Angry screeches forced Harry to open his eyes, blink at the scene in front of him incredulously and wonder if he was still asleep.
Hedwig,with all her feathers fluffed up, and Kotetsu, who was rubbing red swollen fingers, stared each other down while Izumo wheezed with badly stifled laughter.
"What's going on?"
All three of them turned in his direction.
Harry looked between Hedwig and Kotetsu's fingers. "Actually, never mind."
"Harii," Kotetsu whined while Hedwig hooted indignantly.
Harry yawned and stretched, pointedly looking away from both of them as his spine popped pleasantly.
Izumo moved closer to him. "You're lucky you can fall asleep anywhere."
Harry stood and eyed the rickety chair he'd fallen asleep on. "It was the medication."
"You slept on that chair for five hours after a light lunch." Izumo snorted. "That's not just medication, that's skill."
Harry scoffed and motioned at Hedwig and Kotetsu, who'd resumed their staring contest. "What's with them?"
"Kotetsu thought you could use a syrup facial while you slept." Izumo barely suppressed his laughter.
Harry stared at him. "And you didn't stop them because?"
"I was being helpful. See," Izumo pointed at Hedwig, "she's improving her intimidation technique."
"Do you have an answer for everything?"
"I need to be prepared for when my good looks aren't enough to get me out of trouble."
Harry couldn't stop himself from grinning. "That's basically all the time, right?"
An odd mix of high-pitched whistles filled the air outside and silenced everyone in the room. Hedwig tilted her head curiously, hooted at Harry and flew out one of the open windows while Izumo and Kotetsu shared unreadable looks.
"They're finally back," Izumo said.
Harry glanced between both their faces and smiled. "Naruto?"
"Look at you, so happy all of a sudden!" Kotetsu smirked slightly. "I'll head back to the tower."
As Kotetsu left, Harry followed Izumo to the village's large red gates and searched for a vivid spot of orange in the evening light.
"The gate's standby medical team already took him inside."
Harry flinched. Absently noticing that Izumo had disappeared, Harry found Sai staring at him solemnly. "What?"
"Naruto went to the hospital," Sai repeated as he came closer. "They had to be fast about it."
Harry's chest tightened uncomfortably as his mind supplied vivid images of blood soaked orange jackets and a dying Naruto.
"Naruto's fine!" Shikamaru, who Harry hadn't noticed until just then, shoved a scroll to the gate guards and joined them. "He just wore himself out with all his pre-mission training."
"So," Harry cleared his throat, "He wasn't injured?"
"He hurt his arm," Sai said and frowned at Shikamaru.
Shikamaru sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Why are you still here?"
"I'm reassuring my team-mate's next of kin." Sai stared at Shikamaru in disappointment. "Are you unfamiliar with team-mate protocol?"
"Do you even know what reassuring means?"
"Of course, it..."
Harry interrupted them. "What happened to Naruto's arm?"
"Why don't we both go to the hospital and find out from reliable professionals," Shikamaru said, "And Sai, why don't you deal with the gate paperwork."
Sai narrowed his eyes. "I don't trust your ability to keep Harii calm during this crisis."
"Crisis?" Harry repeated.
"Too bad," Shikamaru said. "I might have injured myself during my fight, so I can't stay here and deal with the paperwork."
"You said you didn't need medical attention before," Sai said.
"And now I'm saying, maybe I do." Shikamaru pushed Harry away from the gate, through the village and into an empty waiting room in the hospital.
After more than two hours of waiting with gradually worsening thoughts, Harry gladly turned at the sound of a metallic click and stared as Shikamaru lit a cigarette. "When did you start smoking?"
Shikamaru shrugged even as took a drag of his cigarette. "Few days ago."
"Are you allowed to smoke in the hospital?"
"No." Shikamaru grimaced and rose slightly. "Is it bothering you? I can go and..."
Harry shook his head and turned to the waiting room's entrance anxiously. "They're taking too long for an injured arm."
"Post-mission check-ups are thorough, to check for poisons and things."
Harry glanced at Shikamaru pointedly.
"My check-up can wait." Shikamaru took another drag of his cigarette.
Harry knew only one other person who'd smoked. A person who'd died a 'few days ago'. "It'll be interesting to see you with a beard."
Shikamaru sputtered and coughed out a plume of smoke. He shot Harry an unreadable look and took another inhale of his cigarette. "I'm just smoking because it's soothing. There's no deeper reason."
Harry closed his eyes and leaned back, relaxing as the pungent smell of tobacco drowned out the sterile hospital smell. After a long bout of silence, he said, "Are you going to tell your mother that?"
The tobacco fumes thickened in the air. "I could switch to herbal cigarettes."
"Would you stop?"
After a few more puffs, Shikamaru said, "I could."
Harry snorted but stayed silent. Eventually the brisk click of heels made him open his eyes and turn to the entrance. Harry tensed, jumped to his feet and said, "Is he... can I see him?"
"He's fine." Even though she looked worn-out, Sakura smiled reassuringly and lead him through the hospital after dropping Shikamaru off in a check-up room. "You can only stay for a few minutes though. Civilian visiting hours are over."
"As long as I can see him."
"He's just been sedated to sleep through the entire night," Sakura said, "We're being cautious since his injury is unique. You see, the..."
Harry appreciated Sakura's explanations but he couldn't concentrate on her words as they navigated through the hospital's corridors, stepped through a metal sliding door and finally stopped near Naruto's sleeping form.
Harry watched Naruto's chest rise and fall for a few minutes before he reached out and brushed the hair away from Naruto's forehead. Comforted by the warmth under his fingers, Harry turned to the only visible injury, Naruto's heavily bandaged right arm.
It could have been so much worse, Harry reminded himself. Noticing the thread around Naruto's neck, Harry tugged it gently until he held up a familiar red omamori. Was I expecting this to keep him safe? Why didn't I use magic to help him?
He could have died! What good was fixing his sleeve if... Harry berated himself as his mind readily re-supplied images of a dying Naruto.
An insistent tapping banished his morbid thoughts.
"Hospital staff can't allow animals in a patient's room." Sakura moved to the door even as Harry stared at Hedwig on the window-sill. "Oh! I just remembered, I need to take care of something... outside for, uh, five minutes."
When the door slid shut, Harry opened the window and Hedwig swooped onto his shoulder and hooted almost inquiringly.
"He's going to be fine. He just needs to stay asleep," Harry said.
Hedwig jumped down on to Naruto's pillow.
Eager to make amends to Naruto, Harry ensured that his surroundings were relatively safe via the Homenum Revellio spell and cast the Ostenero spell on Naruto. The diagnosis spell showed Naruto's hand as a worrying mix of yellow, orange and purple blobs of colour in Harry's mind.
But knowing that he couldn't heal Naruto's arm completely without rousing suspicion, Harry decided to use magic to speed Naruto's healing. Conscious that he was short on time, Harry cast Episkey to fix some surface damage and a weak regeneration charm, Regenero,to improve Naruto's internal healing rate.
Just as Harry moved his hand back to pat Naruto's forehead, the door slid open.
"It's time to leave," Sakura said.
Hedwig huddled closer to Naruto.
Harry patted her head. "If I can't stay then you can't either."
"I'll open the window in the morning." Sakura looked directly at Hedwig. "You won't have to wait for Harii to visit."
Hedwig nuzzled Naruto's cheek, hooted softly at Harry and flew out the window.
Harry patted Naruto's forehead one last time and reluctantly moved away when Sakura closed the window and ushered him out of the hospital.
As they walked through lantern lit streets, Harry said, "You don't have to walk me home."
"It's no problem." Sakura stretched and stifled another yawn. "It's nice to meet my team-mate's relatives. Until you came along, I was the only person in Team Seven who had any family worth meeting."
"Naruto met your family?"
"No one from Team Seven has met them." Sakura sighed softly. "They're civilians."
"So am I."
"You're not as civilian as they are." Sakura hastily added, "Which is good because Naruto wouldn't be as comfortable around you."
Harry frowned, wondering what differentiated him from the other civilians. "He'd probably be a lot more comfortable if I was a ninja."
"Then he'd just worry about you doing something stupid like at the t..." Sakura paused and took a deep breath. "No, the way you are right now is perfect for him."
"You're giving me your approval?"
"For now. Until you do something stupid and try to leave him alone again," Sakura's level voice couldn't hide her frustrated anger.
Again? Slightly wary, Harry said, "I wouldn't leave him willingly."
"That's what worries me." Sakura sighed but didn't elaborate as they reached Harry's apartment building. "You can come by the hospital at six..."
When the insistent tugging on his hair got too painful to ignore, Harry opened his eyes and frowned up at Hedwig. She tugged on his hair again, hooted impatiently and few off in a flurry of feathers. He raised his head and winced when a page crinkled and peeled away from his face.
Ensuring that he hadn't ruined his textbook, Harry stretched and looked around his dimly lit kitchen. He flinched when he noticed the clock on his wall read five thirty and hastily got ready.
When Harry opened his apartment door, he paused for a moment before he stuck a 'gone out' sign on his door. "You're here early."
"I'm doing my team-mate duty." Sai lowered his hand and stepped back. "Are you ready to go to the hospital?"
Harry nodded and munched on an apple.
As they walked through Konoha's empty morning streets, Sai said, "I got a book from the library last night."
Startled that Sai had spoken, Harry asked, "What kind of book?"
"How to help friends heal faster."
Harry choked on his bite of apple. He coughed and said, "There are books like that?"
"There are all kinds of books in the library." Sai said, "I'm lucky I found it so easily last night."
"I didn't know libraries stayed open at night," Harry said. "But I suppose since the administrative building's ninja library is different."
"That library is for everyone. The ninja material is only accessible with proper clearance." Sai shook his head. "Anyway, the book said physical contact was the best way to help a person heal."
"That sounds weird."
Sai frowned at him. "I thought it made perfect sense."
"It doesn't," Harry said, torn between exasperation and amusement. "How can it?"
In the second it took Harry to dispose his apple core, Sai held up a book and said, "Let me read the relevant chapters."
"Wait, I don't..." Harry paused at Sai's eager expression. "Just read the important bits."
Sai smiled and read right until they reached Naruto's hospital room.
The minute Harry slid the door open and stepped in, Naruto turned to him with a frown. "Nii-san, is Heduwigu-sama mad at me?"
Harry looked around the empty room as he neared Naruto`s bed. "Why?"
"I think she was lecturing me," Naruto said. "She didn't stay quiet and she bit my ear right now before she left."
Harry snorted. "Then she was definitely lecturing you."
"As if baa-san's lectures weren't enough," Naruto huffed and rubbed his ear. "Sai, why are you giving nii-san that weird look?"
"Don't mind him." Harry just waved his hand. "He just read a book."
Naruto gave Sai a suspicious look. "What kind of book?"
Harry snickered and patted Naruto's hair gently. "Someone needs to check the books Sai reads."
"There's not enough physical contact." Sai interrupted their hushed conversation. "Harii, you're not helping Naruto heal faster."
"Sai." Harry continued to pat Naruto's hair as he said, "Not everything written in a book is the truth."
Sai narrowed his eyes. "You should still try it."
"The only books you can trust are recipe books."
"I don't like cooking." Sai frowned and then drooped a little. "I'll never be a good friend."
Unable to follow Sai's train of thought, Harry said, "Your mind must be an interesting place."
Sai looked up curiously. "Why..."
"Oi, you two, keep it down or you'll wake Naruto."
They both turned to the door and found Sakura frowning at them. And then they glanced at Naruto who snored softly in his sleep.
Harry pulled his hand back. "Is he supposed to go back to sleep so soon?"
Sakura stood beside Sai and smiled. "Naruto usually skips out on proper rest when he's injured."
"That doesn't answer my question," Harry pointed out.
"As long as he's injured, yes he's supposed to sleep. If he doesn't sleep, he'd move and slow his healing." Sakura grinned. "It's amazing how you made him sleep without sedation."
"I made him sleep?" Harry asked in disbelief. "I couldn't have."
Sai cleared his throat. "Of course, you did. Isn't it obvious?"
Harry shook his head.
"From the book, remember? Physical contact aids healing." Sai nodded sagely.
Sakura coughed and turned away from them, her shoulders shaking in obvious mirth.
"The book never elaborated but obviously it was correct," Sai said, whipped out the book from his pocket and stared at it respectfully.
Sakura patted Sai's shoulder fondly and carefully steered him out of the room. "You did a good job, Sai. I think you can help me with something else, you see..." She closed the door and giggled for a good minute or so before she grabbed Naruto's medical chart. Immediately after scanning the chart, Sakura activated her green glowing hands over Naruto's bandaged arm and frowned as she tapped various points on the bandage.
Harry dragged a chair close to Naruto's bed and sat silently until Sakura finally lifted her hands. "Is something wrong?"
Sakura shook her head. "No, he's healing."
"But?" Harry prompted, knowing that something had caught her attention during her long examination.
"He's healing differently."
"Is that bad?"
"No, just new." Sakura shrugged. "Everything but his chakra pathways have healed up already."
With magic I used, he couldn't have healed so fast. And what about his chakra pathways? Harry frowned in thought. "How long will he have to stay here?"
"Actually, he can leave as soon as he wakes up," Sakura said. "I just need to change his cast to something lighter. If he wakes up before I get back, make sure he stays."
When the door slid shut behind Sakura, Harry cast the Ostenero charm on Naruto. Relieved and confused at the distinct lack of colour on Naruto's injured arm, Harry recast the charm. But no matter how hard Harry concentrated, he couldn't see any of the chakra pathway damage that Sakura had mentioned.
As Harry considered the implications of that, Sakura returned and carefully cut open the bulky cast around Naruto's right hand. She smeared a thick layer gel over Naruto's unblemished skin, activated her green healing technique and pushed the gel into Naruto's skin. As she bandaged Naruto's hand, she said, "He'll be happy not to wear a cast."
"Who wouldn't be happy?" Harry looked down at his own cast.
Sakura snickered. "Will you stay here till he wakes up?"
"Yes. Will Sai be back soon?"
"Probably not. The paediatric department needed someone to keep the kids occupied," Sakura said.
"Is that safe?"
Sakura glared at him. "The kids are safe with Sai."
"I meant," Harry said, "Will he be safe from the kids?"
"Oh!" Sakura's cheeks tinged with pink as she pulled Naruto's sheet up to his neck. "It's good experience for Sai."
"Unless he reads and misunderstands another book," Harry muttered as Sakura collected her things.
Sakura snorted but said, "Let Naruto sleep for as long as possible."
Harry nodded and resigned himself to a long dull wait as Sakura left. Glad that he'd prepared for such an occasion, he pulled a book from his jacket and slouched in his chair.
By the time bright sunlight streamed in from the window and warmed his back pleasantly, Harry's mind, strained from reading about Konoha's trade laws, dreamt of food. Completely engrossed in thoughts about lunch, Harry flinched, dropped his book and almost fell off his chair when a panicked yell of "Nii-san!" cut through the silence.
Harry stood cautiously. "Naruto?"
Panicked blue eyes focussed on him before Naruto slumped in relief. "Nii-san, what..."
Harry's stomach growled loudly.
The very next moment, Naruto's stomach growled even louder.
They looked at each other, their initial embarrassment shifting into amusement, and chuckled.
Harry glanced out the window. "You woke up just in time for lunch."
"Lunch?" Naruto frowned and looked around. "But it's..."
"You fell asleep." Harry grabbed his fallen book. "Sakura said you could leave as soon as you woke up."
"Really? Awesome." Naruto jumped off the bed, pumped his hands up and promptly winced, clutching at his right hand.
"What's wrong? Should I call Sakura?" Harry stared at the newly re-bandaged hand.
"No! I just moved too fast." Naruto flayed his arms around. "Nii-san. I'm hungry."
"Fine," Harry said, after a few minutes of watching Naruto move his hands easily. "Get dressed and we'll go get lunch."
Fifteen minutes later, after navigating Konoha's streets, they ducked under short beige curtains of the ramen stand and paused when the old man behind the counter pointed at Harry. "You!"
Harry blinked. "Me?"
"You left that huge wad of cash here, last time. Just what kind of person do you think I am?"
Harry winced, remembering his last visit to the stall. "I was... paying Naruto's tab."
"What?" The chef blinked. "Why?"
"He's my cousin," Harry said simply.
Utensils clattered and crashed at the back of the stand. A young lady joined the old man and both stared between Naruto and him.
"You can't do that," Naruto said, frowning at Harry. "That... aren't you trying to open a shop?"
"It's not like I'll ever run out of things to fix, you know. Money isn't an issue." Harry shrugged, remembering his untouched wizarding gold. "Anyway, I'm really hungry. Can I have one miso ramen, please?"
"Right." The chef cleared his throat. "The usual for you, Naruto?"
Naruto nodded absently and turned to Harry. "Nii-san..."
Harry interrupted him as they sat on the old squeaky stools. "No talking until I've eaten."
"One large miso ramen," the chef said and placed a large bowl in front of Harry.
Naruto gaped. "Old man Teuchi, you've never made my ramen so fast!"
The chef, Teuchi, shrugged as he cut some meat. "Your cousin was lucky. I was already making some miso ramen for a delivery."
"His name is Harii," Naruto said.
Harry looked up, swallowed the noddles in his mouth hastily and said, "Nice to meet you, Teuchi-san."
Teuchi smiled. "Same here. Now, eat up. Ayame, those dishes won't clean themselves."
Harry gladly ignored everything around him until Teuchi said, "Want some more, Naruto?
Harry glanced up from his empty bowl, noticed Naruto's embarrassed head shaking and turned to Teuchi. "He just got out of the hospital so he'll need more."
"Nii-san, I'm not..." Naruto's stomach growled.
Teuchi plopped down two new bowls of ramen, one in front of Naruto and the other in front of Harry, with a grin. "You both need to eat more."
As Harry stacked his second empty bowl on Naruto's tall pile, and Naruto leaned away from the counter in obvious content, the curtain behind them flapped up noisily.
"I finally found you!"
Harry stared at the out of breath Izumo and snickered at the flower bouquet in his hands. "Got a date?"
"No! This... there's a memorial service." Izumo hesitated. "For the Temple. I just found out an hour ago. "
Harry's mind blanked.
Izumo winced. "It's not being made public so you don't..."
Even though his feet felt uncomfortably cold for some reason, Harry took a deep breath and stood.
Izumo sighed. "We better go now or we'll be late."
"Now?" Harry said in disbelief. "What kind of memorial is so rushed?"
"Konoha isn't officially affiliated with the Temple. They probably don't want the civilians to worry about us being attacked and..." Izumo shot him a sheepish look and shrugged. "Politics."
"Right," Harry said absently.
"You really don't have to go." Izumo said and raised the bouquet, "I could put this there on your behalf. That's the reason I bought the flowers in the first place."
"I can go and put it there myself, Izumo." Harry held his hand open and stared at the mix of pink and blue flowers. "But isn't this too colourful with the bluebells and..."
"Sweet pea," Naruto said softly, startling Harry slightly.
"The flower-store attendant said they meant I'm grateful and goodbye." Izumo placed the bouquet into Harry's hands. "It seemed like something you'd get just for that."
Harry stayed silent as they left the ramen stand. Unwilling to join Izumo and Naruto's conversation and eager to keep his memories away, Harry took deep breaths and memorized the route they walked, noting signs and stores as they entered less crowded streets.
By the time they stopped in a small clearing filled with a few people, Harry's mind felt blissfully blank. He easily ignored the sombre speeches and everything about him until an old man crouched beside a large rough boulder at the centre of the clearing. The old man muttered, flexed his fingers and tapped the boulder.
The stone boulder glowed blue, flowed and twisted upwards following the old man's moving hand. With a final twist and wave, the old man stepped away.
Harry stared at the boulder's new shape, feeling a mix of stunned awe and horrified queasiness. A small but distinct cross-legged Tengu sat meditating atop a pillar on which had 'Fire' inscribed on it.
Harry turned away and struggled for breath as the phantom scent of blood filled the air while the echoes of battle surrounded him.
He wanted to throw up.
He wanted to run.
"Harii-san." Gentle hands pried the bouquet from Harry's tight grip.
Harry gasped. "Sentoki?"
Sentoki smoothed out the crushed bouquet and smiled gently. "It's good to see you, Harii-san."
"I almost thought you'd died as well." Harry sighed. "No one would tell me anything about the temple after I left the hospital."
Sentoki looked towards the centre of the clearing. "I returned to the temple to help with the clean-up. The only reason I came today is because Zenza-san returned from his travels with the others and he's taken charge."
Harry looked down at the grass as a faint memory stirred and took a deep breath. "Zenza-san... the bad cook?"
Sentoki sighed fondly. "Ichigen really was a blabbermouth."
"Did you..." Harry flinched and looked up. "I mean, did anyone else from the attack..."
"Only you and me. We're the only two survivors. You survived the attack itself while I," Sentoki cleared his throat a few times and said, "I was on sentry duty."
Even though he'd assumed the worst, Harry still felt devastated. "I'm sorry."
Sentoki looked at him. "You shouldn't feel ashamed, not after what you did. In fact, you should feel proud."
Harry frowned. "What?"
Sentoki glanced back at the memorial. "You were willing to sacrifice yourself to defeat that Akatsuki-nin."
"What are you..."
"Suicide-jutsus take a strong will. And even though you failed to stop him, I think everyone respects your willingness to try." Sentoki clamped a hand on his shoulder and looked at him with slightly wet eyes. "Thank you for trying."
Harry felt more confused than incredulous at being thanked for trying to kill himself. "Everyone?"
Sentoki nodded. "The Hokage told me about your actions. I'm sure other ninja know as well."
"But I didn't..." Harry glanced around at the ninja that lingered in the clearing and noted the curious looks mingled with disbelief. Harry blinked in surprise when he saw Hedwig perched on Naruto's shoulder and frowned at Naruto's worried look.
"And then your information helped them retrieve Chiriku-sama's body."
Harry turned back to Sentoki. "What?"
"Those two wanted to collect the bounty on Chiriku-sama. He was quite famous, you know." Sentoki pushed the fixed bouquet into Harry's hands. "But the Konoha-nin intercepted them before they reached a transaction point."
"Good," Harry said. "That's good, right?"
Sentoki nodded. "It's very good."
"Good." Harry glanced down at the bouquet for a moment. "I'm glad that it's good."
"Are you ready to face the memorial?"
"No, but I can't take these flowers home." Harry took a deep breath, turned to the Tengu statue and immediately turned away with a nauseous flinch. It took a few tries but eventually, Harry placed his flowers at the base of the memorial. "I only saw the large statue in the prayer hall once but I feel like something is missing on this one."
"Our meditating Tengu statue has a staff across it's legs," Sentoki said. "That statue is one of our oldest relics, not many people have seen it up close with their own eyes."
Harry stood clumsily.
"Zenza-san said you're welcome at the Temple any time, especially after we rebuild it. He'd like to meet you."
Harry smiled. "It's being rebuilt?"
"As long as there are monks from our order who still live, the temple will always be rebuilt."
"Good?" Sentoki supplied dryly.
Harry smiled even wider.
"It was good to see you. But I have to sort some things out before I head back tonight. So until we meet again, take care, Harii-san."
Harry turned back to the statue as Sentoki walked away and Hedwig landed on his shoulder. After a few minutes of silence, Harry turned away from the statue and glanced at Hedwig. "I heard you lectured Naruto in the morning."
Hedwig fluffed her feathers in obvious pride.
"Was that before or after he gave you a nice rub?"
Hedwig tugged on his earlobe with a reproachful look, flew up into the air but hovered close as he walked towards Naruto.
Naruto pointed at Izumo and Kotetsu with a grin. "Nii-san, these two said they'd pay for tonight's dinner. We should make them get cake too!"
Harry pretended not to notice Naruto's still worried eyes and said, "Kotetsu would probably put syrup on our cake, just so he could eat the whole thing."
Naruto turned to Kotetsu with a scandalized expression. "I always knew you were the meaner one."
As Naruto and Kotetsu walked ahead and argued animatedly, Harry said, "Izumo?"
"Are you feeling tired?"
Harry shook his head. "Can I send money to the temple anonymously?"
Izumo stared at him blankly for a moment before he snorted. "I should have expected this."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. I'll look in to it." Izumo slung an arm around Harry's neck and gestured up front. "I wonder what those two are arguing about now..."
Harry rushed out of his kitchen, wincing at Naruto's sleepy and irritated mumbles from the couch with each loud knock, and opened his main door.
"Kakashi-san." Harry nodded and glanced at the tall man beside Kakashi. Clad in a red coat over a green outfit, the man held himself straight and shot Harry an assessing stare of his own. Harry wondered if the thick red lines that ran down Jiraiya's face from under both eyes were significant in some way.
"Harii, this is Jiraiya-sama," Kakashi said. "He wants to talk to Naruto."
"Nice to meet you but Naruto's asle..." Harry paused and turned when he heard unsteady footsteps.
Stifling a yawn, Naruto folded the garish red blanket he'd been using and glanced over Harry's shoulder. "Oh, it's you. What do you want?"
Harry turned back to his visitors and frowned at Kakashi's sudden absence.
"What's with that disrespectful attitude, you brat?"
"Nii-san," Naruto said and smiled at Harry, "Since it's your place, feel free to tell that old man to get lost."
"What?" The 'old-man' sputtered. "Is that the thanks I get after teaching you for three years?"
"Whatever. I'm hungry," Naruto said as he turned and headed to the kitchen.
Jiraiya frowned but didn't move from his spot.
Harry opened the door wider and stepped back. "Come in."
"Thanks." Jiraiya nodded, looking relived as he ducked down and entered the apartment with loud click-clacking steps.
Harry glanced at the man's wooden sandals for a moment but got distracted by the long white ponytail. Remembering his manners, Harry stopped his overt examination of the man, entered the kitchen and sat at the dining table.
"Did you get up early, nii-san?" Naruto asked as he pulled containers out from the fridge.
"Yeah, I couldn't sleep." From the corner of his eye, Harry noticed Jiraiya's momentary pause and his solemn bow to the photographs but he said, "Err, Jiraiya-san, if you need anything just help yourself."
Naruto sat opposite Harry with his plate of food. "Nii-san, you shouldn't be nice to people like ero-sennin."
Jiraiya grabbed Naruto's glass of juice, took a noisy slurp and sat beside Harry. "You could do well to learn some manners you brat."
Naruto ignored him pointedly and concentrated on his food.
"So," Jiraiya said, "I've got some free time."
Naruto rolled his eyes. "The hot springs open early these days."
Jiraiya chuckled, in an almost leering way, and shook his head. "I meant I'm free for a week or so."
"Then, I hope ba-san warns all the hot springs."
Even as he watched their easy banter, Harry wondered about Jiriaya's earlier reaction to the photos on the kitchen wall. Before he bowed, even if it was just for an instant, his eyes... The more he thought about it, the more Harry felt convinced that Jiraiya must have known or seen a red-haired Uzumaki before.
"If it's not for a mission then," Naruto's sharp voice cut through Harry's thoughts. "I don't want to travel."
"You don't want to train?" Jiraiya asked in disbelief.
Naruto shrugged. "Shouldn't you be happy that I won't be bothering you?"
"How can I be happy when you decide to do stupid things? What kind of ninja says no to training."
Naruto tilted his head to the side. "You always said that injured ninja should rest."
"Don't pretend that you're suddenly taking my advice."
Wondering if he should defuse the situation, Harry searched for something to say.
"Besides," Naruto said, "Harii-nii-san is injured too."
Harry twitched and leaned away from the dining table as two stares scrutinized him.
"So that's it." Jiraiya snorted. "You're worried he'll injure himself when you're not looking."
"Ero-sennin!" Naruto yelled, before Harry could retort.
Jiraiya turned to Harry. "What do you think of a vacation with Naruto and me?"
"Don't bother nii-san!"
"Where do you plan on going?" Harry scratched his neck absently.
Jiraiya smirked for an instant. "To Yugakure. Their natural hot springs will be the perfect place for rest and inspiration."
"I knew it!" Naruto scoffed. "You just wanted a chance to peep on naked ladies."
Slightly stunned for a moment, Harry rallied himself, I need to know if he actually knew an Uzumaki. He took a deep breath and said, "I've never been to a hot springs before."
"All the more reason to go," Jiraiya said enthusiastically. "The mineral hot springs speed up healing."
Harry glanced down at his cast. "I could go."
Jiraiya clapped his hands and grinned. "Perfect. It's all settled. We'll leave for Yugakure in the evening."
Naruto sputtered. "Nothing is settled. Nii-san didn't agree to anything."
Jiraiya crossed his arms and shot Naruto a condescending look. "Are you deaf? He said he'd love to go."
"He didn't say anything like that!"
Harry cleared his throat. "I'm fine with going."
Jiraiya shot Naruto a smug look.
"But I'll need to take care of a few things. So, we'll leave tomorrow afternoon."
Naruto stuck his tongue out at Jiraiya mockingly but glanced down at his plate with red cheeks when Harry chuckled.
"I can't believe Ero-sennin is late," Naruto said and slumped against the tree. He squinted against the afternoon light, glanced carefully at everyone headed their way and huffed, "after all that complaining he did yesterday."
Harry nodded absently but frowned at Naruto's loose grip on his scroll. He flinched when the scroll almost fell from Naruto's grasp and reached for it. "I'm sure my scroll won't bother anyone if it's strapped across my back."
Naruto leaned away and shook his head.
"Then, strap it across your back." Harry said. "I don't want grandmum's scroll to get damaged."
"Grandmother's?" Naruto looked down at the scroll.
"Yes!" Harry said. "So, strap it across your back."
"Okay." Naruto didn't move.
Harry huffed, grabbed the straps with his uninjured hand and fiddled until he fixed the scroll across Naruto's back. "Better?"
Naruto nodded and clutched the scroll's edge with his bandaged hand as Jiraiya finally showed up alongside a more energetic looking Kakashi.
"What's wrong with you?" Jiraiya frowned at Naruto. "Had a fight with Tsunade's brat?"
Naruto snapped out of his daze but tightened his grip around the scroll. "Why would I fight with Sakura-chan?"
"Then, stop daydreaming so we can go." Jiraiya rolled his eyes.
"Now, now," Kakashi intervened just as Naruto opened his mouth to yell. "Be sure to rest, Naruto."
"I'm not just going to rest, Kakashi-sensei. I'm going to train," Naruto said confidently.
Jiraiya scoffed. "Yesterday you said you didn't want my training."
"If it's useful," Naruto narrowed his eyes at Jiraiya and said, "I'll learn it."
As the two started arguing, Harry turned to Kakashi hoping for another intervention.
But Kakashi had disappeared, yet again.
Just as Harry resigned himself to being delayed, a bright white spot zoomed down, landed on Naruto's shoulder and screeched at Jiraiya until he raised his hands in a placating manner of surprised surrender.
Hedwig chirped triumphantly, nuzzled Naruto's cheek and flew to Harry's shoulder.
"I can't believe Izumo was right." Harry rubbed Hedwig's beak. "You've improved your intimidation technique. Good job."
Jiraiya cleared his throat noisily and walked away from them. "Let's go."
Naruto grinned as they followed Jiraiya out of Konoha's gates.
For four hours until they took their first break, Naruto kept talking to Harry. What started as a talk about plants soon moved into discussions about birds, food, dislike of hospitals, Sai and cake flavours. Other than the occasional correction, Jiraiya seemed content to let the two of them talk as he walked ahead.
"I could use a snack." Jiraiya said as they stopped by a small fast flowing stream. "What do you two say about getting some dan..."
Naruto yelped, jumped to Jiraiya and whispered frantically in his ear.
Jiraiya settled on a high rock with an unreadable expression. "I was going to say daifuku, when we reached Yugakure."
"I haven't eaten daifuku since I passed through Kozakai. But we're still far from Yugakure, right?" Harry dipped his bare feet in the stream and pulled out a large packet of sandwiches from his backpack. "Good thing I prepared this."
Naruto reluctantly gave Jiraiya a few sandwiches before he settled beside Harry and dipped his own bare feet in the stream.
"Kozakai, huh?" Jiraiya chewed noisily for a while. "Did you stop at the Butterfly Orchid?"
Harry nodded. "Everyone in the caravan pulled me there for tea. They seemed to like those annoying butterflies flying around."
Jiraiya chuckles but Naruto hastily swallowed his sandwich and said, "What caravan?"
"The one I travelled to Konoha with. I met them accidentally but stayed with them because they were headed to Konoha." Harry leaned forward and stared at the tiny silver fish near his feet. "I wonder where they are right now."
"Have you been anywhere else?" Jiraiya asked.
"I passed through Wave and... hold on." Harry frowned as he recalled his time in Wave and turned to Naruto. "The Great Naruto Bridge?"
Naruto blinked in surprise and looked away in obvious embarrassment. "You heard about that?"
"Sort of." Harry rubbed Hedwig's head absently. "The locals... well, the one who told me the story of the bridge, I'm pretty sure she didn't mention the name Uzumaki, otherwise I would have realized earlier."
Naruto just huffed. "I'll just have to tell you the complete story myself."
Jiraiya snorted and stood. "Talk while we walk, brat."
For the next four hours as the sky darkened, Naruto regaled Harry with detailed stories about his 'cool' missions. Even though Naruto probably played down the danger he'd been in, Harry listened attentively as they crossed Fire country's border into the humid country of Hot Water.
Harry looked around curiously as they entered the small village of Yugakure. "Isn't this village supposed to be Konoha's equivalent in Hot Water Country?"
Jiraiya seemed to understand Harry's confusion. "The hot springs here earn the most money in the entire country. So even though it's small, it's the most important village in this country."
Somewhere between entering the village and settling in their large hotel room, after the long peaceful trip from Konoha, Naruto and Jiraiya finally started another argument. Since Hedwig had gone off to explore her new surroundings earlier, Harry hastily scribbled a note – Went to the hot springs already- and left the two to bicker.
Harry entered the empty bathing area and relaxed when he found a sign that clearly listed the hot springs' rules and etiquette. He folded his clothes into one of the baskets but kept his wand holster on as he grabbed a towel and entered a bathing station. He checked his surroundings via the Homenum Revelio, removed his arm holster and freed his wand.
"Occulus Transeo." Harry tapped the holster with his wand and smiled at the comfortable rush of magic. Acutely aware that people could enter any time, he hurriedly bathed, reattached his charmed holster and moved to the outdoor hot spring.
Ignoring his fogged up glasses, Harry entered the pool being extra careful with his cast even though he kept both hands on the stony edge. Harry didn't know how much time had passed, but he sunk deeper into the pool when the door slid open and two familiar arguing voices filled the air.
"You brat, just wait till... No! What's this wall doing here?" Jiraiya banged the wooden wall on one side of the pool. "This was supposed to be a mixed bathing pool."
Naruto chuckled as he entered the water. "They knew you were coming, Ero-sennin."
"How can I get inspired without the ladies?" Jiraiya lamented even as he settled into the pool.
Naruto pointedly turned to Harry. "Do you like the hot springs so far?"
"It's good," Harry said simply.
"Ah yes," Jiraiya nodded. "It's your first time in a hot spring pool. Too bad that separating wall is ruining your experience."
Harry shrugged in reply.
"Though," Jiraiya said after a moment. "I wonder why you've never been to one before."
Harry shrugged again. "There weren't any hot springs close to where I came from. Before I made the trip to Konoha I never had a reason to travel far from home."
"Oh? What changed? Weren't there enough hot chicks to keep you there?"
Harry retorted rather sharply. "My godfather died."
Naruto gasped and Jiraiya's smirk vanished.
You ruined the mood, idiot, Harry berated himself. After an awkward silence, Harry rubbed his forehead. "Sorry, I didn't..."
"It must have been hard," Jiraiya said, his eyes completely sincere even as he glanced at Naruto for a moment.
"Still is." Harry sighed and changed the subject. "So, what are we having for dinner?"
Naruto finally spoke. "We can't let Ero-sennin choose our dinner."
"Why not," Jiraiya said immediately.
"Because you'll only get sake and chicken karaage."
"What's wrong with that?"
Naruto scoffed. "It just shows your stinginess, Ero-sennin."
"It's called smart money management, you fool."
Harry sunk a little deeper into the water as their argument escalated into ridiculous name-calling and water splashing.
"All right, I'm off!" Jiraiya said and walked out of their room with a wave.
Harry blinked in surprise as the door slid shut. "Where is he going without eating dinner?"
"A bar probably," Naruto shrugged as he filled a bowl with the food. "It's what he does the first night he enters a new village."
"He may be a pervert but there are times when he can be serious too. He probably won't come back till just before sunrise."
"I see," Harry said, wondering about Jiraiya's habit, as he combed through his slightly damp hair.
"Most of the time I was busy training, anyway." Naruto placed the bowl in front of Harry and began filling another. "Sometimes instead of getting a room first, he'd go to a brothel to talk to the workers there. I'd go with his sometimes."
"And how many brothels did you visit in three years?"
"It wasn't that bad," Naruto said hastily. "It was actually fun, you know."
Harry stared at him. "Fun?"
"Not that kind of fun!" Naruto said and his cheeks flushed red. "I meant hearing people's stories, I didn't do anything..."
Harry tutted but grinned. "What would Sakura say if she knew?"
"All right, I won't tell," Harry chuckled and grabbed his chopsticks. As dinner progressed, Harry detected an underlying tenseness beneath all of Naruto's easy chatter. When they finished eating, Harry said, "Is something bothering you?"
Naruto glanced up in worry. "What?"
"Ever since your mission, you've been..." Harry paused, unwilling to say 'clingy'. But it's true, I haven't been left alone ever since... Hoping he was over-thinking things, Harry weakly asked, "Do you think I'm suicidal?"
Naruto gasped and his eyes widened.
"You do!" Harry frowned. "Is this because of what I supposedly did at the temple? How did that fake rumour even start?"
"Fake rumour?" Naruto said, "So you didn't try to perform a suicide jutsu to defeat the Akatsuki?"
"No! Definitely not."
Naruto slumped in relief. "He sounded so proud when he said he survived your jutsu."
"He survived?" Harry grimaced. "That Akatsuki...?"
Naruto nodded, confirming that his mission had been connected to the temple attack just like Harry had feared.
"But why would he say I used a suicide justsu..." Harry paused as he thought of something bizarre, unless he didn't throw me to the storage room. If I somehow disappeared after casting the Stupefy, but how...
"Even though everyone else believed it, I didn't, I just thought you did something that looked like a suicide justu to help those monks." Naruto bit his lip. "But today when you said your godfather died, you seemed so sad..."
Harry winced, remembering how he had been willing to die mere minutes after Sirius's death, but he said, "I don't know how to use my chakra for anything useful let alone for a suicide jutsu. Besides, why would I want to die when I just found you?"
Naruto bit his lip.
"But, maybe this is a sign for me to tell you about..." Harry looked at Naruto. "Aren't you curious about what I used?"
"As long as you don't use it again, I don't care."
"Naruto," Harry took a deep breath and unholstered his wand, "it really wasn't a suicide jutsu." With familiar movements and incantations, his wand shot out brightly coloured and colourless spells that seeped into every part of the hotel room -door, windows, walls, ceiling and floor- securing it from eavesdroppers and any surprise visitors.
"That," Harry cleared his throat. "That was what I used."
Naruto stared at him, thankfully looking more curious and confused than frightened.
"Magic," Harry said simply. When Naruto's expression turned incredulous, Harry tapped his wand against an empty grey bowl, casting an easier third year transfiguration spell. "Lapifors."
Naruto gaped as the bowl morphed into a tiny grey rabbit. He prodded it and froze when it hopped off the table, away from him.
Harry tapped a few more empty utensils with another easy Transfiguration spell he'd mastered, "Avifors." A vivid blue light engulfed each object and soon a small flock of chirping blue birds flew above their heads leaving Harry surprised but thrilled at the ease of his spell-casting.
Naruto glanced between the birds and the rabbit in wonder. "How'd you..."
"Finite Incantatum," Harry pointed his wand at the hopping rabbit. As it shifted back into a grey bowl, Harry turned to the flock of birds and waved his wand. "Immobulus."
The birds froze in mid-air, their wings in various stages of flight.
To Harry's surprise, Naruto stood and gently caught one of the frozen birds. Harry let him examine it for a few minutes, before he pointed his wand at it. "Finite Incantatum."
Naruto yelped as the bird shifted back into a cup which crashed down to the floor and broke.
"That," Naruto said and picked the fixed cup, "is that how you fixed my sleeve?"
Naruto glanced up at the remaining frozen birds and sat back down at the table. "Magic."
"I wasn't born here... I mean," Harry said.
"In Fire country? I know that." Naruto gently placed the cup on the table. "Ba-chan said you came from one of the islands."
Harry shook his head. "I wasn't born on any place that you've heard of. My birth-land is... It's in another dimension, or well, something like that. Where I come from, people don't have or use chakra. But there are a few... like me, who use magic."
Naruto nodded hesitantly and looked up at the frozen birds again.
"After my godfather died in June, I found out about the Uzumaki clan and I wanted to meet another Uzumaki. There was this rock which took my blood and opened a portal or something to Whirlpool, where the Uzumaki were supposed to be." Harry winced, realising that his entire rushed explanation sounded so ridiculously unbelievable.
"I've never heard of Whirlpool," Naruto said.
"They call it Redpool now. There's only empty ruins there, no living Uzumaki."
"But I didn't want to believe that was no other Uzumaki alive." Harry decided not to mention Akira just yet, not until Naruto got comfortable with everything else. "I didn't come to Konoha to start a business. I came there searching for you."
Naruto clutched the front of his jacket. "For me?"
"Well, not you exactly, just survivors from the clan because people said that refugees always went to Konoha for safety."
"And you found me." Naruto said, his eyes distant.
Harry stayed silent, unable to gauge whether Naruto accepted everything. But he didn't ask about the rock...
"When I was younger," Naruto said softly, almost to himself. "I always imagined that someone cool would come to Konoha, find me and say we were family."
"I suppose I'm not as cool as you imagined," Harry said after a while.
"You're not." Naruto glanced up at the frozen birds. "You're kind of better than anything I imagined."
"So," Harry cleared his throat. "Do you want to see some more magic?"
Naruto grinned. "A bigger animal."
My transfiguration isn't the best, Harry thought. "How about a spirit guardian? Mine is an animal."
Naruto paled slightly. "Spirit?"
"Guardian. It protects your soul from..." Harry said, "things."
"Like ghosts? I don't like ghosts. They're scary and evil. And I know they eat souls."
"Okay. Yeah sure, protection from evil ghosts." Harry didn't have to struggle to latch onto happy memories. "Expecto Patronum." A translucent silver stag emerged from the tip of his wand, which looked slightly larger than usual, cantered around the room for a few minutes before it bowed it's head and disappeared.
"Oh! I should have done this first." Harry pulled out his two-way mirror. "Ron! Hermione! Anyone there?"
Naruto turned away from the spot where the Patronus had disappeared and looked at Harry sceptically.
But then the mirror surface rippled and a relieved face appeared. "Harry?"
"What happened? Is Harry in trouble?" An older male voice said, "Does he need help?"
Harry gaped at Remus Lupin's concerned voice.
"Don't worry." Hermione smiled reassuringly. "Professor Lupin signed our secrecy contract."
Harry wondered if he'd misheard. "Contract?"
Hermione nodded. "They're using a decoy to hide that you're missing. We promised to help but only if we could use a magical contract."
Ron leaned in from the side. "The few people who know you're missing, like the new Minister."
"Is my decoy going to be someone who drinks polyjuice potion?" Harry paused. "Wait, you don't have my hair."
"You're forgetting something," Hermione said, "Tonks is a metamorphmagus."
Harry frowned. "But she's female!"
Hermione shrugged. "She's very convincing with the physical resemblance."
"And her clumsiness?"
"Like a drunk dancing dragon," Ron said, even as his lips twitched. "Fred's exact words when we watched Tonks pretending to be you."
"The twins saw?" Harry winced.
Ron nodded sympathetically.
"Anyway," Hermione said, "The Tonks decoy plan can work in your favour especially with the contract and..."
"But she can't act like me!" Harry interrupted.
Ron nodded. "They wanted to fake a throat injury so she wouldn't have to speak."
"We agreed to help her act like you but only if she signed a contract to not share any information about your current whereabouts... I added a lot more stipulations in there, don't worry." Hermione seemed a little annoyed as she said, "Actually, because of the underage law, Professor Lupin added them when he created the contract and signed it."
"You make everything sound ridiculously simple."
"The contract isn't the only thing we'll be using." Hermione narrowed her eyes. "Professor Lupin mentioned something about Unbreakable Vows... which is, well, we'll do everything to keep your location secret."
Harry sighed but nodded."Out of curiosity, what's the consequence of breaking the contract?"
Hermione grinned, looking rather sinister.
Harry looked up from the mirror with a sheepish look. "Sorry Naruto, my friends were giving me some news."
"I couldn't understand anything you were saying." Naruto glanced at the mirror warily. "Is everything okay?"
"No," Harry said, "But it's not important right now..."
Hermione gasped loudly. "Is that him? Did you finally tell him? Aren't you going to introduce us?"
"I didn't tell him everything," Harry said, looking back at her through the mirror, "just enough to..."
Ron tugged the mirror towards him. "I can't see him."
Hermione slapped away Ron's hand.
As they squabbled over the mirror, Harry motioned for Naruto to come closer and turned the mirror.
Naruto stared at the mirror with wide eyes as Ron and Hermione argued loudly. Just as Harry was about to explain things, Naruto said, "His hair is so orange."
There was a moment of stunned silence.
Then Hermione babbled incoherently and Ron blurted out, "Na.. roo... toh?"
Harry cringed but Naruto leaned closer to the mirror and said, "He knows my name!"
"They both know your name. I told them about you ages ago. The orange-haired one," Harry stifled a snicker, glad that Ron couldn't understand him and said, "is Ron. And the girl beside him is Hermione. They're my best friends."
"Ronu?" Naruto repeated.
"He said my name first!" Ron whooped. "Hello, Na... ooof."
Harry turned the mirror in exasperation. "Should I call you two later?"
"No!" Ron and Hermione yelled together.
Naruto fumbled with, "Huro..."
Harry turned the mirror back to the Naruto at Hermione's excited look.
"Her- my-oh-nee" Hermione coaxed gently.
Naruto mouthed the name for a while but finally shook his head. "Nee-san."
"Nay...san?" Hermione frowned. "That's nothing like my name."
Harry said in English, "That's like calling you sister."
Hermione tutted. "No need to look so jealous, Harry."
"I'm not jealous!"
"Never mind that." Ron snorted. "Am I the only one shocked that we're relying on Harry to translate things? Look at him, being all bilinear."
"It's bilingual, Ron." Hermione nodded. "But, it is rather shocking."
"You know," Harry glared at them through the mirror. "You two make Crabbe and Goyle look like wonderful supportive friends."
The three of them stared at each other for a moment before they burst out laughing.
Naruto looked between Harry and the mirror with a wide smile.
A gruff voice interrupted them. "Can I talk to him now?"
Hermione and Ron winced and shot Harry a questioning look but gave Remus the mirror when he nodded at them.
"Hello, Harry." Remus examined Harry's face carefully before he smiled. "Seems like you've been busy."
Harry nodded and motioned at Naruto. "I'd like you to meet my cousin, Naruto."
"Who's that?" Naruto whispered even as he waved obligingly.
"He's Remus." Harry said, marvelling at his ability to switch between languages easily. "He's one of my parent's friends."
"Doesn't he eat enough?" Naruto twitched and rubbed his neck sheepishly. "No, I mean... he can't understand me, right?"
"He said something rude, didn't he?" Remus huffed and smiled at Naruto. "His eyes, the colour might be different, but it's just like Lily's and yours. So easy to read."
Harry glanced at Naruto's eyes and smiled.
"But," Remus's voice turned serious, "is he old enough to have those facial tattoos?"
"How do you expect us not to called Professor when you say things like that..." Ron said, making Harry laugh as he translated for Naruto.
"Staring at that bowl isn't going to make more food appear," Jiraiya said in exasperation. "How can you still be hungry after eating so much breakfast?"
Naruto huffed and pushed the empty bowl in embarrassment. "Are you going to teach me anything today?"
Jiraiya hummed thoughtfully.
Harry stifled a tired yawn, sipped his tea and watched them through bleary eyes as the silence stretched.
"Did you fall asleep with your eyes open, ero-sennin?" Naruto said.
Why is Naruto so wide awake? Harry took another sip of his tea. Especially after keeping me up with his questions...
"Still no patience, brat," Jiraiya muttered and looked away from Naruto blankly. "Looks like you'll have to re-do the waterfall meditation with Gama."
"No way!" Naruto gasped. "He's super strict."
"That's why I'm choosing him," Jiraiya stood and hesitated as he glanced at Harry.
"I'll see you two later tonight, then." Harry stifled another yawn and waved them off nonchalantly.
After they left, Harry finished his breakfast, ignored the nagging impulse to catch up on his sleep and went out into the village. To Harry's surprise, his day passed by in a buzz of activities. He returned to the hotel room after a long soak in the hot springs and found only Jiraiya seated on the hotel room's outside balcony.
"Looks like you were busy," Jiraiya said as he glanced at the bags that Harry had left in the room earlier.
Harry nodded and shook out his damp hair. "Is Naruto still training?"
"Yes, and your bird is keeping him company." Jiraiya said, "So what did you do?"
"I ate, bought some stuff, talked and somehow," Harry stopped himself from rubbing his forehead in irritation as he admitted, "even advertised my business."
"Seems like you managed just fine on your own." Jiraiya snorted. "I don't know why that brat wanted to check up on you."
"Naruto wanted to check up on me?"
Jiraiya hummed and nodded before he patted a spot beside him on the balcony and raised a ceramic flask that Harry recognized as a sake bottle. "Come have a drink with me. Dinner's here."
Harry would have declined. But his thoughts stopped him, This could be the perfect chance to ask him if he knew any Uzumaki. If he became drunk while I stayed sober... Harry cleared his throat and walked forward. "You do know I'm only sixteen, right?"
"Are you telling me you've never had alcohol before?"
"I did, but only because my friends thought it was necessary education." Harry stepped through the sliding door, out of the room and on to the balcony. He took a deep breath of the night air, sat down beside Jiraiya and stared at the single large platter. "That's dinner?"
"You have something against chicken karaage?"
"Chicken karaage and sake." Harry blinked. "I thought Naruto was exaggerating about your dinner habits."
"Try it before you comment," Jiraiya said as he poured some sake into two small saucer-like cups. "Also, you can't refuse a drink I've already poured."
"What would happen if I refused?" Harry grabbed a pair of chopsticks.
"Then I wouldn't have a drinking partner. And I wouldn't share dinner."
Harry snorted and snagged a bite-sized piece of chicken with his chopsticks when he didn't find any empty bowls. Even before he swallowed the flavourful chicken, Harry grabbed another piece.
"No more complaints about my food choices?"
Harry said, "Who'd complain about free food?"
Jiraiya chuckled and raised his saucer. "To new acquaintances and drinking partners."
Surprised that the toast wasn't a 'Kanpai' – from Akira's etiquette lessons- but glad that Jiraiya wasn't using formal dining etiquette, Harry clinked his saucer against Jiraiya's and emptied it. Grimacing for an instant at the alcoholic bitterness, Harry turned back to the chicken.
"That chicken isn't going anywhere." Jiraiya refilled their saucers and looked at him expectantly.
How will I stay sober like this? Harry twitched, moved his chopsticks to his cast-bound left hand again and raised his saucer. "To... weird and unpredictable people."
Jiraiya snorted and clinked his saucer against Harry's. After they ate quietly for a while, Jiraiya said, "To beautiful women, who always vanish when you want them near."
That's it! Harry raised his saucer but concentrated on a spell. Evanesco. He winced as he sipped the un-vanished sake still in his saucer. Determined to get information from Jiraiya by staying sober, Harry reminded himself that he'd vanished animals for his O.W.L.s and raised the saucer to his lips again. Evanesco.
Harry smiled when the sake vanished before he could take another sip.
As the hours passed and the food finished, Harry vanished most of his sake instead of drinking it but kept his eyes half-closed in an attempt to look drowsy.
"You've got a nice alcohol tolerance." Jiraiya clapped a hand on Harry's shoulder. "Good! It would've been dull if you passed out."
Harry just nodded as Jiraiya refilled their saucers.
"Naruto, that brat, never wanted to drink with me." Jiraiya's words slurred slightly. "What was my last toast?"
Harry shrugged lazily in reply.
"You're right. It doesn't matter," Jiraiya said as he looked up. "It's just nice to drink and talk under the starry sky."
Talk? You've just been making stupid toasts. Harry pushed back his thoughts and stared into his saucer moodily.
"Did I tell you that Naruto wanted to check up on you?" Jiraiya didn't wait for an answer. "Never saw him that worried before. Not even with Sasuke. But I guess, likeable relatives are different."
Harry took a small sip of his sake and vanished the remaining. "Sasuke?"
"People will do strange things for their family." Jiraiya emptied his saucer. "You're Naruto's family. You two share blood."
What happened to Sasuke? Harry twitched but said, "So?"
"Family complicates things."
"Life would be dull without complications." After a few long minutes of silence, Harry turned and frowned at Jiraiya's stare. "What?"
Jiraiya shrugged and filled their saucers. "Just remembering."
"You're supposed to forget," Harry raised his saucer and said, "with the alcohol."
"Some things can't be forgotten," Jiraiya said solemnly.
"I wish they could."
Jiraiya raised his saucer. "Don't we all?"
Harry clinked his saucer against the other, but didn't sip or vanish his sake. Instead he stared into the sake, realising that his get-Jiraiya-drunk-for-answers plan wouldn't work.
"You know," Jiraiya said, "For a quiet drunk, you sound remarkably sober now."
"Like you're one to talk. You're the worst fake drunk I've ever seen," Harry said and mentally berated himself for not noticing or suspecting Jiraiya's act earlier.
"So we just spent the past three hours pretending to be drunk?" Jiraiya groaned. "I'm losing my touch if a teenager can keep up with me."
"Well, you are old." Harry sipped his sake, wary of vanishing it since Jiraiya was paying close attention to him.
Jiraiya scoffed. "I'm in my prime, just ask the ladies."
"That would be useless." Harry emptied his saucer and revelled in the comforting warmth. "Besides your extreme lecherousness is just an act."
Jiraiya chuckled. "An act?"
"It's an act when you're around Naruto," Harry corrected.
"And why would I need to act like that around him?"
"Because you can't stand looking at him for long, can you?" Harry said blandly. Before he could stop himself, he added, "Who do you see when you look at him? His parents?"
Jiraiya turned to him abruptly. "What?"
"People looked at me with that expression you have around Naruto sometimes." Harry sipped his sake and looked up at the starry night sky. "I never understood why until they told me that I looked exactly like my father but had my mother's eyes."
Jiraiya stayed silent.
"First, I was happy with that but... anyway, you should tell him soon. He's important to you, right?" Harry decided to lighten the mood but winced as he blurted out, "And you're old, what if you just drop dead?"
After a few minutes of silence, Jiraiya said, "Do you resent them?"
Harry made a questioning sound.
"Do you resent the people who knew your parents? The ones who had a chance to…" Jiraiya paused uncertainly.
"Yes." Harry placed his empty saucer down. "But then I thought, why bother? I was their first child, those other people never saw my parents as… parents, you know? They could have been shitty, abusive parents."
"You don't believe that," Jiraiya said softly.
"No. But sometimes that consoled me and I didn't feel so bad about being alone." Harry re-filled his saucer to the brim. "You know what's the most disgusting thing? Some part of me still hopes that they were terrible." He emptied his saucer in one gulp and stood. "Time to get some sleep, I think."
Harry woke up late in the afternoon the next day, judging by the light outside. Halfway through the drudgery of dressing with one arm in a cast, Harry cringed as he remembered the previous night.
Even with his light intake of alcohol, he'd gotten stupidly careless. Deciding that it was safest to stay just inside and read, Harry pulled out a book and lay back down. He didn't know how much time had passed as he squinted at the text in the book and re-read an annoyingly complicated paragraph.
Harry looked up from the book in surprise. "Naruto? When did you get back?"
Naruto took a deep breath. "Uzumaki Kushina."
"What..." Harry blinked at the expectant look on Naruto's face and sat up.
"Mom! My mom. That was her name." Naruto bit his lip and sat beside Harry. "He knew her. He knew her name. And she had red hair like in your photos and... he knew."
Even though Harry has suspected it, he felt shocked.
"I travelled with him for three years, why didn't he ever tell me?"
"He should have told me. But he didn't and..." Naruto clenched his fists till they were white. "I think I hate him now."
"Do you want to kill him?"
Naruto flinched and looked at Harry. "No! I'd never..."
Harry shushed him and patted his hair gently. "Then, you're just disappointed in him."
"I'm happy that I know. But..." Naruto slumped down and whispered, "It hurts worse than before."
Harry wrapped his good arm around Naruto's shoulders, hating the raw ugly emotions in Naruto's voice. But he flinched, feeling completely useless when Naruto trembled. Desperate to distract Naruto, Harry said, "Why don't the two of us camp out tonight? We'll be far from Jiraiya."
Naruto stilled for an instant and mumbled.
"I have supplies in my scroll." Thrilled that he'd gotten something of a reply, Harry tentatively said, "And since we'll be away from people, I could show you some more magic."
Naruto sniffed, looked up and turned to Harry with a slightly wry smile.
"What?" Harry said uncomfortably. "Do you want me to get you some food or something?"
Naruto's smiled widened even though his eyes seemed slightly wet.
Harry huffed and stood up. "Just pack up while I write a note for Jiraiya."
Even though Naruto moved slightly slower than usual, it took them less than an hour to pack up, walk through the village and find a secluded spot in the surrounding woods.
Harry unsealed his magical tent and cast a variety of spells around it while Naruto sat on a tree stump despondently. Feeling slightly devious, Harry said, "Naruto, can you check if there's enough space in the tent for the both of us."
Naruto nodded absently and entered the tent. "Nii-san!" He stuck his head out of the tent with wide eyes.
"We need more space?"
"There's a kitchen... in the tent."
"Of course," Harry said. "I like to travel in style."
Naruto blinked and burst out laughing.
Harry smothered his own laughter and struggled to look 'offended'. "I'm not stylish?"
"No, I mean, stylish people are, uh..." Naruto's eyebrows furrowed in thought. "People who stand out. But you don't need to be stylish because... you're cool!"
Even though Harry really wanted to laugh, he tugged on his hair and said, "It's the hair, isn't it? My hair just ruins any style I could have had."
"No! Your hair is awesome," Naruto placated. "It's like you just came out of a storm."
Harry snorted and lost control of his laughter. "Who knew it would so easy to prank a prankster?"
"Well, your hair is stupid!" Naruto ducked back into the tent.
"Stupid?" Harry entered the tent and dumped his backpack on the tent floor. "What if my hair was a different colour?"
"It wouldn't help!" Naruto grouched for a moment before he smiled. "But I'd look awesome with red hair."
"You'd look like a girl."
"No way!" Naruto said, looking offended. "I'd look awesome."
Harry snickered as he pulled unsealed a pair of sleeping bags. "As a girl, you mean?"
"You're just jealous that you wouldn't look good with red hair!"
Harry unholstered his wand with a flick of his hand, waved it above his head. "Colovaria." His entire scalp and face tingled and Naruto's eyes widened. Harry grinned. "You were saying?"
Naruto turned away. "I'd look better than you."
Harry waved his wand again and grinned when Naruto yelped and rubbed his scalp as every strand of hair on his head changed into the Uzumaki-red that Harry had pictured. He pulled Naruto to the tent wall that had a mirror on it, smirked at their reflection and ruffled his own red hair. "Admit it, as a redhead I totally outclass you."
Naruto eyed the matching red hair with an odd expression before he grinned and said, "Nii-san, you need better glasses. I'm obviously more of a hunk with red hair."
Harry chuckled, relieved by Naruto's light-hearted mood. "Speaking of red hair, there's something that I need to give you." Harry grabbed his scroll, opened one of the seals and pulled out a long black glove.
"I don't wear gloves."
"I noticed. Anyway this isn't just any old glove. It's the clan's main training equipment."
"The Uzumaki could create solid chakra weapons," Harry said, paraphrasing what his Grandmother had written in her letter. "And this glove trained that ability."
"Chakra weapons?" Naruto stared at the old glove. "How'd you..."
"I searched the ruins." Remembering Naruto's dislike of ghosts, Harry decided not to mention Akira's insistence in finding the glove. "After reading grandmum's letter."
"Have you tried it?" Naruto asked.
Harry shook his head. "I never knew what my own chakra felt like until I came to Konoha."
"Don't you want to try it?"
"Tell you what," Harry said, "When you master using that, you can teach me how to use it."
"You think I'll be a bad student?"
"No way!" Naruto looked positively scandalized. "You're smarter than me."
Harry snorted. "I highly doubt that. Go on, try the glove before we have lunch. I'm curious about it."
Naruto looked around the tent and said, "Maybe we should try it outside."
Harry sat on a tree stump, while Naruto mumbled to himself and stared at the glove. He watched intently as the glove glowed bright blue. But in the split-second he blinked, the glow disappeared and a few trees fell backwards. "What just happened?"
"I think I used too much chakra." Naruto rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly and grinned. "But it was so cool. There was a huge blade and it wasn't even my wind-nature..."
Harry held up a hand. "Master it and then explain it to me. And I'll go prepare lunch while you... don't pay attention apparently." Harry grinned at a job-well-done when Naruto concentrated on the glove again and moved to the tent. He paused just before ducking into the tent under the flaps when he hard a loud screech.
Hedwig swept into the tent with a soft hoot, landed on her perch and promptly fell asleep. Confident that Naruto was sufficiently distracted from gloomy thoughts, Harry started on lunch only to pause when Naruto entered the tent holding the glove in his hand. "Naruto?"
"Do you think mom had one of these too?" When Harry didn't answer, Naruto said, "I don't know about about her. And I won't ever know."
Knowing that lunch wouldn't be enough of a distraction, Harry unsealed his photo album, opened and pushed it in to Naruto's hands.
"Photos? What..." Naruto looked down, yelped and threw the album away. "They're moving. Haunted photographs!"
Harry was torn between outrage and amusement as he reopened the album. "I want you to see my godfather, Sirius. He was named after the Dog Star."
Naruto stared at the smiling man in the photographs. "That really bright star?"
Harry nodded. "He was a prankster so he would have loved to meet you."
"I'm not very likeable."
"Most people would say Sirius wasn't very likeable either." Harry shrugged and pointed to his parents beside Sirius. "You know who these two are, don't you?"
"I don't know what kind of tea they liked. I don't even know if they liked tea. There's so many things about them that I don't know. And even though Sirius knew them, I never asked him about those things. It wasn't important."
"Why?" Naruto whispered.
"Because of something Sirius told me. He said that the ones that love us never really leave us." Harry held a hand over his heart and looked at Naruto. "They remain in here."
Harry leaned forward and placed his hand over Naruto's heart, just like Sirius had done. "Your mother loved you, Naruto. There's no reason she wouldn't."
Naruto grabbed the front of his jacket absently and turned back to the photograph. "Shouldn't we put his photograph on the wall?"
Not completely sure that Naruto's deflection was a good thing, Harry still leaned back and replied, "If I can make his photograph stop moving, then I'll put it up."
Naruto turned the pages carefully, examining ever photo blankly until he reached the last quarter of the album. "What's with your hair?"
"That photo was taken two years ago, when I was experimenting with my hair," Harry said defensively as he glanced at the photograph of Hermione, Ron and himself taken at the Quidditch world cup.
"They're both laughing at your hair!" Naruto said, his lips twitching upwards slightly.
"Yes," Harry said in exasperation. "But I think they were just jealous of how... swishy my hair was in the wind."
"As if!" Naruto perked up. "Oh, can we talk to them now?"
"Not today," Harry said, "It's the first of September, so they'll be too busy to chat. But we can send them a message." Even though Naruto looked excited, Harry added, "After lunch."
After lunch and a long messaging session where Harry translated all of Naruto's questions to Ron and Hermione, Naruto pestered Harry into demonstrating some more magic.
A flock of orange birds kept them company -and annoyed Hedwig- as Harry vanished, summoned and changed the size of things, cooked dinner and performed a whole lot of other spells. Though he'd never admit it out loud, Naruto's awed delight pushed Harry to perform complex and flashier spells even as he grew tired. "So any last requests before bed?"
Naruto mumbled softly and ducked his head in embarrassment.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"Nothing." Naruto shuffled deeper in to his sleeping bag.
Harry snorted but concentrated on Naruto's face and waved his wand. "Expecto Patronum."
The silvery stag galloped around the tent before it stopped just within Naruto's reach and lowered it's head slightly. Naruto shuffled deeper in to his sleeping bag, his gaze never shifting from the Patronus.
Harry turned to the Patronus, surprised that it had focussed on Naruto without searching for any dementors in the vicinity first. Even though he had concentrated on creating the Patronus for Naruto, he hadn't expected to act any different.
When the silvery light of the Patronus finally disappeared, Harry turned to Naruto. "So why..." He paused, noticing Naruto's soft snores and went outside to check the spells that he'd placed around their camping area.
Satisfied that nothing would interrupt them during the night, Harry went to sleep with an untroubled mind.
Only to wake up when something vaguely menacing prickled against his senses. None of his barrier spells had been activated, so Harry knew it couldn't be an intruder. Just as Harry sleepily dismissed it as remnants of a nightmare, a pained whimper cut through the silence inside the tent.
It sounded like an animal was in pain.
Harry sat up and grabbed his glasses as the whimpers changed into mumblings that sounded like Naruto.
A loud growl startled Harry because his holstered wand shuddered.
In the dim light of the tent's lamp, Harry noticed Naruto trembling in his sleeping bag. He shot out of his sleeping bag.
"Please..." Naruto mumbled. Then he growled. An animalistic angry growl.
Harry's holstered wand shuddered violently in response, as though ready to shoot a spell, as he knelt beside Naruto. He frowned at the thick black lines on Naruto's reddened cheeks. Harry touched Naruto's cheeks and flinched at the blistering heat.
Naruto's eyelid opened just a fraction.
Harry stilled at the flash of bright red but he smiled and gently patted Naruto's cheek, ignoring the persistent shuddering of his holstered wand. "Everything's going to be okay."
Naruto's red eye focused on Harry.
"I promise," Harry said, wondering how to deal with Naruto's sudden fever.
The red flashed brighter for a second before fading away to familiar blue.
"Nii-san?" Naruto whispered blearily and grabbed Harry's sleeve, pulling Harry's hand away from his cheek.
"It was just a fever nightmare, Naruto. Everything's going to be fine."
Naruto stared at him dully as his breathing evened out.
"It will be fine." Harry looked directly in to blue eyes and said, "I promise, I'll make it fine."
Naruto's eyes closed and he pulled Harry's sleeve harder.
Harry stumbled but watched curiously as the thick black marks shrunk back into Naruto's usual thin lines. Hoping that his sleeve didn't tear, Harry stretched his right hand up and touched Naruto's cheek.
Naruto twitched in his sleep, tugged Harry's sleeve down again and burrowed deeper into the sleeping bag.
Harry eyed his silent wand as he realised that Naruto's feverish temperature had disappeared. Relieved but confused, Harry tugged his arm gently.
Naruto's fingers curled tighter around his sleeve.
Harry tugged harder for more than a few minute. Unable to manoeuvre his left's arm cast to help pry Naruto's fingers off his sleeve and not willing to use a spell on Naruto, Harry shuffled around, careful not to accidentally kick Naruto's face as he lay down on the tent floor. He tried to tug his arm free one last time before giving in to his tiredness.
Until a strong tug on his sleeve woke him.
Harry would have ignored it but there was another strong tug on his sleeve followed by a loud startled yelp.
"Nii-san, why are you sleeping over here?"
Harry squinted at Naruto as he sat up. "You didn't let go of my sleeve after your nightmare."
Naruto looked down at his hands, gasped and let go Harry's sleeve with another yelp.
Harry winced as blood rushed through the numb arm, creating a prickling sensation."Now I know how teddy bears feel. Poor things, unable to escape a little kid's grip."
"I'm not a little kid." Naruto glared at him with reddened cheeks.
"I see." Harry yawned. "Then you're ready to deal with Jiraiya today?"
"Do I have to?"
As Harry closed the hotel room's door, Jiraiya looked up and flinched slightly when he noticed Naruto's absence.
"Thank you." Harry placed his scroll down and grabbed the book he'd left in the room. "For telling him her name."
Jiraiya shrugged, looking oddly morose.
"He just needs some more time. He won't be mad at you forever," Harry said, feeling the urge to reassure the man as he opened his book. "You're like an eccentric uncle or something to him."
As Harry read about the history of Konoha, Jiraiya shuffled around noisily. Harry tried to ignore it but the clatter of glass, the swish of liquid and the heavy crinkle of paper perked Harry's curiosity.
He glanced up from his book.
Jiraiya sat cross-legged on the floor in front of a pile of paper with a long wooden brush in his hand.
Harry looked back at his book, telling himself that there was nothing interesting about painting. But the words in his book blurred together and Harry glanced up again, reasoning that even watching someone paint was better than reading.
Goaded by that thought, Harry gave up all pretence of reading and watched as Jiraiya dipped the brush into an ink bottle, tapped the brush against the bottle's rim and then slid the brush across the paper leaving behind a neat calligraphic character.
Even as the ink dried, Jiraiya moved to another point on the paper and drew another character. By the time the brush painted a fourth character, Harry's throat clenched in panic as the faded scars on his hands throbbed. Because no matter how beautifully they were written, Harry recognized those symbols clearly.
And more importantly, Harry recognized the pattern. "What do you think you're doing? That'll blow up."
Jiraiya looked up with a self-satisfied smirk.
"I knew it," Jiraiya said. "So how did you start learning? Who taught you?"
"I don't know a single thing about seals."
"Don't be ridiculous, you stopped me when you saw I hadn't anchored the corners. It's obvious you at least know the basics."
Before he could stop himself, Harry said, "Are anchors anything like elemental corner derivatives?"
"Elemental derivatives..." Jiraiya sputtered. "Just what the heck have you been doing?"
"I didn't... there were just some notes in my grandmother's journal."
"An Uzumaki's seal journal?" Jiraiya seemed shocked.
Harry flinched and mentally cursed himself. "I should have known you'd still try something. I'm such a moron."
"Don't worry." Jiraiya sighed. "I won't ask you to give it to me or anything."
Harry snorted in disbelief. "It's so obvious you were trying to find something that would get rid of me."
"You're being ridiculous."
Harry stared at Jiraiya.
"Okay, fine. But I wasn't trying to get rid of you, I just wanted to know more about you because Naruto got attached to you so quickly." Jiraiya shrugged. "I wanted to make sure you wouldn't hurt him."
"Who is Naruto to you? There's no way, you're just his teacher." Harry gasped in realization. "Are you his grandfather? Aunt Kushina's father?"
"No!" Jiraiya sputtered. "What kind of complicated drama story are you building in your head?"
"You're the one who's acting all..." Harry frowned. "There's got to be something more than a teacher-student connection."
Jiraiya said, "I just didn't expect to see another Uzumaki. That's all."
"Why?" Harry lowered his voice. "What happened to them when they left Whirl... Redpool?"
"Look, it doesn't matter. You're here and..."
Harry glared at him.
Jiraiya sighed. "It's widely accepted that the Uzumaki were slaughtered by different factions over the years."
"Was Konoha one..."
"No! Never," Jiraiya interrupted vehemently. "They were our allies. If any survivors had made their way to Konoha, we would have welcomed them."
"But no one in Konoha remembers the Uzumaki clan," Harry said.
Jiraiya sighed. "The ninja world is bloody and violent. The Uzumaki wasn't the only clan that got wiped out and forgotten over the years."
Harry looked down at the paper in front of Jiraiya even as the words "wiped out" echoed in his head. "So how are these anchoring corners?"
Jiraiya stayed silent for a moment. "They're not anchoring anything yet. I haven't written the support character tails for them yet."
"Right." Harry thought about it for a few minutes and then guessed. "Are the character tails like rules?"
"I don't get it," Harry said.
"The sealing arts is a complicated subject."
"Not that! Obviously, the rules stabilize the..." Harry shook his head and said, "What I don't understand is why someone who can work with complicated seals can have such dull books."
"You read my book?"
"I wanted to know what kind of person you were," Harry said, willing himself not to look embarrassed. "The porn was ridiculous and you had glaring plot-holes. You never mentioned if Sayuri finally found her brother."
"You're serious." Jiraiya blinked and burst out laughing. "I can't... you're so... serious."
Harry internally rejoiced at distracting Jiraiya completely from their previous topics.
"What's so funny?"
They both turned to the door and stared at the blank-faced Naruto with Hedwig on his shoulder.
Noting Jiraiya's silence, Harry said, "He was trying to defend his bad writing." When they both remained silent, he stood. "I'm going to get some tea."
Before either of them could protest he took Hedwig off Naruto's shoulder, walked out the room- resisting the urge to magically lock the door- and rushed down to the hotel's small dining area. He was on his second cup of tea, which had gone cold, when Naruto and Jiraiya joined him. Harry stared between both of them and cleared his throat. "Do we need to find a doctor?"
Naruto snorted and smiled at Harry.
Jiraiya just huffed, rubbed his bruised cheek and called the waitress over for some more tea and breakfast.
As they drank and ate, a small brown eagle swooped into the empty restaurant and headed straight to Jiraiya. With careless ease, Jiraiya raised his arm allowing the eagle to land and removed a scroll from the pouch tied to it's back.
Hedwig eyed the bird dismissively and went back to stealing bits of Harry's breakfast.
"Looks like we need to head back today," Jiraiya said as he sent the bird off.
Naruto frowned. "What? We were supposed to stay here for a week."
"It can't be helped. Tsunade is calling me back."
"Since when do you listen to her, Ero-sennin?"
Jiraiya twitched. "Since she became our Hokage, you brat!"
Harry glanced between the both of them, feeling slightly more at ease as they ended up in another argument. But he wondered what had cut their trip short and mentally counted how long they'd been out of Konoha. We got here on the 30th and today's the 2nd...
"Fine, I'll pack," Naruto said. "No need to get so grumpy."
"Grump..." Jiraiya twitched but turned to Harry. "Any complaints?"
Harry shook his head and in less than an hour, the three of them plus Hedwig were on their way back to Konoha. Naruto seemed to be in better spirits as he constantly made jokes. And Harry liked that.
Until Naruto decided to make fun of Harry's hair.
"I'm suddenly remembering so many things I have to tell Sakura when we get back." Harry rubbed his chin. "Brothels and teddy bears..."
Naruto paled. "You wouldn't."
Jiraiya looked between Harry and Naruto in obvious amusement.
"I really should talk with Sakura." Harry grinned. "After all, she is your friend."
"Well, I... Ero-sennin pushed me off a cliff!"
Harry narrowed his eyes. "He did what?"
Jiraiya rolled his eyes. "Do you want me to stand still so that you can punch me too?"
"I don't believe in pointless violence."
"That's very mature of you," Jiraiya nodded and walked ahead of them.
Harry waved his hand at Jiraya's back and slyly whispered to Naruto, "I do however, believe in getting laughs."
They both watched as Jiraiya stumbled on the smooth road and cursed. After a few more 'stumbles' over the hours, Harry cleared his throat, "Did you drink sake instead of tea?"
Naruto couldn't stifle his chuckle fast enough.
"Damn brats! I'm just tired after listening to you two gossip for so long. It's enough to put anyone to sleep."
By the time they reached Konoha, all Harry could do was stagger into his apartment and sleep as soon as he fell on his bed.
A little after lunchtime, when Naruto had gone off to train with the glove, Harry stood at his main door and stared at the white-haired man in front of him. "I thought you left already."
"I couldn't leave without saying my goodbyes." Jiraiya pushed a blue book into Harry's hand with a grin. "Here's something to ease the pain of my departure."
Harry twitched when he recognized the cover. "I don't..."
Jiraiya pushed the book insistently into Harry's hands. "Trust me, you'll love this. It's priceless. Go on, have a look inside and tell me you really don't want it."
"Did you autograph it? Who'd want tha..." Harry opened the book, glanced down absently at the scrunched up text on the page he'd randomly opened and gaped as he registered the words.
Jiraiya laughed, a loud and genuine laugh. "Look how speechless you are!"
"Are you mad?" Harry said and slammed the book shut. "This, I can't..."
"If you don't take it, I'll just throw it away." Jiraiya looked down at the book. "I always planned on giving it to someone who'd benefit from all my old notes."
"And you think that someone is me?"
Jiraiya just shrugged dramatically and grinned. "The world answers my pleas in mysterious ways. Who am I to question it?"
Harry couldn't see how this was remotely funny. "You're really mad!"
"Okay then, you want me to throw it out?" Jiraiya reached for the book.
Harry pulled the book closer to him, out of Jiraiya's reach.
Jiraiya smirked. "Im sure it'll keep you occupied for a long time."
"Don't say it like that!"
"There's no need to be embarrassed. It's natural to be..."
Harry groaned. "Don't you have to go?"
Jiraiya glanced up at the sky for a moment. "I suppose I do. Listen," Jiraiya said seriously. "I... take care of yourself. And Naruto. Especially Naruto. He doesn't think things through properly and... what?"
"Let it go, already!" Jiraiya pinched the bridge of his nose. "Out of all the traits to have in common... why did you two choose to be annoying?"
"Because it's fun?" Harry said. "Don't worry, I'll look out for Naruto however I can."
"Good." Jiraiya smiled at him. "Let's go drinking next time I'm here."
Harry waved until Jiraiya left his line-of-sight. The minute he closed his door, Harry reopened the book and re-read the handwritten notes in disbelief. Anchor corners need a set of...
A/N: Without Jiraiya, crazy-awesome pervert that he is, this chapter would have way too fluffy.
You may have noticed that Shikamaru smoking even after defeating Hidan. Yes, that is deliberate.
P.S. Thanks to Duchessa and artist glockgal for fanart of chapter 9. (Link on profile)
P.P.S. Keeping up with recent Naruto manga chapters? Great. So do I. Even so, don't post any spoiler revelations in the reviews- be considerate of others who don't keep up with the manga.