"So. What are you going to do, teme?"
Naruto was sprawled out on the grass of training ground 13, his jacket unzipped and his eyes closed as the early morning light made its way over the trees and filled the field.
It was tempting to smack him. Or start up round two of their impromptu sparing match. But Sasuke was comfortable on his own bit of grass. And as much as he hated to admit it, the dobe was right. He had cursed and yelled after hearing what Harry had told Naruto. Punch a few clones. Burnt a few shrubs. And now it was time to accept the facts like a professional and figure out how to deal with this.
He scowled up at the sky. There were not many options open to him. And he hated all of them.
Unwilling to wait, Naruto suddenly flipped over onto his side so that he could stare at Sasuke. "Well?"
"I'm thinking." Sasuke shut his eyes. He did not need to see Naruto to know what was going through his thick head.
There was a snort. "Don't hurt yourself now," was the response. "Okay, so let's pick it apart, ne? Harry's got some nasty bastards tryin' to kill him because he's somehow pissed off an even bigger nasty bastard that everyone else is afraid of. Who happens to be the person who killed Harry's parents. Your Uncle and Aunt."
Sasuke's eyes opened and the world passed unnaturally sharp overhead. "I will kill him."
Naruto waved his hand in some kind of complicated motion that was clearly meant to signify something but manage to convey nothing. "Of course we will."
He had not expected such easy agreement from the dobe. "Sooner rather than later," he added, just to be sure that Naruto understood the kind of violence he was planning. Itachi might still be alive, but Sasuke could take care of this problem.
Naruto paused, then nodded sharply. "Agreed. But what's our sooner than sooner plan?"
Sasuke gave in and turned his head slowly to stare at the idiot.
Naruto's hair was a wild halo of sunlight, his eyes bright and his grin just a little bit blood thirsty. "For Harry? I mean, killin' the guy who killed his parents is kind of necessary since he's tryin' to kill Harry and there's that whole fucked up part about him killin' one of Harry's very special people, and that's all just a whole lot of killin' but I doubt this guy's going to wanna talk it out."
Sasuke raised one eyebrow. "That doesn't sound like what you were telling Harry."
Naruto's grin only grew. "I was explainin' that it shouldn't be easy and maybe's not for him, you know? And that there's nothin' wrong with that. It's better that way, even. But we're a bit different, aren't we? I mean, if you think we can fix this by just knockin' the guy around a few times…"
"Yeah, I didn't think so." There was laughter in his voice and it was probably directed at Sasuke. It usually was. But there was still something bizarre about discussing battle plans with the dobe while he chuckled to himself. It was not that he did not take it seriously. Sasuke had not understood as a child that the one thing Naruto did take seriously was a battle, but he knew better now. And it was not some form of sick sadistic pleasure, like so many of the nin Sasuke was in contact with during his time away from the village. Naruto just enjoyed the challenge – in a way Sasuke had never been able to. With a simplicity Sasuke had never experienced.
"Just one problem," Naruto announced, as if this entire situation wasn't a cluster fuck. "Harry."
Sasuke huffed out a breath sharply. "Care to be a bit more specific, dobe?"
Naruto rolled his eyes and flopped back onto his back. "What the fuck is Harry doing the whole time you're off killin' the guy he's all hell set he's supposed ta kill?"
"Not killing him and not getting killed in an attempt to," Sasuke drawled back since that was kind of the point. He could agree that maybe his cousin knew a bit about how to defend himself, and these abilities of his would help keep him safe, but there was no reason to take any unnecessary chances.
And maybe Naruto was right. Maybe there was something to this business of not killing people. If it would keep Harry safe then Sasuke would do whatever was required to ensure he had that option.
"Okay," Naruto drawled back in a much higher pitched annoying voice. "So, does that mean he travels with you and hangs around in the background, which for the record, I don't see happening, so good luck with that pipe dream, or are ya leavin' him behind here?"
Sasuke paused for a moment. There were choices to be considered, Naruto was right. "Despite this attack, he would still be safer here," he finally agreed. "That is the point of a village, is it not?" he asked, unable to resist needling the other boy some.
There was the expected sputtering and then one arm flopped over lazily and smacked him in the chest. He let it. There was little point in blocking such a pathetic assault. And it was on his good side, far away from the still pink and new skin from Sakura's work.
There was also no point in denying that one so Sasuke hummed in agreement and watch the early morning birds darting between the trees in the dim light before dawn.
"Who's gonna watch him while you're gone?"
Sasuke frowned. "Don't be stupid."
"Oh? Then who smarty pants?"
"You and Sakura should be more than sufficient. If you think you cannot handle it, then I suppose I could hire some additional help. An in the village protection detail should not be too expensive."
"Right, dipshit. And what the hell makes you think we're letting you swan off to that weird ass place again all by yourself?"
"I can handle it."
"Really? Cause, ah, your shoulder says differently, ya crispy duck."
Sasuke glared and made it a point to cross his arms over his chest. "My shoulder is fine." There was some lingering ache and a stiff pulling sensation that would only get better with time and care, but his arm was fully functional. Which he had already demonstrated when he caught the idiot with left hook early during their 'conversation' after leaving the apartment. It had felt good to stretch out his muscles.
"Only 'cause Sakura is awesome."
"I am completely functional," he replied stiffly. Just because certain idiots healed up at a ridiculous rates and never had to wait to recover did not mean that other people were incapable of managing.
"Totally debatable. Totally," Naruto insisted in his usual detachment with reality. From anyone else it would have been a grave insult. From him it was just the dobe running his mouth. "Not the point though," he added, further demonstrating his inability to stick with one form of logic for any length of time. "I'm more worried about those freaky ass jutsu's those guys were using."
Sasuke scowled up at the sky, his hands clenched, his shoulder throbbed and he kind of wanted again to stab something. "I will figure it out," he insisted, ignoring the snort that came from beside him. "I can. I just need more time. I will not underestimate them next time. The situation will be in my favor if I take the battle to them. I won't have to worry about protecting Harry. I can –"
Naruto sat up in a flurry of waved arms and sputtering noises. He folded his legs under him and held up his hand, fingers splayed and started to count off points. "One! Any advantage you have from surprise is going to be seriously handicapped by the fact that we don't know shit about how their world works and you're gonna blend in about as well as a duck in Suna. Two! You're an obsessive dick who's still gonna be worried about your cousin and will probably do somethin' stupid like try to rush so you can get home. Three! Even if you aren't worried about Harry, who the hell is gonna be there to worry about you, 'cause damn if ya don't need someone to. Four! I'm pretty sure one of those bastards almost killed me with one blow."
…they were not all together completely ridiculous points. Their mission to retrieve Harry had been significantly hindered by their difficulty in blending in with a society that was so drastically different from what village life was like that it had felt like a different world all together. It was a substantial challenge, but not an insurmountable one. The dobe's other points were just his usual nattering on about doing things as a team and being the wussy little worry wart he always was. Except. "You let one of them nearly score a fatal hit on you?" he demanded in contempt. Bad enough Sasuke had blundered in letting his target singe him, he could not believe Naruto was stupid enough to almost get himself killed.
"Fuck you," was the automatic response, "and no, I didn't nearly. The thing hit. Those spell things of theirs are fast as shit. One word and bam! you're on your ass!" He shook his head. "This one, though," he continued, his voice dropping down and unexpectedly serious. "This one packed a punch. I – I think it might have messed with my heart or somethin', 'cause my chest felt like Gamabunta had sat on it. I didn't want Harry to know, 'cause he freakin' lost his shit when it happened. I mean, total melt down. Kid said they have a thing just for killin' people. No warning, no build up, and I'm thinkin', no defense. I'm pretty sure the only reason it didn't toast my ass was, well, you know," he said as he waved vaguely at his stomach like the demon sealed within him was something that lived behind his navel.
But even Sasuke's eyes were fixed on Naruto's midsection as he sat up slowly. The stomach was such a vulnerable part on a human being. Soft and yielding and poor protection for all of the important life sustaining organs hidden inside. "How close?" he asked hoarsely.
Naruto shrugged, looking away but keeping his voice soft enough it would not carry. "Close enough he sent a large burst of chakra through me to fix whatever it was. Hurt a lot, then just itched like hell."
Sasuke inhaled slowly then released. Anything big enough to require the demon's direct intervention was not something easily overcome. If that was even possible. Naruto may lack certain important ninja skills, a fact of life Sasuke had always been and would always be very personally aware of, but there was no one better suited to surviving than he was. And if this was a close call for him, Sasuke had a serious problem on his hands.
"I haven't told Sakura yet," Naruto suddenly announced.
Sasuke frowned, once more trying to follow the dobe's logic. "But you will?" he asked. Naruto was not exactly known for keeping things to himself and was typically the first to spout off about team communication.
Naruto gave him a look as if he were the stupid one. "Duh. I just, don't know who else I should tell, you know? Except for us. And maybe Kakashi-sensei?"
Sasuke nodded slowly, turning the question over in his mind slowly. Examining all of the possibilities. The costs and benefits. Naruto wanted his professional opinion about sharing important mission related information. He was going to give the question the thought it demanded. "As our team leader, it would be practical for him to be made aware of the situation. But this is Kakashi. He is a high ranking nin first and your friend second. It's likely he will tell the Hokage."
Naruto shrugged then scratched at the back of his head. "Yeah, well, I guess the Old Lady ought to know too."
Sasuke frowned. "It will be on record then. No matter what personal relationship you have with that woman, she's still a bureaucrat. And she has priorities of her own."
"Yeah, but those priorities are the village, right? Tsunade-ba-chan's cool."
Sasuke growled in frustration. He was very tired of having this same argument over and over again. "You ca not trust that the village's priorities are going to be what is best for you, dobe!"
But Naruto did not get angry. He did not shout and yell and make a general fuss the way he normally did. He just tilted his head to the side then smiled suddenly. "Yeah, but the same could be said about your priorities, teme, and that's not gonna stop me."
Sasuke scowled. "That's – that is not the same."
"Sure," he agreed far too easily. "Look, we'll just tell Kakashi-sensei, okay? He'll figure out how to tell the Old Lady without causin' any trouble. The important thing here is, you ain't goin' nowhere by yourself. So again, I'm askin' what's the plan?"
Naruto was like a damn dog with a bone. But at least with a dog you could kick it and it would get the point. Naruto would just come back for more. "Fine!" he barked out sharply. "It can wait. Harry's here now so at least the situation is under control and we can work on improving his own defenses in the meantime." For some reason that made the dobe grin from ear to ear so Sasuke kicked him. Naruto didn't put up any fight, but it was still satisfying. Sasuke pushed himself up to his feet, brushed off the bit of training ground still stuck to him. He rolled his shoulder once, pleased at the way everything moved smoothly. Sakura really did do good work, particularly when she took her time doing it. In most cases, that was not a luxury afforded to mednin, but her efforts to stall her examination had the added benefit of leaving little more than some pink tinge and a bit of odd itchy soreness in the skin that was easy to ignore. He stretched in pleasure before turning towards Naruto's apartment. He kept the conversation going, trusting Naruto to get off his lazy ass and keep up. "I am still going to have words with the Hokage about the serious lack of discipline in her ANBU and this ridiculous lack of proper defenses in what is supposed to be a major nin village."
"Oooh, can I watch? I wanna see her face when you say that. I wanna see the crater that's all that's left of your face after you say that. I wanna – "
"Shut up and keep walking."
He did the later, but not the former. His stupid giggles and added predictions followed them all the way home.
To a small apartment nearly overflowing with nin.
"What. The hell." Sasuke grounded out, throwing the door open and glaring at the entire room. He recognized everyone present, but that did little to lower his blood pressure. Each one of these people was a skilled killer, regardless of how many confirmed kills they did or did not have to their name. Sasuke did not care if he had known most of them since infanthood. Knowing about that time in grade school when so-and-so ripped their pants on the playground or threw up in class because of one too many sweets did not mean he knew these people. He had spent the better part of the last few years very much not in contact with any of them. Sure, Naruto and Sakura were friendly enough with all of them, but those two were like that with just about anyone. These people were only one step up from strangers as far as he was concerned. They weren't teammates and they were near his only family.
"Hey guys!" Naruto crowed from behind him before dropping his weight heavily along Sasuke's back with one arm wrapped around his shoulders and the other waving widely overhead.
Sasuke's hands clenched. He wanted to start throwing people bodily out of the door but shaking off Naruto at this point would be challenging. And he had no doubt the dobe knew it. Half the room would not meet his eyes and the other half was a mixture of dim ignorance or poorly hidden sneers. It was the latter that had Sasuke's own face twisting into something vicious.
There was a loud sigh from one side of the room and Shikamaru pushed his way to the front. "Calm down, Uchiha, no one's being mean to your cousin." And damn if that did not make him want to punch that lazy bum even more. He made Sasuke's very real and very currently relevant concern sound like mother-henning! Like Sasuke was some overemotional, overprotective, overreacting civilian! Sasuke was going to make it clear just why he had a right to be reasonably concerned about a bunch of nin near his cousin without his permission.
But Ino cut him off. "Yeah!" she shouted, being stupidly brave in the wake of her wiser teammate. She had one arm looped through one of Harry's and the only reason Sasuke did not feel like setting her hair on fire was that Sakura was dutifully positioned on Harry's other side, watching out for him. "You didn't exactly expect this to be a secret did you?" Ino continued, ignoring the glare Sasuke sent her way. "Oh my god, you guys look so much alike. And Harry-kun's our age. He probably would have been in class with us, or close to it. We could have been friends! We're certainly going to be friends now. He's much better than you. I think he might just be my new favorite Uchiha."
"Not a lot of competition there," Neji muttered.
"You!" Sasuke snarled.
"Not helping, Neji," Naruto muttered, tilting his head back to stare at the ceiling even as his grip tightened.
"You're all idiots," Shikamaru added helpfully. "Again. Uchiha. No one's threatening or harming your cousin. So chill out. Act like a normal human being. Try talking to people. Maybe eat something. Chouji brought food."
As if food were sufficient justification for –
"Great idea!" Naruto proclaimed loudly in Sasuke's ear. And then he proceeded to drag Sasuke over to the kitchen. And Sasuke let him because it was either comply or start another brawl. And he had said he would not do that in Naruto's apartment anymore. Not without good reason. And while an invasion of nin seemed like reason enough to him, he was clearly the only one who thought as much. And maybe his former classmates were not quite as bad as a houseful of strangers, but that did not mean he had to like it. Or the fact that this all happened when he was not there to approve it and control the situation.
"Drink this," Naruto ordered, shoving something cold and bubbly into his hand. "And try to be nice. This is actually a really good thing."
The house guests had shifted away from their little corner of the apartment but Sasuke still glared at all of them. "How?" he snapped back, keeping his voice low but his displease clear.
Naruto rolled his eyes and clinked his own bottle against the one held stiffly in Sasuke's hand. "Come on class genius! Think a little! Friends obviously mean a lot to Harry. That was, like, one of the main reasons he gave for wantin' to go home. So, he needs to meet people here and make friends. Having friends here will be what helps keep him here. And while you might be an anti-social lump on a log, Sakura and I have great taste!"
Sasuke gave him a look that made it quite clear what he thought of Naruto's taste at least.
The other boy grinned back even more. "Remember, that taste includes you, teme. Now be nice, here comes Sakura-chan."
And she was slowly making her way over to him, Harry pulled along behind her like an attached duckling. Her face made it clear that she knew he would be upset. He was not sure if that made it better or worse. At least she was aware of why this was a colossally bad idea. Harry, thankfully, looked more confused than angry. Of the two main expressions he saw on his cousin's face, that was the one he preferred.
Sakura positioned them so that their bodies were angled to provide them with some privacy and spoke quickly. "The timing wasn't great, but it sort of just happened and I figured we better make the best of it. And it's defiantly way better to have Ino on our side when it comes to village gossip than not. I think she genuinely likes him. Or at least, doesn't dislike him. Which will help."
Harry's head swiveled around to stare at her, as if he was very concerned about whether or not Ino Yamanaka liked him. "Wait, what?" But he shook his head, not waiting for a response. "What's wrong?" he asked instead, looking straight at Sasuke.
Sasuke opened his mouth to complain long and loud about everything that was wrong with this situation but then he snapped it shut. "Nothing," he muttered, turning his head to look away.
Naruto clapped him on the arm. "Don't worry, Sasuke just being possessive."
"He's just being cautious," Sakura said at the same time.
"Possessive of what?" Harry asked with a frown before looking back at Sasuke. "What do we need to be cautious about?" he asked calmly but prepared to act.
"Oh my god, both of you are a mess," Naruto whined.
"I thought it was for the best," Sakura repeated. It was not an apology, but it was close to one.
Sasuke breathed in and out slowly before nodding his head. Then he took a long pull from what Naruto had handed him and immediately regretted it. Nothing liquid should be that sweet.
Harry shifted nervously, his hands in his pockets at least, and not flattening down his hair. "Do you not like these people?" he asked very quietly.
The answer of course was yes. Sasuke did not like anyone. But given the options, and if some socialization was going to be required… He shrugged.
Harry watched him carefully however, looking for something. "I like Lee," he announced, as if testing the waters. It took most of Sasuke's control not to make a face at that, but even he could understand that openly disparaging someone Harry was declaring a preference for would not end well for him. "And Kiba's funny." Oh, gods, why couldn't they have introduced him to the better options? Nevermind that the alternatives were people like Neji and Shikamaru, neither of whom were high on Sasuke's list of people he could tolerate at the moment. But Sasuke managed some self-control and Harry continued on. "He was telling me some good stories about when you were kids."
Sasuke was not imagining it when the room because very quiet after that. So much for not listening in on private conversations. Not that Sasuke had harbored any illusions on that point, but it was always perversely gratifying to be proven correct.
Naruto, the dobe, laughed nervously. It was perhaps the most grating fake noise Sasuke had ever heard. But it effectively transferred all attention to the loud idiot.
"Sasuke hates talkin' about when we were kids. Let's talk about something else. Anything else. Do you like training? We can talk about training. Any kind you like, one of us here probably knows all about it. Training's great."
It was about as subtle as a bag of bricks but still seemed to do the trick. Harry laughed, his eyes still darting over to check on Sasuke but he did not seem to mind the change in topic. "Training didn't go so well the other day when I came to watch."
All three of them flinched and Sasuke could feel the curiosity coming off the rest of the room. He glared at them and let Naruto handle Harry's question.
"Okay, maybe not that kind of training. Another kind of training."
"Harry-kun is VERY welcome to come join us for our ENVIGORATING morning warm-up!" Lee offered, appearing suddenly at Sakura's elbow as if he had been waiting for an excuse to join her.
"No!" All three members of Team 7 replied together, just like old times. There were some things in life even they could all agree on.
"I don't think Harry is quite ready for that," Sakura consoled a disappointed looking Lee.
"Trust us on this," Naruto hastened to reassure Harry when he started to get that look like he might argue.
Sasuke just shuddered and tried not to think of Gai-sensei getting anywhere near his cousin. Maybe leaving the village right now, even to hunt down murderous bastards, would not be the best idea. Clearly, his cousin needed close supervision. And if anyone was going to train Harry, It was going to be Sasuke and it was going to be done right.
Things got better after Sasuke returned.
That wasn't something Harry was used to. It had only been a few days since all of this insanity had started, but already Harry wasn't used to Sasuke being an improvement. But there was something kind of nice about meeting new people as someone else's family member and not being an embarrassment. Everyone else he knew at some point had introduced cousins or siblings or parents. And even if there was some awkwardness, there was always a sense of connection. Harry had never had that with the Dursleys. Had never even had anything like it with his friends, since inevitably he was always introduced as Harry Potter and not just someone's friend Harry. If meeting all of the odd and interesting people who lived in this village was entertaining, there was something very satisfying about meeting them as an old friend's family member. Even if Sasuke seemed a bit conflicted as to whether or not these people counted as friends.
Harry knew what friends looked like. And maybe not everyone in this room was eager for that connection, they were at least open to it. And Harry knew how to value that.
So he laughed at people's jokes and asked them questions about themselves. And he kept Sasuke in his line of sight and tried to include him in the conversation – just without talking about anything too personal, or his childhood, or anything that had happened in the past few days – which didn't leave much, but he tried.
Sasuke put up with it with what couldn't be called good humor but at least wasn't bad.
The third time Harry yawned, Sasuke ordered everyone out. No lead up, no pleasantries, just a sharply barked order and a glare when it wasn't obeyed fast enough. But everyone seemed to leave in good spirits. Naruto promised to train with Lee one morning and personally thanked Hinata for coming. He also exchanged shoulder punches with Kiba that were surely meant to be friendly but looked a lot rougher than what Harry was used to from the other Gryffindor boys. Sakura-chan argued with Ino the whole way to the door. Harry wasn't sure what the argument was about. He could have sworn at one point Sakura was arguing for a certain action, but when he next heard the two of them they seemed to have swapped opinions without even taking a break. Shikamaru and Chouji followed in their wake, seeming unconcerned by the loud debate or the threats of violence flying back and forth. Shikamaru paused long enough to pat Harry on the arm and wish him good luck, "because you're sure as hell going to need it surviving this mad house," before trying unsuccessfully to herd his loudest teammate out the door. Chouji insisted on them keeping the last of the food, since the four of them were now sharing Naruto's small apartment and would need the supplies.
The others just seemed to disappear. Literally. Harry knew they hadn't left through the door, but they were certainly all gone when he turned back around.
And as much fun as it had been to meet a bunch of people his age who seemed happy to see him, Harry couldn't deny that he was exhausted. They'd gone through another night of no sleep and it was hitting him hard. While Sakura-chan had done an excellent job of patching him up and his arm no long hurt, his body still ached all over with the kind of bone deep weariness that come from too much magic and too much running around for one day. It was early morning, but even the start of a cheery summer day wasn't going to be enough to keep him awake.
The idea of sleep was alluring but there were still sleeping arrangements to be made and not a lot of space to accommodate four people. Naruto pulled a couple of sleeping bags out from under his bed and tossed one at Sasuke's head. Sakura had brought her own in backpack that looked ready for a trip across mountains. "Like hell am I going home," she had muttered when she first arrived with the bag. She had hefted it like it weighed nothing but it had thunked down on the ground with a solidness that fit its size.
Harry stood in the middle of the room, his hands empty, and made a small questioning noise. He was tired enough he honestly wouldn't mind curling up on the floor with nothing and going to sleep, but it seemed like he was missing something.
"You get the bed!" Naruto told him, nudging him towards it with one elbow while he laid out his gear.
And that certainly didn't seem right. "But it's your bed," Harry protested.
"It's clean," Naruto reassured him immediately. "I just changed everything."
"That's not –" Harry started before deciding he really wasn't up for that conversation and letting it go. "I can't take your bed from you."
Naruto stopped what he was doing long enough to look up at Harry with a puzzled frown. "You're not takin' anything."
And once more Harry felt like they were having two very different conversations. Maybe it was the translation spell not working properly. It was nearly flawless most of the time, but Kakashi-sensei had warned him that there would be some gaps that only time could fill in. Harry huffed. If that was the case, he wished it would hurry up. It was hard enough figuring out what he was supposed to be doing without communication problems.
"If anyone should get the bed, it should be Sasuke," he tried reasoning. "He was hurt the worst."
Harry was expecting the glare from his cousin. Heaven forbid he be reasonable about this. But Naruto's bright laughter caught him off-guard. "Oh my god, yeah, no. Good luck with that one. Not likely to happen. The more hurt he is the more he turns into a prickly pear. Just ignore his ass. Honestly. He's a stubborn pain in the ass, so just take the bed so he'll calm down and relax."
Harry sighed, but gave up the fight. He didn't miss, however, the way Sasuke muttered "you are calling me stubborn?" and had to smile a little.
The bed was narrow, but Naruto was right, it was clean and the blanket was fluffy. As soon as his head hit the pillow it became impossible to keep his eyes open. He was aware, distantly, that he ought to be worried about nightmares. They had become such a fixture in his life that he was both used to them and constantly dreading them. But he was tired, and he could still hear the noises of the other three settling down. Blanket rustling. Quiet bickering. Sakura's reassuring voice. Naruto's easy laughter. Sasuke's rumbling reply that sounded almost fond.
The next thing he heard was something tapped on the window.
The light in the room had changed, so he knew he must have been asleep for at least a few hours. Harry rolled over, enjoying the warmth of a bed with a good blanket, feeling less like a zombie but not entirely ready for another day. He expected to see some kind of bird in the window. Kakashi's smiling half face and cheerful wave was much more disturbing close up and half awake.
Harry pushed himself up against the head board, clenching the blanket and glaring at the man's faked hurt expression.
"Noooo," Naruto moaned from his spot on the floor. "Not morning yet."
"Where have you been? Again?" Sasuke growled, not sounding any more excited to face the day.
Kakashi tapped on the window again and it popped open as if it didn't even have a latch, much less a lock. "Why, I've been busily working away while my cute little students catch up on their nap time."
"I hate you."
"Sasuke!" he gasped. "I'm hurt! Truly! Heartbroken! Now get your ass up and in gear. The Hokage is waiting."
"Again?" Harry groaned. He pushed himself into a more comfortable position and rubbed at his eyes. It was full daylight out now, which meant they must have slept for a while, but he still felt sluggish.
Kakashi-sensei was back to making that ridiculous smiling face. "Well, Harry-kun, she does tend to get demanding when foreign operatives execute large scale attacks on Konoha property and citizen. Can't imagine why."
"Food," Sakura-chan announced, slipping out of her bedding, completely dressed and looking ready to face the day. She only needed to pull on her gloves as she made her way to Naruto's small kitchenette. "We can eat as we walk but both Sasuke and Harry-kun are eating. They're still recovering."
It didn't take them long to get moving. Naruto whined until Sakura shoved a granola bar in his mouth, then he started moving with a bit more purpose. Harry just let himself be lead along. Naruto gave him a fresh shirt to wear, replacing the slightly singed, smoke smelling one he had borrowed from Sasuke. There wasn't much time for anything else except to fingercomb his hair flat and tug on his shoes. Kakashi-sensei hovered over them from his perch in the window and waited until they were out on the street to hop down from the third story window up and join them.
It was ridiculously impressive and no one else even as much as blinked at it. Harry had to keep his jaw off the ground and tried not to twitch in envy. He had a penchant for high places, and the idea of just hopping from one to the next was almost as alluring as flying.
It was probably a bad thing that Harry already knew the way to the Hokage's office. He suspected it was a bit like being overly familiar with the Headmaster's office. Nothing good ever came from that in his opinion.
There were more people out front at this time a day, and a steady stream of people entering in through a side door. The ones who seemed to be hanging out by the front entrance all watched them as they walked by. They were a bit more subtle about it than most wizards were, but Harry was very familiar with the feeling of being watched. No one called out good morning, but Naruto smiled brightly the entire way.
"I heard you had time for a little party last night," Kakashi-sensei murmured as they made their way down the winding hallways.
"Our classmates wanted to meet Harry-kun," Sakura answered.
"Ahh," was his only response, as if Sakura had imparted great wisdom to him.
There were still two guards by the doors, and Harry couldn't be sure, but he thought he recognized one of them from a previous visit. The problem with so many different looking people was it was hard to pick out specific differences between them. When everyone had memorable hair or scars or wardrobe choices, it was hard to remember a specific one. The guards didn't waste any time, however, in opening the doors as soon as they were close.
The Hokage was scowling at them from behind her desk. The sheer displeasure coming from her made it easy to miss the two masked men standing at either ends of the room, but Harry's eyes were sharp and not likely to miss something that disturbing. His steps faltered, his hand automatically clenching for his wand even if he didn't actually reach for it. Sasuke said these guys were okay. That they were guards or something. That one that had come into his room had acted like he was friendly. And some of them had been with Sasuke after the attack. So they probably weren't bad guys. They certainly weren't Death Eaters. But the past couple of years had taught Harry a very real fear of men who hide behind white masks.
Sasuke's hand cupped his right elbow and kept him moving forward even as Naruto came up on his left to wave jauntily at the man on that side. From the lack of reaction, Harry wasn't sure if Naruto even knew him or was just being aggressively friendly as usual.
Harry's attention was only distracted for a moment, but the Hokage slapped her hand down on the desk loud enough to make him jump. "What the hell happened to not likely to follow you, you damn brat?"
Harry's face drained of color and he automatically hunched his shoulders in and dropped his eyes. "Sorry," he muttered.
Sasuke hand was on his arm, still holding on to him but not squeezing too tightly. He started to say something but the Hokage cut him off with a sharp gesture.
"Not. One. Word," she ordered. "Your relevancy to this conversation is negligible at best, Uchiha-san. I can and will have you removed if I feel it is necessary. Remember that."
There was a silence after that so uncomfortable, Harry almost felt nauseous. "I'm really very sorry," he tried. "I really didn't think they'd come here. I don't even know how they knew I was here. I've never even heard of this place and I know I'm just a student and I don't know much about the wizarding world since I didn't grow up in it but you'd think I would have heard something if everyone else knew about it. I never would have stayed if I thought I might put anyone else in danger." He sucked in a breath. "So I really am very sorry."
Sasuke's grip now was bordering on painful but Harry didn't try to pull away.
When he dared to glance up, he could see the Hokage staring at him before she huffed and rolled her eyes. "For heaven's sake, boy, stop acting like we're going to throw you to the wolves. For better or worse, we're not that kind of village." She snatched a long piece of paper up off of her desk and waved it lazily in the air. "Alright. So I have reports of several assailant, quite a bit of damage to the Uchiha compound, a couple of dead bodies, a couple of live ones that will wish they were dead, far too many not captured, and reports that for the most part, the three of you took care of this little problem."
That sick feeling only got worse at the mention of bodies. Harry was fairly certain none of that had been him, but he couldn't be sure. He was throwing spells as fast and dirty as he could last night and hadn't taken the time to worry about what damage they had caused.
Sasuke huffed and raised one hand like a school student but with a look on his face that made it clear he was trying to be as sarcastic as possible.
The Hokage seemed very entertained by it, however, instead of offended. "Permission to speak, Uchiha, but keep it brief!"
"The bodies should be all mine. Given the extreme lack of support from the village defenses, I had no other option but to handle the threat to my family with full force."
"Oh, I'm sure that's the only reason," she muttered back, but she didn't seem to be arguing with him.
Naruto mimicked Sasuke and raised his hand as well, but his he waved energetically. "I might have been a little rougher than necessary too! Sorry, Old Lady."
She merely rolled her eyes at him. "I understand our newest Uchiha was injured."
"Yes, ma'am!" Sakura reported sharply, stepping forward. "He was hit with a jutsu I am unfamiliar with. It caused numbness and chill in the arm and appeared to be something affecting that part of his nervous system. It did not spread, however, and eventually dispersed with time. I examined the affected area and determined that it did not require further treatment."
"I see. I'll like a more detailed report, Haruno, but well done. Well done as well, our littlest Uchiha, on not getting killed. That's probably about the best we could hope for. The damage was minimal, mostly restricted to condemned buildings anyway, so I'm not likely to get a lot of complaints on my desk. Won't that be nice." She clapped her hands together suddenly. "So. That only leaves the problem of this stream of unwanted visitors you seem to bring, Uchiha-kun. Ah, ah, ah, no speaking, brat!" she cried when Sasuke tried.
"Geez," Naruto whined. "Cut him a break, Tsunade-ba-chan."
She cackled in response. "This is the most respect I've had out of the miscreant since you dragged his whiny ass back. I can't be blamed for enjoying it. If I had known it would be this easy, I would have manufactured a lost cousin. No? Not funny? Ah, well. What do you want to complain about now, Uchiha?"
Sasuke seemed to be grinding his teeth, but he managed to speak in a control if tight tone of voice. "This is the only incident that Harry could conceivably be accused of negligence. The previous intruder was an attack on the Uchiha family, not Harry as an individual. He cannot be accused of a stream of visitors based on one incident!"
"True," she drawled, a smirk on her face as she rested her chin in one hand. "Except I have the second set of visitors for him cooling their heels in T&I right now."
"A second group?" Harry asked, his head popping up. He knew they had caught a couple of the Death Eaters from the attack, but Sasuke had insisted that the village would handle them appropriately. No one had said anything about a different group. The group that had come after him had at least been contained to the empty neighborhoods around Sasuke's house. He was scared to know what a different group might have been able to accomplish turned loose in a different part of the village. "How bad – I mean, they – What happened?" he asked miserably.
The Hokage didn't seem too worried, however. She waved her free hand sluggishly. "They were captured outside of the village limits. Not nearly as troublesome as the rest. But I thought you might want to see them, Uchiha-kun. Face to face and all of that. Bring them in!" she shouted.
Sasuke's hand dropped away from Harry elbow and reappeared with a kunai gripped tight. The whole group shifted seamlessly to face the door and to put Harry firmly behind them. It was ridiculous in some ways. If these prisoners really were able to cause any harm, Harry was the only one prepared to deal with it. He was the only one who might know what kind of curse it was or how to counter act it. But – maybe there was something nice about not having to be the one to face Death Eaters on his own.
Except it wasn't Death Eaters ushered in by one of the guards. It was a very familiar face that nearly had Harry lightheaded in relief.
Harry squirmed away from the hand that tried to grab him and crossed the room in a few strides. The professor looked as tired as ever, maybe even a little worse off with some dirt smudges on his robes and dark circles beneath his eyes, but his face lite up in a warm smile as soon as he saw Harry and he didn't hesitate to open his arms.
They'd shared a few hugs over the years, no more than what Harry could count on one hand. There had been one after finding out about Sirius. And a couple of half hugs at Grimmauld Palace. But usually the Professor limited his signs of affection to an encourage pat on the shoulder, or helping hand. He didn't hold back this time, however. His arms pulled in Harry before he even had a chance to feel awkward and held him tightly in place.
"Thank god you are alright," he whispered in Harry's ear. His voice was tight and rough and Harry let it soak into him as something he wanted to remember.
Tonks's voice was light and exuberant. "Harry!" she cried in delight before patting him awkwardly on the head. It was about the only part of him she could reach with the way Professor Lupin was holding on to him. But as soon as he let Harry go, she looped an arm around his neck and ruffled his hair. "You scared the crap out of us, kid." Her hair was bright orange and stood up in soft spikes that swayed with them as she gently shook him back and forth. He robes were bright purple, and the combination was both eye searing and awesome.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Professor Lupin asked, his voice was low and he glanced over at the group waiting behind them. "We didn't think we'd get here in time."
Harry nodded. He didn't want Professor Lupin to worry about him like that. He was always nice to Harry and he did a lot of hard work for the Order. It wasn't right that he also have to worry about Harry. "I'm fine," he assured him. "We handled it."
Tonks suddenly held him out at arm's length and stared at him critically. "Harry Potter, why do I not like the sound of that. I mean, you're in one piece, which is awesome, but Merlin's Beard but trouble follows you!"
"It's not his fault, Tonks,"
"Oh course not! But I'm the Auror here! That's my job!"
"To get in trouble?"
"Yes! I mean, no! Oh!" she laughed again and gave Harry another hug. It was a bit different being hugged by Tonks compared to Professor Lupin and he bushed as he squirmed his way free.
"I'm assuming these are friends of yours," the Hokage drawled. The three of them turned to face the rest of the room and Harry flushed even more. In his excitement he had forgotten about their audience. Sasuke was scowling and for a moment, when Harry had first turned around, his eyes had looked red once more, but then in a blink it was gone. Which was good. Harry did not want to try to explain that one.
"Introduction, Uchiha-kun, and hurry it up. I've got better things to do."
Harry cleared his throat and straightened his hair. "Um, this is Professor Lupin,"
"Not actually still your professor Harry…"
Harry spoke over him. "One of the best teachers we ever had and an old friend of my father's. Tonks is my godfather's cousin and an Auror." She waved cheerfully but kept one hand on Harry's shoulder. There was silence as both groups stared at each other. Harry hunched his shoulders and wondered who was drawing the most attention. While Harry was very fond of Professor Lupin, he wasn't blind to the fact that the rest of the world saw him as a very scruffy looking individual. And Tonks couldn't help but draw lots of attention to herself. Her hair was still bright orange, but the tips were starting to take on silverish tinge. This was defiantly one of the weirdest situations Harry had ever been in and he had quite a few to compare it to. He was introducing his wizarding friends to his ninja friends. How did these things happen to him?
And just like that, the most important question hit him. "Wait, how did you get here?"
Professor Lupin moved up to his other side, standing so that he was facing both Harry and the rest of the room. "That's…a very long story, Harry," he murmured, his eyes focused downward and seemingly ignoring the rest of the room. He used to do the same thing in class some days, when he knew someone was up to mischief but only waiting for the opportunity. He'd intentionally act like he wasn't paying attention when he really was. No one ever expected it out of dear Professor Lupin, but now that Harry knew the man had also been one of the Marauders in school, he wasn't surprised. Who better to catch a prankster than a reformed one?
"Harry, who are these people?" Remus continued in a voice that was both gentle but firm.
It wasn't until then that Harry realized how odd this must look to him. "Oh," he said, glancing at each of them. How to explain this mess? "Um, they helped me?" he tried, his voice getting stronger as he went but still stumbling over his words. "And, um, that's why they brought me here. Because someone's trying to kill me. I mean, not a Death Eater someone. A new someone. Honestly. I – I know that sounds crazy, but it's really –"
One of Professor Lupin's weathered hands settled on his forearm gently. "Harry, we saw your Aunt's house," he reassured. But his voice was strained and his face tight. "We came as quickly as we could. Tonks and I – we both came. I'm so sorry, Harry, that we weren't there sooner." And he sounded like he truly was. As if there was nothing worse he could think of or blame himself for, and that was the absolute last thing Harry wanted.
"No, no, no, it's okay. I'm fine." He held out his arms to demonstrate, not caring if Sasuke and the others were giving them weird looks.
It was Tonks who snorted. "It's so far from okay, it's not even funny, kid, but alright. The important thing is you're okay. And you're new friends helped with that?" she asked, tilting her head in their direction. She phrased it like any other conversation they might have, but Harry was learning and he recognized the Auror asking for more information.
"Um, yes," Harry straightened his hair, then tried to gesture to each person without pointing rudely. "Ah, this is Sasuke, Naruto and Sakura. And their teacher Kakashi." Those were the important people, but he probably ought to introduce everyone else. He probably already wasn't doing this right. No one had ever asked him to introduce someone else before. "And this is the Hokage. She's, um, kind of like the Minister of Magic, I think. Or the Headmaster. Or something. And, um, I actually don't know their names," he continued, motioning to the two masked men. "But Sasuke says they're here to guard the village." Which reminded him of that one very important detail he probably needed to share. Even if it sounded crazy. Even if part of him was a little worried that Professor Lupin wouldn't like it. Hopefully he'd believe Harry and wouldn't be too upset. "Oh. Um, it's, ah, possible that my dad and Sasuke's dad where brothers? At least, they're pretty sure and I don't think they're lying even though it's really crazy, but they've been very nice to me and I've done nothing but cause trouble."
"You're no trouble, Harry-kun!" Naruto objected loudly.
"It is true," Sasuke insisted sternly at the same time.
It was the first time any of them had spoken since the others had arrived and Harry couldn't help but send Naruto a thankful grin and roll his eyes at Sasuke's stubbornness.
There was a soft "Oh" from behind him.
Harry paused, caught off guard, and looked over at Professor Lupin. "Professor?"
"Well, it is possible," he replied calmly, not sounding at all as surprised or troubled as Harry had feared. When everyone stared at him, he managed a small smile. "James sat his NEWTS in potions, you know." Harry hadn't, but it didn't surprise him that his father would have. It seemed like James Potter did well at everything he tried. "You haven't reached that level yet, Harry" Professor Lupin continued and wasn't it sort of amazing and sort of ridiculous that Professor Lupin even thought he could, given how terrible at potions Harry was. "But there are certain high level potions that require the brewer to add blood. They're own blood. Oh, it's not as gruesome as it sounds," he reassure quickly and his whole presentation transformed once more into that of a teacher. "Many old forms of magic require small amounts of the user's blood, for a variety of reasons. The practice only becomes questionable when the spell or potion or object requires someone else's blood." He cleared his throat. "My point is, we noticed ever potion James brewed had an odd reaction. Poor Professor Kern couldn't account for it. But James didn't seem terribly surprised. I remember it, because it was odd for someone so naturally curious as he was to have little to no interest in such a peculiarity. I asked him about it once, after class. He made some stupid joke about having always known he was special, but I know James Potter. Knew, I mean." He sighed and Harry grimaced with him. He understood now, how it felt to always make that mistake. To talk about a person you loved as if they were still alive only to remember you couldn't use that tense any more. "It's hard to explain," Professor Lupin concluded. "It wasn't his usual kind of arrogance or flippant humor. It was him when he didn't want to talk about something. I think he knew. It – it would make certain things he sometimes said make much more sense."
Sasuke stepped forward, shaking his head and frowning at Professor Lupin. "He would have been an infant at most when he was removed from the village."
Professor Lupin waved that idea away. "No, I don't mean like that. I doubt he knew about this place." He smiled suddenly and his whole face revitalized. "This would have been too much of a temptation for his curiosity to resist. If he had known this existed, he would have done anything necessary to find out the truth of it. What I believe is that he knew he wasn't from the same kind of old wizarding family that everyone knew and respected. Times were different back then. Even with everything that's going on now, we've still made a great deal of progress in accepting those with different backgrounds. But back then, it would have been hard for James to suspect something like that about himself."
Harry frowned. "It shouldn't have mattered."
Remus's gripped his shoulder. "I know. But it did. It would have. Your father was a great man, but he was also a teenager at one point too, and prone to all the same insecurities and uncertainties that go with that age. I don't think it bothered him much, but if he had suspected, it was something he must have kept to himself. At least, he never spoke of it directly to me. Maybe he said something to Sirius," he took a deep breath. "They always had a different relationship than the rest of us."
Harry had to look away. He couldn't think about Sirius and look at Professor Lupin. There was too much sadness, too much anger, too much guilt.
"So do you believe us now?" Sasuke growled.
Harry's head turned and he realized Sasuke was talking to him. He flinched when he saw the way the other boy's fists were clenched tight and the fierce look in his eyes. He hadn't meant for Sasuke to think otherwise, but it was clear now that his fumbled way of telling Professor Lupin made it sound terrible. "I do. I have," he quickly reassured him. With a bit of a blush he sighed and rubbed a hand across his face. "I guess I'm just as bad at talking about it with others."
Sasuke stared at him, judging, before finally looking away. "As long as you understand," he grumbled.
And Harry smiled slowly, hesitantly. He might just be starting to get the hang of understanding Sasuke, because he could swear what mattered most to him wasn't being right, but being recognized. As family.
And wasn't that a feeling enough to make a person feel light-headed.
Naruto held himself very still and projected as much professional shinobi as he could. He was a very responsible adult now, representing his village during an important meeting. He would not shout in delight. Even when the two boneheads in his life seemed to be getting their act together. Seriously. Who knew Sasuke-teme could be so cute? Granted, it was in his own grumpy, I'm-going-to-yell-at-you-because-I-care-about-you kind of way, but it still totally counted.
And, okay, maybe the smug grin was more than Naruto could hide. This was so great. Everybody was happy. Sasuke and Harry were straightened out. The Old Lady couldn't be too mad since she arranged this little meeting. And okay, maybe the ANBU were a little put out at someone addressing them, but it was also super funny how Sasuke had tried to describe them to his poor cousin. Not quite the boogie-man persona they prefered.
And how great was it that Harry had other important people in his life? And they got to meet them! Sure, the guy looked like he could use a solid meal and maybe a place to crash for the night, but he also seemed very nice. He was careful about everything he said to Harry and quick to reassure him. And no one could have missed the look on his face when he first saw Harry. There was a kind of relief there that only came from having lost so much but still having something left to lose. Yes, all and all he seemed like a good person to be in Harry's life. Naruto approved.
"Alright!" Tsunade-ba-chan announced, slamming her palm once more on her desk to call everyone to order. "Enough of this family drama. There are still some questions that will be answered."
Man, but the Old Lady could sound scary when she wanted to. All three of the wizards visibly flinched and looked at her with trepidation. "I'm sorry?" Harry tried.
The Old Lady pointed one long finger at him. "Uchiha-kun, stop groveling unless you know what the hell you're apologizing for. It's a bad tactic and I won't have it in my village. Now. Since we have established that these weird-o's are in fact friends of yours, maybe they can shed some light on how a bunch of spineless foreigners keep invading my village!"
The older man stepped forward, his hands hanging loosely at his sides, looking harmless and calm. "We followed Harry here, ma'am."
Tsunade-ba-chan rolled her eyes. "Yes, we figured that part out on our own, thanks. How the hell did you do it? The brat seemed to think that it shouldn't have been possible. Doesn't have an explanation for it. Which I believe, because he's a shit liar. But now you come wandering up to my gates, and I want some answers."
The man shrugged slightly, a shy, sheepish expression on his face. "I'm afraid it's very complicated."
"Oh, by all means," Tsunade-ba-chan purred. "Lay it on me. I'm sure if I handle the problems caused by just the people I this room, I can deal with anything you dish out."
The poor guy seemed a little flustered by that and Naruto could sympathized. The Old Lady was a lot to take in, especially the first few times you met her. Especially for guys. "Yes, well," he stalled before shaking his head. "I'm more concerned that others might have arrived before us. I don't know how much Harry has explained, but these are very dangerous times."
"Hm, yes," Tsunade-ba-chan agreed pleasantly. "I have the bodies in my morgue to show that."
"Bodies?" he sharply asked. He jerked around sharply to look at Harry but the first thing out of his mouth was "are you sure you are alright? Harry, what happened? Was it – " his voice hushed, "followers of you-know-who?" And Harry was right. It was ridiculous hearing a grown man whisper some stupid nickname like he was afraid someone would notice him. For a man who had seemed so relaxed despite the precariousness of his current situation, he was clearly highly alarmed by something that was already in the past.
"Voldemort, right?" Naruto asked. He didn't like seeing people squirm because of a name and he wasn't going to put up with it. This Voldemort guy wanted to hurt Harry, so Team 7 was going to deal with him. One way or another.
The two adults looked torn between shying away from the topic and demanding answers. The lady with the crazy hair (and how cool was that?) was staring at him like he'd done something unheard of while the man turned to Harry, and in a voice even more faint, asked "how much did you tell them?"
No wonder the poor kid wasn't comfortable talking about things.
And there went the Uchiha overprotective streak. Sasuke took one step forward, as if he would like to put himself bodily between Harry and the others but was barely managing to restrain himself. "He told us only the bare minimum considering I am responsible for keeping him safe."
The man looked confused but tried to smile. "That's very kind of you, but – "
"There are no limitations or qualifiers needed. I am his cousin and I will protect him. You have no right to withhold that information from me."
"I'm sure Harry appreciates all of the support he can get, but you don't understand the full risks involved. We're doing the best we can but you shouldn't – "
"Your best is not enough!" Sasuke yelled and Naruto's shoulders hunched up. Shit, but he hated it when Sasuke sounded like that. He wanted to say something, support him somehow, but Sasuke barely even paused for a breath before erupting. "He has nearly died three times since I found him. There were no protections on the house he was in. None!"
"That's not – "
"Itachi could have walked through that door unchallenged and your best would have been only good enough to find the bodies afterward."
"No one who meant Harry harm could have entered that house!" the man replied, finally yelling himself and losing some of that sedated calm he seemed to constantly exist in.
"Wrong! Wrong! He was there and if we had been even a moment later, he would have finished what he started! I am not going to lose what is left of my family!"
"Sasuke!" Harry interrupted. And he didn't even hesitate to move toward the other boy, to put his hands on Sasuke's shoulders and to look him in the eye. "It's going to be okay!"
It was probably the closest the two of them had come to a hug and Naruto was almost teary-eyed just watching it. Sasuke still looked like he'd like to rip the head off of someone, but he let his cousin stand close, endured the contact. Maybe even leaned into it a little. And everyone let them have their moment, which was good because Naruto might have had to punch a person if they interrupted. This was an important bonding moment. A turning point. The kind of thing that was celebrated with ramen afterwards.
"I'm sorry," the old man said, and Naruto graciously decided to let the interruption slide since the guy really sounded like he meant it. "I did not mean to belittle your concerns. And you are correct, things are not perfect. But we never would have left Harry with those people if there was any other option for keeping him safe."
Harry had stepped back as soon as the conversation had continued, flushing red and straightening his hair as if he would like to hide behind it. Sasuke didn't move an inch and gave absolutely no indication that anything that had just happened was odd or overly sentimental. The icy bastard.
"He has options now," Sasuke growled. "Here."
The man shook his head slowly and his voice was once more calm, but there was something more genuine in the way he spoke, as if he now welcomed their arguments instead of just explaining the way things were. "The Dark Lord has already managed to follow Harry here. Our – set-up – is better prepared to handle the kind of threat Death Eaters present."
"I handled the threat just fine and have the bodies to prove it," Sasuke snapped back.
Harry's eyes widened and he was already shaking his head as if he could stop Sasuke from saying such a thing. It kind of definitively answered Harry's question from last night. Sasuke did know how to kill and had done so. Without hesitation when it came to his family. But Harry seemed less bothered by this fact and more bothered by Sasuke telling the others. And it was clear why when the two wizards turned pale. The man's eyes darted back and forth between Team 7 and the older nin in the room as if he was waiting for someone to contradict Sasuke's statement.
No one did of course. An angry Uchiha was a lethal thing.
Kakashi-sensei was his usual helpful self and smiled back brightly. "My students are precocious."
"But – they're children!" the man gasped.
Which was sooo weird. Sure, they were young. Naruto got shit for that all the time, and he knew the others did too. But that was only because they were badass for their age and no one expected it. But they weren't children! They'd been out of the academy for years! Naruto sputtered but Sakura poked him in the ribs to keep him quiet.
Kakashi-sensei managed to smile back even more obnoxiously. "Very precocious."
"Merlin!" the woman said.
Harry shifted so he was standing sideways, trying to face both groups and stuck in the middle. "You were okay with DA club," he argued.
"That was about self-defense."
"So was this," Harry stated flatly. "They nearly killed Sasuke."
And ooh, but did that make the teme scowl! To have his prowess besmirched so! It wasn't funny, it really wasn't according to Sakura and the way she stomped on Naruto's foot to keep him from giggling. Okay, it was totally hilarious, but Sasuke was smart enough to pick his battles and kept his mouth shut.
The man was studying Sasuke more thoroughly now and Naruto didn't miss the way the vain idiot tried to look more impressive. Like he was worried what this guy thought of him. And Naruto supposed he probably was. It was clear that Harry liked these people and valued their good opinion.
"Are you alright?" the man asked softly and it kind of shocked the hell out of everyone. Well, all of the shinobi at least. It wasn't really something a stranger ever asked, certainly not and mean it the way this guy seemed to.
And was that the teme blushing, just a little? "Fine," he muttered.
Harry smiled suddenly. "Sakura-chan healed him. It was really impressive, Professor Lupin! She checked my arm too and it wasn't nearly as uncomfortable as Madame Pomfrey's diagnostic spells. Not that they're bad, but this was warm and relaxing and didn't make my hair stand up on end."
Harry's teacher smiled back at him. "I won't tell Madame Pomfrey you said so," he reassured. But then he sighed and looked at the colorful woman, clearly asking about something but not saying a word. She only shrugged in response, but her whole body relaxed with the gesture. Her hands were in her pockets now, not held tensely at her sides, and she seemed smaller and younger and Naruto was kind of impressed at how subtle the transformation was from trained vigilance to nonchalance. It reminded Naruto of Kakashi-sensei, actually. He was so ridiculous most of the time, that it was hard to notice when he was serious. And ooh, her hair was almost purple now, a duller more grey shade than the outfit she was wearing, but it was awesome watching it slowly fade from the original bright orange. Very cool.
The teacher cleared his throat. "We managed to find out that the Death Eaters were planning an attack," he said carefully and there was obviously a whole hell of a lot more that he wasn't saying. "We knew it had to be directed at Harry. We followed them here, but the process delayed our arrival."
"Delayed," Sasuke repeated and Naruto flinched a little at the tone. He knew that voice. It might sound level and flat to the rest of the world, but it was usually the sign that the teme was seriously pissed off.
"My, that's very good information," Kakashi-sensei drawled. "For people who seem to not know much of anything."
The guy didn't even blink or flush. "It wasn't easy," he said and stared back at Kakashi-sensei as if they were pleasantly discussing the weather. It was so weird what bother him and what didn't. He loses his shit at the idea of Team 7 being good at their jobs but is cool as a cucumber at Kakashi-sensei mocking him.
"Care to explain?" Kakashi-sensei drawled. He didn't have his stupid book out for once and was instead watching the teacher like he expected him to do something particularly interesting. Which was weird and Naruto turned to study the man himself, squinting a little to try to figure out what could have caught his stupid teacher's attention so thoroughly.
"The Headmaster has many sources of information," the man announced as if that was all he had to say on the matter. And Harry-kun was nodding along as if that was all that was needed. Whoever this Headmaster guy was, Harry obviously thought he was important. Naruto tried to imagine a wizarding equivalent of the Hokage.
"Ah," Kakashi-sensei said, the sound so soft that Naruto almost missed it. It wasn't a noise he was used to hearing out of his harebrained teacher, but then the dopey grin was back and the flippant tone of voice. "Why, it's almost like a little birdy told him," he crooned. "Or a greasy rat. You know how these things go, never as hip as in the books. Needs must make do with whatever crawls out of the cesspool"
All of which totally sounded like Kakashi-sensei going on another one of his weird pointless rambles, except all three of the wizards flinched like he'd insulted their mothers. And, okay, so Naruto might be a bit clueless at times, but even he could figure out that Kakashi-sensei had struck some kind of nerve there.
"Not a rat, then?" Kakashi-sensei asked in mock surprise and complete unrepentedness.
The professor looked like someone had sucker punched him and Naruto felt kind of bad for the guy. He had been managing so well in the face of Kakashi-sensei's inanity, but apparently the jounin did know how to break a person down. How the hell he'd done it, Naruto wasn't sure, but it was certainly effective. The downside was Harry looked even worse. His face went through a whirlwind of shock and grief and fierce hate. It was dizzying just trying to keep up. And the end result was Sasuke's cousin looking like he would gladly like to kill someone – with no hesitation this time. It made Naruto's gut clench and he wasn't the only one. Sasuke's eyes were dark and serious and as watchful as a hawk as he took in all of the subtle indications of a bigger problem. But the teme was learning. He kept his mouth shut.
And put his hand, gently, on Harry's elbow. As if he was on a protection detail and preparing to escort the target somewhere else. Somewhere safe.
It was creepily affectionate for the teme and it made Naruto kind of want to hug the shit out of him.
Kakashi-sensei's visible eye flicked over in their direction, taking in the situation, but focused back on the two adults. "Moi, maybe something else then," he continued mercilessly. "Something else sneaky and slimy and generally the kind of thing an oh-so-capable group like yourselves would like to keep secret."
Harry's teacher visibly took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment before exhaling. When he no longer looked like he was in pain, he met Kakashi-sensei's stare. "If that were the case, then I am sure we would appreciate your understanding of the situation."
"Oh, I understand," Kakashi-sensei replied sounding gleeful.
"Don't rub it in," Tsunade-ba-chan ordered, but Naruto couldn't be sure by her tone of voice if she was annoyed or entertained. With the Old Lady, it was sometimes a toss-up. "Well, then, now that we have established that no one knows anything about nothing, can we finish this up so I can get back to my real job?"
"Trying to drink all the sake in Konoha?" Naruto asked without hesitation.
She threw her paperweight at his head. It hit the far wall instead and sunk about two inches into the woodwork. The adult wizards flinched but Harry took it in stride. Apparently he was starting to get the hang of things. Maybe that meant he'd stop worrying he was going to get into trouble for breaking something.
"Uchiha!" she barked out and Sasuke twitched.
"Yes?" he muttered, turning to face her just barely enough not to be considered rude.
"How long will your guests be staying here?" Tsunade-ba-chan asked in a falsely sweet voice that made it clear his answer should be a good one, or else.
Sasuke shrugged. "They are unnecessary," he replied. Naruto wanted to smack him and this time didn't resist the urge. The teme allowed it, mostly because he turned to hiss "what?" as if he truly didn't understand. When Naruto stared pointedly at Harry, Sasuke got the hint. Harry-kun looked shocked and more than a little sad. Sasuke scowled but he muttered "they can stay if you would like them to."
It was very generous of the teme, since it would mean he would be responsible for them. They would have to stay in the Uchiha compound. They would have to be escorted at all times. He would be responsible if anything went wrong. But he didn't hesitate. So Naruto didn't comment on his suspicions that despite having tried to pound it into Harry-kun's head, it was possible that part of that shocked, hurt look was because he still considered himself one of the guests. Naruto knew what it was like to always be looking in on other people's happy groups and families. Even when you did find your place with one, there was always that bit of hesitation and uncertainty left over. Naruto was pretty good at not worrying about things like that 'cause he was stubborn and determined and didn't care what people thought. But sometimes, some things, still caught him a little off-guard. Things like an unexpected confirmation that he belonged now or the unexpected recognition of his hard work towards his goals. So he could understand that feeling. Which also meant he was the right person to fix it. But later. Sometime when everybody wasn't watching and Sasuke wasn't all tense and defensive.
"We shouldn't stay long," Harry's teacher demurred. "The others will be very anxious to see Harry."
"Harry's not going anywhere," Sasuke growled. He didn't make a move, not yet, and Naruto hoped he wouldn't get it into his head to do the equivalent of sitting on top of Harry-kun so he could go anywhere. Because, frankly, Naruto wouldn't put it past the emotionally stunted idiot to do something like that.
"The Uchiha's are actually a really old family here," Naruto tried desperately to defuse the brewing fight. Maybe if they understood that despite Sasuke's slight temper issues, he was actually very well-established member of the village….well, at least financially well-established and gainfully employed member. Sasuke's standing in the village was a little besmirched, but everybody seemed happy to have another Uchiha around – the point was, they could take care of Harry and once these people understood that they'd change their minds!
"This is not Harry's home," the man argued back, his voice more firm than it had been at any other point of the conversation.
"Now it is!"
"Sasuke," Harry said quietly and it silenced the room. "I have to go back to Hogwarts."
And just like that, things started to crumble around them. For a moment, Sasuke looked as lost as Naruto had ever seen him. They had known that adjusting to life in the village was going to be difficult for Harry, that he was going to miss things about his old life, but they all thought that they would have more time to show him how awesome it could be. To solidify his bond with Sasuke and with the rest of them. It was going to be so great, but they needed time! And that opportunity was slipping through their fingers.
Naruto opened his mouth to object, to argue, to rail against this fate and make Harry-kun see that what he needed was right here. Then he saw the way the look on Sasuke's face changed. That vulnerable look slipped away, like the last bit of light. But it wasn't anger that took its place. An angry teme was still manageable. This was the cold, determined look that Sasuke only got when something was serious. When he was prepared to do anything to achieve his goal.
That usually meant nothing good.
Naruto could picture it clearly. Sasuke would make some threatening proclamation, that he'd probably mean more as a promise of commitment and less creepy as fuck, but Harry wasn't going to take it that way. Harry-kun would get all upset and angry back and then there'd be yelling. Sasuke would freak when he realized that he didn't have control of the situation. And then he'd do something really stupid like get violent and somebody would get hurt and Harry-kun would never want to speak to them again.
Naruto knew Sasuke and he liked to think he had a pretty good understanding of Harry. So despite promising to let them work it out between themselves as much as possible, Naruto once more saved the teme from himself.
"Ne, ne, ne, Sasuke that works out perfectly, doesn't it?" he cried out loudly, waving his arms a little before lacing his fingers behind his head and grinning at the whole room like it was a two-for-one day at Ikikaru's. He was loud and obnoxious and pretty much everything anyone had ever accused him of being and it worked like a charm. The whole room stopped to stare.
Even Sasuke unbent enough to turn slowly and stare at him. "What?"
Naruto kept his smile up but made sure the teme saw the look in his eyes. "Well, we were just taking about how you wanted to make a visit to where Harry came from."
Sasuke's tone got darker. "What?" And boy, for a genius, Sasuke sure could be slow on the uptake sometimes. Always so suspicious that everything was some kind of trap.
But Harry wasn't even looking for one. He was looking at Sasuke. "You…want to come with me?" he asked. He started to smile.
And Sasuke finally got a clue. "Yes," he said immediately. The shinobi in the room politely ignored the slight hint of desperation in his voice. Family was serious business, after all, and even an ice bastard like Sasuke was allowed some leeway when it came to acting like a properly stoic nin under such circumstances.
Now Harry's teacher looked alarmed. "I don't know if that's such a good idea,"
"I think it's excellent!" Tsunade-ba-chan suddenly announced, clapping her hands once as if the matter was decided. Her exuberant cheerful tone had all of the nin tensing in preparation for what was certain to be a one sided fight. "Uchiha-kun speaks very highly of your academy. And I'm sure these brats could use a little more schooling."
Harry was smiling broadly now, seeming oblivious to the manipulation happening around him. He just seemed happy at the idea of Sasuke coming with him. He turned to his teacher, bubbling with excitement at the possibility. "They've been showing me some of the ways they do magic, and it's not the same, but I swear, Professor Lupin, there has to be some kind of similarity because I can feel it, it's like when you have too much energy and you just want to go out somewhere and run because the energy feels like it's going to burst through your skin! I've got a million questions and I'm sure Hermonie can come up with even more, and Naruto loves magic, he thought it was so interesting when I showed him, I bet with a wand he could manage something. And Sakura knows all kinds of ways to heal someone and that would be so useful for DA club and I want to show them Quidditch." He flushed at the end, falling silent as if he realized how eager he sounded. But it didn't surprise Naruto in the slightest. This was the Harry he was getting used to. Full of energy and ideas and interested in sharing what he had with everyone.
But Harry's teacher was shaking his head slowly. "Harry," he said slowly. "It is not as simple of a thing as that. There are very special conditions – "
"Oh, I'm sure these count!" Tsunade-ba-chan countered sweetly. "After all, these are very special circumstances."
The man shook his head wildly. "I don't have that kind of authority!"
"Well, then, I suggest you confer with who does," the Old Lady replied, pouncing on the opening. "In the meantime, Uchiha-kun can spend his time here. Classes don't start right away anyway, do they brat? No? Excellent then! I'm sure the Uchihas would like to spend a little more time here together in the village. And if our littlest Uchiha is interested in some extra lessons, then Team 7 can walk him through the basics. I won't have an important member of this village unable to defend himself adequately. I'm sure you'll agree that that's important. You do want to spend some time with your cousin, don't you, Uchiha-kun?"
It wasn't really a question, but Harry didn't need to know that.
"I – I do like it here," he said with a hesitant smile. "And it's not like I can go back to the Dursleys."
"Over my dead body," Sasuke muttered.
Harry laughed and smiled at him as if it was a good joke. Then he looked back at his teacher. "Right?" he asked. "I mean, I won't cause anyone trouble here."
"You're not trouble," his teacher said firmly. "You – you could come to Grimmauld Place. There's certainly plenty of room."
But Harry-kun's face paled at the idea and he shook his head quickly. "I'd really rather not," he said. "I can't – Not after everything. Please, Professor, can't I stay here? Just for the summer! I'll be on the train and back in class, I promise. Right, Sasuke?"
Sasuke, the sneaky bastard, just tilted his head in what could be called a nod and said nothing.
Harry's teacher looked sad again, staring at Harry like he had hoped for something but wasn't surprised to be disappointed. "Are you sure, Harry?"
Harry nodded back solemnly.
The man sighed. "Okay. I'll try to sell it to the Headmaster. I can't guarantee that he'll agree, he has much more to worry about than you or I, Harry. But I at least agree, it might be for the best." He smiled a little. "In times like these, we can use all of the friends we can get."
"Yes!" Harry and Naruto both cried excitedly, one a little bit more loudly than the other. Even Sasuke managed to not look constipated.
Harry looked back and forth between the Old Lady and Sasuke. "Would it be okay if I showed them around town? Before they go? It's so neat and Professor Lupin would love it, and Tonks, you have to see some of the people here!"
The Old Lady yawned, seemingly already bored with the whole proceedings. "Fine, yes, whatever. We need to write up some instructions for this Headmaster of yours. After all, we can't just send him four of our precious children without some guidelines about safety."
"I'm sure you're very concerned," the man drawled, but no one was really listening any more. Tsunade-ba-chan and Kakashi-sensei looked smug as hell. Harry was all smiles and talking excitedly about where they should go first and how weird the village supposedly was. Naruto grabbed one of Sakura's hands and tugged her forward, his other arm reaching out to snag the teme around the shoulders and pull him in to crowd around Harry.
"Come on," Naruto told them. "We gotta show 'em how awesome Konoha is."
The smile Harry gave them was almost sly, but he let himself be pulled into their chain. Sakura looped her arm through his and Naruto dropped his now free one around Harry's shoulders.
"Just wait till you see Hogwarts."
Whew! Okay, so that ends Part II. There is a Part III. I have been working on it. Once I get a little further along, I'll start posting chapters here.
Thank you, as always, for sticking around this long. This story, and the positive reaction to it, is what keeps reminding me that I can do this writing thing.