The village had looked small when Hiroto first saw it, big for a village, but so tiny and filled with tiny humans, even if they could jump and dash around and spew torrents of water or fire from their mouths.
Now those people were around him, larger than him and he was just one of the ants caught up in the stream of people all around him and this time he was not practically invisible - but right out here in the open in the middle of it all.
(And that shouldn't be worrisome, not at all, because it was normal to walk amongst people like this, but Harry wasn't really Harry anymore and despite the clothes he wore, he was still far too naked and he'd never been normal anyway.)
Then Genma smiled reassuringly and said he'd be right back and disappeared in a gust of wind and leaves and suddenly the press of human life seemed even heavier, invading all of his senses – too much and too many and he was right out here in the open, where everyone could see and touch and hurt his fragile human form.
Hiroto wanted to leave or hide, but Kakashi's hand was warm and certain, wrapped tightly around his own and Harry would never be the one to let go.
Silently that hand led him through big, human streets and to a round building with a sign on it that Harry, for all his time in this world, still couldn't read. (Because hearing and speaking was one thing, but those lines and squiggly shapes? That was something else. And why would he even want or need to know? One village was as good as any other, whatever their name, when he passed through them all as unnoticed as a ghost.)
There were more people inside the building – all of them shinobi, but not small and dismissible, because Harry was the tiny one now and more vulnerable than any of them because they were so many and he was alone.
But that wasn't true, because Kakashi was there and looked down (down!) and smiled with his eyes and promised, "Maa, it's alright. We'll just meet the Hokage and talk to some people, so that you can stay for a while. If you want to, that is."
There was no need for an answer, not really, because the masked nin had to know (somehow this shinobi could read him even with Hiroto's appearance, with a beak and fur and feathers and scales). Still, Kakashi waited silently, expectantly, for Harry to decide, not pushing or prodding or demanding or threatening, just there and waiting as the silence stretched and stretched.
Harry breathed and nodded and said only, "I want."
But that was enough because Kakashi had read him even as Hiroto, so he led and Harry followed because that was who he was now and because the man had never dropped his hand, not while standing there, waiting, in the middle of a large room filled with shinobi, comrades, strangers – with their watchful, curious and careful eyes.
Kakashi had held on, so Harry followed.
Kakashi let go of his hand, opened the door and guided Harry inside with a soft push against his unsubstantial back. Genma was there, so he stepped further inside, and he let his eyes linger on the man for a long moment before he looked towards the other person in the room.
Hokage was not what he expected, because he thought there would be careful hands and a cunning mind and threats and threads to bind and keep and hold and use. (All for the greater good.)
But she was bright and bold and her hands weren't careful but they were strong and strange because they belonged to a warrior and a leader and a healer, and Hiroto relaxed in his mind because he was just the same – sharp and hard and soft and griffin and dragon and phoenix and not what was expected either.
She said "thank you", because Genma was there – alive and healed and whole and he must have told her what had happened.
Harry just nodded mechanically, because thank you's were strange – sometimes casual and easy, sometimes raw and real and heavy and sometimes just a blanket covering something else and Harry had never been any good at telling the difference, especially in a stranger.
Hokage (or was that Godaime? That's what Kakashi had called her when they walked in) narrowed her eyes, but that was fine, because Genma smiled something soft and real.
"Yeah, I don't think I've taken the time to say that yet," Genma said, "but thank you Hari-san, for saving my life and bringing us home."
And this was even worse – or better, because somehow he could tell that this thank you was all warm and light and heavy and there was a hint of 'not alone' and something of a promise, so Harry said, "I promise."
And that's not something people said, was it?
He tensed and bit his lip in thought, and took a shuffling step back, only to find Kakashi still warm and there, guarding this human back.
A hand rested on his shoulder and maybe it made sense after all, what he'd said, because the masked shinobi let out a chuckle and Harry could feel the man's chakra filled with something good and kind – like comfort and joy and protect and home.
Harry relaxed and a shy smile rested on his lips – a familiar stranger, because even as a human he hadn't smiled like that in years. (Not since that first year in Hogwarts when magic was still a dream come true and friendship a new, wonderful thing that he was certain could never be tainted or broken.)
Something melted in the room – at first he thought it was him, but it might have been Godaime because she sighed and shook her head as if giving in to the inevitable. "Alright, fine. But this is on you two – keep an eye on him. And you," the woman said, pointing her finger straight at him, stern like McGonagall but so much more alive (the chakra almost dancing around her in a celebration of life), "Don't cause any trouble."
He nodded obediently, because that was what you were supposed to do. But as they walked out of the building he quietly confessed to the two shinobi at his shoulders, "People used to say that I was a magnet for trouble." He worriedly looked up at Genma, a part of him afraid that he'd be send away, not worth the effort, not worth the trouble. "It isn't really true, it's not like I go looking for trouble. Trouble just usually finds me."
Genma laughed, "Well, I'm sure we'll be fine."
Kakashi petted his hair with the same casual reassurance and absentminded fondness he'd used on his worried dog. "Don't worry about it, Hari-san. I'm sure Tsunade-sama will be reasonable if anything happens."
The brown-haired shinobi snorted and shook his head muttering, "Reasonable, huh?" as if that was doubtful, but that was fine, that didn't matter – all that mattered was that it seemed like he was worth the trouble to these men.
"Are they the same?" Harry asked, because if he stuck around with people that had names that mattered, maybe he needed to know stuff like that.
"The same?" Genma wondered, with a slight tilt to his head.
"Godaime. Hokage. Tsunade. Are they all the same? I thought her name was Fifth. Is that a name? Maybe there's a family name in there. People have those, don't they?"
The two shinobi exchanged a look, but Harry couldn't read it. He frowned in concentration, trying to decipher what they were silently conveying but it was useless, so he gave up when the white-haired ninja started to speak.
"Aah, people do. Her name is Tsunade of the Senju and she is the Godaime Hokage of this village. You can call her Hokage-sama or Tsunade-same, or Godaime-sama, it's all fine."
Harry wrinkled his nose at the suffix but nodded all the same – this was Kakashi, so he would try to remember to do that even if suffixes seemed superfluous because a name was a name and a person was a person.
"Tsunade-sama" Harry picked, because titles like headmaster, minister, hero or saviour were things he could do without, even if, in a way, it made sense for her to have them because she was leader and healer and warrior, just like he was Harry and Hiroto, dragon and phoenix and griffin. She was more than one thing, so it's not that strange that she would have more than one name. "That makes sense."
"That's good," Genma said, encouraging and maybe amused, ruffling a hand through his hair and Harry was getting used to this – to having them there and close with their human kind of wings.
"Do you have a family name, Hari-kun?" Kakashi asked, and the suffixes still didn't make sense because they shifted and changed and names and persons did that enough without adding to it, so maybe he should ask them to stop?
"I don't have one of those," he informed them.
"A family name?"
"No. A –san, or a –kun or a –sama," Harry said with a frown, "because you are Kakashi and he is Genma and I remember those names, so isn't that enough? Why do you need more? I am Harry, or Hiroto – why dress it up any differently than that? Do you need to have a –san or a –kun?"
The shinobi stared at him in silence for a moment before he lightly shrugged his shoulders. "Maah, not really. Hari. Kakashi. Genma. That's fine. It's just considered polite when you talk to strangers," Kakashi said calmly. The shinobi's single visible eye peered at him curiously. "What about your family name, then?"
"It died," Harry said, because he never wanted to be Harry Potter again – because those two words put together always meant so much more than just 'Harry' and it was too heavy and too big, especially when he was this small – and even if he was somehow still Harry after all, Harry Potter – saviour, beacon of light, scapegoat, celebrity – had died somewhere along the way.
The shinobi both nodded, and there was an understanding there that didn't surprise him. After all, these two men had shown that they understood Hiroto perhaps better than he understood himself these days. Somehow they could see who or what he was and maybe that should make him feel even more naked, but instead he was relieved that there was at least someone around who knew how to interact because he was rather lost when it came to any of it.
"So you are Hari, and I'm Genma and that's Kakashi. That settles that then," the dark-haired ninja said cheerfully, as if it was an agreement instead of their names.
"But Godaime is Tsunade-sama, because Kakashi said so," Harry uttered, with all the certainty of a world-wise child.
"Sounds about right," the masked shinobi agreed, eye curling up with contentment.
And Harry thought that maybe he wasn't too bad at this at all.
Harry was doing alright. Konoha was big and strange and loud at times, but Kakashi and Genma were usually there – solid and reassuring presences at his side.
But Konoha was full of life and people and Harry wasn't really used to it anymore – not after being Hiroto for so long that being a tiny wingless being without fur and claws and a beak felt a little unnatural. He was getting used to it though, to being Harry again instead of Hiroto and in a way it was also nice – to be small and the one sheltered by a larger form.
He was getting used to his human form, but he missed being Hiroto. And he missed the silence and calm of being out there.
And yet, he didn't want to leave this human-ness that he found. He didn't want to leave this village with Kakashi and Genma and those strangers that smiled at him, because alone was still a lot worse than this crowded feeling pressing down on him.
It was a dilemma that he pondered for a while with a deep frown on his face.
And Harry wasn't a shinobi like his… friends? (His comrades? His packmates? In the end he settled for just 'his' because he wasn't one to complicate things.) He wasn't used to guarding his face and keeping the emotions hidden, not anymore, because it's been years since the Dursleys and he'd never been any good at it anyway, and he'd been Hiroto lately and alone, so who did he need to guard them from?
The senbon-chewing man took one look at his face and queried; "Troubling thoughts?"
This man had sat himself down next to Hiroto only hours after their first meeting on a battlefield; he'd been gentle in his firm, fierce presence there, crossing that empty gaping distance between Harry and everyone else deliberately, as if it was a promise made without words, and Genma hadn't broken it since. He was still right there.
So Harry answered. Then he looked up, worried frown still on his face as he awaited an answer.
"Well, we can fix that problem, can't we?" the shinobi said, with more warmth a killer-for-hire should be able possess. "Sounds to me like you just need to stretch your legs. Or wings."
The following afternoon Kakashi returned from his mission, eye-smiled at them both and agreed; "It's fine with me. Tomorrow, Hari, you can take us flying."
Then the dawn came, and the skies were blue with little wisps of clouds - and they were wide and wonderful and waiting for him.
But not him alone.
When Kakashi didn't show up on time, Harry used the feel of the shinobi's chakra to track him down, interrupting the conversation the man was having with a blank-eyed shinobi by impatiently rushing to the white-haired nin's side and dragging him away by his hand without saying a word.
The other, nameless ninja made some sort of indignant complaint that Harry half-listened to and ignored completely.
His ninja just chuckled and let Harry drag him to the gates.
(And all the while a ridiculous amount of enthusiasm was bubbling happily in his chest, of the likes that he hadn't felt since Quidditch and flying lessons and 'I have a godfather who cares'.)
Outside of that bustling human city, Hiroto finally stretched his wings once more and flew. His first flight that day was glorious and wild and unencumbered – and he reveled in the freedom of it, but also in the knowledge that when he was done there were people waiting right there on the ground for him.
His second flight was with two humans on his back, but it was not the careful lift he had given the two men before. Instead it was the three of them laughing against the rush of wind in their ears and daring or badgering each other to agree to more and more outrageous stunts.
(They didn't go back to the ground until after the two shinobi had managed to hit two different specified targets on opposite sides of Hiroto, with his senbon-wielding man standing on his head and the masked-ninja on his back, both of them clinging there with chakra while Hiroto was upside-down at the lowest point of a fast-flying loop. Then Kakashi started mentioning elemental chakra and lightning and wind and the beats of Hiroto's wings and Harry was almost curious enough to try, but Genma said 'no' and decided that that was enough flying for today. Kakashi agreed and then casually wandered over to Hiroto's ears and whispered 'later'.)
Hiroto returned to the ground. In the open skies far from humans (beside his humans) the sense of freedom had been exhilarating. Now, down in the forest he was once more walled in. Not by buildings and crowds, though, but by the trees he would knock over if he moved a little too carelessly.
With a sigh, Harry changed back and strangely enough for the first time he felt freer in his human form than as Hiroto. Because now that he was small there was more open space, room for him to run and breathe.
So he ran a little bit, and he breathed, while Kakashi and Genma sat and watched. (Their eyes were peaceful on him, not piercing or crowding, but just there.)
They stayed in the forest for hours.
And perhaps it was all rather silly – because Harry had changed back into Harry, and Kakashi was oh-so-patiently teaching him how to catch fish and gut them and cook them and which spices would poison them if you have unwanted guests, and which would promote blood clotting if you were wounded and tasted pretty nice too.
It was a shinobi version of a picnic – and perhaps, a survival exercise for Academy students. But Harry didn't mind when they treated him like a child, for all that he was only a few years younger than them. This world was different than his own, after all, and there were many things he had never had anyone to teach him.
It was silly because he didn't need to know these things, not really, not when he was Hiroto. But he was Harry now and silly or not, it was… nice.
When they headed back, Harry was still Harry. And this time it was Genma who carried him on his back instead.
When they reached Konoha, something was wrong.
People, shinobi, were rushing around in tightly controlled chaos. The clang of steel met his ears and Kakashi shot forward, barking a question at the first ninja he came across.
It was somewhat disturbing, how quickly the two easy-going, playful people he had spent time with in the forest, suddenly transformed into tense, blank-faced soldiers. But then, Harry reasoned, his transformations were just as fast – and wasn't Hiroto just as different?
In a flash, Kakashi was back. "Prison break," he informed Genma, who had carefully set him down and had moved somewhat protectively in front of him. (When had anyone ever shielded him from anything? Not since his mother, Harry was sure, not since that night.)
Kakashi gave Harry a little push, towards the two men who often guarded these gates. "Stay here." Then both of them jumped forward, into the fray, with Kakashi sprouting some meaningless names and facts and words at the other.
Harry blinked and stayed, because as a human he was too small and weak and as Hiroto he was too big and dangerous – in this strange, unaccustomed fight with those quick moving ninja, he might destroy things he wasn't supposed to destroy.
How would he be able to tell the difference between these fighting, nameless people anyway?
So Harry stayed put and saw flashes of weapons and fire and heard curses and shouting and choked off screams. Then a group of the dangerous shinobi rushed past them, throwing knifes that were barely deflected by the two men at his side.
Then another group rushed past, and one of them was Kakashi, Genma not far behind, so this group didn't throw any knifes at them.
Quick as a snitch, they left his field of vision. And a part of Harry wanted to move forward, out of the dubious shelter of the gates and into the open so that he could see. But Kakashi had told him to stay here, and he didn't really need to see anyway.
He could feel the familiar hum of friendly chakra buzzing around nearby, soothingly strong.
That was alright then.
Then things went even wrong-er.
There was a yell, and it was Kakashi's voice and there was something about it that made his heart constrict because there was something painful/angry/please about it.
He could not lose this now – not yet, not already, not at all.
Harry ran forward, outside the walls and into the open.
The group of shinobi, the dangerous thieves - who were trying to steal these things away from Harry, things like not-alone and like people with names – were suddenly not dangerous at all but tiny and terrified and running and fighting and dying.
And Hiroto roared and raged and stretched out his wings as far as they would go, knocking down a tree and overthrowing some bushes and he didn't care because his wings would shelter and protect and his beak and claws would tear and rip and these stinging little ants wouldn't get one inch closer to what was his. (They wouldn't steal from him.)
He let them run and fight and die – let the shinobi with Genma' and Kakashi's sign (that meant home) on their forehead or arms or neck run after them if they wanted to. But he didn't follow. Instead, he turned and tilted his wings to find those he guarded like the dragon he was.
Kakashi was still holding onto a bleeding man, a dying man because humans, even these ninja were fragile, bony, squishy things.
Hiroto carefully ducked down and asked his ninja; "Can you save him?"
Kakashi winced, just slightly and shook his head. "Even if Tsunade-sama was here… there's too much damage to his organs. It's unlikely even she could..." The white-haired nin's words trailed away into silence.
Hiroto breathed and tasted sadness in the air and then Genma was there too, right beside them and said 'oh no, Raido' with a sigh as soft as a half-forgotten dream. And the chakra, the life, was draining away with the blood and Harry wondered. Before Kakashi and Genma he had never smiled since this form and his wings were the wings of a healer - and he had never cried because hollowness was not sadness and he'd long since learned there was no use in tears.
Except sometimes there was.
"Can I save him?" Hiroto sounded out, the words slow and pondering like it was a puzzle and not a life, because this man was just a man and he didn't have a name.
(But he did have a name because Genma said 'Raido', said 'oh no'. 'Oh no' and there was sadness and pain but no desperation because these were shinobi and dying was what they did.)
But sometimes they lived – sometimes they had names and they lived because Hiroto was still Harry, wasn't he?
He let out a mournful trill and there was no griffin in his voice, but phoenix and healer and a wave of protection and chakra and life that wrapped around everyone present. Then the trill died out, and the man was still dying and Harry said honestly; "I don't know if I can cry."
"Can you save him?" Genma asked hoarsely, and suddenly there was desperation. Desperation because there was hope and Harry hadn't meant to put that there, in Genma's face. But he had, so he leaned over, his head hovering above the man that was 'Raido', his face almost even with Kakashi's who was still crouched and holding that bloody mess in his arms.
"I don't know," Hiroto said. He looked down at the ninja and willed tears to rain down, but his eyes were empty and this man was dying, his last moments and minutes smoothly sliding away.
Then he looked up at Kakashi, at his one closed and scarred eye and the other wide open and there was something in that open eye, something like 'please' and protection, and there was a hand on his shoulder that could only be Genma, because he could feel the warmth and the sadness and that painful desperate hope seep into him through that touch, through the chakra that was life and everywhere and inside and around them.
And Hiroto could cry after all.
"What sort of trouble did you say you usually ended up in?" the masked ninja asked mildly, after the man named Raido had extracted himself from his hold, had stood and stared down at himself and found himself patted and prodded by his nearby comrades and engulfed in a hug by Genma.
Harry just laughed – a short, startled, real laugh and crawled over to the masked shinobi that was still seated on the floor, burrowing himself in the man's bloodstained arms, all tiny and small and human once more.
And somehow it had all led to this – somehow he was once more a weapon.
But that was alright because he knew and because in the end, in this world, they were all weapons together. They were pain and fear and just-hold-on-tightly, tightly don't-let-it-slip-away - and fierce and dealers of death and loyalty, always and forever.
And in Harry' or Hiroto's mind there had never been a greater good – just people worth fighting for, so he didn't even pause (like a true Gryffindor) and Genma signed his name right beneath Kakashi's on that brand-new, too large scroll (because surely his heart couldn't be big enough to have room for more? More names and more fragile beings to shelter beneath his wings and more careful, warm arms to be sheltered by – surely that wasn't possible?).
And Harry felt only relief because it was settled then, he was Harry and he was Hiroto, and he was stuck in this world, different but almost the same, because he was still a weapon - but he was not alone, not ever alone and somehow he could live with that.
(Because magic is something wondrous and strange, but Chakra is life and Harry was filled with it - so very, very alive and maybe that was somehow better after all.)
A.N. Finally! For some reason this chapter was a lot more difficult to write for me than the first... But hey, that's one thing done, at least.
Thanks a bunch to BeyondMyReach for being my beta on this! Sometimes I need a little. erm. encouragment to continue with stuff. xD
Aaah, and I forgot to say 'thank you' to Phantom Feline, who did the brainstorming/feedback thing with me. So thanks!