Author's Note: Hi all! Sorry to burst everyone's bubbles, but Kakashi is not going to be in the story for at least five more chapters. I apologize to everyone who was expecting him to pop up soon, but as I guess I didn't make sufficiently clear earlier, this is first and foremost Sakura's story. Kakashi is important, but his place is a clear second. But don't worry! He'll have his time at Hogwarts, too. Just not for a while!
And as always, thanks for all the comments, advice, and support!
Sakura took a deep breathe experimentally. Hm, not bad. Only the slightest ache remained on her left side, which was pretty good considering that only three days earlier, a dagger had been buried there, up to the hilt. Now to test the stomach wound. Tentatively she poked her belly, and hissed in pain. Apparently, that was going to take a little while longer. The medic, whom Sakura had learned was called Madam Pomfrey, had known some amazing healing spells, some of which Sakura desperately wished she could take home to Konoha. However, even Madam Pomfrey couldn't instantly fix a gash to the stomach. Sakura smiled fondly, remembering the plump little woman's indignant face when she had asked a few days ago if she could try getting up and moving around. "Certainly now!" the medic said, bristling. "I'm not a miracle worker, you know. After an injury like that, well, you should be happy you're still alive, and not joining the Headless Hunt's ghostly cheering section! Get up and move, indeed." And had proceeded to glare at Sakura as though she held her personally responsible for getting injured in the first place. Sakura snorted mentally. Right. As though she had wanted to get a sword through her stomach.
The Headless Hunt. Ghosts. Once she would have started at those strange words, and thought that the speaker was officially off of their rocker. Now, though she couldn't say she was exactly… comfortable with the idea of spirits, she certainly wasn't going to run away in terror, or think that one was an omen of death, as she did only days before. Harry had explained to her that the ghosts of Hogwarts were harmless, and actually could be pretty friendly. He had even brought Nearly Headless Nick, the ghost she had charged at in the hallway, to see her, in order to show her how nice they could be. Once Sakura had stopped hiding behind Harry, they had actually managed to carry on a polite, though one-sided discussion about tea - Sakura's side of the conversation had consisted mostly of long, frightened pauses ended with a few stammered words. Luckily, however, Nearly Headless Nick loved to hear himself talk, and rather than be offended had looked quite happy to have such an avid listener.
And that brought her thoughts around to Harry. He had been a near constant companion over the last few days, snatching whatever time he could in between and after classes to visit the infirmary. At each visit he would anxiously ask about her wounds, and then would either tell her about his day or she would ask him some of her many questions about this new world she found herself in. She had learned a lot about this strange, magical school from him. Apparently it trained the young generation of magic-users, called witches and wizards, much like the academy trained young shinobi. What surprised her, however, was that unlike academy students, who were expected to grow up and fight for the village, most witches and wizards were not affiliated with the military. Excluding a few people called aurors, who apparently fought evil magic-users and acted as a kind of magical police, most magic-users simply spent their lives as ordinary, though talented, civilians.
The idea was astonishing. She had never really thought about what her life would be like if she wasn't a shinobi, even when she had missions that took her into civilian villages. Like most shinobi, she grew up accepting that there was 'Us' and then there was 'Them,' and that there was an intrinsic division between the two. Thus, she knew rather little of civilian life in her own country, much less civilian life in this foreign one.
It felt especially strange to be in a civilian school, so different from her own academy days. Here, all the children had to worry about if they failed their homework was a bad mark on a slip of paper, instead of losing a hand, or getting a kunai in the eye. She had expressed her surprise to Harry, though cautiously, saying it was nice to see so many happy faces, where the students had no fear of war. That's when Harry had chuckled grimly, and she learned about Voldemort, or You-Know-Who. Fascinated, she had listened, spellbound, as Harry spun a tale of murder, terrorism, and a mother's love that was better than any movie or manga and was completely true! She was a little shocked to learn that her bedside companion was actually a famous hero in the wizarding world, but was not so surprised to learn that Professor Dumbledore was significantly more dangerous than he looked. She had known from the start that he was more powerful than the doddering old man he pretended to be.
So. Here she was in the middle of another war. She would say it must be fate, except she wasn't egotistical enough to think that fate cared much about her, one way or the other. War was just the way of the world. People loved to slaughter each other, no matter what exotic clothes they were wearing or weapons they used to do so. The cynical part of Sakura noted that she couldn't claim to be any better. She was a shinobi – her entire purpose in life was to kill other shinobi for the sake of her village and country. War and death would follow her no matter where she went, for the rest of her life. Which probably wouldn't be long. The life of a shinobi, it was said, is like a candle. It burns bright and dangerous, and is blown out before it realizes it has been lit. Sakura stared moodily at the bright glow of the lantern that lit the infirmary.
Her morbid musings were cut off by the sound of the door opening. In popped a familiar grinning face. "Hey!"
"Hi Harry," she chirped happily back. No matter how often he came by, it was always good to see him. To be reminded that she wasn't completely alone.
"Hey, Sakura. How are you feeling today?"
"Great! My wounds are practically healed," she said half-truthfully. She had realized early on that Harry felt responsible for her because he had brought her here, albeit accidentally. However, for some strange reason which she still didn't understand, he seemed to feel responsible for her injuries as well. Sakura found this absolutely ridiculous. He certainly hadn't been the one to stab her, or do any of the numerous other things they had done to her body. However, no matter how many times she tried to convince him of this, he simply nodded 'yes yes yes' and continued to look guilty. Finally, she had given up, and now tried to make her wounds seem as healed as possible, no matter how much they actually hurt. The happiness the news would bring to his face was worth the little bit of lying and evasion required.
Predictably, Harry's face lit up. "Wicked! In that case, I thought you might be interested in getting out of the infirmary for a bit, and coming downstairs for a spot of breakfast. That is, of course," he added hastily, "if Madam Pomfrey says it's okay."
Sakura's spirits soared. Get out of the room?! Yes, please! "If you could ask her for me, Harry, that would be wonderful. She's in her office, and until she says so, I wouldn't dare get up and risk crossing her." They shared a look of mutual understanding. Madam Pomfrey could be scary.
He ducked into her office, and Sakura waited anxiously. Murmured voices floated out through the open door, and finally Madam Pomfrey appeared with Harry in tow. She bustled over to Sakura's cot, and eyed her carefully. "Well, let's get a look at you, dear. Harry says that you think you're well enough to go walking about, and you've certainly made definite improvement in the last couple of days." Sakura sighed inwardly. If she had been able to heal herself, she would have been up and walking around yesterday. Unfortunately, her chakra coils must also have been damaged, since she hadn't been able to summon chakra at all since she woke up in the infirmary. The little spurt of chakra she had used when she arrived at Hogwarts seemed to have been the last of her of chakra stores. Which weren't replenishing.
"Hmm, hmm." Madam Pomfrey puttered about, prodding and poking at Sakura's multiple bandages. Sakura tried not to wince as she hit a particularly painful spot along her stomach. Finally the medi-witch stopped and eyed her dubiously. "Alright. I guess you've healed up enough, though how, I really don't know. You may go for a short… I mean short, young lady… walk, which is to breakfast and back. No side-trips, or accidentally getting lost." She fixed Harry with a hard stare. "I'm holding you personally responsible if she comes back tired and bleeding, Mister Potter. None of your normal reckless behavior, or crazy adventures. Clear?"
Harry looked slightly abashed. "Of course, Madam Pomfrey." He perked up. "May we go now? Please?"
"Yes, you may."
"All right!" he exclaimed enthusiastically, almost bouncing in his eagerness to assist her off her cot. Sakura was more restrained, but inside mirrored his happiness. Oh yeah! Inner Sakura pumped a fist. Here we go, girl! Carefully, she slipped off the bed, and into her slippers. Finally, I get to get out of this room and... I'm going to see other people! Suddenly self-conscious, she looked down at herself. Dressed in standard hospital wear, a thick white top and pair of cotton pants, she was certainly not going to make a stunning first impression. She sighed miserably. With her luck, she probably stank something awful. Even worse, her hair must be a disaster! She hadn't been able to wash it properly, or straighten it, or use any of her absolutely essential hair products for days! There was no way she could let people see her like this!
Madam Pomfrey seemed to sense her dilemma. Her eyes softened. "How about a bit of washing up before hand, eh dear? Would you like that?"
"Yes, please!" said Sakura gratefully.
Fifteen minutes later, hair freshly washed (though not with her shampoo), face scrubbed, and wearing a clean pair of hospital whites, Sakura emerged from the bathroom, immensely cheered and feeling ready to handle whatever this strange place threw at her. Harry had talked a lot about Hogwarts and what to expect, and over the past couple days Sakura's fear of this new magical world had slowly melted away, to be gradually replaced with wonder. She was dying to see all the marvelous things he had talked about… moving staircases, walking suits of armor, and portraits that talked and acted as though they were alive!
She grinned at Harry, and they started walking down the corridor, Harry pointing at and naming portraits as they went. Timidly, she waved at a picture of a nobleman in a feathered hat, and blinked as she got a cheeky wink in return. Harry hadn't been lying; this place truly was amazing!
All too soon, they arrived at the doors to the Great Hall. This time, however, they were open, and a stream of bleary-eyed, yawning students was trickling in.
"Come on!" said Harry, enthusiastically, tugging gently on her arm. Carefully, he steered her around milling students and towards a long table on the right side of the room. People, Sakura noticed, were turning to stare at her as she passed, and conversation dropped from its previous loud buzz to a muted hum.
Harry glared at the students who were openly pointing and whispering, and said loudly, "Don't mind them. I've noticed that blokes with too much time on their hands and too little to do often end up staring and trying to butt into other people's business. It happens to me all the time."
Some people, abashed, turned back to their breakfast, and others started whispering to each other angrily. However, many kept watching her, and Sakura felt her back go up. It wasn't that their gazes were hostile – if they were, she would have been out of that room in a second, her injuries and Madam Pomfrey be damned. It was just that she wasn't used to being stared at, and as a trained shinobi, such focused attention made her nervous. Half of winning a fight was the element of surprise, of sneaking up on your opponent, undetected. Shinobi weren't supposed to be seen, and those that were usually got a kunai in the back.
However, Sakura had caught the whiff of cooked meat and fresh fruit, and her stomach rumbled hungrily. Pushing her chin up, she lengthened her stride. She wasn't going to run away from her breakfast simply because a bunch of curious kids were looking at her. Please. How lame would that be. Reaching the table, Harry guided her down into a space at his left. To her left was a short, bushy-haired girl, who had a large book spread out on the table in front of her. She looked far more interested in reading than eating, her toast held absently in the air, forgotten half-way on its trip up to her mouth.
"Hey, Hermione," said Harry, reaching across Sakura to poke the girl in the shoulder. "This is the girl I was telling you about. Hermione, meet Sakura. Sakura, this is Hermione, one of my two best friends and an absolute genius. In case you ever want to know anything that could be found in a book, ask her. She's top in our class, and knows everything."
Hermione blushed. "Not everything, Harry. Don't exaggerate. Just what we're studying, and a little that I've read up on in my free time. You'd know it too, if you would study more…"
"Alright, alright." Harry threw up his hands in mock defeat. "You win. Er… do you know where Ron is? I wanted to introduce Sakura to him, too."
"Oh, you know what a dreadful morning person Ron is. He'll stumble down here eventually… wait, there he is now." She gestured, and all three turned to the door to see a red-headed, freckled-faced boy make his way wearily over to where they sat. He seemed to find the table more out of long practice than though any actual awareness of his surroundings, and plopped himself down in front of Hermione without looking closely at any of them. Reaching forward, he groped out blindly for the nearest dish of food before shoving a whole pancake into his mouth. Hermione snorted in disgust.
"Good Morning, Ron," said Harry, looking amused.
Ron mumbled something through his pancake, which Sakura assumed was some sort of greeting back, and not him choking on the incredibly large mouthful that had puffed up his cheeks like a squirrel. Grabbing a glass of orange-juice, he took a huge gulp and managed to clear his throat, finally looking a little more awake. "Oi, good morning, mate. Blimey, you wouldn't believe how hard a time I had finding some clean underwear this morning. I think the house-elves, those little buggers, have run away with…"
Harry cleared his throat loudly, and nodded with his chin towards the two girls. "Ron," he said meaningfully.
Focusing in on them for the first time, Ron finally registered that there were two girls sitting in front of him and flushed beet red. "Oh…um…" he stammered, eyeing Hermione warily. Sakura bit back an amused grin.
"Honestly, Ronald. You really can be a pig sometimes, you know?" Hermione shook her head in exasperation, looking about to launch into a lengthy lecture.
Ron, turning to silently plead Harry for rescue, caught sight of Sakura's pink hair. She could see the light bulb go off in his head.
"Oi, hey! You're the pink-haired girl who appeared in charms. Who was bleeding and naked and stuff, and then went running away like a mad woman! You looked like you had been attacked by an axe murderer, or something. What happened to you?!"
Honestly, Sakura was surprised someone hadn't asked sooner. During all their talks, Harry had carefully tip-toed around the subject of her injuries, steering away the conversation if it got too close. Apparently, he had accepted her claim that she had been attacked by robbers, despite glaringly obvious holes in her story, such as the fact that she was naked. Of course, there was one potential explanation for that… which Sakura really, really didn't want to think about, much less use as an excuse. Thankfully, he had obviously decided that her attack was a sensitive subject, and respected her privacy.
Ron, however, clearly lacked his friend's tact, and Harry looked ready to kill him. Out of the corner of her right eye, Sakura could see Harry's grip on his cereal spoon tighten, the cords standing out on his hand. To her left, Hermione looked equally furious, as though she was seriously considering bashing Ron over the head with her book. Hm. Hermione must have been briefed by Harry on what was, and was not, permissible to say to Sakura. Ron, of course, was oblivious to what he had done, and looked at Sakura eagerly, waiting for an answer.
Well, she couldn't avoid the question forever. An entire classroom had seen her appear, injured and naked, and she was sure the rumors had spread like wildfire. She bet there wasn't a child in the school who didn't know about her arrival, and was wondering who she was. A little further down the table in both directions, heads tilted slightly in their direction, obviously having heard Ron's loud question and interested in the answer.
"I was robbed," she told Ron simply. "The attackers took all my possessions, and then tried to kill me. Apparently they didn't want to leave a witness. Or maybe they were simply bored. Anyway, I ran, and Harry rescued me with his spell. For which I am very grateful." Sakura smiled at Harry, hoping that would end the questioning. Harry smiled tersely back.
"But…" Ron continued, not satisfied. "Why were you naked?" The last word was uttered with such a plaintive whine that it stopped all conversation up and down the table. Heads turned openly. Sakura tried to keep a grip on her temper.
"The robbers were poor. I was wearing some nice clothing. They wanted it, and so they stole that too." She tried to smile at Ron, but had a suspicion it looked more like a baring of teeth. Oh well.
"Oh. That makes sense." Ron seemed to ponder this for a bit, and inwardly, Sakura smiled, relieved. It seemed that was the end of it. Hermione seemed to have the same thought, and turned towards Sakura. "So, do…"
Before she could get more than two words out, Ron's voice cut her off. "But that's not what Harry said. He said that you had been tortured, that there had been…"
"Ron!" Harry stood up sharply, throwing down his spoon. It hit his plate with a clatter, the sound shocking Ron into silence and cutting short whatever he was going to say next.
He turned towards Harry, mouth still open, blue eyes wide in surprise. "Whaaat…" he began, slowly, before cringing back before the raw fury in his best friend's green eyes. "Blimey Harry. What's the matter?"
Harry pointed towards the door. "Out. Get out. We need to talk. Right now!"
Ron pushed himself hastily to his feet, and stumbled along behind Harry, trying to catch up with Harry's long strides. "Oi, Mate. What's going on…" The slam of the hall door closing behind him cut off the rest of the sentence, and for a few brief moments the hall was completely silent. Talking and eating soon resumed with a renewed fervor, and many glanced with interest towards Sakura and Hermione.
Sakura sat at the table with Hermione, staring at the place the two boys had vanished. Kami-sama. Though she appreciated Harry's show of support, and agreed that Ron really had no business asking her such personal questions, well… she could understand, though not sympathize with, Ron's nosiness. Much of her young life had been spent, was still spent, hanging around with boys, and she quickly learned the rule of boyhood which stated that if boys could be tactless, they would. She had long since accepted it as one of those inevitable facts of nature, like the sun rising and Kakashi-sensei reading porn. Sometimes, when she could almost see the cogs in their heads turning and just knew that some tasteless comment was coming, she amused herself by pulling out her mental checklist. Let's see. Opportunity to make a crude and insensitive statement? Check. Open mouth and insert foot? Check. Time to exact retribution for the entire female species by punching them in the face? Double check, and wham! (After all, just because she understood that boys were genetically wired to be pigs didn't make them any less of pigs.)
Thus, she wasn't as offended as Harry might think, and actually worried a bit for Ron's safety. Harry looked ready to kill him. Plus, she really didn't want to be the reason a trio of such obviously close friends fought. If there was anything positive that came out of team seven's breakup (which Sakura seriously doubted) it was that she had finally learned how precious close friendships were. It was only after team seven had been shattered, and she stared with horror at the raw, gaping hole that had been torn in her heart, that she had truly realized how much their close-knit bond had meant to her. Her mother's warnings, that Sakura had always brushed off as trite clichés, had turned out to be absolutely true. You never appreciated what you had until you lost it.
She turned to Hermione, about to ask whether they should go after the boys and try to calm them down, and stopped, puzzled. Hermione was staring nervously at her plate, obviously trying to avoid Sakura's eye. Noticing Sakura's gaze, she fidgeted uncomfortably, her hands folding and unfolding the fabric in her lap.
"Um, Hermione?" asked Sakura, slowly.
"Yes?" she practically squeaked, her voice several octaves higher than normal.
Sakura paused, confused. What was Hermione so worried about? Surely, she wasn't afraid of her? She certainly hadn't been acting like this a few minutes ago. Sakura thought back to the events that had just passed. Ron had asked what had happened to her. She had explained that she'd been robbed. Then, he had asked why she had been naked. She had said that they'd wanted her clothes. Then, he had continued to talk, saying something about Harry, and that she had been tortured…
She paled abruptly. How could she have missed that? Some shinobi she was, getting her lies and stories all mixed together. No wonder Tsunade-sama had never sent her on any missions requiring spying. Ron's comment that she had been tortured had seemed natural to Sakura, since the memories of her captivity continually haunted her mind. She had forgotten, however, the extremely important fact that no one, no one besides herself should know that she had been tortured. How did he find out? What did he know? Were these people, as incredibly as it seemed, in league with him?
Grabbing Hermione's arm, Sakura yanked the startled girl to her feet, and ignored the resulting pain in her side. "Come on," she hissed angrily. "We're going to have a little talk with your friends."
Too surprised to protest, and looking more than a little guilty, Hermione let Sakura lead her out of the great hall and into the hallway beyond. Sakura looked around. It was empty. "Where are they?"
Briefly, Hermione stared down at her feet, before sighing. "I'm sure Harry wanted to talk to Ron alone, which means there's really only one place they could go. Here, I'll bring you to them. Follow me."
She trotted off down the hallway, and Sakura followed suspiciously. "Why would you betray your friends like this, by showing me where they are?"
Hermione looked taken back. "I'm not betraying them. They're not hiding from you, they're simply trying to keep other people from overhearing what is really none of their business. Honestly," she said sheepishly, "It's really none of ours, either. But we're all best mates, and really, Harry tells us everything." Here she paused, and sighed. "He probably really shouldn't, sometimes, especially with Ron's big mouth and astonishingly lack of forethought about what comes out of it. I'm taking you to them, because really, you have the right to ask us whatever you want, or even yell at us. They would both agree."
Hmph. Sakura opened her mouth to angrily ask how they knew what Hermione felt so guilty about knowing, but looked around and thought better of it. The middle of the Hogwarts hallway was most certainly not the place for this conversation. Silently, she followed Hermione up staircases and through increasingly narrower hallways, until finally they arrived at a deserted, rather dusty looking corridor. Impatiently, she watched as Hermione walked up and down the corridor three times, her brow furrowed as though in deep concentration. Finally, she could wait no longer, and opened her mouth to angrily ask exactly what the girl thought she was doing, was a door appeared in the wall. Gaping, Sakura could only stare as Hermione walked up to it and knocked three times. "Ron, Harry," she called. "It's me and Sakura. Let us in, please."
Footsteps could be heard thumping towards the door, and it was pulled open by an obviously disgruntled Harry. His face was red, as though he had been shouting, and his glasses were even more askew than normal. Behind him, Sakura could see Ron, slumped dejectedly on a cushioned chair. From the miserable set of his shoulders and his sudden fascination with his toes, it wasn't hard to tell that he had been chastised thoroughly.
Harry sighed. "Come in." He waved them inside, and Sakura entered a small cozy room, which looked like it had been built just for them. Four comfy-looking chairs were arranged in a circle, and a small coffee table was centered between them. A plate of chocolate-chip cookies rested on the table's top, and four mugs of hot chocolate steamed invitingly.
"We knew you were going to come," said Harry, gesturing towards the chairs and food. "Or at least, the room knew. We've been waiting." He looked towards Sakura with a small smile. "This is the room of requirement. It will turn into whatever you need it to be, or rather, whatever it thinks you need it to be." He tapped a half-empty hot chocolate mug on the table. There was only a muffled clack. "See? Plastic," he said a little sourly. "I figure that's in case we start throwing things. The room made sure nothing's breakable."
The three of them sat down in the cushy chairs. Ron still wasn't looking at her, or at any of them. Normally, Sakura might have felt a bit sorry for him, except that at the moment she was too angry at all three of them to feel anything else. Except terror, which was making its way to the surface in great big bursting bubbles. She clung desperately to her anger, aware that it was the only thing that prevented outright panic from taking control. Had it all been a lie? Was she going to find herself delivered straight back to him? She couldn't, wouldn't face that again. She'd kill herself first.
"What do you know?" she ground out between gritted teeth, glaring at Harry. After all, Ron said that he had learned about her torture from him.
Harry didn't look surprised, only remorseful. "I'm sorry, Sakura." He said. "It wasn't my place to tell my friends, or to even know in the first place."
"What…do…you…know?" she growled out slowly, barely able to keep herself from springing forward and forcing the answer out of him. If that proved necessary, however, she wouldn't hesitate, budding friendship or no. Her life was potentially on the line.
"I woke up shortly after they brought you into the infirmary. However, I feigned sleep, curious about what was going on." He looked embarrassed. "I know it was really none of my business, but well, I wanted to know what was going on. My eyes were shut, so I couldn't see anything, but I could hear them frantically rushing around, trying to heal you." He gave a sickly smile. "Honestly, I thought you were going to die. Madam Pomfrey sounded so panicked, and Snape was openly concerned. Which probably scared me more than all of Madam Pomfrey's yells and curses. I've never known that man to care a whit about what happened to a student, and much less sound concerned.
"Anyway, obviously you survived. Apparently Snape whipped up some amazing potion, which Madam Pomfrey had never even heard of, and spent ten minutes straight praising him for. With its help, they somehow managed to stabilize you. Which from what I could tell, was nothing short of a miracle. You, uh… had some really nasty wounds." He swallowed thickly in memory.
"When they had finally managed to get the bleeding under control, and patched you up the best they could, they then did a general synopsis of all your injuries, big and small. Er…" he glanced over at Sakura anxiously, to see if she wanted him to go on.
"Do Ron and Hermione already know?"
He paled a little. "Yes. Well, most of it. I'm really, truly sorry about that. I'm just so used to sharing everything with them, and…"
She cut him off with a wave of her hand. "Fine. Then continue, please." She needed to know what the teachers knew. Biting her lip anxiously, she realized her cover, slight as it was, had already been blown sky high before Dumbledore walked in the door. Innocent civilians weren't normally tortured for information. Dammit. Dammit! What did they think of her? What were they planning to do to her? Forcefully, she calmed herself. This was not the time to worry about that. Now was the time to find out what the foreigners knew.
"Right." He adjusted his glasses nervously, and looked a little to her left, past her ear. "Uh… they said that, um, they said that… uh hem." He was having trouble getting past the opening words.
"They said that I had been tortured," said Sakura, rather more gently than he deserved, considering.
"Yes. They said all your injuries pointed to torture, probably over a period of days. Some of the signs were…um, that your fingernails had been pulled out. And there were burn marks all over your body, probably made with a hot iron, though with what type of implement, they couldn't guess. Uh, they said the most obvious sign, though, was that many of your bones had been broken repeatedly, only to be healed and broken again. This included bones in your ribs, arms, hands, feet, legs… well, basically everywhere. And that part of your ear had been cut off."
Whaatttt? Part of her ear? Sakura's hands flew to her ears, and surely enough, the top of her left ear had been sliced clean off. Her hands began to shake, and she clasped them firmly together and stuffed them in her lap, to hide it. Oh yes. She had forgotten, or more likely had subconsciously blocked it out of her mind. He had been in one of his possessive moods, whispering that she was his toy, to play with until he saw fit for her to die. Disfiguring her had been another way to stake his ownership, another way to remind her of the power he had over her. She shuddered in revulsion, remembering how he had lifted up the bleeding piece of flesh and popped it into his mouth. "Umm, crunchy," he had said, grinning sadistically.
"Uh, Sakura, are you okay?" Hermione's concerned voice broke through her remembered nightmare, thankfully snapping her back to the present.
Sakura realized she was sweating, and brought a shaky hand to her cheek. The skin her fingers met was cold and clammy. She must look a sight. "Well, go on," she said to Harry, her voice coming out in a croak. Coughing a bit to clear her throat, she tried again. It was hard to talk through the dryness in her mouth. Dammit. She was not going to let these memories get the best of her! "Anything else?"
Here Harry hesitated. "Uh, no," he said, his eyes darting around to glance at both of his friends. "That's it."
Instantly, Sakura knew he was lying. He knew something else. "What is it?" she demanded. "What are you not telling me?"
Harry coughed uneasily. "Er… nothing that you don't already know, I'm sure." He stared straight at Sakura, as though trying to convey to her, through sheer force of will, whatever it was he knew. Huh. For some reason, Harry didn't want to say it in front of his friends, which meant that he hadn't told them. What wouldn't he want them to know? Sakura felt the beginning of a headache. For some reason, recently her brain had been working at half its normal pace, and it was frustrating. She wanted to screw up her eyes like Naruto did when confused, and just yell, "What?! I don't get it. What?!"
However, she restrained herself, and tried to think about the situation logically. Harry may blabber to his friends secrets that really were none of their business, but he was, overall, a nice and well-meaning guy. If he didn't want to tell his friends something, he probably had a good reason, and she would be smart to take the hint.
"Alright Harry," she said wearily. "Thank you." He looked relieved, and a little surprised. "I can't really be angry with you, any of you," she added, including Hermione and Ron with a glance. "I would probably have eavesdropped myself, though as to whether I would have told my friends… well, I doubt it. But that comes from being a medic. The importance of patient confidentiality is trained into us from day one." Settling back into the cushy chair, she gave a small sigh. "Well, what's done is done. You know now, and it's not like I could erase your memories. Are you planning on telling anyone else?"
The trio looked shocked. "Of course not! We would never tell anyone your secrets!" cried Harry indignantly. She shot him a pointed look, and he had the grace to look embarrassed. "Alright," he mumbled, "We wouldn't tell anyone outside of the three of us."
Hermione spoke up. "We know how to keep secrets. Really." Sakura didn't miss the glance exchanged between the three, and wondered what else they were hiding. "But…" her voice grew hesitant, and Harry shot her a warning look. "I have to say it Harry!" she burst out, before turning to Sakura. "I understand that you want to keep what happened silent, but it's not like it's your fault you were tortured. I really, really think you should tell Dumbledore what happened! If you're in trouble, he can help!"
"No!" Sakura sat up tensely in her chair, fingers digging into the arm rests. "No!" Seeing their startled faces, she consciously tried to relax. Weakly, she chuckled. "Haha. I mean, uh, I'm sure he knows anyway. Madam Pomfrey must have told him about my injuries. There's no reason for me to tell him again."
"That's not what I meant," Hermione said gently. "I think you should tell him who hurt you. And why. Professor Dumbledore has connections all over the world. I'm sure he could help put the ones who hurt you in jail. And maybe… well, wouldn't it be nice to talk about it with someone? To get the burden off your shoulders?"
Hermione gazed at her earnestly. The two boys were holding their breathe. All three of them were just so nice and well-intentioned… and completely wrong. If she told Dumbledore who she really was, it was more likely that she would be thrown in jail. And the thought that Dumbledore could take on her captors… well, he may be a powerful wizard, but against a shinobi of his caliber, it really was no contest. She couldn't say any of that to the trio, of course, and still maintain her cover. But she had the feeling that unless she told them something, they were going to keep pestering her to go talk to Dumbledore. Perhaps she could tell them a carefully, very carefully edited version of events. And then maybe they would let the subject drop.
"Look," she said to them slowly. "I'm going to tell you a little about what happened to me, okay? And then maybe you'll understand why your Headmaster can't help." All three looked surprised and excited. Ron leaned forward until he almost fell off his seat. "I… well. Though my village isn't exactly at war at the moment, we have many powerful enemies. One of them kidnapped and tortured me, in the hopes of learning more about the warriors of my village. Though I'm afraid they didn't get much out of me."
Hermione gasped in horror and Ron sputtered indignantly. "Blimey, I would think not!" he exclaimed, sounding offended. "They must have been mad! What would a little girl like you know? That's, that's like You-Know-Who torturing some poor Hogwarts bloke to find out Dumbledore's plans! Madness, that's what!"
Sakura didn't bother to correct him. "Yes, well. My captor was definitely more than a little crazy," she admitted, feeling cold at the memory. "Anyway, my people have fought this enemy for years. He is not some petty criminal that your Dumbledore can simply report to the authorities and get locked up. So I don't see how talking to Dumbledore would help."
Hermione looked confused. "But why didn't you just tell the Headmaster all this in the first place?"
Right. Good question. "There was no reason to tell him. It's a matter solely between my village and our enemy," she hedged. "And I… did not want to talk about what happened," she added truthfully. "It brings back bad memories."
"Oh, I see. Sorry," said Hermione, sounding abashed.
Harry jumped in. "Sakura, we don't mean to press you. And can understand if you don't want to talk about it. But we wanted to tell you that," he looked around, and his two friends nodded in confirmation, "we are here to help you, and listen, if you want. And if it's that important to you that we don't tell anyone your secrets, well…" he took a deep breathe. "I'm willing to make the unbreakable vow."
"Oh Harry!" gasped Hermione. "The unbreakable vow?" Next to her, Ron gawked at Harry.
"Blimey, mate!" he breathed in awe. "You're crazy!"
Sakura stared at the trio, confused. "What's that? The unbreakable vow?"
"It's a wizarding promise," explained Ron. "If you break it… you die." He drew out the last word with a sort of horrified reverence.
But now Hermione was nodding. "Yes," she said once softly, and then again more decisively. "Yes! I would take the unbreakable vow not to reveal whatever you told us."
Ron openly gaped at both of them. "Bloody hell! You're all barking! Well," he drew himself up, "if that's what you two've decided, I reckon I'll just have to go along with it. Alright." He grinned at Sakura. "I'll do it too!"
She felt stunned. Their offer seemed to have knocked all the words out of her brain. Finally pulling her wits together, she managed to stutter out, "I, uh… thanks. I'll keep that in mind." That seemed to be all the response they needed, for immediately they started chattering away, asking questions and telling stories to each other about the vow. Sakura couldn't make herself pay any attention. All she could think about, for the rest of the meeting and the night thereafter, was their outstanding offer. And the thought that here, so far from her home, she might have found… friends.