From A to Z
Sunset in the suburbs.
Laughter rings through the air. A trio of kids run down the sidewalk, two boys and a girl, and they all keep their arms raised with paper planes in their hands. They fly them at top speed, carefree as can be as they race each other to the cul-de-sac marking the end of this street.
The taller boy gets there first. Turning around with a triumphant grin, he throws his plane down like a football player scoring a touchdown. The nose instantly crumples against the pavement and he lets out a gasp of regret, but his woes are quickly forgotten when his friends catch up to him. They push him affectionately, point back at the street, and the three of them take off again. The last two remaining planes are accidentally crushed in their excitement, but such props are just afterthoughts for kids who have no worries in the world so long as they have each other.
Yerim used to be one of them.
It feels simultaneously like lifetimes ago and yet not so long ago when she was the one running down this very same street with her friends. The twins were always the fastest, Hayoon usually beating Hajoon by a hair, while Jian would lag behind and Yerim would slow down to keep pace with her. It wasn’t really about who was first for Yerim; she just enjoyed spending time with everyone. Afternoons were the highlight of her days, and Yerim remembers once thinking it would be nice if they could last forever.
But they didn’t.
Yerim sighs as she sits on the curb outside the twins’ house. Loud music blares from inside, but it’s too muddled for Yerim to tell what song is playing. She tries straining her ears, but the shrieking of the kids at play cuts through her concentration, and so she resigns herself to watching over them as they start chasing each other in circles. They almost look like giant marshmallows with their padded jackets, and Yerim laughs to herself as she imagines candy running about.
A door opens somewhere behind Yerim, and she briefly hears someone poorly trying to belt Nightmare Chaser’s Deja Vu. Whoever it is, their voice is painfully off tune, and Yerim is grateful when the door shuts again to put the singer on mute.
She turns around to see Jian walking towards her.
“Hey,” Yerim greets. She scoots over on the sidewalk to make room for Jian to sit with her. “Got sick of karaoke?”
Jian gives a small smile and takes the offered seat.
“Something like that,” she says. “It’s not as fun when you don’t know half the people there.”
“I feel you,” Yerim murmurs. “I didn’t know Hajoon knew so many juniors and seniors.”
“Actually, I think they’re mostly Seoyun’s friends? I’m not sure though.”
There’s a comment dancing on the tip of Yerim’s tongue, something or another about how Seoyun’s fashion change over the summer seems to have come with an increase in the average age of the people she associates with. Yerim wonders if maybe she’s trying to reach for a taste of adulthood as some high school kids are wont to do, but then a voice in the back of her head gives her pause. It gently nudges her and asks, “Is it really your place anymore?”
Yerim knows it’s not. She wasn’t here and she won’t be here, so she smothers her thoughts and let them drift away in the winter air. Fortunately, Jian seems fine with the lack of conversation and even seems to embrace it. She hums quietly to herself as she hugs her knees, and Yerim mirrors the pose next to her.
The lulling buzz of a distant freeway fades back into the backdrop when Jian speaks up again.
“I kind of wish you didn’t have to go to a different school.”
Yerim breathes out slowly.
“I wasn’t expecting to transfer,” she says with a smile she doesn’t really feel. “But a really good opportunity came up, like this would be really good for my future, so–”
“Wait, I’m sorry!” Jian blurts out. “I didn’t mean– I understand, like… I just mean…”
She fumbles with how to express herself, and Yerim is reminded of the little fifth grader awkwardly introducing herself to Yerim’s class halfway into the school year. Unlike Seoyun, Jian hasn’t really changed, and the nostalgic memory warms Yerim’s smile.
“It’s okay,” Yerim chuckles, gently knocking her knee against Jian’s. “I know you’re not trying to be unsupportive or anything.”
“Right, I was just…” Jian sighs. “I miss you, Yerim. Things are different without you.”
“Different isn’t always bad,” Yerim tries to encourage her friend, but the words ring empty in her own ears. Still, she tries again by stating, “Changes make room for growth, and growth is what we need to grow up!”
The redundancy of her last phrase doesn’t go unnoticed, Jian letting out a tiny giggle. It’s a momentary break from the gloominess though, and Yerim searches her brains for something else to say that would keep the mood here on an upward trend.
Jian gets to the punch faster.
“Hey, um… Can I tell you something?”
Jian sucks in a lungful of air before exhaling slowly, the cold taking her breath and turning it into a puff of white. It floats in Yerim’s direction, inches away from mingling with Yerim’s own respiration, but it begins to fade before reaching far enough, and in the end, it disappears without going anywhere.
“Yerim, I… For the past year, I–”
An approaching car interrupts Jian, and Yerim jumps to her feet in recognition.
“Mom!” she calls out, waving at the minivan. Recalling her friend, Yerim quickly turns back to Jian. “Wait, what were you about to say?”
“It’s nothing,” Jian says with a sharp shake of her head. “Um, are you coming back for spring break?”
“Ah…” Yerim scratches her cheek. “I’m not sure yet… but you’ll be the first to know if I do.”
“Okay,” Jian says quietly. A smile is back on her face, but it doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to interpret it as a bittersweet one. This is goodbye again, after all, and Yerim is sure her own smile is tainted by separation as well.
“You know you can stay out longer, right?” her mom says as soon as she’s buckled up in the passenger seat. “It’s not even six yet, and I know you want to hang out with your friends.”
Yerim internally winces. She tells the lie she told her earlier: “I have stuff I haven’t packed yet.”
Her voice comes out smaller than she’d like, so it’s no surprise when her mother sees right through her. Her mom actually looks away from the road for a moment to stare right at Yerim, the young teenager squirming under the scrutiny.
“Yerim. Did something happen at the party?”
“No, no!” Yerim denies hastily. “Nothing happened. I just… got tired and wanted to go home.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Yerim sees her mom frown in sympathy. She carefully reaches over and grabs Yerim’s hand, giving it a small squeeze that’s instinctively reciprocated.
“Still not having fun, huh?” her mom guesses as she returns her grip to the steering wheel.
“Nope,” Yerim confirms after a sigh of defeat. “It was even worse today because I don’t know most of the people there, and they don’t know me. And when they ask me about myself, I can’t even say anything because of the whole…” She gestures out the window in a random direction. “Y’know, the whole magic-is-top-secret thing.”
A minute of silence passes before her mom speaks up again.
“You know you don’t have to attend Hogwarts, right?”
“... Wait, huh?”
Yerim stares at the side of her mom’s face, and she watches in confusion as the corner of her mom’s mouth lifts.
“Your dad and I have been talking,” her mother explains rather gently. “You said the other day that you feel kind of out of place these days, right?”
“Y– Yeah,” Yerim confirms with a withdrawn nod.
“We were thinking… maybe it would help if you came back to the normal world. You know, spend some quality time bonding with your friends again and live with the rest of us m… muh… What was that word again?”
“Muggle,” Yerim says. “You want me to come back to the muggle world?”
“I want you to be happy,” her mother states, punctuating the last word with a glance at her daughter. “If quitting Hogwarts and re-enrolling in high school is what makes you happy, then that’s what we’ll do. If you’d rather stay at Hogwarts, that’s okay too.”
Yerim turns to face the window just in time to see an airplane coast by, high up and out of her reach. Its pinpricks of light twinkle in the orange-red of the sky, but like a falling star that grants no wishes, it provides no answer for the choice her mother just proposed.
“So you’re saying I can just… forget about Hogwarts and go back to my original life?” Yerim murmurs. “Just pretend it never happened and go back to normal?”
Her mom reaches over again, this time to pat her on the head.
“Whatever makes you happy, honey,” she says. “Take your time. But think about it, okay?”
By this point, Yerim thinks she’s thought about this whole thing about too much. She’s lost sleep over the matter, and she knows she’s been spending her waking hours in a daze just mulling over this decision. It’s literally life-changing, after all, and Yerim finds it far harder than expected to commit to one side or the other.
And that’s what sucks the most.
It shouldn’t be a difficult choice; being able to attend Hogwarts and learning that magic is real in the first place is like every child’s fantasy come to life. The regular world feels mundane in comparison, like a film with no color or a song without a melody. And yet…
Yerim sighs as she peers out over the grounds from the Astronomy Tower. She’s on her own today, having asked for some time to herself after butchering her Herbology quiz earlier. Yeojin and Hyejoo were downright thunderstruck when Yerim had handed in an incomplete worksheet, and after sheepishly explaining that she had blanked out, Yerim decided to go for some fresh air to clear her head. Alone.
She nearly flings herself off the tower in fright when something unexpected brushes against her leg.
“AH!?” Yerim screams before looking down and letting out a gasp of relief when an orange cat stares up at her.
“Meow,” it meows.
Yerim plants her hands on her hips.
“You scared me,” she chides the cat, but her ire is gone just as quickly as it came. She bends down to pet her new furry friend, smiling when it closes its eyes and lets her rub its head. For a moment, all of her worries are forgotten thanks to the warm fluffiness underneath her hand, but it’s only a matter of time before they come back again.
Yerim blinks when she realizes she’s been staring off into space for the past few seconds. Her hand hovers in the air, unmoving, and the cat bats at it with a paw before tilting its head.
What’s up? it seems to ask, though Yerim knows cats can’t really communicate with humans.
“Say…” Yerim begins. “What do you do if you’re trapped between two worlds and you don’t really belong in either?”
Of course, the cat doesn’t answer. It just sits there, tail wrapped neatly around its paws as it stares at Yerim. It blinks once, twice, and then it slowly tilts its head the other direction. It doesn’t flee or anything though, and Yerim takes this chance to launch into a hypothetical line of questioning that finally gives voice to the conundrum that’s been silently brewing inside her for far too long.
“I wonder what you would do if you were suddenly turned into a human,” Yerim says. “Would you want to stay human? Or would you want to go back to being a cat?”
“The humans know you used to be a cat, by the way. Some of them are really nice, and some…” Yerim swallows down a few memories of snide comments and strange looks before continuing. “Well, you’re a little different because you used to be a cat. And people can see that.”
“I guess there are other cat-people... But they came in like a litter, you know? So they know each other. But you came here alone.”
“It would probably be easier to go back to being a cat,” Yerim reasons. “You’ve been a cat your whole life. But it’s not like you can just forget the time you’ve spent as a human, right?”
“So what do you do? What do I do?”
Yerim’s voice quivers on that last sentence. A twist of shame forms in her gut because really, this shouldn’t be this hard, and yet the thought of abandoning Hogwarts and retreating back to the banal yet comfortable familiarity of muggle life has a hold on her that she can’t seem to break. She can’t even bring it up to Yeojin or Hyejoo or any of their older friends lest she inadvertently hurt them with her indecision.
If only there was a way to find out what she truly wants–
Yerim abruptly jumps to her feet, and it’s the cat’s turn to leap away in surprise at the sudden action.
“Sorry,” Yerim apologizes to it, its ears flicking in acknowledgement. She bends down to give it one last pat as thanks for its companionship before picking up her bag. “I gotta go find some friends, but you be careful up here, okay?”
“Meow,” the cat says, and it waves its tail goodbye.
Yerim soon makes her way to the Astronomy Tower’s exit, stopping only to marvel at the closed door blocking her path. She spends a second wondering how a cat could open it to get inside, but then she shrugs before resuming the long journey down.
She eventually comes across Yeojin and Hyejoo studying in a quiet corner of the library. Studying is a bit of a stretch, Yerim notes with amusement. Their books are out but unopened, and they’re clearly as preoccupied as she is with non-academic business.
“Does Jiwoo-unnie know anything? They’re in the same house.”
“I don’t think so. Yoohyeon-unnie is Hufflepuff too, and she said she doesn’t know.”
“Ahem.” Yerim clears her throat, giggling inside when her favorite classmates freeze on the spot. Like two conspirators caught on the scene, they turn their heads in synch, eyes wide with guilt.
“Y– Yerim!” Yeojin exclaims loudly. She remembers to lower her voice when Hyejoo shushes her. “You here to study for History too?”
“Actually, no,” Yerim says. “I was hoping you guys could help me out with something, actually?”
“Of course,” Hyejoo immediately agrees. She’s already packing her belongings, and she shoves Yeojin’s books at the Gryffindor before standing up. “Let’s go. What do you need?”
Yerim hesitates for a second before making her request.
“Can you guys take me back to that magic mirror again?”
Yeojin and Hyejoo turn to each other. They don’t say anything, Hyejoo frowning while Yeojin wiggles her eyebrows. Yerim waits patiently as they communicate– try to communicate without words, and it becomes harder and harder to resist the urge to giggle when Hyejoo visibly becomes increasingly confused while Yeojin grows more and more frustrated.
Their standstill is broken when Yeojin elbows Hyejoo with defeated exasperation and looks back at Yerim.
“I’ll lead the way,” she states firmly.
The trio is forced to climb several flights of stairs to reach their destination, and Yeojin nearly gets separated from the other two when one of the staircases shifts without warning. She makes an impressive leap to return to her friends’ side before guiding them onwards again.
“Why… is… Hogwarts… so… big?” Yerim pants upon reaching the seventh floor landing. This is the second time today she’s had to walk all the way up here, and her legs feel like they’re about to fall off.
“Take your time,” Hyejoo says as she and Yeojin wait for Yerim to catch her breath.
The phrases “thank you” and “I’m sorry” begin to war in Yerim’s chest. They both duel each other for a chance to be spoken, fighting for the opportunity to be expressed. The two contrasting feelings form a bittersweet swirl in her heart, and Yerim ends up voicing neither when Yeojin silently offers her hand as support. Yerim takes it, of course, and all she can give her friends is a smile as they continue onwards.
Unfortunately, the trio’s march to the enchanted mirror winds up being impeded at the very end by the age old obstacle: a lock.
“Oi, open,” Hyejoo demands as she tugs on the doorknob. It jiggles, but it doesn’t give, and Yeojin’s kick to the door doesn’t do anything to make it budge.
“Um, isn’t there a spell for unlocking things?” Yerim asks. “Do either of you know it?”
“I don’t,” Yeojin grumbles. “Haseul-unnie specifically stopped Jinsol-unnie from teaching me.”
Hyejoo rolls up her sleeve with a confident glint in her eye.
“I got this,” she drawls. “Siyeon-unnie, the best unnie, has my back. Alohomora!”
Five seconds pass.
Yeojin and Hyejoo proceed to fight the door both verbally and physically. They punch it a few times in between threats and deliberations about the likelihood of getting detention for starting an indoor fire. They do stop for a moment when Yerim warns them of an approaching Gryffindor prefect, but they soon return to analyzing how difficult lockpicking would be.
They really do care about her, Yerim thinks as she watches them struggle. Of course, she’s always known that, but the fact is reinforced by this display of determination and how neither Yeojin nor Hyejoo have even bothered asking why Yerim wants to see the mirror in the first place. All they know is that she does, and for them, that’s enough to make them try.
“Oh?” Yeojin suddenly gasps when the door gives a strange rattle after her own Alohomora attempt.
“What the…” Hyejoo looks torn between being impressed and being miffed. “Why didn’t that work when I tried it!?”
“Guess I’m a better witch than you,” Yeojin states smugly before turning to Yerim. “Come on, let’s go.”
Faced with the reality that she’s about to be confronted by her heart’s true wishes, Yerim hesitates. An unidentified emotion creeps inside her, taking the form of fear of all things, and her mouth reacts by panicking and blurting out, “Wait!”
Yeojin lets go of the doorknob.
“What’s up?” Hyejoo frowns.
“I…” Yerim clenches her fist and stares down at her shoes. “I need a moment, if that’s okay? I’m not sure I’m going to like what I’ll see.”
“In the mirror, you mean?” Yeojin places her hand under her chin. “It shows us what we desire, right?”
“Yeah,” Hyejoo confirms. “So why wouldn’t you like it?”
“Because I’m scared that– Hold on.”
Yerim pauses, an epiphany hitting her. It comes to her slowly, then all at once as understanding descends upon her and begins scrubbing away at the uncertainty that had been clogging her mind.
“Oh,” she says. “Oh. So I guess that saying about flipping a coin is true, huh?”
Yeojin and Hyejoo glance at each other. They do that staring thing again, except this time Hyejoo just outright declares, “I don’t get it.”
“People say that if you’re not sure about a decision, flip a coin,” Yerim explains. “You’ll know what your heart really wants when the coin is in the air.”
“... Ah. That’s the moment you realize what you’re secretly hoping for,” Hyejoo nods in comprehension.
“Oh,” Yeojin gasps. “Oh. That makes a lot of sense, actually. So the mirror is your coin flip?”
“Something like that,” Yerim says, chuckling lightly. “I mean it’s kinda backwards because I realized what result I didn’t want to get, but yeah. I don’t need the mirror anymore. I know what I want now.”
“Which is…?” Hyejoo prompts carefully.
“I want to stay here at Hogwarts with you guys,” she says. “Even if a lot of things are new to me and people think I’m weird. And even if I have to leave a lot of memories behind.”
Yeojin’s lower lip trembles for a fraction of a second before the Gryffindor launches herself at Yerim.
“We’ll make lots of new memories with you! Good memories, I swear!” she promises as she practically squeezes Yerim to death in a bear hug. “Right, Hyejoo?”
“Duh,” she says, rolling her eyes. She crosses her arms with a smirk. “Friends don’t leave friends behind, isn’t that right?”
Yerim’s grin widens upon hearing those five familiar words. It stings a little, her first recollection of that phrase coming from Hajoon of all people, but to hear Hyejoo say it with Yeojin’s vehement endorsement is refreshing in a way. Like a soft rain shower heralding the start of spring, it feels like hope, feels like trust that things will work out in the end.
With these two by her side, Yerim knows they will.
“Hey, can I borrow Olivia later?” Yerim asks as they head back down to the Great Hall.
“Sure, if you feel like climbing all the way up the Owlery.”
“... Maybe tomorrow,” Yerim amends. “I think I’m done with stairs for the day.”
“Same,” Yeojin grunts before suddenly letting out an even louder groan. “Argh, I have to climb back up to Gryffindor Tower after dinner!”
“Can’t relate. Slytherin dorms go down.”
“Just like Slytherin’s ranking once we kick Ravenclaw’s butt at the next game!”
“Ooooh, what if Slytherin loses to Hufflepuff too?”
“Oi, stop jinxing my house!”
The trio bicker and laugh all the way to dinner, the mirror reflecting their desires already forgotten. A more astute student might have thought to re-lock the door to mask any attempts at intrusion, but it’s all the same in the end; Yeojin never actually managed to unlock the door.
“Thanks for still being here after so long.”
Hyejoo has never seen someone decelerate so swiftly and abruptly on a broomstick before. Yoohyeon’s entire body actually pitches forward due the sudden lack of momentum beneath her, and Hyejoo is forced to reach out and grab the Hufflepuff by the hood before she accidentally launches herself face-first back down to the ground.
“Whew, good save,” Yoohyeon says, grinning in relief once she’s safely seated again. “Now. Hyejooooo! Are you being sooooft?”
Hyejoo pulls a face when Yoohyeon leans over quite precariously to pull her into a side hug. It’s an awkward maneuver considering how they’re both hundreds of feet in the air, but she tolerates it. It’s Yoohyeon-unnie, after all.
“I’m not being soft, I’m just saying.” Hyejoo gingerly pries Yoohyeon off of her when they start drifting to where her teammate Sakura and Hufflepuff’s Keeper Yena are chasing each other in circles. “Yerim has been telling us about her muggle friends—who kinda suck, by the way—and I was thinking… You’ve been with Siyeon-unnie and me for a really long time.”
“My entire life,” Yoohyeon states, puffing out her chest in pride. “Your entire life too!”
“Right,” Hyejoo nods. “You’ve been with us for years and years and years, and aside from growing freakishly tall–”
“You haven’t really changed,” Hyejoo continues. She snickers at Yoohyeon’s exaggerated pout before bumping their shoulders together in fondness. “You’re still here, by our side. Even after… what happened over the summer.”
“Aww, Hyejoo…” Yoohyeon’s lower lip juts out, and she looks at Hyejoo with shining eyes until she can’t resist any longer and pulls her into another hug. “C’mon, you two are my family! Where else would I go? And I know if it happened to me, you guys would have my back. Right?”
“Of course,” Hyejoo affirms, returning the embrace. “Really though, thanks. I feel like we don’t say that to you enough.”
For a confusing but terrifying second, Hyejoo thinks she might have said the wrong thing somehow. Yoohyeon stiffens in her embrace and almost makes to pull back, but then the moment passes and Hyejoo is nearly crushed to death instead.
“Aww!” Yoohyeon lets out a loud sniff. “Having all these new friends has made our Hyejoo soft!”
“I told you, I’m just saying– Hey! Don’t wipe your nose on my hood!”
“I’m not! Something just got in my eye. Seriously!”
Hyejoo rolls her eyes.
“Anyways,” she says loudly as she pulls away, checking her robe for any mucus. “I’m only going to say this one more time: thank you.”
Yoohyeon smiles, and it’s not one of her usual, goofier grins. Though no less warm, it’s exceedingly tender to the point where Hyejoo finds herself thinking that being born the second Son was worth it just to meet Yoohyeon.
“Thank you,” Yoohyeon says sincerely. She pats Hyejoo’s head before backing away. “Now come on, let’s see how many laps we can do before the sun sets!”
“I don’t need speed training,” Hyejoo points out. “Speaking of which, why are you guys even practicing while we are?”
“Weren’t you just saying how glad you are that I’m here?”
“I’m just asking.”
“Hmph.” Yoohyeon feigns discontent for a whole two seconds before dropping the act. “If you must know, Ravenclaw has been hogging the pitch the entire week, and we figured we had to get some practice in one way or another. Neither of our captains seem to mind, so…”
Indeed, even from afar Hyejoo can hear the sounds of Captain Seulgi and Captain Byulyi chatting away merrily. Any thoughts of practice have evidently long since vacated the two, and Hyejoo watches with amusement as they laugh uproariously over something, Byulyi doubling over while Seulgi wipes her eyes. Nearly all of their other teammates are messing around as well, and hardly anyone seems to be making the effort to hone their skills.
Hyunjin is one of the few exceptions. After a “hey, you remind me of a friend of mine!” from fellow Beater Sana, Hyunjin got roped into some sort of competition in which the two use their bats to exchange high speed volleys of a Bludger. They’re still at it even now, and Chaewon seems to have gotten bored of watching their ‘tennis match,’ as the muggleborn had dubbed it. Hyejoo doesn’t see her partner anywhere on the field, so she figures Chaewon went off to find a strangely absent Jiwoo.
Hyejoo is forced to update that hypothesis to “Chaewon ditched” when the shorter Slytherin still hasn’t returned by the time their captain calls it quits. Wishing she had the foresight to slip away too, Hyejoo slinks back into the castle and grabs a quick dinner with Yoohyeon and Hyunjin before the three of them head over to the Transfiguration classroom.
Siyeon gets there last.
She shuts the door behind her with a yawn, her eyes tired and unfocused until she plops into one of the front row seats next to Yoohyeon.
“How was practice?” Siyeon asks as she leans over to rest her head on Yoohyeon’s shoulder.
“I had fun today! It was cool to hang out with Slytherin’s team,” Yoohyeon grins. “Even if Hyunjin almost broke my broom.”
“You mean you almost broke your own broom,” Hyunjin argues from her spot on her mother’s desk. “You were the one who flew in front of me while I was swinging.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t hit Yoohyeon-unnie,” Hyejoo chimes in. “You could have knocked her out.”
“Or broken a few bones.”
“Or given her amnesia.”
“You guys are mean,” Yoohyeon whines. She clings to Siyeon’s arm, pouting at the two younger students. “Man, and Hyejoo was being so cute earlier… Hey, you guys wanna know what she said–”
“Stop,” Hyejoo interrupts with a scowl. “If you even think about saying anything, I’m really giving you amnesia when we play each other.”
“Moooom, someone’s threatening people!” Hyunjin yells in a random direction right as Siyeon whispers, “Yikes.”
Yoohyeon mimes zipping her mouth shut and throwing away the key before immediately opening her mouth again.
“So now that we’re all here,” she says. “Have we decided what we’re going to do this coming full moon?”
A somber look crosses Siyeon’s face. Hyejoo is sure everyone has noticed it, and perhaps that’s why Hyunjin speaks up before there’s too long of a silence.
“I don’t think we have to change much,” Hyunjin says calmly. “What are the chances that someone would sneak out two full moons in a row?”
“I agree,” Hyejoo murmurs. “Most people are too scared to even want to go outside, Bora-unnie aside.”
“And she had her reasons,” Yoohyeon supplies with a contemplative nod.“Can’t imagine anyone else who’d want to go say hi to a werewolf.”
A flicker of a smile dances across Siyeon’s lips before she lets out a sigh.
“Is it worth it though?” she mutters. “The risk of someone being out there…”
“It makes you feel a lot better, doesn’t it?” Hyejoo reminds her. “I think that’s worth it.”
“Hm…” Siyeon stares down at the desk for a few seconds, her expression uneasy but otherwise unreadable. It clears up when she lifts her head again, decision made. “If you three are fine with it, I’m fine with it too. Just don’t let me outside for too long.”
“We’ll be careful,” Yoohyeon promises. She then claps her hands brightly. “Now then, who wants to join me on a quick kitchen run?”
“Me!” Hyunjin immediately volunteers, hopping off Professor Kim’s desk.
“I could do with a bedtime snack,” Siyeon says, and Hyejoo is glad to see that the prospect of food has her smiling properly again. “What about you, Hyejoo?”
“I’ll pass,” Hyejoo grimaces. “I ate too much during dinner.”
She makes her way to the door to the tune of Siyeon, Yoohyeon, and Hyunjin debating if pancakes or waffles are safer to eat at this time of the night. She figures they’ll take a while to come to agreement on toppings as well, so she feels no guilt in leaving them to their increasingly detailed discussion. Sure enough, Hyunjin begins rattling off the nutritional value of the different types of flour the kitchen uses, and Hyejoo snorts as she exits the room.
The first thing she sees upon shutting the door behind her is Ha Sooyoung lurking behind a statue just a few feet away.
Their eyes meet, and Hyejoo blanches.
“H– Hi, Sooyoung-unnie,” Hyejoo greets, her mouth dry. Hoping her body language isn’t as stiff as it feels, she casually stuffs her hands in her pockets. “What brings you here?”
“Well… Not much, actually,” Sooyoung says. Her gaze shifts to the left momentarily before locking back on to Hyejoo. “What about you?”
“Just hanging out with Yoohyeon-unnie after practice,” Hyejoo answers, keeping her tone steady even while her brain struggles to rewind the past few minutes to figure out what Sooyoung could have overheard.
It soon becomes clear that her worries are unnecessary, for there’s nothing suspicious or accusatory in Sooyoung’s eyes as she regards Hyejoo in a rather composed manner. Unfortunately, Hyejoo’s relief is marred by the fact that Sooyoung is lacking her usual warmth and friendliness. There’s the distinct absence of corny, eye-roll-worthy jokes, and there just isn’t any talking at all with how Sooyoung seems to have forgotten to reply. Not missing the familiarity of the situation, Hyejoo clears her throat before cautiously inquiring after Sooyoung’s well being.
“Hey, uh… Unnie. Are you okay?”
“Hm?” Sooyoun blinks. “Ah, yeah, I’m fine.”
I’ve heard that one before, Hyejoo thinks to herself. Just as she’s deciding whether or not to push the issue, the reason for Sooyoung’s well-masked distress makes itself known.
“You’re seriously still betting on our house after the fiasco that was our last match?”
“Seriously, Jinsol and Haseul are good, but they’re not that good. They can’t go two versus three.”
“Hey, I’m banking on Sooyoung getting her crap together. Or at least not be a liability until Captain Wheein gets the Snitch.”
“Wait, you’re right… That’s how they won the championship last year, wasn’t it?”
“Oh yeah, I forgot about how Kim Jiwoo broke Sooyoung’s nose. Thank goodness Captain Wheein came to the rescue.”
“Okay, so as long as Sooyoung doesn’t fold too early, Captain Wheein should be able to beat Gryffindor’s newbie Seeker, right? What about the Beaters though?”
The chattering group of students don’t even spare a glance at Hyejoo as they pass by Sooyoung’s statue. Hyejoo counts at least five people present, and to her consternation, over half of them are wearing blue robes. It’s not hard to understand why Sooyoung would choose to hide rather than be seen by her fellow housemates, and sympathy shoots through Hyejoo as she waits for the crowd to leave.
“Well, time for me to go practice!” Sooyoung says in a falsely chipper tone once they’re out of earshot.
“At this time of the night?” Hyejoo frowns before a realization hits her. “Wait, are you the one who’s been booking the Quidditch pitch this entire week?”
Sooyoung’s face falls.
“I need to practice more so I’m not the Trinity’s weakest link,” she says quietly. “Like people have been saying, this isn’t the first time I’ve screwed up.”
“Mistakes happen,” Hyejoo points out. “You’re still a really good player. I know you’ll be a pain in the ass to deal with when we have to play against you.”
“I sure hope that’ll be the case.” Sooyoung gives a chuckle that weakens into a weary exhale. “I’d better get going. They’ll be closing the castle soon.”
“Wait,” Hyejoo calls out before she can stop herself. Sooyoung pauses, and Hyejoo quickly says what’s on her mind while she still has the chance. “Don’t mind them, unnie. People… They like to act like they know everything. Like they know you. But they don’t. Your friends are the ones who know you. And you know you.”
“... And that’s what matters, isn’t it?”
“Thank you,” Sooyoung says after a brief moment of silence, her lips no longer sagging downwards. “It means a lot, coming from you.”
“I know,” Hyejoo says, smirking to take the edge off of their conversation.
Sooyoung pushes Hyejoo’s shoulder playfully and gives her a grateful squeeze before going on her way. She disappears around the corner just in time for the Transfiguration classroom to open again.
“Hyejoo!” Yoohyeon exclaims. “What are you still doing here? Did you change your mind?”
“I ran into Sooyoung-unnie just now,” Hyejoo explains. An errant thought comes to her, and she narrows her eyes in wonder. “Hey, is it me or does having more friends mean more people to worry about?”
“Yep,” Hyunjin nods. “I don’t mind though.”
“It’s more people to worry about, but it’s also more people who worry about you,” Siyeon says. She gently places her hand on Hyejoo’s head. “It’s a good thing, don’t worry.”
“I wasn’t worrying,” Hyejoo pouts. “Anyways, did you guys decide what you’re eating?”
“Yep! We’re getting ice cream,” Yoohyeon announces happily.
“Ice cream? In January? At night?” Hyejoo scrunches her nose. “You weirdos… I’m in.”
To nobody’s surprise, Yoohyeon is the first to get brain freeze. Siyeon soon follows after, and although Hyejoo should know better, she points and laughs with Hyunjin while eating her own ice cream. Not even ten seconds later and she’s the one cringing in pain, but oh well.
Everyone’s laughter is worth any price.