#1: Orange Blossoms [cont]
Tags: !Hogwarts AU
Inspired by: those moving staircases!!
It’s Wednesday morning and Joohyun’s at breakfast nursing a glass of pumpkin juice. Her left hand flips a galleon over and over again. Her eyes are trained in a glare at the coin, boring a hole into the poor lump of metal.
A portrait of Circe burns in her pocket. She really needs to pay Seulgi back for the entire stash of Frogs she received from the younger girl. And maybe make the other Slytherins pay her too because they got to eat all eleven out of the twelve Frogs that she tore open to check if she got the card. She only got Circe on the last Frog that Seulgi gave her. Luck is ridiculous. Maybe she should’ve brewed some Felix Felicis before she opened the packaging.
“A knut for your thoughts?”
“Shut it, Taeyeon.”
“My, my. Someone’s cranky aren’t we? And by Salazar’s snake, your eye circles are looking pretty bad this morning.”
“Taeyeon.” Her voice is strained, and she’s not sure if she wants to use what little energy she has in her to strangle her senior.
“Taeyeon.” Tiffany’s still smiling, but her voice is laced with warning. Her voice lightens when she speaks again, “Joohyun-ah, you know you can tell us anything, right?”
Taeyeon bites into her toast, nodding in agreement at what Tiffany’s said. Joohyun can only stare blankly at the duo, wishing she had it in her to hold anything more than just liquids down.
As it stands, her stomach’s been invaded by a billion butterflies and her throat is stretched by the feathers of a thousand wings to the point of constriction. Nothing but air can escape her throat. Hell, the pumpkin juice is somehow excessively sweet but ridiculously tasteless at the same time.
Nothing makes sense.
But oh, at least she’s found out why.
Or at least, she thinks she knows why.
And she dreads this knowledge. This piece of knowledge is something she would really rather do without, thank you very much!
She glances up again and realises that Taeyeon and Tiffany are still waiting for her to reply, or at the very least, acknowledge Tiffany’s concern. To be sure, she’s fishing for gossip, but her concern does seem rather genuine. She wants to dismiss them, to say that there’s nothing the matter, but she can’t really bring herself to. She lets out a low groan, and Tiffany tuts a little as she refills Joohyun’s juice for her.
“Irene, are you okay?” Seohyun comes up to their table.
“I told you…” Joohyun sighs, groaning again and putting her face in her hands. Everything’s too bright. Too loud. “You know what, the three of you—”
“Would this have anything to do with your little crush?” Taeyeon suddenly cuts in.
“What?” She snaps her head up. “Who’s said anything about a crush?”
Seohyun’s eyes widen a little and Joohyun can tell that somewhere in her head, the gears are turning and the signs are starting to line up nicely. Then she lets out a tinkling laugh. Joohyun should just admit defeat. Even if she doesn’t like losing.
“The girl who smells like oranges. It’s her.”
“Who’s said anything—”
“Come on, Joohyun. We know you’ve been avoiding her.” Seohyun pats her back, somewhat awkwardly, as she slides onto the bench next to Joohyun. “If you look behind you, you might be able to catch her stare. Poor girl’s looking like some abandoned cub right there.”
“You’ve been avoiding her since Sunday, Joohyun.” Seungwan’s the one who comes up this time, sandwiching Joohyun between two Ravenclaws.
“Oh, come on, don’t deny it. You aren’t as subtle as you like to think,” Taeyeon levels this evenly, and Joohyun can feel her cheeks start to burn. “We’re Slytherins, please. And we’re also friends, you know.”
Tiffany turns to Seungwan, a mischievous grin creeping on her face. “So, Seungwan, no need to be strangers between all of us. We all want to help Joohyun, right?” Her grin is wide, her eyes are all crinkled and twinkly. “How’s Seulgi doing?”
Seungwan’s eyes pop open, as if stunned that she’s now in the spotlight. “Okay?”
“Try again.” Tiffany’s voice make it clear how unimpressed she is with Seungwan’s non-answer.
“Hey, don’t you guys have better things to do, like, I don’t know, write a paper or something? Study for your N.E.W.T.s, instead of butting into my non-existent love life?”
“Aha, she’s said it. Love life! How cute.” Taeyeon finishes her slice of toast and Joohyun’s somehow immeasurably annoyed by how she’s left two flakes of breadcrumb a centimetre away from her cup.
Seungwan shifts a little. “Seulgi’s… Seulgi’s a little upset? That you’ve been ignoring her? She’s not sure what she’s done wrong for you to well, erm, walk in the other direction when you see her.”
Her heart sinks a little. She knows that the younger girl’s probably a little hurt. But hearing Seungwan confirm it isn’t great either.
Taeyeon whistles. “Unsubtle indeed.”
Joohyun groans. “What am I supposed to do?”
“Talk to her, maybe?” Seohyun suggests. It’s got to be the least helpful statement that has ever come out of Seohyun’s mouth. And she makes sure the look she gives Seohyun conveys that. “Don’t look at me like that. You know that communication is important. But guys, why don’t we leave her alone for today, hmm?” More kindly, she adds, “You might want to take the day off today.”
“Wait, our Seohyun-ie, advocating that Joohyun skip class?” Taeyeon is too good at affecting mock horror for her own good.
“As much as I abhor truancy, you’ve got to admit she’s in no shape to go for her classes today,” Seohyun reasons. At Taeyeon, she instructs, “You should give her one of your Lunchboxes.”
“Won’t Madam Pomfrey know that Joohyun’s skived off classes though?” Seungwan bites her lips worriedly.
“If she bothers to check. It’s still pretty troublesome, and George Weasley’s really done some pretty great work with the latest batch of Lunchboxes. So… why not?” Tiffany says, nodding, as she follows Seohyun’s line of logic. “You do deserve a bit of a break. And Seo’s going to duplicate her notes for you anyway.”
“On the condition that Joohyun stop ignoring Seulgi, though,” Seohyun decides. “She’s not doing herself or Seul any favours by sinking into such nonsense.”
“Really?” Joohyun sighs again. “Can’t you just let me hide from my problems?”
“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem, Joohyun?” Seungwan tries.
“What do you mean?”
“Erm. Hmm. Never mind. Catch some sleep! I need to head off for Herbology, you know, gotta run off to the greenhouses! Bye!” Seungwan extricates herself so quickly and flees with such little dignity that Joohyun finds enough in her to roll her eyes.
Seulgi swings by the hospital wing. Because of course she does.
On one hand, Joohyun’s glad she doesn’t have to pretend to be asleep when Seulgi comes by. Because she was truly dead to the world for the hours between breakfast and five p.m.
On the other hand, Seulgi’s left a little note, written in a series of cute and cramped Korean letters for her on the bedside table. It doesn’t say too much. Just a get well soon, unnie! Hope to see you up and about. And of course, a small assortment of candy. It tugs at her heart, makes her gasp a little, and grab a fistful of the bedsheets as she squeezes her eyes shut.
Madam Pomfrey’s knowing look is well, a little too much for her.
Joohyun finds herself walking along an unfamiliar corridor. All because she took one wrong turn and the staircases decide to switch themselves when she was atop one of them.
And now, she’s surrounded by portraits that are gazing at her rather curiously. Three of them whisper in each other’s ears.
Dead people painted onto magical canvases can be truly annoying. Even middle-aged witches don’t get this judgemental. But with death comes liberation from all social niceties, she supposes. With the amount of times the Bloody Baron’s walked through her…
One of them tuts. The other makes a tsk-ing sound. Emeric Switch clicks his tongue.
Sirius Black did the world a favour when he tore up the Fat Lady.
Just where in Hogwarts is she? She’s quite certain that Emeric Switch isn’t usually in this particular frame, so she’s not really clued in to her current location. Hmm. She’s never had classes in any of the rooms along this corridor before.
One of the door’s ajar.
She hears her first. Her soft voice. Laced with hurt. Confusion. Talking to… a portrait?
She really does smell her before she can make out the words that she’s saying. Free from the fresh smell of grass and the faint sourness of mud, the scent of Kang Seulgi’s orange-scented shampoo wafts through the air.
“Yeah, so I don’t know, Joohyun has been ignoring me recently? Oh okay, by recent I really mean the past two days. The Fat Friar’s clued you in, I guess?” A small laugh. “You lot are really gossipy. Aren’t there better things to do?”
Ah, that’s why the paintings all look at her weird.
The portrait grumbles something at her. Seulgi slips into Korean, “Ah, right. You guys can only watch us. Sorry. I forgot. Oh. Hey. Right. Why do you guys want me to blab about her? It’s not as if people in the past didn’t…”
Engrossed as she is in talking to the portraits, or simply that she doesn’t expect anyone to chance upon her, Seulgi jumps when Joohyun taps her shoulder.
“Oh my god. Joohyun-unnie!”
She’s never seen Seulgi look more stunned than she is currently.
Her first question: “How much did you hear?”
The next: “You are better now right?”
Backtracking: “Hello, sorry, Joohyun-unnie, didn’t hear you!”
Joohyun giggles. Seulgi is cute. She cannot begin to deny this anymore. Truly, it’s quite the futile struggle to do so.
“What have you been telling the portraits around school, Kang Seulgi?”
“What? Nothing! Nothing at all!” Her face grows as red as the Gryffindor colours. “My word, you are better right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Nothing to fret about. Really. I am better. What brings you here?”
Seulgi’s ears burn too. “I got lost once. And wound up here. Lady Ceridwen here is pretty good to talk to, so I come back sometimes. And she doesn’t tattle as much as the other portraits do. Oh, come on, Lady Ceridwen, don’t look so put out. We all know that not everything stays within the four sides of your frame. And… you?”
“I got lost too,” she admits. “Staircase changed directions.” One of the portraits coughs. Loudly. She doesn’t choose to dignify it with a response. “I have no idea how to get back down, actually.”
“You… just head down?” Seulgi tries. “It’s not that hard.”
She gives Seulgi a look.
“Well, okay, you get the portraits to lead you back down.”
“And in exchange you’ve got to tell them something that’s been going on in your life.”
“Right! Yes, that’s the deal. I mean, they don’t usually go spilling your secrets elsewhere at least. And I’d hate to be stuck on this room forever.”
“I’d hate for you to be stuck here too,” she blurts out.
Seulgi stares at her owlishly for half a second before a peal of nervous laughter sounds. “Yeah. Would be bad. How long do you think it’ll take for people to notice I’m gone?”
“Not that long, I’m sure.”
“But will you have noticed… Oh, never mind.”
Seulgi sighs. “I’m… just…” The girl looks as if she’s trying to figure out exactly how to phrase it without coming off as accusatory. Or needy. Or whatever she thinks might damage her standing with Joohyun.
Joohyun says it first. “You know what? I’m sorry. I’m sorry for avoiding you for the past couple of days. It’s very rotten of me to have done so. And I apologise. For the record, I would notice if you’ve gone missing.”
Seulgi’s eyes are wide again. “Joohyun-unnie? You… didn’t have to apologise?” At Joohyun’s stern look, Seulgi withers a little. “Okay, maybe I was a little hurt… But well… Wait, did you rehearse that apology?”
“Did Seohyun-unnie make you say it?”
“You’re asking me two questions, Seulgi. So yes, and no.”
Seulgi groans. “Unnie.”
“No, Seohyun didn’t make me apologise. And yes, I guess I didn’t want to get the apology wrong. I don’t want to ruin our friendship, Seulgi.”
Seulgi cocks her head to the side, clearly still trying to process something. “But why? Why did you ignore me in the first place?”
The golden question, isn’t it?
Heart. Lodged in throat.
She’s never been a Gryffindor, but Seulgi’s going to let her down gently. She can live with that.
“I didn’t want to confront my feelings, okay? It was… it was scary. I don’t want to have these feelings at all. I just want to study to become a Healer. Graduate from Hogwarts. Have fun in school. You know. Nothing more than that.”
“Do I have to spell it out for you, Seulgi?”
“I… I don’t understand.”
Joohyun’s expression mirrors Seulgi. Her head is canted slightly to the side. Brows furrowed. And the fingers of her left hand are rubbing against each other.
It clicks. “You don’t want to understand, do you?” She lets out a mirthless laugh. “I suppose you don’t need to. You won’t have to deal with the trouble of rejecting me if you don’t. I’ve… I’ve got to go.”
She turns and dashes out of the room. She has no clue how she’s going to make her way back down.
“Wait!” A quick shuffle of steps. Seulgi is a Chaser, after all, and the eight-second head start that Joohyun gets barely clears enough distance between the two.
“Joohyun-unnie! Stop running! That’s the wrong way anyway!”
Joohyun halts. Merlin. She hates losing in any form.
“Joohyun-unnie. I… Do you like me?”
Joohyun’s palm swings to slap Seulgi across the shoulder. “Yes. Are you trying to be cruel, now? Do you really need me to outline it for you, to say that yes, I do like you, to say that I really can’t stop thinking about you and that you were the one I smelled in my Amortentia brew? I never knew that you had this in you, Kang Seulgi—”
“—I like you too.”
“—You’re a terrible, incorrigible— Wait, what are you saying?” Joohyun’s mouth hangs open. “Kang Seulgi!” Seulgi’s shoulder receives another whack. “What are you saying?” she repeats.
“Ow, unnie, that hurts! I like you. I like you too. If you like me still, I mean!”
“I’m sorry? Come again?”
Seulgi laughs. “Joohyun-unnie, how can I not like you?”
“You’ve got to be joking, right? I mean that I like-like you, not in like… the friendly way. Not that well, not that I don’t want to be your friend if you don’t like-like me. Merlin. I sound like I’m eleven.” She pouts as Seulgi’s grin just stretches more. That damned eye smile. It only serves to make her heart beat more wildly. She’s really got it bad, huh.
“I’m really, really not joking. Really.”
She exhales. Her heart is light, free to race. “What does this mean, then?”
“That maybe when your detention with McGonagall ends next week, you’ll be my date to Hogsmeade?”
She stares at Seulgi. Squints. Then giggles. “Where did Ddeulgi get her lines from?”
A sheepish smile. “Something I’ve wanted to ask for quite a while.”
“Ooh. For how long?”
Seulgi sighs. “A while. Fine. There’s no exact date… but at the very least, since before the we broke for summer last year?”
She laughs, and then realises she’s not even answered Seulgi’s question yet. “Also, I will be your date to Hogsmeade next weekend. Would you like to be my study date too?”
“Will I ever say no?”
“Hmm. Please don’t say no if I asked you to kiss me.”
“Are you asking?”
She laughs and decides that Seulgi’s really been patient enough. “Can I kiss you?” She moves closer to Seulgi. Close enough to see Seulgi’s pupils dilate, just a little. “Please?”
She doesn’t really wait for Seulgi’s yes to fully leave her mouth before she leans forward to press her lips against Seulgi’s. She pulls away quickly enough but lets her finger Seulgi’s bottom lip. Gosh, if her heart leaps out of her chest she’s not going to be too surprised. Judging by the slightly dazed look on Seulgi’s face, she feels the same way too.
“I think someone else might be coming this way so we might want to get going soon. But we should maybe do that again sometime.” Seulgi finally says, a radiant smile bursting on her face.
“I think so too. Now, will you walk me down?”
“Can I really bear to say no?”