Chapter 10:

two steps backward

Our School is Perfectly Ordinary

The midterm crunch takes up most of Shun’s time and brainpower, leaving him with very little space for much else. Cram school is twice a week, and the rest of the free time is filled in with studying too.

Just like Saori, Miwa declines the invitation to join his and Hiro’s study sessions in the library.

“I have club activities,” she says regretfully. “And I also haaaaate studying to death, sorry. See you guys at cram school on Sunday!”

The annoying thing about studying with just Hiro is that it feels like Shun is tutoring for free sometimes. Teaching is learning too, he reminds himself, before his patience snaps in two. Hiro might be stupid, but he’s his friend.

On a warm spring day in early May, the librarian opens the windows to let some fresh air in. A gust of wind blows through the quiet library, knocking Hiro’s pencil case off the table and spilling its contents onto the floor.

Hiro is fumbling to retrieve everything, and Shun gets up to help.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Hiro says quickly, stuffing fistfuls of pencils unceremoniously into the pouch. “Ya don’t have to help—”

Shun’s fingers close around a pen that sends a shock of static electricity through his palm. He nearly drops it in surprise. The pen is a pastel, powdery blue, and topped with a pair of delicately engraved wings. It’s pretty. It looks like something that belongs with Miwa’s cutesy stationery, and Hiro forcibly snatches it out of his hand.

“This is—” he bursts out, looking mortified. “This…it’s—”

Shun doesn’t say anything, but Hiro looks like he’s having a crisis on the floor.

“I’m—” Hiro’s eyes flicker wildly between the pen and the table next to them, like a cornered animal trying to escape. Then his expression hardens in resolve, and he takes a deep breath. “The truth is, I’m…a witch.”

The thing is, Shun literally never even asked.



So supposedly, Hiro’s got a wand. And magic. He’s so awkward about it that there’s no way he’s lying, but he also didn’t have to tell Shun in the first place!

It turns out that the pen—wand—was passed down from Hiro’s late grandmother. The power of a witch bloodline is customarily inherited by the firstborn daughter, but Hiro is the eldest of three brothers. Because of that, Hiro was pressured by his family to take on the role, because someone has to protect the school.

“Protect the school from what?” Shun finds himself asking, despite himself. Isn’t Saori already getting rid of all the demons plaguing the hallways?

Hiro shrugs. “Depends. Mostly monsters. Ma told me there’s this immortal sorcerer that’s supposed to be the archnemesis of all witches. I think he makes the monsters out of clay and dirt or something? But I dunno my family’s history very well, sorry.”

“And why are you telling me all this?”

“Because ya asked what I’m protecting the school from, didn’t ya?” Hiro says, scowling.

“I’m not asking about that, specifically!”

The two of them already got kicked out of the library earlier for talking too loudly, so now they’re skulking around in the hallway, their studying session long forgotten.

“You shouldn’t have said anything in the first place when I grabbed your pen,” Shun says firmly.

“Dude, you don’t believe me? Hold on, lemme just run to to washroom real quick, I’ll show you my super epic transformation spell—”

“I don’t want to see it!”

Hiro sulks, leaning back against the wall. “I haven’t had a friend for so long, and ya cover my back for when I’m late for class, so I thought…if it was anyone, ya deserved to know what I do.”

Shun doesn’t want to know. He wants to scream.

No, deep down, he gets that Hiro means well. But when he’s just barely coming to terms with Saori’s supernatural abilities, the last thing he needs is another earth-shattering revelation that the world isn’t as normal as he once believed.

The world was never normal, a voice in his head reminds him. You just choose not to see it.

Well, he’d choose it again, if he could.

“Okay fine, lemme tell you the real reason,” Hiro says, unprompted. “Normal people aren’t supposed to notice my wand. But ya picked it up like it was nothing. And so I thought, maybe it was a sign. I’ve been getting tired of fighting alone.”

“I can’t help you with that,” Shun says warily. “I’m just an ordinary person.”

“I know. But sometimes having an ordinary person know your secret is all ya really need.”

Despite everything, he can’t fault him for that.

“Well, this is…” Shun takes a deep, calming breath, “kind of a lot to take in.”

Hiro has the decency to look apologetic. “Sorry, dude. You’ve always been too perceptive for your own good, even back in junior high. It was only a matter of time before ya found out, and my memory spell doesn’t even work on ya anymore.”

He has to pretend he’s never heard that one before. “What do you mean, memory spell?”

“Back in concert band.” Hiro looks even more guilty now. “Ya probably don’t remember ‘cause I cast a blanket spell on the whole class. I was the guy that played tenor sax behind ya. You were in the flute section. Does that ring a bell?”

It does, once he says it. Shun nods tentatively. He remembers now. In his second year of middle school, he was in the band club. He borrowed his sister’s old flute and he was never really good at it. It’s odd that he doesn’t remember why he left but…now he’s starting to piece it together. It’s another one of those supernatural occurrences.

“There was an attack in the middle of our music lesson,” Hiro’s saying. “Those clay monsters I was telling ya about? Man, that was rough. It took a lot of effort to get everything contained, had to get ma’s help to wipe everyone’s memories of the incident. But your memories wouldn’t stay gone ‘cause of reasons, so we did something more drastic.”

Thankfully Shun doesn’t really hear the last part, because it gets drowned out by the high, sweet melody of a flute that plays in his head. He remembers every note, every crescendo, every finger positioning on the keys. He remembers the cold metal against his fingertips as he lifts the imaginary flute to his lips and begins to play.

And as the music rings through the air, a memory resurfaces.

Shun is back in the band classroom, carefully wiping the surface of his flute with a polishing cloth. The dull, silvery metal gleams under the fluorescent lights. He twists the foot joint, detaching it methodically from the rest of the flute.


He hears his name being called, and he looks up.

“Oh, Saori. What’s up?”

He’s forcibly ejected from the memory due to shock, and nearly topples over when he’s jolted back to reality.


Hiro looks confused. “Yeah? What about her?”

“Oh, uh, nothing.” The girl in Shun’s memories had a flute in her lap and her silvery-white hair was tied in two small pigtails that barely touched her shoulders. Her smile was shy and gentle, and the warmth of it reached her eyes in a way that was completely unfamiliar.

But it’s unmistakable—that was Saori. Saori Ichikawa. Saori the exorcist who’s posing as his friend right now—

—who might’ve been an old friend all along.

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