`'~*~'`

Harry couldn't believe what he was seeing. In the quiet little suburbia called Surrey on Privet Drive, there was a duel . . . of monsters, half of which were featured in the Monster Book of Monsters that Hagrid had given him last year for his class. The ones that weren't were similar to the mythical beasts of the wizards that purported omens of good or ill. Except for the few, of course, that were more like animals stuck together to make up something else. Those were pure fictional and very few between.

Dudley was dueling – and failing remarkably fast – to a smaller girl who looked like one of those pretty china dolls with their white porcelain faces. Harry had seen her in his class a time or two. She was polite to the point of rude, self-assured and quiet, analytical and precise. Somewhat like Hermione but much more intense. Way more intense.

Harry sighed and dusted off his knees, stretching back up with a groan as his spine let out a series of little pops. Petunia's flowers were fertilized, he stunk, and the sun was getting hotter. Vernon would be home in about two hours, so that left plenty of time for him to run for a shower while Petunia watched her "Diddy-dunkins" get smashed into the ground time and again. He slipped under the spray of water and sighed in relief. The smell of manure was coming off easily . . . but Harry grimaced as a much sweeter smell came from him almost like a perfume, just like the *Season Trumpet – a magical Orchid type plant – that Professor Sprout had in her newest green house. It made Harry think of sun and sand and heat and *Blue Sky Honey Suckle (again, another magical plant). Only, the Orchid wasn't just one smell, but all smells rolled into one pleasant scent the made the toes curl and the eyes droop in relaxation. And it never smelled the same for any other person. It was a scent only known to the individual.

After scrubbing his hair clean, Harry zipped out of the shower to wrap a towel around his waist and lug the disgusting clothes from earlier around. Digging through his drawer of hand-me-downs, he came across six or so pairs of pants that had been given to him when he was nine or ten from a neighborhood Goodwill store. They had been too big then, but now . . . the pants fit well enough if not perfectly. They were a bit too loose, hanging on his hips if barely without a belt and covering the tops of his feet like they fit someone much taller. They probably had at one point, but Harry ignored this as he searched for a clean shirt. Only to be disappointed that there were none and that he would have to do more laundry. He hated laundry.

Deciding that there was nothing for it, he skipped downstairs to the kitchen to start an early supper knowing Dudley would come in furious that he lost and Petunia fawning over her baby promising to buy him more cards for his lousy deck. That's how it went since the Duel Disks had been mass produced from Japan. He'd only seen a few cards himself, some that Dudley threw out when he didn't like them (Man-eater Bug, Aqua Spirit, Dream Clown, and several more) and one or two that the piggish boy decided were 'cool enough' to keep (mostly the ones over 2000+ attack points). They were beautiful, all of the cards he'd seen, horrifying monster or not.

"Harry James! You did this! You made my ikkle Diddly-dunkins loose to that horrid Mary-Ann girl! What are you-"

Petunia had started from the door, listening to where Harry might be, her spleen not waiting to be vented upon him in a rant. To find Harry who was looking at her quizzically, spoon in hand as he boiled up one of Petunia's favorite foods, was making her stumble for words. On the table sat one of Dudley's favorite stews, the bowl a good sturdy one since Dudley had taken to eating directly from the tableware and not the dinnerware. Two more dishes were beside that, a thick luscious chocolate cake that she knew Harry would make a killing with and Vernon's Brussels sprouts sitting close to where the man always sat. She let her rant die off since it was technically impossible to ruin a card game when one's mind and eyes were on supper.

"Ah. Then I will go and buy more cards for Dudley. It can't be you . . . this time." Just as she turned to go, Harry felt his lips move on their own violation.

"Get him a solid starter base and not the supporting cards. There are tins of them in the big mall at that little New Age store you and Vernon usually skip."

Petunia froze up and her face hardened. "How do you know about that?" she spit out with venom. Harry shook his head.

"All the times Dudley boasts to me how often he goes there with Polkis and his gang, he tells me that is pretty much the only store you won't go in. He was wondering just how to get one of those pre-set

decks as his own. Truthfully, though," Harry stated as he peeked over his shoulder to see his stunned aunt, "his deck is made up of too many high-powered monsters but nothing to sacrifice for the powerful monsters he does have."

Petunia finally got a hold of herself. "And how to you know this, boy?"

Harry shrugged. "I read the manual one night when I had nothing else to do. If you want to look at it, it's on my desk under a pile of parchment." He stirred the pot and watched as the noodles started softening up enough to swirl around. Almost done, then.

Watching as Harry set out another pot and filled it with water and pre-cut veggies from the fridge, Petunia found herself looking at probably the only person in the house with any knowledge on how to duel just because he read the instructions manual. How mundane and simplistic could you get? And why hadn't she thought of that? Then another question popped up.

"Then you would know why one of that Mary-Ann girl's beasts ran off the holographic field?"

Harry shook his head. "It's Mary-Ann Westler, daughter of Uncle Vernon's working associate at the firm. As for why the thing got up and left? I couldn't tell you, but the news has been sporting some odd sights and appearances of people dressing up like their favorite cards and prancing around with their friends at the mall, downtown, conventions . . . everywhere. There is even a tournament in about a month that Dudley has been lamenting about to his friends. Apparently Uncle Vernon doesn't want him to go since this reminds him too much of . . . me."

Petunia walked in slowly, sitting in her place at the table as she thought. "He-he doesn't like that Dudley plays this game? Why hasn't he told me?"

Harry sighed. "He's said more than once that the game is rubbish. That it brought out the worst in some people. Of course I couldn't ignore him at the time since he was looking right at me, but that's how it is I guess."

"So," Petunia turned her mind away from Vernon for the moment, her mind racing, "what have I been buying Dudley for so long?"

"Booster packs. They're great for someone with an established deck, but a hindrance for someone just starting out since they don't familiarize themselves with what their current cards can do. I've seen Dudley change his deck, throw away cards, and then buy new ones the moment he had money to do so without even figuring out what or why those lower-leveled cards are good for."

The noodles where taken off and strained in the sink, the veggies still not quite right yet. A large bowl was used to put the noodles in, Harry cursing under his breath when a noodle flicked him in the face making him jerk. After wiping his face with the kitchen towel, he went back to the refrigerator to pluck the mozzarella cheese and the salsa from the Hispanic store Harry frequently shopped at for the more adventurous foods his aunt ate. Vernon hardily disapproved and Harry felt good about himself every time he went.

"Hey, Aunt Petunia," Harry started as his curiosity got the best of him, "just what monster was it that jumped off the field?"

She thought a minute. "Um, Gable? Gazle? No, no. It's called Gazelle the king of something or other."

"Gazelle the King of the Mythical Beasts?" Harry asked. Petunia nodded. "Well, at least it was an interesting beast. Don't worry, though. The projection of the animal had most likely worn off since it's not physically real."

It was a while before Dudley came in, his stomping feet thunderous as he charged up to his room. Petunia went to follow him but Harry shook his head. "Better not," he said as he tilted the strained veggies onto the noodles and poured the thick creamy sauce of mozzarella and salsa on top. "He might strike out."

Petunia looked at Harry with an odd gleam in her eye that had Harry wondering how fast he was going to have to run. She said nothing, so Harry went about fixing his own meal, much less fancy but just as filling. By the time Vernon's car pulled into the drive, Harry was up the stairs and in his room. Petunia was half amazed by how fast he had moved, the boy silent and too swift for anything normal. Her head hurt and her heart felt heavy when she thought of why that might be.

~*Within The Cards*~

It was nearly a week later that Petunia came back with a starter deck from the New Age shop. Harry was in back cutting the grass and weeding the bricks of the patio. Petunia called him in and Harry rubbed his arm over his face.

"Coming, Aunt Petunia."

Sucking some water from the hose-pipe, he shucked his shirt and used the only dry part to clean up with as he walked inside. He dropped the shirt in the hamper set by the door as he made his way to the kitchen. Petunia was cooking tonight since there was a meeting of Vernon's associates – one being Mr. Westler – so Harry was to stay out until they all left. He didn't have a problem with that, wanting to get out without having chores to do for once.

Petunia sat at the table, her fingers running over the cards in her hands. "I bought him a new deck and let him see what it was. He doesn't like this one," she pointed to the soft-looking fairy card that showed Spirit of the Breeze – Lvl 3.

"I'm not surprised. Any more he threw a fit over? Maybe I can fix it or something."

Petunia got out the deck and showed another ten or so cards, all of them sweet looking fairies, water creatures, or low leveled. Harry sighed and thought about it. "Did you get his deck from him?" Petunia nodded slowly. "Alright, give it here and I'll fix it so that even if the monsters aren't super strong, they're ugly and tough looking."

Going through the deck, Harry sighed at each rule infringement his cousin discounted to win. Picking three Gagagigo of four, he slipped them into the deck. Beezle Frog only had two cards, so he picked one. Creeping Doom Manta, Psychic Kappa, Root Water, 7 Colored Fish, Turtle Tiger, and Aqua Madoor soon followed. "There, that should make this a solid Water element deck. There are few other types of creatures, but that is all that's in his deck that are level four or less."

Harry handed back the deck and went upstairs to clean up, showering and dressing in the almost-fitting-but-not-quite pants and an old school uniform button-down shirt left un-tucked and half unbuttoned. Harry grabbed up a jacket the twins had surrendered to him the first time he had said that he didn't have a coat, surprised at the time that it looked muggle. He tucked his wand into the inner wrist pocket – apparently what it had been designed for – and a few galleons just in case. When he hit the bottom of the stairs, Petunia shoved the rest of what was left of the booster made deck in his hands.

"Keep these from Dudley. Until otherwise told, he is not to know that they're still here." Harry nodded at his aunt and ran on out the door into the evening light, heading for the playground swings to sit. As the night crept on, the sky darkening to navy, Harry stared at the stars wondering what the news was going on about the 'monsters' that were really kids playing dress-up. He'd seen some really good likenesses, like they were real, but this was a card game, not some weird spelled cards.

Like it had been summoned by his errant thoughts, the creature Petunia had mentioned leaving the board was creeping closer to strike at Harry. The teen felt the chill down his spine intensify with a suddenness associated with Dementors, Death Eaters and Voldemort. Harry rolled forward in the swing just as Gazelle leaped to catch him. Fearing for his life from the intensely alive looking creature, Harry high-tailed it to the tree line of the park, a small concession to environmentalists everywhere. He had never climbed a tree so quickly as he did now, scrambling up and out of reach of the lion-like creature that had a unicorn-style horn on its forehead. It was fast, blurring in speed, but Harry had caught it by surprise when he had ducked and had bought himself a few precious seconds to get away. Now? He was stuck up a tree like a bleedin' cat hiding from a dog.

"What in the world have I ever done to you?" he asked the giant feline. "Nothing, that's what. Whatever that has your knickers in a twist, I'm sorry, but please let me go home." If Harry had been looking, he would have seen that the beast was calming. The purring sound did cause him to glance down and then glare at the beast when it smirked at him. "That was right mean of you, scaring me like that. If you weren't so bloody big, I'd sick Fred and George on you. Then we would have seen how well you fared."

Harry grumbled, grunting as a limb knocked the breath from him when his hand slipped from the higher branches. His footing was lost, his body feeling as if it were in a slow motion fall to the ground. He didn't scream, but he did sigh as this seemed to be the way he would die. Not by Voldemort, Death Eaters, nor even strange adventures during the school year with terrifying creatures and demonic dogs. Oh no, it would be by falling out of a blasted tree.

He expected to hit the ground with one of those sickening thuds people always talked and wrote about as ribs and spine broke or collapsed. Harry did hit something, warm heat embracing him, sharp points pricking his skin. He didn't feel anything but out of breath and maybe a little battered from the initial scramble, but not really hurt. Did this mean he was going to die? The grunting growl from under him as gravity stopped it's pull said no. Rolling off the soft cushion of heated warmth and fur stated that his captor had been the one to save him and the irony of the situation was weird enough to make Harry wonder if magic wasn't involved.

"Ye gods of irony . . . buzz the bloody hell off," he wheezed out. Struggling to his feet, Harry used his tree – he had fallen out of it and lived without broken bones, so it was his now – to stay that way while he gasped in air. Gazelle seemed to be doing the same thing from where it laid on the ground. "Merlin, but you're huge. Uncle Vernon would have a heart attack if he saw you. Might not be a bad idea if he'd leave the rest of us alone," he muttered somewhat darkly. Sighing as he noticed the full dark of night, Harry stretched out to make sure he hadn't permanently damaged anything. Other than the slight creaking of his bones, nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

"What are we going to do with you, I wonder?" Harry said as he walked slowly towards the beast monster. "Can't leave you out here to be seen by the wrong person. They'd kill you or try to keep you as a pet."

Gazelle growled at that causing Harry to stop and wait. When the beast stood swiftly if somewhat laboriously, he trotted over and under Harry's hand so that the human youth would scratch his mane. Harry did so nervously, but bit back his need to be sarcastic. Stepping from the beast, Harry led the way to Number Four Privet Drive and through to the back yard. "No one can see you, okay? I think I have a card hidden with your name on it, but I'll have to find it. Maybe it will give me some idea of what to do with you. What do you eat? I might be able to get a few pieces of meat, but this isn't the friendliest house on the block. And no eating the neighborhood pets, especially Mrs. Fig's cats. It just wouldn't be right to do that."

Gazelle looked at Harry with unblinking eyes. When Harry threw his hands up in exasperation, the great big beast lumbered over and licked Harry's face with its sandy tongue. Harry spluttered as he backed into the house and closed the door, wiping his face down with his shirt sleeve once he had slid his prized jacket from his shoulders. It was then he noticed the little splotches of blood that had come from when he had fallen, most of them looking to have come from a four clawed creature of some sort. Harry sighed at the ruination of another shirt. The only way to save this one was by dying it a new color other than white. Checking to make sure there weren't any extra voices, Harry sighed as he remembered one extra car in the drive. He would just have to be silent and unseen.

Making his way to his room was nerve wracking. He had done it, no one seeing him or hearing his movements and when his head hit the pillow, he was out. Stress was finally taking it's toll.