Harry Potter and the Phantom Thief

Chapter 26

Daisuke had brains enough to play at being a wizarding champion for as long as he liked, but Satoshi couldn't waste the time. He found himself spending long, lonely hours in the library again, only bothered by Viktor Krum and his gaggle of potential girlfriends. When the distraction got to be too much, he took his books back to the Ravenclaw common room and read there.

His quest was still depressingly and maddeningly fruitless. He was no closer to finding out what use Krad might be to Dark wizards than he had been before arriving at Hogwarts, and every time he read some interesting tip about painting, he felt an itch to try it.

Risa had yet to tell him anything important about the student body, and both Daisuke and the other twin were much too concerned with being good students and figuring out the clue to Daisuke's next task. He couldn't help feeling frustrated, and he couldn't shake the feeling that he was being blocked somehow, that something invisible and intangible was standing between him and his goal.

There were times when he felt close, like when an author referenced another text with carefully vague wording, or when the oldest book on the subject spoke of a family whose name could not be revealed. It was like looking for a pine needle in an avalanche—one would think there would be enough turning up but there was only a vast, empty expanse instead.

He didn't even bother stacking his books and bringing them back to the dormitory when the whispers of Krum's fanclub began echoing through the library. He felt too frustrated, too thwarted to continue, even though it was only just after classes had ended. He felt nearly engulfed by the nagging sensation that he should be doing something else.

It was December already, and Satoshi could only feel that the festive decorations and cheery carols wafting down the halls were trying to mask something deeper, and darker. He couldn't get rid of the feeling that something was wrong.

Perhaps it would be best to leave this place, to take Riku and Risa with him. They might be safer with the Niwa family… and he could go find someplace else to stay…. But something clenched in his gut, almost painfully, as he thought about leaving Daisuke and Dark to face the tournament alone.

He paused in the hallway, stopping to stare out a window at the snowscape before him. Why couldn't he find what he was looking for? The librarian had assured him that Hogwarts held the best collection of magical books in England, and had shown him the row devoted to art, art history, and art techniques.

"So deep in thought, Zähmender?"

Satoshi didn't have to look to know it was Lord Shelby, stalking him and making small talk yet again. He sighed.

"I usually am," he replied, still staring out the window as the light faded. The days were so short now, as they neared the solstice, though the snow did well to reflect the tiny rays of light that filtered through the clouds. "I can't find what I'm looking for," he said slowly, watching as his breath lightly fogged the glass. "In the library."

The patch of fog receded slowly, disappearing before Shelby answered. "You might want to check a different section," he said gravely.

Satoshi peered at the dark, oiled hues of the portrait, catching and holding the bright eyes that flashed from underneath the top hat. "The Restricted Section?" he asked, and the painted man nodded.

"Why is it restricted?" he asked, turning back to the window and watching a pair of figures walk hand in hand through the courtyard.

"Not all book are appropriate for eleven-year-olds, I imagine," Shelby answered, quirking a slight smile as Satoshi looked back towards him. The portrait's expression turned serious. "And I imagine that the subjects you are interested in are not appropriate for eleven-year-olds."

Satoshi nodded slowly, and then turned to go. "Thanks for the advice," he said, heading back to the Ravenclaw common room despite the advice. The library was still too loud, and Satoshi needed time to think.

What, if anything, was holding back his progress? Was it really just that he hadn't been looking in the proper section? Or was it something deeper that that? Something that caused him to uncharacteristically lose his train of thought and consider Daisuke's golden egg….

It had always been difficult for Satoshi to sleep, and even though Krad now only existed within him as a nightmarish figment of his imagination, he found that he remained restless and alert even in the middle of the night.

The common room was bare at two in the morning, and even the fire had diminished to only darkening embers. The sky had cleared, and Satoshi found himself drawn to the large windows. The moon was bright as it crested above the black, tree-lined horizon. The stars twinkled coldly, mirroring the ceiling of the common room, but lacking the extra swirls and golden sparkles.

It was barren outside. Serene, and delicately desolate. The snow had left the craggy hills smooth, and sparkled dimly under the pale moonlight.

In the snow, the shadows were blue, not gray.

As if the thought had called him, a figure on black wings soared by the window. He didn't pause, or slow down, as if intent on some destination or other. Satoshi stepped forward, pressing his cheek against the icy cold window in an effort to see where the thief was going, but it was too late.

With a sigh, he turned away, the chill from the window lingering on his smooth cheek. He didn't bother rubbing at it, instead taking a seat in the corner. Some of his Housemates had left their books out, and Satoshi was unsurprised to see a copy of the Quibbler. He picked it up, realizing that since he hadn't brought any books back from the library, he had nothing better to do.

"Try this instead," came a low, unmistakable voice. Satoshi's senses tingled.

He turned, feeling the chill from the open window as he watched the silhouette of the Phantom Thief draw closer. The firelight gleamed off his eyes, turning the usual amethyst one more shade towards red. He was holding what appeared to be a small book, and from it wafted a strange presence.

"You know better than to give me, of all people, stolen goods," Satoshi answered levelly, standing.

"This one's on loan," Dark replied, meeting Satoshi's gaze. He held the book towards Satoshi, who hesitated, and then reached a hand out to take it. Dark appeared to be immune to the uncannily familiar presence that emanated from the book, or maybe he simply had his guard up already. "Besides," the thief continued, "it was recommended for you by someone else. I just happened to agree that it would be good reading for you."

"Who?" he asked, holding the book up to see its cover reflected in the firelight. The leather-bound pages tingled in his fingers.

"Shelby of Darkensham," the thief answered, just as the light caught the embossed title. The words gleamed golden, the letters fixed brightly in Satoshi's mind.

Le Prince Artistique.

He frowned, not recognizing the title or the author, one Antoine de Saint-Clair.

"I don't read French," Satoshi said, wondering what Shelby could have had in mind with this. The portrait did nothing but insult or aid him, and he wasn't sure what category this book belonged to. He flipped the book open to somewhere past the title page.

"Tu sais… quand on est tellement triste on aime les couchers de soleil…"

The tiny voice of the child sprang from the pages, as did the floating image of a boy, seated in a wooden chair while watching the sun disappear behind the curve of a tiny planet. The flowers on the horizon glittered and shone a deep gold, then blazed orange, melted blood red, darkened to a wine-colored purple, and at last faded into a midnight blue in the space of a few seconds.

The boy scooted his chair forward, sighing softly, as the fantastic, rapid sunset repeated.

"Le jour des quarante-quatre fois, tu étais donc tellement triste?" came another voice, this one richer and fuller, more mysterious and somehow far more powerful than Satoshi had ever dreamed a voice could be. He shut the book, looking up and seeing once more the dimly-lit common room.

Dark's expression, though difficult to see, looked as if he had suddenly recalled something painful and beautiful… as if the voices in the book were lingering in his mind as they were in Satoshi's.

"Just… read it," Dark said slowly, shaking his head as his expression hardened. The thief turned his back, the next words coming out like an old accusation that had festered before finally healing, one that left an ancient, angry scar. "You should read it, Hikari," Dark said without looking back.

"Then you'll recognize your failure."

Before Satoshi could respond, Dark spread his black wings in a whirlwind of feathers, sending an icy blast of air through the room as he disappeared into the night. The thief hadn't bothered to close the window.

Even though the book was in French and thus not his forte, Satoshi wasn't sure he wanted either of the twins to read it. The mysterious power it held scared him as much as it fascinated him. There was something about it that was familiar… that gave it a feeling of danger.

After a day of careful thought, he decided it was best not to expose the twins to something like that, and instead borrowed dictionaries from the library. In fact, Satoshi didn't want to expose anyone to the book and so he used his hours of insomnia to carefully read through each page, explore each vivid image, and tremble as he tried to place the powerful voice.

The book had been written nearly three hundred years ago, so it was logically impossible that the voice that emanated from the book was one that he had heard before, unless he had already been introduced to the book. Which, according to his memory, he hadn't. And yet, there was a vaguely familiar lilt to the strange voice, that slightly mocking, half-desperate tone that resonated with something deep within him. The familiarity of it unnerved him.

It was the author's voice, he learned as he struggled through the first pages, which were filled with images of a boa constrictor—one eating a terrified, squeaking rodent, another bulbous around the middle from digesting a whole elephant, and the third bleeding from a cross-sectional cut that showed the that elephant inside its stomach was still intact.

Satoshi persevered night after night, listening to the echoing, slightly muffled voices of those the author called "Others" as well as Antoine de Saint-Clair's own rich timbres. The brilliant images floated past his blue eyes, clinging to his retinas even when he turned to look up a word in the dictionary.

Slowly, gently, eerily, in the starlit hours before each dawn, the plot of the book unfolded.

At the age of six and after the boa constrictors, the Others forced Antoine de Saint-Clair to swear to never paint again. The shadowy, faceless Others adopted him, trying to make him one of them. They occupied his mind with academic pursuits, suffocating his artistic talent and pretending it did not exist. As an adult, Saint-Clair wandered the globe half-mad, searching for something, unconsciously trying to escape the fixed, heavy world of the Others.

He found himself in a desert, a million miles from anyone. And there… he met the Artistic Prince.

"Draw me a flowerpot," the Prince asked, and instantly Saint-Clair recognized that the boy was not one of the Others. It was difficult for Saint-Clair to go against the training the Others had given him, to see the Artistic Prince as more than a empty-headed boy that had appeared from nowhere. It was difficult for him to resist the Others' world of numbers and molecules and essays and geography.

But he did resist, and Saint-Clair drew again, letting art escape from his meager pen for the first time in years. And so, as thanks for the flowerpot, the Artistic Prince asked to give Saint-Clair a gift in return.

"My story is fiction," the Prince said, his words echoing as his eyes held Saint-Clair's gaze. "But it is also Art, and therefore absolutely true."

Thus, the Artistic Prince began his tale.

The Artistic Prince came from a tiny world, one that included only the necessities for two beings. There, he watched as many sweetly melancholy sunsets as he wished, and cared deeply for a certain Rose.

Rose was beautiful, naïve, fragile, and entirely in love with her Prince. Every day she teased the Artistic Prince and then reminded him that she was unique in all the world. And the Prince cherished her more and more each day. And each day his fear that their time together would end became stronger and stronger.

The Artistic Prince knew that Rose was slowly dying. So he promised he would find her a cure, and that then they would live happily for eternity. But when he left his tiny world behind, he left his Rose behind as well.

Stepping out of the frame of one world and into the frame of another, the Artistic Prince found himself in a vast kingdom. In the center of the kingdom was a king, sitting on a grand throne. But there was nothing else in the kingdom at all, and the king had been given only one desire: to command a subject. With no subjects, the king lamented his fate and ordered the Artistic Prince to stay. But the Prince had within him a dark secret, and it was because of this secret that he was immune to the king's commands. The king's world held no sign of a cure for Rose, so the Artistic Prince departed.

The Artistic Prince stepped out of the frame of one world and into the frame of another, arriving at the house of a very vain man. The man showed the Prince his grand house, his closets full of fine clothes, the large numbers in his bank account, and the trophies he had earned for academic competence. The Prince clapped his hands in congratulations of the man's success, and the man lifted his hat to nod. But it was then that the Artistic Prince could see that the man was hollow on the inside, and not a man at all—only a shell covered in simple vanity. He knew he would find no cure there.

Once again, the Artistic Prince stepped out of the frame of one world and into the frame of another, this time meeting a man with a glass of a pungent-smelling liquid. The man offered the liquid to the Prince, telling him that it could make a person into whatever they wished to be. But the Prince understood his dark secret, and knew that if he but touched the liquid, he would cease to be all that he was. So the Prince stepped out of the frame of that world, leaving the man and the drink behind.

Stepping into the frame of another world, the Artistic Prince met a businessman at a large desk strewn with papers. As the man counted and recounted the papers, he told the Prince that the papers catalogued the artifacts in the museums of the world. When the Prince asked the businessman if he owned any cures for his dying Rose, the man said he didn't know—he only knew how many things he owned, and was blind to their properties. Seeing that this man could not understand the value of his Rose, the Artistic Prince left.

He stepped out of the frame of one world and into the frame of another, this one as dark as night. A flame suddenly pierced the darkness, and the Artistic Prince perceived a man with a smoking match and a lit candle. The man sobbed when he saw the Artistic Prince, and begged for the Prince to take him away, blowing out the candle and then crying in the darkness. The Prince asked why the man wanted to leave, and the man explained that he had been part of an experiment, that he had been commissioned to eternally light and extinguish a candle. But when the Prince went to take the man's hand, the small light from the match illuminated the heavy chains imprisoning him. But the Artistic Prince was too afraid to use his dark secret to save the man, so he ran away, leaving the echoing screams and sobs behind.

The Artistic Prince stepped out of the frame of one world and into the frame of another, this time finding a small girl peaking out from the top of a giant tulip. She told the Prince that he might find a cure in the Others' world, for that was where all things originated.

"Take no heed of the flowers," the girl told the Artistic Prince with a small, sad smile.

"But why!" replied the Artistic Prince, thinking of the dying Rose he had left behind, "Those are the prettiest!"

"Because flowers do not last forever."

And with those discomforting words of parting, the Artistic Prince stepped outside the frame of that world, and did not step back into another.

The Artistic Prince had not seen the world of the Others for a very long time. So long, in fact, that he had forgotten nearly everything about it and the beings that inhabited it. But on his first day in the Others' world, the Artistic Prince met three Others.

The first appeared to be nothing more than a flash of gold, but this was in fact the Snake.

The Prince recounted his troubles with Rose to the Snake, who smiled. "You move me to pity—" began the Snake, and Satoshi dropped the book as if it were on fire.

That was… that was….

Trembling violently, Satoshi stared wildly around the common room. His eyes darted across the room's flickering light, searching for anything—a figure? A feather? A glimmer of gold?—but finding nothing. His feet took him backwards, away from the chair and the book and the embers of the fire. But there was nothing there, and he was safe—there was no specter in the shadows. No one was outside the window. He was alone. He was safe.

Adrenaline was still coursing through his veins, even as he tried to console himself. It was a book, just a book. He held his hand up towards the fire, watching it carefully until it ceased to shake. It was just a voice in a book. His breathing slowly calmed.

That voice… was Krad's.

But why?

What was the story about, anyway? Who was the Artistic Prince, and what was the importance of the story? Who was Rose? Who were the king, the man with the magic elixir, the businessman, and the man in chains? What kind of people were these Others? Satoshi was full of questions that he could not answer, that did not even know where to begin to answer.

"This story is true…" Satoshi mused aloud, his voice still shaking as he echoed the words of the Artistic Prince.

He sat back down, more determined than before. The book's importance had been made absolutely clear. He took a deep breath and picked it up off the floor, opening it to the page he had shied away from.

"You move me to pity," the Snake—Krad—said, his voice as low and seductive as a murderer, "you are so weak here. I can help you. I can send you back to whence you came. I can put you beside your Rose."

"Oh, thank you," the naïve Prince replied, letting the Snake wrap itself around him.

"Oh no," said the Snake, twining around the Prince's body and holding him for a long moment. "The pleasure is mine."

At this point, Saint-Clair interrupted the Artistic Prince, and wondered if he had not come across this Snake before. Satoshi felt a horrible sinking feeling in his stomach as he sympathized with Saint-Clair. The author remarked how felt as if he had heard the words the Artistic Prince had been given, but then he remembered how living with the Others had driven him mad. Given that he was mad, it seemed likely he was imagining the familiarity.

The second Other the Prince met was Lily, who told him where he could find more Others, but beyond that she could not help him. She did not know of the Rose he spoke of, nor why he was so intent to spend eternity with her.

The third Other was Echo, who guided the Prince towards the cities of the Others. Echo was a simple other, unable to understand the Artistic Prince's love for his Rose or his quest to save her from death. They parted ways when they came to a bustling city.

In the city, the Artistic Prince's thoughts were filled with his Rose. He thought he spied her behind a building, and when he went to check, he found himself faced with a dozen beauties, who were all identical to his Rose.

"Who are you?" the Artistic Prince demanded angrily.

"We are the Roses," they replied, and the Artistic Prince felt cheated. Here were replicas of his Rose, the one who he had thought to be unique in all the world.

"I thought myself rich for having something so unique, but I had nothing but a common Rose," the Artistic Prince said to himself, and he wept as he left the city.

It was in the country that the Artistic Prince heard a voice from the hills.

"Hello," said the low, curious, and clever voice….

Again, Satoshi closed the book firmly, blinking as the vision of the Artistic Prince on the hillside slowly faded and the echoes of the mysterious voice calmed into the silence of the Ravenclaw dormitory. That voice from an unknown source….

This voice had sounded exactly like Dark.

He put the book on the table next to him, setting the dictionary aside as he stood. Restless energy poured through him and he went to the window, staring out at the broad expanse of snow. Of course, there was no sign of the Phantom Thief in reality, no windows blowing open or black feathers drifting down from above.

Satoshi was certain it had been the same voice as the notorious art thief, just as he had heard Krad's—he could recognize them anywhere.

He squeezed his eyes shut, and then pulled his glasses off, massaging the bridge of his nose. Dark must have known that the book contained Krad's voice, or some kind of personification of him. Otherwise he wouldn't have behaved so strangely when he had given Satoshi the book.

"Then you'll recognize your failure," Dark had said, prefacing the sentence with Satoshi's family's name. What did it mean?

How had the Hikaris failed, and why was the book supposed to help? He was having trouble concentrating and finding a single answer when there were so many questions bubbling up inside him. He took a deep breath and turned away from the frost-dottted window, putting his glasses back on and returning to his seat by the fire.

He should begin with Saint-Clair. The man was, after all, the author. Anything about his real life might lead Satoshi to clues about what the story was really about.

Breakfast was planned to be a decidedly hurried affair. Satoshi pushed the shapeless, tasteless oatmeal into his mouth, considering the section of the library that would finally give him the results he desired.

"Earth to Hiwatari!" The sharp voice was accompanied by a smack to his already strained brain, and he looked up to see a slightly perturbed Riku Harada.

"I don't really believe it was necessary to hit me," he replied quietly, placing his spoon on the table.

"Well, you weren't paying attention to me when I called your name, so I figured this would have to do," she retorted, folding her arms across her chest with a scowl.

They stared at each other for a long moment, almost as if sizing each other up.

"What did you need, Riku?" he asked finally, allowing his annoyance to creep into his voice.

She opened her mouth, then scrunched it shut, and then leaned down next to him. "It's about Daisuke… well… really it's about you, but I'm more concerned about Daisuke, but…."

Satoshi resisted the urge to roll his eyes as she struggled to find her meaning. She sighed in frustration and plunked herself down on the bench next to him, leaning her back against the table. He caught sight of a real worry in her normally fearless eyes, and decided that whatever she had to say was probably important.

"Why don't you accompany me on my way to the library?" he offered, figuring that she wanted someplace to talk where they wouldn't be overheard. She bobbed her head gratefully, and followed him out of the Great Hall.

Once in an empty hallway, she let out a pent up breath and renewed her struggle of an explanation. "In short, Daisuke's worried about you," she said after a series of failed starts.

Satoshi sent her a puzzled look as they stepped onto a staircase and waited for it to swing. "Why would he be worried about me?" he asked. "I would think he'd be plenty worried about himself. Winter break's not far off, and the second task is just after it."

Riku's somewhat hostile look that meant she agreed. "He's freaking out about keeping up with his classes, let alone trying to figure out the secret to the retarded egg! And on top of that, he's all worried about you!" She gripped the staircase's railing much too tightly as it pivoted. "Seriously, have you looked in a mirror lately?"

The question startled him. "Are you questioning my personal hygiene?" he asked, and then suddenly frowned as he considered her meaning further. "Daisuke's worried about how I look?"

"He's not the only one!" she replied, her voice rising slightly. "You look like a ghost! And it's not just how pale you normally are," she continued, stepping off the stairway and practically leading him down the hallway towards the library. The light from the windows was terribly bright, making her somewhat difficult to look at.

"No one ever sees you anymore. You're so quiet, I can't help but wonder if you sneak around on purpose. You've got ugly bags under your eyes. You're skinnier than normal. It looks like you haven't slept in a week! Are you sick? Because if you were, then it'd make sense why you look so awful." She stopped, standing directly in front of him, blocking his path.

"I've been… busy," Satoshi answered, looking towards the bright window, and then looking away because it hurt his eyes. "Tell Daisuke not to worry. I've just got some research I'm in the middle of."

"That book Dark sent you?" she asked levelly.

Again, Satoshi was startled, but this time he hid it by returning her gaze. He hadn't known the thief would blab about the book to either of the twins, but then… he should have known that Daisuke would tell. "It's supposed to be important," he said, shrugging.

"Yeah, well what is it?"

"Daisuke didn't tell you that much? Or…" he said, her wrinkled brow and bitten lower lip giving the answer away. "Daisuke doesn't know either." She nodded.

Satoshi sighed, more in frustration than anything else. The more he read the book, the easier it was to read, so he didn't feel like he needed any help with translation. And he still felt like he didn't want to share it with the twins. And if Dark hadn't explained it to Daisuke….

"Look, I'll help Daisuke with the egg," he said, the words tumbling out of his mouth before he realized what he was saying. It was true that figuring out the secret of the golden egg was going to relieve Daisuke's stress and get Riku off his case, but… he had really planned on leaving it to Daisuke.

Riku paused, and then nodded. "Okay." And the matter was settled.

"Hello," the Artistic Prince replied politely, though he still had no idea where the voice had come from.

"I am here," said the voice that sounded exactly like Dark.

"Who are you? You are very pretty…"

The usual visuals that accompanied the book were absent, and instead there were swirling colors—dark purple, black, and flecks of silver and gold.

"I am the Fox." It was Dark, but somehow he sounded… feral.

"Come play with me. I'm really sad…" the Artistic Prince begged, thinking of his Rose and how she wasn't really very special. She had lied to him, and he had come all this way to save her.

"I cannot play with you," the Fox replied, and from the blackness there was a brief glimmer of sharp, white teeth. "I have not been tamed."

"What does that mean—to tame?" the Prince asked, and suddenly he felt queasy and fearful. This blackness, this swirling cloud of nothing he had been suddenly plunged into when he had heard the voice. It was truly a dark, dark….

"I am not going to play with you," the voice continued, getting louder and louder as the Prince's fear increased. "I am going to eat you."

The dark, secret power the Artistic Prince had kept in check for so long… was going to devour him whole.

"No no!" said the Prince, running away. But there was no place to run, and nowhere to hide. The secret—the voice—was inside him.

"If you do not want to be eaten, then you must tame me," the Fox said, his grin appearing like that of the Cheshire cat. Black feathers gusted by, encasing the Prince in a darkness more absolute than night.

"How do I tame you?" the Prince cried desperately.

The Fox's voice sounded less frightening, almost melancholy as he explained. "To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a dark, dark secret to be kept locked away.

But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I will be unique in all the world."

The darkness had begun to swirl again, signs that light were piercing through. "I am beginning to understand," the Prince said hesitantly. "I think… my Rose has tamed me."

"There have been stranger things," the Fox replied, and the darkness slowed its awful swirling. There was a long silence and then the Fox continued speaking, his voice slower, more thoughtful. "I am constantly locked away in darkness. But... if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a voice that is different from all the Others. Your voice will call me, like music, from the darkness. Think how wonderful that will be!

"Please, tame me!"

For the first time, the Artistic Prince beheld the large, amethyst eyes of the Fox. "I want to, very much. But I have not much time. I must return to my Rose, because it is as you've said: she has tamed me."

"If you want a friend, rather than an enemy, you will tame me," the Fox said, licking his lips as his eyes flashed dangerously.

"What must I do?" asked the Prince, realizing his life was at stake.

"Every day, you must spend time with me. You will say nothing, but instead try to feel closer to me. A little bit each day…" began the Fox.

So every day, the Artistic Prince spent time with the Fox, calling him out of the darkness to enjoy the sun. And in time… the Fox was tamed, and when the Prince decided to go continue the search for the cure for his Rose, the Fox went with him.

For once he was tamed, the Fox gave the Artistic Prince a secret: "What is essential is invisible to the eyes. One can only see with the heart."

And because he was essential to the Artistic Prince, the Fox remained invisible to everyone else, and the Artistic Prince could see him only with his heart. And when they passed by dozens of Roses, the Prince rejoiced to know that his alone was special. His Rose had tamed him, just as he had tamed the Fox.

But because of the Fox, the Artistic Prince also realized that it was the time he had spent with his Rose that made her so important. And now… he had spent all this time away from her, worrying about her future, when in fact, the most important thing…

The invisible thing…

The essential thing… was to be with her now.

And that was when the Artistic Prince had met, in a desert a million miles from anywhere, Antoine de Saint-Clair.

Satoshi's mind was still somewhere between the magical world of Hogwarts and the one painted by the words of Saint-Clair. But he also felt a strange tug, as if he were being pulled against his will to focus on the stone walls of the old castle and the growing proximity of Daisuke's second task.

He sighed, continuing up the winding staircase to the room where the redhead was waiting. He had a feeling Riku, the enthusiastically athletic girl that she was, had deciding to send him to the top of a tower just to look at the mysterious golden egg. Perhaps it was a hint that he was supposed to be eating more and that he really was in a sorry state of affairs. He leaned against the wall to catch his breath, feeling like the air the filled his chest was the only thing that was even inside him.

Realizing that his thoughts about feeling shell-like were only making him depressed, he continued up the stairs and finally pushed open the door at the top. It creaked loudly, and moments later Daisuke was smiling brightly at him, waving him over with an expression that looked like a mixture between happiness and relief.

"Thanks for coming up here, Hiwatari," Daisuke said, rubbing the back of his neck as if he were embarrassed.

Satoshi shook his head, feeling a smile come to his lips. For some reason, the sight of the golden egg in the center of the room calmed him. There was no one and nothing else in the room but the two of them and the egg, and it gleamed in the thin winter light from the windows.

"It's not a problem," Satoshi answered, approaching the egg. He bent down to look at it, and then picked it up off the floor as Daisuke crouched behind him. "Have you figured anything out yet?" he asked.

"When I open it up, it just screeches," the boy replied hopelessly. "Dark's always laughing at me, probably because he knows the secret." His face turned into a sour pout and he brought his hands up to either side of his head, scrunching them in his spiky hair.

Satoshi gave his friend a bemused smile. "If Dark knows already, then why is he letting you ask me?"

"Uh, well…" Daisuke began, frowning and looking away. "Dark actually… didn't want me to ask you for help."

Satoshi sighed. "That's not very surprising, actually." Dark had never really seemed to like him, probably because he had tried his very best to capture the Phantom Thief, not to mention he had been Krad's tamer….

"He says you're supposed to be reading the book he gave you…." Daisuke's voice was dismal, as if he expected Satoshi to just up and leave now that he was aware of Dark's wishes.

"I am reading it," he replied. "And it's not as if there's something wrong with taking a break," he continued, wondering why he was taking a break. The book fascinated him far more than the silly golden egg. Besides, if Dark knew the secret, why wasn't he helping Daisuke instead?

Daisuke sighed. "Well, do you want to hear what it does?" he asked, holding his hands out for the egg. Satoshi passed it to him with a nod.

Moments later, the most horrible screeching wail filled the room. It was worse than nails on a chalkboard or a foghorn in the ear, and sounded rather like the two of them together with a dying tyrannosaurus rex. Satoshi plugged his ears immediately, but the noise still penetrated past his hands and echoed in his skull in the most nauseating fashion.

"Close it!" he shouted, gesturing with his elbow at the egg. Daisuke looked as if he couldn't actually hear Satoshi's words over the noise, but he was still easily able to comprehend the meaning.

Silence washed over them, and Satoshi shook his head. "It's unlike anything I've ever heard," he said as his ears continued ringing.

"I know. And I can't imagine that there's some kind of clue in this noise…."

"Maybe the noise itself is the clue. Do sound waves have magical properties?" It was something to consider.

"I don't know anything about sound waves at all!" Daisuke replied in concern. "What am I going to do…."

Wasn't spell incantations a form a sound? In that case….

"Aww, come on, you're not helping at all!" Daisuke whined, pushing his palm to his temple. He had his eyes closed and it was obvious he was talking to Dark.

"Daisuke, maybe it means you won't be able to say your spells out loud," Satoshi reasoned, ignoring his friend's outburst.

"Dark says we're in left field," the redhead mumbled sourly.

Satoshi held out his hand and Daisuke placed the egg in it. Perhaps there was some kind of inscription on the outside? But the surface, although it wasn't completely smooth, had nothing in the way of letters, symbols, or pictures. Maybe if he plugged his ears and looked at the inside….

The door swung open, and an ominous-looking, black-haired professor stood in the entryway. He looked… triumphant, then slightly surprised, and finally smug. His eyes had landed on the golden egg immediately.

"And what might you two be doing here? Alone, with the property of a single champion?" he asked, striding towards them so that his long black robes billowed dramatically.

Satoshi and Daisuke stood rapidly. "Well, I am a champion, sir," Daisuke said breathlessly, his German accent more prominent than usual. "So, um, it's my egg."

"Then why is it in your friends' hands, Niwa?" the professor hissed. "That'll be at least 50 points from Gryffindor for cheating, if the Headmaster doesn't find grounds for eliminating you from the competition entirely!"

Daisuke appeared too shocked to respond. Satoshi reasoned, however, that elimination might be their best option. They had enough to worry about already.

"I asked him if I could look at it," Satoshi said, holding up the egg. "It's not really his fault—I've always been stronger and smarter than Daisuke, and I wanted to see if I could figure out the trick to the egg myself."

It was… mostly… a lie. And yet, the excuse was more truth than not.

"I'm not letting you both off so easily," the professor sneered, his eyes lingering on Daisuke. "Both of you will accompany me to the Headmaster's office at this very moment."

Daisuke nodded slowly, staring down at the ground. Satoshi shrugged. "You actually have no jurisdiction over me," he stated calmly, "but I'll accompany you nonetheless." Remembering how much he didn't trust the Headmaster, he figured it was best to not let Daisuke go alone.

The professor's eyes narrowed at him, as if he were trying to give him some kind of threat or warning, and then he turned. Satoshi sighed, handing Daisuke the egg. They followed the professor's billowing black robes down the stairs and towards the Headmaster's office, getting curious looks from the other students as they passed.

"Ah, yes," Albus Dumbledore said, nodding from behind his large desk. "I understand precisely what you are saying, Professor Snape." The Headmaster sat back, tapping his long fingers together in front of his hooked nose and half-moon glasses. "Accusations of cheating during an international tournament such as this one is should not be made lightly. Getting someone else to do the work set out for the champion goes against the rules, and must be punished." Dumbledore gave Professor Snape a very long stare. "If Mr. Niwa is indeed found guilty of it."

From his position next to Daisuke at the door, Satoshi could not see the expression on the teacher's face, only the rise and fall of his shoulders as he took a deep breath.

"Headmaster, I found the two of them in a tower. It was obvious from the noise that they had been searching for the clue, and the egg was not in Niwa's hands!"

"Yes, you've said as much already," the Headmaster said politely, raising a hand to silence his subordinate. "But let us review the rules of the tournament, and then ask the boys themselves whether they believe they were cheating." Dumbledore motioned Satoshi and Daisuke forward with a finger, and then adjusted his glasses as he looked down at a piece of old parchment.

Standing beside Professor Snape, Satoshi could hear the man's loud, frustrated breath exit his nose every few seconds. But his attention was focused mostly on Dumbledore. Was the man trying to find some loophole so Daisuke could keep competing just because he desired his school's success? Or was he up to something else? Satoshi didn't believe in the man's absent-minded professor routine for one moment.

"Ah, here it is," Dumbledore said with the air of a person who has just found their glasses, which happen to be on the top of their head. The man held up the paper and read clearly, "Any person whose name is chosen by the Goblet of Fire will be known as a champion, and placed into a magical, binding contract, the terms of which are as follows.

"One: champions must participate in the three tasks decided by the tournament committee.

"Two: champions must complete the tasks using their own knowledge, skills, and innate abilities.

"Three: champions will accept the scores of the judges and their final placing.

"Four: champions will not be excused from competition except via death, dismemberment, severe mental instability, or life-threatening illness."

Dumbledore placed the sheet back on his desk, sighed heavily, and then looked back towards the three faces before him. "So it appears even I am unable to excuse anyone from the tournament on the grounds of cheating," he said quietly, and Snape nodded resolutely. He opened his mouth as if to speak more, but was cut off as Dumbledore continued.

"But, there is the matter of the reputation of Hogwarts. I cannot allow non-students to tarnish this institution's reputation during an international tournament. The rules clearly state that you may only participate in the tasks if you are a champion." Dumbledore's keen eyes looked to Daisuke before settling on Satoshi.

"And you are only a champion if your name is chosen by the Goblet of Fire."

Satoshi suddenly drew in a breath. So that was what the man was after! Dumbledore knew very well that the name "Kokuyoku" had been chosen. So he was asking Satoshi to confess? And if he didn't….

If he didn't, Dumbledore was likely to dismiss him from the school. He would be cut off from Daisuke, from Dark, from Le Prince Artistique, and from—he realized with a jolt—a tournament that had been distracting his mind all this time, tickling the edges of his consciousness with a desire to adhere to the binding contract of the Triwizard Tournament.

Satoshi's eyes narrowed as he stared at Dumbledore with a look of near contempt. "I have broken no rules," Satoshi told the old man levelly.

Snape sputtered in his peripheral vision. Even Daisuke looked shocked. Only Dumbledore smiled knowingly, but there was a touch of something grave in his face. Perhaps he was finally taking Satoshi seriously?

"And since that is the case, I would appreciate it if you do not waste my time any further. I don't appreciate harassment from your subordinates, and I dislike the thought of it being directed at such a close friend of mine, either." Satoshi maintained an icy disposition. He hated the way the Headmaster had tricked him into given up his secret—the fact that Dumbledore tried to have him say it out loud, in front of a completely uninvolved teacher, irritated him. It was obvious that the man had suspected his true identity all along, but his desire for confirmation was testament to his lack of confidence in his suspicions.

Satoshi hated it. He turned on his heel, letting the surprised face of the Headmaster slip from his vision.

"No…. let him be." The old wizard's soft, defeated voice reached him on his steady walk to the door. He didn't turn around.

Together, in the desert a million miles from civilization, Saint-Clair and the Artistic Prince searched for water. As night fell, they admired the beauty of the stars, the desert, and each other's hearts. As the Artistic Prince drifted off to sleep, Saint-Clair felt a moment of foreboding.

"What I see here is but a shell," he murmured, gazing at the sleeping form of the Prince. "What is essential is invisible…."

Saint-Clair tried to shake himself of his unease, but found himself continuing to speak, almost against his wishes. "What moves me so deeply about this sleeping prince is his loyalty to his Rose—she shines through his whole being like a bright flame, even when he is asleep…."

But Saint-Clair no longer felt that the Artistic Prince was immune to the harsh nature of the Others' world. The Prince felt fragile in his arms, as if he were nothing more than a flickering flame, to be extinguished by the tiniest breath of wind….

At daybreak, they arrived at a well. They drank the water together, and still, even in daylight, Saint-Clair could not shake his dark thoughts. He felt as if something terrible were about to befall the Prince.

The next evening was the anniversary of the Prince's first day in the Others' world. The Prince smiled at Saint-Clair, and suddenly Saint-Clair perceived a great wall separating them.

The wall grew thicker, and it seemed as if the Prince were speaking from across a vast distance. His voice was muffled and far away. Saint-Clair could not tell if the Prince were on top of the great wall, or on the other side. He could no longer see the Prince clearly, and between them, where the impenetrable wall stood… flowed the long, golden form of the Snake.

"I am going home today." The words of the distant Artistic Prince floated over him. Saint-Clair could feel the Snake's smile, but the rest of the conversation was muted. The slightly melancholy smile of the Artistic Prince vanished into a thick haze that glittered like drops of gold.

That night, Saint-Clair did not notice the Artistic Prince's departure. It must have been near midnight when he awoke and began his search for the Prince. He felt disoriented, lost, and not entirely himself.

"Ah! You are there," the Prince said, taking Saint-Clair by the hand. "You know I am responsible for my Rose. And she is so weak! She is so naïve! She has no means to protect herself against the all the world."

Saint-Clair nodded, embracing the Artistic Prince. He wanted to tell the Prince that he should not trust the Snake, but found that he could not speak. The Prince took a step back.

Saint-Clair could not move.

There was a flash of yellow in his vision, a spark of gold. But the arms that reached for the Artistic Prince were not his own. The wall had returned between them, and his arms were those of the golden Snake.

Gently, they settled on the pale, smooth skin of the Artistic Prince's throat. And with greater and greater strength they began to squeeze. As the pressure built, Saint-Clair could feel more and more the rage and jealousy of the Snake.

Rose had threatened the existence of the Fox. In the beginning, the power of her love had allowed the Artistic Prince to subdue his dark secret. The Snake, himself a secret—but one of bright, burning light—came to hate the Rose. The deep crimson of her velvet petals would be most beautiful when scattered across her lonely world.

But it had already been too late. Before the Snake could intervene, the Fox had understood what it was to be loved. The taming had changed the nature of the Fox's very existence.

The Snake could not stand it. Every fiber of his golden, glowing form shone with a deep hatred for humanity. A jealous rage shook him as he considered the Fox, snug and warm with the happiness that filled the Artistic Prince's heart.

And the Artistic Prince's heart grew dark as he struggled, in vain, until the very end.

Satoshi almost closed the book, feeling drained. He knew in the way that only a Hikari could know that the story had been true. His fingers were still trapped between its covers, and he could feel how near he was to the end. There was only one page left.

It was not nearly enough to provide redemption for Saint-Clair or the Snake. And Satoshi did not expect there to be any. In the same way he knew it had been true, he had also known there would be no redemption from even before he opened the first page with his French-German dictionary beside him.

It was up to three hundred years later, and the guilt still lingered in his blood.

In his veins flowed the regret and horror of an innocent killed, and the shame of a wild animal left untamed. The taste of failure was bitter and heavy on his tongue.


"And now, of course, it has been six years already…. I have never spoken of this story before. The Others were all well pleased just to see me return alive. I was depressed, but I told them: I am tired.

Now I am slightly consoled. That is to say… not at all. But I know well that he returned to his world, because, when the sun rose, there was nothing—no Prince, no Fox, no Snake. Everything—or nothing—was lost after all… And I love to listen to the colors on the canvas. They are like five hundred million bells….

But here something extraordinary remains. When I met the Artistic Prince, I had forgotten the Snake! I never had any way to control him and no way of knowing where he had been. And so I ask myself: 'What happened in that world? Did the Rose bloom and plant a seed…'

Sometimes I tell myself: 'Of course! The Prince spent so much time with his Rose, it is obvious they wanted to plant something in that flowerpot…' And so I am happy. And all the colors laugh gently.

Sometimes I tell myself: 'All it takes is to be distracted one time or another! He left the Rose without a flowerpot during all his travels, and the Snake snuck in without a sound…' And so the bells all change into tears!

This is a mystery. For you who also loves the Artistic Prince, like for me, nothing in the universe is the same if somewhere, no one knows where, a seed that we've never seen—yes or no—was it eaten by a Snake?

Look at the all the colors. Ask yourself: Did a Snake eat a seed? And you will see everything change….

And no Other will ever understand how important this is!

This is, for me, the most beautiful and the saddest landscape in the world. It's the same landscape I have drawn before, but I drew it one more time to show you well. It is here that the Artistic Prince first appeared on the earth, and here that he then disappeared.

Stare at this landscape carefully so that you will recognize it, if you ever journey to the deep desert. And, if you happen to pass by here, I beg you, do not hurry past, wait just a little under the star! And if you see a child coming towards you, if he laughs, if he has hair of brick-red, if he has the heart of a Fox and eyes that see the invisible, then you know full well who he is. And so be gentle. Do not leave me in sorrow: write me, to tell me that he has returned…."

farm3. static. flickr. com/2061/2192983998_

Author's Note: The above link is the image described. Add the http whatnot and delete the spaces when you put it into your browser.

Also, I used some French. So for those of you who don't know the language and are dying to know what was said at the beginning….

These sentences are taken from Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in chapter VI and XXVII. The translations are my own.

"Tu sais… quand on est tellement triste on aime les couchers de soleil…"

"You know… when you are really sad you like sunsets…"

"Le jour des quarante-quatre fois, tu étais donc tellement triste?"

"The day you watched them 44 times, you were truly so sad?"


Chapter 27

Also, much much MUCH of this chapter is based on Le Petit Prince. I've adapted the story to give it a pre-Cultural Revolution flavor. Some places I have translated word for word (such as significant portions of "Chapitre XXVII"), and in others I have adjusted drastically, with more other places falling somewhere between those two extremes. If you've never had the pleasure of reading the book, I suggest doing so. You can find it online in English and/or French (and probably any other language) via a Google search. Being a children's book, it is a very quick read—it is probably faster to read that this unfinished fanfiction, and it is, in many ways, a much better read, too.

Lastly, please leave a review. I worked very hard on this chapter, and I would love to hear your comments.