Severus Snape crept towards the graveyard in sync with the ever-rolling mist. His mind was cleared of any delicate information and his mask, silver and metaphorical, was in place. His destination, a towering marble headstone marked Tom Riddle, loomed into view, glowing an eerie gold in the light from the small village down the hill. In time with his own footsteps, he could see other figures in black robes and silver masks approaching the Riddle tombstone. As if planned, they reached their spots in the circle in unison. They kneeled, faces lowered toward the ground.
Lord Voldemort looked down on them in silence for several minutes. He had risen hardly two months ago, but already the holes in his circle of followers had been filled with new recruits. Already, word was washing like a tidal wave, only to the right people, of course, of his return. Already, he was regaining his foothold in power.
"Rise," he commanded softly, and the Death Eaters rose.
Snape, looking at the Dark Lord for the first time this night, couldn't help his startled blink of surprise. He quickly schooled his expression back into blankness and cleared his mind, however, and simply observed the stranger standing beside the Dark Lord.
Indeed, a strange boy stood beside Voldemort, seemingly bored with the proceedings. His height and complete lack of wrinkles placed him somewhere around fourteen (and Severus was good with ages, being a teacher for as many years), but his eyes had a cold blankness he rarely saw in anyone younger than, well, himself. The young teenager had hair so black it appeared blue in the starlight, and his too-old eyes glinted the same color. His skin was pale and flawless, and there was a passively arrogant look on his aristocratic features. All in all, Snape was reminded of Sirius Black. This boy obviously came from that same type of family; the type that was more interested in proper breeding than love.
As if sensing Snape's attention, even through the silver mask, the blue-black eyes snapped to his, and Snape instantly willed himself not to step back from the sudden onslaught of cold hostility. The teen's eyes swept the rest of the Death Eaters in a similar manner.
"Could you please inform your cohorts," he drawled to the Dark Lord with just enough of an accent that Snape could tell he was foreign, "that I do not appreciate being stared at?"
It wasn't a question. Voldemort gave him a cold sidelong look, clearly thinking the same thing.
Instead of relaying the message, Voldemort said, "Please forgive my lapse in manners, my dear followers. This is Sasuke Uchiha, the apprentice of one of my… old foreign allies." His voice worked its way into a hiss, and he continued with a foreboding smile, "This is the reason I have summoned you tonight. Sasuke will be my own temporary apprentice as his master takes care of other matters. I expect each of you to contribute some knowledge to our… new little student in the near future. His own methods are different from ours, but I believe you will all find that he is… quite the quick study."
Snape listened with the same rapt attention Death Eaters always mustered for their lord, but he couldn't help but notice the snake, Nagini, slither towards them from the old Riddle manor. He had always hated that snake. She was too large and too intelligent for any sane man's pet. She was like a functioning Death Eater in herself.
He forced himself not to jerk as she slithered by his feet towards the center of the circle. Instead of going to Voldemort, though, she circled around Uchiha's ankles, hissing for attention. Snape watched as the boy bent and allowed the snake to glide onto his shoulders and curl around his chest, the only ornament on his plain black robes. He whispered something to her, and the language wasn't English or Parseltongue. She hissed back. He said something else, and she replied again.
This finally gained the Dark Lord's attention. He stopped in his speech about recent developments in their goals in order to give the boy a look. "If this meeting bores you, you may return to the manor," he whispered dangerously. It was the closest Snape had ever heard the Dark Lord get to sarcasm.
Uchiha shrugged and started towards the manor, unconcerned with the barely veiled threat.
Voldemort made a quiet noise somewhere between a hiss and a growl. "Snape," he said, "deliver your report and then follow Sasuke. You will begin his education. I've always found your Dolorium poison especially potent. Why don't you teach him your method for that?"
Snape masked his surprise with a humble, "Yes, m'lord."
His Dolorium poison was one of the most complex potions he was capable of brewing, and he had only perfected his technique after almost ten years of effort. Voldemort would no doubt torture him when that child proved incapable of producing it accurately. Did the Dark Lord seriously believe a student no older than a fourth year worthy of that potion?
He gave his prepared report flawlessly and bowed out of the circle. Voldemort had bought it, he thought, allowing only a flicker of relief. Snape had insisted Dumbledore remained oblivious of their intentions to get the prophecy from the Department of Mysteries. As far as Voldemort knew, Dumbledore was only recruiting for the Order of the Phoenix at the moment, long term plans nonexistent.
He entered the old, recently refurbished manor with stilled breath. Death Eaters only entered their master's abode with explicit permission, and even then, the air seemed to press down warningly. He walked on the thin dark green carpet as though walking on eggshells as he scouted the rooms on the ground floor for the foreign boy. Normally, he would have simply followed the footprints left in the new carpet, but there were none. He hesitated. Was he sure the kid had come up here? He hadn't dared to look behind him towards Uchiha as he followed orders delivered his report.
Risking it, he started up the stairs and began opening doors.
He found the boy in the third bedroom leaning against the window and reading. He had glanced up before Snape even opened the door.
"You would do well to knock before you enter a person's bedroom, Death Eater," he said, returning his gaze to his book. His tone was cold and distant. Snape got the impression this kid was in a permanent state of nonchalance. At least that was better than a loud, attention seeking brat like Sirius Black. Perhaps teaching this boy wouldn't be a complete waste of time, even if he wouldn't be able to get the potion right.
"Pardon me," Snape drawled with a half bow. "My name is Severus Snape. The Dark Lord wishes me to teach you to brew the Dolorium poison."
"Oh?" said Uchiha, looking up again. He snapped his book shut. "And what does the Dolorium poison do, specifically?"
"Upon contact with this poison, the victim develops a cold sweat and shortness of breath. It proceeds to induce distant hallucinations similar to a particularly bad reaction to dementors. The hallucinations worsen with time until they fully consume the victim, and they usually drive the victim mad. In most cases, the victim takes his own life in fits of madness."
"Is there an antidote?"
"Then what is its use, besides a slow death?"
Snape considered his next words carefully. "The victim… can be made to believe there is an antidote. If you had questions for him, he would definitely answer them in return for the antidote. It has worked every time."
The kid smirked. "I see. Very well, then. Where are your supplies?"
Snape set up everything they would need in the basement under the careful observation of Sasuke Uchiha. They had been silent for the past ten minutes as he collected all the materials from the Dark Lord's personal supplies, and Snape, though he would rather drink a vat of giggling potion before he admitted it, was becoming unnerved. Snape knew the kid's eyes had been black, larger and even blacker than Snape's own, but now they were just as blood red as the Dark Lord's. Instead of the cat-slit pupils, however, Uchiha had regular pupils surrounded by three black comma shapes. They followed his every move.
To break the silence, he asked, "How much experience have you had in potion-making?"
Snape tried not to choke on his surprise and outrage. He was supposed to teach one of the hardest potions imaginable to a first year?
"Don't worry," the kid smirked. His red eyes gleamed. "I can keep up."
Uchiha set up a cauldron next to Snape's, and Snape noticed he set it up precisely as Snape had, the order in which each task was done identical. Uchiha glanced at him. "Please, begin."
Snape had never seen anything like it. He spoke, explaining each step as he performed it, and Uchiha mirrored him exactly, even retaining the presence of mind to ask intelligent questions as his hands moved expertly.
By the time they got to the final step before letting it brew for a week, their potions were exact copies. Snape couldn't help the amazement on his face. He had removed his mask as he worked in order to have full visibility, so he knew Uchiha saw the expression.
"Is it a spell?" he asked at length.
Uchiha's expression didn't change from its usual indifference as he thought about it. Then he responded, "It's simply in my blood. Shall I stir the potion at all during this week or leave it be?"
"Leave it be. I'll return Monday evening, and we'll finish it."
Uchiha nodded once and started out of the basement.
Snape remained a moment longer, staring impassively at their potions. It was in his blood? Like Voldemort's Parseltongue or Tonks's Metamorphmagus? He supposed the red eyes indicated him accessing the bloodline. But what were its powers? Was it simply for copying? What were its limitations? Whatever it was, it was damned impressive. A fourteen year old was easily brewing the Dolorium poison.
He sighed. He would need to inform Dumbledore immediately. It seemed Voldemort had some powerful allies already. This kid could be trouble.
One Year Later:
"Are you sure this wouldn't be simpler as an assassination mission?" Tsunade asked, eyeing the old man across from her dubiously. The Fifth let her head lean on her hand, the only sign of weariness she would allow herself in front of a client. "I mean, a year long mission, even as a C or B class protection mission, seems incredibly expensive for a school's budget. If you told me more about this person we're supposed to protect the boy from, I'm sure I could find the perfect ANBU for him. It could be finished in a matter of days."
"I'm afraid I can't do that," the old man, who had identified himself as Albus Dumbledore, said with a smile. "I believe in justice, and to hire someone who hasn't been affected by Lord Voldemort to kill him, I believe, would make the deaths of all those who have died in the war against him meaningless. I am afraid this is a very personal war for me."
Tsunade couldn't help it. She tried; she really did, but a personal war? Anyone who lost someone in a war felt it was personal. She snorted in front of the client.
And then she froze. "Lord… Voldemort? That name… who is he?"
Dumbledore bowed his head in acknowledgement of her recognition. "He is the Darkest wizard of our century. He was thought to have been vanquished fourteen years ago by this boy, Harry Potter, when Harry was just a baby. He rose again a little over a year ago, however, and has been growing in power exponentially since. He is responsible for hundreds, if not thousands of deaths, particularly Muggles, or non-magical people, and Muggle-born witches and wizards."
"…Does he have a certain fondness for snakes?"
"Indeed," Dumbledore beamed at her contribution.
Tsunade fell silent and bent down to open a drawer in her desk. She found the file inside and pulled it out, opening it on her desk. She stared more than read.
"You say the charge will be sixteen this coming school year?"
"I do," Dumbledore smiled.
"That's Naruto's generation, alright," she muttered to herself. She stared at the file. Dumbledore waited, humming pleasantly to himself. She sighed. "You're in luck, then, if that's really what you want. We have a sixteen year old that is… familiar with this Voldemort guy. I'll have to send his team with him since he's still on probation, but you did request a three-man cell, didn't you?"
"Probation?" Dumbledore inquired, frowning curiously. "If I may be so bold as to ask, what is he on probation for?"
"…Betraying the village…."
Dumbledore chuckled at her chagrined expression. "But if you took him back, it means you have hope for him, no?"
"Well, I told him I'd kill him personally if he tried anything funny, so I'm fairly certain he'll be loyal from now on," she smirked. "And, of course, his teammates keep him in line, whether they realize it or not."
Tsunade's smirk turned into a full-out evil grin. "You told me earlier about visiting Sarutobi about ten or eleven years ago, and a blond hooligan replacing his pipe with a bubble pipe?"
Dumbledore smiled and nodded. Sarutobi had given him the bubble pipe when he'd shown an interest in it. He still had that pipe and frequently brought it out for holiday celebrations.
"That blond hooligan is Naruto. Naruto will be sixteen in October." She grinned. "Naruto is his teammate."
"Naruto…. Wasn't that the name of Minato's son?" Dumbledore asked, frowning slightly. Of course it was, he knew. He had met the Fourth and his very pregnant wife while visiting Sarutobi during his retirement. They had already decided on the name, if it were a boy. And after Sarutobi had retaken the mantle of Hokage, he and Dumbledore had spoken of Naruto extensively.
Tsunade looked surprised at his recognition. "Hai," she agreed. "But Naruto doesn't know who his father was, and I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell him. Jiraiya doesn't believe the time is right. It'd just give Naruto a big head. And trust me, no one wants that." She laughed.
Dumbledore chuckled. If Naruto were anything like he had been at age five, he could imagine what that would be like.
Tsunade sighed after a moment and said, "Theirs would be the best team for the job. However, if they are to stay for ten months, I'm afraid there are some things I need to warn you about before you accept them."
"And those would be…?" Dumbledore asked pleasantly. He unwrapped another lemon drop and popped it into his mouth expertly. Of course he already knew what she was going to say. This was his plan, after all.
"Well, to begin with, I would give you a seal to use on Naruto. He is the vessel for the Nine-tailed Fox Demon, and occasionally, it gets out of his control. I would feel more comfortable if you had the seal during his stay, just in case. Secondly, Sasuke, the one with information on Voldemort, has a Curse Mark. He has remarkable control over it, but the same seal could be used on him in an emergency. Over ten months, I'd say they'll both lose control at least once, but it's always been reversible, and, given their teamwork, I seriously doubt they'll let it interfere with their mission. But, besides that… Sasuke was Voldemort's apprentice. Again, I seriously doubt he'll return to Voldemort, but if there is even the slightest possibility, it's my duty as his employer to warn you."
"But you have the utmost confidence in them?"
"Absolutely. Once you meet Naruto, you'll understand. So, knowing that, do you accept them as your team?"
Dumbledore pretended to consider. Then he beamed. "I do. When is the earliest they can leave?"
"I can have them briefed and packed in two hours, if you want to wait."
Dumbledore smiled, but it quickly twisted comically as his tongue found a particularly sour patch on the lemon drop. He chuckled at Tsunade's reaction and, ignoring it, said, "Perfect!"
Tsunade hit a button on her desk and said, "Shizune! Bring me Team Seven!"
Ten minutes later, Dumbledore decided Naruto was the spitting image of Minato, just as much as Sasuke resembled Itachi. He thought Sakura's strange hair color could easily be explained away with 'potions accident.'
"New mission!" barked Tsunade as the team dragged themselves into bows. Pssh. Lazy teenagers. "Long term. You'll be going undercover for ten months to protect a student at this headmaster's school."
"TEN MONTHS? BUT WE'RE TRAINING FOR THE CHUUNIN EXAMS!" Naruto exclaimed. Tsunade was thankful had had matured enough during his training with Jiraiya that at least he didn't wave his arms around and/or jump up on her desk.
She growled. "Listen here, you little worm! I know you and Sasuke think the exam's going to be a joke with your experience level, so you definitely weren't training just now! Don't bother me with that lie! AND-" she raised her voice threateningly, hoping at least for a little cringe; but no, Naruto just continued glaring back defiantly, "-if you succeed in this mission, I'll automatically promote you and Sasuke to chuunin. Jounin if you prove you're worth it."
Well, that shut the brat up. He gaped. She smirked.
"OBAA-CHAN, I LOVE YOU!"
Naruto made to glomp her, and she dodged, smacking him in the back of the head as he careened past her. She heard Sakura sigh and knew her apprentice would give Naruto an earful as soon as they left.
"The mission," she continued, ignoring Naruto's moan as he rubbed his head, "is to pose as sixth year students at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to protect the student Harry Potter against a Dark wizard named Voldemort." She noticed Sasuke's eyes widen fractionally as the sentence went on. Good. He remembered. "Sasuke. You are the only one in Konoha with experience in the Wizarding world. What are your thoughts on the mission?"
Sasuke took a moment to consider. He glanced at Dumbledore and said, "Albus Dumbledore, I presume?"
"At your service," Dumbledore chirped.
Sasuke visibly kept himself from rolling his eyes. "I think it's the other way around, actually," he muttered. "As for the mission, I think assassinating Voldemort would be simpler. Naruto and I could take him out with a little preparation. He's about the caliber of Orochimaru."
"Assassination is not an option," Tsunade snapped. "I mean in regards to the undercover mission. You have three weeks to prepare. What do you suggest?"
Sasuke glanced at Sakura and Naruto. "They'll need to learn English. I suggest the Oratius charm for that," he looked to Dumbledore, who nodded his agreement. "They'll also need to learn how to use a wand. And we'll need to get our cover story very clear if we're going to have to stick to it for ten months. I hear that Potter and his friends are very curious and investigative. We'll probably need a second, hidden cover story to tell if they suspect us of dishonesty and corner us. Which they probably will since the dobe can't lie to save his life."
Dumbledore and Tsunade nodded, considering his evaluation, while Naruto scowled at his teammate.
"I will, of course, pay for all their materials and expenses in addition to the mission cost," Dumbledore said.
Tsunade nodded. "Very well. Sakura, as you are the only chuunin, you will be the team leader. Do you accept this mission on behalf of your team?"
Sakura glanced at Sasuke, whose expression was as unreadable as always, and Naruto, who looked excited, before nodding once. "I accept, Hokage-sama."
"Alright. Pack and meet back here in an hour. Dismissed."
When they left, Dumbledore presented half of the payment for the mission, and Tsunade expressed surprise that he had already converted galleons to their currency.
"Actually, I helped Sarutobi with a mission when he was just a chuunin," said Dumbledore. "He felt it was only fair to split the payment with me. I haven't had much use for it until now."
It wasn't a lie, per se. He had helped Sarutobi when the ninja was just a chuunin. It was how they'd met, both in their early teens. But this money Sarutobi, Itachi, Jiraiya, and Kakashi had pooled together shortly after the Kyuubi attack, specifically for this purpose, this 'mission.' Even though Sarutobi had passed away and he had fallen out of contact with Itachi, Jiraiya, and Kakashi, the warning signs had appeared exactly as they had foretold. Their plan would be executed.
He wondered if he should tell Tsunade their true intentions, but knowing her temper, he decided it was just as well she be left in the dark until it was beyond her control. He wouldn't risk this 'mission' failing because of her unpredictable mood swings.
And besides. It was fun counting how many cover stories he was putting into play.
A/N: Please review. =)