"Another point for Eli." Umi said monotonously as she flicked her wand at the quill and parchment sitting on the concrete bench next to her, the enchanted quill quickly scribbling down yet another tally mark that joined the many others that occupied Eli's side of the worn down paper.
Maki let out a frustrated scoff and bent down to pick up her fallen wand. "I wasn't ready!"
"Just like you weren't ready the last five times?" The blue-haired Ravenclaw mused, looking over at Maki from her hunched over position as she leaned her right cheek against the palm of her hand, elbow resting on her knee.
"Don't you have somewhere else to be?" Maki growled. She was so frustrated that if she had held her wand any tighter, it would've snapped in half.
"Now, Maki," Eli stood just a few feet across from the fifth year, arms crossed and wand in hand. "Can you tell me why you have yet to defeat me?"
Again, the blonde-haired Gryffindor probed Maki with the exact same question she had asked after their last five (now six) duels. She had noticed the Ravenclaw's mistake right after the first spell had been casted in the very first duel of the evening and was waiting patiently for the redhead to realize what very mistake was being repeated on her end.
The redhead in question only remained silent, twirling a lock of scarlet hair.
After a few more minutes of waiting, Eli turned to the Ravenclaw prefect sitting boredly on the bench. "Umi, please demonstrate with me in a practice duel."
As Umi stood, brushing the dirt from the back of her skirt, Maki immediately argued. "I told you I don't need a demonstration! I know how a duel is supposed to be conducted! I know the spells!"
"Maki," If Eli's patience was wearing thin, she didn't show it. "I want you to watch us closely. Maybe watching a proper duel will show you what you're doing wrong."
The young Ravenclaw scoffed, making her way to take Umi's place on the bench. Oh, how she regretted ever asking the Gryffindor and her fellow Ravenclaw to help her study for her Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L.
Both Eli and Umi stood across from each other, wands at the ready.
"Even though you already know the basics, Maki, we're going to go over them anyway, so just bear with me. Now, what's the first thing you do before the duel begins?" The blonde questioned.
"Both participants bow to one another." Maki replied with a roll of her eyes.
The seventh year Gryffindor and the sixth year Ravenclaw did just that, the movements from both parties graceful and full of power at the same time. As expected of Sonoda Umi and Ayase Eli.
"One on one. Whoever disarms the opponent first or forces their opponent to give up wins." Eli explained as she eyed Umi across the other end of the courtyard.
"You're on," Umi agreed with a small smirk. "Stupefy!"
A red beam shot out of the blue-haired girl's wand as she casted the first spell. However, Eli was quick to react.
"Protego!" The Stupefy spell abruptly bounced off Eli's invisible shield and would've hit the girl across from her if she hadn't jumped out of the way.
As Umi quickly landed back onto her feet, she roughly turned back around and shouted "Tarantallegra!"
Eli immediately lost control of her legs as soon as the incantation left Umi's mouth and the spell connected, her lower body rapidly moving in time to some nonexistant beat.
"How's that for a former ballet dancer?" Umi taunted jokingly with a grin.
This prompted a small giggle from Maki as she watched the scene unfold from her seat upon the concrete bench.
Watching Umi slip out of stern, intelligent, polite, obediant, Head Girl of Ravenclaw mode whenever it was just the three of them was something she would probably never get used to, no matter how many times she has seen it already.
"Ha ha," Eli rolled her eyes as her legs continued to move of their own accord. "Hilarious."
The same could be said for Eli now that Maki thought about it. Her frost queen persona completely disappeared whenever the three of them hung around together, which was very seldom considering all of the responsibilties both Eli and Umi held as authority figures for their houses. This was the first time in weeks the three of them actually got to do something together even though it was just to help Maki study.
"Stupefy!" Another red beam this time from Eli's wand caught Umi off guard and sent the blue-haired girl flying backward as her back connected with the grassy ground of the courtyard.
She sat up with a groan, reaching behind her back to rub the spot she had fallen particularly hard on.
"That sounded like it hurt, Umi!" Eli shouted over her shoulder. The dance being performed by her enchanted feet had turned her away from her opponent.
Umi slowly rose to her feet. "Oh, I've taken worse! Flipendo!"
The knockback jinx connected with Eli's back, and the blonde found herself face down on the ground, her legs still in motion even then.
Flipendo didn't have enough impact as the Stupefy spell did, but it humored Umi to see the normally tactful Head Girl of Gryffindor wallowing on the ground.
The sixth year Ravenclaw strode across the courtyard to close in on her opponent. "Had enough yet?"
And in one quick motion, Eli was able to roll over and sit up. "Expelliarmus!"
Time seemed to slow down as the wand that had been in the blue-haired girl's grasp went flying, landing just ahead of Maki's feet. Both of the Ravenclaw girls could only stare down at the wand with widened eyes.
Neither one of them knew exactly how to react or what to say. Eli's surprise attack had been so sudden that it rendered both Umi and Maki speechless. They weren't expecting something like that to be the outcome.
"I understand how shocked you are, but that counter-spell would be great right now, Umi!" Eli had fallen back into wallowing on the grassy ground, legs and feet continuing to thrash wildy in their enchanted dance.
Acquiescing her defeat with a low hum, a slightly crestfallen Umi retrieved her wand from the ground, pointed it at the blonde, and said, "Finite Incantatem."
The feverish pace at which Eli's lower body was moving immediately ceased at the words of the counter-spell as she rolled over pronely and took in several gulps of air.
"Thanks." She panted.
"Not a problem at all," Umi tucked her wand behind her back in the waistband of her skirt before bowing politely. "It was an honor to duel with you, Eli."
"Likewise." Eli managed to push herself up from the ground and stood to her feet, brushing away the dirt and grime that had soiled the white cotton of her sleeves as well as her Gryffindor vest and her skirt.
Maki scanned over the disheveled appearance of her Gryffindor senior. Blonde bangs matted to her forehead from the amount of sweating she was doing, the splotch of dirt on her cheek from where she faceplanted the ground earlier, and of course her dirty uniform.
"Nozomi is going to blow a gasket when she sees how rough you look." She commented while twisting a strand of her hair.
"Oh please," Eli dismissed the redhead's imput with a wave of her hand. "She is not going to blow a gasket."
Maki raised an eyebrow, seemingly unamused. "Remember that time you got hit by that Bludger?"
Eli was considered a veteran when it came to Quidditch, so of course she had taken her share of Bludger hits here and there. However, the nastiest Bludger hit she had ever taken had occurred during a game against Slytherin during her fifth year when a beater from the Slytherin side had batted said Bludger in her direction while she had been hot on the heels of the Golden Snitch. All Eli could remember was the searing pain she had felt in her left shoulder as it hit her at full impact, knocking her off her broom.
Thankfully, she had fallen right smack into the middle of the Gryffindor stands, where her fall was cushioned by Honoka, Rin, Hanayo, Umi, Kotori, Nico, and Nozomi, as well as her other fellow Gryffindors.
The blonde rubbed her shoulder at the memory. Nozomi had been downright furious after that. The purple-haired girl had even threatened to deduct points from her own house because of it, but because she had been a freshly appointed prefect that same year and hadn't yet made it to Head Girl status, her reasoning behind taking points from Slytherin had been overruled. And later that night, she vented her frustrations to the injured blonde while she had been rewrapping her shoulder.
Umi visibly shivered at the thought of Nozomi's wrath that day. "She could have uprooted the Whomping Willow if she had tried."
Maki hadn't attended the game that day because she didn't really have any reason to. Ravenclaw wasn't on the card (which didn't really matter either because Maki had better things to do than watch Quidditch), plus her only acquaintances that year had been Rin, Hanayo, and Umi. And to third year Maki, those three acquaintances had been more than enough.
She had heard word of the Bludger incident the day directly after it had happened when she had overheard a conversation between two Ravenclaw girls in the common room about Ayase's injury possibly hurting Gryffindor's chances for the Quidditch Cup.
And hurt them, it did. In a completely unsurprising turn of events, Slytherin won the Cup that year.
"Fine, I get it," Eli sighed, pulling at her tie and loosening it to where it wasn't slightly constricting her neck anymore. "Anyways, we're getting off track. Maki, did you learn anything from watching Umi and me?"
"You can't teach what's already been learned." Maki says.
The Gryffindor had no choice but to contain the frustrated groan that almost left her mouth. Honestly, Maki was one of the most stubborn students at Hogwarts.
"Can you at least tell me why Umi had more of the upper hand during our duel than you have had during your duels with me?"
Maki scoffed. "Because Tarantallegra is a spell that is meant to distract your opponent and stall them from casting spells by forcing them to dance like a complete idiot."
Well, Eli had to admit the redhead hit the nail right on the head, but that wasn't quite the answer she was looking for. "And?"
The fifth year narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean 'and'?"
Eli sighed softly, closing her eyes and reaching up to massage her forehead with her fingers.
Sensing the Gryffindor's distress, Umi stepped in. "Tarantallegra may have given me the upper hand, but that wasn't the sole reason why I almost defeated Eli."
Maki turned to look at the Ravenclaw prefect, who was now towering over her from her seat on the bench. The amber gaze solemnly pierced through Maki's own amethyst one, which was enough to keep the redhead silent as Umi continued.
"You see, Maki, there was one difference between my duel with Eli and the six you had with her."
The migraine that was beginning to form in Eli's forehead and temples subsided as she tuned into what Umi was saying. She glanced between the blue-haired girl's signature prefect front and the redhead's stubborn albeit questioning one.
"In a traditional duel between witches and wizards, both parties are expected to give it their all and not hold back, as you have witnessed in the duel between Eli and myself just a few minutes ago. So, allow me to rephrase Eli's question to you in a different manner: Why are you holding back?"
Maki's eyes widened for a split second before she proceeded to twist her hair for the umpteenth time that evening. "I'm not holding back."
"Then why is it that almost none of your spells have been effective against her? You said you knew them, right?"
The redhead looked off to the side, unable to meet the amber of Umi's eyes. Instead, she met Eli's icy blue ones and once she saw the somehwhat somber look on the blonde's face, she sighed.
"Look," She paused to take a deep breath into her nose and out of her mouth to steel her resolve before looking back up at her Ravenclaw senior. "This is going to sound ridiculous, but just listen."
Umi's prefect front disappeared as a look of genuine concern replaced it. Eli walked closer to listen to what was obviously troubling her redheaded friend.
Maki took another deep breath. Eli and Umi were two of the very few people that she trusted with her life. If anyone had the right to know, it would be them. It was just hard for her to be honest in general, no matter who she was speaking to.
"I'm a half-blood. Both of my parents practice magic, but my mother's side has more non-magical relatives than my father's side. A majority of them look down upon people who use magic, and because of that, those on my mother's side who do practice magic are more conservative with magic itself. Even though it's forbidden for me as a student to practice magic outside of Hogwarts, that still doesn't stop them from discriminating against me. All my life, I was raised to be conservative with my magic because of that very reason. That's why I only use magic during class and not anywhere else."
A firm yet gentle thumb wiped a falling tear away from under Maki's eye - a tear she didn't know she had shed up until that point.
"So that's what this is about," That came out of Umi's mouth more as a statement than as a question. "You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, you know?"
"I know," Maki says shakily, bringing a sleeve up to wipe under the rims of her eyes, which were beginning to redden. "I just don't want to disappoint them."
Sometime during her explanation, both Umi and Eli had bent down so they were at eye level with her. The hand that Umi had used to wipe the tear away was now resting on the redhead's shoulder while Eli was running her own through Maki's scarlet locks in a way of providing comfort.
"I understand how you feel," Eli said softly. "As soon as I got my acceptance letter from Hogwarts in the mail, my parents automatically expected that I would take over one of their positions in the Ministry when it came time for me to graduate, and at first, I thought that's what I wanted, too. But, that all changed when I caught my first Golden Snitch."
Maki noticed the far away look in Eli's eyes and the happiness contained in them.
"It changed my life. The adrenaline rush, the competition, the smell of the grass, people cheering for me. Once I got my first taste of all of that, I never wanted it to go away. My dream that I once had of being a Ministry worker slowly faded and was replaced with a dream of playing professional Quidditch, and I'm going to do it."
"What did your parents say?" Maki asked. "You know, when you told them?"
Eli sighed, but a small smile remained on her face. "They were a little disappointed at first, but then one day out of the blue, they came to watch me play. I had no idea they were there until I saw them sitting with Professor Minami and the other teachers as I passed by. They saw how much I loved it and how much fun I had doing it. That's when they finally accepted it. Now, my father has a replica of my Quidditch jersey hanging on the wall just above the fireplace, and he's made room for another next to it for when I become a professional."
Umi waited patiently to see if Eli was going to say more, but when she made no motion to do so, it was her turn to speak.
"And even if Eli's parents hadn't accepted it, that still wouldn't have prevented her from doing what she loves and being who she is. You love magic, Maki, and those who truly love you shouldn't stop you from doing so. Your magical abilities are part of who you are. It's a gift that you shouldn't be ashamed of."
"It's odd." Eli says out of the blue, scratching at the back of her neck.
Umi raised an eyebrow. "Care to explain?"
"Rin has episodes like this every once in a while. It's not exactly the same situation as Maki's, but it's oddly similar."
The only difference was that Rin was a muggle-born. There have been only a handful of people in the Hoshizora lineage that had magical abilities, and Rin was one of them. Every now and then, a Slytherin student called her out on it, but when Eli was around, none of them even dared to even speak the word 'mudblood'.
"Umi is right, though," The blonde continues, garnering Maki's attention. "I'm going to tell you exactly what I tell Rin whenever she gets down and out. You are who you are. Just because someone looks down upon you for something totally out of your control doesn't mean you should be ashamed of it. Like Umi said, it's a gift."
Maki wasn't on the verge of sobbing anymore. Her tears and sadness had dried up as soon as she heard the encouragement from her two closest friends. She loved magic and loved studying it. Why should she hide away a part of herself that made her happy?
"If this is too much for you to process, we can stop and try again some other time. There really isn't any rush. Your O.W.L's aren't until the end of the term anyhow. Plus, it's getting late, and I need to find Nozomi before we have to begin our prefect duties." Eli says, straightening her tie back up and brushing back the small strands of hair that protruded out of her ponytail.
Maki quickly stood up. "Eli, wait."
The seventh year Gryffindor hadn't even taken a single step to leave the courtyard before she turned back to face her. "Hm?"
"I, uh," The redhead cleared her throat. "Want to try again. Can we?"
Eli studied Maki's eyes and caught a glimpse of a determination she had never seen in them before. Of course, there was the default stubborness Maki almost always had in her eyes, but it wasn't there this time. Stubborness and determination can be two completely different things, after all.
Her eyes shifted over to Umi, who was standing to Maki's left, her expression and stance both stoic as usual.
Then finally, she agreed with a simple nod. "Very well."
Umi resumed her role as scorekeeper, seating herself back on the bench while Eli and Maki both took their positions across from each other and bowed.
"Remember, Maki, no holding back. Give me your best." Eli's encouraging words were a complete one-eighty from the words she and Umi had thrown back and forth at each other during their own duel just a while ago.
"Rules are the same as before," Umi called out. "One on one. Whoever disarms the opponent first or forces their opponent to give up wins."
The Ravenclaw prefect cleared her throat before being seated. "Begin."
"Stupefy!" Maki and Eli both recited in unison. A jet of red shot out from both girls' wands and connected with their intended targets. An already scruffed up Eli was sent flying just a few feet away and landed hard on her back, much like Umi had earlier. The force of the Stupefy spell from Eli's wand had forced Maki backwards as well, sending her careening back-first into one of the medium sized statues of the courtyard.
Once Maki shook her head to clear her mind of the initial shock and got to her feet with a small grunt, Umi immediately hissed at the poor condition of the statue.
She quickly looked away and slapped a hand over her face almost like she would turn to stone if she looked back upon the destruction of the gargoyle statue and spoke in a harsh whisper. "Reparo."
The gargoyle's wing quickly reattached itself at the mercy of Umi's wand and stood as proudly as it had before. With a relieved sigh, Umi removed her hand from her face and chose to focus on the duel at hand, not even daring to chance a glance in the newly-repaired statue's direction.
The duel between Eli and Maki had intensified to a level far beyond what had transpired in the previous duels. Both girls had taken their battle from the inner courtyard to the cobblestone walkways that bordered it, casting hex after hex and jinx after jinx at each other as they both weaved around in an attempt to dodge each others attacks.
"Rictusempra!" Umi heard Maki shout, which was soon followed by a "Protego!" from Eli.
The redhead immediately stumbled out of one of the entrances to the cobblestone walkway, bringing an arm up against the wall and leaned into it in an attempt to catch her breath.
Her body was shaking wildly as she desperately struggled to hold back any sort of laughter. Maki Nishikino wasn't the ticklish sort, so the Rictusempra spell hadn't been exactly effective enough. However, it still had somewhat of a small effect on her.
A seemingly exhausted Eli emerged from the entrance across the courtyard from Maki, leaning on her shoulder and breathing heavily. "H-had enough yet?"
The fifth year managed to look up from her hunched over position at the blonde Gryffindor across from her, letting a small giggle escape from her lips at the ticklish sensation the spell had provided.
"Locomotor Mortis!" She managed to flick her wand at Eli through her giggling fit.
The blonde Gryffindor's legs abruptly locked together. As Eli fought to maintain her balance, she immediately recognized that her Ravenclaw junior had used her own Prefect spell against her. Locomotor Mortis was normally used to catch students who felt the need to outrun the Prefects once they had been spotted out of bed by locking their legs together, which made their escape attempt futile once the spell had made contact with its intended target.
"F-five points fr-from Gryffindor!" Maki howled with laughter as she collapsed to the ground onto her knees.
Eli's fatigue managed to catch up with her, and she found herself sliding down back-first against the wall, knees still locked in place.
Umi looked back and forth between them. "Shall I declare a draw?"
The scarlet-haired fifth year's shoulders tremored violently as Rictusempra's effect took a turn for the worse. "I d-don't c-c-care what you declare it. Just st-stop ti-tickling me."
Being a former ballerina, it wouldn't have been difficult for Eli to get back up despite her legs being locked together, but her energy was drained. "Declare it a draw, Umi."
The Ravenclaw Prefect nodded once and flicked her wand once more towards the quill and parchment. The word Draw was etched onto the paper in elegeant cursive, and one tally mark was made directly under it.
Eli flicked her wand over at her junior. "Finite Incantatem."
As soon as the ticklish sensation disappeared, Maki manuevered herself to where she was sitting on the ground, taking in several gulps of air and running a hand through her scarlet hair.
She reached for her wand on the ground next to her and pointed it at Eli in return. "Finite Incantatem."
The binding of Eli's legs quickly ceased as soon as the incantation left Maki's lips. However, she made no attempt whatsoever to stand up due to the overwhelming fatigue she was feeling at that moment.
Maki chuckled tiredly. "You know, Eli, for a Quidditch player, your stamina sucks."
"Hey, now." Eli warned jokingly, a small smile tugging at the blonde's lips as she did so.
Umi, who also couldn't help the small grin that had crept its way onto her face, stood from her seated position on the bench and made her way over to the younger Ravenclaw, holding a hand out for Maki to take.
"Now, that was the Nishikino Maki I have known for the last few years. Overcoming obstacles no matter what is standing in her way," She helped the redhead pull herself to her feet and gave her head a good-natured pat. "Welcome back."
Maki felt confused. "But I didn't win."
Umi looked behind to see that Eli had managed to get herself to her feet. As she brushed the dirt away from her uniform, she spoke. "Winning isn't everything, Maki."
"Eli is right," Umi placed her hands upon the fifth year's shoulders. "It doesn't make a difference whether one has won or lost. What matters the most is what has been learned despite the outcome."
"And there's no one here to tell you otherwise," interjected the blonde Gryffindor. "You were given magical abilities because it was meant for you to have them. Like it was meant for your father to have them. He's saved a lot of lives at St. Mungo's with his magical abilities, hasn't he? If he had ever prevented himself from using magic, I'm sure a lot of people would not be here right now."
Maki's father was one of the most well-known Healers at St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. Of course, he expected his only daughter to follow in his footsteps and become a Healer herself. And Maki intended to do just that.
But how could she even achieve that goal without the use of magic? She could just settle on being a doctor, the Muggle equivalent of a Healer, but that sounded boring. Sure, there were times when Maki could be a giant stick in the mud, but that didn't mean her life had to be one.
And not using magic was an absolute bore within itself.
When she had broken free from her restraints and had an all out war with Eli in the courtyard, the Ravenclaw felt alive. It was the most fun she'd had in a long time, and it felt refreshing to throw away the thoughts of how her family viewed her. To just let go.
Maki realized in that moment that she never wanted that feeling to go away. Life was too short, and she had way more important things to worry about than what her family thought of magic.
"Feel better?" A grinning Eli prodded.
Maki felt a small but genuine smile quirk at the corners of her mouth as she met the Gryffindor's icy blue eyes. She chuckled.
"A lot. Thank you. Both of you."
"We will always be here if you need us, Maki. Do not hesitate to come to us if something is troubling you." Umi spoke.
"Or if you just feel like talking. Whether it be with the others or just the three of us." Eli added.
Honestly, Maki had only wished that she'd known all of them sooner. She had known Rin and Hanayo ever since they met on the train during their first year at Hogwarts, and she had known Umi as well, but the stern aura that the blue-haired girl radiated prevented Maki from attempting any sort of interaction with her despite being in the same House together. Not that Maki would ever admit she had been intimidated, but whatever.
"Umi!" Another voice broke out into the tranquil atmosphere of the courtyard.
The three girls turned to the source of the voice and saw Kotori standing in one of the entranceways to said courtyard with her hands clasped over her heart, a look of worry evident on her face.
"Kotori," Umi quickly made her way over to the ash-haired Hufflepuff. "What's the matter? Are you okay?"
"Just came to make sure everything was okay. We were supposed to take a walk down to the boathouse together before dark, but I completely forgot that you and Eli were helping Maki study. I had to ask Nozomi were you were."
Umi was quick to respond. "No, no, we were just finishing up here. I didn't forget, I promise."
And if both Eli and Maki had blinked during that very moment, they would've missed the daughter of the Headmistress lean forward to plant a kiss on the Ravenclaw prefect's cheek.
"I know you didn't forget, Umi," Kotori said, bringing a hand up to rest tenderly on Umi's flushed cheek. "I'll be waiting inside once you've finished."
Umi could only function enough to nod once at the Hufflepuff.
That was when Kotori finally took notice of the other two girls in the courtyard and greeted them with a small wave. "Hi, Eli! Hi, Maki!"
The seventh-year Gryffindor and the fifth-year Ravenclaw both returned the ash-haired girl's wave and watched as she retreated back into the castle.
Silence permeated the air of the courtyard until Eli decided to speak up.
"Fraternizing with the daughter of the Headmistress in public, huh?" She teased. "Isn't there a law pertaining to that?"
Umi quickly turned around, face so red from embarrassment that it could have given Maki's hair a run for its money, and bit back with a sharp retort.
"M-me? You and Nozomi use the Prefects Bathroom for a way lot more than just to take a simple bath!"
Maki couldn't help but snicker as Eli's eyes widened at the sixth-year Ravenclaw's revelation. What made it even more hilarious to Maki was the imaginings of how Umi had managed to find out and what her reactions might have been like. The blue-haired prefect was a little too overreactive when it came to things like that. Hell, she could barely withstand getting a kiss on the cheek from her girlfriend without almost blasting off to the damn moon from what Maki had witnessed mere minutes ago, and then there was the time Umi had found out about her and Nico.
But that was a story for another day.
Immediately, Eli cleared her throat, adjusting her tie in a self-conscious manner. "I can neither confirm nor deny that statement."
Maki watched Umi's face flush into an even deeper red than it already was. She was definitely pulling out all the stops to prevent herself from either having a stroke or fainting onto the hard ground under her feet.
She took a minute to take a deep breath and collect herself before abruptly straightening her posture and returning to her stoic yet stern and polite prefect persona.
"V-very well," She coughed into the back of her hand in another attempt to calm herself. "If we are done here, I would like to wish the both of you a wonderful evening."
"Good night, Umi!" Maki called out.
"What happens in the boathouse stays in the boathouse!" Eli couldn't resist teasing the sixth year for a second time, shielding a grin behind her hand.
The click clack of Umi's slippers on the cobblestone path quickly ceased as she stopped once in her tracks and immediately resumed her trek back into the castle before muttering something about Eli's behavior being almost as shameless as Nozomi's.
"Well, I guess I'll head off, too." The blonde Gryffindor said, pulling her hair down from its tie and smoothing it out before putting it back up.
"Gonna go take a bath before your prefect duties?" Maki joked.
Eli looked up with a hum as if she took a minute to think about it then replied with a small grin. "You could say that."
"Christ, Eli." The Ravenclaw couldn't resist the urge to laugh.
"What about you? You aren't seeing Nico tonight?"
Eli nodded and gestured for Maki to walk before her onto the cobblestone pathway. "Let's not keeping Nozomi and Nico waiting then, huh?"
And with that, the seventh-year and the fifth-year began making their way into the castle, the sun just now beginning its descent under the horizon.