IMPORTANT NOTE:

Just to let you all know, this is it: the end. There are no more updates after this 'chapter'.

You'll find that it starts at the beginning again. I didn't like a lot of the character flaws I could see, and I never had a plot to Reclaiming Life to start with. I made a plot, and started from the beginning.

Big thanks go to Essex, who proofed the first few chapters. The key concepts are still the same. For those of you that don't want to read the completely awesome re-written portion, scroll down to "NEW MATERIAL OUTLINE".

Just a warning, I don't have the time anymore to write the rest of the story. As I hate leaving a story unfinished, especially as I knew exactly where I was going with this, I've just compiled all my notes and made broad story outline for those that really want to know where I was going with this.

It's probably not what you want, because the story outline lacks a lot of what I think is needed to make a story worth reading, but it's there and anyone that wants to fill in the details and what not are free to do so. I'm a bit biased, but I think it is still a great story, and worth being written. Anyone that wants more information than this is welcome to read the Author's Note at the bottom of this incredibly long 'chapter'.

Have fun! And thanks for sticking with me.

PROLOGUE

Small feet pounded down the empty street. Looming shadows, formed by the full moon added to his panic. Where was everyone?

The chunin gate guards were missing. Aunt and Uncle should have been closing their shop. Houses stood dark where light typically shone through the square windows; including his.

Desperate calls for his family were returned by echoes. His mad dash, starting from that first inauspicious sight of the deserted streets, halted halfway down the main hall of his home. Straining ears heard only deafening silence. Breathing became difficult. A strangely familiar feeling settled in his stomach, like a rock swallowed whole.

The muffled thump snapped the boy's head in the direction of the dojo. Tentative steps took him to the screen door, but that strange feeling warned him against continuing. A stifled scream coincided with the dark splatter against the paper screen.

Worry moved his hands, sliding the door open. He gagged at the acrid scent of copper. A single moonbeam from an open window framed the prone forms of his parents. Sasuke approached the limp figures on trembling legs. Lessons from the ninja academy told him they were dead. No one could lose that much blood and still live. Disbelief kept him from accepting the evidence.

"Foolish little brother." He was too numb to jump at the deep voice. Sasuke watched Itachi emerge from the shadows. Hope had no time to rise past the shock, a fact that would later seem a blessing.

The Uchiha heir lifted his blood stained sword. The delicate plink, of a single scarlet drop joining the growing pool beneath their parents' bodies, echoed in the suffocating silence.

"What-… How-… Why?" the boy forced past the lump in his throat. His brother's expressionless gaze bore into him. Inadequacy, shame, and guilt welled up within him. Was this somehow his fault?

"To test my capacity." The answer was lacking. Itachi was lying. No one would do this for such a reason. Sasuke shook his head, unwilling to believe, unable to speak. The boy silently pled with those Sharingan eyes; eyes that his clan had been so proud of.

"Run little brother. Run and hide. Live in fear and hate. Hate me. Only your hate will give you the strength to kill me." Crimson eyes locked with his as something shifted. The tomoe spun, drowning him in black and red. The world blurred.

Bracing his legs to stay upright, Sasuke found himself outside again. The blood red moon revealed the Uchiha district in a sinister light. He called for someone, anyone, on the empty street. A cry of pain cut off in a wet gurgle behind him.

Spinning in place, he watched Uncle fall to the ground clutching his throat. Aunt's look of terror hastened his feet, but Itachi's downward stroke slashed open her back before she could even think to flee. Sasuke rolled her body over, warm blood and soft flesh limp in his arms. Itachi stood silent as his brother choked on his sobs. "Why?" the boy asked again.

"This is the world of Tsukiyomi," the murderer replied. "It is created by the Mangekyo Sharingan."

"Mangekyo Sharingan?" he repeated.

"Yes. To gain the higher level of our blood limit you must kill your closest friend," Itachi explained.

"No." His brother, the one he looked up to, would give anything to be, was telling him such awful lies.

"Yes. The main temple of Nakano shrine… On the far right, under the 7th tatami, is the clan's secret meeting place. You'll find everything there." The siblings stared at each other. Sasuke switched between horror, grief, disbelief, and disgust. Itachi's feelings remained hidden.

"I control everything in this world. For 72 hours you will witness the end of our clan. Hate me if you wish to kill me." At his brother's words the boy's torment started. Relatives, acquaintances, familiar and unknown faces died over and over. Cold eyes watched him. The low voice repeated, "Hate me if you want to kill me."

Long after the predicted length of torture, Sasuke remained trapped within the storm of images inside his mind. Some featured people he knew he'd never met. Twins with flaming hair fought at his side until one fell, never to stand again. A woman, dark beauty marred by insanity, taunted him. A quiet smile of victory on his best friend's face was forever frozen by a sickly green light. Shaggy hair framed a surprised face as someone important toppled through an arch covered by cloth shadows.

The boy had no eyes to close, no way to stop the pain and death. A high pitched voice competed with his brother's low monotone. The challenge to kill Itachi merged with achingly familiar insults.

"Kill the Spare."

"Scream for me boy."

"Your mother begged me before she died. Shall you do the same Potter?"

The images exploded in light. His hand clasped his forehead in remembered pain before the boy realized he could move again. White walls glared back at him. Disinfected air stung his nose.

His body protested as he slowly sat up. Dark hair hung in front of his face, too long to be Harry's. A small, child-like hand brushed it behind his ear. Quick study confirmed they were his.

He was Uchiha Sasuke. Eight years old, not sixteen. Was it all a bad dream?

Ignoring everything but the need to see his family, to reassure himself that they were there, the boy jumped out of bed. The window provided a quick exit. Breathless and trembling in exhaustion, Sasuke arrived at the main entrance to the Uchiha compound.

The chunin guards were still missing. Yellow tape barred the way to non-existent passersby. Ducking under the flimsy barricade, the boy walked along empty streets. The daylight exposed dried bloodstains. Occasional damage from fighting marred the once pristine architecture. Dark eyes prickled as forced memories recalled how each was made.

Numbly, Sasuke traveled the short distance to his family's dojo. Sunlight instead of moonlight shone down on the spot where his parents had fallen. Legs crumpled beneath him as reality pushed past the denial.

The nightmare was real. His family, the entire clan, was gone. Itachi killed them. Everything he dreamt was true.

Grief paused at the thought. Everything?

Blinking, Sasuke's throat went dry. No, that wasn't right. Wasn't Itachi's betrayal enough? Stumbling to his feet, the boy staggered to the kitchen. Splashing his face, the memories of Harry Potter refused to leave. Cold water streamed from the faucet. He watched if flow down the drain as drops fell from his chin to join the escape.

A towel lay on the counter, just out of reach. Bile rose as he stretched his hand to retrieve it. The unsteady arm hung in the air a moment before he willed the towel to him. It twitched on the countertop.

Left hand gripping the sink, Sasuke avoided falling to the ground when his knees buckled. Dry swallowing to keep his stomach in place, the boy forced himself to try again. Harry Potter could use magic. Uchiha Sasuke had never heard of it. This was not chakra. Magic didn't exist. Harry Potter was just a bad dream added to his life's nightmare.

The towel flew to his waiting hand. Sliding down the side of the counter, the boy resisted throwing up through sheer stubbornness. Sprawled on the ground, towel in hand, damp face leaned against a cupboard door, Sasuke cried.

Silent and shaking, the Third Hokage found him there. When questioned about the tragic night, the boy answered in clipped phrases. No detail was offered unless asked. Dark eyes dimmed and the cheerful, reserved child retreated.

Sarutobi denied his request to remain on the estates after they were cleaned. A compromise was found by allowing him emancipation over adoption. A small apartment near the village center became the Uchiha's new shelter.

Frequent checks, personally or through his ANBU, reassured the old man of the young boy's state of mind. ANBU trainees kept watch on the main entrance of the old complex while other entryways were permanently barricaded. Sasuke was promised access when he turned 16 or after his first mission as a genin of Konoha.

Villagers were generous to the last Uchiha, but he never accepted their charity. Friendly overtures were spurned. Ninja training became Sasuke's focus. His voice roughened from disuse, but none could force him to speak more than necessary. 'Tragic,' it was said. 'Poor boy,' he was called. 'Such strength,' they praised him.

He kept his silence, remembering his family for what it was and missing it all the same. The boy woke often at night when crimson eyes invaded his dreams; some with tomoe, others with a serpentine slant. Recalling two best friends in the world and knowing that at least one had died because of him reaffirmed his vow.

Never again. Until his brother was taken care of, the Uchiha refused to try again. He never asked for the infamy of surviving. Those that pandered to him mattered little and those that didn't were ignored.

Once he gained enough strength, he would find his brother. Life could wait.

-Scene Break-

Fat tears streamed down her cheeks as she hunched over on a deserted park path. Since her father's death, nothing went as planned. His bloody, detached head still haunted her nightmares and the relocation to Konoha only created more problems.

Far from her father's house, with its peaceful countryside and precious texts, Sakura's new life fell short of all expectations. No friends to speak of and her mother believed her to be mentally unsound. Sakura's decision to become a ninja didn't help her claim to sanity.

After the first half day of classes, Sakura had to wonder if Mother was right.

'I'm not crazy, thank you very much. '

With great effort, Sakura ignored the determined voice. She promised her mother she would never bring up the imaginary world created by the trauma. The voice belonged to that world and should not exist. Repeated punishment allowed her to separate which thoughts were real, but the voice had not gone away in the last year.

'Of course I'm not going to go away. Of all the idiotic ideas, why do people insist on fearing what they do not understand? '

Sakura clutched her head. Sobs shook her shoulders. The little girl didn't understand any more than did the voice inside her. It felt like it belonged. How could it be bad? Why did she have to be different? Was normality too much to ask for?

'Normal is overrated. I am worth more than that and no one can tell me differently. '

Sakura desperately wanted to believe her inner voice, but dared not. Mother was all she had left. Besides, that imaginary voice had suggested the idea of ninja training; look how that turned out.

'I should go back and show that girl who she's messing with. Even if my forehead was large, which is utterly ridiculous, that nasty brat underestimates the benefits of a good intellect. As if that cow's brain has any mass. Honestly, she's a female Goyle – or maybe a Crabbe…'

The young girl sniffled, resisting the temptation to snipe back at the voice in her head. The days before class started had been filled with studying to make a good impression. The kunoichi class, a pre-requisite for girls planning to attend Ninja Academy, was a wonderful opportunity. But lunch arrived and the girls that approached her shattered Sakura's hopes.

'I wouldn't want to be friends with that cow if she begged me. '

The image of Ami on her knees, begging for forgiveness, brought a weak chuckle to the girl. Sakura scrubbed at her face as the sobs quieted. Shifting her weight, she laid her head on crossed arms which she propped on her knees. Lunch would be over soon.

Sakura's inner voice demanded they return to class while the last few tears trickled down her face.

What was the point when no one wanted her around? She refused to acknowledge the false memory of two best friends gained after a terrifying experience with a troll. True or not, she didn't have the strength this time.

"Hey there."

Sakura looked up. A blonde classmate smiled down at her. Ino was popular; half the class had gathered around the Yamanaka. Why was she here?

'Not everyone thinks I'm just a know-it-all. '

"Don't worry. Ami's an idiot. Her father's a ninja so some girls think she's something special. Most the class is like you: first in the family. A bunch will quit and only a couple girls will actually pass the Academy." The babbling earned a half-smile from Sakura. Ino plopped down next to her, face invading the shy girl's personal space.

"It doesn't matter, you know." Sakura pulled back in confusion. Reaching out, Ino brushed Sakura's bangs away from her face. "You have a beautiful forehead."

'You don't need to tell me that! '

The blonde frowned at Sakura's blank expression. Snapping her fingers, Ino rummaged around in her side pouch. The girl and the voice were silent as the blonde found a bright red ribbon. "With such a pretty face, you should show it off more!"

Puffy red eyes stared in disbelief as Ino tied her bangs back with the ribbon. Two locks of hair fell on either side of her face when the blonde finished. Ino beamed at her. Ignoring the time, the blonde chatted with Sakura, slowly breaking the girl's shell of isolation. By the end of the day both girls had missed class but felt no regret.

'I'll be sure to study more to make up for it. Hermoine Granger does not slack off in school. '

The vehement vow startled Sakura. The voice had remained quiet all afternoon. If the voice was quiet when she was having fun with friends, Sakura wanted as many as she could find.

Still, the voice had thought of ninja training. It wouldn't hurt to listen to it on occasion, would it?

CHAPTER ONE

Liquid crimson streaked across the stone cheek.

Naruto bit his lip, resisting a snicker. The Fourth Hokage was the last to be 'improved' by the blond trickster. The other three took less than ten minutes to finish. This prank was so unthinkable; no one had noticed his work yet.

Running across the stone nose, Naruto added a swirl to the opposite cheek. Dark blue was next. The open cans of paint on his belt created an extra challenge to move around. The climb/walk up the nose to the Fourth's eyes was tricky, but 'eye shadow' was added before hot purple paint embellished the Fourth's lips.

"Hey! You there!" The shout alerted the villagers. More voices joined the first, deriding Naruto's additions to the monument. Now at the center of attention, the blond cackled. "What do you think you're doing!?" Indignant yells demanded retribution for the blond's graffiti.

Pulling the slipknot on his belt, the blond repelled down the monument's side. The extra rope coiled at his side would take him to within sixty feet of the ground. A three story building that stood ten feet from the mountainside was the perfect landing spot. With a simple yank, the belt loaded with half-filled paint cans, continued along his original trajectory. The group waiting below had no chance to avoid the raining paint.

Bouncing off of walls and scrambling over roofs, Naruto surprised those thinking he'd need to climb down. Five shinobi noticed his escape and moved to intercept him. Dropping into an alley triggered the next part of his plan; a large dog stuffed into a spare orange jumpsuit wearing a wild blond wig.

The ninja following glimpsed two brightly colored figures rounding different corners on four limbs. The three wearing the green vest of a chunin chose to follow the real Naruto. Cursing his luck, the blond ran faster.

Every underhanded trick he knew, and a mental map of Konoha's back routes, kept him ahead of his pursuers for an hour and a half. He ended up on the other side of the village where a single board on a wooden fence had been rigged for a quick lift and run. Under the cover of leafy shrubs, Naruto took long, low breaths while ignoring his burning lungs.

"Where is that brat?" a man growled, sending chills down the blond's spine. Naruto silently gave thanks for the fence that separated them.

"Can't be far," another replied, calmer, but no less frustrated. "No place to turn. Took to the roofs again?" A light breeze pushed through small cracks between the wooden planks, signaling their departure. The men weren't ANBU. ANBU level ninja would have caught him, but these were decent chunin. Not something to take lightly.

It was still too early to celebrate. Too many pranks had ended by giving into the urge to gloat. He counted down ten minutes before daring to move. The old couple that owned the small yard would return from their daily trip to the market soon. No sense in being here when they did.

Peering out a convenient peephole, the blond eyed the deserted lane. Climbing the fence, he scanned the roofline as well. No one.

"Alright!" Hopping down, the prankster pumped his fist in the air. One more point for Naruto. Not a clean getaway, as the entire village saw him do it, but no one had caught him. He'd lay low for the day. They wouldn't let the monument stay like that. Either way, he'd be punished, but Naruto would settle for not having to scrub his handiwork off.

Stuffing hands into ratty pockets, he whistled happily on his way to the training grounds.

"Where do you think you're going?"

Naruto winced. It had to be him. Naruto dreaded that exasperated voice more than the deadly growl from before. Thinking fast, the boy played innocent. "Just hanging around, Iruka-sensei."

A single eyebrow rose over a dark brown eye. Naruto didn't need the crossed arms or the tapping foot to know he was in trouble. The chunin were right, nowhere to run but up. He wasn't near any other hiding place, but just surrendering wasn't in him.

"Aren't you supposed to be in school, Naruto?" Iruka didn't mention the prank.

"Aren't you supposed to be teaching, Iruka-sensei?" The raised eyebrow was twitching. Naruto scampered. He made it to the second rooftop before Iruka caught up.

Bound tight, Iruka tossed Naruto over his shoulder. Villagers watched his journey to the Academy with dark glee. Turning away did nothing to relieve the impression of those hate-filled eyes. Naruto chose to stick his tongue out at them instead.

When they reached the Academy, Iruka plopped his burden down in front of his classmates. Naruto grunted on impact and scowled at the amused faces of his peers. Turning his back on them, the blond grumbled under his breath. The chunin should have been in class. Why did his teacher come after him?

"Class, we have a special surprise today. Since some of you," a pointed look at the prankster gave no mercy, "have too much energy despite the Genin Exam tomorrow, a quick test of your abilities will be given today."

The class groaned and Naruto could feel the glares on his back. As the ninja students migrated to the front of the room, Iruka released the blond. No words were spoken, but the order was clear. No escape this time.

One by one their skill with the henge technique was demonstrated. A small layer of chakra turned each of the children into an illusionary replica of their teacher. Naruto was the last to perform; big mistake. The long wait allowed him time to think. Revenge was at hand.

Silently, Naruto used the hand seals for his own original henge technique. "Oiroke no jutsu!" A provocative, buxom blonde appeared through the puff of smoke. Lingering traces conveniently hid choice body parts, hinting at things best left unsaid.

Iruka spun in place, a hand instinctively covering his eyes. Even his ears blushed red. Naruto returned to normal, pounding the floor in hilarity. Why hadn't he tried that trick before?

"Naruto!" Laughter choked in his throat. Right. Angry Iruka. Not so good idea.

-Scene Break-

Carefully practiced control hid his disappointment.

Sakura Haruno and Naruto Uzumaki.

Even Itachi had a genin team when leaving the Academy. It was another milestone on his path to gaining strength, but not a welcomed one. His assigned team proved his opinion right.

He hopped out the window as soon as Iruka gave the signal for lunch. Using the momentum from his fall, Sasuke sprinted across the Academy yard. Dodging fangirls was instinctive. Not one of them was good enough to follow his route.

His food was bland but held the necessary nutrition. Why spend hours cooking when more productive activities were at hand? He could remember eating worse.

Sakura Haruno and Naruto Uzumaki. He was stuck with them.

Sakura Haruno was little more than a trumped up scholar. Every paper test scored highest in the class, but nothing physical gained more than adequate marks. Spars often ended in verbal resignation; couldn't mar her 'perfect' looks.

Naruto Uzumaki was an idiot. Only stubborn determination carried the blond this far. It was common knowledge he had tried and failed the test three years running. Who knew how he gained the hiate on his forehead? Perhaps the teachers refused to deal with the bonehead another year.

The Chunin Exams were three months off. The finals were individual but he needed a team to get that far. These two had no chance. Nine months held marginally better odds. This disaster set the Uchiha's plans back a year, minimum.

A spike of hostility warned him to move a second before the enemy struck. Naruto's lunge missed him by inches. Sprawled on the ground, his new teammate glared at him. Sasuke glared back.

The idiot didn't know when to quit. First the moronic staring contest this morning, leaving both boys heaped on the ground when Naruto lost his balance. That was irritating.

Instead of a halfway decent team, he received the bottom of the barrel. It may not have been Naruto's choice, but Sasuke blamed him.

Now the idiot attacked out of the blue. The remains of the Uchiha's lunch lay smashed beneath the blond's leg. That was worth a reaction.

When Naruto charged again, Sasuke prepared to beat some sense into his head. He refused to be held back by bad luck and there was a lot of work to be done to get either of his teammates into shape. The blond might listen to force more than reason.

Two clones popped into the air as Naruto leapt at him, surprising Sasuke. The blond hadn't been able to create bushin two days ago. Ignoring the obvious illusions, Sasuke slammed his fist into Naruto's gut. The boy went down, but a foot jammed into Sasuke's shoulder before a leg swept his feet out from underneath him. The rookie of the year ended up hogtied, wondering what happened.

"Don't worry bastard. I'll take good care of you." Naruto, wearing Sasuke's image, smiled cheekily and waved goodbye. Sasuke growled before working on the ropes. Simple knots were placed in near impossible to reach locations. At least the idiot knew how to secure a prisoner.

Scowling, Sasuke mentally tugged at a few strands before the entire thing unraveled. Magic had its good points. Brushing himself off, Sasuke cleaned up his ruined food. With nothing else to do, he leaned against the wall near the closed window, waiting for the break to end.

Naruto might look like him, but could never act like an Uchiha. That stupid grin stood out on Sasuke's face. Anyone could have spotted the disguise.

That fight was a different matter. Those clones were solid. Earth clones from Iwa-nin and water clones from Kiri-nin could do so, but neither element had been present. The two bodies that hit him had dissipated in a cloud of smoke, not a splash of water or crumbling dirt. What technique had Naruto learned?

Complaints echoed over from the building across the way. Ino was dragging her two teammates back to the Academy. He'd wait five minutes and slip into class just as break ended.

Sighing, Sasuke rubbed his eyes before bringing his stoic mask back. He needed to join his team. Disliking them was no excuse. He'd drag them along kicking and screaming if he had to. One more challenge to overcome.

-Scene Break-

Team 7 sat in an empty classroom. Other jounin instructors picked up their teams hours ago. Iruka packed up and left shortly thereafter, instructing the trio that their instructor would arrive later. The kunoichi saw the perfect opportunity to get close to the village heartthrob; ignoring the blond menace was easy.

But Sasuke's only comment to her stopped her efforts cold. A curt, "You're annoying," echoed in her head since the words passed his lips.

In hindsight, mentioning parents was a mistake, but why such a reaction? At lunch, Sasuke was perfect. That kiss was so close! Whatever took him away must have been important. She knew picking up where they'd stopped was unrealistic, but Sasuke ignored her completely!

'He's acting normal. The entire lunch conversation was the odd moment. '

Inner Sakura was practical, but Sakura only listened when it suited her. Lunch was too good to be true, but she'd hang on to the memory for as long as she could. Instead of face the reality of Sasuke's odd behavior, she'd rather figure out how talking about Naruto ended in rejection.

'Of course, Sasuke's also an orphan. It just had to slip my mind. Why do I have to act so stupid to be popular? It's affecting my actual ability to think. '

Shame kept her quiet after Sasuke's reprimand. Her shallow personality was not a point she'd care to ponder. Blaming Naruto was more convenient.

The aforementioned blond stood from his self-imposed exile in the corner. Humming a nameless tune, the trickster strolled to the chalkboard. He grabbed an eraser and a chair before scuttling over to the door.

'A jounin instructor would never fall for such a simple trick. The eraser is visible from the hall. Isn't he supposedly good at pranks? Of course, trying anything on a new instructor is terrible. Nothing good will come of it. '

Sakura agreed. The idiot would ruin their first impression. How'd he manage to pass anyway? Last she heard Naruto failed the exam. But here he was; bright orange and all. For a self-proclaimed expert at stealth and mischief, Sakura wondered how the boy could wear such a garish color.

'At least Ron kept it to his bedroom walls. He could outmaneuver anyone in a game of chess, but failed miserably at picking a decent quidditch team. '

"Thank Merlin the Chudley Cannons aren't around," Sakura mumbled. A shudder ran down her spine. Naruto and the Cannons should never mix.

"Hey! With a decent seeker, they would have made a great comeback!" Sakura's head snapped up. Wide green eyes met indignant blue.

'How…?'

Sakura's thoughts trailed into shock alongside Inner Sakura's. Naruto didn't even realize the significance of his shout.

The door opened and a gray-haired ninja stuck his head inside the classroom just in time for the eraser to hit. Naruto collapsed in a fit of laughter, bringing Sasuke's attention back from staring out the window.

Sakura tried to restart her brain. Everything felt surreal.

"Well," the jounin spoke. "I have to say, from first impression - I hate you guys."

Her stomach sank. This wasn't the way her first steps as a ninja should be.

"Meet me on the roof," the jounin ordered before the man disappeared in a swirl of leaves.

Sasuke was her teammate. They would go on missions together; fall in love in the midst of danger. He would save her life and then forbid her from doing anything dangerous again. They'd marry with the entire village as witnesses.

She'd keep the house warm and ready for when he returned from missions. The Hokage would listen to him regarding the security of Konoha. Their children would grow strong and everyone would look to her for guidance while her husband was away.

Instead, her crush refused to speak with her, Naruto was making her head spin, and their teacher hated them.

'I need more facts. Naruto probably heard something from Mother and turned it into a joke. I'll have to ask. And the jounin is just testing our resolve. Giving up is not an option. Just watch. I'll make him eat those words. '

Shaking her head, Sakura grit her teeth. Dashing to catch up to her teammates, she made her own vow: no one looked down on Sakura Haruno, smartest kunoichi of the year.

CHAPTER THREE

There was too much to do. The library would be her first stop, and then home for dinner. Afterwards, she'd make a careful list of supplies in addition to instructed survival equipment. If they ended up hiking she'd get Naruto to carry the extra bag. An early bedtime would give her more energy for the early dawn meeting and subsequent test. Sasuke might even be impressed with her preparations and management of Naruto. When they all passed he could-

"Forehead-girl! What do you think you're doing?" The shrill voice cut through the minor daydream while Sakura hid a groan. Dealing with Ino right after Naruto; this was not her day.

"What do you want Ino-pig?" Drawing herself up, Sakura fell into her role as the arrogant know-it-all. Ino had taught her well. The blonde probably regretted it after Sakura became her rival last year.

"When did you become an idiot, Forehead-girl? Here I am, just minding my own business, when I see some stupid floozy heading for the library. Being the good kunoichi I am; I decide to see what genjutsu was being used for the -brand new- member of Sasuke-kun's team to even think about going near Uchiha fan central. Is this the thanks I get?"

Sakura blinked at the explanation. She ran the rant twice more through her head before realizing what Ino was trying to say. 'You're an idiot. Sasuke's fan girls are out for blood and you're handing yourself over. Don't think I'm doing you any favors, I'm just hear to rub your stupidity in your face. Really, that's all.'

"Well excuse me for trying to find out about our new jounin instructor, Ms. Kind Kunoichi. Just because you didn't get on Sasuke-kun's team doesn't mean you have to take it out on me. I'm not afraid of some little girls that didn't make the cut."

"Oh, so three dozen crazy girls with more weapons than they know what to do with doesn't bother the poor little ninja that barely passed her sparring class. So sorry, I don't know what I was thinking."

Sakura bit her lip. Three dozen was more than triple the usual group that gathered there. Six or eight failed kunoichi would be difficult, but they wouldn't start a fight in the middle of the library. Social snipping was completely different than an outright mob.

"Hey, don't start crying on me Forehead-girl," Ino warned. The blonde fidgeted as Sakura ran through her options. She needed that information. There were too many possibilities for tomorrow without it. "It's not the end of the world, idiot. You're not going to fail an obstacle course just because you couldn't read up on your instructor."

"Obstacle course?" Ino's team was going to do something different? Of course, the tests were given by the chosen jounin instructors. "We've got survival training, but we already passed that in the Academy. We thought we'd have a better chance if we knew something about the instructor." But if Kakashi had labeled the test as survival training, while the other instructors were saying something different, that was a clue by itself. It narrowed down the options.

"Well don't just stand there Forehead-girl. You really are an idiot, or did you forget that my dad was a jounin?"

Sakura hid a smile as she chased after her rival. "Hey! Don't call me Forehead-girl, Ino-pig." Despite everything, the blonde always came through in a pinch. Sakura knew she'd do the same.

"Like I care about that… Forehead-girl!" The two squabbled all the way to the flower shop.

-Scene Break-

Naruto slumped against the taijutsu training log. It was too early in the morning to be up. Even Sakura was late. A little voice in the back of his mind reminded him of past meetings that started the same way.

Someone would be nice; invite him to play, practice, even study. But when the time came, no one showed. If they did, they'd only stop by to apologize: something came up and they couldn't hang out.

Sighing, Naruto stared at the cloud filled sky. The rising sun splashed golds and reds on the puffy shapes. Cocking his head to one side changed a cloud on the left into a nice bowl of ramen. His stomach gurgled in remembrance of missed breakfast.

The blond scanned the sky for a cloud that didn't remind him of food. A little round gold cloud broke off from a larger one, wisps of fluff spilling out from either side. The winged cloud seemed to move faster than those surrounding it. Flittering in and out of reach, the teasing cloud became a golden snitch.

Naruto's smile turned nostalgic. How long had it been since he'd dreamt of Harry seeking the snitch? All through childhood, such dreams kept him sane. Who cared if the old lady watching over him hardly spoke? Night would come and Naruto became the son of Molly Weasley, the best Mom a kid could ask for.

Old man Hokage eventually convinced him everything was make-believe. The ninja leader explained the Weasley's as a substitute for his missing family. Hogwarts showed his love for adventure, and his best friends were only imaginary ones.

Despite the Hokage's reassurances that dreams and invisible friends were perfectly normal, the reality had crushed Naruto. After a bit of anger and depression, the blond turned to pranking to keep his thoughts occupied. If he copied the twins jokes a little, no one would know but him.

The gold red hues faded from the sky, dispelling the illusion of a golden snitch. Scanning the training field, Naruto wondered why he was surprised neither of his teammates had shown. Shifting against the training log, Naruto found a comfy spot. Half an hour to go and they'd arrive in time for Kakashi's meeting.

Sasuke wouldn't come early. That bastard would stroll in right on time, perfectly prepared. The Uchiha was the village darling. Why would he be nervous enough to show up early, just in case?

But Sakura asked for this early meeting. The only reason Naruto dragged himself out of bed an hour before he had to, was because of her. For being well-known as the smartest in the class, the kunoichi was too flighty. Boys and fashion took priority over training and practicality. If she wasn't so concerned with make-up and clothes, Naruto would name her the real life Hermoine. Maybe that was why he liked her.

Either way, it didn't matter. So what if he was on a team with the smartest girl in school and a famous boy no one believed he could keep up with? Konoha wasn't Hogwarts.

And Sasuke Uchiha was nothing like Harry Potter. The Uchiha wasn't a shy boy, wanting friends in a new world of magic. And he wasn't a moody teenager whose temper snapped at the smallest things. No, Naruto's teammate was cool and collected at all times – one of the reasons that bastard pissed him off.

And Naruto wasn't Ron Weasley. He had to tell himself that all the time, but looking back, the blonde was glad he wasn't. Ron was a spoiled brat that didn't know how good he had it. Sure, he stuck with his friends, but he never appreciated his family, and Naruto knew he wouldn't have been half has stupid as Ron. He was the great Naruto Uzumaki, destined to be the next Hokage.

Hurried footsteps echoed in the quiet morning. Sakura stumbled into view with two large packs hanging off her shoulders. Scrambling to his feet, Naruto dashed over to help, shouting a cheerful greeting.

"Hey Naruto. Sorry about being late, but Mom insisted I eat breakfast, even though Kakashi-sensei said not to. It took a long time to convince her to let me go. Honestly, I'm a genin now. I don't need to be babied, especially not for a test. How is she going to react when I have an actual mission?"

The kunoichi ranted as she plopped the bag she kept on the ground. Naruto set the bag he took from her next to it. Stretching the kinks out of her back, the blonde could only watch as Sakura continued to talk.

"We don't have much time, but I ran into Ino last night and her father knew about Kakashi-sensei. According to Yamanaka-san, Kakashi-sensei is never on time, except emergencies. The best we can hope for is a fifteen-minute wait, but being a couple of hours late is normal for him. Unfortunately, we can't count on it so we'll need a rough plan of action in twenty-minutes."

Sakura rummaged in her bag as Naruto crouched next to her. "He's a high-ranked jounin, listed in the bingo book as 'Copy-cat Ninja' or 'Sharingan Kakashi'. He knows over a thousand jutsu but doesn't lack in taijutsu abilities. Now that doesn't narrow down our options too much, but we can cross off weapon or academic tests with relatively little risk."

Naruto blinked as she produced a rolled scroll and spread it on the ground. "We might be doing a typical survival course, but with Kakashi-sensei as the enemy. That would play to all his strengths, and means we would have to protect an area, an object, or reach a set destination from here. The last one sound more like an obstacle course, which Ino's team was told they'd do. That lowers the odds for it to be true for us as well."

The scroll had dozens of ideas listed. Many were scratched out, a couple with question marks nearby. The ones she was speaking about were circled with various numbers next to them that Naruto couldn't tell the reason for. The second scroll was a rough sketch of the training grounds surrounding their meeting spot.

"He could switch roles, where we'd be the enemy that has to defeat him. This is actually the best solution. We'd have the advantage. Grabbing an item or destroying an area is easier than protecting them from a more skilled opponent."

Naruto nodded, overcoming his shock at the babbled information. It was obvious she had thought this out and her explanation made sense.

"With his ninjutsu ability, we may be asked about our knowledge on the subject, or to demonstrate our ability. Same with genjutsu. Being straight from the Academy, he could just want to see how well we do the basic three or perhaps choose one and see how many bushin we can create, how long we can hold a henge, or how many times we can perform a kawamari before succumbing to equilibrium feedback.

"Some ninjas can continue fighting despite the nausea. He may try testing our taijutsu after we're disoriented from too many body switches in a row. But he might go for the genjutsu angle, with an illusion of a survival test we have to complete or break free of in a certain amount of time. He could also give us a genjutsu we would-"

"Alright, alright. I get it," Naruto interrupted. "Kakashi-sensei could give us anything form kicking his ass to picking our nose." He ignored Sakura's glare. "You'd probably think of a better test than whatever he's actually going to give. Let's just go with your first idea."

"But that only covers a small range of potential tests," Sakura argued.

"Why'd you choose it first?" The question caught her off guard. "Those other ideas are just that: ideas. The first on sounded right. A survival test against our teacher? Perfect. We can show what we're made of. Your gut is telling you it's right, right? That's why it's at the top of your list."

The kunoichi gave a wide-eyed look before scrunching her face in thought. Naruto watched her, hoping she'd take the hint. A few moments later, she nodded in acknowledgement. "Since we can't tell where or what we might be defending or acquiring, I brought extra supplies for traps and general first aid. We were asked to bring rations for three days. I doubt they'd waste any more time than necessary on a genin qualification exam. If the time period is extended we can forage for supplies."

"That's great Sakura-chan!" Naruto hadn't expected this much from the kunoichi. She was more like Hermoine than he thought. The two spent the last ten minutes planning a few rough scenarios while shadow clones hid the extra supplies and created some traps. When Sakura failed to notice Sasuke's arrival before Naruto did, hope stirred in his chest.

He might get a friend after all.

CHATER FOUR

"Yo," Kakashi greeted Team 7, four hours after his set time. Sasuke glared at the man while his teammates yelled. The gray-haired ninja tilted his head in mock apology. "Sorry, a black cat crossed my path so I had to go back and help a little old lady across the street."

"Liar!" Sakura and Naruto screamed. One morning plotting together and the pair were in perfect synch. As long as they didn't expect him to join in, Sasuke could use this new development.

"Anyway," Kakashi drawled, ignoring his temporary genin. Out of his waist utility pouch, the jounin produced a bright red alarm clock. Placing it on the top of the middle training log, the plain face read 11 o'clock. Two golden bells were pulled from the same pouch, dangling from short strings pinched between his fingers.

"You three have until noon to take a bell from me." The cherry-sized bells jingled cheerfully.

"But sensei, there are only two bells," Sakura commented. With that girl around, Sasuke would never worry about missing the obvious.

"Exactly," Kakashi beamed beneath his cloth mask. "Only two people will be able to pass this test. One of you will not only be sent back to the Academy, but I will tie you to one of these logs. The rest of us will eat lunch in front of you."

What was Kakashi thinking? A single genin passing for an apprenticeship was unlikely, but possible. Two genin on a four-man squad was not. Or did Kakashi expect that another incentive was needed with the rookie of the year on his team? If only one got to pass, Sasuke was a perfect choice. The other two might not even try.

Naruto's stomach rumbled across the clearing. The sadistic twinkle in Kakashi's eye reminded him of a Dumbledore with Snape-like tendencies. The jounin instructor may be telling the truth and the passed genin would be reshuffled to new teams. But why make the current teams in the first place then?

"Actions speak louder than words. I see the dead last thinks more of food than graduating." A dark glare from the blond sent the jounin chuckling. "If you want to pass, you'll have to come at me with the intent to kill," Kakashi announced.

Naruto snapped a kunai into his palm, but never had a chance to use it. Kakashi appeared behind the blond, his own kunai pricking the back of Naruto's neck. "Now, now. I didn't say you could start yet," Kakashi admonished.

Sasuke's eyes narrowed, gauging the distance crossed in an instant. The Uchiha couldn't do that, so how was he supposed to get a bell from the man?

"Go!" Sasuke dashed on the jounin's mark, thinking of possible meanings this test held. Sounds of combat halted his retreat into the woods. Circling to another side of the clearing, Sasuke used a convenient tree for cover to watch Naruto fight Kakashi.

"Naruto, move!" Sakura's shout betrayed her position, but Kakashi's hands were forming the final seal for a fire technique.

There was no time to move, to act, before the jounin announced his attack. "A thousand years of pain!"

Naruto screamed at the forceful jab to his butt. The blond's frantic movements to get away from the source of pain landed him in the creek running along one side of the clearing.

Sasuke breathed out slowly, heart pounding in his ears. Of course Kakashi wouldn't grievously harm any of them. The man was a jounin, skilled to the point he could defeat any genin without injury. Not once during the entire fight had Kakashi displayed that amazing speed from before the test.

Jumping from his perch, Sasuke picked his path around the clearing towards Sakura's last location. He'd worry about the consequences later – his instincts said to move now. If the other two distracted Kakashi, Sasuke could grab a bell.

Five Naruto's leapt out of the creek just as Sasuke caught sight of the fan girl. She hadn't even moved from her compromised spot. Disgust warred with practicality. He needed a distraction, but the thought of relying on this level of 'ninja' left a bad taste.

The girl didn't even realize he was watching her. Flipping up to a sturdy branch, Sasuke removed a kunai from his pouch. Sakura would startle if he approached. A flung kunai would get the same reaction, but might result in a scream or injury as well. With his luck, probably both.

If he could get her into the clearing, Naruto and Kakashi would have to acknowledge her. If she just screamed, they'd notice, but could push it to the back of their minds. Well, Kakashi would. Naruto's reaction likely involved abandoning the fight if he thought Sakura was in trouble.

Grabbing some wire and another two kunai, Sasuke worked quickly to set a time released trap. Dashing around Sakura, Sasuke aimed for the closest cover to Naruto and Kakashi's location. His trap sprung before he could reach it.

Sakura's high pitched scream cut off in a startled yelp and a crash of breaking branches. The girl scrambled out of range of the third kunai when the second nicked her shin.

The mass of Naruto clones paused at the panicked entry. Kakashi raised an eyebrow before casually backhanding the nearest Naruto. The pop of dispersed air snapped Naruto back to the fight. Kakashi shifted to block a possible charge from Sakura while easily defeating the blonds.

Sasuke didn't hesitate. He was farther away than ideal, but the Uchiha capitalized the opening Kakashi gave him. Halfway to his target, Sasuke knew it would fail. Then, two sets of tanned hands burst from the ground, capturing Kakashi's ankles. The moment of surprise coupled by a random kunai thrown by Sakura gave Sasuke a clear shot at the bells.

A clumsy Naruto messed it up.

Instead of grasping the bells, Sasuke spun to avoid crashing into Kakashi when a Naruto knocked him off course. Quick reflexes blocked the palm strike aimed at his midsection, but the blow threw him back.

He refused to leave empty handed. A desperate grab snagged the bright orange book Kakashi had taunted Naruto with. Landing near the tree line, Sasuke caught the killer glare sent his way. It froze his body for half a second before the Narutos swarmed the jounin.

The bells were lost this time, but the book in his hands seemed to be worth quite a bit. Dodging through the trees, Sasuke tried to recall where the idiot said his clones were trapping. A moss covered burrow derailed his thoughts.

Sasuke swiped a kunai over one side, pried the ground cover up, stashed the book, smoothed the cut moss together, and fled in a few seconds time: a crude but effective cache. The Uchiha held no illusions on how he'd fair in a fight if Kakashi was determined to win. If he could reach the trap area he might stand a chance.

"Now that wasn't very nice Sasuke-kun." Sasuke rolled with the kick from the jounin. A quick exchange in blows told Sasuke the instructor was still playing with him. Stepping up the pace a notch, his hands brushed the bells before he was hit away.

He didn't see the blow coming. A smirk crossed his face. The jounin was forced to bring out his true speed. That was a victory on its own. But he was still bell-less.

"Sasuke, you bastard!" The two boys went down in a tangle of limbs while an army of Naruto's charged a wide-eyed Kakashi. "I had the perfect plan and you ruined it!"

Sasuke maneuvered the blond for a well placed knee to crumple his strength. A full strength punch knocked the blond off him.

"The jounin was playing with you the entire time, idiot. Whatever you were planning wouldn't have worked."

"How do you know that bastard? You're so caught up in 'look at me, I'm Sasuke Uchiha', you can't see anything else. Spare me the ego, prick!" Naruto got right in his face as he growled at the Uchiha.

Sasuke snorted at the dramatics. "Unlike you, I train every spare moment. While you play pranks, I'm running through kata. You go on about your love of ramen instead of working on chakra control. Studying? Don't make me laugh. You earned the title of dead last." Naruto gaped at him.

Sasuke brushed by the silent blond. Kakashi was almost done with the clones. He needed to think fast to get a bell.

"Bastard!" Several Narutos jumped Sasuke from behind. It surprised the Uchiha, forcing the dark-haired youth to concentrate in order to dodge each wild strike. The real Naruto collapsed from an elbow to the gut before his last solid bushin dispersed.

Naruto cussed under his breath as Sasuke scanned their surroundings. Kakashi was gone and Sakura was watching the two boys with a star-struck expression. "What are you looking at?"

Sakura jumped, glancing around before tentatively pointing at herself.

"Yes, you," Sasuke sneered. "You wouldn't even force me to use my hands. The first time you meet an enemy will likely be your last." They were going to fail this test and it was all his teammate's fault. Why should he continue to be polite?

-Scene Break

Sasuke's so cool!

'He definitely has skill.'

That alone makes him perfect.

'Too bad he seems angry. I should be worried.'

He's too cute.

'And obviously dislikes me.'

"I might not be good at fighting," Sakura admitted. "But I can be a good distraction and I have top scores in emergency first aid."

"So you can scream and patch us up when we fail," Sasuke's face remained indifferent.

'I believe he's rolling his eyes at me. How can he remain so neutral in expression?'

"Don't underestimate Sakura, bastard! Just because we aren't 'all powerful' Uchihas doesn't mean were useless."

'Of course not. Don't you know? Knowledge is power.'

"You don't have room to talk idiot. For all your 'brilliant' plans, you haven't touched the jounin."

"Like you could take him," Naruto snarled.

"If it's Sasuke-kun…" Sakura spoke.

'He's good, but he's still a new genin.'

"I've touched the bells, but Kakashi used his true ability. He's not going to give a chance if we get close."

"You scared of losing bastard?"

"I'm stuck with you two, aren't I?"

"Why you!" Sakura pounded her fist into Naruto's head.

"We still haven't tried a group effort. Naruto and I came up with a few ideas before you arrived, Sasuke-kun."

'Even though most are half-baked and vague thoughts.'

"Lead him into the traps Naruto set while sending clones at him until you can snatch a bell. You two didn't hide anything. Kakashi may have already disabled your traps before showing up."

Sakura paled. Why else would Kakashi arrive so late?

'Yamanaka-san predicted one or two hours, but Kakashi was nearly four hours late. A jounin would likely scout the area before engaging the enemy.'

"Like you have anything better to try," Naruto whined, still rubbing his head from Sakura's hit.

"Hn." The simple grunt gave Sakura hope. If Sasuke didn't have a plan, she could still show her worth.

"The traps could be disabled, and Kakashi-sensei might know our plan, but we kept it fairly generalized so there was room for change." Sasuke stared at her, unblinking.

Sakura swallowed hard. "Naruto, is there anyway you could check the traps without being seen? And maybe put up a few more?"

Naruto smiled. "No problem Sakura-chan. Kage-bushin-no-jutsu!" Half a dozen Naruto's charged off into the woods. Sakura slapped her face at the blond's audacity.

'He was rather silent compared to usual.'

It was true that none of the blonds yelled or cheered like they usually did when appearing. This time the clones popped into existence and left, not even a crackling branch to mark their departure.

"There won't be much time before Kakashi-sensei notices so we need to find him first. All we need is Kakashi-sensei to concentrate on two of us while the third takes the bells. I still believe I'm the best choice. I don't' stand out like you two."

"Alright!" Pumping a fist in the air, Naruto turned around, expecting Kakashi to reappear.

"You're the obvious choice. Kakashi will be expecting it," Sasuke warned.

'And he's probably listening to all of this so he as twice the reason to think I'm going to take the bells.'

Sakura gave a weak smile. "If he thinks you're the real threat, Kakashi-sensei won't have time to worry about me."

Sasuke gave her a long stare that made her glance away and fidget. Naruto had cloned himself again, the swarm of blonds searching around haphazardly.

To avoid her crush, Sakura ran to the nearest Naruto, lecturing him on the proper way to search. The impromptu lesson halted as sounds of combat started behind her.

Kakashi hadn't left, just hid until Sasuke was alone again. Plan forgotten, Sakura rushed in to help the Uchiha. The jounin easily dodged her kunai before slamming her into a tree. Sasuke took advantage of Kakashi's broken rhythm to push the man back. Several Naruto's joined in, scowling at Sasuke, but working with the rookie of the year.

The three kept the assault up. Naruto continued to make clones as Kakashi destroyed his old ones. Sasuke took a few hits, but never connected with the jounin. Sakura's body ached from the amount of attacks she took, but refused to stay down.

Everything changed when the four entered another clearing. The next time Sakura hit the ground one of the Naruto's stopped her from charging back into the fight. Out of breath, Sakura could only watch the chaos unfold.

Two Sasuke's were fighting Kakashi; four Naruto's cheering form the sideline. Dozens of shuriken launched form the trees as one Sasuke tackled the other. A poof of smoke left the original Sasuke crouched on the ground as Kakashi tripped one trap after another.

The Naruto next to Sakura tugged at her sleeve until she paid attention. "The last pit fall is over there," the blond gestured with his head. "We dug a back tunnel so you can crawl in to grab the bells."

'Wha-'

Two seconds later, Sakura realized Naruto's plan. Trap Kakashi and take the bells when he couldn't move. Glancing at the jounin, masterfully avoiding every attack, Sakura didn't believe Naruto's plan could work.

"Show me," she ordered the clone.

'If the trap fall lets Kakashi stand on the cover a moment before it drops, there might be a chance.'

Naruto did good work. The pit she crawled into was decent sized and covered with a grid of foliage and ninja wire.

Gouging out a foot hold on the side of the pit, Sakura listened to the battle above. Naruto's yells helped keep track of where the trio was at. The sound of roaring flames frightened her until Naruto started cursing a silent Sasuke for 'spitting fire all over the place like a damned dragon.'

Nerves taunt with anticipation, Sakura waited for Kakashi to step on the pit fall. The cover above sunk slightly with weight. Sakura launched herself upwards, using her back to break through the cover. Kakashi dodged before she even reached him, but Sasuke followed up perfectly.

Until Kakashi slammed him into the ground. In quick order all but one Naruto dissipated in puffs of smoke and Sakura's back met the trunk of another tree.

"My, aren't you three clever," Kakashi observed. The bored tone was worse than a sneer.

"Scatter." The monotone command echoed over the clearing, better than a shout. Sakura gave no thought to Sasuke's order, scrambling to her feet to obey. Two Naruto's grabbed her arms and helped her away as more jumped around the clearing to create confusion.

Their frantic escape gave no time to think. Putting one foot in front of another took enough energy. If the Narutos had not been with her, Sakura doubted she would have gotten away.

When the two hands released her, the kunoichi gratefully sunk to the ground, lungs heaving for air. The clones dissipated, leaving her alone in the woods to recover.

"The bastard got himself trapped." Sakura squeaked at Naruto's voice.

"Don't do that!"

Naruto blinked in confusion before sheepishly scratching his head. "Sorry Sakura-chan."

Regaining her composure, Sakura waved the apology off. "What did you say?"

Scowling, Naruto glanced back at the way he'd come. "Sasuke got caught in one of Kakashi-sensei's jutsus. Bastard's buried in dirt from the neck down."

Alarmed Sakura bolted up. "We have to go get him!"

"Why bother," Naruto shrugged.

Sakura hit him on the shoulder. "How can you even say that?"

"I'm not the one who goes all googely eyed at the sight of him," Naruto snipped.

Glaring, Sakura ignored the odd stab of pain the comment made. "That's not the point. Sasuke-kun's our teammate!"

"He doesn't want to be; or did you forget what the bastard said?"

"Well," Sakura scrambled for words. "How would you feel being stuck with a girl who can't fight and an idiot that failed three times when you're the best in the class?"

"So I'm just some idiot? How do you think I feel being stuck with a guy with a permanent stick up his ass? He probably gets his grades because he so popular."

"Don't talk about Sasuke-kun like that. You have no idea what life is like for him."

"And you do? All you girls see is a pretty face and the 'great Uchiha' name. Things like personality don't matter to you."

"As if you guys are any different; who wants an ugly girl when they can get a pretty one?"

"It's better than nothing when all the girls are so shallow."

"Shallow! If that's how you think, it's no wonder you can't get a girl friend."

"I wouldn't want one if they'd drop me like a sack of rice if Uchiha ever looked their way."

"Oh grow up Ron!"

Naruto spun and began to stop away before freezing. Sakura replayed the conversation in her head to keep from hyperventilating. Why did she have to slip up now?

Naruto spun around, finger pointed accusingly. "You've been talking to the Old Man, haven't you?" Sakura's panicked face told him all he needed. "Man, I know he likes to tease me, but to tell my teammates? Why not just tell the whole class?"

The blond's scowl fled, eyes widening. "He didn't, did he?" Naruto glanced at the frozen Sakura. "Oh man," the blond groaned, slapping a palm over his face. "I know I skip a lot, but he didn't have to do that! No wonder everyone thinks I'm an idiot. I mean what kind of ninja believes in magic and-"

"Woah, wait – wait." Sakura interrupted. Everything was too confusing to take in. "What are you talking about?"

"Old man Hokage! The old fart told you guys about Hogwarts and stuff. How much did he say?" Naruto began to pace. "I mean, I know he never promised or anything, but I didn't think he'd blab. I was little, you know? I haven't called myself 'Ron' in forever, so just try to put it aside, okay?" Naruto looked at her with puppy-dog eyes. "I mean, everyone does stupid stuff as a kid, right?

The painful hope on his face fell as Sakura remained silent. She couldn't believe this was happening.

- It's Ron! It's Ron, like I'm Hermoine. I knew I wasn't crazy, but noooo – 'Poor little Sakura' just couldn't be telling the truth. And like a good little girl, I let them mess me all up. -

"Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up!" The murmur became a shout as Sakura desperately tried to quiet the exuberant voice inside her.

"Alright, I see how it is." Naruto's voice warbled and his typical energy was missing. Sakura looked up in time to see him dashing away.

CHAPTER FIVE

"No!" Naruto grunted in surprise as Sakura tackled him. "Don't you dare leave before I figure this out."

Naruto spat a leaf out of his mouth before twisting his neck to look at the girl latched to his back. "Sakura-chan?"

"Can't you be quiet for one second?" The fond tone sent chills up his spine. What was going on? First she mocks him, then she ignores him, and now she refused to let him leave her alone.

"What are you doing Sakura-chan?"

Sakura glared at him with a smile. "I'm trying to think. Can't you be patient?" The gentile smile directed at him kept him from answering. What the hell?

There was a long period of silence before Sakura released him with a deep sigh. Naruto sat up and brushed himself off before studying his teammate. What was she thinking?

"The Hokage didn't tell me."

"Huh?" was Naruto's intelligent reply.

"About Hogwarts," Sakura clarified. "The Hokage didn't tell me."

Naruto's face scrunched. "Then who…" He trailed off when Sakura tapped the side of her head like it meant something. When the message failed to reach him, Sakura sighed again.

"Look, no one told me. I just remember Hogwarts." Jade green eyes pierced him. "Like you do."

The shake of his head was instinctive denial. "Oh no you don't. I 'm not going to fall for that. Dreams are dreams; nothing more, nothing less." The mantra old man Hokage taught him when it all felt so real came easily.

"What about prophecies? Are those just dreams?"

"There's no such thing as a prophecy."

"So Harry's life was destroyed for nothing?"

Naruto pinched the bridge of his nose. Why did he have to go through all this again? "Look, if the old man didn't tell you, fine. I don't care how you know. Harry and Hermoine are just imaginary friends I made up as a kid. They aren't real."

"So I'm not real?" Naruto stopped halfway from standing up. Sakura's face held no hint of the joke she was pulling. In fact, she looked pained or lost, not entertained.

"What?"

"You said Hermoine wasn't real. Does that mean I'm not real?" The question felt so absurd, it hardly registered. But the pain behind her eyes forced Naruto to sit back down.

"What are you trying to say, Sakura?"

Sakura's eyes closed. She took several deep breaths. When she opened them again Naruto leaned away from the determination glinting in them. "I'm Hermoine."

"Can't be," Naruto shot back. Even if it was Sakura, he wasn't going to let this pass.

"Why not?"

"I told you. Hermoine's just an imaginary friend from when I was a kid."

"Hermoine was your best friend with Harry Potter."

"In my dreams maybe, but they don't exist Sakura-chan." Maybe his teammate hit her head. He'd chew out the old man later. Right now he needed to keep Sakura from doing something crazy. "Why are you trying to convince me?" He wanted to leave, just walk away, but he couldn't. Not when Sakura's eyes started to water. He blamed it on his stupid crush.

"Hermoine has to be real."

"Why?"

"Because I'm crazy if she isn't"

"You're not crazy Sakura-chan." Maybe Iruka could help. The chunin could always fix the weird situations Naruto got in.

"Then what am I?" The harsh question startled him.

"Huh?" Naruto Uzumaki: conversationalist expert.

"Before I moved to Konoha, my village was attacked by bandits. When Dad died I started remembering about Death Eaters and how Dad died the same way, except a cutting curse instead of a sword. I remember Hogwarts and Harry and Ron and no one believed me. Mom blamed trauma and refused to hear anything about it, but I haven't forgotten. I can't, no matter how hard I try."

Naruto blinked. "Oookay…" What was he supposed to do? Jump for joy, walk away, get Iruka, yell at her for taking a joke too far? But her eyes kept him still. If green was brown, he could believe he was looking at Hermoine's eyes. They were the same eyes after Siruis died; when nothing they tried helped Harry and Hermoine didn't have any other answers.

Standing, Naruto growled in frustration. "Argh! I can't think about this. We need to rescue Sasuke!"

Sakura jumped a bit at his shout. She blinked at him twice as he struggled not to storm off in frustration. Then she gave a quiet smile, just like Hermoine did after she cried, and wiped her eyes. "So now you want to help Sasuke-kun?"

"Shut up."

"Okay, okay." Sakura held her hands up in surrender at Naruto's glare. "But how are we going to get Sasuke-kun and the bells. Nothing has worked so far, and the alarm will be going off soon."

The alarm sounding would signal noon and end the test. Why hadn't he thought about it before? The idea sparked and caught fire. It was perfect. Grinning, Naruto crouched and told Sakura the plan.

-Scene Break-

The ground itched. Dirt crawled down his back. Earth trapped his limbs. There was just enough room to shift and cause more dirt to run under his clothes. His head was free, but without his hands, the itch on the side of his nose was going to drive him crazy.

If Kakashi's lecture didn't get to him first.

The gray-haired ninja believed Sasuke was the leader of Team 7's attack. Every point of stupidity and shoddy teamwork was picked apart; blamed on the Uchiha's poor planning. Sasuke didn't bother correcting the man.

As far as he was concerned, the test was over.

Naruto and Sakura were not the teammates he wanted. Kakashi was not the instructor that could teach him what he needed. The one year delay may be better in the long run.

"Hey bastard!" Sasuke refused to turn.

Kakashi glanced idly in Naruto's direction before doing a visible double check.

"Yeah, that's right. You were pretty mad when Sasuke-bastard grabbed this. Wanna bet you'll freak if I rip it up?"

Kakashi glare passed over Sasuke's head, but he could still feel the heat of it. Before Naruto had a chance to do more than blink, Kakashi appeared behind the blond. The idiot dissipated in a harmless puff of smoke when the jounin struck while snatching the book.

Wild cries of revenge echoed around the clearing as dozens of clones charged at the jounin. With a grunt of effort, Sasuke flicked his fingers minutely to force the packed dirt surround him to loosen via magical banishment. The Uchiha stood just as Sakura arrived.

"Sasuke-kun! You're free." The girl's tone was half awed, half curious. At least she didn't squeal. A hand gripping his shirt stopped him from leaving. Sasuke stared at the fan girl, waiting for her to let go.

"U-um. There's not much time before the alarm rings, but Naruto thought we could grab them while he's fighting."

Sasuke snorted. Now the idiot wanted to tag team the jounin. Shrugging off the girl's hold, Sasuke strode away. Sakura watched him for several heartbeats before diving in after Naruto.

Interesting. Sasuke expected her to give up when he refused to play along. Kakashi handled the two genin with relative ease. The kunoichi did not give up despite being pushed back each time.

Sasuke glanced at the sun. The test would be over soon. Watching his would-be teammates beat their heads again a metaphorical wall made him think. A ten minute spar with a jounin was the least he could get for a wasted day and a year set back.

Weaving in and out of orange clad bodies, dodging Kakashi's strikes and trying for a bell took Sasuke's entire concentration. When a loud clamor from the original clearing echoed through the forest, Team 7 held no bells.

Sakura collapsed where she stood. Sasuke leaned against a tree to catch his breath. An angry Naruto was physically restrained by Kakashi.

"Well, no one got the mission objective. I wonder why?" Sasuke moved to avoid Naruto as Kakashi flung the blond at him.

"I'm not done with you yet!" Naruto yelled while sprawled at the base of the tree.

Kakashi cocked his head while retrieving the orange book from his waist pouch. "I'm afraid the time limit is up Naruto. You only had until noon to take the bells from me."

Before Kakashi could raise his book to read a cloud of smoke engulfed it. Sasuke blinked as the jounin hefted a Naruto by his jacket collar. That Naruto gave a cheeky grin before slipping out of the jacket and dashing towards the one near Sasuke.

Kakashi's kunai caught the clone before it made it that far. "Nice try, but the alarm already rang."

"Actually sensei," Sakura spoke while limping towards Sasuke. Sasuke caught something small and cold when she tossed it his way. Looking down revealed a cherry sized bell with blades of grass stuffed in the openings. Removing the grass allowed the clear tingle of their 'mission objective' to announce Team 7's success.

"I reset your alarm to give us five more minutes after it rang," Sakura finished while letting her own bell jangle merrily. The book clone passed the bells off before it made a run for it.

No one spoke while Kakashi processed this revelation. Sasuke continued to stare at the bell in his palm. Revulsion, elation and a thick jealousy - of the two morons that managed what he had not - bubbled inside him. A wave of inadequacy, firmly repressed by years of stubborn adherence to the Uchiha clan's pride, tried to escape.

"Congratulations Sakura. You and Sasuke pass. Naruto will receive no lunch and be sent back to the Academy."

"What!" Naruto and Sakura were in stereo again.

"But sensei, Naruto was the one-"

"Hey! That's not fair! I-"

The argument faded as Sasuke watched the dangling bell in his hand.

It wasn't worth it.

Naruto's rant cut short as the bell smacked him in the head. The blond blinked at the object he caught on reflex. "Hey, bastard! What's the big idea?"

Sasuke was already leaving. "I don't need it." Looking back he smirked. "Idiot."

Let him think it was pity. The Uchiha refused to accept a pass he didn't earn. Everyone needed to see, the Uchiha clan still made the best ninjas; even if there was only one in Konoha.

"Naruto didn't have a bell at noon, Sasuke. He'll still be sent to the Academy."

Sasuke's slow walk didn't falter. "Doesn't matter. I'll wait another year." Another year to train, another year to find a better team, and another year to wait. After all, Itachi wasn't going anywhere.

"Sasuke-kun! Wait, Sasuke-kun!" The Uchiha clamped down on the urge to run. Sakura, dragging a sulking Naruto, caught up as Sasuke reached the main clearing. She caught her breath while Sasuke found his discarded equipment bag.

"Don't worry Sasuke-kun. We'll be going back to the Academy with you." That comment stopped him. The idiots managed to steal the bells from a jounin by dumb luck and now they refused the honor of passing?

Hands clenched as the urge to kill rose.

And he'd have to deal with them for another year.

"What's wrong Sasuke-bastard. Regret throwing that bell at me?" The Uchiha didn't need to turn to know Naruto was grinning at his discomfort. "After all, you're still stuck with 'those two'."

Sasuke allowed one more squeeze of his fist, nails piercing skin, before closing his eyes and repressing the anger. Occulamancy made the Uchiha's trademark calm far easier than Sasuke ever managed as a child.

Swinging his pack over his shoulder, Sasuke gave his former teammates a cool glance. "Just don't fail this time idiot." The blond glared and Sakura resisted swooning as the Uchiha started off again.

"Congratulations!" Kakashi appeared in a swirl of leaves. This one was far more cheerful than the casual statement prior. "You three pass!"

Sasuke ran the words through his head half a dozen times. It still didn't register.

Naruto was already celebrating.

"Sensei?" Sakura displayed the confusion Sasuke felt. "Why..."

Naruto paused, fist in the air to hear Kakashi's answer.

"What's the most important thing about being a ninja?"

"Kicking butt!" Naruto immediately answered.

Sakura bit her lip and said in a hesitant voice, "Completing missions?"

When Sasuke stayed silent Kakashi moved. The equipment bag dug into Sasuke's back, the combined weight of it and Kakashi pinned one of Sasuke's arms beneath him. His left arm was trapped in Kakashi's left hand while the jounin aimed a kunai at Sasuke's throat with his right.

"Sakura, kill Naruto or Sasuke dies," Kakashi ordered.

"No!" Sakura screamed, throwing herself in front of Naruto. "Let Sasuke go!"

The three men blinked at her. A self proclaimed Uchiha fan girl, shielding the village idiot over her crush's life.

Sasuke warred between insult and relief. The kunai at his throat dropped a fraction.

"Okay..." Kakashi drawled. "It looks like you might understand without knowing Sakura-chan." The jounin stood with ease.

"The first thing a ninja must know is 'a ninja who abandons their mission is trash, but a ninja who abandons their teammates is less than trash.'"

Sasuke didn't bother brushing the dirt off his clothes. His earlier experience buried in the ground killed any attempt of cleanliness without a shower.

"Teamwork. You were testing our teamwork. The limited number of bells, dividing of forces, and refusing to accept Naruto – It was all meant to test our level of teamwork." Sakura's dazed realization echoed the half-formed thoughts in Sasuke's mind.

"Correct. No genin fresh from the Academy could defeat an experienced jounin, but three working together have a chance."

Except Sasuke had no part in the plan that won the bells. Except Kakashi hadn't been using half his true speed. Except Sasuke needed to defeat a man whose skill was beyond an 'experience jounin.'

No matter. Sasuke wouldn't turn down a pass the second time.

The two idiots might follow him again.

-Scene Break-

Hatake Kakashi was still pondering his new genin team when he arrived at the Hokage tower. As usual, he was the last instructor to have the results on his team. The only two who had passed their teams were Asuma and Kurenai.

No one seemed surprised that he actually passed a team this year. With Uchiha Sasuke on the team, many of the jounin believed Kakashi would pass his team no matter what. That wasn't true, but the Copy-nin let them think what they wanted.

The instructors traditionally exchange information about the skills they had observed their genin using and tell how the team passed the test.

Asuma went the lazy route. His team were ordered to cross an obstacle course designed to need three or more participants. The only surprise was the twist Shikamaru gave a few of the obstacles.

When the team reached the drop and crawl area, Ino refused to continue. The wire would ruin her outfit and catch in her hair. After a ten minute rant the dark-hair boy rolled his eyes, muttered about it being too troublesome, and began cutting the wires so they could pass without killing Ino's fashion sense.

The short swamp the three needed to wade started another rant from Ino. When Chouji mentioned how his potato chips were going to be ruined, Shikamaru once more rolled his eyes before having Chouji hand him his bag of food. The new genin let Chouji carry Ino over on his shoulders and then got a ride himself. He claimed it was too troublesome to have two people soaked in mud if one of them was willing to give the other two a ride. Chouji's food was unharmed and the large boy didn't mind at all.

When they reached the wall climb after that, the mud was supposed to hinder the team and make it more difficult to climb. Ino and Shikamaru didn't have that problem thanks to Chouji, but it would be more difficult for their third teammate. Shikamaru took one look at the wall before telling his friend to Meat Tank it. One Akamichi family jutsu later and the three genins strolled through a new hole in the wall.

Kurenai went next. Her team passed a tracking test with flying colors. It was nothing more than the three teammates using their family traits in tandem. No extra surprises and no odd outlooks; just the Hyuuga byakugan, an Inuzuka dog, and some Aburame bugs.

"So did you still do the old bell test Kakashi?" He nodded to the Hokage in affirmation. "I see. So who was tied to the stump?" The jounin shrugged before admitting no one had. "Really? How closed did they each get to getting a bell?"

Kakashi smiled behind his mask. "They all got one at one point or another." The look of shock on the Hokage's face made the trouble of having a genin team worth it.

"How? What happened?" That was Kurenai. She never saw one of the bell tests, but the others had filled her with stories of all the teams he failed in the past.

"Ah. I'm still not sure." The three waited for more information but he didn't give in. "They worked well together and got the bells. Only skills of note are Naruto's kage bunshin and Sasuke's katon skills."

The two jounin narrowed their eyes at Kakashi's lack of information, but he kept his eyes on the Hokage. When Sarutobi didn't ask for more information Kakashi ended the meeting. "So… I'm meeting them tomorrow and we'll start our missions. Do you need anything else?"

The Third shook his head, waving the three off. As Kakashi turned to go, he reached in his pack to get his copy of 'Icha Icha Paradise'. His hand met empty air.

Kakashi froze a moment before remembering what happened to it. He resisted sighing.

"Something wrong Kakashi?" He turned back to the Hokage. Giving a weak chuckle, Kakashi scratched the back of his head as the other jounin exited the room.

"I just remembered that I didn't have my book."

"Oh? Why not?" As a fellow lover of the 'Icha Icha Paradise' series, the Third knew Kakashi never went without a volume when in the village.

"Well… My team kind of stole it…" The Hokage just stared at him and Kakashi felt incredibly stupid. He prayed to whatever God who cared to listen that the village leader wouldn't ask more.

"Stole it?" The Jounin only nodded. "Which one?"

"Sasuke." The Hokage looked at him in disbelief. No doubt the he thought Naruto would have been the culprit. Naruto probably gave Sasuke the idea. When the Third didn't respond right away Kakashi took his cue to leave.

As he closed the Hokage's office door behind him, he heard the old man burst into laughter. Kakashi ignored the laughter and pondered over what Team 7 would do with the book. Imagining the various reactions as they realized just what was in the orange cover gave the jounin his own laughter.

Chuckling, Kakashi made his way home to pick up a different volume. He'd have to collect his missing book in the morning.

CHAPTER SIX

Team 7 didn't form easily.

Or quietly.

DAY 3

"Yo."

"You're late!"

"Well, you see..."

"Liar!" Naruto and Sakura didn't even wait for the explanation. Sasuke continued to brood against the tree.

Kakashi hummed.

"Hey, sensei! Are we finally going to do a mission? Or do I have to fight Sasuke-bastard again?"

"Now now Naruto."

Sakura smacked Naruto upside the head. "You haven't beaten Sasuke-kun yet."

"But Sakura-chan! If Kakashi-sensei didn't stop us every time - I'd kick his ass."

Sakura smacked him again, turning back to their teacher. "What are we doing today Kakashi-sensei?"

"Well... There was a D-ranked mission available..."

"Yes!" Naruto jumped. Sakura smiled. Sasuke grunted and joined the group on the bridge. "What are we doing? Fighting bandits? Rescuing a princess?"

"Pulling weeds."

It took a moment.

"What!"

DAY 5

"Fight me, bastard!"

Sasuke started home.

"Don't walk away from me!"

Sasuke walked on.

"You're just scared I'll beat you."

Sasuke never stopped.

"Why are you running away, Sasuke-chan?"

Sasuke paused.

"You don't even know the proper taijutsu forms, Naruto," Sakura interceded.

"Of course I do."

"Hn," Sasuke grunted.

"Bastard!" Naruto charged and Sasuke dodged. Two minutes later, Naruto was pinned, face in the ground.

"A ninja uses stealth. I could hear you a mile away." Sasuke started home again.

Naruto charged on silent feet. Sasuke swept his legs out from under him.

"You breathe too loud."

Naruto pushed off and tried again. Each time Sasuke won. The short cutting statements highlighted everything the blond lacked.

But Naruto didn't give up.

DAY 6

"Hit with your body, not your shoulder."

"Shut up, bastard. Don't worry Sakura-chan! You knocked out my clone. Good job!"

"It's okay Naruto. Sasuke-kun's right."

"Hn."

"Whatever." Naruto charged Sasuke again after making another clone for Sakura.

Sakura dodged her opponents blows sloppily, still off guard from Sasuke's comments. She didn't realize he watched her spar while dealing with Naruto.

A large grin bloomed on her face. Sakura attacked the Naruto clone with new determination.

DAY 10

"But Sakura-chan."

"No. Kakashi-sensei is always late by 90 minutes at minimum. You barely passed the Academy Naruto. It makes good use of the time."

"I don't need to study, Sakura-chan. I'm a ninja now."

Sakura raised a perfectly trimmed eyebrow. "So how do you plan to deal with a mission to protect a high political figure from assassination?"

"Beat up the bad guy. What else?"

A small noise from the tree on the creek bank caught their attention. Sasuke looked as composed as ever, but a glint in his eye gave him away.

"You think that's funny, bastard?" Naruto got one leg underneath him. They didn't fight in the mornings, but the blond was willing to make an exception.

"How will you know who to 'beat-up', idiot?"

Naruto growled, fists clenched.

Placing a hand on his shoulder, Sakura kept the blond from attacking. "In the Daimo's court, you can't attack anyone without just cause. A good assassin will make the first strike the last one. If you attack the wrong person, the penalty is likely death; for you."

Naruto calmed.

"If you know the different countries, and how they feel about us and other villages… well, knowing history can help tell who might pose the greatest danger to your client."

Naruto plopped back and grinnned. "But I'll have you for that."

"You planned to be a genin forever?"

"No, but-"

"Then you're going to give up Hokage."

"Of course not!"

"Then you're going to study."

"Sakura-chan!"

Sasuke ignored the deja vu he felt from listening to his teammates.

DAY 12

"Come on Ino. Kakashi-sensei hasn't taught us anything. We've already been dismissed for the day. One afternoon watching your team practice won't hurt."

Ino dithered for a bit, but the silent presence of Sasuke Uchiha made the choice simple.

"Just keep your mouth shut forehead-girl."

Sakura bit her lip and stomped on Naruto's foot to keep him from insulting Ino.

Sasuke grit his teeth when the blonde kunoichi latched on to his arm and led him to Team 10's training grounds. Listening to the girl's inane babbling, the raven haired boy had to remind himself why he was doing this.

It was all in the name of training.

DAY 14

"Hey, Sakura-chan. How'd you do it?"

"Do what, Naruto?"

The blond gestured waved at the tree she was standing on. Sakura covered a giggle.

Jumping down, she started to explain, ignoring the subtly listing Sasuke.

"It's not just making sure you have the right amount of chakra. Feel the chakra in the tree and match it."

Naruto stared blankly.

"When you're angry or frustrated, the tree rejects your chakra and it takes more chakra to stay attached. Being calm requires less."

"Umm... Sakura-chan... the tree can't feel anything."

Smack.

"Chakra differs between every person. Chakra in plants is different than in humans or animals. It's the plant chakra you need to be aware of."

Grumbling, the blond headed back to his tree, cursing the "generous gift" Asuma gave Team 7 after forbidding them from watching Team 10's practice.

Sasuke looked thoughtful.

DAY 20

"Stupid bastard."

Sakura said nothing.

"Lazy no good-jounin."

Sasuke hummed his agreement.

"He's not just ignoring us. He's trying to make us fail."

Sakura resisted agreeing.

"What's his problem anyway? The brats were fine."

Sasuke almost nodded.

"The sadistic bastard probably likes to hear them screaming. Well next time, he can watch the little ankle biters."

Sakura smiled. An image of a two year old clinging to a Naruto clone's leg after it removed its henge competed with an eight month old chewing on a block that started as a clone.

Naruto had to wrestle the clone block from the toddler before it could be dismissed. The point of suffering through the humiliation was rendered null and void when Kakashi forbid Team 7 from juggling kunai to entertain the three kids.

The kids weren't in danger. Naruto's clones were henged into toys that surrounded the kids in the unlikely case of accidents.

It seemed typical of their jounin instructor. Any attempts to incorporate training in the dull D-rank missions was shot down each time.

"Stupid bastard."

Team 7 walked united in thought for the first time.

Even if Naruto was the only one wiling to voice it.

DAY 25

Up. Down. Back and forth. Dodge, block, and parry. Attack, retreat, charge and ambush.

Right-side up, sideways or upside down. Direction didn't matter. It was a three-way free for all in the trees.

When they finished, Sasuke would point out their weak points. Naruto would complain about a plan he should have used or one that Sasuke messed up. Sakura would change the complaint into a debate. On a good day Sasuke would make a comment.

The ritual started when Naruto challenged Sasuke to a fight using their new skill. The boys finished climbing their trees at the same time and Naruto wanted to prove he was better at tree-climbing than the Uchiha.

When Sakura physically tried to stop the fight, it turned into a free for all.

And they loved it.

When the debate wound down, they would start again. Half a dozen fights happened before they called it a night.

Despite their differences, the three started to look like a real team.

DAY 32

"I'm telling you. That cat just hates me!"

"You don't treat him right. Why shouldn't he hate you?" The fat gray cat smirked while nestled in Sakura's arms.

"The fur-ball hates me just because it can," Naruto declared.

"Nonsense. You're just prejudiced against cats." Naruto saw the triumphant gleam in the pampered beast's eyes.

"At least Crookshanks knew better than to try acting 'cute'."

Sakura's fist knocked his head before going back to crooning compliments at the unholy monster. The green-eyed glare could be for the insult or for mentioning Crookshanks. Sakura hated speaking of 'those' times in public.

It took weeks for Naruto to believe the girl was actually Hermoine. The constant lectures on education tipped the scales. It felt surreal, but the blond tried not to think too hard about it. Even if it didn't feel right, Naruto would have pretend if it meant Sakura treating him like a friend.

He could live without the lectures though. And the hits. He didn't remember Hermoine being that violent.

Rubbing his head, Naruto continued forward. A breath of air escaped him when Naruto bounced off something blocking the path.

"What was that for bastard?" Naruto glared up at the Uchiha.

"Che," Sasuke glared back. "Watch where you're going idiot."

Grumbling, Naruto stood and brushed himself off. Spending so much time with the asshole dulled the typical insults. "Why'd you stop anyway."

Crossing his arms, Sasuke stepped aside. "We're here." The implied 'duh' went unsaid.

Naruto's fists clenched regardless. With Sasuke, it was more about what wasn't said. The bastard kept everything hidden.

"Did you expect a grand parade or something?" Brushing by his teammate, Naruto stomped into the mission center. The asshole could stay outside for all he cared. Maybe the Hokage wouldn't order another stupid mission if Team 7 was missing a member.

Anything was better than another chase through the forest after a devil disguised as a cat.

-Scene Break-

Sasuke hated the continued sense of deja vu whenever Naruto and Sakura bickered. The cat arguments were worse.

Then Naruto mentioned Crookshanks. In an instant Sasuke was back in the Griffindor common room, listening to his friends.

Naruto broke him out of the memory, but it kept coming back. Was everything just a coincidence? Who, in this world, would name a cat Crookshanks?

Entering the mission center behind his team, Sasuke listened to their 'mission complete' report on autopilot. Dozens of instances since Team 7 had formed mingled with Sasuke's memories of Hogwarts.

Ron and Hermoine were the best friends he could ever have. Both had refused to let Harry continue on his quest to stop Sirius's murderer by himself. There would be none like them here.

The Uchiha massacre destroyed him. Memories, with no reason behind them, but true none-the-less, broke him.

Over time he rebuilt himself to what was needed.

Sasuke Uchiha would hunt down his brother. Sasuke Uchiha would live as his clan would wish. He was elite. He was a noble of Konoha.

And he was going crazy.

Being on a three-man team played on his secret dreams of rejoining his best friends. Sakura was not Hermoine, even if she brushed her hair behind her ear in the exact manner as his bushy haired friend.

Naruto only reminded him of Ron by his simple outlook on life. Ron was a loyal friend, a brilliant tactician and only shouted when angered. Naruto shouted all the time, was optimistic to the point of frustration and seemed to complain about everything at the same time.

And his blue eyes cried in silence while whiskered cheeks stretched in a constant grin.

The bundle of contradictions and a know-it-all fan girl wore on his nerves. Having to interact with others, after years of self-imposed isolation, made him see illusions of a past that never was.

His teammates were not his old friends. It was only his mind playing tricks. Sasuke would continue to shape his teammates into ones he could use in the Chunin Exam.

Once he gained a promotion he could leave the confusing duo behind.

Decision made, Sasuke turned his attention to the Hokage's words. "The Shimura's need another babysitter, and Madame Homada needs her groceries delivered at-"

"No!" Naruto cut off the Hokage. Plopping to the ground, the blond protested. "I'm not carrying another bag, watching a squealing brat, or chasing a cat through the woods one more time! Give us a real mission Old Man. I'm not the childish prankster you remember!" Crossing his arms across his chest, Naruto stared the Hokage down.

Used to the blond's antics, Sasuke remained silent. The D-ranked missions were a joke, but an Uchiha never complained about his duty. Still, when the Hokage met his eyes, Sasuke tried to convey his readiness. If the Saidaime chose to assign a higher-ranked mission, all the better.

"Alright Naruto," Iruka's lecture on proper decorum spluttered to a halt at the Hokage's reply. "I think I have just the mission for you."

"Really?" Naruto's face split between joy and disbelief. The Hokage chuckled as he handed the list of D-rank mission to a chunin behind him and tossed another mission scroll to Kakashi.

"Of course, I expect you to use all your ability for this C-ranked mission," the Hokage instructed with mock gravity.

Jumping from his spot Naruto cheered. "No problem. You can count on Naruto Uzumaki!" At least the idiot refrained from dancing. Sakura had calmed him down slightly in their last month of training.

"Don't leave it at that old man Hokage! What's the mission?"

The Hokage took his time lighting his ever present pipe and taking a long drag. Sasuke expected another outburst from Naruto, but the blond only watched the dragged out motions with rolled eyes.

"Send him in," the Hokage ordered. Turning to the door adjoining the public reception area, Team 7 was graced with a pot-bellied man leaning against the door jam. His rosy cheeks, hidden by scruffy hair, indicated the large gourd of sake in the man's hand was likely near empty.

The man studied them in return before taking another pull from the sake gourd. "Is this what I paid for?" The voice was rough and grumbling. Sasuke imagined it would be similar to a bear waken early from hibernation.

The entire set-up was ludicrous. Their client, Tazuna, was a drunk bridge builder from Wave who had no respect for ninja; Ninja that could kill him three dozen ways before he could blink.

Naruto lost his patience and would have demonstrated that fact if Kakashi didn't interfere. Sakura retreated to the shy polite girl she used in public. The fan girl had backed off on her pursuit of him since the bell test. Sasuke wondered if it was a new plot to catch him when he lowered his guard.

But that didn't explain the strange relationship between Naruto and Sakura that just appeared out of nowhere. The odd references to things no one should know kept Sasuke on his toes.

His best theory was a wizarding world that paralleled the ninja world he lived in. Wizard loved to hide, why couldn't they do so here as well as Britain? He half wished it was true. A wand would be far more useful than the limited wand-less magic he could do.

"Alright team. Gather your supplies and meet at the eastern gate in half an hour." Kakashi ordered before disappearing. The jounin was completely unreliable.

Sasuke turned to their drunken client. What route were they taking to Wave? What kind of climate did Tazuna's area receive? Were there any trouble areas he was concerned with? What kind of opponents would the genin face?

Team 7 did not like Tazuna's answers.

The drunkard hemmed and hawed over most of the questions until he managed to blame the time as an excuse to leave. After all, the client had to get ready as well.

"Sakura, bring your tent for Naruto to carry. Naruto, you'll use one of ours while the other's on watch."

"I don't take orders from you bastard."

"Do you have a tent, Naruto?" Naruto grumbled, but didn't answer Sakura's question.

Sasuke never worried about Naruto obeying his orders. Sakura ended up making him do what the Uchiha ordered regardless of the blond's objections.

"We'll need three day's rations, ramen doesn't count, water and purifying pills for later refills. Sakura, bring enough for Tazuna. I'll grab enough for Kakashi."

"That lazy bastard probably expects us to cook for him too," Naruto griped.

"Naruto, you're on traps. I'll get your rations, just make sure you've got supplies for a good defense perimeter."

"Shut up bastard! I'll get the traps and my food!"

"No ramen."

"But Sakura-chan!"

"Please Naruto. Don't argue this time. I have to explain all this to Mother."

The two boys went silent at the reminder of Sakura's still living parent.

"I'll get the rations. You get the tent and talk to your mother."

"I'll get Sakura-chan's food. You just worry about yourself bastard."

"Thank you Sasuke-kun," Sakura smiled while smacking Naruto.

"Meet up two blocks north east of the west gate." Sasuke started off while Naruto and Sakura continued their debate on traps and food supplies. The Uchiha caught sight of a dumbstruck Iruka next to a proud looking Hokage as he walked out the door.

CHAPTER SEVEN

Sakura had plenty of time to think. She needed to make sure Mother understood she was leaving for an extended amount of time on a ninja mission. She carefully prepared her arguments and steeled herself for the tears her mother would no doubt shed.

But her mother wasn't home. Typical.

Sakura wrote a note to explain her absence and headed for the library. There were no newspapers here as she remembered in Britain, but occasional large metropolitan areas had an infrequent newsletter. Konoha's public library was a well known collector of such newsletters. With all the ninja information that could not be made public, the newsletters made up most of the library's inventory.

Sakura pored over various maps but only found two areas that wrote newsletters near Wave country: Hidden Ninja Village of Mist and Koreji.

The newsletter from Mist was similar to the one produced in Konoha: lots of words and very little substance. And it was all about the village. There would be nothing about the bordering country of Wave.

Koreji was a port town just to the north of Fire country's borders. Being a port town there could be some information about Wave.

Sakura used her last half hour to skim through the various papers Konoha kept. There weren't many but the majority focused on Gatou Corporation. The overflowing praise caught her attention at first. She back tracked it through three years. The issue just before the first sugary sweet article held no hint of a new company arriving in Koreji. It seemed to spring up in the six weeks between newsletters. If she relied on the paper's information, the Gatou Corporation was the savior of Koreji and could do no wrong.

There was no time to do additional research. She left the newsletters out for the librarians to resort and dashed for the meeting place.

Naruto and Sasuke were arguing over food rations when she arrived.

"Shut up. Ramen's good for you."

"It has no nutritional value. You can't live off ramen and you can't bring it on a mission."

"Of course I can! It's light weight and fills you up a lot more than those stupid bars."

"Can you eat it uncooked?"

Naruto's mouth opened and closed for a moment before he scowled and turned away. Catching sight of Sakura brightened the blond up. "Sakura-chan! Did your mom give you a hard time?"

Sakura shook her head. "I stopped by the library…" She trailed off when both boys rolled their eyes in synch. Naruto she was used to. Sasuke never broke from his cool façade.

The Uchiha didn't notice the slip. Sakura continued with what she found and how the Gatou Corporation didn't feel right.

"But Sakura-chan. Koreji isn't in Wave."

Sakura slapped the back of Naruto's head. "They're a port town that should have strong ties to Wave. Wave is an island. The only way to get goods that they country doesn't naturally produce is by ship. There are no other significant ports near Wave."

"A bridge will disrupt their monopoly," Sasuke added.

"So…." The blond prompted.

Sakura sighed before spelling it out for Naruto. "It means that Tazuna-san might be targeted by someone rather than normal bandits."

"That's what the old fart was hiding!"

Sakura and Sasuke ignored Naruto's rant while distributing the supplies the boys had gathered. By the time Naruto ran down the three packs were ready to go. They met up with Tazuna and waited for only half an hour before Kakashi arrived.

The three kept silent about their discovery. This was a real mission.

Team 7 would show what they were worth.

-Scene Break-

Sasuke knew the puddle was suspicious. He didn't expect the two ninjas to be hiding in it. While the brothers were tied up to the tree, and Kakashi was busy drilling Tazuna, the Uchiha double checked the ground.

No pit. No slight depressions. Not even a footprint to differentiate the previous puddle patch from the rest of the road.

Genjutsu.

Sasuke frowned and turned the fight over in his head as Team 7 resumed their journey.

He was on alert after spotting the pool of water in such a dry location. The 'slaughter' of Kakashi still surprised him. The two ninjas moved for Naruto and didn't bother to watch for outside attacks. The Uchiha's shuriken took out their chain and Naruto broke out of his shock when Sasuke engaged in hand to hand.

Too late.

The brother's chain gave way and Sasuke could only intercept one ninja. Naruto wasn't in a place to act when the other charged straight at Tazuna. Whether Sakura would have pulled through, Sasuke didn't know. Kakshi's 'miraculous' reappearance saved the kunoichi from fight.

It all came down to two points: the genjutsu and multiple opponents.

Sasuke knocked his enemy out with little difficulty. Naruto gave him more of a work out. But he couldn't handle two at the same time when trying to protect something. And he never suspected a genjutsu. The Demon Brothers likely stood in plain sight, but the Uchiha didn't see them.

It was unacceptable. Correcting that mistake is the first thing he would do upon returning to Konoha.

An Uchiha could not be so weak.

-Scene Break-

Zabuza came from nowhere. Kakshi's split second shout kept Team 7 alive. The massive sword spun so close, Naruto swore the hair on the back of his neck was shaved.

Naruto watched his jounin instructor talk with the "demon of the mist" and felt fear shiver down his spine. Is this how the villagers saw him?

The guy was a freak: bare-chested, bandages wrapped around his mouth, and red eyes glaring beneath a shaved brow. His sword, easily wielded in one hand, was almost as large as Zabuza.

The eyes were spooky, but the sword was just plain cool; when it wasn't trying to slice Naruto in half. The blond wondered if Zabuza would be scary without those two things.

When the fog filled the clearing, Naruto squinted to see anything at all. The echoing murmur of possible one-hit kills intensified the foreboding feeling that chilled him to the bone.

Then Kakashi died. Again.

Granted, the jounin stabbed Zabuza first, but when it turned out to be a clone, Kakashi was the one in trouble. The first time Kakashi 'died', Naruto froze in a combination of horror and flashbacks. Many of the deaths in the magic war were bloodless. The killing curse left no marks but death itself.

But several death eaters, like Bellatrix and McNair, reveled in the more gory curses. Hermoine's home was attacked by the later. The bloodied heads of her parents were the largest piece of either body.

Naruto half cursed and half thanked Sasuke's quick reactions and the casual slap upside the head when the Uchiha passed him to attack the Demon Brothers. It broke the trance of memories for him to be of some use, but Naruto vowed not to need that help again. When Kakashi died the second time, Naruto created three clones, henged one and dragged Tazuna out of the fight before the bushin smoke cleared. The henged clone played decoy and Naruto only hoped Zabuza didn't notice a difference.

Sasuke readied a fire attack, but never used it when another Kakashi attacked Zabuza right after the first Kakashi melted into water. The jounin fight worked as the perfect distraction. Making three more clones, Naruto signaled Team 7 back while two clones transformed into his teammates.

The clones with Tazuna stayed nearby while the true Team 7 took cover in the tree tops. Rapid hand signals flashed between the three genin when Kakashi fell into Zabuza's trap. By the time the enemy stopped posturing and discovered his targets were shadow clones, Team 7 was already moving.

Sasuke took the water route with Sakura on back-up. Naruto jumped into battle head first. The Zabuza clone finished the transformed shadow clones off in one swipe, only to be bombarded by Naruto's horde of new clones.

Naruto stood no chance. One hit kills each time: that was Zabuza in a nut shell. The enemy jounin dealt with the clone army as a civilian would swat flies out of the air. Better even. Kakashi was never half as brutal. Naruto felt like he died a thousand times in a space of minutes.

Sasuke managed a point blank fire ball to free Kakashi and Team 7 regrouped at Sakura's location. She was keeping a close eye on the chakra levels of the two jounins. The kunoichi gave Naruto enough warning to run more clones to Tazuna's location before Kakshi's wave attack wiped out the forest ground. With Zabuza slumped against the tree, the battle was won.

Team 7 never relaxed their guard. Tazuna joined the group in time to see the masked mist-nin spirit Zabuza away. Too bad Kakashi decided to faint right after the hunter-nin left with the body. By this time Naruto didn't trust his eyes. Kakshi always showed up good as new, this must be another of the jounin's sadistic pranks.

But Kakashi never got back up. Sakura check him over, but the man was uninjured. She thought he might just be worn out. In the last few days of travel, the jounin never slept despite each genin taking a turn at night watch.

Naruto made a few bushin to carry the jounin. Tazuna's home shouldn't be too far.

"Come on old man, or do you need to be carried home too?"

The silent Tazuna blinked at Naruto's insult. His sake gourd remained untouched since Zabuza's sword first sliced through the air. Rolling his eyes, Naruto brought his hands up to make more clones.

That was enough to snap the bridge builder back to reality. "Hold on brat. I ain't letting some snot-nosed ninja yank me around one more time. Is this how they teach you to treat your paying customers?"

"You're alive aren't you? Why should I make nice for a cheap old guy like you?"

"I paid you to help me home and build my bridge; not to drag me across the woods."

"You paid for protection. Congrats old man, you're protected. In case you didn't notice, that wasn't a common bandit."

Tazuna grunted and took a long swallow from his gourd. Staring at Naruto he gave a nod of acknowledgement to the team's success. Naruto grinned and started off on the path they were following before Zabuza arrived.

"Next time make sure to 'protect me' a bit sooner."

"What!" Naruto spun around at the old man's jibe only to watch Tazuna stroll pass him while taking another lingering drink of sake.

Naruto stomped after the bridge builder, taking the rear position as Sasuke scouted ahead. "Next time I'll leave your ass to rot old man."

"Then I'm not gonna pay you a single cent brat."

"You're not paying enough as it is cheapskate."

Sakura rolled her eyes at the bickering pair, keeping an eye on Kakashi as well as the surroundings. Count on Naruto to break the tension of the moment.

-Scene Break-

If he ignored the bickering duo, the last leg of their journey was silent, maddening silence. No hostile opponents, no signs of danger; there was hardly as sign of local wildlife. After the last battle that took out their jounin instructor, Sasuke should be grateful for the silence. Instead, he cursed it.

His resolve back in Konoha was shattered. The moments of déjà vu, the random comments that hinted at things that shouldn't exist, they all could be rationalized. Sasuke could convince himself he was jumping at shadows.

The clear communication in the heat of battle - with hand signals from a dreamed past -that wasn't easily dismissed.

In that battle he was Harry Potter. Ron and Hermoine were at his side, ready for anything. Hermoine came up with the sign language to keep the boys from losing points for talking in class.

Voldemort's return gave the skill a more useful application. After Sirius died, Harry threw himself into training ignoring regular classes. When his friends failed to change his mind, they followed.

It was Ron that figured out how to use the room of requirement for battle practice. The fiasco in the department of mysteries taught Ron that a fight was nothing like a wizard's duel. The fake battles with masked Death Eaters honed the trio's skill. Hermoine adapted their classroom signs to be perfect for ambush communications.

That year ended with a bang – as always.

Voldemort attacked Hogsmeade. Rather than listen to the professors, the Gryffindors snuck out to join the Ministry Aurors and Order members. Ron and Hermoine helped cut a path in the chaos to the menacing figure overlooking the wizarding village. The Dark Lord reveled in the violence and his scar pulsed with pain the closer they got.

But they did it. He watched Ron take out Lucius Malfoy with a blasting curse and Hermoine behead Bellatrix Lestrange. His two friends kept the Death Eaters from interfering while he dueled Voldemort.

The man who gave up his muggle heritage did not do well with the guerilla tactics the Boy-Who-Lived employed. Houses and random object protected him from the myriad of curses Voldemort used. Random surprise attacks hit home when Voldemort lost track of his opponents movements. The occasional curse from Ron and Hermoine kept the Dark Lord on his toes.

Then, when the Dark Lord fell, the three used a spell, created by Hermoine, which locked Voldemort's soul into an object. The twisted being couldn't resurrect himself again, and none of the three had any intention of telling how they guaranteed Voldemort's defeat this time.

He remembered staring at the random broadsword that now housed Voldemort's soul, marveling that it was done, that he was free from the burden called destiny.

Then a rat turned into a human in the corner of his eye. A flash of green took the life of the brightest witch at Hogwarts before he could even turn around. Before the shock wore off, another flash of green washed over him.

And now he was Sasuke Uchiha. Harry Potter was dead. He believed Ron killed Wormtail before the rat could do more harm, but Hermoine was already gone.

So why did it feel like he was back in the Gryffindor trio? And how did Naruto and Sakura know those hand signs? ANBU used different signals.

And why weren't they bothered by the strange occurrences, or asking Sasuke how he knew the same signs they used? After all, Naruto and Sakura were using them when Sasuke joined in. If the wizarding world still existed, did Ron teach others after they were killed? Naruto's loud personality and Sakura's red tinted hair could come from the Weasley line. Was he in the far future instead of a different world?

Too many questions hounded him. Sasuke spent a great deal of effort looking for distractions on the trail, but it was quiet; annoyingly quiet.

Without something else to focus on, Sasuke's mind threw question after question, coming up with a variety of troublesome theories. By the time Tazuna's house came in to view, the Uchiha was ready to kill someone if he didn't get answers soon.

"Father!" A dark-haired woman ran out of the two-story home settled near the river bank. Taznua broke off the current verbal battle with Naruto to greet his daughter.

"Wait up old man," Naruto blocked Tazuna's path. The new woman paused as Sakura stepped in front of her and politely introduced herself. She extended a hand in greeting, which Tazuna's daughter blinked at. The woman glanced at Sakura's face and back to the hand before Sakura reached out to take the woman's hand in a firm grip.

When she released the hand, Sakura moved out of the way and Naruto followed. Tazuna's daughter hesitated only a moment before finishing her dash and embracing her father.

Tazuna held his daughter and glared at Naruto. "What was that for brat!"

"Shut it old man. We're just doing our job."

"You think my own daughter would attack me?"

"I would if I was related to an old fart like you."

"Of course you would. Don't you know that midgets attack everyone they see?"
"Why you-"

"Enough," Sasuke barked. Everyone went quiet, even Tazuna's daughter who was crying into her father's shoulder.

Sasuke took a deep breath, settling his emotions to deal with their client. "You're targeted by skilled ninjas. Even a genin can look exactly like another person. Touch will dispel a typical henge technique." Tazuna nodded in understanding, shifting his feet under Sasuke's stare.

"We need to scout the area, get our instructor settled, and discuss how best to protect you until he recovers. Sakura, take care of Kakashi-sensei, and check the house. Naruto, take the west side. I'll take the east."

Sakura stepped on Naruto's foot to keep him from arguing. The Uchiha didn't wait past the blond's grumbled acknowledgement before setting off.

Tazuna was worse than the idiot on his team. The bridge builder wouldn't need enemy ninja to kill him if he kept this up. Sakura was way too obedient. Why did he have to have a fan girl on his team? Why did Naruto have to argue about every little order? It was common sense to split up this way. Who cared if he was an Uchiha? Why did it matter so much to the blond?

Sasuke's movements, while searching the premises, were abrupt and sharp. The bottled frustration was screaming for an outlet the Uchiha refused to give.

The entire situation was foolish. He was in the middle of a mission. If one jounin level ninja was hired to kill Tazuna, another could follow. There was no time to grumble over old memories and confusing teammates.

But Sasuke's focus kept going back to the unimportant topics. Each time he forced his thoughts back to the mission, his frustration grew. The nagging feeling that something was wrong with Zabuza's death added to the growing snarl of anger in his gut.

Dusk arrived when Sasuke finished his inspection of the east side. He returned to the bridge builder's home holding back from grinding his teeth with an iron will.

"Welcome home!" The cheerful voice startled him. Sasuke jumped back, and held a kunai in front of him before registering Tazuna's daughter's presence. The woman's motherly smile faded in sight of the weapon. A wave of guilt washed over him before he shook it off, irritated at feeling such a weak emotion. This was not his mother. She should have known after that first meeting not to sneak up on a ninja.

But she was just a civilian. How could she sneak up on someone with Sasuke's training? Anger at himself and his lack of awareness grew. The Uchiha replaced the kunai in his weapons pouch and gave a curt nod to the woman before stepping around her.

Sakura was coming down the stairs to the left. The kunoichi smiled upon seeing her teammate and quickly made introduction to Tazuna's daughter, now identified as Tsunami. Sasuke grunted and then pushed past Sakura to the second floor. The house was small enough that the small delay gave enough time to see no one but the women were downstairs.

The first door on the right was open, with a futon laid down for Kakashi. Naruto stood next to the window, scanning the horizon. Sasuke stooped down to examine his instructor when Sakura stepped into the room and slid the tatami door closed.

"If I didn't know he was a ninja, I'd say he was sleeping. Jounin's shouldn't be able to sleep that deeply in enemy territory. I can't find any signs of poison, so the only other solution would be exhaustion."

"Hn." Sasuke read a lot of the various technique scrolls since the return of his property after become a genin. There were many higher ranked techniques that warned of chakra exhaustion if used before a ninja gained the necessary chakra, or used it when at the end of their strength.

Kakashi had a Sharingan eye, something the jounin would need to explain soon. The Sharingan required chakra to activate and maintain. With the rigid scar surrounding that eye, and the way Kakashi kept it covered, the jounin might not be able to deactivate it. That would be a constant drain, as covering it would only limit the amount of chakra it required. Added to the multiple nights of no sleep and Sasuke could see why the jounin would collapse after an intense battle.

It didn't make the aggravation at the jounin's poor planning any less. If he knew it was a possibility, why didn't he warn his team? If he didn't realize the risk, why was he out here? This might be a difficult mission for a team of genin, but a jounin or two wouldn't have a problem unless multiple high ranked ninja came after Tazuna.

The fact that might happen as well disturbed Sasuke's outward calm. The pinpricks of his fingernails stabbing his palm again warned the Uchiha he needed to calm down.

Again.

Why couldn't he push past these feelings? Minor annoyances should not cause such turmoil inside him. That they did regardless of logic just increased his frustration.

"Umm… what do we do now Sasuke-kun?" Sakura glanced at him from her kneeling place on the other side of Kakashi.

"Why are you asking that bastard?" Naruto snapped.

"Naruto!" Sakura stood, holding up a threatening fist. "Don't talk that way about Sasuke-kun!"

"Oh, so now you're going back to his loyal follower?" Naruto sighed theatrically. "And here I thought you were finally using that large brain you have."

"At least I have one. Any common sense has to be drilled into that little head of yours until it become instinct!"

"What's worse? Not having a brain, or wasting the one you've got on a stupid crush?"

"I do not have a crush on Sasuke-kun!"

The boys blinked while Sakura's face turned red and covered her mouth. Sasuke's bottled rage halted for a moment before expanding. Was he not good enough now that the fan girl got to know him? And why did he care in the first place? Wasn't this what he wanted, for Sakura to give up on her silly infatuation?

"Liar!" Naruto shouted back after recovering from the shocking statement.

Sakura switched between embarrassment and anger before folding her arms in a resigned sulk. "I don't lie. You know that Naruto," she grumbled.

Naruto didn't miss a beat. "What about when you lied to keep us out of trouble for saving you?"

"That was then. You guys were only trying to help."

"So. Still proves you lie."

"Only when it's important," Sakura argued.

"And your 'eternal love' for 'dear Sasuke-kun' isn't?" Naruto mocked.

Sakura blush spread down her neck and up her ears. "Naruto! I was a little girl! It's not applicable at this time."

Sasuke heard a muffled argument outside the tatami door. His teammates paid no attention to him as he stood and slid the door open. Tazuna and Tsunami were crouched, heads together. They froze at Sasuke's appearance, frozen mid-gesture at the bedroom containing the Konoha ninjas. Under the Uchiha's glare they straightened, smiling nervously.

"N-nice night out. Perfect for drinking a bit of sake," Tazuna remarked, making an awkward exit.

Tsunami stood stiffly, stumbling over several words before Sasuke felt calm enough to speak. "I apologize for the disturbance. Please excuse us." He gave a formal short bow to express the appropriate sincerity and waited for her stuttered acceptance, never taking his eyes off the woman.

"Thank you for your hospitality. Feel free to go about your normal routine as if we weren't here. We'll keep watch on the house tonight." He couldn't find the patience to wait for her next reply. The tatami door slid shut with a solid thunk. It was as gentle as he could force himself to be.

Turning back to the room, Sasuke watched Naruto and Sakura continue to bicker. In the short time it took to converse with Tsunami, the two moved closer to each other. Sakura was in smacking distance, but it didn't look like she had taken the opportunity to do so yet.

Emotion boiled within him. These two were the major source of his control slipping so badly. Why not make sure they knew what a mistake that was?

With subtle hand movements, Sasuke set up a magic screen that muffled voices. All their clients would hear if they tried to listen in again was an annoying buzz. Without a wand, he could only cover this small room, and it wouldn't last nearly as long as a wand spell would.

It didn't matter.

"Enough." Sasuke didn't need to shout. His killing intent went out with his quiet exclamation. Sakura and Naruto stopped mid-sentence. The slowly turned to face the Uchiha and flinched after meeting his gaze.

Nothing was said for a moment. Sakura's eyes flickered, trying to find the right response. Naruto chewed on the inside of his cheek, before his natural lack of tack showed true.

"What's your problem bastard?"

Sasuke smirked. That, more than any other response, sent a shiver of fear down Naruto's spine. Sakura bit back a whimper.

"My problem," Sasuke repeated in a low quiet tone. "Why would I have a problem?"

The two traded glances and Sakura shook her head at the comment Naruto wanted to make.

Sasuke tried to take a deep breath. He didn't want this. Taking out his anger on his teammates wasn't right. It would only prove how weak he was. He took the easy way out: change the subject. "What do you suggest we do?"

Naruto brightened at being asked. "Trap the area, keep Tazuna home and wait for Kakashi to wake up."

It was simple, but effective. Sasuke's thoughts ran parallel to Naruto's ideas. Not all hope was lost it seemed.

"You can take care of the traps," Sasuke agreed, moving to the window. "I'll take first watch, Sakura second, and Naruto last. Three hour shifts until Kakashi wakes."

He braced an arm on the open window sill to leverage himself up to the roof. A small calloused hand stopped him. Turning his head to stare at Sakura, he wondered why she kept doing that. What he a dog being brought to heel? His irritation bubbled again, and doubled when he realized how stupid such a thought was.

"Are you okay Sasuke?"

The girls question pierced him. He yanked his hand away, nose flaring as he sucked in air, mentally grasping for a measure of calmness. "Fine." He bit out, trying again to leave.

Naruto's hand on his shoulder, in an unfamiliar gesture of friendship, locked his muscles in place. "You sure about that mate?"

Again! A single word. Who said 'mate' in Konoha? And when did Naruto ever use the term? Wasn't he supposed to be 'bastard'?

The punch flew into Naruto's face before Sasuke realized he made the attack. The blond stumbled back cursing. The violent release gave Sasuke a mental hold on his temper. By the time Sakura, finished examining Naruto's nose for permanent damage, he was back to the perfect outward Uchiha.

"What was that for bastard?" Naruto probed his nose, not quite believing Sakura's prognosis of all clear.

"You were acting out of character," Sasuke replied as he crossed his arms in front of his chest.

"So you hit me?" Naruto stared at his teammate in disbelief.

"First strike if you proved to be an enemy." Sasuke expected Naruto to attack. A quick spar with the idiot before a three hour night watch might help.

Too bad Naruto always chose to be unpredictable when Sasuke least desired it.

"Well too bad, I'm Naruto! What the hell did I do to make you think I wasn't?" Blue eyes glared at him. Sasuke glared back.

"When was I ever your 'mate'?" The term rolled off his tongue like acid. The rage and frustration twisted in his gut. He swallowed the bile back, and closed his eyes to fight the sudden nausea down. He missed Naruto's jaw dropping, Sakura's pensive look, and the remembered sadness that crossed both their faces.

Naruto was staring at the floor when Sasuke felt well enough to open his eyes again. The blond still refused to speak, and the nausea started to rise again. Why did it hurt so much to have the truth confirmed? Sasuke Uchiha did not have friends. There was no Hermoine to help him. There was no Ron to keep him from going too far.

He turned again to leave. Sakura grabbed his arm again. Anger flared and he twisted and pushed, flinging the kunoichi to the floor. Naruto squawked in surprise before jumping his teammate. The boys grappled on the floor. Righteous fury aided Naruto while the disquieted emotions kept Sasuke from remembering half the moves he should.

For the first time since Naruto surprised him with the shadow clones, the blonde pinned him to the floor. Sasuke bucked and squirmed, not caring about his dignity. This idiot dared to treat him so lightly. To pull and prod at his emotions when the blond had no right to even glance at what was stored behind his careful mask.

Anger gave him strength. He might have gotten out of the sloppy hold but Sakura joined the idiot and pinned his legs. Naruto adjusted his hold to keep Sasuke's upper body pinned.

There was yelling and pushing and swearing, as the three fought together. It wasn't until his body slumped in exhaustion that Sasuke realized he was the one making most of the noise.

Shame washed the rest of his anger away. What had he done? He was an Uchiha. He did not throw temper tantrums. Several memories of Dudley doing so brought the nausea back to compete with his shame.

Sasuke scrunched his eyes close. Uchiha's did not cry.

"You done mate?" Naruto's face was right next to his ear. The quiet question rubbed salt in a gaping wound Sasuke just realized was there. He ground his teeth together and kept his face buried in the floor.

ROUGH MATERIAL

Sasuke ended up yelling a few choice phrases during his mini-break down that made things click for Sakura and Naruto. They confront him, calling him Harry and explaining how they found out about one another. Naruto is happy to have his friend, even as he's a bit cutting in remarks that Harry turned out to be the Uchiha. Sakura is just logical and quietly pleased.

Sasuke refused to believe the truth. He knew it was true, but he refused to believe it. Whenever Sakura or Naruto made mention of the past, he ignored it and went on with training or the mission.

Kakashi had woken, explained that the hunter-nin had been a decoy and started them training on water walking. The jounin instructor was surprised when his team demonstrated their knowledge of tree climbing.

On the ninth day after their encounter with Zabuza, Kakashi joined Sakura and Sasuke on the way to the bridge. It was Sasuke's turn to watch Tazuna and Kakashi felt Sakura was ready to try water walking in the shallows of the ocean. Yet, when they arrived, the workers were piled in an unconscious heap at the end of the bridge.

Zabuza and his partner appeared and Sasuke ended up fighting the fake hunter-nin. Sakura guarded Tazuna until Naruto arrived and changed the tied of battle. When Sasuke seemed to die, Sakura had to pull Naruto out of a berserk rage.

Later, Sasuke woke up after dreaming how he had watched Ron and Hermione die in front of him because he refused to be around them. His old friend's bodies transformed into Naruto and Sakura, and he knew they were the same people, just in different bodies. His apathy changed him into someone that had blood red eyes, ice cold blood and minions that bowed in tattered black robes. When one of his 'subjects' looked up from a bowed position at his feet, a skull-like mask stared back at him.

Team 7 changed a bit. Sasuke was willing to give them a chance, but only Sakura and Naruto. If anyone else was around, he clammed up, and became the perfect Uchiha. Then again, he wasn't much different when they were alone. The difference was the chance to get him to relax, to banter a bit back and forth, offer opinions and debate the topic at hand.

They continued training and the low rank missions. Kakashi gave a bit more input, but seemed content to watch over the progress they were making. Sasuke gave Sakura and Naruto access to the Uchiha compound which brought a wealth of information. With Sakura organizing their training schedules, Sasuke driving the pace, and Naruto's general enthusiasm and random crazy act, the trio were happy the way life was.

Then Kakashi gave them permission forms for the Chunnin Exams. Sasuke jumped at the chance. Sakura tried debating with him that they weren't ready, and even if they passed, there was no need to rush a promotion. Sasuke refused and when Naruto who remained silent through the entire debate, said he'd follow Saskue into the exam, Sakura threw her hands into the air and conceded.

If Sasuke left Team 7, they would never get their friend back. Sasuke accepted them now. They trained together even more and then they managed to have fun. The first time Sasuke smile in Wave, Sakura's heart leapt in her chest.

That was Harry's smile. The quiet, unconscious grin that could never be made with fake emotions. She had to hit Naruto for calling Sasuke on it, but when she was done, the grin was gone once more.

She kept count of them since. Four times, the Uchiha smiled true. Finding out he was Harry was surprising. Before the mission to Wave, Sasuke felt familiar, but she never would have guessed the truth. Now it seemed obvious.

This was Harry – if he didn't have friends.

She couldn't help feeling guilty for not being there. How long had he suffered alone? Harry always took too much on himself, but between Ron and herself, they never let him stand alone.

Sasuke took everything the world sent at him, and continued on. He didn't se how much damage it caused him, how little he had left to keep going.

Sakura did. Even Naruto could see it. The Uchiha wouldn't last long enough to kill his brother. Not alone.

So Team 7 could not be broken. Sakura feared passing this test far more than failing. But Sasuke was counting on her; just like Hogwarts sixth year. Sasuke didn't see reason, just the shortest route to his goal. All she and Naruto could do is follow and keep him safe.

"Sasuke-kun?" Ino dashed across the room, heading straight for Sasuke. The hug intended for the Uchiha wrapped around Naruto when he quietly stepped in front of his teammate.

"Why Ino, I didn't know you felt that way!" Naruto's smile stretched across his face. Ino pulled back enough to confirm the prankster's voice to his face and froze in horror.

"So troublesome." Shikamaru strode up behind the blonde kunoichi with Chouji at his side. The Akamichi was eating a bag of chips, but anyone could see the laughter in his eyes.

"Good one, idiot." Kiba Inuzuka stepped out of the crowd of chunin hopefuls. "When did you learn to pick up chicks?"

Naruto shrugged shamelessly, breaking Ino out of her trance. "Stupid!" The kunoichi slammed her fist into Naruto's head, knocking him flat. Shivering in disgust, she brushed herself off and stomped over to her teammates.

Sasuke prodded Naruto with his foot. Naruto shoved it away, and rolled into a sitting position before staggering up. Kiba was doubled over in laughter as his two teammated stood nearby in silence. Hinata was beet red while Shino glanced away, probably hoping no one would connect him with the dog boy.

"You so owe me a bowl of ramen," the blond grumbled. Sasuke grunted. It was hard to tell if it meant "fine" or "as if."

"You rookies should quiet down if you know what's good for you." The new voice caught all the genin's attention. A young man with long silver hair pulled back in a long ponytail watched the group with a friendly face.

"Who are you?" Kiba demanded.

The stranger pushed his glasses farther up the bridge of his nose, bringing attention to his forehead protector. "Just a fellow leaf ninja looking out for my younger comrades."

Kiba growled at the implied insult, meaning to stepping forward when Shino cut him off by stepping between the two.

"Have you taken the test before?" Shikamaru asked in a bored tone.

"Of course. And let me warn you – you see those guys behind you?" A quick glance confirmed a trio of mean looking genin. "They're from the hidden village of Mist."

Team 7 rebuffs Kabuto's attempts to be kind and the first test starts. They pass.

NEW MATERIAL OUTLINE

In the forest of death, Team 7 is attacked by Orochimaru in disguise. It ends with Team 10 interfering just as Sasuke collapse from chakra exhaustion combined with the cursed seal 'bite'.

Sakura and Naruto find the group of four after their 'encounter' with Gaara. They make it to the tower and get help because Naruto swiped the earth scroll that Gaara left behind after killing the Rain genin. With the extra days the curse seal was sealed off before the prelims.

The prelims went well, except Sakura was able to completely dominate the fight with Ino. The blonde didn't have more time than to be surprised before she was knock out by the Team 7 kunoichi. When match ups occurred, Sakura was teamed up with Dozu.

When Kakashi tried to give Naruto to Ebisu and Sakura to Kurenai, Team 7 put their foot down. Instead of completely individual training, the three met up throughout the month for team training. Unknown to their teachers, the three slept at the Uchiha compound to discuss their training and find ways to improve. Naruto was kept from training all night, Sasuke was kept from obsessing about power and Sakura got to practice her new genjutsu skills on the boys.

A week after the prelims, Dozu attempted to kill Sakura. His initial hit had her down for the count until the Naruto showed up on his way to Sasuke's place. He made enough noise and clones to attract the attention of ANBU. Dozu kept muttering about pleasing Orochimaru and was about to be taken in to see Ibiki when a senbon struck him in the one eye that remained uncovered, killing him instantly.

The village was wary but did not expect the chaos that came from the Chunin Finals.

Naruto's new skill with summoning was the only way team 7 managed to beat Gaara. Naruto's relentless drive to protect Konoha and Sasuke's unwavering determination to keep his teammates from harm at the cost of his own arm being crush changed the Sand demon carrier.

--

The village was hurt badly by the attack from Sound and Sand. The Third's death only added to the general grief.

But there was one group that found this to be an advantage. Danzo took the initiative that was left over from Jaraiya's refusal to be the next Hokage. The other two counselors believed Jaraiya would get Tsunade to accept the position and she would be easily led. Danzo believed that if Tsunade did accept, which was a long shot, she would be just as stubbornly foolish as the old man.

Jaraiya asked for permission to take Naruto, but when the blonde refused to part from his teammates, the sannin took all three genin, freeing Kakashi to take more missions. By the time the team returned, with Tsunade in tow, Danzo had already taken steps to have more power.

Tsunade found the village counsel with far more power than she recalled. As Hokage, she only had purview over the military matters. She was able to control the village itself a little due to enforcement handled by her ninjas, but all rules or laws were governed by the village counsel.

Naruto found it far more difficult to survive. The landlord kicked him out without the Third's influence, and Danzo noticed when the Kyuubi carrier started living with the last Uchiha.

The civilians in the village started shunning Naruto more. Stores refused to allow him to pay, even with outrageous prices. Sakura started doing his essential shopping until the villagers realized she was providing the 'demon' with food. When the kunoichi started receiving the same treatment, she went to the Hokage.

Tsunade found that she could not order the villagers to do anything. As long as they stayed within the bounds of the law, she had no power over their actions. The businesses had the right to refuse service to anyone they felt the need to do so. Pointing out there was no reason to refuse service to Sakura did not dissuade the villagers. Tsunade didn't even try to use the same logic in reference to Naruto.

While negotiations failed, Sasuke did any errands that the team needed in the village, scowling the entire time. He couldn't say no to helping his friends, but resented the time it took from training and did not appreciate that Konoha did nothing to help the situation. The villagers still bent backwards for the last Uchiha and they learned not to put down his teammates within his presence. He still caught remarks of "Such a good young man, putting up with those two all the time." and "See how well he carries the burden?" or "Who else would be able to live like that with such grace?"

They continued to go on, becoming more discouraged when a ROOT member made contact with Sasuke on his way home from errands in the village. The Uchiha kept his mask during the quiet discussion and ended the conversation with a neutral stance. When Naruto and Sakura heard about the offer for all these problems to 'go away' there was screaming and gnashing of teeth – and a few walls destroyed by Sakura. The implication that the group (whoever they were) had caused the situation was not lost on Sasuke. There was also a clear warning of what would happen if he happened to let others know of the 'generous' offer of exclusive training to hunt down his older brother.

His teammates were fine, but he wasn't going to chance going to the Hokage or Kakashi, who still had a mainly hands off approach to his students. The trio planned to wait and see, they didn't know who this new player was and weren't about to welcome them with open arms.

--

There were a few more offers, which Sasuke continued to ignore for the most part. When question on the fourth meeting he implied that he didn't take gifts from strangers. Danzo then made an approach when Team 7 was in the Hokage tower a few days later. He only greeted Sasuke, but used a word that left no doubt in the Uchiha's mind that the old man was behind the offers.

Sakura learned all she could about the man and it wasn't pretty. Her mother was also avoiding her as much as possible, due to the woman's lack of understanding her daughter's ninja career and the fallout from the villagers. Naruto still walked through the village without a care, but it hurt more when the villagers started to turn their backs on him rather than curse and spit at him. The ramen shop, Team 7, and the few times the rookies got together were the only times he felt he belonged.

Sasuke was tired of the entire situation. When Orochimaru's lackey's came by with another alternative he just about had enough. He started to rant, in true Harry fashion as soon as he was alone with Naruto and Sakura at the Uchiha estates, ending with the comment 'Why can't we just leave this village, take what we need for the evil snake lord and then be done with all the stupid ninja in this world?'

Sakura took the crazy idea and made it work. Naruto felt a bad about leaving the village, but the other two convinced him to go along. After all, they weren't abandoning the village, just taking an extended vacation. Sakura found a loop hole in village law and Naruto managed to get Tsunade's signature on a release document for all three genin that lasted ten years. Sasuke made sure all the supplies were ready and kept Danzo's men from suspecting a thing.

When the Sound four approached him again, he said yes – if the other two came with.

--

The Sound four didn't care, and Team 7 left, with no one being the wiser for three days when Kakashi finally tried to find his missing team. He waited a few days after returning from his latest mission before hunting them down for a progress check and found a packet Sakura made up with a copy of their release.

Tsunade was shocked when Kakashi brought it to her, but remembered exactly when it happened and promptly sent out a team of ANBU to find them. Team 7 was long gone.

The delay in getting Sasuke's teammates meant Orochimaru already changed host bodies and they had three years before he could try again. Sakura was a welcomed apprentice to Kabuto and she learned all she could and refused to rise to his bait when he tried to disturb her with cruel medical practices. Naruto was ignored by the Sound leaders as Orochimaru expected Akatsuki to come knocking soon and he'd gladly hand over the kyuubi – for a price. Instead, Naruto rubbed the Sound four wrong and ended up getting in fights that continually improved his skills. With Sasuke learning from Orochimaru and Kabuto, the three had a well rounded education. One of the conditions of their 'defection' was room and board together and every night the three compared notes. They woke early to get extra team training and Sakura made sure they kept up their academics, much to the boy's dismay.

Konoha didn't know what happened to Team 7, but life went on. Kakashi took it as a personal affront and started to train seriously, always looking for his team on missions outside of the village. Tsunade didn't make as big a change, but used the anger to start a crusade against the council. She pulled the shinobi from patrolling the village. If the villagers wanted nothing to do with ninja rule, the ninjas would have nothing to do with running the village. Chaos reigned until the counsel grudgingly let her have a say in the village. A compromise, but one she could build off of.

The rookies started learning just what had been going on with Team 7 as Sakura and Naruto had kept quiet about their treatment from the village. Enraged with the reason they blamed on the trio leaving, the rookies started their own war against the village. They pulled in the clans over time, even the Hyuuga branch members. Villagers started to see a decline in shinobi buying from their shops as several retired ninjas started their own stores to provide the needs of the ninjas helping the protest. Akamichi, the biggest contributors to village restaurants, made the sacrifice of not eating anywhere but their own places and Ichiraku's found a need for a larger location as the hearty clan increased their patronage.

--

When the three years were approaching their end, Sakura was reading in Orochimaru's private library. Not that she was allowed, but she had learned a lot in the last three years and knew how to get around the snake sennin's security. He was a twisted person, but brilliant and she continually found knowledge she could use. That day, she found a scroll that described the legend of Kusanagi – the sword he would draw from his throat. Curious about how he stored and used it – and why it would never dull or rust – Sakura searched for more information. A paper of Orochimaru's direct study of the sword revealed it had its own 'spirit'. A spirit that went by the name Voldemort.

The trio was reminded once again that they were in a world they had never heard of during their Hogwarts time and never questioned how it was they were here. Sakura researched, Sasuke brooded, and Naruto threw out wild ideas that would spark thoughts in his teammates.

Eventually Sakura determined that they weren't in a different world. Orochimaru had an entire library on ancient artifacts and writing. There was nothing out right said, but much of the information ran parallel to her own knowledge from her Hogwarts days. Not the knowledge about magic and wizards, but the muggle school knowledge she kept up with despite being in the magic world three fourths of the year. Many of Orochimaru's experiments on the technology that he used on his sound ninjas were based of muggle science literature. There was even an actual textbook, badly preserved, about sound waves and the power and use that could come from them.

No, they were not in another world, but the future. One where life as they knew it ceased to exist. Something terrible happened that threw the world into the dark ages. The land masses they had been familiar with were transformed into what they are now. Sakura speculated that wizards and muggles had to learn to work together to survive. Maybe it had something to do with the tailed beasts called demons, and the various mutations that are now known as bloodlines.

Either way, they were in the future, and Kusanagi was the same sword they had bound Voldemort's soul into just before the died the first time. Now she had learned that Orochimaru also owned a diamond studded tiara that also housed a soul that claimed to be called Voldemort. The snake sannin took many notes as he compared the two artifacts and learned that the souls were pieces of a whole that would make Voldemort. He came up with the idea that a ninja long ago sought immortality placing part of his soul into various objects. The limited communication he had with the housed souls lead him to believe that there were at least three more pieces (locket, cup, and snake – Dumbledore took care of the ring, and Harry died, taking care of that piece of horcrux).

Sasuke was enraged. He kept in mind his brother, but that could wait. He wanted Voldemort dead.

The trio found out where the tiara was kept – Naruto was surprisingly friendly with the village of Sound and learned a lot of information when talking to the villagers and other ninjas. He was even on good terms with the Sound four, even if they swore at each other every time they saw one another. With Naruto's info, the trio snuck into the sealed storehouse and destroyed the tiara. Naruto tried a Rasengan, which started to work before dark energy seeped through the chakra wind storm in the blond's hand and back into Naruto's chakra coils. The screaming was going to attract all the guards in the area, so Sasuke fired up a chidori and cut through the piece with easy. The darkness attached itself to Sasuke, leaving Naruto to collapse on the floor and Sasuke to struggle with this violent energy that seemed to speak in his mind. He fed it towards the curse seal where he already had mental barriers to keep out Orochimaru's influence the sannin pushed through the 'gift'. When the dark energy collided with the curse seal – the curse seal ate the dark energy, and no more problem; except getting away.

Orochimaru was furious, but didn't suspect the trio who were acting as if nothing had happened. Naruto always bounced back quickly and Sasuke could mask the lingering weariness.

But time was running out and the three began to make plans to leave the Sound village before Orochimaru tried to take over Sasuke's body. Sasuke thought he'd be able to resist whatever Orochimaru threw at him, but the other two were unwilling to take the risk. Besides, they still needed to make a plan to get Kusanagi.

--

When Naruto heard the news that Gaara, who became Kazekage two years ago, was taken by the Akatsuki, he pushed to leave now. Gaara was a decent guy, and no one deserved to die for a demon sealed in them as a baby. His teammates agreed, as long as Naruto didn't go and do something stupid.

They left within the hour, and pushed towards Sand where Naruto hoped to get information on where Gaara was taken. They ran into Kakashi, Azuma with Ino, Shikamaru, Shino and Gai's team who accompanied Temari and a little old woman that snapped at anyone she could. Kakashi refused to let them go on their own way and Shikamaru's shadow kept them in place for long enough everyone could surround them.

Once Team 7 learned that they were going to rescue Gaara after Ino (who an apprentice to Shizune) and Shino had helped cure Kakuro from poison, Naruto stopped protesting. Sighing, Sakura gave in before Sasuke rolled his eyes and silently conceded. Ino tried to glomp the Uchiha as soon as it was clear they would not be fighting. Sasuke dodged the attack with ease, despite still being tied to Shikamaru's shadow. The other two easily broke free, proving they had never been serious about fighting their former comrades.

They ignore questions on where the three had been the last three years and continued on to the Akatuski's hiding spot.

Sasuke meets up with his brother once more since Team 7's trip to get Tsunade. Sasuke had startled Itachi by being able to ignore the Tsukyomi the first time. This time he surprised his older brother by not caring if he won or lost, just if the rest of the team could get by. He was able to hold his brother at bay, and Kakashi took on Kisami while the rest moved on. Team 10 stayed as a backup.

They rescue Gaara, Sakura proving a match for Sasori with only help needed from the old lady on how puppets work and what their weakness was. The old lady still had to sacrifice her life to bring Gaara back, but the news that Naruto was back helped Gaara immensely.

Team 7 returned to Konoha and stood silent when Tsunade ranted, even as Naruto dodged the occasional fist she flung at him, until she gathered him up in a big bear hug. He patted her back awkwardly until she decked him while he was caught. They were on probation, but they didn't mind. The villagers were not happy to see the demon back in their village, but did not resume their campaign. They didn't have a chance as the rookies introduced them to all the new business that had sprung up to service other ninjas.

Team 7 were promoted to chuunin for their past performance in the Chuunin Exam whose results had been delayed due to the change in Hokage, and for their display of skill in the field. Sakura's defeat of Sasori, Naruto's defeat of the clay guy and Sasuke's defeat of the faux Itachi were well known. The villagers started to treat the trio with a bit more respect when the word started to spread. Sasuke, of course, was idiolized even more.

--

Life was better until Danzo started meddling again.

He managed to place Sai on the four man squad that Sasuke now led as a chuunin, and the four did missions with a jounin as shadow due to the high risk targets the three original members of team 7 now made. The creepy guy that could control wood didn't bother them that often, however.

Eventually, they are able to take down Danzo, and fight off Akatsuki after Sasuke kills Orochimaru when he comes for the Uchiha's body. They trick Orochimaru into using the sword in battle and Sasuke absorbs that piece of Voldemort's soul into the curse seal, as well as the one that Manda has when they discover the interesting fact when snake, toad, and snail boss are all summand during battle. This make Sasuke the technical boss of snakes and between that fact and his parseltogue ability that he still retains, Sasuke never has a problem with the usually reluctant snake summons.

Itachi's past comes out when they meet for the second time after Gaara's rescue three years before. Akatsuki is down to just five members – Kisame having been defeated by Sakura in their first encounter after Gaara and Itachi's second partner of Hidan being killed by Naruto. Sasuke does not want to have anything to do with Konoha after learning how they betrayed his family. Itachi's approval of their actions only makes him lash out at his brother. Sakura finds the plant guy listening to their conversation and the four ninja team up to defeat him.

After the battle, Sasuke refuses to return to the 'corrupt village' built on other people's pain. Naruto swears that he won't stand for that when he his Hokage. Sasuke fights with him because he doesn't think Naruto will ever be Hokage. When a bet is placed during their heated argument, Sakura breaks the tension by reminding him that Naruto also seems to win at gambling. Itachi actually smiles at the team before telling him that he has to leave and report his two comrades deaths. Sasuke tells him that if Sasuke has to return to that village, then Itachi has to as well. Itachi explains his spying roll for Jiraiya and the three split from the older brother after he promises not to die before he has to live in the village again.

Then Jiraiya dies in a battle with Pain. Itachi defects from Akatsuki and Team 7 is forced to defend him from the various ninja that want to kill the biggest traitor to Konoha since Orochimaru. Tsunade arrives and puts a stop to it when she hears the story. Many ninja, watching the entire episode, argue that she's being influenced by the demon, but cold words put them back into place.

The two living councilors from the Third's time give testimony to the verify Itachi's story and many ninja are left humbled after Naruto gives a surprisingly stirring talk.

--

Life goes on. Pain is eventually defeated by Naruto and the epilogue shows the three in the Hokage's office, reminiscing over how much has happened in the last two years. They are twenty and can't believe how far they've come. They are still chasing rumors for the last piece of Voldemort's soul (they found the cup) but Sasuke has his family back. Who would have thought Itachi and Anko would marry and have kids so quickly, one toddling around the house and a second on the way. Anko as a mother, Naruto still shivers at the thought.

They smile and share a quiet laugh before Sakura asks if Naruto is ready. She gives a nervous grin, and thinks he is. Sasuke slaps him on the back and moves past him to the door, swirling a white ANBU cape around his shoulders and replacing his blood red mask – he refuses to wear white, the color that Death Eaters wore.

Sakura shakes her head and grabs a stack of scrolls of the Hokage's desk, signed authorization forms she needs to run the main ninja hospital of Konoha. Her director position keeps her busy, but she's done fighting, unless Team 7 goes out together.

Naruto watches his best friends leave before taking a deep breath and grabbing the large hat off the desk. He walks out of the room while placing it on his head. He refused to wear the matching robes. He takes one more glance at the room, lingering on the picture of the Fourth. There's no sadness, despite knowing that the man was the father he never knew in this life.

He grins, a true Naruto grins and whispers to the room as he walks out, towards the crowd that waits to hear from Tsunade the announcement of her successor.

"I told you I'd be Hokage one day."

END

AUTHOR'S NOTE

The New Material Outline is full of grammar mistakes, spelling errors and missing terms as I didn't bother to look anything up. Hopefully it gives you enough closure to say goodbye as I am doing.

Number one reason why I'm not going to be writing the actual story of Reclaiming Life: I'm getting married. Yes, I know it probably seems a stupid reason to many, but I fanfiction has always and will always be a hobby to me. A hobby I don't have time for anymore. Someone recently posted a review that stated something along the lines of 'another abandoned story' and it hit me just how long it had been since I updated.

So the truth hurts, but yes, I had abandoned Reclaiming Life. Real life (school, meeting my now fiancé, getting engaged, preparing to move, wedding planning, work) along with my original stories I hope to publish someday are far more important to me.

Reclaiming Life has its own special place in my heart, and I always look at it fondly, but it deserves time and dedication that I cannot give. So I'll say farewell to it. I might still dabble in fanfiction, but not anytime soon, and likely never an epic story this was meant to be.

Kudos to anyone that picks up the bare bones put forth here and manages to flesh it out into the being it's was destined to be.

Some notes on the story, I really didn't like writing the mini-break down Sasuke had in Wave. The one posted here is the sixth version of it, and the biggest hang up in my writing. I'm a linear writer. I can make notes, know the direction I want to take the story, but I have to write the scenes in sequential order. I'm still not happy with Sasuke's break down, would have re-written the scene again before even giving it to Essex if I was continuing the story.

I thank Peppymint who gave a review, despairing over the fact that Sasuke received the curse mark, but grateful that at least Harry/Sasuke would never abandon the village. My immediate thought was "Why not?" Then I had to think of how it could be possible, and came up with that wonderful little plot twist. All credit goes to Peppymint. One of the big reasons why I had to start back from the beginning because I needed a Sasuke I could work with, and my original Harry/Sasuke just wasn't quite right. Neither was Ron/Naruto for that matter.

Poor Sakura has been neglected, but she's the hardest to write. Then again, I did have fun twisting her old Hermoine mind into Inner Sakura.

There are a lot of sceens later, when the timelines seriously divulge from the original Naruto-verse that I was looking forward to. I'll be interested in reading if anyone takes up the challenge of trying them out. Everyone thinks differently, so hopefully you readers had fun filling in the many details that were left out. Like how they managed to get rid of Danzo. I was waiting to think up that one. I just know that they do it and before they defeat Orochimaru.

The battle with Orochimaru was going to be awesome. Especially with Manda's secret of originally being Nagini come out during the battle itself. I wanted so much to write that one of all of them. The first two reunions of Sasuke with Itachi were just as high on my 'want-to-write' list. Can you just picture Itachi in Sasuke's mind, blood red moon shining down on them, and Sasuke being able to control the world just as much as Itachi? Or how Sasuke might be indifferent about Itachi in comparison to getting to Gaara for Naruto and too busy thinking about Voldemort to really care if Itachi died right now or later in life?

Thanks once again for everyone who kept waiting. Hope you find another story that tickles your interest – or better yet, try making your own.