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In the Valley of the Shadow

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In all actuality, being the Master of Death was not too terrible. At first, Harry didn’t even realize he held the title because nothing really changed. The stone was in the forest, the wand was in the tomb, and the cloak was in his study for whenever he needed it, which was rarely. After several years, however, it became apparent that he had stopped aging. This realization was understandably upsetting, but Harry figured he had faced worse. After all, he reasoned, it wasn’t as if he had a personification of death dogging his footsteps. He should be grateful, he resolved, that there weren’t worse consequences of his unique experiences, and he started applying daily glamours to disguise his new abnormality.

 

Other effects made themselves known. Darkness seemed a little too fond of him and shadows became denser when he was near. It makes it easier to disappear when he doesn’t wish to be seen. Magic comes more easily to him, and he doesn’t always need his wand anymore. These changes mean little in the long run, and Harry lives his life like any other. Soon he has a family and a career, a few careers in fact, and then he has retirement and grandchildren. It is a good life. His friends age and pass away. His children age and pass away. His children’s children age and pass away. Soon he is old enough that his venerable age is making people uncomfortable. He uses his friendship with Nicholas Flamel as an excuse for a while but in time decides that enough is enough. The wizarding world is protected and somewhat peaceful and nothing holds him there too tightly. He uses his animagus form to slip away and does not look back.

 

Harry had never seen Prongs except through his Patronus, but he imagines that he looks somewhat similar. He makes a handsome stag if he does say so himself. His antlers are impressive, and his hooves are very sharp. Truly he is a fearsome sight to behold. In this form the shadows are even more affectionate; they drip from his hooves as he walks and quiver happily in his wake. He spends his days pacing through the forests. No stand of trees remains unexplored. He makes friends with the more intelligent herds he comes across. They are very kind and very respectful. Some even choose to follow him on occasion. After a while, he almost forgets what it was like to be human.

 

One day while Harry is wandering in his favorite forest, Harry stumbles. This would not be a noteworthy event except that for one thing, Harry never stumbles, and for another, he seems to have stumbled into another world. The magic is different here. It is closer to the surface and more abundant, yet calmer and more stable. The trees are fantastically tall. He is large for a stag, but he feels small here. Harry decides that he quite likes it. He seems to be the first to have come to this place. He takes his time to explore, feeling out the new shadows. He is in some sort of valley, and yet he can never seem to find the edges of it, no matter how far he travels. A few of those who had followed him before also make their way to this new realm. In the valley suffused with magic, they become even more intelligent and their eyes shine with wisdom. Everything is altogether lovely, Harry thinks, if slightly monotonous. But he has a herd and food is plentiful. It is a new place, one he can call his own. So he does.

 

For quite a long time everything continues in much the same way. The herd is larger now, and Harry teaches them what he can. Harry thinks that he could live forever in this way and probably will. He should have known that nothing in his life could remain so consistently peaceful.

 

On a warm summer’s evening when the shadows have reached their longest, Harry is startled from taking a drink by a poof of smoke and a human dropping into his third favorite lake.

 

┐( ̄ヘ ̄)┌┐( ̄ヘ ̄)┌┐( ̄ヘ ̄)┌

 

His name is Shikatama Nara, and he is very interesting. Harry initially panics about dragging him from the lake, but everything is fine because apparently, Shikatama can walk on water. He teaches Harry how to do it, too. It is a very useful skill. There are a great many things that Shikatama teaches Harry. Apparently, the magic here is called chakra and Shikatama is a shinobi. As far as Harry can tell, this means that Shikatama sneaks and kills for a living. Harry reserves judgment as he once did something similar. Shikatama tells him that he used a “reverse summoning technique” to get to the valley. He does not stay long as he is the head of his clan and cannot let his clansmen worry.

 

The next time he comes Shikatama teaches Harry even more. It is then that Harry realizes that Shikatama Nara is scarily intelligent. He moves slowly and sleepily but his mind is fast. He teaches Harry the skills of a shinobi, how to mold the chakra into earth and water. Some things Harry already knew, like how to run swiftly and silently or how to lash out with his antlers and hooves. In return, he teaches Shikatama how to befriend the shadows. He takes to them like a duck to water, though he can’t play with them like Harry can. It’s still extremely good for a mostly normal human.

 

Shikatama visits regularly and Harry learns more about his clan and his world. It seems that each clan is pitted against each other, fighting to survive. The Nara focus on tactics, stealth, and plant-based medicines and avoid fighting outright. They need support to be most effective. When Shikatama tells him of a prospective alliance with the Akimichi and the Yamanaka, Harry encourages him to take it. It reminds him of days long ago when he was part of a trio of his own. The conflict escalates and Harry doesn’t see Shikatama for a while. Then one day he is back again with an excited glimmer in his eyes. The Uchiha and Senju have called a truce and have invited the Akimichi to begin a village. Of course, the Yamanaka and the Nara will follow, and there will be a chance for peace.

 

Harry now claims Shikatama as a friend, a very close one even. Perhaps it would be better to say that they are comrades. Anyway, Harry knows what it is like to lead a herd and teach them to fight. So when Shikatama comes with a large scroll and an explanation of summoning contracts, Harry is not really surprised. “I have already fought my own battles,” he tells him, “but if the Nara call for me, I would answer.” He links the valley to the scroll, and soon, Harry is visiting the Elemental Nations for the first time.

 

Konoha is a beautiful village and a good start, and the rest of the Nara clan is remarkably similar to its head. They all have dark eyes and dark hair that is only slightly more tameable than his own used to be. It’s funny how well-suited they are for each other. At Shikatama’s request, he teaches the others how to use the shadows. Together they bring seedlings from the valley and start a small grove in the village for when he comes to visit. The trees don’t grow as tall in Konoha, but they are still comforting. Shikatama passes leadership on to his son, and the Nara-ke become a part of his herd.

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The night seems calm, but Harry knows it is an illusion. He’s always trusted his instincts before and he’s not about to stop now. They’ve saved his life many times over. The shadows tug at him and he speeds up. Yes, there is most definitely something amiss and he will be the one to correct it. This is his forest, after all.

 

As a parent, he had always been able to sniff out angst from a mile away (since he had spent a large portion of his teenage years doing something similar to sulking). Nearing the source of the disturbance, he slows his gait and steps out soundlessly from amongst the trees. There he is, the future head of the famed Nara clan, posed artfully on the ground and staring soulfully up at the stars.

 

To be honest, even though he looks like a stereotypical Nara, Shikaku is a little bit of an oddball amongst the clan. He focuses on combat techniques and takes slightly more initiative than most. However, his most unique trait is definitely his habit of stargazing. That isn’t to say that most Nara don’t like to gaze; they definitely do. Trees, the sky, people, water, clouds, drying paint, the insides of their eyelids: Harry’s seen it all before, but he’s never seen a Nara interrupt their nighttime sleeping for anything, let alone stargazing. Harry thinks he’ll be a revolutionary leader one day, but right now Shikaku’s dilemma proves he’s a Nara down to the bones.

 

“Yorushika-sennin,” Shikaku acknowledges.

 

Harry huffs. Teenagers. They always think their problems are so original, but Harry’s had the upcoming conversation with Shikaku’s father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather, and his great-great-grandfather.

 

“I’ve been respectfully encouraged to finalize an engagement with Yoshino by the end of this summer.”

 

What a surprise, it was exactly what Harry thought it was. He always found it hilarious that the Nara had inherited the Potter curse of being attracted to, erm, powerful and vivacious life-partners. Unfortunately, it is a curse, and Shikaku might as well bow to the inevitable.

 

“I’ll tell you exactly what I told your father. I’ve seen you two together, and there’s no way it’s not going to happen.” Harry had seen them, Shikaku leaning faux-casually against a wall with a cigarette in hand when Yoshino just happened to walk by. It had only gotten worse from there. “Suck it up. Go buy the earrings and some flowers and ask her. It’s going to happen either way. Do you want her to decide that she has to ask you instead?”

 

“Troublesome.”

 

“Look at it this way. When you leave someone strong at home, you don’t have to worry about what you’ll find when you get back. Isn’t that better than the alternative?”

 

Shikaku refocuses on the stars, and Harry knows that’s the end of their conversation. Well, it could have gone worse. Heaven knows his grandfather wasn’t half as receptive.

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“This is my son,” Shikaku announces and drops a small child at Harry’s feet. Said child collapses bonelessly on the grass without opening their eyes. If Harry didn’t know better he’d assume they were unconscious. “I’ll be back for him later,” Shikaku adds and promptly leaves.

 

Five generations. Five generations of loyal work alongside the Nara and this is his reward. Harry should have known that this would be the result of selflessly teaching Shikatama his shadow techniques. He should have known that he was ultimately enabling their laziness in the name of tradition. Oh, the Nara will claim that their traditions are symbolic and meaningful like any other old clan’s. Harry would claim that about half of these “traditions” are just glorified shortcuts that the Nara accumulated to perpetuate their aversion to effort.

 

Take, for example, the Nara clan symbol. The original symbol is subtle and beautiful evoking images of waves and shadows. It is meant to represent a proficiency with Yin release. However, the symbol is almost never seen in use around the compound. Why? Because “traditionally,” the symbol is simplified to a circle with a line through it. In other words, some Nara back in the day couldn't be bothered to draw out the entire symbol and the entire clan ran with it.

 

Which brings Harry to situations like these: parents dumping their children on Harry for free babysitting, or as they like to call it, “initiating their children into the clan techniques.” It's true that Harry is the most proficient with shadows and was the first to teach the Nara these techniques, but the parents are all perfectly capable of teaching their progeny themselves. He swears that shinobi are almost allergic to small children. At least the Nara aren't as bad as the Inuzuka who give their kids to their ninken to raise.

 

So, here he is, watching the newest clan heir doze in the grass. If only he weren’t so weak for children with their little spiked ponytails and tiny mesh shirts and curious black eyes… oh wait, this one’s eyes are still closed. Time to get this show on the road. “Oi, brat, what’s your name?”

 

“Shikamaru,” is the mumbled reply. So he’s not completely asleep. Harry can work with that.

 

“I’m the Yorushika-sennin, but you may call me Harry. I’m the boss summons of the deer of the Valley of the Shadow, and I’ve been teaching shadow techniques to your clan since before the founding of Konoha. As a summons, I’m more sympathetic to natural energy. This helps me to teach shadow techniques more easily. However, shadow techniques rely primarily on Yin release. This makes your clan naturally predisposed to shadows due to your high intelligence. Furthermore, Yin release is enhanced with spiritual strength, so as you gain age and experience, your ability to manipulate the shadows will increase. Using shadows requires imagination, creativity, and tactical strategy. The first step to finding the shadows is meditation which is necessary because -” and the kid is out. Perfect.

 

Harry grabs Shikamaru by his collar and settles him on his back. Time to take a walk.

 

They head deeper into the forest. Harry keeps his hoofsteps soft and sure. The air becomes cooler and the drone of cicadas fades into silence. He lets the darkness thicken around them like a blanket. Tiny fingers bury themselves in his coat. Harry wouldn’t trade this for anything.