And so Harry found himself back in Konoha. Although he had not entirely anticipated the circumstances of his arrival (under armed guard, surrounded by dead bodies), he still thought it was better than wandering around the countryside, no matter how picturesque it had been. For one thing, he reckoned he had a pretty fair chance of getting a hot meal and dry bed tonight, which was really all anyone could ask for from life.
Ah, he thought, as he caught Sarutobi's hands flickering through discrete signs, and the answering alertness on the parts of the guards stationed around the nondescript building they were delivering the bodies too. That is, assuming I'm not in jail by tonight. I doubt shinobi jails are any more pleasant than our own.
He could hardly turn back at this point, though, and so he grinned and bore it - metaphorically, at least. He figured grinning like a loony wasn't going to help his cause at this point, so he limited himself to a polite smile.
As they walked from there towards the monument, with extra armed guards who just happened to be walking in the same direction, Harry asked Sarutobi, "So, am I going to get in trouble? Is it illegal for me to be here or something?"
Sarutobi took another draw on his cigarette, then let the smoke out slowly. "Depends on what you intend to do."
"I'm on holiday," Harry said, and Sarutobi glanced at him. "What? I can't get a minute's peace at home. I went to the beach for a week and some idiots tried to sneak a bomb onto the room service cart. Thought they were James Bond or something." Harry grinned a little at the memory.
"What about your war?"
"Over," Harry said, waving the concern away. "And about time too. Some people just never know when to give up."
"And you're here looking for them?"
"The people who won't give up."
"I said I'm on holiday," Harry said impatiently. "For god's sake, you're as bad as Hermione. I'm not working, I have no intention of working, I haven't had a break in five bloody years. Is that so unreasonable?"
Sarutobi made a noncommittal noise around his cigarette, and Harry resisted the urge to hit him. Bad idea, hitting ninjas. He'd already worked that much out.
"So, what brings you to Konoha?" the blonde girl asked from Harry's other side - what was her name? Yamanaka.
"Oh, I have a message to deliver." At the girl's artful look of confusion, Harry sighed. "Long story, seriously. It's just a favour for a guy I met."
"Who is the message for?" Sarutobi asked, regaining control of the conversation. Harry caught out of the corner of his eye the approving look Sarutobi sent at Yamanaka. "Maybe we can direct you."
What was it with ninjas and interrogations? It was starting to get on Harry's nerves. On principle, he said vaguely, "Oh, that's okay. I think I know where to go."
"You don't sound very sure," the fat kid said, and Harry mentally awarded him a point. There was no weight on that comment – it was as casual an observation as anyone could hope for.
He still wasn't in the mood to reward it, though. "I'll be okay," he said, looking up and around. He didn't recognise the area, and he wondered where he was being taken. Changing the subject, he said, "So, please tell me we don't have to climb those stairs."
His escort took their eyes off him, looking ahead at the thousands of zig-zagging stairs that led up the side of the mountain that overlooked Konoha.
Sarutobi chuckled. "Well, normally we would, but as it happens we have good timing. We're going in here." He gestured to the large building in front of them. It was round, and red, with the sign for 'Fire' emblazoned on a sign near the top, and Harry was pretty sure he'd seen it on his sightseeing tour last time.
Which reminded him, he'd better not let on that he'd been in Konoha before, if they were going to make such a fuss about it. God, what had been written on his papers? Had he said he was a local? No, no, Harry chided himself. What was the use in panicking? No one seemed inclined to kill him so far, and why would they be, anyway? He was just a friendly traveller, boosting their economy by spending his hard earned cash on souvenirs and fast food.
With this sort of mental encouragement, he managed to get himself into an appropriately confident mood by the time they arrived outside a large, heavy double door, ready to segue into injured innocence at any moment.
"Names?" one of the masked door guards asked.
"Sarutobi Asuma-jounin with guest," Sarutobi replied crisply. They had left the two teenagers outside.
The door guard who had spoken paused, then nodded. "You're expected. Please go ahead."
"Thank you," Sarutobi said, and pushed open one of the doors, holding it open for Harry. Harry glanced around the room as he walked in. It was obviously a working office. There were various desks set up, most covered in piles of papers and pens, but no one sat at them. The room was empty except for four more masked guards and a beautiful, blonde young woman.
It took Harry a moment to place the face as the one that overlooked the city on their big mountain monument, just because she looked so damn young. The way people talked, he'd been expecting a middle-aged woman.
She also had really big breasts - not that Harry would be distracted by anything so petty about a possible enemy. Making sure that his eyes were kept firmly above neck level, he followed Sarutobi into the room.
The Hokage looked relaxed, but the look she gave him was assessing. "Good afternoon," she said. "I don't believe we've met before."
"No, ma'am," Harry said politely. "My name's Potter Harry. It's an honour."
"So, you're an old friend of Asuma's?" she asked, and Harry tilted his head slightly.
"Um, that might be stretching the relationship a bit. We ran into each other once, about five years ago."
"Oh, is that so? It's impressive you recognised each other after so long."
"Ah, yeah," Harry said, who hadn't recognised Sarutobi at all. "Right."
"And what a coincidence that you would run in to each other like that!"
"Yeah," Harry said, since there was really no other possible answer. "It was, I guess. I don't really know many ninjas."
"Oh? Which ones do you know?" the Hokage asked. Harry wasn't enjoying himself much. This felt way too much like an interrogation for his sakes, and those masks were creeping him out. He felt very strongly that the only people who hid their faces were those who had something to hide – and he wasn't talking acne.
"I met a guy in Star Country called, um, Enzaki? But I think he was at least partially retired, because he was running an inn."
The Hokage steepled her fingers together. "I see."
The silence stretched out ominously, but Harry really didn't know what she expected him to say. "Um, I'm sorry, but why am I here? I only came to Konoha to drop off a message. It won't take more than ten minutes, then I can leave."
"A message," the Hokage said, and it wasn't a question.
"Yes," Harry replied, with a little more snap than he intended.
"Your papers," she snapped in reply, holding out her hand imperiously.
Harry stared at it. "Yeah. Well. About that."
The Hokage arched one aristocratic eyebrow. "Do you mean to tell me that you have entered Konoha with the proper authorisation?"
Harry mentally apologised for what he was about to do, then dobbed Sarutobi in without the slightest hesitation. "He invited me," he said, pointing at the jounin.
"Yes, I'll be speaking to him about that."
Harry felt a little guilty when Sarutobi winced – but not very. Dog eat dog and all that. Instead, he spread his hands in broad appeal and asked, "What do you want me to do? I don't want to make trouble."
The Hokage leaned her chin on her hand and looked Harry over. He suddenly had the strong impression that she wasn't sure what to do with him herself. "And what do you plan to do after you leave Konoha?" she asked.
Harry shrugged. "Eh, who knows. I go where the wind takes me."
"How romantic," the Hokage said dryly. "You'll forgive me if I'm not reassured."
"Of course," Harry assured her. "I never hold a grudge." As the temperature of the surrounding air fell sharply, Harry decided that that might have been a bit flippant. "What I meant to say was," he said, holding his hands up in conciliation, "that I'm having trouble seeing a way out of this mess. You don't want me to stay, you don't want me to go… I mean, you've gotta choose one."
Without thought, he had fallen back on a boyish persona – opening his eyes wider, pitching his voice higher, slouching a little like he hadn't grown into his body yet. It wasn't hard – his teenage years weren't that far behind him.
He wasn't sure whether it was working, because the Hokage's eyes were rock steady, and all joking aside, they were beginning to make Harry really uncomfortable. He mentally revised upwards his estimation of her – he had known, of course, that she was crazy strong, but he now put her down in the small and exclusive category of 'crazy strong and dangerous', filed under the broader category of 'people who aren't your friend but haven't tried to kill you yet'.
"To be honest, Potter-san," the Hokage said, leaning her chin on her hand, "I think you're lying to me, and the only reason I can see that someone would enter Konoha, lying about their background, lying about their motivations-"
"I'm not lying!" At the resounding silence that followed, Harry took a deep breath and said in a more measured tone, "I'm not lying. I have spoken nothing but the truth since I entered Konoha, and I understand your concerns, but I am offended that you have accused me of lying without any proof."
As if she had been waiting for this, the Hokage smiled thinly and swivelled a piece of paper on her desk around, pushing it across towards Harry. He walked forward, aware of Sarutobi at his back, the masked ninjas in front, and feeling the intensity of their attention as a physical weight.
He looked down at the piece of paper. It was a photo of him entering Konoha, dated a month ago. Harry inspected it, then glanced up at the Hokage. "Well?"
"And how do you explain this?"
"I visited Konoha last month," Harry said, and shrugged. "I stayed at the Blue Swallow. They probably have records. And, yes," he said, holding up a hand to forestall the Hokage when she opened her mouth to speak, "I didn't have any papers so I forged some to get in, but I didn't do anything bad."
"I don't know where you come from, kid," the Hokage snapped, dropping the forced politeness, "but around here forging papers is something bad."
"I'm not from around here," Harry said instantly, defensively, "and I didn't have any papers and I don't know anyone. How else was I supposed to get in?"
The Hokage rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. I hate arrogant little shits like you." ("Hey," Harry objected very quietly.) "Authorised papers mean that you have permission to enter our village. If you don't have papers, you can stay the hell out. Is that clear?"
"Crystal," Harry promised.
The Hokage looked at him. "Potter, has it occurred to you yet that you could be executed for this? You have no papers, after all. Odds are you're probably a spy."
"I'm not a spy," Harry sighed. "But yes, I'm aware I'm in a dangerous situation."
The Hokage rubbed the bridge of her nose. "And does that worry you?"
"Of course," Harry answered, surprised. "I'd like to get this cleared up as soon as possible."
She looked past Harry, at Sarutobi standing behind him. "Is he crazy, or just stupid?" she asked.
Harry glanced back at him as Sarutobi replied, his pleasant baritone sounding rueful, "Just a little crazy, I think. His teammates were like this too, from what I remember."
Harry was feeling more than a little lost. "…I'm sorry?" he said. "I'm not really following."
The Hokage sighed heavily, and some of the tension left the room. She leaned forward on her desk. "Let me guess. You were a ridiculously talented ninja as a boy, promoted early, probably stronger than most people you know."
Harry blinked. "Actually, yeah. I mean, no, not at all, because I'm not a ninja, and how many times do I have to say it? But I can see what you're getting at."
"Right. And I bet you break rules left right and centre, and you're just good enough to get away with it."
"…Yeah. Usually. I've been arrested a couple of times, but they let me go."
The Hokage nodded, looking vindicated. "Uh huh. And so when you see that something is forbidden by law in a foreign country, you're first response isn't, 'I'm in somebody else's home so I'd better respect their rules', it's 'how annoying. How can I get around it?'"
Harry didn't reply.
The Hokage apparently took his silence for agreement, as she nodded slightly. "Well, I'm not unreasonable," she said, in a calmer tone. "Since you didn't cause any trouble last time, I'll let you have a temporary visa, but," holding up a hand to forestall Harry's comment, "on the condition that you remain under constant supervision."
She looked past Harry again and said, "Asuma, I think you can take responsibility for that, under the circumstances."
"Yes, Hokage-sama," Sarutobi murmured, with only the faintest hint of chagrin.
"And you have my full and unreserved permission to kill Potter if he tries anything."
Harry was glad that Sarutobi at least hesitated, but all the jounin said was, "I'll certainly try, Hokage-sama."
"Good. Now you can both get lost, and tell the admins to get their arses back in here."
"Yes, ma'am," Sarutobi said, and Harry was so damn happy to follow him out.
"You can pick up your visa tomorrow morning, Potter," the harpy called after them. "And don't make me regret this."
"No, ma'am," he called back over his shoulder, and hurried after Sarutobi out into the hallway.
They walked in silence out through the corridors, Harry too lost in thought to be bothered by the open stares they were getting from uniformed ninjas who inhabited the building. When they exited, though, the fresh air and sunlight shook him out of his reverie.
He turned to Sarutobi and demanded, "How could you not have warned me?!"
Sarutobi gave him a dry look. "What, that you were breaking the law?"
"No, that the Hokage was so freaking scary! My god, she puts McGonagall to shame, and believe me, McGonagall is not a woman I ever want to cross."
Sarutobi was smiling faintly.
Harry sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets. "Anyway, what now? Do I have to go to jail or something until I get my visa?"
"Well, if you're so keen on it…" Sarutobi trailed off, still smirking as he lit a new cigarette and took a drag. He was looking much more relaxed now. "No, there's no need for that. You can stay at my place if you like."
Harry looked at him. "…thanks," he said suspiciously. "That's awfully generous of you."
"I am an awfully generous person – seriously, I've got to keep you under twenty-four hour watch anyway. I may as well do it in comfort."
"And you're not worried I'll, you know, strangle you while you sleep?"
"Right back at you, kiddo," Sarutobi said around his cigarette, and Harry pulled a horrified face at the nickname.
"Are you joking? How old do you think I am?"
Sarutobi looked him over thoughtfully, and guessed, "Sixteen?"
"Sixteen?! – oh, you arsehole," he grumbled when he saw the way Sarutobi's lips were quirking. "I was older than that the first time I met you."
"If you say so," Sarutobi murmured, and turned, completely unaffected by Harry's glare. "Come on, I'll show you where I live."
Thanks to kirallie for the beta.