Hello minna-san! I'm sure this new update has come as a shock to you. It definitely gave me some trouble, but it's finally out, and it's my longest chapter ever at 40+ pages. I can hardly believe The Road Less Traveled is finally finished! I hope it was worth the wait. The sorcerers are finally cornered and pressed to answer questions. The explanations might be a little tedious, but I tried to include some new information. It is very difficult to write a conversation between nine people, let me tell you. Enjoy!
Please, please, please review! It's your last chance.
I'm frightened by what I see
But somehow I know that there's much more to come
Immobilized by my fear
And soon to be blinded by tears
I can stop the pain if I will it all away…
Fallen angels at my feet
Whispered voices at my ea
Death before my eyes
Lying next to me I fear
She beckons me shall I give in
Upon my end shall I begin
Forsaking all I've fallen for I rise to meet the end.
I'm frightened by what I see
Tyrants smile with their last breath
For they know that at their death,
Tyranny just changes hands,
Serfdom lives on in their lands.
-Heinrich Heine, "King David"
Father, O Father, what do we here
In this land of unbelief and fear?
The land of dreams is better far,
Above the light of the morning star.
Nay, not without a wound in the spirit shall I leave this city…Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills…
-Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
Disconcerted by the all-consuming darkness, it took Sakura several moments to realize that she had stopped falling. It seemed, instead, that she hung in a black void, without even the faintest light. She opened her mouth to call out to the others, and then stopped herself. If there were other people out there, other things….
Sakura sent out her awareness instead, touching on the welcoming minds of Eriol and Syaoran, passing those of the wizards and witches, and reaching further. She stiffened, squeaking in distress as her hair stood on end.
"Hoe," she whimpered, the noise lost in the minor chaos that erupted from the Hogwarts group as they realized that "Lumos" didn't work. There were dead people floating around in there. Not ghosts – she would definitely be screaming then – or spirits, but corpses.
Kami-sama, but she was creeped out.
"Lumos solem!" One of the younger witches was beginning to sound a bit hysterical as the light spells continued to not work when Eriol brought Sakura's attention back to the present.
"Sakura-chan, if you would?" he said in his cultured voice, sounding perfectly composed.
"Ah! Gomen." She gripped her staff, and withdrew one of her cards. "Glow!"
Immediately, and to the relief of everyone, small balls of glowing light hovered at various heights in midair, enough that they could see each other clearly. To Sakura's relief, no corpses were near enough to be visible.
"Harry!" screamed Ginny, and everyone's attention was diverted to the unconscious form of the Boy-Who-Lived.
"Stand back," Minerva ordered as she knelt down beside Harry, and everyone but Dumbledore immediately obeyed. Turning the boy onto his back, the two inhaled sharply.
"What?" Ron demanded. "What's wrong with him?"
"He's been poisoned," the Transfiguration Mistress whispered, tracing the cut that glowed a sickly green.
"No, no, Harry," moaned Hermione. "He can't be. He can't."
"You must be able to do something," Ginny protested helplessly. "His life is finally his own, he defeated You-Know-Who. This isn't fair."
"I am sorry, Miss Weasley," Albus said softly, his blue eyes betraying his sorrow, "but no one has been able to create an antidote. And even if there was something that could be done, we are trapped here in this space."
Sakura bit her lip. She couldn't heal him, she wasn't strong enough now. But there was something she could do. Glancing at her two companions, the Card Mistress sought out and received their acceptance, however reluctantly on Syaoran's part. "There is something that can be done," she spoke at last. "But the outcome relies on your strength of will."
The children jumped, having failed to notice the sorcerers' presence.
"B-but," Ron stuttered artlessly. "You're dead!"
Sakura looked down at herself. "Not really. I underestimated the power in that curse, though, and nearly didn't get a second shield up in time. I certainly have the bruise to prove it."
The red-headed boy's eyes bugged out, and the brunette seemed speechless.
"Now," Sakura said quickly, hoping to move past her apparently impossible feat. "Choose two from among you, one to hold Harry's arms and the other to hold his legs. You must care for him, love him, for this to work, and you must not let go of him, whatever happens."
Ron and Hermione spared barely a glance before stepping forward.
"We've been with Harry from the beginning," she said, voice soft and determined, "and we'll be with him to the end."
Sakura nodded, regarding the pair solemnly. "Do you know the tale of Tam Lin?"
Ron turned to Hermione who nodded apprehensively.
"Can you hold onto him in spite of the terror and pain?" Sakura asked. "You must be sure. There is no shame if you cannot. Harry Potter will not survive if you let him go."
"I can," they said, almost in unison.
"All right," the sorceress murmured. "Hold onto him." They did so, and though Sakura did not make any overt signs of working magic, the air around them seemed weighed down with the force of it.
And then the body of Harry Potter warped and melted in a way that was nauseating to watch, until his two closest friends were struggling to cling to a serpent nearly as large as the basilisk had been. Hermione dug her fingernails into the scaly body as it tried to fling her away, while Ron hugged the tail close, ignoring how it whipped him about. The creature was difficult to hold onto, wiggling as it was, and it nearly escaped before the next transformation.
And those who were not a part of the struggle could do nothing but watch, no matter the burning curiosity directed at the three strangers. Almost without noticing, Ginny sought comfort in Minerva's robes, while the woman gripped Albus' arm.
Sakura watched fiercely. They can do this, she thought. They will do this. Willing it to be true.
Eriol chanted under his breath the last verses from the ancient ballad:
They'll turn me in your arms, lady,
Into an esk and adder;
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I am your bairn's father.
They'll turn me to a bear sae grim,
And then a lion bold;
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
And ye shall love your child.
Again they'll turn me in your arms
To a red het gand of airn;
But hold me fast, and fear me not,
I'll do to you nae harm.
And last they'll turn me in your arms
Into the burning gleed;
Then throw me into well water,
O throw me in with speed.
The snake shifted, melted in that dizzying, sickening way and the young witch and wizard found themselves clinging to the hairy legs of a giant spider. Ron whimpered, but refused to release the person who had become a brother to him. Hermione screamed as the pincers snapped at her, dripping a strange fluid, but she kept hold of him. "Harry!" she shouted, because that was all she could do, and imagined the friendly boy with messy black hair and sparkling green eyes.
They had to save him. They had to. He had given up so much, done so much for others. They owed it to him. They wanted him in their lives.
The spider transformed into a lion that released a deafening roar that shook their very bones, and the pair trembled. The brunette witch jerked her head to the side so that the creature's jaws closed on her bushy hair. Ron bit back a warning, and then gasped as the lion lashed out with its back legs, scoring three lines of blood down his side. His fingers slipped, and he desperately latched onto the lashing tail before he completely lost Harry.
The lion roared again, but Ron determinedly ignored it as he inched his way back to where he could grasp the legs. He had barely touched the golden fur before it changed to gray.
The wolf let loose a chilling howl, but there was something…off about it. And then Hermione realized what was wrong and wished she hadn't. "Werewolf," she gasped, and Ron's face lost all color when he heard. It reared back the paw Hermione hadn't been able to hold, and swatted at her. She shrieked, fearing that it had cracked a rib, but she was frozen with terror, couldn't let go even if she wanted to. It wrenched its top half about and the witch abruptly found herself airborne, swinging onto its back. She managed to get the werewolf into a sort of chokehold, one arm wrapped around its throat, and the other under its arm.
A thought struck her. Was this form that of a true werewolf? If it bit her….
She nearly let go. Then she remembered. This was Harry's life hanging in the balance. He was worth it.
When it transformed she slipped forward and off the back, but still she held on. Within her arms was a long, slender neck, and when the creature hissed, Hermione feared Harry had become another serpent. Then she realized that she also held the point where a wing merged with a body. It was only a swan, though a rather large one. Then it beat the two about the head with its powerful wings, and Hermione saw that she had underestimated the bird. Ron had as well, it seemed, for he shouted in a panicked tone and lunged for the webbed feet. One wing caught him on the temple, and he saw stars.
"Harry!" Hermione shrieked, watching with horror the dazed, concussed look in Ron's eyes as his hands tightened convulsively around the legs. "Harry stop! Please!"
Sakura watched them, hands covering her mouth. "Almost done," she whispered. "Almost done."
"Please," Minerva breathed, gripping Albus' arm tightly. "Please," they prayed.
The bird, entrapped by the young man and woman, shrank until it became an iron bar, glowing cherry red with heat. Hermione sobbed in pain as the hot metal seared her hands. "C'mon, mate," Ron choked out. "That's enough." Their tears dripped onto the bar, sizzling every time they connected with the hot iron. At last, after what seemed an eternity, the glow burst into a blinding flash of light. When they at last could see, their eyes immediately fell on the young, black-haired wizard.
His bright green eyes fluttered open, and he groaned as he sat up. "Uh, hey guys," he said uncertainly, looking from Hermione to Ron and taking in their strange expressions. "What's going on?"
"Harry!" Hermione shrieked and threw herself at him.
"'Mione," he gasped. "Need…breathe…."
She let go with an embarrassed expression, and Harry took in a deep breath only to lose it as Ron slapped him on the back. "You almost died, mate," he explained, swiping away tears. "It's good to have you back."
He helped the confused wizard to his feet as the professors and Ginny approached, all looking relieved and grateful beyond words. Harry rubbed the back of his head, embarrassed by all the attention. Then he caught sight of the three sorcerers. "You!" he gasped, staring at Sakura.
"Me?" the Card Mistress asked, looking confused.
"I saw you with that bard."
And once again the focus returned to the mysterious strangers.
"Ah," she said, scratching her head sheepishly. "You saw that. I really am bad at this sneaking around thing."
"I only caught a glance of you," Harry said.
"My hands!" Ron exclaimed suddenly, staring at them, and then prodded his side. "And my robes! I'm not bleeding."
"My hands are fine as well," Hermione said with a frown. "They don't even ache."
"The pain was mental rather than physical," Eriol explained briefly. "They were an illusion."
"I think," Dumbledore said in a tone that brooked no argument, "that it is time you told us who and what you are."
"Not a demon," Sakura mumbled petulantly, remembering the staff meeting she had crashed.
The Headmaster's lips twitched. "I assure, I thought nothing of the sort," he informed her gravely. "Now. Explanations."
Sakura looked helplessly at Syaoran, who was glowering at everyone, and then faced the elderly wizard. "Gomen nasai. Eigo ga wakarimasen." She gave them a confused little smile.
"But you," Ron sputtered indignantly before a sharp glance from Professor McGonagall stopped him.
"Daijoubu," the Animagus stated calmly. "Nihongo wo hanasemasu."
Sakura sighed resignedly. "I forgot about that. Would you believe that this was a mass hallucination?"
They weren't buying it. Not even the gullible red-head.
"Damn," Syaoran muttered. He hadn't really thought that would work, and neither had Sakura, but they had hoped.
"Perhaps," Dumbledore suggested mildly, with a steely look in his eye that said they would not sidetrack him, "we should begin with what we do know. You are Sakura Kinomoto, the girl who found and cared for Minerva in her cat form, and you have recently taken to haunting Hogwarts."
Sakura bowed in greeting.
"You," he gestured at the boy who bore a remarkable resemblance to Harry Potter, "are Eriol Hiiragizawa, and despite living in London, have taken up temporary residence at the Ministry?"
Eriol performed a flourishing little bow, his infuriatingly knowing grin firmly in place.
Albus turned to the last member of the trio. "You are Syaoran Li, I believe. And if the trend continues, then you must have been spying among the ranks of the Death Eaters. Perhaps the helpful benefactor who assisted in our Madame Hooch's escape?"
Syaoran gave them a short, sharp nod, expression unreadable.
"My, my. It seems your reputation for omniscience was well-earned," Eriol commented, seemingly delighted for some unfathomable reason.
Syaoran shot him a disgusted look.
"But not completely accurate," Albus replied. "For I have no idea just what you three are."
Sakura sighed, and at last spoke reluctantly. "We are sorcerers."
Harry was puzzled by the response this caused in his companions. Hermione gasped as Ron and Ginny took a step backward. Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall exchanged glances loaded with a meaning he didn't understand. Having only heard of sorcerers from the tales Bran the Bard had sung only a few days ago, he had no idea of the reasons behind the reactions.
"What's going on?" he asked at last.
Hermione, as always, took it upon herself to explain. "Harry, sorcerers are said to have power beyond imagining, and in all of the stories, things always ended badly for the wizard or witch who encountered them. They were thought to be a myth."
"But," Harry protested, frowning a little, "those songs we heard from the Bard. All of the sorcerers there were good, or most of them, anyway."
"And what is little known," interrupted Minerva, "is that in the older, original versions of the stories in the Wizarding literature, the sorcerers were generally helpers rather than antagonists."
"Mum used to tell stories," Ginny said, and Ron nodded in agreement. "Sorcerers would come for naughty children and steal them away."
The adults were able to pick out the flicker of pain in the green eyes of Sakura as she traded incredulous glances with her boyfriend.
Eriol, it seemed, was amused. "What would we do with them?"
Ginny and Ron looked at him with equal parts uncertainty and fear.
"The children," he clarified. "What on earth would we do with them?"
"Be that as it may," Dumbledore said at last, drawing conversation to a halt. "You have done much for Minerva, and the rest of us. We are certainly in your debt." It was a subtle reprimand, and Hermione and the Weasleys looked chastened.
Sakura smiled at him, and it was brilliant and guileless. He couldn't help smiling back.
"Maybe we should find a way out of here before answering questions," she suggested.
"If you have any ideas, then please share," Dumbledore said, gesturing expansively. "I'm afraid I am at a complete loss."
Eriol adopted a thoughtful look. "Sakura, did you sense anything?"
She shivered. "There are quite a few dead bodies. Although one person is still alive, but he seemed strange. There was no thought, no activity, nothing."
Eriol nodded. "As I thought. They are in stasis, as we would have been had we entered through the proper door. Since Voldemort sent us here through unknown means, we bypassed the door altogether, and so were not put into stasis. We'll have to remember to bring that person with us when we leave."
"But how?" Hermione asked, curiosity overcoming her apprehension. "I doubt Apparition or Portkeys would work."
"We shouldn't throw our power around either," Syaoran said unexpectedly. He had been so silent and formidable until then that the children jumped in surprise. "The leader may be gone, but the army remains. Particular around Hogwarts."
Eriol nodded. "We'll have to adapt a few spells, perhaps a ritual. Sakura, how much time do we have?"
She frowned. "It's urgent that we return as soon as possible. But the feeling is strange as well. I think time passes differently in here."
"We'll go quickly then," the half-reincarnation said, "but we won't rush things. Why don't you recharge yourself while my cute little descendant and I work through this?"
"Don't kill each other," Sakura ordered sternly as Syaoran glared at the other man with murder in his eyes. The wizards looked confused.
"Wait," said Harry slowly, brow furrowed in confusion. "What exactly did we do to Voldemort. I…remember fighting, but everything seems rather…blurred."
"You're right," Hermione said, frowning. "It's almost like we were Confunded."
"Do you know what happened to us?" Ginny asked the sorcerers suspiciously.
"We did nothing to you if that's what you suspect," Syaoran said sharply.
"If you were meant to remember," Eriol said quietly, "then you would."
And that was that.
Sakura moved away a few feet to give the two privacy to work, while assuring the group that it was nothing to worry about, when Eriol's voice stopped her.
"You've been draining yourself quite a bit this week, haven't you Sakura-chan?"
"O-only once or twice," she stammered, wondering where he was taking this.
"What was it you dreamed?"
Syaoran looked up, eyes narrowed. That would explain why Sakura pushed herself so hard. She knew better than to exhaust her magic like that, and to do it repeatedly.
"A castle in ruins," she said, eyes haunted and voice hollow. She should have known better than to dip into the current of fate. It took days, sometimes weeks, before she stopped dreaming the future. "A lake red with the blood of hundreds. Fire and death in the streets of London, and a black cloud engulfing the countryside."
"Hogwarts?" gasped Ginny. "The Wizarding World?"
Even Minerva, who was well-known for her dislike of Divination, looked shaken.
"I had to stop it before it came to that," Sakura said.
Minerva thought back to her short time with the thoughtful, sweet girl and knew that there was no evil in her. Her apprehension, caused by the countless stories that placed sorcerers in a bad light, dissipated, and she stepped forward to hug the girl.
The four students gaped at the unusual display from their stern Head of House. They may have suspected this side of her existed, but they had rarely seen her like this.
"You saved my life at least twice, and because of you the Wizarding World did not fall. I am in your debt, Sakura," she said quietly. "And yours," she added looking up at Eriol and Syaoran.
Albus contemplated life without his deputy, and his heart lurched at the thought. He would give anything to keep her safe. He was resolved that whatever they needed, if it was within his power, they would have.
"We all are," he said, eyes twinkling as she blushed a bright red.
With a flick of their wands, the two adults easily created enough chairs for everyone.
"I, um, have a question," Hermione said hesitantly, half raising her hand.
"Yes?" Sakura asked with a friendly smile.
"Well, why are those two creating a means of escaping and not you as well?" She looked as though she expected Sakura to be angry, but the Japanese girl simply laughed.
"Syaoran has been trained for this almost since he was born," she explained. "And Eriol has decades, maybe centuries, of experience with the intricacies of magic. I didn't discover my power until I was nine, and my in-depth training didn't really start until a few years later. Because I have so much magic, I generally power the spells when needed, like a battery."
"Er…how old is Eriol?" Harry asked hesitantly.
Sakura hesitated. "Eriol is a special case. For all intents and purposes he's 18, the same age as Syaoran and me. Technically, I believe he is about the same age as my father. His memories, though, come from a sorcerer who was centuries old when he passed away."
Dumbledore leaned forward, fascinated by this insight into a magic that was vastly different from his own. "How is that possible?"
"He is the reincarnation – the half reincarnation – of an extremely famous and powerful sorcerer named Clow Reed," she said. "Clow was the only sorcerer to combine eastern and western magic, and he created cards containing powerful spirits. He lived for several centuries until, I suppose, he grew tired of life. At that point he reincarnated himself in two people: Eriol and my father. However, Eriol received all of the memories and most of the magic, and it weighed on him. I managed to fix that eventually, though."
"How long do you live?!" Ron asked incredulously, only to receive an elbow in the ribs from both Hermione and Ginny.
The Card Mistress chuckled. "No one really knows what determines our life span. Magical power has something to do with it, but that is all we are sure about. Low-level sorcerers, about on the level of your Headmaster" – she nodded at him in acknowledgment – "rarely live beyond the normal human life span. Honestly, it varies."
"How powerful are you?" Ginny asked curiously, and they all looked eager for the answer.
Sakura began looking rather nervous, and her eyes darted over to where Syaoran and Eriol were drawing complex symbols in the air. "I – er – we are all in the upper range, except Eriol isn't at the moment since he gave half of his power to Tomoyo-chan to use since she didn't have any and wanted to help, and we wanted her here, of course…" She became aware that she was babbling and stopped. "That is, the three of us are fairly powerful."
She really didn't want them to know she was more or less the most powerful sorceress in existence. The students were nervous enough as it was.
From the looks a few of them were giving her, particularly the professors, they knew she wasn't saying everything, but they moved on.
"Well why didn't you just kill Voldemort and his Death Eaters, then?" Ron asked belligerently, and winced when Hermione kicked his ankle.
"There are limits even to our power," Sakura replied. "And Voldemort was tied to Potter-san in such a way that if anyone else killed him, Potter-san would die as well." The Hogwarts contingent exchanged horrified glances.
"Besides," Eriol interjected from where he had been eavesdropping, "magic doesn't fix everything. Just look at us. Tomoyo's obsessive-compulsive, Sakura's dense, Touya's overprotective, Kero's a glutton, Syaoran's overly hostile – "
"Die," Syaoran growled.
"Eriol has an identity crisis," Sakura interjected.
"Hell, he is an identity crisis," Syaoran muttered.
Minerva was the only one who managed to follow most of what they were talking about. The others decided it was better not to ask.
There was one thing bothering Harry, though. "You mentioned that he, "he gestured to blue-haired sorcerer, "gave part of his magic to…Tomoyo?…but why would he need to do that?"
Syaoran sat down next to Sakura, who abandoned her chair to sit with him, leaning back and resting against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her waist with an absentminded intimacy. He and Eriol had decided to take it in turns to develop the spell, so that they could look at it with fresh eyes.
Hermione and Ginny had to suppress an "awww," and even Minerva's eyes softened at the scene.
"Because she doesn't have any magic," Syaoran stated as though it were obvious.
"Although she is so observant that it seems like magic at times," his girlfriend admitted ruefully.
Everyone reacted with surprise, and even shock, at the revelation.
"You can do that?" Ginny breathed.
"With certain people," Sakura nodded. "But the – what do you call them? – Muggle who has the ability to borrow magic safely is extremely rare."
Hermione's brilliant mind was obviously considering the implications of this information. "How do you interact with Muggles, then?" she asked. "When is it okay to tell them about magic? How do you handle the Muggles that find out about it? Can you all alter memories?" She trailed off, wincing inwardly at the Chinese boy's expression.
Syaoran stiffened. "It is taboo among our people to mess with the minds of others, particularly those who have no protection against it. It is only permissible in life or death situations, and scant few others. If a sorcerer is foolish enough or careless enough to allow someone to witness them working magic, then it is not the innocent bystander who should be punished."
Sakura lightly stroked his arm, and he calmed beneath her touch. "Most people think they're imagining things, anyway," she continued for Syaoran. "If it doesn't fit into their worldview, their subconscious tends to explain it away."
Minerva watched the ease with which the two interacted, their love for one another obvious, and she was forced to suppress a flash of jealousy. She wished, often, that Albus could love her in such a way. Glancing to the side, her eyes met his, and she couldn't know that his thoughts mirrored hers.
"True," Hermione agreed, looking thoughtful.
"What I would like to know," Minerva said, forcing her attention back to the present, "is why you chose sneak and hide rather than make yourselves known."
Dumbledore nodded and smiled fondly at his Deputy. "I admit to being curious as well," he commented.
Syaoran and Sakura exchanged glances and looked over to where Eriol had just finished tracing out an elaborate glowing circle of occult symbols. "Your turn," he said cheerfully, and the Li clan leader eased out from behind Sakura, while Eriol took Sakura's chair.
"That part was your idea, so you explain," Sakura stated.
He grinned that grin that made someone want to wring his neck. "Ah, well," he said. "It was much simpler not having to go through a lot of red tape. We knew very little about wizards, you see, and we hadn't the faintest idea how you would react. Particularly since you had magically isolated yourself centuries ago, and most magic users had forgotten your existence, as you had forgotten theirs.
"Also, people react more naturally when they don't know they're being observed," he added.
Ron appeared to be examining Eriol closely. "Slytherin," he pronounced at last. "Definitely Slytherin."
"Why, thank you," the sorcerer replied, not in the least perturbed.
Hermione sighed at the insanity of it all, and barely restrained herself from rolling her eyes as Harry grinned faintly and Ginny snickered.
Minerva's scrutiny fell upon the two friends who waited patiently for the next question. "Why are you answering our questions so freely?" she asked at last. "Surely you are not so trusting with your secrets."
Sakura blinked in surprise, before replying. "You deserve to know about us as we have learned about you. And we are not imparting secrets; or at least, these things are well-known among most magical beings. The race of sorcerers are the caretakers of the world, and one of the last lines of defense, in a sense. When a problem or threat can no longer be dealt with, so that it spills over and affects other races who are not related to it, it is our duty to resolve that problem. That is why we are so powerful. Your magical creatures, at least, should know what we are, but it seems that living in the Wizarding World is causing them to forget.
"Your phoenix, for one," she said to the Headmaster, "should never have attacked me. As such a powerful and intelligent creature of Light, a phoenix would never attack a sorcerer unless he or she had gone rogue. He should have remembered our race even if those creatures of the forest did not. The fact that he remembered too late, that I needed to remind him, is worrisome."
"It seems that your magical isolation affects the magical creatures of your world as well as the witches and wizards," Eriol commented with a slight frown.
Harry considered their words, his brow furrowed. "When you say 'magical isolation' do you mean more than the fact that the Wizarding World is hidden from non-magical eyes?" he asked at last.
Eriol nodded approvingly. "Yes, I do. I had a friend do a test on DNA samples we obtained from several different witches and wizards and we found that there is a certain magic bonded to the DNA that implied a spell had been cast over the wizarding race as a whole, quite a long time in the past."
"I'll explain later," Hermione whispered to the Weasleys, who were looking quite blank at the information.
"We deduced that your isolation was reinforced by magic," he continued. "It could be overcome or worked around, if one so chose, but the other races respected your right to decide your own fate. After a time, magic users forgot wizards existed, and wizards forgot that they were not the only ones who could wield magic; the spell facilitated this. Even now, our purely magical attacks have not killed a wizard unless there was an enormous amount of power behind it."
"There are ways to get around it," Syaoran commented darkly.
Ginny shivered at his tone.
"Hiiragizawa, Sakura, we're ready. You may want to check it over."
The two stood and motioned for the others to do the same. "Come," Sakura said lightly. "I think it's time to go back. You just need to stand in the circle."
The wizards observed the glowing creation with interest. Although they did not know it, it was similar to the magical circles that appeared beneath Sakura and Eriol when they used their staves. The large group did not seem to stand on it, so much as it glowed in the darkness centimeters beneath their feet. Strange symbols and geometric lines cut through the glowing design. It aesthetically pleasing as well as complicated.
The Card Mistress glanced over it, and it looked fine to her. But then, she was no expert. "You added the extra person?" she asked.
"We tacked him on over there," Syaoran said, waving vaguely. "He'll be pulled along when we leave."
"So no other wizards know about you?" Harry asked quietly as the two young men checked for accuracy one last time.
"Ano…well… there was one other person," Sakura mumbled.
"Who?" Hermione questioned curiously as the others paused to listen.
"…Lupin-sensei." Sakura hoped this wouldn't get him into trouble. "I only revealed myself to him to break his curse, and that was just yesterday. I made him promise to keep me a secret until the battle was over."
Harry, to his surprise as well as everyone else's, hugged the sorceress. "Thank you," he said. "It was hard to see someone like him suffer for something that wasn't his fault."
Dumbledore chuckled and said, "I should have known. We saw him transform right as the fight began and had no time for questions."
"I have one last question," Minerva said hesitantly before Sakura activated the spell. "I hope I don't offend, but why send people who are so young to investigate an unknown society, particularly one in the middle of a war?"
This was, apparently, the right question. Sakura flinched and froze in place, Syaoran stiffened almost unnoticeably, and Eriol's calm air seemed to shift slightly.
The butterflies began when Tomoyo was left alone. She had never been this nervous in any of her previous adventures with Sakura. But then, Sakura had always been there to protect her and their opponents hadn't been killers. Now, she was alone, their last line of defense. Her friends didn't really think anything too powerful or evil would make it past them, but it was always better to be prepared.
Shortly after Sakura, Syaoran, and Eriol left, the alarms went off. Taking a deep breath to calm herself and retain her composure, Tomoyo stepped out of the abandoned guest room. The halls were full as frightened children streamed by. The staircases all moved and froze in place, leading down below the dungeons to the secret catacombs. The caretaker, Argus Filch, led the way, while a few of the professors, including Snape, herded them along and guarded their backs.
Tomoyo let the vast majority go by before following near the end. Attack was more likely to come from the rear.
In the crowd she was rather inconspicuous, and Sakura had lent her a witch's robe. With fear so prevalent, she would be virtually unseen unless she appeared to be a threat.
She lost track of how long they had been walking when the large group paused. Tomoyo stood on tiptoe, trying to see above the mass of heads in front of her, and managed to catch sight of a gigantic set of doors. She couldn't make out who opened the doors or how, but at last the students began moving forward again. The doors were thicker than the entrance to the Great Hall, Tomoyo noted with approval. Flickering firelight illuminated a large stone chamber as heavy bolts slid into place. It looked as if it had been built to withstand a siege.
There was nothing they could do but wait. Nervous whispering filled the room with a hissing sound as small groups of friends formed.
The purple-haired girl slipped into the shadows against the wall. It took a moment for her to slip into a meditative state, but remaining there was simple. Time seemed to disappear as she breathed slowly and steadily. At the edges of her senses she could feel the warm auras of her friends. Not wanting to alarm or distract them, Tomoyo simply felt them, comforted by their existence.
It might have been a moment or an eternity, but she was jolted back into full consciousness when Sakura, Syaoran, and Eriol seemed to disappear, along with a somewhat large portion of the forces that had been fighting outside of the castle.
Pushing away her worry, Tomoyo collected herself enough to sense that the Guardians were still here. She imagined that they were as concerned as she was, but they didn't have the luxury to search. The young woman might have done so herself, had she known how to extend her senses far enough. Eriol had only gone over the basics, and she only had time to learn what he thought she would need, complexity mixed with simplicity.
She would trust them, Tomoyo decided. She would wait for them to return to her, because they would never abandon her for any reason. They would be fine.
Less than half an hour later she felt it. A wave of powerful and evil magic washed over her, nearly bringing her to her knees. Even the witches and wizards felt it, she noticed, as they shivered and looked around in confusion.
Something was coming. Tomoyo fisted her cloak and swallowed convulsively. Something powerful and very, very evil. Hesitantly she tried to feel what the creature was, and nearly gagged. It was like wading through sewage, thick and oozing, and as she pushed closer, she was overwhelmed with its desire to cause blood and pain and torture. To eat and drink of death and decay until it was bloated on the misery.
Oh Kami-sama, she thought, trembling from head to toe. I have to stop it, and I have no idea how. She needed to go up, needed to get to the top of the battlements to at least see what was coming and try to slow it down. But she couldn't alarm the students.
Picking the first adult she saw who was in the shadows and out of the immediate view of the children, Tomoyo approached Severus Snape.
"I need to get to the battlements," she told him quietly, without preamble. "I need to go up so that I can see what is happening."
The Potions Master's black eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Who are you?" he hissed. "What are you doing here?"
Her amethyst eyes bored into his as she spoke. "I am here to protect the children should anything get past the defenses. You can feel the thing coming, you must feel it. I'm the only one left who may be able to deal with it."
He scowled, but Tomoyo caught a flicker of fear in his eyes and the barest hint of a shudder. He could feel it, whether or not he wanted to believe it, and he knew it was too powerful for them.
"The castle must be full of Death Eaters by now, girl," he sneered. "And I do not trust you."
"Not one of you knew I was here," Tomoyo reminded him. "If I had wanted to, I could have killed any of you. You do not need to trust me, but you do need to take me up. Or do you not know the castle better than any interlopers?" She forced an amused smile, and it seemed to work.
They could not leave unnoticed through such large and heavy doors, but Professor Snape's glare kept any from approaching or questioning as he slipped out with a purple-haired companion.
The journey up the flights of stairs was much longer than going down had been. Several groups of Death Eaters had slipped into the castle and were searching for inhabitants, itching to kill. Tomoyo completely lost any sense of direction as the tall wizard led her through a dizzying array of secret passages and hidden staircases. More often than not they were forced to circle around Death Eaters or hide in the nooks and crannies of the large stone castle. But Tomoyo was silent and inconspicuous, and Snape had learned early on how to move silently and avoid detection. In spite of several close calls, the pair made it out into the open several stories above ground.
They immediately noticed the creature and wished they hadn't. It was larger than the giants, towering over Hogwarts. She had known whatever was coming was powerful, but she hadn't thought it could be so gigantic. Horns curled over its forehead, and claws longer than Tomoyo was tall extended from hands and feet, as its fangs glinted in the light of the moon. Its body seemed to suck in all light, like a black hole, and although it was difficult to make out specific features, something looked very wrong, as if it had too many joints and its limbs seemed out of proportion with its body.
"Merlin," Severus breathed, sickened by the very sight of the unnatural being. It seemed not even to notice the humans and beasts as it made its way to the castle. Human and creature of the forest, all screamed and fled from its path, a nightmare come to life. Whole swathes of living beings died beneath its feet.
Tomoyo opened her mouth to speak and her voice cracked. Trying again, "Evacuate the children." She bit her lip. "I'll try to slow that – that thing down, but you need to get them out of there."
He nodded and ran. Now was not the time to argue.
Alone now, she wracked her brain for something, anything, that any of her friends might have mentioned, any clue to what this thing was and how to stop it. She noticed, with some relief, that Kero-chan was coming quickly, the other Guardians some ways behind him.
His expression frightened her. Kero – cheerful, optimistic Kero-chan – should never look like that.
"What is it?" she asked quietly as he leaned against her side to lend her some comfort.
"It's a demon," he replied. "This Dark Lord is insane. It's been centuries since one was summoned. Even rogue sorcerers will never consider doing such a thing."
"How do we stop it?" she asked, and she heard her voice as if from a great distance. Was she going into shock? Or was she so terrified that she was beyond fear?
For one awful moment Tomoyo thought he would say they couldn't. And then he said, "We do whatever we can and hope we get lucky. It will take tremendous power. If we can defeat it, it will not be able to sustain itself in this dimension. If only we had some sort of artifact the demon hunters once used."
Tomoyo gripped Keroberos' golden fur as Yue, Ruby Moon, and Spinel Sun arrived, all looking weary and just a little frightened. "Zettai daijoubu da yo," she whispered.
Why send people who are so young to investigate an unknown society, particularly one in the middle of a war?
Why send people who are so young to investigate an unknown society, particularly one in the middle of a war?
The question hung in the air for a long moment before the sorcerers answered at last.
"We were the ones to discover the Wizarding World," the Chinese boy said flatly, "so we took up responsibility to investigate. The less who knew about it the better, at least until we could sort things out."
Dumbledore seemed not to notice the tone that said 'drop it' and asked, "Will you not get in trouble with your government or leaders?"
Sakura coughed lightly. "We are the future leaders of the sorcerers, if not leaders right now," she said uncomfortably.
"But how can that be?" Hermione questioned, astonished. "You're barely older than we are, and you must just be starting college."
"Ano…well, Eriol's background rather speaks for itself," Sakura replied. "And Syaoran is the leader of the Li clan, the last true clan of sorcerers and the most prominent. And I'm…um…the most powerful sorcerer in existence."
Even Dumbledore was hard-pressed not to gape, and Ron couldn't refrain from choking. The amount of power they were speaking of was almost beyond anything a wizard or witch could imagine. Not to mention Sakura looked completely harmless and perhaps a little naïve.
"She mastered and upgraded the magic of Clow," Eriol said, and the two sorcerers looked at her proudly. "One of her formal titles is Card Mistress."
Sakura gave them a quick, nervous smile. "Surprise?" she said weakly.
"Fascinating," murmured Albus once he had recovered. His respect for the three had, in fact, grown. "We simply must exchange tales when this is over."
Minerva looked over her charges, all of whom appeared awed and apprehensive. She would need to have a talk with them, she decided. Remind them that they, like Harry, were still just people. Sakura looked unsure enough as it was. "I think we would all like that," she said with a decisive nod.
Sakura smiled. "It would be our pleasure. And don't worry, even among the sorcerers we're rather unique."
"Is everybody ready?" Eriol asked.
There was a round of assent.
"Right," he said, and launched into a series of strange words. The glowing circle brightened, and they felt a sudden vertigo, as though they were falling though they hadn't moved.
They closed their eyes and when they opened them, Harry and his friends found themselves in a room that was horribly familiar.
"Harry," Ginny murmured sympathetically to the young wizard who was transfixed by the fluttering veil.
"The Department of Mysteries," Ron stated blankly.
"Really," Eriol said with faint interest, looking up from the unconscious body of the man they had dragged along. "So this is what was behind the doors. I was rather curious."
"What," Harry began, turning to face the enigmatic sorcerer. He choked and his face lost all color. "Sirius!" he shouted, and knelt by the careworn man.
"So you know him?" Eriol began when Sakura interrupted him. The moment they returned to reality, the itching feeling that they needed to return quickly had transformed into a full blown roar that resounded in her very bones. She could hardly keep still, so powerful was the feeling.
"Eriol, we need to go," she said frantically. "We need to go now."
Neither Eriol nor Syaoran had ever heard her so desperate and panicked. With a strength that surprised many, Li slung the unconscious and battered man over his shoulder and turned to the wizards.
"Quickly," he said. "Show us the way out."
Sakura's panic was catching, and they ran out of the bare chamber and entered a room full of tables and shelves littered with strange objects. Eriol, near the middle of the line, paused at the sight of a golden torc and swiped it, quietly exclaiming, "So this is where that went." He noticed Hermione's scandalized look and Sakura's questioning one. "I've been looking for that for centuries," he explained briefly.
In a round, spinning room with several doors, they ran into two of the Aurors young and inexperienced enough that they had been left behind to guard the Ministry building. The Aurors stopped, shocked by the sight the group presented.
"Here," Syaoran said, unceremoniously dumping Sirius into their arms as he ran past, ignoring Harry's outraged expression.
"Wh-what?" one of the guards stuttered incoherently.
"Take him to St. Mungo's immediately, and watch over him," Albus ordered, losing the dotty grandfather act and reminding them that he was considered one of the greatest wizards of the time. With no time for social niceties, he didn't hesitate to search their minds for any indication that they would harm Sirius or conveniently "forget" that he had been proven innocent posthumously.
Sirius had just begun to stir when Albus decided that they would do as he said, and left the injured wizard in the Aurors' hands.
Minerva had continued when the Headmaster paused, and she led the group to the Apparition area. He caught up only a moment later.
"Can you follow us when we Apparate?" he asked the sorcerers.
"You lead and we'll follow," Syaoran agreed.
Dumbledore turned to his students. "You will Apparate, but let me guide you."
They nodded, faces grim.
"Ready?" He grabbed Minerva's arm in his left and Harry's with his right, waiting a moment until they were all connected. "Apparate."
The Hogwarts group turned on the spot and disappeared with a pop, Sakura, Eriol, and Syaoran following silently. They reappeared between the lake and the forest with a clear view of the castle.
"Merlin!" Dumbledore swore, stunned. The others couldn't believe what was happening, and Minerva was too stunned to even speak, though tears glimmered in her green eyes. "The children," she choked out at last, and turned to lay her head on Albus' shoulder, shaking with sorrow.
"Draco," Ginny gasped, and Hermione burst into tears.
"He was helpless," Ron muttered angrily, face ashen.
"They all were," Harry said quietly.
"Iiieeee!!" Sakura screamed as the demon demolished the castle with little effort, reducing the proud building to a pile of rubble and crushed bodies. "Tomoyo-chan!" she shrieked hysterically as Syaoran held back her wildly struggling form. "Tomoyo-chan!"
"She's gone, Sakura," Syaoran whispered softly, a lump in his throat.
She slumped in his arms, crying unashamedly. Then pain stabbed through her body, and she arched her back with a tortured cry before collapsing to the ground. Her sight was blurred by more than tears as she gasped for breath.
Syaoran crouched by her side, calling her name frantically. The others stood back to give them room, and Hermione babbled a string of questions, more than unnerved by the events that had occurred in such a short time.
Eriol's eyes narrowed as he glanced between Sakura and the castle and back again. "You tied yourself to the castle, didn't you Sakura?" he asked, and there was an edge of panic in his voice that none had ever heard before.
"Acci – ident," she whimpered, teeth clenched as the destruction of the castle ignited her own. With a last cry she threw herself into visions of an alternate present, searching desperately for a different, better, outcome as her magic drained away.
The sorcerers knew instantly what she was attempting.
Syaoran reached out for her, hand glowing green, when Eriol caught his wrist. He's a braver man than I, Harry thought as furious brown eyes turned on the young Englishman.
"You need to save your magic, Syaoran," he said seriously. "You are the only one who can help me send that," he tilted his head toward the demon, "back to where it belongs."
Reluctantly he drew his magic back inside himself. "Sakura need help," he hissed, not quite ready to give in.
Eriol turned to the wizards and witches, Syaoran following suit a moment later from where he knelt on the ground.
"We would not ask this if the need were not dire," the Li clan leader stated formally. "Will you lend Sakura your magic?"
"What is she doing?" Minerva asked softly.
Eriol gazed sadly upon the still figure. "She is searching for an alternate present, one where the destruction of the castle did not or has not yet occurred. It drains her quickly; without help she may not have the magic to repair this reality."
"There is a risk," Syaoran continued. "Should she d-die before returning your magic, you will lose it forever." He bowed low, as gracefully as he could from his position on the forest floor. "Please consider."
Dumbledore stepped forward. "All of you came to help our world, at great risk to yourselves. Even now she tries to save us, as she saved Minerva and Harry."
"She saved my best mate," Ron added simply.
The sorcerers gazed upon the small group and saw their unanimous consent.
"What do we do?" Hermione asked with the faintest of smiles.
Syaoran swallowed hard before nodding. "Just will your magic to her," he said, forcing himself not to rush ahead heedlessly as he felt Sakura's magic drawing ever closer to critical levels.
"We'll do the rest," Eriol finished.
There was a moment of silence but for screams in the distance, and then the area began to glow. For the first time the wizards saw their pure, raw magic, as glowing silver cords flowed toward the prone figure on the ground.
Sakura wrenched herself out of her current vision and into more distant ones, presents that were more and more unlike her own. Again and again she saw the castle crumble, watched Tomoyo die and the young students crushed by large slabs of stone, buried alive in the earth. Sometimes the group arrived even later, sometimes the Dark Army won even without their Lord, and sometimes the wizards and witches in her group all died as well. Twice, she had seen a reality in which all had been killed but for Eriol, Syaoran, and herself.
Not good enough, not nearly good enough, she thought, willing herself onward though the way grew more difficult as she burned through her magic.
All of a sudden Sakura felt a rush of strength, familiar despite a pervading sense of 'foreignness'. She could use this. It was used up more quickly than her own power, but she was getting closer to what she wanted, the events tempered, not quite so catastrophic. Not perfect, but workable.
Syaoran watched Sakura weaken and gripped her limp hand tightly in his own. "Just choose Sakura," he cried out desperately. "Settle for something please. We'll make it work. I promise."
She heard him distantly, his words at the very edge of her awareness, but she pushed that recognition aside.
So close, she thought, gritting her teeth. Almost…there… With the last shred of her magic she snatched the vision and slammed it into reality.
The spell that dulled Sakura's reactions to the brutality of warfare evaporated, and the weight of those horrific memories crashed down upon her weakened self. The strain of the past week, compounded by the events of that night, fragmented her mind. The abrupt loss of the shield around her mind shattered it.
The world around the motley group rippled, and there was a long moment of disorientation before the world corrected itself. The first thing any of the wizards noticed was that the emptiness where their magic had once resided was filled again. The flashes of spell fire drew their attention to where Hogwarts stood whole and proud. A rush of evil – of an all-consuming wrongness – and the demon appeared slowly, piece by piece, on the battlefield.
"Sakura?" her boyfriend said cautiously, attempting to shake her awake. Her skin looked almost gray from exhaustion and it seemed as though she barely breathed.
Filled with a deep sense of foreboding, he reached lightly for her mind, and then threw himself into the search. Sakura! he shouted mentally, and found nothing. Her body lived, but her very self, everything that made her Sakura, was gone. The Seers had said the Card Mistress would live for a long time; they said nothing of her sanity.
"Syaoran, we can't wait." Eriol's clinical tone interrupted his despairing reverie. "The Headmaster and the others will watch over her."
The volatile young man glared up at him, cradling Sakura's body. "I won't leave her," he said coldly.
Minerva bit her lip, aching to do something, anything, to make this better, and saw Hermione turn away, unable to bear the raw intensity of their grief.
"You will let her sacrifice be in vain?" Eriol demanded. "You will waste what she has given us?"
Syaoran's face contorted with fury as he covered Sakura with his cloak before standing and stepping toward the other sorcerer. Ron would have bet that he was about to punch the man, but he didn't.
"What's your plan?" he growled.
"If you give me your magic, will you be able to handle the army?" Eriol asked.
It seemed to the wizards that Syaoran drew his katana from nowhere. "Of course," he said and paused. "If she dies," he hissed, "I will kill you."
No one who heard doubted the threat, but Eriol simply smiled and inclined his head. Syaoran flashed a brilliant green, before the light coalesced around his companion and faded.
The relationship between the two sorcerers confused Harry, and, he suspected, the others as well. He couldn't decide whether the two were friends or enemies. The murderous tone in the Li's voice was certainly genuine enough, and yet he had hardly hesitated to give up his magic.
And then there was Sakura. Harry heaved a melancholy sigh. He had only known the girl for a very short time, and yet he had felt there was something special about her. He had a feeling nothing would ever be the same if she didn't recover. Certainly her friends would never recover from the blow.
"Come," Eriol said, and Harry wondered where the long staff hovering in midair had come from. The strange Englishman mounted it side-saddle and waited for Syaoran to crouch on the handle behind him, perfectly balanced.
Ron stared enviously at such skill on a broom-like object.
"Watch over her," Syaoran said, and then the two were airborne and speeding toward the castle as the demon fully materialized in their world.
They were several meters from the castle walls when Syaoran leaped from the staff. He fell, leg fully extended, heel leading. With a boom, he impacted with a troll, directly between the eyes. Even from their distance, Minerva could tell that the neck had broken.
Blade flashing, limbs lashing out, he mowed down all opponents in a storm of fury.
"He's like a master," Hermione murmured in awe as he performed a complicated series of acrobatics to dodge and then attack.
The purebloods had never seen anything like it. Magical ability was generally priced over physical.
Meanwhile, Eriol joined Tomoyo on top of the castle walls. Pale to the point of whiteness, she gave him a tremulous smile, relieved to have experienced and powerful help.
He sent the Guardians to continue taking out the army with Syaoran. Weakened as they were, he wouldn't risk them with the demon.
"Do you need your magic back?" she asked softly, voice steady despite her fear.
"I shall be honest with you, Daidouji-san," he said calmly, eyes never leaving the approaching horror. "It would be easier if I had another body to help. If you would prefer, however, I can certainly take care of this alone and you can assist the professors in evacuating the students."
Tomoyo straightened, holding her head high. "The professors have the students well in hand. I shall help," she said calmly. "If you show me what to do."
"All right then," he said, watching the demon draw ever closer. His smile held very little humor or sensibility. "Follow me."
Two glowing balls of light, one purple and one blue-green, zipped around the enormous creature, flicking around limbs and torso, somehow holding it in place.
"I ought to be helping," Harry muttered, feeling helpless and irritable. This was his world. At the very least he should be fighting to protect it.
"Don't be ridiculous Harry," Hermione admonished sharply. "You're still weak from your near-death experience, and you've done your job besides. No one can ask more of you."
"Besides," Ginny added, "we need to protect Sakura."
They glanced at her body, where McGonagall sat with the girl's head in her lap, and sighed as the sight both saddened and made them feel guilty. The fierce light of joy and wild hope in Harry's green eyes since Sirius had been rescued dimmed as he examined his godfather's rescuer. "We shouldn't have just left Padfoot like that," he said anxiously. "What if he wakes up before we get back to him? What if they aren't taking care of him?"
"Someone's coming," Minerva hissed, interrupting his string of worries as her sharp hearing picking up the sound of crunching leaves and snapping twigs.
Immediately they drew their wands, magic none the worse for having lent it to the sorceress.
The two men who came into view so shocked Minerva that she nearly dropped her wand.
"Who are you?" Albus demanded stepping between the strangers and Minerva and his charge.
The older man paused and regarded them with a friendly smile while his companion's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "I am Fujitaka Kinomoto, and this is my son, Touya. We are looking for – "
"Sakura!" Touya exclaimed, all color draining from his face as he rushed toward her.
"You are her father?" Dumbledore asked.
"I am," he replied, concern shining in his eyes.
The wizard glanced at his Deputy for confirmation and she nodded.
"How did you find us?" he queried curiously as he stored his wand away, making certain it was close at hand.
"Kaijuu, if you die on us, I'll kill you myself," was Touya's near-hysterical contribution as the four students watched with varying degrees of sympathy.
Sorrow and worry clear in every line of his body, Fujitaka looked past the Headmaster to where Touya knelt beside his sister. "My wife," he replied. "Nadeshiko." And his smile this time was affectionate. "She died when Sakura was still young, but she watches over our children. She told us something was wrong and led us here." A flash of pain again, in his eyes, and he could restrain himself no longer from his daughter's side.
"She is a ghost?" Minerva asked, confused, as she gently handed his daughter to him. The group stood at a respectful distance from the family.
The archaeologist shook his head absently. "She has moved on, but her spirit watches over and protects us."
"Where's that gaki?" Touya demanded suddenly. "How dare he just abandon Sakura!"
"He means Li-san," Fujitaka clarified at their confused looks while he tenderly stroked Sakura's hair. "And where are Hiiragizawa-san and Tomoyo-san?" he asked, looking around. "Even Keroberos is missing."
"I do not know who Keroberos is, but the others are in that chaos." The elderly wizard nodded toward the raging battle. "We could not have fought so effectively, and so were charged with guarding your daughter. Even then, Syaoran Li needed to be forced to leave Sakura's side," he explained.
"We will protect Sakura now…"
"Pardon my rudeness," said Dumbledore, realizing that he had forgotten to give the men their names. "I am Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, and this is my Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall. You may know her better as Tabby."
"Ah," said the elder Kinomoto with an expression of enlightenment.
"And these are our students, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ronald Weasley, and Ginevra Weasley," he said, indicating each individual.
Fujitaka bowed slightly in greeting from where he sat and continued. "We will protect Sakura now, Dumbledore-san. And any of your students if you wish. I believe you may wish to fetch the young children who are evacuating the castle."
Minerva and Albus exchanged a startled glance and turned to look towards Hogwarts. The demon was screeching and straining against the lights that held it, and they seemed to grow dimmer with the effort. The evacuation route would take the children to the very edge of the lake, beneath the cliff, and it was not at all visible from where they stood.
The group of wizards and witches turned to look at Sakura's father, who was merely watching them with an easygoing expression.
"Right," said McGonagall sharply. "Professor Dumbledore and I will find the evacuees. You four stay here and keep an eye out. You are still weak from battle." The four Gryffindors might have protested, but one did not argue when the Transfiguration Professor looked like that.
It took some time, but the professors managed to lead the young students to their safe area in small groups.
Tomoyo slammed her power into the demon's side. It paused, but more from irritation and confusion than pain. Had she had a body at the moment, she might have been panting from effort. As it was, the purple globe of light that she had become was flickering and growing dim.
Again, Eriol said faintly, and Tomoyo could feel him concentrating almost all of his attention on chanting in tongues.
She gathered everything she had, every last hint of magic that Eriol had given her, and gathered it together until the glow was nearly blinding. She didn't scream, didn't cry out in defiance. Tomoyo simply used the last of her strength to slam the demon with her considerable borrowed power.
The abomination screeched in surprise, and perhaps some pain. Attention certainly caught now, it leaned down towards her.
Eriol took advantage of the position and zipped by the demon's neck almost faster than the eye could follow, and the golden torc appeared around its throat, impossibly large.
It screamed horribly and clawed at the golden collar. If Eriol had had a body his ears would be bleeding. As it was, he ignored it and shouted a terrible word of power.
The demon simply blinked out of existence, returned once more to its own realm, and the golden torc dissolved.
Witnesses might have been disappointed at the anticlimactic way in which it had been banished, had they not been so relieved that the thing was gone.
Eriol was simply relieved that whatever the wizards had done to the torc had not completely destroyed the potent magic built into it. When he reappeared on top of the castle, stumbling with exhaustion, he smiled to see Tomoyo curled against Keroberos' furry side, out cold.
The golden Guardian examined him and gestured with his head. "Get over here," he said gruffly.
Eriol nearly collapsed against his old friend, pillowed by large white wings. Kero would protect them.
Between the death of the Dark Lord, the banishing of their all-powerful demon, and the massacre by the furious, sword-wielding boy, the Dark Lord's army lost heart and were quickly captured.
Over the next few days, the government began the cleanup of the British Wizarding World that would take months to complete. Newspapers around the world detailed the defeat of You-Know-Who and his army by the Boy-Who-Lived and his friends. Using the full extent of their influence and power, Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter managed to keep any mention of the Sakura and her friends out of the media, but they could do little about the rumors. Too many had been saved by one or another of the mysterious strangers with their unknown magic, and the four Guardians hadn't been all that inconspicuous.
Still, while people loved to gossip, very few actually believed all that they heard. Theories cropped up, some extremely unlikely, and some simply explaining the strangeness away with knowing nods and discussions of experimental magic or the disorientation that could crop up in the heat of battle.
Through the awards, the celebrations, the jubilation, Sakura remained unconscious in the Hospital Wing of Hogwarts. Syaoran refused to leave her side, often sleeping in the chair by her bed. More often than not, Madame Pomfrey or Professor McGonagall ended up transfiguring the chair into something more comfortable. Touya might have done the same, had his father not forced him to at least stretch his legs once in a while.
Eriol had encouraged Tomoyo to keep his magic until she was away from the Wizarding World. On those rare occasions when the sorcerers left the Hospital Wing, they used their magic to remain inconspicuous. Those few wizards who knew the truth spent much of their free time learning about the culture and the sorcerers' abilities. Learning that sorcery at its most basic was simply willing something to happen, and having the power to back it up had been eye-opening.
Much of their energy, however, was concentrated on coaxing Sakura back to them. They spoke with her softly, out loud or mind to mind, and gently encouraged her body to soak in small pulses of their magic, in an attempt to jumpstart her natural recovery. A full day later, they could breathe easier; her mind had returned and she was sleeping at last.
She woke the second day.
Sakura frowned as she struggled out of the depths of unconsciousness. This isn't my room, she thought immediately, and the worry forced her eyes opened. She flinched at the brightness of the setting sun pouring through the windows, and moaned when she attempted to sit up and discovered the throbbing ache of her body. Her hands and arms, she noticed, were lightly bandaged, and she found a band-aid on her cheek when she examined her face. Her chest was tender as well, and she wouldn't be surprised to find a large bruise.
A matronly woman bustled into her…curtained off area?... and clucked lightly. "You're still recovering Miss Kinomoto," she scolded gently in English. "Don't try to get up yet."
"Excuse me," Sakura said quietly, surprised by how quickly the English came to her. "But, where am I? And who are you? What happened?"
Worry flitted over the stranger's face before she said, "I am Madam Pomfrey, and you are currently in the Hospital Wing of Hogwarts."
"Hogwarts?" Sakura repeated, puzzled. "What is 'Hogwarts'? What happened to me?"
A strange noise reached her ears and she turned her head to see Syaoran sitting in a chair, staring at her intensely as he gripped the armrests tightly. "Sa-ku-ra," he said as if each syllable was wrenched from his throat.
"Syaoran?" she asked, both delighted and concerned.
"You know who I am," he sighed and slumped in his chair, tension released so abruptly that he seemed almost boneless. In spite of herself, Poppy Pomfrey was touched and slightly shaken by the sheer depth of the relief she saw in the boy's dark brown eyes.
"Of course I do," Sakura said, frightened. Her head shot up to see Eriol, Tomoyo, and her family enter, along with an elderly man with a long silver beard and bright robes, and an older woman wearing square spectacles and dark green robes.
"You do not remember what happened, Sakura-chan?" Eriol questioned soothingly, as if calming a skittish animal.
"Should I?" she asked, voice high-pitched with worry.
"I thought you were recovering rather too quickly," he murmured to himself.
"Sakura," her father said gently, coming to sit on her bed and gently brushing her bangs away from her eyes. "What is the last thing you remember?"
Sakura frowned in concentration. "I was working – at the restaurant – and on my way home. It was getting late, and then…I came home? I don't understand. I was near the park. Did I make it home? What h-happened?"
"Calm down, Kaijuu," Touya said. "You got home just fine. You're about a week and a half behind the times. "
She took a deep breath to calm herself, and another. "I'm sorry," she said to the two strangers. "I'm Sakura Kinomoto." Her smile faltered at the couple's expressions.
Minerva forced a smile. "Minerva McGonagall," she said, voice slightly hollow. Her companion rubbed her back soothingly.
"And I am Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," the man said with a friendly, if somewhat subdued, smile.
"Witchcraft and wizardry?" Sakura repeated eyes wide. "Really?"
"Will she regain her memory?" Syaoran inserted shortly.
It was Eriol who responded. "I should think so, eventually," he replied. "In the meantime, it may be beneficial to explain a few things to her."
"I'll do that," Tomoyo offered softly.
The others left to give the girls privacy to speak.
Sakura sighed, leaning against the rail in the Astronomy Tower as she looked out over the grounds. The grass survived in patches, some gouged up or trampled, some stained the rusty color of dried blood. The waters of the lake were streaked brown. Large sections of the forest were blackened by fire. The gray sky seemed to reflect the general mood of the castle as smoke from the large funeral pyre drifted from the other side of Hogwarts grounds. Even now they recovered bodies.
She fingered the thin white scar on her cheek. By all rights she should have been curious as to the origin. She would have asked questions, searched out answers. It was as if a part of her knew that she didn't want those answers, not really. In the two days since she had awoken, Sakura felt no trace of curiosity, and she knew that should have worried her. But it didn't.
"Here you are," said a soft voice.
"I'm sorry," Sakura said, turning to face the Transfiguration Professor. "I should remember you. I should remember everything. I'm sorry."
"Child," she said sympathetically, cupping the girl's face in a gentle hand. "You have nothing to apologize for. You saved us, saved our world, we who were nothing to you, had done nothing for you."
"It was the right thing to do," Sakura said. "The only thing I could do."
"Don't forget to eat," Minerva said, her arm dropping to her side. "Everyone is worried about you."
"McGonagall-sensei," the Card Mistress said hesitantly.
The woman paused at the door.
"Are you and the Headmaster…ano…married?"
The witch froze and Sakura wished she had not spoken. The question had seemed important to her, for some reason.
"We are not – he does not care for me in such a…fashion," Minerva said haltingly, and quietly closed the door.
Eriol appeared in a corner of the room after the Professor had left. "Sakura-chan," he said.
"Nothing," she sighed. "Why do I not remember?"
"Do you want to?" he asked.
"Yes," she said, then, "No. I don't know. I'm being selfish. My amnesia hurts everyone."
"My dear Sakura," he said with a light chuckle. "We all need to be selfish once in a while. You give too much of yourself sometimes. But you will need to remember, eventually. You must work things through."
Sakura was silent for a long while, staring into space as Eriol kept her company. "I want to remember," she said at last, a glint of determination in her eye. "It will be awful and heartbreaking and nightmarish, but they're my memories, they're me, and I need them."
She toppled forward into Eriol's arms.
"A little early," he murmured to himself as he headed towards the Hospital Wing with his unconscious burden. "But this will give her another day to recover before the Minister arrives." And he smiled his trademark knowing smile, one that Syaoran had seen upon the Headmaster while Sakura was recovering.
"Kami-sama," the Chinese sorcerer had muttered with great misery. "There are two of them."
After a night full of nightmares Sakura and Syaoran soaked in the sunlight in the restored inner courtyard of Hogwarts. Her older brother and father had jobs back home, and it had taken Sakura several hours to convince them to return to Japan, that she was alright to stay for a few more days. And then she would be home among family.
Tomoyo, Eriol, and the Guardians were relaxing in other parts of the castle, taking a well-deserved break. The professors had been run ragged dealing with the aftermath of the final battle. The loss of three of their older students, in addition to Filius Flitwick and Alastor Moody had hit them hard.
Harry was with Sirius and Remus, having hardly been able to pull himself away from his newly resurrected godfather. The ex-convict had been released a day before Sakura had woken up, and Harry and Remus had spent the time before alternating shifts between Sirius and the girl who had done so much for them. Draco had also awoken, at last, and Ron, Hermione, and Ginny had taken it upon themselves to recount what had happened to the confused Slytherin.
Sakura was at peace for the first time in a long time and she cherished this moment with the one she loved most. They deserved it, she thought, after the week they had had.
"I'm glad you remember," Syaoran said quietly as a breeze tugged gently at their hair.
"Are you?" she asked thoughtfully.
"I wish the memories did not cause you pain or nightmares," he said. "But they are a part of who you are, and it would be terrible to lose yourself."
"There was so much blood, Syaoran," she whispered, a haunted look in her eyes. "So much blood. And the screaming…." She stared down at her hands and clenched them into fists. "I killed people."
"I know," he said quietly, pulling her close to him. "I know."
Sakura listened to his heartbeat as a tear slipped from her emerald eyes. "I didn't think I would be capable," she said. "But I killed living, breathing, thinking…." She trailed off and shuddered. "I feel vile, dirty."
"You're not, love. You did what you had to do to protect yourself and others. They didn't give you a choice."
"I don't want to think about this," Sakura said decisively, sitting up and looking down at him.
"Then don't," he replied. "You'll need to work through this eventually, but nothing says that it must be done all at once or now. It may be better to wait until you are at home, among your family."
Sakura sighed and clambered to her feet, reaching down to pull Syaoran up. "When does the Minister arrive?"
"Tomorrow after lunch," he replied.
"You must have seen him when you were in the Ministry, didn't you? What's he like?" Sakura asked.
Syaoran scowled. "I saw him once or twice. He was a weak man, physically and mentally, and that is what makes him dangerous."
"What do you mean?" she queried, disturbed.
"To give power to someone who is concerned with himself and what makes him look good, rather than one who intends to protect the people, is always dangerous. If he doesn't want to believe something, then he won't, regardless of how it will affect those whose wellbeing he should look out for. If he feels threatened by us, he will retaliate in whatever manner possible, and as Minister he has many options available to him. At the very least, he will splash our pictures across his paper."
"So we may need to…" Sakura trailed off.
"Hai," Syaoran said with a sharp nod.
"I don't want them to fear us or worship us, Syaoran. It won't be good for us, and it certainly won't be good for them," she said softly. "I want equality."
"That will take time and effort," he replied. "It may take longer than your lifetime to remove the stain the wizards place upon the race of sorcerers. To say nothing of how insular the society is, how prejudiced they became."
"It will take as long as it takes. To do what is best for everyone, we need to build a 'bridge between peoples'," she stated firmly.
Syaoran regarded her with raised eyebrows. "Ah," he said. "So that is what the prophecy referred to."
"I think so," she agreed.
"A world-wide memory erasure, then," he said.
"Hai," she whispered. "Unless the Minister proves us wrong."
Syaoran snorted. Before he could comment, Sakura changed the subject, having spied Minerva and Albus walking down the corridor that surrounded the courtyard, the wall only waist height, allowing them to gaze across the lawn and flowers that surrounded a small pond.
"I feel guilty," Sakura murmured quietly so that the couple couldn't overhear. "When I had amnesia, I asked Tabby-chan if she was married to the Headmaster. She looked so upset…"
Syaoran blinked, and peered more closely at the wizard and witch.
"You and Tomoyo are thinking about playing matchmaker, aren't you?" he asked wryly and sighed. "Girls," he muttered, but his chocolate brown eyes were soft with affection as he gazed upon the young woman he loved.
Sakura huffed, and hit him lightly on the shoulder. "What are you going to do about it, then?" she said challengingly.
His eyes glinted with mischief, and then he grabbed her by the waist and swung her around. She shrieked with laughter, drawing the attention of the two professors.
Albus and Minerva paused and watched the sorcerers. Their love was almost palpable, the witch thought, as Sakura rested her forehead against Syaoran's, and brown eyes stared into green. Minerva was happy for them. They needed laughter and love at a time like this, in the aftermath of war.
She sighed and watched the couple, tilting her head to the side, almost but not quite leaning on Albus' shoulder. Albus looked down at his companion, longing and relief evident in his eyes, his hand almost but not quite touching hers.
Minerva looked up at him, too late to see evidence of his true feelings, and said with a shaky voice, "Albus?"
He immediately grew concerned and leaned closer to her. "Yes, my dear?"
Her courage deserted her and she sighed again as she looked away. "Nothing," she said and wistfully watched the two sorcerers she had come to care for.
"That was sweet of you," Sakura commented with a smile, and kissed him briefly on the lips.
He valiantly attempted to suppress his blush as he said gruffly, "What was? And I'm not sweet."
"Helping us," she replied. "Aishiteru."
"Hello," said cheerful two voices in stereo.
Sakura turned, Syaoran's arms still around her waist, and blinked. For a moment she thought she saw double, before realizing she was looking at a pair of red-headed twins.
"Hello," she said uncertainly. Syaoran, as was typical, remained silent, but the two seemed undaunted by his attitude.
"So you're the mysterious, all-powerful heroes," one observed.
"We've been ever so interested in meeting you," said the other.
"Quite, oh brother of mine."
"Indeed, my handsome twin."
"Fred – "
" – and George – "
" – Weasley, at your service," they finished in stereo, bowing comically.
Sakura giggled, and even Syaoran seemed a little more at ease.
"We happened to be passing by, when we saw you tormenting our esteemed Headmaster and lovely Deputy Headmistress," Fred said with a teasing grin.
"A valiant effort, I'm sure," added George.
"Anyway – "
" – we thought you might wish to add your name to the betting pool."
"You have a betting pool?" Syaoran questioned, raising an eyebrow.
"Well, if you wanted to get technical, the school has a betting pool."
"It came with the territory," said Fred.
"But how does that work?" Sakura asked, puzzled.
"Well, the betting began in the late 1960's. There's quite a pot for the winner," George answered.
"I don't think anyone imagined Dumbledore and McGonagall could spend quite so many decades in denial," his twin added dryly.
The four turned to look at the professors, who gazed back with arched eyebrows.
"It wouldn't be fair for me to bet if I'm trying to get them together," Sakura declined politely. "But thank you."
Later that night the sorcerers took an early dinner to avoid the crowd. Sakura and Tomoyo sat across from Eriol and Syaoran on the end of the Gryffindor table, with Harry and his friends providing a welcome buffer against the curious students of their House.
Sakura sighed, leaning her head against Tomoyo's shoulder and looking up at her.
"They remind me of how you and Syaoran were," Tomoyo commented, nodding her head toward the Head Table.
Sakura shifted her gaze to watch as Albus leaned toward Minerva, absently brushing a lock of hair out of her eyes and tucking it behind her ear. When he realized what he'd done, he blushed red beneath his beard. Minerva stared at her plate, picking at her food as two bright spots of color appeared on her cheeks.
"It requires more effort to get Syaoran to turn tomato-red these days," Tomoyo sighed, bringing a hand to her cheek in distress.
"Poor Syaoran," Sakura said, looking up at Tomoyo mock sternly. "Not only is he under attack by Oniichan and Kero-chan, you and Eriol-kun insist on tormenting him."
"Ho ho ho," her cousin laughed. "Back on topic, I spoke with the Headmaster while you were recovering, and I believe something will be done eventually."
"Even if Eriol needs to put his strings to use again?" the Card Mistress questioned, a faint thread of amusement running through her voice as she picked her head up.
"If it comes to that," Tomoyo said innocently enough, but there was a cunning gleam in her eye.
Minerva followed Albus into his sitting room and closed the door behind them. This was the first time in days they'd been able to simply relax in each other's company, and she missed it.
Albus surprised her by drawing her to him and holding her close, resting his chin on her head as she leaned against his chest. In the chaos of dealing with captives, planning funerals, and informing remaining family members of deceased, they had not had any time to themselves, and he had never dealt with how close he had come to losing her. The nightmares caught him in their grip every night, as he replayed the scene over and over in his dreams. Only this time Sakura had never appeared. Sprays of blood as Voldemort slit her throat, her death throes as he plunged the poisoned blade into her heart. He screamed himself awake, sweaty and shaking, and only Fawkes could calm him.
Minerva closed her eyes, perfectly content to wait for Albus to gather his thoughts. She felt safe here with his arms wrapped around her waist as she listened to his heartbeat. She was, therefore, shocked to realize that he was weeping.
"Albus?" she murmured, leaning back to see him more clearly. It frightened her, how his cheeks were wet with tears and yet he made hardly any sound. "Albus, it's all right," she said gently, not knowing what else to say as she cradled his head in her hands. "Everything is fine."
"You could have died," he said at last, tears spent. "I could do nothing. If Sakura had not been there…if she had never become involved…."
"But she was," Minerva said firmly. "I am here and we are both fine."
"There is something I should tell you," he said at last, and if her eyes were not mistaking her, he appeared nervous. Albus gave a watery chuckle. "I daresay it oughtn't to have taken decades, your near death, and a determined and devious young woman for me to do so. I don't remember the last time I was called a coward." Noticing her indignant expression on his behalf, he added, "She was very polite about it."
He took a deep breath, his determination wavering as he struggled to express the secret he had spent decades protecting. Minerva had been his closest friend for years. Surely she wouldn't let a confession of love ruin that. Nothing needed to change, and she deserved to know. If she had died before he could tell her, he would forever regret it.
What had seemed to be solid arguments when faced with Tomoyo Daidouji now appeared to be such a great risk.
Albus took a deep breath. "I love you." And because she may assume it to be platonic, he added, "I am in love with you."
She jerked her head back at his words. He forced himself to meet her shocked, wide-eyed gaze and waited for whatever she would say.
Minerva couldn't believe her ears. Albus…loved her? She noticed his eyes linger on her parted lips and flushed, desperately attempting to come up with some sort of response. She took a moment to study him. He looked as apprehensive as she had ever seen him.
He's like me, she realized. He doesn't have the faintest hope that I'll reciprocate.
Minerva responded in the only way she could. Leaning forward, she pressed her lips to Albus'. He stiffened in surprise, and then responded gently, hardly daring to believe what was happening.
Minerva boldly slid her tongue into his mouth and he was lost.
The sorcerers stood on the steps of Hogwarts the next evening, with three of their Guardians at their backs; Kero sat on Sakura's shoulder in his weaker form. Syaoran and Eriol looked intimidating in their traditional robes, Eriol leaning on a golden staff that was half again as tall as he was, topped by a sunburst. Sakura was dressed in robes similar to Syaoran's, with long sleeves that hid her hands from view completely. Tomoyo was dressed in the English fashion, wearing an elegant violet dress, lace stitched to the hem and collar. With her chin held high, hands folded before her, and a coolly disinterested gaze, she looked every inch an aristocrat.
They waited for the Minister of Magic to appear, to get his measure, and to see what he would do. The Headmaster, his Deputy, and Harry and his friends lingered in the background, curious to see what would happen, and hoping to run interference when Fudge revealed his stunning incompetence.
The castle wasn't empty, but no one would interrupt the meeting. The students had been sent home; only the staff, injured, and young orphans remained. Sakura was pleased to discover that Rhiannon had been adopted, although it saddened her to realize that she may never see the young girl again.
"He won't even make it in the front door," Eriol said, eyes glittering with amusement as they waited.
"This is why no one will play games with you, Hiiragizawa," Syaoran grumbled.
"You cheat," Tomoyo commented wryly. "You cheat abominably."
"I am simply using what skills I have in my repertoire," he replied.
"It's cheating to look at someone else's hand of cards, just as it's cheating to look into the future to see the outcome," Sakura pointed out, leaning forward to get a better view of her English friend.
Harry thought this may be one of the more bizarre conversations he had ever listened to, but before anyone could comment further, the Minister and four Auror guards appeared several kilometers down the path.
Sakura studied Minister Fudge curiously. He was a short, overweight man, and by the time he reached the steps he was puffing lightly. He paused before acknowledging them, removing his lime green bowler hat to wipe his sweating forehead with a handkerchief.
"You must be the so-called sorcerers," Fudge said condescendingly.
Any thoughts of playing nice abruptly flew from Syaoran's mind, and Sakura was hard-pressed to keep from grimacing.
He certainly needs training in diplomacy, Eriol observed telepathically. "I am Eriol Hiiragizawa," he said a loud, "And this is Sakura Kinomoto, Keroberos, Syaoran Li, Tomoyo Daidouji, Yue, Ruby Moon, and Spinel Sun."
"Cornelius Fudge," he said with a short nod and an oily smile that set Syaoran's teeth on edge. "Can you prove your claim?"
"Eriol thought you might feel that way," Sakura said. "This," she motioned to Kero, "is my Sun Guardian, Kero, in his weaker form."
"Pleased ta meetcha," he said curtly as he floated in front of the Card Mistress.
Fudge gasped and one of the Aurors said, "It can talk?"
"Yes, he can talk," Sakura replied.
"It's getting him to stop that's the problem," Syaoran muttered under his breath, earning a pinch from his girlfriend.
The bright glow of magic caught everyone's attention as Kero's wings grew larger and larger, until he was encased in a cocoon. A flash of light blinded the onlookers, and when they could see again, a large, helmeted lion stood before Sakura, stretching out his pure white wings. Even the Hogwarts group was awed, having never seen the transformation before.
"Kero was created a long time ago by a very powerful sorcerer to be both my Guardian and my friend," Sakura said quietly.
"I suppose that could very well be sorcery," Fudge said with a pompous nod. "I have never seen anything quite like it."
Minerva and Harry both discretely rolled their eyes.
"We have much to discuss with you," Sakura continued politely. "Cleaning up after a war in addition to the return of sorcerers will be very complicated. When next evil rises – "
"Aha!" Fudge exclaimed, nearly beside himself as he pointed accusingly at the group. "I knew it! You're planning on replacing You-Know-Who!"
The sorcerers stared at him in blank astonishment at this abrupt change in behavior. Obviously, the stories about sorcerers had had a more detrimental effect than they had expected. Unless this was simply due to the man's foolishness and incompetence.
Kero was the first to speak in a disbelieving growl. "You – " he said a word in Japanese that had his mistress blushing, " – honestly think that Sakura is evil?!"
Ruby Moon cackled, crimson lips parted, wine-red eyes glittering with a mixture of mirth and malice.
The wizards drew back involuntarily.
"As many times as I've called Ruby Moon a demon," the winged panther said dryly, tail twitching, "not even she would stand by and watch or condone the deeds your Lord Voldemort committed."
Fudge was beginning to turn a very unhealthy shade of purple at what he perceived to be a complete lack of respect. For once, he would have been right. "Arrest them," the Minister demanded.
Sakura didn't even blink as the first spell dissipated less than a meter before her, though anger sparked in her emerald green eyes.
"Cornelius!" Dumbledore thundered, drawing his power around him like a cloak. "Cease and desist at once!"
The moment the Aurors turned to the group of wizards, their wands completely disappeared, and only then did it begin to sink in that it was not at all intelligent to attack a group of powerful sorcerers.
"I consider it very impolite to pull a weapon on our friends," Sakura said softly, eyes narrowed. "And I will make this very clear. We are not, and do not plan on ever becoming, evil. Sorcerers are the caretakers of the earth and those who reside on it: creature or human, those who wield magic or our cousins who wield science. We protect them when no one else can."
"You are a fool if you believe that evil will never rise and take over again," Syaoran snarled.
"Always evil will battle good, and good will battle evil. It is a matter of balance, perhaps, or simply the nature of the universe. Neither state will last forever," Eriol added condescendingly, blue eyes glittering with spite in spite of the faint smile. "My former cousin Yuuko once said, 'Often people will deny the existence of things they can't understand or things their minds can't grasp. If they encounter anything that doesn't match the world they wish to live in, they decide that it is evil.' It appears she was right." It seemed to pain Eriol very much to admit that.
"We came to this meeting with open minds and a willingness to negotiate," Tomoyo said, gazing upon the Minister and his bodyguards with disappointment. "Obviously, you could not extend the same courtesy."
"You are just children – "
"They are the leaders of the race of sorcerers, and some of the most powerful beings on this earth," Yue interrupted scornfully. "I suppose it was too much to expect the Minister of Magic to act with a modicum of maturity."
"So be it," Sakura said. "I will give you fair warning now. Your isolationism will not last forever. Even now the street people, the homeless of London, know of your existence, and they despise you for your carelessness. If your society and your government cannot overcome their prejudice and close-mindedness, then it will be the worse for you when Muggles, Enchanters, magicians, witch doctors, shamans, soothsayers, and others learn of your existence. You are a minority, not a majority, and you cannot hide forever."
She sighed. "You have forced our hand. It is obvious that the Wizarding World is not ready to know the existence of sorcerers if you will turn on us so easily. We will retrieve all memory of us, and the wizards and witches of the world will forget."
"You can't do that!" Fudge sputtered furiously.
"You do the same to Muggles all the time," Eriol replied calmly, unconcerned by the fear and anger in the eyes of their detractors.
"That's different!" one of the Aurors exclaimed, putting to words what the others were thinking.
"How?" Syaoran demanded. Before he could lose his temper further, and before the stupidity of the wizards could provoke him further, he banished them to the middle of London. May you be hit by a bus, he thought irritably.
Sakura turned to see the Minerva, Albus, and the students staring at her with stricken expressions.
"We'll forget?" the tabby cat Animagus said quietly. "Everything?"
"Some may remember," Eriol explained, moving closer and returning his staff to its key form. "We are using a lesser form of the spell, one with parameters that does not require so much power. Already, we have drained ourselves too often in a short period of time. If we completely erased every thought of us from wizards around the world, we would be bedridden for days. Rumors will remain, but all first hand memories will be locked away and inaccessible."
"The more time someone spent with us, the more likely they are to remember," Sakura said. She grinned a little. "Tabby-chan, and perhaps Dumbledore-sensei, will likely remember. Lupin-sensei, Harry-san, and his friends will likely forget when we leave, but if one of us is near, they may remember. It's not an exact science."
It hurt Sakura to think that people she had met only briefly, people she thought could have been friends, would forget her completely. It was as if some part of her ceased to exist. She would become just another stranger to the kind and efficient Madame Pomfrey, the mischievous Weasley twins, the sweet Rhiannon. She would be losing them in a way.
But maybe, when they would meet again, a friendship could be possible. One not with heroes or all-powerful figures of legend, but one of equals in all ways that mattered.
If no one had remembered, Sakura didn't think she could have gone through with it. But Minerva would remember everything they had been through, and possibly the Headmaster. They could visit and learn.
She looked upon the faces who would miss them, who would be sad when they left, and happy when they eventually returned for a short while. They would be remembered.
And that was enough.
This is where heroes and cowards part ways. Light the fire, feast
Chase the ghost, give in.
Take the road less traveled by,
Leave the city of fools,
Turn every poet loose.
-Nightwish, Dark Passion Play, "7 Days to the Wolves"
This is where heroes and cowards part ways.
Light the fire, feast