SPOILER ALERT! If you're not up to chapter 498 in Naruto, you may wish to skip the memory sequences. That would be the italicized portion. Don't say I didn't warn you!
Chapter Ten - Crimson Holiday
Christmas break passed in a white haze of snowfall and book pages. Hermione, having stayed during break to research the Chamber, refused to let up and had buried herself nose-deep in anything that might tell her what could Petrify a group of students without leaving a mark. Harry went with her on principle. Anything that could do that to him was something he needed to learn to defend against.
Meanwhile Ron took on the role of joker, attempting to push the both of them into enjoying the holidays. When they dove too far into research, he pulled them back with a game of Exploding Snap or ideas to prank the Slytherins. Of course, pranking was more the twins' speed, but Ron, having been left to his own devices for a good portion of the break, was bored. And if there was one thing Harry had learned about the Weasley's, it was that they and boredom didn't mix.
"I don't understand," Hermione frowned, closing her book. "A cockatrice could Petrify someone, but the effect would turn him or her into stone…" She worried at her lip for a moment before jumping out of her seat. "But if it was indirect…"
"Hermione?" Harry called from his seat at their shared table, but only succeeded in earning a glare from Madame Pince. Why didn't she ever glare at Hermione like that? She was the one talking non-stop.
"Oh, but of course! Why didn't I see it before? Petrification is such a powerful curse I never would have thought that it could come from an indirect source…"
Madame Pince cleared her throat very pointedly.
"Oh, go on Harry! I just need to check a few things. I'll be done in a bit."
"That's not…" catching sight of the look on the librarian's face, he decided it was probably time to cut his losses before he was banned from the library. "Alright," he replied. "There're a few things I have to catch up on myself, I suppose."
Unfortunately, he mused as he wandered back to the Tower, very few of those things involved anything as mundane as homework or Quidditch practice. He slipped into the second years' dorm room and collapsed on his bed with a sigh. Shutting the curtains around him, he stopped to meditate for the first time in weeks.
"Uzumaki?" he asked his sensei in surprise. She was the pretty red-head that had made fun of him in the Academy. Why would anyone want to kidnap her, though? Was it because she was from Whirlpool?
"Yes. Sensei's organized a strike team to find her," Jiraiya replied tersely. Was it just him or did he actually look worried? "I'm a part of that team, and as my students you get to help me. Don't do anything stupid, like try to take out enemy shinobi on your own, okay? If you find anything, alert me first. I'll send a toad with you three, so that shouldn't be too difficult. Now let's go!"
He nodded thoughtfully. The three of them were only genin still, so it only made sense to avoid contact with the enemy as much as possible.
The four of them vanished outside of the gates, Jiraiya heading in one direction, the three genin in another.
It was only hours later that he finally caught sight of something. A tiny flash of red…
"Minato? What are you doing? We've already been that way."
"No, wait, there's something here!"
"Dammit Minato! I'm not wasting my time going that way when we've already looked there!"
He frowned. "Suit yourself," he snapped, unusually angry. He hated when his teammates refused to listen to him. Just because he was younger didn't mean he didn't know what he was doing! The two genin left, taking the little toad with them.
'Brilliant!' he thought as he bent over the thin strand of red. 'She used her hair…'
Glancing through the trees, he saw another tiny shimmer of scarlet. Grinning, he started to follow the trail.
He bit his lip as he scanned the small group of enemy shinobi, wishing that the toad his sensei had summoned was still with him. Or at least his teammates. He should really call for backup first, but if he did that they'd surely pass the border before he made it back.
There was no time.
Hands sliding from one seal to another as quickly as he could, he cast a subtle genjutsu. He grinned when the group slowly changed course to the left, left… If they kept going, they'd end up walking in a circle. It gave him at least a few minutes before they caught on.
Hurriedly he used his equipment to lay a few traps that they would hit if they kept going on his predicted course. Just another minute…
There! He felt the group's presence faintly as they walked right on target. One step, two…
An enemy chunin tripped a wire, setting off a chain reaction that flung kunai at them from multiple directions. In the ensuing chaos, he darted in and pulled Uzumaki from the fray. He heard shouts behind him, but they were far too preoccupied to give chase. Another second…
A loud explosion signaled the activation of an exploding tag.
"Hi, Uzumaki-san!" he smiled down at her, briefly stopping on a treetop to catch his bearings.
"How did you find me?"
He grinned. How did she think he'd found her? "I noticed your beautiful hair right away!"
Her eyes widened as she gazed up at him from where she was cradled in his arms, cheeks stained a soft red.
Jiraiya-sensei shot him an indecipherable look when he dropped down from the treetops with Uzumaki.
"I-I'm sorry sensei. They didn't think… she was about to… I just…" He stopped, no longer entirely sure what he was trying to say. The mission had been a success, but he'd defied his sensei's orders. It could have easily ended in disaster.
Jiraiya's eyes flicked once to Uzumaki then back to him, gaze still completely unreadable. The white-haired shinobi sighed. "Let's go home. We'll talk later, kid. For now, good job."
Smiling uncertainly, he followed his sensei back to Konoha.
"You three are idiots," were Jiraiya-sensei's first words to them the next morning, right before training. "The fact that you two," he said, jabbing a finger at his two teammates, "were too prideful to listen to Minato could have cost us the mission. And you," the white-haired man snapped, pointing at him, "could have cost us the mission as well. What were you thinking, going in on your own?"
The three of them hung their heads. Jiraiya sighed. "This time everything ended okay. Next time it probably won't. Teamwork, you three! Do I have to spell it out to you?"
"N-no, sensei," they muttered.
"Don't let it happen again."
As his teammates unenthusiastically began to spar, Jiraiya waved him over. "I won't lie to you, kid. What you did yesterday was as impressive as it was stupid. And I probably would have done the same thing. But I expected better of you. Remind me, what was the main point of the bell test?"
"Teamwork…" he replied glumly.
"Right. You were the first one to get it. Now, I really want you to understand it," he ruffled his blond hair and grinned. "But first, I think someone wants to talk to you."
He glanced to the edge of the training field. "Uzumaki-san?"
"Namikaze-kun," she called cheerfully, dashing over and dragging him off to who-knows-where, "I want to show you something, dattebane. Call it a thank-you or whatever, but I think you'll like it. It seems like something you'd be interested in, anyway… Oh, and you can call me Kushina."
He blinked. She'd said all of that seemingly without breathing. "Um, okay?" he said uncertainly. Where was the girl who had teased him in school? "You can call me Minato then, I guess."
"Great!" she grinned. "So, Minato, what do you know about sealing?"
Harry closed the door to the memory with a warm feeling growing in his chest. "Castitas," he cast absently, charging the crystalline seal. He wanted to go on to the next one, but he knew from experience that he was at his limit. It was time to go.
Gazing down the stone corridor, he wondered how long it would take to get through all of his prior life's memories. He still had to go through his newer ones, because the longer he left those seals uncharged, the longer they would be less protected.
He jumped, wand-hand jerking awkwardly down before he realized who it was. "Minato? What…" he stopped, not sure what to say.
"You've been thinking about what I told you," he stated.
Harry bit his lip. As much as he'd tried not to think of it, he had found his thoughts wandering to that conversation far more than he wanted.
"Don't let it distract you. You've got time still. Plus you also have more important things to be thinking about."
"Like what?" he asked, a bit more rudely than he'd intended. He frowned, eyeing the blond oddly. He seemed… blurry?
"Have you taken a look at yourself lately?"
Harry blinked and looked down. What exactly was he supposed to be see… oh. He wasn't wearing what he had been when he'd started meditating. He still had on his wizard's robes, open at the front, but underneath his clothes were loose and unrestricting, though not to the point of Dudley's elephantine cast-offs. It was all clothes he remembered buying after graduating as a genin. He even had a pouch for shuriken strapped to his right leg.
"You're starting to think more like you used to. It's showing in your mental appearance and, unfortunately, your reactions."
"What do you mean 'unfortunately?' Learning all of this is good, isn't it?"
"Only to a certain extent. Right now you're training as a wizard and as a shinobi, correct?"
"When I surprised you just a minute ago, what did you reach for first?"
Harry paused. He thought he'd been ready to cast a spell, but realized that he'd halfway reached for a shuriken at the same moment. If he'd followed through, any curse he'd have cast would've gone wildly off course.
"I… tried for both…"
"But I don't want-"
"I'm not saying you have to give up one for the other," Minato interrupted before he could voice the thought. "But you've got to start training with both styles in mind. Not each separately. Think of it like your taijutsu and ninjutsu. You don't just use one then the other. You use them both together. Add your spells to the mix when you train, otherwise you're styles will clash."
Harry nodded slowly. "Okay. Anything else?"
"Find out what Hermione knows about the Chamber."
He frowned. "She'll tell us when she's ready."
Minato smiled wryly. "No offense to her, but she has got to learn to share her ideas, even if she isn't sure they're right."
The blond laughed. "She's not perfect, Harry. As her friend, it's your job to point out to her what she's doing wrong. And she seemed to know what the monster is, didn't she? What if she's right and something happened that prevented her from sharing that knowledge?"
Minato sighed. "Don't be so afraid of offending her. Either she knows you're just trying to help her, or she'll get over it soon enough. She's not nearly as fragile as you think she is. Just be tactful about it, okay?"
"It's about time you got going, isn't it?"
"Yeah… hey, wait! Why are you all blurry?"
"Oh, that? Don't worry about it. You'll figure it out soon enough."
Harry blinked open his eyes and pushed aside the curtains. Looking at his clock, it appeared that only fifteen or so minutes had passed. Hermione was probably still in the library. That in mind, he headed back down.
"Hey, Hermione," he greeted.
Said witch was busily scribbling notes on a piece of parchment, three books laid out around her. "Oh, Harry," she muttered absently, "I thought you were with Ron?"
"I came to see what you were doing."
"I'm not done yet," she muttered, nearly tipping the ink bottle in her haste.
"Can I still see?"
She frowned, finally looking up. "Why?"
He shrugged. "I might be able to help if I knew what you were doing."
"Maybe," she waved her hand dismissively.
Taking that as consent he took the seat next to her, glancing through one of the open books. "Basilisks?"
"Yes. If one saw the eyes indirectly, say through a mirror-"
"Or a puddle of water," Harry said, catching on.
"Or a puddle of water," she agreed, "then I believe the result would be Petrification instead of death."
"And it also makes sense. Basilisks are snakes, and Salazar Slytherin was a Parselmouth! If there was any monster suited to be Slytherin's pet, then that would be it. But…"
"But? And what's a Parselmouth?"
Hermione bit her lip. "A Parselmouth is someone who can speak the snake language," she replied impatiently, abruptly switching back to her earlier complaint, "But there's no way to test it! I've been looking for documented cases of basilisks to check, but it's not going very well. And if it really is a basilisk, it would have to be centuries old. How on earth would something that big get around the school?"
Harry shrugged, trying to push away memories of the Dueling Club. "But it's the best guess we have so far. Do you want some help?" Was he a Parselmouth? That would explain why he could understand the snake, at least.
She hesitated briefly before smiling at him. "Yes, I would. Thank-you, Harry."