Know My Heart
“You know, some students are concerned that you’re showing favoritism to your daughter.”
Professor Hwang’s calm, unassuming voice floats through the window of the Transfiguration classroom, loud and clear to Hyunjin’s feline ears. At the mention of herself, Hyunjin lifts her head from where she had been reclining on the outside windowsill. She takes great care to make sure her ears can’t be seen by her mother or her coworker while listening closely.
“Is this about Hyunjin’s grades in my class?”
“I believe so. She’s doing well in all her classes, but exceptionally so in yours.”
Even without looking, Hyunjin knows her mom is smirking proudly.
“It’s not my fault she’s so talented and smart. I grade her performance as I see it.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Professor Hwang chuckles. “Just keeping an eye out for you two.”
“And I appreciate that.”
Hyunjin flattens her ears against her head to peek inside the classroom. As suspected, Professor Hwang and her mom are standing quite closely together, a bit too close for “just someone I work with,” if you asked Hyunjin. The grateful smile on her mom’s face is another dead giveaway, and it quickly changes to a more platonic one when the Charms and Divination teachers show up to hang out as well.
Hyunjin makes her getaway when they all start gossiping about their older students and making bets on who’s dating who. She hops over to the next window, then the next, then around a corner before leaping over to a tree. For a second, Hyunjin nearly slips due to misjudging the distance, but her claws manage to get a solid grip on a branch so she can safely clamber down the trunk and reach the ground without a gravitational crisis.
Note to self: you’re still small, Hyunjin reminds herself before warping back into the form she uses most often. On two legs now, she casually walks over to a quiet corner of Hogwart’s exterior.
To her lack of surprise, someone is already there.
“Hey there!” Siyeon greets with a wave as she sits on a courtyard rail. She swings her legs under her as she gestures for Hyunjin to come closer. “How was your day?”
“Not bad,” Hyunjin says. “Where’s Yoohyeon-unnie?”
“She’ll probably be late today,” Siyeon answers apologetically. “She’s so stoked about finally taking Ancient Runes that I had to drag her away from Professor Yoon’s office a few days ago.”
“What a nerd,” Hyunjin says. She glances out of the corner of her eye to gauge Siyeon’s reaction, relieved when the fifth year just laughs.
“I keep telling her, maybe she should go transfer to Ravenclaw,” Siyeon says. “But no, having the kitchens so close to your dorm is too good of a perk to pass up on.”
“Hm…” Hyunjin narrows her eyes in thought. “Maybe I should transfer to Hufflepuff.”
“I mean we can always smuggle you in,” Siyeon stage whispers. “Nobody ever questions the Hufflepuffs bringing in a bajillion Hogwarts animals into their dorms. What’s one more cat?”
“Would be fun,” Hyunjin nods. “How would you get in though?”
“Ah…” Siyeon snaps her fingers. “I’ll get back to you on that!”
“You always can pretend to be a cat,” Hyunjin suggests, her face completely straight.
“Um. I don’t think that would work.”
“Just say ‘aeong’ and everybody will be fooled.”
“I really don’t think that’s how it works.”
“Have you tried it before?”
“N– No, but…”
“Then how can you be so sure that it doesn’t work?”
“I mean–” Siyeon’s eyes widen before she breaks into a scowl. “Jeez, would it kill you to smile while joking around?” she scolds. “I thought you were being serious for a second.”
Hyunjin finally lets out the snicker she had been holding in. It seems to have built up while she was messing with Siyeon, and it ultimately comes out as a guffaw.
“Kids these days,” Siyeon mutters. “Can’t wait until I become some badass, giant snake or something. Then I’ll show you.”
“You’ll get there,” Hyunjin grins. Eventually.”
“Speaking of which, I’ve been wondering…” Siyeon tilts her head in curiosity. “Why did you want to become an animagus in the first place?”
“… I was bored.”
“I see, I see.”
Siyeon nods, completely accepting of Hyunjin’s answer. Her friendly smile has never left her face, not even once, and all things considered, Hyunjin doesn’t think she’s faking it. Aside from their animagus-snacks arrangement, Siyeon has nothing else to gain from being so nice to Hyunjin, and so Hyunjin decides to go out on a limb and divulge a bit more.
“It gets lonely at home when Mom isn’t there,” Hyunjin says quietly, thinking back to their modest little cottage. “She sometimes would let me come to Hogwarts if I stayed in her office, but she’d never let me go on her research trips. She said they were too dangerous.”
Siyeon’s eyes soften in immediate understanding.
“I get you,” she says. “I spent most of my life at home too, minus annoying galas and parties. My parents aren’t always around either, but well… At least I have Yoohyeon and Hyejoo.”
“Hyejoo’s a year younger than me, right?” Hyunjin recalls.
“Yep! And funny that you mentioned being bored, because a few years back our Hyejoo also got bored and wanted to try wandless magic.”
“... How did that go?”
“I mean she didn’t quite succeed in getting the statue to walk… but it wouldn’t stop singing really loudly for a really long time, so there’s that.” Siyeon leans forward on the railing to whisper behind her hand. “It was terribly out of tune, worse than Yoohyeon when she’s trying to go off key.”
Hyunjin chortles at the mental image.
“How did your parents react?” she asks.
“Ah… we fixed the statues before they got back,” Siyeon explains, her expression turning a tad bitter for a fleeting second. “Yoohyeon’s mom was really impressed though! Couldn’t stop laughing either.”
“I bet,” Hyunjin snorts before a sigh escapes her. “It must be nice, having siblings…”
“It is pretty awesome, if I may say so myself,” Siyeon declares, puffing out her chest with a fond grin until her gusto fades into something more rueful. “Except when you miss them so much you think about quitting Hogwarts and coming back a year later.”
“Oh, you’re being serious?” she realizes when Siyeon stares back.
“Very,” Siyeon admits with a self-conscious chuckle. “I… actually had a kinda hard time my first year here. Kept on getting lost, hardly knew anyone even though they all knew me… and you know, the whole people-only-talk-to-me-if-they-want-something deal.”
“Now, I’m not saying our fellow students are only after my gold, but…” Siyeon clicks her tongue. “First year wasn’t so great. Good thing I found a few people I could rely on.”
“Like that new Gryffindor prefect?” Hyunjin guesses. “Everyone says to find Kim Minji if we ever need help.”
“I don't know how she keeps up with everything that’s going on,” Siyeon sighs. “I envy her people skills sometimes.”
“Same,” Hyunjin nods. “Don’t envy her workload though.”
“Oh, definitely not,” Siyeon agrees furiously. “My prefect badge is just for show. Can’t imagine being obligated to use it.”
Hyunjin shakes her head in amusement, and the action nearly breaks her neck when someone crashes into her from behind. Whoever it is, they were moving extremely fast; Hyunjin stumbles forward at the impact and accidentally grabs Siyeon’s arm to steady herself, which disrupts the older Slytherin’s sense of balance. Siyeon nearly falls backwards off the rail, and the noise that leaves her mouth as she struggles to remain upright is so ridiculous that Hyunjin has no choice but to burst into loud laughter.
“Sorry!” Yoohyeon apologizes once everyone is safe and secure again. “I didn’t mean to run into you, Hyunjin!”
“It’s fine,” Hyunjin says. “That was funny.”
“Glad my life flashing before my eyes was funny to you,” Siyeon mutters.
“I also didn’t mean to be this late,” Yoohyeon continues. “I was planning on being just a few minutes late, I promise!”
Hyunjin crosses her arms.
“So you planned on keeping us waiting from the start, huh?”
“I brought croissants today!”
Siyeon chuckles at this exchange, pushing Yoohyeon’s shoulder before her hand abruptly moves towards Hyunjin. Hyunjin wasn’t expecting such an action, and so she instinctively steps back when Siyeon’s fingers brush the top of her head.
“Oh,” Siyeon blinks. “I’m sorry. I’m too used to doing that.”
“It’s fine,” Hyunjin murmurs, fixing her hair. “Hyejoo?”
“Yep,” Siyeon says with a gentle smile. “She does like her head pats.”
Hyunjin frowns as she considers the matter. After all, she’s already let these two quite far inside her heart… What harm could additional physical contact do?
“I suppose I wouldn’t mind them,” she ultimately decides. “Could be nice.”
“Aww,” Yoohyeon coos. “Don’t worry, we’ll give you all the nicest head pats.”
It turns out she wasn’t joking, for once they finish their bonus afternoon meal, Siyeon and Yoohyeon promptly begin assaulting Hyunjin with endless physical affection. Whatever plans they had for today are long forgotten as Hyunjin transforms back into a cat to maximize comfort. She lays on Siyeon’s lap while Yoohyeon and Siyeon prattle on about their day, Yoohyeon being surprisingly adept at translating Hyunjin’s meowed interjections, and as kind hands rub her ears, Hyunjin thinks that her first year will probably turn out better than Siyeon’s.
Hyunjin stretches her arms above her as she sits where Siyeon once sat. The sky is free of clouds today, the sun unobscured and bright, making for a particularly warm morning for this time of the year. It’s almost like an early taste of spring, and Hyunjin basks in the coziness while she can.
She hops off her ledge a few moments later when someone she’s been meaning to talk to shows up like a stroke of serendipity.
“Hey, Yoohyeon-unnie,” Hyunjin calls out.
Yoohyeon gives no reaction.
Hyunjin furrows her brows as, once again, she’s completely ignored. Yoohyeon doesn’t even seem to realize Hyunjin is there as she rushes from one side of the courtyard to the other. This single-minded dedication to getting somewhere mixed with a general obliviousness towards her surroundings is probably why Yoohyeon is such a walking hazard, Hyunjin notes. Sure enough, Yoohyeon nearly trips over a pebble the very next second, but she quickly recovers and continues on her merry way.
Hyunjin shakes her head in amusement. She then sucks in a deep breath, taking in a lungful of air as she raises her hands to cup her mouth. Silently apologizing to anyone else in their vicinity, Hyunjin prepares to bellow the loudest “KIM YOOHYEON” she’s ever shouted in her entire life.
Hyunjin blinks as Yoohyeon suddenly zooms away, sprinting into the distance. A leaf or two is kicked into the air thanks to her speed, and Hyunjin remembers to exhale just as they flutter back down to the ground. Lowering her hands as well, she surreptitiously steps behind a pillar before peering around it to watch as Yoohyeon dashes up to the target of her affections.
Yoohyeon winds up almost smacking straight into said target of affections.
Congrats, Hyunjin telepathically tells Yoohyeon as Minji grabs her by the shoulders to steady her. Hyunjin wishes she had a better angle to see what shade of red Yoohyeon has become, but she settles for laughing inside her head when Yoohyeon jumps backwards as though she’s been electrified. She then launches into what’s probably a long-winded apology, but alas, Hyunjin is too far away to hear anything more than indistinguishable murmurs.
Yoohyeon’s posture eventually changes to a more relaxed one. She raises her head to look Minji in the eye, though there’s still some traces of hesitation in her actions as she pulls out a small bundle wrapped in cloth and hands it over. It’s food, Hyunjin realizes, and knowing firsthand how skilled Yoohyeon is at picking the cream of the kitchen’s crop, she doesn’t blame Minji for letting out a delighted gasp. The Gryffindor practically glows with gratitude, and although she’s not one of Minji’s diehard fans, even Hyunjin has to admit that she does have quite the dazzling smile.
Unfortunately, that sweet moment is interrupted by a very random explosion.
Hyunjin jumps in her skin, and she turns back to Hogwarts castle just in time to see a second-floor window shatter. A stream of rainbow birds come pouring out of it in a torrent, all squawking in some foreign language. As a small mercy, they turn back and re-enter Hogwarts by breaking through an adjacent window, though Hyunjin still wouldn’t want to be the poor student responsible for cleaning up that messy, magical flock. Could be more than one student, of course, and Hyunjin just hopes that Slytherin house isn’t involved.
“Take care, okay?”
Minji’s voice suddenly comes a lot closer than it was before. For a brief second, Hyunjin considers diving to the ground to prevent herself from being seen, but then she recalls a better method of hiding. She smoothly transforms into a cat, leaps onto the railing, and begins casually grooming her fur right as Minji walks by.
No rest for the Princess of Hogwarts, Hyunjin thinks.
In a contrast from before, Minji is all business now, moving with purpose as she presumably heads towards the disturbance. Her wand is out, and she flicks it to conjure up a small, colored piece of paper. A pencil flies out as well, and it jots down something for Minji as she makes her way back inside the castle.
Hyunjin waits until she’s safely out of view before shifting back to her human form.
Yoohyeon gives a start upon hearing her name being called this time. She glances around the courtyard, smiling when she finally spots Hyunjin.
“Hyunjinnie! What brings you here?” she asks.
“I was looking for you,” Hyunjin says. “Congrats on confessing, by the way.”
“Congrats on–” Yoohyeon chokes on air. “Congrats on what!?”
“Confessing,” Hyunjin repeats, calm as can be. “Didn’t you just confess to Prefect Minji?”
“What? No! I would never– How could I possibly– Me? Confess?? To Kim Minji??? What in the world–”
Yoohyeon continues sputtering her way through her denial, gesturing vehemently in the direction Minji left in. It’s funny, watching her struggle, and Hyunjin lets the show go on for a bit before changing tactics.
“Sorry, I think I was mistaken,” Hyunjin interrupts, cutting into some spiel about food and friendship. “She was bullying you, wasn’t she?”
“… Hyunjin. Are you okay?”
“What? You bumped into her and had to give up your food as a sacrifice for your safety. That’s what Hyejoo would say, right?”
“Pfft.” Yoohyeon lets out a laugh against her will. “Don’t be mean! You know our Hyejoo means well.”
“She does,” Hyunjin agrees. “She’d be totally down to fight Prefect Minji for you if she had to.”
“Good thing she doesn’t,” Yoohyeon states firmly. She pinches Hyunjin’s cheek for emphasis, letting go when Hyunjin pouts. “As I was saying, Minji-unnie has been extra stressed lately, so I just wanted to cheer her on with some snacks. That’s all.”
“Extra stressed?” Hyunjin frowns. “So more than usual?”
“Yeah,” Yoohyeon confirms with a sad sigh. “I think the situation with Bora-unnie is getting to her? She says they haven’t had the chance to have a proper talk and clear the air between them. She didn’t say what they were ‘disagreeing’ about, but y’know…”
Yoohyeon makes a vague gesture, but Hyunjin knows exactly what she means.
“Sounds rough,” Hyunjin says sympathetically. “I’m glad Siyeon and Hyejoo told us right away what happened. Or it would have been us trying to figure out what they’re hiding.”
“Right?” Yoohyeon shudders before sighing again. “Well, here’s to hoping Minji-unnie lets this one slide. It’s sad, seeing her and Bora-unnie be all not-best-friend-y.”
“And here I thought you and Bora-unnie disliked each other,” Hyunjin comments, though she keeps her tone light to make it clear that she’s joking.
“Hey, if someone likes to blame you for their Quidditch losses and likes to pick fights with you and likes to pick on you and likes to pick you up without even asking–”
“I mean you did fly right into her that one game,” Hyunjin points out. “But anyways, I need your help with something,” she says when Yoohyeon opens her mouth to protest. “Know any nice Hufflepuff muggleborns? Asking for a friend.”
Yoohyeon blinks at the change in topic before tilting her head in thought.
“Well, there’s obviously Yerim–”
“Not her,” Hyunjin shakes her head. “Not Jiwoo-unnie either, has to be someone who came to Hogwarts by themselves. And they have to be nice.”
“A very nice Hufflepuff muggleborn who came to Hogwarts by themselves...” Yoohyeon snaps her fingers when the answer hits her. “Vivi-unnie fits the bill perfectly!”
Hyunjin actually takes a step back in surprise.
“Wait, Vivi-unnie was a muggleborn this whole time?”
“Always has been,” Yoohyeon says solemnly. “I don’t think she mentions it much? But I hurt my wrist one time in my second year and she was saying something about getting an X-ray thingy.”
“You don’t have an ex though??”
“Yeah, I don’t know,” Yoohyeon shrugs. “But she’s a muggleborn and she’s definitely super nice, so…”
“I’ll go look for her then,” Hyunjin decides. “Thanks for the help, unnie.”
She leaves Yoohyeon to her own devices, the older student morphing into a dog and waddling away in the direction of the lake. Hyunjin too opts for her stealthier form as she climbs back into Hogwarts all while thinking what a shame it is that Hyejoo can’t use her animagus powers as freely as they do. It’s just so handy, being able to slip under people’s notice and take alternate routes to places.
Hyunjin arrives at the Hospital Wing in no time thanks to some conveniently placed vines crawling along the Hospital Wing’s exterior. It does take a bit of exertion to reach some of them, but Hyunjin soon makes it to one of the windows without any mishaps. To her good fortune, it happens to be open, and a familiar voice can be heard from within.
It’s Haseul, Hyunjin recognizes, and she checks inside to see the Ravenclaw sitting on a chair near Madam Lee’s desk, chatting away about something as Vivi arranges some potions on a cart next to her. They’re both sufficiently distracted, so Hyunjin takes the invitation to hop into the Hospital Ward and dart under a bed before she’s spotted.
“–And then Lisa tripped over Jinsol’s frog! I didn’t even have time to tell Jinsol ‘I told you so’ because Lisa was about to smack into our table, you know? But then wow, Park Chaeyoung… I don’t know how she moved so fast, but she grabbed Lisa by the waist, and gosh, it was just so romantic the way she–”
Hyunjin tunes out the rest of Haseul’s recounting of events. She’s never heard the fourth year speak so animatedly, and while a part of her is curious as to why Haseul’s even here in the first place, Hyunjin has a mission to complete, and she knows there’s a limit to how much eavesdropping is socially acceptable for a cat shapeshifter.
It’s a bit of a tight squeeze, but Hyunjin swiftly changes back to human for a second. She winces when her nose bumps the bottom of the bed, and she has to fight the urge to sneeze from all the dust surrounding her. Not wanting to waste any time, Hyunjin pulls out a scrap of paper and a pilfered yellow scarf before switching back to being a cat. Silently, skillfully, and with all the subtlety that none of her friends have, she deposits her items on top of the bed and slips back out the window in one fluid chain of movement.
Hyunjin pauses just before climbing back down the vines. Using a paw, she taps the window, whiskers twitching in irritation when the only noise she makes is a small, barely noticeable thud. She unsheathes her claws, and those make a much sharper rattle on the glass. Haseul stops speaking for a second, and Hyunjin takes that as her cue to fully exit the stage and wait for the main players to make their move.
“Hey, it looks like someone left a scarf here…”
“Is that a note too?”
“Oh, it has your name on it. ‘Please return this to Choi Yerim, first year. P.S. She could use a friend like you.’”
“Choi Yerim… Didn’t Yeojin ask you for advice about her not too long ago?”
“Yep! So what do you say, unnie? Want to befriend my sister’s friend?”
Hyunjin doesn’t quite catch Vivi’s reply, but she does hear a laugh, gentle and warm. It’s joined by Haseul’s own laughter, bright and comforting, and although that’s not definitive proof that her mission has been accomplished, Hyunjin chooses to trust in her friends and the people they trust.
Hyunjin trusts that Yerim will have a better first year than Siyeon did.
They’ll all make sure she does.
Hyejoo thinks she’d like that transient period of the day more if it wasn’t followed by night.
She exhales slowly as she leans over the side of the Wooden Bridge, the sky presenting an array of colors before her. Vermillion dances with gold as they meld together into a sea of dark amber, and indigo isn’t too far away as it encroaches upon them ever so steadily alongside the marching of time. It’s like watching flames burn against the darkness, defiant until the inevitable end.
The moon is somewhere behind Hyejoo, but she doesn’t want to look at it. She doesn’t want to see it in its entirety; knowledge of its presence alone is enough to weigh her down, considering what’s coming tonight.
And to think that Hyejoo used to love gazing upon the full moon back at home while imagining Siyeon and Yoohyeon doing the same.
Hyejoo blows a strand of hair away from her face. Slouching over, she rests her chin on her arms and closes her eyes to listen to the wind. It whispers to her, soothing in its wordlessness, and it almost makes Hyejoo miss the sound of someone’s approach.
Chaewon’s voice comes as soft as the breeze that carries it, lilting and light. Her footsteps are just as gentle, considerate even, and Hyejoo finds her frown disappearing as she turns towards her friend.
“Hey,” Chaewon greets. “I had a feeling you’d be here.”
“And I had a feeling you’d stop by,” Hyejoo returns. “This feels kind of familiar, actually.”
She remembers why, of course: they had met here under similar circumstances during the first full moon of the school year. Hyejoo still remembers the apprehension from back then, exacerbated by the actions of her crueler peers. She’s glad they’ve backed off since then, but the dread that comes with dealing with a lycanthrope has made a return thanks to the events of the previous month.
Hyejoo really hopes nothing bad happens this time.
A sandwich suddenly appears in front of her, breaking her out of her worries.
“Have you eaten?” Chaewon asks. “I didn’t see you at dinner earlier.”
“I did,” Hyejoo says, though she still takes the offered food. She knows the deja vu of the moment isn’t lost upon Chaewon, the quirk in her smile giving her away, and the echoed memory does ease Hyejoo just a bit. “Not working on your Nin-ten-do Change this time?”
“Switch,” Chaewon corrects with a giggle. “Nintendo Switch. And no, just wanted to hang out here for a bit… Unless you’d rather be alone?”
“Nah.” Hyejoo shakes her head despite having originally come out here for some time to herself. “Don’t stay out too late though.”
“I know,” Chaewon murmurs, her smile now tinged with sympathy.
Slowly, thoughtfully like how she’s always been towards Hyejoo, Chaewon places her hand on the Wooden Bridge’s railing just mere centimeters away from Hyejoo’s arm. One of the bridge’s many posts holding up its roof keeps them separated, but it’s easy to pretend that distance isn’t there at all. Chaewon doesn’t say anything, but Hyejoo understands that her gesture is her own quiet way of expressing “be careful” and “stay safe.”
“By the way,” Chaewon says after a minute has passed. “Is Siyeon-unnie… allergic to garlic? I saw her give a pile of them to Yoohyeon-unnie earlier.”
“No?” Hyejoo frowns. “She just doesn’t like them.”
“Oh, so that was a lie,” Chaewon mutters. “I thought she couldn’t eat them.”
Hyejoo stares at her friend before suddenly snorting when comprehension dawns upon her.
“You’re thinking of vampires, aren’t you?” she snickers.
“... Oh wait, that’s right,” Chaewon sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I was googling all sorts of supernatural creatures that time–”
“I’m sorry, you were what.”
“Researching,” Chaewon clarifies. Hyejoo can tell she’s trying not to laugh at the disturbed expression on Hyejoo’s face as she explains, “Google is a search engine. You can look up practically anything in the world with it.”
“Anything and everything.”
Hyejoo lets out an impressed huff.
“What I would give to have something like that in the library,” she says as she thinks of this week’s assignments. “Wait, is it super big?”
“Big?” It’s Chaewon’s turn to stare in confusion. “Like… physically?”
“Yeah. It’s an engine, isn’t it? Doesn’t it have to be pretty big to be able to find anything?” Hyejoo shrugs. “I don’t really know how engines work.”
“It’s not– Well, okay, the servers are probably huge,” Chaewon says more to herself than to Hyejoo. “But Google itself is digital, so there’s no physical… engine. But you need a smartphone or a computer or something to access it. Wait, do you even know what a computer is?”
“K– Kind of?” Hyejoo winces, and it’s obvious that neither of them are buying her words. “Anyways, did your research come up with anything?”
“I don’t think so,” Chaewon sighs again, her face falling. “Most places talked about how to exterminate werewolves, which isn’t what we want. And they didn’t really list any cures aside from like… calling the werewolf’s name three times.”
“That doesn’t work,” Hyejoo mumbles, recalling how many times she and her parents cried for Siyeon to return to her senses. She shakes her head quickly. “Do muggles believe in the silver myth too?”
“Yep,” Chaewon confirms. “Silver is the number one recommendation for dealing with all sorts of magical creatures. But I guess it’s just a scam in the end, hmph.”
“It’s not a complete scam. It still has its uses,” Hyejoo chuckles humorlessly. “We needed it to stop Siyeon-unnie from bleeding to death that night.”
That particular moment remains a scarred blur whenever Hyejoo looks back upon it. There was too much going on, from her father’s screaming to her mother’s sobbing to the frantic rushing of what few servants were present. Hyejoo doesn’t remember what she was doing as they tried to tend to Siyeon; everything had been drowned out by the stench of terror and torment, the air tainted with rust as her sister’s life hung in the balance.
Hyejoo can still smell the blood.
On a desperate whim, she leans out over the Wooden Bridge to look down at the trees far below. The vertigo that comes with that action is a sufficient distraction in preventing her from sinking too deep into the past until a gentle but firm grip on her shoulder pulls her back to reality.
“I’m sorry,” Chaewon says softly, her eyes shining in the sunset. “I didn’t mean to bring up such unpleasant memories.”
“It’s… It’s fine,” Hyejoo breathes out. She clears her throat loudly when it looks as though Chaewon is about to apologize again. “Anyways, thank you for trying to help.”
“It’s the least I could do,” Chaewon murmurs, her hand still on Hyejoo’s shoulder. She gives a small squeeze. “Sorry I couldn’t find anything. There’s a lot muggles don’t know about the magical world.”
“Hey, there’s a lot we don’t know about the muggle world either,” Hyejoo points out with a small smile. “Yeojin and I have decided to take Muggle Studies down the line so we can understand you and Yerim better.”
“I’m considering that for my next year,” Chaewon says with mock seriousness. “That’s one class I’ll definitely pass.”
Hyejoo grins in amusement.
“Imagine if you didn’t.”
“Don’t jinx me,” Chaewon scolds, poking Hyejoo’s arm. “Speaking of Yerim though, I’m glad she’s back to normal. We spoke a bit earlier.”
“Now that I think about it, I kind of take Jiwoo-unnie and Jungeun-unnie for granted,” Chaewon shares. “I never considered how hard it would be to come to Hogwarts by yourself because, well, Jiwoo-unnie and Jungeun-unnie got here first, and they’ve always been here for me.”
Hyejoo turns to look at Chaewon. She tries to imagine another life where her friend had arrived at Hogwarts alone. Would she have been as outgoing and sociable as Yerim was on day one? Or would she have taken more time to come into herself? Would she have been comfortable getting close to Heejin and Hyunjin her first year? Or would that have taken a longer time?
Would she still have befriended Hyejoo?
Hyejoo’s musing is interrupted by tiny, rhythmic pit-pats sounding across the bridge like a staccato drumbeat. They’re not particularly loud, but they do cut through the serenity of the bridge. Chaewon has noticed as well, for she turns around and immediately lets out a squeal.
“Oh, a puppy!” she gasps, clasping her hands together in delight. “It’s so cuuuute– Wait.”
“Yep,” Hyejoo smirks. “That’s Yoohyeon-unnie.”
“Ahem. Hello, unnie,” Chaewon greets politely. It’s funny, watching her restrain herself, her body visibly trembling when Yoohyeon runs right up to her and places a paw on her leg. She actually pouts when Yoohyeon gives her a bright, open-mouthed smile, and Hyejoo decides to take pity on her by scooping Yoohyeon away.
“It’s time to go, isn’t it?” Hyejoo asks as she holds the Pomeranian up to her face. She grimaces when Yoohyeon’s tongue darts out and comes a little too close for comfort. “Ew, stop! I know you ate garlic earlier.”
Yoohyeon growls lightly but otherwise makes no argument. She points in the direction of the Whomping Willow with a paw, and Hyejoo nods at the nonverbal message.
“We’ll be going now,” Hyejoo tells Chaewon. “You should head inside. And stay inside.”
“You don’t have to tell me that. I’m not Bora-unnie,” Chaewon says with a miffed sniff before dropping the annoyed act. “Take care, you two.”
Keeping her friend’s well-wishes inside her heart, Hyejoo heads into the Shrieking Shack. With every step she takes, the darkness grows, and soon enough there’s hardly any remnants left of the dying sun. The last ray of daylight feebly shines through a gap between two wooden boards to illuminate a sliver of Siyeon’s face.
“I almost thought you weren’t coming,” she says to Hyejoo with a faint smile.
It’s a joke, Hyejoo knows, but something about it stabs her in the back of her throat.
“How could I not be here?” she says hoarsely. “You’re my sister.”
Siyeon doesn’t reply. Instead, she lifts an arm to pat Hyejoo on the head. Normally, such a thing would be comforting, but something about today has Hyejoo raw and vulnerable, fragile and susceptible to the fear that’s been silently gnawing on her for who knows how long. It’s worsened by the fact that Hyejoo had thought she was past this, thought she was used to this, thought she was moving on.
Hyejoo clenches her fists.
“Unnie,” she calls out, her voice small.
“What’s wrong?” Siyeon frowns. Next to her, Hyunjin has returned to her human form, her expression a mirror of Siyeon’s concern.
“I… I’m…” Hyejoo hugs Yoohyeon tightly to her body as she struggles to speak.
“Hey, you okay?” Hyunjin asks, taking a step forward.
Now, Hyejoo could just swallow down everything. She could very well just bottle it all up, push it away, suppress it, and worry about it another day. Better yet, she could just pretend that none of these feelings even exist, and she’d never have to talk about them. She wouldn’t have to bog down her sister and friends like this, she wouldn’t have to be so weak and pathetic–
“Hyejoo,” Siyeon says. “You can tell us anything. We’re here with you.”
Hyejoo closes her eyes and tries to breath.
“… I’m scared,” she finally confesses. “I’m scared, unnie.”
Yoohyeon vanishes from Hyejoo’s hold partway through her sentence. In the time it takes for Siyeon to pull Hyejoo into a secure embrace, Yoohyeon has reappeared, towering over everyone as she joins with Hyunjin in hugging the two sisters in between them.
“You’re not alone, Hyejoo,” Yoohyeon says, pressing a reassuring kiss to Hyejoo’s forehead. “Honestly, I’m kind of scared too. We all are.”
“But we’re together,” Hyunjin states resolutely. “And that’s what makes the difference.”
“She’s right,” Siyeon murmurs as she pulls back a bit to look Hyejoo in the eye. “After all that we’ve been through… You’re all still here. With me. And that’s what gives me the strength to keep going.”
Hyejoo is bewildered for a second as she reads between the lines of her sister’s words. Her teasing hinted at it earlier, but now it really does seem like there’s a part of Siyeon that almost expects to be abandoned or something, like it’s not a given that Hyejoo at least would stay by her side. Such a thing is inconceivable to Hyejoo, and the thought of Siyeon dealing with everything on her own is downright preposterous to the point where it physically hurts.
“I won’t leave you,” Hyejoo says firmly, her need to assuage Siyeon’s unspoken insecurities superseding her own worries. “I won’t leave any of you.”
Hyejoo realizes then what her sister and friends are trying to impart: a reminder that the road ahead may be shrouded in shadows and unimaginable frights, but the fact that they’re together and would do anything to remain together will light the way forward and keep them moving even if it’s still too dark.
Her comprehension comes just in the nick of time, for this moment of mutual reassurance draws to an abrupt close. Siyeon suddenly tears herself away from the group, her entire body cringing in pain, and she staggers towards the room she always uses. Hyejoo swears she hears the cracking of bones underneath Siyeon’s whimpers, but then the door slams shut and muffles any further sounds of suffering.
Someone squeezes Hyejoo’s shoulder one last time before the two human presences behind her disappear. Taking that as her cue, Hyejoo closes her eyes and transforms. All sensations warp as her body mutates and expands, and by the time that’s over, there’s a banging as Siyeon rams into the door and claws at it.
It finally breaks open on her seventh bash, and Hyejoo fights the urge to flinch when a giant wolf comes barreling at her. Despite the wounded part of her that wants nothing more than to cower in a corner and hide, Hyejoo holds her ground. Yoohyeon and Hyunjin are behind her, after all, and she’ll do whatever it takes to protect them.
Fear or not, Hyejoo will protect them all.