Paola woke up before her alarm because she was freezing. Boulder was colder than Tunis, by a lot. Tunisia had mountains (low compared to some of Indonesia’s and to the Rockies) but Tunis was right on the Mediterranean and pleasant all year long. Paola mentally added a cardigan and extra pair of socks to the list of clothes she planned to wear today, wrapped her blanket around herself, grabbed her clothes as quickly as she could, and scooted into the bathroom to change.
Having a roommate was weird. Admittedly, it’d only been one night so far, but Paola already felt a difference between sharing a room full-time and the one school sleepover she’d attended. The room was hers, but it also wasn’t entirely hers because it was also Rhia’s. And being <s>lonely</s> solitudinous for so long somehow made the lack of privacy worse. But it was only the first night, and she and Rhia had barely talked. And Rhia seemed smart, so surely between the two of them they could come up with a solution.
Rhia was gone when Paola emerged from the bathroom, so she made her way to breakfast on her own after making her bed and collecting her bookbag. It took Paola several moments to find a table with something she recognized as breakfast food. She vaguely remembered disliking bacon from a long-ago Stateside visit (not entirely unexpected after growing up in places where the majority of people didn’t eat pork) and wasn’t sure how drowning it in painfully sweet-smelling syrup would improve it. And she wasn’t convinced that the bowls of brightly colored pellets were actually food.
Students were beginning to trickle out of the Diner when Paola was about halfway through her eggs, fish, and rice (she had lost more time looking for hot sauce). Paola ate the rest as quickly as she dared and scooted to the Practical Lab, feeling mildly guilty about leaving her plate on the table for the house elves. (They were something else to get used to, as neither the Indonesian or the Tunisian embassy had had them.)
Paola did a double take as she walked into Spellwork. What was Grandfather doing up there at the front of the lab? But no, it wasn't Grandfather; Professor McKindy just looked enough like Grandfather to be his brother. Did Grandfather even have a brother? He'd never mentioned one in Paola's hearing, although Paola was well aware that between living overseas and her family situation, she would never be especially close to her grandfather and shouldn’t expect him to share things like a secret brother or a long-lost secret brother with her. (Or maybe Professor McKindy and Grandfather were secret long-lost brothers and didn’t know they were brothers. Wouldn’t that be a weird coincidence? But weird coincidences like that only happened in books and Paola suspected that the real explanation was just a regular, boring coincidence and Professor McKindy just happened to look like Grandfather. With better taste in robes.)
Even so, she sat in the third row rather than the first or second.
Professor McKindy was a really interesting lecturer. Paola was a little disappointed that they weren’t going to do magic right away, since she’d been looking forward to learning more magic, and learning it openly. Aunt Tima had taught her a few sneaky self-defense spells, but she had warned Paola not to use them a) except in practice with her b) except in an absolute emergency where no other wizards were around to help c) anywhere that Dad would be able to see. Paola had not been able to find any of the spells in her beginner’s DADA textbook. And it had taken her a lot of practice to be able to do them at all, let alone do them to Aunt Tima’s satisfaction. They had become much easier after she’d gotten her own wand when she had turned eleven back in January, so it was exciting to have a bit of experience that matched what the Professor was saying. And the possibility of ways to improve her magical ability other than practicing to the point of frustration definitely had its appeal.
But the assignment itself--self-reflection, while partnered with someone she did not know, at all--did not. Paola suddenly regretted not making an effort to sit next to Rhia. She didn’t even know the name of the person sitting next to her, or if they were in her year or were older and had friends in the class that they would prefer to work with and leave her to do this on her own (please, oh please).
And no such luck: her seatmate had just asked her to be partners. Paola forced a smile, not sure if it made it to her eyes, and tried to say yes, of course. What came out instead was a half anguished, half embarrassed blurt: “This seems like a really personal assignment to do with someone when I don’t even know your name!”