Hyejoo doesn’t think she’s ever been this excited before in all fourteen years of her life.
Dear Ms. Son,
We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
She’s barely had a chance to reach the end of the letter before it’s snatched away by her sister.
“Finally!” Siyeon crows. She looks even more excited than Hyejoo, if that’s even possible. “School’s gonna be even more fun with you here! You better be in Slytherin or else,” she adds, grinning as she pulls Hyejoo closer with an arm around her neck.
On the grass next to her, a tiny brown dog gives a displeased yap.
Kim Hyunjin blinks from her seat on top of the stone walls surrounding the Son manor.
“Yoohyeon-unnie says Hyejoo should join Hufflepuff,” she translates. “And no offense, but I really don’t see that happening.”
“Yeah, don’t be ridiculous.” Siyeon crouches down to stick her tongue out at her friend. “Hyejoo belongs with me and Hyunjin. You should ditch Hufflepuff and join us.”
The pomeranian gives another unhappy bark before its features begin to morph, its fluffy body giving way to that of a human. It’s a fast transformation, and Siyeon doesn’t even have time to pull back when she’s headbutted so hard that she loses balance and falls back onto her butt.
“Ow,” Kim Yoohyeon whines, rubbing her own forehead. “What was that for?”
“What was that for?” Siyeon repeats, incredulous. “What was that for? Don’t transform so suddenly and blame me!”
“But it’s your fault for suggesting that I betray Hufflepuff,” Yoohyeon argues. “How could I ever do that?”
“Don’t lie, it’s the kitchen that you’re attached to,” Siyeon accuses, and that just sets off an endless round of meaningless bickering.
Hyejoo chuckles as she takes this chance to snatch her acceptance letter back from her distracted sister.
“Are they like this the entire school year?” she asks.
“Pretty much,” Hyunjin says with her own amused smile. “They’re loud.”
“How do you even deal with them?”
Hyunjin’s grin widens for a second before it’s replaced by a sharp, calculating look.
“Like this,” she says before leaping off the wall with a yell.
Halfway through her descent, her war cry transforms into the distinct screech of a cat which is soon joined by the surprised yelps of Siyeon and Yoohyeon as a mass of fur and claws lands squarely on top of their heads.
“Yah! Kim Hyunjin! Why do you always do this!?”
“Ah, Hyejoo, save me! Bark!”
As Hyejoo scoops up the dog making a beeline straight for her, Siyeon continues wrestling with an orange cat. She’s still shouting, and at this point Hyejoo doesn’t know if she’s on the verge of tears or laughter. She eventually settles for crouching on the ground in surrender, Hyunjin still using her like a jungle gym, and Hyejoo laughs into Yoohyeon’s fur at the sight.
Hyejoo is really excited to be starting school with her sister and friends.
“Where’s your sister?”
Hyejoo hardly has time to rub the sleep out of her eyes when her father shakes her shoulders roughly.
“Where’s Siyeon!?” he demands angrily. There’s a frenzied look in his eyes, matching the violent way he continues to jerk her about. “Tell me where she is!”
“I haven’t seen her,” Hyejoo manages to blurt out. “Isn’t she in bed?”
Without giving her an answer, her father whirls around. He leaves her bedroom in a flurry, panic evident in his every step, and Hyejoo has no idea what’s going on. She’s left in the dark, staring at the outline of the doorway he left open with a familiar sense of emptiness in her chest.
She ignores it.
Hyejoo climbs out of bed to shut her door again when there’s a loud crash. She’s immediately on high alert, retreating back to the safety of her room, but a hand grabs her door before she can shut it.
“Hyejoo, come with me!”
“Unnie, what’s going on?” Hyejoo asks. “Father was looking for you–”
“Let’s go,” Siyeon orders, and Hyejoo has never seen her look so serious. “Someone broke in. You’re not safe here.”
Hyejoo nods wordlessly, automatically following her sister as she leads her down the hall.
“Are we going to the basement?”
“If it’s safe,” Siyeon mutters.
Her hold on Hyejoo’s hand is almost painfully tight, and even from behind her, Hyejoo can see how white her knuckles are as she grips her wand tightly. The light it casts on the various statues lining the hallways of the Son manor is cold, adding to the eerie silence surrounding them.
Even through the darkness, Hyejoo knows that the hallway they’re in leads to the foyer. There’s a giant window some ways before them that leaks in a few strands of moonlight, but the path before them is still shrouded in a blackness that has never seemed so threatening to Hyejoo before.
Siyeon suddenly freezes and snuffs out the light.
Hyejoo holds her breath, listening.
For a moment, there’s silence.
And then Hyejoo hears a terrible growl, one that rattles each and every bone of her ribcage.
“Hyejoo, run!” Siyeon shouts, and there’s no time to even think about what direction as a monstrous creature leaps out from the treacherous shadows of the night.
Fangs, Hyejoo thinks. Wolves have such terrifying fangs.
That’s the final thing she remembers before the screaming starts.
Hyejoo can easily recall the first time Hyunjin visited.
It was mere months ago, back during Hogwarts’ spring break.
Hyunjin is only a year older than her, but that year felt like eons when she stepped out of the fireplace with a Slytherin scarf around her neck.
“Welcome to our humble abode!” Siyeon says grandly from the oversized, elaborately ornamented chair resembling a throne that she brought into the room for the express purpose of greeting Hyunjin.
“Damn.” Hyunjin gives an appreciative whistle as she glances around the living room with it’s dark tapestries and silver-etched walls. “You guys really are rich rich, huh?” Her eyes meet Hyejoo’s. “Hey.”
“Hi,” Hyejoo says quietly.
Hyunjin fumbles with her pockets for a second before pulling out a small, colorful bag and tossing it over.
“This is for you,” she says. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”
Hyejoo glances down at the watermelon-flavored candies. It’s not hard to figure out how Hyunjin knows what she likes, and Hyejoo can feel the shyness surrounding her melt away especially when Siyeon gives her an encouraging grin from their grandfather’s armchair.
“Unnie says you already know how to transform into a cat,” Hyejoo says. “Can I see…?”
Hyunjin’s smile widens, and it’s not hard for Hyejoo to imagine why she turns into a cat of all things.
A tiny pomeranian stumbles out of the fireplace not long after, coughing pathetically as it wobbles onto the carpet with ashy pawprints. Siyeon and Hyunjin don’t look remotely bothered at all by this new guest, and for some reason they actually look expectantly at Hyejoo.
Hyejoo squints, observing the puppy closely as it bounces over to her, its tongue lolling out happily.
“... Yoohyeon-unnie? Is that you?”
“Yes!” Siyeon shouts loud enough for Hyejoo to wince, and she throws up both her arms in celebration before high fiving Hyunjin.
“I didn’t know Yoohyeon-unnie was an animagus too,” Hyejoo says, impressed. She suddenly whirls around, turning to her sister. “Wait, are you also…?”
“No,” Siyeon pouts. “Well, not yet. It’s my turn to learn next. Right, Aeongie?”
“Wouldn’t it be funny if Siyeon-unnie becomes a cockroach or something?” Yoohyeon asks, her voice suddenly coming from above Hyejoo’s shoulder. She doesn’t even wait before pulling the younger girl into a hug. “I’m so glad you recognized me though! That’s our smart Hyejoo.”
“Stop it,” Hyejoo mumbles, embarrassed when Yoohyeon starts ruffling her hair.
“I am not going to go through all that trouble to become a bug,” she declares. “I refuse to accept anything but a dragon.”
“Sorry to break it to you,” Hyunjin says dryly. “But I guarantee you you’re going to be disappointed.”
“Shoot for the stars and land on the moon!”
“Unnie, you’ll probably just get lost in space,” Hyejoo calls out.
Yoohyeon laughs. “She’ll be fine!” she insists as she begins rocking Hyejoo back and forth.
“You’ll be fine,” Yoohyeon says as soon as she runs into the manor and flings her arms around Hyejoo. “You’ll be fine.”
She keeps repeating those three words, and Hyejoo figures she’s trying to convince herself more than anyone else. It’s not like Hyejoo can believe her right now anyways, but she doesn’t have the heart to tell Yoohyeon that her words are being wasted.
Hyunjin arrives by Floo not long after, giving Hyejoo a vague sense of deja vu as the green flames surrounding her disappear. She stands in the hearth for a moment before abruptly shoving her way forward. Yoohyeon quickly steps aside as Hyunjin pulls Hyejoo into a bear hug. Unlike Yoohyeon, she’s completely silent save for the small sniff that Hyejoo hears on her shoulder.
There’s a crash from upstairs, and the sounds of the Son matriarch starting another round of hysterical screaming travels all too easily into the living room.
“I will not accept this! I will not accept this!”
Her mother’s voice suddenly becomes muffled, Hyejoo glancing up to see Yoohyeon covering her ears for her. The older girl gives her a teary smile, and Hyejoo is free to cling to Hyunjin as she finally lets herself cry.
“There she is…”
“Remember, stay away from the Sons, okay? Especially the younger one.”
“God, I can’t believe they’re letting their kid attend school.”
“I’m going to sue if anything happens to my child!”
The whispers started as soon as Hyejoo set foot on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. They’re honestly not even whispers at this point, people hardly bothering to hide the way they’re pointing and staring at Hyejoo and her sister.
This isn’t entirely new. Hyejoo knows her family is notoriously powerful, with Yoohyeon’s family being tainted by association for working under them. Yoohyeon and Siyeon don’t talk about it a lot, but Hyunjin has confirmed that most students give the two a wide berth at school. Hyejoo’s witnessed it before too, the way crowds parted like the sea when she went to pick up or send off her sister at Kings Cross Station.
The sheer disgust on some faces is new though. Hyejoo is familiar with fear, distrust, awe, and respect, but the outright revulsion and hatred some adults are shooting her way is enough to make her want to curl on the ground and pray to disappear.
Hyunjin and Yoohyeon are flanking her closely as they make their way down the platform, but not even the image of Siyeon’s back is enough to suppress the desire to vomit as Hyejoo fully realizes what she’s about to face during the rest of the school year. The stinging at the back of her throat only abates when they finally make it into the safety of a compartment aboard the Hogwarts Express.
“Here,” Siyeon mumbles as she hands Hyejoo a mountain of chocolate frogs. “Eat.”
She slumps back into her seat after that, opting to stare out the window as Yoohyeon and Hyunjin take advantage of their seats next to the hallway to glare at intrusive passerbys.
Well, Yoohyeon tries to glare while Hyunjin just gives everyone an unnerving stare. Hyejoo thinks Hyunjin is more effective.
At some point during the trip, Siyeon falls asleep, her head occasionally bouncing against the window as the train rattles along towards its destination. She looks haggard, understandably so, and Hyunjin and Hyejoo do their best to keep it down as they flick Every Flavored Beans at each other. They smile at each other when a stray missile hits Yoohyeon squarely right between the eyes, the fourth year pouting as she looks up from her textbook.
This momentary respite only lasts so long though, and Hyejoo can feel her heart withdrawing back inside its shell as the Hogwarts Express pulls into Hogsmeade Station. As the train crawls to a stop, Siyeon awakens, her eyes automatically fixing on Hyejoo.
“C’mere,” she says softly, and Hyejoo shuffles across the compartment to squeeze between her and Hyunjin. Siyeon plants a kiss on Hyejoo’s temple. “Be careful out there, okay?”
“If anyone’s mean to you, push them in the water,” Hyunjin interjects.
“Yeah,” Yoohyeon grins. “The giant squid will discipline them.”
Siyeon lets out a ghost of a chuckle.
“We’ll be waiting for you at the Great Hall,” she says. “I’ll go sit with you if you get put in Gryffindor or Ravenclaw.”
“Is that even allowed?” Hyejoo frowns.
Siyeon pulls back, fixing Hyejoo with a heavy gaze, a familiar one that speaks of unmeasurable love and devotion.
“You’re my sister,” is all she needs to say.
Hyejoo carries those words and her friends’ encouragement in her chest as she makes her way down to the shores of the lake with the rest of the first years. Unpredictably, most kids scurry away from her as she approaches, but even a cursory glance at the boats lined up make it clear that there’s no way Hyejoo will be sitting alone.
Hyejoo turns to face a beaming girl who’s almost trembling with visible excitement. Hyejoo’s almost envious of her high spirits, but she sets those thoughts aside quickly.
“Can I sit with you?” the girl asks. “Oh, and I’m Choi Yerim, by the way!”
Yerim makes no reaction to her name, and Hyejoo quickly surmises that she’s a muggleborn, ignorant of the darkness that dogs the Sons’ reputations.
“I’m so glad to be here,” Yerim chatters happily. “I wonder what house I’ll get sorted into.”
“Oh, that would be so cool,” Yerim nods with enough enthusiasm to make it clear that any house would be cool to her. “What about you? Where do you think you’re going?”
“Of course Son would be in Slytherin,” another voice sneers.
Hyejoo looks up to see a crowd forming around them. Her stomach drops.
“You shouldn’t get close to her,” the stranger continues. “Son’s a freakin’ werewolf, didn’t you know?”
“A werewolf?” Yerim blinks and Hyejoo waits for her to recoil. The girl suddenly gasps instead. “Oh my god, that’s so amazing! You’re just like Jacob from Twilight!”
Hyejoo stares. Evidently, she’s not the only one who doesn’t understand what Yerim just referenced considering the confused whispers traveling around the first years. There’s also a few muffled giggles, but before the mystery is fully solved, Hogwarts’ groundskeeper begins urging them aboard their boats.
“Wait,” a voice calls out as Yerim and Hyejoo settle into a boat together. “Let me sit with you guys.”
Hyejoo squints as a short girl with buns atop her head jogs over to them. She skids to a halt before them, shoes kicking up dirt that she thankfully shakes off before climbing in next to Yerim.
“Hi, I’m Choi Yerim!” Yerim greets, her voice still as cheerful as ever.
“Jo Yeojin,” the newcomer introduces. She doesn’t wait before turning to Hyejoo. “You’re Son Hyejoo.”
Yeojin clears her throat.
“I’m here to make sure you don’t try any funny business,” she says sternly, but she’s nowhere near intimidating even with her hands placed at her hips.
“I won’t,” Hyejoo says quietly, casting her eyes to the bottom of the boat.
Hyejoo looks up when Yeojin’s voice trails off only to be greeted by a smile she won’t ever forget.
For all her prior bravado, Yeojin’s expression is nothing but kind now as she grins almost apologetically at Hyejoo. It’s sympathy, Hyejoo realizes. Yeojin is showing her sympathy, and she’s the first to do so outside of Siyeon, Yoohyeon, and Hyunjin.
The thought almost makes Hyejoo want to cry.
“I just feel like two people in a boat is too lonely,” Yeojin says loudly.
“The more the merrier!” Yerim cheers.
“Yeah,” Hyejoo nods. “The more the merrier.”
Hogwarts is every bit as magical as Hyejoo expected.
She’s almost able to forget her worries for a bit as she gazes up at the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall. It’s adorned with countless stars glimmering down at her as she follows the rest of the first years making their way past older students. Everyone in her year is silent with awe as their schoolmates cheer their entrance, and Hyejoo tears her eyes from the ceiling to look for her friends.
Yoohyeon is grinning proudly at her from the Hufflepuff table, and she almost elbows someone in the face as she waves at Hyejoo. It takes Hyejoo longer to find Hyunjin and Siyeon, but she soon spies them near the front, Hyunjin conversing with a small blonde next to her. Hyejoo actually has the luck to come to a stop near her as the first years converge near a stool with a hat placed utop it.
“Oh my god,” Yerim whispers. “That’s the Sorting Hat, isn’t it?”
“I guess so,” Hyejoo murmurs.
Yerim lets out a squeal before schooling her features. “By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask…”
“Since werewolves are real, are vampires? Do they sparkle?”
“... Do they what.”
The student next to Hyunjin lets out an elegant snort.
Before Hyejoo can decide if Yerim is okay or not, Headmistress Kwon stands up.
“Welcome to Hogwarts!” she announces. “Now, I know everyone would rather we skip straight to the sorting and eating, but I am contractually obligated to give you all a speech.”
Students giggle when the headmistress turns around to wink at the staff, some of whom whoop in agreement while others just sigh and shake their heads.
“So,” Headmistress Kwon says, turning back to the sea of black before her. “Let me just remind you all of a few things. First, I know explosions are pretty, but they’re really not a good idea especially if you like your hair.”
Hyejoo watches with mild interest as Hyunjin elbows the blonde next to her, who elbows Hyunjin back even harder.
“Secondly,” Headmistress Kwon continues. “The Forbidden Forest is not a good place to have a tryst, no matter how pretty the stars are.”
“Kwon Boa!” one of the professors hiss. “There are children here!”
The headmistress clearly ignores her.
Headmistress Kwon pauses for a moment, and if Hyejoo didn’t know better, she would think it was purely for dramatic effect. There’s a serious look in her eyes though, and the hall goes silent as everyone gives her their complete attention.
“Each and every one of you is fighting a battle,” Headmistress Kwon says. “If you’re not now, you will be. Some of your battles are small, and some of your battles are large. But we are all dealing with things that nobody else can see. Remember this.” She smiles. “Be kind to each other.”
The Great Hall bursts into applause, and Headmistress Kwon returns to her seat, though not before meeting eyes with Hyejoo for a split second.
The sorting begins.
To Hyejoo’s absolute lack of surprise, Yerim is put into Hufflepuff the instant the hat touches her head. She’s immediately engulfed in a sea of hugs before she even fully reaches the table, Yoohyeon and another Hufflepuff hooting and hollering excessively loudly.
Yeojin’s sorting takes a bit longer, but the Sorting Hat ultimately decides on Gryffindor. The screeching from the table of red eclipses Hufflepuff’s and is bound to cause ear damage, but even they are outdone by the lone Ravenclaw screaming from across the hall.
“I’m so proud of you, Yeojinnie!”
The procession continues, the line of first years growing shorter and shorter. Hyejoo almost wonders why nobody has lost their voice or lost their hearing with all the constant celebrating.
And then her own name is called.
Hyejoo clenches her fist as the Great Hall’s volume drops at once. It almost goes completely silent before the inevitable whispering starts up again, resembling the furious buzzing of a nest of wasps as Hyejoo makes her way to the Sorting Hat. She sees it all, the scandalized looks, the horrified staring, the blatant ignoring… It’s a sort of mercy when the hat is dropped on her head, obscuring her view.
“Ah,” a voice says in her head. “You’ve made your choice already, haven’t you?”
Hyejoo remains silent, scrunching her eyes shut as she grips the edge of the stool with her fingers.
“But it wasn’t much of a choice, was it?”
Hyejoo ignores the howling that always plays in her ears whenever darkness descends and it’s far too silent for her mind. She tries to focus on her sister, on their two friends, on anything but the storm brewing inside and the vultures awaiting her outside.
“Be brave, little one… Slytherin!”
Hyejoo lets out a gasp of relief as the hat is whisked off her head. She’s sure that conversation was a lot shorter than it felt, and she keeps her head down when there’s no cheering to be heard as she slips off the stool.
And then Hyunjin stands up, clapping furiously as Siyeon opens her arms wide. Behind her, Hyejoo hears a distinctive “That’s our Hyejoo!” from the Hufflepuff table before a muted applause spreads to the rest of her own house.
“Welcome to Slytherin,” Slytherin’s head girl says before ushering her into Siyeon’s arms.
“Welcome,” the pretty blonde next to Hyunjin says with a small smile. Others echo the sentiment, and even if it’s out of nothing but politeness, Hyejoo is more than willing to take it.
But the whispers don’t stop.
“How lucky for us, huh? Wolf girl is in Slytherin.”
“Yeah, hopefully the elder Son is strong enough to muzzle her when she goes bananas.”
“Ugh, I’m glad I’m not a first year.”
Hyejoo has the misfortune of meeting the eyes of the Slytherin who uttered that last statement. They look away quickly in shame, but not before Hyejoo is able to identify them as a significantly older student. Possibly a sixth year, like her sister.
How ironic, Hyejoo thinks.