In which Haru concludes that he really has entered some bizarre reality that Lee must be responsible for, Tobirama and his brother discuss the world they left behind, and Lee still has a plan
"Very good Mr. Matsuda! That'll be ten points to—" Professor Flitwick paused, caught himself, and sheepishly said, "Well, consider it a job very well done for Konohagakure."
This was Haru, chronic dead last of Konoha since the age of six, being praised for successfully casting yet another English jutsu. It was official: Haru had left the planet Earth and somehow entered some alternate Lee reality in which, impossibly, he was not dead last.
"Thank you, professor," Haru said, the accented English words catching awkwardly in his throat as he shuffled his way back to his seat under the whispering and glaring of his Gryffindor English classmates. Well, granted, it was only some of them, but Granger Hermione was looking at him the way some people in the academy used to look at Namikaze Minato.
Like they couldn't believe this civilian orphan upstart was daring to prove himself better than them. Haru, naturally, had never gotten those kinds of looks. Glancing over at some of his other classmates, he was also getting the other kinds of looks Minato used to get that Haru had never gotten either.
Haru didn't consider himself bad looking, but in the academy, and a ninja village in general, good looks were often equated with competence. Being a talented and powerful ninja was like being a rock star; it tended to increase your sexual appeal tenfold. Haru, being somewhat average-looking to begin with and worse than average when it came to the ninja arts, had never attracted many fangirls.
If course, Minato had probably never really noticed, given that Lee had driven most of them off, but at the moment while Minato was swimming in his Lee/Kushina love triangle, Haru was getting a surprising amount of attention from the female Hogwarts student population.
Of course, Minato was still better than him, even at these English jutsus, and Lee was still frolicking ahead and leaving the rest of them in the dust, but…
But Haru was beginning to realize that he was this place's Namikaze Minato.
They didn't seem to realize or care that he spoke English half as well as the rest of them on a good day, that even if he could point and swish a wand he was still the worst shinobi in his graduating class by far and a fifteen-year-old genin to boot, and that not even his own shishou took him seriously anymore.
Tobirama-shishou had never said as much, but Haru had the feeling that if he didn't pass the chunin exams this time around, then Tobirama would be sending him straight to the genin corps, rinnegan or not.
"Very well done, Dead Last," Lee applauded him as he made his way back to Konoha's corner of banishment inside of the class, making it clear that while she was impressed, he was still dead last to her and always would be. "You have a knack for this English ninjutsu bullshit."
Of course, Lee hadn't changed one bit.
"Thanks, Lee," he said numbly as he took his seat, wondering when this universe would right itself and remember that Haru was and would always be Dead Last. The other shoe had to drop, it just had to. He couldn't take much more of this.
"Yes, nice job, Haru," Minato said, smiling pleasantly over at Haru, except… If Haru hadn't spent every day together with him for about a year, then he probably wouldn't have seen anything, but Minato looked… A little upset.
He looked kind of like how Haru had felt during the academy—older than everyone in his class and watching Lee and Minato destroy everyone—and when he'd been placed on a genin team with the rookie of the year bastards.
Like he was just grinding his teeth while he hated every inch of Haru's thoughtless success.
Minato, however, said nothing more and instead flipped through an intensive, handwritten English report of some kind.
What was his problem? He'd pulled off the same jutsu, probably had managed to do it faster than Haru, too, not that Haru had really been paying much attention. Generally, the less closely he watched Lee and Minato's wild success and progress, the better he felt about himself. That was a lesson that had been difficult to learn but kept his sanity alive.
"Seriously though, Dead Last," Uzumaki said, peering over her shoulder to look at him to give him a rather assessing look, "How the hell are you so good at this stuff? Every time I try, stuff just keeps exploding."
"Too much chakra, Uzumaki," Minato said without even looking up from his reading.
"You have too much chakra, you flakey—!"
"Miss Uzumaki, that'll be ten points from—" Professor Flitwick stopped, caught himself again, and sighed even as the English student tried and failed to perform the jutsu for the class. "Do remember that your classmates need to demonstrate their work too."
"Sorry, professor!" Uzumaki cried out, and with her usual determination declared, "It won't happen again, believe it!"
Flitwick didn't look like he believed it, if only because Kushina had been reprimanded for disrupting English classes even more than Lee with her constant loud outbursts and bickering sessions with Namikaze. Not that this was anything new; Uzumaki Kushina had been a regular in detention along with Eru Lee back in the good old academy days.
Regardless, as soon as the ridiculously small man's attention (and Haru was still getting used to that blood limit, something called Goblinism here in England) turned away from them and called the next hapless student, Uzumaki turned expectantly back to Haru.
Who really did have no explanation.
"I, um, read the instructions?" he said.
Kushina seemed utterly unimpressed. "You read the instructions?"
"Sure. You just, you know, do the wand motion thing and make sure to say the words exactly correctly and poof, jutsu."
The three were staring at him like he'd just said the dumbest thing they'd ever heard. No, they were looking at him like he'd said something that Eru Lee was supposed to go ahead and say. The trouble was that it was that easy! He didn't know what trouble the rest of them were having, but honestly, the whole process was surprisingly thoughtless. He didn't even have to think about chakra, he just swished, chanted, and poof there it went.
"Lee's right," Kushina said dully, "That is bullshit."
It was like a switch was hit right then inside his brain. Suddenly, it wasn't weird anymore, and instead a pit of anger began to bubble up from his stomach.
"Oh, it's bullshit just because I'm good at it for once!" Haru spat out at them under his breath.
"If I say yes, will you calm down?" Lee mused, looking entirely unconcerned.
"No, because maybe, for once in my life, I deserve to be good at something! Maybe, for once, I actually have a chance at having some kind of natural talent! And maybe you just don't like being dead last for a change!"
"Nice try," Lee said, "But they're still not even close to dead last, not even Uzumaki's habit of making cleaning jutsus go kaboom. You're too good at this."
"How am I too good at this, Lee? How?!" he hissed. After all, she was the one who was too good at everything she did. Just like in Konoha with her lack of hand seals, Lee didn't appear to need her wand at all and just went on her merry way, manipulating chakra out of thin air.
"You have no innate ability to manipulate your own chakra, and as far as I know you still can't water walk. More, with those eyes, you're running on empty. If you're this good here it means that the English style is built off nothing but rote memorization and a distinct lack of chakra."
He opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it again. He really wanted to argue with her, he really badly wanted to argue with her, but he couldn't find the words. The rage, the confidence, it was all gone, drifting in the wind like particles of dust.
"Oh good, it appears Dead Last has landed back on the planet Earth," Lee said, patting him consolingly on his back. "Have to make sure your ego doesn't get too large or else the enemy ninja will murder you for sure."
Yes, and they wouldn't want that, now would they?
He looked up across the room to where the student, some poor Hufflepuff, flushed in defeat at having failed to produce the spell for the exam and had to walk back in utter shame. Rote memorization...sure it felt like rote memorization, but that couldn't possibly be it if the English kept failing at it too.
Never mind, he didn't care anymore. This would all be over soon enough anyway, and then Haru would be back in Konoha where the food didn't move, he wasn't in the academy, and he was the absolute worst at his profession.
"Hey, Dead Last, quit moping and get up." Something shook his shoulder rather forcefully. "Class is finally over."
Haru lifted his head, blinked, blinked again, and noted that class did appear to be over and that he had spent the last half of it obliviously sulking. Good god, you'd think after all these years he'd just accept it and move on already. Although it was hard when Lee reminded him at every turn.
He looked around, noting that the other two-thirds of the former team seven were missing. "Where's—"
Kushina sighed and shook her head, looking more than a little annoyed. "Namikaze dragged Lee off, saying something about that first task coming up tomorrow. I think he wants to figure out what's actually going on since they didn't call it off when Lee slaughtered the fire death scorpions. If I didn't agree with him, for once, it never would have happened."
"Don't we still have Potions though?" Haru asked, but Kushina just gave him a silent look, as if to ask him if class had ever stopped Lee from doing what she needed to do before. Normally, it would have stopped Minato, but Haru supposed the mission came first in this case.
That, and Minato seemed to have decided that self-study was the best way to get things done in Potions, as most of the time it just turned into a cat fight between Lee and Snape over whether Lee's magical potions created from nothing were legitimate or not.
"Yeah, and I'm sure we'll see Namikaze's shadow clone already waiting for us," Kushina said, reminding Haru that this was also a distinct possibility, as with Jiraiya for a master and the jonin exams around the corner, Minato would be privy to the forbidden techniques that Tobirama-shishou said Haru wasn't touching until he could water walk.
Which, of course, was probably never going to happen.
He sighed, stepped outside with Uzumaki, and immediately stopped in his tracks. There, looking as if they'd been waiting just for them, were Malfoy Draco and his unpaid goons.
"Well, if it isn't Mad-Eye's other ferret," Malfoy sneered across at them, crossing his arms while his hulking friends loomed over his shoulder.
Had… Haru heard that right? What the hell did that even mean?
"You think I wouldn't figure it out?" the boy smirked.
Figure it out, figure what out, what conversation had Haru just stumbled into? He glanced at Kushina, wondering if Malfoy meant her, but she looked just as confused as Haru did.
"You think I wouldn't find out who's been killing off all of that half-wit giant's beasts and pinning it on me?!"
Kushina started laughing. She actually hunched over she was laughing so hard, moved against the wall to catch her breath while Haru could only just stand there.
"Wait," Haru said slowly, "You mean… You mean Lee!"
Hadn't Lee said something about that? Well, sure, Lee spent every class period they'd had so far in Care of Magical Creatures killing off the death scorpions, and Haru had sat back and wished her well. However, he was pretty sure Lee had made some off-handed comment about visiting Hagrid-sensei's after class and murdering the remaining beasts and… And pinning the blame conveniently on Malfoy Draco.
"You mean Ellie!" Haru blurted, remembering Lee's English name at the last minute.
"Why would Ellie Potter do something as stupid as using a Malfoy as a cover up?" Malfoy sneered, clearly not knowing Lee at all or how little respect she had for Malfoy Draco of the Malfoy clan. "No, this comes from someone who had the gumption to challenge me in defense. This comes from someone who doesn't realize just what they're dealing with."
"What he's dealing with?" Kushina blurted as she caught her breath in between giggles, "He kicked your ass, Ferret! With basic kata, he kicked your ass with basic kata, oh my god weeks later and it's still priceless."
"He did not kick my ass!"
"Right," Kushina drawled before stepping forward, grinning to herself as she began to walk past her incensed counterparts. "Well, we'd best get going to Potions. See you there, Ferret."
"Duel," Malfoy sneered again, turning his attention back to Haru, "Outside at midnight tonight, the red-headed tart can be your second and—"
Haru moved forward, still wondering if England really was that genjutsu Lee was always ranting about, but this apparently wasn't the right move.
"Don't you walk past me!" Malfoy cried, drawing out his wand, but before he could even think of casting spells in the hallway (which Haru didn't think was allowed if he was remembering right), Haru smacked it out of his hand and once again punched Malfoy Draco in the face.
The goons stared in shock as, once again, their leader went down without a fight.
Haru just stared.
"… You know, I'd say something, but I really can't think of anything," Kushina said as she walked back towards him.
Neither could Haru.
The morning of November the twenty-fifth was a brisk one, that biting edge of winter just approaching, the sky overcast and pale. It was not a day one usually saw civilians loitering out for hours on end. Normally, on this kind of day, it was only those who had no choice would find themselves outside enjoying the unpleasantness of the weather.
Yet, here they all were, students, staff, and many more besides sitting in the Hogwarts Quidditch stands waiting for this Triwizard Tournament to begin.
"Wow, they really did all come, didn't they?" Hashirama said with his typical idiot's smile. "This is more of a turnout than even the chunin exams."
The chunin exams, Tobirama was guessing, were the closest thing that Konoha had to the Triwizard Tournament. The jonin exams didn't typically draw so many spectators, mostly because it lacked that final traditional tournament round, but even the chunin exams typically only drew those who had an interest in the upcoming potential chunin or a close personal connection to those competing.
Only, instead of being seated in the kage box, or the close equivalent here of the judge's box featuring the headmasters of the three competing schools, Tobirama and Hashirama were seated in the highest seats in the stand. They had a bird's eye view of the arena, which featured a landscape of craggly rock with an open clearing in the middle where presumably some kind of a fight would take place.
A fight against who or what, however, had yet to be revealed, even to the audience.
"She'll do fine," Hashirama said, patting Tobirama on the shoulder. "Even if it goes south, she's… Well… She is Eru Lee."
"It's not her I'm worried about," he retorted automatically, except no, it was her he was concerned about. He still didn't like this, whatever this was, and part of the reason for this seat in the stands was not only to watch the fight but to watch the audience as well.
This, after all, was one of three moments the English had guaranteed themselves. A first task, a second, and then a final third.
"This First Task will likely be used as surveillance," Tobirama concluded. "They'll observe her against whatever the English have set up for her and assess their own plans in preparation for the other two. Given how much these people trust in the fuinjutsu binding her, they know that this is not their only chance."
Had this been his mission, his goal, that would be what he would choose to do. Watch, wait and see, and then use either the second or third and final task to move in. They had time yet, and given what they had likely expected of Lee, they would need time to reevaluate.
"Yes, but who is the they, Tobi?" Hashirama asked, "Is it Dumbledore, this English ministry, or the missing nin?"
And that was truly the trouble, wasn't it? Tobirama didn't know.
Dumbledore had not been wrong; everyone had some motivation for desperately wanting Lee in England, to the point, perhaps, of setting up this entire Triwizard Tournament to begin with. However, even near a month in this place and Tobirama was still a foreigner. He didn't know these people or the players, only what the civilians chose to write about and the war that they suspected was over.
A war that Dumbledore suspected was not.
"Regardless, after this task, we should head back to Konoha," Tobirama said. "It's time I start putting those books in the compound library and past time we debrief Hiruzen and have a discussion with our friend the missing nin."
"Right, him," Hashirama said. "That will certainly be interesting. He really told us everything without telling us anything at all, didn't he?"
He let them believe what they wished to believe, see what they could easily imagine, a world in which England was not so different from Konoha. What he thought he'd gain from that, Tobirama still didn't know, because as it was they had not let him return to his country and now…
Well, depending on the outcome here, perhaps they would. It was leverage Tobirama hadn't imagined they'd had in coming to this place, that they sheltered not simply an English nuke nin, but for all intents and purposes the English nuke nin whose mere name caused its citizens to cower in terror.
For Eru Lee's bloodline, Konoha would not hesitate to unleash a weapon like that back upon its people.
"Do you think we're at war yet?" Hashirama asked, breaking Tobirama from his thoughts.
"I hope not." It was the best answer he could give, the only one, truly, as they could all smell war on the horizon once again. It was like how it'd been in those early days during the Kage summit, tension in everywhere and everything, shinobi skirting the borders of countries waiting for some signal as alliances were formed behind closed doors.
"But you don't think we can avoid it," Hashirama said with a sigh.
"No," Tobirama replied honestly, "I don't think we can avoid this one."
Strange—to Tobirama, it didn't feel as if it had been all that long ago that Hashirama had dreamed his hidden village might spell the end of conflict between shinobi. They had not imagined the devastating scale that wars between entire hidden villages could encompass. Now it was not simply clans that disappeared, but entire nations.
The second war had spelled the end for Uzushio and Ame. What would this third war bring them?
"Do you think they'll finally put us back on the roster?" Hashirama asked.
"Not at first," Tobirama replied. "He'll save us and Kushina for later, for when the other villages start using jinchuuriki. Hiruzen will wait to escalate. It will be the rest of them, Namikaze, Haru, and perhaps even Lee who will taste battle first."
If it extended long enough, if the other villages pulled out all their stops, then Hiruzen would most certainly place Tobirama and Hashirama back into the heat of battle. For all that Tobirama had not always enjoyed his retirement in these recent years, he had not missed the heat of battle or its bloody aftermath.
Too soon, was he the only one who felt it was still too soon?
"I suppose it means we should enjoy this while we can, right Tobi?"
"You mean this blatant affront against our comrade?" Tobirama asked, watching as his brother spluttered, but the man had a point. England, for all of Dumbledore's concerns, was not at war and had not been for over ten years.
These children weren't training for battle or survival, death wasn't guaranteed in their future, and for what time was left to them, Tobirama could enjoy this world that was almost like the world Hashirama had envisioned. A place where shinobi, those who wielded chakra, could turn their expertise to something other than death. To academia, law, art, any and every profession open to a civilian enhanced by the ninja arts.
Lee would never agree, would never see it for herself, but this place was half of the world Hashirama had wanted.
"Dragons?" Lee asked.
Her voice was calm, cool, and collected, but beneath it was a maelstrom of killing intent that was not to be contained. The three others, her fellow champions and cannon fodder, all glanced down at her as if they couldn't quite help themselves.
Hagrid, that sly bastard. After all of that, he had blurted the truth with the thought of perfecting his cover, laughing in Lee's face, or else completely throwing her off the track and provoking her into murdering his death scorpions.
It really was almost like Orochimaru. Orochimaru made no pretense of hiding his demeanor beneath gruff warmth, as Hagrid did, but were Lee to do something to Orochimaru, she would find herself poisoned in a ditch being eaten by a snake. One did not cross Orochimaru-sama lightly.
If one, apparently, murdered Hagrid's evil pets as well as his evil chakra-filled books, he let them dig their own graves while he cackled.
Except, it hadn't just been him, had it? Moody had approached her not too long after, right in the middle of the hallway, and asked if there wasn't something she'd like to see which might aid her with the First Task. Lee had left him the illusion that she had followed, watching as he turned away, triumphant, and wondering why an Englishman would choose to give her information.
Lee was being played, and she didn't like it.
"Yes, Miss Potter," the British kage equivalent, the Minister of Magic, said with a tight grin. "Dragons, from all around the world, no less."
Kage equivalent, Lee thought, well that might be much too kind. This man had a nervous, almost desperate air about him, where he grappled and attempted to cling to authority with as much strength as he could muster. No, the real power here was Dumbledore.
And Crouch knew it.
"Now, Miss Delacour, you first," the man said, moving towards the blonde. The girl, with a glance towards the others, dug into the bag and removed a small miniature dragon.
They went, one after the other, until finally it was Lee's turn to pull, "The Hungarian Horntail."
Even though it was miniature, Lee thought it somehow looked larger and more aggressive than the other dragons by half. More, it was covered in sharp spines that, on a full-sized dragon, were sure to be delightful.
Lee tuned the rest of it out, much the way she'd tuned out the wand weighing and press conference earlier in the day, mind spinning as she considered what this could mean.
Dragons, dragons could be quite deadly; they could count on the dragon to slay her and use it as the excuse to mourn her passing. But what if they didn't want her death? After all, Lee had proved she had little to no interest in England, and her death as a symbol would be shortsighted at best. Would they fake it here then spirit her away somewhere to turn her into an agent of some foreign village?
And was it truly dragons she would be fighting, or would something much worse be prepared for her? Something that might show her hand as early as the First Task and give her enemies everything they needed to plan around her.
In the chunin exams, the first task was always dedicated to information gathering and stealth; what if that was their aim here?
More, what, exactly, was Lee supposed to do to win this, to prove she could handle this dragon-fighting business that much more than the others? Was it speed, use of difficult jutsus, appeal to the audience?
The other champions paced about the tent, preparing themselves one by one for their individual dragons, and outside they were met with cheers, roars, and rapturous applause as each was presumably victorious, or at the very least not dead.
Hagrid, Moody, dragons, and a goblet where Lee's name had been stuck in despite her not having set foot here since 1984. Yes, between all of that, Lee had made up her mind. The plan wouldn't change in the slightest. Lee was going to spend this task watching the watchmen.
As Cedric, the last contestant aside from her, left the tent, Lee stood, cracked her neck, and created something rather familiar out of chakra.
"I'm Eru Lee and I like battling dragons in pointless shows to entertain the civilian masses and earn English fame and fortune!"
Lee had promised herself she wouldn't do this. No—she had promised she would no longer go down this path for emotional support. Never again would there be an emotional support Lee, and even the other clones… Slowly, too, she would let them fade from this world and slip from the Uchiha's and Orochimaru's grasping fingers.
"Eru-sama," a perfect replication of Lee said with a wild grin, giving a small bow towards her commanding officer and creator.
Lee bowed respectfully in turn. "Give them a show, my friend, and let them believe you're capable of only their English parlor tricks at best."
Author's Note: Ah Lee, so clever, even when you make such terrible choices. Next up, the task itself, and how it will inevitably go wrong because we all know it will go wrong.
And thank you GlassGirlCeci for betaing. Thanks to readers and reviewers, reviews are most appreciated.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Harry Potter