Harry woke to the sounds of children giggling and the smell of chalk dust in his hair. It was something that had happened with increasing frequency since he started randomly dreaming about ninja school. He still didn't know why…or even how he got here…all he knew is that sometimes he went to sleep and woke up here, sometimes he didn't.
When it had first started, he'd thought he was being kidnapped in the night, drugged, and carried off--he could feel the things he touched, smell the chalk dust in the classroom, hear not just the kids and teacher in the room with him, but people and animals outside the room and building as well. He could taste the food he ate here, taste the humid air, rich with life. He was no longer sure that was the case. He'd caught sight of himself in a pond the last time he'd been here. It hadn't been his own face looking back, it had been a kid who looked very much like his "dad" here.
The entire place--the whole experience, really--was a feast for all the senses. It was so different than his neighborhood in Surrey, or his relative's aggressively normal and sterile home. Here, he felt like life was seeping into his pores and bones every time he sat still for a moment. Back at Privet Drive, it was just the opposite, never a moment to sit still due to endless chores and brow-beating. While there, life seemed to be constantly seeping out of his pores and bones rather than filling him up.
He treasured every moment in the ninja world; the stuff he learned made him feel a bit safer, a bit more in control of his own life and destiny. He was able to learn, able to relax, able to spend time with a family at times and feel what is was to be an actual part of one.
He had a friend here.
To most people, that wasn't something that would seem too remarkable. To Harry, it was everything.
He'd never had one before; his cousin and his gang of bullies chased off anyone that acted even mildly neutral towards him, and they were vicious to anyone who tried to be friendly.
He sat up, brushed the chalk dust out of his hair and prepared to pay attention. He was never here as often or as long as he'd like to be. He didn't want to miss a moment of it.
"If you're all with me?" Asuma sensei asked dryly. "We're going to work some more on calculating angles and trajectories. Your last test on it was a little disappointing."
"Hey, sensei, can you go over the formula thingies again? I didn't really understand that." a brown haired kid across the room complained. The teacher sighed, but he nodded.
"Noburi, come get the worksheets and pass them out. We'll go over them together."
The brown-haired kid, who was apparently named Noburi, grabbed the stack of papers on the desk and began handing them out, while the teacher wrote some weird gibberish on the board. Harry found himself getting nervous, at least until he realized they were going to be doing maths. He'd always been good at it, so this should be fine, once he knew what he was supposed to be doing. He glanced around the room while waiting and saw the girl with the pink hair seemed to be one of the few who didn't seem at all worried. Naruto, and the loud kid with the red marks on his face--Kiba, he thought his name was-- were both already sweating and tugging at their hair in a panic. Choji, who was seated beside him, munching away on a bag of crisps like he always was, looked rather glum.
When he finally got his own worksheet, he glanced over it and then looked at what the teacher had written up on the board and nodded to himself. He had this.
He started idly doing the problems while waiting for things to get started. He liked maths, had since he'd first learned it in regular school. Numbers were numbers and there were rules for how and when to apply them--it wasn't like with words where people regularly said one thing and meant another. Numbers didn't randomly change for no reason and they didn't lie. Working with numbers was kind of relaxing, actually.
He looked around again and saw that he and pinkie--he was pretty sure her name was Sakura--were the only ones that thought so. She was already doing the problems as well. Kiba and Naruto were looking at their worksheets like they were about to blow up or something, Ino and Hinata were both grimacing and seemed to be concentrating really hard. Shino, a weird boy that didn't talk much and who seemed to really like bugs, was working slowly through his own paper. It was hard to tell if he was having trouble or not--most of his face was hidden behind the high collar of his coat and a pair of dark sunglasses.
They worked through the problems and went over them as a class until school let out for the day. Harry was a little disappointed--he had hoped to practice doing something cool with chakra, but whatever.
Choji was waiting outside with his scarily enormous dad, who was actually really nice in spite of looking like he could rip you in two with his bare hands and then eat you.
"Ah, there you are, Shikamaru! Want to walk back with us?" Choza, Choji's dad, asked cheerfully.
"I found a nice spot to watch the clouds from. I'm going to go there and take a nap." Harry replied.
Choza just chuckled. "Of course you are. Very well. Take care now."
It was weird really. Harry's "dad" here had used that excuse and everyone had just accepted it, and they did the same when he used it. It worked really well to get him out of having to go "home" to do chores or whatever, and left him free to explore the village without anyone looking over his shoulder whenever he found himself here.
"Hey! Hey! You're back again! You wanna train? Huh? Huh?"
Harry flinched as he was assaulted by an orange blur, bouncing around and yelling in his ear.
"Hey there other Shikamaru! So? So? Wanna train?"
"Why are you always so loud? Wait…"other Shikamaru?"
"Well yeah. You're not the same guy as that lazy ass. He doesn't remember helping me with shurikens or anything. You sorta look like regular Shikamaru, but you're different. So…we gonna train or what?"
"Call me Harry. Calling me 'other Shikamaru' is too troublesome….only when it's just us around though. Call me Shikamaru if anyone else is around."
"Sure thing, Hari! So are we going to train or what?"
"Sure, I guess. Why are you so loud all the time anyway?" Harry asked as they meandered towards the training field. The school and its grounds were deserted; the last of the teachers could be seen leaving in groups, chattering and carrying stacks of papers for marking.
"I want people to acknowledge me!" Naruto shouted.
Harry winced, sighed, and glared. "If people don't acknowledge you, it might just be because you're giving them a headache."
"I am not!"
"I'm standing right next to you. Stop shouting." Harry sighed.
"Oh. Heh heh. Sorry. Usually people don't listen to me when I talk. I have to be loud to get them to pay attention."
"We're kids. Guess what? Most people ignore kids unless they a) have a specific reason to pay attention to them, like our teachers in the academy or b) they happen to be their kids. The only other reason is if they're being really loud and annoying, and then they only pay attention so they can yell at them--or to figure out where their parents are so they can yell at them." Harry sighed. "You should save yelling for when it's important."
"What do you mean?"
"Look, if you're just running around shouting all the time for everything, people will just learn to tune you out and actually be less likely to pay attention to you. Say something happens---there's an accident and someone needs help, a fire just started, foreign ninjas have infiltrated--whatever--and so you shout to try to get help, but guess what? No one responds, because you shout all the time about nothing, so it gets ignored. Save being loud for when you need it, when it's important, or you'll probably find no one listening when you really need them to."
He took a few more steps and realized Naruto was no longer alongside him. He glanced back and found Naruto staring out into space, looking like his mind had just been blown.
"You alright there? Your brain isn't broken, is it?"
"NO MY BRAIN ISN'T…!"
"You're shouting again."
"…broken, you JERK!" Naruto concluded, a bit more calmly.
"Better, but still needs improvement." Harry sighed. "So what are we doing?"
"Kunai. I can get them to spin really fast, but they don't stick!"
"You have to throw them differently than you do the shuriken. They're a different shape, have a different weight distribution, and are only sharp on one side, instead of all around like the shuriken are. Didn't you pay attention in class?"
"Heh. I think I skipped that day."
"Idiot. They don't teach us anything we don't need to learn to be effective ninjas. Every time you skip out or don't pay attention, you're missing out on important stuff that you're going to need to know someday. How are you going to feel if you end up getting yourself and your teammates killed someday because you skipped out on a day that taught something important?"
"That's not gonna happen! I'll be an awesome ninja and beat up all the bad guys! I only skip on the boring, stupid stuff! I was gonna skip today since we were doing something stupid, but Asuma sensei said if I did, he was gonna beat me up and the old man wasn't gonna buy me anymore ramen!" Naruto concluded, sounding aggrieved.
"What we were doing wasn't stupid, and it's stuff you need to know!"
"Who needs to know how to write stupid numbers and switch them around?!"
Harry just looked at him, then sighed, sounding quite aggrieved. "Do you actually know what we were doing with those numbers?"
"Something stupid." Naruto grumbled stubbornly.
"We were learning how to calculate trajectories!"
"What are those then?"
"You don't even know that? Geez!"
"What's a trajerkery or whatever that thing was?"
"Trajectory. It's the path an object takes through space from one point to another."
Harry sighed, grabbed a kunai from the pouch on his leg, aimed and flung.
"The path the kunai made from the point it left my hand, to the point where it hit the target is the trajectory. The numbers we were working with describe that path. You need to know how to figure stuff like that out so you know where projectiles you load into a trap will land, or so that you can figure out if you can hit a target from your present position or not."
"We were? How? It's just a bunch of numbers!" Naruto spluttered.
"Ah geez… Okay… We're going to need some visuals…"
It took two hours, and many visual demonstrations, but Harry was certain the lesson had finally sunk in.
"Alright, final test. That tree over there is where enemy ninjas that you need to get are going to appear. You need to set up a trap to launch kunai towards the torso of said enemy ninjas. This spot here is base camp, that tree is our target. It's about ten meters away. Get to work."
Naruto's face scrunched up in concentration as he tried to mesh the numbers with the visuals. It was hard work for him; Harry swore he could see steam rising off his head from the unaccustomed mental workout. He rigged together a trap under Harry's watchful eyes and then came back and nodded nervously.
"Let's see how you did."
Naruto tossed a fist-sized stone at the trigger, and both watched as the hail of kunai launched. Most thudded into the tree they were targeting, while the final third peppered the ground to each side.
"Did you do that on purpose?" Harry asked curiously.
"Yeah. I figure the enemy ninja isn't going to just stand there. If he tries to move to either side he'll still take some damage, and if he tries to jump up…."
He tossed another stone at the approximate area their imaginary target would be standing when the trap triggered, and then tossed another stone to knock the first off the spot it landed. Another hail of kunai shot out, this time hitting a spot two feet above the first.
"As soon as he jumps up and his weight leaves the second trigger, the next trap goes off." Naruto said proudly.
Harry grinned at him and clapped him on the back.
"Good job, Naruto!"
Naruto's face went red and he smiled bashfully while rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment. He got so few genuine compliments, he wasn't quite sure what to do with it.
"Aw man…I wanted to go to the library. We've been here so long I might not have a chance now." Harry suddenly remarked.
"The library? Why do you want to do that?" Naruto demanded, sounding both horrified and perplexed.
"I wanna know stuff. Knowledge is power. You could stand to spend some time there, you know. With the way you're always cutting class, you're probably behind on a whole bunch of stuff. As long as your grades are enough not to flunk out that's fine….but you should make sure you actually know the stuff they're teaching." Harry scolded.
"I hate reading. It's boring…and there's too many kanji." Naruto complained as they gathered up the remains of the traps and kunai.
"Too many… Naruto? Can you read?" Harry demanded.
"Some. Squiggle writing and the pointy stuff too. I only know some kanji."
"And you want to be Hokage? You do realize ninety percent of the job is reading reports and stuff, right?"
"Huh? No way!"
"Yes, way. The Hokage is the strongest ninja in the village, but more than that, he's the head administrator of the village and head of the ninja forces. He has to read everyone's mission reports, keep track of the budget, keep track of the ninja forces so there's always enough people in the right spots to take care of missions and border patrols and protecting the village. He has to keep track of current events and know what's going on in the world so he knows if there's a war brewing, or if someplace isn't safe to send ninjas below a certain rank… He's off in that tower all the time because he's doing paperwork all day every day and sending and receiving messages from all over."
Naruto grumbled as they packed away the last of the equipment they'd been using and started off towards the public library.
"We'll get you some kid books to study to help improve your reading. Even if you don't decide to become Hokage, you still need to know how, not just for your own life, but you'll have to submit mission reports once you graduate and are an active ninja. Practice writing your kanji as well as reading it. You'll never move past genin if you can't read and write good."
The Konoha public library was in a plain, squat building near the center of the village. It was made of stone, unlike most of the village, which was made of worn, weathered wood, and had a large painted sign over the entrance. Inside was cool and dim. It was larger than Harry's school library back home, and may have been a bit larger than the public library as well--though whether it was actually larger, or that the scrolls that made up a large part of the collection just took up more room he wasn't sure.
"Have you been here before?" Harry asked curiously as they headed inside.
"No. I tried to once, but I got chased out as soon as the librarian saw me." Naruto admitted in a small voice as he looked around nervously.
"Just don't be loud or jump around. You're supposed to be quiet in a library so you don't disturb the folks that are reading." Harry explained, his own voice quiet. "Let's look around and see what's here. Oh, good, card catalogue." he added cheerfully.
Naruto followed him, curious and peered over his shoulder when he pulled out a small drawer filled with cards and began idly flipping through it. He eventually seemed to find what he wanted. He grabbed some scrap paper and a pencil that were nearby, scrawled something down and beckoned Naruto to follow him.
Naruto did so, still perplexed, though that quickly turned to annoyance when Harry searched the shelves for a bit and pulled a few kiddie books, which he then gave to Naruto before steering him towards a seat.
"These all teach you basic kanji. Each one adds to the ones before. They're meant to teach kids to read and to improve their reading comprehension. Start reading them in order and try to memorize what you can. These here are to help you write, and they show you how to make the characters. You should practice that when you get a chance, and keep at it till you get it right. People will definitely take advantage of you if they know you can't read stuff for yourself and have to depend on others to tell you what things say. That's a weakness you should definitely work to fix. You can check books out for a while too. You can take these home even and keep working with them till you know everything. Why don't you get started? I'm gonna get something for myself and I'll join you in a bit." Harry explained, before heading back to the catalogue.
Naruto scrunched up his face angrily and glared at the stack of books by his elbow, before sighing despondently and pulling the first from the stack.
"Sooo boring." he complained, though he quickly hunched down in his seat and got quiet when he saw the librarian glaring at him.
Harry returned a few minutes later with a history book, and settled down to happily start reading. Naruto sighed and did so as well.
"Huh. How about that." Harry said quietly some time later.
"Huh?" Naruto echoed. He was on the third book in the series. They'd gotten a bit harder to read as they progressed, though he was still able to follow it mostly. He was rather surprised to find he'd been sitting quietly and reading for as long as he had been. "What's going on?"
"Your name, Uzumaki. You said you were an orphan and didn't know your parents, right?"
"Uzumaki were a ninja clan, and they had their own village too, the hidden Whirlpool village. It got destroyed a long time ago. They were all seal masters, and a bunch of other villages ganged up on them to wipe them out because they were really strong. The Uzumaki clan were cousins to the Senju clan that founded Konoha along with the Uchiha clan. The first Hokage's wife was an Uzumaki named Mito. Whirlpool village were Konoha's sister village and eternal allies. The attack that wiped out Whirlpool, Konoha didn't hear about it in time to send aid before they were wiped out. The red swirl on the ninja uniforms is actually the symbol of the Whirlpool village that's worn in remembrance of them. It's red rather than white like the usual Uzumaki clan symbol to represent the blood that was shed."
"Wow. So I come from a ninja clan that had their own village? And they were really strong? What's a seal master?"
"I'm not completely sure, but it's got to be some sort of ninja art. Hang on. I'm going to see what else I can find. You can read the little bit they say about the Uzumakis in here if you want."
Naruto took the book eagerly, wanting to know more about his awesome ninja family. This book was a lot harder than the one he was already reading, and he knew he was missing a lot. He had originally been planning to blow off finishing the books Hari had found for him once he was gone--it all seemed like a lot of bother--but finding himself unable to read for himself about his awesome ninja family and their village left him feeling rather annoyed and disappointed in himself. He vowed then that he was going to work on reading and writing until he mastered it, even if it was boring and he didn't really want to do it. If he'd been able to read better, and not gotten the librarian angry at him for being too loud in someplace you were supposed to be quiet, he might have learned about his awesome, strong ninja family years ago!
Harry returned and beckoned him to follow him to an out of the way corner.
"I didn't find anything about seals or seal masters here, but there's a separate section for ninja stuff. It's probably in there. I watched some guys go in. There's a guy at a desk just inside the door. He glances at you when you go in to see if you're wearing a headband. Can you do a henge to look like a genin?"
"Uh, I think so?" Naruto nodded.
He did hand-signs and was about to shout "HENGE!", but luckily Harry's glare reminded him that was probably not a good idea. When the chakra smoke cleared, a brown-haired boy who looked about twelve, who was dressed in grey pants and a dark blue kimono top with a mesh shirt beneath stood there. Naruto patted at his head to be sure he'd remembered the headband. Harry scrutinized him carefully and walked in a slow circle around him.
"Uh, Naruto? You still have your clothes on the back. You have to change all of you. Remove the markings from your face too. You’re the only person I've seen with those."
"Oh. Heh, heh. Let me try again."
"Better. Try to keep that in mind next time you need to go in disguise. Whole body clothing, no markings. My turn."
Harry's disguise was of a tomboyish-looking girl with black hair and brown eyes wearing shorts, a yellow tunic and thigh-high stockings. She looked about thirteen or fourteen.
"How do I look? Did I forget anything?"
Naruto studied him just as closely as he'd studied him, but eventually he nodded. "Looks good. Why a girl though?"
"No one would expect me to disguise myself as a teenage girl…that and I saw her heading away from the hospital as we were heading in. She was telling her friend she got accepted into the medical program at the hospital and was going to have to head to the library to study tomorrow. If she shows up and is hanging around, it will just reinforce the idea that I'm who I'm pretending to be. Who's yours?"
"A guy that graduated last year. He works in one of the offices nearby and comes to the library about once a week." Naruto shrugged.
"He's not going to show up while you're in disguise, is he?"
"Nah. He usually comes on Sunday when he's free." Naruto assured him.
"Great. Just play it cool, and follow me." Harry nodded.
Outside, hidden in an alley, unbeknownst to the two boys, Hinata Hyuuga was watching them with her Byakugan--the eye power of her clan, which allowed one to look through walls, among other things. She spent most days, when she was able, following Naruto around and watching him. He inspired her. She was very shy, and not good at her clan's fighting style. Naruto wasn't shy at all, and wasn't good at much at all, but he kept getting back up, kept trying, and kept working to improve himself. He not only did that, he did so with a smile on his face and a heart full of determination and enthusiasm.
Hinata wanted to be better, she wanted her family to be proud of her. She had started watching Naruto in hopes of learning the secret of keeping his hopes and dreams alive in the face of hostility and derision. She wanted, so many times, to approach him, befriend him, and hang out with him, but she had yet to muster up the courage to speak to him, and so stalking it was. She saw him and Shikamaru disguise themselves and sneak into the ninja library. Her heart filled with determination.
If she disguised herself as well, she could be closer to her idol, who had grown into a crush over the time she'd been watching him.
"Good plan, Hinata!" she told herself fiercely. She made herself look like one of her genin Hyuga cousins. She was currently off on a mission, but that hardly mattered. Most of the villagers, she'd noticed, couldn't seem to tell the various members of the Hyuuga clan apart. She straightened her shoulders, stepped out of the alley she'd been hidden in, and strode boldly across the street to infiltrate the library and be closer to Naruto.
On the roof above where Hinata had been hidden, Kou Hyuuga , who was acting as her bodyguard that day to see her safely from the Academy to the clan compound, sighed, and activated his own Byakugan so he could keep an eye on her while she was out of his sight.
He'd never told her father about her habit of stalking one of her classmates; the poor kid got enough flak at home from the elders and her father for not being a fierce Jounin-level warrior already at the ripe old age of eight, while in peace-time. Hinata-sama was a sweet, kind girl. If stalking her classmate made her happy, he was content to let her do as she wished and not tattle on her to the clan. He frowned when he peered inside and saw she was infiltrating the ninja section of the library in disguise. The classmate she'd been following, and the Nara boy who was with him were already in there in their own disguises. Hinata-sama grabbed a random scroll from one of the shelves and sat down at one of the tables while the two boys were still searching for something. Besides the chunin door guard, there was one other person in the library at another table--an ANBU in a cat mask disguised as a rather forgettable genin-aged ninja.
"That must be Naruto's ANBU guard." he realized.
Movement in a nearby alleyway drew his attention, and he saw an Aburame boy and a Uchiha boy lurking there, watching the library. They headed inside. Once there, they conferred briefly, disguised themselves, and headed into the ninja section as well.
"You're sure that's them?" Sasuke Uchiha asked his partner in today's venture, Shino Aburame, quietly.
"Yes. It is most assuredly them. Why? Because I tagged each of them with one of my kikachu so that I would not lose track of them once they left the Academy grounds."
He'd never actually spoken to Shino before this. He'd spotted him lurking in the bushes watching Shikamaru and Naruto and had snuck over to find out why he'd been watching them. Shino had informed him that a bug of all things had told him that Shikamaru's chakra had gotten weird and he was keeping an eye on him to find out why. He'd been curious about that, and also to find out what Shikamaru wanted with the dead last. They had watched them the whole time they'd been at the Academy. Shikamaru had explained the work they'd been doing earlier in school in a way that Naruto, who was an idiot, not only understood but was able to then use to good effect to set up a fairly clever trap.
He understood it better now himself…though he chose not to focus on that part.
Once they'd finished, the two of them had headed off to the library. Curious, they'd followed.
They were halfway there when they discovered they weren't the only ones with an interest in the two of them. Hinata Hyuuga was following them as well.
That led to where they were now, sitting in disguise after having infiltrated the ninja section of the library.
Sasuke and Shino both stiffened just a bit when the guy who'd been sitting at the other table suddenly approached them. He had several scrolls in his hands, which he set down in front of Sasuke.
"If you're going to be in here anyway, you should read these." the boy informed him.
Sasuke stared at him nervously, wondering if he knew a guy that looked like his disguise and had mistaken him for them.
"Oh, uh, sure. I'll get right on that." Sasuke laughed nervously.
The other boy sighed and reached out as though he was about to jab him in the forehead, though he stopped before he actually did so.
Shino stiffened and watched the proceedings in worry, fearing that they'd been discovered as infiltrators and were now about to be unmasked when Sasuke's henge was disrupted by the other boy's forceful jab.
Sasuke froze for a whole different reason. Only one person regularly jabbed him in the forehead. The other guy wasn't some random genin, it was his older brother Itachi, who was apparently spying on him or something.
Itachi didn't disrupt Sasuke's henge, or point them out to the chunin guarding the door. He just went back to his table and continued reading calmly.
Sasuke and Shino both watched him warily for several minutes, but he continued to ignore them. Sasuke finally relaxed and figured he'd best get reading whatever his brother had just brought him. He offered Shino a chance to read as well. Naruto and Shikamaru were still going through the shelves and gathering stuff, so they'd probably be here a while.
"Here we go--fuinjutsu." Harry said quietly after a quick search.
They grabbed what little was available and headed towards the tables. There had to be a better ninja library somewhere else. There was lots in here: scrolls on ninjutsu, tactics, genjutsu, taijutsu, chakra exercises--both for control and to build up one's stores, medical stuff, and the bit on seals that he'd just found. Everything there was E or D ranked--in other words, the really basic beginner stuff, suitable for a new genin to delve into, but no really powerful stuff. It was disappointing, but only a little. They were both beginners, still in the academy--and Harry only part-time at that. If there'd been more powerful stuff available, they probably both would have gone right for it and probably ended up hurting themselves or something, so he supposed it really was just as well. Beginner stuff or not, the place was a veritable treasure trove for both of them--Harry because he too often showed up on days when they were learning history or taking tests on stuff he'd never learned, and he was missing out on a lot. Naruto, because he had no one at home to help him, and some of the teachers at the academy either ignored him when he didn't understand stuff or needed help, or they sabotaged him in small ways.
They commandeered a table far from the chunin at the door and away from the four other people in the library, split their finds in half and started reading.
"This stuff is weird." Naruto mused, staring at the squiggles and symbols on the pages with a confused frown.
"This stuff is amazing, and given that it's what your clan was known for, you might very well have a talent for it if you learn all you can and really apply yourself. This stuff is probably only the easiest most basic stuff, but what you can do with it is incredible. You can make storage scrolls to store large amounts of stuff in a small space so you can easily transport it from one place to another, you can preserve food, put up barriers, make bomb notes, suppress someone's chakra, or hold someone in stasis so they survive long enough to get to a hospital… If you learn this and work at it, you'll be able to do so much amazing stuff…and the stuff in here is just the really basic beginner stuff, which means the higher level stuff is probably really awesome." Harry disagreed, switching books with him. "Next time bring a notebook and something to write with." Harry added quietly "We can't check anything out of this section without blowing our cover, but that doesn't mean you can't copy everything, and work on it at your own speed at home." he glanced down at the book in his hand which showed the different elements of a basic bomb note and explained them.
"Work on you reading and writing first. That book said it can be dangerous--if you make a character wrong, or do it sloppily or in the wrong order it can blow up in your face, and also you want to make sure your copied notes are clear and understandable so you don't make stupid mistakes."
When he glanced up at Naruto, he saw a fierce and determined gleam in his eyes and smiled in satisfaction. He had no doubt now that he was going to work himself to the bone to master reading and writing as quickly as he could manage so he could have this part of his family's legacy. Harry had no doubt he would succeed or die trying. The kid didn't know how to quit, and he was a lot smarter than people gave him credit for if he had just a bit of guidance and encouragement, and it was something he really wanted.
Harry put most of the stuff away and went to take a peek at the jutsu scrolls. Naruto held on to the one detailing how to make a basic storage scroll. When Harry came back and saw what he was doing, he sighed a bit, but smiled.
"Just…be careful, and don't blow yourself up or anything. It's nice having a friend to hang out with like this. It would be troublesome if you did that."
Naruto looked at him in shock for a long moment, looking strangely vulnerable, but then the brightest, widest smile he'd ever seen on his face broke across it like the birth of a new sun.
"I'll master this no problem and make the best scrolls you've ever seen, and I won't blow up. Believe it!"
His words landed between them with the weight of a solemn promise, in spite of their boasting tone and the big, stupid grin on his face. Harry found himself helpless to do anything but smile back, exasperated and fond all at once.
"Strangely enough, I do." he replied, equally sincere. "You do that, I'll learn how to make an earth wall…try to, anyway."
They spent another hour or so in the ninja library, then headed back out to get the books Naruto had earlier so he could check them out. That's where they ran into problems.
"You need a library card to check anything out."
"So how do I get one?"
"You need to have this form signed by your parent or guardian." The librarian said kindly. Neither Naruto or Harry was fooled. She had a mean look in her eye that told them both that she knew very well Naruto had no parents and so couldn't do that.
"Maybe the old man would sign it."
"Old man?" Harry asked curiously as they both stared at the form in his hands in frustration.
"Old man Hokage."
The librarian stiffened just a tiny, tiny bit, so Harry smiled.
"You think so? Maybe you should ask him. The tower's fairly close by. I'll stay here with your books so they don't get put back on the shelves. If he won't, I could probably ask my dad if he would." Harry added casually, turning his head slightly so he could catch the librarian's reaction. "Shikaku Nara. He's the Jounin Commander, so he's pretty important and stuff."
"Yeah? Thanks H…Shikamaru" Naruto chirped, just remembering he was supposed to call him the other name if other people were about.
"Why don't you go see if the Hokage's busy?" Harry prodded.
"I'll be right back!" Naruto nodded, before speeding off.
Harry pulled Naruto's stack of books down to the end of the desk so he'd be out of the way, gave the librarian a look that told her in no uncertain terms that Naruto would be checking them out as soon as he returned, and she'd best cooperate or else, and then slumped against the desk to wait.
He got tired of standing after ten minutes had passed, so he gathered up Naruto's books and took them and himself to the table nearby, settled at the end and put his head down.
He was strangely tired, considering he hadn't really done much but take a test and read a book and a few scrolls.
"Sorry it took so long. The old man was busy when I showed up, but he signed it. He said he was real proud of me trying to read better…"
Shikamaru woke from his nap and stiffened just slightly when he realized he wasn't in the Academy, which was the last place he remembered being. Casually, and not letting on how freaked out he was, he raised his head and looked around. He was in the library, it looked like, with Naruto of all people, who was gathering up a pile of books near his elbow. He sat up all the way and looked around, then glanced at Naruto, who had suddenly stopped chattering and was looking at him with disappointment for some reason.
"Hey Shikamaru. Just gonna get my library card and check out these books so's I can learn to read good. Can you tell Hari thanks for his help?" Naruto replied. He seemed rather downcast for some reason, and had one of his stupid, fake smiles pasted across his face. "I guess I'll see you in class."
Unsettled, and still confused, though doing his best not to show it, he watched as Naruto put the pile of books he'd gathered carefully on the desk in front of the librarian and handed her the paper he'd been waving around when he'd first arrived. She took the paper with a grimace, and darted a look towards him for some reason and blanched slightly when she saw he was watching them. With reluctance the woman arranged a library card for Naruto and checked out the books he'd brought her. Shikamaru narrowed his eyes at the sight. It had always bothered him the way so many of the adults in town seemed to treat the blonde kid. Yeah, he was loud, and a bit annoying, and liked to play pranks--but so were a lot of kids, and they didn't get treated like that. When they were done, he rose and sauntered after Naruto. He still wasn't sure what was going on, but he had a feeling Naruto must have the answers he wanted.
"I'd say all this was a big waste of time, but those scrolls were really helpful. I'll have to come back here and do some more reading." Sasuke remarked as they watched Naruto and Shikamaru leave.
"Not a complete waste. The odd chakra from earlier has disappeared. It did so while he was sleeping, waiting for Naruto to return. If you noticed, he was acting more in character, and moves like Shikamaru again."
"Do your bugs know why he was weird?" Sasuke wondered.
"I still have them tagged. If they have any informative conversations I will be informed." Shino replied.
"Indeed. Why? Because I am curious what Shikamaru has to say now that his chakra is no longer strange. He seemed a bit confused when he woke. It is possible he will be seeking answers himself, and when he does so we may learn those answers as well from my surveillance."
"Did Hinata leave already?" Sasuke wondered, looking around.
"Indeed. As did the one who approached us earlier."
"My big brother." Sasuke explained.
"I see. This mission has borne surprising fruit. It seems obvious now that the ninja library is a test. Why? Because otherwise there would be better security. Any academy student who has mastered henge can, if they choose to, enter the library and expand on their base of knowledge."
"Yeah. I'm definitely coming back. That place must be part of the reason big brother is so awesome. I'll learn everything in there and then I'll be just as awesome. You want to come back with me tomorrow?"
"That would be acceptable." Shino nodded.
Shino was weird, but he wasn't a bad guy, and he wasn't noisy like Kiba and Naruto, or always eating like Choji. As a bonus, most of his fan girls didn't like bugs. Hanging out with Shino was almost guaranteed to keep all but the most determined of them away. Things were really looking up.
"Ready to go?"
"Indeed. I am curious as to what else my bugs have to report."
Sasuke returned to the Uchiha district, where he and the rest of his clan lived, as dusk was falling. He was halfway home when his brother suddenly appeared in front of him.
Sasuke skidded to a stop and scowled at him.
"Good evening, little brother. What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Why were you spying on me earlier?"
"I saw you and the Aburame boy disguise yourselves and infiltrate the library. I wanted to know whether or not I was going to have to break mother's heart by informing her you'd become a delinquent."
"I'm not a delinquent! I was just following some guys who'd already infiltrated the library!" Sasuke squawked in outrage.
"Stalking boys? It looks like mother's heart will be broken regardless. She does want grandchildren someday." Itachi noted with mock regret.
"Big brother!" Sasuke growled, stamping his foot in irritation. "Stop being weird! We were keeping an eye on them!"
"Oh? Were they enemy ninjas?"
"No! Just stupid kids from the academy. The lazy guy and the dead last."
"And why did you feel the need to keep an eye on such persons?"
"I saw Shino hiding in the bushes after school watching Naruto and Shikamaru and so I went over to find out why. He said one of his bugs told him Shikamaru's chakra had gotten weird, and he was keeping an eye on him to find out why. I was kind of curious as to why Shikamaru was hanging out with the dead last, so I stuck around to watch as well."
"Really? And did they do anything of note?"
"No. He just spend two hours explaining the test we'd taken on trajectories, which we'd just got done going over in class, but Naruto's and idiot and still didn't understand. He did a bunch of visual demonstrations until he understood and then made him set up a trap. It was actually pretty clever." he admitted grudgingly. "They headed off to the library after that, so we followed them, that's all."
"And did you learn anything else about this supposed weird chakra?"
"Well…it wasn't weird anymore after he fell asleep for a bit while waiting for Naruto to get back with the form so he could get a library card. Shikamaru was surprised to wake up in the library, and he questioned Naruto about it. Naruto thinks Shikamaru has a twin brother named Hari and that they switch places in the academy sometimes. He seems to be able to tell when it's Hari or Shikamaru in control, but not that it's the same body, or that his chakra gets weird. Shino thinks he was possessed, maybe by a dead Uzumaki that wants to help Naruto or something. It seems the only thing "Hari" has done was help Naruto do better in school, encourage him to read and write better and tell him about his clan. They were wiped out or something. He wants him to get better at reading and writing and stuff. Apparently he barely knows how to read. All the stuff he took out of the library were baby books that are supposed to teach you." Sasuke added scornfully.
"Unlike yourself, Naruto has no parents to help him learn such things, and no clan. He lives alone and has for several years already. In spite of such handicaps, he is working to better himself. You should not scorn that." Itachi chastised.
Sasuke hung his head at the mild rebuke. He looked up to his brother more than most anyone else in the world. Itachi said nothing further, knowing his point had been made.
Instead, he started towards home. Their parents were likely already awaiting them, with dinner on the table.
While they walked, Itachi wondered whether he should report his findings to the Hokage immediately, or if he should wait and watch for a bit. It might just be imagination and a childish game. If it was not, and they were correct, this 'Hari' that might be possessing Shikamaru hadn't done anything to endanger the village, and at the moment was the only person, or possibly ghost, that was actively trying to help Naruto.
As one of his ANBU guards, he was unable to intervene in his life unless directly threatened, and then only to remove him from the situation. It was frustrating sometimes, watching him blunder around, cheerful but oblivious, playing pranks rather than studying--though it was better to watch over him than be sent out on assassination missions.
"I suppose I don't really have to worry about it one way or another." Itachi finally decided "If the Nara boy was possessed, he is likely now aware of it, and will surely inform his parents, who will inform the Hokage if they feel it warranted. I don't really need to get involved."
"We're home!" Sasuke called out once they arrived.
"Welcome home. Dinner's ready. Clean up and come to the table." their mother greeted them both warmly, before ducking back into the kitchen.
Sasuke smiled back at her and bent to remove his shoes like his brother was. He recalled his brother's words from earlier about Naruto. Sasuke had never been alone. He'd always had mother and father and big brother. The houses all around them were filled with their fellow clansmen. Naruto's clan was wiped out, and his parents were dead and he lived alone.
He tried to imagine it--coming home to an empty Uchiha district, to an empty house, with no mother, no father, no big brother…
He shuddered in horror at the very idea and shook off the disturbing thoughts immediately.
"It's horrible. I don't even want to imagine it. It makes me sick to even think about it… and Naruto…. He must feel like that all day, every day. How can he? How can he be so loud, and cheerful and stupid every day if he does? How can he smile so much if he's all alone and has no one?
Hours after parting from Naruto, lying in his own bed, Shikamaru realized that he had more information, but just as many questions as he'd had before.
Naruto seemed to think there were two of him, or that he had a twin brother or something. The other him-- "Hari"-- showed up and took his place in class sometimes, and helped Naruto out.
Was he sleepwalking? Did he have a split personality? Was he being possessed?
He considered all these options, and of the three, possession seemed most likely. But why would someone possess him? He was just a kid, an Academy student. And if that is what was happening, why would the person possessing him go out of his way to help Naruto learn to read, throw kunai and shuriken and learn about his family? Was it an Uzumaki ghost that was tired of seeing him floundering and wanted to keep a closer eye on him or something? It was really the only scenario he could think of that fit the known facts. An enemy ninja would have possessed someone more useful, and wouldn't have worried about helping out the dead-last Academy student. If he was really the last of the clan, he supposed how he could see if some ghost decided an intervention was needed. It still didn't explain why it was him they decided to inflict themselves on, but whatever.
Life proceeded as normal for the following two weeks. Shikamaru didn't find himself waking up in any odd places, though that might just be because he'd been staying awake in class.
He was honestly a little freaked out that some Uzumaki ghost might have put his body on like a suit of clothes and went wandering around in it without his knowledge.
When the two weeks was up, enough time had gone by where he wasn't possessed by any ghosts, that he had started to relax. He really, really wanted a nap. All this staying awake and paying attention all day every day was for the birds.
The universe seemed to be conspiring against him.
"Shikamaru, good. You seem to have a good handle on your chakra. It's time to start learning the family jutsu. Read up. I'll expect to see progress the next time I corner you." his dad warned, handing him a large, ornate, and very old looking scroll.
He took the thing and slowly unrolled it to start reading. There was no putting it off. If he did, he'd have his dad AND his mom bitching at him about being lazy. As he was reading, he realized he felt excited, which was weird. He was pretty sure he was annoyed.
He rubbed his chest absently and looked around the room, carefully scrutinizing the shadows to see if there were any weird Uzumaki ghosts around. He didn't see or feel anything odd, so he turned back to the scroll to keep reading.
He'd originally planned to just read the first jutsu and be done with it, but he found himself reading the whole scroll carefully from beginning to end. It had just seemed to make sense to see what all he was in for.
It turns out, there was actually quite a lot that could be done with shadows, which was cool, he supposed, but it still seemed rather troublesome. You could grab someone's shadow with yours and pin them in place, you could grab hold and make them mimic your movements, you could split your shadow and grab multiple opponents, lift it from the ground to chase people, hide in the shadows by pulling them around yourself, you could in theory make a shadow wall to protect yourself, though it took a lot of chakra and concentration. There was even a "clone of shadows", which was a bunshin made from shadows you controlled. This was apparently different from the "shadow clone", a technique developed by the second Hokage, which was also detailed. It seemed he'd been trying to make the "clone of shadows" more useful, and he did.
The shadow clone was solid and could run around independently and would send whatever it learned back to you when it popped, which their own clone of shadows couldn't. That sounded very useful. He could send it off to class or to do chores in his place, while he took a nap or went to watch the clouds. Yeah, he'd still have the memory of class and chores, but at least he wouldn't have to actually do them!
Unfortunately, the shadow clone technique had a bunch of dire warnings on it. You split your chakra evenly between yourself and whatever clones you made, and it took a lot to make it. You could accidentally kill yourself if you weren't careful. Looks like he was stuck with the regular old clone they taught at school, which was just a flimsy illusion and couldn't actually do anything, and the clone of shadows which was slightly more useful, but only just.
He had a sudden urge to go over the scroll one more time, just to be sure he hadn't missed anything on the first go-through. He really wanted a nap…but maybe once more wouldn't hurt.
He sighed tiredly and went back to the beginning, which went over how to synchronize your chakra with your shadow. You had to master that part first, or you'd never be able to manage any of the techniques on the scroll except the shadow clone, which didn't require synchronization, just a large output of chakra.
He found himself wondering whether Naruto could manage the shadow clone. He had loads of chakra--so much that he wasted tons of it on every technique he tried, and still had so much energy he couldn't sit still. He hadn't been able to manage a single bunshin in class, and he'd really been trying. He had awful control on top of having so much chakra…
"Troublesome." he muttered to himself.
He finished re-reading how to synchronize with shadows, and idly looked over the rest of the techniques again while he thought about it, then went back to re-read the section about the shadow clones. He probably should ask his dad about it. Naruto was annoying, but he didn't want to accidentally kill him.
Later at dinner, he broached the topic.
"Hey, dad, how can you tell if you have enough chakra for the shadow clone jutsu?"
Shikaku's eyes widened very slightly--which for him was the same as another guy flinching in alarm.
"You don't. Stick to the beginner stuff, please. I'll be rather irritated if you go and kill yourself." he sighed.
"I wasn't planning to. I know I don't have enough, but how do I tell if someone else does?"
"Someone like who?"
"Naruto. We've been doing bunshins in class. He hasn't managed it once. He's got so much chakra that he wastes more than most of us have to begin with in every technique. He's also got lousy control, probably because he has so much. Bunshin uses so little chakra, I don't know if he can actually manage it. The shadow clone thing might be dangerous for most people…but he might actually be able to use it safely in place of a regular bunshin. I thought I should check first. He's annoying, but I don't want him dead."
Shikaku sighed and leaned his chin on his hand while he thought about it.
"If he has as much as you think…but if his control is so poor, he'll use far more chakra than is needed on a technique that's already dangerous for someone your age…" he mused.
"Let me think about this. I'll get back to you."
Shikamaru nodded and went back to eating. He noticed his mother was smiling at him slightly.
"What?" he asked warily.
"It's nice of you to look out for your classmates. It was a good idea. I don't think Ku…"
Shikaku said her name quietly, without any particular inflection, but his mom fell silent and busied herself collecting the dishes. Shikamaru was rather stunned by this. Thus far in his life, so far as he was able to tell, his father was terrified of his mother, and obeyed her every whim. Why the hell would he do that if he could silence her with a word?
"I don't see what knowing about her would hurt. She was his…" his mom immediately argued.
"I have orders. It' s not my call." his dad grumbled.
She huffed and took the dishes to the kitchen, muttering about 'old folks with too much time on their hands' as she did so.
Shikamaru narrowed his eyes and looked at his dad suspiciously.
"Don't worry about it." he ordered, sighing.
After dinner, his dad went off to check on the deer. Shikamaru, who had been musing on the latest mystery, did something he rarely did. He sought out his mom. She was making a list of food that needed replacing. He wandered past her and got himself some juice.
"I feel bad for Naruto sometimes. He has no idea who his parents were. He only just found out he was part of a ninja clan because of something he read in a history book at the library. He's decided to try to improve his reading and writing enough that he can learn seals and honor his ancestors. He knows he had a clan, but except for Shodaime-sama's wife, he doesn't know any of their names, or what they looked like." he drank his juice, rinsed out the cup. "Oh well…maybe he or someone else will just stumble across something that could tell him about his mom. You're often troublesome… but it would be terrible if I didn't know you at all, not even your name."
His mother went still behind him. Figuring he'd done enough, he headed for his room to take the nap he'd been wanting.
In the morning, his mom set an old box of photographs on the table.
"Oh, Shikamaru, it's nearly time for school. "
"What's with all the pictures?"
"Oh, these old things? Pictures of different people I grew up with. They've been collecting dust in an old box. I was thinking of putting them in an album or something. Oh! Let me grab your lunch before you head off."
Once she was gone, he picked up the picture that was on top. It showed a pretty red-headed girl with really long hair and a big smile. She looked a lot like Naruto, but with different coloring and no whisker marks on her cheeks. She was wearing a yellow-and black kunoichi outfit, and was wearing a leaf headband. He flipped it over and saw scrawled across the back "Kushina Uzumaki, the Red Hot-Blooded Habanero!".
He carefully tucked it away as his mother returned with his lunch.
Their eyes met for a moment and she smiled slightly, before shooing him on his way.
He didn't get a chance to talk to Naruto until lunchtime. Choji followed him over when he said he had to talk to Naruto.
He was sitting over by himself, and didn't seem to have lunch with him.
"Don't you have any food?" Choji asked in horror.
Naruto gave one of his fake smiles and rubbed the back of his head.
"Ah, I forgot to pack it! It's no problem! I'll just eat twice as much when I get home!"
Shikamaru glanced over and saw Hinata watching them from behind a nearby tree. She had a giant bento large enough for two or three people that she was clutching to her chest, while staring at Naruto intently, her face all red.
"Eh, maybe someone who has extra will come along and offer to share before you keel over from starving to death." Shikamaru shrugged. "I just wanted to give you this." he explained, handing over the picture. When Naruto just stared at the red-haired girl in confusion, he rolled his eyes. "Her name's on the back." he prodded.
Naruto flipped it over and read it in silence, then his eyes widened.
"My mom has a box of old pictures. I saw that in there. We're the same age, so our parents' probably are too. Uzumaki isn't a common name. I figure she might be your mom."
Naruto flipped the picture back over and stared at his mother in silence. He held the picture like it was a precious treasure.
"Thanks, Shikamaru." Naruto said quietly, his voice thick.
"You should probably get a frame for it or something." Shikamaru mumbled, rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment at the tears that welled up in Naruto's eyes but didn't fall. "Anyway, we'll see you around." he added, before he and Choji high-tailed it to their usual spot. That was plenty of mushy stuff for one day.
Choji offered him one of his potato chips as they walked. Shikamaru's cheeks pinked slightly.
It was, for Choji, the same as a "wow, you're a really awesome guy!" from anyone else.
He took the chip and ate it, and glanced back over his shoulder to see if Hinata had gotten her courage up.
He smiled a bit when he saw she had. The two of them were sharing her enormous lunch and looking at the picture of Naruto's mom. Hinata's face was bright red, but she hadn't fainted yet, which was enormous progress on her part. She was so shy it was ridiculous.
"Naruto looked really happy." Choji noted.
"Yeah, he did."
"You haven't been possessed lately." he added.
"Yeah. Hopefully whoever that guy was is done whatever he was trying to accomplish. It's too troublesome. If he does come back, you know what to do."
"On it. If he was just doing it to help Naruto, he might be done. Naruto hasn't skipped as much, and he's been trying to pay attention more. He's been working on his reading and writing too. If he keeps it up, he might manage to graduate with the rest of us." Choji said optimistically.
Shikamaru and Choji waved goodbye to Naruto when class let out for the day and headed towards home. Naruto waved back, and then reached up to touch his precious picture, which he'd put away inside his jacket to keep it safe. Shikamaru might be a lazy-ass, but he was an okay guy. He still kinda wished his brother had come to school today instead so they could go train or something.
"Ano…Naruto-kun? Are you ready?" a quiet voice asked.
Naruto spun around and grinned at his newest friend. Hinata was quiet and kind of weird, but she was nice. She'd shared her really yummy lunch with him and offered to go with him to help him find a picture frame.
"Yup. Ready when you are! I just realized though…I don't know where to get a picture frame. I don't think I've ever seen any in the stores I've gone in." Naruto admitted sheepishly.
"I k-know a place that sells them." Hinata offered, poking her index fingers together nervously.
She had managed to keep from fainting so far. If she could just hold out a bit longer, she would spend the afternoon with her hero.
"Stay focused, Hinata! You can do it!" she told herself fiercely.
"Really? That's great! Let's go then. I want to protect my mom's picture before anything happens to it."
"R-right! It's over this way." she pointed.
The two kids set off walking. Some distance behind them, out of sight, Kou was once more on duty, protecting the heiress until she returned home. He was rather proud of her really. She'd managed to actually talk to the boy this time, rather than stalking him all afternoon at a distance.
They wandered through town for a bit, until they eventually reached what seemed to be their destination. Kou put on his Byakugan to keep an eye on them while they were inside. He was rather glad he'd thought to do so when, about ten minutes later he was forced to intervene before Lady Hinata killed the shopkeeper.
He appeared among them in a flurry of leaves and took in the whole frozen tableau in an instant.
In front of him, the shopkeeper, face twisted with hate, an old photograph in his hands that he seemed about to tear to shreds. On the counter, a picture frame that would fit said photograph. To his right, Lady Hinata, Byakugan activated, in stance for the gentle fist, an unusually fierce look upon her face. She looked both ready and willing to commit murder. To his left, Naruto Uzumaki, gaze trained on the photograph in the shopkeeper's hands, and looking as though his whole world was being destroyed right in front of him.
All three froze when he appeared. It took but a couple of brief taps to numb the shopkeeper's hands and make him drop the photograph before any harm came to it. He handed it to the boy who clutched it to his chest in desperation.
"Hinata-sama? Why don't you and your friend wait outside. I won't be a moment." Kou said mildly.
Now that the photograph was safe, and Naruto no longer looked like he was going to die of sheer misery, she had reverted to her normally shy, reserved demeanor. She nodded quickly and shuffled over to Naruto, dragging him from the shop, while spilling a cascade of miserable apologies from her lips.
When the door closed behind them, Kou spoke once more.
"Was there some problem?"
"I don't serve filthy demons here!" The shopkeeper snarled.
"I see. I shall tell the clan that the Hyuuga are no longer welcomed in this establishment. We shall take our business elsewhere."
The shopkeeper froze, and a look of abject horror began skating across his face. The Hyuuga were one of the larger clans of Konoha, as well as one of the wealthier clans. Both he and Kou knew being shunned by the Hyuuga would mean the end of his business, especially if other clans chose to follow their lead.
Kou, of course, could not actually make the Hyuuga clan shun his business, but he didn't know that. Of course, Hiashi-sama might actually enforce such an embargo on his daughter's behalf.
He was hard on her, and was at least half responsible for her shyness and lack of courage, but he did love her, and would be outraged that any shopkeeper might have treated her badly. Of course, he would likely punish her behind closed doors for being so weak as to be abused by a shopkeeper in the first place…but again, the man didn't need to know that.
"N-No! No! Honorable Hyuga! There has been a terrible misunderstanding here! All members of your esteemed clan…"
Koh just looked at him. The man's face twisted in revulsion and frustration, and with what seemed to be tremendous effort, he managed to paste an almost passable smile back on his face, though his next words were said through gritted teeth "…and their…guests…are always welcome here." The man glanced down at the picture frame that had been left on his counter. "Please accept this gift as a token of my sincerity." he added bitterly, handing it over.
Koh nodded regally and went outside to get the children.
Hinata and Naruto both looked miserable and upset. Naruto looked at the picture frame in shock when Koh handed it to him.
"No need to be so down, Uzumaki-san. The proprietor was out of line, and I made sure to remind him of this. That being said, after such a shameful display, were I you, I would not reward his shop with either my money or my patronage after this. If you should find yourself in need of such items as he carries in the future, you would be better served to go to Nakamura's shop in the western district, or wait for the monthly arrival of the traders. They usually set up in the arena when they arrive, and often carry goods that cannot be found in Konoha regularly."
He had to admit, he felt rather badly for the child when he looked at him with such utter gratitude and bewilderment for such a minor kindness and small bit of advice.
"Hinata-sama? We should probably be going."
Hinata looked terribly disappointed to have her afternoon cut short, but she nodded obediently.
"Ah, too bad. Thanks for your help, Hinata-chan! I'll see you in school tomorrow!" Naruto chirped cheerfully.
Kou gripped Hinata's shoulder and steadied her before she could faint at the affectionate suffix her name had just gained. She managed to hold on to consciousness by the skin of her teeth and even managed to answer back. She was really making progress.
"Uh…before you go? How… how do I get the picture in this thing?"
Hinata showed him the tabs on the back and how they could be twisted out of the way to remove the backing. His mother's picture was inserted with due reverence and secured. Naruto turned it over and beamed at the finished product.
"You were right, Hinata-chan, this wood looks really good against her pretty red hair! Ah! I wish I'd gotten my mom's hair! It must be my dad that had this blonde mop! I'd have made an awesome redhead, believe it!"
"I l-like your hair." Hinata offered in a tiny voice. "It's so bright. It's like sunshine…and it makes me feel happy." Hinata's face went brick red once she'd finished speaking and she swayed in place once more. Luckily, Kou was already steadying her.
Naruto's face reddened as well, and he smiled sheepishly while rubbing the back of his head.
"I like yours too." he admitted. He had to say something nice now! "It's dark…but sort of purplish. It kind of looks like the night sky just before dawn. And hey! Your eyes kinda look like the moon! I guess we sorta match, when you think about it!"
Hearing such a thing from her crush was finally too much for the shy girl. Kou sighed, but he was smiling ruefully nonetheless as he scooped her up.
"AH! Hinata! Is she sick? What happened?!" Naruto freaked when he saw her pass out.
"She's not sick. She's just extremely shy. When things get too much, this tends to happen. I have it on good authority that her father was the same way when he was very young. He grew out of it, as will she in time. We must just be patient with her."
"Oh. That's weird…but I'm glad she's not sick. I guess I should go. Um…thanks for your help…Mr. Hinata's family guy."
"My name is Kou."
"Oh. Heh. Thanks for your help, Kou-san."
"It was my pleasure, Naruto-kun. We had best be off. Lady Hinata has training this afternoon."
"Why do you call her that anyway?"
"Lady Hinata is the daughter of our clan head, Hiashi-sama. She is the heiress of our clan."
"You mean…she's like a princess?"
"Indeed." Kou nodded seriously. He smiled down at the small girl in his arms fondly. "She has never been pretentious though, or felt herself above others. She is kindness and gentleness personified. I believe, someday, when she has grown out of her shell a bit, that she will also be fierce and proud and dangerous… but that day is a long way off right now. If you would be her friend, Naruto-kun, she could use a helping hand to help her come out of her shell, and find her confidence."
Naruto straightened up and nodded firmly.
"I can do that! I'll make sure everyone knows how awesome Hinata-chan is, especially herself! Believe it!"
"I'm glad to hear it, Naruto-kun. Good day."
That evening, when Naruto was once more in his lonely apartment, chowing down on cup ramen, he was happy. His collection of friends had grown, and he had a picture of his awesome, really pretty mom to keep him company. Things were looking up.
When he was done his dinner, he sighed and glared at the pile of books on his table unhappily, but nonetheless steeled himself to put in some work before going to bed. He got some paper, inked up his brush, and began carefully practicing kanji, double-checking each one to be sure it was right, before moving on to the next.
All this practice was kind of annoying…but he couldn't deny it had been doing him some good. He had dug out his school books, which he had mostly ignored before, and found he could actually read them now. Somewhat. It was still slow-going in parts, but there was a whole lot of stuff in there he'd completely missed before.
Ah well. There was nothing for it but to keep working.
Hinata, when he'd told her what he'd been doing, had offered to get the next books in the series, which the library didn't have, when he was done with these. She would need them back eventually--her little sister was working on the ones he was now, which was really kind of depressing when he thought about it, and wouldn't need the more advanced stuff for a little while, but he could use them in the meantime. He'd really hoped he'd be done when he finished the books he already had.
Why were there so many kanji?!
Oh well…he was doing better, and every book he finished put him one step closer to his goal of one day being Hokage, though all the work he'd been doing had really made him realize for the first time how very far he still had to go in order to realize that dream.
"Don't worry, mom!" he told the picture that was propped up nearby cheerfully "I won't give up! I'll keep working hard till I realize all my dreams, and I'll make you proud of me, believe it!"
Having made his vow, he bent back over his books and got back to work.
"AAAAHHH! You shouldn't just jump out at people!" Naruto shouted irritably once his heart rate was back under control.
"You're learning to be a ninja, kid, it kind of comes with the territory. You should be aware of your surroundings at all times." Shikaku scolded, rapping him lightly on the head while he sighed in exasperation.
Naruto pouted at him in return.
"Why are you here, Mr. Shikamaru's dad?"
"My name is Shikaku. Call me that, or Nara-san if you must. Mr. Shikamaru's dad is too troublesome."
"Heh. Your son's a lot like you." Naruto chuckled, remembering Hari telling him the same thing about calling him 'other Shikamaru'.
"He's far more troublesome." Shikaku said wryly. "Here. This is for you." he explained, handing over a scroll. "My son told me about the trouble you've been having with the bunshin and wanted to know if you could learn this version. I talked it over with the Hokage, and he's given me permission to share it with you, with the assurance that I would stress to you how dangerous it can be in the wrong hands, so listen closely. This is a different version of the bunshin that uses a lot more chakra. You CANNOT teach this to anyone." he added very seriously. "I can't stress that enough. You have a lot more chakra than most kids your age….a LOT more. It might be an Uzumaki thing. They were known for their vitality and potent chakra. So, take this seriously. You may be able to use this safely, but no one else your age, and quite a few that are years older can't either, so don't go trying to teach your friends, or anyone else for that matter. It's called the kage bunshin, and it works by making you split your chakra between all the clones you make. If someone tries to do it without having enough to manage it, they could kill themselves, stupidly and by accident, so don't be tempted, okay?"
Naruto listened with wide eyes and nodded.
"Alright, now that the warnings are out of the way, the kage bunshin is pretty useful if you've the chakra for it. They're solid and can walk around and do things independently. They're not sturdy enough usually to take more than a single solid hit, but otherwise they're sturdy enough to walk around and even help you train. They're good for infiltration. When they pop, anything they've learned or experienced comes back to you. If you ever end up making several of them at once, make sure you pop them one at a time with a few minutes in between. If too much information comes rushing in to your brain all at once, not only will you probably not be able to assimilate it all and make good use of it, but you could cause stress and mental damage, so try to avoid doing that, alright? So long as you manage them carefully, don't make too many at once, and try to use them to best effect, it can be a useful and valuable jutsu. My son said you've been working on your reading and writing?"
"You could make a couple of clones to do that for you while you're at school, or out training. You could have one reading stuff at the library for you while you do something else. You could make a couple to help you train so you could work on a couple things at once. They'd be good for chakra control exercises, learning new jutsu, or experimenting with seals. Any physical training should always be done by you. The clones won't build muscle mass or muscle memory, and so you'd short change yourself if you left all that to them, instead of working on your own body."
"Right." Naruto nodded.
"That scroll I gave you has most of the information I just told you about the jutsu. Re-read it closely and make sure you understand all of it before trying it yourself. You should be able to learn it from there--it shows the hand signs and explains what you have to do. After that, you should work with them to learn better chakra control. It should be easier with the clones to help you. With your chakra spread evenly between them, there will be less for you to manage, which should help tremendously. I'm sure you can find a good list of chakra control exercises to work on. Keep at it till you master them all. The upside of having a lot of chakra is that it gives you more energy and more stamina, which means you can do a lot more over a longer period of time. The down side is very poor control, which you will likely have to continue working on for some time to really master utilizing it." Shikaku explained. "So, now you've got that, get to work. If you master this and use them to their best advantage, it should be a tremendous help to you in catching up to your peers in knowledge. It's up to you to put the effort in and figure out how to best work it to your advantage, got it?"
"Got it. Thanks Mr. Shi…. I mean, Shikaku-san."
Shikaku nodded and was gone as quickly as he'd arrived.
Once he was gone, Naruto sat down and carefully unrolled the scroll he'd been given, eager to get to work.
Ten Narutos stood in a field, cheering and dancing around in unison, to celebrate their success. Naruto, who just hours ago had been the laughingstock of the academy for not being able to produce a single bunshin, arguably the easiest use of chakra anyone in the village ever learned, had with his own skill and effort just made ten solid ones.
Once they'd all calmed down some, they stood in a circle, arms crossed and faces scrunched up in effort while they thought about the things Shikamaru's dad had told them about using his new jutsu to best effect.
They came to a decision and nodded in unison, smacking a fist into their palm to show they were ready to take the world by storm. One went off back to their apartment to work on reading, one on writing, one to try to read some more of their schoolbooks. One disguised himself and headed off to infiltrate the ninja library to read up on chakra control, while the rest stayed with him to practice some of the small but cool jutsu they'd already gotten from the ninja library.
They were all hard at work some time later when they all sat up, because they all suddenly remembered reading a scroll with a bunch of chakra control exercises on it.
"Wow! It really does send information back! We could sneak all around the village, doing pranks and learning secrets and send them back to you while you were in class. No one will be able to prove it was us!"
The remaining clones all grinned in glee and began laughing evilly.
"Alright, new plan, you do the first leaf exercise, you do the next one, you the next, you try walking on trees and you try water! Remember, pop when you make progress or master it so we all learn what you did!"
"Got it, boss!" the rest cheered, before scattering in all directions to get to work.
Naruto got to work practicing his aim. For the next several hours, the field was filled with the sound of multiple Narutos being repeatedly dunked in the lake, blasted off trees, and groaning in frustration at all the stupid leaves they were working with. Every now and again one would pop, and the rest would halt for a moment in consideration, and go back to work with more determination and slightly more success. Naruto made replacements to take their place and started doing push-ups and sit ups and squats and lunges and tried practicing his katas.
That evening, when he went home, he was actually tired. He was usually so full of energy he had trouble sitting still for even short periods of time. His muscles had a pleasant ache, and his head was stuffed full of hours of chakra control lessons, reading and writing. He was also starving! He ended up emptying most of his stash of instant ramen trying to fill the black hole in his belly.
After a quick shower, and stopping briefly to tell his mom's photograph what all he'd accomplished that day, he fell into bed and fell right to sleep, with a smile on his face, well pleased with his efforts.
It had been a good day. The only thing that could make it better would be if his friend came back. He hadn't seen hide nor hair of him for a few weeks. He wanted to show him how much stronger he'd gotten with his new, awesome jutsu!
He dreamed that night of a dozen of himself, as well as Hari, Shikamaru, Kou and Shikaku battling enemy ninjas who had taken princess Hinata captive. While they were battling, she beat up the guys holding her prisoner and came to help the rest of them save the village! It was awesome, and he woke with a cheery grin, ready and eager to face the new day.
"Naruto! Why don't you go next?" Asuma sensei called from the front of the room. Naruto took his place in the open space at the front of the room and switched himself with the log provided and then switched back again right after.
"Very good, Naruto. See? This is what happens when you pay attention." Asuma nodded, before chucking an eraser at Shikamaru's head. The lazy genius sat up and slumped tiredly in his chair.
"Come demonstrate the replacement technique." Asuma ordered.
Shikamaru sighed, and meandered his way slowly down to the front of the room.
"What a drag. This is the first nap I've taken in class in weeks, and our sadistic sensei won't just let me sleep." He yawned, slouching in place, before doing the hand signs and switching with the log once, before heading back to his seat and immediately putting his head back down to continue his nap.
Asuma sensei sighed and rolled his eyes, before calling the next student down.
Naruto glared at the top of Shikamaru's head and wondered how anyone could be so lazy, and found himself wishing Hari would take his place. Regular Shikamaru was a nice guy, who had given him his most precious possession, and led to him getting his awesome new jutsu, but Hari was fun! He liked to run around, and train, and have adventures, and as a bonus, he explained stuff so it made sense. He hoped he showed up soon; he was really, really bored!
About fifteen minutes later, as Choji was demonstrating the replacement technique, Naruto suddenly sat up straighter and grinned. He glanced back at Shikamaru, who was actually Hari, who grinned slightly and waved, before looking back at the front of the room to pay attention. Naruto turned back around as well, and figured he'd best do so himself. Hari was really strict about learning all he could in school. He just wished it wasn't so boring…though in truth, he found it a bit easier to sit still and pay attention, since he had a bunch of clones out running around. Some of them were working, some were off in disguise playing pranks on people who'd been mean to him recently.
Once they were done demonstrating the replacement, they did some work on common plants found in Fire Country that were poisonous, and after that history, and then after that they went outside for target practice, and then finally, finally, they were allowed to go home. Naruto waited impatiently for Hari to show up outside, already nearly vibrating with impatience to go do something fun after being cooped up all day. He spotted him at last, walking with Choji, and caught the last of their conversation.
"…groceries for your mom."
"Troublesome. Yeah, I got it though. There's a list in my pocket. I don't know why she can't buy her own groceries."
Choji just laughed and shook his head, before heading off with a wave. "See you tomorrow, Shikamaru!"
"See ya, Choji."
"You need to do something?" Naruto asked curiously once everyone was gone.
"Apparently I'm supposed to go get groceries. I guess I can do that real quick and then we can go do something…though on second thought, maybe I should put it off. I might have to stick around and do chores or something if I go home. Eh. I'll get whatever it is before I head home later." Harry shrugged.
"What all do you have to get?"
Harry pulled a list from his pocket. "Geez. That woman thinks I'm a packhorse."
"Wow. That's a lot of stuff. Are you sure you can afford it? That'll cost like…ten thousand ryo!" Naruto gasped, waving his arms around in dismay.
"Ten thousand ryo?" Harry laughed, before digging out the money in his other pocket. "Try five hundred ryo or less. You obviously have no idea about money."
"Yes I do! I been looking after myself for years!" Naruto insisted.
Harry stared at the other boy a moment and frowned. He was beginning to get a bad feeling about this. For him to have such a skewed idea of what things cost when he had in fact been looking out for himself for a while pointed to there being a problem.
"Where do you usually shop?"
"The place near my apartment run by the mean old lady."
"How much do your groceries usually cost?"
"Uh…about two thousand."
"And what do you get for that much money?"
"Twenty packs of instant ramen. Food's so expensive. It's really all I can afford. There's no way you're going to get all that stuff on your list for only five hundred. That's like…one pack of ramen!"
"Do you need groceries?"
"Uh…well, yeah, I probably should get more."
"Let's go. I need to see this. Pretend we're not there together and just do what you usually do. Remember to get meat and eggs, and some fruits and vegetables too. Just eating instant ramen isn't healthy. It'll stunt your growth and stuff."
"Yeah, yeah. You're so troublesome."
"I'm pretty sure that's my line." Harry laughed.
"Quiet today. We might actually be able to go home at a decent hour!" Isamu Uchiha said cheerfully.
Fugaku Uchiha, the chief of police, as well as the two section chiefs who were standing with him, Hideo and Fumio, all turned to glare at Isamu in horror.
"You just tempted fate!"
"Now we'll be stuck here all night!"
Isamu blanched and waved his hands in front of himself nervously as though to ward off all their glares.
"Come on, guys! How likely is that?" he chuckled weakly.
Just then the door to the police station slammed open, to reveal two cute little chipmunk-cheeked kids. The dark haired one in the lead had the second child by the hand and had obviously drug him along, willing or not. The child in front was furious enough he had the beginnings of a visible aura starting to rise sluggishly from his body; the second child for all that he looked quite unhappy to be where he was, was looking at the first like he was the messiah or something.
"I need to report a theft to the tune of one hundred thousand ryo, and sixteen counts of attempted murder. There may be more, but I have as yet only investigated one perpetrator." the child in the lead snarled.
Isamu sweatdropped and gaped at the two children in horror. Fugaku, Hideo and Fumio gaped at the children as well and then turned to glare at Isamu once more.
Isamu once more held up his hands in a weak warding gesture. "Hey…Hey! Come on, guys!"
"Officer Isamu will take your statement." Fugaku announced.
Isamu gave a sickly smile, sighed, and beckoned the children to follow him to his desk. The other three casually wandered after them as they were curious about the stated crimes as well.
The children settled in the chairs in front of Isamu's desk and he dug out a blank report form to take notes on. The tableau froze when the door opened once more, revealing a boy who looked to be eleven or twelve in the doorway. The boy's eyes flicked over the whole station, lingering for a moment on the two children, before seeking the police chief.
"Hello, father. Did I interrupt something?" he asked casually.
Naruto squirmed around in his seat until he was kneeling on it and peering over the back, eyes squinted and face scrunched up like he was thinking--it looked painful. The boy glanced back at him questioningly. Naruto's eyes suddenly opened as though he'd just had an epiphany, and he pointed at the boy dramatically.
"It's you!" he shouted "Kitty cat!"
The other boy turned casually in his seat, his gaze flicking over Itachi from head to toe, and lingering on his ponytail for a moment, before he nodded, and turned back around dismissively.
"Oh. You're that ANBU guy that's always following us around."
"Eh, sometimes it's other kitty-cat"
"I think that one's a tiger"
"…and it's usually monkey-guy or birdy when I'm at home." Naruto disagreed.
"Whatever. Can we get on with this? Naruto still needs to do his shopping, plus we've got stuff to do and I need to remember to get groceries for my mom before I go home or it'll be just too troublesome."
"Given the seriousness of the allegations you made, Nara-kun, you kids will likely be here for a while."
"I can take care of your errand if you like, Nara-kun, and Uzumaki-kun's as well." the boy offered.
"That's nice of you, kitty-cat." Harry said innocently.
"Itachi. My name is Itachi." the boy sighed.
The boy nodded and looked over Isamu's desk for some scrap paper. He and Naruto had a brief whispered conversation and he scrawled a list while Naruto carefully counted out some money. Once that was done, Harry retrieved the list and money from his pocket and all of it was handed over to Itachi, who scanned the lists, nodded to himself and vanished.
"WOW! HE JUST DISAPPEARED!" Naruto shouted in glee.
"That was really cool! I wanna do that!"
"Don't skip out on school anymore and pay attention and you will." Harry sighed.
Isamu got their attention and tried to get them back on track. "You made a complaint. Why don't you tell me in your own words what happened."
Harry sighed and tried to get his thoughts in order.
"It all started because my mom asked me to get groceries on my way home today. I showed Naruto the list and he said it would cost ten thousand ryo. I thought he just didn't understand money, but then he informed me that he was regularly shelling out two thousand every week just for instant ramen. The amount he got should have cost him twenty at most. This sounded pretty dodgy to me, so I made him go to the store and pretend we weren't there together and do his shopping as usual. The nasty old lady who runs the place was really mean, and said a lot of nasty stuff to him. He tried to get vegetables, but she told him the good vegetables were bad and took him to another bin where everything was just about to go bad or already starting to rot. She also directed him to the milk that was expired and said the new stuff was the stuff going bad. He got a couple of rubbery carrots, a half-rotted daikon and some wilted bok choy, a carton of expired milk, a piece of rotting fish, and ten packs of instant ramen. She tried to charge him ten thousand ryo for the privilege. I intervened at that point, and pointed out that the food was bad and the prices were way too high, and she said she had the right to treat him however she wished, to poison him and take all his money, because he was an evil demon that was going to devour the whole village. Obviously the woman is not only a criminal, she's also deranged and should probably be locked up before she goes on a rampage because of her delusions. This has been going on for a while. I did the math, and with all the price gouging, she's stolen roughly a hundred thousand ryo from him over the last year. He's traumatized by all the rotted food, and he's lucky he hasn't died of food poisoning. As it is he's probably suffering from chronic malnutrition. She's not the only person who's been doing stuff like that either. Tell him, Naruto."
Naruto shrunk down in his seat and pasted one of his fake smiles on his face.
"Ah…it's not that bad! I really like ramen, so it's…"
"Naruto. Tell him what you told me. They're breaking the law and being mean. You don't deserve to be treated like that in any case, but they won't be stopped unless you tell this guy what they've been doing."
Naruto's smile disappeared, and for a moment he seemed rather small and lost. Hesitantly he began talking, and once he did it was like a floodgate opened, and a tale of systematic abuse and neglect, with the occasional attempted murder and threat of bodily harm spilled out.
As Naruto began talking, Harry became aware of a sudden spike of panic and fear in his chest, and his vision wavered for a moment as a sudden pain spiked through his head. He did his best to stay relaxed and casual, and drew his legs up till he was sitting cross-legged on the chair, then braced his elbows on his lap, rested his chin in his hands and closed his eyes.
Harry was rather alarmed when, instead of just sitting there with his eyes closed, he found himself in a dark void, standing across from Shikamaru. He recognized him, even though he'd only ever seen the boy as a reflection in a pond he'd passed by while here. It had made the whole odd business all the more confusing--not only was he living in a ninja village in his dreams, he wasn't doing so in his own body! It had rather alarmed him when he'd seen his reflection and realized that.
Shikamaru looked panicked and a little scared, though he was obviously trying to play it cool. Harry looked around at the black void curiously, wondering how they'd both come to be there, but it was just empty--except for one jagged hole in the featureless expanse that was covered over with a red barrier seal of some sort. It was the same shape as the scar on his forehead, oddly enough. He was beyond curious, but chose to focus on the other boy first.
"Who are you? What are you doing in my body?" Shikamaru demanded.
"My name's Harry. As for how I came to be here, well, your guess is as good as mine. All I know is I went to sleep one day and woke up in a ninja school. I was really confused and I didn't know where I was or how I got there. I couldn't even understand what everyone was saying at first, or read the board either. It was strange though…as I sat there panicking and wondering what was going on, it was like my ears popped and I could suddenly understand everything. Since that first time, I just find myself here periodically. I think you're usually asleep when I do. It doesn't happen every time I go to sleep, just now and then. I don't know why it's happening, but since I can't do anything about it, I've been trying to take advantage of the opportunity to learn all I can. Learning how to defend myself has helped me a great deal. Just learning henge made my life a whole lot better. My cousin has a gang and they used to like to chase me around and beat me up all the time. Since I've been coming here I've been able to get away when they were looking for me, and the one time they've caught me since this began happening I was able to fight back enough to get away. I got in trouble for it, of course. My relatives are all jerks." Harry concluded glumly.
Shikamaru studied him warily for several long moments, but then seemed to decide he was trustworthy and hadn't been knowingly stealing his body for nefarious purposes. He slumped in place, sighed and said "Troublesome." He cocked his head and seemed to be listening. "You're with Naruto, and we seem to be at the police station. You haven't been using my body to commit crimes or anything, have you?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "You can hear him as well as I can. We're here to report a merchant that's been price-gouging and selling shoddy merchandise."
"Wherever you're from…is there an evil blonde Choji, and a blonde shrieking harridan that makes you do chores all day?"
"Yeah. That's my cousin Dudley and Aunt Petunia."
"She made me do the yard. I thought it was a nightmare when I woke up back in my own bed. I had to do your stupid chores." Shikamaru complained.
"I cleaned your room." Harry shrugged. "I'd say we're even. I weed the yard often enough there probably wasn't that much to do. Your room, however, was a mess."
"That was you, huh? I thought my mother decided to be nice for some reason. I should have known." Shikamaru grumbled.
They caught each other up on what each had done in the other's body--for Shikamaru it was easy; except for the one time weeding the yard, he'd mostly been asleep the whole time and unaware of the transition. For Harry, it took considerably longer.
"I don't get it. Why hang out with Naruto?"
"Why not? He's an okay guy. He's also an orphan like I am. I at least got sent to relatives. Awful as they are, I still had someone, and learned stuff. He was kicked out of the orphanage when he was five and got stuffed into an apartment by himself. He's never had anyone to teach him stuff or explain stuff. He was so loud all the time because he wanted someone to see him. It's the same with the pranks. He's always skipping school and disrupting class because he has too much energy and also he was only barely able to read and didn't have anyone who cared enough to explain stuff he didn't understand, so he'd get frustrated and run off. The teachers don't pay enough attention to correct stuff he's doing wrong, and some of them actually sabotage him outright. I worked with him just a little bit to correct how he threw his shuriken and kunai, and he made huge improvements in just a short period of time. I've been correcting his stances in taijutsu and sparring with him, and again he made a lot of improvement. I took him to the library and found books to help him with reading and writing. He's been working on it and trying his best to improve. I found out stuff about his clan in a history book about the founding of Konoha, and he's been sneaking in to the ninja section in disguise since then to learn about seals, since that was his clan's specialty, but there aren't any of them around to teach him. He should also be able to manifest chakra chains, but he hasn't had any luck with that yet. We don't know if it's something that has to be awoken of if there's some trick to it, but again, there's no one around to teach him one way or another. I've also been trying to help him eat better, but as you know, an evil, greedy shopkeeper got in the way. We're friends. He can tell when it's me in here rather than you. I think he might be a chakra sensor or something. In any case, there wasn't anyone looking out for him, so I decided to do so. Orphan solidarity or something."
"What a drag." Shikamaru sighed, though he was smiling.
Two things then happened at once. From outside the void they were in, they both heard Yoshino Nara, Shikamaru's mother, calling for him. At the same time, they each felt a tug pulling them in opposite directions.
"Looks like my time's up. No one else seems to be aware I'm not you, other than Naruto." Harry reminded him.
Shikamaru opened his eyes in the real world, yawned, and looked up at his mother with bleary eyes.
"It's despicable is what it is…even if he is the container, he still just a little boy. If he was actually the demon those fools think he is, this village would have been destroyed a hundred times over by now because of them." Mikoto Uchiha, Fugaku's wife ranted quietly that evening once all the excitement was done.
Just as quickly as it had arisen, her ire died and was replaced by grief.
"Kushina would weep if she knew how her son had been treated. She was so excited to be a mother, right from the moment she found out. And she was so nervous that day as she headed off to give birth. I remember I teased her about finally finding something she was afraid of. I had begun to think there wasn't such a thing. Our children were supposed to be best friends and grow up together." she concluded sadly. "I should have taken him in, regardless of what those dried-up old mummies on the council had to say on the matter."
"In a perfect world, I'm sure you would have done just that." Fugaku grunted. "But given that we are not in a perfect world, you know as well as I do that it would have endangered all of us if we had done so. The elders told us outright that any attempt to take the child would be treated as a sign of hostility if not treason and rebellion."
"Will following up on his complaint cause us problems?" Mikoto asked worriedly.
Fugaku considered the matter for several long moments.
"Truthfully, at this point it could really go either way. We've been hampered from intervening with the boy up till now, even to the point of not daring to stop his pranks for fear any of us approaching him would draw the ire of the council down on our heads."
"We received it anyway…because you weren't stopping his pranks." Mikoto agreed glumly.
"Damned if we do, damned if we don't." Fugaku agreed. "This time he approached us, and reported a crime, which means no one can actually object if we follow up on it. There is going to be a backlash though. All the shopkeepers that have been rounded up are outraged that we've taken any complaints of the 'demon boy' seriously, and are doubly outraged that they're to face any consequences for their actions. There are already far too many whispering that we colluded with the Kyuubi to destroy the village. All these arrests will likely be taken as further proof of their beliefs. I don't know how long I can hold back the clan if those voices get too loud. I don't want a civil war in the village…but I also don't want our clan to continue to be villified, mistrusted and viewed with suspicion in all corners either. It's infuriating. Our clan was half of the foundation of this village…and much as it galls me to be reminded of it, our clan are not the only holders of the sharingan currently living here. No one seems to have suspected that Hatake even once."
"I still don't understand why Hokage-sama views us so negatively. He was never our most fervent supporter, but neither was he an enemy."
"I don't really understand it either. I guess we can only hope Danzo can continue to keep him in check. I just hope this business with the shopkeepers isn't the event that decides him to move openly against us. I took it as a hopeful sign when he offered Itachi the chance to be one of his ANBU. I had hoped that he would be a positive pipeline between the clan and the village, and hoped his work with Hokage-sama would soften his stance on us."
"Positive sign or not, I still wish he hadn't taken it. He's still so young, no matter how much of a prodigy he might be." Mikoto admitted quietly. "I've failed him as a mother by not being able to prevent this."
"In truth, I too wish it had not been necessary; he's a gentle child at heart, and I worry about the effect it's having on him long-term. Unfortunately for everyone, he situation was deteriorating too quickly among the clan as everyone's resentment grew. We needed something to point to that would show everyone there was still hope for a peaceful resolution, and sadly, as my son, that means the duty fell to him. For all that it was a regrettable necessity, it has worked thus far--though Yashiro's dire warnings of the Third's ongoing suspicions have made it less effective than I'd hoped."
"Yashiro has been a resentful, power-mad fool as long as I've known him. He bitterly resented Kagami-sama appointing you as the clan head to follow him. He thought it should have been him, and it seems that bitter wound still hasn't healed, given how he and his followers keep undermining your attempts at resolving things. I would like to know who his contact in ANBU that he keeps hinting at is so we can determine how trustworthy his supposed information is. Either Itachi is lying to us about things or Yashiro's contact is."
"Itachi wouldn't lie about the situation. We are his family. He loves the clan."
"He does…but he also resents it, I think, for pushing him and putting such responsibilities on his shoulders. He loves the village too, and if left to a choice between them…"
Fugaku sighed, and stared at the far wall with a blank but troubled gaze.
"I should get started on dinner." Mikoto announced, rising gracefully to her feet, and lightly squeezing Fugaku's shoulder as she passed him. Fugaku stirred as well after a bit, and roused himself to go deal with his backlog of paperwork until dinner time.
After both his parents were gone, Itachi slipped out of the adjoining room he'd concealed himself in when he heard his parents talking. He left without alerting anyone of his presence, and headed for a quiet place to be alone so he could think about things.
"Oi! Itatchi! Wait up!"
Itachi's shoulders stiffened for a second, until he realized it was his cousin Shisui calling to him. He hadn't wanted company, but Shisui he didn't mind. In fact, it might actually be a good thing. He desperately wanted to talk to him about what he'd just overheard. Since the first rumblings of rebellion had started making their way through the clan, both of them had been reporting it to the Hokage and his advisors. He was beginning to wonder if that had been unwise of them.
Shisui was relaxed and smiling as he approached, though he quickly grew serious when he got a good look at Itachi's face.
His sharingan flashed on and he took a quick but careful look around even as he gripped Itachi by the sleeve and towed him along to find a good spot to talk.
When he felt secure, he turned to the younger boy worriedly.
"What's going on? Have…have they started making concrete plans?" he asked, his voice barely a whisper. Rather than answer, Itachi cast a genjutsu of the conversation he'd overheard, as well as the earlier business at the police station with the two children.
Shisui's shoulders slumped, and he began looking just as upset as Itachi did. He cast his own genjutsu so he could reply without being overheard.
"We need to go to Hokage-sama and talk to him alone. Up until now, we've been left with the impression that your dad was one of the driving forces behind the planned rebellion and was pushing you into ANBU to spy on the Hokage to help facilitate it. Instead, it seems Yashiro and his pack of hotheads are the ones pushing it, and they're being egged on by someone in ANBU telling them the Third is just looking for an excuse to go after us. And what the hell is all that with the elders? Mikoto-sama wanting to take in her friend's baby is an act of war? Seriously? And Fugaku-sama is afraid doing his job is going to bring reprisals against us? This is a mess!"
"A terrible mess. I may have betrayed my father and put his head on the execution block for nothing more than feeling resentful and desperately trying to avoid a war… and my mother… my mother already suspects that I betrayed them and seems to think it inevitable. A shinobi's loyalty is to his Hokage and his village…and so I have been an excellent shinobi, but the cost of that is being a terrible, traitorous son and brother."
Shisui looked at him helplessly and gripped his shoulders, giving him a small shake to snap him out of his fugue and make him focus.
"Hey, hey, none of that. We acted in good faith as loyal soldiers of the village, and now we have more information is all. Nothing is set in stone yet, and the Third still hopes for a resolution before things go too far. We'll tell him what we know, and maybe he'll let us start poking around ANBU to find the guy that's stirring up trouble and we can put an end to all this peaceably. It's not too late."
"Yes. We should speak to Hokage-sama and tell him our findings."
"Sorry, Shikamaru. I didn't realize it wasn't you. I'm a bad friend." Choji sighed remorsefully.
"No you're not, don't be stupid. He's been trying to lay low and not make it super obvious he's been possessing me. You can't be blamed if you couldn't tell when he was actively working to convince you. Naruto seems to be a chakra sensor, untrained of course, but that's the only reason he can tell. It's fine. I told him not to ditch you next time he shows up if he does." Shikamaru explained as he made himself comfy on the ground so he could get in some quality cloud watching time.
They'd been stuck at the police station for hours, and his mom had fussed. Happily, she'd turned some of that fussing on Naruto and drug him off to get a look at his place.
Madwoman that she is, she'd made Naruto clean his whole apartment, wash several loads of laundry and then taught him to cook several basic meals utilizing all the groceries that Itachi guy had bought for him earlier. She'd also taken time to rip his landlord a new one for complaining about him using the laundry facilities on site, and terrified him into doing several repairs around the place that needed doing while under her watchful eye. In the most troublesome development to date, Naruto now thought his mom was super awesome.
"So…why is that guy possessing you anyway?" Choji wondered.
"He's says he's not doing it on purpose and he doesn't know why it's happening. He's just a kid like us, and he lives in a weird, faraway place with troublesome people. There aren't any ninjas there, and he was really confused when it started happening. We were in our heads when we were talking, in some weird mind space, so I believe him. He seemed truthful, and it's hard to lie inside the mind. That's part of what makes the Yamanaka clan so valuable at retrieving information. I don't really like the idea of being possessed, but he hasn't done anything weird or hurtful to my body, he hasn't tried to do anything bad to anyone else…and I'm tired of being awake all the time and missing all my naps trying to keep him out. He doesn't show up all that often. Hopefully if it happens again someone can figure out how and why and make it stop, but I'm done worrying about it. It's far too troublesome."
"What's this guy look like?"
"Well…he sort of looks like a green-eyed, extra pale Uchiha with glasses, but not really."
"Troublesome. Here. Henge." Shikamaru sighed.
There was a faint poof of waste chakra, and suddenly a very different boy was lying next to him. He seemed to be about the same size as Shikamaru, and just as skinny.
"He does look like a green-eyed, glasses wearing extra-pale Uchiha." Choji agreed. "His hair even sticks up kind of like Sasuke's."
"Yeah. He isn't one…he doesn't seem to be any kind of Uzumaki either. He's definitely a foreigner from a very strange, far-away place."
"Tell me about it. I'm the one whose body he keeps stealing for some reason."
As it always did, the sound of snickering children heralded Harry's arrival in Shikamaru's body. He sat up, idly brushing the chalk dust out of Shikamaru's hair and prepared to pay attention.
"Now that everyone is with us, as I was saying, end of term exams are coming soon. I expect all of you to do your best…you make me look bad when you do poorly, so study everything we've covered this term. There will also be a sparring tournament, and everyone will be tested on their aim, and on the traps that have been covered, but I'm sure your senseis in those subjects will tell you more. I thought I should also tell you I won't be returning next term. I'm going to be serving as one of the Daimyo's twelve guardians for the next three years. I'll be leaving right after exams, so this will really be my last chance to say goodbye to everyone."
Asuma-sensei's words caused an immediate uproar; he was a fairly popular teacher--laid back but thorough, patient even when he had to explain stuff a couple of times. He'd be a great loss to the ninja academy. Harry hadn't spent as much time learning from him as the rest of the kids in class, but he too felt the loss keenly. The things he learned from him had made his life better in numerous ways. He had no idea if he was going to still be body hopping when the new term started, but the academy was going to be strange without Asuma-sensei's steady presence.
"Anyway, enough with the mushy stuff. Today you'll be getting a general introduction to genjutsu and medical ninjutsu. Both will be covered a bit more next term, though not extensively. If you show aptitude, you can develop your skill further once you're a genin by utilizing the materials that are available for developing ninja. Your team sensei can arrange for further tutelage or recommend you to the medical program from there if he or she feel it's warranted. Don't worry too much about remembering everything, this is just a quick introduction. When we next meet, you'll be taking your exams, and then of course the break, after which I'll expect all of you to return, well-rested and eager to learn…even if I'm not here to see it."
Asuma smiled at all of them and gestured to the woman that had just entered. "With no further ado, let me introduce Kurenai-sensei, who will be starting here next term. She specializes in genjutsu, so pay attention.
Harry listened eagerly. Genjutsu, which seemed to be all about creating illusions to trap people in, was a fascinating subject. He hadn't really bothered much in reading up on the subject in the brief time he'd been in the ninja library, but maybe he should have. He'd have to make a point to go back there and try to cram a bit more into his head in any case, since it seemed there weren't going to be any classes for him to peek in on. He had to admit he'd been feeling a bit guilty about this whole thing since he'd first realized he was taking over someone's body…but he'd eventually decided that as he didn't know why it was happening, or how to stop it, and it was going to be happening anyway, he might as well just make the most of it. He still felt a bit bad about stealing some kid's body though.
After an hour long lecture about genjutsu--what it was, how it worked, ways to recognize if you were under one--Kurenai-sensei had everyone practice the most common method to break free of one; namely by compressing and then flaring your chakra to break the other person's hold on you. The other was through pain--biting through your lip, breaking a finger or something like that. Given that it was just an introductory lecture, they were happily not expecting any of them to do that. Once they'd practiced a few times, she asked for a few volunteers to try out the technique while under a genjutsu.
Harry was trying to keep in character, so he didn't raise his hand to volunteer, even though he really wanted to. Instead he leaned on his arm, chin in hand, looking half-asleep, but staring at the teacher very intently and trying to will her to pick him anyway.
Sadly, he was not in luck. She picked three eager kids. At times like this he really wished the guy he was possessing could have been a bit more enthusiastic so he could have just raised his hand like everyone else.
It was kind of boring to watch from outside. The teacher made hand signs, and then she and her chosen victim stared at each other. Only one of the volunteers managed to break free, though all three of them managed to keep their awareness of themselves enough to try.
"We seem to have a bit of time left before your next sensei gets here for their lecture. How about three more. You, you…and, hmmm, you."
Harry kept his glee inside and managed to stay calm, slouchy and lazy as he sauntered down to take his turn. Naruto went first. He failed. The poor guy just stood there staring out into space in horror at whatever he was seeing, and then started dancing around smacking himself. Kurenai-sensei had to stop the jutsu, as he'd never even tried to break free.
The poor guy seemed rather down as he slumped back to his seat, once again subject to the student's mocking laughter. Sakura went next and managed to break free after a short time, and went back to her seat glowing in satisfaction, and preening at Sasuke when she passed by. She was ignored as usual. You'd think she'd get a clue he wasn't thinking about that kind of stuff at his age.
It was Harry's turn. He stood still and tried to stay relaxed while Kurenai went to work. He started to see weird flowers and trees forming up around him, but they were faint. He wondered if it was because he was only possessing the body, and it would be different if it was actually happening to him. In any case, it wasn't disorienting at all, just weird. He suppressed and flared Shikamaru's chakra before the weird flowers finished forming, and the faint images shattered. He hadn't even taken his hands out of his pockets. Feeling something further was needed, he said "Troublesome" before slouching his way back to his seat.
"Exams. What a drag." Shikamaru said with a yawn.
He sighed a bit bitterly as the first of the many tests they'd be doing over the course of the day were handed out.
"It really just figures, doesn't it? A time comes when I'd really like to be possessed, and that troublesome foreign kid is nowhere to be seen." he grumbled.
Choji patted him consolingly on the shoulder, gave him his extra pencil and got started.
He yawned again, filled out his name and section number, checked to see how many questions there were in total and then answered the twelve least troublesome ones--the exact number needed for a passing grade. Once he was done, he flipped his paper over, put his head down and went back to sleep. He repeated this on all the rest of the tests as well, doing enough to pass but no more, and taking advantage of the prime napping opportunities. He hit exactly three bullseyes with his kunai and shuriken, the minimum needed to pass, and didn't bother throwing the rest of the ten they were given of each. He sparred just long enough to demonstrate that he knew how to do all the basic kicks and blocks of the academy taijutsu style and then forfeited, and set up the simplest trap they'd learned, a simple rope snare, for the trapping portion. For the last section, ninjutsu, he made a single bunshin, did a single replacement and did a passable but unremarkable henge.
It was all very troublesome, but he'd secured his place for next term while expending the absolute least amount of energy possible. Mission accomplished.
It was halfway through the first week of the break before Harry showed up again. Shikamaru had been lying peacefully in a field, under a tree, Choji nearby snacking as usual, when he suddenly stirred, sat up and looked around in interest.
"Hari?" Choji asked curiously. He turned and looked at him, smiled wryly and gave him a little wave. "Hey. So where are we?"
"In one of the out of the way training grounds. It's nice here, quiet, and it gives a nice view of the clouds. Shikamaru likes to watch them."
"Sounds nice. Peaceful." He flopped back down and eyed the sky himself. "I never have a chance to do this kind of thing. My relatives work me like a dog doing chores day and night, and the few free moments I can snatch now and then I've been using to practice stuff I learn here. I had to go looking for other sources of food so I could manage it. My relatives feed me enough to keep me alive, but that's about it. All the extra exercising and chakra use was starting to get to me until I found other food." Harry sighed.
"That's…monstrous." Choji growled, clutching his bag of crisps protectively to his chest.
"Yeah, my relatives suck. I guess it would be especially horrifying to you, what with your clan jutsu depending on storing large amounts of calories."
"This is nice…but I already know I won't be here for long. I need to make this visits count if they're going to be happening anyway. I want to go back to the ninja library and learn stuff while I've got the chance." Harry said after a while.
"I'll come with you. Um… could you look like yourself? It's just…Shikamaru's my best friend. It's kind of weird having someone else in his body. Sorry."
"Don't apologize. I understand completely. I started feeling pretty guilty once I realized I was in someone else's body and not just being drugged and absconded with. I honestly don't know why it started happening or how to stop it. Shikamaru told me that except for the first time he's actually been unaware of everything. Probably because he's asleep. If I fall asleep in his body, or if he wakes up, we go back to our own. That's what it seems like, anyway. I don't always show up when he's sleeping though, so that's not what causes it. It's really weird."
"Yeah. It is pretty weird."
The two boys rose. Harry did a henge to look like himself, and they set off towards the ninja library.
Choji read the stuff on seals Harry had gathered over his shoulder curiously.
"Are you actually an Uzumaki like we thought before?"
"No. Not as far as I know, anyway. I just think that, beyond the stuff at the academy, seals seem to be the most useful thing I can learn here. I read up on some different low-ranked elemental jutsu, and I'm going to read up on some genjutsu and medical stuff if I get the chance, but seals are something that would be really helpful, more than probably anything else. There aren't any ninjas where I'm from, so learning a bunch of jutsu primarily meant to battle ninjas with is actually not all that useful to me. Seals I can make use of in my world--especially the storage and preservation seals. I've been trying to memorize what I can each time I'm here and write it all down before I forget when I wake up. It would be so much easier if I could make copies to take with me. I'm always certain I've forgotten important stuff, but I usually only get one chance to learn most of what I come across. It's really frustrating, but at least I'm still able to learn something every time I show up here."
Harry and Choji both looked up when two unfamiliar teenagers sat down across from them.
"Greetings, ghost-san. Do you have further business with the living realm?" The one on the left asked in a rather monotone voice.
"Eh? I…think you must have mistaken me for someone else." Harry replied hesitantly.
"I am not mistaken. Why? Because you are the entity with the strange chakra currently possessing the body of our comrade, Nara-san."
"His bugs told him so." the second boy added.
Harry looked at Choji, who was eyeing the two boys with some confusion, but his face cleared suddenly.
Choji looked at the second boy curiously for a moment.
"Sasuke?" he asked hesitantly.
"Indeed. We've been keeping an eye on you, ghost-san." disguised Sasuke nodded, before adding the vaguely threatening aside to Harry.
Harry sighed irritably, and began gathering up the scroll he'd been reading to put away. Once he was done, he gathered the rest with a jerk of his head and started heading for the exit.
"Where are we going?" Sasuke asked suspiciously as they headed outside.
"Elsewhere. If I show up here again, I want to be able to make use of the ninja library, so our discussion is best taken elsewhere. Couldn't you have waited till I was done what I was doing first? I never know when I'm going to show up and I'm never here for long. You're really cutting into my study time." Harry griped as he started towards a nearby alley to drop his disguise in.
"There they are! They were in disguise! That's why we lost track of them!" Ino said with satisfaction.
"Do we follow them?" Sakura wondered.
"Hell yeah! Everyone's been acting weird lately. Shikamaru keeps running off with Naruto of all people, Sasuke-kun's been hanging out in bushes and wandering around with bug-boy…"
"Who the heck is that? I don't remember ever seeing him at school." Sakura wondered as she and Ino scurried across the street to duck behind some trash cans.
"Now. They're not looking. I don't know. I've never seen him before….and he's hanging out with Choji but Shikamaru is nowhere to be seen. Weird. I wonder if he's off with Naruto again." Ino replied as they darted down the street and crouched behind a fruit stand so they wouldn't be seen.
"How'd they even become friends?"
"That's what we're trying to find out."
The two girls waited till the boys turned the corner and then ran for it, crouching down and peeking around the building once in place so they could keep their quarry in sight.
"Looks like they're headed for one of the empty training grounds." Ino noted. "Good. That means plenty of cover."
"Hey, isn't that Naruto over there? Shikamaru doesn't seem to be with him." Sakura asked, nudging her friend in the side to draw her attention.
"Huh. Yeah it is. Hey! He just made a clone! Since when can the dead-last do that?" Ino spluttered in shock. "And what was the point of making it and then having it pop right away? I swear, that kid's so weird…"
"Hey, what are you two doing?"
"Ah! My ears! Do you two have to shriek like that?"
"KIBA! What the hell!" Ino snarled at the boy that had snuck up on them.
"I was wandering around looking for everyone. I thought I smelled Shino… He's been disappearing lately." the boy explained.
"He's been hanging out with Sasuke-kun." Sakura explained. "We're investigating."
"That jerk? Why's he hanging out with him? What's with everyone lately? I saw Hinata hanging out with Naruto the other day, Shino's with Sasuke, Shikamaru keeps staying awake and paying attention…"
"It's a mystery, which is why we're investigating, duh!" Ino snarked, before scurrying off after her quarry.
"Yeah!" Sakura added, before following her.
Kiba growled slightly in irritation, and scurried after them.
"I can smell them up ahead. Choji, Shino, Sasuke…and Shikamaru? He's smells a bit different, but it's definitely him."
"No it's not, it's some kid we don't know." Ino objected.
"Oh…hey, Hinata and Naruto are headed this way. Why's she with the dead-last again?" Kiba grumbled as he caught a new scent on the breeze.
"Let's get closer. Hopefully we'll be able to hear them." Sakura ordered.
"Why would Shikamaru be running around in disguise?" Kiba grumbled.
"If we get close we can find out! Geez, work with me, people." Ino growled.
Harry sighed as he and his three hangers-on sat in a circle in the middle of the field they'd gone to.
"There are others arriving. We should bring them in as well. Why? Because Shikamaru is known to all of us and is our comrade, and so his fate is important to all of us." Shino announced.
"Others? Geez, how many?" Harry asked, starting to get uneasy. This sucked. He'd been trying to keep a low profile and keep up the pretense of just being Shikamaru for the most part. Now, it seemed everyone and their brother knew about him and were planning on keeping him here till they were satisfied. He just hoped no one had gone out to alert any adult ninjas about him; adults always made things worse.
Choji went to the bushes Shino pointed him towards and peered over at Ino, Sakura and Kiba, who all squeaked and froze in place. They'd been slowly crawling forward on their bellies so as not to be seen or heard by their targets.
"Why don't you all join us?" Choji offered, before heading back.
Ino, Sakura and Kiba stood and dusted themselves off, aiming for casual and sauntered over to join the rest with as much dignity as they could muster. As they were sitting down, Naruto and Hinata ran into the clearing.
"Hey, Hari! Eh? Why are you in disguise? Are you playing a game? Why are you with these guys? Why didn't you come looking for me?"
"Ghost-san is about to give us answers as to why he keeps stealing the body of our comrade. If you will be silent and join us you can learn these things as well."
"Eh? Stealing Shika's body? How dare you!" Ino spluttered.
"EH? GHOST? ACK!" Naruto shrieked at the same time. Sakura and Kiba stared at the new kid in horror.
"I'm not a ghost, geez. I'm alive, and I have my own body…I just sometimes end up in Shikamaru's for some reason."
"You're going to have to be more detailed than that, bub, how long has this been going on?" Ino demanded.
"Uh, I dunno…it's been about a year off and on, on my end at least. I'm not sure how much time has passed here. I don't think we're in the same world, so time could pass differently, I just don't know." Harry shrugged.
"I think it's been about that long on our end as well. Why did you start doing it?" Shino asked.
"I didn't…at least I don't think I did. I just went to bed one night like usual. I woke up because I got hit in the head with an eraser and found myself wearing odd clothes, in a place I'd never seen before, and I couldn't read the board or understand what anyone was saying. It was weird…while I was panicking and wondering what was going on, it was like my ears popped and I suddenly could. I don't know if I tapped into Shikamaru's knowledge of the language, or if something else happened… Anyway, it just happened. I thought for a while that I was being drugged and kidnapped and being taught ninja stuff in preparation for making me a sleeper agent or something…I couldn't really figure any other reason…but then I caught sight of my reflection at one point and realized I didn't look like myself, and so wasn't even in my own body. I checked to see if I was under a henge for secrecy or something. It doesn't happen every night, and the times between have varied from every other night to a week or more between. I haven't been able to come up with any likely triggers, and I don't really do anything but go to sleep. Sometimes I show up here, sometimes I don't. For all I know, it might be Shikamaru doing it. He always seems to be sleeping when it happens…well, no, actually that's not true…he was awake a few times, but I was in the background, and thought I might have just dreamed it at first, but I tried out something I learned while it was going on, and it worked, so that probably happened. But still…for all I know it's him that determines when we switch. He was in my body at least once. He seems to have just slept through all the other times. I was here once when he woke up and we ended up chatting in our minds or something before switching places, but he seemed just as confused as I was about what's going on. I've been trying to keep a low profile and figure things on my own. I don't want any adults involved. They rarely make things better. All it takes is just one who thinks, oh, hey, let's suck out this kid's soul and see if we can figure out what he's doing so we can use it on enemy ninjas…and where does that leave me? My body might die if I don't go back to it. Heck, Shikamaru might actually still be in here with me, and so sucking me out would hurt him too….or he might get stuck in my body if I'm not here to switch with, and then his body dies and he's stuck with my awful relatives, being used as slave labor and not getting fed."
"I understand your concerns, ghost-san"
"Harry is fine. It is my name."
"Hari-san then. I understand your concerns, but would it not be better to seek help? Also, I believe that as future ninjas of Konoha we have a duty to report such a security breach to a senior officer or to the Hokage himself."
"It's not a breach of security. I'm not a ninja--we don't even have ninjas in my world. Not anymore. There was supposed to be some a long time ago, but in a country on the other side of the world, and they don't anymore. The stuff I've been learning is all just basic stuff, nothing that could be used to destabilize the village in any way. Beyond that, I have no actual desire to hurt your village or anyone here. Heck, if I could come here in my own body and stay, I'd do so immediately. I like it here much better than where I'm at, that's for sure."
The whole group conferred for a while, trying to decide whether or not to report him. It was Naruto and Choji that cast the deciding votes.
"Hari is my friend, and I don't want anyone sucking him outta his body and keeping him in a jar, or trying to use his spirit, or his brain, or whatever, as a weapon. He's right, adults usually suck, and can't be trusted about stuff like that." Naruto argued passionately.
"Shikamaru's not too worried, and he trusts him. I say we stay quiet." Choji agreed.
"I-I agree with Naruto-kun." Hinata spoke up loyally. Her face was red, her voice just a hair above a whisper, and her index fingers were poking together frantically, but she spoke up. "If Shikamaru-san were being hurt in some way it would be different. If Shikamaru-san trusts Hari-san and chooses not to worry yet, I say we respect his decision."
Ino paced, arms folded and deep in thought. She would glance at Harry piercingly every so often, and go back to pacing. Finally she nodded and added her own vote.
"I'll throw my vote with Choji's. Shika's an idiot, but he's a smart idiot. If he's not worried, I'm not either."
"Count me in too." Kiba added with a careless shrug.
"I don't really care one way or another." Sasuke scoffed. "I just wanted to know what was going on."
"I agree with Sasuke-kun!" Sakura nodded. "But if you try anything, I'll punch your lights out. HELL YEAH!" she added menacingly.
Ino beamed at her like a proud mother. "Ah! Sakura-chan! You've come so far since I found you crying in the park that day!"
"Ino-chan!" Sakura wailed in protest, glancing Sasuke's way in embarrassment.
"If the others have agreed, I will as well. Why? Because the majority rules in such matters. I will, however continue to keep an eye on you for the good of the village."
"Goes without saying, bug boy." Ino huffed, rolling her eyes.
"I have a name you know." Shino huffed back.
Naruto suddenly sat up straight and looked puzzled and faintly horrified. "AHHH! GUYS! GUYS! THERE'S LIKE, ENEMY NINJAS AND A CREEPY MUMMY MAN IN THE VILLAGE!"
"Geez, dobe, would you…"
"SHUT UP!" Naruto howled. His distress was real enough that Sasuke fell silent, taunts forgotten. "THE MUMMY GUY JUST RIPPED A GUY'S EYE OUT! HE'S GOT A BIG FAN ON HIS SHIRT LIKE YOU DO!"
"WHAT?!" Sasuke shrieked, jumping to his feet in outrage. "Where? Who?" he demanded right after, pulling a kunai from the pouch on his leg and brandishing it in a way that meant business.
Naruto clutched at his head, pulling his hair, while his eyes were scrunched tight as he tried to remember everything he'd just learned from the clone that had just popped. He opened his eyes and looked around wildly and then pointed. "That way!"
"Byakugan!" Hinata immediately went to work, scanning for the culprits. She gasped in horror. "I see them! Five ninjas…they're dressed like ANBU, but their masks are wrong and they don't have the little leaf symbol inscribed at the top. There's a heavily bandaged man in a robe. He has something clutched in his hand…and there's a Uchiha running from them. One of his eye sockets is empty and there's blood running down his face." she reported hurriedly, stutter forgotten as she was too worried to be nervous.
"We need to help him!" Sasuke howled. He was about to charge off then and there, but Shino and Kiba grabbed him by the back of his shirt, drug him back and pinned him down between them.
"We need a plan first. Why? Because we are academy students and will otherwise surely be killed." Shino cautioned.
"Naruto? You said you made a bunch of seals. What all did you make and how many do you have?" Harry asked.
"Lots. I've got regular bomb notes, chakra suppressing seals, and the super-awesome really disorienting flashbang tags that I made myself."
"We need something that's gonna work!" Sakura scoffed.
"I blew out my window with one when I set it off in my apartment."
"About fifteen. My clones have them too when I make them."
"Do you need to tie up the person first for the chakra supressors to do any good?" Shino asked.
"I don't know." Naruto admitted.
"Best assume yes then." Kiba nodded.
"Does anyone have anything to make a couple of bolos or something with? We could knock them down, pin them to the ground with kunai, and slap a seal on them." Sakura wondered.
"I do, I think."
"I might have something."
"We need to get the eye back." Sasuke said with agitation.
"I could grab the guy in a shadow bind long enough for you to grab it. You'll have to be really fast though. I only just learned it and I can't hold it for long. Naruto, do you have clones still running around the village?" Harry asked.
"Have them get back up and send them to us. We'll try to slow them down, retrieve the eye and run."
"Let's go before he loses his other eye." Ino urged.
"Get the police." Sasuke ordered tensely.
"Hinata, lead the way." Shino spoke up.
They hashed out the basis of a simple plan on the way there, and Harry dropped the henge he was wearing. Off Choji's look, he explained.
"This is going to be hard enough without me wasting chakra. I'm not going to be able to hold it for long, so be fast. In and out, and call for the retreat. Naruto, do your clones remember what to do?"
"We've got this." Shino, Kiba and Ino nodded.
Choji and Sakura brandished the chakra suppressing tags Naruto had given her, and patted the pockets that held several bomb notes. Hinata just nodded. She had the Gentle fist, and didn't need the tags.
Hinata hissed out updates as they ran, as she checked their location every few minutes.
"Naruto. Good luck." Harry patted him on the shoulder as he and Sasuke veered off to get closer to the mummy-man.
A guy dressed like Sasuke staggered past where they were all hiding, half his face covered in blood. The ninjas pursuing him were but a few steps behind. Unfortunately for them, Naruto's flashbang barrage landed between the two. The kids hunkered down, covered their ears and closed their eyes, but they were still nearly blinded and knocked off their feet when the things went off. The kids got to work quickly though and started doing their best to take down the ninjas while the echoes were still dying away.
Further back, the mummy man was calmly striding along, looking for all the world like he was out for a Sunday stroll, not hunting down a teenage boy and ripping the eyes out of his head. Harry and Sasuke waited tensely for their moment, and then Harry struck. "GO!"
Sasuke didn't need to be told twice. He shot from the bushes they'd been concealed in like he'd been fired from a cannon.
"He's fighting me. Cut off his hand if you need to!" Harry said with strain.
"YOU WILL DIE FOR THIS, MISERABLE WRETCHES. KILL THEM! KILL THEM ALL!"
Harry blanched when he saw there was more ninjas coming…at least, he almost hoped it was more. If it was the same ones, all the rest of the kids with them were probably dead.
Harry was stuck in place so long as he was holding the shadow bind. Sasuke stabbed at the man and wrenched at his hand, snatching away his prize, but then he froze, staring at something and looked at the man in horror for a moment, and then turned to run, looking sick. "RETREAT!"
The ninjas were already nearly upon them. But then a wave of orange poured out from the surrounding trees, flinging kunai laced with more flashbangs to cover them. Sasuke grabbed Harry by the shoulder and drug him along after him, as the clearing lit up like the sun behind them and several large BOOMS went off one after another.
The mummy man was still shrieking for everyone's death, so they added a bit of speed and took off like the denizens of hell were on their heels.
The door to the Jounin Lounge flew open and crashed upon the wall, showing the green-spandex-clad form of Maito Guy framed in the doorway.
"Come, comrades! There are most unyouthful enemies attacking children of the Leaf and stealing eyes from our own Uchiha clan! We must go and lend aid!" he bellowed, before leaping away, shouting "YOUTH!" as he charged across the rooftops. The other Jounin and Special Jounin, who had been lurking within while on call, all traded a look and charged off after him.
As they leapt along, they could see bright lights and hear explosions in the distance in one of the training grounds.
"ANBU seem to have been called already." Aoba noted, seeing the masked ninjas already speeding off, nearly to the site.
"Half the police seem to be heading out as well." Anko noted, seeing the dozen or so Uchiha leaping away, the faint glow of their Sharingans leaving a faint red afterimage behind them.
"Looks like the Hyugas are joining the party as well. Geez! Have we been invaded? How did we not know something like this was coming?" Asuma groaned. "I'd better not die before it's time to take up my post with the Daimyo. That's not going to do Konoha's reputation any good."
"Heh. Promoted just in time, eh? Time to earn your paycheck." Anko cackled.
Raido suddenly pointed at a group of women, in dresses and aprons, carrying swords, that were charging across the village, looking far scarier than they really should have.
"Gai said something about kids being attacked…Shouldn't be surprised the mom brigade is out in force." Genma snickered.
"Poor Chouza and Shikaku. I saw them headed for a bar earlier. They're going to catch hell from their wives if they end up having to fight off enemy ninjas because they were nowhere to be found." Hayate chuckled.
"Move faster! They're almost…!" Sasuke called frantically to the rest of the kids as they finally caught sight of them. Naruto suddenly screamed "NO!"
A golden chain shot from his belly and wrapped around the two of them and yanked them forward, making the sword that had just nearly taken off both their heads miss them by a fraction of an inch. Sasuke and Shikamaru crashed into Naruto who blinked at them, looking confused and then fell over, just as a new figure leapt over all their heads.
"BIG BROTHER!" Sasuke cheered.
"GET OUT OF HERE." Itachi replied, not looking at any of them. "AND YOU…STAY THE HELL AWAY FROM MY BROTHER!"
He looked damned scary for a twelve or so year old kid. They could hear the sound of swords engaging behind them. They didn't look, just grabbed Naruto and kept running, doing their best to catch up to the others who were running away in a ragged band just ahead.
Several fake ANBU littered the ground, some dead, some unconscious. Kou Hyuuga and a real ANBU were engaging the new fakes as they arrived.
Their group had been joined by a couple of new kids while he and Sasuke had been retrieving the eye: there was a girl with buns in her hair up in a tree a short distance away who was pelting the fake ANBU with kunai whenever she got an opening. There was also a boy who looked a lot like Hinata. The two of them spun apart, almost mirror images of one another, their hands lashing out almost too quickly too be seen. The ninja between them collapsed.
"LEAVE! NOW!" Kou roared. "ALL OF YOU GET OUT OF HERE!"
The new boy grabbed Hinata by the hand and started hauling her away, urging her to move faster. The guy who's eye had been ripped out was guarding their retreat, though he looked like he really didn't want to leave.
"SHISUI! I GOT YOUR EYE BACK!"
"KIDS! RUN FASTER!" Shisui apparently, suddenly shouted, sounding panicked.
They chanced a glance back and saw some of the fakes were dodging around Kou, the ANBU and Itachi and were charging right for all of them. The mummy man must still be alive and shouting orders.
The kids formed up in the next clearing, each clutching a kunai, back to back in a ragged circle with Naruto stowed safely in the center, prepared to sell their lives dearly since they knew full well they couldn't outrun adult ninjas hell-bent on killing all of them. There was only one Shisui and he was already wounded. The ninjas were close and getting closer with every passing second. The kids bared their teeth, brandished their weapons and braced themselves even as Shisui charged forward, determined to take them all down before a single one harmed the children.
"ATTACKING KONOHA'S CHILDEN? HOW UNYOUTHFUL! DYNAMIC ENTRY!"
The kids froze as a man all in green descended from the heavens like the wrath of god made manifest, and nearly took one of the ninja's head off with a flying kick. The two coming up behind kept coming, and didn't spare their comrades, Shisui, or the green man a second glance, so intent were they on reaching the children. Their swords flashed out, the kids braced themselves once more, though Kiba seemed to be distracted and kept glancing hopefully at the surrounding trees.
A wave of dark blue descended from the trees around them and charged the remaining ninjas, making short work of them, while a few more landed around the children. They blocked the sight of the battles going on a short distance away. All the kids could see was a circle of broad backs, forming a protective barrier of red and white fans on blue background around them.
"It's the Uchiha clan!" Ino said, her voice shaky.
"We're saved!" Sakura gasped, nearly collapsing in relief.
In ones and twos, the kids were scooped up and carried off.
"Isamu-san! I have Shisui's eye! We need to get him to the hospital!" Sasuke protested as he was scooped up.
"SHISUI! YOU'RE WITH US! COME ON!" another Uchiha nearby barked, before leaping for the trees.
As they were all carried from the scene, they could see more people still enroute to the battlefield. The Jounins and the battle-moms saw them being carried to safety, all of them looking shaken and shell-shocked, clutching kunais even as they clung to the person carrying them. Each and every one of their faces hardened, and they growled before running faster to tear apart any enemies that were left.
"Looks like we're safe." Shikamaru said with some relief as he sagged down in their shared mindscape. "Thanks for your help."
"Anytime. I did sort of get you in the middle of all this. It would have been pretty mean of me to just leave. I don't think I have much choice anymore though. I can feel myself being pulled away." Harry noted. "You alright there?"
"I'm going to take a nap now that I know we're not all going to die….In fact, heh, I think I just passed out. Even with help, that shadow-bind took a lot out of me. I guess I should be glad you've been practicing. This all would have been a lot more troublesome if we hadn't been working together."
"Aren't you glad I took Naruto to the library and got him interested in seals?"
"Heh. Very glad. Remind me to thank my dad for the shadow clone jutsu too. See ya around."
"Huh. This never happened before. Are we dreaming?" Harry asked curiously as he looked around.
There was a field of vibrant flowers, and towering, majestic trees, whose leaves made the sunlight separate into a thousand shafts of solid light, hazy and golden. The sky above was an eye-searing blue, filled with gently moving clouds in fanciful configurations. Their surroundings were sharp and clear close to them, but the edges were hazy and gradually faded to vague shapes and colors further out. Shikamaru was lying at his ease beneath one of the towering trees, on a carpet of emerald green grass.
"Don't stand around asking questions. Too troublesome." Shikamaru sighed.
He did turn his head a bit to look around, seeing the same vaguely defined edges Harry had seen.
"Maybe we are. I hope you being here doesn't mean you're taking up full-time residence. That would be a drag. Although…I could let you out when mom's being a pain…"
"I get enough of that with my relatives. No thanks." Harry grumbled a bit, before settling down beside the other boy.
The grass was soft and springy beneath his back.
"This is way more comfortable than my mattress. How sad is that?" he remarked, before letting himself relax.
They laid in companionable silence, watching the clouds, and the occasional colorful birds and butterflies that flittered by or hovered amongst the flowers.
"You play shogi?" Shikamaru asked curiously some time later.
"No. If that game exists in my world it's from a land far away from where I'm at…and even if it's known in my country, it wouldn't be known in my relatives house. They don't like anything foreign." Harry scoffed.
They continued laying there for a while longer. The scene was peaceful. Neither of them were actually in any hurry to move.
There was no real feeling of transition when the dream changed. One moment they were lying in a field, the next they were seated across from each other on the covered walkway that ran along the side of Shikamaru's house, a gameboard, already set up, sat between them. Harry glanced out over the grounds, and smiled at the deer that were wandering around, nibbling on the trees and bushes. He snorted a laugh when he spotted Shikaku, Shikamaru's dad, taking a nap beneath one of the trees, while one of the deer nibbled at his topknot.
Shikamaru leaned on one knee and began giving him a quick and dirty introduction to shogi, which seemed to be somewhat like chess. That knowledge didn't help him, sadly; he didn't know how to play chess either.
Once Harry thought he had a handle on things, they began to play.
"How did things turn out after that whole business with the mummy man?"
"Very troublesome." Shikamaru sighed. He saw Harry's worried look and waved a lazy hand to reassure him. "There were a few casualties on our side. ANBU--real ones, not those fakes, a couple of older Uchiha that rushed him when he was doing his suicide jutsu. The thing is… I think the fakes and the mummy guy were technically Leaf nins."
"So…a rebellion or something?"
"Or something. See, the thing is, one of the village elders, Danzo Shimura, supposedly died in a battle to protect the village. All of us that were there that day, the kids, were left out of the funeral. I had thought my parents were being nice, not making me go to the funeral of some old guy I didn't know… but I think the mummy guy was this Shimura. There's usually a picture of the deceased nin for everyone to leave offerings for. None of the village elders have died recently that I can remember, but it's the sort of thing they'd generally expect everyone to come out for, you know? I think they didn't want us to see his picture and start asking awkward questions. It makes us look weak if a village elder, who should be above suspicion due to long service if nothing else, decides to go rogue and form up his own army under the Hokage's nose and kill our shinobi and steal their eyes and no one apparently had a clue until we intervened. You were gone and I was passed out when everyone else found out. The mummy guy's one arm was made of some weird white clay stuff, and there were already two sharingan eyes embedded in it, in the palm and on the back. Hinata saw part of the Hokage's fight with him. He had more of them in the rest of the arm. One of the ANBU ran him through and he just blinked out and reappeared a second later, alive and unharmed. Neji, that's Hinata's cousin, was watching too and saw one of the eyes close when that happened and told everyone. The Uchiha were freaked out, not just about the eyes, but that he was apparently using something they called "Izanagi". We set Sasuke to finding out more about that. It's some kind of eye technique with the Sharingan that lets you briefly rewrite reality"
"Like making it so you never died?"
"Exactly. You usually sacrifice the eye for that. It's a forbidden technique, because it was apparently used a lot during the clan wars…That's…"
"I read about them. Pretty much all the clans fighting each other all the time, for generations." Harry nodded.
"Yeah. They made it a forbidden technique because apparently things got weird or something. Sasuke said they wouldn't explain further. They know about it, but none of them is really willing to use it these days because of the warnings their ancestors left."
"So he was collecting Sharingans and storing them in a fake arm so he could continually rewrite reality to keep himself alive?"
"Worked once, that was all. The Third ripped his fake arm off before he had a chance to use it again. It turned into a tree with a bunch of creepy sharingan eyes in the trunk."
"One of the medics that was examining the bits of clay stuff stuck to the eyes Sasuke retrieved said it was some of the First Hokage's DNA."
"Wow. That guy had no respect for anyone, did he?" Harry remarked, wrinkling his nose in distaste.
"Tell me about it. What a creep. We didn't hear that bit officially either. Shino had one of his bugs follow the medics when they went to run tests and reported back. It's extra interesting because apparently one of the Third's students ran off and became a missing nin because of creepy experiments he was doing on babies trying to recreate the First's Mokuton."
"Wood release…he grew a lot of trees…and mummy guy has enough of his DNA that it turned into a tree?"
"Rumor has it that sixty babies died during those experiments."
"No wonder he barely batted an eyelash at ordering the death of eleven kids for getting in his way. He had to be knee deep in those experiments too." Harry said, sounding sick.
"Oh there's more. Apparently the fake ANBU were all brainwashed, and fitted up with seals so they couldn't tell anyone anything about Danzo, and others that would kill them if their chakra was suppressed, they were subdued, or thought about trying to disobey him." Shikamaru said with a grimace. "Kiba brought back that tidbit. His mom was grumbing about it to her dog, and her dog was complaining about it to one of the bitches in the kennel, and some of the other dogs overheard and were grumbling about it. They've got this whole pack loyalty thing going on. A leaf nin wiping out pups--babies and kids apparently--or fighting against his own village that he'd served for so many years, they're all real offended and seem glad he's dead, though they're further disgusted that he apparently used a suicide jutsu to kill everyone around him and suck them into a black hole as he died. The only people around were Leaf nins, so he was so determined to kill Leaf nins that he made sure he took a few with himself before he'd let himself die."
"Wow. What a tool. You said some of the real ANBU got sucked up?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, they were standing too close and got sucked in, so did most of the guy's fake ANBU and a couple of older Uchiha. They had rushed at him, wanting to tear him apart for what he did to Shisui, and also because he was apparently stirring up trouble against their clan. They think he was trying to back them into a corner so he could have them wiped out and just take the rest of their eyes without having to hunt them down one by one or something. That was from Itachi. Sasuke managed to get it out of him. It seems there was a lot going on that none of us was aware of. Did you read about the Kyuubi attack or anything?"
"It seems a lot of people that lost someone blamed the Uchiha clan for the attack."
"That's stupid. If they'd done it to take over the village or something they would have been attacking from the rear while the thing was rampaging. It would have been obvious…plus, the thing was supposed to be huge and be able to shatter mountains with its tails and stuff, right? You don't point something like that at a place you're planning to stay in afterwards, where your houses and your kids are at. That's the kind of thing you point at an enemy village in hopes the whole thing just gets wiped out." Harry disagreed after a moment's thought.
"Yeah, that's pretty much what I thought." Shikamaru agreed. "But people are stupid sometimes I've noticed."
"So on top of all this stupid bad feeling about the fox attack, that guy was also making it policy to isolate them and stuff, and when they started feeling bitter, he was feeding some of their hotheads information that the Third was planning to have them all wiped out. There was some rumblings about a rebellion apparently, though there was never any concrete plans made."
"You can't really blame them if they were feeling bitter and venting a bit behind closed doors. It doesn't necessarily follow that they would have actually done anything. I can't say I know them, but the few I met seemed decent enough, and they seemed to take pride in their jobs as the police force and in protecting the village. Their priorities when they arrived at the battle was rescuing all us kids and getting their injured clansman to safety. That's not the actions of folks eager to destroy the village and the people in it. That mummy guy has a lot to answer for."
"Yeah. I feel bad for Sasuke. He had no clue. His folks and his brother were hiding it from him. He felt a bit betrayed, but I think it's fine now. He is mad he didn't do more to Danzo than cut off his fake eyeball eating hand though."
"Eh. He'll get over it."
They continued playing, though they began getting distracted as their surroundings began to change. When their game disappeared, they both slowly stood and looked around nervously.
The new place was a strange one. There were giant colorful toadstools everywhere that were nearly as big as they were, and strange plants that seemed to consist of a single giant leaf on a towering stem. There were waterfalls in the distance, and towering flowers…and lots of statues of toads.
"Okay…weird place. Any idea where we are?" Harry asked curiously. He was pretty sure there was no place like this anywhere near Surrey.
"Not a clue. My life has sure gotten weird since you showed up." Shikamaru sighed.
"Ah there you two are. Come along. We haven't much time." an aged voice spoke up. The boys looked around, but didn't see anyone.
"Oh ma! You're supposed to get their attention first, not just start nattering at them. Down here, boys."
They glanced down and stared at the two elderly toads in robes that were down by their feet.
"Um…hello? Who might you be?" Harry wondered.
"Did you bring us here?" Shikamaru asked next.
"All will be explained. Come along, quickly now."
The boys exchanged a glance and set off after the toads, who led them to a giant temple of sorts, and inside, where a truly massive, extremely old toad sat enthroned.
"Wake up!" their guides shouted.
The giant toad's eyes fluttered and he peered down at all of them with some confusion for several long moments.
"Who are you? Do we have new summoners? Are you here to learn the sage arts? We haven't had visitors for quite a while…not since Jiraiya-chan."
"You're the one who brought them here!" the old lady toad yelled.
"I did? Why would I do that?"
He peered at them again and then suddenly seemed surprised.
"Oh! You two are facets of the same soul! You're not really supposed to…. Oh, wait! That's why. I remember now!"
The old man toad who brought them there face-palmed. "Please excuse the Great Toad Sage. He gets a bit…lost sometimes."
"Now, now tadpole, calm yourself." The giant toad chuckled. "I've been around since the Sage of the Six Paths was a stripling himself. When you live as long as I have you can criticize."
"Um, pardon me, Great Toad Sage, but, why did you bring us here?" Harry asked politely.
"Hmmm? OH! That's right. I wanted to tell you that your educational journeys are going to have to end. It's becoming dangerous for you both."
"You know what's been happening to us?" Shikamaru realized.
"Of course! I'm who made it happen the first time!" the giant toad chortled.
"Why would you do that?"
"One of you was despairing, and had reached out with all you were to seek help. My mind and spirit roam time and space and I saw you. I nudged you towards one of your other facets for a visit in hopes you'd find what you needed to help you."
"What do you mean by other facets?" Shikamaru wondered.
"Well…there are many worlds out there, some quite similar to your own, some vastly different. Each soul is like a diamond, with a facet in each of these different worlds. You two are two such facets of a greater soul. That's why you were able to switch places with such ease. You are not the same person, but you do have the same essence. I've been keeping watch…when I can remember to, and trying to limit the number of times you were able to do so. You're not really supposed to be switching places or interacting, and so to limit the danger to you both I've been intervening to keep your interactions spaced out as much as possible. It's going to have to stop now though. For you, the danger is that you will let go of your own body and die in your universe. You haven't yet found anything there to hold you as tightly to your own world as the friendships you made in Shikamaru-kun's world. For you" he looked at Shikamaru "the danger is from your body expiring from trying to contain double the amount of essence it was meant to. You two are not just of the same essence, but you are kindred spirits as well. The facets have begun resonating too closely and have begun to seek one another out more often. It cannot be allowed to go on any longer."
Ma and Pa saw Shikamaru's hand clench at his side, and at first thought he was angry. The worried sideways glance at his counterpart changed their minds. Harry simply stared at his feet and breathed until he could contain the upwelling of despair in his heart. Sometimes all that got him through the day was the knowledge that he would be back in Konoha at some point to see his friends.
"Child, do not despair. You are young yet, and you have no idea where your road will eventually lead you. I will bar the way until you fully rebond with your own body. That by itself will not be enough, however. You need to find others in your own world to cherish, and a purpose to hold to once you have. Your visits have accomplished what I'd hoped for when I first sent you to Shikamaru-kun. You have gained skills and knowledge to help you thrive and succeed, and your time in Konoha has served a safe haven for your weary heart. The future of both of your worlds is changing because of all this. You both did more than you know when you intervened to save that young man. Hundreds of people that would have died soon are now alive, and others who would have lived for a few more years have perished. I have not yet been able to see how the future will change because of this. The ripples are still spreading outward. Harry-kun, the same is true in your world, though the ripples are not quite as dramatic thus far. You are not the same young man who first reached out for aid. The changes in you will have a notable effect on the fate of your own world. I cannot yet see the end of those changes, but the difference is vast. "
Harry nodded, though the Toad Sage's words didn't seem to comfort him much.
"You should say your goodbyes. You will not be returning this way again." the Toad Sage added gently.
Shikamaru put his hands in his pockets and slouched, glaring at the ground in frustration at the whole big mess.
Harry straightened. The only sign of his earlier despair was in the faint lines of tension around his eyes and mouth.
"Please tell everyone that I'm glad they're all alright, and that I was glad to fight beside them, even if only for a moment. Tell your mom and dad that you're lucky to have them. Take care of yourself and… tell Naruto I'm sorry."
"Don't let the harpy and the evil Choji keep you down. Take some time to watch the clouds. Who knows…maybe one day we'll meet again, in person this time, and we can finish our game. You were doing better than I expected for your first time. I really wanted to see how it would end."
"If there's a way, I'll find it…even if I can only come by to visit. Having that unfinished game nagging at both of us would be…"
"Troublesome." they concluded together.
The two gave each other a slightly watery smile, and then the Great Toad Sage lashed out with his tongue and sent each of them hurtling back to their own bodies.
Shikamaru sat up with a gasp. He pulled his knees in tight against himself and buried his face in them.
He glanced up and saw his mom, looking like she'd just stumbled out of bed, peering at him in concern.
"Shika…what's wrong?" she demanded, sounding alarmed.
She settled beside him and wiped at the trail of tears leaking from both his eyes.
Shikamaru said nothing, just leaned into her when she wrapped her arms around him.
In another world, Harry curled into a ball in his dusty cupboard and wept.
Chapter 6: Epilogue
The Hokage glanced up from the piles of paperwork that surrounded him and focused on the ANBU crouched in the window.
"I just had an interesting visit. This is for you, by the way." he added, tossing a scroll to the seated man before coming into the office the rest of the way.
While the Hokage was examining the scroll he'd just been given, the ANBU pushed his porcelain animal-mask up off his face, revealing a cloth-masked face beneath. His forehead protector was slanted over his left eye, leaving only a quarter of his face uncovered.
"Did you see Jiraiya?" the Third asked hopefully. If he moved quickly he might be able to get a team on his trail and haul him back to the village…
"No. He sent a toad with a message, and that." he indicated the scroll.
Sarutobi set the scroll aside to go over in more depth later. It was an update on recent rumors that Jiraiya's spy network had passed to him.
"He received my message about the ghost boy and Shikamaru-kun's nightmare about the great toad sage?" he asked.
"He did. He has confirmed all of it with the toads themselves. The kid is back in his own world and the great toad sage will make sure he stays there rather than helping him possess Shikamaru occasionally."
"I still don't know why the toads would have done such a thing." Sarutobi grumbled as he filled his pipe.
"The boy bears the mark of prophecy, but someone interfered, possibly with good intentions, and left him with relatives that make poor guardians. He said the kid was at the end of his rope, young as he was, and his spirit cried out for help, loud enough that the toads heard him. I don't know why they chose to interfere, but they did. If they hadn't…"
"We probably wouldn't have a Uchiha clan right now." Sarutobi sighed, looking exhausted and aged.
Kakashi held in a wince. Recent weeks had been hard on the old man. His advisors, whom he'd known and been friends with his whole life, had been going behind his back, running their own schemes and grasping for power…and in Danzo's case, even formed up their own army.
The Yamanaka clan had their hands full trying to fix the brainwashed Root agents that had survived, at least enough that they could be reintegrated into Konoha's forces. That wasn't even getting in to the traumatized children they'd recovered from his creepy underground lair.
It wasn't all bad news. Many of those traumatized children were relieved to discover that they weren't going to be locked in somewhere to battle their best friend to the death in order to determine which of them go to be shinobi, and seemed cautiously optimistic about joining the regular forces.
The remaining two elders still nominally had their jobs as advisors, but it was an open secret that it was just to keep a good face for the other villages. It was well known they were hip deep with Danzo, and after the battle where he'd ordered the death of the heirs of almost every major clan in the village, and was found to have been hunting Uchihas like animals, and desecrating the First Hokage's DNA…well, needless to say, they were walking small these days and keeping their heads down.
"How has the kid been doing?" Kakashi asked, sounding hesitant.
"Naruto. He has a name." the Hokage chided, though gently.
Kakashi had closed himself off from everyone a little bit after the death of each of his teammates. The death of his sensei and his wife had led him to burying himself in the depths of ANBU for the last eight years, working long hours, taking back-to-back missions, and avoiding Naruto who was the last link left to his old teammates like the plague. He normally didn't want to know anything about him--the Third had offered more than once.
"This is a change."
Kakashi shrugged one shoulder, his gaze riveted to the lurid orange book in his hand--one of many odd quirks he'd picked up after the death of his team.
"I saw him, and… Obito's… little cousins that day. He was tossing seals around and saved two kids with a golden chakra chain. He looks just like sensei, but underneath he seems to be very much his mother's son."
"You can thank the ghost boy for that. He found mentions of the Uzumaki in an old history book." Sarutobi said with a wry smile. "He seems to have been quite depressed for a while there. You wouldn't know this as you've never spent any time around him" he said not-quite-pointedly "but he's normally an irrepressibly cheerful and upbeat child that takes his lumps in stride and keeps going. To see him so very despondent at the loss of his ghost-friend was rather startling. Shikamaru-kun seems to have taken things equally hard. They're both concerned for the child, who is now alone and without allies or friends in his own world. They, and some of the other children that were at the battle have taken to playing together at one another's clan compounds now and then. Shisui-kun seems to have taken them both in hand and managed to cheer them up somehow. Latest reports are that they're back to their old selves…better in Naruto's case. Until the ghost boy, he had no friends his own age, and the only people in the village that were at all kind to him were myself, the ramen-seller and his daughter, and my son. He now has lots of friends his own age, and adults in his corner looking out for him. Of course…he could always use more, Kakashi-kun."
"Mmm." Kakashi made a noncommital sound at the Third's hint.
"If that's all, Hokage-sama? I have an appointment to keep."
"Dismissed." Sarutobi said quietly.
He watched as Kakashi made his way across the village to stand a vigil at the memorial stone, as he'd done every day since he lost the first of his teammates.
"Kakashi-kun… You need to start focusing on the living again. None of them would want to see you like this." he thought to himself sadly.
His heart was heavy once more. Too many heartbreaks in too short a time. He wasn't as young as he used to be, and such disappointments weighed more heavily with every year that went by.
"In fact…I should take my own advice."
He brought his crystal ball close and peered into its depths, allowing himself to simply view the citizens going about their days, before focusing in on a particular chakra. A smile broke across his face when he spotted Naruto smiling and laughing, seated with some of his new friends in a grassy field, enjoying the last of the break before starting a new term at the Academy.
"Hari-kun… For that smile alone, I wish you only the best. Be safe and well, wherever you are."