Fae's Path to Konoha – Chapter 1
Disclaimer: I don't own anything.
Harry stared into the mirror.
It was an ordinary mirror. It was the same kind of mirror that hung over most every bathroom-sink in the country, with the only real difference to most being that this particular mirror belonged to his relatives.
Considering how proud his relatives were of their status as 'normal' citizens, it was entirely possible that it was the single most ordinary mirror there'd ever been.
The man behind the glass continued to regard him with those near-glowing green eyes, silently patient in a way that seemed about as human as the phases of the moon. Cold and unreadable, but no crueler than summer rain.
For an ordinary mirror to not show any kind of reflection? For it to instead show a man with eyes so brilliantly green that they couldn't be real?
Harry hadn't exactly heard children whisper about their Good Neighbors, but he'd certainly heard Vernon grumble once or twice about overly superstitious folk, and not even the Dursleys clear disapproval of unnatural things could've entirely blocked fairytales from the daycare.
Fae were... probably not the kind of creatures you wanted to have poking their heads out of your bathroom-mirrors, regardless of whether you – on sheer principle alone – disapproved of such unnatural things or not.
Then again... there had to be a reason for it, right?
Why this mirror? Why when Harry looked into it? Why-... Why did the faceless man in the mirror look so much like himself?
But the mirror was a mirror, and no matter how many questions Harry tried to ask, the man inside of it remained silent, patient, waiting.
Harry was six years old, and staring into those glowing green eyes on an older face impossibly distorted by broken glass that otherwise looked so much like his own, he did something very foolish.
He reached out, and where there should've been a mirror's glass, from the other side, a larger hand took his hand in turn.
Climbing on top of the bathroom sink was surprisingly easy with the man's help.
Behind the mirror, the world-...
-... Harry blinked blearily up at the foreign-looking man shaking him awake.
"Hey kid, you shouldn't be sleeping in the middle of the street, you know." The man glanced around, giving Harry a few moments to take in a giant stone wall with an equally gigantic gate attached to it. "What's your name?"
"Harry." Harry blinked, refusing to speak it in its entirety for a reason he couldn't quite remember, confused about why his fingers hurt like he'd been out in the snow. Confused about why he couldn't see his breath, about why there was so much green, about the man's honestly worried expression so completely lacking any malice-...
The man frowned slightly, a brief flash of worry crossing his face before being replaced with a somewhat-forced smile. "Nice to meet you Harry. Do you know where you are?"
"... Away." Harry answered, the strangest feeling of desperate relief in his heart, as if he'd been chased by Dudley for days and days only to finally lose him around a corner.
"I see." The smile grew a bit more strained. "Well, this place is called 'Konoha', Harry. And I'm sure you're hungry, right?"
Harry's stomach chose that moment to make a desperate gurgling sound, the kind of desperate one might expect from a thirsty man crawling through the sandy dunes of the desert.
The smile got a bit more truthful as Harry blushed. "Happy to hear it. I know a restaurant with the tastiest food."
And for the second time, Harry followed a man through-... Konoha was very pretty, and there were people everywhere. Even if the expressions on the faces on the mountain reminded-... Even if the faces carved into the mountain were a bit too stern-looking for his comfort.
Six years old, with bright green eyes and a face on the exotic side. He was definitely going to be a heart-breaker growing up.
The boy had no memory of how he'd ended up outside of Konoha's gates, though he did mention that his relatives – whose names he refused to speak – were civilians. They'd also apparently not been the kind of people who might approve of a child becoming a ninja, and... Hari definitely had enough chakra to become a good one if he was given the chance to grow.
Which might explain why his relatives had been ever-so unpleasant towards him. After all, it wasn't unheard of for ninja to dally in places – and with people – they really shouldn't. Young Hari being the bastard son of some no-name shinobi who'd caught sight of a pretty face? More likely than the Hokage was entirely happy to admit.
He liked to think that his own ninja would be above such things, but with the way that Hari refused to name his hometown? The way he seemed to reflexively refuse all hints of getting more names from him than 'Hari'? It was likely that the town was somewhere within Fire Country's borders, and for all that the ninja-world might've been peaceful enough for such a dalliance have been a foreign ninja, he was still old enough that he would've been conceived barely a few years into peacetime, making it far more likely that Hari's birth-father had been a Konoha-nin.
It was entirely possible that that was pointless conjuncture, and the Hokage had every intention of at least going as far as looking 'underneath the underneath' in regards to the boy's heritage. He wasn't too young to be a spy – Danzo and his methods could attest to that – but a sleeper-agent? Not very likely. And he wouldn't be the first spy to break ties with whomever sent him over the bonds he'd made within Konohagakure, should it come to that.
All the Hokage really needed to do was to treat Hari as if there was nothing beyond the surface of a young runaway wanting to become a ninja. The rest would sort itself out in due time.
Still, they didn't exactly have a lot of empty apartments to choose from, and Hiruzen would eat his own Hat before risking to expose Naruto to whatever unknown influences the boy could be carrying with him. Bonds or no.
So, where in the world could he put this green-eyed foreigner-looking child?
Foster-care? With whom? None of the big clans would want him. Regardless of allegiances, he wouldn't be their clan, meaning that they'd refuse to teach him their techniques and traditions, and at that point it would be kinder to just not even try.
One of the smaller clans maybe? It'd have to be one of the ones whose clan-techniques were already on the verge of dying out, otherwise it'd be the same issue as with the big clans. And a lot of the ones who was on the verge of that... had already taken steps to prevent their techniques from vanishing into obscurity.
The few that hadn't? Well... there was Hatake Kakashi. Small clan, very low chance of future children, and extremely talented shinobi. Also a mental breakdown waiting to happen, and the jounin who was most likely to end up teaching the Jinchuuriki of Konoha.
The rest were similarly bad options, even if their reasons for it were quite varied.
Still, foster-care would solve an awful lot of problems, without risking Danzo trying to stick his fingers into things and ruining the boy's chances of joining Konoha's forces voluntarily. Young spies, Danzo could create. Loyal spies? With his methods, he'd have better luck lassoing the moon.
So... there was what? The civilian clans? Hiruzen didn't actually have a lot of authority over those. It came with merchants being so... interchangeable. One merchant more or less didn't matter for as long as Konoha made sure that none of them managed to get a monopoly on anything important. And that was a very good way of making sure that Konoha's enemies couldn't completely ruin their supply-lines with a few strategic assassinations.
Maybe if he could make a convincing argument for the child being one of their own? Not that young Hari really looked much like anyone he could think of-... Actually, despite his foreign-looks, his eyes were-... Those green eyes of his looked a bit like a Haruno's, if you squinted.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Hiruzen sent out a missive to call the Head of the Haruno family to his office.
He didn't really need to convince the man that Hari was theirs, he just needed to present the possibility that he might be theirs. And then hopefully a few worried faces about the boy's future would do the rest.
Hiruzen was pretty sure that they'd named their pink-haired daughter 'Sakura'. Original, they weren't. And unoriginal people had a wonderful tendency to simply go along with whatever a person in authority might suggest. Especially when the unoriginal people in question were civilians who already had a daughter to dote on.
Civilian parents always ended up getting all mushy about children ending up on the street, and that was technically an option here.
Haruno Hari was an easy name to remember, even if it wasn't his True-... even if Harry still remembered another one. It was True enough-... He'd been officially adopted by the Haruno-family, and despite what the Dursleys had told him, it was surprisingly okay.
At this point he was pretty sure that the Dursleys had been playing up the horrors of not-Dursley-families in order to keep Harry from running away and getting them into trouble when people started to wonder what was going on in their home.
Not to say that there weren't worse places than with the Dursleys, like the howling winter-winds-... Admittedly, Harry had heard some bad stuff about Konoha's orphanages from some of the other kids in his class, but with something like two-dozen kids all crammed into a house built for like half-a-dozen people in total? It wasn't exactly surprising.
There were a lot of orphans in Konoha. Not so much because of the war, because there hadn't been a war since pretty much before Harry's generation had been born. But because of the Kyuubi. A lot of the older children at least had lost their parents to the demon that the Yondaime Hokage had destroyed with his suicide-technique.
The younger children though? That was just how the world worked. Shinobi didn't live long lives, and – outside of the bigger clans – orphans ended up in orphanages. Unless they were old enough to find an apartment of their own, or were just independent enough to demand one and went on to prove that they wouldn't kill themselves within a month. Those orphans were allowed to do as they pleased, even if they couldn't afford much.
At least two boys from Sakura-nee's class lived on their own. And Hari wasn't alone in his own class to live with distant, or not-so-distant, relatives.
For once in his life, there didn't seem to be much of anything at all strange about being an orphan that lived with their relatives. And his relatives were nice people.
Hari liked Konoha.
Sakura... wasn't entirely sure how she'd ended up becoming a big sister.
One moment she'd been a single-child, no matter how often her parents commented that she seemed to be attached to the hip with Ino. The next moment, there'd been Hari.
He was a lot older than suddenly-existing little brothers usually were, and his face had a strange shape to it, but the way he looked at her-...
Sakura had never really been admired before.
The teachers at the Academy would praise her, her parents would look at her with pride, Ino's dad would look at her with fondness, and Ino was always happy to see her. But admiration? She was just a clever girl with a big forehead.
And even so, whenever she explained something to her new little brother who didn't ever seem to know anything at all about Konoha, he looked so amazed by her.
It was... nice.
Even if Ino joked that Sakura was growing mad with power, whenever she tried a little harder than usual to show off in front of her little brother. It wasn't like Ino didn't do it too. Though Sakura kind of got the feeling that Ino mostly only did it whenever Sakura paid attention to someone who wasn't her.
Her best friend could be pretty vain like that.
Not that Sakura minded. Ino was really cool.
The problem with being in the class a year below Sakura-nee, was that Hari had never really figured out how to make friend with people. Back in Little Whinging, there'd been Dudley scaring off anyone who might be nice to him, and then there hadn't been... anything.
Hari understood the theory behind making friends. You were supposed to talk to people, and then after you'd talked to them enough, they'd be your friend. He was pretty sure that that was how it worked.
Unfortunately, Hari had never really talked to anyone. Excepting teachers who scolded him, his relatives who yelled at him, and Dudley who taunted him. The Haruno-family was very different, but even then... they were usually busy with other things, for all that they smiled warmly at him. Sakura-nee also wasn't-... She was very smart and stuff, but whenever she wasn't talking with Ino-senpai, she was reading books.
Hari didn't terribly mind books, but he didn't really want to spend his free time with his nose buried in them. He could do enough of that during classes. And homework. Ugh, homework.
So whilst it was nice that Sakura-nee was a year ahead of him and really smart, so she could help him along whenever he didn't understand something, Hari didn't-... Hari didn't have any friends in his class.
He wasn't super-talented at anything, so nobody fawned after him to beg study-sessions from him. Thanks to Sakura-nee, he wasn't behind at anything either, so the teachers didn't pressure any of the more talented kids to help him out. He was just... average.
In some ways, it was comforting, being able to sort of sink into the crowd and not be bothered by anyone. In other ways, it was lonely.
It was a strange feeling. Hari had spent so much time-... spent his time in Little Whinging desperately trying to survive. He hadn't had time to think about stuff like if he had friends or not, when he'd been so busy trying not to have his throat cut out-... to be beat up by Dudley and his newly-formed gang.
Hari didn't like it. But then... there wasn't much he could do about it.
And at least he could hang out with Shikamaru-senpai and Chouji-senpai sometimes, when Sakura-nee and Ino-senpai ditched them to talk about girl-things.
Life was... good.
Sasuke was really cool. And pretty.
Sakura frowned up at the ceiling of her bedroom. On the one hand, she was happy that Ino agreed with her. On the other hand... it... kind of made her upset?
A part of her wanted to just do the whole thing like mom would've done it. All out, no holds barred, anything is fair in love and war. Sasuke couldn't marry both of them, so obviously Sakura needed to win over Ino. But Ino was her best friend, and she-...
If she and Ino fought over Sasuke, they wouldn't be friends anymore. Friends didn't fight like that. They bickered and argued and competed, but they didn't-... not like that.
So the part of her that wanted to go all out to get Sasuke to herself? That part was in conflict with the part that said that she didn't really want to lose her only friend.
She'd seen what it was like for Hari, drifting around alone, hesitantly failing to reach out to his own classmates every time. No Ino of his own to push him into new friendships, even if he didn't have Sakura's overly large forehead to make him a target for bullies.
That's what life would be like without Ino. Books, homework, a few people she could talk to about unimportant stuff, and training to not slip behind in class.
Sakura didn't want that. Even if having Sasuke would more than make up for the lack of Ino.
She shouldn't fool herself though. Love could take a lot of time. Mom said as much. And Sakura didn't want to be stuck like that for however long it took, with neither Ino nor Sasuke around.
It was a frustrating kind of feeling.
Was this what mom had meant when she'd said that love was painful? It'd certainly explain all of that despairing moaning people in stories tended to do.
Blergh. Life sucked.
Hari didn't have much of an opinion on Uchiha Sasuke.
He was talented and worked hard, he wasn't ugly, he tended to glare at most everything around him, and he was an orphan. That was the full extent of Hari's opinion on Uchiha Sasuke.
What he did have an opinion on was his older sister's crush on Uchiha Sasuke. Mainly in the sense that he'd reluctantly learnt from experience that the only way to keep her from talking about anything except Uchiha Sasuke – and how amazing he was, for one reason or another – was to not give her any chance to talk about anything other than directly asked questions from Hari's side of things.
Sakura-nee was happy to help him out with homework, and definitely enjoyed learning new things. The problem was that she tended to get distracted from the subject-matter if Hari didn't poke her with relevant questions. Which had been fine when she'd talked about Ino being cool and knowing lots of people, but nowhere near as fine when she wouldn't stop gushing about Sasuke having set a new personal record in class for something.
Hari liked Ino, and definitely agreed that she was kind of cool. Hari was about as fond of Uchiha Sasuke as he was of the visual texture of brick walls.
Basically, he didn't give a rat's arse about it.
Also, there was a big difference between Sakura talking about her best friend, and Sakura gushing about her crush. And Hari kept getting this urge to roll his eyes about it, because how could she not see-... because surely Uchiha Sasuke wasn't worth gushing over?
Not that Hari supposed he was an expert on things like that. It wasn't like he even had any friends of his own to start with.
That was just life.
Had Uzumaki Naruto been any other kind of person than he was, Hari would've probably been perfectly happy to hang out with him, regardless of what the adults might have to say about it.
Harry Potter had always been an outcast, and Haruno Hari wasn't exactly popular enough to be all that picky about his friends.
Unfortunately, Uzumaki Naruto was loud and brash and far too determined to be obnoxious in order to not be ignored. To the point where Hari could barely stand being in the same room as him for longer than a handful of minutes before he started to seriously consider cutting classes, purely to get away from him.
And that wasn't even counting the way he kept following Sakura-nee around like some weird stalker-puppy, asking her on dates time and again no matter how bluntly she turned him down.
At this point, Hari actively disliked Uzumaki Naruto. Which was far more feeling than he put into continuing to ignore as much about Uchiha Sasuke as he could get away with.
It was difficult to be fond of the older boy when Sakura-nee kept trying to force-feed him every single tiny little habit that she'd spotted whilst she – much like Naruto did to her – stalked him all around the Village.
If Hari could've convinced his older sister to perhaps not get involved with the bristly orphan of the Uchiha clan, he would've done so in a heartbeat. But even Ino-senpai – who was otherwise always so sensible – refused to be dissuaded.
So Hari had long since resigned himself to having to listen to Sakura-nee gushing about her crush, even if he didn't really understand why girls were interested in that sort of thing.
As for Uzumaki Naruto, Hari made no attempts to hide his feelings about the blond continuously asking his older sister out on dates, when she'd clearly already rejected him.
If he would shut up about it and get on with his life, fine. Whatever. As long as Hari didn't have to listen to him being obnoxious, he was fine with it. But he was being obnoxious and harassing Hari's older sister.
Perhaps it was just that he reminded Hari a bit too much of the-... Perhaps he was overreacting or something. For all that nobody liked Uzumaki Naruto, Hari seemed to be the only one actually feeling disturbed about him constantly following Sakura-nee around.
It wouldn't be the first time he'd overreacted about something. Like that time someone grabbed him in a hold that'd been just like-... and Hari had broken their arm, jaw, and tried to bite a chunk out of their jugular.
He'd gotten into trouble for that one.
Apparently he wasn't supposed to be that violent with his classmates, even when they tried to break his bones. Hari wasn't entirely sure how that was supposed to be fair, but he also got the feeling that the Hokage wasn't exactly a fair kind of person.
Strong, important, intelligent, experienced. But about as interested in making the world 'fair' as the chill of frost in the air-... But very much not interested in making the world 'fair' for anyone except himself.
And that was always going to be how the world worked.
Hari wrinkled his nose.
For all that Sakura-nee was only complaining about one member of her newly appointed team, Hari was pretty sure that it was the worst possible combination all around.
Naruto stalked Sakura, Sakura stalked Sasuke. Naruto and Sakura were both being rejected, and pretending not to hear it. Naruto kept picking fights with Sasuke. And Sasuke probably hated them both with a passion.
For a study-assignment or something, it'd probably be good or something. A 'learning experience'. Forcing them to deal with people they didn't like, so that they could do it even when they didn't want to. Maybe even forcing them to acknowledge that they were good at different things?
Hari could see an Academy-teacher insisting that it was a good experience. No matter how much the members of the study-group would bristle about it.
For an active ninja-team?
Hari wasn't going to say that they were being set up for disaster, but there were definitely alarm-bells with those thoughts going off in his head. Uzumaki Naruto wasn't well-liked, so somebody going out of their way a bit to screw him over sounded vaguely in-character. Uchiha Sasuke was the last survivor of a very old and very large clan, and Hari knew that Sasuke surviving – where many much more experienced shinobi hadn't – had left a few patches of superstitious people from going anywhere near him. Add to that Haruno Sakura being a classical book-smart civilian kid?
Hari knew how civilian-born were looked down at in the Academy. Oh, nobody said anything about it, but it was always there in the condescending glances whenever one of the non-clan-kids didn't quite manage to perform as well as the clan-raised ones. Hari was a Haruno, of course he noticed it. They were looking at him.
So sabotage was a possibility. Not necessarily a likely one, because the Hokage was-... The Hokage was the kind of person who'd not allow someone to sabotage something he could make use of in the future.
There was a comfort to an attitude like that, for all that the man pretended that he wasn't like that. Hari had known plenty of-... When it came down to it, people who wanted to use you were relatively easy to deal with. You just needed to know what they needed you for, and then you could make sure to put various things that annoyed you in between you and any chance of you actually doing what they wanted you to do.
Hari liked Chouji-senpai more than he did the Hokage. But he had experience-... But it wasn't like dealing with the man was horribly traumatizing or something, and Hari had every intention of becoming a ninja. So, if he was treated like an asset for it, then he only had himself to blame.
The life of a ninja was short, violent, and for the good of the Village.
Hari had made his peace with that long before he ever saw Konoha-... He'd made his peace with that a long time ago.
Listening to Sakura-nee complain about D-Rank missions was vaguely hilarious. For all that she had a tendency to screech her frustration into his ears.
He already had glasses, he didn't want to need hearing-aids added on top of that.
Still, despite how much time she spent with her new teammates, her new sensei hadn't gotten around to visiting their parents yet. Hari would've frowned a lot more about it, except – from what he'd heard from his sister – Hatake Kakashi would end up coming late to his own funeral. Expecting him to act reasonable and have a timely talk with their parents about how he'd definitely keep her safe and not throw her into a battle-to-the-death anytime soon, was probably pushing it.
Hari didn't have an especially good impression of the man, for all that he'd never met him. Sure, if Hari had ended up being in charge of the ticking time-bomb that was Team 7, he would've also done anything in his power to spend as little time with them as possible. But Kakashi was supposed to be a teacher, and that meant that he was to be held to higher standards.
This was why, when Hari finally did run into Team 7 in its entirety one day, he wasn't too impressed with the man who was blatantly trying to pretend as if the children following in his wake weren't in any way his responsibility.
It was like an aura of 'totally not my problem'. To the point where it felt like it'd be quicker and easier to contact the Hokage than Kakashi if the trio did something wrong, even if they decided to burn down half of Konoha right in front of the man's eyes.
If Hari's sister hadn't been included in that nonverbal dismissal, Hari would've actually been impressed.
Excepting Kakashi, Hari had met every member of Team 7 at one point or another. That didn't mean that they'd been formally introduced however, and so when they more-or-less stumbled into each other, Sakura-nee decided to do the polite thing and introduce them properly.
Naruto tried so hard to be charming once he figured out that Hari was Sakura's little brother, that he came off more as offensively smarmy than anything remotely pleasant. Sasuke didn't stop glaring for a single moment, arms crossed and barely vocalizing anything at all. And Kakashi smiled with false cheerfulness behind his mask, and treated Hari as if he was a toddler.
Hari responded by glaring at Naruto until the blond started to visibly sweat. Before, with the grudging politeness of talking to someone they had about as much interest in talking to as they did in watching paint dry, he greeted and introduced himself to Sasuke.
Then he resolutely refused to refer to Kakashi as anything other than 'Hatake-san' with a politely cheerful mask of continuously questioning what classified as 'teaching'.
It was hard to tell whether Sakura was horribly embarrassed or viciously vindicated at her little brother's blatant dislike of her jounin-sensei. Both Naruto and Sasuke clearly enjoyed the show though, even if it was only grudgingly in Sasuke's case.
Kakashi did try poking the bristling little brother of his student into treating him with some manner of respect, but honestly he couldn't really be bothered to care all that much. The green-eyed boy was like a puppy with a grudge. It was adorable.
Albus had a problem.
It was unfortunately a very public kind of problem.
He'd just so happened to have misplaced the 'savior of the Wizarding World'. And now he couldn't find him.
He'd been suspicious when the owls couldn't track the boy down, even for the official Hogwarts-letter, but everything pointed to the boy still being alive, so there was at least that.
The boy had been sensibly placed with his relatives under the protection of his mother's blood before suddenly disappearing after turning six. Oh, it probably hadn't been the most pleasant of environments, but it was either that or make the child into both a political pawn and a blatant target for any Death Eaters who'd escaped after their master's death.
No, for all that it would likely be an unpleasant childhood, at least it'd be some kind of childhood. That was what he'd decided all those years ago. For all of his fancy titles, Albus couldn't really do much more than that.
At first, Albus had assumed that perhaps the boy had been kidnapped. However, there were no traces of anything magical happening at Privet Drive, and neither were there any traces of anything more muggle-related. So the only possible explanation was for Harry to have run away on his own. Though with how he hadn't done so with anything more than the clothes on his back, it would've been a very impulsive kind of action.
Still, a six-year-old loose in the streets? He'd either be back in a week, or dead within the year. That's what Albus had assumed back then. And so he'd tried his best to find him before the latter happened. Only, the boy had managed to both stay alive up until now and continue to remain completely impossible to locate with any kind of conventional magic.
But the only thing that the Wizarding World cared for in this instance was that Albus Dumbledore had lost their precious Boy-Who-Lived, because young Mr Potter certainly hadn't shown up at Hogwarts upon turning eleven.
Had Albus merely been the headmaster of Hogwarts, he could've shrugged and said that he was doing all he could to locate the boy, even if the letters they sent out seemingly weren't reaching him. Unfortunately, he was both the man who'd placed him with his blood-relatives – whilst assuring everyone that he was being taken care of – and a very important political figure in the Wizengamot.
Basically, until he produced the Boy-Who-Lived, every single proposal that he backed at the Wizengamot? Every single attempt at a reform to perhaps lessen the amount of cruelties hidden away in their society? Blocked. Discarded. Torn to shreds.
He was a politician that nobody was willing to trust. And until he could pull Harry Potter out of thin air, and parade him around like the famous little pawn that he was, everything he'd ever accomplished was deemed completely useless.
So, not only was his guilty conscious of losing Harry Potter urging him onward. Not only was the prophecy that he still wasn't entirely happy to have heard dragging him forward towards a hopeful Voldemort-free future. The entirety of the Wizarding World were staring over his shoulder, demanding him to act immediately or face the consequences of his irresponsibility.
The Boy-Who-Lived couldn't be located by any kind of conventional magic. That was well-proven fact at this point.
But what about non-conventional magic?
Albus didn't exactly want to delve too deeply into whatever tracking-methods might be found in the Dark Arts, but as long as they didn't require living sacrifice, they were all beginning to look like perfectly reasonable things to try.
Sasuke-kun was dead.
Sakura hadn't really wanted to continue the mission in the first place, but she'd already known she would've been outvoted so there hadn't been any point in objecting, and she hadn't really wanted to leave the people of Wave at Gato's mercy.
And now Sasuke-kun was dead.
Naruto wasn't saying anything at all. Kakashi was still fighting Zabuza over the unmoving body of what had been Sasuke's opponent. Tazuna was standing behind her somewhere.
Sasuke-kun was dead.
Sasuke-kun was dead, and she couldn't do anything at all to help. He was just dead. Had died all on his own when Sakura had been stuck with protecting Tazuna from any more sneak-attacks. Sasuke-kun was dead.
They never should've agreed to go on this stupid mission. The only thing they'd done since graduating had been to pick weeds and paint fences. What the hell did they know about fighting other ninja? They hadn't even fought bandits yet.
But Sasuke-kun had wanted to go on, and Naruto was too recklessly stubborn to care if he was simply rushing ahead with pure misplaced bravado. And Kakashi-sensei was useless.
He'd said that he'd protect them. That he wouldn't let any of his teammates die.
Sasuke-kun was dead.
And, regardless of the Shinobi Rules, the tears just wouldn't stop.
It was his cute little genin's first brush with the darker side of being a ninja. The truth of being a tool, even when they were people. The truth of being destined to die for some pathetic reason or another, with the best they could hope for being a shallow grave at the end of a life of hardship.
He'd allowed them to choose to continue the mission, more because he'd doubted that Gato would manage to hire someone beyond chunin-ability than because he'd trusted his ability to protect his genin against someone like Zabuza.
After that, he hadn't aborted the mission because he knew exactly how pointlessly stubborn and spiteful his cute little genin could be, if they set their minds to it. He just hadn't wanted to deal with either the insubordination of trying to herd the three of them back to Konoha whilst recovering from chakra-exhaustion, or deal with the endless whining he'd have to put up with as they'd forever complain about everything he ever decided in the future.
And that petty kind of reason had nearly killed one of his students. Would have killed him, if his opponent hadn't happened to be more merciful than he had any right to be.
In respect for that at least, a respectful if shallow grave was the least he could do.
Sakura-nee was a bit different by the time she came back.
Their parents didn't seem to notice it, and even Ino was more inclined towards grumbling about how her team certainly hadn't managed to go out on some exciting mission like that, than she was to noticing that Sakura-nee was-...
She wasn't hurting. That wasn't it. Hari had seen enough heartache-... Hari was pretty sure he'd be able to notice if Sakura was actually in pain, emotional or not.
It was a dawning kind of dazed horror, combined with something a bit like bravery. That's what had changed about Sakura-nee.
It reminded him of what his own expression had been-... It wasn't necessarily a bad thing. His sister was plenty brave. And she was safe, even if her teacher was still a useless one who refused to teach. He wondered if Kakashi's hidden eye was green too-...
That was what being a ninja was like. Horrible stuff, and adventure and bloodshed and cold eyes staring out of dead faces and smiles that hid too many teeth and winter winds and green eyes and snow and-...
-... and a queen that knew your name-...
Probably the single most frustrating thing about her little brother, was that he was the worst person she knew when it came to buying him birthday-presents.
Hari didn't throw tantrums about bad gifts or anything. That was in fact part of the problem. He always made that confused but grateful expression. Like he was a pleasantly surprised that they hadn't given him a pissed off rattle-snake this year either.
It wasn't even that he was used to nasty gifts. From what he remembered of before he'd come to Konoha, his relatives mostly just pretended his birthday wasn't a thing that happened. But even so, he still made that vaguely relieved face, no matter what godawful thing somebody gave him.
Their parents weren't exactly... 'good' gift-givers. They were bigger on souvenirs and polite flowers and maybe a small token of some sort. It'd taken Sakura years to train them both into giving her things that she wouldn't simply confine to the back of her closet for the remainder of her life.
Hari hadn't ever bothered. He just made that same expression every time, regardless of how ridiculous or unsuited or even outright pathetic his presents were.
Sakura – not wanting to end up just like her parents – had always tried very hard to give her little brother something that he'd actually be happy to receive, rather than be relieved with. She hadn't really succeeded yet, but she was working on it. And she had a much bigger budget this year.
There were some advantages to having your own mortality thrown in your face for what was likely to be an entire career of close calls and-... and calls where not everyone came back home.
For all that both Naruto and Sasuke had both bounced back with little-to-no change in how they acted around each other, Sakura could still remember that moment all too clearly. But that was the life she'd signed up for.
She was a ninja, after all.
Albus wasn't entirely happy with the way he'd managed to finally set it up.
It was honestly more a summoning-ritual than it was a locating-one. And if Albus hadn't had as many focuses on Harry's identity as he had, there was no telling what he would've been summoning.
There was the scar on his forehead, his blood-relationship with the Dursleys, Albus's own legal guardianship over the boy, and the Invisibility Cloak of the Potter-family that showed no signs fading.
He'd been very thorough in making sure that that'd be enough, before he'd even considered performing the ritual. And it looked like it would finally pay off.
Yes, Fawkes wasn't all too happy at having to push forward his burn-day by a couple of months, and he'd probably have to burn down the house he'd used to summon him too, just to make sure nobody with less understanding of the ritual tried to replicate it and did something really stupid. But there he was.
Harry Potter in the flesh.
Not nearly as scrawny as most first-years, but then he'd had a full extra year to grow. After all, he should've been a second year, as far as his age went.
The fact that Albus had to restrain the boy from lashing out violently?
Well... that wasn't fantastic. But it meant that he'd probably been more-or-less happy wherever it was that he'd ended up. And that meant that at least the boy had managed to have some kind of a childhood.
The fact that the boy was relying more on trying to punch him or stab him with something also meant that he probably didn't know about magic yet. That was good, because children had a hard time staying mad at someone who promised to show them how to do honest-to-Merlin magic.
Things were definitely looking up.
Kakashi only really had a passing acquaintance with Haruno Hari, despite the obvious antipathy the boy seemed to hold for him.
Still, he was the little brother of the sanest one of his cute little students. And from her grumbling, his birthday was apparently coming up, and he hadn't given her any kind of wishing-list. Again, because apparently he'd avoid doing so as a rule, as Sakura's grumbling brought up time and again.
Beyond that, he'd read the boys file enough to know that Haruno Hari was technically adopted and had been found on the doorstep of Konoha, frostbitten and with little-to-no memory of how he'd ended up there. He did kind of look like a Haruno though, so nobody was going to argue about the Hokage dumping him on them, and the family was happy enough to have him.
That was... pretty much the entirety of what Kakashi knew about Haruno Hari.
He'd come to know a lot about Sakura's facial expressions though, so when she rushed to the meeting-place early in the morning, Kakashi decided to not hang back and pretend to be late.
Her eyes were a bit too wide, hair too wild, and there were signs that she'd been crying.
She didn't even seem to register that Kakashi was there on time, and though the boys probably did, they were focusing more on her than on him.
"Hari is missing!"
And... suddenly it didn't seem all that important that they at least get another D-Rank done today.
That feeling was only reinforced when they couldn't find a single trace of his scent leaving his room. Almost as if he'd been reverse-summoned, like what sometimes happened to Jiraiya and the toads.
Except... the only foreign scent that lingered in that room, was the stench of burning feathers.
A/n: This fic is like a third-generation spin-off of an inspiration that I got waaay back, and it's been just as consistent through the writing-process. Blegh. So glad that it's done. All three chapters of it.
And yeah, this particular iteration of it is loosely inspired by Araceil's "Beneath a Blue Sky" as well.