Harry had never been quite so happy to see Sakura before as he was when she and Kakashi found them around late morning the following day. Sleeping on the ground was decidedly not a bright thing to do when covered in cuts and bruises. He'd awoken after a restless sleep, stiff and sore. Walking had certainly been a challenge.
They'd been travelling since first light which was hours ago by now. Harry's injuries were smarting a little and he was tired but otherwise, he was fine. After the previous evening though, he'd found conversation to be a little awkward. Too much had been shared too soon and neither he nor Naruto quite knew where their relationship lay with the other now. They couldn't claim to have become fast friends but neither could they consider themselves distant acquaintances anymore. It was somewhere in between. As a result, the entire morning the conversation between them had been almost non-existent and stilted when it did occur.
He'd been trying to come up with a way to ask Naruto a little more about Sasuke's past when Sakura had appeared. He had the basic facts but hearing something on a more personal level about the other boy would really be more preferable. If he were honest with himself, he was curious about the past of the boy whose body he'd accidentally come to inhabit and probably no closer to understanding what made him tick then he had been after the Fifth had first explained Sasuke's background.
Kakashi greeted Harry quietly as Sakura swept over to Naruto and angrily smacked him.
"Sakura-chan that hurt!"
"Humph! You deserved it Naruto. You'd think at your level you'd at least know not to turn your back on an enemy."
"I knew he was there Sakura-chan! I would have handled it just fine."
"Yeah, right. You handled it so well a civilian believed the need to intervene on your behalf to protect you. That's 'handling' it right there."
The two continued to bicker for several more minutes – something Harry was coming to realise was their way of greeting one another.
"So, how'd you pull up Sasuke?" asked Kakashi, apparently choosing to ignore his squabbling students.
Harry grimaced, reminded of his injuries. "Fine, nothing too serious."
"Hmm? I've heard that before," remarked Kakashi. Harry looked away awkwardly from the knowing gaze. He'd had worse, surely this wasn't a big deal?
"Ne, Sakura? You mind knocking that off and sorting out Sasuke?" asked Kakashi, raising his voice.
The small group's only girl flushed and released Naruto's jacket - she'd been in the process of shaking him.
"Sorry Kakashi-sensei," she mumbled as she approached Harry.
Twenty minutes later and Harry was finally feeling human again although still a little stiff. When he mentioned this to Sakura she shrugged and replied, "That happens sometimes. It's better to let the body heal naturally then to heal it all the time. I just fixed up the worst of it. It'll pass in a few days." Sakura paused, her expression suddenly growing thoughtful. "Although now that you mention it, there's supposed to be a hot springs resort just the other side of the border. Hey Kakashi-sensei? Can we stop there? It's supposed to be really good."
The only female in their group beamed at their silver-haired leader but there was a certain gleam in her bright eyes that made Harry eye her warily. Kakashi didn't answer immediately, his face expressionless. Sakura was still grinning though so with a sigh, Kakashi replied, "I don't see why not."
"Great!" said Sakura. She shouldered her pack and moved to take the lead. "Shall we get going then?"
Sasuke thought at first that he wanted nothing more than to be alone after Malfoy had managed to arouse such unpleasant memories of his parents' murder but halfway to who-knew-where he was escaping to, Sasuke drew himself to an abrupt halt. The snitch was still flapping frantically within his grasp and he released it with barely a thought. It was only serving to distract him.
Sasuke felt his blood humming with familiar rage. He was alone in a small corridor and that was something of a blessing. He hardly wanted to deal with the likes of McGonagall if she were to bear witness to what he was about to do. His hand moved with a will of it's own. With a furious yell, Sasuke swept the contents off a nearby table. Crockery and ornaments smashed across the flagstones.
He stood over the shattered mess, breathing heavily. Malfoy didn't realise it but he'd awoken something within Sasuke; a side of himself that had quietly lain dormant while he'd stumbled around trying to make sense of this little dream world he'd fallen into.
"I am an Avenger!" Sasuke growled to himself. The world's felt good. He felt like the hazy fog was lifting and abruptly he was focused once more upon everything that was important; everything that mattered to him.
Footsteps and the chatter of students alerted him to the fact that shortly he would no longer be alone. He hardly cared what anyone thought of what he'd done but an interruption right now would be highly irritating.
He had better things to do; training for a start. His priority for the moment however, as he swiftly left the area, was to find out the progress Snape had made. The Potions Master certainly had a slippery tongue but Orochimaru was far worse. Sasuke had been a little too willing to let Snape fob him off he decided, when he had gone to see him the previous week.
He found Snape already back at his desk in his office despite the fact that barely twenty minutes had passed since the end of the Quidditch match. The greasy haired man was muttering incantations at a potion sitting on the corner of his desk. Sheaves of paperwork littered the tarnished wooden surface surrounding the cauldron.
Snape glowered at Sasuke when he entered the office with nary a knock.
"What do you want Uchiha?" inquired Snape, apparently not in the mood to be interrupted. "I told you last week a solution would take some time to discover concerning your predicament."
"I know that," answered Sasuke neutrally. He stoutly shut the door behind him.
Snape didn't outwardly appear to give Sasuke more than the barest amount of attention but Sasuke saw the way the dark eyes seemed to sharpen a little. It appeared Snape had sensed something was different in Sasuke's demeanour.
"I want to know how long exactly," Sasuke asked. He kept his tone perfectly flat. It had always been the best way to get Orochimaru to cooperate. The Sannin had a fondness for mind games and Sasuke found that not allowing himself to be distracted had always been the easiest way to get Orochimaru to actually get to the point on the rare occasion he deigned to teach Sasuke something. Kabuto was nearly as bad. Always trying to get a reaction was the aim of the game and he particularly enjoyed getting under Sasuke's skin. Team 7 was a sore topic and one that it took a severe amount of effort on Sasuke's part not to be drawn into. He'd never given either of them any hint that he didn't particularly like talking about his former team mates but some sixth sense seemed to tell Orochimaru and Kabuto otherwise. They'd needled at the topic for months once Sasuke had arrived in Oto and it had taken a steadily colder approach in all dealings with the two to convince them that Sasuke was in Oto for one reason only: to get strong enough to kill his brother.
"As I said Uchiha - "
"I am not a fool," Sasuke cut in, voice sharp. Snape was not going to tiptoe his way around the topic. "Your talent is not that dismal. Someone of your calibre who has worked as long as you have in your profession can probably pin down when you will find a solution to within a few weeks. Several months to two or three years is not an adequate answer."
Silence fell between them. Sasuke discovered he now had Snape's full attention. The man was matching his stare evenly, probably testing his conviction Sasuke guessed, in the statement he had just made. Snape of course, didn't know exactly what a shinobi was and on top of that, Sasuke was incredibly perceptive, even for one of his kind. It was obvious to Sasuke that the man was secretive and valued knowledge. He'd probably dealt with very few people in his life as cunning as he was and was averse to sharing knowledge if he could help it. Sasuke however, was an Avenger. He'd spent his life since he was eight years old trying to gain power through any means necessary. Snape wasn't going to hold out on him. This 'little holiday' had to end and it had to end now. He had no business being here in this warped reality and every day spent here was an extra day his treacherous elder brother got to spend still breathing.
"I'll admit you are cleverer by far than Potter," said Snape, still refusing to answer by dancing around the question, "but I do not cater to your whims Uchiha."
Snape's dark eyes remained flat and Sasuke realised that Snape actually had more than a little backbone. That was fine by him. Sasuke was spoiling for a fight and Snape was likely to be a far superior opponent to Malfoy any day. His eyes fell on the shelves to his immediate right which were cluttered with hundreds of jars containing all sorts of ingredients and specimens. He hardened his expression, letting Snape know he meant business when he moved his gaze back to the Professor.
"Either tell me or you're going to be short more than a few of your precious ingredients during classes in the immediate future."
"Is that a threat, Uchiha?"
Snape's voice was soft, equally as threatening. He was clearly warning Sasuke not to go any further down the road he'd already started on but Sasuke was in no way cowed. He faced opponents on a daily basis who were out for his blood, if not more than that. A momentary stare-off ensued, neither willing to back down. Finally Sasuke replied, "test me if you like and you'll find out."
Another short pause followed and then, neither sure who moved first exactly, both Snape and Sasuke spun into action.
Sasuke feinted to his right, going straight for the racks of supplies.
"STUPEFY!" cried Snape.
The red jet of light smashed into one of the jars, missing Sasuke by inches and sending broken pieces of glass and specimen flying in all directions. Sasuke refrained from drawing his wand as he changed course to barrel towards Snape. It wasn't like he knew more than a handful of spells anyway, most of which wouldn't really help him at the moment. Snape surprised him however. The man's reflexes were deadly quick as he fired off a second stunner, forcing Sasuke to perform a rather awkward, twisting leap to avoid the spell. His hand shot out, seeking a book from one of the bookcases. He threw it at Snape's head with lethal precision. Snape's skill was even greater then he'd perceived however as the Potions Master shot the book out of the air at almost point blank range. The jet of purple light that hit the spiralling object caused it to combust in an explosion of flying pages. The chaos was all Sasuke needed to serve as a distraction. He moved to tackle Snape, arms closing around Snape's midsection in much the same manner as he had tackled Malfoy several weeks ago.
They landed atop Snape's desk sending papers and objects flying. The cauldron Snape had been muttering over rolled off the side of his desk sending its contents everywhere as Sasuke grappled with Snape's wiry wrists, trying to keep him from pointing his wand at his own face. For all of his minimal training so far however and only being half a head shorter than him, Snape was still more physically powerful then Sasuke was. Before he even quite realised how it had happened, Sasuke heard Snape shout something and suddenly he was airborne.
The next thing he knew, he was groggily sitting up, head spinning and back screaming in pain. Chunks of wood and other broken objects from Snape's office littered his lap and the floor around him. Something wet trickled down his face as he blinked owlishly at the shattered doorway before him. A moment later his floundering thoughts managed to form enough coherency to inform him that Snape had apparently blasted him with something so powerful he'd been knocked clear through the closed wooden door to Snape's office.
Snape was on him only a moment later, his white face livid with rage. He tried to haul Sasuke up which was rather difficult considering his hurting body and muddled sense of balance. Sasuke managed to gather enough sense to snatch up a broken mirror fragment from the floor before Snape manhandled him back into his office, snarling a spell at the door to repair itself. He threw Sasuke into a chair, one of the very few objects that somehow appeared to have remained relatively unscathed in his office and turned around to face him with a swift flare of his black robes. Snape placed his hands on either side of Sasuke on the arms of the chair and leaned down so that his face was only inches from Sasuke's own. Snape opened his mouth to speak and no doubt to threaten him to within an inch of his life but got no further. Sasuke glared into Snape's face and pressed the mirror fragment just a little harder against the Professor's gut.
Slowly, Snape looked down, the anger melting from his face and leaving his expression carefully blank. "Tell me now," demanded Sasuke, pronouncing each word slowly and with clear force. He hadn't quite expected things to turn out this way but somehow he'd managed to corner Snape and he fully intended to get the answer he'd come for.
Snape was silent and Sasuke pressed forward just a little bit more, finally drawing a response from Snape who's eyes rose back up to meet his. There was something a little bit strange about his expression but Sasuke couldn't quite pin point it. Never the less, the Potions Master finally complied. "I would expect a result sometime around the end of the school year."
Carefully Snape drew back. He made no move to raise his wand and slowly Sasuke lowered the piece of mirror and stood up. He maintained eye contact, watching Snape's dark eyes glitter back. "Thank you," he said to the professor. He hardly meant it. The two words were simply meant to make Snape acknowledge the fact that Sasuke had won this particular battle.
Trusting Snape not to try anything, Sasuke turned and left the office and as expected, Snape didn't move until long after Sasuke had shut the door behind himself.
They found the resort just as twilight set in. It was the first sign of civilisation Harry had seen since they'd left Konoha and it was a welcome one.
They'd crossed the bridge once they found it earlier in the day and had moved into the cool forests of River Country. The air was damp beneath the trees and strangely quiet. Harry watched Kakashi closely but he didn't seem to sense any trouble so Harry relaxed his guard a little. Not much mind, just enough not to be jumping at every little sound.
It was much cooler than the humidity they'd experienced in Fire Country. Harry rather likened it to the feel of England during the autumn months. The milder temperature and the prospect of the hot springs seemed to lighten everybody's mood. Harry walked quietly for the most part but noted that Sakura didn't seem to mind Naruto's constant babble and Kakashi hummed a few notes every five minutes or so before falling silent again at the rear of their little party.
The resort was set a little ways off the main path; up a narrow, winding track that led through the forest and crept up the side of a small hill. The building was a little old and rather on the shabby side of things but it was warm when they stepped into the reception area and the lady behind the counter greeted them in a friendly enough manner.
Harry listened with half an ear as Sakura made arrangemnets and then before he realised it Kakashi was ushering him through a door and down a corridor to their rooms. Tiredness seemed to be weighing down on him all of a sudden. He let himself be guided, let Naruto give him a robe and tell him to change into it (which he did without complaint) and then let the blond boy usher him after Kakashi and out through another door and onto a verandah.
A deep pool of steaming water lay before them. Wafts of fog rose over the still surface until Kakashi took off his robe and slipped into the water, sending out gentle ripples. Naruto was not nearly as graceful. He left Harry standing on the verandah to take three big steps and launch himself into the air. He cannon-balled into water with a giant splash. A large amount splashed Kakashi across the lower half of his face, over which Harry absently noticed the man had placed a flannel. ('Did the guy have awful teeth or something?' Harry wondered fleetingly.) Kakashi didn't seem to mind though. He closed both eyes and lay back against the edge of the pool.
A little stiffly, Harry pulled off his robe. The cold air met his bare chest and he shivered a little as he folded the robe and placed it and his shoes in a little basket next to Kakashi's. Naruto had left his strewn all over the floor but Harry was grateful that he'd at least remembered to tell Harry to tie a towel around his hips before he'd put on the robe to come outside. Harry was relieved that he was actually able to preserve his modesty...well, Sasuke's modesty anyway.
He stepped down towards the water, still a little hesitant. He'd heard about hot springs of course but Great Britain didn't have any as far as he knew. To his relief the water was warm. In fact it was perfect. He sank down into the delicious warmth until only his eyes and the top of his head remained above water level.
"Awesome isn't it?" asked Naruto from where he'd happily settled over on the other side of the hot spring with a contented smile on his face. Harry nodded drowsily and closed his eyes in bliss. The remaining stiffness after Sakura's healing was already beginning to leave him. He settled back against his wall and before he even realised it he was dozing, cocooned in the gentle warmth of the water.
He dreamed about Ron and Hermione at first. Ron was going on and on about the Chudley Cannons again while Hermione huffily told him to shut up about it. The strange thing was that Ron was dressed in Professor Dumbledore's favourite purple robes and Hermione was wearing Trelawney's bottle cap glasses.
Eventually the dream turned to other things, nonsense like scenarios of other students and even a moment where Uncle Vernon actually locked Dudley up in his room and allowed Harry to eat all of Dudley's favourite tubs of ice-cream.
Inevitably however, Harry's dream changed and he was back in the graveyard again, alone as he faced Voldermort while Cedric's still body lay nearby. Voldermort ordered Wormtail to come forward so that he could give him the silver arm, as he had promised he would but instead of Wormtail it was the brute who's arm Harry had cut off that came over. Voldermort attached the new arm without complaint and didn't move as the ninja approached Harry who suddenly felt terror flood him.
The ninja drew his sword and then there was pain, blinding pain and Harry was screaming. Voices were shouting and someone was attempting to hold him down but water was getting in his mouth which only made him thrash more.
His mind quickly worked out that he was awake now and still in the hot spring. Nothing explained the pain though. Naruto was trying to hold him down but he looked terrified. He was fighting a loosing battle and Harry couldn't seem to stop himself. Fear was quickly turning to blinding rage. He noted that glowing red marks had appeared all up and down his left arm but they meant nothing to him at the moment.
"Naruto! Hold him still damn it!" Kakashi shouted.
"I'm trying!" screamed Naruto right back.
Harry jerked his arm back, smiling in vicious satisfaction as he heard Naruto's jaw crack. To his annoyance however, Naruto grunted and Harry almost threw him off but the blonde quickly tightened his grip.
Abruptly Kakashi's right hand began to shriek and a blinding white light struck Harry broad side. He was out before he even realised what had happened.
"Mr Potter! Mr Potter!"
Dolores Umbridge tried to hail Sasuke down but he ignored her. Students were still trickling back in from the Quidditch match. His appearance was drawing stares but that was hardly unusual. Radiating a 'stay away if you know what's good for you aura', he was able to cross the front hall relatively unhinded while Umbridge tried to fight her way through the students to catch up.
He knew why they were staring this particular time. A) he was still wearing his Quidditch rooms, b) he wasn't heading back towards the direction of the Gryffindor Tower and c) his little collision with the wall had split his head open just to the right of his scar near his hairline and a lot of blood had trickled down his face and dried there.
He was soon beyond the hall and Umbridge's annoying attempts to stop him. Professor Dumbledore's office was right where he remembered it to be and to his surprise, the gargoyle statue leapt aside the moment it saw him coming. He climbed the steps quickly and to his satisfaction, found that the Headmaster had gone straight back to his office after the match. He would have hated to wait around for Dumbledore to show up.
"Sasuke? What can I do for you?" asked Dumbledore, not seeming to mind that he'd come in without knocking or that he was sporting a fresh head wound. The old man was sitting at his desk, in the middle of unwrapping some sort of yellow lolly he'd taken from a bowl on the table top.
"I want to see Sirius Black," said Sasuke getting straight to the point.
"See him? Might I ask why?" asked Dumbledore with a small frown.
Something brushed against Sasuke's mind. It felt strangely like a genjutsu which was most commonly achieved through eye contact. Sasuke realised a moment later what it must be. The old man was probably trying to read his mind. Apparently he didn't trust Sasuke to answer truthfully which he was right about.
Dumbledore didn't seem to be trying to enter his mind though but rather to brush against the fringes of his emotions and judge if he was being truthful or not. It was probably common practise with all of Hogwarts student and not necessairily invasive. Never the less, Sasuke jabbed back irritably, letting the Headmaster subtly know he wasn't going to make this easy for the old man.
It was a little strange that Dumbledore hadn't tried this tact when he'd first arrived but Sasuke didn't question it. He hadn't realised wizards could read other's minds. He was not here however, to worry about that particular point.
"No," replied Sasuke noting that the old man didn't display any outward sign that he'd felt Sasuke's return mental jab.
Dumbledore popped the lolly into his mouth and sucked thoughtfully as he leaned back in his chair.
"Well I suppose it isn't really my concern and Sirius did say you could talk to him if you wanted to."
"I want to talk to him now," Sasuke pressed.
Dumbledore didn't say anything for a moment, his blue eyes calmly assessing Sasuke from the other side of the desk.
"I wasn't asking for your permission either," Sasuke added before the silence could stretch any longer. It was like being examined by the Third, Sasuke thought only Dumbledore knew nothing about his past and was trying to make a desicion to trust him on the bare minimum he did know.
"Very well," Dumbledore conceeded at length. "You may spend the rest of the day with Sirius. I will advise you however, to mind your words. Sirius can be a little ... touchy concerning certain matters. He certainly does not forgive easily either."
"Just tell me how to get there," Sasuke demanded impatiently.
"The address is Number 12, Grimmauld Place," answered Dumbledore. "I must stress that you do not tell anyone else this address. Sirius and the entire Order will be put in jeopardy."
"Order?" queried Sasuke.
Dumbledore nodded gravely. "The Order of the Phoenix. We are leading the fight against Voldermort. Should he gain access to our stronghold, not only would our lives be in great peril but so would those that will suffer if we cannot protect them."
"I won't breath a word," Sasuke promised. It made sense he supposed. Black was on the run and the best place for him to hide would be at the resistance headquarters. It was apparent Dumbledore was putting a lot of faith in him, not that he would bother selling them out. Dumbledore and the staff at Hogwarts were the only ones trying to help him return to his own life and there probably wasn't anyone else out there who he trusted would be able to do it, at least for the moment.
"There is a pot of floo powder on the mantle. I trust you will be alright?" asked Dumbledore.
Sasuke didn't answer as he moved to the fire place and scooped out a handful of powder. Choosing to let actions speak instead of words, he flung the little grains into the grate and watched the flames turn green. Stepping into the fire confidentally, he stated the address and then Dumbledore's office was gone as he was whisked away.
He stepped easily out of the grate upon arriving at Number 12 several seconds later into a dark, dusty room. He glanced around curiously, noting the interesting items in the room. There was a large tapestry of some design on the far wall upon which several scorch marks had been dealt to the large square of fabric. Moving closer, he realised he was looking at the Black family tree. One of the names leapt out at Sasuke and he leaned forward, stunned to realise that Draco Malfoy and Sirius Black were related.
As he bent forward however, he was reminded of the shard of mirror he'd put in his pocket after leaving Snape's office when it poked him through the fabric of his Quidditch robes. He'd completely forgotten about it. Pulling it out of his pocket, least he accidentally cause himself some serious damage, he glanced at it only momentairily but paused in amazement when he suddenly realised what he was looking at.
Blinking, he gazed at his eyes in the mirror shard as they blinked back, red Sharingan glowing eerily in the gloom of the Black's ancestrial home.
Ha ha ha! Cliffy! You guys are never going to guess this one right. On another note, sorry for being on hiatus so long. Life has been shitty the past year and writer's block has been my constant friend. I keep re-reading earlier chapters and getting distracted because I want to edit.
Anyway, I decided to just get on with it. Hope you guys like the update. I tried to be really interesting and I realised I was bored with the story and how it was progressing so slowly and I figured you guys must be to so I tried to start moving things along a little. There's been plenty of action and lots of interesting little scenes for you to stew about.
Thanks so much for all your support the last few months and once again sorry for the lack of updates. I'm almost at the end of uni (shannaro!) and I'm going to try a lot harder to make updates more regular for you guys.