Disclaimer: Anything you recognize – be it character, location, idea or line – belongs to others, I may be playing with them but I make no profit from this.
Harry is seventeen when he sets foot in Britain again, for the first time in over a decade.
It is a hot, humid, late August day; Diagon Alley, London's most renown magical shopping area, is lively with mid-morning activities and even if the hustle and bustle is still a bit subdued, an aftereffect of the war that has dominated the last few years, business is slowly but surely picking up in the newly-acquired peacetime.
Everyone on the street stops short, forgetting their own business to stare wide-eyed at the spectacle making its way out of Gringotts and down the bank's white marble staircase.
A handsome young man in emerald green, gold-trimmed robes, walks leisurely down the Alley, loftily ignoring the stunned stares fixed on him, dark hair falling untidily over his unsettling bright eyes and an aura of innate confidence and grace in the way he moves.
At his side walks gracefully another man, unremarkable in comparison but still eye-catching on this particular road because of his muggle attire, with short white hair and bespectacled eyes full of curiosity and charming wonder.
But it's the huge, maneless feline keeping pace with them that draws most gazes. A tawny lion padding down a busy street would be an eye-opener even if the creature didn't have enormous white wings, after all. Add to that an impressive, ruby-studded armour...
Terrified awe is easily clearing a path before the trio and a storm of whispers alights the very instant they pass.
Despite thoroughly enjoying the rare luxury of walking around freely in his true form, Keroberos isn't particularly happy, as testified by his constant grumbles. The bank-stuff was boring. And the portable console Harry bought him for the trip stopped working! It simply up and short-circuited on him! Just as he was about to face the final boss, too! Life is just unfair.
He can't even vent his frustration in his usual way, namely teasing Yue, because the crabby Moon Guardian is expressing his disapproval of the whole expedition by brooding away inside Yukito. Never mind that he agreed to come in the first place.
Harry, too, isn't too enthusiastic about visiting Britain. He never would have considered it under normal circumstances, but the letter that turned up on the kitchen counter about a week after his seventeenth birthday, detailing the necessity of a meeting to go over his previously unknown account at the London Branch of Gringotts Bank, has forced his hand.
Harry knows his family would think his worries utter silliness, but that doesn't stop him from being anxious about how much he owes them for everything they did and do for him. He's been taking odd-jobs in his spare time since he turned fifteen because of this carefully hidden unease, despite Touya and Fujitaka both telling him he shouldn't worry about a thing; he cannot help it.
The news of an inheritance of his own, however small, that will help with his college tuition when he eventually graduates, is certainly not unwelcome. So here they are, and to Harry's surprise, there was a tidy sum to his name awaiting him, that he could easily transfer to his bank account in Tomoeda, in spite of the goblins' chagrin. Hey, it's not his fault they don't have a branch in Japan, is it?
The bank vault was a pleasant surprise, but nevertheless, neither he nor his Guardians have any intention of remaining in England an instant longer than is strictly necessary to complete important business.
Of course, in a group comprised of Harry, Keroberos and Yukito, it goes without saying that 'important business' includes getting ice-cream.
Yue's ominous warnings go unlistened to. The Moon Guardian can't help but be worried that someone might recognize his Master. Judging by the absurd uproar, filled with wild accusations, even wilder speculations and baffling panic, that spread like fire after 'Harry Potter' failed to show up at Hogwarts at age eleven, it is clear that the British wizarding world had – and might still have – an unhealthy obsession with their so-called 'Boy-Who-Lived'.
Although his complete 'disappearance' and supposed death has cooled the stalkerish hero-worshipping tendencies, there is no guarantee that a sighting wouldn't rekindle all the unwholesome enthusiasm of this society of gossipmongers. That, in the Moon Guardian's opinion, makes it a very, very bad idea to go where he might possibly be recognized...
But there is no reasoning with Kero when sweets are involved, and with Yukito and his Master backing the silly lion, Yue knows he stands no chance.
Adelaide Fortescue, who has not long ago reopened her late husband's parlour, watches with slight horror as a huge armoured beast with wings bounds up to her counter, petrifying her and all her customers with fear, and goggles at the rows of colourful ice-cream bowls she has on display with stars in its eyes.
"Ice-cream!" shouts Keroberos in the deep tones of his true form, making everybody in the parlour gasp and whimper. He stands enthusiastically on his rear paws and plasters himself against the protective glass, looking completely ridiculous.
"I want this!" he yells, pointing at random. "And this! And this!" He is positively drooling over the many many flavours. "I want to try them all! Ice-cream ice-cream ice-cream ice-cream!"
A chuckling Yukito coming up behind the crazed beast with his heart-melting smile and a bag of tinning Galleons big enough to reassure her about the army-sized order does wonders to turn Adelaide Fortescue's day around.
"Ice-cream! Ice-cream ice-cream ice-cream...!" pants Keroberos, making Yukito chuckle even more.
The poor woman smiles tentatively at the odd pair as she starts scooping up a bit of ice-cream with a nervous hand, to the Sun Guardian's squealing delight.
Meanwhile Harry snatches up a copy of the Daily Prophet and takes a seat at one of the outside tables, very deliberately ignoring the gaping stares from the curious onlookers that are still making a circle around him.
The newspaper is full of the aftermath of the war that ended the previous May. Harry already has an idea of how that went: after the two wizards' attempt at getting him involved, seven years earlier, his family has been nervous enough to want to keep an eye on things.
Staying in touch with Eriol helped a lot with that. After his letter of apology arrived, Sakura, beautiful soul that she is, decided to do her best to renew their tentative friendship and they have kept in contact fairly regularly ever since.
The magician has even visited Tomoeda a few times. Touya and Yuki tend to disappear in those occasions, possibly to avoid the temptation of hanging the ever-perky Akizuki from the bell-tower, but Harry has come to decide that Spinel Sun is rather good company, once you get over how invariably serious he is.
As for Eriol himself, while his and Harry's opinions tend to be polar opposites ninety percent of the time, they can at least be polite to each other for Sakura's sake; besides, over the years some genuine respect has grown between them, despite their differences.
The powerful magician has been kind enough to forward to Sakura with regularity British newspapers, both non-magical and wizardly, and Yukito has taken it upon himself to track the news and relate the salient facts to the rest of the family.
Yukito even managed to get this effort recognized as an extra-credit project for his undergraduate program in journalism, though how he pulled that off, Harry has no clue. Then again, nothing less from the boy who convinced a serious, reliable Drama teacher to change Cinderella's fairy godmother into a can of mackerel.
A combination of his bright smile, big innocent eyes, and Yue's moon magic, probably, thinks Harry with a fond smile. Even Touya is wrapped around Yuki's little finger, so what chance has the rest of the world, really?
Whatever his secret, it works wonders now that he's completed his Master and become a full-fledged journalist, too. Nobody denies him an interview... and he gets the director of his newspaper to accept the oddest work-hours from him without questions, thus easily accommodating Yue's life as well.
With a little help, here and there, from Mirror, who is always delighted to stand in for him if needed, especially since it generally means spending time with Touya. Harry thinks her crush on his big brother is absolutely sweet.
Harry's thoughts fly to Touya, who couldn't accompany them today because he's been roped into organizing a seminar to supplement the main lectures of the Astronomy course. Perks of being a graduate assistant!
He's probably having more fun then they are, though, thinks Harry rather ruefully. His big brother loves astrophysics and he loves teaching too. Then again, the number of silly student who sign up for his presentations just because they have a crush on him never fails to irritate him...
Just like the rudely whispering gawkers circling him right now are irritating Harry to no end.
He sighs, doing his best to ignore them as he glances over the newspaper. The Daily Prophet has been full of 'He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's' defeat since last May. Albus Dumbledore's most noble sacrifice has featured prominently too. The 'Conqueror of Two Dark Lords' is an all-time favourite with the British public, hailed as the 'second Merlin' and praised to the skies from every corner.
Today, there is another familiar name in print. Front page and above the fold, too. Severus Snape, man of spiteful courage, indomitable cynic, nervously acknowledged hero, is to receive his Order of Merlin today. The picture shows him limping up to a short, pudgy-looking official, forbiddingly dark and scowling, just as Harry remembers him.
The green-eyed young man bits his lip hard to prevent himself from voicing the bitterly smug comment running through his head: See, Professor Snape? You didn't need me after all, you managed just fine!
Harry closes the paper with another sigh. He isn't particularly interested, to be honest. He can't even enjoy this trip as if it was a holiday, because of all the unpleasant connotations Britain has for him. He would much rather be home, watching Tomoyo go off in raptures over the preparations for Sakura's impending wedding, of which she has – predictably - taken over the costumes entirely.
Sakura has been a completely elated, nervous wreck ever since Syaoran proposed, fretting over a million things incessantly and never losing her enormous smile, not even when asleep.
Harry has no qualms teasing her incessantly. Who would have thought that getting married would make her so anxious? Especially since everybody with eyes has been expecting it for years.
Even Touya is reconciled with the idea at last. Well, mostly. Resigned, if nothing else. He still thinks they should wait until after college at the very least, better still until they get their Masters and secure jobs, even longer if it were up to him... but he doesn't voice his opinion more than once a day anymore. And he'll surely stop making Syaoran's life hard after the wedding. Probably. Hopefully...
"This is great! Wonderful! Best ice-cream ever!" Keroberos' enthusiastic voice intrudes in Harry's thoughts as his Sun Guardian bounds up to him in excitement, followed by Yukito who is balancing an impressive amount of ice-cream bowls on a serving tray.
"I got you chocolate and raspberry with chopped nuts, for starters!" the beaming young man tells him and Harry perks up on the spot.
He plunges a spoon in the creamy red and raises a curious eyebrow towards the triumph of light green and dark purple before Yukito, who grins: "Fresh mint and bramble with sprinkled almonds!"
"So many flavours! This is amazing! I could taste something different every day for a year and more! I love this place! Ice-cream! Ice-cream ice-cream ice-cream...!" Keroberos's raptures are gathering a lot of stunned and more and more amused by-watchers and Harry and Yukito share a fond smile. He'll never change.
"There you are," a soft, calm voice startles them and Harry turns sharply.
A tall young man with long, blue-black hair and smiling grey eyes behind elegant glasses is standing just behind him, a blue-winged, black plush-toy on his shoulder. His flowing robes, midnight blue with onyx black trims, are even more impressive than Harry's.
The green-eyed young man blinks. "Eriol?"
"Hello, Harry," the other says quietly.
Harry smiles a bit uncertainly.
Yukito tenses and asks warily: "Good day, Mr. Hiiragizawa... Is...?"
Eriol smiles: "No, Ruby hasn't come." Yukito's slumping relief is almost comical and the magician's smile widens: "It took some persuading, though."
In spite of his usual kind politeness, Yukito doesn't hide his grimace. That woman is a nightmare. In both her forms.
Eriol and Harry know all too well that it isn't a good idea to put her and Yue – or Touya for that matter - in the same room, no matter how much she whines for it; not if they want the room intact afterwards.
They are both rather grateful that their respective Sun Guardians, at least, get along. Of course, that is a matter of opinions. Case in point...
"No, I don't want any ice-cream, you big, happy-go-lucky blob. I don't like sweets," comes from the stiffly annoyed little black plushie with butterfly wings.
"Sure you do! Everybody loves sweets!" is Kero's exuberant contribution, and he raises his third bowl of banana ice cream with fudge pieces and toffee sauce invitingly.
"I don't. And even if I did, I wouldn't risk diabetes by eating that much," sniffs Spinel contemptibly.
"You ate a ton and a half that one time!" shouts the armoured lion pointing an accusing paw.
"You are astonishingly clueless," is the even retort. "I am amazed at my own patience."
"Don't be bashful, Suppie, there's plenty for everyone!"
"...I should have brought a book."
Harry shakes his head at their familiar antics and turns to Eriol: "What brings you here today?"
"I Saw you'd be here and thought I should drop by to say hello. I don't think you would have come to me, would you?"
Harry's smile turns embarrassed. It's true, he wouldn't have gone. He likes the magician just fine, but not enough to actually seek him out!
He pushes a bowl of luxury vanilla ice cream rippled with orange sauce and chocolate pieces towards the tall young man, in a roundabout apology: "Come on, sit with us!"
"Thank you," smiles Eriol.
"So you foretold our coming, Mr. Hiiragizawa?" asks Yukito curiously while he tastes a bowl of vanilla crisscrossed by various forest fruit ripple rather thoughtfully.
"Still playing with fortune telling, then?" comments Harry tauntingly, but with warmth in his tone, to take off the sting.
Eriol isn't fazed: "Still refusing to acknowledge your gift?" he replies in the same tone.
It is a long-standing argument between them. Harry steers clear of most that has to do with prophecies and predictions, wary even of Touya's 'feelings', while Eriol still believes firmly in the potency of that branch of magic, which he finds utterly fascinating.
Their arguments are fairly amicable nowadays, though.
Harry rolls his eyes at the other: "Leave it be, will you? That stuff's just not for me."
Eriol shakes his head, looking sad: "I feel responsible for that. That you're so uneasy with a good portion of your powers... it's my fault. If I hadn't..."
Harry waves him off: "It's in the past. You shouldn't keep blaming yourself. I suspect I would have come to loath prophecies and fated destinies anyway, even if you'd been more sensible about the whole thing."
He's thinking of the Prophecy that dominated his early life – that took his parents from him and gave him a horribly cursed scar and unwanted fame in exchange; the Prophecy that might have forced him into a kill-or-be-killed role, if it weren't for his family and his Card-friends.
"No, seriously. We've forgiven you, remember? As long as you don't make the same mistakes again..."
Eriol grimaces faintly.
"Besides, you were sort of right, about Sakura-nee-chan at least," Harry admits reluctantly.
"What do you mean?" asks Eriol, surprised.
"Oh, hasn't my sister told you? She's been creating her own Cards!"
The Hope was the first, but Sakura's deck is slowly growing: it already counts three lovely, pink-backed Cards and his sister is working hard to try and create her own version of her much-missed friend, The Windy.
"Amazing!" breathes Eriol in wonder. "You have to tell me everything! Please!"
With a quick wave of his hand and a muttered incantation, the magician's long staff appears and is swung around in a peculiar pattern. Eriol doesn't move from his seat and he doesn't lose his even smile, but the curious, gossiping onlookers' eyes glaze over, caught in his illusion spell.
Murmurs raise from the crowd: mutterings about something to do, an appointment to get to, and wouldn't you look at the time... suddenly, their little group – strange men and talking plush toy and armoured lion and huge amount of ice-cream - isn't all that interesting anymore and life goes on around them, a stream that ignores them utterly. Harry has a strong suspicion that people's recollections of their presence in Diagon Alley will be too blurry and hazy to make sense.
He shakes his head in quiet wonder.
For all his power, he wouldn't have a clue how to go about doing something of that magnitude, let alone doing it so casually. Eriol isn't even paying attention to the effect of his spell, eagerly waiting for Harry to tell him more about Sakura's successes.
The green-eyed youth hesitates, however.
They might not have mentioned his sister's original creations before, but Eriol already knows about the second Card Sakura welcomed in her care, and that was a right sad business, from what The Return has shown him after it was all said and done.
It had been one of Touya's premonitions that had led the dark-haired man and Sakura to find 'something the troublemaking brat left in the house that had been Clow Reed's, something he didn't tell anybody about, that will be trouble if it's just left there...'
To their surprise and chagrin, that 'something' had turned out to be a lonely, forgotten Card, one that time and dejections had filled with sadness and impotent rage.
Harry hadn't ever met it in its original form.
He'd been on a week-long school trip to the seaside at the time, with Kero ensconced in his backpack, facing mosquitoes and beach-volley matches and a test of courage in a nearby cave at night.
Thankfully Yue had been home to help Sakura and Touya deal with the spherical black void of emptiness that had taken to destroy everything it got in touch with.
It had taken Touya, Yue and Sakura a while to make out, in the centre of the terrible emptiness they seemed utterly unable to fight, a young girl with wings over her head and a small face full of sorrow, her hair long and silvery, her dress frilled and flowing and her eyes rimmed with tears.
Sakura had cried while telling Harry how unbearably lonesome the poor Card had felt to her empathic abilities, having suffered the pain of loss and loneliness for centuries. He couldn't even imagine how that would be like... to be unable to interact with others without destroying them... no wonder the poor thing had fallen into hysterical despair...
Personally, Harry blamed Eriol. Or Clow. Or both. Clow had made The Void so that the only beings that could interact with her safely were the other Clow Cards, but then he'd gone on with his scheme to pass the Cards on and practically forgotten her, and so had Eriol.
When she'd felt all of the other Cards changing, Harry and his Guardians turning away from the mansion she was confined in, then Eriol and his Guardians leaving too, and nobody setting foot where she was for the longest time... she'd believed that all her friends had abandoned her, uncaring, that she'd been forgotten and deserted, that she'd be alone forever, with no hope of relief. And she'd snapped.
Luckily all the damage and deaths caused by The Void had been miraculously undone after Sakura had talked her down from her despair gently, promising she needn't ever be alone again... The powerful girl had created a Card on the spot, a nameless, unfinished one, that portrayed a young girl wearing a pink baby doll, with a sweet, shy smile and outstretched arms.
The Void, wary and hopeful at once, had let herself be Sealed under the power of Sakura's staff and then the teenage girl's Circle had widened under her feet, its golden glow brightening even more, and words had come to her on instinct: an incantation to allow the two quivering Cards, one longing the other welcoming, to merge under her command.
Their spirit selves shooting out into translucent tendrils of magic and entwining tightly with each other had been a beautiful, awing spectacle, as had their gentle coalescing into a single Card frame.
The pink Card born that day has Sakura's circled Star on its back, same as The Hope, and on its front, the two little girls hugging each other with cute, happy smiles on their faces. The name The Hug is etched in the customary little scroll at the bottom.
Eriol had been contacted while the crisis lasted, in the hope he could help them figure it out, and had arrived after everything had settled, at about the same time as Harry was coming back from his trip.
For the first time, Harry had witnessed Sakura actually getting angry. Not just peeved or annoyed, but furious. She had rounded on Eriol with flashing eyes and a voice loud enough to be heard outside the house, berating him fiercely for the pain he had inflicted upon the little Card.
And Eriol, smooth, suave Eriol, who always has a calm, cool composure, who is never concerned about what other people may think of his lifestyle or his methods and is always in control of the situation, hardly ever letting his composure slip, had flinched and quivered and completely caved in front of her ire, mortified and abashed.
Yue had commented in vague amazement that he would never have imagined to see such a powerful magician cowed, much less by a young teenage girl. Kero had just whispered that he would never have guessed that Sakura could be as scary as her big brother.
She had made quite sure that his chagrin at the whole débâcle would not be easily forgotten: "You can't go around flinging power left and right and then forget the consequences!" she'd ranted at the English boy, lips thinned in her outrage.
Eriol's self-confidence had come out of the confrontation severely shaken. Which, according to Touya, could only do him some good.
Still, a hot, lazy day full of amazingly tasty ice-cream isn't the right time to remind a powerful magician of his own fallibility, so Harry glosses over The Hug's birth and breezily recounts how The Hope came to be instead, and after that, Sakura's next creation, one born of sorrow and forbearance.
Sakura's friend and classmate Yanagisawa Naoko has died of cancer at barely sixteen. It has been a hard blow to his caring sister, who right to the end has hoped so hard that everything would turn out all right...
Their little group of friends had been unwilling to resign themselves until the very last... Naoko was too sweet to have this happen, too kind, too young! She hadn't graduated yet... she hadn't written her own horror novel... she hadn't even been kissed yet!
Sakura had come home for days on end talking sadly of white-wearing nurses and white walls and white sheets and Naoko's white face, her smiles half-hearted at best.
She had hoped so hard that the doctors might have made a mistake... that the illness might recede... that there would be a way... that she could do something, anything!
But in the end, there are things that even magic can't fix.
This painful understanding is what gave birth to The Truth, a serious, ageless elvish woman with light blue hair and eyes, that in her Card form contemplates a blue world globe: a counterpoint to The Hope, that shows reality in all its starkness when it is needed.
Yet although it was created out of Sakura's need to come to terms with grief and the bad things that life contains, it has turned out a more gratifying Card than they expected, for it also shows with the same clarity everything good the world has to offer.
Like how kind, book-loving Naoko, so fond of scary tales, so full of daring willingness to explore any mysterious situations she might hear of, had refused to be scared of her own death, bravely declaring it 'a new mystery', to try and cheer up her friends and family. How she had enjoyed her interest for the supernatural world and things such as ghosts, monsters, superstitions and the like, right to the very end, putting her huge imagination to good use while she had the chance. How she had left behind so many good memories...
It has been up to Sakura then, to apply the lesson her father had been teaching her all her life, ever since her mum's death: never to cry and sadden herself for a loss, never to wish for what hadn't been with regrets, but instead always to remember the best of those who have come before with fondness.
The Truth helps coping with the past, just like The Hope aids in facing the future. And somehow, the two Cards represent how Sakura goes through life these days.
Right after Naoko's funeral, she has declared her intention to become a doctor, to her family's surprise and pride.
Touya initially teased her something awful about choosing a path that has that much maths and science in it; she's sticking to it, however, and is already halfway through her six-years undergraduate program. She faces every exam and practice hour with a beautiful smile and the determination to do her best to help her patients.
Harry envies her a little, or rather, he envies that she's found a way in life that fulfils her. His own future looks so uncertain still. He is interested in a great many things, but none of them are a real passion. Luckily he yet has a whole semester before having to decide.
"So Clow's vision was spot on, after all..." comments Eriol in soft wonder, leaning back on his chair with a faraway look.
"Now don't you go thinking you can arrange everybody's future again!..." grumbles Harry, jolted out of his musings by the suspiciously dreamy expression of the other magician.
"No," denies Eriol quietly. "I have learned my lesson. I won't stop trying to figure the future out, not ever. But I'll be careful never to dismiss the possibility of change, of the unexpected, and of people's free choices. That much I promise you."
"Well, I suppose it's as good as I'll get..."
"You can't expect him to deny the power of foresight, Harry," interjects Yukito gently. "After all, it is factual. You shouldn't negate it either."
Harry scowls, ferociously attacking an all-chocolate bowl to avoid replying. Maybe his aversion to Divination is a bit irrational, but he feels he's justified in it.
The others savour their own ice-creams in silence for a while, letting him be.
"I don't want to risk throwing the burden of a Prophecy on some unsuspecting innocent, is all," he mutters eventually. It's only a part of the problem, but it's a rather big part, and the only one he feels safe voicing with Eriol present. "Especially if it turns out false in the end."
"Divination does not offer false responses," frowns Eriol. "That Prophecy about you, for instance... it was true. It was I who refused to accept my interpretation of it was wrong. That fault lies not with the magic."
"I agree," says Yukito easily. "And so does Yue." He shoots Harry a playful glower and the young man defiantly steals a huge bite of Yukito's apple and cinnamon ice-cream in retaliation, making the older bloke mock-pout.
Eriol looks at him inquiringly.
"Yue and Kero keep offering to teach me how to do a fortune reading with the Cards," Harry admits sheepishly, "but I just can't bring myself to learn."
"You shouldn't stop yourself from exploring your gift to its full potential just because you've seen it misused," murmurs Eriol. "I know I had a large part in your antipathy for Divination, but..."
"It doesn't matter," shrugs Harry, concentrating on his ice-cream.
"It does," counters Eriol. "The ability to see the complex web of possibilities the future holds is something precious and rare and it can bring so much good..."
"And ruin so many lives," mutters Harry bitterly.
"Yes," sighs Eriol. "Like every kind of true power. Nevertheless..."
He looks away, toying distractedly with the melting remnants of his stracciatella ice-cream.
"Harry... How I was before we met... the mistakes I made... all was born of a form of narrow-mindedness, I recognize that now. Maybe because I've lived so long... I could no longer see things outside of certain... habitual... and restrictive... guidelines, let's call them. Everything made perfect sense, but only from my narrow point of view."
The magician bits his lip before continuing: "I have come to believe... that to avoid this risk was precisely the reason Clow Reed chose to die."
He slants an uncertain look to Yukito, and beyond his neutral eyes, to Yue, but no reaction is forthcoming.
"After a while, life ceases to be a matter of joy and wonder and the burden of the power becomes too much. He chose to leave it all behind, in a way... but I... didn't understand. I am him and yet not. I do and do not think like him. I inherited his amazing powers... and with them, his overwhelming belief in the inevitable, and that made me... arrogant. As it had made him before. I came to believe that I, he, we knew best... for the Cards, for Sakura, for myself."
"In great power lies great responsibility," quotes Harry distractedly.
Eriol chuckles softly. "Deep."
Harry's cheek redden a little, as Yukito chuckles too: "Blame To-ya," the white-haired man explains and Harry nods: "He's forever going on about how power shouldn't be abused."
And it's not just words either.
Touya still has the slender wand he took from Albus Dumbledore, but he very seldom uses it, despite admitting that it makes everything so easy.
"It is one thing to play with sentient magical creatures like your Card-friends," he tells Harry often, "and quite another to throw magic around for every little thing, whether or not it can be done the regular way. Power should be used responsibly... besides, I don't want to become so dependant on a stick that I can't make my own tea anymore!"
Eriol pouts. "I don't like the idea of renouncing magic, or only keeping it for emergencies. It likes being used – almost as much as I like using it!" he whines a little and his companions all muffle their laughters, even Spinel.
Then Eriol turns to look at Harry again, a serious gaze behind his light glasses. "Jokes apart... I do understand your point about not relying on it so completely that everything else loses meaning, including my own life."
Harry raises his eyebrows, not quite sceptical but not quite believing either.
"I do," reiterates Eriol. He looks away again. "Clow Reed was very wise and farseeing, and because of that, so am I, but it took us, me, much longer than a whole life to understand that some choices must be made freely... or not at all. That there is no 'bowing to necessity' when it comes to life, and love, and magic." He grimaces a little. "The perils of living on, resisting time and natural law... I could have turn bitter, or cynic. I ended up fatalist instead. Either way... it all stemmed from a lack of hope."
Harry looks at him surprised and the powerful man smiles sadly: "Sakura-chan taught me this... that we need hope... that hope is what allows us to do something difficult, or important... that hope is what opens a new path when the offered two are not good enough, what keeps us awake to see the dawn that invariably rises even after the longest nights..."
Harry nods, understandingly. "Hope is the only thing we need," he says.
"No," is the surprising reply. "It is important, I've finally understood this. But let me tell you, Harry. Even hope isn't enough on its own. In order to hope... you need a nugget of reality to base your hopes on..."
And then he reiterates, a tad defiantly: "Divination can give you that. A starting point... or a warning sign... If you don't get too obsessed with it," he admits in a quieter voice, looking apologetic.
Harry smiles back, lost in thought. "I'll... think about it. All of it. Though, that part you said about hope... it's just like Sakura, isn't it? Always so heartening."
"Yes, she's a ray of sunshine in everybody's life," smiles Eriol. "Li-kun is lucky."
"Damn right he is!" proclaims Harry before turning his attention to one of the last bowls of ice-creams left, a black cup of liquorice ice cream with blackcurrant ripple. No-one's good enough for his sister, in his opinion. Though he admits that Syaoran comes pretty close.
"You'll come to the wedding, right, Mr. Hiiragizawa?" asks Yukito kindly, polishing off the remnants of his banana and pineapple ice-cream and diligently picking up the last coconut flakes.
"Wouldn't miss it!" smiles Eriol, trying a bite of hazelnut ice-cream dripping with honeyed caramel and making a face. That is a combination too sweet even for him. "And what about you, Harry?" he asks after switching to coffee ice-cream with mocha ripple and letting an ecstatic Keroberos have the hazelnut bowl, while Spinel Sun scoffs, irritated. "Have you created any Card?"
Perking up, Harry produces the newest addition to his deck with a flourish, always happy to show off his Card-friends.
Though, he is a tad rueful as he narrates how they came to be. Truth is, he tried so very hard to create a Card, after Sakura made The Hope, and simply... couldn't. No matter how stubbornly he bashed on with it, it didn't work. Whatever innate knowledge had guided him in forming The Hatred wasn't working any longer, or he couldn't access it, or he wasn't able to understand it anymore. For some reason, the power to create a Card was beyond him and he couldn't figure out why.
It had led to quite a lot of teenage frustration, which his Guardians didn't understand in the least. "Clow took centuries to come to full power, and so, most likely, will you," had pointed out Yue very sensibly. Again and again. "There's nothing strange about you having a ways to go still."
Harry isn't very proud to admit it, but his disappointment had been great, for a while. He'd sulkily become convinced that he would never be good enough and his temper had grown quite short. No, not the best period in his life.
His moody attitude had changed only when Mirror had gathered up the courage to ask him if he was trying so hard to make new Cards because he didn't love them – the old ones, that is - anymore. Faced with tearful green eyes, Harry had suddenly realized just how stupid he was being. Now looking back he can only blush at how childishly selfish he has been in that period.
In the end though, it had been only a brief few months, before he'd come to his senses and gone back to spending time happily with his Card-friends, without worrying about wanting more or needing more power or whatnot.
And really, in hindsight... perhaps he should have known that it was simply a matter of not having a good enough reason at the time.
When he had eventually managed, quite unexpectedly, to create a brand new Card, it had been his feelings for his family that had brought it along – every time. What better reason than to help a loved one, after all?
His first, for instance, has been created, without exactly meaning to, out of a genuine, sincere wish to cheer up a very depressed Sakura after her friend Naoko's death.
It has been conceived thinking of Sakura and possibly because of that, her spirit form looks like a pixie version of Harry's beloved sister, complete with short pink hair cut the way Sakura loves it and tiny pink rollerblades on her feet. She beams brightly from her Card form and even more in her spirit form and it is her gift to spread a cheerful feeling around, much like The Sleep spreads sleepiness.
Harry named her, very aptly, The Smile.
The Magnet, too, was created almost by accident – a combination of Harry taking a passing interest in Touya's physics books and Fujitaka needing a bit of help.
The kind archaeologist had come home shortly before Harry's fifteenth birthday full of excitement about a newly-discovered excavation site where amazingly well-preserved relics showed the evolution of Japanese society from before to after when the use of iron became prevalent with surprising clarity. He had been offered to coordinate the whole dig and had been overjoyed at the chance.
Because the disposition of the items found was the only concrete clue for dating outside of chemistry methods, the dig was a delicate, difficult one. Cutting-edge technology had been loaned to the team of archaeologists, in the hope of carefully sampling the relics without damaging any.
While the ground penetrating radar had worked wonders to map the area, however, the amount of gravel in the soil had made it very difficult, if not to dig, then to keep pits open while digging, and extracting the artefacts without messing up the site layout entirely and lose a lot of information had seemed impossible.
Fujitaka's dejected disappointment had spurred Harry's wish to help him to the point that a new Card had burst into existence.
The Magnet is a red-haired and white-skinned boy elf with the power of moving and bending iron. The picture shows him with his arms crossed over his chest and a cloak fluttering around his short frame, very serious and focused, and that is exactly how he is: reliably committed to whatever task he is asked to perform.
It has been child's play for the little elf to gently ease the iron artefacts out of the soil without disturbing the surrounding ones. Harry has had to be extremely careful to time the Card's interventions so that it looked like the portable power generator had simply 'malfunctioned' with unpredictable effects, but it had been worth it.
Not only the dig was performed with amazing results, that are keeping Fujitaka and his team happily busy with all the cleaning, cataloguing, classifying and comparing of the artefacts found, not to mention publishing their discoveries; but several research companies are frantically trying to recreate the effects of the 'conveniently malfunctioning equipment'. Syaoran, who keeps an eye on this kind of things - ever the student of law - has let Harry know that a number of minor patents have already been registered as a side-effect.
Harry's greatest accomplishment, however, is the Card which he has completed barely a month ago as a present for Touya and Yukito.
The idea came to him when Touya almost turned down the much coveted position of graduate assistant just because it would mean spending two semesters travelling around China and Korea, accompanying his sponsoring Professor to various universities for lectures and such. His big brother didn't want to leave Yuki and while the white-haired young man might have managed with ease to squeeze himself into a position of foreign correspondent to follow him, Yue's reluctance to leave Harry for a whole year vetoed it.
So Harry has put his mind and magic to task and the result is a Card as strange in powers and personality as The Loop, as difficult to deal with as The Dream and as taxing to even activate as The Time.
The Connect is represented by a geometric figure made up of two circular cones placed apex to apex. It is capable of folding space in such a way as to create a shortcut through it, much in the same way as two points drawn at a distance on a piece of paper can be brought closer by folding the paper.
That means that even if they're halfway through the world, if Harry uses it Touya can just step through and join them for a while, and be sent back in time for whatever appointment he might have to keep.
It is unbelievably draining to use it, but if there is one thing Harry doesn't lack, it's raw power. As long as he doesn't overdo it and takes a nap afterwards, he can let Yukito and Yue meet up with Touya every day, even.
And since the Card is Moon Ruled, when the moon is full and can grant him the great deal of magic required for it Yue can do it on his own, without Harry having to hang around.
The Separate has popped into existence right after, without much thought on Harry's part: a matter of keeping the balance between Moon Ruled and Sun Ruled, according to Keroberos.
It is represented, to Harry's slight surprise, by building blocks, the lower ones resting on a cloud, and a few others matching them above, soaring on white wings.
Aside for being able to disconnect things that are stuck together, which has turned out useful a couple times – most notably when Kero accidentally overturned a bottle of glue over his own head... - it is also the only way to disrupt The Connect's power. Should it ever come to the point when the other Card needs to be subdued, The Separate will be the way to go.
"You are truly amazing," says Eriol when Harry's tale draws to a close, gently admiring the Cards he is being shown.
"Excuse me!" rings out a hip voice nearby.
They all turn towards it to find that it comes from a pretty young woman sporting scarlet robes and a badge of what Harry gathers is the local Law Enforcement Squad.
"An Auror, and powerful enough to overcome my warding spell," whispers Eriol. "I wonder..."
She has a pale, heart-shaped face, a thin scar running up her left cheek and across one of her dark, twinkling eyes, and short, spiky, bubblegum pink hair.
"Wotcher, all!" she exclaims loudly, approaching them.
"Yes?" asks Yukito kindly. "How may we help you?"
The woman opens her mouth to answer and automatically meets his eyes. And the moon attraction kicks in.
Those in the know can see it clearly: the way she is thrown completely off-balance, the horrendously noticeable blush that spreads on her lovely face, and the way she suddenly falters and stammers.
Yukito's silent sigh echoes Yue's mental one. They both find the whole thing slightly embarrassing, but they have enough experience with it to be able to keep their composure and politely pretend they do not notice the intense and totally illogical attraction. Or its even more illogical effects on people's behaviour.
The woman is still drawing closer though and unfortunately, there are a lot of empty chairs and tables cluttering her way. A fact which she isn't noticing anymore.
Predictably, while she's busy blushing and blinking at Yukito, she trips over a chair and falls noisily over, crashing into a small table and hurtling to the ground with it atop her, sending a few forgotten empty glasses flying and reflexively kicking a chair into the air, right on time for the glasses to smash on it and rain glass shards everywhere as the chair tumbles down on her prone figure.
They all jump to their feet dismayed, trying to help her, but she's already getting up on her own and dusting herself off.
"Oops..." she exclaims, more cheerfully than they expect. She unfazedly whips out her wand and waves it haphazardly around, more or less restoring the furniture to a somewhat crooked but overall fixed state. "Ehm, sorry about that. I'm dead clumsy. Yeah. Nearly failed on Stealth and Tracking during Auror training..."
Harry has to bite his lip to avoid laughing.
She finishes dusting herself off with cheerful aplomb and then turns to them again: "Anyway! I'm Auror Tonks, and that's my partner Williamson," she waves her wand even more haphazardly towards a broad-shouldered man with a long ponytail, who stands warily a few steps back.
"Pleased to meet you," they all say politely and she blinks, a little surprised as that's not the reaction she usually gets to her badge.
"Right. Well," she clears her throat a little embarrassedly. "We've been asked to check on, well, that, whatever it is." She points to Keroberos, who glowers at her and ostentatiously curls a paw around his bowl of strawberry ice-cream and caramel sauce protectively. Harry intercepts Yukito's gaze and they break into uncontrollable giggles.
She frowns and asks, perplexed: "What is it, anyway?"
Kero gives her his most lofty glare and turns his full attention to carefully licking his fifteenth bowl of ice-cream clean. The pink-haired Auror huffs and snaps her eyes up to half-glare at the three young men.
"Is there a problem, by chance?" asks Eriol, suave, polite concern radiating from his countenance. "I do hope we're not inconveniencing anyone..."
His face is just a little bit solicitous, just a little bit puzzled – and in just the right measure. As if he wants nothing more than to please and appease his interlocutors, but couldn't for the life of him imagine why they're upset in the first place. It's guaranteed to make whoever addressed him feel like a heel for even harbouring the slightest suspicions about Eriol's integrity and general wonderfulness.
It's an expression Harry has learned to be highly suspicious of. Eriol's perfectly able to use it for the most innocuous of situations - offering a cup of tea, for instance – only for the target to find out later on that all the while he was busy pulling the strings of a highly secret, covert operation.
When combined with his smooth, engaging manners, it's a sure way to manipulate anyone who doesn't know him well enough into doing his bidding and doing it gladly.
The poor Auror is no exception: as soon as he turns his charming, shy smile on her, she falls over herself to assure him that everything's fine.
"Ah... ah! N-no, no, no, no! Not at all! It's just... it's nothing bad, just a routine check! We got a report, you know, sometime ago even, for some reason it took us a while to find you..."
She frowns, as if the puzzling circumstance has just come to her mind again, and Eriol is quick to reassure and distract her at once: "Notice-me-not spell," he explains with an apologetic smile. "People kept staring at us and I'm afraid I found it rather unnerving so..." he smiles self-deprecatingly.
"Ah, well, perfectly understandable..." the Auror coughs slightly, uncomfortable and sheepish all of all of a sudden for forcing him into an explanation that now appears so natural and obvious. Never mind that it's her job to force explanations out of people!
Typical Eriol. The Dark of his magic reflects his nature: secretiveness, quiet humour, wisdom and manipulation all elegantly wrapped up in that sophisticated air he always has about him.
Harry shakes his head in mute admiration. No wonder the bloke is so good at stirring trouble. He can wrap anyone around his little finger in a matter of minutes. Such a finely tuned technique!
"Ah, I am glad that we got everything sorted out!" the magician smiles sweetly.
"We have?" asks the pink-haired woman, adorably bewildered.
"Doesn't the sun look a little brighter already?" he tells her softly.
Harry stifles a chuckle. He has maintained for years that, if someone were to ask Eriol what his hobby is, the truthful response would be 'confusing people'. He's quite good at it, too.
The Auror stares at him, but then shrugs the odd comment off – a testimony to her force of will, in Harry's eyes - and forges on: "No, listen, about the lion-like thingie..."
Keroberos spits and splutters in indignation, but as his mouth is full of ice-cream, it doesn't deter the Auror: "Decree Number 120 as compiled by the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures states that any pet with classification equal or above XXX must be leashed in public areas. As that... whatever it is, is clearly at least XXXX..." she waves at the armoured feline.
"Ehi!" Kero shouts, puffing up with indignation and trying to lunge at her, only to be halted by Yukito's prompt grasp. "Who are you calling a pet?" he yells, waving a fisted paw threateningly.
"Oh! It speaks!" yelps the woman, jumping back.
"Of course I do, you silly wench! Don't you know who I am? I'm the wonderful Beast of the Seal and-"
"Yes, yes..." mutters Yukito, clamping a hand down on Kero's muzzle and dazzling the bewildered Auror with a bright smile while the Sun Guardian struggles in his grip. "Never mind him, please!"
"That's... that's..." the woman gapes.
Kero wrenches himself free and plants his front paw on the nearest table, striking a pose: "Hah! Hahahaha! You're speechless! I bet you're awed by my beauty and awesomeness, aren't you?"
Harry face-palms. Trust Kero...
To her credit, the woman not only recovers her composure, but a light of mischief enters her eyes: "If that's a pick-up line, it's the most ridiculous I've ever heard," she deadpans, to Harry and Yukito's chocked disbelief.
Eriol's eyes light up with amused admiration.
"What was that?" shouts Kero. "Why, you pinkish wench! I'll..."
"Don't call me that, you overgrown cat!"
Kero puffs up with outrage: "I'm no cat, woman!"
"No, you're a yellow, furry glutton!" she replies waving at the pile of empty ice-cream bowls and smirking.
"Oh, god, not another Ruby..." moans Spinel very quietly.
"I don't think anyone with pink hair should talk!" yells Kero.
"You're just jealous because you're balding!" she retorts.
Eriol chuckles amiably. "That's so nice, how you bicker like old friends."
The magician blithely ignores both indignant yelps: "And after such a short acquaintance, too. But then, I almost feel as if I've known you for a long time... "
"Someone please tell him that no, he cannot keep her!" mutters Spinel, making Harry guffaw silently.
"Do you not feel as if our meeting must be blessed by a good star?"
As usual, Eriol's warm yet distant personality seems to have just the right balance required to charm everyone, and the young Auror is no exception.
"We-ell... well, right, I mean, thanks, I mean... pleasure's mine..." she fumbles, then she rallies and crosses her arms petulantly. "Anyway, that cat should be on a leash!"
"What was that!" shouts Kero.
"Oh, surely not? I know you wouldn't put him through such a humiliation... A lovely lady like you...!"
Harry resists the temptation to rub his eyes in disbelief. Is Eriol flirting with the bubbly woman?
"Look, I'm not saying you're doing anything wrong or anything! I... I can see he's just eating ice-cream..." She eyes the huge amount of polished off bowls rather balefully and Kero sniffs haughtily. "It's just... well, we've had some hard times... and people get nervous easily, you see? I'm really sorry..."
"Never had any problem in Japan!" yells Kero, very conveniently leaving out that he doesn't go around looking like a huge feline usually.
"Oh, you're from Japan?" she asks perking up with delighted enthusiasm.
"We are," nods Harry motioning to himself and Yukito, who smiles at the Auror, making her blush all over again.
"I've never met a Japanese wizard," she babbles. "You don't look much different from us, though..."
"And why would we?" asks Harry amused.
"Oh, well, I don't know really..." she replies cheerfully. "Stupid thought, probably... So what are you doing all the way here, anyway?" she chats on, friendly and eager.
"I am British, but I have lived in Japan for a few years," is Eriol's calm contribution. "When I learned that my friends would be here today..."
"...You wanted to meet up! Of course!" nods the Auror enthusiastically. "Well, that makes perfect sense! And, it's great – I won't have to do the paperwork then! Since you're foreign..."
This time Harry doesn't stop his laugh. This woman is something else!
"Well, I shall be going then..." she says, her grin faltering a little.
Eriol smiles charmingly: "So soon? Wouldn't you like to join us for a bowl of ice-cream?"
"Oh, now... I really can't... on duty and all..."
"This is the best I've ever tasted," adds Yukito encouragingly and her cheeks redden while she's struck mute. "Especially the chocolate one with black cherry ripple sauce!"
"I love the rum and raisin one, myself," she admits automatically. "But that's hardly the point!" she protests right after.
Harry tries not to snicker too openly.
"Then what is the point, Auror Tonks?" asks Eriol disarmingly, taking a step towards her.
Harry bites back another snicker. Eriol makes an impression on everyone he meets - whether good or bad, he never leaves unnoticed - but it seems that this solar, clumsy Auror is making an impression on him too...
"It's almost time for us to go, anyway," says Harry softly and he's not surprised when only Yukito hears him.
The mischief in the white-haired man is unmistakable and Harry smirks at him: in an instant, The Flower is out, keeping hidden, and provides Eriol with a lovely bouquet of pale pink roses and snowdrops, giggling all the while. The magician shoots Harry a murderous look, but only very briefly as he's too busy smiling gently at the bubbly woman before him.
Besides, Harry and his Guardians are already slipping away under the cover provided by The Illusion, that is very effectively distracting Auror Williamson and a few passers-by.
Kero is still grumbling and Harry's hand falls upon his head, stroking gently the ruffled fur.
They slide quietly down a discreet alley. Gracefully, Harry throws The Connect into the air, focusing on 'home'.
Suddenly, a few steps before them the alley vanishes seamlessly into their familiar kitchen in Tomoeda, the shadowed, paved back street with trash cans morphing without a hitch into the sunlit, wood-floored room.
Harry sighs lightly at the sudden drain as Yukito steps easily through and Kero moves to follow.
Touya is there, pouring himself a cup of coffee, and he looks up with his peculiar half-smile to greet them.
Harry stops and looks back, to where Eriol is still charming the pink-haired Auror in the middle of a cobbled street lined with odd shops, that he would no doubt have grown familiar with, had his life gone as differently as it was probably supposed to...
When he turns, the lion-like face of his Sun Guardian is upturned and frowning. "You forgot something or what?"
He shakes his head and smiles: "No... nothing at all."
His smile widens.
"Let's go home, Kero-chan!"
A/N: Thank you to all who have read and enjoyed this, and most especially to those who have taken the time to drop me a line of review! Luna