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Know Witch You Want

AKA "They Say This Witch Can Make Potions For Anything, But There's No Way She Can Make Mine!"

The name's Cassia, and I'm a witch.

What kind of witch, you ask? Don't worry, the good kind. I brew potions for people. You ask for it, I can make it.

...Hm? Yes, I know that's a bold claim. But I've never had a dissatisfied client. Ah, or maybe they just never came back to tell me so. ...Wait, did that sound like "because they died"? I swear I don't mean because they died.

...What's that? "Even if the client doesn't know what they want?"

Well, about that...

——

"Uhh, is this Cassia's shop?"

I rose my head from the counter at the sound of the door jingling open. Someone was peeking their head in.

"Yes, that's me," I called to them. "Don't be shy, now."

The visitor smiled and walked in, followed by two others around the same age.

As they entered, they seemed a bit surprised by the furnishings of the shop. People usually were, but it made sense to me. I had my bar-like counter, stocked with everything I needed for potions; and then there were the sofas, because obviously my clients had to be comfortable. Barstools would just be... bar-baric.

"We can sit on these, right?", one of the others asked, motioning to the sofa in front of me. I nodded enthusiastically, and they muttered "Sweet."

Two of the three sat down and made themselves comfortable.

"I've always been curious about this place," the first-to-enter began. "Like I've heard all these things about Cassia. She can help you find love, she can bump up your grades..."

I shook my head. "Now now, don't make it sound like I bribed the teachers to fudge some numbers. Granted, I have had to talk with a few teachers. But in the end, those clients S-ranked their classes on their own merits."

"Yeah, no, I get that. Anyway, it all sounded great, but I could never think of much I wanted myself. But I got wondering..." They scratched their head, then looked up at me. "Well, I just wanna check, is there anything you can't do?"

I chuckled and raised my finger. "Anything I can't do is impossible, and nothing is impossible."

"We know, it's like your tagline," the second-to-enter sighed. "Dude, just ask her already."

The first-to-enter looked around. "Me first? Uh, alright... Mine's kinda embarrassing."

I grinned. "Worry not, nothing is too embarrassing for me. Granted, it may be embarrassing for you, but let that fact provide some relief."

After a slight pause, they muttered: "Yeah, you've probably heard it all, huh."

An exhale. "Alright, so like... I'm kinda short, right?" They stood up straight and spun around to illustrate. "Most of my friends're taller than me, 'least the human ones. I always thought it only bugged me a little, but once I started thinkin' about it, maybe it bugs me a little more than that. So like, I'm not askin' much here. Just like..." They brought a hand above their head, and repeatedly adjusted its height. "This much? Maybe this much? Probably not too much, that might feel real weird..."

"You couldn't even decide on a height beforehand? C'mon," Client #2 chided from the sofa.

"No, I think I've got it," I assured. "One height potion, coming right up. In the meantime, how about you?"

"Oh, sure," the other client nodded, then began explaining their request. "So, walking sucks. I've always envied flying monsters, everything from Harpies to Butterflies. So could you give me a cool pair of wings? Functional ones, of course. And like, toggleable? Just for convenience, or if I don't like it."

"Ah, easily." As I turned to start preparing it at once, I noticed the others' eyes going wide in the corner of my vision.

"Whoa, man, wasn't expecting that one... and she can actually do it?", Client #1 marveled. "I might have to think up some other stuff later..."

Once both potions were brewing, I turned back around. Because there was one more visitor, and surely, one more client.

"And you there, the kid in the back."

They looked up at me for the briefest moment, then averted their eyes.

Even now I can't explain why, but I felt like that brief instant told me a whole, whole lot.

I was just going to ask if they had a request or not. But something struck me. So...

I never like to lie, but I do like to stretch the truth a little.

"I know exactly what you want."

All eyes were on the kid in the back. They jumped, likely both from my claim and the sudden attention. Yes, I imagine the others had all but forgotten that kid was there, but I had a clear view the whole time.

"...O-Oh yeah? Is it "nothing"?", the kid chimed back. "I just came along with these guys, that's all. I wasn't interested."

They walked up toward the sofa and aggressively leaned over the backrest. "But you know, I don't trust you one bit. You seriously do this for free? You must have some ulterior motive, or else this is all bogus, or something."

"Dude... what are you talking about?", Client #2 said, looking up at the kid. "This place would never last if she weren't the real deal."

"It'd also never last if she really wasn't charging. So "witch" one is it, huh?"

I sighed, all too familiar with questions - and puns - like these. "I'm afraid all I can tell you is that my shop survives via the generous donations of clients and others. And the only way I have of proving my legitimacy..." I turned around and produced the requests, which had just finished brewing. "...is through my potions."

"Whoa, that was FAST! Gimme!" Client #1 jumped up and grabbed both potions, carefully checked the labels to confirm which was theirs, then handed the other to Client #2.

The kid stepped away from the sofa and watched warily as their friends ingested the potions. And then watched with surprise, as one grew a few centimeters, and the other was knocked out of their seat by a sprouting pair of wings.

"S-Should've thought of that...", Client #2 muttered before picking themselves up off the ground and gleefully testing things out. They seemed especially pleased upon realizing that slits in their clothes automatically appeared and disappeared to make room for the wings - a small detail, but obviously an important one.

The kid looked away grumpily. "Okay, maybe the potions are legit." Then they glared directly at me. "But that's not what bugs me! It's what you said! You can't just say something like that! You don't know what I want!"

For a few moments, I puzzled over what to do. There were a lot of things I could say. However, I concluded that me saying things was the whole root of the issue. It had, admittedly, been a harsher reaction than I was expecting... There was a reason I didn't usually take such a risky approach.

Client #1 turned toward the kid. "Uhh... So what DO you want?"

Luckily, someone else spoke for me.

The kid turned red, and tried to cover up embarrassment with anger. "WELL I MEAN OBVIOUSLY I CAN'T TELL YOU BECAUSE SHE'D KNOW!!"

The group left not long after that. I considered dropping a remark that they were welcome to come back anytime. But even that, I refrained from.

Still... I was only getting further convinced I knew what that kid wanted.

Of course, everyone makes mistakes. I could've always been wrong.

Unless, of course, that kid came back.

——

"...Stupid witch."

I tried to just forget all about the visit to Cassia's, but it wasn't easy.

Because I got a lot of time to think about stuff. I hated having time to think about stuff.

I worked as a clerk at the local convenience store. It may not have had a great deal of responsibility, but it was hard to imagine a job less suited for me. I didn't like dealing with people, but I was also bored out of my mind the rest of the time. I wanted there to be both more and less people, so no amount would ever actually be satisfactory.

Were it up to me, though, I would probably lean toward less people. Because every new customer felt like another person to embarrass myself to. I know most people barely even processed me as a person, but something just felt awful about such a large number of people knowing me as... you know, whatever awkward snippet of me they got.

Ugh. Like I said, I get too much time to think.

Incidentally... there was a time before I was born, I'm told, when a monster working retail would be unthinkable.

Well, aren't I lucky.

"Hey, cute horns!"

I looked up to see a Snake lady smiling at me. I blushed a little, but tried desperately to hide it. "Uhh... what're you buying?"

After a pause, she shook her head and shrugged, then dropped a heavy basket on the counter. It was filled with junk food: bags of chips, popcorn, candy, Applecot-flavor soda...

"...Having a party or something?", I asked. I usually didn't ask about people's purchases - it was probably store policy or something, I didn't care personally, and sometimes I really didn't want to know - but I think she threw me off.

She glanced to her left and right. "Err... party of one. Don't tell anybody!"

"Yeah, I don't judge," I mumbled as I began checking out her items.

Apparently it took me long enough that she felt the need to talk during the process. "Just so you know, I don't eat like this all the time. But I mean, I like to eat, and I wanna test the limits of this "bottomless" stomach."

"Bottomless stomach?", I repeated.

"Yeah. Have you heard of Cassia? The witch?"

I groaned. "I sure have. So she gave you a potion that lets you eat as much as you want? How is that supposed to work?"

She cocked her head to the side. "I didn't really get the explanation, but I figure it's imbued with magic that digests food super-quick or something. And it's been working so far!"

I rolled my eyes as I worked, and the Snake looked at me with concern. "Hey, did you have a bad experience with Cassia or something? Should I be worried?"

"I mean, no, not really... you're probably fine, but..." I sighed. "It was a whole thing. I think she's got this idea that everyone wants a potion from her."

The woman began to look more pensive. "I mean... doesn't everyone want something? And she says she can do anything."

"If you believe that. Anyway, the thing is, she told me she "knew what I wanted." Which is a total lie."

"That... is a bit unusual," she admitted. "But she does good things for people. I'm sure there's some reason she said that. ...So what happened?"

I tilted my head. "What happened? I left."

She stared at me, stunned. "Huh...? So you didn't even try to see where she was going with it?"

"It was going nowhere. I didn't want anything. End of story."

The lady pouted. "It was going somewhere, and you should've let her shown you where. I'm sorry, but that's just rude." Then her smile returned. "But she's not going anywhere, so you can always go see her again!"

"Sure I could." I finished checking out her items, and pushed her bags toward her.

The Snake paid the total, grabbed the bags, and sighed.

"I don't know where you're at in life, little Goat, but Cassia is a goddess of kindness among us. She helped my little sister turn her whole life around. Myself, I just get to eat a lot and not worry about it. Whichever category you fall into... don't let an opportunity go for no reason."

She started to slither out the door, then turned around.

"And just in case you forgot: cute horns."

I blushed with embarrassment, this time for several reasons, and this time with no one around.

I know my life isn't great. There's things I might be dissatisfied with, things I might want. But that witch couldn't know them at a glance, and she certainly couldn't solve them with stupid potions.

What if she could, though? I couldn't imagine how. Yet that's how this lady was telling me to think.

I usually didn't let customers get to me. But I think she threw me off.

——

The kid came back.

I recognized them as soon as the door opened. "Hello, hellooo! Welcome baaaaack!"

Their only response was to immediately turn their head down and to the side. Still, I swear I saw a bit of red, and it wasn't the horns.

"So, are you going to try and pretend you're not a returning visitor?", I inquired.

They grumbled. "I mean, nothing gets past you, apparently, so why bother?"

"Of course, of course. You're that kid - I'd never forget." I gave them the most pleasant look I could. "Are you going to place a request this time? No one here to get embarrassed around."

They walked over to the sofa, sat down, crossed their legs, and glared at me. "What do you think?"

I put my chin in my hands and smiled. "Then what is your excuse for coming back?"



"It's not an excuse, it's a reason," the kid growled ineffectually. "...I told you the first time: I don't want any potions from you. No matter what you think."

"Hmm..." I looked up in thought. "True, you said that. But I recall your friend later asking what you wanted, and you getting quite flustered."

They shook their head. "...I-I just said what I needed to say there."

"People change their minds, I guess," I shrugged, then smiled. "If you don't want any potions currently, then what else can I do for you, sweetie?"

The kid flinched, then answered. "...I want to figure out what stupid idea you got in your head about me."

I raised my eyebrows and put my hand to my mouth. "Ohh... Well, I'm afraid I can't just tell you that."

"Of course it wouldn't be easy with you..." They rubbed their forehead in frustration. "But why not? How am I supposed to believe you know what I want, when I don't think I want anything?"

I couldn't help but giggle. "It's a bit difficult to explain why, but oh yes, that can happen. In fact, it happens so much that..."

I lifted my butt up onto the counter, and swung my feet around to the other side.

"Well, my job's about a lot more than making potions, you know."

"...G-Get down from there," stammered the kid, gawking.

"Okay," I said with a smile, and hopped down. "See, I know it's a big ask. There's no request I can't do, which means your options are limitless. Who could decide? Some people can think of a thing or two, like your friends, but most don't really know where to begin."

The kid looked at me with distrust as I explained. "So you coerce people into wanting something they didn't want before? Now I'm extra sure there's something in it for you."

"Oh, there is."

They looked to be caught off-guard a bit. "...You admit it?"

"What's in it for me is the fulfillment of helping others," I beamed.

They smacked their head. "What did I even expect..."

"You're right that it would be untoward... if what I did could be called coercion." I shook my head, smiling. "But no, the other half of my job - more than half, really - is discovering what my clients want. That's the sort of work I wanted to do in the first place... and then I decided I'd help with the actualization part as well."

The kid looked down thoughtfully. "So you're... a therapist witch."

"Uh-huh!"

They looked up with a start. "And that's the part you charge for, I bet!"

"Nope!"

"How the hell?!"

"Generous donations, I tell you. It's true what they say: a good deed is always rewarded."

They scratched their head. "I'm just gonna assume you can alchemize gold or something."

"Whatever you're comfortable with, honey."

"...S-Shut up," they spat. "This is all wasting my time. I just want you to tell me what you thought I wanted, then I'm gonna laugh at you and leave."

They kept saying that, but... "If you really see it that way, I don't see why it'd be so important to you what I think. Do you hold grudges or what?"

They folded their arms (tighter than they'd been folded the entire time, that is) and looked to the side. "...Not sure if I ever have before, but I guess I do now."

"That's flimsy, but tell yourself what you will," I sighed. "Fortunately, however, our disparate perspectives lead to the same course of action: taking some time to discover what you want."

"...What? So you're admitting you have no idea..." They groaned. "Well that's disappointing. Guess I'm outta here."

"Now, I didn't say that at all. I know what you want." I wagged my finger. "But it wouldn't be helpful to you - or fun for me - if I simply told you. It will be a learning, and confirming, process. And in this process, it should become obvious what I realized, and that I knew it all along."

"And you call my excuse flimsy?", they said with a judgemental eye.

"It's my reason, thank you very much." I winked. "I'll certainly do my best to make it enjoyable. And if I do happen to be dead wrong, well, I'm sure you'll quite enjoy seeing me make a fool of myself."

The kid's ears perked up. "Hmm... You've got a good point, for once."

"It wounds me to hear that's only my first good point," I sighed with excessive dramatics. "Well, I hope to make up the rest later. Are you free this time tomorrow?"

"Sure." Despite their resistance to every word I'd said thus far, the kid didn't even have to think about that.

I smiled. "Well then, kid, I look forward to getting to know you then."

——

The kid came the next day, right on time. I smiled at them, put my "THE WITCH IS OUT" sign on the counter, and led them to my back room.

They stood in front of the door, looked toward the exit, then looked at me, then sighed deeply.

"Well, if you're gonna kill me, guess I'm screwed. But I did tell my parents and some friends I'd be here... so."

"Oh, don't be ridiculous," I chided. "There are no windows in the main room either, and I've got plenty of empty space under the counter. You've already been taking your chances."

They stared at me, unamused. "Is joking about that supposed to make me trust you?"

"Joking? I'm just stating facts. And the more truths I tell, the more trustworthy I must be, right?", I giggled.

"Forget it," the kid groaned. "I'll take any way out of dealing with you at this point."

"There's a much easier one, if you like; it's called leaving," I suggested.

They sighed. "...Seems that one's not so easy for me, unfortunately."

Mean as it may sound, that is what I'd hoped to hear.

My back room was essentially my therapy room. There were two sofas facing one another, a couple of Slime bag chairs, some bookshelves, some stuffed animals, and an assortment of just about anything else. Note that when I say it was a therapy room, I don't just mean for clients - I took breaks in it myself.

We each sat down on a sofa, and I took a good look at the kid.

They were dressed in the same clothes as our previous meetings - the exact same ones, most likely. Just a dark gray hoodie and some shorts. Their furry white hair was rather unkempt as well. Clearly, this was not a look with a great amount of thought put into it.

As I said before, though, I like to stretch the truth. It can really help sometimes.

"Has anyone told you how cute you look today? If not, allow me to be the first."

The kid just glared. "What the hell... No, 'cause people don't say that."

"Why not?"

"Because it's awkward, geez. And I'm not cute."

I folded my arms and shook my head. "I'm afraid that's what cute people say. I don't make the rules." Then I put on a lighter expression. "Well, if you were to take on that challenge, what would you do?"

The kid looked at me with confusion, but at the same time, seemed not totally oblivious to what I meant. "...What? What challenge?"

"Looking cute, since you insist that you aren't already."

"W-Who said I wanted to look cute?! Why would I?!"

"So that people will call you cute," I replied, as if it was - and it was - the most obvious thing in the world.

"You already did that and I hate it!!", they shouted.

"You can call me cute, if you like."

"That's weird too!! Aren't you supposed to be asking me, like, relevant questions?"

"You never know what might be relevant," I noted. "But we can move to more standard topics if you prefer."

"I would prefer," they grimaced.

"Are you a student, or employed?"

"...Employed," they answered with a sigh. "At a job I hate."

"Why did you get a job that you hate?"

The kid shrugged. "Why else does anyone get a job? Because money."

"Well -"

"Except you," they hastily added upon realizing.

"...Well, I'm sure there are many like me who are able to do jobs they want to do."

"How lucky for them," they sneered.

"At any rate... If you'll remember our goal here, discussing "something you hate" should be relevant," I explained, smiling. "I know there aren't always options - but if you didn't have to do that job anymore, how much happier do you think you'd be?"

The kid looked down and thought about it. Finally, I'd asked something that they were willing to properly think about. But after thinking a while, they shrugged and sighed.

"I dunno. I guess it might depend on why I wasn't doing it anymore. Because I'm not sure I'd just be... automatically happy without it, you know?"

I nodded happily, glad to be getting somewhere with them. "That's a fair point. If you're lucky, happiness can sometimes drop into your lap. But the vast majority of the time, you need to take steps for your own happiness. Being free of burdens may help in that, but it won't take you all the way."

They looked at me with faint surprise. "...Huh. What's gotten into you, talking sense all of a sudden? Wish you'd be like that all the time."

"Sorry, kid. I can do potions on demand, but you can't just mine for nuggets of wisdom," I winked.

"Even so... I don't see why I should think up an answer to a hypothetical question," grumbled the kid. "Unless you're gonna share your alchemy secrets, I don't see me escaping retail anytime soon."

"Oh, but there's plenty of worth in thinking about things that'll never happen. When they happen, you'll be glad you did."

They rubbed their eyes. "Easy for you to say, witch."

I quietly sighed. Even if I'd gotten the kid in here, they were still being very hostile toward me, which was no way to hold a therapy session. I had to start thinking why that was, and what I could do about it, because my standard efforts weren't doing much.

"Kid, I'm aware we haven't gotten off on the right foot. Or rather, there was probably never a right foot to start on. I know my bold claim was a big part of it - and so I tentatively apologize for that." Tentatively, because I hoped they would come to understand later. "Beyond that, I'd like to know: what is it that bothers you most about me?"

They looked confused, and I couldn't blame them; I was taking a rather direct approach to resolving this issue. "...Seriously?"

"Say whatever's on your mind - I won't be offended."

"And what ,you're going to try and... not be that?"

"I'll do my best," I smiled.

They went into thought again, and seemed to have a few false starts before finally settling on their answer.

"...That you sound like my mom."

Ouch. "Ah... not too much like her, I hope. I'm not that old, you know. I'm only 28!"

The kid looked surprised. "...Seriously? You seemed older. Aren't witches supposed to use magic to look younger?"

"People tell me I'm very mature for my age," I said proudly. Upon opening my eyes and seeing the kid's face, I quickly added, "but you are too."

"Anyway..." I got us back on track. "Why do I sound like your mom, exactly? And why does that bother you about me?"

The kid shifted in their seat. "Because she acts like she knows me too. And she's wrong."

I nodded with a deep understanding. "That explains it, then." And I thought about how I could address that.

"...Why don't you think of it this way?", I proposed. "No, of course I don't know you; I only met you days ago, and we've hardly talked. Yet I know something about you, that you yourself may not know yet. A mother knows things her young child doesn't know or understand yet, right? And so she can guide them accordingly."

The kid seemed to be following me at first, but then their face soured. "But mothers don't always know best."

"Well, I'm a witch, not a mother," I smiled, "and I don't claim to know best for anyone. I only know what I know, and impart it to others in the hopes it'll be best for them."

The kid looked down thoughtfully, seeming to accept my logic somewhat. I didn't anticipate I'd broken down the antagonism between us that easily, but I hoped it helped.

"Oh yeah," the kid interjected, "another thing. Maybe sorta related. Could you not call me "kid"? I'm like 20."

"Oh, my mistake. So that'd be..." I rubbed my chin. "What was the word again? Buck? Doe?"

Their eyes moved to the side. "...I-I have a name... it's -"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" I waved my hands and covered my ears. "You know you can't go around telling witches your name! That lets them hold power over you."

They stared at me, befuddled. "...Uh... is that true?"

"Heck, I think it's true of non-witches," I winked. "I only give mine out for advertising purposes, and because I can handle it."

"...Sure..." The kid looked completely lost. "C... Call me anything then, I guess?"

I raised an eyebrow. "Anything, you say? But surely you wouldn't like it if I called you mean names. And surely it'd be confusing if I called you a random word out of the dictionary."

"...T-Then don't??" Their eyes narrowed at me.

"I'd just appreciate some guidance, honey. Give me a hand here, sweetie. I'd rather call you something instead of anything, dearie."

They rubbed their temples and sighed. "...T-Those are fine. Okay? You can stick with those."

Huh. That's interesting, I thought - I was sure they'd recoiled from hearing those very words just the other day.

"...Oh? That wasn't even what I was going for, honestly - I was wondering if you had a nickname I could use, say. But if those work for you as substitutes, that's fine too."

"Well..." They tousled their hair. "We'll see if I get fed up with them. I just think they're better than "kid.""

"Alright, honey," I smiled. "Well, shall we get back to it?"

We talked for a while longer. They told me a bit more about their retail job and how they felt about it (bad), and took the opportunity to interrogate me about a Snake client of mine. I told the kid I didn't share client information, but they just wanted to know if I "set her up to something." I just laughed and said "nothing she didn't decide to do on her own."

Before I knew it, the time we set aside had already elapsed.

"So, how am I doing?", I asked before we parted. "Are you starting to feel like I know what you want?"

Taking only a short pause, the kid shook their head. "No."

"Aww, that's unfortunate." Though I did expect this to be slow going.

"Well, but..." The kid rubbed the back of their head. "I can't say for sure you don't, either."

"Oh! Now that's wonderful to hear," I said with glee.

They looked at me funny. "What, are you that happy just because I haven't completely rejected you?"

Yes, exactly, I thought.

"...There's this interesting legend I often think about," I began after a short silence. "They say there was once a woman who could see the future, but no one would ever believe her predictions until they happened."

"Gee, I wonder how that's relevant." The kid shrugged. "Never heard of it, but it sounds bogus. Not even the Goddess can see the future."

"Oh yes, I imagine it's only a story or something along those lines," I nodded. "But it's also very real, you know? People tend to want the future to be what they expect, not what they don't expect. So a prediction is either what they thought it would be anyway, or it's something they don't care to hear."

I grinned. "...But in reality, the future is rarely what you expect. And really, isn't that more fu-"

"No."

"I think it's fun."

——

It was strange having something new to think about between customers.

Somehow or another, I now had a schedule of sorts with Cassia. It wasn't daily; she obviously had other clients, although I rarely actually bumped into any. But every few days, I had an appointment with her right after my shift ended. So it was something to look forward to... to dread... to look forward to dreading.

I still didn't know what to make of any of it. She never denied me the option of just leaving, but I kept agreeing to come back. Was it some weird sunk-cost sort of thing? Or was something actually drawing me back there, besides guilt-avoidance?

Cassia was a ridiculous person. She made absurd claims, used nonsense roundabout logic, and couldn't stop smiling or giggling to herself at her own cleverness. By all means, I should've hated it... and for the most part, I did... but there was something about her. She was living a dream - a foolish, foolish dream. And it wasn't like it was collapsing on her either, at least not yet.

Who knew anyone could live like that? Certainly not me. But I knew now. And... maybe I disliked seeing her act so gleefully, like I clearly never could.

Maybe that's what intrigued me most. Why did she choose to act this way? How was she able to?

That's something I really wanted to know.

As I pondered these things, I couldn't miss the sight of a certain someone slithering through the door. This time, there was a shorter, younger girl slithering behind her.

I looked at the clock. Today was exactly a week after I first met that pushy Snake lady. And she'd come in at about the same time, too, down to the degree [editor's note: 10 minutes]. So I didn't doubt for a second that she'd intentionally aimed for my shift.

I pretended they weren't here, all the way until they came up to me for checkout. The contents of the lady's basket weren't very different from last time, but the quantity of it had decreased.

"Yes, not as much junk food today," the lady acknowledged, then looked to the girl on her left and smiled. "For one thing, I've already splurged a fair bit on shopping today. Also... I did feel a tiny bit sick after last time."

"Even with a bottomless stomach, huh?", I chuckled. "Hope it wasn't for the whole week."

"Of course not! Only about 5 days."

I quickly bagged her items before any more comments came along. But as it turns out, the lady was just waiting for me to finish before she got started.

"So, fancy seeing you again! How was the past week for you?"

"...It was fine," I sighed. "But weird."

"Ah, then you must have taken my words to heart," she smiled.

"...You went back to see Cassia?", the younger Snake meekly asked.

She'd been very quiet up until then - and continued to be, really - so I was taken aback to hear her speak. "Y-Yeah... Uh, are you the little sister she mentioned?"

She blinked, then smiled softly. "Heehee... yes, that's me. You mentioned me, Hazel?"

"W-Well, yes. The Goat here was making light of Cassia, and I wanted to talk her up, so I just brought up the impact she had on you. Sorry about that."

Regardless of what the older sister - Hazel, I guess - was saying out loud, I was pretty sure I knew what she was up to. She hadn't brought her sister here by accident; she intended to have her talk with me and further extol Cassia's virtues.

Not that I was necessarily opposed to this, for a variety of reasons. Reason number one... man, she was cute. Wait, that shouldn't be reason number one. Should it?

Un-numbered reason: I was becoming really interested in hearing from satisfied clients of Cassia's. Sure, I was aware she had a favorable reputation, but that was too general. I wanted to know what she could do beyond cook up potions - or including that, even - and what actual people thought of her behavior. Especially those who might've been in "special" (?) situations like mine.

"Oh, shoot," Hazel said with fake surprise as she looked through her bags. "Looks like I forgot a few things. Vivi, you stay here and keep an eye on the clerk."

"...Not the other way around?", Vivi asked.

"Hmm, I think I trust you more to know what you're doing," she winked, then slid away.

Once Hazel was out of earshot, Vivi turned to me with a bit of a pained smile. "...Sorry, I know this is awkward. But she wanted to make sure we talked... and I kind of wanted to, too."

I rubbed my neck. "Yeah, um... it's fine. Just don't get in the way of the other customers... if any show up."

She nodded. "My name's Violet. What's yours?"

"Ah... uh..."

I froze up. It's not like I forgot my name or anything. But for some reason, Cassia's words were ringing in my head. Even if she wasn't a witch... even if it might not make any difference... did I want to tell her my name?

As I remained silent, Violet seemed to realize something. "Oh, um... please don't worry about it! I was just asking - like, just in case you wanted to tell me."

I sighed, possibly with relief. Actually, maybe it was closely related to my dislike of dealing with customers. I wanted to leave the smallest impression possible on people, in hopes they'd just forget me. So the reluctance to give my name was just part of that.

Then again, did I really want Violet to just forget me?

Oh, whatever. She told me not to worry about it. Now - I wanted to steer the conversation for once.

"So, Violet, what did Cassia do for you that was so great?"

She looked nervous, which wasn't exactly what I expected; her hands awkwardly clasped the handles of her shopping bag. "I, um... well, there's a lot. She really did turn my life around. But I'm not that comfortable talking about all of it."

"Well... then what can you tell me?", I pressed. "I just want to know if she can really do anything worthwhile for me."

Violet gave it some thought before finally finding a place to begin. "...So you see, when I first visited her, I asked about a lot of potions. Which is the opposite of your experience, wasn't it? Cassia told me she could make every single potion I asked for - but she wouldn't."

"What? Why? ...I bet that just means she couldn't. Or it was too much work."

She shook her head. "No, not really. Basically, she told me that... most likely, I didn't actually want most of those potions. I was just stabbing in the dark. It'd probably be worse for me in the long run if she blindly fulfilled my requests, and that's not what she's all about. ...I think she was completely right."

I nodded slowly. I didn't like it, though. So not only did Cassia tell people she knew what they wanted, she'd also tell them what they didn't want?

And yet in the end, Violet came out of it feeling indebted to Cassia. So there were two possibilities: Cassia was simply right, or she brainwashed people.

I must've gotten distracted by these thoughts, as Violet leaned toward me and tapped my shoulder. I looked up in surprise, and she smiled.

If she had been brainwashed, I've never seen someone who looked so blissful and pleased about it.

"...I'm glad for you." I hardly realized I was saying it.

"I'm glad for me, too," Violet beamed. "From then on, it was like she knew just what to ask. And in the end, I found out what I wanted all along... and it was really simple." For a moment, she quietly looked down with a smile, then looked up at me. "...Um, do you think you get it now?"

It seemed absurd that I would've "gotten it" just from mere minutes of talking with... anyone. But then again, there was more going on here than just the words she said.

A moment ago, I'd actually flinched at Violet's remark that she "didn't feel comfortable" talking about all her experiences. I thought, maybe Cassia did awful things to her she'd rather not admit to me.

But no, no - think simple. The simple explanation is, she was unhappy, she got help from Cassia, and now she was much happier.

Why can't I just... believe that?

Thinking simple was hard. Every time I was faced with a simple, straightforward situation, it seemed I always wanted to think about what the catch was. It made it impossible to trust Cassia on anything, and it made it impossible to accept that Violet was being honest in every sense.

Yet the simplest explanation was... those very people just wanted me to understand the folly of doing that.

I stopped thinking, looked up, and put on a smile. "I get it. Uh, a little."

Violet was ecstatic. "Ahh...! Thank goodness! I'm so happy I could help you... Eheh..."

I blushed at seeing her so happy over such a minor thing, and turned my head away. But I couldn't do away with my smile.

"Um, if you ever want to talk to me about anything... I live around here. I'm sure there's... you know, things we can learn from each other."

I saw no other choice but to speak honestly. "...That'd be great."

Right about then, Hazel returned. Despite her claim that she was going to get more items, she wasn't even holding anything. "Okay, Vivi, time to go!"

Hazel grabbed the bags that had been sitting there, Violet waved goodbye, and they headed toward the exit together.

I felt like I should say something. What would be a nice thing to say? No overthinking it.

"...Have a look cute!", I shouted.

"You too!"

We stared at each other, knowing we both hadn't meant to say that. Then she giggled and went out the door.

At least she looked embarrassed about it, too.

——

Our sessions were slow going. I didn't doubt we were making progress, but I did worry that progress was slow enough that the kid might just give up. Which would, technically, mean zero or negative progress.

Until one day, their attitude shifted, and I didn't even know why - but hey, I wasn't complaining.

In the sessions prior to that point, the biggest obstacle soon became apparent. The kid just couldn't stop overthinking. It threw a wrench into everything: they didn't trust my intentions, and worse yet, they didn't even trust their own feelings.

Thanks to the rampant second-guessing, the questions I asked to get them thinking about certain topics seemingly just got them thinking about my ulterior motives instead. And any new possibilities I introduced would often get shut down by some existing bias.

I'd forgotten how troublesome an enemy this attitude could be. Not to say it never pays to be cautious or thoughtful, but when it impedes your life like this, it's just a clear problem.

Applying simple logic to the situation, I felt the best approach for resolving this was an entirely natural one: just being me, and hoping the kid would see the benefit of living more carefree. Unfortunately, it didn't seem very effective; their basic impression of me seemed to be, at best, "irresponsible."

But I'd managed to break down attitudes like this before, so I trusted I could do it again. And luckily, I was saved some effort.

On that day, the kid did something unusual: they waved at me, and said "Hi, Cassia. ...You look nice today."

"Hellooooo, sweetie! Feeling more talkative than usual?"

They shrugged. "I dunno about that. ...Let's just get started. I think I, like... get it now."

"Get it?", I repeated. "Do you mean you might have a potion request in mind?"

Their eyes went wide, then their head drooped in thought. They shut their eyes tight, and after some time, managed to say: "...Yes. I... I mean, I might."

"That's wonderful news!", I beamed. "But you don't have to say anything if you're not certain or ready. ...Even if I suspect I already know."

Ahh, shoot. If the kid's problem was overthinking, mine was being unable to resist the urge to tease them. Now was probably an awful time to mention that again... or so I thought.

"Then by all means, make me certain." The kid smiled. "I know you're not just pushing something on me - you're guiding me. Any alternatives just don't make sense. ...That's what I get now."

I was so surprised and happy to hear it, I couldn't resist going in for the hug.

"Oh, honey... Thank you so, so much for trusting me. I can't imagine how hard it is for you..."

I couldn't see their face, but I was sure they were blushing plenty. "S... Sorry, Cassia. ...But like, I did keep coming back. So you probably knew I trusted you, even if I didn't admit it myself."

"Hmm, yes... That's a common theme here, isn't it?", I giggled.

"I'm still not sure I believe that claim you made..." They slowly put an arm around me. "But I won't let that stop me from trusting you mean well."

We stayed like that in silence, but only for a few seconds before the kid separated from me, and fell backwards onto the sofa.

"...Sigh... I say that." Their head was practically drooping down to the floor. "But even now, I can't stop wondering if I'm being a total idiot to trust you."

"Even if you are, some things are worth being very foolish about," I suggested.

"Sounds legit," the kid mumbled.

"At any rate, I'll continue trying to prove myself as usual."

Then, I had an idea. "...Why don't we try something a little different? Would you like to learn how I make my potions?"

They looked up with great interest. That answered that.

I led the kid behind the counter and opened up some cupboards. The contents were probably not anything surprising to them: a large number of empty flasks, a variety of fruits, plants, and other ingredients, tools for cutting and stirring, bowls, and not much else.

"...Huh," they remarked. "No secret cellar full of monster guts or anything?"

"That's highly illegal, dear. And not all that effective anyway, I've read."

"I've read," the kid sarcastically repeated with air quotes.

"Anyway, the basic idea of potion-making is... All things contain a little bit of mana. Or a lotta bit of mana, if we're talking something like the Goddess. But this essentially means anything can have potent magical power if you mix it right. It's simply a matter of mixing fruits, plants, or what have you, and properly balancing the mana levels."

"Uh-huh..." They nodded, arms folded. "And how do you get from "balancing mana levels" to "it makes you grow wings"?"

I smiled at them. "That's a simple transformation potion. I mix in enough mana to provide the initial "propulsion" for the spell, imbue it with an incantation to cover the basic effect, such as wings, and..."

They grew impatient over my pause. "And what?"

"And that's it. The user provides the rest."

The kid stared blankly, then began to think. "Now that you mention it... it's not like my friend ever told you what the wings should look like. I mean, he even mentioned both Harpies and Butterflies, so you couldn't even guess."

"Well, of course. I can't involve any guesswork, or else it'll be unsatisfactory. Remember the height potion? Even your friend's own estimates for what they wanted didn't match what it ended up being, which was their true preferred height."

The kid struck me as being even quieter than usual. "...So if I drank a transformation potion, would whatever I wanted to happen just... happen?"

"Is it a transformation potion you're interested in?"

The kid promptly shook their head. But it wasn't all that convincing.

"...I'm afraid it's not that generic," I explained. "Unless the user has some magical expertise, I need to lay out a basic framework. If it were that simple, I surely wouldn't be telling you this."

"Huh? How are those things related?"

"Because of exactly what you asked. I'd be able to cheat in our little wager: I'd just give you something generic, and you wouldn't realize it was you who dictated the outcome," I grinned.

The kid glared at me. "And how do I know that's not exactly what you'll... I mean..." They shook their head and sighed. "...You make it hard to trust you sometimes."

I allowed the kid to look around the bar, mostly to confirm I wasn't hiding a dark secret ingredient. That said, they did find something.

"...What are these yellow potions?"

"Oh, those. That's the most generic thing I've got. Everything else is made to order on the spot." I coughed. "...Which is why I'd rather not waste ingredients on a demonstration, sorry."

"Okay, but what are they?"

I relented. "They're potions of strife. Most of my potions are more balanced in the facets of mana, but those are almost 100% strife."

"...Strife looks sorta like -" "Lemon juice? Yeah. Don't drink one, though."

"What exactly do they do? I mean, I can guess. They probably mess you up pretty bad." They looked down at the cupboard. "...Which makes me question why you have a bunch of them down here."

I thought about how to best explain it. "Let's say a client comes in whose life is totally unfulfilling. They're dissatisfied with everything, and can't find meaning, and don't know what to do. In lieu of a specific request... well, shouldn't it work to throw their life into chaos?"

"...Uh. Should it?"

"A potion of strife will provoke a major change in the user's life. Like most potions, the exact form that takes depends on the person... but it's a more subconscious thing, and a bit like jumping into the deep end. They're thrown into a disorienting situation and forced to adjust." I brightened my expression slightly. "That said... they do adjust. In the end, they have a new perspective on their life, if not a brand new way of living it. It gets results, that much is true."

The kid seemed dubious. "...But?"

"But at what cost, you know?" I shrugged. "It's not an approach I particularly care for - it's a last resort to me. When a client can't get out of a rut without being forced out, then it has its place. But I want to provide support to my clients, and not force anything upon them."

They nodded. "Yeah... if you just gave me one of those, I'm not sure I'd ever forgive you."

"Well... you might," I winced. "But I wouldn't feel like I deserved it."

Just then, I heard the door jingle. I quickly recognized the person who entered. And so did the kid, who seemed much more surprised. And lastly: that surprise was mutual.

"...Huh? Oh my gosh!", Violet exclaimed. "Um... are you Cassia's assistant now?"

"I-I was just checking for monster guts!!", the kid hastily replied, shoving me out of the way to exit from this side of the counter.

"I was showing them around," I clarified. "Do you two know each other?"

The kid looked at me. "Uhh, I wouldn't say we know each other..."

"Well, we sort of do," Violet interrupted, smiling. "I know a thing or two about them, at least." Then, with a start, her eyes went wide. "...Oh yeah! I completely forgot to actually tell you where I live, didn't I?! Let me just..."

"I-It's fine," the kid said, waving their hands. "We don't really need to visit each other's homes or..."

"Huh???" She looked back at them with eyes absolutely distraught.

"O-Okay! Yes! We'll definitely visit each other!!"

After the two exchanged addresses and/or contact info (I don't know, I didn't peek or anything), Violet turned to me, and the kid turned to leave.

"Hey, hold on a sec, honey," I called. "You might want to stick around a little longer."

"...Why's that?"

"Violet, can I assume I know what you want?"

She looked a little surprised, but nodded. The kid raised an eyebrow.

"Okay then, perfect," I smiled. "Looks like you get a demonstration after all."

The two sat down on the sofa together and watched as I began to make a potion. It was nothing fancy, but both marveled at the process. The specifics certainly differed, but there was a sense of curiosity in both of them.

After pouring the potion into a flask, I sealed the deal with a kiss, then placed it on the counter. Violet got up and took it.

"Thanks so much, Cassia!" She looked back at the kid. "...She really does know what you want, you know."

The kid bashfully looked away. "What, in general? ...That's not possible, is it?"

"No, no. In specific."

"...And that's possible?"

Violet smiled at them, then drank the potion.

For a few moments, there was silence.

"...Ahh... how wonderful."

And then she left, still with a smile on her face.

The kid looked confused. "Uh... wait... did anything actually happen to her? What WAS that potion?"

"I'm afraid that's personal information I can't divulge. However..."

"However?"

"If you say "I'll have what she's having!"... I might make an exception," I snickered.

The kid tried to glare at me, but their face was much too red to make it effective.

——

I couldn't say with any certainty that we were making progress in our sessions. That was often the nature of this: even if I felt like we were getting close, I could be totally off the mark.

However, I did feel confident we had brought down a few barriers - especially with Violet's help. It seemed I had her chance encounter with the kid to thank for a few things I was having trouble doing myself. I preferred to think a couple years between me and the kid didn't mean that much, but apparently it did... not to mention, they clearly had a soft spot for her.

I didn't know exactly what those two were up to, or if they'd ever properly visited each other. If they had, the kid tried to avoid talking about it. That was fine by me; it was none of my business, even if I could estimate it was ultimately helping me do my job.

That said, I did idly wonder about some things. If they had talked about potions at all, for instance.

Whether they did or not, all I know is this: that day eventually came.

"Do you want to talk about anything?", I asked, as I often did.

The kid gave me a long pause. Eventually, they nodded.

"What, dear?"

"...A potion," they said.

"For you?"

"...Yes."

"Do I know what it is?"

They shut their eyes tight. "I... I don't know if I'd ever reach the point of certainty without you telling me. But compared to before... I think I'm a lot more sure."

"There's no need to be absolutely sure," I smiled. "I'm a witch - I can easily revert anything if you ask."

"...I know," they nodded. "Then... go ahead. Make me what you wanted to make me."

I went back to the front and prepared the potion. It was nothing fancy, but I was happy to be making it for the kid at last.

As I walked back in, they looked up from their nervous waiting and watched me attentively. I sat down, kissed the flask, and handed it to them.

The kid inspected it carefully. It was a pale pink color. I'd not labeled it, for obvious reasons. They sniffed it.

Then they drank it all.

It happened quickly. As soon as the kid gulped the potion down, something changed about their... everything.

Their eyes shone brighter. They sat up taller. It was like an instant rebirth.

And the kid answered me at last.


"How did you know I wanted to turn into a girl?!"


Sure enough, I was right.

I wanted to laugh - not because of the humor, really, but from happiness - but I knew she would misconstrue it, so I simply smiled.

"What exactly did you give me?!", she asked in disbelief.

"Oh, this?" I produced another potion, the exact same color, and turned it to make the label face front.

"It's one of my famous strawberry smoothies."


She was dumbstruck. "W... what?"

"Yes, I could tell right away: that's what you wanted." I smiled wide. "Wasn't I right?"

"T... That's a joke, right?"

"No, it was actually a smoothie. It possessed no magic. No transformation took place." I tilted my head. "Unless you're allergic, and you count allergic reactions?"

"No, but... so did you actually know about... I mean..." She looked down, still wide-eyed and trembling a little.

"Well I'm not a mind-reader, dear, so of course I couldn't be sure. But yes, I knew."

"But... how?!"

I calmly walked over to the other sofa, sat down beside her, and hugged her.

"Honey, how do you think I got into this line of work in the first place?"

——

I would never just let myself cry. Even if I got badly injured, even on the worst days at school. Or even if I was really happy about something.

With Cassia, in that room, the tears came very naturally.

For a while, it felt like words weren't necessary. She knew me so well - too well. What needed to be said?

But I began to think about what her perspective had been. If she really knew all along - even when I didn't - why would she drag it out this long?

The simple answer: she didn't know. Until I blurted it out, she was bluffing about knowing "exactly" what I wanted. Clearly, she had a hunch from the first visit - which was unbelievable enough to me - but to actually be sure, she had to do this.

Of course, even if she'd been a literal psychic, there was a yet more important reason for it. She had to help me be sure, too.

I owed it to her to tell her the whole story.

"...W-When I came here with my friends," I began, wiping my tears, "I was planning to ask for something. But not... like that. I was going to ask as a joke. I guess... I doubted you could do it? I don't really... know why anymore. Maybe I thought you couldn't be legitimate... so I felt like asking for something I didn't think was legitimate either."

Cassia nodded. "Well, whatever you told yourself about the reason, it probably would've worked out well for you. Either it didn't work and you could mock me like you sought to, or it did work and you could claim innocence," she grinned.

"Yeah, uh... would've," I sniffled. "But then you went and called me out. I was way too embarrassed to ask about it after that."

Cassia started to speak, but I cut her off. "No, don't worry, I think it was for the best. I'm not sure I would've been brave enough anyway... things might've easily ended then and there."

"...Right," she smiled. "Instead, I'm sure I got you thinking about your "joke" request much more, didn't I?"

"You did... though it took me a while to even admit that maybe it wasn't a joke. I certainly wondered about its possibility, at least. Whether you could really... make a potion to turn me into a girl." I shifted in my seat, still a little unbelieving I was saying that out loud. "Of course, I tried to cover all that up by acting like I was super offended by your arrogance."

"You weren't?", Cassia said with rare surprise. "Well, you fooled me there."

"Okay I was, but still..."

I fell silent, and Cassia stroked my head some more.

"So what do you think changed your mind?"

I sighed with a little embarrassment. "Come on, you don't know that...?"

"I don't deign to assume anything about anyone, dear. Granted, I can make reasonable guesses. Letting those guide me is how I do my job."

"What's your "reasonable guess" here, then?"

"Hmm." Cassia closed her eyes. "I can't quite see it clearly... Seems to be purple-ish, though..."

I groaned. I was constantly questioning her claim of "I'm a witch, not a mother."

"I understand what you were going for now," I told her. "But your behavior mostly just... irritated me. And it was hard to identify the real reason why, so it didn't really help. Yet when I met Violet... I realized I envied her, and wanted to live as blissfully as her. That's ridiculous to say about a girl you just met a few minutes ago, isn't it?"

"Oh, you shouldn't ask me. I'm an expert on saying things about girls I only met a few minutes ago," Cassia giggled.

I couldn't help but laugh along with her.

"We still haven't really... met much," I admitted. "But we should. Once I understood that you helped her be as happy as she is, I was able to trust you a lot more. I know she'll be really happy to hear that things worked out for me, too."

Then I looked down at the floor. "Still, um... other than that, I don't think I want anyone to know about this for now."

"Well, of course you don't have to tell anyone you don't want to," Cassia reminded me. "I didn't actually change you at all yet. You just had a really good smoothie; any response should've been purely emotional, and all you."

"Oh... right. But I mean, it still might be hard to keep it a..."

I looked up at her.

"...yet?"

——

A few weeks later, the door jingled, and a familiar guest walked in.

And behind them was Lily.

"Welcooooome! What brings you back to Cassia's shop, hmm?"

"...Good question," the uncertain guest replied. It was the client who had asked for the height potion some weeks ago. "But, uh, thanks for the potion before. It worked great!"

"Y-Yeah, aren't her potions the best?", Lily said with a smile.

Her friend looked at her. "Huh, did you come back and get one?"

"N... no," she stammered. "I mean, uh, I heard. I have it on good authority."

"...So seriously, why DID you invite me here?"

I decided I should step in. "Do you want to talk in private for a second?", I asked Lily.

She rapidly nodded, and followed me to the back room as her friend watched in confusion. It certainly would look strange to them, after the nonsense claim Lily had made.

We sat down. "So what's going on?"

"I... I want to tell him," Lily mumbled.

"Well, nothing's stopping you. Other than your silly lie, I guess, but I don't think your friend believes it much," I smiled.

"No, this is really hard, okay? So I wanted you to... help me out, you know?" She sighed. "You got me this far. So I feel like you'd have some advice, at least."

"Why did you choose this friend in particular?"

She seemed unprepared for the question. "Umm... I don't know. I just felt like he'd get it... and we've been friends for a long time..." She looked up at me. "Look, you taught me to be more impulsive. So don't blame me if I don't always think things through."

I giggled. "Well, I hope you manage to strike a better balance in the future, Lily."

"So what should I say? What should I do? ...And preferably you could like, set me up."

I thought about it. "I imagine it's hard for you to find the words, and I doubt your friend will like waiting out there while you write a novel. ...So how about a visual demonstration? You can show off what you've learned."

Lily recoiled. "N-No way. There's no way... I'm not ready for that."

"Ah, well... that's understandable. ...But would you like to show me?"

She considered it, then stood up and nodded.

After that day, I'd begun teaching Lily about transformation magic.

Technically, most of my potions were no more than "assists." They provided the required mana, and aided in the casting of a spell, and that's it. However, because many spells require more mana than people naturally have in their bodies, and spells can be difficult to execute, potions often help a lot.

But these things are not insurmountable barriers. One can train their body to hold more mana - monsters are often naturals at this, I find - and learn how spells are cast. With practice, all this can become second nature. And this is doubly the case with transformation: a body can adapt to its transformed state, requiring less and less mana to keep up the changes.

All this is to say... Lily showed me a beautiful transformation.

Her hair turned a more dazzling white, longer, and less unkempt. Her eyes seemed a little wider. Her gray hoodie and shorts disappeared, replaced with a flowing blue dress.

I wasn't a mind-reader, but I knew this. In that moment, Lily could fully believe in the fact that she was beautiful.

That's why my heart ached that I was one of only two she'd be able to think so around, and who she'd show this sight.

"I'm very impressed," I told her with all honesty. "And I can tell you're very satisfied, too."

She smiled and nodded.

"I really hope you start to feel like showing others soon." I put my arms up in a shrug. "I mean, really now. Aren't I just some stranger?"

She rubbed her neck. "Not at all... well, I mean. Or maybe that's exactly why I can show you."

"Oh?"

"You're a stranger who I have no history with," Lily explained. "I only know you as... someone who knows exactly what I want."

"Ahh, now that's not true," I said dismissively. "But I'll admit, it's nice to be thought of that way."

We stayed like this for a while, but both of us knew we were keeping someone waiting.

I broke the silence. "All right, let's go. I'll see what I can do."

Lily reluctantly untransformed, and we went back to the front.

"Oh, finally," her friend yawned as we entered. "Umm, is one of you going to finally tell me why I was invited?"

I walked up to them. "Well, first of all, you should know your friend did come back here with a request."

They looked at Lily, who blushed. "...Huh. Sure enough..."

"Now, I'm curious. What do you think it was your friend here wanted?"

They scratched their head and looked around nervously. "Well, uh... you want the truth?"

"I didn't ask you to lie, no."

They gulped. "Then... probably to turn into a girl, right?"

Lily nearly fell over. "HOW DOES EVERYONE KNOW???"

"Well, uh, this is gonna sound weird, 'cause like... it was a long time ago, but I totally remember you making jokes about what if you were a girl. Maybe you don't even remember that... but for some reason it stuck with me. Just, obviously I never knew if it actually meant anything. You know?"

Lily sighed.

"Yeah... it does."

And she brought the count up to three.

Her friend was blown away. "W-Wow...! You look great... um..."

"Lily," I answered for her.

"Lily... Thanks. ...Um, question?"

"...Yeah?", Lily replied.

"You two haven't been meeting up for that long, have you? Is it, uh..."

The room fell silent.

"...Is it that easy?"

——

Jingle, jingle, jingle.

"Ahh, looking cute today! What'll it be, girls?"

"Girl potions!"

"Technically they're just smoothies with mana supplements," Cassia corrected.

"Also known as girl potions."

"Well, maybe that can be the official name for this flavor," she giggled.

As Cassia got to work, we sat down on the center sofa, Violet to my left and Wren to my right. Which was probably a mistake, considering how Violet had been probing Wren for embarrassing stories about me the whole time... or entirely justified, for the same reason.

"So how's work, Lily?", Wren prompted me, possibly to cut off Violet's questioning.

"Well, some things don't change that much," I shrugged. "But I feel better about putting myself out there these days. And sometimes I get to know some... interesting customers," I coughed. "Plus, those "generous donations" have gotta come from somewhere, right?"

"If you put a bunch of girls in your debt, you'll never have to work a day in your life," snickered Cassia from behind the counter.

"You're living the dream, all right," Violet giggled.

I laughed too, though it struck me how ridiculous I would've found that weeks ago. "She's got you right where she wants you," I would've said. "This is the part she charges for, and how!"

But it wasn't like that. Cassia did an important job, presented us nothing but what we wanted and asked for, and we donated only what we cared to - to repay her, and help her continue that work.

It was that simple.

"...Makes you wonder why it took until now to get here," I mused aloud. "There's really nothing complex about this, is there?"

"Eh, well, people complicate things," Wren laughed dryly. "I mean, imagine. You were "joking" about being a girl... how long ago?"

"Way too long ago," I replied.

"You only thought those were jokes 'cause everyone else was laughing like they were." Wren sighed. "...'Course, I'm no exception on both sides of that."

"That's why the world needs people like Cassia!", Violet exclaimed. "She doesn't laugh at anyone's wish... She just smiles knowing it can be granted."

"Well put, Violet," Cassia smiled, turning back around. "You want to do advertising for me?"

"I haven't been already?!", she laughed.

Cassia handed out our potions, and we drank them. Violet seemed to be savoring hers, so Wren and I ended up talking while waiting for her.

"So, when Violet kept asking me about you earlier, I got to thinking... For as long as we've known each other, I kinda don't know you that well."

I rubbed my neck. "...Yeah, same here. I've always just kept to myself, so we've just been... around each other, mostly."

"Ain't that just how it goes. Your friend of over a decade doesn't know you, but a witch you've known for minutes does."

"That's different kinds of knowing, but yeah," I chuckled.

"Anyway, umm... we should work on that," Wren mumbled, twiddling her thumbs.

"Yeah, I mean, of course I think we'll hang out more now," I smiled. "And with Violet, too."

"...Yeah... uhh... totally what I meant."

I swear she gave me a glare... but of course, if we were going to get to know each other more, I would probably find out what that was about eventually.

Not long after that, we parted ways. But I felt like sticking around at Cassia's a little longer.

"Something up, Lily? Got a request you didn't want the girls to hear?", she grinned.

"Nah, I'm fine around them. I just wanted to talk a little. ...So like, is this your "real" job? Turning people into girls?"

"Hey, I've never turned anyone into anything they weren't already," she said defensively. "I'd have a way worse reputation otherwise."

"Well..." I looked down. "I could imagine you getting a bad reputation regardless. But I'm really glad you haven't, for all our sakes."

"I don't know about "real job," but I'll admit, it's a definite area of expertise," Cassia smiled. "When I was first talking with people about the idea of this job, many a mage recommended me potions of strife. Minimal effort for maximal results. You know, like how a business is supposed to work."

"As if this is a business," I quipped.

"Exactly! Who would I be to view my dear clients like that?", she said in a huff. "Now, when someone doesn't know what they want and I can't even guess, a potion of strife is the best I can do for them. Either that, or directing them elsewhere to get help. But the best case scenario is... well, hopefully it's what you now know. Being able to help my client discover what they want, comfortably, and on their own terms."

I smiled. "I certainly appreciate the effort."

"It's not a luxury I had personally, you see," she said with an uncommon hint of sadness. "So I want to grant it to others."

"That's really sweet of you, Cassia," I said, closing my eyes. "...I'd really love to do the same someday."

"Ahh," Cassia smiled, "now that's my real job."

I looked up at her. "How so?"

"It's not as if I'm the only one doing this work, you know? Violet was instrumental in helping you open up. Why, even you unwittingly brought in Wren." She raised a finger. "I believe that makes you all witches."

"...Witches, huh?"

"Despite how some describe us - evil old hags or what have you - there's nothing negative about being a witch. By my definition, a witch is simply someone who can be and do anything."

I thought that over, and then remembered.

Anything I can't do is impossible, and nothing is impossible.

What a wonderful way to look at it.

"...Why wouldn't everyone want to be a witch, then?", I asked.

Cassia patted my head.

"That's a real good question, Lily. You should ask people that more often."



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