Outside a small house in the Korean village of Ondokkil, American troops were marching through the streets, doing their very best to keep order as the Japanese fled and the Koreans took back control of their country. This was the way it had been for days on top of weeks.
But it was in one small house in the village where the people who lived there took absolutely no part in the goings-on. It was an old woman named Mrs. Pak, along with twin girls named Yu who called her ‘Auntie’ that lived inside that house. But while Mrs. Pak had lived in the village for many years and was well known by everyone, it was the girls who lived with her who were almost universally regarded as odd. They went to the village school, but they never truly made friends with any of the other children there. Mrs. Pak often sent the girls into town to do the shopping, but their conversations never went past ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’. The Yu sisters were very pretty—and identical down to every strand of hair—but none of the boys could ever get their attention. They ignored all them just the same as they ignored everyone else.
It was almost as though they were a whole different species that found themselves living among ordinary humans.
And while their Korean neighbors expressed outrage at the freedoms and liberties taken by the Japanese who had occupied the nation until the end of the war, Mrs. Pak and the Yu twins seemed oddly indifferent to everything that was happening. Of course, old Mrs. Pak was nearly, so it was understandable that she might have the energy necessary for any amount of outrage. But the Yu sisters took their aunt with them to register under Japanese names with little outrage. They submitted to searches and neighborhood roll calls with stiff silence. Even when Korean school children were expected to prepare for the war that might come to Korea, the Yu twins did what they were told mechanically and with unreadable feelings.
It was rumored for a little while that they were Korean spies for the Japanese Emperor, but even the ruling Japanese in their village were regarded with the same cold distantness they graced everyone else with. They weren’t loyal to Korea and they weren’t loyal to Japan, which only supported the little children’s wild stories of the twins not even being human.
This made it not at all surprising when even in the euphoria of the Allies victories and the Japanese leaving, the twins were still nowhere to be seen. Even when the American soldiers would march through the streets, throwing candy to the children, the girls never went past their gate.
And that was exactly where Yu Mi-cha, the quieter of the two sisters, stood that day; in the kitchen courtyard, keeping a safe distance from the gate that separated her home from all the chaos. From the other side of the gate, all anyone might have seen was a young girl, barely sixteen with smooth black hair and almond-shaped eyes, hugging the trunk of a crooked, leaning persimmon tree, watching the soldiers in a state of quiet awe. But nothing could have been further from the truth. She couldn’t have cared less about the marching Americans, or the celebrating Koreans, or the fleeing Japanese. Her eyes were darting from face to face, looking for the one that was mirror image of her own; the one that belonged to her sister.
Mi-cha’s sister, Eun-cha, had snuck out of their bedroom window last night and she still wasn’t back yet. Eun-cha had pleaded her twin not to tell, and Mi-cha had reluctantly agreed. This morning, when Eun-cha still hadn’t returned to their bedroom, Mi-cha had been able to convince Mrs. Pak that her sister was at the market and she had gotten up just after the sun had so that she could get the best selection. But as the noon hour approached, she was not sure how much longer she would be able to keep up the charade.
She couldn’t believe she was missing her sister after only one night apart. The two girls had never been separated a day in their lives, even before their lives had truly begun. They were twins, identical in every way imaginable, and completely joined at the hip.
“Mi-cha…,” a voice called out. “Mi-cha….”
The sixteen-year-old’s head snapped to look over her shoulder. “I’ll be right there, Auntie!”
Abandoning the show on the streets, Mi-cha rushed back into the house just in time to see Mrs. Pak struggle to gather up all the plate and pots needed to make lunch. “Auntie!” Mi-cha scolded as she took most of the metal kitchenware from the old woman. “You know you aren’t supposed to carry all these things by yourself.”
“You aren’t supposed to be carrying them all by yourself either! That lazy sister of yours is supposed to help you! Why isn’t she back from the market yet?”
Anyone else probably would have been horrified by the old woman’s cranky shouts, but Mi-cha simply continued on with carrying the plates and pots outside. Mrs. Pak spoke like this to everyone, even when she was in her happiest moods. Granted, it had frightened Mi-cha a great deal when she was younger, but now she just accepted it as a quirk in the woman’s character. “It’s very chaotic outside because of the soldiers coming and the Japanese leaving. It can’t be very easy to do any shopping on a day like today.”
“Well, that girl is going to making dinner and cleaning it up all by herself tonight! It’s the least she can do to make up for all the extra work she has been making you do today!”
Mi-cha sighed to herself and continued on with the work of preparing lunch.
Mrs. Pak was not Mi-cha’s aunt, nor was she her relative of any kind. There was never a time when the two girls did not know this. Mrs. Pak was just Mrs. Pak, and she was the one who had taken care of them for as long as they could remember. The twins had a mother and father, but they barely knew them. They had brothers and sisters, but they didn’t know the names of the younger ones. Their parents had given their girls to Mrs. Pak to raise when they were barely three. Their parents would visit them once a year, usually, but the visits were always mostly brief and always uncomfortable for everyone involved.
As the girls grew older and began to ask questions, they were gradually told more and more about how their odd little family had come to be. There was a reason the twins had been given to Mrs. Pak and a reason why they saw so little of their true parents.
Mi-cha’s parents were a witch and a wizard; they were able to do magic. Sometimes when they would come to visit, they would perform magic tricks for them; turning their schoolbooks into doves and making plates dance around the room. Their parents came from a long line of wizards that they could trace back more than a thousand years and sometimes, they would even tell the twins stories about their ancestors, but normally the topic of family history was very uncomfortable for their parents to discuss with the twins.
That was because, unlike their parents, neither of the twins were witches. They were what were known as Squibs, people born into wizarding families, but had no magical powers of their own. Squibs were quite rare, and most would be given away to either orphanages or boarding schools run by Muggles (ordinary people, ones without magic). People would say it was because it was the ‘best thing for them’, but the girls knew that having a Squib for a child was something that would bring a great deal of shame to a family.
Mi-cha and Eun-cha supposed they were lucky in that their parents had given them to a Muggle friend of theirs to raise instead, though just how their parents had become friends with the Muggle widow was something they never learned. And their parents did still come to visit them. Many Squibs who were given up never saw their parents again.
Mrs. Pak, who barely understood what a Squib was herself, did her best to explain how the girls never would have been able to live any sort of suitable life among their parents’ people. The kindest thing that could have possibly been done was to send their daughters to live with this dear family friend, raise them as Muggles, and hope they could become members of a society they might have a chance at fitting into.
But their parents, however, lived secluded lives, hidden from the world their daughters had grown up in. There was no way they could have known what kind of world they would be leaving their daughters in.
In the world their daughters had been placed in, Korea was not a free nation, and had not been so for decades. The Japanese made Korea a colony by force, and had been doing its very best to wipe away everything that made Korea Korean. That meant everything to the Korean culture, the language, and even eventually Korean names.
Their parents were always asking the twins to write to them, but in the world they lived in, this was not possible. It was against the law to teach the Korean language, so the girls had never learned. It was even against the law to speak Korean, though Mrs. Pak and the twins still spoke it in the privacy of their own home. Their parents would also always remark on their daughters’ poor vocabulary, but it wasn’t as though they had a great deal of opportunity to practice.
But again, these were things their parents couldn’t possibly understand. The twins had not even been able to use their Korean names for many years. On the day the Japanese emperor outlawed Korean names as well, Mrs. Pak registered the three of them under the name Aoki, Mi-cha as Yumiko and Eun-cha as Masako. Their parents didn’t understand why their daughters called themselves these new nicknames, but they had played along with it as though it were some sort of game.
But now Korea was free…and the twins had no idea how to be free Koreans. They weren't even very good at being Muggle Koreans. Though, at the very least, all the other schoolchildren in the village were just as lost in this.
When Mi-cha looked out the window, she suddenly saw a familiar face: a girl who lived just down the street and who had been in the same class as Mi-cha and Eun-cha since they were eight.
“Haruka—” she called out the window, using the girl’s Japanese name out of habit before correcting herself, “I mean, Hea-woo!”
The girl with short, trimmed hair peered through the bars of the gate, seeing her friend, the rushing and having towards her friend.
Chi Hea-woo was the daughter of the vice principal of the village school (‘vice’ principal because during the occupation, Koreans were never allowed to hold the highest offices of power). Any other time, Mi-cha probably would have asked her friend if he father would become the true principal of the school, but at this point in time, Mi-cha had other, more urgent worries on her mind.
“Mi-cha!” The girl’s eyes drifted up to the very top of the iron gates. “You aren’t going to leave the house again today? I promise you, it’s not half as dangerous out there as you think it is.”
“Hea-woo, you’ve been in town all day?” Mi-cha asked her schoolmate. “Have you seen Eun-cha at all? She’s been gone since morning and I have no idea where she is.”
“Actually yes,” the Muggle girl admitted. “I saw her walking in the market with that boy who dresses so odd…in those really old fashion clothes, you know? It’s a good thing the Japanese aren’t in control anymore; his head would be rolling otherwise.”
But Mi-cha found herself too angered to find her friends words amusing. “Lee Bo-ram is back in town?” Her blood began to boil under her skin.
To say Mi-cha strongly disliked Lee Bo-ram was a massive understatement. He had started making regular trips into their village at the beginning of spring, and always made it a point to see Eun-cha while he was there. He might have been tall, handsome, and was always on the lookout for fun (much like Eun-cha), but that didn’t mean she wanted her sister to be in love with him. He was also the first wizard the girls had ever met aside from their parents.
But that wasn’t the reason Mi-cha distrusted him so much. The reason behind that was because Eun-cha had become completely infatuated with the boy, and Lee Bo-ram made no effort to show he didn’t reciprocate these feelings. Mi-cha had never considered herself to be a suspicious person before, but there was absolutely no way she was going to believe a pureblood wizard was capable of falling in love with a Squib. Having a Squib be born into your family was shameful enough, it defied all reason to think someone would be willing to invite one into their family.
It just wasn’t…socially acceptable. Even marrying a Muggle would have been considered a step up.
Of course, Mi-cha had brought up the subject of the visiting wizard—much to Eun-cha’s annoyance—when their parents had come to visit last month, though little good that had done. Apparently, their parents and the rest of the Yu family were quite familiar with the Lees and had nothing to say about their son, Bo-ram, other than he was a very nice and respectable boy. Their parents actually seemed rather pleased that one of their twins was actually attracting the attention of a wizard.
Refusing to believe the notion that Lee Bo-ram was a ‘good boy’ and not trusting her sister alone with him, Mi-cha unlocked the front gate and made her way out onto the streets. She weaved through the dozens of bodies blocking her path, keeping her eyes open for her own mirror image.
“You have to come with me,” Mi-cha called over her shoulder, “and tell me exactly where it was you saw them.”
Mi-cha—with a quite confused Hea-woo—spent hours searching the village, but there was no Yu Eun-cha to be found anywhere in Ondokkil. She did, however, find several other people who claimed to have seen Eun-cha walking around with a young man wearing odd silk robes in the old Korean style.
“Mi-cha, it’s getting late,” Hea-woo finally spoke up, failing to stifle a yawn. “Your sister really didn’t tell you where she was going?”
“No,” Mi-cha admitted, even though it hurt her to say that her twin would do such a thing.
Hea-woo shifted uncomfortably on her feet. “I really need to go home now,” she finally worked up the courage to say “My father will be furious with me if I’m not home before dark.”
The two girls waited in silence for a long while, waiting for some sort of response from the other. Finally giving a resigned sort of sigh, Mi-cha nodded to her friend, relieving her of search duty. But even after her schoolmate left, Mi-cha remained standing in the center of the market.
She wasn’t quite sure how to tell Mrs. Pak that she didn’t know if her sister would ever be coming home.
Mrs. Pak insisted again and again that she didn’t blame Mi-cha for her sister leaving. Eun-cha was a grown girl now—not that she could be forced to do anything even when she was little—and even if they didn’t like it, she was free to live her own life now, even if it meant going off to marry someone her family didn’t necessarily approve of. So, in short, Eun-cha was able to go off wherever Lee Bo-ram would take her, and there was really no telling when she would be back.
For a long time, Mrs. Pak and Mi-cha just imagined that Eun-cha had been swept up by her wizard Prince Charming who had taken her back to the world she had been born into; the world where she belonged. They imagined that her children would be wizards and then they would be her connection to the world she was born in and she would never have to think about Muggles or being born a Squib ever again.
Then came the day when that dreaming was proven to be as far from the truth as could possibly be.
Mi-cha had since returned to school since then; she had no choice. Now that it was no longer illegal to teach the Korean language, she had to learn to read and write all over again. Not that it was embarrassing, though. Everyone had to do it, even several former classmates who had graduated years before. She had been walking home from school that afternoon when she saw a young man standing in front of the flower stand in the market. He wore brilliant gold and violet robes in the old Korean style, hanbok, his hair long and tied at the neck like a horse tail in a long single braid.
There was only one person Mi-cha could image wearing this kind of clothing in a modern Muggle village.
“Lee Bo-ram!” she shouted, running after him. “Lee Bo-ram, came back here this instant!”
The boy turned around, his handsome face cast with amusement. “Eun-cha, where on earth have you been? I thought I lost you!”
“I’m Mi-cha and you know it,” she growled as she approached him, clenching her fists at her side, “and you and I both know this is not the time for jokes!”
By now, people in the market were beginning to stare, though they were paying much more attention to the young man dressed in old fashioned, elaborate clothes than they were to the ordinary girl shouting at him. “You’re here now,” Mi-cha was screeching now. “Where is my sister?”
Lee Bo-ram held up his hands in an effort to quiet the girl and get her to calm down. “Hold on just one second, Miss Mi-cha. Even if your sister and I have been on rather…friendly terms lately, what makes you think she and I joined at the hip.” He straightened his robes and tried to joke once again. “After all, I am an independent young man, still sewing my wild oats. I have no reason to settle down with one woman just yet. So even if you sister and I did spend some time together, why would I know where she is now?”
She couldn’t help but feel a little annoyed that Lee Bo-ram felt they were on such informal terms.
“Don’t lie to me!” she began to shout. “Chi Hea-woo saw you with her the day she disappeared. She said you told her you were going to take her away from here!”
Mi-cha stood on her toes so she could stand nose to nose with him. “And don’t think that because I grew up in a Muggle village that I don’t know how to make you pay if anything happened to her! I know how to get to the wizarding officials and tell that you stole a sixteen-year-old Muggle girl away from her family and that they not seen her in more than two months! Just how long do you think you be imprisoned for that sort of crime?”
At the first sign of conflict—or at least lack of ability to joke—Lee Bo-ram began to show the behavior Mi-cha would have expected him to show her. “Stay away from me, Squib!” he snapped as he shoved her away.
Lee Bo-ram was finally showing his true colors; ones that painted him as the type who would never have anything romantic to do with a Squib. But if he didn’t have Eun-cha at his family home, getting to know her future in-laws, then where was she? And now he was regarding Mi-cha with the same attitude, walking away from her as though she were a piece of trash left in the street.
Suddenly—Mi-cha not quite understanding what had come over her herself—she tackled the wizard from behind, grabbing him by the neck. The sheer force of her rage sent them both tumbling to the ground, blood smearing across the dirt alleyway.
When he turned over, Lee Bo-ram reached towards his pocket—probably for his wand—but Mi-cha noticed this first, and grabbed painfully at his wrist, fingernails digging into his skin. The young man yelped and Mi-cha reached into his pocket, taking the wand for herself and throwing it as far as she could. The wand hit the wall of the alley, leaving Lee Bo-ram completely defenseless. He might have been the wizard and Mi-cha might have been the Squib, but she was the one who had the advantage here.
“No one’s coming to save you, Lee Bo-ram,” Mi-cha said dangerously, feeling oddly powerful as she held him down. “So I suggest you tell me where my sister is while you still can.”
Mi-cha kept her hands wrapped around his throat, her grip just light enough so Lee Bo-ram could tell her what she wanted to hear.
“I did take your sister with me…” he managed to gasp, his eyes growing wide with horror, “…to the North…across what the Muggles are calling the thirty-eighth parallel. The only way you can get past all the soldiers is by means of magic.”
Mi-cha nodded for Lee Bo-ram to keep talking, but kept her hands around his throat. It was no secret that no one went across the thirty-eighth parallel these days. The Communists were making things very difficult in the North and wouldn’t allowed anyone to cross into the South except for official business, and no one from the South would dare go across for fear of not being able to return.
“Why did you take her to the North?”
It suddenly became very difficult for Lee Bo-ram to breathe, but not because of the hands around his throat. "There is an inn I took her to...in the mountains. I'm told it's a...very romantic place..."
Even the most naive person at the world could tell was Lee Bo-ram was saying about what happened, what he had done with Eun-cha, but Mi-cha fought the urge to kill him right then and there. "And then what happened to her? Why isn't she here with you?"
Mi-cha waited for him to finish his sentence, but when all she her was the sound of Lee Bo-ram’s rushed and panicked breathing, she finally understood what he had meant. Her grip suddenly squeezed tight around Lee Bo-ram’s throat and she banged the back of his skull against the ground. “You left my sister there? You used her and you left her behind like trash?”
She wanted to kill him. She wanted to squeeze Lee Bo-ram’s last breath from him, watch the life leave his eyes, and leave him in the alley like a piece of garbage, just like he had done to her sister.
But at the last moment, Mi-cha realized what she was doing and released her grip from around the wizard’s throat. Slowly, she rose to her feet and stepped away from Lee Bo-ram. But then, at the last moment, she placed her foot on his chest. He could have easily pushed her away, yet somehow, Lee Bo-ram was held in place by the tiny foot covered by battered sandals.
“Lee Bo-ram, look at me,” she ordered in a deathly tone. “Look at my face.”
Reluctantly, the older boy met his eyes with hers.
“This is the face of the one you have wrong. The one you saw as mud beneath your shoes and treated as such. It will haunt your nightmares and follow you into your waking moments until the day you die.”
Before she walked away, she kicked a cloud of dirt in his face, just to remind him how low she truly considered him.
Of course, Mi-cha had not been bluffing when she said she was going to contact the authorities about what had happened to her sister. Mi-cha had lost her closest friend, and someone was going to pay! As soon as she got home, she would contact her parents and have them contact the law officials for her. Even if Eun-cha was a Squib, their parents weren’t quite so cruel as not to care that their daughter had been stolen.
But while everything was in place for revenge against Lee Bo-ram, Mi-cha had no idea how she was going to get Eun-cha back, and she had a feeling the wizarding authorities would know how either.
Three years after her sister vanished from the village, Mi-cha married a wonderful man named Pae Jung-hee who had just finished studying at the university. Eun-cha was not at the wedding. One year after that, Mrs. Pak died in her sleep at age eighty-one. Eun-cha was not at the funeral.
Then in 1950, when the Mi-cha (and Eun-cha as well) were twenty-one, the communists from the North invaded South Korea and war broke out; a war fueled by the Russians and the Americans. Mi-cha’s husband begged her to come with him further south to get away from the fighting, and although it was clearly the wise thing to do, it was a decision that Mi-cha struggled with.
Eventually, they settled in the southern city of Jeonju. Together, they had three children, two boys named Dae-hyun and Kwang-ho, and girl named Soo-min. Eventually, their children grew up and started families of their own. Over the years, Mi-cha lost touch with her parents— they could very well come calling now that their daughter had a Muggle husband and was raising Muggle children—not that this really felt like much of a tragedy in her eyes.
But even after all this time passed, Mi-cha never stopped thinking about her twin who she had lost across the border. Every time the news broadcasted news of a famine or some threat of war in the North, she would think horrible thoughts about how her sister was suffering because of it. And even though she knew her sister was suffering physically, Mi-cha couldn’t help but feel that she was suffering just as greatly from her missing Eun-cha.
Of course, Eun-cha would be suffering in this same way also from missing her twin, Mi-cha.
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