"Damn," Nico cursed quietly, slamming the Famous Witches and Wizards card face down on the table, the packaging once containing a chocolate frog before she ate it a mere few minutes ago.
Nozomi looked up from the Daily Prophet that she'd had spread out in front of her on the table. "Already got that one, Nicocchi?"
"Derwent Shimpling! I have like five of him already!" The raven-haired Slytherin complained, leaning her elbow on the table and propping her chin into her open palm with a huff. "So much for finally completing the Four Founders of Hogwarts collection."
"Well, there's always next time," Nozomi comforted, reaching over to pat her fellow Slytherin on the arm. "Elicchi loves chocolate frogs. I'm sure if you ask her nicely, she'd be willing to save the wizard cards for you. She just throws them away after the chocolate is gone."
The thought of the blonde Gryffindor throwing away a rare Godric Gryffindor wizard card after she all but devoured every last bit of the chocolate inside made the small, raven-haired Slytherin bristle slightly, to which Nozomi released a small giggle at.
"She's probably giving them to Rin, anyway," Nico sighed. "The ones she hasn't actually taken a chunk out of."
Nozomi cracked a small smile at the memories of all the times Eli had bitten the heads off of many famous wizards and witches in her haste to vaccum down her favorite magical candy. "Oh, I could tell you some stories, Nicocchi~."
"Nico, nya!" A certain orange-haired fifth year exclaimed, coming up behind the small seventh-year and engulfing her into a hug from behind - well more of a headlock than a hug.
Nico would have screamed in surprise if it hadn't been for Rin's bicep muffling the sound. She managed to get a good grip of her junior's forearm and wrench it away from her mouth so she could speak.
"How many times have I asked you to stop doing that?!" Nico shoved Rin in the shoulder, making the orange-haired Gryffindor stagger back just a bit.
"Because it's funny, nya?" Rin laughed, all but plopping herself in the seat next to Nico.
"You shouldn't be so rough, Rin," Hanayo quietly spoke up beside where Rin had been standing before she sat down at the table. "Nico is fragile, after all."
Nico shot the fifth-year Hufflepuff a glare. "Speak for yourself, Hanayo."
Nozomi had once again turned her attention from the newspaper to the people in front of her, covering her mouth behind her hand to supress another giggle before greeting the Gryffindor and the Hufflepuff politely. "Rin, Hanayo, It's always nice to see you two. Especially you, Hanayo. It feels like it's been ages since we've last spoken."
"Kayo-chin's been busy trying to become an Animagus!" The energetic Rin shot up and threw herself into Hanayo's arms, nuzzling into her neck like a cat.
"Rin!" Hanayo exclaimed, both at Rin's forwardness and the loud revelation. "That was supposed to be a secret!"
Nico's eyes widened in surprise. Hanayo an Animagus? She couldn't believe it. The process for becoming an Animagus was a long and arduous one, which Professor McGonagall heavily implied to every third-year Transfiguration class down through the years whenever she taught the lesson on Animagi. And it was very rare that a Hogwarts student even attempted it. Very rare, indeed.
She heard Nozomi speak up behind her. "An Animagus, huh? That's impressive, Hanayo. Not many wizards and witches have been able to complete the process to become an Animagus, let alone a Hogwarts student. But you're a very levelheaded person, so I'm sure it won't take you long at all. And we'll all be here to help you if you need us."
"That's right, nya!" Rin chimed in.
Hanayo blushed. "That's really nice of you all, b-but I feel as if this is something I need to do on my own. I've been thinking about it since my third-year, after all, and thanks to Rin I've finally decided that I do want to be an Animagus."
The purple-haired prefect immediately understood where the fifth-year Hufflepuff was coming from. Hanayo wanted to prove her independence, and she would grow as a person because of it. It was going to be a struggle, and she was absolutely sure that Hanayo was aware of it. But, Nozomi had faith in her.
Nozomi smiled. "I see. We'll all be here to support you, then. Good luck."
"Nico is behind you one-hundred percent!" The raven-haired Slytherin spoke up with one of her signature Nico Nico-Nii hand gestures followed by a wink. "You got this!"
Nozomi tried her hardest to restrain her laughter but ultimately failed as the small giggle she'd released quickly transformed into a guffaw, her shoulders tremoring wildly.
At the sound of her oldest friend's cackling, Nico quickly turned to see her hunched over the table and leaning onto her elbows for support, the hand she had used in an attempt to mask her laughter now shielding her eyes from Nico's line of sight.
"Oh, bite my ass, Nozomi!" Nico cursed, crossing her arms and turning away from her before she could even reply.
"S-sorry, Nicocchi," Nozomi said through her spontaneous fit. "It's just th-that I haven't heard you say something like that in such a long time. I a-almost forgot how cheesy it sounded."
The purple-haired Slytherin practically wheezed after she spoke that last syllable. Nico couldn't help but roll her eyes.
"Once again, bite my ass, Nozomi," The smaller seventh-year repeated, reaching over to the long-forgotten wizard card and launching it in Rin's direction and hoping it would quickly change the subject. "Here, Rin. You can have this one. I already have it."
The orange-haired Gryffindor caught said wizard card and looked it over. "Derwent Shimpling? I already have him, too, nya!"
"How many exactly?" Nico curiously raised an eyebrow.
With one eye closed and her forehead wrinkled, Rin looked up at the ceiling in thought. "Hmmm...I'd say probably about...twelve."
"Give me that!" The raven-haired Slytherin abruptly reached out to snatch the wizard card back from Rin's hands and stowed it away in one of the pockets of her robes.
This wizard card collecting competition between the two of them had been going on for about a year now, and in Nico's eyes, it had long surpassed the friendly competition mark and morphed into an all out war. Even if Nico had all those copies of Derwent Shimpling and a couple of others that she couldn't remember, Rin had more copies than she did. And even though the competition was only based on who had the most individual copies of the wizard cards themselves, the Slytherin now had another objective and that was to absolutely annihilate Rin by having the most wizard cards including the duplicates.
"No problem, nya!" Rin was such an innocent little soul. Nico almost felt bad for wanting to outright annihilate her in their competition. Almost.
"Rin, Hanayo, why don't you sit down with Nicocchi and me?" Nozomi suggested as she wiped the wetness from her eyes, her laughter having finally ceased. "I was just about to read this article to Nicocchi, so you can sit and listen, too, if you would like. I'm sure you will all find it at least a little interesting. Some more than others, maybe~?"
Nico noticed the mischievous glint in Nozomi's turquoise eyes as they seemed to stare directly into her soul and immediately knew the Slytherin prefect's last sentence had been directed toward her.
She scoffed. "I haven't been interested in the news in a while, Nozomi. You know that."
"So, you don't want to hear about the Nishikino family buying out St. Mungo's?" said Nozomi nonchalantly.
"What?!" Nico all but exclaimed, snatching the Daily Prophet off the table from where it lay in front of the purple-haired Slytherin and abruptly skimming through it for said article. "You've got to be kidding!"
"St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, nya?" Rin asked as she and Hanayo peered over Nico's shoulder to get a glimpse of the article themselves. "I didn't know it could be bought. I thought it was just there, you know?"
"It was, but when you have as much money as the Nishikino family does, anything can happen." The seventh-year prefect added.
'Nishikino Makes History; First Owner of St. Mungo's Hospital' was the title of the article. And even though Nozomi had probably already read through it and the fact that Rin and Hanayo were probably reading it over her shoulder, Nico read it aloud anyway.
"'Hiroshi Nishikino, a well-known Healer, made history in the wizarding world earlier today with the purchase of St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. While details of the amount given are not yet revealed to the public, it has been implied by Hiroshi Nishikino that it was almost enough to have another Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry built in another location if so desired. The hospital was founded in the 1600's by Healer Mungo Bonham and has been an important place in the wizarding world for centuries. Sources say Nishikino was finally able to work out a deal with Kenji Ayase of the Ministry of Magic after years of rejected offers the Nishikino family made to the Ministry for the hospital itself. More information will be available in the next issue of the Daily Prophet.'"
The picture just above the article showed Nishikino and his wife standing in front of St. Mungo's with the Minister of Magic, shaking hands and waving at the many people present for the finalized agreement between the Ministry and the Nishikino family.
"Does Maki even know?" Hanayo asked quietly. "Sh-she hasn't said anything to me about it. Has she said anything to you, Rin?"
"Other than 'Rin, if I catch you drawing in my Arithmancy notebook one more time, I'll hex you!', no," The Gryffindor answered honestly. "Nozomi?"
"I'd say she probably knows," said the Head Girl of Slytherin. "It's one of the biggest stories in our world right now, and I'm sure her parents told her beforehand. You all know how private Maki can be. Unless she's said something to you, Nicocchi?"
The glint in Nozomi's eye seemed to deepen as she gazed at her oldest friend, and for a minute, Nico's heart stopped. Did she know about her relationship with Maki? It was impossible. They had hidden it well. But Nozomi was very cunning when it came to discovering secrets and things like that.
"Why would she say anything to me?" Nico snorted. "I'd be the last person she'd say something to."
"I see." The mysterious words that left Nozomi's mouth were enough to put Nico in a state of panic. She had to find Maki. Now.
"Well, I hear that unopened bag of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans calling my name, so I'm gonna head on down to the common room before those idiots sniff out where I've hidden them," Nico tossed the Daily Prophet back to Nozomi, who caught it with a grin.
"The night's still young, Nicocchi. Those beans can wait, can't they?" Nozomi said sweetly. Damn her.
"Yeah, Nico, nya!" Rin piped up with a whine. "I was going to tell you where we found Honoka's Remembrall this time!"
Nico sighed. Honoka was a lost cause, honestly. If she had a dollar for every time Honoka lost her Remembrall, she could probably buy St. Mungo's from the Nishikino family right now.
"I've been waiting on those beans all day," Nico faked a yawn and stretched her arms up in the air to sell being tired. "I had a dream about them during Charms this morning. I could almost taste them."
"And that's the reason why you're failing Charms, and it's also the same reason you did poorly on your Charms O.W.L. during our fifth year~." Nozomi added, the shit-eating grin still present on her face.
Nico rolled her eyes. "Flitwick bores me to tears. You know that."
"Whatever you say, Nicocchi. I'll see you tonight then~."
"Right," The smaller Slytherin replied. It was quite obvious to Nico that Nozomi knew she was bluffing. Hopefully, she'd be in bed before Nozomi finished her nightly prefect routine because she wasn't prepared to face the taller Slytherin's accusations should she choose to voice them. No, she'd have to regroup with Maki so she would know what to say should it happen in the near future. "If the Gytrashes get after you tonight, use Lumos."
"Why, of course!" said Nozomi, the Daily Prophet still folded to show the St. Mungo's article long forgotten at her side on the table. It was routine for Nico and Nozomi to joke about things like that before the latter began her prefect duties during the night.
"Goodnight, Rin. Goodnight, Hanayo." Nico said her final goodbye to the three girls at the table before beginning her trek out of the Great Hall.
"Goodnight, Nico, nya!"
Goodnight, Nico! Sweet dreams!"
And as Rin began telling Hanayo and Nozomi the story of where Honoka's Remembrall had been found, the purple-haired Slytherin caught a glimpse out of the corner of her eye of Nico breaking out into a run once she thought she was out of sight.
"Wingardium Leviosa." Maki flicked her wand at the freshly clean and folded towels, carefully levitating them up into a cupboard high out of her reach and placing them delicately inside, breaking the spell once they were all in place and flicking her wand once more to close the cupboard doors.
There had only been two patients in the hospital wing that evening, both with cases of the common cold, which Maki had treated with two individual vials of the orange colored Pepperup Potion (under Madame Pomfrey's supervision, of course). And once the steam coming out of the ears side effect wore off on both patients, Madam Pomfrey sent them on the way back to their respective common rooms.
Now, Maki was assisting in the cleanup process. While it was the tedious part of being a volunteer in the hopital wing, Maki never complained. This is what she was going to be doing after she graduated from Hogwarts, after all. Her parents expected that of her, anyway.
As she stopped to adjust one of her rolled up sleeves of her white cotton button up shirt, she heard someone speak up just a few feet away behind her.
"Slow night, huh?" She recognized Nico's voice.
Maki didn't even bother turning around to address the Slytherin. "Two with colds. Madame Pomfrey let me treat them this time. They should be better in the morning."
"I'm sure it isn't the hardest thing you've came across. You're as smart as they come, princess."
The smooth comment rendered a slight blush on the fifth-year Ravenclaw's cheeks as she placed the two empty potion vials that once contained the Pepperup Potion back on the shelf with the others, still not even bothering to turn around lest Nico gain satisfaction from seeing the color of her face.
The raven-haired seventh-year had been leaning in the doorway of the entrance to the hospital wing, arms crossed and eyes on the hardworking form of Maki Nishikino. Her red hair was tied up in a ponytail that had been resting over her shoulder. Her Ravenclaw robes were nowhere to be seen as she was clad in only her shirt, her Ravenclaw vest and tie, and of course the rest of her Hogwarts uniform. The only time Nico had ever seen Maki with her sleeves rolled up to her elbows was whenever she was doing her time here in the hospital wing as it was very rare for the porcelain skin of Maki's arms to be seen.
But Nico quickly snapped out of Maki Nishikino's other worldly spell, and soon found herself at one of the bedsides in the hospital wing, running her fingers over a particular scratch in the wood of one of the bedside tables as she wondered which thing to talk to Maki about first.
"Have you read the Daily Prophet today?" Was what Nico's mind had chosen to speak of first.
There was a pause in Maki's actions before she went back to rearranging the vials on the shelf. "Mama and Papa told me."
"And how do you feel about that?" Nico prodded.
Maki shrugged her shoulders. "The same as I felt even when we didn't own St. Mungo's."
"I guess I should congratulate you, then." Nico said, the blemish in the bedside table etched in her brain as she continued running her fingers over it absentmindedly.
"It is what it is, Nico," Maki said without a hint of indifference. "It just solidifies my future of being a Healer. Papa said the hospital would be passed on down to me once he retired, so I really have no choice. Not that I mind. I accepted to carry on our legacy of my own will long ago."
Nico didn't say anything. There was nothing really left to say in that situation. If Maki had been unsure of what she was going to do with her future, Nico would have heard it in her voice and seen it through her body language. She knew Maki better than others, and she knew how stubborn Maki could be once the redhead had her mind made up. She was going to follow through in her career as a Healer and take the reigns of St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries once her father's time was up. There was absolutely no doubt.
But now it was time for Nico to get down to business and break the news to Maki, but she just didn't have any idea as to how to word it exactly. Actually, there wasn't any possible way to sugarcoat it. All there was to do was just come out with it, and that's what Nico did.
"So, I think Nozomi knows." She said, carefully gauging the fifth-year Ravenclaw's reaction as she watched her finish her task of organizing the potion vials.
That was enough to make Maki turn around and look at the twin-tailed Slytherin. "What makes you think that?"
Nico scoffed. "Where do I even begin? Everytime she brings you up in a conversation, she gives me this look that makes me uncomfortable as hell, and sometimes she'll ask me if I have heard from you recently or if I know what you're doing today or something like that! I mean, Maki, we pretend to hate each other in front of her! If she actually believed we hated each other, why would she ask shit like that? She doesn't ask Rin or Hanayo things like that, and they're attached to you most of the time! I mean am I overthkinking this or has she finally figured it out?"
Maki looked at her secret raven-haired love and sighed, pulling her wand from the waistband of her skirt and proceeding to walk down the aisle of beds. She quickly flicked it towards the clean sets of sheets that had been placed upon both of the beds that had been occupied by the two ill students earlier, enchanting them to where they fixed themselves onto said beds within the blink of an eye.
Nico had been too busy absentmindedly picking at the wood of the bedside table to notice that Maki was right behind her, wand tucked back into the waistband of her skirt as she snaked her arms around the shorter girl, sighing as she did so.
"You're not overthinking this. It definitely sounds like she has her suspicions. With the way we've been sneaking around behind everyone's backs for so long, I'm surprised no one has completely figured it out yet. If they haven't already." Maki said with her chin placed comfortably on Nico's shoulder.
The seventh-year brought her hands up over the top of Maki's, leaning back into the embrace with a small chuckle. "I'd hope not. I've busted my ass trying to hide all the hickies you've ever given me these last few months. That would mean my hard work was all for nothing."
"Hey, you've given me just as many, and I've had just as much trouble hiding them as you have," Maki planted a quick kiss on the side of Nico's neck before saying her next few words. "But honestly, Nico, would it be such a bad thing if they did find out?"
That made Nico freeze in the redhead's embrace, both at the prospect of the others finding out and the fact that those words had left Maki Nishikino's mouth. At the start of their relationship, Maki was the one who wanted to keep everything private. Not that Nico cared either way. She was just happy to be with Maki and wanted her to feel happy and secure even if that meant keeping their relationship in the dark. The fifth-year Ravenclaw was a very private person, and Nico respected that. Love meant accepting someone for who they were, and Nico took Maki just as she was.
A stubborn, sassy, beautiful, and intelligent young woman who preferred not to have everyone involved in her business. That was the kind of person Maki was.
It was just weird to hear the redhead say anything about the possibility of their relationship becoming public. The small Slytherin was almost tempted to check Maki's forehead for any sign of a fever. Maybe she caught something from one of those sick students from earlier?
"Okay," Nico let out a small laugh, turning around in Maki's arms to look her in the eyes. "Who are you and what have you done with Maki Nishikino?"
At those words, the red-faced Ravenclaw stuttered, bringing a hand up to twirl a scarlet strand protruding from her ponytail all the while keeping her other arm still around the shorter girl's waist. "I-It's not like I think we should just shout it out to everyone at Hogwarts! Not that I'm ashamed of you or anything! I'm just not comfortable with all the attention and stuff! Not that I don't think you're unworthy of being shown off! I just feel that our friends at least deserve to know! Great, now I'm the one overthink-"
Nico quickly silenced Maki's flustered rambling with a kiss, which the redhead returned once she recovered from the initial surprise of it.
"You're not overthinking this," Nico whispered the exact same words Maki had told her earlier once she broke the kiss, bringing her fingers up to touch the fifth-year's lips. "I feel the same way, Maki. Nico's love for you has grown so big, it's getting harder to hide her feelings for you. And it would definitely be better if we just told the others...but then again, sneaking around with you like this is probably one of the most fun things I've ever done in my life."
Maki grinned. "I would tell you that you need to get out more, Nico, but I can't really say anything because it's one of the most fun things I've ever done, too."
There was a small silence between the two of them before Nico cleared her throat and spoke. "We don't really have to break the news to them right now, you know? We can wait a little bit longer to do that, can't we?"
Maki brought her arms further upward to wrap around the middle of Nico's upper torso in a tighter embrace. "Well, it wouldn't hurt if they were to figure it out on their own. A little bit of mystery never hurt anyone, so that's what we'll give them. Yeah?"
Nico loved Maki, and she knew Maki loved her right back. Yes, it might have been better if they were the ones to break the news to their friends themselves, but they wouldn't exactly hunt them down with torches and pitchforks for keeping them in the dark. They weren't those types of people. Hell, Umi fainting once she found out would probably be the worst thing to happen.
Neither one of them would have had a problem breaking the news to the others, but their forbidden romps and makeout sessions in secret places all over the castle were just too fun and exciting to give up just yet. They were still young, after all. Might as well do things like that when they were still kids, right?
"Sounds good to me." Nico agreed before planting what would certainly not be the final kiss on Maki's lips that night.