And the second half of the original verson.
I 0wnz0r H4RRy P077eR 4nD S4iL0Rm00N.
If you can decipher that, you're smart enough to know it's not true.
19. Adjustments . . . and Quidditch
In the room where first-year Slytherin boys slept, one sat up, staring into the darkness of an unlit room, so much safer than the broodingly evil darkness of that dream. Until the voice appeared. He propped his chin in his hands, staring into the darkness as if it held the answer, as if by piercing the veil of dark with his silvery eyes, he could see the face of the being who had saved him.
Who are you? He whispered, but the darkness did not reply. And, uneasily, he returned to sleep.
* * *
The day of the first Quidditch match of the season had arrived. Slytherin vs. Gryffindor, the most intense of all the rivalries, and with Harry Potter as Gryffindor's new Seeker, promised a game well worth watching, as the entirety of the school turned out to spectate.
Draco wiped his eyes and yawned surrepitiously. He had managed to escape both Crabbe and Goyle, and in fact was preparing to watch the game from his customary morning place on the roof, with a pair of binoculars. These binoculars, Muggle-made, bought when his father had turned his back, were a symbol to Draco of his first act of rebellion. But more importantly, they also gave him a wonderful view of the game, from a place where he didn't have to be near people who expected him to be Malfoy.
The former night, what with dreams of his father and his near-death experience, had not been a very restful one for him, and even now he was on the verge of going to sleep where he lay. Had he had class, he probably *would* have gone to sleep, but his present state of relaxation was almost as good as sleep would have been at counteracting his exhaustion. Better–for relaxation brings no disturbing dreams.
Laying on his stomach at the edge of the roof, he brought the binoculars up to his eyes, and the game came into sharp focus, just as it began. Draco had to admit, if only to himself, that Potter did well in the role of Seeker. He'd like to believe that he could do as well–but of course he would not know that until he proved it, in much the same manner as Potter was, now.
Of course, Haruka had been a better flier than either of them–but no one remembered that now. The game continued, Gryffindor scoring two hits, Slytherin none, as Draco watched with bated breath.
Then it happened. Potter's broomstick began to buck, leaving the black-haired boy unable to do much more than hold on. Draco tried hard to summon up a sense of elation–it was Potter, after all, experiencing this trouble. Potter, his nemesis. Except he wasn't, not anymore. Haruka had earned that title instead. But even if Haruka had been in Potter's place . . . Sometimes, your enemies can keep you grounded, as well as or even better than the best of friends. And he had no friends.
So it was along with the entirety of Gryffindor and far too few Slytherins that Draco hoped Potter would regain control, would show himself to be alright. Then his attention was abruptly diverted by movement out of the corner of the viewable area of the binoculars. He turned that way to see Marcus Flint, the Slytherin team captain, flying straight toward the Gryffindor goals, now unguarded because of everyone's intense concentration on Potter, the Quaffle in hand.
Draco's eyes narrowed angrily. He wanted his team to win, yes, but not at the expense of fair play. He *had* changed, drastically, he realized. Before he came here, he would not have hesitated to allow Flint to cheat that way, he probably would even have cheered the other boy on.
Like his father. Draco's anger flared and grew, and he focused it all on the other Slytherin. He stood and brought out his wand, using one of the few spells he knew by heart. Wingardium Leviosa. Though little more than a whisper in volume, he more than made up for that with pure intensity. The Quaffle wrenched itself from Flint's grip and flew straight through a empty space between the suspended hoops, flying off the field entirely, as Flint looked down at his hands, still holding a Quaffle-shaped space of air.
And Draco smiled.
* * *
Why do I feel so . . . empty? She sighed, the wind ruffling her hair. It's like something important, something integral to my being suddenly disappeared. Reaching up, to push her hair out of her eyes, a glint of gold suddenly caught her attention. A gold ring, one she had no recollection of having ever worn, or even of having recieved.
She took it off and held it out, the sun reflecting off it and sending out little flashes that burnt their way into her retinas. Why? Why do I have this ring? Her hand clenched around the tiny object, as if afraid that, otherwise, it would somehow disappear. And why does the thought of losing it wrench my heart so badly? It's not like it is a symbol of anything, or a gift from someone I care for greatly–so why should it matter what happens to it? The ring was returned to her finger, where it *belonged*, as she stood alone, and believed that that was the way it had alway been.
The way she had always been. Alone.
* * *
I can carry her too, you know. Snape told Haruka, watching the girl stumble on, her unconcious friend in her arms. I still don't understand what we're doing, anyway.
We're looking for anything out of the ordinary. Haruka grunted, shifting Setsuna slightly. She made no reply to Snape's offer, stalking onward while grumbling about strength and transformations of some sort.
Is that ordinary? Snape nodded towards a small, thatched cottage with a straw roof.
Haruka brightened. You know, in it's own way, that's even funnier than a ominous black castle. It may just be what we're looking for. Come on, let's go see. A spring in her step, she walked towards the cottage. Snape, feeling he had no choice, followed.
Closer up, the cottage looked to be much bigger than it had seemed at first–a two or three room house, at least. And stepping out through the door, the owner of the house–a young woman with an apparent age in the early twenties and silver hair. Catching sight of the three travelers, she first smiled welcomingly, before her eyes widened in horror. Pointing a finger at the two senshi, she whispered, Mist Dome!
Immediately the everpresent mists reached up, enveloping the astonished girl and her unconscious cargo, closing them away in an impenetrable dome. It worked?! The girl gasped. It actually worked, on beings of that great a power?!
Snape's eye twitched. Well, they did manage to defeat the troll without any aid . . . but they're both still in training. They're in first year, for crying out loud! Beings of great power, indeed. The unknown silver-haired girl turned her attention towards him, and he tensed slightly. What did you do to my students?
Students? Those two? The silver-haired girl shook her head. I don't mean to be rude, but what could you possibly know that's worth teaching to people with that much power already?
Come on. They're not *that* powerful. They are only first year students.
Neither is what she seems to be. She frowned darkly at the sphere. I don't *sense* a dark taint on either of them . . . but I'm not sure I'd be able to recognize it if I ever did see it–although my teachers assure me it's unmistakeable.
Snape snorted. Ornery, suspicious, hotheaded, and possessor of one of the worst senses of humor I have yet to encounter, Haruka is. Evil, she definitely is not.
Haruka is her name? The silver-haired girl asked. She closed her eyes, but moments later they blinked back open, frustrated. Nay, 'tis only a use-name. It's not her real name. I cannot feel anything from the name Haruka.
Why have you pinned them in that sphere of yours? I assure you, we mean you no harm. We're just passing through here in search for . . . something or someone. Can't you please let them go?
She twitched. I believe you–I know you speak the truth as you see it. But *no one* is that powerful anymore. I don't think there ever was–but my grandmother claims that our Princess of Pluto was very powerful . . . within that order of magnitude, at least. Even unconscious, the green-haired girl is leaking power out the ears . . . I can't believe you can't sense it!
Pluto. That struck a chord. Snape sat, eyes closed in concentration. Finally, the words came back to him. I, Meiou Setsuna, Princess and Avatar of Pluto, hereditary Guardian of the Gates of Time . . . Concentrating as he was on the verbal symbols, words that held no meaning for him, he at first was unaware of the girl's wide-eyed stare.
Where did you hear that? She demanded.
It's part of what Setsuna said when we first arrived in this place. What does it mean?
The girl repeated it slowly back to him in English. I *think* that's what it said. But it's in a dialect of Plutonian that was ancient even long before the Exodus. The only reason I even recognize it is that they teach it in school. Her eyes widened. But that means . . . I imprisoned my princess?!
* * *
I stared at the shimmering, misty wall, and suppressed the urge to yell, kick, curse, or in any other way express my frustration. I wasn't going to give my captor (if the girl could see through her own creation) that satisfaction. Instead, I sat there and waited. I never knew the Gates of Time were inhabited.
Neither did I, not really. Setsuna's soft voice stopped as she coughed. It's probably another of those bits of important information that slipped through the cracks when I was reborn. That tends to happen.
Hai. After all, until our bond reactivated, I couldn't even remember my death–probably because it wasn't the spectacular sort of affair the Inner Senshi's were. I didn't even really *die*, just kind of . . . slid from living to nonliving.
Setsuna grinned slightly. What a silly thing to get pissed off about.
I'm not . . . I paused to reconsider. Whaddaya know, I am. I guess it's because I feel like if I'm going to die, I should at least die doing something *useful*. The last words came out with venom that surprised even me. Or doing something I hope will somehow prove to be useful, even if it doesn't end up that way. Not just . . . slipping away, pointlessly. I punched a nearby wall. It yielded slightly, but showed no other effects.
S'better than not dying at all. Setsuna asserted moodily. How long have I been out?
Don't know. No sun to tell time with, and I forgot to put my watch on before we . . . left.
Why don't you just take out your communicator? It *does* double as a watch, you know.
I smiled guiltily, opening an empty hand. I gave it to Draco.
That brought Setsuna to full wakefulness. You gave it to DRACO?! I thought you hated him.
At first . . . hm, maybe. But really, Setsuna. With all we've been through, can you really imagine any *human* being able to summon up that depth of emotion necessary for hatred? Dislike, annoyance, yes, but after confronting beings who had nothing better to do than going around destroying things (planets, galaxies . . .), what ordinary person can possibly measure up to that?
You have a point. Setsuna peered at me. You know, 'Ruka . . . you look older.
I squinted at my friend. So do you . . . I think. Yeah, you look just *exactly* like you did when you were fourteen.
Setsuna's hand immediately rose to her right cheek, and I laughed. Minus the Pimple. The Pimple had been the bane of fourteen-year-old Setsuna's existance, marring her perfect, acne-free skin. I had always enjoyed teasing her about it–she was far to sensitive on that subject for her own good.
Not. Funny. Setsuna ground out. Take this! She began pelting me with bean-bags. Not to be upstaged, I threw them back and added in a few of my own for good measure.
You seem to be feeling better.
Amazingly good, in fact. Setsuna smiled. Much better than I should be at this point.
The wall dropped as suddenly as it had appeared, and Setsuna (who now looked about seventeen–I could only assume the same held true for me) collapsed. I dashed forward and caught her, before turning to *look* at the person who had locked us in there.
She cried. I didn't realize that she was my princess I looked around instinctively for Usagi and that was why she had such great power levels. Are you the Moon Princess?
Blonde hair. Blue(-ish) eyes. Okay, I can *almost* understand how she might make that mistake. But that didn't keep me from falling over, I was laughing so hard. No. Oh, Kami-sama no. The two of us could not be any more different if we consciously tried.
Haruka? You look older–I almost didn't recognize you.
I smiled at Snape. On the contrary, I look exactly perfectly myself again. And you look younger. Late twenties or so. I turned to the silver-haired girl. Now, could you please explain why you made that unprovoked attack on us?
She found a sudden interest in the ground. You took me by surprise, showing up like that. Both of you are just *so* *powerful* that I, well . . . I freaked out. I was just so afraid that you would be hostile–and given the chance and the will to do so, either of you could probably wipe me out with both hands and feet tied behind your back, without breaking into a sweat.
I laughed a bit. Put that way . . . I don't blame you one bit. But since we're free now, I assume Professor Snape convinced you of the truth.
He quoted ancient Plutonian at me. That–especially considering *what* ancient Plutonian he quoted at me, convinced my that she, she nodded down at Setsuna, is Princess Pluto. I still, however, do not know who you are. Venus?
And I had only just gotten up, when she had to send me falling to the floor laughing again. Okay, I'll take that as a no. Funny, I'd think you'd make a good senshi of love. Have you ever tried to laugh and twitch at the same time? Somehow, I managed. Come on, I mean, me, the ultimate tomboy (although I admit I have mellowed, slightly), as senshi of love? So that means you must be Princess Uranus. I thought you kept your hair short, though.
I got up and shrugged. This last time we were reborn' I decided to let it grow out. It starts giving me trouble, and I'll happily chop it off again, though.
Well, it's nice to meet you, Princess Uranus. I am Melisande. She held out her hand and, after a brief pause, I took it and shook it.
Please, call me Haruka. I've kinda gotten out of the habit of thinking of myself as a princess. If I had ever been *in* that habit–which I rather doubted. My mother had always been so much of a Queen that I compensated by never really being much of a Princess–or that's the way I remembered it. However, considering the (still, if less so) swiss-cheesed state of my memories . . .
What's wrong with the . . . ah, Princess Pluto? Melisande asked, eyes wide and scared. She just . . . collapsed–and you were carrying her when you first arrived.
None of us know. I looked down at the face of my beloved oldest friend and sighed. I *think* it may have something to do with the fact that she severed her link with the Gates of Time, but that's only a guess.
The Gates no longer have a Keeper? Her violet eyes widened even further (a feat I hadn't thought possible) and she began gnawing nervously at a fingernail. That is not good. That is *so* not good.
* * *
Did you *see* how the Quaffle just levitated itself out of Flint-bakayarou's hands? Chibiusa exulted, grinning happily. The only thing that could possibly have made it better is if *I* had been the one who did it.
Draco smiled slightly, savouring the human contact (he did not count contact with Crabbe and Goyle as *human*, for obvious reasons) that he knew would be broken off as soon as the pink-haired girl realized who she was talking to. Also, he understood her feelings–except, since *he* was the one who had done it, the situation had turned out to be just about all around perfect.
The game was taking a break–unlike major Quidditch leagues, Dumbledore and the other administrators had decided unanimously that breaks *would* be taken for meals and sleep. Not for classes, though. Those were suspended until the game ended. No one having caught the Golden Snitch yet, the score was 50-30 in Gryffindor's favor.
Draco didn't mind too much. It might have helped, had he been the person he started off the semester as–the person that was *Slytherin*, almost in the You-Know-Who sense of the word even (although he didn't think he had ever been quite *that* bad). Now, he didn't really care who won, as long as the game was played fair. Who knows, if the game ran on long enough, he might even get a chance to play!
Yeah . . .
On the threshold of their parting of ways, Draco dragged himself from his happy fantasies long enough to ask the pink-haired girl, What does bakayarou mean?
She looked him straight in the face, grey eyes meeting reddish-brown. Sure enough, there was the anger and the disgust. She turned and left.
20. Viridian, Violet, and Silver
Considering the short period of time we have left until Christmas break, I have decided to postpone the musicals unit until after we come back.
Hotaru stared at the notice up on the announcements board in the Ravenclaw common room, and sighed. The sigh had a strange echo, and she turned to see Ami. A pity. I was really looking forward to that unit. The blue-haired girl shrugged. Oh well. At least this will give me time to learn some more spells that might be useful for setup, props, and so forth. What about you, Hotaru?
Well, it's not like we're having any classes now, anyway. She replied, then smiled suddenly. Actually, I'm rather glad. I wouldn't have wanted Setsuna to miss this.
Ami's brow furrowed. Is she a new friend of yours, Hotaru?
Hotaru's eyes grew sad, and her shoulders slumped. Yeah. She's a very special friend of mine . . . a figment of my imagination. Oh, Haruka-papa, Setsuna-mama . . . where are you?
* * *
Eyes burning with unshed tears, Hotaru returned to the room where she and Makoto had had so much fun making fun of the weather. Leaning out the window, she looked up into a blue sky, depressingly clear. Setsuna-mama . . . Haruka-papa . . . Where are you? . . . I miss you.
A sigh. I'm sure, wherever they are, they miss you too.
Hotaru turned around, eyes wide with a combination of desperate hope and pessimism. Makoto had not said whoever, but *wherever*. Whispering, she asked, You remember them too?
Makoto nodded. I do. I have since the beginning.
Hotaru leapt into the older girl's arms, no longer trying to restrain her tears. I only just remembered last night . . . I can't believe I forgot Haruka-papa and Setsuna-mama, of all people!
Makoto smiled down wryly. Don't feel too bad. Even Michiru has forgotten.
Hotaru was no change from any of the others who had discovered this surprising news. She stepped back, frankly disbelieving. No way. Everyone else I *might* believe, but not Michiru-mama.
Chibiusa said that her Time Key feels dead. I'm afraid . . . that they may be trapped at the Gates of Time. If so, that may be forcing everyone to forget they ever existed–with a few notable exceptions.
Chibiusa because of her connection to the Time Gates . . . Hotaru nodded, belatedly remembering what Saturn had said. But what about you, and me? Does anyone else remember?
I don't think so. As for the two of us–we're both . . . Makoto spread her arms like wings.
You are . . . Hotaru trailed off. Amazing, I didn't even notice, until you pointed it out. Has anyone else . . .?
Both Haruka and Setsuna. Ah . . . that may be why only we can remember them!
And the source of their growing bond . . . the one that has (or had) Michiru so depressed. Hotaru nodded to herself. Another piece fell nicely into the puzzle. If only I could *tell* her . . .
Makoto smiled encouragingly. Don't worry. If anyone can make it back . . . it'll be those two.
* * *
The blonde boy turned, carefully hiding once again behind the mask of Malfoy.
Yes, Crabbe, Goyle, what is it? He was seized with an itchy feeling, an almost uncontrollable urge to get far away, fast. His two former henchpeople did not frighten him–even if they had, enough of prideful Malfoy remained for him to deny that accusation–but they did make him exceedingly nervous. It was as if they were the slime he felt himself to have so recently been contaminated with, as well.
We feel that you've been avoiding us recently. Crabbe stated ponderously. And that just ain't good of you.
Yeah. What would your father say?
Malfoy walked to the window, mostly in a vain attempt to put a little more distance between himself and the other two. As he looked down over the grounds, still frosted over from the early morning dew, he came to a realization. Avada Kedavr . . . He had protection now, even better prtotection than that which his angel had offered, before she abandoned him.
But even without protection, he realized that he grew tired of all the hiding, all the games. He turned around to look at the two people that he no longer wanted to be associated with in any way, and smiled brilliantly. You know, I only just now realized this . . . but I don't care anymore. You can tell my father that if you wish. He swept past them, seeing with satisfaction the way their jaws had dropped when he made his pronouncement.
All of a sudden, the morning seemed brighter, somehow.
* * *
He sat on the rooftop, fiddling with his gloves, eyes trained on the match about to begin below. Despite the undeniable correctness of his actions, he was beginning to feel a trace of nervousness as to what Crabbe and Goyle might try to do to him now.
Perhaps he ought to make friends with some of the other people? That German girl, perhaps. Chibiusa or the auburn-haired Hufflepuff girl–they might be better choices, as they might know why he remembered Haruka the way they, and no others, did. Looking down at the green dragon-skin gloves encasing his hands, he sighed despondently. Like that would ever happen. Everyone within Slytherin knew him as Malfoy, and everyone outside of Slytherin knew him as a Slytherin. Who was he fooling to think anyone would be interested in making friends with him?
The watch caught his attention, and he took it off, holding it up to the light. Her gift to him. Evidently of pure gold, the blue top flipped up to show the time, surrounded by nine of those mysterious buttons. Enameled onto the top was a sigil–of Uranus, and hadn't she said that was her name? The time showed was perpetually ten hours ahead–perhaps she, like Haruka, was Japanese.
His finger poised over the navy button for an endless moment, before he let his hand fall reluctantly back to his side. He didn't *need* her help.
It's not like loneliness ever killed anyone. He ought to know.
* * *
I'm young again. The black-haired man stared at his face in the mirror, astonished. Like I was my last year at Hogwarts. Seventeen.
I'm adolescent again. Right behind him, the blonde-haired face of his best friend's daughter smiled. Like I was . . . She trailed off, and her smile disappeared. Come on. Let's go find Pluto.
It's imperative, before everyone completely forgets our existence. Excessively pale, Setsuna seemed otherwise alright. Seeing the stubborn cast to her friend's face, she sighed inwardly. They've probably all forgotten us already . . . even Michiru. I'm sorry, Haruka.
Surely they won't have forgotted us in such a short period of time! Snape scoffed. Though if we continue looking like this, they may not recognize us when we get back.
The Misty Realms have their own rules. Melisande said quietly. It is very likely, even taking into account the mere days you have been here, that they have all already forgotten your existance.
All the more reason for us to find Pluto quickly. Setsuna replied simply. And if he tries to hide from us, I'm going to kick his rear twice as hard as I'm already planning to. She grinned wickedly. Just let him wait until I get my strength back, and *POW*!
Melisande laughed, then blushed, looking extremely guilty about doing so. To cover up her red cheeks, she turned. Shall we go?
* * *
What the HELL do you think you've been doing? The deep voice, oozing evil, asked angrily. I told you to get rid of Potter, and what have you done? Nothing! Pitiful fool.
I . . . A quavering, nervous voice began, I've been trying, honestly I have, my Lord. And you saw me that first day, I almost managed it then! If those fools hadn't jostled me on their way down the bleachers . . .
And what have you done since then? Nothing! The school does nothing but play Quidditch these last couple of days, and you can not even get up the courage to try once again? I ought to get rid of you permanently!
Oh Lord, please, I beg of you, I will get rid of Potter, I promise! Just give me one last chance, and I promise I will succeed!
The deep voice snorted. Fool. Very well, you shall have your chance. Now get to it, before I change my mind.
Yes Master! Thank you, thank you, thank you Master! I promise, I will not fail you again, Master.
Empty promises. Have I truly fallen so low as to have to deal with such fools as this? Perhaps I ought to give Lucius a call . . .
* * *
The next morning, as everyone came down for breakfast, the score was 140-120, in Slytherin's favor, and the Golden Snitch had still not been found (although it had been called back to be packed up overnight, so there was no risk of it having just plain disappeared). Still in their green robes to celebrate House pride, the Slytherins celebrated. On the other side of the hall, red-robed Gryffindors sulked and spoke of a dramatic change as soon as the game reconvened. They *would* *not* lose to Slytherin. Both teams eagerly awaited dismissal from breakfast to the Quidditch field.
In their classic black robes, the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws chatted amiably about the game–the mose exciting game in years, even the teachers concurred. A temporary (relative) lull in conversation heralded the appearance of the owls with the daily post, followed by an explosion of talk, back up at least to the previous levels.
Hotaru sighed silently, though she kept her smiling face up for the others' benefit. Her father rarely ever sent mail–it wasn't that he didn't love her, never that, but he was so busy, and so absentminded, that he simply . . . forgot.
Sure enough, no letter landed at her place. But, she noticed, with her smile growing wider and a great deal more sincere, Makoto had. Mako-chan had her family back, and that made Hotaru exceedingly happy–the loss of her parents had always weighed so heavily on the auburn-haired girl, though she refused to let it show, and now that she had them back . . .
Her smile froze as Makoto stood up, rushing out of the room with anguish written clearly across her face. Determined, Hotaru stood up and followed after her quickly. Forget Quidditch–this was infinitely more important.
* * *
She found Makoto, finally, in what she had come to think of as their special meeting room. The other girl was curled up in a corner, silently shaking. Hotaru went over and knelt by her side. Mako-chan . . . what's wrong?
They . . . my parents . . . they said they're coming to visit me for Christmas Break. Instead of my going home. They want to see where I'm studying. She paused and took a deep breath, obviously coming to the center of her distress. They . . . Hotaru, they're flying here. And I'm so afraid I'm going to lose them again . . .
Have you ever told them of your feelings? Hotaru asked patiently.
They don't even know that I'm Sailor Jupiter, much less that I'm not the Makoto they raised for eleven years. What could I say?
You really ought to, Mako-chan. This . . . Event . . . has given us a second chance in many ways. For you, a second chance to get to know your parents. They deserve to know what you didn't have a chance to tell them in our other life–I know that Michiru's parents know this time around, though in this case, I think it was a decision her other self made–especially since she's not estranged from them anymore.
Makoto nodded. I've . . . been considering it. When I came home so late that first night, it worried them so much . . . I felt absolutely awful. She nodded. I think I will tell them. She stopped. But . . . I look different now in senshi form, so they might not believe me.
What do you look like? Hotaru asked eagerly. . . . If you don't mind showing me, that is.
Makoto smiled. I will if you will.
It's a deal. Saturn Eternal Make Up!
Jupiter Eternal Make Up!
Staring at each other in their newly revealed princess forms, both smiled shyly. They reached out, touching hands in a great flash of light that knocked both senseless.
21. Memories II
Would you mind if I join you? The auburn-haired princess of Jupiter looked up from her homework to see a nervous young black-haired girl, fidgeting nervously from foot to foot.
She waved at the empty seat on the other side of the table. The seat's open. Please, be my guest.
Thank you. The other girl smiled shyly, sitting down gracefully. What's your name?
I . . . Jupiter swallowed. If she gave her use-name, the other girl would know for sure who she was, and she didn't *want* to be seen as a princess. Yet she had *promised* she wouldn't tell her real name to anyone she didn't absolutely trust, and she had only just *met* this girl! What's yours?
Eh heh . . . The other girl seemed consumed by the same dilemma as she had been. . . . yeah. I can see that neither of us wants to give our name, and if your reason is anything like mine, I don't blame you. So . . . call me . . . how about Shin?
. . . Okay, Shin. Why don't you call me . . . ah . . . Sora!
Nice to meet you, Sora.
Equally pleased to meet you, I'm sure, Shin.
And the two girls with the same secret to hide from each other smiled, content with the knowledge that they had each made a friend–one of their first.
* * *
Could the royal family of the moon get any less interesting? Shin groused, studying a chart that she had made up. Serenity I, Serenity II, Serenity, Serenity, Serenity! Don't they have any imagination at all? She turned. Hey, Sora! Do you remember which Serenity liked broccoli?
Sora snorted. Of all the *useless* things to have to know! . . . Serenity XLIII, I think.
Thanks. Man, why do they make us learn about the interminable list of Serenities, anyway? I'll bet you the current princess doesn't have to learn to list the Queens of Saturn, back to the umpteenth generation.
Considering the fact that only their usenames are released to the public, I can hardly think an interminable list of Saturns would be any more exciting.
True. But at least on Saturn their *real* names aren't the same too. I've heard that even real names are the exact same for each Serenity–practically the only distinguishing feature is hair color.
It all turns silver when they ascend to the throne, though. Sora pointed out. So we fall back on little differences, such as Queen Serenity the XLIII, the Broccoli-Lover. The two grinned at each other. Or Princess Serenity LXVIII, the Blonde Airhead.
Shin snorted in an attempt to hold in her laughter. Finally she couldn't hold it in any longer. She does have a good heart, though. She protested through her giggles. And as for the rest . . . maybe she'll grow out of it.
We can only hope.
* * *
I'm the Princess of Jupiter. Sora admitted. I didn't want to tell you because I was afraid you wouldn't want to be my friend–or even worse, that you would want to become my friend solely because I *am* a princess. But . . . I've felt awful about hiding it, hiding *anything* from you. If you don't want to be my friend anymore, I'll understand.
Shin sighed. As long as secrets are coming out, I might as well tell you mine, though you may not want to be friends with *me*, once I finish. She paused, and took a deep breath. In the same quiet, sad voice, she continued, I told you once that I come from Saturn but that I'm currently living with relatives here on Jupiter. What I never told you, however, was why. She lifted the bangs from her forehead and closed her eyes.
Beginning from her forehead, a glow enwrapped the girl, lifting her about a foot off the floor and clearly revealing the violet sigil of Saturn, the Silent Planet. She opened her eyes. You see? With myself revealed, people were afraid that our doom has come upon us. They hated me for what I stand for, for the power that I inherited, the first in over twelve generations to do so.
Gently, she touched back down. I couldn't stay on Saturn. My very presence . . . endangered everyone around me. So I was brought here, in secret, while my parents circulated the rumor that I had died under mysterious circumstances. Only my parents, yours, and Queen Serenity know that I now live here on Jupiter–and neither your parents nor Queen Serenity knows that it is me who bears the burden of this power.
Jupiter smiled wryly. I think you're right. Your secret is definitely worse than mine. But . . . I'd still like to be friends. As you said, that power seems to be more of a burden than anything else, to me . . . and I know you. You wouldn't hurt a fly if you could possibly avoid doing so. So are we still friends, Shin? She stressed the name that had now been transformed to a private joke between the two.
If you truly don't mind . . . Saturn's smile grew like the dawning of the sun after weeks of rain. Yes, Sora. We're still friends.
The Queen of Jupiter rushed in. Daughter! When we felt the power of Saturn, we were afraid for you. Are you all right? Saturn didn't hurt you, did she?
Jupiter smiled up into her mother's eyes, suddenly as calm and strong as the tall oaks that were Jupiter's most famed attraction. Shin and I have been the only ones in here since this morning. I don't know who Saturn is, but Shin would never hurt me.
* * *
Where were you? Sora asked, upset. We were supposed to meet for a study session, but you weren't there! I tried to call you, but I couldn't reach you–though at least I could still feel that you were alive, which is something, I suppose.
Shin sighed, smiling weakly. My parents summoned me back, temporarily. They have decided to reveal me to the other outer senshi, at least, and chose yesterday to do so–the date of Uranus and Pluto's formal bonding to each other.
Uranus and Pluto bonded? Sora smiled. I had wondered if they would.
I could see it coming too.
Do you know if anyone else has?
I know Neptune hasn't. You're in more of a position to know about the inners.
Sora smiled suddenly, leaning back. And wouldn't they have a fit if they knew about us . . .
Shin grinned back. But of course! That's the fun part!
* * *
You must be proud. Shin squeezed her friend's hand as they watched the ship take off on a course towards Earth. It is an honor.
Sora rubbed her eyes. Yes. It is an honor. She sniffed. But . . . oh, Shin, I'm going to miss him so much! She turned, bawling into the shoulder of her slightly shorter friend.
Hotaru nodded. I'll miss him too. He's always been like an older brother to me. She cracked a smile. Even including the practical jokes, the good-natured bullying, and all around being as annoying as possible. Her face became solemn, as she gazed upwards towards the rapidly disappearing point of light. I'm worried about him, Sora. And I don't know why.
Sora froze, dismissing her tears as a chill of fear trickled down her back. Nephrite . . . no! I won't let anything happen to him!
And if anything does, I'll help you kick the perpetrator so hard he won't be able to sit down for a week. Shin nodded firmly. Oh, don't worry about it, Sora. It's probably just something I ate–precognition doesn't run in my family, thank goodness.
Sora shook off her growing feelings of unease and smiled back. I'm sure you're right.
* * *
Tag! You're it! Shin laughed, and ran.
Oh no you don't! Sora growled, dashing after the shorter girl. Come back here! She looked around–her black-haired friend and bonded was nowhere in sight. An evil smile curled her lips. Two could play that game. With little more than a thought, she felt down her bond to Shin–it would not tell her exact location, but with their bond, she could . . .
Her body shimmered for a moment as she *twisted* herself to be Elsewhere, then she disappeared completely with a muted pop. Reappearing right in front of Shin, she reached out. Tag! You're it!
Hey, no fair! Shin protested, folding her arms.
Sora grinned and shrugged. All's fair in love, war, and games of tag. Besides, you should have known better.
Besides, there's something I had to tell you. Sora sighed, looking at the ground. My parents . . . they insisted I go train with the other senshi, on the Moon. We *are* supposed to be guarding the princess, after all.
And I'm trapped here. Seems like I'm always trapped, one way or the other. Not a guardian of the princess, not a guardian of the outer solar system, not even a guardian of time . . . I'm just the unwanted, feared guest.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Sora commanded. As long as I have a single breath left in my body, there will be at least one person who does *not* hate you, fear you, or in any way strive to make you feel unwanted. I bet the other senshi would like you too, if you gave them the chance.
Shin smiled weakly. I'll take your word for it. This time it was the black-haired girl who angrily scrubbed unwanted tears from her eyes. And after all, we will keep in contact. It's not like I'll never see you again. An uncomfortable silence fell. I guess this is goodbye, then.
No, this is not goodbye! With us, it will never be goodbye. This is merely . . . see you later. Perhaps a week, perhaps a month or a year, I don't know how long it will be before we see each other again, but we will. That I promise.
* * *
Despite the distance between them, the two kept in contact. Lately, though, it felt like Sora was trying to hide something from her. And that had Shin worried. Although she had always been an exceptional student, lately she just couldn't focus through the the intense cloud of worry.
She looked up, dully. Oh, the teacher had been trying to gain her attention. Could you tell me which Queen of the Moon had a taste for broccoli?
Queen Serenity the Forty-Third. Shin answered, a small smile flitting across her face as she remembered those peaceful afternoons spent in the palace library.
Shin? Her head came up at the mental call. They're attacking the palace. We're trying to hold them off, but we can't last much longer . . . oh my God, Nephrite! He's . . . he's brainwashed, I know he is, that's the only reason he'd ever attack us like this–Endymion's Guard is in charge of the army. The enemy army. I'm sorry I didn't tell you before, but I was afraid you'd do something drastic.
Behind the words came a stream of images . . . the princess, killing herself over the dead body of her beloved . . . Endymion's four Guardians advancing on the palace, an army of youma at their backs . . . and Beryl, queen of an insignificant territory of Earth, blackening the sky with her visage and deafening the onlookers with her uncanny laugh. Shin's eyes began to glow a deep violet. I . . . I'm sorry . . . goodbye, Shin. Their bond shattered, and Shin doubled over in agony. But Sora, you promised . . . never goodbye . . .
Shin? Are you all right, Shin?
She came to with the caring visage of her history teacher covering her field of vision. Sitting up, her eyes became as cold as ice, though tears leaked out despite her efforts to stop them. Beryl has invaded the Moon Palace. The Princess is dead. Soon, we will all be as well. The time for hiding is past. She stood, shaking her head at the offered hand up. The girl you knew as Shin never existed. Call me Saturn. A hysterical giggle bubbled up. Call me Hotaru, if you like! It's not like anything matters anymore!
She bowed to the class. Thank you for allowing me a normal life while it lasted. I hope, for your sakes, that your ends will be swift and painless. Now, I must leave. A twitch of her wrist brought the Silence Glaive to her hand–that dreaded weapon she had never before held, her birthright. With it came incredible power, as she morphed for the first time into her violet and burgundy fuku.
Tracing her way along the shattered remnants of their bond, like following a trail of broken glass, she found the Elsewhere she sought. With one, final nod of her head, she *twisted* to that place. Goodbye . . .
She reappeared at a scene of great devastation. The palace was in ruins, everyone fallen, dead or dying. Slowly, she made her way over to where her Queen lay, and paid her respects for the first and last time in her life to the silvery-lavender-haired woman. The Queen took in her mode of dress and weapon of choice with only a slight widening of her eyes. So, Saturn has returned. I am sorry, for your sake. In the background, Beryl laughed jarringly.
I am sending everyone forward to be reborn. The Queen continued in a soft, introspective voice. As the two watched, bubbles formed around the princess and her beloved, erasing all wounds. The process has already begun. Before you are taken, though, would you do me one last favor?
Saturn nodded gravely. It is my Destiny, that which I was born to fulfill.
Serenity shook her head sadly. I am sorry it had to end this way. Sapped of the last remaining bit of strength, her head fell, eyes closing one final time.
Voice choked with tears that she dared not shed, Saturn replied, So am I.
Standing atop one pillar that remained standing, she watched as Beryl was sealed away by the awesome power the ginzuishou held. A bubble attempted to form around her, but she shook her head, slicing it open with her glaive. It is not my time, not yet. There still remains one final thing for me to do.
Raising the Silence Glaive high, the senshi of silence smiled coldly. This was her destiny, no matter how much she would have wished otherwise.
Death Reborn Revolution!
The glaive dropped.
22. Mako-chan Reveals Her Secret
Two girls with tear-streaked faces tackled each other in an enthusiastic hug. Makoto whispered. I told you we would never say a permanent goodbye.
Hotaru turned up her nose, valiantly ignoring the tears of joy still streaking her cheeks. Excuse me, but you got far too close for comfort. Several times, I might add.
And who is it who threw herself into the Tau system, intent on permanently destroying herself in order to take it along with her? Hm?
Hotaru sighed. Guilty as charged. But if you ever do something that stupid and foolhardy again without me along to guard your back, I'll . . .
Raise you from the dead just for the express pleasure of killing you through many excrutiatingly painful torture methods?
Hotaru nodded consideringly. Something like that.
Makoto grinned. My sentiments exactly.
* * *
mamochan + usako = 2gether 4ever
Carefully, she drew the heart around her message, then stopped, looking down at the sheet of paper. A pensive look on her face, she continued idly doodling more small hearts, stars, flowers, and other manners of cute (and easy to draw) things. Why . . .
He was her Mamo-chan, her beloved in both lives, dare she assume her soulmate? She loved him with all her heart and, despite the many problems with their relationship over the years, she knew that he loved her just as much.
In a flash of anger, she wadded up the paper and threw it across the room into the trash can. It fell in with a satisfying *thunk* and she smiled briefly. Her coordination had increased somewhat these past months.
They rarely ever spent time together anymore–tacitly, both had agreed that they needed time to adjust to the situation as a whole before trying to figure out their relationship, now that both were only eleven–still easily within the range of time where boys and girls regarded each other with suspicion as the carriers of .
How much of their relationship had been nothing more than teenage hormones? She wanted to believe that hormones had had nothing to do with their relationship, but in retrospect, she was forced to admit they had probably played a rather large role, at least at first. The way they all had fallen for every pretty face they saw, back then . . . she remembered, vaguely, why, but no longer felt any of those urges.
Why did she love Mamoru? Flopping back to lie prone, she stared up at the ceiling. He was strong and brave. And handsome as well, but with the absence of the majority of those hormones, handsome was only an aesthetic question, not an integral facet any longer. Smart–going to Azabu, planning to become a doctor someday. Gentle and kind . . . she could see him, very easily, as a wonderful pediatrician. The way he had always supported Chibiusa when she needed it–without the blinding jealousy factor, in hindsight, she could appreciate his actions and love him all the more for them.
Yet . . . all her senshi possessed those characteristics as well. And she certainly wasn't in love with any of them. She loved them, yes, as a family, but it wasn't the same. So why did she love Mamoru specifically?
Because . . . he was Mamoru. Her Mamo-chan. She couldn't think of a better answer, because there was none. Why she loved him, she did not know. But the fact that she did love him remained unchanged, and she gathered that fact tightly to her heart. Walking to the trash basket, she brought out and straightened out the piece of paper.
With a red pen, she circled the 4ever' and added a little note at the bottom. Standing up to leave, the paper remained in the center of her bed, its message plain for all to see and read–assuming they could read her handwriting, that is.
mamochan + usako = 2gether 4ever
no matter what
How do you do that shapechanging thing? Haruka asked as they walked. She, Setsuna, and Snape had all stabilized at roughly seventeen years old, temporally speaking. Currently their silver-haired guide wore the visage of a child, about six, and played the role to the hilt, skipping ahead while licking a cherry lollipop she had gotten from somewhere.
Melisande shrugged. Dunno, really. I've been doing it for so long that I've almost forgotten how I learned. She paused. I think my grandmother said something about it being the effect of staying in the Misty Realms for an extended period of time. Lessee. When we're about ten, we go through this brief period of intense growth. The apparent age we stop at is known as our home' age, that which we're most comfortable being. After that, we can shift to just about any age at all, if we concentrate hard enough–though the farther we are from our home' age, the harder it is generally, and the less time we can hold it without significant effort, and without reverting to our home' age.
As we grow and mature, sometimes our home' age changes–but by that time, we're usually in tune enough with the temporal rhythms of our own bodies to be able to sense the change.
She grinned. My grandfather maintains that the Misty Realms do not induce this change–they just give us an opportunity to become more in tune with our temporal rhythms and provide us with enough ambient energy to make the change a relatively simple matter even for the normal' humans among us with no other talents. The grin took on a decidedly shark-like tinge. And just think, now I'll get to see for myself! Since I intend on returning to Earth with you whenever we catch up to Pluto.
That bombshell successfully dropped, she skipped on, unconcerned.
* * *
So when are your parents planning on flying in? In a couple of weeks, I assume. Hotaru sat calmly as she watched Makoto pace.
Makoto looked up. I don't know, the letter doesn't . . . TODAY?! She shrieked.
Hotaru took the letter. This is postmarked a week and a half ago. I wonder what took it so long to get here?
My parents are, technically, Muggles. They probably didn't know to use the owl post. Makoto replied absently. Today? The plane may have already crashed! Oh no . . . I can't lose them again. I don't think I'd be able to bear it . . .
Then don't. Hotaru stated flatly, hoping to knock her friend out of the feedback loop she had trapped herself in. We can go check on them. Now, if you wish. We *can* teleport, after all.
Oh yeah. Right. Makoto grinned weakly. I'm still getting used to this. Jupiter Eternal Make Up!
Saturn Eternal Make Up! Shall we?
For a brief moment in time, space *twisted*. Righting itself, air rushed with a small pop to fill the space the two girls had so recently taken up. Silence descended upon the now empty room.
* * *
Would you please get your wing out of my eye?
Your wing feathers are the ones stuck up my nose! And I'm not even going to start on where your hand is . . .
Heh heh . . . sorry.
Yeah, yeah. Now, if you'd get your wings out of my nose too . . .
Hm . . . After a brief moment of silence and concentration, the wings of both vanished. Makoto looked around. I'd forgotten how cramped airplane bathrooms are . . . It's been quite a while since I've been on one, after all.
Hotaru briefly squeezed her friend's shoulder encouragingly. Remember, it may yet land safely. And even if it does crash, we *will* find a way to get everyone to safety in time. I promise.
Straightening their skirts they opened the door and squeezed out, first Makoto, then Hotaru. You're going to have to point your parents out to me. Hotaru whispered. I don't think I'd recognize them.
Walking quietly down the aisle, few people if any noticed them. In fact, the greatest response was that of a young man reading a newspaper, who looked up long enough to point to the fasten seatbelt' sign and comment that they really oughtn't be out of their seats right now.
Providence seemed on their side this fine morning. No sooner had Makoto found her parents than she also noted that the two seats immediately behind them were empty. Both girls immediately sat down and, feeling rather self-conscious, fastened their seatbelts. I feel like I'm playing guardian angel. Makoto admitted sheepishly to Hotaru.
Well, we do have the wings . . . now all we need are halos. The black-haired girl quipped. Suddenly the plane gave a shuddering jar. Though Makoto gripped her armrests more tightly, white around the lips with the effort it took to suppress her agitation, at first neither did anything. It could have just been turbulence, after all.
Another jar, even more abrupt than the one before, accompanied by the sheer downward tilt the plane had fallen into, brought both girls leaping out of their seats. I'll hit the cockpit and see if there's anything I can do to help. Even as she thought-spoke, Hotaru was up and moving, her smooth glide eating up ground at a pace equivalent to an easy sprint with most others. Though I have no idea how much modern machinery differs from what I'm used to. So said the girl who puzzled out how to work one of the Jovian helicopters the royal family kept laying around, idle, simply because she was bored.
* * *
Hotaru asked, deadly cold anger burning behind her seemingly calm words. Do you know how many people died because of your actions? How many children were left orphaned, forever after afraid to even approach planes because of the scars left by this crash? At her feet lay the pilot, bleeding from a head wound taken when the bullet shot grazed him. Only luck had prevented him from dying this day. But even alive, he was too far away now, mentally, to be of any help. Even Hotaru did not know of any way to heal unconsciousness.
A flame of devotion burned in his not quite sane eyes. What should I care for the deaths of those who chose to oppose the One True God? By taking them with me, I am guaranteed a place by his side. As for their children . . . the true scar upon their hearts is that of their ignorance of the glory that is the One True God . . .
Hotaru put a hand to his forehead. She commanded. He collapsed, unconscious, into the copilot's seat. The copilot, she noticed with a pang, had not been so lucky as the pilot. That bullet looked to have gone straight through the brain.
Sparing one last contemptuous glance for the would-be hijacker, she spat and turned her attention to the controls of the plane. Filthy fanatics. And one who truly believes in an Ultimate Being that glories in (or at least glorifies) the deaths of those who do not serve Him . . . the worst of the lot, in my opinion. Wiping her hands off on her skirt, as if even touching him had left her feeling unclean, she reached out and took the controls. Yes, this was familiar enough that she thought she could fly it. And people actually wonder what turned me off organized religion? As if anyone knows what comes after death. Pfah. If anyone did, you'd think it would be me . . .
She flicked on the intercom. This is your . . . ah . . . temporary Captain, so to speak, speaking. The attempted hijacking has been dealt with. I repeat, although the pilot has been rather seriously injured, the hijacker has been dealt with. Don't worry, Mako-chan. I just put him to sleep. We are, however, back on course, and I project our arrival to be only slightly later than expected. Thank you.
* * *
Makoto was in a white-hot fury. Frankly, at this moment in time, she wouldn't have cared what happened to the hijacker. Though thumbscrews sound nice. And stringing him up by his toenails. Practicing Chinese water torture with him. Iron Maiden, the rack . . . what else . . .
Ah . . young lady? You heard what the Captain said. The hijacker has been dealt with. Makoto's mother regarded her daughter (if she had known) with a leery eye, after gaining no response. You can sit down now.
Makoto suddenly realized there were tears in her eyes. I didn't lose them this time. I could do something to prevent it, this time . . . or Shin-chan could, at least. She smiled brilliantly at her mother. Yes. I can sit down now. The danger is past. Even had she tried to suppress it, that brilliant smile would have remained plastered on her face the entire remainder of the flight.
So it's just as well that she didn't even try.
* * *
What . . .? Please lie still. I'll only take a moment longer. A pleasant female voice said calmly. My God, the hijacker! Oh . . . Jack . . . he mourned the loss of his co-pilot, friend, and confidante. He struggled to sit up, opening his eyes to look into a pair of amused violet ones.
You really have a hard time listening to instructions, don't you. She said with amusement, then stood up. So short . . . she couldn't be more than twelve or thirteen, yet she spoke with the assurance of one at least twice that age. Fine then. You should be well enough now. She stood back and sat herself calmly in the copilot's seat as he stood up unsteadily and, as offhandedly as if she were merely commenting on the weather, continued, I've locked the hijacker in the front bathroom for the time being. He gaped at her, so casual about a man that might have cause the deaths of all on this plane . . . including himself. He spat mentally. Filthy fanatics.
She gestured with irritation to the empty pilot's seat. Look, the only reason I woke you is I'm not absolutely sure as to how to land this monster. If you're just going to stand there and dither, though, I'll be happy to give it a shot.
With alacrity, he sat himself. So, this child thought she could fly *his* plane, did she? As they circled in for landing at the main London airport, he had to admit to himself that not only did she *think* she could fly his plane . . . she could fly it, and damn well to add to the bargain. In getting the plane this far, she had managed to shave off the extra time expended when the hijacker took over. What is the world coming to, when an entire plane full of relatively responsible and intelligent adults has to be saved by a twelve-year-old?
Not until after the plane reached the ground safely and the passengers were beginning to disembark did he notice the long diagonal slash made down the center of the (now defunct) cockpit door–nearly half an inch thick, and solid steel all the way.
The girl smiled when she saw the direction in which his eyes had drifted. Let's get together again sometime. Hopefully, this time, without the interference of crazy fanatic hijackers. I'm . . . She grinned. An inside joke of sorts, he supposed. Call me Shin.
And my name is Jefferson Parker. He bowed slightly–it just somehow seemed the right thing to do.
She shook his hand with a surprisingly strong grip. It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Parker. Now, I'll get going. She grinned again. Leaving you with all the questions as to how you managed to defeat the hijacker and land the plane safely. Suiting words to actions she turned, melding easily with the flow of outgoing passengers.
Shin, huh? Jeff had a feeling that, whether or not he ever met the girl again, it would be quite a while before he forgot the black-haired sprite. Perhaps we'll meet again. . . . Somehow, I'm looking forward to it.
. . . Somehow, I'm looking forward to it.
* * *
So, was he cute? Makoto teased.
Hm? I suppose so. Hotaru replied distantly. I didn't really notice.
Makoto smacked her forehead, then sighed. Well, we're only eleven. I suppose I can allow you some leeway . . . for now.
Hotaru snorted, a mischievous smile beginning to show. And here I was hoping you'd be *less* boy-crazy this time around. I guess it just gives you a chance for an early start.
Easily, with none of the enmity marked by Rei and Usagi's relationship, the two stuck their tongues out at each other. And laughed. Some things, Hotaru admitted, will just never change, I guess. Now come on, let's get back to trailing your parents. After all, we wouldn't want them getting on the wrong train.
Makoto smiled back. And doesn't this feel strange . . . playing guardian angel for my parents, the ones who have always protected me.
* * *
They stood in the main London train station. Platform Nine and Three-Quarters? What sort of name is that? Between platform nine and ten was a space of blank wall. Certainly no sign that indicated that 9 3/4 even existed. Both were inclined to believe it didn't.
Don't look now, but those girls are following us again. Makoto's mother spoke quietly, glancing at the eleven-year-olds that had been trailing them in their journey from the airport. The same two girls who had taken the two empty seats behind them mid-flight–shortly before the hijacking.
I wonder what they want? Shiro turned and made direct eye contact with the two girls, beckoning them over, as his wife sighed and rolled her eyes. As soon as they came close enough, he went straight to the point. Who are you, and why have you been following us?
The one in violet grinned. We're you're guardian angels. Ow! She rubbed the spot where the other girl had jabbed her with an elbow.
We're here to make sure you make it to Hogwarts safely. I believe you were looking for Platform Nine and Three-Quarters? Follow me. She walked up to the wall and straight through. Both her parents gaped as she seemed to disappear into thin air.
It's a protection to keep stray non-magical personae from discovering our platform. Hotaru explained. The problem is, no one can see the barrier, and children who have no relatives that have come to Hogwarts before don't even know it's there. The three had been walking towards the barrier. There really ought to be a better way, but I guess it's just that no one has thought one up yet. And they passed through, to an empty area. The bright 9 3/4 sign had gone out, leaving it hardly worthy of notice anymore.
Makoto waved. The sign over here claims that this train only runs to and from Hogwarts at holidays, when the students will be riding it.
Hotaru smacked her head. I should have known.
So now what? Yui, Makoto's mother, asked.
Now is as good a time as any to reveal your secret. Hotaru looked at Makoto. I think I will. I trust your parents.
I would like to introduce myself. I am a good friend of your daughter. With a frown of concentration, she shifted back to her original senshif form.
Sailor Saturn? Shiro breathed. With the glaive in Hotaru's hand, in addition to her distinctive dress, she could have been no one else. Hotaru nodded, and shifted back to civilian form.
Yui recognized. But how . . .?
We're, associates, so to speak. Makoto answered softly, shifting back through Super Sailor Jupiter, to simple Sailor Jupiter, and finally back to Makoto. I'm so sorry I never told you. She murmured into her mother's arms, the tears starting to flow. I was just so afraid you wouldn't approve, afraid you'd try to stop me . . . afraid I'd lose you again.
We would have been indescribably proud of our daughter for protecting Earth. Shiro stated firmly, then mussed Makoto's hair playfully. We still are.
But please, Ko-chan, don't ever keep a secret this big again. If you had died or been hurt seriously, and we had had no idea why . . . I don't think we could have borne it.
Makoto smiled brilliantly through her tears. Never again, 'Kaasan. I promise.
I recognized Sailor Jupiter . . . but who were you when you were on the plane? Yui asked with curiousity.
Two pairs of hands reached out, and cupped within those hands a ball of power–moss green and violet-black respectively–grew slowly.
Jupiter Eternal Make Up!
Saturn Eternal Make Up!
As the light died down, the full glory of their eternal forms was revealed.
I am the senshi of death and rebirth, Eternal Sailor Saturn!
I am the senshi of lightning, Eternal Sailor Jupiter!
We have gained our next rank of power. Jupiter explained proudly. The third and fourth to do so–this time, each of us must complete a personal journey to reach this power, and none of the others can help.
So please, don't tell any of the other senshi that we have gained this new power. Saturn requested softly. If they learn, their own personal journeys might be jeapordized in unseen ways.
I promise. Shiro stated firmly, and Yui nodded her own acceptance. We won't breathe a word of this to anyone.
Now . . . Jupiter drew the word out, sending Saturn a querying glance. Do you think?
We can make it, with only two extras. Saturn affirmed confidently. Moving to stand on either side of Makoto's parents, they linked eyes, minds, and powers.
The air shimmered, and the surrounding landscape flickered. To the eyes of Shiro and Yui, the scenery changed from an abandoned railroad platform to a pastoral rural picture, complete with a looming stone castle and a lake. Both girls detransformed, sharing silent bursts of congratulation.
Finally, Makoto stepped forward and turned around. 'Kaasan, 'Tousan . . . I now bid you welcome . . . to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
I wonder if someone's caught the Golden Snitch yet? Makoto wondered idly as the four walked towards the Quidditch arena. I hope not–I'd rather not be skipping class.
Hotaru replied in an affirmative tone of voice. Though if this game goes on much longer . . .
This time, it was Makoto's turn to nod affirmatively. I never thought the day would come when I would actually *resent* being forced to miss class.
Or that I'd actually, for once, enjoy school. Hotaru smiled quietly. Back at home, it's the same as always, but here . . . even if everyone did know of my talent, I really doubt many of them would care.
They had reached the stands, but all were chock full. So, settling to the ground to watch, they looked upwards at the flying players and prepared to enjoy the show.
* * *
I will not fail Him again. In stark contrast to his stuttery voice, within his mind his voice was grimly determined and absolutely steady. As long as he didn't think of what He would do to him if he failed . . . but he wouldn't fail. He couldn't.
His eyes sought out that certain place in the ground. Useful stuff, ah . . . TNT is what he thought the Muggles had called it. Very useful. As Potter dove towards that particular portion of ground, time seemed to slow. He raised his wand–slightly, and under the cover of his cloak, and began to pronounce the words. He did not know who had caused him to fail last time, but this time, he would *not* fail.
Yes. Just as he had expected, the explosion was enormous and beautiful. He smiled grimly as he watched Potter's body go flying out of the explosion to land on the ground, broken and bleeding. He had succeeded, at last.
* * *
On the ground, they saw everything. The way the ground exploded outward, sending Harry and several other players unlucky enough to be caught by the edges of the blast flying. Hotaru stood immediately, without even conscious thought. Careless of the onlookers–of which, luckily enough, there were none–she raised her empty hand. Saturn Crystal Power, Make Up! Violet light flashed briefly, the subsided, showing a fully transformed Super Sailor Saturn, sans glaive.
Jupiter Crystal Power, Make Up! Makoto knew that when Saturn needed extra strength, she would be better able to give that strength transformed.
Try to find and move away anyone who's not seriously injured. I'll let you know if I need you.
Shin . . . be careful.
The first person Saturn came across happened to be Harry. Against her will, she gasped as she knelt by his side. Just about the only part of him that wasn't bent at an unnatural angle was his neck, it seemed at first. I'm dying . . . aren't I. The black-haired Boy Who Lived whispered sadly, then coughed up a mouthful of blood, his eyes already losing their focus.
Not if I have anything to say about it. Saturn replied fiercely, placing her hands gently on either side of his head, the lavender glow of healing already appearing as she began to move his head back into position. You are going to live, because I won't let you die.
She healed the ribs that were mere millimeters from jabbing a hole in his heart and his lungs, the compound fractures in most of the bones of his body, the spine. Nearly every part of him she healed, everything she could. Then she stood, woozy from all the energy that she had expended in his healing. And smiled. See, I told you. You won't die after all. Slowly she returned to her knees, then toppled over, head landing in a lap that was liberally stained with blood from gashes that no longer existed.
Laboriously, the eleven-year-old boy sat up. I don't know your name . . . but thank you. I owe you my life.
Her name is Saturn. An auburn-haired stranger knelt beside him. And I see that once again she has worn herself out completely, healing people.
The only one she healed was me. I owe her my life because of that. Saturn . . . like one of the planets. He struggled to stand, then realized nothing was happening. My legs . . . His eyes went wide with horror. Paraplegic. His mind supplied the medical term clinically. Kind of hard to play Quidditch when you can't move your legs, isn't it, Harry?
The auburn-haired girl had been joined by two adults . . . without robes. Dressed in normal Muggle clothes. Could one of you take Saturn? She asked without looking up. I'll take Harry. She picked him up. Come on, let's get you back to Gryffindor. Unless you'd rather go to the Hospital Wing?
Harry did not reply.
* * *
Four six-year-olds skipped down a misty path, until one of them tripped over a rock that most likely did not exist and fell on his face. The other three stopped and gathered around as he picked himself up.
I'm no good at skipping. Chibi-Severus grumbled.
Aw, don't be such a party-pooper. Chibi-Haruka bounced around, clearly enjoying the sensation. You just need to get in touch with your inner child. Skipping is fun!
So says one who has never fallen on her face before. He shot back, then looked around. Are we there yet? He asked plaintively.
Melisande laughed, then frowned slightly. But remember, it probably isn't still there. Hopefully, though, we'll find a clue as to where it is now.
Suddenly, it seemed they had rounded a corner of the mists, as they came upon a clear and decidedly un-misty clearing. In the center, a smallish portal swirled, visibly growing smaller as they watched. Melisande went up and held her hand in front of it. It seems to be attuned to to your reality. The bad thing is . . . I don't think it's made for more than a single person to pass through.
The other three exchanged glances. You go, Uncle Severus. Haruka finally said with a sigh. We're better equipped to survive here than you are.
Setsuna smiled wryly, then turned to Melisande. Do we have time to write out messages for him to carry through?
She hesitated. Perhaps one, if you make it short. Both nodded, then brought paper and ball-point pens out of their subspace pockets with a grin.
I knew I'd be glad that I hid these away someday. Haruka smirked as she scribbled. Finally, she finished, and closed it. If anyone asks where we are, take them someplace alone and tell them the entire truth. Otherwise, don't mention us at all. Haruka was operating on the assumption that anyone not a senshi would long since have forgotten them.
Setsuna shook her head. We can't be sure who has forgotten. She handed him a piece of paper. If one of these people asks, tell them, the entire truth. Otherwise, scratch your head, look dumb, and say nothing.
Haruka handed him her sealed letter. Here. This is for Malfoy. Now go, before it closes.
Snape tucked both letters away. If you two are really sure about this . . . Unconsciously, he morphed to twenty-ish–what seemed to be his equivalent of a home age.
First Haruka, then Setsuna, and finally Melisande, he hugged. Take care of yourselves. He ordered gruffly. And return soon. I don't want to have to teach Potions for too long without my favorite troublemaker.
He stepped through the portal, now only barely large enough, and disappeared. With his departure, the portal, too, disappeared.
* * *
The explosion . . . Draco had never seen anything like it. It was horrendous in its scope, blowing a hole that took out at least a third of the Quidditch field. And the bodies . . . they had started moving again shortly after the shock wore off. All except one. Potter . . . I wish I could have done something to stop it. I would have, if I could have.Gryffindor hates Slytherin. Slytherin hates Gryffindor. Wasn't that a school rule or something? Draco didn't care. All he cared about was the fact that there was a boy out there, about his age, that was almost certainly either dying or already dead. And there was *nothing* he could do about it.
He turned away from the devastated field, instead gazing up into the disarmingly beautiful blue sky. Irrationally, he found himself growing increasingly enraged with the sky. How *dare* it look so beautiful, so calm, so peaceful, when there were people who had been injured. When there was someone who was most likely killed.
And for a moment, he found himself distracted, wondering. Why did I hate Potter? I can't really remember anymore. Funny. He stood, and went downstairs. He could no longer stand not knowing.
No sooner had he left than Snape stepped, seemingly, out of thin air. And as he gazed down upon the devastated Quidditch field, uncomfortably aware of the letter and the list he held hidden in his robes, his eyes widened. What has happened? Surely I have not been gone that long!
Out of the corner of his eye, a speck of gold flashed and, using reflexes long forgotten, he instinctively caught it. The Golden Snitch . . . if the game's still on, I can't have been gone that long. Tossing the now quiescent golden ball upwards and catching it in a smooth, practiced, motion, he began whistling as he prepared to descend the stairs himself. A long-forgotten tune. The beginnings of a genuine smile curled the edges of his mouth. Perhaps I have not entirely lost my inner child after all.
* * *
Harry closed his eyes. He closed his eyes, because he knew what he would see if he opened them. The legs. Legs that nominally belonged to him, yet were no longer under his control. Also, with his eyes closed, people were more likely to believe him asleep. And leave him alone.
For a brief moment, his eyes flicked open. He didn't know why, precisely. After all, he had meant to keep them closed. But once open, they stayed that way, out of surprise and disgust, if nothing else. Come to gloat? He asked quietly, bitterly.
A flash of surprise and . . . something . . . could it really be pain?! . . . crossed the other's face as he shook his head. Why would you think . . . oh, right, we hate each other. Can you remember why? He asked quietly. I can't, anymore. I came because I had to know.
Know what? Why we hate each other?
He shook his head. Know . . . whether or not you were still alive. You didn't look like it, when I saw you down on the field. It was then that I realized . . . I really don't hate you. I haven't for quite a while. The blonde boy's face was open, far more open than Harry had ever seen it before. He came further in and sat on a chair, still staring at Harry's face meditatively.
I almost wasn't. Still alive, that is. Then she came along . . . and healed me . . . Harry trailed off at the naked hope in the other boy's face.
What did she look like? Did you catch her name?
She had short, black hair and deep violet eyes. She seemed to be wearing a white leotard, with bows that were purple and a black skirt. Her name was Saturn.
He deflated. Saturn . . . Uranus . . . perhaps there is a guardian angel from each of the other planets that watches over us.
Did you know Uranus, then? What was she like? Against his will, Harry found himself warming to this young boy, so different from the Draco Malfoy he always believed he knew.
She was blonde, with teal eyes. She always wore a navy blue dress and had the most beautiful goldenrod yellow wings. She . . . I told her things I've never revealed to anyone else, and I sometimes almost think she did the same. There were certainly some times when she seemed . . . surprised, even aghast, at the words that came from her mouth. And then, one day, she disappeared without a word.
And you hoped she had come back to heal me.
Draco nodded, then stood. I suppose I had better leave . . . He grinned quickly. Before I get caught fraternizing with the enemy. I'll be seeing you around, Potter.
At the door, he stopped and turned. Harry smiled, tentatively. Please . . . call me Harry.
Only if you're willing to call me Draco. He smiled again, and Harry got the feeling that he had made, literally, one of the most unlikely of friends. I'll be seeing you around . . . Harry.
* * *
Albus Dumbledore walked down the halls. Although he did not usually leave his office, he wanted to check in on all the children who had been injured in that curious explosion. Someone bumped into him, and looked up. Friendly black eyes under a shock of deep black hair greeted him with a smile. Sorry about that, Albus. Young enough to be either a seventh-year student or an extremely new teacher, he reminded Dumbledore most peculiarly of Severus at that age. But surely this was just coincidence. The young man continued walking in the opposite direction with a firm, lengthy stride. Even had Severus found the Fountain of Youth, so to speak, he would never have smiled that way. So . . . carefree.
* * *
Despite their shared horror and pity for the extent of Harry's injuries, there was really only one major concern aired in the Gryffindor common room that night. Who was to be their new seeker? If they didn't find one, and soon, they would have to forfeit and Slytherin would win by default. Something that no one wanted to see happen.
Quite a few suggestions were made, people of every age, but no one quite cut it, not in the minds of the majority that gathered there. Why don't you volunteer? Minako asked Usagi in an undertone. You're a natural at flying, at least as good as Harry, I know it. Nearby, Fred and George exchanged speculative glances.
And what? I'd probably demolish the stadium accidentally through sheer incompetence. Usagi snorted.
You are not nearly as clumsy as you used to be. Uh . . . will be? Minako looked confused. Time travel makes my head hurt. I bet you could do it.
Hermione nodded, speaking up from behind them. I've seen you at lessons, Serenity. You are as good as–or better than–Harry. I believe you could do it.
You fly like you have wings. Ron commented. As if you've flown for most of your life, despite never having touched a broom before this year.
Usagi looked up to see the entire room focused on her, hope in their eyes. Hardly any of the rest knew her, but they might know some of the other first years and trust their judgement. Or, amazingly enough, they might actually trust her. No, this wasn't a matter of life and death, or of the saving of the world. To these people, right now, in a way it was more important than any of that. And they trusted her.
I've never seen you myself, but if they say you're Potter's equal . . . Usagi looked up, so far up, into the eyes of Oliver Wood, the Gryffindor Quidditch team's captain. Will you become our Seeker?
Usagi gulped. She would not betray their trust in her. She would not fail. If you will have me, I will.
24. More Secrets Come to Light
He tried,experimentally, to move a leg. "Nothing." The black head did not move, but he knew she had heard him.
Finally, she looked up, violet eyes dim with discouragement. "I don't understand. I know what's wrong, and I know exactly how to fix it. But I can't get close enough to actually *do* anything. It's as if something is blocking me."
She stood slowly, defeat in every line of her posture. "Look, I'll . . . I think I've about had it for today. I'll go, see if I can come up with some sort of amazing inspiration, and even if I don't . . . I'll try again tomorrow. And every tomorrow after that, until I succeed. Okay?"
Harry nodded, then smiled shyly. "See you tomorrow . . . Hotaru." He paused. "And Hotaru . . . even if you can't heal me, you still saved my life. I have faith in your ability to find a way to heal me . . . but if it turns out that that is impossible, I don't want you to go feeling all guilty on me. You've already done so much more for me than anyone else possibly could."
With a flash she transformed back into the shy Ravenclaw he'd never really noticed. She seemed to have a knack for blending in with the background. "I won't have to worry about that," she stated firmly, "because I *will* find a way. Because, Harry, I may have done more for you than anyone else could have, but I have not done nearly as much as I should be capable of."
A sudden thought struck the black-haired boy. Hotaru was Saturn, and he had heard her call her auburn-haired friend Jupiter . . . "Hotaru? Do you know anyone named Uranus?"
He'd expected either assent or denial, not such outright shock and cautious hope. "Do . . . do you know where she is?" She swallowed. "Everyone else has forgotten, and I'm so worried that something desperately wrong had happened." Surely, if they were only trapped at the Gates of Time, they would have found Pluto by now.
"I'm sorry, I'm afraid I know nothing but the name. I just asked, because . . . well, someone else was really depressed about her leaving, and I thought if you knew anything, I could tell him . . ."
"Who?" The one word held incredible intensity. Harry wavered. It had been a private conversation between himself and Draco, and he didn't feel quite right revealing the other boy's secret. Yet . . . Hotaru looked so worried . . .
She knelt back down by the side of his bed, looking up at him with pleading eyes. "Please, Harry, I need to know. I promise, I won't tell anyone else without asking his permission first. But if I can find out who remembers Uranus, and who has forgotten her, that may give me a clue . . ." She gulped, and unshed tears gleamed in the back of her eyes. "A clue as to how to bring them back . . ." She whispered.
It was that final whispered statement that finally decided Harry. He knew how much Draco missed Uranus, and he felt that Draco would agree to almost anything to find out if she was all right. "I don't think I need to remind you not to tell anyone." He smiled wryly. "It was Draco."
"Draco Malfoy?" Shock widened Hotaru's violet eyes, and they began to recover some of their previous sparkle. A short moment, then the sparkle in her eyes translated itself into sound as she began to snicker. "I can't believe it! Draco, of all people." She grinned outright-an inside joke of some sort, Harry assumed, that probably had something to do with this mysterious Uranus' identity. "How . . . fitting, in a twisted sort of way. Well, if Uranus liked him, he can't be nearly as bad as rumor has painted him."
"I think he was, at the beginning." Harry began slowly, remembering his own early encounters with the blonde boy. "But, at some point along the way, he changed. And I would bet a great deal that that change came about as a result of his relationship with Uranus."
"I would not be surprised. She has that effect on people sometimes. I think we all do, to some extent." She stood back up, and ran her fingers through her hair. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I really will leave this time. But don't worry, I'll be back. Tomorrow."
"Tomorrow." Harry affirmed. He smiled at her back, remembering her last comment. Quietly, he added, "Well, one thing's for sure . . . you have greatly changed *my* life."
* * *
"Draco! A voice pulled the blonde boy out of his random musing as he wandered the halls. He looked up with a blink to see a black-haired girl run up to him. He wondered why she called him that, instead of the greatly more popular 'Malfoy'. How he had come to detest his surname. "Finally, I found you." She stated with satisfaction. "Now, come on." She grabbed his hand and began dragging him towards one of the flights of stairs that led eventually to the roof.
"Um . . . do I know you?" He asked, voice full of uncertainty. She looked vaguely familiar . . . he thought she was a Ravenclaw. Finally he realized from where she looked familiar-she had been one of Haruka's friends.
Still, none of that explained why she had come after him specifically. "No. Not yet." She replied. "But you will soon enough." Soon enough proved to be when they got up to the roof. She looked around carefully-searching for eavesdroppers? "My name is Hotaru Tomoe, but I'm also known as Saturn at times." She dropped the information almost casually, leaving him to pick up the pieces and make the connections on his own.
A spark of hope lit in his eyes almost immediately. "Then . . . do you know what happened to Uranus? Why she disappeared? Is she going to be back anytime soon? . . . I'd feel awful if she left because of me."
"No, I doubt her departure had anything to do with you." Hotaru reassured him, and she sighed. "As for the rest . . . she is trapped somewhere, and there is someone she needs to find in order to be able to leave. Unfortunately, that person probably does not want to be found . . . and I'm afraid that something else has gone dreadfully wrong in addition." She hesitated. "I contacted you mostly on the off chance that you would have somehow gained some information that was not passed on to the rest of us."
"Rest of . . . there's one of you for each planet, isn't there." Draco conjectured. "Who are you? I mean . . . well, you know what I mean. I never thought to ask Uranus . . . and I would have felt kind of uncomfortable doing so."
Hotaru sat down, and motioned him to take a seat as well. "This might take a while, since I think you ought to know the full story. It is a story that began a long time ago, in a kingdom known as the Silver Millennium . . ."
* * *
". . . and then we were reborn into this time." Out of pity, Hotaru decided to exclude the most recent of their exploits-mostly, she admitted to herself, because she didn't want to be the one to tell him of Uranus and Neptune's defection, no matter how good their intentions had been. Haruka deserved to have the chance to tell him that, herself.
From the slightly doubtful look he gave her, Hotaru got the feeling that he knew she had not told the whole story. Thankfully, he refrained from pressing her. Then again, that might have been merely because of the third voice that broke in on the conversation. "Hotaru Tomoe and Draco Malfoy, I presume?" Both turned to the young, black-haired figure who had appeared at the top of the steps, anxious about how much of the story he might have heard. The stranger smiled. "Allow me to introduce myself. You may not believe me, but I am Severus Snape." Again, the two shared a glance, this one considering and full of scarcely concealed hope. Snape smiled, having a good guess as to what the two were thinking.
He nodded slightly, a large smile forming on his face. ". . . And I bring messages from Uranus and Pluto."
* * *
The area was fairly light, but the light was all ambient. Scattered around the room were various screens, each focused on a different person or set of events. One held a picture of a small blonde girl on a broomstick, flying around with her long hair trailing behind. Another, a group of three, two children and one apparently in his late teens. A view of the stands, where the friends of the blonde girl sat and watched.
In the center of the room, a man stood. Brushing a wisp of fine mahogany hair behind an ear, he turned his head. "Well?"
Just in time to here his question, a girl appeared. She nodded. "I think you're right. He will be best." She indicated yet another screen, one that held a picture of three young girls walking through mist. "Why haven't you dealt with them yet? You know that they will only be able to return through the Gate."
He nodded. "But they can't return through the Gate until it's rebuilt, and that won't happen until a new Guardian is chosen. This keeps them occupied until then. The others should be in on the choice, too, you know. It's only fair, when making a decision that can affect all of us."
She sighed. "True, I suppose. Still, I think they'll agree."
"They may think you're trying to regain the Guardianship, though. It sure would seem that way to one who hasn't been working with you as closely as I."
"I trust Saturn." Uranus smiled, appearing just in time to add in her own two cents. She shrugged self-deprecatingly. "Of course, I'm also rather biased in the boy's favor. So I suppose I 'm not exactly the best judge. Still, he has a way of winning over even the staunchest of foes once he can be induced to show his true self. He'll do fine."
Pluto looked up. "You know him best of us all, I think. Do you think he's fit for the job?"
The navy-blue-haired girl rubbed the back of her neck consideringly. "I get the feeling that he still has some issues that he needs to work out before he can accept the job . . . but yes, once he gets those issues worked out, I think he'll do fine. I'm guessing the Guardian really does have to be someone who is indigenous to our reality?"
Pluto nodded again, this time sadly. "When the new Setsuna appeared, I had my hopes . . . but the Gates were not willing to accept her in the end. I'm just glad that she was willing to give up the power of Guardian without being pushed-or worse, forced-into the decision. I'm not sure that our Setsuna would have been so willing."
"They are very . . . different." Uranus agreed with a thoughtful expression on her face. "They act like they . . . well, like they've experienced so much *more* than our senshi had."
"They have." A quiet, sad voice replied.
"Still no luck, Neptune?" Uranus asked sympathetically.
The other girl shook her head, long straight cerulean hair flying in a halo around her face. "No luck. I don't know what I'm doing wrong, but I just can't reach her." She ended the explanation on a muted wail, as the rest looked on sympathetically.
Uranus reached out and took the quietly sobbing girl into her arms, slowly smoothing her hair. "Ssh . . . it will be all right. Everything will turn out all right in the end, you'll see." She looked up, at Pluto. "When I gave Haruka the Eternal power . . . I told her that she had to grow up first. It was the only thing I could think of, really-a story, to give her a plausible reason why she had not been given the power before, since I don't know why they didn't receive it back in their home reality. But what if it was the truth? That they really *do* have to grow closer to their Silver Millennium selves before we're able to reach them."
Neptune sniffed and pulled herself out of the other's embrace, wiping her eyes. "It's true, Michiru has hardly changed at all from the self she was in her other life-her other modern-day life, that is. She's so . . . distant, I guess, not at all like I remember her being. But you were right, Uranus . . . they have experienced far more than our girls ever had to go through."
"Like?" Saturn asked curiously.
Neptune, looking into the earnest face of her sister planet, winced. It would have to be one of those two that asked the question. Still, if she had not yet found out, she had a right to know. "Haruka and Michiru . . . they killed Setsuna and Hotaru. They had good reasons for doing so, or so they thought at the time . . . but their betrayal of their teammates and of their princess still weighs very heavily on Michiru."
"Haruka feels it too . . . but she's always been quicker to trust and more outgoing than Michiru. Added to it, the fact that she has bonded to one of the people they killed-and *knows* that she has been forgiven, by them at least . . . the feeling is muted." Uranus reported, an introspective look on her face. "I had not realized, though, that that residual sorrow and guilt resulted from something so . . . so drastic."
Neptune nodded. "Michiru has, I think, lost all concept of self-worth. Especially with Haruka not there. Even if she doesn't remember Haruka's existence, she still feels abandoned-and Hotaru, the only one remaining of the senshi that is willing to call her friend, avoids her unconsciously. I think, because she knows how much they meant to each other." She looked up, over to Saturn for confirmation.
Saturn nodded. "I think that about describes it." She sighed. "Although I'm afraid I haven't been paying as much attention to Hotaru as I ought to have. I'm watching over his dreams practically nightly, now, protecting him. I'm afraid if I don't, some night he'll actually believe his dreams and die in his sleep."
"When will Haruka and Setsuna be able to return?" Uranus fretted. "This separation and memory loss is wreaking havoc with everything. Couldn't you have at least excluded the senshi from the effects of the memory loss?" She asked Pluto.
He rubbed his eyes. "It's not as easy as you make it sound, Uranus. It's all I can do just to protect those that have gone Eternal already, and that's drawing from their extra stores of power. Setsuna's no longer the Guardian of the Gates, so I no longer have control over them."
He laughed. "You could probably deal with them as easily as I. Remember, he may have a nominal connection to Saturn, but I very much doubt that he is going to be either Saturn or Pluto Knight. Whichever planetary allegiance he chooses, that one of us will gain greater control over the Gates than any of us have now . . . but even then, a Knight is not an Avatar. None of us will ever again have, I think, the long-standing dominion over the Gates that both Saturn and I have experienced in our time."
Saturn tapped yet another screen, holding a small black-haired boy laying on a hospital bed. "To shift the subject somewhat, if you don't mind . . . does anyone have an explanation for why Hotaru can't heal that boy?"
"Outside interference of some kind." Neptune suggested. "Some sort of protective shield, maybe?"
Saturn snapped her fingers. "The scar! I remember the resistance seemed particularly strong around the region of his forehead, but did not really take note, since she was concentrating on the problem area."
Pluto frowned. "Hotaru may not be the healer that my avatars once were, before we assumed the role of Guardian of the Gates, but she is still quite strong. Anything powerful enough to block her healing influence so subtly . . . it would almost cross over into the realm of divine intervention."
"Not quite divine." A new voice laughed, as Jupiter stepped into visibility. "I would have thought that the lightning bolt shape of the scar was a dead giveaway, though."
"Jupiter? You . . ."
"I just happened to be nearby when I felt an incredible buildup of malevolent power. I was too late to save the parents, but I came just in time to cast my protection over the child. Unfortunately, the protection wasn't complete-the remainder of that spell still retained the power to carve the scar into his forehead. You mean it-the protection-is still there?" The other four nodded, and she shook her head. "I can't believe it!"
She turned her gaze to the boy in question, and the others could sense the probe that she sent towards him. The room remained silent and unmoving until Jupiter shook her head. -"That may have originally been my spell, but it's mutated beyond all recognition by now." She made a disgusted sound in her throat. "If I had known he was a *wizard* . . . I should have realized and adjusted the spell to compensate for the differences." The others smiled sympathetically, remembering their own encounters with the slightly . . . different . . . subspecies of humanity.
Forest green-painted fingernails rapped on a nearby console. "That reminds me. I know for a fact that Makoto was absolutely one hundred percent Muggle before this switch occurred. The only thing at all magical about her was her status as my avatar."
"All our avatars, I think, held between little and absolutely no magical talent previous to this." Uranus concurred. "I know Haruka was about as unmagical as a brick, despite having a wizard for a father."
Neptune wrinkled her nose doubtfully. "Michiru might have had a little-not surprising, with both of her parents being rather strong as wizards go-and I think Rei did too. But I do agree, for supposedly 'magical' warriors they were about the most disgustingly normal group of people I've ever seen."
"And now . . . all of them are so filled with magical potential it's almost scary. The only conclusion I've been able to reach is that, sometime in our future, the senshi will *need* that extra margin of power. Because our senshi would have proved inadequate for the job, these new essences have been yanked from their own home universe and placed into our own." Uranus concluded the process of thought that all five of them had worked through on their own before. The group looked at each other for a time in subdued silence.
"But who is this new enemy-or the being that wrought all these changes, for that matter-and when will they show up?" Saturn asked.
"As for that . . ." Pluto answered with the barest shadow of a smirk, ". . . only Time will tell."
* * *
Once Professor Snape gave him the letter from Uranus, Draco had politely made his excuses and left. He had a feeling that Snape wanted the time alone with one of the "senshi", and his presence there would have been seen as an intrusion. They might have been too polite to say so, but he thought both had been somewhat relieved when he left. So he found himself, for once, on ground level, as he crouched in the shade underneath one of the stands, filled with people out here to see the continuation of the Quidditch game.
The front of the envelope held his name in a somewhat elegant, somewhat blocky script that he could not help but think that he had seen somewhere before. Carefully opening the envelope, his hands shaking with a mixture of eagerness and apprehension, he drew out the single sheet of paper, as much writing as possible crammed in on both sides.
Dear Draco, it read,
If you are reading this now, I suppose, against all odds, you remember my existence. And if you do-well, even if you don't, and I will have to tell you, face to face-you deserve to know my identity. I never would have imagined, back at the beginning of the year, that *you* would be the first for me to reveal my tightly guarded secret to. I disliked you a great deal back then, you know. Now . . . I find I miss you almost as much as I miss Michiru.
His brain froze and he stopped reading as that last statement wormed its way into his brain. Could it be . . .?
No. Of course not.
My name is Sailor Uranus, avatar of the planet Uranus and princess of that planet as well-though the last is a rather empty title, with Uranus no longer fit for human occupation. More to the point, my name in this life is Haruka Ten'ou . . . your nemesis, unless I have misread you. I hope you don't hate me, for keeping myself a secret . . . but how would I have explained why I had suddenly become more charitable toward you? I have lived eighteen years, instead of the mere eleven I seem to have lived, and in that time I am afraid I never quite learned the knack of trusting others. My princess I trust, and Michiru, and my teammates . . . but the way I grew up does not lead me to so easily place my trust in others. Yet, I have learned to trust you and that is why I felt as if I would have wronged you by withholding the truth any longer. So now you know. I'm afraid my life story will have to wait, as I am somewhat pressed for time-and that is a story better told face-to-face. If, that is, you are still willing to call me friend when I return. Even if you want nothing more to do with me, though, if you ever need a refuge, do not hesitate to call upon me. I have found out that my father in this life is not who I grew up believing he was . . . and this father, the one I look upon now as my *real* father, can be trusted. So keep that in mind, if you run into trouble with your own. Soon, I hope, we will be able to return from this place. Until then, the best of wishes to you. Your friend (I hope),
I have lived eighteen years, instead of the mere eleven I seem to have lived, and in that time I am afraid I never quite learned the knack of trusting others. My princess I trust, and Michiru, and my teammates . . . but the way I grew up does not lead me to so easily place my trust in others. Yet, I have learned to trust you and that is why I felt as if I would have wronged you by withholding the truth any longer.
So now you know. I'm afraid my life story will have to wait, as I am somewhat pressed for time-and that is a story better told face-to-face. If, that is, you are still willing to call me friend when I return. Even if you want nothing more to do with me, though, if you ever need a refuge, do not hesitate to call upon me. I have found out that my father in this life is not who I grew up believing he was . . . and this father, the one I look upon now as my *real* father, can be trusted. So keep that in mind, if you run into trouble with your own.
Soon, I hope, we will be able to return from this place. Until then, the best of wishes to you.
Your friend (I hope),
He scrubbed at mysteriously wet eyes. Though initially shock and horror had overruled all other emotions, reading on he could see Haruka's loneliness, and he already knew of the kindred loneliness he had found within the heart of Uranus . . . his angel. It was strange, that a girl so well loved, with so many beloved friends, could be as lonely as he himself . . . but reading the letter and the tone in which it was written, he could not doubt it. "You will always be my angel." He whispered.
As both his angel and as Haruka, she had kept him balanced, anchored to reality. His angel had taught him the values that helped him to develop into, he thought, a better person, while Haruka's antagonism had helped him to maintain the mask of normality.
Carefully folding the letter and placing it back in the envelope, he leaned back against the hard wooden stands with a sigh. His hand, though, came down on something that fluttered. Picking it up, he looked down to find the Golden Snitch, one of its wings stuck in a particularly tough clump of grass. He freed it, holding in his hand and savoring the sensation for the moment.
Then, with a smile, he walked out into the sun, held up his hand, and let it fly free. And he couldn't help but think that his soul was doing quite the same.
* * *
She floated in the sky, high above the rest of the players and for the most part undisturbed, as she watched over the entire playing field for that elusive hint of gold. Part of her attention was devoted to that pursuit, part of it to the other high-flyer, in his robe of brilliant green.
Her eyes caught the hint of a black shadow detaching itself from behind the stadium. For a moment, her heart caught, as she imagined the black robe to be an enemy . . . one she was no longer properly equipped to fight.
She remembered . . . had it only been yesterday?
That horrible explosion, as Harry went flying, broken and almost certainly dead. She had been near the bottom of the stands, and had quickly hopped off. She knew that Minako would cover for her absence, knowing that she would have left in order to transform-to see if she could heal Harry, and the others with their lesser injuries, using the power of the ginzuishou. A healing power only surpassed by that of Sailor Saturn. And then, the moment of truth.
She could no longer transform.
In the beginning, she had wished to become just a normal girl, with a normal life, normal friends and perhaps even a normal boyfriend. She had not wanted to be a super-heroine, at least not once she realized what the reality entailed. When had that changed?
Perhaps it had been a gradual change, but whenever that change had occurred, she found herself lost without the ability to transform. She had come to define herself in terms of Sailor Moon, of Princess Serenity and the Neo-Queen Serenity she would someday become. Relegated back to nothing more than plain Usagi, she had no meaning, no purpose . . . no real reason to go on, except for the faint hope that this was a fluke or an enemy attack; anything that would guarantee that the power-and, more importantly, that part of her *self*-had not disappeared for good.
Her eyes remained trained on the shadow as it lifted its head, revealing short blonde hair, and lifted its hand. From the hand flew a small golden ball, and her eyes lit up. Looking around, she saw that the Slytherin Seeker had not yet seen. She angled her broom downwards and shot off on a straight line towards the errant Snitch.
He had seen too, or at least noted her sudden action, or heard the announcer's commentary, and he came flashing down in rapid pursuit. Suddenly, though, she found she no longer cared. This was no longer about Gryffindor or about Slytherin, about the game at all, really.
The scoreboard flashed past, out of the corner of her eyes. 370 to an even 300, in Slytherin's favor for the moment. As she flashed past, the right hand score changed, now 310. Gryffindor had scored another goal.
She would catch the Snitch, not to win the game for Gryffindor out of some sense of House pride, but because . . .
Because she had people counting on her. The world might not be at stake . . . but to some people, this game meant the world.
Because Harry would have been able to win the game. And, if only she had been able to transform . . . he could have.
But perhaps most of all . . . because she had to prove, to her class, to the other senshi, and most of all to herself . . . that Usagi was worth something too, even when she was no longer Sailor Moon.
In a last burst of speed, brought on by her combination of desperation and reckless determination, she reached out and caught the Golden Snitch. For her, time seemed to slow as she held it up in the air for the entire audience to see, sunlight glinting off its golden body and silvery-white wings.
"And with a daring dive, Gryffindor Seeker Tsukino catches the Golden Snitch. Victory goes to Gryffindor!"
The crowd erupted.
25. Fun and Games
She was out on the balcony again, staring into the deep blue of the sky, darkening as it approached twilight, as she pondered . . . well, nothing, really. It seemed as if her life had spiraled out of control, since that fateful night.
The night she had taken fate into her own hands. The night Hotaru had died by her hands. She had not expected Galaxia's influence on her mind to be so strong, that it would take so long to overcome. And now . . . Hotaru said she forgave her. But if Hotaru had truly forgiven her, why did it seem like the other girl avoided her when possible? Yet it seemed, when she caught the other girl looking at her, that Hotaru's eyes were full of pity, not disgust or horror or anger.
Why pity? That, Michiru had not yet figured out.
"So this is where you disappear off to. Shouldn't you be back in your House by now?"
She turned from watching the sky, as two rather more interesting objects came into view. "Shouldn't you?"
The one on the left shrugged and laughed. "We're used to sneaking in and out after curfew. It doesn't really matter when we get back."
"I don't know . . . I should think the party would be missing its prize Beaters." She had recognized them now. "You *are* Fred and George Weasley, right?"
"The pranksters that you managed to outsing the first day of school. First time it's happened to us, and this is our third year." The one on the right affirmed. "I'm Fred, in case you were wondering."
"You were looking for me?" Why else would they have made such a comment when they first appeared?
"We were rather curious . . . as to the sort of person that would make a point of outsinging us. This is your first year here, right? That means that you'll be doing that play in History of Magic."
"Now, why did we never think of doing that?" Fred moaned. "Doing something music-related would have made History *so* much more bearable."
"Which musical is your class doing?" George asked idly.
"Phantom of the Opera." Yes, these two were Gryffindor, and either two years older or about four years younger than her, but Michiru also found them surprisingly easy to talk to. "By Andrew Lloyd Webber."
"What part are you planning on trying out for? Or have you decided yet?"
George snorted. "Watch Ron decide to try out for stagehand or something. Honestly, how someone so camera-shy could be related to *us* . . ."
"I thought I'd try for the lead female role, Christine." Michiru admitted shyly. "I figured I'd have a better chance, since I do have some previous stage experience-though admittedly not in acting."
Fred circled her. "Well, you're certainly pretty enough to pull it off." He grinned, and Michiru blushed lightly at the compliment. "What part do you sing?"
"Lower contralto, mostly. I've got a pretty large range, but it doesn't go all that high."
Both twins started shaking their heads. "Not going to work, then. Christine had *got* to be soprano. She usually sings fairly low, true, but there are parts in which she hits *really* high notes. You might have a chance, but only if there's no one with a range that goes higher than yours"
Michiru's face fell. "I know for a fact that Chibiusa-Usagi, that is-can sing higher than me. So what do you suggest I do?"
"Well, you're all young enough that none of your voices should have changed yet, so there's probably not that much difference between the ranges of the guys and the girls. So why don't you try for one of the main male roles-either Raoul or the Phantom?" Fred suggested.
"Yeah!" George enthused. "Go for the Phantom. You've already got the air of mystery, now all you need is a cape and face mask."
Fred slapped the back of his brother's head. "Silly. The Phantom is the antagonist. She ought to play Raoul, since he's the good guy-he gets the girl, after all, doesn't he?" He turned to Michiru. "Don't you know the story? That should help you decide."
Michiru shook her head. George grabbed her hand. "Then you need to come with us to the library at once! This lamentable ignorance of yours must be enlightened immediately."
And as she allowed herself to be dragged along, Michiru began, for the first time in what seemed like years, to smile.
* * *
The library, she had to admit, was most definitely one of her favorite places to go. Even if it was a library primarily of magic, and a school library at that, it shared certain characteristics with all libraries. The people, quietly studying, and all the numerous shelves of books. Pausing near an empty table, she prepared to put her bookbag down, before an unexpected sight caused her to move on.
"Serenity!" She smiled. "What brings you here?"
The blonde looked up with wide eyes, slamming shut the book she had been studying so intently only moments before. "Nothing!" She laughed nervously. "You know me."
With a resigned grin, Ami sat down. "Come on, tell me. I promise I won't laugh."
Wide blue eyes glared assessingly at her. "Okay.' She acceded grudgingly. "But I have your promise. No laughter." She moved her hand slightly, uncovering the title of the book. It was one unfamiliar to the blue-haired girl, an in-depth speculative text on terraforming.
Serenity closed her eyes briefly. "I want to make the planets habitable again. All of them, but especially the Moon." She frowned slightly. "And I don't want it to be wholly dependent on the power of the ginzuishou. I want the planets to be habitable even if Earth is razed to the ground, all its inhabitants killed, and the ginzuishou shattered." She ended fiercely. I don't want the planets to suddenly die if ever the current holder of the ginzuishou, like me, can no longer access that power, for whatever reason. They should be alive in their own rights.
"I wouldn't laugh at a goal like that." Ami frowned, then cracked a grin. "Especially if it can finally convince you to study." Her grin became a sincere smile, and she reached out a hand to cover one of Serenity's. "Seriously, though, I think it's a wonderful idea. And if there's anything at all I can do to help, don't hesitate to ask me."
Serenity shoved the book to the side, for the moment. "I'm afraid that even with a subject so important to me, I still can't help going to sleep in parts. I just don't know how to study, and I'm afraid that that's affecting my ability to take in and process this information. I'm really afraid that I'll miss something really important."
She took in a deep breath. "So . . . would you teach me how to study? For real this time?"
Ami nodded. "I'd be happy to. In return . . . could you teach me how to have fun in activities other than studying?" Seeing Hermione had really caused Ami to reexamine herself. Since she had been very small, she had known she wanted to become a doctor . . . and she had known the sort of dedication that would require. So she had thrown herself fully into studying, and then a point had come when that had become all she knew.
Meeting Usagi and the others had brought her to begin to see that perhaps there was something to life other than studying. Still, she had no idea as to how to go about learning something other than school. In that, she had stunted herself by so forcibly narrowing her interests. Hermione had been the final step-the girl's friendlessness had evoked memories of a depressingly similar younger Ami. And this time around, Ami was determined that she would not be as lonely as she had been the first time.
Somehow, she would retain her single-mindedness towards studying, yet at the same time branch out, and learn to have a life. Serenity was the happiest, most fun-filled person she knew-or at least she had been. There was no one better qualified to teach her this subject . . . especially since by teaching Ami to have fun, Serenity might relax a bit, relinquish for a few moments in time her newfound maturity.
Although she loved just as dearly this newly mature Serenity, Ami found she sometimes missed Usagi. And if she could help Serenity to rediscover the parts of her that were still Usagi, she felt that she would be doing everyone a good service. Not the least of them, Serenity herself.
* * *
"I had a chat with my guardian planet last night, a very interesting one too." Hotaru stated. "Now I know why I can't heal you-or at least I have my best guess so far."
Both boys-Harry in the infirmary bed and Draco in a chair across the bed from her-looked at her with curious eyes. Finally, tapping his fingers impatiently against the arm of his chair, Draco burst out, "Well? I assume you're not just going to leave us hanging."
Hotaru leaned over and tapped Harry on the forehead, right in the middle of his scar. "*That* is the problem."
Harry frowned. "My scar? But why?" It was the only visible mark that he alone had managed to survive Voldemort's evil spell, but he could think of nothing particularly important about it other than that.
"You would have died too, that day, had Jupiter not happened by just as Voldemort was about to kill you. She protected you, and that protection has been warped by age and circumstances beyond anyone's control."
Hotaru smiled sadly. "That night . . . your parents' last thoughts were of you. Their wishes alone might have served to provide you with a sort of protection. All Jupiter did, really, was strengthen that wish, and make it into reality. Even so, his spell still retained enough power to carve that scar into your forehead. But no more."
She sighed, placing her chin in cupped hands. "My guess is that because I did not fully heal you the first time, your protection had identified me as an enemy, but your lack of hostility toward me confused it. So it has adopted a neutral path, as it were-it won't work to actively hurt me, but neither will it let me do anything further to you."
"Is there any way to get around it?" He didn't want to spent the rest of his life as a cripple. Especially since healing seemed so near at hand. He might have been able to stand it, had healing been clearly and totally impossible, but not this.
Hotaru pursed her lips, before letting loose a regretful sigh. "For me . . . I sincerely doubt it. But Sailor Moon might be able to help you-I'm pretty sure she can use the ginzuishou to heal physical injuries, as well as banishing evil influence. Or . . ." She narrowed her eyes, as if trying to recall a conversation from long past. ". . . didn't? . . . I think I remember Saturn saying something about how, before they became Guardians of Time, the senshi of Pluto were phenomenal healers, better even than we of Saturn." Her face brightened. "Once she returns, I bet she would be able to heal you."
* * *
"Psst. Hey, Michiru!" In the dark room, her eyes popped open.
"Fred! George!" She carefully slid out of bed. "What are you doing here? Do you have a death wish? This is Slytherin, the girl's side even! If anyone caught you, you'd be crucified!" She whispered.
One of them-it was too dark to tell which, even if she had been capable of telling them apart easily in the first place-grinned, the moonlight glinting off white teeth. "That just makes it more of a challenge. Anyway, Fred and I decided we'd go try to sneak a midnight snack. And seeing as you're the Phantom, we figured you ought to have some practice moving around silently in the night. Get into the part, as it were."
"Besides, you seem like a good sport. So, whaddaya say? Wanna come with?" The other-Fred, she surmised-summed up.
She blushed lightly at the offhand compliment, glad that the darkness hid her face. The twins seemed to have that effect on her, making her feel positively juvenile again. A long-buried sense of mischief stirred, and told the more logical portions of her mind to go take a hike. She grinned. "Sure, sounds fun."
"All right!" The twins high fived each other. "Now let's go. We've got a date with some food!"
* * *
She landed on her rear. Again. "Tell me again why this is fun?"
Serenity laughed at her. "Oh, come on. It really is fun, once you get the hang of it." She skated backwards in a circle around the poor senshi of Mercury. "Besides, it does wonders for your coordination."
Ami got wearily back up on her feet. I am the senshi of ice, for goodness sake! She reminded herself with exasperation. This really shouldn't be that hard! She tentatively began again, concentrating on the placement of her feet, arms spread out wide in an effort to steady herself, as she began slowly to skate across the pond.
"See? Not that hard now, is it?" Serenity popped up beside her.
"Wah!" The startlement caused her to lose her precarious balance. All she could do, really, was adjust slightly the course she would take in that fall.
"Amiii!" Serenity squealed, as she too went crashing to the cold ice. "That was uncalled for."
Ami slowly began to grin as she slowly got to her feet and held out a hand to help Serenity up. Of course, the pulling caused her to overbalance, and they both went crashing to the ice again. She just knew that she would get way too many bruises out of this . . .
A giggle burst from her throat, as the two of them finally regained their feet. "Oh, I don't know, Sere-chan. I think you deserved it. Besides . . ." She giggled again, as she pushed the other girl gently, then skated away as fast as she could. Which ended, of course, with her toppled over with her head trying to make yet another imprint in the ice. She rose, brushing quickly melting shards off her face and noting with satisfaction that her friend had also hit the ice. Literally. ". . . now I see what you mean about ice skating being fun."
Without a word, Serenity got up and skated over to the edge of the pool. Ami too struggled to her feet, suddenly unsure. The blonde bent down, her back to Ami. Suddenly, she stood back up and turned around. A wide grin spread across her face. "Now, it's war."
The first snowball struck Ami in the face; the second she only narrowly avoided and was the cause of yet another fall. Faster than she had ever skated in either life, she skidded toward the bank and soon had a couple snowballs of her own. Turning, yet another hit her in the face, but in compensation her first was also a bullseye, hitting her friend in the face as well. Both took a break to manufacture a large number of snowballs and place them in subspace pockets before skating back out onto the ice.
The sides were chosen. The lines drawn.
Let the battle begin!
26. Entrance of New Players
She had come back here, only to find the place entirely deserted. Well, not entirely, of course. The people still filled the streets, caught up in their daily lives, few if any pondering anything much beyond the present moment. But they had gone. She had gone, and all the senshi who followed her. Even the two she no longer acknowledged. Gone, and not a trace remained that they had ever existed. This small corner of the galaxy, formerly so bright with hopes and dreams, was no longer worthy of any more thought than any other area-and in fact, somewhat less, with no more senshi of its own.
So now she stood in front of the great metal gates shrouded by mist on every side, a small garnet-tipped key in her hand. Chaos had stolen it from Pluto's rapidly disintegrating body; no one had been around in a condition to notice or care and he had thought it would be useful. With it, he could have conquered countless dimensions, many of which not at all prepared for the advent of something with his strength and malevolence. Now more than ever was she eternally grateful that she had been stopped in her quest in his name, in this small insignificant corner of the galaxy.
Here, if anywhere, she would have thought the senshi would have remained. Pluto would never have abandoned her post so permanently unless the need had been dire . . . or unless she had been forced to it. And she knew she would have known if a dark power that dire had sprung up so quickly. Much as individual senshi could sometimes sense dark powers focused on them, she could feel the concentrated darkness anywhere in the galaxy, if not pinpoint it quite as exactly. A power dark enough to finally be the one to overcome Eternal Sailor Moon . . . that, she most definitely would have felt.
"Key of Time . . ." She paused, not knowing the correct words. "Open for me the Gate of Time." She drew in a shaky breath, feeling the building power behind her words. "Chronos! In thy name, I ask . . . allow me to cross the dimensional barrier to where she has gone, that I may aid her, now that this galaxy no longer requires my protection for a time."
"I, Sailor Galaxia, Sailor guardian of the galaxy, ask you this. Send to me the path of light!"
For a moment, nothing, and her heart fell. Then, slowly, the gate began to open. Heedless of whatever may have been on the other side, she threw herself through as soon as it had opened wide enough to support her entrance. Left in solitude once more, the Gate slammed shut. And so it would remain, until the day came when its master returned.
* * *
"What do I want to do when I grow up?" Michiru leaned back in the plush chair as she considered. On accident during one of their exploratory outings, the three of them had stumbled upon this empty classroom-one of the few, she suspected, that had comfortable chairs. Now that weather made it seem rather foolish to stay out on the roof for an extended length of time, they had drifted here instead.
"I'd kind of like to raise a family.' She remembered the idyllic time when Hotaru was growing up with great fondness. -As to my job, I'll probably stay a violinist-I can earn a pretty decent living on that, enough to support myself. And I really do enjoy music, so that part won't be much of a hassle." She smiled. "I'll let you in on a secret, though. One I haven't even told-" she frowned. Who would she tell? Why was she so sure that there had been some name she had been about to say? Subconsciously, she twisted the ring, her uncertainty translating itself into nervous motion. "-anyone." She substituted in. "I'd really like to become an engineer. A mechanical engineer, and one that works directly with things to try and improve them."
"So why don't you?" Fred shrugged. "If that's what you really want to do."
"It's not very ladylike." Michiru reminded them sharply. "My parents . . . my friends . . . none of them would understand." She sighed. "If I even had friends."
The twins exchanged glances. "Are you trying to say you don't want us as your friends?" George asked.
"Because we certainly don't see anything wrong with it." Fred assented. "I'll exchange your secret for one of our own. You know we said we wanted to set up a joke shop?" Michiru nodded.
"That's just because it's something we enjoy doing, that is likely to make us enough money to live on. What we'd really like to do is start a rock band." George admitted, his face as red as his hair.
Fred smiled dreamily. "We could tour the world, traveling to all sorts of neat places." He sighed. "But we've faced the fact that we would never be able to make enough money to support ourselves."
"Tell you what. If you ever need a female lead singer, call me up. If I don't work, I know a couple of other people who would love a chance to get out on stage." Michiru smiled, thinking of Minako . . . and Rei, to a certain extent. She leaned forward. "Would you compose your own songs?"
The two boys nodded. "Well then. Why don't you record a couple of them, and send them out to some different companies, and see what happens. You probably wouldn't want to start touring until you got out of school, but there's nothing to keep you from releasing your first music before then."
"You make it seem so possible."
Michiru smirked. "I ought to. After all, I managed it, with classical music no less. Not enough to live on, perhaps, but not an amount to sniff at, either."
"You're famous already?!" Both boys' eyes widened. "Wow."
Michiru laughed nervously. "Actually . . . I'm not sure. You see, I remember being famous, but some of my memories don't exactly correspond with commonly established reality. But my point is, it can be done. And you should, if it's that important to you."
"We know it can be done. But you need patronage, support. Take the Three Lights-they're only your age, I think, but already they're famous."
"The Three Lights?!" This was just a dream, Michiru decided. A very bad dream.
"You mean you haven't heard of them?" Out of no where, Fred pulled out and unwrapped a poster, showing three young figures. "The black-haired one, she's Seiya-"
"The brown-haired one is Taiki and the silver-haired one is Yaten. Their surname is Kou." Michiru added in a somewhat offhand tone. "How long have they been around?"
The twins exchanged shrugs. "I dunno." George admitted. "A month or so, maybe."
"Great." Michiru mumbled, putting her head in her hands. "Next thing you know, they'll be coming here for school."
"What gave you that idea?" George blinked. "They're Muggles, after all."
Michiru laughed bitterly. "I wouldn't bet on it."
* * *
The black-haired girl looked up. "Oh, hi Mamoru. Can I help you with something?" She flipped a page in her Transfiguration textbook.
"If you're busy, I'll find someone else." He said. "I was just wondering if you wanted to go ice skating with me."
Her head shot up, all pretense of concentrating on her homework gone. In a deceptively mild tone, she asked, "Isn't that something you should be asking of Usa-Serenity?" She cursed herself inwardly for the slip. It was just so hard to remember the changed name.
He shrugged, bewildered. "I did. We actually set this up ahead of time. She said that she might join me later but, and this is a direct quote, 'I'm too busy studying right now. Why don't you ask Rei-chan instead?' " Seeing Rei's leery glance, he threw up his hands. "Truly! She and Ami were in the library, and it looked like they were both actually working."
Rei stood and ruffled his hair. "Don't worry. I believe you-if you had wanted to lie, you wouldn't have made up a story nearly as crazy." She packed up her books. "I was just about to go stir crazy myself, so a break will be welcome. I'd be glad to come with you."
His face broke into a smile -that reminded her with a pang of why she had first been attracted to him, before he and Usagi had gotten together. "I'm glad. It just doesn't seem right to go skating alone."
"My pleasure." She regretted now, in hindsight, becoming so distant from Mamoru when they broke up. At the time, it had been to keep herself from doing something . . . unwise . . . at seeing the two of them together. Now she just regretted not at least retaining his friendship.
This new life had given her that chance, and she was not about to waste it the second time.
* * *
The dungeon bustled with the usual noises that heralded preparation for class-students talking, bookbags hitting the floor, the rustling of papers. Although they now remembered Snape again, they no longer remembered his absence-or, at most, believed he had just taken a brief break. As always, no one looked forward to the start of Potions and the advent of their professor.
Well, perhaps a few of the Slyt'herins, well-favored in the past. Draco, though he might have been a part of that category before, looked towards the door in anticipation for an entirely different reason. He, for one, looked forward to seeing how the class adjusted to a changed Professor Snape-for it was clear, even in the small amount of time that he had seen him, that the changes in Snape ran far deeper than merely the ability to shift his age.
Slowly, the door opened, but it was not Snape that entered. Carefully, as if fearful of his welcome, Harry wheeled himself into the room. For a moment, Draco allowed his mind to be distracted by speculation on how the other boy had managed all those stairs. His heart went out to Harry, though-he may have had a rotten childhood, but he had at least learned to express himself, although he still remained most sure of the methods of expressing the darker emotions. Happiness . . . that emotion, still so new to him, he had not quite figured out yet.
But, despite being the "Boy Who Lived", Harry had disturbingly little self-confidence. Draco tried to catch his friend's eye and smile encouragingly, but he knew he dared do no more than that. Their friendship was too new to be jeopardized by exposure to public opinion-which would surely be harsh. It just wasn't right for the poster child of Gryffindor to actually consort with, horror of horrors, a Slytherin!
"Look who has deigned to join us." A voice jeered loudly. "It's the cripple!"
After only a moment, Draco identified the voice. Crabbe. He sank lower in his seat. Did I actually associate with that sort of person? He paused, thinking back to when he was fully under the control of his father. Was I actually that sort of person?
Seeing a shadow detach itself from the side of one of the columns, he leaned forward expectantly. Decision or no decision to keep their friendship secret for now, if Snape did not step in and take exception to that remark, he was going to.
"At least Potter's injury has done nothing to affect his mind." The shadow formed itself into Snape as he stepped forward into the light. "His disabilities have not disrupted his ability to think . . . an ability I have come to doubt that you ever possessed." Astonished laughter rippled through the classroom, and Draco's tension eased as he saw that Harry had begun to loosen up as well; he no longer stayed still in a manner reminiscent of one waiting for the axe to drop, merely one who had not yet begun to move.
Snape nodded sharply. "Five points from Slytherin, and let this be a lesson to you: try considering the import of your words next time, before blurting them out." Silence descended on the class, one with a marked quality of shock. Never in their memory could they recall Snape having taken points from his own House, unless their was absolutely no other way to preserve even the illusion of fairness.
He clapped his hands sharply. "Well, Potter, what are you waiting for? Get to your seat." The words, though sharp, held only a shadow of the black-haired man's former malice towards his student. Shaking off his shock, the black-haired boy swiftly wheeled over to where an empty space had been left for him, on the off chance that he might show up. Snape advanced to the podium and looked around at the class for a moment in silence.
The class, too, remained silent, curious as to what this strange man who looked like Professor Snape and had his name, yet behaved in a manner completely alien, would do next. And, seeing that he had everyone's attention, without further ado Professor Snape began class.
* * *
"I wonder how the others are doing?" Setsuna mused, as they settled down for the night. She stared deeply upwards . . . into more mist, practically indistinguishable from that which covered the ground all around them.
"I'm sure they're all okay.'" I assured her. "I think we'd know if anything had gone desperately wrong." I hope.
Setsuna gave me a look that made it clear that she was quite aware that my reply was nine-tenths reassuring myself and the remaining one-tenth was just plain baseless hope.
Melisande blinked. "I've heard tales that all the princesses of our solar system were tied together by an unbreakable link. That, if they concentrated hard enough, they could determine the state of well-being and sometimes general mood of all the other princesses-though only those soulbonded could do so with ease, speed, and complete accuracy."
"Unbreakable even by death?" Setsuna asked quizzically. She had not died, but the rest of us surely had-and neither of us had felt the existence of this so-called bond before.
The silver-haired girl's eyes widened ever so slightly. It was obvious she had forgotten that small detail, for that was one question she could not answer.
* * *
"Michiru, you are the Goddess of Music!" George swore fervently, bending over liberally marked sheets of musical notation, adding here, making small changes there.
Fred nodded his agreement. "There's something there in our music now, that wasn't there before. A sparkle."
Michiru tsked. "You overestimate my impact on your music. The 'sparkle' was there all along, it's just that small errors and inconsistencies hid it. All I've done is help you clean it up a bit, to give that sparkle a better chance to be noticed."
"Really? But this is just . . . I don't know . . . just would-be popular music. Classical music is a lot more complicated."
Michiru shrugged. "You may be right. But remember, I grew up on classical music; it was practically my life. Classical music comes far more easily to me than what you are doing-just as writing popular music is easier for you than trying to write classical would be. You see my point?"
Fred frowned. "So, basically, you're saying to write what you know. Only applied to composition instead." He looked over at the scattered papers and sighed as he began to pack up his old, beaten fiddle. "I don't know. It just doesn't seem like we're ever going to get anywhere."
Michiru leaned back. "It is true, it will be kind of hard to break into the public eye with the Three Lights to compete with. You might want to wait on actually releasing anything for a while. But you could at least begin feeling some recording companies out." She paused. "And if no one's interested . . . well, at least you've still got the joke shop to fall back on for a while. Then you try again, when the public atmosphere seems more inviting."
"I'm so glad you're our friend." Fred smiled softly.
"Not only are you a real neat person to be around over all-"
"-but you've given us the one thing we never before had. Hope."
"We're actually beginning to believe that this might work, that it can become more than a mere dream." George impulsively hugged the smaller teal-haired girl. "Thank you."
And Michiru returned the hug, smiling back. "I may have given you hope, but you have given me something far more precious than that." Again, unconsciously, she began to twist the ring. "You have shown me something I felt I had forgotten, far too long ago."
"You taught me how to find joy in life."
* * *
"Visitors." The hat told him. Unnecessary, but then, that's the sort of remark the hat most enjoyed making. It acted completely serious when deciding which House to place people in, but it more than made up for that seriousness the rest of the year.
He looked up. "Hello. What brings you here?"
The man blinked. "Oh, you must be Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster. Our daughter told us we should probably come see you at some point, but then she got distracted before we got the chance to ask her where we could find you."
"We've been wandering around the school trying to find you since then." The woman added quietly, with a small amused smile. "Most of the people we've met don't seem to have a very clear idea of where your office is. Does it change a lot?" Her English-actually, the manner of speaking of both of them-was somewhat stilted, flavored slightly with an accent that tickled the edges of his memory, but still perfectly understandable.
"Yes, I am. And you are?" They dressed like Muggles, but surely they couldn't be. No Muggle could find this place on their own, after all.
"I am Shiro Kino, and this is my wife Yui." The man stated, then added helpfully, "Our daughter Makoto goes here. She is a first year, in Hufflepuff."
"Ah." That explained a bit. "So, what brings you to the school?"
"We thought we'd surprise our daughter and come spend Christmas' here with her, instead of bringing her home over the holidays." Yui explained. "We flew to London from Tokyo, and then . . ." For some reason, Shiro shot his wife a look of, Dumbledore almost thought, warning. ". . . a friend of our daughter's brought us the rest of the way, when we found out that the train at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters only runs for students."
"Forgive me, but aren't you . . . er, non-magical?" At the last moment, Dumbledore substituted in a slightly less offensive word.
"As a brick." Shiro replied, somewhat flippantly. "Our daughter's invitation to Hogwarts took us all by considerable surprise."
"And what do you wish of me?" Dumbledore asked. None of the parents had ever before thought to come, instead of waiting for their child to come home. But since they had already taken the initiative, he saw no real reason to deny them their request. "A place to stay, perhaps? I think that could be arranged."
"That would be nice." Yui sighed. "We've been sleeping in the halls."
"The Muggle Studies teacher left." The hat reminded him, and he smiled.
"I would be gladdened if you would be willing to do something for me in return, however. You see, because of the recent tragedy, our Muggle Studies teacher went on extended leave. Since you have a unique insight into the Muggle world, would you be willing to substitute in as a teacher during your stay here, before we break for winter?"
Both blinked. "If you think we can help . . ."
"Sure, why not."
* * *
She walked into the room. It was the classroom for the class that upper years sometimes took, Muggle Studies. Funny, that people took such great interest in studying what she had been for the first seventeen years of her life. Of course, even in this world, for these eleven years she had not lived, she had been raised as a Muggle. So that was the way she was most comfortable with approaching a problem.
She didn't even know what the magical equivalent of a telephone was, after all. So she had come here, to see if the Muggle Studies professor had a phone she could use.
And bingo, there one was, a cell phone, right out there on the desk. Perhaps it had been the subject of study for that day's class. She picked it up, and with only the slightest of hesitations, dialed the number she wanted to reach.
There was another call she wanted to make, too, but that one could wait. This one was greatly the more important of the two.
"Moshi moshi?" Good, one of them had picked it up.
"Hello, mom?" She leaned against the windowsill, needing the feeling of light striking her back to counteract the increasing feeling of darkness beginning to hover over her. "Could you tell me who it was we went out to meet, that night?"
"Of course. You told me yourself." She crossed her fingers. Please . . . let it be him . . . "Her name was Neherenia."
27. More Revelations
In a shadowed room, the phone rang. Four or five times it rang, until finally the answering machine picked up.
"Moshi moshi?" In the room, three childlike figures shot upright. The voice called them in their native language, nearly identical to the language of a small country called Japan on this world. But who would know that? They had been nowhere near anyone who even knew Japanese, since coming here.
"All right. I understand that you don't want to pick up the phone." The voice continued, seemingly unconcerned. It was a female voice, with a lack of undertones that marked it most likely that of a child. But if so, she was most definitely a very unusual child-much like themselves.
"Hm. Sailor Starfighter? I don't suppose you would deign to talk with me? I guess not." Utter shock immobilized the three forms. "Well then, I just thought you should know that we know of you."
"And we know your quest to find your princess. But do not worry, we will not obstruct you in your pursuit of it, so long as you do not harm innocents. Who knows? If you are willing to accept our help, we might even assist you."
Closest to the phone, a finger snaked out and punched the speakerphone button. The ambient light grew as Yaten's anguished voice rang out. "Who are you?!"
"Ah. I wondered if that might elicit a reaction." The voice warmed slightly. "Hello, Yaten." The silver-haired girl stiffened. How had she-whoever it was on the phone-known her name? "As to the answer of your question-I am one of the senshi that protects this solar system. Previously, I was one of the most . . . paranoid. I most likely still am." Her voice had lightened with self-deprecating amusement. "But I know you mean our princess no harm . . . so long as she stays out of your way."
"Of course, she will most likely attempt to interfere, to aid you, because it is in her nature to do so." The voice darkened. "I warn you, though . . . if you attempt to harm her, I will personally make sure Galaxia is the least of your worries."
"Do you know where she is?" Taiki asked softly, referring to their princess.
"No." The voice admitted freely. The three sagged with disappointment, but brightened at her next statement. "But I know where she most likely will be. And I know that you have been followed here, after your flight from Kinmokusei. Galaxia is coming."
And with a click, the connection went dead.
* * *
"Young lady?" Michiru stiffened, and turned around fearing the worst. Two people stood there. Both had brown hair, although the man's was considerably darker and the woman's considerably redder. The woman had dark brown eyes the shade of her husband's hair, while the man's eyes were a brilliant green. "Can I have my cell phone back now?" The man asked politely, with a noticeable Japanese accent.
Michiru blushed, wondering with sudden worry how much they had heard. Hopefully, she had spoken softly enough . . .
She closed the phone with a quiet click and handed it back to the man. "Thank you for its use." She smiled brightly. "I just had a couple calls I really needed to make, and I grew up as a Muggle, you know, so I have no idea what the magical way is to call home."
The two people exchanged glances. "I think I recognize you." The man finally said. "You were one of Ko-chan's friends. I suppose you're a senshi too?"
"Ko-chan?" Michiru had stiffened up at the mention of senshi. Who was this?
"Sailor Jupiter." The woman assisted. "I'm Yui Kino, and this is my husband Shiro. And you are?"
Michiru sighed inwardly. But if Makoto had felt it safe to tell her parents-funny, she had thought they were dead, from a plane crash or something-there was no real point in keeping her identity secret, except perhaps out of spite. "I'm Michiru Kaiou, Sailor Neptune. And yes, that was senshi business. A few things I had to check up on."
"Anything we can pass on to Ko-chan if we see her before you do?"
Michiru considered. "Yes." She finally replied. "Tell them that Neherenia was our last enemy, and that the Three Lights are here. They will understand what I mean."
* * *
Yui finally found her daughter in the enormous kitchen of the school. She shook her head and smiled. Who would have thought that her tomboy of a daughter would actually develop an interest in one of the activities dearest to her heart-cooking. But she had discovered already that, in the night her daughter had gone out to fight that last enemy, she had changed considerably.
In many ways, she was much more adult than before. As she stepped further into the room, she caught sight of her daughter's black-haired companion. Hotaru made a comment and Makoto tossed her head back and laughed joyously. A beautiful sound, it reminded Yui that, however much her daughter had changed, in many ways she also remained the same.
She threaded her way over to the pair. "Hello. Looks like I've found you at last, Ko-chan."
The auburn-haired girl looked up. "Oh, hi mom. I've just been giving Hotaru the cooking lesson she asked of me last week. Want to help?" She cocked her head. "Where have you been recently? I haven't seen you since . . ." She slowed to a stop and, shaking her head, turned back to her work.
"Your father and I have been wandering throughout the school, trying to find our way to Professor Dumbledore's office."
Makoto bit her lip. "Oh, I'm sorry. I really meant to take you there myself, but then stuff happened, and I completely forgot all about it." She brightened. "Is that why you're wearing a robe now?"
Yui twirled around, grinning, showing off her navy blue robe. "You are now looking at one of the two new substitute Muggle Studies teachers."
"Oh wow." Makoto was suitably appreciative. "That's right, I had heard that the old Muggle Studies teacher left for some reason."
"I ran into one of your other friends. Neptune." Yui said abruptly, looking around. "She had a message she said she wanted me to pass on, if I met you before she did. That's really the reason I've been searching for you."
Both the other girls also looked around. Hotaru lowered her voice. "What was the message?"
Yui lowered her voice to a comparative volume level. "She said to tell you that Neherenia was the last enemy the senshi fought, and that the Three Lights are here."
Both girls blanched. Hotaru looked at Makoto. Makoto looked at Hotaru. And in unison, they summed up their reaction to the news. "Oh shit."
* * *
She stood and looked around. On the surface, it seemed like nothing had changed. The same mist, going from the ground to the sky, from where she stood to the unseen horizon, completely obscuring everything past a few feet in front of her. Yet, she knew she had traveled somewhere. The transition would not have been nearly so rough, had she not. She turned around, and beheld a sight she would never have expected to see.
The Gate, that portal she had used to come here, where she hoped Serenity had gone, had been destroyed. She walked up to the pile of rubble, her heart heavy. Touching one of the shards of metal that had once been the immense door, she reeled backward when it dissolved into less than dust at her touch. Had she caused this?
She sat beside the pile of rubble, head in hands, as she stared through the pile of rubble at nothing. What could she do now? Even if she was in the same reality as Serenity, she had no way of reaching the blonde princess. She had failed once again.
She did not note how long she sat there, in a morass of guilt, depression, and hopelessness. It might have been a few minutes, it might have been hours. This place acted as a twist of time, so the amount of time that had passed in the concrete reality was even less certain. Because people never got hungry here unless they expected to, she might even have sat days without noting the passage of time. All she knew was what finally brought her out of that depression a bit.
An innocent, young voice. One she had never expected to hear again. Her head came up and she stared into limpid blue eyes, filled with endless compassion. "Chibi?"
She smiled slightly, and pulled the red-haired child into a comforting hug, although the comfort was mostly for her own sake. "Oh, my Kibou no Hikari (Light of Hope). What are you doing, all alone in a lonely place like this?"
"Chibi." Her tiny brow furrowed, the child's voice expressed puzzlement. Then, seeming to see the person herself for the first time, instead of just a person in need of comfort, she scrambled away, righting herself in a cute, childlike parody of a fighting stance. "Galaxia." She hissed.
"Yes." She admitted. Then a thought occurred. "Oh no. Chibi-chan, does this mean that Chaos is still loose here?"
"You should know." Almost nothing remained of the playful, childish personality Chibi Chibi had adopted. "Seeing as you are the one under his control."
"If I was, don't you think I'd be trying to kill you by now?" Galaxia asked. "I am Galaxia, but I am not *your* Galaxia. I came because I wanted to see Eternal Sailor Moon and tell her that, in our reality, all the star seeds have been restored to their proper regions of the galaxy, the planets are beginning to recover from the destruction I caused. Our galaxy is beginning to heal at last, from all the pain Chaos inflicted on it with my hand."
Something had been tickling her thoughts, something subtly off about the entire conversation. She frowned suddenly. "Chibi-chan, who are you? You can't be the Kibou no Hikari. And if you aren't my star seed, then who are you, and what are you doing here?"
"Why would I be your star seed?" The red-haired child asked. "You are the enemy."
"You were my star seed, because I sent you away when I realized Chaos was taking control of my body, to find someone capable of defeating me." Galaxia smiled. "And Eternal Sailor Moon finally did."
"And the Galaxy Cauldron?" Chibi Chibi had turned intent. "What did you-or she-do with the Galaxy Cauldron?"
"What's that?" The two of them shared a silent moment of mutual incomprehension.
The red-haired child crept back over and laid her hand on Galaxia's cheek. "You . . . no, you can't be my Galaxia. Your heart is too beautiful. How did you get here?"
"Chaos stole a time key from Pluto, after he had Uranus and Neptune kill her and Saturn." The red-haired girl winced. "I forgot to give it back afterward, and now I'm rather glad I did. I wouldn't have been able to come here, otherwise." Her eyes narrowed. "And you? The only way for you to be trapped here is for you to have teleported here at some point after the Gates were destroyed."
Chibi Chibi's eyes were haunted. "I could no longer bear my reality. The fighting, the endless fighting against Sailor Chaos . . . I couldn't take it anymore. So I came back . . . to do it over again."
"Chibi-chan . . . who are you?"
The red-haired child stepped away . . . and grew. The silver-haired woman with the eight-pointed star on her forehead and a short pure white fuku with rainbow stripes along the front smiled a small sad smile. "I am what Sailor Moon may someday become, and what I earnestly hope she never does. I am Sailor Cosmos."
Galaxia stood. "Galaxia . . . my evil counterpart, overpowered by Chaos . . . she still exists here, doesn't she."
Cosmos nodded, her simple earrings chiming at the edge of audibility with the movement. "I specifically requested to come back before the final battle." She smiled ever so slightly, a smile that even reached her sad old eyes. "Be proud, Galaxia. You are the last enemy we senshi ever had to face." She turned her head, and her smile disappeared. In a lower voice, almost to herself, she added, "At least . . . until Sailor Chaos returns . . ."
"Is that a good thing, do you think?"
Cosmos turned to her in shock. "You are asking if peace and harmony and goodwill are good?!"
"They are good, yes . . . but are they good for the fighters in which the entirety of the galaxy must put their hopes and wishes? Don't you wonder sometimes if, had there not been such a time of peace and prosperity, and had you always had to strive to overcome ever-stronger enemies . . . if you might have been strong enough to face the true enemy when he did appear?" It was Galaxia's turn to bow her head, addressing more herself than the other senshi. "I know I have."
She sat back down, then after a moment lay down, hands tucked under her head as she stared up into the ever-present mist. After a moment, Cosmos hesitantly joined her, lying in the opposite direction with her head six inches or so from Galaxia's. For a moment or two, she also contemplated the mist.
"I think . . ." Galaxia began again, softly, ". . . I will probably always blame myself. I was supposed to be protector of the galaxy, after all. If only I had stayed in top shape, alert to any possible dangers, I might have caught Chaos earlier. Found a better way to get rid of him than by containing him within my self, and destroyed him before his destructive influence engulfed the galaxy in futile war, senshi against senshi with no real winners. Only those that died and those that had to remain living in the inferno the galaxy had become." She laughed bitterly. "See how much my protection is worth?"
"It is true, there were no major enemies in my reign as Neo-Queen Serenity of Crystal Tokyo . . . except the Black Moon Crisis. Even then, as Neo-Queen Serenity, I had lost or given up a large portion of my power. It ended up being my past self who finally defeated that enemy. About all I could do was resurrect Pluto and give her a life of her own in the past."
"That in itself should probably have been a warning." Galaxia pointed out. "Yes, to relinquish power is often beneficial, and you would be an extremely bad ruler, a true despot, if you were so in love with power that you couldn't bear to give any of it up. But you can't give up power if doing so makes you unable to perform your duty. That's not just silly, it's suicidal. Especially given how important our duties are."
"Will you help me to defeat Chaos?" Cosmos turned her head to look at the golden senshi. "And try to prevent the future that is mine from ever coming into existence?"
Galaxia turned her head. "I don't think defeating Chaos is the answer to your problem. But it is a step toward solving it. I will help you to make sure the dark future you have lived is destroyed, and a brighter future found, if I have to create that future myself."
The silver senshi smiled. "Thank you." She said quietly.
The gold senshi blinked and smiled shyly back. "My pleasure." Strangely enough, she found she actually meant it. The two most powerful people in the galaxy, doomed to be loners, had found solace in the unexpected friendship of each other.
* * *
"Minerva? Could you wait a moment, please?" The stern professor paused on her way out of Dumbledore's office at the conclusion of their weekly teacher meeting. She turned back around.
"Yes?" The meeting had run longer than she anticipated. She had a class in fifteen minutes, and if she didn't get going soon she would be late.
"The Hat told me to suggest that you look in the Book." He said, looking faintly apologetic.
Professor McGonagall considered various semi-polite ways to tell her superior to shove it. Everyone knew the new names never appeared in the Book until the end of the spring semester, at which point letters had to be prepared, the first-year dorms straightened up and talked to, and various other things done in order to prepare the school for the advent of the new first-years the following semester. And the paperwork, of course. Lord knew there was always far too much paperwork.
As if he heard her thoughts-more likely, he just correctly interpreted the mulish and disgruntled cast to her features, she ruefully acknowledged-he raised his shoulders in a vague motion that could have been a shrug. "You know the Hat. It only makes suggestions, never explanations, and delights in making everything as obscure as possible. And despite its idiosyncrasies, I can't think of one time in which it has been wrong."
McGonagall sighed silently. She was well aware of that as well. "I'll look into it, Albus." She checked her watch as she excused herself, and began to hurry in the direction of her room. She would look into it after this next class.
* * *
Slytherin. McGonagall pushed her wire-rim glasses further up her nose, forcefully, as she returned to her room. She *detested* teaching Slytherin. Especially that supercilious favorite of Snape's, Draco Malfoy.
She paused. Actually, it had not really occurred to her before, but Malfoy really hadn't been causing much trouble recently. He was actually one of the most well-mannered of the first-year Slytherins now, surprisingly enough. She smiled slightly. Overall, this particular crop of first-year Slytherins seemed to be considerably better than her normal expectations.
She shrugged. If Lucius' whelp, unlike the man himself, actually showed an interest in developing a human heart, that was all good as far as she was concerned. She moved to the back of the room, remembering Dumbledore's request. Moving aside a shelf, she took out a chest that had been hidden in the specially-made alcove behind the shelf.
People might call her paranoid, but she liked to think of it as just taking the appropriate precautions. She touched her wand to the lock and muttered a short word. Recognizing the combination of voice, wand, and actual word used as undeniably her own and not anyone else's, the lock obligingly clicked itself open.
If anyone else tried to open the lock without her knowledge, it would give them the shock of their life. From the chest, she drew a large, leather-bound book. More specifically, the Book. Bringing it over to her desk, she absently turned up the light so that she could better see the writing that was, admittedly, often on the small, cramped, and nearly illegible side.
Quickly, she flipped to the last page she had known to have writing on it.
All seemed as expected. There was Harry Potter and the Tsukino girl . . . Serenity. Now there was a name that really didn't match the personality of the person possessing it. Fancy having two such brilliant Seekers in one year, and both from first year. A real pity about Harry being crippled, though. A real pity.
And there was Lucius' whelp, and Crabbe and Goyle. Not surprising that the three of them would stick together, when their fathers had all been such chums as well. Crabbe and Goyle certainly didn't seem to be any smarter than their respective fathers. As to whether or not Draco would turn out as rotten as his father . . . perhaps not. She had decided to suspend judgment, for the nonce.
Names that she did not recognize at a glance, some for which she could call up the memory of faces after a thought, and names she frankly could not remember at all.
There were two of the latter. Haruka Ten'ou, and Setsuna Meiou. Their names were written in the Book, but strangely enough the notations made after the fact, the ones that marked their house affiliation-one had gone to Slytherin, and one to Hufflepuff-had been marked through. That was another automatic function of the Book.
But surely, if these two first-years had been expelled, she would remember. It wasn't that often that they expelled children from Hogwarts, even Slytherin.
No new names. She shrugged. Even the Hat could be wrong every once in a while. Idly, she flipped the page-this crop of names had finished one page off. And stopped and stared. Just what was going on?
For there the new names were. Three of them. She ran her finger down the short list, saying the names aloud as she went.
28. The Fall
"I began to get suspicious when I saw a Three Lights poster and heard that they're currently here, in England, performing. Then I called my mother to double check, and she told me that the enemy we went out to fight that night was not Galaxia, but Neherenia."
"She would know?" Ami asked skeptically.
"I don't know about you, but my other self evidently let my mother in on my secret identity from the beginning. She's more likely to know than almost any other non-senshi." Michiru retorted. "We all knew, when we first appeared here, that this is not the world we grew up in. This is merely further proof." She looked, wordlessly, from one person to the next.
Ami, whose parents were still divorced, but also much closer than before. Her father actually shared custody for her, this time around.
Makoto, who had learned that both her parents were still alive, unclaimed by the airplane crash that hadn't happened yet or, possibly, wouldn't happen at all.
Minako's family was essentially the same, except for the fact that they had never lived in England, and at this point had made no plans to do so in the future.
Rei, whose mother was still alive and lived with her grandfather and herself at the shrine. Unfortunately, her father was still a politician that traveled far too often for anyone's liking. Her mother was beginning to talk of perhaps a divorce.
Mamoru. Only his father had died in the car crash that previously took both his parents. His mother worked during the day to support them, but at least she was there for him in the evenings and at night.
Hotaru. Her mother had died in the lab fire as she had in their other life, but Kaorinite had turned out to be a lab assistant and had also been purified after their fight with Pharoah 90. Evidently, Kaorinite still had a thing for Hotaru's father, and Hotaru's father was still as completely oblivious as before. This time, however, Hotaru was aiding Kaorinite's quest instead of attempting to obstruct it.
Chibiusa. She had not even returned to Usagi's house before coming to Hogwarts, but it was unlikely that her situation would have changed by all that much. Since she was *their* Chibiusa, life in Crystal Tokyo had not changed for her. As for what Crystal Tokyo looked like now, in this place, no one had a clue.
Finally, Usagi. Her home life had not changed except for one important addition. Her brother Shingo was now twins. Fraternal twins, to be exact. A boy and a girl, her new sister Chiyoko, but otherwise identical.
As her gaze passed each person they nodded, albeit somewhat reluctantly at times. "So . . ." She drawled. "What are you going to do about it?"
"What do you mean?" Usagi asked. "We're going to find Chaos and beat him. Permanently." Her voice was infused with a fierceness, a fire that came to her eyes whenever she remembered the toll Chaos had taken on the lives of her friends.
"How?" Michiru asked gently. "We don't know where he is right now, although since the Starlights are here he will probably come soon as well. The Starlights are female full-time, this time around, by the way." So immediately did Minako's face fall that it was funny to watch.
She crossed her legs. "So. What, and how much, and when, are you going to tell the Starlights about ourselves? They know we exist, but they don't know how many or where we are. If my hunch is right, they'll probably be coming here soon-it would follow the way you seem to attract beings of power, both good and evil, like a particularly strong magnet." She stood. "But then again, that's really your decision, so I'll leave you to it."
At the door, Usagi's soft voice, gently querying, stopped her momentarily. "Michiru?"
She turned and smiled, a smile that amazingly touched her eyes as well as her lips. "I have no doubt in your ability to defeat Chaos. This time, knowing what you do now, you may even be able to do so without any other of our lives being lost. But I still don't believe in you. By both our reckoning, that makes me unfit to remain as a part of your group." She bowed her head slightly, and her eyes seemed to slide towards Hotaru before flicking away. "You have my word, though, that I will not interfere . . . the way I did last time." She turned with finality and disappeared through the doorway.
* * *
Flight lesson. Draco drifted aimlessly in the sky, drinking in the feeling of the breeze on his face. At such temperatures as this, the wind held an extra bite in it, cutting through his robes and skin as if they didn't exist, chilling him to the bone. Yet somehow he managed to separate the bite of the wind from its comforting feel with the memories of warm breezes on a perfect day.
Specifically, a perfect morning, just as the sun was beginning to rise above the horizon and dispel the early morning fog. An early morning spent talking with his angel.
. . . with Haruka. The thought still seemed so foreign, yet at the same time he couldn't believe he hadn't guessed before. He sighed, a small sound lost immediately in the whistle of the wind. He missed her. She had been his only true friend, and even though the gap was partly filled by Harry's presence and, to a lesser extent, Hotaru's, it just wasn't the same.
He missed her with an intensity of emotion that he had only once before in his life encountered-the same intensity as his feelings of hatred toward his father. And, to a lesser extent, his mother, as his mother acted only as a mere shadow of his father and thus deserved only a mere shadow of the intensity of emotion he directed toward the former.
He continued to drift idly, paying little to no attention to the lesson below him. That was one benefit to being "Malfoy" and perhaps the only one. No one really expected him to pay true and respectful attention to lessons. It went against his persona to be respectful toward anyone or anything-except, perhaps, his father. Then, suddenly, inexplicably, his attention was caught by movement at one of the seventh story windows down below . . .
* * *
The black-haired boy rolled closer to the window, squinting upwards as he tried to catch sight of people he knew. For obvious reasons, he could not join in on the flight lesson, so he preferred to not even be in the general area. Even just watching from above pained him, as he remembered what it had been like to be one of the black-clad figures floating so high up.
Finally he recognized one. That shock of short blonde hair was practically unmistakable, especially combined with the way he easily sat on the broom. Slouched, almost. He considered waving, but finally decided regretfully against it. What were the chances that Draco would see the motion, much less recognize him from so far away? Checking a nearby clock, he rolled a bit back from the window. They would be returning from the flight lesson soon, and he had told Draco and Hotaru that he would meet them in one of the empty rooms on the third floor once they all got free from classes this afternoon.
Turning, he saw two of the last people he had expected to see. "Hello Crabbe, Goyle." Much like "Malfoy", no one ever addressed those two by their first names. The two stood there, grinning in a decidedly unsettling manner, blocking his way. "Ah . . . could you please move?"
"Now why would we want to do that . . . cripple?" One-Crabbe?-asked. "How you going to make us?"
"Besides, we got business with you." Goyle (?) added. The two moved closer. "A message from Malfoy."
Harry blinked. Wha . . .? Crabbe moved past him and opened the window, through the simple expedient of breaking it. Goyle picked him up, wheelchair and all, and moved purposefully toward the window. Belatedly realizing what was happening, Harry began to thrash. Twice is too much to ask for . . . Hotaru won't be near enough this time.
Goyle grunted as one lucky punch hit him in the nose, but that didn't stop him from reaching the window. In suddenly slowed time, he tipped the chair and Harry felt himself beginning to slide. Incongruously, he noticed how beautiful and white the snow was, and that particular patch of grass underneath one of the trees, still a vibrant green as if the tree guarded a tiny little patch of eternal summer.
Then he began to slide, and only one thought remained, tinted with regretful sadness at the betrayal. Draco . . .
* * *
"You think it was really all right for us to be referring to Mr. Malfoy familiar-like like that?" Crabbe asked worriedly. "I wouldn't want to be making him mad."
Goyle turned back, after dumping the wheelchair out the window as well. He rubbed his arms absentmindedly; for such a skinny little stick Potter had weighed a bit more than he expected. "I wouldn't want to be making Mr. Malfoy mad either. But I want even less to make the Master mad. And the Master told us to do it this way."
Crabbe nodded. "No, I don't want the Master mad at me. Mr. Malfoy will understand. He don't want the Master mad at him, neither."
That logic satisfied them both, so they turned and left, again at ease in their small worlds.
* * *
Attention attracted by that mysterious movement, Draco floated gently downward, trying to catch a closer look. A struggle of some kind? But that was absurd, fights just don't happen at Hogwarts-and especially not in broad daylight. As the body began to fall, he sped up, as nearly mimicking a bullet as was humanly possible. No one could survive an eight-story fall. Except Haruka and Hotaru-and then only by transforming into their angel forms.
His heart racing, it nevertheless skipped a beat when he saw the wheelchair that fell a few seconds afterward; when he came close enough to recognize the black-haired boy. Had it been possibly to speed up any further, he would have. My angel, lend me thy wings . . . It could have been only his imagination, but it seemed that the wind stopped fighting his descent and perhaps even aided him.
They neared the ground now at an ominous rate, as Draco finally swooped underneath the falling black-haired boy. Frantically, he tried to pull up, but found the broom no longer responded to his commands. Harry fell across his lap, briefly opened emerald green eyes.
From somewhere, Draco summoned an encouraging smile as his grey eyes met Harry's green. "Daijoubu." He whispered, one of the few Japanese words they both knew. "It will be alright."
This is going to hurt. He remained conscious as they hit the ground, but not for long. As his consciousness swam away on a sea of pain, he only faintly registered the sound as the wheelchair crashed down upon them as well. And a feeling of irrelevant satisfaction. He had been right. Oh, how it hurt . . .
* * *
From his vantage position on the roof in the shadows of one of the many prominences, Professor Quirrell tucked away his wand and smiled with satisfaction. Perhaps the stupid boy would die now. He felt a bit guilty about killing whoever else it had been, but not excessively. They should not have attempted to save the other boy.
Any luck on finding the black-haired sailor girl? His Master asked, exerting that certain sort of pressure that guaranteed intense pain if he gave the wrong answer.
And the wrong answer was all he had to give. "N-n-no, M-master. I-I-I'm s-sorry. I-I'll f-find her s-soon, I p-p-promise."
Please do. His master acknowledged genially. Then, the pain began . . .
* * *
Haruka staggered and fell to her knees. "Haruka, what's wrong?" She heard through a thick blanket of grey fuzz. She did not reply, concentrating all her remaining energy upon staving off the impending faint.
Finally, she looked up, still feeling lightheaded, but recovered enough to reply. "I . . . I don't know. But all of a sudden, I feel so weak . . ."
Melisande blinked. "Maybe Uranus Knight is in some sort of grave trouble." She grinned. "Wow! Do you know what that means if that's true? It means the Knight-Senshi bond transcends the block between the Misty Realm and the Earth Realm, even when the Gate is broken! We might have proof!"
Silence. She looked from one to the other. "You mean that's another thing you forgot? That whenever a senshi or their knight is in serious, life-threatening sort of trouble, they can draw upon the others' energy? Well, they can at other times too, but they can draw without asking permission first if it's life-threatening."
Haruka looked up at Setsuna. Setsuna looked down at Haruka. Both looked at Melisande. Finally, Setsuna broke the silence. "Melisande . . . what is a Knight?"
29. Christmas Break, Part I: Breaking Away
He felt the pain begin to recede. With the recession of the pain came an acknowledgment of the existence of the pain, where before there had only been the deep darkness of unconsciousness. But as the pain lessened, so came consciousness, creeping up on him.
He opened his eyes and as his sight sharpened and grew used to the ambient light, he focused on the face that hovered above him. A familiar face, framed by shoulder-length black hair. "Hotaru." His voice grated, as if through long disuse. "Where am I?"
"In the hospital wing. Madame Hooch had both of you brought here when you were discovered. What happened?"
"I . . ." He couldn't quite remember, but as the pain continued to recede, flashes returned. ". . . I was drifting, and I saw someone-Harry-falling. From about the eighth floor. I dived after him, managed to catch him about a floor or two above the ground." He frowned. The next memory didn't make sense. Tentatively, he continued, "I . . . tried to pull up. But I couldn't. Then we crashed. I tried to position myself so that I would be on the bottom, I'm not sure I succeeded though." He smiled wryly. "Perhaps that was the wrong way to go about it, as by keeping Harry above me he would have borne the brunt of the force when the wheelchair landed on us. I assume it landed on us, that is."
"You did manage to stay beneath Harry." Hotaru informed him. "But you're wrong about the wheelchair. It only just barely grazed Harry; must of it came down on the parts of you that were exposed. Your legs mostly."
"My legs?" He inquired with dread.
Hotaru pulled back the covers so he could see for himself. Both were encased in casts, but they hurt neither more nor less than the rest of him did. "Both were broken in several places. I've been able to speed the healing of most of the damage, but they insisted on putting them in casts anyway. The rest of you was one giant bruise, but there were no other major broken bones and very little internal bleeding. The legs were the worst of it."
Not precisely true-the internal bleeding had been stopped mostly through her efforts. At least three of his ribs had broken, and two of those had come frighteningly close to puncturing his lungs. Without her there, his case would have been quite touch-and-go, and had been treated correspondingly by the hospital staff.
And she had not been able to do at least as much as she thought she should be able to. For some reason, she had been feeling kind of weak all week, as if something was sapping her strength gradually. She tended to shrug off the feeling, though, as it was a small enough drain that all had been really affected was her healing capacity.
But the hospital staff had advised that she downplay his injuries to him in order to reduce the shock. She understood the logic, so she was careful to do exactly that. She patted one of the casts. "At the rate you've been healing, you should be out of these and 100% fine by Christmas break."
"But Christmas break is . . . two weeks away? At least." He added up the days in his head. "Surely I'll be able to get up before that."
"Christmas break starts this Friday." Hotaru told him flatly. "Today is Monday. You lost about a week, while you were being healed."
He blinked, shocked. "Where is Harry? Is he okay? He has woken up by now too, right?"
"Harry is in the room next to yours. Physically, he is as perfectly fine as he has been since . . ." Since the Quidditch game. Since his first injury. Since he became paralyzed from the waist down. Those qualifiers drifted, unsaid but understood, in the air between the two.
"There's something you're not telling me." He pushed himself up into a sitting position, ignoring the stabbing pain caused by the motion. "Tell me, Hotaru."
Hotaru opened her mouth, closed it.
"Hotaru . . ." Not a threat, but a plea, almost a wail.
"He hasn't woken up yet." She finally, reluctantly admitted. "There's nothing wrong with him, nothing more than before, but for some reason he hasn't awakened. He should have been awake a day or two ago at the latest." At last, she allowed a little of her own fears to show through. "The current theory is that he has fallen into a coma."
"Oh, Hotaru." He reached out arms that were still rather yellow and green in places to enfold the Ravenclaw girl in a supportive hug. "Don't worry. It will be all right. Somehow, everything will be all right."
Hotaru sighed all her anguish at being helpless, all her sorrow for the position her friend was in. "I wish I could be so optimistic. I wish I had some way of helping. If only that stupid scar didn't block me."
"The scar serves as a protection of sorts, a protection that he will need." Draco allowed Hotaru to push him back down into a prone position. "It wasn't a mistake that the Quidditch field blew up in that one particular place just as Harry was flying over it. It was planned. And . . . last week . . . Harry was thrown out the window. I know it." Hotaru had gasped at his revelation. "What originally caught my attention was the struggle taking place near the window. Not the falling body. I don't know who, of course. Only Harry can tell us that."
"And another thing. This is more subjective than the other two, but . . . I shouldn't have lost control of my broom like that. I had it under perfect control, until I caught Harry. I think someone interfered with my control-much like that first Quidditch game, when Harry nearly lost control of his broom. Except this time, they succeeded."
"Except in one important respect." Hotaru sniffed and grinned through the remnants of her tears. "You're both still alive."
* * *
"I'm glad Harry survived." George sighed. "It would have been really awful if he had died. As for Malfoy . . . he should have. Certainly, no one would miss him."
"I think it would have been horrible if anyone had died, even someone as seemingly unredeemable as Malfoy." Michiru said quietly.
"Besides, he did try to save Harry. That should give him some points." Fred admitted reluctantly. "Even though if he had known it was Harry, I bet he would have just let Harry die. He's that sort of person."
" 'The sort of person he is' would not deign to save anyone." Michiru pointed out with gentle irony. "The fact that he did-or at least tried-indicates that he might not be as bad as people say." Not that she believed that. She had her own memories of encounters with the arrogant blonde Slytherin, and people like that don't change. This so-called rescue had some sort of ulterior motive, she knew, even if she didn't know what it was yet. Still, she couldn't resist the chance to play devil's advocate.
"Of course he's as bad as rumor paints him." George remained adamant. "He's a Malfoy, after all."
* * *
"You're sure about this?" Hotaru walked beside her friend. "You really ought to stay another couple of days. You're not fully healed yet, even if you can walk again and most of the bandages are gone."
"Hotaru, if I stay another couple of days, I'm going to be trapped here for the entirety of Christmas break." He smiled wearily. "And while that is *exactly* what I'd love to do, I really do have to return home. My father . . . sooner or later he's going to find out what I did and how I've been acting. It will be better for me to confront him now, instead of waiting until *he* chooses the occasion."
"Unfortunately, I can see the sense in that." Hotaru sighed. "Just . . . don't do anything foolish, all right? If you go off and get yourself hurt without me there to heal you, I'll never forgive you."
"Don't worry." Draco grinned engagingly. "I'll be fine. After all, I've got you and Harry to come back to." And Haruka . . . wherever she is. I wish she would return . . .
"Yeah. And if anything goes wrong, I will personally find *some* way to wake Harry up, just so we can *both* have the pleasure of kicking you into next Tuesday."
"Almost makes me wish something would go wrong." He sighed, turning his head to look back toward the hospital room and the still-catatonic black-haired boy lying within. "Listen. If he wakes up, I want you to let me know. No matter what."
"But how?" Hotaru asked. "I doubt you'd want me calling you at your house, and you don't have your own cell phone, do you?"
Draco pulled out the communicator Haruka had given him. "You know how to get into contact with this, don't you?" At Hotaru's shocked gaze, he hastily added, "Uranus gave it to me . . ." His voice faltered, as he finished, ". . . shortly before she disappeared."
Hotaru nodded slowly. Haruka tended to be a quick judge of character, but once she made her decision to treat another as a friend, nothing would stop her from aiding that person in any way possible in her ability. Once Draco was mentally tagged as 'friend', Haruka would have had no compunction in giving him a magical, highly suspicious and clearly extraterrestrial (to people who knew how to look) piece of equipment.
Belatedly, she realized she had not yet answered Draco's question. "Yes, I can contact that. And you can contact me any time-just press the violet button." Abruptly, she hugged the blonde Slytherin, careless of whoever might or might not be watching. "Be safe, Draco."
He smiled and hugged her back, just as tightly. "Daijoubu, Hotaru. You'll see."
* * *
"Mama!" Michiru called, as she ducked and twisted her way through the crowd surrounding the Hogwarts Express. "Mama, over here!"
"So, how'd you like your first semester at Hogwarts?" Sachiko asked her grinning daughter.
Michiru shrugged. "I'll tell you all about it later." In yet another lightning change of mood, she returned to a state of bubbling over with happiness. "C'mon, Mom, I want you to meet my new friends." She took her mother's hand and dragged her off in the direction she had last seen Fred and George going toward.
Finally, the crowd cleared somewhat, and she reached her goal. "Mom, I want you to meet Fred and George Weasley. Fred is the one with the dirt on his nose." The redhead in question reached up to rub at his nose before realizing that that was exactly the reaction the aqua-haired girl had intended to provoke. He then retaliated by combining a mock glare with a roll of his eyes.
"They're third years. And that's Ron, I think-your name is Ron, right?-he's a first year too." She turned to the smallest member of the redheaded party. "And you must be Ginny. Fred and George have told me plenty of stories about you." She leaned closer and winked conspiratorially at the smaller girl. "I'm not sure how many of their stories I should believe, though."
The other girl blinked, as if astonished that Michiru was actually directing her comments towards her. Then, as the import of the message came through, she grinned shyly. "I don't know. They tend to lie a lot, though." Ginny confided with a grin as the two of her brothers in question began to splutter indignantly.
Sachiko stood back and smiled quietly. Her daughter had always been rather quiet and introverted. It was nice to see her finally beginning to open up and make friends. She smiled at the other mother, then blinked. "Molly? Is that really you?"
The redhead blinked back. "Sachiko? Sachiko Amiru? It's been donkey's years! Where have you been hiding yourself?"
"Sachiko Kaiou, now." The blue-haired woman smiled. "After I graduated, I moved back to Japan and went to a Muggle college. Some years later, I ran back into Aki and we decided to get back together. This is my daughter, Michiru."
Molly Weasley smiled. "I'm glad to hear the two of you finally got your acts together."
"And you? Did you finally get Arthur to notice you?"
Her smug grin said it all. "I had to come close to bashing him over the head and dragging him back to my cave by the hair, but yes, he finally noticed me. I have these five here, plus my two older boys-but they already graduated a couple years ago."
A growing silence attracted the worried glances of both mothers, a silence that had begun with the two girls and quickly spread to the remaining boys. Finally, Michiru broke the silence. "Harry . . . I never really got to know him all that well. He's staying at Hogwarts over winter break."
The adults exchanged glances. There was obviously quite a bit that Michiru had left out of that statement; the seemingly innocuous words were bolstered by dark, somewhat sad undertones. Ginny, however, heard only the words. Her face fell. "Oh, that's too bad. I wanted to see him again. Oh well, he'll be coming through here for summer break, I'm sure."
"Yes." Michiru agreed, suddenly smiling again. "He will."
* * *
"Mom?" The conversations had died down gradually, and eventually the Weasleys and the Kaious said their temporary goodbyes after exchanging telephone numbers, addresses, and other means of getting in touch with each other of both the magical and non-magical sorts. "What House were you in? And Dad?"
"I was a part of Ravenclaw." Her mother answered, then hesitated. "Your father . . . now, I don't want you to think badly of him. He's not a bad person. If he was, I would never have married him."
"Mom." Michiru cut short her mother's stream of words. "Dad was in Slytherin, wasn't he." She shook her head, a smile on her face. "Like father, like daughter, I guess."
"Yes he was and . . . what? You're in Slytherin too? Huh." Her mother digested the information, a considering look on her face. "Yes, I suppose you really do tend to take after your father more in the way you look at the world. Still, I don't know why, but I never expected . . ." She shook her head. "Well, whatever house you're in, I hope you're happy there."
"I was lonely for a while." Michiru admitted with a sigh. "But then I happened to run into Fred and George again, and we really hit it off." She grinned. "It's impossible to feel lonely with friends like them around."
"So, are they Slytherin too?" Sachiko nearly shook her head at the thought. Molly had been a fellow Ravenclaw, but she had been about as Gryffindor as a person could get without actually being a Gryffindor herself. Arthur had been a Gryffindor through and through, one of the reasons Molly and Arthur had always gotten along so well.
"No, I get the idea that the entire family is Gryffindor. Like it's a tradition or something." She smiled. "As you can see, our friendship is just a wee tad unorthodox. But I don't mind, and they don't mind, and all three of us care very little what most of the rest of the world thinks. Those that really matter, understand anyway."
"Aki and I always felt that way-although a friendship between Ravenclaw and Slytherin is not nearly as . . . well, almost taboo . . . as one between a Gryffindor and a Slytherin." She paused. "There was something about Harry Potter you weren't saying."
Michiru pressed her lips together, then abruptly sighed. "Harry became Gryffindor Seeker for their Quidditch team." She paused, and reluctantly continued. "During the second game, a part of the field blew up and Harry was caught in the blast." She closed her eyes. "He lived, but only just barely. He was paralyzed from the waist down."
Sachiko gasped. Even in Japan, they had heard stories of the 'Boy Who Lived', and to hear that this had happened to him . . . she refrained from comment, however, as she could see from Michiru's expression that there was still more to tell.
"Then, only about two weeks ago, he fell from a window on the eighth story. Some people, myself included, believe that he was thrown. There is no way he could have possibly survived, except for one lucky coincidence. One of the other students happened to catch sight of Harry as he fell and managed to pull off a partial rescue. Both were hospitalized, but Malfoy was let out a couple of days ago."
"Malfoy? As in Lucius Malfoy's child?"
"If Lucius Malfoy was a nasty slimeball, I'm sure the two are somehow related."
Sachiko choked back a delighted laugh. "I never thought to apply the term 'nasty slimeball' to Lucius, but it fits amazingly well. I'm going to have to remember that." She sobered quickly. "And Harry?"
"When I left, he had been asleep for nearly two weeks. All the other damage has pretty much healed; the current hypothesis, I think, is that he has fallen into a coma. We can only hope that he will wake up eventually."
And there really wasn't much that could be said to that.
* * *
They met outside the train station, as had been prearranged. "Son." A careful nod. Not too deep, for that would imply emotional attachment to his son's return. Not too shallow, though, because that would be as bad as refusal to acknowledge him at all. A grave insult, and one he would never stoop to giving to one he did not fully believe deserved it.
"Father." Another careful nod, one of exactly the same depth and duration. Any more would be careless, any less unfilial. Conscious of the bag on his shoulder, he was glad he had only brought it and not his entire trunk. From behind, the chauffeur stepped up and opened the door for him-a Muggle-style limousine, a symbol of his father's status in the Muggle realm as well. He stepped into the car, careful to give the chauffeur only the barest minimum of a nod. Any more, and his father would know something was different.
His father slid into the passenger seat in front, leaving him the sole occupant of the immense back area. "So." His father started, glancing back over his shoulder. "How was school."
Draco considered in silence for a moment, trying to remember what sort of thing he would have said. Finally, he affected a bored sigh. "Depressingly plebian. Far too many mudbloods, littering the place with their filthy habits." There he stopped. Neither of them had ever been much for conversation-at least not with each other.
The rest of the ride continued in silence. His father asked no more questions, and he volunteered no more answers.
* * *
When they got back to the house-he never thought of it as home, could not even remember a time in which he had referred to it in those terms-the first thing both father and son saw was the owl. It hooted once and his father glided over, untying the message from the owl's foreleg. Message delivered, it hooted once more and flew away. Draco couldn't help thinking that he wished he could do the same.
His father opened the letter, skimming at first, then stopping suddenly and peering more closely, as if disbelieving the message written within. Finally, he slammed the letter down and looked up. "What utter bullshit."
Draco carefully refrained from responding, though that was the first time in his life he had ever heard his father swear. The man felt that it was unrefined to stoop to such vulgar means of communication-one of the few things about his father that Draco agreed with. Perhaps the only one.
His father forced a laugh. "Can you guess what this letter says? It is a congratulations letter. A letter of congratulations! To my brave son who rescued Harry Potter from certain death. Harry Potter! How utterly absurd." His grey eyes suddenly narrowed, focused on his son with piercing intensity. "Or is it?"
Draco raised his head, looking his father straight in the eye. Silver to grey, grey to silver. The only difference was in the person that resided behind those eyes. The kind, open person that he was slowly learning to become, and the cold, harsh man who felt no compunction about betraying anyone or anything if the price was right.
He knew that, whatever he said now, his father would believe only what he chose to believe. And he found he truly didn't care. His father might kill him? Fine. Death would be better than having him as a father and being required to follow in his footsteps. He would achieve freedom now, he swore it. And if the only freedom he could find was through death . . . so be it.
"No, Lucius, it is not absurd." A layer of ice covered his eyes, simulating the coldness he had endured his entire life. The coldness that he had always believed was all there was to social relations, until a warm wind blew into his life one cool morning as he sat watching the sunrise alone. "I rescued Harry. You know why? Because Harry is my friend."
Suddenly, burning anger consumed all the ice. "My friend. One of only three. Do you even know what the word 'friend' means, Lucius? Do you? If so, you never taught it to me. I had to wait until I found someone I first hated, then came to love as the first friend I had ever had. Because of you." He stood shaking, past red into paleness with the sheer force of his anger.
"I rescued Harry because I care about him. If anything more were to happen to him, I would be devastated. Because that's what friendship is about. Caring. And that is why you will never understand the concept of friendship, because you do not have a caring bone in your body." Uncontrollable tears gathered in the corners of his eyes. "When I was younger, I would have done anything for you. Anything to earn your approval. But you know what? I don't care what you think anymore."
"My angel taught me that the only person whose opinion really matters, when it comes down to it, is my own. The people I love, in a way they become a part of me, just as I like to think I have become in a way a part of them. Their opinions matter to me as well."
"But I don't care for you. I don't care even to be near you. I used to think I cared, but for a long time that has been because I thought it was my duty to care. You want to know the truth, Lucius? I hate you. I hate you and all you stand for. I hate all the things you made me do and all the things you made me watch you do. And you can't make me do those things any more." He smiled slowly, letting go of part of his anger as he vented all his pent-up feelings toward his father. "Never again, Lucius. Never again."
His father took out his wand. He was amazed to see . . . was that a trace of sorrow on the man's face. "You were wrong on one account, Draco." His father said. "I could have cared. But you never lived up to my expectations."
He nodded slowly. A deep nod, one of irrevocable decision. "So be it. I no longer have a son."
And then the words that Draco had anticipated and dreaded and expected.
"Avada Kedav . . ."
30. Christmas Break, Part II: Ghostly Aid
"So we are all agreed?" Usagi asked.
Rei tapped her foot impatiently. "Look. We've decided to do it. We all want the fresh start this will provide us with. Now we had better hurry. I want to catch the late Hogwarts Express out of here, and as it is we're cutting it a bit close. I don't want to be stuck here over Christmas. No offense intended."
"None taken." Hotaru and Makoto, the only two staying, assured her in unison.
"At this point in time, I wouldn't allow myself to be dragged away from here if I was made entirely of metal and a giant magnet was pulling at me." Hotaru said quietly, with a smile on her face. "But I agree. Let's get this over with."
The six-Hotaru and all the inner senshi-sat in a rough circle, and all but Ami closed their eyes. The blue-haired girl raised her wand, fixing very carefully in her mind what she wanted to happen. Not the battles, she rather doubted that was even possible, but the Three Lights themselves-their male selves, that is. Trying to extricate the Starlights without dealing with the battles would have been well-nigh impossible.
She positioned her wand carefully to include all those present, including herself, then intoned the word that her research had brought to her attention.
* * *
Draco had closed his eyes, at rest with himself. If anything, he regretted breaking his promise to Hotaru and Harry. Still, this seemed the best way. He waited, fatalistically, for that last syllable. When it didn't fall, he opened his eyes, confused.
She stood in front of him. "Go now."
Her hair was a very dark red, much like the auburn of Makoto's hair only redder. She was tallish and slender and as she stood between him and his father, she seemed to glow very lightly.
She turned her head and, as he stared into compelling green eyes, he knew beyond a doubt who she was. "Run, Draco. I can only hold him for so long." Shaking his head he turned and obeyed her. A whisper curled through the air toward him, carried upon a soft breeze. "Never doubt that you too are important."
And, even softer, "Tell Harry I said hi."
* * *
He sat. In a chair, in front of a large clear glass window and a screen that read the words, "To Tokyo International Airport. 3:00 pm." He shook his head.
He knew he had to get to Tokyo. Haruka's father-the man who was not so bad after all-was there, as was Hotaru's father and, in her opinion, soon-to-be step-mother. Either might be able to be convinced to take him in. Rarities, in the world of both Muggles and wizards, people that were not his enemies.
He had not realized that he uttered the last aloud until he recieved an answer. "That's simple." The voice held a slight accent, but not one that he recognized. He turned his head. A man now sat in a seat he could have sworn was empty. Shortish, with brown hair and muddy medium eyes, he was utterly unremarkable. "Quite simple." The man continued smoothly. "All you have to do is hijack the plane."
"Are you mad? I would never do that!" He could see a very faint glow now, and curiousity briefly overcame his indignation. "Is that what you tried?"
"How'd you guess? Yes, tried was a good word for it. Tried and failed." The medium man sighed and stood up. "Well, kid, sometimes that's just life. Or, in my case, death." He walked away, and as he walked he faded.
"I like your attitude, kid."
He recognized the glow at once this time. Strange, how there had never seemed to be so many ghosts around. Sure, there were plenty at Hogwarts, but not elsewhere. He nodded pleasantly to the new ghost, another fairly ordinary-looking man. Brown hair darker than the hijacker's, and eyes a very pleasant and calming blue.
"Cheer up. I think I can help you."
"You can? How?"
"You need a ticket, right? So come over to this internet station." The ghost led him over to a nearby kiosk. "Order it from here."
"How? I need money, and unfortunately I don't know my father's credit card number." Draco smiled momentarily at the thought of stealing money from his father . . . no, Lucius. From Lucius Malfoy in that manner.
"Use mine. I haven't been dead for too long yet, so hopefully my account hasn't been closed. While you're getting there, I'm going to go check something. Be right back. Here's my account number, if you get there before I get back." The ghost rattled off a string of numbers and Draco blinked, asking for repitition until he was sure he had the number correctly. Then the ghost vanished.
Rapidly, Draco typed. His . . . Lucius kept several computers around the house, and they had often provided him with a way to keep himself amused, when Lucius was not around or otherwise unavailable. Hypocritical, really, that he disliked Muggles so greatly yet made use of so much of their technology.
Finally, he typed in the last numeral and pressed the enter key and waited.
"Deceased November 15 of this year. Gunshot wound."
"Access Denied. Account Closed."
"Phooey. I was afraid of that." A voice muttered from over his shoulder. Draco looked up at the ghost. James? And he had died the day of Harry's first injury. A spooky coincidence. James shrugged. "Oh well, time for plan B. Come with me."
* * *
"Captain? There's a boy out here who asked for you by name." A stewardess poked her head into the flight compartment. "Should I show him in? He doesn't have a ticket."
The man shrugged. "Sure, why not. No harm to it, and we've got plenty of time left before takeoff."
And in came the boy. Small, he couldn't be older than ten or eleven. Maybe twelve, maximum. Short blonde hair rather disarrayed and wide silver-grey eyes that seemed adept at masking emotion. But clearly worried right now. "Don't worry, child." He assured the boy genially. "I won't bite."
The boy blinked, then smiled shyly. "You're Jefferson Parker? Yeah, he says you wouldn't hurt a fly. He told me I could ask you for a ride on this plane?" The inflection turned the statement into a question. "I'm afraid I don't have a ticket, but my life will most likely be in danger if I remain in London any longer." He smirked slightly. "And he says you have a notoriously soft heart for people in trouble, especially children."
"Who is he?"
"Ah . . . James Daniels. At least, that's what his credit account said." As Jefferson wallowed in shock, the boy cocked his head and nodded abruptly. "Excuse me. He says you always called him Jack. My mistake."
Jack . . . "Are you actually trying to claim that my friend is a ghost and is here in this room with us?" He was torn between hope and desperate, boiling anger.
"I'm not trying to claim it. I can see him." He replied softly. "As clearly as I can see you, except he shines with a soft, fuzzy white light. He says . . . no, I'm not going to say that! I don't use that kind of language. Oh, fine." The boy sighed, then reluctantly continued, "He says you need to stop being a jackass and help me all ready. I can quote you his credit card number, if you like. He was single, although at the time of his death he had a girlfriend named Shirley. A fairly serious one, since they were beginning to make plans to get married."
"You had a wife for about a year, but then you got divorced. There was one child, a daughter, but she was stillborn. You came over to his apartment that night and got drunk and cried for hours." Jeff winced. He still remembered that night, and he still hadn't forgiven himself for leaving his wife that night, as she had needed far more comfort than he. He still wondered if that had been the real reason she initiated the divorce proceedings.
"Since then, you haven't had a serious girlfriend, or even . . . ew, no way am I going to say that either!" Another sigh. "Fine, fine, you're the boss. He says he seriously doubts you've even gotten laid since then."
"That . . . that will be enough, I think." Jeff stammered. He was convinced. The information . . . and especially the phrasing of the things the boy had been most reluctant to say. Everything was Jack all over.
Only to find out that the boy was not listening to him, but instead had cocked his head again. Suddenly, eyes wide in surprise, he erupted. "No way! She wouldn't!" He shook his head in disgust. "Never mind. She would. It is her job, after all." He turned to Jeff. "It seems we have yet another mutual acquaintance. The girl who told you to call her Shin."
He shrugged. "Well, now I know why Jack's death date was such a coincidence, or rather, not a coincidence at all." He frowned, confused. "Or maybe it was a coincidence, it's just that she was involved in both events . . ." He shook his head. "Whatever. So, will you bring me along?"
Jeff looked at the strange young boy and sighed. "It's the least I can do for a friend of Shin's. What's your name?"
"Draco M-" He choked off, and for a moment a strange mix of burning hatred and sorrow flashed across his eyes. "Draco. Just Draco."
* * *
"What were you thinking?! Do you know how close he came to dying? Where were you?" Pluto yelled, forest green eyes flashing. "He will be the next Guardian of Time. He is the one with the greatest chance of rebuilding the Gates. Do you know what would have happened if he had died?!"
"At least as well as you." Saturn snapped back. Her hair was in a disarray, her eyes red-rimmed and shadowed. It was obvious that, whatever substitute the planetary guardians needed for sleep, she had been getting far too little of. "I've been trying-all week, I might add-to figure out why Hotaru's energy levels are so low. There is no logical reason for the lapse, and all I can do is soothe her worries and hope that it truly is nothing to worry about."
She ran a hand through her hair, momentarily wrestling it back into a semblance of straightness. "I have barely had time to even peek at him. And you know very well that nothing happened as expected. It's not my fault."
Pluto sighed. "I know. I'm sorry I blew up at you like that. It's just . . ."
"You're worried." Abruptly, Saturn's expression softened. "I know. We all are. But hey, he's still alive, right? Things still have a very good chance of turning out all right. We just have to have faith . . . both in him, and in ourselves."
* * *
/ Search for your love . . .
Search for your love /
About to enter the first-year girls side, the pink-haired girl paused. The music . . . the words sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn't recall from where. Perhaps, it was just her imagination. She walked further into the room, taking note that the rest of the girls were elsewhere. She knew that Millicent and Pansy and, of course, Michiru, had returned home for the winter holidays. Not that she saw that much of any of them.
Millicent and Pansy . . . well, no one wanted to be around *them*. Except perhaps each other, for some strange reason. And Michiru . . . Chibiusa just couldn't get over how the teal-haired girl had so completely forgotten her beloved's very existance. True love was supposed to be stronger than that, somehow. Seeing Michiru finger the ring, having completely forgotten its meaning . . . it broke her heart.
And Haruka, of course, was gone. Had been gone, and would still remain gone for some unspecified length of time. Sure, she wished they would come back soon, Aunt Haruka and Puu, but she no longer retained any real hope. Wherever they were, they were stuck there for the duration . . . and how long a duration, she wondered if even they knew.
/ Kimi wa itsumo kagayai teta
egao hitotsu chiisana hoshi
daisetsu ni shite ta yo /
She walked further in. The music came from the area of Lindsey's bed, leading Chibiusa to conclude that the other girl had not gone home over Christmas break. Slightly surprising, as from all accounts it sounded like Lindsey's family was fairly close. She walked closer to her friend, and peered over the blue-black-haired girl's shoulder to see what had drawn her attention so closely. And froze.
Noting the shadow that had so suddenly fallen over her book, Lindsey looked up. "Hello . . . oh, it's you, Usagi." Guiltily, the German girl tried to cover up the picture she was looking at, then gave up with a sigh. A small smile touched her lips and her eyes. "Well, it seems you've discovered my secret."
Seemingly idly, the girl's finger touched the centerpiece. A beautiful, fairy-tale princess, blonde-haired blue-eyed in a long white dress, but with her hair up in such a unique style. "Serenity." She murmured, looking up into Chibiusa's face as if to gauge her reaction. The finger traveled to the right and a bit back, to the handsome dark-haired prince in black and silver armor standing at the princess' side but behind slightly, acknowledging her position. "Mamoru."
Even Chibiusa's thoughts froze in astonishment, in horror . . . call it what you will. Blithely, as though unaware of the emotional turmoil her friend was experiencing, her finger continued its trail to the prince's left, the other person standing directly behind the princess, a long, dark-haired girl in a red dress with a heavy gold chain as a belt. "Rei." And in the background, the music continued to play . . .
/ Ano hi boku wa mamore nakute
kuyashi namida kora eta dake
itami ga nokoru yo /
The words . . . Chibiusa's attention focused suddenly on the song, abandoning Lindsey for the moment. That day I failed to protect you . . . What a sad thing to be singing of. Yet, it continued to tickle at something in the back of her mind.
"You haven't heard the song before?" Lindsey's voice, puzzled.
Chibiusa shook her head. "I keep thinking . . . that I have somewhere. But it's not at all familiar to me."
"Who are you, Usagi?" Lindsey asked. "I've accounted for everyone else, but you . . . there's nothing about you in here. Yet I know you must be related somehow."
Chibiusa cracked a small smile. "You know too much. But now that you've figured out so much, I suppose there's no real reason for me to hold out, is there? I trust you not to tell anyone, after all."
She pointed to the two characters Lindsey had first remarked upon-the princess and her faithful, protective prince. "In my world . . . yes, I came, originally, from a different world. In my world, these two were reborn, as in this one. Yet, neither rediscovered their former lives until they were much older. They grew up, and fell in love. A love mandated by destiny."
"And eventually, they had a child, who in her turn grew up a bit. Then the child's best friend told her that something was coming, something that would strain the space-time continuum, and sent her someplace she would be safe."
"Here." Lindsey said. "You."
"Yes." Chibiusa smiled slightly. "Me."
"That would explain why you didn't recognize this song." Lindsey allowed, as the music continued to play. "It's called 'Nagareboshi e', by the Three Lights. They're the newest popular group, and just about the most popular since the Beatles hit America."
"The Three Lights." The name rebounded throughout her mind, and a sinking feeling made itself violently known. Perhaps . . . perhaps they were only returning here for a visit? Singing that song . . . no. But still, she could hope.
* * *
As he got off the plane, he turned slightly. Thanks for everything. The remark was adressed to both of them, to Mr. Parker and to Jack, who remained hovering there a few moments longer in acknowledgment of his words, before slowly fading out. He turned back forward and sighed. Now that he was in Tokyo, all he had to do was find Haruka's father's house. But how could he, when he spoke only a few words of the language?
Drifting, he found to his relief that at least some of the signs had the English equivalent printed underneath. Where are you headed, child? A nice voice asked him, and he looked up.
Please, I am trying to find my way to the Juuban district. He said, very politely, to the woman who stood at his side, glowing ever so slightly. Strangely, he found he could understand every word she said and she could evidently understand what he said as well, despite their lack of a common language.
Forward and to your left will take you to the train. Then, just look at the map. She directed, pointing as she spoke.
He nodded. Thank you. He continued on. The sheer size of the airport overwhelmed him, but by focusing on his goal he found he could ignore, somewhat, the feelings of complete insignificance it brought upon him.
At one point, he was stopped. The man smiled kindly and said something in Japanese. He caught only one word he recognized, doko'. It meant where'. Probably, Where are you going all alone, child? or, more likely, Where are your parents?
So he smiled in his best trusting manner. I'm going to Juuban. He replied.
The man smiled and took him by his hand, taking him in the direction of the train. He paid for Draco's ticket himself, despite Draco trying to hand over some of the money he had been given at the beginning of the semester, for spending money'. At one particular train, the man stopped, pointing upward at the sign. He said.
Draco nodded his understanding and bowed. Arigatou gozaimasu. The man patted him on the head and left, and Draco sat down on a nearby bench to wait for the train.
* * *
Once in Juuban, he continued to drift. Every once in a while, if people stopped, he would say hopefully, Yet, whenever that happened, they would hurry away.
How could he know that they believed he was referring to the Ten'ou Bank, one of the three sides of the triangle that surrounded the Delta area, a disaster that had not yet fully left the minds of the people of Juuban. A disaster that, superstitiously, they still wanted to have nothing to do with.
for fairly obvious reasons, elicited even less warm responses. Sure, he had been purified by Sailor Moon, him and that red-haired lab assistant of his and his creepy daughter, but most still wanted to have nothing to do with him.
Ten'ou? What do you want with that pesky little no-good interfering murdering brat? Draco blinked at an answer he could finally understand and turned to face the voice that had spoken. A tall woman, with incredibly long black hair that pooled around her feet and a slinky black dress. And, of course, the telltale glow.
You know the Ten'ous? He asked.
The black-haired woman's eyes narrowed further. A sign grew to distinct visibility on her forehead, a deeply black five-pointed star. Know them? Her voice rose. It's because of that interfering Uranus and all her other interfering sailor brat friends that I'm like this now! Of course I know where she lives. If only I was still alive, I'd destroy the place. Atomize it! Break it up into all its tiny component pieces.
Draco decided that this woman was not at all right in the head. Certainly she showed no evidence of having a wand, and how could she destroy anything so thoroughly without casting spells? Still . . . Could you lead me there? He asked hopefully.
Why should I help you? She's not there anyway. But she's still alive out there somewhere. They all are. I can feel it. She continued to rave while Draco stood by quietly, then suddenly glanced his way. You're still here? Oh, very well. Follow me.
* * *
He bid the ghost a polite goodbye after arriving at the house she brought him to. Listen kid, you're cute. The ghost said abruptly. You ever decide to be smart and ditch the sailors, look me up.
What's your name? He asked out of curiousity. She looked ever so slightly familiar, but he could not think how, or where from.
My name is Mistress Nine. She said, then seemed to fold in on herself. A familiar visage reformed, wearing a school uniform in red and green and gold plaid. She winked, but the eyes were the same. Cold. Seductive. Wrong, in such a familiar face. But you can call me . . . Hotaru. She giggled and disappeared.
* * *
As twilight approached, a man walked home from work. He seemed to be a rather ordinary man, with tousled blonde hair and rather muddy bluish-greenish eyes surrounded by laugh lines and few frown lines. Still, from his expression one wondered if he had not been frowning more than smiling in recent times, as his sad expression deepened as he approached his home. Again, as always on this evening walk, he seriously considered moving. This neighborhood was too filled with memories.
There, where he had first met his wife of less than a year. Less than a year, before she had run off with his brother, leaving him to raise their daughter alone, unable to deal with the fact that their daughter had less magical potential than a bucket full of mud. Less than six, before both had died in a freak automobile accident.
There, the playground where he had so often brought his daughter to play, where she had run around shrieking with delight and dragged him into her play more often than not. He could never resist when she turned her smile on him.
There, where she had first met her best friend, and he had become reaquainted with some old acquaintances of his own. They, too, had a daughter to whom the magical genes had inexplicably refused to pass. And there, where they had found out for the first time their daughters' eminently magical secret as the two dragged each other home, tired and dirty and worn and far past their bedtimes.
Yet, if he moved, and she did someday come back, she wouldn't know where to go. He couldn't bear the thought of her wandering, alone and friendless. He couldn't convince himself that she *wouldn't* ever come back, that she had cut himself off from him for good. He refused to believe that he would never see her face again. And that was why, as always, he decided against moving. For another day, another week, another year, another ten years . . . however long it took, he would stay here.
As he approached his doorway, his heart quickened in spite of himself. That, too, was usual, as he couldn't help but hope that today might be the day that he found her, waiting on the doorstep for him to come home.
But wait! There was someone there. Someone with short blonde hair. He rushed forward and bent down to examine the sleeping face, then sat back on his heels, the disappointment rushing in. Of course it wasn't her. The facial structure was way off.
The blonde child clenched his eyes, before opening them slowly. Grey, a grey that approached silver. The child yawned, then shook his head. You must be Haruka's father. He smiled groggily. She told me . . . I could trust you. With another giant yawn, the boy closed his eyes and, leaning trustingly against the adult's frame, fell fast asleep once more.
31. Christmas Break, Part III: Finally Visible
He waited patiently for the boy to awaken. A strange child, this. Just as he had all but given up hope that his daughter would return, this child appears and claims to know her. When he thought for some reason he had inspired in his child feelings of everlasting hate-although why, he did not know-this child claims that Haruka said he could be trusted.
This child . . . how had he managed to find this place, when he spoke English and most likely not a word of Japanese? This specific place, out of all of Juuban, all of Tokyo, perhaps even all of Japan? Still, coming from London or America either one would be a dreadfully long journey. Not surprising that he fell asleep once he arrived somewhere he regarded as safe.
"Yes." The soft, English tone-yes, definitely English, not American-drew him from his musings. "You look like her." The blonde boy smiled, seemingly caught up in good memories of his own. He sat up. "I'm sorry, I've been a terrible guest, haven't I? Falling asleep on your doorstep like that."
"Don't worry about it." Hiroshi found that, yes, he could still remember how to speak English as well as understand it. A carry-over from his days at Hogwarts. "You said you know my daughter. Is she all right? Where is she?"
The boy seemed to curl in on himself. "I . . . I was hoping you would know the answer to that. That she would be here. Yes, I like to think that I'm her friend, but she's been out of contact for months now. She just . . . disappeared . . . one day in the middle of Potions, and we haven't seen her since then. I got a letter . . . the only reference she made to where she disappeared off to was 'this place'-and that's when she told me that you could be trusted to come to."
Potions . . . his daughter had gone to . . . "Hogwarts?!" Hiroshi blinked. Asking around there had never even occurred to him, because he knew how unmagical his daughter was. And, though he had been disappointed at first, he had slowly learned to accept the fact and love her just exactly for what she was. A beautiful, wonderful little blonde girl that he loved more than life itself.
Which was why he had to allow her to risk her life. Because she would have anyway, but disapproving would have driven her from him permanently. So he had to let her go with a smile and welcome her back the same way, never showing how much his heart bled in between and how much he worried about that one time she might not come back.
"Yes, that's where I met her. You mean you didn't know?"
"No. My daughter had absolutely no magical talent, so I never even considered."
Draco considered the clues he had gathered from Haruka's letter and from talks with Hotaru and decided that was distinctly possible. Still, it was Haruka's right to inform her father that she was not his daughter. Finally, he compromised. "Well, maybe she's a late bloomer. Because she sure has a lot of talent now." He remembered with a smile the incident where she wrote in large bold fiery letters on the inside of his bed hangings 'Gryffindor Rules!' in such away that it would be invisible by day, but blinding at night. He hadn't gotten any sleep those nights before he figured out how to get rid of it.
"Maybe so." Hiroshi said doubtfully. The idea would certainly take some getting used to. ". . . I never did catch your name. But you look somewhat familiar, maybe I went to school with your parents? If they attended Hogwarts too, that is."
"Oh, yes." The boy looked as if he had bitten into something acutely nasty. "Mine was one of those old rich families that has probably been attending Hogwarts since it was first built." He shook his head before looking up, his eyes once again clear. "I'm Draco."
"Ten'ou Hiroshi. It is a pleasure to meet you, Draco." He made himself more comfortable in his chair. "Now . . . if you don't mind . . . would you tell me about my daughter? It sounds like you were great friends, and she's been out of touch for so long for reasons I still don't fully understand . . ." Realizing he was babbling to this eleven-year-old with large sad eyes that seemed wise beyond his years, he shut up.
Draco smiled, leaning back against the pillows and closing his eyes, a dreamy smile on his face. "Let's see. I believe the first time I ever met Haruka . . . it must have been on the train. I thought she was another guy at first-she still hadn't quite gotten out of the habit of dressing and acting like one in the time I knew her, although she had begun to grow her hair out . . . but anyway, where was I? Right, the train.
"Needless to say, considering my personality at that time, we did not get off to a very good start. In fact, she has managed to put me down harder, with more skill, and more frequently than anyone else I have ever known-and believe me, at that point in time, I deserved every put-down she threw at me."
"Up until the day she disappeared, she still put me down every now and then. I think it was mostly to keep me from getting cocky and to keep up the appearance of our rivalry, more than any true animosity. I certainly tried my best to give as good as I got, with admittedly mixed results."
He looked at Hiroshi. "Sir, your daughter is almost definitely the single person I would trust above any other with anything. Up to and including my life. Haruka is an extremely opinionated and stubborn person-I should know, as I share both those faults. But once she decides to like you, I truly believe that there is no greater nor stauncher friend. And I thank my lucky stars, whichever they may be, every day that she is willing to count me among her friends."
Hiroshi shook his head. "If I didn't know I was the only Ten'ou anywhere near hear with a daughter named Haruka, I'd think you were talking about an entirely different person."
"It might be better for you to think of her that way." Draco remembered the line about having lived nearly eighteen years, and the adult visage his angel had sometimes worn. His Haruka was not the one her father remembered, he'd be willing to bet a great deal on that. "She's been through a lot, more than you and I know . . . and more, I think, than we'll ever be capable of understanding. I am almost certain that the Haruka I know, though the same person, is not the daughter you remember.
"Why and how, I don't know, as all I have to go on is speculation. But even that is her story to tell, when and if she ever chooses to divulge it."
* * *
As the door began to open, she went from dozing to wide awake and as combat-ready as she'd ever been in half a second flat. She neglected to pull out her glaive quite yet, as this was broad daylight and she was wearing her guise as Hotaru, the supposedly normal first-year from Ravenclaw. That person did not usually go around holding a giant silver-headed glaive.
But the entrant proved to be nothing more suspicious than another girl. A smallish girl with black hair and darkish eyes and skin, she looked most likely Chinese, and the small badge on her robe identified her as a fellow Ravenclaw. Hotaru searched her memory. Chang . . . Cho Chang, that was it. She relaxed slightly, and cocked her head. "Come on in, Cho. What brings you here?"
The slender girl started, focusing on Hotaru. "Oh, Hotaru, so this is where you have been running off to. I was looking for you, actually." She sidled the rest of the way in and sat down in a nearby chair, looking uncomfortable. "Um . . . I was wondering . . . if you have a partner on the Herbology project yet?"
Hotaru groaned. "I had forgotten all about that thing. Do you not have a partner yet either?" The slender girl shook her head. "Oh. Well then . . . would you mind being mine?"
"I was hoping to, if that's okay with you." Cho smiled.
"On one condition though. We meet up here and do as much work as possible here as well. I want to be able to keep watch over Harry all the time."
"I don't see any problem with that." Cho said agreeably. ". . . but surely the hospital staff take good enough care of him?"
Hotaru shrugged. "This is the second time at least that he has nearly died. Without intervention he would have, and he still might if he doesn't wake up soon. I'm not trusting anyone with him when I'm not here until we find out just exactly who has been trying to kill him."
She grinned. "Besides, I already have something of an informal nurse-in-training status here in the hospital wing. They may not understand my paranoia, but they let me do as I wish so long as I don't interfere with the professionals."
Cho's eyes had turned darker with worry. "Still . . . why would anyone want to kill Harry Potter? I mean, he seems nice enough, those times I've seen him . . . and he's *Harry* *Potter*."
"Where do you think he got the scar in the first place? He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named may not be around anymore, but surely you don't think that all his followers just turned good, died, or were locked up when he died. Some of them must have escaped."
Cho shivered. "That . . . that's scary, Hotaru. When you put it that way . . . how can we ever be safe? They might be anywhere."
Hotaru cocked her head. "Well, you trust people until they give you a good reason not to. Hopefully, at some point in your life, you find a group of friends whom you would give your life for or entrust your life to. I'm not saying that everyone's bad. Just that everyone is not necessarily good."
"But Hotaru . . . we're just first-years. If someone really did come here, wanting to finish what he started . . . how could you possibly defend yourself, much less Harry?"
Hotaru shrugged. "Magic is all well and good, but it is not the sum total of what there is to life. For one thing, I've researched a couple of good shield spells-they drain one's energy dreadfully, but I can hold one up for a couple of minutes easily, over myself or at least Harry."
"For another thing . . ." She reached out with that curious mental/physical twitch and felt the comfortable weight of the Silence Glaive, cool against her palm. "There is no one I know of who is capable of saying spells with their head detached from their body."
Cho eyed the glaive with a healthy dose of wariness. "Ah . . . aren't weapons not allowed on Hogwarts grounds?"
"What weapon?" Hotaru blinked innocently, her hand empty once more. "McGonagall and Snape have both seen me with it, as has Hermione Granger and several others. No one has come to me about it yet, and if they did, I would simply tell the truth-that it is a unique weapon that is bonded to me only, a bond unbreakable by anything-including death. It's followed me through at least two, maybe three" she wasn't sure if this latest dimension switch counted, "incarnations already, and will continue to be mine to command until the time when I choose to pass it on to my successor."
Cho seemed shell-shocked, before she slowly shook it off. "That would be a rather hard argument to dispute." She admitted with a small smile. "Well, your secret is safe with me, in any case."
Hotaru smiled back. "I rather thought it would be." And, strangely enough, she had.
* * *
"So how did you manage to find your way here?" He asked.
The blonde boy concentrated for a moment on the swing, going back and forth. A tiny ghost-child with red hair and wide blue eyes dashed in front of him, looked around in confusion, then disappeared. "You wouldn't believe me." He finally answered.
The darkly tanned black-haired boy sitting in the other swing nodded agreement. "He's an adult. Of course he wouldn't understand. I only ever met one adult that was capable of seeing us . . . but I didn't like him too much. And anyway, he still didn't understand."
"I don't know. Adults know and believe more than you'd think." A tall lady with darkish hair that shimmered green and blue, wearing a long old-fashioned gown of soothing ivory commented. For some reason, she seemed subtly more real than the others. "It's children who never quite realize that adults were once children themselves."
"True." He then noticed Haruka's father's eyes on him. "I'm sorry. Did you say something?"
"I said, 'Try me.' " Hiroshi answered. "You might be surprised at what I'm willing to believe."
"Yeah, that's what she said." Draco nodded towards the lady, only to find the position she had inhabited, empty. "Never mind, she already left. They usually do after a short time. Even shorter attention spans than us, I guess."
"I resent that." The black-haired boy commented. "It's just that once you're dead, the immediate life of any particular human is not so interesting. It's far more fun to look at the big picture." He faded out.
"Who?" Hiroshi asked, as Draco seemed to take on yet another of those frequent abstracted looks.
"The ghosts." Draco replied. "Not like the ones at Hogwarts. They can't do much to the real world. My guess is they're people who were just too stubborn to leave. Either that, or they had some important reason they wished to stay." He looked thoughtful. "Some of them can manipulate energy-stop spells from being finished, or at least slow them down. Except, she seemed to be something more than a ghost. An angel, perhaps, to put a convenient name to the concept."
"The one who helped me escape. I think I know who she is, but I'm not certain." He shrugged. "Then I happened to meet a friend of a friend of Hotaru's, who helped me to convince Hotaru's friend to let me hitch a ride to Tokyo. Here, I just happened to run into someone who claimed she *was* Hotaru sometimes. Called herself Mistress 9, and had an extremely low opinion of Haruka and the others." He shrugged. "I didn't really like her attitude, but through some whim she was willing to guide me here, so I accepted her aid."
Hiroshi had grown very still at the mention of Mistress 9. "Draco. Are you absolutely sure that Mistress 9 was dead?"
"Yeah. The corona is unmistakable, even though it is somewhat brighter on some ghosts than on others. Huh . . . you mean you believe me?"
Hiroshi smiled. "Well, when there is no logical explanation, I tend to accept the illogical. Besides, how much of a stretch is it to believe in the common, everyday variety of ghost when I lived with a couple dozen vocal ones and countless less noticeable for most of seven years? I attended Hogwarts too, you know."
Draco swung back and forth in silence. "True. I keep forgetting that. Is it for Haruka's sake that you lived as a Muggle?"
Hiroshi shook his head. "I was born half and half, and raised as a Muggle. My mother never knew my father was a wizard until the invitation letter arrived when I was eleven. She took it fairly well, considering. But I've always been a Muggle to myself, just a Muggle that happens to know magic. So I've lived this way as much for my own sake as for Haruka's."
Draco sighed. "What's it like?"
"Not that different from the wizarding world, from what I've seen. There's good people and bad people and a great deal more indifferent people than either of the others. People grow up, fall in love, have children, die of old age-except for far too many that die before their time, from disease, violence, any number of things. There are dangerous jobs and safe jobs and boring jobs and interesting jobs. All that really differs is in how we accomplish the little things.
"People are people, Draco. Muggle or wizard, deep down inside we're all alike. It's just that there are too many people who can't see that for the two worlds to ever reside together, with full knowledge of each other, peacefully. Wizards see Muggles as inferior because they can't do magic, and Muggles see magic as a thing of fairy-tales, a concept that is capable of solving all problems. Sadly, it doesn't. It only creates new ones."
"Yeah. I mean, Muggles may not have the . . . Avada Kedavra, the Killing Curse . . . or the Imperius Curse . . . or the Cruciatus Curse . . . but they have guns and drugs and torture devices and various other things that will create the same effects, just with a bit more effort."
"Draco. Those are the three Unforgiveable Curses. I didn't even realize their existence until sixth year. How do you know of them?" Hiroshi had turned incredibly intense as his gaze speared Draco.
The blonde boy, however, did not see the adult's sudden change in manner, or even hear it in his voice, so wrapped up in himself he had become. Only the meaning of the words penetrated. "My father . . ." He shuddered. "The first time . . . I was five, I think. My nanny had slighted me in some way . . . ninety percent imagination and ten percent pure spitefulness, I'm sure, looking back.
"He used the Cruciatus Curse on her 'to teach her a lesson'. Later that year, when she resigned, he killed her. At the time, I wanted so much for my father to be proud of me that I convinced myself that it had been the right thing to do. She had been only a Muggle, after all." He shook his head violently. "I was so . . . so awful. And I sometimes have nightmares, where I still am . . . and then I wake up and wonder if I really am awake, and how long it will be before I am once again immersed in that nightmare."
"He never taught them to me as the 'Unforgiveable Curses'. To him, they were just another tool. He had me practice them on the servants, on the occasional rat or mouse that was found in the house . . . it so disappointed him that I never quite managed the Avada Kedavra." He had dropped out of the swing by now and knelt, shaking, in the sand. Yet, the flow of words did not stop. He didn't know if he was capable of stopping it.
"By the time I turned eleven, I had the other two down pat. I could practically do them in my sleep. But that still wasn't enough for him. It was never enough for him. No matter how much I did, he always seemed to be able to see that, deep down inside, I'm not like him. My heart is far too soft, no matter how much I tried to harden it.
"All I ever wanted . . . all I *ever* wanted! . . . was his approval. And no matter what I did, I never quite managed to gain it. I hated him for what he was doing to me, and convincing me to do to myself, but I loved him because he was my father, and he was all I had ever really known. Because I had lived the lie so long that I had begun to believe it myself-believe that his way was right.
"So then I came to Hogwarts and acted the way I had taught myself to act. Acted in a way so as to hopefully make my father proud. I gained myself many new enemies and no new friends through my actions. Because that was the way I thought was right. And if they didn't feel the same, well, my father had always taught me that most other people were not worth knowing anyway.
"And then, one morning on the roof, I met Haruka. Except I didn't recognize her and it was a beautiful morning with a beautiful sunrise and I didn't want to act like my usual self. She felt the same way, I guess, because she didn't needle me like she usually did. Perhaps it was just mutual shock at seeing each other, even if I didn't recognize her. But one thing she said then really stuck with me and made me think. She was talking about abuse, and she said, '. . . He constantly seemed to find something, anything . . . even the *smallest* things wrong with me. And my mother never even tried to stop him.' And that was me. I could never do anything right and my mother always took his side."
Draco smiled, ironically. "I think that is when I finally realized that I will never be up to my father's standards. And that I hate him-truly *hate* him-for what he has done to me. I realized there are other people out there who are willing to see me for myself. That's the most precious gift Haruka gave me, for by seeing me as me, she enabled me to find myself. And now, even though she's gone, I have other friends. For the first time in my life, I am truly not alone anymore."
He stood, unsteadily. "I'd like to say I had a similarly profound influence on easing her hurt. But I'm the wrong one to do that. Haruka . . . she always had Michiru to be her guide and her support, as she was to me."
"Draco." Hiroshi came over and took him by his shoulders. "No one should have to go through what you survived. That you turned out as well as you have is an amazement to me, considering what you've been through. Who is your father? So he can never mistreat any other children, ever again."
Draco leaned against the taller, adult form, drawing strength from Hiroshi's comforting presence. "It wouldn't do any good." He sighed, sorrow and fatigue warring in his voice. "No one would believe me-or you. Besides, I've cut myself off from him. I'd rather starve than be his son."
Hiroshi put his arm around the blonde child and they began to walk back toward the house. "Draco, I promise you one thing above all others. Even . . . especially when Haruka returns home, I will never allow you to starve. I promise."
32. Christmas Break, Part IV: I Will Never Let You Go
"Mama!" She shrieked, as she ran through the large house. "Mama, papa, where are you?"
"Right here, Michi-chan." Her mother called from the kitchen, tolerantly. "What's got you so excited?"
"I just got an owl. From Fred 'n George. They want to know if I can come to their house for Christmas Day. Oh, mama, can I? You can come too, they said that. Oh, and here's a letter for you from their parents, it came on the same owl."
Sachiko read quickly through the letter; it was mostly just a reiteration of the invitation. "I don't see any reason why not. I take it you want to go?"
"Yes!" Michiru wasted not even a moment's consideration. "I want to see them again. They're fun, mama. And they promised me they'd show me their dad's car the next time I get there, and I want to meet Charlie and Bill, and show off my new haircut to them. It was their idea after all, but I don't think they seriously believed I'd do it." She touched her hair, still slightly wavy but now far shorter, in a style reminiscent of Haruka's former haircut. "But really, it makes sense, if I'm going to be Phantom, which I really do want to be. I don't see why they thought I'd object."
"A large number of girls would." Sachiko told her, ruffling her hair. "It's a matter of vanity for many girls, to have hair as long as possible. But as long as you're happy with it, I won't object to whatever you choose to do with your hair." She paused. "As long as it doesn't have to do with too much mousse or hair dye."
Michiru shrugged. "I like my hair the way it is. Besides, half the kids at school seem to believe my hair is dyed anyway. What would be the point to actually dying it?"
Sachiko laughed. "I hope you keep that attitude. Now, seeing as Christmas is day after tomorrow and I assume you want to get there ahead of time, shall we go pack?"
Matters of hair and vanity fled Michiru's mind as she jumped up. "Yes!"
* * *
"Oneesan? Why are you so sad? You never used to be." The small brown-haired girl asked, hugging her older sister.
"I don't have as many friends anymore." She replied. "I'm sad because I like having friends, and it hurts when even one of them abandons me."
The brown-haired child considered this. "Then you shouldn't have friends, I think. That way, you'll never be hurt. But don't worry, Usagi-neesan. I'll always be your friend so you won't be lonely."
"Thank you, Chiyoko. You know what? I'll always be your friend too. And Shingo's, if he wants to be my friend."
Chiyoko's twin stuck his head through the partially opened door, showing he had most likely been listening all along. "Sure, why not. You're not too bad, as big sisters go." He made a show of considering. "Chiyo's better, though."
Usagi picked up a pillow and let fly. "Of course she's better to you, dummy. She's your twin, after all."
Shingo came further into the room, settling down on Usagi's other side. "C'mon, Usagi. Tell us about Hogwarts. Will we go there? What's it like?"
Almost against her will, Usagi found that her mood was improving, with one arm around each of her two siblings, both of which genuinely wanted to know what was going on in her life. Had Shingo been like this, back when she had been eleven the first time? She didn't remember.
But she smiled anyway, a real smile. "I'm sure you will come to Hogwarts if you want to, when you're old enough. Let's see. It's in England, and it's a big old castle that we reach from the train station by rowing across this deep lake. I've heard-" she lowered her voice conspiratorially "-that there's a sea monster of some sort that lives in the lake."
The twins squealed with excitement. "More!" Shingo demanded.
"Yes, tell us more." Chiyoko assented.
With an ever-widening grin, Usagi complied.
* * *
She stood over him, tears in her eyes. "Why won't you wake up?!" Kneeling, she put her face in her hands. "Oh, Harry. It's not supposed to be like this. I'm supposed to be able to heal you with a wave of my hands, and then you should stand up and grin at me and assure me that of course everything's all right, silly. Not like this. Never like this."
She looked at her hands, summoning up the pale lavender aura of healing and allowing it to coalesce around those same hands. "I can heal myself, can heal anyone and anything alive on this entire world . . . except you. Why won't you wake up, Harry? I need you. You're my friend, and I've never had enough friends."
She smiled slightly. "I have one more now, though. Her name is Cho, and she's one of the other girls in my class. Yeah, I know, girls cooties ew! But I think you would like her if, like for me, you could just ignore the fact that she's a girl. No, she's not a powerful superheroine avatar of a planet, but she's pretty cool anyway. You have very similar senses of humor, and I don't think she really cares that you're *Harry* *Potter*. Sure, she knows, but it doesn't mean that much to her."
"If only you could hear me speaking. If only you would wake up. If only . . . if *only* . . . I could heal you. But I can't."
* * *
"So, you must be Michiru." Charlie commented with a grin. "I'm impressed. The twins have been talking about you almost nonstop since they got home. They're never this interested in anything-except, of course, their latest practical joke."
Both younger boys blushed nearly as red as their hair. "Aw, c'mon Charlie." Fred pled halfheartedly. "You know that's not true. Besides, you're embarrassing her."
"Why should I be embarrassed? You can ask my mom-she's heard quite an earful about you two. And then some." She stood on her toes and ruffled Fred's hair. "You've been such good friends to me, how could I not?"
Bill strolled over and decided to get in on the fun. "I see that our little brothers have finally begun to discover girls. And here I thought the day would never arrive."
"Typical, them going for younger women, though." Charlie agreed, and both grinned at each other and at the three red young people-Michiru was not blushing at least as deeply as Fred and George.
"It's not like that!" All three protested in unison.
"Besides." Michiru added offhandedly, "I couldn't possibly be interested in them. I already have someone."
The twins turned to her. "Who?" "Is it anyone we know?"
"Is it . . .?" She paused, a confused look on her face "It is . . ." She stopped. "I . . . I can't remember. I know there's someone . . . someone for me. I know it, deep within my being."
"But . . . why can't I remember who?"
* * *
The message was both simple and incomprehensible. Just a single line written in stone in the middle of a clearing they had camped in overnight, a stone that had not been there the previous 'evening'.
'If you want to return home, go back to the Gates. They will soon be rebuilt.'
"From Pluto, obviously." Setsuna finally said.
"But why didn't he talk to us in person, if he was willing to take the time and energy to make such an intricate creation? Stone takes effort to will into existence, and stone with such exact markings is exponentially harder." Melisande spoke from experience.
Haruka hit on the answer that was acceptable to all three. "Simple. He's smart enough. He would have known that if he dared to show his face in person, we would have teamed up and kicked his rear." Haruka shared a grin with Setsuna, as her bond partner picked up on her mental imagery.
"With gratuitous appearances of the World Shaking and Dead Scream, of course." Setsuna added, eyes twinkling. "It will give me a good excuse to adjust my Dead Scream to the lack of the Time Staff. Im sure I can still do it or something similar." She added with only slightly forced cheer.
Melisande made a show of considering. "You know? I think that, from his point of view, he made the wiser choice."
* * *
Saturn laughed. Under Pluto's disgruntled gaze, she literally rolled on the floor with laughter. "They've got you pegged." She gasped out.
"It's not funny." Pluto grumbled. Saturn continued to laugh. "It's not funny!" He added more forcefully.
Uranus appeared and took one look at the scene before she began chuckling as well. "Sorry to disappoint you, Pluto, but I'm afraid I'll have to overrule you. It is funny, extremely so."
Pluto just continued to grumble. "So, now that I've informed them, when will the Gate be rebuilt? I'm getting tired of that pile of rubble."
"Soon." Saturn said with authority. Though the occasion was an exciting and long-anticipated one, her eyes were sad.
* * *
The doorbell rang. Both got up from the table, Draco gulping down the last of his orange juice as he did so. "I'll get it." Hiroshi stated, and Draco nodded, sitting back down. Once Hiroshi left the room, Draco stood back up and followed him into the hall, silently. Perhaps he was overreacting. He didn't know how many friends Haruka's father had, that could come over without any previous warning. But none of them-if, indeed, there were any-had come in the last few days. So he was worried that this person at the door would be something other than a friend.
He stood at the stairway, around the corner from the front hall-so that he would not be seen-yet close enough to where he could peek around the banister to see who it was. If he didn't first recognize the voice.
The door opened with a bit of a squeak-one of the things Haruka's father had sworn he would work on, but never quite got around to. And then his voice, saying one of the last things he would have *ever* expected the mild-mannered man to say. And, curiously enough, in English. "You. What the hell are you doing here?"
He knew the word, of course-Lucius had made sure that he knew all the curse words and what they meant, just taught him to refrain from using them. The only thing he admired about the man.
In his shock, he almost missed the reply. "Now, now. Is that any way to treat an old friend?" The suave, cool voice . . . no one else had that voice. It could not possibly be anything else. Still . . . he couldn't believe that Haruka's father-this nice man, not the one out of his angel's nightmares who haunted her, he thought, even now-would have ever been willing even to associate with Lucius Malfoy, much less be friends.
"What do you want, Malfoy?" Haruka's father asked flatly.
"Oh," Lucius drawled. "I believe you possess something of mine, so I've come to collect him."
That was going too far. Draco knew the prudent thing to do would be to remain on the stairs-or better yet, go hide beneath one of the beds. But he couldn't stand it. He stepped off the stairs and around Haruka's father, coming face to face with Lucius once more, silvery eyes cold as ice. "I am not your possession. You may have sired me, but you are not my father. I disowned you before, and now I disown you before a witness. You are not now, nor will you ever again be any relation of mine."
"Before a witness? I can take care of that." Lucius turned to Hiroshi and a gloating smile spread across his face. "You have no idea how long I've wanted to do this." He raised a wand formerly hidden in the folds of his cloak. "Avada-"
There was only a split second in which to act. In which to make his decision. Yet, when it came down to it, it really was no decision at all. Hotaru would miss him . . . and Harry, if he ever woke up . . . and Haruka, he liked to think, wherever she was . . . but they'd understand. Harry, perhaps, most of all, as he carried to this day the mark of someone else's intercession with his fate. Arms spread wide, he threw himself in front of Hiroshi, and opened himself to a power he had never before realized even existed. "NOOOOO!"
* * *
In a blinding flash of light that sucked away all the energy that had gathered for the Killing Curse, Draco disappeared. As Lucius Malfoy stared, Hiroshi acted. He was used to flashy magic of the sort used by the senshi-and this disappearing act had 'senshi' written all over it. All he wondered was which. He borrowed a trick from his daughter and pulled his wand from a small subspace pocket, pointing it directly at Lucius Malfoy. "Obliviate!"
The man blinked. "You there. Where am I?"
Hiroshi made a great show of blinking with complete incomprehension. Lucius gritted his teeth and repeated, far slower and with greater volume. "Where. Am. I?"
"I'm sorry." Hiroshi said solemnly in Japanese, letting none of the amusement he felt at the other man's plight show through. Did Lucius know any Japanese? "I speak no English."
Lucius threw his hands up in disgust. "Oh, forget about it!" And stalked out. No longer buoyed by the admittedly funny sight of a clueless and off-guard Lucius Malfoy, Hiroshi sunk slowly to his knees.
His daughter. Draco. Both he had loved so very deeply, despite the comparatively short amount of time the latter had spent with him. And now, both of them were gone.
He only hoped that, someday, they would return.
* * *
He lay flat on the solid ground. Slowly, his eyes opened, as someone knelt down beside him. "You're awake." She said softly. "I'm glad. I was so afraid we had lost you."
"Who . . . who are you? Where am I?" He asked slowly. Even thinking took considerable effort, like his thoughts had to swim through molasses. His eyes opened further as he sat up slowly and took a closer look at his companion. She had long hair a very dark violet and deep black eyes. He knew there was something very familiar about her, but he couldn't quite place it, until he finally realized-she looked and sounded and even acted almost like Hotaru's twin. So, just to hazard a guess, "Saturn?"
She smiled. "Smart kid. Yes, I'm Saturn. As for where you are-this is where the Gate of Time used to reside. Here, you are outside both time and space."
"Why am I here?" He asked, as he began to recover at least some of his former mental acuity. And with that, came his memory. Lucius returning, drawing the wand . . . that awful green aura . . . then, nothing.
Then, waking up here.
"You are here because you finally learned to draw upon the power of time. You used it to slow time almost to a stop, before the power took control and deposited you here." Saturn sat down from her formerly kneeling position. "The power of time . . . is not an easy thing to control. The only one who can manage it is the Guardian of Time, because she-or, in your case, he-can use the stabilizing influence of the Time Staff."
"You are saying that *I* am Guardian of Time? But isn't that position already filled?"
"Yes and no." A man walked up and sat down as well, brushing fine burgundy hair out of his emerald eyes. "It was filled . . . but the former Guardian of Time could no longer handle the position. Time was no longer willing to remain under her guiding hands. And when she gave up the position-" he waved a hand at the pile of rubble near where the three sat "-this happened. This used to be the Gate of Time, used to transport people to different eras and even different dimensions. Its use is, for the most part, prohibited, yet it can also be used as a looking-glass of sorts, to merely view the concrete past or even possible futures."
Looking from one to the other, Draco saw both were in complete earnest. They actually thought that he . . . "But . . . why me? Surely there is someone better?"
Saturn smiled and took his face in her hands, softly kissing his forehead. A familial kiss, warm . . . he felt himself bathed in power. "That you even considered asking that question is proof enough to me. I declare you worthy." She paused, then smiled again, shyly. "Welcome back, little brother."
The man did likewise, another feathery-soft kiss, more power . . . but of a different taste. If Saturn had been purple, the man was more red . . . deep red, like burgundy or garnet. Pluto. His name was Pluto. "Your unselfish willingness to sacrifice your life for another is proof enough to me. I declare you worthy."
A golden-eyed girl with deep navy hair walked up out of the mists and she, too, gently kissed his forehead. Uranus. He knew, somehow, that her name was Uranus. "Your friendship with my avatar is proof enough for me. I declare you worthy." Then, softer, "And please, don't ever lose that precious friendship. It means at least as much to her as it does to you."
"We three declare this young man, Draco, worthy of assuming the role of the new Guardian of Time. Are there any objections?" Pluto asked into the silence.
Through the mist, he could barely make out other humanoid shapes. Seven, he thought. No features were visible, except in one case. The blue and green-haired ghost smiled at him as her features became sharp and visible for a moment. He could've sworn she had also winked.
Pluto turned to him. "Draco, are you willing to assume this responsibility? We will not force it upon you . . . but know that, in this case, you are truly the best person for the job."
As Draco looked into Pluto's eyes, it seemed that he looked into the ages, into everything that had ever passed in the history of the universe, and perhaps a hint of what might yet come to pass. He turned to Saturn and to Uranus, and saw something of the same, though diluted. But in all their eyes he seemed to sense what he had been looking for. They truly believed that he could do this.
And if they were willing to believe, then he was willing to try. "I will."
Pluto handed him a silver staff, carved to resemble a key of some sort. On the top, a heart-shaped design rested, and in its center a large garnet-colored orb. As he touched it, the staff shimmered for a moment. Gone was the garnet orb, and in its place a large orb the color of the purest of emeralds, an orb that seemed to glow with its own inner power.
Uranus hugged him. "Good luck." She disappeared.
With a nod of approval, Pluto disappeared as wall, as did all those other nameless, formless presences. Now, only Saturn remained. She smiled. "Just wait a little longer, little brother. A very good surprise, I think, is coming your way." With that cryptic advice, she disappeared and Draco was left alone with his emerald-tipped staff.
Then it happened. He heard her voice first and, unconsciously, reacted with the control of the mists that was now his right, sweeping them out of the way with only a gesture and a thought.
And, indeed, it was her. At first, he didn't recognize her, so grown-up did she seem. But then, his angel had nearly always appeared this age. Looking up from her conversation she seemed to catch sight of him for the first time and instantly reverted to eleven. To the visage he had come to dislike so greatly and, in retrospect, cherish far more than he had ever disliked her.
Abandoning all thoughts of dignity, he dashed through the path cleared temporarily of mists, hugging her with a fierce strength. "Draco?" She asked softly, as if afraid to believe the evidence provided by her own eyes. "Is that you? Is it really you?"
"Haruka." He whispered. "I've missed you so much . . . so very much." He choked up and could no longer do anything but hold on as if he would never let her go. "You'll never know . . ." his voice cracked, "just exactly how much I missed you. And I never forgot."
Through a haze, he felt her arms encompass him as she began to hug him back. Taller than he, she rested her cheek against his head. "I think I know." She whispered back. "You see . . . even not knowing whether or not you'd ever be willing to speak to me again . . . I missed you ever so much myself. So much." He could hear the reluctant smile in her voice as she continued, "But now, we're together again. And soon, we'll all be back where we belong . . . and everything will be fine."
Draco did not reply, contenting himself with drawing warmth from the haven of his beloved friend's arms. With a single, all-encompassing thought.
. . . and I will never let you go.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
33. Christmas Break, Part V: Homecoming
In the depths of the night, with no lights on and only the pale sliver of the moon providing light to the room, she sat and watched over her friend. As she watched, she quietly directed a small portion of her magic's flow towards flushing her body of the toxins that built up over the day, a process accomplished more normally by sleep. But she couldn't allow herself the luxury of sleep, now that she knew she could do without it.
She knew that her mind needed the downtime provided by sleep too, that going for this long without sleep was bad for her mental processes even if it did not aversely affect her body. But a week or so more . . . just until Draco got back. Until there was someone else she could trust to stand guard over her comatose friend's body.
The door creaked, ever so softly. One of the aspects to living in such an old place, she had found-sometimes a blessing, more often a curse. She reached and found her glaive and stood silently, waiting for whoever might appear.
The shape was thin, and somewhat stooped. It walked in through the door, one foot, two . . . and paused. A flash of light illuminated his face, and she relaxed from high alert. It was only one of the teachers . . . Professor Quirrell. Defense Against Dark Arts. Still, something about him and especially about his presence, here, now, put her on edge.
The figure reached into his cloak, bringing out a wand, and her eyes widened. Him . . . ? She moved around to the door before speaking, first pressing a button on her watch/communicator. She had been afraid she would end up confronting whoever wanted to kill Harry . . . and she wanted to have a vocal record to support whatever happened afterward. "What are you planning on doing to Harry, Quirrell?"
The dark shape whirled. "Who are you?" The wand now pointed directly at her. "What are you doing here?" Strangely, the voice held none of the tremulousness of Quirrell's ordinary voice. It held an entirely different tone . . . a cold, purposeful, relentless tone.
"I am the Bringer of Silence. What are you planning on doing to Harry, Quirrell?" She lowered the temperature of her own voice, and her eyes speared Quirrell through the dark. Somehow, she had the idea that he recognized her gaze and was shaken by it.
"Why . . . why kill him of course." He said, sounding a bit rattled.
"Well, because the Master has ordered me to, of course." He answered. "Why am I telling you this?"
"Who is your master?"
"Who is this girl? This impertinent little girl . . . who is she?" The new voice, a whispery hiss, sent chills up her spine. Was this Him? Was this Voldemort?
Suddenly, Quirrell sounded frightened. "I-I don't know, M-master. Wh-what sh-should I do t-to her? C-could she b-be the cause of m-my p-previous failures?"
The voice sounded somewhat impatient now, although the last idea clearly had him thoughtful. "Most likely. Most likely, as she seems to be overly concerned with the Potter boy's life. As to what to do to her . . . even you're not that much of a moron, Quirrell. She knows too much now. You must kill her, of course."
Saturn shook her head. "I'm afraid I can't let you do that, Voldemort, Quirrell, nor can I let you kill Harry." Regretfully, she raised her glaive. She had never killed in cold blood before, not that she could remember . . . but she could not allow him to continue to run free. "Your end is now."
One slice, and the deed was done. For a moment, through the darkness she thought she saw a deeper darkness escape. But she could have been mistaken. She let the now-bloodstained glaive fall back into subspace and for a while just stood, in silence, above the body. She would start feeling sick when the import of what she had just done-killed a fellow human being-sank in. She would take the audio recording to Dumbledore, to explain the dead body on the floor in front of Harry's bed. She would go to whichever of the hospital staff were still up and get them to get rid of the body. Later.
* * *
Albus Dumbledore did not believe in excessive amounts of sleep. Still, looking up at the clock, he had about decided it was about time to call it a night.
As the clock struck midnight, the door to his office opened and he looked up in surprise. The girl who entered was very petite and couldn't be much older than second-year at most, yet he couldn't for the life of him put a name to her face. And that was disturbing . . . he knew by sight every one of the students in this school; one of the reasons he had originally been given the position of headmaster was his phenomenal memory for names and faces.
She had short dark hair and large violet eyes that seemed too large in her pale face. Her simple knee-length dress-how strange to see someone wearing something not a robe!-was a deep violet several shades deeper than her eyes, and a sash around her waist the darkest possible shade of black. She glided forward without a sound and placed something on his desk. An audio tape, of the sort used by Muggles.
"What's this?" He asked.
"A . . . conversation. One that ended in Professor Quirrell meeting his fate." She regarded him quietly. "He was possessed by Voldemort, you know."
Dumbledore shook his head, arresting the movement moments too late. "How did you know?" He paused, then added for good measure, "Who are you?"
In answer to the first question, she made a small gesture toward the audio tape. "It was . . . rather obvious, I think, considering the conversation." She seemed to give far more careful consideration to the second question. "I am . . . a guardian of sorts. At times. Quirrell picked the wrong child to mess with. Any at all, but especially that one. As a consequence, he met me in my aspect as Lady of Death." Then her wings appeared, those wings of light-devouring black that made it very easy to believe her claim to be Death.
She nodded very slightly and stepped backwards out the door. When he rushed to the door after her disappearance, there was no one there. Thoughtful, he returned to his desk and picked up the audio tape. Opening a desk drawer usually left closed, he brought out an old tape player. Antique by modern standards perhaps, but it worked well enough.
As the tape played and the short conversation repeated itself echoing about the cluttered office, he shook his head. How could he not have known?
And how had she known?
* * *
From behind the rebuilt Gate, two friends watched the scene silently. "That's sweet." Galaxia finally commented, with a smile. "It's nice to see her happy."
"And, furthermore, they can go home now." Cosmos added quietly. "With the length of time they most likely have spent up here-probably ever since the Gate crumbled-it is doubtful that anyone remembers them. Or will, until they return to the Earth Realm." She stood. "We should be going, preferably before we have to go to the new Guardian to secure our passage. Although it's an encouraging sign that he was chosen as Guardian, I don't know him, and I prefer to deal with the people I know."
Galaxia stood as well. "But how can we do this? Don't we need him to open the Gate?"
Cosmos shook her head. "Actually, no, we shouldn't have to. I told you, didn't I, that all the others died?" Galaxia nodded silently. "When they died, knowing that I would live on no matter how much I wanted to end it all, they passed their powers on to me. So I should still have some limited connection to the Gates. It will be enough."
Checking again, seeing that no one was looking toward the Gate, they walked around to the front side and Cosmos put her hand against the Gate. She glowed a pale burgundy as she accessed the powers her Pluto had granted to her. The Gate opened.
* * *
"So then I ran off and got lost in the garden and my mom sent all the senshi out to search for me." Chibiusa and Lindsey were laying across one large bed-Haruka's-and chatting. "Of course, Venus is the one who finally found me-my Venus never quite grew up, so she was best at anticipating what a nine hundred-year-old who looked and acted six would do. Boy, was my mother mad."
"Really? Venus found you? I would have thought Pluto would have been the most likely-she seems like the senshi you were closest to."
Chibiusa's hand went to her neck, where she still wore the time key that no longer worked on a chain. "She might have known, but back then, she couldn't leave the Time Gates. It was part of her duty-to never at any time leave. I still don't quite understand why those restrictions were eased when she was reborn, but I'm glad they were."
Under her fingers, she felt the time key . . . shimmer. That was the only word for it, suddenly becoming insubstantial and then reversing back to comforting solidity, but lighter than before. She brought it out, curious, to find that the tiny jewel at the head of the key had regained its glimmer-but it was no longer garnet. Instead, the tiny jewel was a beautiful, deep emerald green.
And Chibiusa knew that something had happened, something terribly important. Though she was afraid to hope, she couldn't help but think . . . that maybe it meant Puu and Haruka were coming home soon.
* * *
They stood on the doorstep, Draco and Haruka. Setsuna had elected to return to Hogwarts, and Melisande had said she'd stay with Setsuna for now. Draco would stay with Haruka, and he knew that she could be in instant contact with Setsuna at any time, if necessary. Haruka raised her hand to knock, paused, then lowered it. "I . . . I can't." She turned. "I can't do this. It still looks like that house. I know my father is different, but . . . I just can't."
Draco grabbed her hand and smiled sympathetically. "I know what you mean. But that doesn't mean I'll let you get out of meeting your father. He misses you, Haruka, horribly. I don't think a single day goes by when he doesn't think about you, wonder where you are and if you're doing all right. You owe it to him to let him know you're okay, even if you never see him again."
Haruka shook her head. "I can't remember my Uncle Hiroshi very well-I was only six when he died, after all-but I loved him dreadfully. But I just can't knock on this door . . . because I'm so afraid, I guess, that if I do my *real* father will show up."
Draco took her face in his hands. "Haruka, you have to realize. He *is* your real father now." He turned and knocked on the door. "Now don't you dare run off."
The door remained shut, and Draco frowned. "I thought I knocked loudly enough." He sighed. "Maybe he's not there."
Haruka surprised him by kneeling and peeling up the floor mat. From underneath, she picked up a small key-a door key-and smiled. "I thought I remembered that being where he used to put it." With only the slightest of hesitation, she stuck the key into the lock and turned it. A quiet click indicated that the door was now unlocked.
Draco took Haruka's hand again and squeezed it for reassurance, as he opened the door. A gentle tug stopped him though, as Haruka paused on the the threshold and closed her eyes. Then with a gentle smile, she reopened them and drew a deep breath. "Tadaima!" She called, in a voice that reverberated throughout the house, then sighed, her face pensive but her eyes happy. "As unbelievable as it may seem . . . I think I actually am. Home."
"Draco?" A soft voice asked incredulously, as Hiroshi walked around the corner hidden by the stairs. "Haruka?! Is it really you? I'm not dreaming again?"
Draco released Haruka's hand as the girl dashed and threw herself in her beloved uncle's-now her father's-arms. He answered Hiroshi's question with what probably all three of them were thinking-he knew he was. "If this is a dream, I hope I never wake up."
Looking up in Draco's direction from the enormous hug she was currently engaged in giving her father, Haruka giggled quietly. "I've been feeling like that practically ever since that final battle. Well, not at first, perhaps . . . but this world is so much better."
"Battle?" Draco asked, instantly on alert. "Haruka, what exactly do you senshi do? I know Saturn can heal and that she has a huge, dangerous-looking glaive and that she can utterly destroy the world. But she refused to tell me what her powers were for or how she had used them after you were reborn into this time. She said that was your story to tell."
"So you got to know Hotaru, too?" Haruka smiled. "I'm glad. I was afraid you'd be lonely with no one sympathetic to talk to." She sighed. "But I can understand her not wanting to tell the story. It is a long one, and sordid. But you're one of us now; you deserve even more than before to know the truth. The whole truth."
* * *
"It's all over the school, did you hear?" Cho came bouncing in, completely uncaring of the comatose boy in the bed. He wouldn't wake for anything, and even if he did . . . that would be a first and counted as a benefit, not a consequence. "Professor Quirrell's dead. He was possessed by Voldemort and he kept trying to kill Harry and then last night Death killed him."
"Hn." Hotaru continued her vain attempt to polish the bloodstains off her blade. For some reason, they just wouldn't come out. "That's nice."
"Do you want to come with me to the library so we can research more for our project? Now that Harry is no longer in any danger?" Cho asked hopefully.
Hotaru looked up, eyes unreadable. "Just because Quirrell is dead, do not assume Voldemort is. He possessed Quirrell. He could just as easily go on to possess anyone else who was willing to accept his presence. Also, never assume Voldemort is the only danger out there. I will not stop guarding him until after he wakes up and is able to look after himself again."
Cho sighed. "I suppose I knew you'd say that. And I suppose I felt you were right, too. Somehow, the atmosphere has not relaxed at all, as it would have if he truly were gone for good. I get the feeling that this war is far from over."
Hotaru smiled ironically. "You could not know, Cho, just exactly how right you are." Chaos. This time, we will not die. And you will never stand up against our combined power. She bent her head back down over her glaive and continued to polish. She thought she saw a lessening in the stain, but it was so slight, and she had been polishing so long, that it may have been a product of her overactive imagination.
Then, suddenly, she looked up. She may not be the new Guardian of Time-and boy, was she glad! More responsibility she did not need-but her ascension to Eternal Sailor Saturn had given her a small ability to sense major temporal shifts. And a major shift, this certainly was. She stood abruptly, unconscious of Cho's widening eyes as the bloodstained glaive was revealed fully.
A long, vertical slit opened at the foot of the bed, and Hotaru slid one foot back to position herself in a more balanced fashion, point of the glaive aimed straight at the vertical slit. As the slit widened and two people stepped out, her glaive dropped from slack fingers, disappearing before it hit the floor.
The first of the two was completely unknown to her. And with her long, silky silver hair and eyes that were almost exactly the same shade as Hotaru's own, she was surely someone Hotaru would have remembered. But that was not why she had dropped her glaive. No, that had been because of the other person.
Forest-green hair, about half tied up in a bun at the top of her head and the rest left free. Dark red eyes, on the border between garnet and burgundy, shadowed by not-quite forgotten pain but twinkling with a heart-wrenchingly familiar amused expression. It could only be one person.
Hotaru threw herself across the room, caring not for what either Cho or the mysterious silver-haired girl thought. "Setsuna!"
And, surrounded by her former foster mother's arms, despite her pessimistic predictions to Cho only minutes before, she couldn't help but believe that everything was finally right with the world.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
34. Christmas Break, Part VI: Reunion
"Are you sure you want to come with me?" Haruka asked Draco and her father, a worried expression on her face. "I'll vouch for you as best as I can, but face it. We're all three Slytherin, going into a den of Gryffindor." She gnawed absently at a thumbnail. "Heck, I'm not even entirely sure of my welcome. Michiru should vouch for me . . . but if she's hanging around with the Weasleys, she's changed."
Draco shook his head. "She may have forgotten you . . . but she never stopped loving you. I should know, seeing her wandering around sometimes, an utterly lost look on her face . . . absently twisting her ring . . ." he looked pointedly down at the identical ring adorning Haruka's finger. "Of all the things in your life you have to worry about, her love for you is most definitely not one of them."
Haruka smiled softly. "Yeah . . . I don't know what I was thinking, doubting our love even for a moment. I know I'll love Michiru for forever and a day . . . and whatever has happened to her since the last time I saw her, she'll still be the Michiru I love. I should have as much faith in her as I have in myself."
She drew in a deep breath, walked over, and knocked firmly on the door. There was a muffled yell of "Coming!" from behind the door, several seconds before it was actually opened by Ron Weasley. The redhead that was actually in their year, Haruka remembered. He blinked. "Uh . . . hello? May I help you?"
From deeper within the house came a shout. "Ron, don't be rude! Invite them in, whoever they are." His mother, Haruka would lay a rather large wager.
The red-haired boy shrugged. "Okay. Come on . . . what are *you* doing here?!" He exclaimed in astonishment and disgust, catching sight of Draco. "Go away. You're not welcome here."
"I'm sorry that you are unable to welcome my brother." In fact, she was not sorry at all. She was boiling mad. Couldn't anyone see Draco instead of Malfoy? Was the whole world blind? And he was her brother now, in truth. Her father had actually started arranging it a couple of days after Draco arrived, once he found out what sort of life Draco had to return to. But just as he had been about to raise the subject, Draco disappeared. Then, when they both reappeared, Haruka had showered her enthusiastic approval as soon as the subject had been broached.
"We'll be leaving, then." She stated flatly.
* * *
"What should we-"
"-do? I don't know. Do you have any idea why-"
"-she fainted so suddenly? Not a-"
"-clue. Yeah, me neither."
The twin redheads kneeled beside their friend, who they had moved to the couch when she fainted so suddenly, out of the blue.
Fred's face brightened. "She was trying to remember something, remember? Maybe that's what caused it?"
George nodded, a similar smile growing on his face. "That makes sense. If she suddenly did remember, the shock might be enough to make her faint. You think? But what did she remember?"
"Dunno. Have to ask her when she wakes up."
A knock sounded at the door, and the twins exchanged glances. They certainly weren't expecting any other guests. Who could it be? They paid no more attention to the knock as soon as Ron yelled "Coming!" That was an indication in their family that that person would be the one to answer the door, so there was no need for anyone else to bother themselves to get up.
As if the knock or perhaps the call was a signal, their friend's eyes fluttered open. She licked her lips, and the twins were worried by the depth of bewildered sorrow hidden in her eyes. ". . . Haruka . . ." she whispered, at the threshold of audibility, and tears sprang to her eyes.
"What's wrong, Michiru?" Fred asked. "Don't cry. Please don't cry. Whatever the problem is, I'll help you." George nodded frantically to every one of his twin's words. Though he never would have thought to say those words, he certainly agreed with them.
"There's nothing you can do to help." She sighed, then managed to summon up a small, watery smile. "Thank you for the thought, though. But it is entirely my fault." She shook her head, and the momentary light in her eyes died out again as she buried her face in her hands. "Haruka . . . I can't believe I forgot you . . ."
Haruka. The twins looked at each other. Slowly, memory began to return. The short blonde girl with a somewhat masculine cast to her features-and most definitely to her attitude!-at times. She and Michiru had been practically inseparable at first. The two that had outsung them that first day of school.
". . . we forgot too." George said, astonished. "I can't believe it."
"How could we have forgotten?" Fred shook his head. "I mean, sure, we never had that much contact with her, but she was never the type to blend in with the crowd. Very noticeable."
Michiru giggled. "Noticeable, Haruka certainly is. I can't imagine her ever just blending into the crowd."
That topic dealt sufficiently with, their conversation slowed to a natural stop. So it was that they heard, quite clearly, the conversation at the door. "We'll be leaving then." A voice that went unrecognized to Fred and George, never having been around her enough when she was speaking. To Michiru, though, the voice was as familiar as her own.
She shot straight up off the couch and hit the floor running toward the hall. "Haruka! Wait!"
* * *
She had been about to make good on her threat and leave, had in fact already turned around to go, when she heard the voice. The heartbreakingly familiar voice that she held always close to her heart. She whipped back around so quickly that her ponytail continued to fly on around after she stopped and ended up smacking her in the face. She was pulling the hair out of her face with one hand when an aqua-haired blur came flying into her, knocking her to the ground.
Her eyes traced out every beloved feature of her beloved's face, and she knew that Michiru was doing the same. She reached up, tentatively, to wipe a tear from the other girl's eye and Michiru gasped, almost, and brought her hand up to first tentatively touch, the firmly grasp Haruka's hand. "Oh, Michiru. I'm so sorry I couldn't come home sooner." They slowly sat up, but at no time increased the distance between each other or let go of each others' hands.
Michiru nodded, slowly, her eyes bleak. "I'm sorry . . . I . . . I couldn't even remember you. I meant to, I knew there was something my heart was missing . . . but I couldn't remember you."
Haruka tucked a short wisp of hair behind her beloved's ear, idly wondering when she cut it. "Not your fault, Michiru. Believe me, it's not your fault. We were trapped at the Gates of Time . . . it's amazing that anyone remembered. We were told that no one would."
Michiru shook her head. "But if anyone remembered, it should have been me. I should have remembered."
Haruka shook her head, laughed a little. "Oh, Michiru. I don't deserve someone like you. You're going to continue to insist something you had no control over was all your fault, aren't you?"
"Of course." Michiru said agreeably. "I've always been too stubborn for my own good. You don't deserve me, Haruka, you deserve someone much better. Someone nicer, who will nod agreeably even when she disagrees with you, who would never scold you for going out and leaving and driving around on your motorcycle-once you get one again-and never leaving any notice, leaving her to imagine your broken body at the bottom of a cliff somewhere, who would-"
Haruka put her forefinger to Michiru's lips, a gentle smile on her face. She leaned in closer until their foreheads touched, their eyes only inches from each other. "But you know what?" She whispered. "I could never love a person like that. Because she wouldn't be you."
* * *
". . . And that's about it." Hotaru finished explaining the current situation to Setsuna and the girl she had brought along, introduced as Melisande. Knowing that Cho already at least suspected, Setsuna as her former foster-mother deserved to know, and Melisande had no clue and wouldn't be biased either way, she left out none of Draco's part in the previous events. And was pleasantly surprised. It seemed that while they had been trapped, Haruka had put in a good word on Draco's behalf, so Setsuna's mind was already at least three-quarters changed.
The green-haired girl shook her head. "Quirrell. I mean, I never really liked him . . . but that was because of his incompetence as a teacher more than anything else. I didn't suspect him of being . . . well, evil!"
"He may not have always been." Surprisingly, it was Cho who interjected, then blushed as all eyes turned to her. "I mean, the story goes that he was possessed by Voldemort, right?" She continued in a somewhat more hesitant voice. "So we really can't tell what he was like before Voldemort possessed him."
"A valid point." Hotaru nodded. To Setsuna, she added, "Look at Galaxia, after all."
"That comparison had occurred to me." Setsuna said dryly. "I would hope, however, that Voldemort is not nearly as powerful as Chaos." At Cho's barely suppressed gasp, she rolled her eyes. "Excuse me. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."
"I doubt it." Hotaru said shortly. "Chaos' influence, at least, was a *great* deal more widespread, after all, with ours the only planet left in the galaxy that he had no control over. Compared to that, Voldemort didn't even manage to take over an entire planet. His power is certainly nothing to laugh at-one should never laugh at people that deceitful and willing to destroy anything that gets in their way, especially not people as popular as he seems to have been. His followers weren't *all* bad people, after all."
Setsuna nodded, then a small smile flashed, an ironic smile. "In other words, Voldemort was the Hitler of the wizarding world."
Cho, from the look on her face, had clearly given up on being shocked at her friends' use of the forbidden name. Still, this last remark excited her curiosity. ". . . perhaps I'm being obtuse, but I didn't understand one of your references.
"Who is Hitler?"
* * *
"You are invited to . . ." Yaten trailed off incredulously, holding out the letter that had been found on their doorstep that morning. Actually, three had been found, one addressed to each of them. "What the-"
"Language." Her sisters reminded her, and she rolled her eyes.
"I didn't *say* anything." She snapped, annoyed at having lost the chance.
"But you meant to." Seiya informed her smugly.
"Actually, you did say something." Taiki informed her. "A more distinct way of putting it would be to say, perhaps, that you did not curse. Or that you did not say any words that are regarded by this society as being inappropriate for people of our age and station to know, much less say. Or . . ."
"I get the point." Yaten sighed. "Anyway, what are we going to do about it?"
"If it is a fan letter, it certainly is . . . unique." Taiki admitted. "I admit to a certain feeling of curiosity as to this so-called 'School of Witchcraft and Wizardry'."
"In other words, you want to go." Yaten interpreted, then shrugged. "Sure, why not? It can't possibly be any more banal than this gig." She waved her hand at their somewhat spacious apartment.
"And if they are so into magic, perhaps our princess will have been drawn there." Seiya smiled. "There may be people there who have the power to defeat Galaxia for good."
"So, we're decided?" Yaten asked.
The other two nodded. "Okay. Hogwarts, here we come!"
* * *
The two faced off in uncomfortable silence. One with aqua hair, one blond. After an interminable length of time, the silence was finally broken. "I . . . apologize." Every word seemed to come hard to the aqua-haired girl, but a little easier as she continued. "I misjudged you."
"Don't berate yourself too harshly." The blond replied. "You didn't . . . at first. You just neglected to take into account that everyone changes . . . and my changes were more drastic and quicker than most."
The silence fell again, more comfortably. And again, it was broken by the aqua-haired girl. "I still don't like you, I'm afraid." She sounded rather regretful.
The blond shrugged. "I don't mind. I'm used to being disliked . . . and frankly, I'm more comfortable with it from most people. I'm liked by the people that really matter to me . . . and to me, that's all that really matters." He nodded sharply. "But for Haruka's sake, I can get along with you."
She nodded back, her posture softening a bit. "Yes. For Haruka's sake."
* * *
"You're back!" In his excitement, Snape shifted to his younger self. "Finally! What took you so long?"
"We ended up having to wait until the Gates were rebuilt." Setsuna shifted to match him, almost unconsciously. "And that couldn't be done until a new Guardian was found. Evidently, too, the new Guardian had to go through some sort of experience that prepared him for the job. I don't know all the details."
Snape nodded thoughtfully. "So, the new Guardian. Anyone I'm likely to know?"
"Quite well, actually." The green-haired girl replied surprisingly. "Strangely enough, the best person for the job turned out to be Haruka's newest friend."
"You don't mean Draco Malfoy?!" Snape blinked in shock. "He must be very different from how he was at the beginning of the year." Recalling his own early encounters with the blonde senshi of the wind, he smiled sourly. ". . . Then again, the same could be said for him making friends with Haruka in the first place." He looked around. "Speaking of Haruka, where is she?"
Setsuna shrugged. "Draco was going to take her to meet her father. After that, I assume they plan on finding Michiru, but I don't know for sure."
Snape laughed. "Yes, that sounds like Haruka. So she'll probably be back at the end of Christmas Break."
"Probably." But then again, she was with Draco. And Draco could, through the Gate, bring them here easily in the blink of an eye if he put his mind to it. "Then again, knowing Haruka, who knows?"
* * *
"They're back." Michiru replied in an admirably calm tone of voice in the face of my yell. "Or rather, they're here. For the first time."
I froze, and I'm sure my face went absolutely pale. Oh no. Not again. "The first time." I licked suddenly dry lips. "Please tell me you don't mean what I think you mean."
"They search for their princess. They formed the rock group The Three Lights. They seemed to have no idea of our existence." Michiru shrugged helplessly. "What other proof do you want? We have only a short period of time to prepare before it all begins again."
Again. What sort of rotten joke is this? We just barely survived the first time . . . *we* didn't survive at all . . . and we have to go through it all again? Looking into Michiru's eyes, I saw reflected the horror and sorrow that I felt sure resided in my eyes as well. "We won't interfere . . . the way we did last time. We know enough not to, now."
My beloved nodded slowly. "I promised Usagi that, myself." She looked troubled. "Then, a couple days after break started, I got a note from Ami." She looked directly at me. "They forgot." She shook her head, and clarified. "With a spell, they forgot everything they remembered about the Starlights' civilian forms. They still remember the battles and the Starlights, but not the Three Lights."
"So . . . it's all us now." I shook my head. "I can understand the temptation . . . to be able to make a clean start with them. They won't remember all that happened, all that we did to them . . . it would be nice if I couldn't remember either." At Michiru's querying look, I shook my head. "It would be nice, but . . . it wouldn't be right. Some of us have to remember them, so we can guide them . . . and as awful as everything turned out, I don't think I would willingly forget a moment of time spent with them."
Michiru smiled lopsidedly. "That's almost exactly the way I feel. There were occasional good times, too. Besides . . . I figure it's only a matter of time before they come to Hogwarts."
Hogwarts . . . Setsuna! I gasped. "Setsuna! Hotaru, you said, won't remember." Michiru nodded, her eyes widening as she caught on to my train of thought. "We have to warn her!"
35. Christmas Break, Part VII: Return
"Ami! Bed time!" The shout startled the blue-haired girl out of the musing . . . almost trance she had fallen into, as she sat at her window watching the moon.
"Right!" She called back guiltily. It took some getting used to, actually having to go to bed at a certain time *and* actually having her mother be home at that time. Although, it was true, she vaguely remembered having spent more time with her mother when she was younger. It was just the last couple of years in her 'other life' that her mother had been taking, it seemed at times, more than her fair share of the night shifts.
She allowed herself a last few moments to bathe herself in the full moon's glow before turning away to follow her mother's injunction. Strange, though . . . the moon seemed unusually bright tonight.
* * *
All around her . . . nothing but mist. She knelt, touching her fingertips to the ground. Soft puffs of charcoal grey dust danced up briefly at the contact and she frowned slightly. Why did this seem so familiar?
She looked up, as the ambient light began to grow. The mist was beginning to lift, she found, banished by the pure light of the Earth, hanging low in the sky. As she gazed upon the beautiful blue and green and white and brown orb, something clicked. That was where she was. The Moon.
She turned around, finding the sight she had dreaded seeing, a sight that tore at her heart like few other memories from either lifetime. There it was, in the shadow of Mare Serenitatis, hidden in such away that even the best telescopes back on Earth couldn't find it, not in this broken down state. The entire mare had been an enormous garden city, once. And the palace had been placed in the shadow in hopes of gaining some protection from that little-seen position.
The broken columns, the few lonely fragments of wall left standing . . . all that was left of a once beautiful palace, the most beautiful palace in the galaxy. And here . . . where she stood . . . had once been part of a large, long pool that always reflected the starlight and Earthlight. The pools seemed to have the effect of reflecting more beautifully than the reality. But they were dry now, cracked and devoid of the water, covered in rubble from other parts of the palace. Someday, she hoped to bring this place back to life. Then, water would pool and reflect starlight so beautifully once more. That was her dream.
She wandered through the desolate area, stopping briefly here and there. Then she found it, the place she had first seen her mother. She sat down on the fallen column, now no more than a simple piece of stone, and a lone tear slipped down her face, testament to all that had been lost.
As the tear fell, it began slowly to brighten until it shone with the light of the full moon on a clear night. And as she gazed, squinting, through the brightness, before her very eyes the palace was reborn. She dashed out of the room, through halls she remembered, now, to the ballroom. There were so many people there, wearing masks and dancing, talking and laughing joyously, though beneath the joy there ran a hint of discomfort, of fear. And over there, in the corner . . . her heart contracted. The man was as handsome as the girl was beautiful, him with dark hair and her with golden. Although she was too far away to see, she knew they both had deep cerulean eyes. She had gazed into those same eyes, and seen the other pair in the mirror, far too many times to count. She laughed lightly, and the observer shook her head. Had she ever really been that young, that naïve?
"What are they doing here?" At the sound of her voice, the beautiful illusion shattered, leaving her standing once more, alone, beside the broken column upon which her mother had breathed her last breath.
"They were summoned here by the strength of your wish for the palace to be whole once more. Or rather, their memory was summoned."
She turned, and found herself strangely not at all surprised. "Mother. What are you doing here?"
"I am here to give you a choice, one I myself was offered many years ago." The silvery-haired woman sat down on the broken column, motioned to her side. "Come, sit. Make yourself comfortable."
"Why can't I transform?"
Her mother shook her head. "Serenity, dear . . . you knew, in the beginning, that that form was only borrowed. Yet later, you seemed to forget, to believe you had gained it for good. But you were living on borrowed time. You spent the last of the power that transformation had granted you when you defeated your last enemy." She nodded. "That leads me to my point. The choice you have to make."
Usagi sat on the ground, crosslegged. If she had sat on the column beside her mother, she would have been unable to see the other woman's face. This was all very confusing. "What is this choice?"
"It is a choice that we, the avatars of the Moon, are the only ones to be offered, due to our unique position. You have reached the point in your development as a senshi where you are at a crossroads, so to speak.
"You can choose to remain merely the avatar of the moon . . ." she paused, ". . . or you can become, essentially, the moon herself." She smiled slightly. "Either way, you will regain the ability to transform into any of your various transformations. Except Eternal Sailor Moon, although you will gain a new, permanent Eternal form either way.
"If you choose to remain merely the avatar of the moon, you will lose your previous potential to become the moon and suffer a similar loss in power. Not drastic, but certainly significant. In the event of the Silver Millennium being resurrected, while you will be Queen of the Moon, it is quite unlikely that you will be queen of the entire solar system, as you will no longer be so significantly much more powerful than any of the other senshi-with the exception of Saturn, of course.
"Whereas, if you choose to become the physical representation of the moon, you will fulfill that potential and your power will grow exponentially and more. As a result, your hair will change, as mine did, and you will become, effectively, immortal. It will be nearly impossible for you to die," she grinned wryly, "although, as you have no doubt figured out from my example, it is just barely possible."
Usagi noticed, suddenly, a mirror that had appeared behind her mother. Her mother, catching her abstracted gaze, turned. "Ah, yes. What I looked like before I made my decision." She brushed her hand through her bangs and, in the mirror, a young woman with violet hair did the same. "It is a decision I have never particularly regretted."
Queen Serenity shook her head. "But don't let my decision influence your own overly. There are advantages and drawbacks to both choices."
Usagi gnawed at a nail. "Will that power be necessary, sometime soon in the future?"
The queen shrugged. "Who knows? I may be a supernatural force, but I can't see any farther into the future than you can. My hunch is that it will probably be useful, as I'm sure there are other enemies out there, but if you don't have it, you'll find some other way to cope. Throughout history, whichever choice has been made, the queens of the moon have generally managed to survive somehow." She held out a shimmering ball of brilliantly white light. "It's time, Serenity. I have no other information or advice to impart. Make your choice."
Usagi drew in a deep breath, let it out slowly. I have to believe in myself, to believe that I will make the right decision. That's my talent, after all, right? Ami has her intelligence, Mako-chan her strength, Rei her spiritual abilities and Minako her experience and the power of love. And I . . . I am the one that, despite all the evidence, always believes in the goodness that I know *must* be within every being. It makes me far too gullible, practically a sitting duck for betrayal . . . but it, if anything, is my true strength. And I believe . . . I *must* believe . . . that my heart will not lead me wrong.
And I . . . I am the one that, despite all the evidence, always believes in the goodness that I know *must* be within every being. It makes me far too gullible, practically a sitting duck for betrayal . . . but it, if anything, is my true strength.
And I believe . . . I *must* believe . . . that my heart will not lead me wrong.
"I choose . . ."
* * *
"So if I bond him as my Knight, he'll wake up?" Hotaru asked.
Melisande nodded. "For one thing, you'll be able to heal him. Also, the Knight-Senshi bond allows a certain amount of mental contact, so you'll be able to get into his mind and help him deal with whatever problems he is experiencing there. Once he is healed physically and his emotional wounds, whatever they are, have been healed somewhat, he will almost certainly wake back up."
"Good." An expectant silence descended, and Hotaru looked back and forth between Melisande, Setsuna, and Cho. "What?"
"Well, aren't you going to do it?" Cho asked.
"No." Hotaru shook her head. "I'll wait until Draco gets back. I promised him I'd let him know the moment Harry's condition changed in any way. I'm not about to change it myself without him being here." She brightened. "But I can call him." Then frowned. "But . . . it probably wouldn't be a good idea to make contact with him if his father is anywhere near. That man most definitely would not approve."
Suddenly, her head shot up as she felt, again, that temporal twist in the air. She loosened her stance, ready to draw and strike with her glaive if necessary. The slit in reality opened again, and the first two people through made her eyes widen in astonishment and happiness. "Haruka, Michiru!" She laughed as she dashed forward to catch the two in a hug. "What are you two doing here?"
"I just learned something that I need to pass on to Setsuna." Haruka assured her and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "I'm glad to see you too, little firefly." But although she smiled and pretended everything was alright, her eyes were worried.
"I just came along for the ride." Michiru added, eyes dancing. She, too, kissed her former adopted daughter, but then the two of them went over to Setsuna and dragged her off into a corner.
The slit in reality closed, and in front of it stood the third and last person. At first, she did not recognize him. His blonde hair had grown a bit longer than she was used to seeing it, and his outfit was entirely unlike the black robes she was used to seeing him in. Long navy blue pants and a navy blue long-sleeved shirt were covered by a dark forest green vest trimmed in gold. A tall silver staff, shaped like a stylized key. Finally, it was through the eyes that she recognized him. Those same, humble yet humorous silvery eyes that she had seen over this hospital bed many times as the three of them had talked. "Draco?"
He smiled, just a bit, shyly. "Hi, Hotaru." He raised an eyebrow, and his small smile grew in force to become a decidedly evil grin. "Or should I say . . . Shin?"
She gasped. "How?!"
"I happened to meet a man named Jefferson Parker and his friend Jack. They mentioned you by description, but the description was vivid enough for me to draw the, it seems correct, conclusion."
She cast her mind back to that day. "But . . . wasn't Jack the copilot? Oh, I'm so glad he's not dead after all."
His smile grew sad, fell away slowly. "I never said that."
"What's this?" Haruka asked with curiosity.
Hotaru cast Draco an imploring glance. "Nothing." He said. "An inside joke."
She narrowed her eyes. "While we're on things people haven't told other people, since when are you Guardian of Time?"
"Oh, you know. The usual. Father tries to kill me, I escape, catch a plane-provided quite generously by your friend, I might add-find Haruka's house, meet her father, then accidentally draw on the temporal power provided by the Gates while trying to prevent my father from killing Haruka's . . ."
Hotaru walked up until she was nose to nose with him. "And just why," she asked sweetly, "did you not call me for help?"
Draco sweated. "Uh . . . I forgot?"
* * *
He floated, alone, in the void. At first, he had been scared and called out for someone, anyone, to help him. But no one ever came, and gradually he stopped calling. He began to pull the void in closer as a substitute for warmer contact, and so submerged himself even further.
His mother and father were dead. His other living relatives hated him. He was a cripple unable to be healed, yet with such a healer just out of reach. And, worst of all . . . even *he* had betrayed him. One of the two people above all others he had come to count on as a friend. He was utterly worthless, and so he was content to remain, cradled deep within the darkness of the void that, after a while, became comforting.
Softly, so softly at first that he assured himself he was only hearing things, the voices started. "I . . . I can barely see him." A whisper of sound that carried with it memories of violet and black. Uncomfortably, he stirred. Surely she wasn't here. Why would she be?
"What could have possibly happened to cause him to withdraw so deeply into himself?" Another worried voice, this one gold and silver and just as achingly familiar.
Like a sleeping serpent . . . but I'm not a serpent, I'm a lion. It is he who is the serpent . . . roused into angered wakefulness, he uncoiled slightly. How dare he, *he* of all people! intrude into this haven? "Why?" From the stunned silence, he knew the other two had heard.
"Why what?" The gold and silver voice asked. "Harry? Are you really there?" He did not allow himself to be moved by the obvious worry and hope. Faked, of course, to be sure.
He uncoiled a bit more. "Why did you bother to save me? Why ruin your own plot?"
"To save you . . . because I didn't want you to die! You're my friend, Harry. Or at least, I thought you were." He paused, pulsed in surprise as the rest of Harry's comment caught up with him. "*My* plot? I didn't plot to kill you! I never would!"
Furious anger brought him to uncoil fully. "You wouldn't, huh?" He hissed. "Well then, tell me this. Why did Crabbe and Goyle tell me that throwing me out the window was 'a message from Malfoy' if you had nothing to do with it?" His voice rose until he was practically yelling.
"I don't know what you're talking about!" Draco yelled back. "I don't associate with them anymore, now that I have real friends! And I would never wish for your death!" His voice grew more calm. "But then, if you don't believe me, there's really nothing I can do, is there." An almost unnatural calm had descended on his voice, and for the first time Harry felt doubt. "After all, I'll always be 'Malfoy' to the people here, won't I. I could hardly expect you to be any different just because I thought we knew each other better than that." He turned. "I'll leave, now, Hotaru. It's obvious I'm doing nothing but harm by remaining here." The gold and silver voice receded into the distance and disappeared through a patch of light Harry had not previously seen.
Perhaps it was the anguish in the gold/silver/Draco voice. Perhaps it was his willingness to leave. Perhaps the disapproval he could feel, though she had said nothing else yet, in the violet/black/Hotaru voice. But suddenly, all Harry's doubts came back to the forefront. He knew, or he thought he knew, Draco better than that. Draco would not have done this to him, not after all he had done to help. Only the void, the long dark loneliness, had ever convinced him otherwise.
Before the light disappeared again, as he was somehow sure it would, he threw himself at it. There seemed a feeling of resistance but then, with very real relief, he penetrated and resurfaced, drawing in a long breath as though he had been submerged in water for quite some time. And, in a way, if not precisely in water, he had.
* * *
The spectators watched silently. Setsuna, Melisande, and Michiru with a certain amount of fascination, Cho with only a very vague idea of what was happening and thus looking on somewhat confused, and Haruka with barely disguised worry.
Hotaru had been adamant. She, along with Draco, would go into Harry's mind and try to contact him before she made the final decision on whether or not to bond him. Not because she didn't want to—she did—but because she felt that it was not a decision that could be fairly made without Harry's input.
For a while, the tableau remained still with the black-haired boy laying silent in the bed, as he had ever since that last devastating attack, Draco and Hotaru to either side of the bed, kneeling. Only the slow motion of their chests gave any indication that any of the three remained alive.
Then one sleeper awoke. Draco lifted his head, looking around to either side in apparent disorientation before shaking his head slightly. Slowly, he stood, and Haruka saw her worry realized, though in a different way than she might have feared, had her fear been other than nebulous. The blond boy's movements were stiff and heavy, his shoulders bowed with depression. Haruka wanted nothing more than to go over and comfort her friend, whatever it was that caused the sorrow in his posture. But she knew he would not appreciate the intrusion.
Then, amazingly, another of the sleepers moved, lifting a hand to place it down upon Draco's only moments before he lifted it. Vivid green eyes opened, squinted at the unfamiliar light. "I'm sorry." The voice, hoarse from disuse, cracked. "Can you forgive me, Draco, for giving in to doubts I should never have had in the first place?"
The new Guardian of Time looked with amazement from the hand to the now- open green eyes. "There's nothing to forgive." He said softly. "It hasn't been so very long, after all, since I was the sort of person that deserved all your accusations."
"Still . . . I should have realized that you're different now." A small smile. "I really am sorry."
"I'm not." Draco replied firmly, and it was his voice's turn to crack. "I'm just so very glad that you're awake."
Hotaru stirred, raising violet eyes that shimmered, on the edge of tears. "We all are."
Draco squeezed his friend's hand. "We're your family now, Harry. And you'll never have to be alone again."
And for the first time in his life, Harry could put a label to the warm feeling that suffused his body. At last, finally, he had a place where he *knew* he belonged.
36. Interlude: Chaos
She looked around. "This doesn't look anything like the place where I stayed when I was . . ."
Her companion nodded. "I figured as much, when you admitted to never having heard of the Galaxy Cauldron. That's where we are, more or less." She pointed. "We'll have to go through that cloud, which is Sagittarius Zero Star, in order to reach the Galaxy Cauldron."
"Sagittarius Zero Star . . . the center of the galaxy." Galaxia murmured, remembering long-ago astronomy lessons that had pinpointed Sagittarius Alpha Star as the center. But they had entered Sagittarius Alpha Star, and within the black hole was this cloud, this Sagittarius Zero Star. "I can feel the power within."
Cosmos smiled. "Perhaps you too can draw directly on its power. Come with me, I think I remember the way properly."
Galaxia flashed a quick smile. "You're the boss."
In silence, the two figures floating in space moved in unison toward the cloud and what it held within.
* * *
Cosmos drew out her staff, standing above the unconscious (for the moment) forms of Sailor Lethe and Sailor Mnemosyne. "Can you help them?" Galaxia asked. The two had been unprepared for their entrance and even less prepared to encounter their liege in battle dress. Plus, she thought they had been good people before being taken over by Chaos. They deserved to have their own life. "I'll lend some of my own power if it will help."
"That shouldn't be necessary." Cosmos replied with a soft smile. She raised the staff, and soft white light washed over the four people. Galaxia closed her eyes as she felt the light wash over, feeling warmth and happiness and healing all wrapped up into one package. The two girls on the ground stirred, first Lethe, then Mnemosyne. The girl in the dark teal dress sat up, holding her head. "Ooh. My head. What happened?" Her wrist was a somewhat paler shade than the rest of her skin, proof of how long that abominable bracelet had resided there.
"We freed you from Chaos' influence." Galaxia replied. "Or rather, Cosmos here did." She gestured to the silver-haired woman. "I just stood and watched.
"Galaxia? But . . . you don't have her gauntlets. What's going on?" A somewhat softer toned and equally confused voice asked as the other girl struggled to a seated position. Her lavender gaze flitted from her own bare wrists to her partners and back before coming up as she blurted, "Neither do we! Why aren't we dead yet? It's supposed to be impossible for us to survive without them."
"Not that we're complaining." Lethe commented dryly. "But Mnemosyne brought up a good point. Who are you people, and what do you want with us?"
"This is my friend Sailor Cosmos." Galaxia said. "She's the one who was able to recapture your star seeds and bring you back-which, of course, is why you're not dead yet. I'm just around to provide some extra firepower. As you so astutely noted, I am Sailor Galaxia . . . yet not. I come from another dimension, where Eternal Sailor Moon succeeded in defeating me and driving Chaos from my body. I have sworn to aid Cosmos in her quest to do the same in this dimension."
"Where do we come in?" Mnemosyne asked, her face having paled a little, most likely at the thought of having to confront Galaxia/Chaos.
The golden-haired warrior smiled. "You are free to continue the life that your Galaxia interrupted so abruptly. Soon, after we defeat Chaos, your planet and many others will be restored and there will be some that need to be guarded. Or . . ." she hesitated ". . . if you feel there is no place left for you here, there are many empty planets that need protection back on my world, too many for me to watch over competently myself."
"That actually makes an amazing amount of sense." Cosmos observed idly. "After all, the senshi of your world were brought into this universe to protect it, so it seems only fair if people from this world are sent to guard your own. That is, only if that is what they truly wish."
Suddenly, the silver-haired girl's face took on a look of intense concentration as two beads of light-one golden yellow, one blue-green-seperated themselves from her and travelled over to hover, the blue-green one in front of Lethe and the golden one in front of Mnemosyne. "Well." She commented, eyebrows raised in surprise. "I alway felt that I was only caretaker for the other senshi's powers, but I never dreamed that this was the reason why."
She walked over until she stood in front of Lethe. "By the power vested in me by the planet Neptune, I pass on to you the power of the sea. Use it wisely." The blue-green bead of light diffused, wrapping Lethe in its glow for a moment before disappearing into her skin.
She turned. "And to you, Mnemosyne, by the power vested in me by the planet Uranus, I grant the power of the wind. Use it courageously." Mnemosyne was suffused in a golden glow and then it, too, disappeared.
"We should probably leave now, before Galaxia finds us again." Lethe suggested.
Mnemosyne nodded. "Good luck to both of you in your endeavours. And Galaxia? I think I will take you up on your offer. Leaving will allow us to make a fresh start." She began to turn, then paused. "Galaxia-sama will find out soon enough that you are here. It is my opinion that letting her know that another Galaxia with, I assume, similar strength and powers, is here is not a good idea."
"In other words, if you have a way of disguising yourself, do it." Lethe clarified. "We'll be waiting right outside Sagittarius Alpha Star. Send the others to us when-as I assume you will-you turn them as well."
With that, freed of control and newly fortified with additional powers, the two sailor guardians of the river of lost memories turned and disappeared into the mists.
* * *
"Well, what do you think?" Her golden hair, shoulder-length, was too short to show the distinctive shift to red that happened farther down. Dressed in the most conventional of senshi fukus, her skirt, collar, and plain choker were all a soft, pale yellow, washed out by the brightness of her hair, and both front and back bow were a bright fire-engine red. Knee-length boots like the ones worn by Sailor Moon, Mercury, and Pluto, were also that same yellow. She twirled, showing off the fullness of the costume under Cosmos' amused eyes.
"You do know, don't you," Cosmos said dryly, "that there is no such senshi as Sailor Sun?"
"But of course." Galaxia-or is that 'Sailor Sun'?-smirked. "However, you are missing the point. Does Galaxia/Chaos know that?"
* * *
"The costume's all well and good." Cosmos commented as they continued to walk along through the formless place. "But to be believable, you really ought to have an attack. A sun-themed one, that is." She paused. "Do you have a specific magical attack as Sailor Galaxia? This one has a fairly powerful one-Galactica Inflation-but you've demonstrated that you were very different even before you were . . . reformed."
"Galactica Inflation?" Galaxia wrinkled her nose. "Ew. To answer your question, I do have a magical attack-essentially a golden blast. Like a combination of Venus' Crescent Beam, and the outer senshi's planet-shaped attacks. I don't know that I ever bothered to name it, though."
"That won't do at all!" Cosmos exclaimed flippantly. "We can't let you be a member of the senshi of our solar system without a suitable attack name! It's just not done."
Suitably silly. Galaxia smirked, but carefully did not say. She considered for a moment or two, then allowed her smirk to widen to a full-blown evil grin. Perfect! She drew on the power and gathered a ball of the golden energy in her hands. "Solar Flare!" She released the energy in a moderate-sized blast.
"Solar Flare? Solar Flare?!" Cosmos asked incredulously. "Of all the attack names you could come up with, did you *have* to pick the most *unoriginal* (not to mention scientifically inaccurate) name you could possibly have come up with?"
Galaxia made no effort to hide her grin. "Oh, I don't know. I think it sounds classier than . . . hm . . . 'Momentarily Surfacing Magnetic Lines'. And it's certainly not nearly as silly as . . . what was it? I can never remember exactly . . . 'Pink Starlight Honeymoon Therapy Kiss'? Or something like that . . ."
" 'Silver Crystal Power Therapy Kiss'." Cosmos corrected absently, then glared. "Hey! That's a perfectly good attack, I'll have you know!"
Galaxia's brow furrowed. "That doesn't sound quite right . . . I could have sworn that 'pink' was in there somewhere . . ." She grinned at the annoyed silver-haired woman. "Sure, it's powerful, but only because of the person doing it. Face it, Cosmos, you and Sailor Moon are both just plain powerful enough that you could yell 'Fruitcake!' and dust a youma if you really put your mind to it." She paused. "Nah, not long enough. Seems like the longer your attack name is, the more powerful it is."
"How about . . ." She took an elaborate pose, "One Scoop of Chocolate and One Scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream in a Waffle Cone with Hot Fudge on Top, Please!" After every word or so, she changed to a different, but equally elaborate pose until, at 'Hot Fudge', she began to spin so fast she looked to be out of control, stopping on a dime at the end of 'Please!'
Cosmos very decorously hid the drool that her subconscious had conjured up at the mention of ice cream (some things never change), but she had to admit that Galaxia was doing a very good job (in her own satirical little way) of mimicking many of Sailor Moon's later attacks. Unfortunately (for her peace of mind), the impression wasn't that much of an exaggeration. But she had to admit, it was funny. So she laughed along, and several more steps passed in good humor for both of them.
The mist began to lift and, as if by magic, their laughter slowed and stopped. They found themselves in the middle of an immense graveyard, filled with literally thousands of grey headstones. Unconsiously, the two grew closer to each other, drawing comfort from each others' presence. Forward motion that had slowed to a halt slowly resumed as they headed straight ahead, toward a grave marker set slightly apart from the others.
As they came closer, they saw that what seemed like one from a distance had once been two; the second was now little more than assorted rubble and a couple of scorch marks on the first. The beginnings of a smile twitched Galaxia's lips, dying even before it fully formed. "I guess I didn't aim my 'Solar Flare' quite as well as I thought I had." She commented dryly, yet at the same time sadly, regretting the destruction she had caused. "I wonder whose it was?"
Cosmos, in the meantime, had focused on the first of the headstones and now turned to Galaxia, face nearly as pale as her hair. "If I'm not mistaken . . . yours." For the first held a simply carved likeness of the silver senshi that still somehow managed to convey her solemn dignity. A deep violet butterfly flashed passed the two, followed in rapid succession by two others-brilliant yellow and cerulean-that served to provide a flash of welcome color.
A low chuckle echoed across the graveyard and, reluctantly, the two turned. "You admire my little butterflies? They are the last fire of stars that, dying, refuse to admit to their imminent death and thus end it all in that last, vain blaze of glory." She-for indeed it was the next of Galaxia's minions that they were to face-chuckled again. "So many butterflies, and so beautiful, don't you agree?" In an abbreviated fuku of violet and black with wide gossamer wings, she rather resembled those butterflies she so admired.
"The line of butterflies flying vainly toward their inevitable end will never stop." She smiled benignly, but did not chuckle again. "And which . . . which will be the next one to find its final resting place?" Violet eyes glinted. "You, perhaps. And will you choose to go out in that last blaze of glory?" Suddenly-far too suddenly for the two to do anything but blink and curse their inattention-vines shot up out of the ground, wrapping around them both and binding them into a suspended, spreadeagled posture, hanging high above the ground. "The blaze, at least, I can provide!" And as the vines burst into ethereal flames, flames making themselves felt moreso each moment they were allowed to exist, the unknown senshi laughed at her own jest.
"*This* will be your final resting place, the sight of your glorious funeral! That, I, Soul Hunter Sailor Heavy Metal Papillon, promise! And your deaths shall provide a glorious sacrifice for my Lord and Master, Galaxia-sama!"
Cosmos lowered her head, slowly, painfully, until at last her eyes met Sailor Heavy Metal Papillon's. She smiled, gently, despite the effort the action obviously cost her, and uttered four words that, as futile as they seemed, still gave Heavy Metal Papillon pause. "I don't think so." And three more, which provided proof of her claim. "Cosmos Aqua Rhapsody!"
The vines immediately around her, despite the unnatural strength of the flames, almost immediately froze over and broke away. Yet as soon as one vine disintegrated, another would spring into place. There was only so much energy Cosmos could pour into the attack, and she was tiring far too rapidly. Ignoring her own pain as well as she was able, Galaxia reached toward the silver senshi, her fingers extending as far as she could, farther than she ever would have thought possible. Still, it wasn't quite enough, and she could feel the darkness around the edges of her thoughts. Much more of this pain . . .
One last reach, and finally her fingers caught and held. Without even stopping to congratulate herself, she shoved all the energy she could in the direction of the silver-haired senshi. She was the most powerful senshi in the galaxy, barring only one, so she might as well put all that considerable energy to some use. At first, the energy just pooled, unnoticed, but suddenly she felt a pull as it was sucked up . . . and more was demanded, as much more as possible without putting her life in danger. Not that she particularly cared at this point, so long as *one* of them survived. She fell limp as she pushed all the energy she had and more in the direction of Cosmos, the tactile connection breaking as soon as she stopped reaching but the power conduit remaining.
And as the darkness began to swallow her, she welcomed it as a haven from the pain. Cosmos would survive . . . she had accomplished what she needed to, so she could rest content.
Rest . . . that sounded so good just now . . .
* * *
The borrowed energy flooded through her and, with its incredible strength, Cosmos found she had no problem icing over . . . in fact, practically disintegrating . . . the flaming vines that had held them captive. Still filled almost to overflowing, she drifted down to the ground, landing lightly, gracefully. A muted thump caught her attention, and she turned to see her friend prone on the ground, arms and legs splayed everywhere in a manner that would have been extremely uncomfortable had she been awake and aware.
Crystal tears pooling in her eyes, she realized why she felt so much energy. Galaxia had, literally, given up all of hers. And knowing that, she knew that she couldn't check the other girl's body further, not even far enough to know whether or not she still lived . . . not without first taking care of what they had come to do.
Heavy Metal Papillon had taken a step backward, unsure as the first person ever broke loose from her trap, and had not yet wholly regained her aplomb. Almost absently, even as her heart boiled over with anger, she gestured. "Cosmos Wall." An ultra hard, impenetrable substance sprang up in a shell around the winged Animamate.
She reached, much as she had the first time, and found the star seed for which she had searched. Looking like a diamond, it had a royal purple core. Even as Heavy Metal Papillon looked on in half-fear, half-awe, she reached through the wall as only she could and gently placed the star seed within, where it remained, floating. "Cosmos Healing Escalation." In a bright flash of light, the gauntlets flared to dust, then less than dust, and the star seed was reabsorbed back into the former Animamate's body.
Allowing the wall to dissapate and drawing the remainder of the energy back within her body, Cosmos turned away. For now, the other girl's fate no longer interested her, as she knelt beside her friend's body and took one of those white-gloved hands in her own. "Come on, Galaxia. Wake up." Only a very minute movement in the chest . . . up, then agonizingly slowly, down . . . gave any proof that she even remained alive.
An eyelid flickered, and she wiped away tears that continued, stubbornly, to form. "Don't you dare die on me! I couldn't have won this without you."
". . . sure you could . . . just like sailor moon . . . not enough confidence . . ." red eyes opened briefly and a small smile was attempted, before they fluttered back closed, accompanied by a sigh, so soft as to be almost inaudible. ". . . rest now . . . gave too much . . ." Her eyes reopened again briefly, intense with their message. ". . . no regrets! . . ."
She fell silent and her eyes closed once more. Her chest fell, almost another sigh, then for heartbreakingly long remained still. Tears began to flow again, and this time Cosmos let them fall. ". . . why . . ." Fists pounded the dirt beside her friend's body. "Dammit, Galaxia, you can't die. All my friends . . . one by one, they died . . . leaving me their powers, as if that were enough! It's not! Finally, I have another friend, and now you . . . you're about to leave me too."