Disclaimer: I am neither J.K. Rowling nor Kishimoto Masashi, and therefore I own neither Harry Potter nor Naruto.
This is my first Naruto fic, so do your worst.
It had started with the dreams, Harry was certain.
It wasn't that he could remember the dreams. Actually, they drained from his mind like water from a sieve. Ordinary dreams he usually recalled vaguely, but these dreams weren't ordinary. He didn't have to remember them to know that.
Ordinary dreams didn't make you go blond.
The first dream took place at Hogwarts. Harry woke up in the Hospital Wing, yawned contentedly, and wondered about the dream he had. Pomfrey had kept him dosed to the gills with Dreamless Sleep ever since the Third Task, and it surprised him one had slipped by, even if he couldn't remember the details.
He shook his head. Harry noticed Pomfrey wasn't around. She was probably in her office; the potion usually had him out until nine, and judging by the light it was closer to eight. A sneaky smile appeared on his lips. The school nurse had kept him here for days, even though he was fine. Not so anymore. He was going, going, gone.
Because the Great Hall would be the first place Pomfrey would look for him, Harry went down to the kitchens to get a bite to eat instead. Leaving with a bacon and egg sandwich, he headed back up to Gryffindor Tower. Given the early hour, mostly everyone up was a breakfast, so he didn't run into many people on the way. Harry was grateful for that. Those he did stared or shot him weird looks, and it really ruined his mood.
"My word!" the Fat Lady exclaimed upon seeing him. She would have said more, but Harry leveled her a nasty glare.
What was with them? The only explanation that made any sense was that they were disturbed by the events of the Third Task. He understood that. He did not appreciate any need they had to stare.
"Banana fritters," he said. Somehow his tone didn't express any irritation at all.
The portrait swung open. Harry ignored the few sleepy faces and headed for the fourth years' dormitory.
Ron was still asleep, but from the way he was leaning against the post of the bed he looked like he had tried to get up. Dean, Seamus, and Neville were gone. Since he was the one to ensure Ron got up in the morning, Harry wasn't surprised.
Hermione would skin Ron alive if she had to come and wake him up. Ron would skin Harry alive if he knew Harry let him sleep through breakfast. Suddenly grinning, Harry took aim with his wand.
Harry dived behind his trunk as Ron jerked upright, sputtering and cursing. "Who in the bloody hell - Harry!"
"You're going to miss breakfast!" Harry said from behind the trunk.
"I'm going to hex you…" Ron said under his breath. He cast a drying spell. "Breakfast?"
"Yeah." Harry stepped out from behind the trunk.
Ron took one look at him and burst out into guffaws. "Geez, Harry, what happened? Did the twins prank you or something? 'Cause really, blond's not your color."
"Blond?" Harry repeated, baffled. "What do you mean, blond?"
"You didn't notice?" Ron took another look and burst into a second round of sniggers. "I mean you have blond streaks in your hair. Actually, it looks almost more like yellow… with the black, it makes you look kinda like you're trying to be Hufflepuff's new mascot."
As soon as the words left his mouth, the redhead winced, but Harry didn't notice in his dash to the bathroom. He gaped at the mirror. How in Merlin's name had he ended up with blond streaks? He looked like one of Dudley's punk friends, and that wasn't funny.
It certainly explained the stares, though.
Harry was about to go and steal one of Ron's Chudley Cannons caps to cover his hair long enough to find McGonagall when he noticed that the blond was actually receding on its own. What had been half a head of borderline-yellow was now just a quarter of a head of dishwater blond, which still looked bizarre but wasn't as bad. Watching, the blond faded further, until Harry once again had a head of blessedly black hair.
Harry frowned at the mirror and tried to brush off a feeling of unease.
It didn't happen again for the week up until term ended, so Harry tagged it as a fluke and tried to put the incident out of his mind.
It worked rather well, as least until he had the second dream.
Harry woke up after his first night back at the Dursleys when the sky outside his window was still pink from the sunrise. A glance at his alarm clock told him it was only five-thirty, but he wasn't tired at all. Frowning in reflection, Harry tried to remember the details of the dreams he knew he had been having before he woke, but they skittered away, just out of reach. It was strange, because he could remember the dream before it, which had been pushed clean from his mind: a haunting replay of the graveyard, and Cedric dying.
His throat grew tight in response to the thought. Harry shook his head, reminded himself there was nothing he could have done that he hadn't, and tried to put it from his mind. Resurrected, the nightmare didn't want to leave.
Maybe I should go for a run… The physical exertion would help clear his head. Idly brushing his hair out of his eyes, Harry bounced out of bed and began to get dressed. Pulling on Dudley's cast-offs, he frowned unconsciously at how baggy they were. A little room to move was good, but too much simply got in the way. He wondered if there was a spell to adjust them.
With a mental shrug and decision to write Hermione later, Harry went downstairs, grabbed the spare key, and let himself out.
An hour later, Harry stumbled back in, utterly soaked with sweat and panting for breath. Cedric completely driven from his mind, he blasted his lack of fitness. When had he started running like a civilian? And he was completely beat! His stamina was horrible.
That is going to change, Harry told himself sternly.
Quickly he headed upstairs for a shower. The scalding hot water felt like heaven, but he forced himself to do his business and change into fresh clothes. He was starving.
Aunt Petunia came down in the her bathrobe as he was finishing the eggs, humming a vague tune. That usually meant she was in a good mood, so Harry was puzzled when she froze in the doorway to the dining room, struck dumb and gaping in outrage.
Scraping the scrambled eggs into a dish to set out on the table, Harry shot her a look. This wasn't the first time he had decided on his own the cook… "Is something wrong, Aunt Petunia?"
"Is something wrong?" she repeated shrilly. For a second, Aunt Petunia was speechless. The next she was roaring. "Is something wrong? You - what have you done to your hair, you hoodlum? I'll not have such nonsense in my house!"
My hair…? Harry had sudden sinking suspicion. Ignoring the rest of her tirade, he seized a lock that was hanging down almost in his eyes and really looked at it. It was blond. And not only that, his hair had never been long enough to get in his eyes… How on earth hadn't he noticed?
Aunt Petunia fell mercifully silent at the expression on his face.
Harry set out three places at the table at breakneck speed, made himself an egg sandwich, and locked himself in his room for the rest of the day. He thought, fleetingly, about writing Sirius, and decided against it for reasons he couldn't explain.
He set his Chudley Cannons cap, a gift from Ron, on his bed stand. Just in case.
The third and fourth dreams were more of the same. Harry felt nervous as he realized that with every dream, his time as a blond grew longer. It went from around an hour, to three hours, to seven, to thirteen. He didn't miss the fact that each was a magically powerful number. Several times he thought about writing Sirius, but each time Harry talked himself out of it. It helped that every letter he did send, asking about Voldemort, was replied to with customary nonsense.
Sure it was juvenile, but if he wasn't going to be told anything, he saw no reason to tell anything himself.
The morning after the fifth dream, Harry knew something was even wrong-er. He had always been pale, as most Britons were, but not anymore. To compliment the head of golden blond, his skin had taken on a healthy tan. After Uncle Vernon left for work, he sneaked into the bathroom to get a look in the mirror.
Between the hair and the tan, Harry hardly recognized himself. The blond fringe was enough to hide his scar, which wasn't very visible against the tan to begin with. His facial structure also seemed different, although that too could have been the tan. The only part of Harry that remained for certain was his eyes. He had his mother's eyes, and that was even more apparent in a stranger's face.
The tan was gone in an hour. He fell asleep a blond that night.
When Harry woke up the next morning still blond, he resigned himself to writing one of the most awkward letters of his life.
Sirius untied the letter from Hedwig's leg and stroked the owl's snowy head once before she fluttered up and out the window to return to her master. Another letter from Harry. Guiltily, he hoped it wasn't yet another politely-phrased paragraph of demands for information. He loved his godson, and he disagreed with Dumbledore's decision to leave him utterly in the dark, especially considering Ron and Hermione were already at Grimmauld Place, but Harry had a unique gift of phrasing that made Sirius feel like a load of dung for even thinking about not answering. Personally, 'load of dung' wasn't his style.
The animagus wondered who Harry had inherited that from. Both Lily and James had charm, but he had never been at the receiving end of this kind of assault before. He shuddered to imagine how much worse it would be face-to-face.
He skimmed over it for any mention of Voldemort or attacks, and was pleasantly surprised to not see any. That established, he began to read through carefully. Halfway through, Sirius felt a gnawing at his gut of worry. Finished, he leaned back into the seat, ran a hand through his hair, and let out a bark-like laugh.
It had to be a prank. Sirius hadn't originally thought Harry had inherited that from James, but the frustration his godson had to be feeling could result in anything. What a brilliant prank! It had him there for a moment, but the last line was a bit too much.
Please. Sirius. I want to know if there was any chance my mum and dad had issues after they were married. If so, explain. If not… explain why I'm suddenly a blond.
Sirius laughed again and promised himself to double his badgering of Dumbledore to bring Harry to Grimmauld. Sure, his family home was still nasty and all his godson was liable to get was more clean-up chores, but if Harry was getting this desperate then he really needed out of Privet Drive.
After Sirius' patently-annoying reply, in which he made it abundantly clear he thought Harry was making a joke, Harry simply stopped writing. Between that and Hermione's and Ron's endless tantalizing hints, he was tired of being treated like a child. There was nothing he could write to stop it, so there was no point in writing at all.
The dreams were coming more quickly now. Harry had to stop leaving the house for a run in the morning, as the tan, too, had become permanent, as had a collection of scars and calluses. All of Harry's scars, except for the one on his forehead, were gone. As a result, he was thankful Sirius had not taken him seriously. An illusion unraveling could explain the extra scars and different features, but it wouldn't make the other scars vanish. Something else had to be in play.
But what? Harry had no idea. The only clue was the dream connection, and the dreams' contents all remained illusive.
Harry had other worries, however. He was running perilously close to being kicked out of Number Four. Aunt Petunia's unexpected patience with his freak outbursts had come to an end, and she wasn't going to put up with him lounging around being a leech on their budget. Either he stopped with his nonsense and got to work or he packed his stuff and got out. While that would not be unpleasant, it was dangerous, and he had no place else to go.
Of course, there were ways around the whole 'no going outside.' Unfortunately they weren't an option. Hair dye and a cut went over just as well as it had when he was younger, and it didn't fix the scars-and-skin-color issue. Magic could accomplish both, but Harry doubted he could get away with even the most circumspect of sophisticated magic. He had not missed the subtle jabs at the Boy Who Lived in the Daily Prophet the last few weeks. It wasn't worth the risk.
Idly, Harry wondered what the Ministry of Magic and its Daily Propaganda would make of his current situation. Somehow, he had the feeling it wouldn't be good.
Waking up after the ninth dream, Harry lay in bed for a while, feeling unaccountably sore and discontent. That was new; every dream before had left him with a satisfied 'this is the way things should be' feeling, and he had never before been sore. A little itchy, yes. The first two days of being tanned and rescarred his skin had itched to high heaven. But never… damn.
Harry threw off his blanket and leaped out of bed, or tried to. He ended up landing off-balance and fell on his arse, where he sat, blinking. If any of his students saw him now… How had that happened? A glance at his pants answered his question. The hemmed-up pant leg ended several inches above his ankle, as if he had grown several inches in height overnight.
Harry blinked again, before breaking out into a grin. Score! If it meant he wouldn't be the shortest in the year, he could deal with being blond. And tan. And multi-scarred. Whatever, he wasn't short anymore.
When he went to the bathroom for comparison, though, Harry's cheery mood fizzled out.
It wasn't only his height that had been altered, but his entire bone structure. He had thought the tan made his facial features look strange, but now they were completely different. The only thing Harry Potter about his face was the color of his eyes. The lightning bolt scar was still there, too, but faint enough to escape notice and covered by a blond fringe.
Harry locked himself in his room until the change reverted.
The next day, following another dream, Harry leaped out of bed and landed perfectly on balance. Taking a quick shower, he glanced at his reflection and frowned. It wasn't Harry Potter, but it was still him. He was getting much better at coming to terms with his changing body.
The roar of Uncle Vernon's company car told him it was safe to get breakfast, so Harry went downstairs to grab something to eat. Aunt Petunia was already there, scraping the breakfast scraps into a separate plate for Dudley when he woke. She leveled him an irate glare.
"I don't know what in Heaven's name is wrong with you," she snapped at him. Her eyes went wide when he turned to look at her, and she took a step back. "But I've had more than enough of it! Unless you can put yourself back to normal, I want you gone!"
Harry looked at her, closed his eyes, and simply nodded. This was probably the best time for leaving if he was going to, as he had over two hours left of appearing to be a complete stranger. Fixing a sandwich, he said, "Okay, fine, I'll go. Just do me a favor, okay? If for some reason anyone comes and asks about me, don't tell them about… this." He gestured vaguely at himself. "Better yet, just slam the door in their faces."
"Why?" she demanded.
He shrugged. "There are people after me. Voldemort came back a month ago. If they don't know what I look like, then that's a point in my favor." Harry paused, smiling wryly. "One good thing from all this, at least."
Aunt Petunia went still, perturbed. "There are freaks after you? And they'll be coming here?"
"I doubt it. Not the people after me, at least." This was probably one of the civilest conversation concerning magic Harry had ever had with his aunt. Harry found that funny. "Dumbledore's people might, though, if they find out I'm gone."
"Fine," said Petunia, turning to gather the breakfast dishes from the table. "I'll keep your secret. Now scram."
Harry sent Hedwig on ahead, gathered his things, and left. Aware there were probably eyes on his back from all over the street, he quickstepped it to Magnolia Crescent, stepped carefully back from the pavement, and raised his wand.
The Knight Bus appeared so suddenly Harry couldn't help starting, even though he had been expecting it. Just like two years before, the door of the violently purple bus snapped open and Stan Shunpike stumbled out, bleary-eyed and yawning. It must have been nearing the end of his shift.
"Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transportation fer the stranded witch or wizard." Stan yawned hugely. "Sorry, um. Where ya be wantin' to go?"
"The Leaky Cauldron, please." Harry handed the pimply twenty-year-old the fare, trying to keep his trunk out of sight as he hoisted it up on the bus. He hadn't expected Stan to still be the Bus' conductor. It wasn't likely he would remember the trunk from two years ago, but it was best not to flaunt it.
"See, that's funny," Stan commented, boarding after him. "We picked up Harry Potter from aroun' here, didn't we, Ern? Two years ago, it was. He said his name was Neville. Shoulda known somethin' was weird about him then, now I think it. What's yer name, blondie?"
This was only his second time riding the Knight Bus, so Harry was surprised to see the tables and chairs scattered around the bus. Unlike the last time, the bus was nearly full with wizards and witches on their way to work. Blinking at the sudden address, Harry spoke the first name that came to mind. "Seamus. Seamus Finnegan. How long do you think it'll be before my stop?"
"Um… how long 'til Diagon Alley, Ern?"
The bus lurched, nearly tossing Harry to the ground, as it disappeared and reappeared in downtown London. The driver looked back, frowning in thought. Several cars jumped out of the way of the Bus as it began drifting sideways.
"I'd say about half an hour," Ernie said, turning forward again just in time to run a red light. "Most of this lot get off there and the Ministry, so it shouldn't be much longer 'n that."
Harry nodded, and ignoring whatever it was Stan turned to say, marched off to the back of the bus. He found a seat next to an old, matronly witch whose nose was buried in the day's issue of the Prophet. Laying against the table, careful to make sure his scar stayed covered, Harry closed his eyes and eavesdropped on some of the Ministry workers' gossip.
Apparently the Daily Propaganda had dropped his name again, because mutters about 'that Potter boy, so touched in the head' were swapping like wildfire. Harry wanted to snicker. If he was so patently and obviously abnormal, then so were they, because they didn't realize the object of their ridicule was sitting less than five feet away.
After the Ministry drop-off, there were only about a dozen left. He figured it had been about twenty minutes and hoped they would get to his stop soon. Two trickled off at different stops, and Harry jerked upright as Stan finally called out, "Leaky Cauldron!"
He dragged his trunk off the bus, arranged with Tom the barkeeper to book a room until September first, and rushed to Gringotts to make a withdrawal, nervously wondering if he would be turned away as an imposter. Harry was both relieved and highly irritated when the goblin merely checked to see he had the appropriate key and led on, making a comment about how idiot wizards never kept up with their keys.
"What do you mean he disappeared?" Sirius howled. He liked Mundungus. Really. Well, more than virtually anyone else at Grimmauld Place, as little as that meant. That didn't keep him from wanting to strangle the thief and mutilate his corpse. "You were supposed to be watching him! How the hell does a teenager disappear into thin air?"
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Sirius, calm yourself. Getting angry accomplishes absolutely nothing. What we need to do is find Harry, and fast. As soon as Voldemort finds out Harry is without protection, he will hunt him down. Remus, what did Petunia say?"
Wait, Remus knew his godson had disappeared, and he hadn't even bothered to tell him? The animagus gave his friend a betrayed look, which was studiously ignored.
"Absolutely nothing," the werewolf said flatly. Dumbledore, and the gathered Order, stared at him. "She slammed the door in my face and told me I wasn't welcome. One thing is certain, though. The wards on that property are very powerful. I only woke up an hour ago."
Sirius blinked and decided to forgive his friend.
"The wards should have only reacted like that if Petunia genuinely saw you as a threat to her and her family's safety…" Dumbledore murmured. He frowned. "But it also means Harry left of his own volition. If Petunia had forced him to leave, the wards would have collapsed. Overall, that is good news." The old wizard looked at Tonks and Kingsley. "What about his neighbors?"
The two aurors glanced at each other, and then Kingsley spoke for both of them. "According to the people we spoke with, Harry hasn't been seen outside for several days. They thought it was curious, since he usually did the yard work. One or two of them said they saw a blond boy with a trunk leave the house yesterday morning, though."
"Blond?" Sirius repeated, feeling his stomach sink. "Did you say blond?"
He squirmed as the collective gaze of Order of Phoenix came to rest on him.
Kingsley said, "Yes, why?"
Shit. "I thought he was kidding."
"Kidding about what?" asked Tonks.
"Start from the beginning, Sirius," Dumbledore advised.
Dumbledore's tone was scrupulously calm, but Sirius felt his stomach to turn to ice. Oh, shit.
Come dream thirteen, Harry shot out of bed with a grin on his face that wouldn't look out of place on a man who had just won the lottery. Even the fact that he had no idea why he was so happy wasn't enough to damper his glee. Sure, there had been some sadness, some toil, some sacrifices, but it was over. Time to rebuild, time to start anew.
Harry made himself presentable and headed down for breakfast. The hour was later than he usually rose, as if whatever in the dream had left him in such a good mood had also decided he deserved a sleep-in. Nonetheless, he sensed a round dozen patrons in the common room. Most of them, he realized when he entered and had a glance around, were Alley watchwizards, having a bite before toddling off to home and bed, but a knot of teenage witches sat huddled in the corner and burst into giggles and whispers when he came in.
Recognizing two or three from school, he smiled in their direction, provoking yet more giggles and a few blushes, and then found himself a seat at the bar.
Tom heard the giggling and looked up from where he was wiping down a table. Spotting Harry's blond head, he snorted at the girls and came over to the bar. "You're up later than usual, Mr. Brown. What'll you be having for breakfast?"
"Oatmeal and a glass of milk, please," said Harry.
The barkeep nodded. "I'll bring it right out. On the house, this time," he added, looking worried. "I think I've made a big mistake."
Five minutes later, Tom brought out the meal. Pulling up a stool, he sat across from him and folded his hands.
"They came in with the morning crew," he said. "Pretty redhead, short, blue eyes, and her monstrous black dog. The dog was keeping to itself, sniffing around, and the girl comes over to me and asks if a blond boy had come by a few days back, the day you did. I told her yes, and that you were still here." Seeing his face, Tom winced. "Yeah, I shouldn't've, but it wasn't all bad at least. She wanted to know what your room number was, so I asked her to describe you. She couldn't, so I refused, only her dog started causing a scene and ran out. I think they went out into the Alley, but I'm not sure. Why would someone be looking for you?"
"She's probably got her blonds crossed," said Harry. He frowned. The huge black dog had to be Sirius, but who was the girl? He didn't know any redhead girls with blue eyes. Both Ginny and Mrs. Weasley had brown, and his mum had green. Either way, if she was with Sirius, that meant she must be one of Dumbledore's people: probably not a threat, but definitely a problem.
Not nearly as much as Sirius himself, however. He hadn't thought Dumbledore would send his godfather into one of the few places that was crawling with Aurors even during peacetime, and even if he had, Harry had no idea how to magically conceal one's scent. As troubling as that was, Harry found it didn't make up for the disappointment he felt that it took Dumbledore's people nearly a week to track him to one of the most obvious places imaginable.
I'm going to fight a war with these people at my back? I'm-
He paused. Someone he knew was approaching. The presence was ten feet outside of the pub, on the Muggle side, and accompanied by an unfamiliar presence that was undeniably female.
Harry put down his spoon. "Put this back for me, will you?"
Tom blinked. "Sure thing, Mr. Brown. But why?"
He was speaking to empty air. Wheeling around, all the barkeeper caught sight of was a flash of yellow as it zipped out back. A bark brought his attention out to the front.
"Snuffles!" the redhead snapped. "Stop dragging me aroun-" She tripped over a table leg and crashed to the ground. The dog paid her no mind, sniffing around. It barked excitedly when it came to the stool Harry had vacated and shot after him.
Harry felt the familiar presence, Sirius, coming after him, so went out back and slipped into the Diagon Alley morning crowd. Sirius' Grim-like form would sow utter chaos there, so the woman would probably stop him from following. He glanced back to check, saw Sirius pacing with his head and tail low, and met eyes with his redheaded pursuer.
She scowled; the expression read, "Get over here now and maybe you'll get away with just a tongue-lashing."
In response, Harry's mouth upturned into a wild grin. "Try me," it said.
He whirled around and vanished into the crowd. Between Sirius and whatever backup she might call, he might not manage to get away, but he was damn well going to make capture as difficult as possible. That in mind, the first stop was obviously Madame Malkin's. In a sea of brown, bright yellow blond really stood out.
Seven hours, five changes of headgear, three close calls, and one thorough exploration of Knocturn Alley later, Harry collected his things from the Leaky Cauldron and switched hotels, a full shit-eating grin pasted on his face.
Sirius was growling. Considering he wasn't in his animagus form, that may have been strange if every one in the retrieval party wasn't doing the exact same thing, if for different reasons. They hadn't caught him. How does a half-dozen adult witches and wizards go about not catching a teenage wizard who wasn't even allowed the use of magic?
Let alone manage to lose said wizard in a crowd, when he was crowned with such a distinctive blond. Sirius had never seen such a color on a human being.
If only they had let him track him through the Alley. Even if Harry's scent had altered with his appearance, there still remained enough that Sirius would never lose his trail. Tonks had refused, saying that seeing him would only cause even more trouble in which Harry could disappear.
"He grinned at me," the witch was saying now, agitated and exasperated. She ran a hand through the hair she had morphed to approximate Harry's new color. "He grinned! As if he was saying 'come and get me, if you think you can!' clear as day. And I don't care if he was wearing hats, he shouldn't have been able blend in that well. Not with that mop!"
Moody grinned. "If the laddie's got skills like that, he'll make a good Auror."
"Yeah, Tonks," Sirius put in sourly. "I thought you got perfect marks in Concealment and Disguise?" She blushed. "But then you nearly failed Stealth and Tracking. No wonder you couldn't get him."
Now Tonks glared, still rather pink. Remus shot him a censuring look.
Dumbledore cleared his throat. "While its impressive Harry managed to elude an Auror, his behavior is worrying. He mustn't treat his situation as a game with war on the horizon… I will have to talk with him later." An odd expression flashed across his face. "Sirius, did you notice anything different about his scent?"
Sirius' eyebrows went up at the odd question. "It's definitely not what it used to be," he admitted. "It's still discernibly him, no worries, but it's changed a lot." The animagus paused. "Actually, that's not quite right. It's not that it's changing, it's that it's being covered up. His scent is still there, but a new scent is overpowering it. I could only catch a whiff of Harry."
"I see…." The headmaster's expression was closed.
"Albus?" Sirius didn't like that expression at all. "Is there something you know that we don't?"
Safe in the confines of the office he had held for under a year, Harry could still sense the fear and despair that pervaded his village. The panic of the civilians, the tempered grim determination of the ninja forces, the ice in his own stomach were all muted. The only thing he allowed himself to really feel was the trust and faith they all held, and he drew on that to keep on going.
No one knew why the monstrous fox had pulled back at the last minute, giving them precious hours to formulate a defense. Harry suspected foul play, and planned on saying as much to the Third, but there was nothing he could do. By the time there was any chance to investigate, he would be long dead.
Setting down his brush one last time, Harry sat back and studied his handiwork. He carefully scanned every line, every curve, and every symbol; the slightest mistake could cause the entire seal to fail, or backfire, or any number of things. There was far too much at stake.
It was perfect. Every seal was painstakingly figured, every seal combination interlocked and worked jointly, and every seal functioned alone, all serving the same purpose. If Harry was in the mood, he might pat himself on the back. He wasn't…
Harry held his son for one timeless second, just enough to name him, before handing him to the Third to hold while he prepared the seal. The brush moved with deft surety and precision, tracing line after line and symbol after symbol around Naruto's navel, building the prison that would cage the most powerful of the demons within his body. With one last nod to his predecessor, Harry left the hospital room of his wife with the knowledge that she, the sole survivor of her former village's destruction, would never blame him. She couldn't, as she survived no longer.
From here he could see the nine flailing tails of the monstrous fox, up again and on the move. The flashes of fire, lightning, and other energy techniques were comforting; they let him know his ninja were still fighting on, buying him time. Well, he had had enough. The sealing technique was half-done. It was time he finished this….
Standing atop Gamabunta's head, Harry had an amazing view of the battlefield, where so many of his ninja lay spattered, crushed, and in pieces. Even now more were dying. Beneath him, the toad boss was doing its best to keep the fox occupied, but there was only so much he could do without drawing too much attention to the blond man on his head.
Rather, what the blond man on his head was doing. Harry was hard to miss with his feet on the ground, let alone on the head of a giant toad, eye-level with his enemy.
His fingers slid from hand-seal to hand-seal, so fast the naked eye could only manage a blur. The normal death god summoning technique was much shorter, but with the modifications he was adding into the usual 'deal' he had to be more careful. This form took just under a minute, unbelievably long and tedious in any combat situation, but it would work.
His hands locked into the final seal, snake, and a wave of frigid cold swept the battlefield. The ninetails paused, sniffing the air warily, and rushed Gamabunta. It would have been the end, but the end had already come.
With one last grim smile, Harry latched on to that frigid chakra and reached….
Harry stirred, brushing off a wave of disorientation as he sat up. It was cool despite the warm rays of the sun on his face, and silent as the grave. At first he didn't recognize the place. It was like stepping into a nightmare; the deceptively cheerful sun shone down on a field of dead bodies, laying frozen in unnatural positions in pools of their own blood. It took a second before he realized some of the figures, most of them around thirty to forty meters away, were still upright.
When he approached, Harry saw they were completely still, but what wounds they had didn't look fatal. He could sense, them, too, so they had to be alive, just… frozen. Petrified.
Behind them towered a village. Although it was certainly large enough, Harry couldn't call it a city. It was a village.
Yeah, that was it. Hidden Leaf Village.
Just as the realization struck him, so did another, and Harry frowned. He didn't know a Hidden Leaf Village. How did he know that was this place's name?
"I know because it's my home."
Harry blinked. "No it's not." The only true home he could claim was Godric's Hollow, and it was long destroyed. Now, the closest he had to a home was Hogwarts.
"True, technically. I was born in Hikyo, the Fire capital. But I became a ninja of the Leaf, and so Leaf is my home. I still remember Father's face when I told him what I had decided."
A smile touched his face as Harry remembered. He had interrupted his father's monologue about politics and how he was going to go far. Earlier that day Harry had had the fortune to be standing in the marketplace when the Hokage and his retinue came by, heading to a meeting with the Fire Lord. It had something to do with the Second Secret Ninja War, which was just ending then, but Harry hadn't known that at the time; he had seen the respect the commoners and nobility alike had paid that man, and knew in that instant exactly what he wanted to do with his life.
Initially stunned, his father had decided it was just a passing fancy and let him attend the Ninja Academy that year. He had regretted his decision later, because Harry had never looked back.
He wondered what James would say-
"Wait…" Harry's breathing grew uneven. "My father's dead. He's been dead since I was one."
"My father died when I was fifteen."
His father had been on a diplomatic assignment to Earth Country. While the governments of Earth and Fire were still friendly, the war between the ninja villages Leaf and Rock was gathering steam. He had been ambushed and killed along the way.
"His name was Namikaze Aoshi."
But my father is James Potter!
He was Harry Potter, son of Lily and James Potter. His father was a man of average height and moderate build, with jet black hair and hazel eyes.
But… he remembered. He remembered Aoshi. His father's hair had been a darker blond, closer to brown, and his eyes had been a clear blue, exactly like his. Being a politician, he had little use for staying in shape, so the small, lean figure Harry used for speed in place of power made him look more overweight than he was.
Realizing he had been staring fixedly at the distant village, Harry blinked to reorient himself and circled the living statues as he began to walk toward it.
A knot of black-haired men were frozen in a wide circle, white eyes wide and veins bulging in their temples. Their hands glowed with energy, and one was frozen in a sort of pirouette, pale blue mist encasing him like a protective bubble. Hyuga.
Another bunch of ninjas was divided into two ranks about five meters back. Two in the front rank had their hands pressed to the ground, and a foot of thick earth protruded from the ground in from of them. Three in the back had their hands locked into seals, and one looked to be in the midst of blowing a kiss. A fine blue haze of energy hovered in front of his mouth. A half-formed fire release technique.
Inuzuka, Uchiha, and Aburame. Yamanaka, Nara, and Akimichi. Name after name. Ninja after ninja.
Harry stopped by a prone form that looked familiar. Rolling the body on its back, he met the lifeless eyes of his student Rin. She had collapsed on top of another injured ninja, dead as well. One of the other ninja's arms was burnt through by demon energy. She must have been attempting to heal it when she was killed.
Beside the two, head bowed in grief and fury, was Kakashi, the last of his three students. His forehead protector had been pulled up, unveiling the eye that was his gift from Obito. One hand glowed with bright blue energy, his thousand birds, and he was tilted forward, caught in mid-charge.
Harry felt sick at his stomach, remembering the things his student had done. The boy was younger than he was, yet he had fought in a war. He killed without remorse.
"He is a ninja."
So had Harry. No matter what Dumbledore said, Harry remembered the feeling of skin disintegrating under his fingers. He remembered Riddle's scream. He didn't regret what he had done either time.
"So am I."
"Me, a ninja?" Harry snorted at the mental picture. What ninja had yellow hair? Shaking his head, he realized something else: his hair was short. Ducking down to peer into the puddle of water left from a water release technique, he was disconcerted by his reflection. Black hair, green eyes, pale skin.
Harry stared. Somehow, after the change, it was stranger to see his face than not-his-face. Then, a second head appeared reflected in the water, one with longer blond hair and bright blue eyes. Not-his-face with blue eyes instead of green. Namikaze Aoshi's eyes.
He whipped around to meet the eyes. "Who are you?"
The blond arched an amused brow. "That is, who am I?" It sounded like he was sharing a private joke.
"I know who-" Harry cut himself off from saying one of the single most stupid comments in the history of wizardry, given what he had just asked. 'I know who you are!' Not that it mattered.
"Why ask, then?" the blond smiled crookedly as he spoke, making it impossible for Harry to be irritated at him. He could only be rattled. "Who am I?"
Team Seven: Kurohara Kizuna, Namikaze Minato, and Usagi Hiromaru. Your teacher…
Namikaze Minato, I am proud to confer upon you the rank…
My name is Namikaze Minato, and I'll be your teacher and squad leader until…
I am honored to present you with my successor, the Fourth Hokage, Namikaze Minato…
The memories flashed through his head like a video on fast-forward, the renewed experiences so powerful they left him dizzy. Namikaze Minato, Minato, Minato. It almost made him sick, but it wasn't until he released that his and Minato's outlines were blurring that he thought to pull himself out of his memories.
The sudden separation hit like an electric shock, and Minato stepped forward in concern.
Harry jerked away from him, stumbling backward until he tripped over a crushed body and landed in a heap. He was too frazzled to rise immediately. He was shaking all over, not from exhaustion but from shock. Between seeing Minato, the memories, the dreams, and the changes, he couldn't help but put the evidence together in the only reasonable picture.
He had more experience with soul magic than most wizards ever got. One, Minato was possessing him, which didn't make sense, given he recalled perfectly his blond time. Two, Minato was hitching a ride, which didn't make sense either, because Harry wouldn't be gaining memories. Three…
That is, who am I?
Three, there was no 'Minato' or 'Harry,' only 'him.'
Harry found this option terrified him more than either of the other two. Situations like this, reincarnation, were rare enough. For the reincarnation to regain their former memories was even rarer, but they were often historically significant enough to be well documented. In every case, there was something of a battle between the two 'sides' for dominance. The state of Harry's body was enough to prove he had already lost.
"I don't like this situation," Minato said quietly. His blue eyes were understanding and still unyielding. "I was ready to face my fate."
Was. Fate had intervened, it seemed, but the Leaf was left without their leader. In all likelihood, the Third would have to retake office, and although his mind was still keen he was growing old. Many ninja were dead, and the Leaf was weakened. Enemy villages may take the opportunity to attack, and the Leaf would be hard-pressed to hold its own.
And Naruto was left alone. Minato was not fool enough to believe even his beloved village would be able to look on his child without seeing the monster he held. Not only that, but without him there, the Third would probably hide his heritage to protect him from other villages, at the cost of the buffer it would serve in the Leaf.
Harry could understand all of that. Damn it all, but he understood. "I still have my fate to face," he replied stiffly. Where would Hermione be if he hadn't convinced Ron to rescue her? Where would Ginny be if he hadn't been there to follow her down into the Chamber? Where would Sirius be? War was on the horizon, and he could not abandon them.
No more than Minato could abandon the Leaf.
Abruptly they both laughed, finding the situation utterly hilarious.
If things were different, they could probably be great friends.
"I would never abandon a friend or a comrade," said Minato, once again becoming serious. He smiled fondly. "With Ron and Hermione, it's like being on Team Seven again. It would be horrible to lose them."
"Like you lost Kizuna and Hiro?" They had died during the War, too. Kizuna was captured by Rock ninjas and tortured for information, only to die with her lips still sealed. Hiro died to save his team, for all the good it did. Only one of them survived the mission, and that one spent months on suicide watch.
Minato didn't flinch at the reminder, but his eyes turned sad. "Yes."
It was ironic. Ron, Hermione, and him made a new Team Seven. Hogwarts was the Ninja Academy. Dumbledore's people were one ninja village, and Dumbledore himself was the leader. The Death Eaters were enemy ninja, and Voldemort the enemy leader. It was the Third Secret Ninja War all over again, only now he was just an academy student instead of a feared elite ninja.
Where was he, Harry Potter, in all of this?
Harry felt like a self-centered sod when he finally allowed himself to see the real issue. It would be better to die than to… cease to exist. Maybe it was selfish to want be the one to help, but the fact it was help he wanted to do had to count for something.
He turned away, staring at the village. Harry forced himself to his feet and began to run. Minato, knowing what was running through his mind, did not follow, though he ran his hands through the seals for body flicker.
Although the ninetails had been stopped almost a kilometer outside the village, it didn't seem to take long at all to get there. The next thing Harry knew, he was jumping rooftops like a ninja on crack, one destination in mind. The Leaf General Hospital was in the center of the village, partly because it was the safest place to have it and partly because it was one of the oldest buildings in the Leaf.
The hospital room wasn't much different than when he had left it. Kushina's body remained on the bed, cool to the touch, and the Third sat facing the second bed, where Naruto lay, enclosed in candles, the seal on his navel glowing an angry red. Harry came over and picked the newborn up.
This baby, Minato's own son, would be treated like a freak of nature because he saved the village. Harry knew the feeling. He would never know, until someone dared to say, why he was hated. He could only guess, until one of a very select group of people finally deigned to tell, who his parents were and what his heritage meant. He would be hunted until the day he died.
But sometimes you have to make sacrifices to save lives. Sometimes those sacrifices are human lives.
Sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself to save yourself and everything you cared for.
Harry understood, even if it killed him.
Behind him, Minato placed a hand on his shoulder and squeezed.
The morning of the sixteenth dream, Harry rolled out of bed silently, his expression solemn. Memories and thoughts were bouncing through his head at speeds that made it difficult to catch and pin them down. Things had changed, that much was clear.
But he was still Harry, even if he wasn't really Harry anymore.
Stretching, he got to his feet and walked into the bathroom to take a look in the mirror. In this run-down Knocturn Alley inn, the mirror was dingy with dirt and slime, but it was clean enough that he found the change he had been expecting.
Bright blue eyes stared back at him from the mirror. Namikaze Minato was back.
Comments, criticisms, questions and suggestions welcome. Like I said, do your worst.