Chapter 17:

starry skies

Our School is Perfectly Ordinary

At the top of the mountain, it feels like he’s on top of the world.

Shun doesn’t know how long the four of them lie in the grass, gazing up into the darkening evening as stars spread like fireflies lighting up across the sky. Over the faint rustle of wind, he can hear the sound of his own heartbeat, and the peaceful quiet on the mountaintop stretches into the night.

The spell breaks when his stomach growls loudly.

For all of Miwa’s preparations for this trip, Shun notices a sudden and glaring issue for the first time. No one remembered to pack any food for the hike. The lunch they ate back at the shopping mall feels so long ago, and the hunger pangs gnaw at Shun’s stomach. Miwa and the others—after laughing at his expense—soon admit that they’re starving too.

The only food between the four of them is Saori’s bag of sweets, still unopened. She’s opening it now, pinching the packaging and tearing a strip neatly across the top.

“Here,” she says, holding out the bag to Shun first. “Take one.”

He can’t really see in the darkness that well, so he reaches blindly into the bag and grabs something at random. There’s a crinkle of plastic as his hand closes around something round and lumpy. There’s a brief struggle to rip open the wrapper, and then he pops the hard candy into his mouth.

The sweetness floods his tongue and staves off some of the hunger, even if only slightly.

The situation is a bit absurd—he’s eating candy at the top of a mountain without a care in the world while night falls rapidly. But this too, is nice in its own way. He hasn’t had this much fun in a long time.

“Eurgh, this is way too sweet,” Miwa splutters, her voice breaking the momentary silence.

There’s a brief dramatic pause.

She bursts into helpless giggles first, and then Shun starts laughing too. Their situation is so ridiculous that maybe Miwa is starting to panic, and Hiro seems to decide it’s the perfect time to end the night there. Shun hears the unmistakable sound of a pen clicking before he sees Miwa and Saori slump heavily to the ground and fall asleep.

“Sorry, I figured we should get the girls back home before their parents start to worry,” comes Hiro’s disembodied voice. “Hold on, let me get the lights for ya.”

A flash of light blinds Shun momentarily, and he shields his gaze. When his eyes adjust to the brightness, he sees a lantern hovering in midair. It illuminates the clearing, allowing him to see Hiro lifting Miwa gingerly onto a floating broomstick.

“Will ya be fine on your own?” Hiro asks, throwing his leg over the broom with practiced ease and hoisting himself up. “I’ll be back in ten. I cast a protective spell earlier so ya shouldn’t run into anything dangerous.”

“I’ll be okay…probably?” Shun says nervously. “You’d better remember to come back for us.”

Hiro laughs. “Give me fifteen minutes. I dunno where the girls live, but I’ll get ma to divinate for me so they can get home safe. But man, I’m so gonna get grounded for a week for doing this.”

Shun doesn’t know where either of them live either, so he just shrugs helplessly. “Sorry.”

“Nah, this was fun. Really fun. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun with friends. Thanks, Shun.”

“The countdown for fifteen minutes is already starting,” he threatens jokingly. “See you in a bit.”

Waving, Hiro flies away on the broom and disappears into the night, leaving him alone. Right, he’s not actually alone. Saori is with him, curled up on the ground and fast asleep. Her hair is almost translucent in the warm light from Hiro’s magical lantern, splayed delicately along the grass.

Shun spots the half-eaten bag of candy lying on the ground next to her. He reaches over to pick it up, folds the opening in on itself a few times, and then tucks the bag into her arms. It might be his imagination, but her lips seem to curve upwards into a faint smile, as if she’s dreaming of something wonderful.


About ten minutes later Hiro returns like he promised, takes Saori home, and finally comes back for Shun. Shun almost wants to feign sleep, but the floating lantern is shining in his face so he begrudgingly opens his eyes.

“Oi,” Hiro says. “You’re too heavy to sleep through the ride, get up.”

“Can’t you make me lighter with your magic or something?” Shun grumbles. The broomstick floats patiently next to him, waiting for him to board. “I’m telling you now, it’s not my fault if I throw up in midair.”

“Ya won’t.” He sounds confident, so Shun straddles the back end of the broom warily and grips the rickety wood handle as tight as he can.

“If the ride to cram school was five minutes longer, I’d have puked all over the seats,” Shun warns. “And then your mother would hate me forever and regret saying that she’s happy we became friends. You’ll have to get rid of Shinichi and tell her I’m Shun, his twin brother. Only then will everything be as it should.”

“Are ya panicking ‘cause you’re scared of heights?” Hiro asks as he seats himself in front of Shun. The broomstick lurches, and suddenly he wants to be anywhere in the world but here. “We’re a family of witches. Even if ya puke on me, I could get that cleaned up, easy.”

How convenient.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Shun says shakily, “Seriously, can you just knock me out? If the sleep spell doesn’t work, just one kick to the temple will do the trick—”

And then with a rush of wind past his ears, they’re flying.

He’s terrified, because he’s never liked amusement park rides and this one doesn’t even have a seatbelt. It doesn’t even have a seat. Shun is thousands of feet in the air, and the sprawling cityscape below is so far away. The world is spinning, as they fly dizzyingly into the inky sky.

But soon he’s pleasantly surprised to discover that the ride is so smooth he can barely feel it. He supposes it’s the magic, and that’s probably what’s keeping him from falling off the broom and plummeting to his death too.

“How’s the ride?” Hiro asks, startling him slightly. “Told ya I was a good driver.”

“How in the world do you do this upside-down?” Shun finds himself muttering under his breath. He tightens his grip on the broom handle because his palms are growing sweaty.

“You’ve seen that?” Hiro sounds embarrassed. “Well, witch’s brooms are powered by spatial magic. Countering gravity and wind direction, and that sorta thing.”

No wonder his best subject is physics…

“It’s basically second nature ‘cause I got my licence when I was eight…so I kinda goof off sometimes. I forgot that ya can totally see me.”

“This isn’t, um…too bad,” Shun says, breathing in the sharp, cold air. Now that he’s gotten over his initial panic, he is starting to appreciate the ride. A lot better than trekking blindly down the mountain for two hours, that’s for sure.

“Right? It’s the best part of having magic!”

The view is incredible. The city lights drown out the stars above, and the winding streets are paved in pinpricks of gold. With the world so far away, Shun’s problems also feel like they’re as small as the tiny specks of light that form the shape of the city at night.

Hiro drops him off on the rooftop of his house in a dizzying landing, and it’s when Shun’s feet are firmly planted on solid ground that he starts feeling a wave of nausea.

“Ya good?”

Shun breathes in a deep sigh through his nose. “I’m good.”

The air here is warmer, and clammy against his skin. When he looks up, he can no longer see the sea of stars in the darkness. After making sure he isn’t going to throw up all over the roof, Hiro then points his wand at the window of Shun’s room. The glass slowly melts away, as if by magic.

It is magic, Shun supposes.

“All ya gotta do is go to bed,” Hiro says in a hushed whisper. “Your parents won’t question how you got home in the morning, don’t worry.”

“Uh, you’ll fix my window, right?”

Hiro nods, and Shun takes another deep breath, preparing to climb down from the roof.

“One more thing,” Hiro whispers abruptly, stopping him in his tracks. “I wasn’t sure if this is something I should share with ya ‘cause I didn’t learn about it in the most legitimate way but…”

Shun stiffens a little, worried all of a sudden that his friend saw something he shouldn’t when he dropped Saori off at her house.

“Miwa lives alone,” he says. “I dunno her circumstances, and now isn’t the right time to ask. But just ‘cause she’s a normal person doesn’t mean she isn’t hiding something painful behind her cheerful smile.”

“Oh, I…” Shun thinks back to how Miwa always asks to be dropped off at school after cram school. Just like Saori, just like Hiro, there are things she wants to hide that they found out anyway.

“I’m sorry,” Hiro says, sounding very guilty. “I just didn’t think it was right for me to know by myself. I’m not…normal, after all. I might not be around forever. But I hope ya can be there for her if she needs it. You’re a really good friend, Shun. I hope ya know that.”

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