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“This is it,” Naruto muttered, arms swinging loose by his sides as they all looked at the Academy. “The Chunin Exams.”

Sakura had no shame in admitting she was slightly terrified. All of the jounin, Kakashi-sensei included, had shuddered when she had bought up the Exams, and the most information that she, Sasuke, and Naruto had been able to gather was this: the Exams were very dangerous, and, statistically speaking, were responsible for weeding out at least 40% of the genin population each year. There were usually three stages, but what comprised them changed annually, and the one thing Kakashi had told them was that there was a survival stage.

She’d come prepared, according to Sasuke Standards. (It hadn’t taken her and Naruto a long time to find out that Sasuke was, unsurprisingly, very nitpicky when it came to his weapons and equipment.) What that meant was that all of her kunai were sharpened to the point where they could draw blood, and she had at least four meters of wire and two packs of explosive tags. Her shuriken holster was rather heavy. It was a good thing, then, that Naruto had helped her seal away the ax that Kakashi-sensei had given her before.

Beside her, Sasuke exhaled. 

They all looked at each other, sharing the knowledge that the Exams could very well be a death trap or something similar. This is it. 

Naruto walked into the Academy first, followed by Sasuke and Sakura. 

The worst part of it all was that the Academy looked the same as it did when they had been children with no idea of what the real ninja world was like. It still had the same wooden doors to the classrooms - Sakura caught herself in the middle of her internal monologue. It’d only been a year, so why was she reminiscing about her old school like it was another era?

She didn’t get time to consider it anyway.

Naruto pointed out. “It’s room 103. The room Kakashi told us to report to.” He chortled. “We’re gonna become chunin, ‘ttebayo!”  He skipped into the room, but there was something … off about it. The genin that were talking to each other had dead eyes, and there was a distinct smell of … something  that didn’t belong to an Academy room.

Sakura couldn’t shake the feeling of deja vu because, for some reason, the room reminded her of Kakashi - more specifically, that one genjutsu he’d shown her of Sasuke dying way back when they all had first started out with him --

“Sasuke,” she whispered, grabbing his wrist instinctually. “It’s a genjutsu.”

He looked stricken for all of two seconds before his eyes flashed red and he was tugging Naruto back while Sakura tried to disrupt the genjutsu. She let her chakra ripple and roil, causing unease in the environment like Kakashi had taught her. “Kai,” she muttered, as the room’s surroundings around her - of people talking, and bright lights - fade away, until they were all standing in what was presumably the actual room - dusty and not illuminated. 

It was silent, and Sakura took a few steps back into the hall. 

The room tag read 100.

Sasuke, who had come to the same conclusion, started walking to their right. 

Three rooms down was presumably the actual room 103, and if nothing else, the amount of genin clustered around it was an indication - they had been covered up by the genjutsu, most likely. Sakura entered the crowd from the back, Sasuke and Naruto right behind her as they attempted to push through. Someone stepped on her toes and, while Sakura wasn’t surprised, it sure as hell didn’t mean that her toe hurt any less like a bitch. “ Fuck. ” she muttered as she put an arm out to push through the crowd. 

As soon as they were able to get through the crowd, a task which may have taken two or five minutes in its entirety, she took in the room, which she had only seen before a handful of times. 

It was bigger than most other rooms, with three-person tables taking up most of the space in it. There was a little room in the front, near the door, which Sakura suspected was for any teachers, chunin, or jounin that would walk in. But the windows - Kami, they were enormous, by far the biggest in any room in the Academy. The light was seeping into the room, coating every genin in it, and making them seem much more dangerous, in Sakura’s opinion. 

A chunin with a scar on his nose - not Kotetsu - passed her a ticket, with 17 printed on it. When she looked at it quizzically, the man explained in a bored voice, “Your seat number.”

Sakura nodded, and was scanning the aisles, looking for her seat number, while Sasuke was in a completely different row, and Naruto seemed to troop in with - was that Hinata ? She bumped into someone’s back, and opened her mouth to apologize, when - 

The boy turned around, and she recognized him as the boy who had accompanied Gaara when he effectively threatened to kill Sasuke. “Konoha,” he growled, the pinched purple markings around his eyes making him seem older than he was. His hand jerked toward his bandaged bundle reflexively, and Sakura reached for a kunai, instinct piloting her every move as Inner raged. He thinks he’s a threat, how dare he, how dare this brat -- 

“Suna,” she replied, ready to charge him right then and there. 

He opened his mouth to say something else, when the door to the room banged open and all the genin froze. 

Sakura turned her head to the left to see a huge, heavy man with impressive scars walk in, adjusting his headband as he did so. “Take your seats,” he rumbled as he stopped in the middle of the front of the classroom. She obeyed him, and frantically looked around for her seat - 17, 17 where are you - and found it next to a disgruntled-looking girl with a Taki headband, at the edge of the aisle. “My name is Morino Ibiki,” the man continued, “and,” he grinned here, showing all his teeth, and Sakura was reminded of Urazoshi-san,” and this is the first stage of the Chunin Exams.”