The humid afternoon breeze ruffled his hair and clung to his skin, as a solid weight landed on Harry's shoulder with a hoot.
"Nii-san," a hesitant voice called as grass crunched a behind him.
Harry took a deep breath but didn't turn from the memorial. "Aren't you supposed to be training?"
"I'm done with my morning training," Naruto said, his voice awash with a soft but cautious concern as he stopped beside Harry. "And it's time for lunch. Late lunch, if we go now."
"Lunch?" Under the unchanging overcast sky, Harry hadn't noticed the time pass as he stood in front of the meditating tengu statue. "I must have gotten lost in my thoughts."
"Then it's a good thing I came to get you," Naruto said, his voice low. "I should have left a clone in the apartment when I went training but I thought you'd still be sleeping because you just came back from Suna last night."
"It's fine. Even I thought I'd be sleeping but I just couldn't, not today." Harry motioned to the two colourful bouquets at memorial's base. "You could have used your name, you know."
"I thought you'd be in Suna when I put the order in. And when you came back last night, you... I didn't know if you'd come here today." Naruto scratched his neck and shrugged. "There's nothing wrong with the monks getting two bouquets from you."
"Thank you," Harry said. "For remembering even though it's been a month."
"Of course I'd remember! You were there and you could have," Naruto's voice hitched for an instant. "There's no way I'd forget."
Touched but eager to dispel Naruto's gloom, Harry took a deep breath and turned. "You were saying something about lunch?"
Slumped and staring at the tengu memorial with downcast eyes, Naruto said, "I made plans to meet up with Iruka-sensei for late lunch today. I thought I'd introduce you two but maybe you... "
"Sounds good," Harry said, interrupting Naruto's wavering voice. Seeing Naruto's indecision, Harry put on his most determined expression and walked away from the stone memorial. "Let's go. Where are we eating?"
Naruto stumbled after Harry. "Iruka-sensei always treats me to ramen."
"Maybe today should be our treat so he can choose what he wants to eat," Harry suggested as they stepped out of the memorial's grounds and onto a quiet dusty path. "How was training? Didn't you say you were trying something different with the glove?"
Naruto's lips lifted into a quick smile and his eyes crinkled with delight as he led them off the path and through a bustling residential area that Harry hadn't been in before. "I'm getting somewhere. I think the glove trains you to shape your chakra into smaller..."
Boxed in by apartment buildings on both sides, sound filled the area. Women clustered in groups on apartment stairs, gossiping as they watched their children play.
Harry sidestepped a line of running children but watched them tumble towards the only patch of grass in the area.
A patch of grass where another group of children sat and played with dolls.
Cold horror washed over Harry and even though he turned away, blood drenched memories and nightmares filled his mind with sickening clarity.
Before the images could sink in, the alien rush of contentment from his hastily cast Cheering Charm calmed his pounding heart. A familiar sensation, that had kept Harry functioning without downing Calming Draughts on the return trip from Suna every time debilitating memories emerged.
Though the grotesque mental images weren't completely banished, Harry lowered his wand hand from his neck and concentrated on Naruto's voice.
"…and then I have to see if the shape changes. Experimenting without anyone there to tell me if I'm doing it correctly, it's hard." Naruto rubbed the back of his bowed head as they walked past the last apartment building.
"I'm sorry I don't know more about the glove."
Naruto turned to him with wide eyes. "You don't have to be sorry about anything! I'll figure it out just like I figured out my shadow clones from that old scroll. And then, I'll definitely teach you. It'll be good for you to use your chakra if you end up in trouble in again."
"You sound like you know I'll end up in trouble."
"You're related to me," Naruto said, his tone strangely somber.
"I can take care of myself," Harry said and raised his right hand. "I'm not helpless."
Naruto glanced at Harry's wand holster. "Yeah but, if both of us know how to use this chakra glove, then it'll be a clan thing. Just like how the Nara have their secret clan techniques."
"You're right. We should both know Uzumaki techniques." Naruto's shoulders relaxed as though he had been waiting to hear those words. "So, tell me about this teacher of yours that we're going to meet," Harry said, unable to remember if and when he'd heard the name Iruka.
"He was my academy teacher," Naruto said as they walked over a green bridge and entered Konoha's Central District. "I must have told you about him! He's the best. He always treated me to ramen even when he caught me after my pranks."
"So he'll be able to tell me a lot of embarrassing stories about you?"
Naruto puffed his cheeks out. "Even if there were any embarrassing stories about me, Iruka-sensei won't tattle."
"He will, because I'm only trying to know more about you," Harry said.
"You don't need to hear embarrassing stories to know more about me!" Naruto pointed out. "You can't hide your scheming ways from me because I can see your smile, nii-san."
Harry flattened his lips and shook his head. "You're imagining things."
Naruto snorted and turned from the main road that ran straight to the Hokage tower. Past the tightly packed mix of buildings that filled the Central District, the new path led them to a large gated property at the base of Konoha's Hokage mountain.
Beyond the thick wooden gate, the path narrowed as it cut through a wide expanse of short grass littered with paper and glinting pieces of metal.
"Good thing they had exams today. Kids leave the academy early on exam days," Naruto said, glancing from side to side, his eyes lingering in places as they walked forward.
"This is where you studied," Harry looked at the chain of connected buildings ahead of them in a new light. He gave Hedwig a gentle scratch before she flew up and away from them.
"And that's my spot," Naruto pointed to a lone tree swing at the very edge of the grounds. "I used to sit there a lot when I got... tired in the evenings."
"The teachers didn't have anything to say about that?"
Naruto shrugged carelessly but a flicker of emotion laced his voice. "It's not like anyone else wanted to use the swing. It was mine."
"It's bigger than the swing I haunted in my neighbourhood." When Naruto finally turned to look at him, Harry motioned to the swing, "Does it have your name on it?"
"I carved three small lines on the bottom one night," Naruto said, lowering his voice as he rubbed the black lines on his cheeks.
"Nobody would check the bottom and even if they did they couldn't tie it to you directly," Harry nodded in understanding. "Smart."
"Carving my name would have taken too long," Naruto admitted with a sheepish smile as he opened the academy's doors.
A pleasant rush of cool air greeted them as they scrambled in from the muggy afternoon heat.
Bulletin boards covered with large class schedules, colourful flyers and various other papers filled the walls of the otherwise empty reception area.
In the long hallway beyond the reception, they passed many doors marked with tiny lacquered signs. One open door showed a large well-lit classroom outfitted with a high ceiling, a podium at the very front and student desks arranged on a pitched floor for tier seating.
Without bothering to knock, Naruto pushed open a random door before Harry could read it's lacquered sign.
Sitting at one of many paper cluttered desks, the only person in the room looked up with a red marker in his hand. Though his brown eyes were gentle, exasperation dripped from his voice as he said, "Naruto, you can't just barge in here when I'm marking..."
"Iruka-sensei, look who I brought with me," Naruto interrupted and motioned at Harry with a wide grin. "This is Nii-san."
"You're supposed to use a name when introducing strangers."
Naruto huffed as he manoeuvred the maze of teacher's desks. "I already told you nii-san's name before."
"I'm sure I hammered some manners into your head. A proper Hokage needs manners, Naruto."
"Fine, fine." Naruto rolled his eyes. "No need to nag, sensei. Harii-nii-san, this is Iruka-sensei. Iruka-sensei this is nii-san."
"That's not any better!" Iruka said as they stopped in front of his desk but he smiled. "Umino Iruka, it's nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too, I'm Harii. Sorry for disturbing you when you were working."
"Overworking!" Naruto corrected. "I'm sure if we hadn't come, he'd be stuck in here working forever like the workaholic he is."
Gathering up the papers scattered on his desk, Iruka said, "A good work ethic is a valuable skill."
Naruto looked around at the other empty desks. "Right."
"I would have gone to eat with them but I'd already made plans to meet with my old loudmouth student," Iruka said as he stacked the papers in his drawer.
"Don't pretend you're not a workaholic," Naruto said as he stuffed Iruka's red marker into an already full pen holder. "Nii-san won't fall for your act."
"My act?" Iruka looked up with a raised eyebrow. "Of pretending I'm not a workaholic?"
"Exactly," Naruto said with a nod.
When they both turned to him, Harry shrugged, "With the amount of training you do, aren't you also a workaholic?"
Naruto gasped. "That's not the same at all."
In between chuckles, Iruka tapped two fingers on his desk. With a flash of blue light, ink characters crawled over the desk drawer, turned red and sank down without a trace. He grabbed his green vest from the back of his chair and led them out of the office. "What are we going to eat?"
"Let's go get ra..."
Harry cleared his throat and held Naruto's gaze.
Naruto sighed but said, "What would you like to eat, Iruka-sensei? It's our treat."
Iruka's eyebrows rose for an instant before he smiled and turned to zip up his vest. "Ramen sounds perfect."
Naruto turned to Harry with a smug smile.
Harry rolled his eyes.
As they walked away from the academy, Iruka adjusted his spiky brown ponytail and said, "But since it's a treat. How many bowls should I have, Naruto? Seven, ten?"
"Iruka-sensei, you don't eat that much!" Naruto said.
"I can and I will, if someone else is paying."
As Naruto sputtered, Harry asked, "Did Naruto eat you out of your paycheck?"
"All the time," Iruka said and ruffled Naruto's hair with fondness. "Thankfully, Ichiraku allows long tabs. With my teaching salary, that was quite the blessing."
"It's not like you only work at the academy. You put in hours at the admin tower too, don't you? That's the definition of a real workaholic." Naruto shot Harry a pointed look as he fixed his blond hair.
Iruka chuckled. "Maybe I just want to be kept on my toes."
"How can admin work keep you on your toes?" Naruto asked in disbelief as they walked through Konoha's bustling streets. "Just admit you're a workaholic."
"Taking an extra administrative job is nowhere as tiring or as time consuming as it was figuring out where you had hidden after your pranks."
"You worked out where I was without actually searching for me? That's so," Naruto shook his head as though he was too scandalized for words.
"The mental work of getting into your mindset and figuring out your moves was just as taxing as physically searching for you," Iruka said as he pushed aside Ichiraku's hanging sheets.
"Wait," Harry said as they sat at the ramen stand. "From what I'm hearing, it sounds like Naruto is the reason you've taken on an extra job and become a... workaholic."
"That's exactly what I'm saying," Iruka said with a nod. "After he graduated, I had too much spare time."
Iruka spoke over Naruto's protests. "I'm amazed I don't have any grey hairs with how much extra work he gave me."
"Is that what happened to his current teacher?" Harry said after giving the chef his order.
Iruka rubbed the scar across his nose, hiding the smile on his lips. When he spoke, his voice was deep with thought, "It's not openly spoken about but I suspect Hatake-san's grey hairs have gone completely white because of him."
Naruto pouted. "That's not true. Hair doesn't change colour like that."
Harry shook his head. "Isn't Jiraiya your teacher too? He has white hair."
"He had white hair before he met me! If anything, he's probably given me white hair."
"It's not like you've never sported white hair before," Iruka said, having given the chef his own order. Noticing Harry's curiosity, Iruka grinned, "When he was at the Academy, Naruto once decided he was going to..."
When Ichiraku added his own stories over their dinner servings of ramen, Harry did his best to commit the bright tidbits of Naruto's past to his memory.
But as he lay awake in his bed that night, even the endearing stories of Naruto's past couldn't overcome the dismal thoughts that had lingered in the back of Harry's mind. While the Cheering Charm would push the memories back, it would also leave him too restless to sleep.
Harry reached for the side table drawer, turned the vial of Dreamless Sleep around in his hands and put it back. He wasn't particularly tired, and if he just couldn't sleep naturally, then the least he could do was get some reading done.
Harry sat up as quietly as he could manage and listened to the relative silence of his apartment for a long moment before he moved his feet to the floor.
As he stood, the sofa in the living room creaked and Naruto asked, "Can't sleep?"
Harry squinted in the darkness of the apartment through his open doorway. "Did I wake you up?"
"I couldn't sleep either," Naruto said as he rose and switched on a light. Warm but blinding light lit up the apartment. "So I was trying to meditate."
"I was going to read until I felt sleepy," Harry admitted as he blinked against the light.
"That's worse than meditating!" Naruto shook his head and grabbed a baggy orange shirt as he glanced out the window. "Come on, the sky has cleared. Let's go to the roof and you can finally tell me that sea monster story. "
On the roof, Harry sifted through memories of astronomy, divination and history lessons to weave an enchanting tale for Naruto.
When Harry finished his story, Naruto asked, "Do you think the... our clan used water jutsu?"
"They lived on an island, so they could have. Why?"
"I don't know any water jutsu." Naruto said in a small voice. "With wind as my natural affinity, I never even considered learning other elements."
"You don't need to learn something just because the clan might have used it," Harry said. "They might have done a lot of things like... kept sea monsters as pets or something."
"I wouldn't mind having a sea monster pet," Naruto said with laughter in his voice.
"The point is," Harry huffed. "Do whatever you want, for yourself."
"So," Naruto said in between yawns. "That's a yes to the sea monster pet?"
"What's the point of such a pet so far inland? You could definitely bring a giant sea creature and put it in a large enough lake but that's not..." Harry paused as he turned to Naruto. After carefully considering his options, Harry went down to the apartment and returned with a handful of blankets and pillows.
Tucking Naruto in with a generous amount of spells, ranging from heating spells to insect repelling charms, Harry looked up at the stars while Naruto's soft snores filled the air.
He woke from the start of a nightmare to Izumo's concerned face.
"Why are you two sleeping on the roof when it could have rained at any time?" Izumo asked as he moved back and motioned to the grey clouds above.
Harry shrugged as he sat up and stretched. "It was a nice night?"
"Why are you asking me?" Izumo said. "You're the idiot who slept on the roof in this weather."
"There weren't any clouds when we came up here." Harry rolled his shoulder, wincing at the stiffness in his back. "Did you bring breakfast?"
"No good morning or how are you after so long? That's cold, Harii," Izumo shook his head with a smile and shot a pointed look at Naruto. "Kotetsu's bringing Tofu."
Considering Naruto's dislike of Tofu, Harry shook his head in exasperation, "I go off for a few days and return to some sort of kids' food feud."
"It's just Kotetsu and Naruto, they're the kids."
"There actually is a food feud?" Harry asked.
"It started the moment you left and it's been hilarious. They make the most hilarious faces when they eat," Izumo admitted with a grin and prodded Naruto. "Oi, how long are you going to pretend to be asleep?"
Naruto opened one eye and glared. "You ruin everything."
"I try my best," Izumo said.
Harry folded his blanket and stood. "No fighting before breakfast."
"Is Kotetsu really bringing Tofu?" Naruto asked as a clone appeared and gathered all the blankets and pillows.
"It's one of the things you dislike the most," Izumo said as they got off the roof and entered the apartment.
Harry had just finished setting the table under the bright kitchen light when Kotetsu arrived with Hedwig perched on his shoulder. "Guess what I got?"
"Just bring it in already." Naruto said with an unimpressed look as he walked into the kitchen, his hair damp from his shower. "Some of us actually want to eat and go train."
"Still working on your top secret jutsu?" Izumo asked as he sipped on the tea he'd made.
Naruto nodded and grabbed a plateful of tofu with a scowl as he sat beside Harry at the table. "Do either of you know water jutsu?"
"They're the basis of my Syrup jutsu." Izumo tilted his head in consideration and sat opposite Harry. "Why, you want to learn some?"
Naruto shrugged. "Maybe."
"Hatake knows a ton of techniques." Kotetsu said.
"He'll just tell me that I can't learn it since it's not a wind jutsu. He said something like that when I wanted to learn the Chidori."
"His lightning technique?" Kotetsu said in between bites. "I think you need the Sharingan to use that one."
Naruto mumbled under his breath and chewed his tofu viciously.
"Did you ask him to teach you anything after that?"
"I ask him for super cool jutsu all the time," Naruto said with an annoyed huff but frowned, "Actually, after the wind manipulation, no, after I came back to Konoha, I don't think I asked him to teach me any..." Naruto paused and bit his lip in dismay.
Putting his tea down, Izumo said, "He's still your sensei. Go ask him for some D-rank water jutsu."
Naruto's dismay turned into outrage. "D-rank?"
Izumo didn't falter at the yell, in fact, Harry had never seen him so serious. "If you're working with elements that you don't have an affinity for, it's better to start small. Water in your lungs is a very real possibility, if you're not careful."
"Didn't Jiraiya-sama teach you any super cool jutsu?" Kotetsu said, emphasizing Naruto's earlier words with a snicker.
Naruto rolled his eyes but replied, "We never got around to anything like that because it took me forever to improve my clone technique."
"So you improved your chakra control at least," Izumo said. "That'll help you create and direct your clones instantly."
"It's nice to see you three getting along like normal people," Harry said as he poured himself another cup of tea. "Going to Suna really had it's uses."
"What are you going to do today?" Izumo asked, unfazed while the other two sputtered.
With Hedwig dozing on the back of his chair, Harry leaned closer to the table and sipped his warm tea. "I'm still feeling the effects of the desert so I'm going to try and recover."
"Still finding sand in strange places?" Kotetsu asked with a teasing grin.
"Thankfully not," Harry said, fervently thanking his magic for protecting him from the encroaching sand. "But racing back through the desert was... an experience."
"Be thankful it wasn't a swamp with insects that try to eat you alive," Izumo said.
"Those things are worse than the Aburame's swarms," Kotetsu added as if that meant something to Harry.
"I'll take your word for it," Harry said, adding some more sugar to his tea. "But other than some reading, I won't be moving around too much."
"Lucky," Izumo said. "We're back on gate duty today and it's going to be a complete bore."
"But it's an important job, right? Checking the newcomers," Harry said.
Kotetsu snorted. "Regardless of how high village-wide security is, the gate guards are just one of many security checks and scans for the people coming in."
Though he had suspected hidden security, Harry still said, "I only saw you two when I first came in."
"Exactly! People think they've entered Konoha without and intense scrutiny because of us. We make the others' job much easier." Kotetsu grinned in pride.
Naruto swallowed some tofu and said, "Did anything change because of the invasion?"
Harry looked up from his tea in confusion. "Invasion?"
"The invasion about three years ago," Kotetsu stared at him expectantly and shook his head. "Just how sheltered were you?"
Izumo elbowed him. "Idiot. News get twisted beyond recognition when it travels to distant and isolated places." He turned to Harry. "There was an invasion attempt at the Chūnin exam finals."
"The one where you two were bully examiners?" Ignoring Kotetsu's protests, Harry asked, "Who tried to invade?"
"Suna and Oto," Naruto answered with a dark frown of distaste.
"Suna?" Harry leaned away from the table. "The place I just came from?"
"They were tricked into helping Oto." Naruto grimaced. "You know, if the invasion hadn't happened I would have become a Chūnin."
Kotetsu and Izumo both snorted.
"What?" Naruto said and crossed his arms as he sat up straighter. "I would have, when I won the tournament. Everyone would have seen my skills."
Kotetsu leaned forward and put some more tofu in front of Naruto. "Eat and increase your brainpower, you delusional brat."
With narrowed eyes, Naruto's legs moved under the table.
When Kotetsu yelped in pain, Harry turned to Izumo. "So the invasion..."
"It wasn't bad as far as invasions go. We decimated the intruders and our death toll was negligible," Izumo said. "And only the outer districts needed intense reconstruction. "
Harry turned to a triumphant looking Naruto, "And what were you doing during this invasion?"
"I had to fight Gaara because he had gone all…well, I had to take care of him."
"Gaara," Harry said, remembering the solemn robed person who had been fascinated by Hedwig. "The Kazekage?"
"He wasn't the Kazekage back then," Naruto said with a shrug.
"That doesn't reassure me at all," Harry admitted.
"It could have been so much worse," Izumo said. "Iwa's invasion tactics in the old days was to raze locations to the ground with lava that burned for days. Sometimes they trapped people inside."
Harry grimaced at the image.
"Was one of many reasons dealing with them was a pain in the ass even after the war. If it wasn't earth attacks, it was lava. And if it wasn't lava then metal." Izumo's fingers twitched as he said, "The bastards made it hard for us to stay on ground. You never knew when they'd pull you under."
In the ensuing silence, Naruto looked as uncomfortable as Harry felt.
"Enough depressing talk, especially since there's no alcohol in sight," Kotetsu said, trying to grin through his words.
Izumo blinked, looked down at his hands and sighed. "There will never be enough alcohol, so let's never bring it up again."
"Sounds good. Now let's go," Kotetsu said, with too wide of a smile on his face. "Or we'll be late for gate duty."
Izumo nodded, his eyes tired as he dumped his dishes in the sink and left with an apologetic goodbye.
"The old pervert got like that sometimes, when we were travelling. He'd go far away from people and just sit." Naruto sighed and changed the topic as he stood. "I'm going to find Kakashi-sensei. Do you want me to leave a clone here with you?"
Harry shook his head and followed Naruto out of the kitchen. "I really want to get some reading done."
Naruto huffed as he pulled on his sandals. "You sound like you have an exam tomorrow."
"Reading before an exam won't help you excel," Harry said. "That's what Hermione would say to try and make us start revising a month before our exams."
"You must have been at the top of your class, then."
Harry snorted. "Hermione was. Ron and I were happy to be in the average middle. Will you be back for lunch?"
Naruto nodded with a solemn look even as his eyes twinkled, "I'll definitely come to save you from your reading."
The moment he was alone, Harry checked, re-cast and added new spells around the apartment as he tidied up. Once reassured of his privacy, Harry pulled out his two-way mirror.
Having been unable to use or check the mirror since he'd left Suna, Harry pulled the mirror close and kept a pen near as he played the days' old message.
Harry had just finished scribbling down the last of the spells that Hermione had sent him when the mirror vibrated in his grip.
"Harry," Ron called out as his face appeared in the mirror's gleaming surface. When he noticed Harry, his eyes crinkled above a wide smile. "Harry!"
Harry grinned back. "I'm glad I saw your previous message before I left Suna. That spell you used in Egypt really helped with all the sand."
"You've left the desert place already?" Ron said even as his eyes asked for more information.
Harry couldn't bring himself to mention the 'work' he had done in Suna. "We rushed back from there. And sand is not made for rushing over on."
"It would have been easier to fly." Noticing Harry's pointed look, Ron huffed, "I'm not talking about using your broom in front of the muggles! Don't they have some way to fly?"
"Ron, my Firebolt was still locked in Hogwarts when I came here."
"I know. I'm the one that pestered them to send it to Lupin for safekeeping."
"Exactly, wait," Harry paused. "What? It's not in Hogwarts anymore?"
"Of course not. It's your broom. And it would be a crime to have Tonks anywhere near it." Ron grimaced as though that image was too much to bear. "That's why I was messaging you. They finally sent it to safety."
"You could have kept it with you. To make sure we won the Quidditch cup."
Ron shook his head. "It's... Sirius gave you that broom."
Harry relished the surprising rush of good memories those simple words evoked.
"I know the replacement broom you bought can't compare to the Firebolt, but at least you have a broom with you." At Harry's guilty silence, Ron narrowed his eyes and demanded, "You do have a broom there with you."
"I wanted to leave before anyone had a chance to stop me and it might have slipped my mind amidst everything else," Harry said in a rush. Embarrassment coloured his voice as he admitted, "I'm not as prepared as I could have been but it's not that bad."
"I told Hermione the temple was a one off," Ron said. "I told her that you'd escape any future trouble like they're angry Hungarian Horntails. But you don't have a broom."
"How could you not get a broom?" Ron asked with something akin to betrayal. "It was the only thing that stopped her crying."
"Crying?" Harry asked in confusion.
"One minute she was looking up a spell for you and the next her eyes were shiny," Ron explained in a rush. "She said her eyes were tired."
"She always says something like that when she cries," Harry pointed out.
"Exactly," Ron nodded. "It's been five years, we know how she cries."
"Why was she crying?" Harry asked.
"It's obvious that she's over-thinking all the ways you'd end up in trouble. It's not hard to imagine you in danger when we don't hear from you," Ron paused and cleared his throat as his eyes darted away from the mirror. Though his ears were pink, he sounded less like Mrs. Weasley when he continued, "It took ages for Bill to crack and send some more desert..."
Hours after the conversation with Ron, Harry scratched out his writing as he squinted at his books.
A loud gasp pulled Harry away from his reading. "Is that math? Why are you doing math? And what happened to that cloth?"
Harry blinked away the afterimages of cramped text, raised his cup for a sip but grimaced at the cold dredges of tea as he looked around the kitchen table. A burnt scrap of cloth sat atop a pile of crumpled paper. "I was going to get rid of that before you came back."
Hedwig glanced at them from under a tucked wing and went back to sleep.
Naruto pointed at the numbers that Harry had been scratching out. "Why are you doing math in the kitchen?"
"I'm trying to figure out some spell work."
Naruto looked like his entire world had been shaken. "You need math to do magic?"
"To do a complicated piece of magic," Harry corrected as he gathered his things. "These calculations should help me understand what I'm trying to do."
"Burn cloth?" Naruto asked, his roaming eyes betraying his curiosity.
Grinning at his cousin's fascination, Harry said, "Secret." He tapped the ruined piece of fabric, vanishing it with a quick Evanesco.
"Nii-san, you," Naruto motioned at the apartment windows with wide questioning eyes.
"I've put protection spells on every single surface. The walls, windows, roof and even the floor all have something."
Naruto squinted, searching for signs of the magic. "So people can't see inside?"
Harry shook his head. "They can see. But the important thing is what they don't see."
"What don't they see?"
"My magic," Harry said with complete certainty as he stood and stretched to ease the stiffness in his legs. "If they don't know about my magic, they don't see it."
Naruto frowned. "So if I looked in from the outside... I'd see you using your magic because I know about it?"
Harry nodded and stored his notes and books into his grandmother's scroll. "It's not like I use anything too flashy in here, but I can if I want to."
"And instead of all the cool things you could have been doing, you chose math," Naruto sounded genuinely disappointed with Harry's choices as he moved to the front door. "I definitely can't trust you to choose lunch now."
Harry rolled his eyes as he switched off the lights and pulled on his shoes. "I was going to choose ramen."
"If you really want to eat ramen, I can't say no to that," Naruto said with a grin as they walked out into an overcast Konoha. As they took the now familiar route to Ichiraku, Naruto detailed how the food feud with Kotetsu started. "... obviously, I couldn't let him win so, Konohamaru?"
Leaning against the wooden fence opposite the Ichiraku ramen stand, a young boy perked up and moved forward, the end of his blue scarf trailing on the ground behind him. "Nii-chan."
"Were you waiting for me?" Naruto asked, a soft fondness colouring his voice as he stopped in front of the boy.
Though he was a head shorter than them, Konohamaru straightened his pale green jacket with a nod and narrowed his black eyes at Harry. "Who're you? You're not a ninja."
Naruto flicked the boy's head. "You better be respectful of nii-san."
The young boy wasn't the least bit cowed and stared at Harry with an even greater intensity, as though searching for something.
"Nice to meet you, Konohamaru," Harry said with a smile.
Konohamaru pursed his lips and looked away as he mumbled out a greeting.
Naruto shot Harry an apologetic look and pulled the younger boy away with a severe frown. "Let's talk over there." His voice lowered into an annoyed stream of words Harry couldn't discern as they walked away.
The image of Naruto speaking to Konohamaru, who had his head bowed and his shoulders slumped, tugged at Harry's memory.
"Harii, why are you standing in the middle of the road like that?"
Harry turned away from the pair, letting the errant memory slip from his grasp. "Shikamaru, you look terrible."
"Barely slept since we got back because of all the meetings," Shikamaru said with a shrug, his dark ringed eyes relaxing as he took a deep drag of his cigarette. "And unlike some people, I can't hide it under purple makeup."
Despite the dull grey sky, the purple lines painted across Kankuro's face looked bright under his pristine black hooded outfit as he nodded at Harry. "Some colour on your ugly face would spare the world a lot of suffering, Nara."
Having spent days in their company while racing back through the desert, Harry ignored their verbal jabs and turned the conversation. "I'm glad I'm not in any of those meetings. If you're like this from all the politics, then I'd be in even worse shape."
"I was going to summon you to today's meeting," Shikamaru said, "but we took a break before I had to resort to that."
Harry grimaced at the ninja in front of him. "Is it really that bad?"
"Worse," Shikamaru conceded with a sigh. "The elders have no love for the Nara."
"You Nara can be rather annoying," Harry pointed out. When Kankuro snorted in agreement, Harry asked, "But what does that have to do with anything?"
"Every little thing has an impact on the final outcome."
Harry narrowed his eyes. "That sounds like something your father would say during a game."
"That's his favourite saying," Shikamaru said with a considering huff, his lips curling into a smile. "Or one of them, at least."
"He probably has a list of sayings prepared for when he wants to be especially annoying." Harry ignored Shikamaru's amusement and turned to Kankuro. "Are the meetings worse for you?"
"It's my job." Kankuro shot Shikamaru a sly look. "Not everyone can handle it when things get tough."
Shikamaru's eye twitched but he kept his gaze fixed on something behind Harry as he breathed out a plume of cigarette smoke.
"I told you not to smoke in front of other people, Shikamaru!" Naruto stopped beside Harry, waving away the smoke with one hand while his other rested on a sulking Konohamaru's head. "If nii-san gets sick, I'm telling Sakura-chan it was your fault."
"Nii-san?" Kankuro repeated in an incredulous tone, even as he glanced between their faces.
Naruto puffed up in indignation. "What else am I supposed to call my older cousin?"
"Gaara doesn't call me nii-san." Kankuro muttered and glanced at Shikamaru with a look that Harry couldn't decipher. "I suppose we should get back."
Shikamaru's dark eyes glinted through the haze of cigarette smoke. "You're tired of the walk already?"
"Haven't you already gotten what you wanted?"
Shikamaru tilted his head up to the sky with a considering look. "I suppose there's only so much fresh air you can get in this dull weather."
"You're hilarious," Kankuro said, sounding unamused. "So hilarious that I'm genuinely concerned about your future."
Shikamaru rolled his eyes with exasperation. "My future? Or are you having brotherly concerns about..."
Harry cleared his throat. "You do know you're in public and other people can actually hear you."
Kankuro snorted but Shikamaru nodded a thanks for the interruption.
When the two ninja walked away after a polite round of farewells, Naruto and Konohamaru turned to Harry with sly smiles.
Harry leaned away from them, unnerved. "What?"
"You know some gossip about Shikamaru," Naruto said with delight.
"Probably something to do with Temari-san," Konohamaru added in a low voice, his words directed at Naruto. "Moegi is going to hate that I found out the news before her."
Naruto nodded. "I always knew there was something going on between them. Even though they denied it, I knew."
"You're as sharp as ever Nii-chan," Konohamaru said. "I wonder if there will be a big wedding."
Completely lost by the turn of their conversation, Harry frowned at them. "What are you two talking about?
"Yes," a mellow voice said from behind them. "What are you talking about?"
"Genma-sensei!" Konohamaru turned, guilt etched in every line of his posture as he shuffled away from Naruto. "We were just talking about..."
Clad in the standard blue outfit and green vest that most older ninja wore, Genma stared down at the younger boy as a long needle in his mouth moved from one side to the other.
"Nothing important," Konohamaru trailed off, shifting uncomfortably in his spot.
Genma tilted his blue bandana covered head, his brown eyes never shifting from the younger boy. "If you have time to talk about nothing important, then you must have finished the training exercises that Ebisu gave you before he left on his mission."
Konohamaru slumped and stared at the ground. "I was going to do them after lunch."
"I'm guessing the other two are also playing hooky instead of training." Genma chewed on the long needle in his mouth, his laid-back voice never wavering. "Ebisu is too soft on you brats. I should tell Gai about this."
"No!" Konohamaru yelled in horror.
"Then you know what you need to do. I'll give you a head start," Genma said, the sharp point of his needle glinting ominously. "When I see you next, your entire team better be going through Ebisu's drills. Otherwise it's another round of extreme dodging with Gai helping."
With a hurried goodbye, Konohamaru raced away from them with a blur of speed.
Naruto snickered. "I didn't know he was so frightened of Bushy-brows' sensei."
"Bushy-brows?" Harry repeated, even as he concentrated on his Homenum Revelio spell so that no one else could sneak up on them.
"He's also afraid of me," Genma said.
Naruto snorted, eyes bright with disbelief. "Even when you were our Chūnin exam proctor, you weren't scary."
Harry frowned. "Was everyone taking part in those exams?"
"Probably," Naruto shrugged.
"No," Genma said at the same time. "But to a participant, it probably seemed that way."
Naruto turned to Harry and said, "This senbon guy saw my awesome victory against Neji, up close."
"Come on, you know my name," Genma said, not sounding the least bit offended. "You don't have to introduce me like that."
"Am I supposed to be introducing you?" Naruto said.
"Of all the things you could have learnt from Kakashi." Genma sighed, the needle in his mouth not even twitching. "Why did you have to pick up that attitude?"
"Which attitude?" Naruto said, trying and failing to sound obtuse.
"I'm not Gai," Genma said, his lips twitching up. "And I may have been his team-mate but there's no way you're getting me to utter his phrases out loud."
"You're no fun, senbon guy."
Genma turned to Harry. "You're the newcomer that repairs things?" When Harry nodded, he said, "Are you still taking things?"
"Leave it at the apartment door like everyone else," Naruto said with an unimpressed look at the older man.
"Actually, Izumo and Kotetsu leave the things they collect at the door," Harry explained. "They don't tell people my address. At least, I hope they don't."
"They don't," Genma confirmed with a nod. "They just say that there will be a proper shop eventually."
"That's a long way off. I have other things to take care of before I can even think of setting up a shop."
"What other things?" Naruto said with a frown.
"Things," Harry replied with a shrug. "What do you want fixed?"
After a quick glance at Naruto, Genma pulled out a small grey pouch from his vest. "It's an old weapon. Not something I use, so there's no need to rush and fix it."
"Good because I've got a backlog of broken things waiting at the apartment." The pouch's contents clinked in Harry's hands.
"I better go check in on Ebisu's brats." With a nonchalant wave, Genma disappeared in a swirl of leaves and dust.
Even though his spell showed the direction the ninja had taken, Harry stared at the empty space as he pocketed the pouch.
"He's kind of normal," Naruto said as he tugged Harry to the Ichiraku stand. "I can't believe he was Gai-sensei's team-mate."
As he pushed aside the hanging sheets and took a seat, Harry asked, "Who is this Gai person?"
"Bushy-brows' teacher." Naruto sat on a stool beside Harry. "Bushy-brows and Gai-sensei, they're, you need to see them because words aren't enough to describe their weirdness."
Harry stared at him after placing his order. "Weirdness?"
"They train super hard and then cry manly tears together in the sunset. It's dramatic and weird." Naruto trailed off with a considering expression. "But also awesome."
"How is crying awesome?" Harry raised his hand in a 'stop' gesture before Naruto could answer. "You know what, I'll wait and see them to understand that."
Naruto grinned, as though pleased by Harry's decision.
"Crying?" Harry muttered. The elusive memory from earlier resolved into startling clarity. "He looked different without the scarf but Konohamaru was at the funeral."
Naruto frowned but nodded. "Asuma-sensei was his uncle. But that's no reason for him to act like that. You didn't exactly..." Naruto stopped as Ichiraku placed two steaming ramen bowls in front of them with a smile. "Thanks, old man."
Harry grabbed some chopsticks and pushed the noodles deeper into the broth, "Is this bowl bigger than usual?"
"You're just too used to eating small portions. Even Sakura-chan eats more than you, nii-san."
"I'm sure Sakura would like to hear that she eats a lot."
"I didn't say that!"
"But that's what I heard," Harry said with a shrug. He smirked. "What will I get for keeping it a secret?"
Naruto leaned away from Harry in outrage. "How can you blackmail your own family with false information?"
"In the warpath of a female, there's no such thing as family anymore," Harry said sagely.
"Don't use movie quotes in the middle of our conversation," Naruto said with a stern tone, even though his eyes crinkled in amusement. "I'm the only one who can make those quotes sound good in real life."
"Just like you make red hair look good?" Harry asked.
"Some things are just better when I use them." Naruto's grin grew over lunch and remained firmly in place when he left for training.
Even though he declined the company of a Naruto clone to work on his magic again, Harry took a long meandering route back to his apartment. When he eventually reached the top of his building's stairs, he sighed with genuine disappointment. "Why aren't you at the Suna meetings?"
Looking as sharp as ever, Shikaku raised an eyebrow from his spot by the railings in front of Harry's apartment door. "We concluded much earlier than anyone anticipated."
Harry snorted as he unlocked his door. "I'm sure someone anticipated it. Kankuro lost his smugness after Shikamaru brought him to meet me and Naruto together."
"Strange," Shikaku said.
"I thought Shikamaru would start laughing diabolically right then, because his plan worked." Harry waved the man inside and flicked a switch to light the apartment's dim interior.
"Even if he had a plan come to fruition, he wouldn't laugh."
Hedwig greeted Harry with a sleepy hoot when he glanced in the kitchen. "Did you laugh diabolically when they came back?"
"No," Shikaku said. "Besides, everyone knows that you need the right setting for such a laugh."
"Like a dark stormy night?" Harry asked.
Shikaku nodded. "And only at the top of the Hokage mountain."
"So how does Naruto and I being related, work in Konoha's favour?" Harry asked, not expecting an answer as he padded to his plant room. The soothing scent of herbs made the stacked boxes full of broken items look even more out of place in there.
"If there had been any sort of motive behind that meeting, then the Kazekage's positive impression of Naruto would be very valuable."
Surprised but confused, Harry placed the grey pouch in a box and scribbled Genma's name on Izumo's detailed item list as he prodded for more, "And?"
"And," Shikaku said from the doorway, "I have something to give you." He pulled an envelope from his vest, his expression solemn. "I thought it would be best to give it to you in person."
Harry stared at the envelope with trepidation. "It's not paperwork, is it?"
"It's the photo you asked for. It's not much right now, but I won't stop asking around."
Harry took the envelope with a careful deference. "Thank you."
"I apologize for not coming by earlier," Shikaku said. "I should have come the moment I heard that you found him in Suna."
Harry pulled the envelope close, uncomfortable with the casual reminder of his 'work' and wondering if he'd need to cast a Cheering Spell soon. "It wasn't like I found your clansman on purpose."
"You found him long after we gave up on ever finding him. And we, I won't ignore that."
"He looked a lot like you," Harry said tentatively after some thought.
Shikaku's eyes dimmed with old pain. "My youngest brother went missing a few years ago."
Harry winced. How did one offer condolences for such a situation? Sorry your brother was turned into a creepy puppet, just didn't seem right.
"We've negotiated to have his body returned." Shikaku said. "Suna will also be sending back any Konoha bodies they find."
"I see. I don't know if..." Not wanting to chance any bad memories, Harry stopped, his fingers tightening around the envelope.
"Shikamaru noticed at least two other possible Konoha natives."
"I see," Harry repeated.
Shikaku cleared his throat. "We'll be holding my brother's final rites when his body is returned to us. And as clan tradition requires, it would be an honour if you were there."
"What?" Harry blurted out before he could help himself.
"It's Nara tradition. You found him. If you hadn't fixed," Shikaku paused and closed his eyes for a moment. "You're the reason his body is coming home now."
"You didn't have a funeral for him?" Harry asked and immediately regretted his thoughtless question.
"We had a ceremony," Shikaku said. "But my brother deserves more."
"I'll be there," Harry assured him without hesitation.
When a rain spattered Naruto rushed into the apartment later that evening, Harry closed the book that he'd been trying to read and grabbed the envelope.
"They're sending Kakashi-sensei to Suna!" Naruto groused as he kicked off his sandals. "Just when I had convinced him to show me some water jutsu."
Harry held out the sealed envelope.
"What's this?" Naruto asked as he slumped down onto the sofa.
"It's for you," Harry said, his voice as steady as he could manage.
Naruto tore the envelope open and upended it's contents onto his lap. The envelope slipped out of Naruto's fingers. "Mom?" Naruto's whisper, barely audible over the rain outside, matched the desperation in his eyes as he traced over the photo. "This is mom?"
Even though he couldn't see the photo, Harry nodded. "Nara-san asked around for photos of her."
After a long stretch of silence, Naruto said, "I have her smile." He tilted the photo so that Harry could see.
Kushina smiled at him from the still photo, her dark blue eyes bright with laughter as her long of red hair billowed behind her.
"And her eye shape," Harry said after a moment of comparison. "Actually, you have her round face shape too."
Naruto clambered off the sofa and into the kitchen, holding his newly acquired photo against the wall. "She looks a lot like Oba-chan."
Stopping beside Naruto, Harry looked between his mother's and Kushina's photos. "Except for the eyes, they do have a lot of similarities. But Grandmum has much more in common with her."
"We don't have a frame," Naruto said after comparing the photos, moving Kushina's photo away from the wall. "This photo wouldn't look right up here without a matching frame."
"You don't have to put it up," Harry said. "I haven't put Sirius's photo up here."
"But that's because his photo, you know." Naruto moved his hands around.
"I haven't asked if there was a way to make his photo stop moving. I don't want to know."
"We'll put them up here someday," Naruto said softly, even as he clutched Kushina's photo close.
"Someday," Harry agreed.
Four days later, an official summons from the Hokage disrupted Harry's newly established routine of reading his mornings away.
"I could have walked here, Cat-san," Harry said as he steadied himself in a familiar carpeted corridor. Even with the view of Konoha from the window, Harry wasn't sure if he was in the Administrative building or one of it's identical copies.
"It's Racoon," the masked man said, his head pointed at the doors in front of them. "You can't meet the Suna delegation drenched from the rain outside."
"You do know that umbrellas can keep people dry from the rain?"
"I think ANBU-san wanted to make sure you wouldn't be late," Sakura said in amusement as she stopped beside Harry. Adjusting the ninja headband on her forehead with black gloved fingers, Sakura explained,"Tsunade-shishou can be irritable if people are late."
"But I've never seen her smack Kakashi-sensei for being super late," Naruto said as he swung in through the open window and landed beside Sakura. "What's going on? Why were we called here?"
Sakura tutted and swiped blue glowing fingers over Naruto's rain spattered form.
"Cat-san said something about meeting a Suna delegation." Harry turned to the masked man and sighed at the empty spot. "I can't believe he left mid-conversation."
"Suna delegation?" Sakura repeated with a considering tone and straightened her red outfit.
Naruto, looking much drier than before, buzzed with excitement. "Are they going to send us to Suna to join Kakashi-sensei?"
Harry winced at the possibility of going back to Suna to fix more of those things. A weak rush of soothing content from a Cheering Charm kept Harry from bolting.
"I doubt it," Sakura said as a new masked person appeared in front of the doors. "But whatever the reason behind this meeting, be quiet and respectful when we go in." She nodded at the masked person, glanced at Naruto and amended. "Or at least, try to."
Naruto rolled his eyes.
The masked person opened the doors and motioned for Harry to go in first.
Harry entered a meeting room similar to the one where he first met Danzo and the other two Konoha elders. Two long blue sofas faced each other at the centre of the room but unlike the last time, there was tea on the low table in between them.
To Harry's left, the Hokage sat with her legs crossed and an arm sprawled across the sofa back while Shizune and Shikaku stood behind her.
On the other sofa, a familiar blonde woman from Suna sat straight as she sipped her tea. Having heard enough tidbits about Kankuro's family on the trip back to Konoha, Harry saw the Kazekage's demeanour in his sister's stern but confident teal eyes.
As the Homenum Revelio spell showed three people crouched up above them, Harry bowed to Tsunade. "You called for me, Hokage-sama?"
The Hokage nodded. "Our Suna visitors requested a meeting with you."
"Uzumaki-san," Temari said in a formal tone when Harry turned to her. "On behalf of our honourable Kazekage, we bring his personal gratitude for your service to the village of Sunagakure." She motioned to one of the men standing behind her, her purple kimono sleeve falling to show dark metal mesh around her forearm.
Clad in a beige vest similar to Konoha's green ninja vests, the man lifted a large box from behind the sofa and moved towards Harry.
"On elder Ebizo's advice, the Kazekage sends you a go board to remember fond times in Suna."
Harry ignored Shikaku's glance as Naruto stepped forward and took the box from the Suna ninja. "That's very... thoughtful of them."
Temari signalled to the other ninja behind her. "The Kazekage also sends another gift for your owl. One that he chose himself."
The Suna ninja moved, revealing a tall and elaborate tree-shaped object beside him. With branches of varying sizes, the rough stone perch could probably hold numerous different birds at the same time.
As Sakura took the perch from the Suna ninja with ease, Harry said, "If my owl could speak, she'd brag about this to everyone she could. As it is, she's probably going to demand extra snacks when she uses her new perch."
Temari's lips flickered up into an actual smile. "The Kazekage will be interested to hear that."
"They're both lovely gifts," Harry said, unsure of what else to say. "The Kazekage didn't have to go through all this trouble."
Temari straightened, her teal eyes focusing on him with a stronger intensity. "Sunagakure hopes that you will continue to favour us with your skills in the future."
Even though the urge to yell 'no' was overwhelming, Harry stilled and pressed his lips shut.
Thankfully, Tsunade replied, pulling Temari's attention away from Harry. "He will be notified if there are any Suna jobs he can take on Konoha's behalf."
"Of course, Hokage-sama," Temari said with a nod. "Sunagakure is thankful for your generosity."
Tsunade tilted her head, her hazel eyes glinting as a sly smile curled upon her lips. "As allies, it's only right that we both benefit from sharing valuable resources, don't you think?" She waved Harry away. "You may leave, I know you have a lot of work to attend to."
Confused but wary, Harry stayed silent until he closed his apartment door behind him. "That meeting was weird, right?" Harry said as his green umbrella disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Naruto nodded, his orange umbrella also disappearing, as he kicked off his sandals and put the large box down. "They called you in for five minutes but you didn't even need to be there."
Sakura placed the stone perch down with a solid thump. "I think both sides needed you there just to make statements." She frowned at Naruto until the red umbrella he'd given her disappeared.
"Statements?" Harry asked.
Sakura bit her lip in clear indecision before she said, "I think Suna wanted to show a connection with you through the personal gifts and the pointed reminder of fond times there. Tsunade-shishou," Her green eyes narrowed in consideration. "Making sure that Temari-san saw Naruto and I there for you was the most significant statement she could have made."
"Because you're Tsunade-baa-san's student?" Naruto asked. "No wait, because we're Team 7?"
Sakura stared at him. "Her brothers are alive because of us."
"That... we were just doing our jobs. It's not that big of a deal."
"To us maybe, but it makes a good political advantage," Sakura shrugged. "Of course, this is all just my speculation. Politics has never really been my strong point."
"Well, whatever the hidden agenda, at least Hedwig has a nice perch for all her hard work," Harry said, running his fingers over the coarse brown stone and wondering where to place the stand. "She must have delivered a lot of venomous snake heads to their hospital."
Sakura gaped. "Venomous desert snakes, like vipers?"
"The Kazekage identified her first catch as a saw-scaled viper." Noticing Sakura's wide-eyed look, Harry said, "Is something wrong?"
"I... venom collection is dangerous and time consuming work."
Remembering that Sakura worked at the Konoha hospital, Harry said, "If you want, you could ask her to give you the venom of whatever she catches."
"What?" Sakura shook her head. "No, I can't bother her."
Harry shrugged. "No harm in asking. She'll help if she wants. And I don't see why she wouldn't help you."
Sakura's surprise transformed into a bright smile.
Naruto opened the large box with a clatter and a triumphant yell but huffed as he looked inside. "It really is a Go board! Why'd they give you this?"
With her green eyes still bright from the smile, Sakura stopped beside Naruto. "They made it a point to mention elder Ebizo with this. What did you do to get his attention?"
Harry shrugged. "We met when I was walking around Suna and he taught me how to play Go."
"That's it?" Naruto asked, shooting Harry an incredulous glance.
"You have a strange luck," Sakura said.
"You don't know the half of it," Harry muttered more to himself and sighed. "Do they usually give people gifts like this?"
"I haven't gotten any gifts from Suna." Naruto turned to Sakura with a suspicious look. "Did you?"
Sakura snorted. "We're both Konoha ninja. There's no point in bribing us."
"And I'm just a civilian," Harry said but frowned. "Bribe?"
"You're Naruto's relative, you're not a Konoha citizen and you probably fixed something important to them," Sakura listed with a considering frown. "Maybe they're trying to bribe you to return to Suna and become a citizen there."
"What?" Naruto and Harry said.
"The more I go over it, the stranger that whole meeting seems. The hints of fond memories over a go board and then giving your owl a gift. Were they trying to say we want more owls like her in Suna?"
"Sakura-chan!" Naruto sounded scandalized. "Gaara isn't like that."
"Suna's council is relatively powerful. They could have pushed for certain things, like having the Kazekage's only sister thank Harii-san, you know."
Naruto shook his head. "You're definitely over-thinking it!"
"Politics is never straightforward so I'm probably under-thinking it."
"Gaara is my friend," Naruto said, as though that ended the discussion.
Harry interrupted, "Friend? I thought you fought him during the invasion."
"That was before. We're proper friends now." Before Harry could question him further, Naruto winced and rubbed his side. "Crap! My clones messed up." He ran to the door, grabbing his sandals. "I need to go back to training ground 19."
As the door slammed shut behind the blond, Sakura frowned. "Training ground 19? What's he doing all the way there?"
"I think it's something to do with the water techniques he got from Kakashi-san," Harry said.
"Naruto is learning water jutsu?" Sakura's confused tone held a tinge of hurt as she asked, "And Kakashi-sensei is teaching him?"
Harry hesitated, unsure of what to say as Sakura looked at him expectantly. "He gave Naruto some things to try before he left for Suna."
"Oh," Sakura swallowed and stared at the floor. "I must have... things were hectic at the hospital while Tsunade-shishou concentrated on her Hokage duties."
"Do you have to return to the hospital now?"
Sakura shook her head, eyes still fixed on the floor. "After all the overtime I put in, I have a free day. I thought that I'd... I'll go work on my research instead."
Guilty at the thought of Sakura leaving in the grey mood that he had inadvertently caused, Harry cleared his throat. "Before you go, do you mind helping me find a place for this Go board?" They worked in silence as they placed the Go board in front of the low table that held his still blooming Satsuki plant. "If this board was a little lower, I could have kept it under the table," Harry said as he moved one of the smooth wooden bowls that had come with the board.
Sakura nodded but stood, ready to leave.
Distracted by thoughts on how to fix the situation with Sakura, Harry's fingers lost traction on the smooth wooden bowl. The bowl tipped to the side between his fumbling fingers, it's loose lid falling off with a clatter, allowing numerous black stones to cascade down and across his low table.
Sakura knelt by the low table, gathering the black stones before they could disappear under the sofa. As she brought up a handful of stones and funnelled them back into the bowl, she gasped. "Opal playing stones?"
On closer scrutiny, the smooth black stones in Harry's hands had numerous specks of vibrant colour ranging from green and blue to warm gold and red. "It's like the night sky." Harry said, tilting the stone in the light and admiring the flashing colours. "A very colourful star-studded night sky."
"It does catch the light nicely," Sakura said as she dropped more stones into the bowl. "Black opal is very rare."
Harry opened the second bowl and picked up a few white stones. The translucent white stones showed flashes of green and blue specks. One even showed a flash of a muted orange. "Rarer than white opal? Either way, your bribe theory sounds pretty solid to me right now." He dropped the stones back into their bowl. "Do you want to play a game?"
Sakura glanced between Harry and the board. "It's been a while since I've played."
"And I've only just learnt how to play in Suna." Harry shrugged. "Come on, I'll try not to be too terrible. But I need some practice before Nara-san cons me into a game."
Sakura snorted but removed her gloves and sat on the opposite side of the board. "I'll give you a proper handicap."
"I can't tell what kind of wood this is, but it must be an expensive kind to match these stones," Harry said after they started the game. "Makes it feel even stranger for me to have."
"It's a gift," Sakura said, placing a white stone down. "No matter it's value or the circumstances in which you were given them, it's yours now."
"It's too strange," Harry murmured.
"Opal is one of Suna's most profitable exports, second only to glass," Sakura said, breaking the silence that had fallen over them.
"Nara-san did mention that their glass creations are the best. I suppose having all that sand around them should have some benefits," Harry said as he put a black piece on the board.
Sakura nodded and placed a stone. Another silence stretched between them before she cleared her throat, "So, how have you been? I haven't seen you since you came back from Suna."
"Fine." Grimacing as silence descended upon them again, Harry made an effort to continue the conversation. "Being in the desert was tiring."
"I imagine the work you did there must have been the most tiring thing."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Harry stilled. His voice faltered as he asked, "Do you know what I was sent there to fix?"
"Considering everything today, it was very valuable to Suna. And the only thing Tsunade-shishou could have knowingly sent you to fix was," Sakura hesitated and frowned down at the board. "I had to fight a puppet user there recently. I shattered a lot of his puppets."
Harry stared at her bowed head, unsure if he should confirm or deny her suspicions.
"I didn't give them much thought during the battle. And later, even when I suspected what they were, I didn't," Sakura bit her lip and said, "I was just content with the fact that I had destroyed a good majority of them."
"You did a good job destroying them," Harry admitted. "They were splinters."
Sakura sighed and put down a stone. "Your repair abilities are unreal."
"I wouldn't have fixed them if I had known what they were."
Sakura looked up from the board. "Then you would have lost your position on the Hokage's list."
"Those things that I, they were people. They should have stayed broken. They deserved some sort of peace." Harry thumped his black stone down. "But now, because of me, others can use them again."
"You were surrounded by the dead again," Sakura whispered, her light green eyes widening as she looked at him. "So soon after the temple."
Harry shook his head. "That's got nothing to do with this."
Instead of lingering on the topic of the temple, Sakura said, "If you hadn't repaired them now, someone would have eventually figured out how to. Or they'd make new ones. That's life in a ninja village. You never know when or how someone will innovate another method of warfare."
"That's a rather dramatic way of putting it," Harry said after a moment.
Sakura's lips twitched. Seeing Harry's raised eyebrow, she explained, "I just remembered something Shizune-sempai said when I told her that she was being too dramatic over my hospital work hours. She said that being around Tsunade-shishou would make someone either an alcoholic gambler or a dramatic person."
"I think you're a long way off from either option even if you are the Hokage's student."
"The only thing that comes from being the Hokage's student is more work at the hospital!" Sakura huffed with a frown. As though realizing what she'd said, Sakura's hand moved to cover her mouth.
"Too much work in the hospital?"
Sakura shook her head. "Things were just hectic over the past few days because I took on Tsunade-shishou's patients. As her student, I know her newer techniques better."
"That's a lot of responsibility for just being her student."
"It's the least I could do, since she helped me find a bit of my path as a ninja."
"A bit of your path?" Harry asked.
"No one can help you find your complete path," Sakura said. "They might push you in the right direction, but you still have to do your own legwork."
With the go board half filled with glittering opal pieces between them, Harry calculated the margin by which he was losing. "Are you being philosophical or are you mocking me because I'm losing?"
"I'd forgotten how nice it was to play with a friend," Sakura said with a soft smile, her eyes brighter than when she'd started the game.
"Are we friends?"
Sakura's smile slipped and she hesitated. "I hope we are."
"Okay," Harry said with a nod.
"That's it?" When Harry looked at her in confusion, Sakura snorted. "And here I thought you'd be my new reliable and mostly sane friend."
"Mostly sane?" Harry asked in startled amusement as he put down a stone.
"You're around Izumo and Kotetsu a lot, so it's only a matter of time before you go crazy over syrup or something."
"Their fascination with syrup is not contagious." Harry considered that line of thought for a moment and conceded, "I hope." Glancing down at the board after Sakura placed her stone, Harry gaped, "How did you... unbelievable."
Sakura pressed her lips together tight and her shoulders shook as she struggled not to laugh.
"No wonder you were able to piece together all those hidden layers in today's meeting," Harry stared at her. "Are you secretly a Nara?"
"If you'd met me a few years ago, you'd know I was a pretty dumb girl who couldn't even see what was right in front of her," Sakura's light-hearted amusement evaporated with each word, her eyes narrowing at the board. "Even worse, I never even bothered trying to see them."
"Everyone has dumb moments as kids," Harry said after placing a stone down.
Sakura shook herself out of her daze. "You're right. The only thing we can do is learn from them." As she held a stone between her fingers and contemplated her next move, someone knocked on the front door.
Wary of being called into another meeting, Harry inched the door open and stared at his visitor through the small opening.
"Your greetings have become prickly after Suna," Shikaku said, standing under the small overhanging roof to stay out of the rain.
Harry opened the door wider and said, "Considering how you are all the time, it's a wonder I've taken this long to change."
Shikaku glanced behind Harry and stilled. "Looks like I'm interrupting, I'll come back later."
"There's no need for that, Nara-san," Sakura said as she placed a stone down and stood with her gloves in hand. "I was just about to leave."
"Okay, let's finish the game later," Harry said as she pulled on her boots. "And good luck with your research."
She nodded at him with a smile and left with a quick farewell.
Shikaku entered and headed straight to the go board. "I didn't know so many people in Konoha were interested in Go."
"By so many people you mean Sakura and I? Two people?"
"That's two people more than I knew of before," Shikaku said, his eyes roaming over the board. "These strategies, I wonder how long she's been playing. She's got a true grasp of her level."
"Go requires players to reflect on themselves a lot. Enough to know their playing level against their opponent." Shikaku leaned closer to the board. "It's a real game of man versus self."
Harry stared at the older man in disbelief and muttered, "You and your list of quotes."
"My what?" Shikaku glanced up in confusion.
"Did you just come here to admire my Go board?"
"I wanted to make sure you'd actually use it. But I obviously underestimated your love of Go."
For a brief moment, Harry considered ignoring Shikaku's amused prodding. "Did you know that Danzo and Ebizo were born on the same day?"
Any amusement Shikaku might have had vanished as he looked at Harry. "Why were you talking about Danzo in Suna?"
Harry shrugged. "It just came up. But I think I can use him as a conversation icebreaker anywhere I go now."
"Don't!" Shikaku said. "Nothing good will come from that."
"I got gifted a Go board."
"Not from talking about Danzo," Shikaku stated. And then amended with a pained look. "At least, I hope not."
Harry took pity on him. "If it makes you feel any better, Ebizo called him a meddlesome old fart."
Shikaku sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I have so many more questions now. But I'm not here for any of that." He took a deep breath and said, "Suna brought more than just your gifts to Konoha."
It took a moment for Harry to parse through Shikaku's words. "Your brother."
Shikaku nodded. "We've been preparing ever since Shikamaru told us. We're holding the ceremony tonight."
"Okay. Anything I need to know or prepare for?"
"It's customary for our ceremony officiant to speak with whoever brought a dead Nara home," Shikaku said. "She'll meet you before the ceremony."
"Can Naruto come with me?"
"Usually we just invite whoever brought the Nara home. That means the team-mates who've carried them home. But this time, we'll make an exception."
Harry frowned. "Why?"
Shikaku appraised him for a moment and said, "Your clan name."
Harry gaped for a mere moment before narrowing his eyes. "Not many people know that the Uzumaki was even a clan."
"Very few people," Shikaku admitted. "And before you came, there was no chance for the Uzumaki name to be anything other than a forgotten clan's legacy."
Harry stared at the older man, his emotions shifting between anger and confusion.
"But now, that few see something more," Shikaku continued without prompting. "A possibility that the Uzumaki clan will be more than just a name."
Shikaku shook his head. "Without you, he wouldn't have known there was a clan for him to reclaim and bring back."
"I haven't done anything to make anyone think like that."
"The Uzumaki have always been instrumental in helping the Senju gain power," Shikaku said. "Your work in Suna has done much more than you think."
Harry swallowed, apprehensive at what those words truly meant. "I really want to kick you out right now."
"Whatever else other people might think or expect," Shikaku said solemnly. "I want you there because you brought my little brother home."
I brought back his defiled corpse, Harry thought with disgust.
"Harii?" Shikaku broke the silence, sounding unsure for the first time.
Harry sighed and uncurled his fists. "I already told you that I'll be there."
When Naruto came by for lunch later, Harry mentioned the Nara's invitation. Harry had barely managed to get the words 'clan ceremony' out before Naruto promptly dragged him out of the apartment. Harry could only be thankful that the rain had stopped.
Hours later, clad in newly purchased black clothes that were more formal than what they'd worn to Asuma's funeral, Harry and Naruto navigated Konoha's rain drenched streets.
"I wonder why they're holding this clan thing at night," Naruto said, looking up at the sky as he removed his glove and held it out to Harry. "You should wear an official Uzumaki clan item."
Despite thinking it was unnecessary, Harry crumbled under Naruto's stubborn expression and secured the glove on his left hand as they reached the Nara compound.
"You're here earlier than I expected. Come on." Shikamaru straightened from his spot at the gate, put out his cigarette stub and led them in.
Instead of the usual electric lamps, dim and low hanging brown lanterns lit their path through the compound. As they walked past, the lanterns' flames flickered making the intricate black designs stitched on them to move.
"Creepy," Naruto whispered, his eyes darting around.
Inside the main house, which was lit by even more brown lanterns, Shikamaru motioned Harry towards a closed door and led a curious Naruto away.
Harry took a deep breath and entered to find a wrinkled old woman seated at the table with a long wooden case in front of her.
She motioned for him to sit, the grey patterns on her black kimono glinting with every movement. "They tell me you are an Uzumaki new to Konoha. Why do you not wear your clan's spiral?"
Harry blinked at the strange question. Clan's spiral?
"I can't imagine seeing every Konoha ninja's flak jacket emblazoned with the Uzumaki's red spiral and not wanting to wear it."
Harry stilled, pushed back the surge of emotional questions that threatened to spill and cleared his throat twice. "What does that have to do with tonight's ceremony?"
"Centuries ago, simple deer herders like us wouldn't have had any opportunity to interact with your clan like this for a ceremony. How can we not acknowledge such a historic occasion?"
Harry wondered if it was too late to leave.
"But I suppose I should have listened to Shikaku. He is the clan head for a reason," the woman said with a wry smile, her white hair catching the dim light. "For the ceremony, I know you're not a ninja but how is your chakra..."
After what felt like ages, Harry sat beside Naruto on the back deck with a cloth wrapped item held tight in his hands as the acrid tang of freshly lit incense filled the night air.
Naruto fidgeted, leaned closer to Harry and whispered, "When are they going to start?"
"They're waiting for the moon to be higher up in the sky."
"It's cloudy and I don't think it's the full moon."
Harry shrugged, "It's a traditional ceremony. There's bound to be some sort of symbolic meaning to everything they do."
"Like why they're using all these... I think they're leather." Naruto motioned to the brown lanterns around them.
"The incense is a bit much though," Harry said, waving away some of the hazy smoke.
Naruto nodded in agreement. "My nose is ready to fall off even though Shikamaru just lit it."
As though summoned, Shikamaru appeared and motioned for them to follow.
Without a word, they walked through the dimly lit grounds and joined numerous others to enter the shadowed forest where the Nara usually kept their deer.
Among all the black-haired Naras, Naruto's bright blond hair stood out like a beacon when they stopped in a clearing heavy with incense.
Three people stood along one side of a dais which held a body covered in brown furs. Shikaku, Shikamaru's aunt who had accompanied them to Suna, and a man who made Harry flinch back in shock.
Though slightly older, the man at the end of the line had the puppet's sharp eyes and jagged hairline.
A twin, Harry realized as the man looked straight at him.
Naruto prodded Harry and whispered, "Are you okay?"
"That man. He's, they were twins." As Naruto looked between the shrouded body and the man, Harry sighed. "I hope I don't mess this up."
"You won't," Naruto said. "And even if you do, who cares? You've already done the important bit of bringing him home, right?"
"Thanks," Harry said, sincere with relief. The old woman from before stepped out of the shadowed trees and raised a white flute to her lips. "That's my cue." Harry walked towards the covered body, unwrapping the bone white blade that he had been given.
With the flute's haunting melody in his ears and shadows flickering in the corner of his eyes, Harry placed the white blade on the body and pushed his chakra out. Under his hand, the bone blade absorbed his chakra and shone a fierce blinding white before it cracked straight down the centre.
Having been warned, Harry stayed still as wisps of black shadow seeped out of the crack, flowed over his hands and stretched out across the body, covering it like a black shroud.
The flute music rose in pitch.
Long shadows stretched out from every direction, many crawling over Harry, and connected to the wispy shroud. Chakra surged from the shadows, crackling across his skin and making the blade under his hand shudder and jolt.
Eventually, the black shroud condensed and sank down till Harry's trembling hands were visible once again.
The flute music stopped, the shadows unravelled and the only thing left under Harry's hand was a cracked black blade over flat brown furs.
When they returned to the Nara house, Harry sipped on some soothing warm tea and tried to ignore the re-wrapped blade on his lap.
Shikaku sat down beside him. "Thank you." Before Harry could reply, he continued, "We are in your debt." Shikaku held an object the size of an omamori. "This is a pass that you can show any Nara in Fire Country. They will help you with anything you need."
Uncomfortable at the solemnity, Harry took the pass but said, "Anything?"
Shikaku raised an eyebrow. "Nothing that puts the clan, our allies or this village in danger."
"Allies?" Harry asked.
"The Yamanaka and the Akimichi," Shikaku said. "We've had an alliance with them long before Konoha was created."
"Actually this works rather nicely, I've been thinking about something." Harry turned the pass in his hand, prodding the Nara clan crest carved on it. "I'd like an opinion and you have a good amount of common sense."
"Yes, that's why people speak with me. To get their dose of common sense," Shikaku said in a dry tone but he leaned forward. "What's on your mind?"
Making sure that Naruto was still occupied in his own conversation with Shikamaru, Harry lowered his voice and spoke.
The morning after the Nara ceremony, Harry's mind buzzed with numerous thoughts as he examined some fruit in the market.
Harry startled and turned to the voice. "Sentoki-san, why are you here? How is everything at the temple?"
"Busy," Sentoki said as he stopped beside Harry. "There's a lot of slow going reconstruction happening at the moment."
Harry frowned. "Aren't the ninja helping?"
Sentoki shook his head. "They can't even if they wanted to. For whatever reason, the Daimyo was very particular that the temple couldn't be built by Konoha ninja. And as Fire country residents, none of us can afford to disappoint the Daimyo."
"That's," Harry searched for the right word. "Strange."
"That's one way of putting it." Sentoki smiled. "Anyway, I'm here to order supplies and meet you."
"Me?" Harry asked. "Do you need help with the rebuilding?"
"Not exactly." Sentoki pulled out something from his robes. "I believe these are yours." He opened his hand, showing Harry two empty glass vials.
Harry sucked in an incredulous breath.
Even without their labels, the two potion vials that Harry had given away so long ago, were too distinct to be mistaken for anything else.