It’s really cold in the dungeons,” she says, politely.
He snorts. “I would’ve gladly left you there all morning, but I needed to talk with Jung and I was freezing my ass off out there.”
“Oh, thank you, Your Graciousness, for admitting two peasants like us inside the glorious House of Slytherin. Do you want us to bow to your magnificence?”
Seulgi elbows Ilhoon, telling him to shut up and then looks at Sehun apologetically. “You should forgive him. It’s not his fault he doesn’t know what politeness is.”
“Yeah, my only fault was agreeing to come here to get treated like this.”
And really, Sehun could tell them to get out of his dorms and leave him alone. He could. Ilhoon is already on the verge of leaving by himself and the other Slytherins are not happy with this Gryffindor invasion either. He’s sick and tired and cranky, his coffee hasn’t arrived yet and he really has no desire to deal with the secular rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin now. And yet, something stops him.
Things have started to change after Halloween, for all of them. Sehun loathes to admit it, but even if Ilhoon is an ass he came to Slytherin, to the snakes' den, just to talk to Sehun. He made an effort to be here now. And Sehun doesn’t need him, he doesn’t need his friendship or his company or his trust, but it's not often that someone outside his own House tries so hard for him and he can’t simply let it go to waste. He wants these people to stay, to look past the rumors and the cold façade of Slytherin’s prince and see him, Oh Sehun, a really lonely boy with a dumb sense of humor that no one can understand anymore now that most of his dumb friends all left. He needs new dumb friends. And he can’t have new dumb friends if everyone in the castle wants to Stupefy him against a wall.
“Listen,” he says, snuffling a little and wrapping the blanket tighter around himself, “you came to talk to me, I am talking with you. But why are you making such a big deal out of everything? I just let you enter Slytherin dorms. You invite Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs in your tower every two days, am I right?”
He intercepts Seulgi's smile. “You're absolutely right Sehun. Be the better person, Ilhoonie, and stop trying to pick a fight.”
“But, Seulgi! It’s not my fault, you saw it! He started it…” Ilhoon’s tirade is cut short as Candy trots inside the room and jumps in his lap. She’s probably recognized him as one of the boys who cuddle her during the Muggle Studies class. Ilhoon pets her head and the little dog squeals in happiness. Sehun scoffs.
“Look at that little traitor.” His words are interrupted by a fit of cough. “Come on, people, who do I have to kill to get my coffee? Where’s my House Elf?”
A few seconds later a little creature with big ears and big eyes comes and deposits a cup of coffee in front of Sehun, together with a trail of sweet pastries for his friends.
“At last,” he comments, finally letting the paradisiac smell of black coffee fill his nostrils.
Ilhoon shakes his head. “I can’t believe it, you’re really a spoiled prince. How does it work, do you snap your fingers and someone arrives with everything you need?”
“Basically. I don’t see you refraining yourself from eating, though. So you’re as guilty as me.” He watches, with malicious satisfaction, as Ilhoon chokes on his pastry. Seulgi snickers. The world is so much better after a sip of coffee. “Besides, you have house elves in Gryffindor too. It’s not my fault if you’re too dumb to ask them to bring you things.”
“You’re unbelievable,” the Gryffindor concludes, but the words lack the usual bite.
When Ilhoon leaves, after making Sehun promise that they’ll see each other tomorrow in the library, Seulgi stays. She flips her long, dark hair to the side and sends a sultry glance to the young Slytherin students who’re crowding the staircase that leaves to the dorm in the faint hope to catch a glimpse of her. She may be Gryffindor and they don't really trust her, but she’s very beautiful, a Gryffindor queen.
“You put quite a show before, with Ilhoon,” she comments, turning towards Sehun and crossing her legs.
“He’s a brat.”
“You’re the biggest brat. I can’t believe there was a time when I used to consider you a heartless, cold bastard. You’re like the biggest baby this school has ever seen. You only survive because Wendy babysits you all the time.”
“And you formed this opinion in, what, three days that you’ve known me?”
She kicks him.
“Aish, this woman. She dares to kick me. What shall we do to this horrible woman, Candy?”
“And what should we do with this terrible man, then?”
They both turn towards the stone portal, where Wendy has just appeared with a wave to the gargoyle. She enters the room like a queen, shedding her cape on the armchair, next to Seulgi’s, and then letting herself fall on the couch next to Sehun. She even steals a corner of his blanket – well, technically it’s Sooyoung’s blanket, but still.
“Well, well, well. What have we here? Today is the day of surprises. Gryffindors coming to visit Slytherin, Slytherins letting them in and, the biggest surprise of them all, Oh Sehun waking up before lunch on a Saturday morning. I’m impressed.”
He snorts and calls the House Elf for another cup of coffee.
“Finally you’re here, Wendy. Take this woman away from me, please, I’ve had enough of Godric Gryffindor’s spawn for the rest of the week.”
Seulgi’s eyes sparkle as she leans towards Wendy, speaking in a confidential tone. “What should I answer to such atrocious words?” Wendy’s eyes are as equally shining when she replies. “You should laugh of his empty offences, I think. It’s the only way to beat him, since he only say these things to annoy you. He doesn’t really mean them.”
“You shouldn’t reveal my secrets so easily, Wendy.”
She answers with a wink, before standing up with a single, fluid movement and pulling on Seulgi’s arm. “Come on Seulgi, let’s leave this man to his daily brooding. I’ll show you my room. See you later, Sehunnie!”
“See you later, Sehunnie,” echoes Seulgi, as the two girls disappear, taking Candy with them.
Sehun stares into the fireplace for a few minutes, feeling a strange warm feeling in his chest. It’s a fuzzy little thing, similar to what he felt when Jongin and Zitao were still in Hogwarts, when Baekhyun and Kris and all his friends were there. It may be happiness.
Suddenly, he’s struck by the impelling need to see Minseok and share this with him, show him that things may be changing for him. It’s such a little step, but for Sehun, whose life is a continuous replay of the same action, even talking with Ilhoon and Seulgi is the greatest change.
But Minseok and Sehun are still not talking. Minseok is still pretending he doesn't see Sehun in class, or in the hallways, and Sehun doesn't go to the Great Hall anymore because he knows he'd end up staring at the teacher like a fool in love. Sometimes he feels angry at Minseok, sometimes he wants Minseok to notice him. Most of the time, he just feels hopeless.
The first snow finds Hogwarts unprepared, and before anyone can realize a thin layer of white has already turned the Forbidden Forest into a cotton candy field. Sehun hopes all the Acromantula spiders in the woods freeze and die.
In the bathroom of the Astronomy Tower, sitting on the edge of his beloved window, Sehun watches the world fade to white, disappearing under a veil of white. The snow eats space and sounds, leaving behind only the rhythmic sound of water dripping down the third sink, punctuated by sporadic gushes of wind against the glass of the window. Sehun is grateful for those little, tiny sounds, filling the silence and keeping Minseok from hearing how Sehun's heart is beating like a mad drum inside his chest. Minseok, who has shown up, unexpected and unannounced, after ignoring Sehun for more than a month.
When Sehun arrives, his lighter already out and a cigarette between thin lips, Minseok is already there, leaning on the tiled wall. There is no hesitation, no awkwardness. His back is straight, his hands are not shaking. He doesn't look like someone who came to apologize, he looks like someone who came to conquer. He's so tiny compared to Sehun, but his presence fills the room, pushing Sehun to the corners, suffocating him.
Sehun gulps, swallows the words he wants to say. He wants to be sour and biting, to ask Minseok whether he's finally decided to talk to him again. He wants to raise his eyes and meet Minseok's, to be defiant and prissy and hurtful. He feels stupid and stubborn and hurt, because Minseok has ignored him in the corridors, because Minseok has not looked for him until now. He's afraid, that Minseok has only come here to finally say goodbye to him, to put him back where he belongs, because Sehun is a student and Minseok is a teacher, and it's as simple as that.
But Minseok, with his thin wrists and cold hands and tender smiles, Minseok has this thing, this horrible, terrifying thing. He had it when he was a Prefect, dragged it with himself through his promotion to Head Boy, clung tight to it when he was appointed substitute professor. When he faces Sehun, Minseok makes an effort - more than one effort to be honest, Minseok makes a lot of efforts - to put himself on Sehun's same level. It doesn't matter how far they are or if society builds a wall between them - boundaries made of age and old words carved in the school's rules book, that forbids relationships between students and teaching staff - Minseok breaks through the wall so easily. He steps down the ladder, takes Sehun’s hands in his own, tilts Sehun's head upwards with the feather light caress of his fingers until they're staring at each other, the perfect height for a kiss.
“Sehun, won't you look at me?”
Sehun's fingers shake around the lighter, they shake around the cigarette the same way his throat shake around the smoke as he inhales and exhales, eyes still fixed on some unreachable point outside the window, somewhere between the Forbidden Forest and the rapidly disappearing hills that surround the castle. Green fades to blue and blue fades to white, mingling with the snow in the same way the pale blue of the tiled walls blends with the coils of smoke coming out of Sehun's mouth. It's easier to watch outside, avoiding Minseok's eyes, trying to stay away from this confrontation as long as Sehun can. The snow has fallen like a veil on Hogwarts, light and impalpable and cold, but Minseok's eyes are hot and heavy, burning Sehun's skin as he takes in another handful of smoke.
He's quite expecting the teacher to scold him, like a teacher would, but there's the thing, Minseok's thing, and Sehun had forgotten how unpredictable and dangerous Minseok could be. Like a Gryffindor - when he takes a decision he commits to it, no hesitation, no spaces left for Sehun to run - Minseok closes on him, his fingers tightening on Sehun's own fingers. Their touch is cold and burns. He takes the cigarette out of Sehun's weak ones and brings it to his own mouth. Sehun's eyes can't help but follow the gesture, falling on the soft contours on Minseok's mouth, lips red and slightly chapped, disclosed like petals to take the smoke in.
Minseok takes a deep breath, sucking smoke in his lungs and blowing him out just a few breaths shy of Sehun's face. Sehun stares, fascinated, the shape Minseok's lips take when he's pushing the smoke out in lazy spirals, the light tilt of his head, muscles in his throat moving underneath the skin. And then, as if attracted by a magnet, his eyes get caught in the Minseok's ones, tripping on their trap, and he stays there, paralyzed, like a deer in headlights.
Minseok's eyes are like dark wells. Sehun can see his inner turmoil reflexed in them, a perfect replica of the storm inside his head, but Minseok's eyes are calm. Gryffindor. No hesitation, when they've taken a decision.
Minseok doesn't hesitate. He puts the cigarette back where it belonged, in Sehun's fingers, but the boy is too numb to hold it. The cigarette falls on the tiled round without making a sound and he doesn't even realize. Because Minseok smiles, look at Sehun's messy fringe almost like he wants to sweep it out of his face, and kisses him.
It's not the kiss of his dreams. It's not sexy or deep or long - Sehun can remember better kisses shared with Wendy in the solitude of her room. But right now he doesn't care about technique and setting and fire burning low in his gut because this is Minseok and he's kissing Sehun, lightly, at the corner of his mouth, a feather-like touch of lips on lips, and Minseok's hands may be cold but his mouth is not. It warms Sehun from the inside.
In that single moment, everything Kris and Wendy have told him, carefully orchestrated plans crafted in Wendy's room through Floo calls, vanishes, Disapparated away without spells or wands. Minseok's lips taste like smoke and surprise, and Sehun wants to close his eyes and enjoy the kiss but it doesn't last long enough and he's still blinking like a Stupefied kid when Minseok moves away and stares at him smugly.
“Do I have your attention now?”
Because Minseok has this thing, this horrible dangerous thing, when he closes every distance between him and Sehun, destroys every barrier, pushes through every boundary. He steps down his ladder, takes Sehun's hands in his own, tilts Sehun's head upwards with the feather light caress of his fingers until they're staring at each other. The perfect height for a kiss.
Sehun gasps, blinks, closes it mouth and open it again. He doesn't know what to say and Minseok is too close, it's short circuiting his brain and making him splutter like a fish.
“I shouldn't have done that,” says Minseok, and it's not fair, it's really not fair, the way his fingers linger on Sehun's skin. Cold fingers, like the cold, sparkling air after the first snow of the air. “I shouldn't have really done that.”
Why, Sehun wants to ask, but Minseok takes a step backwards, breaths deeply to calm himself, hands falling on his sides, purposefully kept away from Sehun's face.
“Why?” he finally asks, his voice unsteady, lost, with just a dash of anger. He's still too surprised to process that Minseok is being an ass again, kissing him and then saying he regrets it. He’s still too surprised to hide behind his usual mask of coldness.
“Because I'm a teacher and you're a student and I shouldn't treat you like this. Not yet.”
“What do you mean not yet?” asks Sehun, but Minseok ignores him.
“I shouldn't have done that, but I really wanted to do that, you know? I've been wanting to do that since that night in my room, maybe earlier. You have no idea how cute you looked that day, sitting on my couch and sipping the hot cocoa I had made for you and talking about your adventures in Muggle London. And you looked cute the following morning, when you came to my room wearing your nightgown and your face was all sleepy and puffy, but usually you look hot to me. I wanted to kiss you every time I met you in the hallways or I saw you in class.”
“But you couldn't,” concludes Sehun for him, angrily, “because you're a teacher and I'm just a student.”
“You are so much more than a student for me, Oh Sehun. And I'm not only a teacher. I'm a man and I like you.”
“Why didn't you kiss me before then, if you really liked me?”
“Because I've made so many mistakes since I came to Hogwarts. I didn't want you to be just another mistake I made in Hogwarts, just another way for me to forget about my duties. You're so much more than that, Sehun.” He sighs. “I wanted to wait until after you graduated before I officially asked you out.”
It's like living in one of those silly snow globes. Someone turned it upside down to make the snow fall and now Sehun's life has been turned upside down too and he doesn't know if he's living reality or a fantasy. The snow keeps falling and Minseok talks about love. Sehun blinks and hopes the magic doesn't end. He hopes it keeps snowing forever.
“So why did you kiss me now? I’m not a graduated student yet.”
Minseok smiles and touches Sehun's face again, tracing the line of his jaw with tender fingers. “Because I thought you were really beautiful, standing in front of the window, with the snow falling at your back. You really looked like a prince,” an amused light flashes in his eyes. “but you really should quit smoking on the school grounds.”
“Just that? Because I was too handsome and you couldn't contain yourself?”
“That, and because I'm leaving in less than a month.”