After breakfast, Syaoran finds himself one Saturday morning in the library, sifting through books for his latest Potions homework. It’s going to be a difficult one, possibly involving late nights and long scrolls, so he figures it’s best to start early.
Properties and Antidotes, he repeats in his mind as his finger trails across the book spines in the alchemy section, squinting at each title as he goes. Properties... and...
He stops in the middle of the aisle. Brows furrowing, he checks the call number on his scroll and looks back up at the books.
Right in the exact spot that Properties and Antidotes should be is a large gap of empty space.
All the copies are taken.
With a sigh, he rests his forehead down on the shelf where the book he needs ought to be and tries to think.
Syaoran hadn’t planned on this. He had intended to grab the book and finish his homework by the end of tonight. He had Quidditch practice tomorrow and another essay to complete for Transfiguration. This would throw a huge wrench in his plans. He had every hour of the weekend scheduled out. What’s he supposed to do now?
“Looking for this?”
At the sound of her voice, his heart sinks.
No... this can’t be happening...
Bracing himself for the worst, he lifts his head up to see none other than Sakura Kinomoto standing on the other side of the shelf, a Hufflepuff scarf wrapped around her neck, and holding what appears to be the last copy of Properties and Antidotes. To make matters worse, she’s smiling her annoying, too-cheerful smile and giving him that look. The look that says everyone deserves a chance to be in my life! — including him.
Irritation flares up inside. Why does this have to happen?
“Are you returning it?” he asks in a rough tone, not bothering to be polite.
“Oh, no, I’m so sorry—” disappointment seizes him “—I was just about to check it out.”
“Are you here to gloat then?” he glares at her. Her smile fades as she blinks at him, looking very taken aback. Inwardly, he smirks. He’s glad it’s affecting her.
“No, I’m not,” she says with a small frown. He almost feels bad for his outburst.
“I was going to ask if you wanted to share,” she offers. “We could write our Potions essay together at one of these tables.”
Syaoran upturns his lip. On one hand, he would really, really like to get his Potions homework done today. It would fall back in line with his plan. On the other hand, his plan never involved spending any amount of time with Kinomoto and he hates the idea that he needed her help.
If she hadn’t caught the Snitch before him in their last Quidditch match, maybe things would be different.
“No, it’s okay,” he says, turning his face away from her. “I’ll just wait for another copy tomorrow.”
“Are you sure?” she asks, and when he glances at her from the corner of his eyes, he sees genuine concern etched in the lines of her expression. “The assignment is due on Monday. What if nobody returns their copy tomorrow?”
“Worry about yourself, Kinomoto,” he says, straightening up and walking back down the aisle. Through the space between the books, he sees her following him on the other side of the shelf.
“But what if you don’t get your homework done on time?” she asks as he quickens his pace. Ugh, she’s so stubborn.
“I’ll manage,” he maintains. “Just leave me alone!”
Up ahead where the aisle ends, Sakura turns into his lane right as he reaches the end of the shelves.
“I said just leave me alone!” he hisses, trying to keep his voice low. After all, they’re still in the library.
“Come on, Li-kun,” she says, her hand on her waist. “Are you really going to take a chance on not finishing your homework just because you’re too proud to share a book with me?”
Syaoran crosses his arms and avoids her gaze.
“N-no, that’s — that’s not it,” he mumbles beneath his breath. “You’re jumping to conclusions.”
“If it makes you feel better, I won’t talk to you at all,” she says. “We can sit at the table and share the book and that’s it. You get your homework done, I’ll get mine done, and we’ll both be on our own way.”
She’s got him cornered there. There’s no reason to drop his studies just because it’s her. With a begrudging huff, he looks up at her.
“Fine,” he says. “But I’m not going to talk to you. At all.”
Somehow — and he really doesn’t know how, given his outright refusal to be nice to her — Kinomoto finds something in his words to smile about. Brightening up at once, she grins and claps a hand to the book.
“Let’s get to it then!”
— x —
After compiling all the other books they need for the Potions essay, Syaoran sets straight to work, flipping through pages and pages of text and taking notes as he formulates his thoughts.
True to her promise, Kinomoto doesn’t say a word as he goes about the assignment on his own. As Syaoran often loses himself in his work, the focused and determined person he always is, he pays no further attention to her after she sits down and takes out a piece of parchment.
This is a solo homework assignment and Syaoran always works alone like the lone wolf he is.
When he’s halfway through his essay, however, his senses prickle up all of a sudden. A strange feeling indicating that something is wrong.
Looking up, he notices Kinomoto, bent low over her parchment, her head in her hands. He raises an eyebrow, vaguely wondering if she’s doing okay.
Just ignore it, he tells himself. It’s none of your business how she’s doing. Ignore, ignore, ig—
She looks up from her hands and a tiny jolt of pity seizes his chest. Her emerald eyes are wide and fearful and hopeless. It’s weird. He’s never seen her like this before. He’s used to her confidence, her joy at catching the Snitch, her radiant smile when she—
Wait, radiant? No, that can’t be right.
Clearing his throat, he asks stiffly, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she says, biting her lip. The crease in her eyebrows doesn’t go away and while Syaoran is no expert on the feelings of other people, much less someone like Sakura Kinomoto, he knows that’s a universal sign that someone is not fine at all.
Syaoran sighs. He knows he’s going to hate himself later for doing this.
“What’s wrong?” he prompts.
“I just,” she sniffs and takes a few seconds to gather herself. It takes a few seconds for him to realize she’s trying not to cry. “Potions is the hardest subject for me and I — I’m just — I feel... lost.”
Completely against his will, Syaoran feels a gentle tug at his heartstrings. He tries to silence it. His mouth, however, seems to suddenly have a different mind of its own.
“What do you feel lost about?”
“Everything,” she answers simply. “I just. I keep rereading this text over and over again and I just don’t get it.”
And then the tears fall. Syaoran is stunned. In all of his studies, here at Hogwarts and beforehand with his family, he has never once learned what he’s supposed to do when someone is crying before him. Holding up his hands as though he can stop the flow of tears by sheer force of will, he pushes back on thin air as though trying to wave the emotions away.
“D-don’t cry,” he manages, feeling panicked. “It’s a matter of understanding the principle.”
“I’m s-so sorry, Li-kun,” she says, wiping her face with the back of her hand. “I promised I wouldn’t bother you during homework time.”
“Don’t worry about that right now,” he tells her. How can she be thinking about whether she’s bothering him or not when she’s feeling so torn up herself?
Hufflepuffs, he dismisses with a shake of his head. But perhaps there is some value in that, one that Slytherins often miss out on.
“Still,” she sniffs. “I didn’t mean to become a mess like this.”
“Look, it’s going to be fine,” he assures her, looking wildly around at the table for any sign of help. Books are strewn across the surface, his essay is about halfway down a six foot parchment, but hers is still on the first paragraph.
What would be the most effective way to stop her crying?!
Before Syaoran can fully register the words coming out of his mouth, he looks her straight in the eye and says:
“I’ll help you.”
She blinks at him, her hands lowering.
“Really.” He gives her a small, reluctant smile.
“I feel bad,” she says, looking down at her barely complete essay. “I know you’d probably prefer doing other things with your time.”
“It’s fine,” he shrugs, turning his face away.
“I’m really bad at Potions,” she warns.
“It’s okay,” Syaoran says. Their eyes meet, a smile spreading across his face.
“I’ve always liked a challenge.”