Chapter 100: Home is Never the Same
When Hari turned up with the Cup, it made for a certain amount of paperwork. Dumbledore couldn't say he was entirely surprised by the duplication, though. The Ministry had to take a fair bit of convincing that they really couldn't tell the difference between the two cups and therefore were technically faced with two winners. Thankfully Mr. Greengrass had taken possession of his daughter's winnings once the Ministry had been persuaded to pay out double prizes. Professor Potter had been rather stoic about it and mostly complained about the final task being too easy. In fairness, there had been no serious injuries, let alone any deaths, during this Tournament and that was well behind the curve.
X X X
Hari closed out the year teaching classes to his attentive and slightly terrified students with a sense of satisfaction. It was a lot more fun than he'd ever really expected it to be. Instead of being frustrated with the utter incompetence that he had to start with, he just enjoyed seeing them grow and learn how to properly slaughter a fellow human in a heartbeat. Professor Dumbledore had impressed upon him a lesson similar to that of several of his uncles: to avoid civilian casualties. Professor Dumbledore hadn't phrased it the same way: instead of reminding him he wasn't paid for collateral deaths, he had focused on the idea of actually protecting civilians. Hari didn't mind that, in the end. Technically, a large number of missions were protection, it was just that he'd never really been along on them. Or had them assigned to him. So he'd actually had to do a bit of learning himself as he prepared the lesson plans for the upper years.
Hogwarts saw what was no longer a record number of O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s as students made sure not to disappoint Professor Potter and the Aurors had what was becoming the usual end-of-year flood of job applications from graduates, some of them with rather disturbing letters of recommendation from Professor Potter or slightly less worrying (only a little) letters from Auror (ret.) Moody.
At breakfast before the students left, Dumbledore rose and cleared his throat, then exploded a conjured buffalo to get attention. "Thank you for attending the last meal of the school year. I'm glad to see that all of you are leaving. Despite my expectations, we have not faced some students repeating a year, so I offer a word of thanks to you for not extending the length of time I'll have to deal with you snot-nosed brats. I feel it only fair to inform all of you that the Hogwarts Express has just departed the station for King's Cross. You will all need to both arrange alternate methods of returning to your hovels and to raise the funds to pay for trespassing on my grounds." He sat down and went back to his toast.
Half the students fled the Hall, while the other half apparently decided that if they'd already missed the Express, there was no point in missing the rest of their breakfast and returned to their meals and conversations.
X X X
Konan was unsure of what to expect, but she'd been rehearsing the whole story in her head for days. Madara was out doing things and she was waiting for her nephew to return to the Tower so she could explain what had happened in the last ten months. Every time she glanced at Nagato's body, laying out on the meeting table, the tears started again.
She understood why he did it, she really did. The blond Uchiha was exactly who Nagato had wanted to be when Yahiko died. He'd never had the knack for being kind and believing that the world could be good. One talk with Uchiha Naruto had proved that there was someone like Yahiko left in the world, one who didn't just want a better world, but believed it could be achieved with every fibre of his being. It was a faith that could move mountains. It had moved Nagato's heart, at least.
She didn't blame him. Not for the deaths. Not for giving himself to undo what he'd done. Konan smiled through the tears; he had died as he hadn't lived: happy and believing in a future. She couldn't ask for more for her best friend. He'd been at peace and even now, his face had none of the hard lines and darkness that had been fixed there in life.
"Hey Aunt Kona-" the voice trailed off as Hari finished appearing in the Tower and saw what lay on the table. The pile of gifts fell to the ground in a jumble as he approached. "What happened?"
"I . . ." the prepared speech just failed her as she looked at him. There was a new expression on her nephew's face: something mixing confusion, disbelief, and pain. It occurred to her that he'd never had someone important die before. To her, it had become a fact of life that caring about people left her vulnerable. Hari . . . her nephew had never needed to worry about that with his family. Who could hurt the Akatsuki?
"Who do I kill?" the words were snarled out and the air started to grow heavy with power as the pain was shuffled off to make room for the easier, safer emotion of anger.
"No one," Konan said quietly. "He died resurrecting people he decided he shouldn't have killed." She felt the tears running again at the confusion that had returned to Hari's face. "He made a mistake and spent his life to undo it."
He shook his head. "But . . . dead?" he wasn't staring at his Uncle's body, but he didn't need to.
"That was the price," Konan mumbled. "He didn't mind paying it, Hari."
"Oh." It was clear Hari didn't really understand.
"He's not the only one, Hari."
"Not the only one what?"
"Dead, Hari. Kakuzu and Hidan were killed a month or so ago. Deidara is missing. Sasori-"
"Uncle Sasori is in the other world now. He helps run the branch organization."
"Oh." It was Konan's turn to be confused. "The rest aren't, though, Hari. I'm sure that Kakuzu and Hidan were killed and I haven't heard from Deidara in months." He looked stunned again, but she mustered courage to finish the list. "And your father . . ." it was going to kill him. "Itachi died two weeks ago."
To her surprise, Hari shook his head. "Dad's not dead."
"Hari . . ."
"He can't die. Nothing can kill Dad."
Konan shook her head and reached out to hug her nephew. Everything had gone to pieces around her. The Akatsuki was disintegrating. Madara had apparently begun recruiting Uchiha Sasuke the moment that Itachi had died. Her best friend was dead. Hari, though . . . she took comfort in knowing that Hari wasn't going to join the list any time soon. Not if she could help it.
"You can't stay." She said it quietly.
"Of course I can."
"No. Hari. You can't stay. You have to go back to the other world." She hoped he didn't ask why. She couldn't tell him that his favorite Uncle was possibly the most evil man in the world and was planning to do things she was now sure were absolutely wrong.
Hari nodded, not really sure what was going on. Aunt Konan seemed to have an idea of what to do and he was a bit too lost right now to argue much. He gently detached himself from her and walked over to his Uncle's body.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this," he told the corpse. "I was supposed to train and train until I was ready and earn it. This feels like cheating. I know Uncle Sasori says I can't really cheat, but it still feels like I'm just being handed this. We were supposed to destroy Rain with our fight, Uncle Pein. It was supposed to be an epic battle." The Sharingan spun wildly and something hot and sticky trailed down one side of his face.
"Go on, Hari," Konan murmured. She watched with a carefully controlled expression as her nephew reached down and extracted Nagato's left eye. It was done with a great deal of skill and precision. Her nephew had grown, it seemed. She was less prepared to watch him casually pluck out his own Byakugan eye and begin the process of attaching the new eye in its place.
It was surreal, really, to watch. One eye was leaking blood that he didn't seem to notice, but he had absently sealed the spare eye into his wrist and then begun the surgical procedure right there. It barely took five minutes for him to have a complex, borderline legendary eye implanted into his skull.
The mismatched gaze was somehow older. It was painful to see it on Hari's face. "I'm sorry." Konan closed her eyes and was surprised to find herself wrapped in a hug initiated by her nephew. He'd never been one for gestures like that before. "Promise me you won't die, Hari. Everyone seems to die around me. I need you to promise you won't be one of them."
"I'm not going to die, Aunt Konan. I promise." The voice was soothing. Something relaxed in her chest. She knew he was strong, but right now, she could believe that Hari would do just what he said. He always did. If he promised not to die, then she could be sure he wasn't going anywhere. No one could warp reality like him.
Konan pushed him away. "Now get going." She wanted him gone before Madara got back. Just because she believed him didn't mean she wanted to test it. "Goodbye, Hari."
"I'll see you next summer, Aunt Konan."
Just as the fire surrounded him, he heard Konan speak again. "Goodbye, Hari."
X X X
Arnold looked up to see what turned out to be the most terrifying thing to date. His boss was glaring at him. He had a new eye, too, but it was the glare. There was more emotion in that look than he'd seen from Professor Potter in several years of knowing him.
"Give me a job."
"Something really violent. I'm going to kill someone, so I should get paid for it."
Arnold held out a folder and watched his boss vanish in a cloud of fire. He'd decided not to comment on the trail of blood from his old eye, nor the blood smeared around the new one. This was not a time to ask his boss anything.
"Yes?" Sasori hadn't bothered to poke his head out when Hari had arrived, but was mildly surprised that he hadn't visited him.
"I . . . I don't know what just happened."
X X X
It was cathartic. It really was. Hari stood in the ruins of a warlord's encampment, not even breathing hard. There was nothing around him for almost a mile. Nothing but scorched earth and a fine, white ash. He'd burned the place, over and over. All he could see was his Uncle Pein lying there, dead. He'd looked at peace, too. But he was just as dead as if he'd been angry or sad or scared. Dead was dead. So he'd burned the entire area to the ground and set fire to the ashes and then scoured the ash with more fire until the whole area was devoid of anything but him.
On second thought, it didn't help. He was still just as angry and confused. Why hadn't Aunt Konan wanted him to stay? He should have stayed. Something was wrong. And the damned bird refused to bring him back. It hadn't even responded to him for days. Not since it had dropped him off here. And so he burned the place some more. It didn't tax his reserves, not even a little. He just kept letting out flames.
He hadn't wanted to go back to the office to get another job. He didn't really want to go destroy a city. Actually, he did. What he wanted to do right now was destroy everything in the world. But that would include destroying the Dawn and Daphne and Hermione and Blaise and Tracy and Millie and Pansy . . . and it would destroy their families and they'd be unhappy, too. He couldn't set fire to the world. Even if he didn't set fire to England and Scotland, if he burned the rest of it, he'd have no more jobs for the Dawn. He turned the massive clearing into a conflagration again, this time blasting the land clean with Fiendfyre.
There was a spell that fit his mood. Right now, when he cast that spell, he could feel the black tide of anger and pain rise up in him, but then it would spill out into a roiling mass of monstrous creatures that rent the land with claws and fangs. While they rampaged, the emotions in him were gone, lashing out at the world instead of him.
He thrust out a hand and the clearing turned into a crater as an invisible fist of the gods slammed into the earth. Ash flew into the wind as he repeated the strike over and over, blasting the crater with force. He didn't speak while he did. He just let out a long, incoherent scream that went beyond rage and sadness and left him limned with Fiendfyre while he blasted away.
He didn't cry, not really. He'd seen crying and it wasn't what he was doing. But he felt the sticky heat running down his face as he ran out of air and sat down, staring at the ruins.
X X X
Konan smiled weakly until Hari was gone. It was good to know he was gone from here. He'd have been devastated by Madara. Instead, she sat calmly and waited. She didn't have any friends left. The remaining members of the Akatsuki were Hoshigake, who was an ally of convenience at best, and Madara. She hadn't been friends with most of them anyway. She'd barely had any friends at all. The only one left was Hari and she'd made sure he was safe from this.
It was a surprise to find that she had run out of tears when he left. She didn't need to cry anymore. Everything was going just as it had always been destined to go. She and Nagato hadn't changed their fates, they hadn't even stalled them. This was how things were always supposed to end.
"Hello, Madara." She kept her face blank as he faded into reality.
He stared at the corpse for a long minute. "Where is the other eye?" He wasn't pretending to be Tobi anymore. This was the cold, malicious voice of Uchiha Madara.
Konan was surprised to find that she could smile. "Guess."
The one visible eye blinked. "HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARR-" and she triggered the explosive tags, consuming her world in flames.
X X X
Albus Dumbledore had a horrible feeling in his hip. It always felt like that when something really bad was going to happen. He didn't know what it was, but it wasn't a good feeling. In addition to his discomfort, he was also experiencing the unusual sensation of being completely and totally confused. He knew what Hari had reported and had headed out here just as soon as he could. It had been a day at best, no one should have been coming to this nowhere cemetery in the back end of just as much nowhere. It hadn't been hard to guess which cemetery it was, either.
What confused him was the total lack of a corpse.
(A/N 1 John)
This was a remarkable chapter for me. It just came out in a couple of hours. I wrote this the day after we published Chapter 99. I don't know when Spoon is posting this, so that might be months ago by the time you read this.
(A/N 2 John)
The whole scene with Konan and Hari was almost painful for me to write. I kept tearing up while I wrote it. I hope it did the same to you and it wasn't all in my head.
(A/N 1 Spoon)
I cried too.
(A/N 3 John)
I can honestly say I don't know how all this will affect Hari in the long run. In many ways, he's resilient and will shrug off a lot of it. But I expect it will be there in the background. It's not as though he's suddenly having second thoughts about killing people for a living. Who knows. Maybe he'll start really thinking about his students as something more than an interesting project. Then again, maybe not.