This chapter is dedicated to... um... Elspeth... for correctly spelling 'whetted' in a review. How long has it been since I last saw someone spell that word correctly? I have new hope for the future of the English language! Now if only everyone could master 'piqued' and 'hangar' and 'to pore over' and 'all right', we'd be good to go!
In Which: Kakashi Meets the Musketeers
It's me, Rin. You've probably heard by now that I managed to wedge myself into your backup team? I felt a little bad about leaving when things are so tough here, but anyway Minato-sensei and Kushina-san are fine. I'm teamed up with some older jounin mostly, but since Mikoto-san is back in action they don't need me anymore.
Anyway, I think you should know- Hayate got hit with a pretty big dose of poison gas by a Suna nin, and it was almost a week before they could come up with an antidote. It was kind of acidic and there's been some bad permanent damage. I'm pretty sure that Hokage-sama sent him your way so that he could get some forced rest from active combat at that 'Hogwarts' place you're staying. I know the Sandaime's trying to get him off the front lines, and Ibiki too. They needed a medic to come along in case Hayate's lungs get worse again, so that's where I come in.
We're always thinking of you.
In the dark of midnight, two figures stood in the Headmaster's office.
The clock ticked: 12:03 am.
Then there was a sudden sucking-popping sound, and six figures stood in the Headmaster's office.
"Professor McGonagall," said the Headmaster with a smile. "How good of you to come."
The Scottish witch gave him a look. "Yes, Albus, and your 'reinforcements' have arrived safe and sound as well. Although if I never have to take another portkey with a shinobi again, it will be too soon."
There was the sound of pattering footsteps and a thump as flak jacket collided with bone-white ANBU armor. Nohara Rin had launched herself headlong at Hatake Kakashi and was now giving him a fierce hug, mask and hitai-ate and sixteen concealed knives and sharingan and summon scrolls and all.
Kakashi stood quite still, before gently pushing her away.
"Yo," he said.
Rin gave him a reproachful look but didn't object. "Do you have any idea how much we've missed you at home, you idiot?"
"Um," Kakashi said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Time and place, Rin."
She flushed a little but straightened. "Right, Captain."
He turned to the other two silhouettes, one of whom seemed to be leaning rather heavily on the other. "Gekko? Morino?"
"Ye- *cough, cough* -yeah."
"How are you two combat-wise? Don't be stupid and try to pretend, I know you've just seen some action."
"A- *cough* little combat fatigue. And- *cough, cough* some residual lung damage. And *cough* Ibiki'll still be *cough* short on chakra for *cough, cough* another day or two."
"Shut up, Ibiki. We don't need any heroic sacrifices, so go ahead and rest awhile. Rin, how are you?"
"You know my chakra reserves and my stamina better than I do. I'd probably say I'm at 70% or so."
"Good. Ibiki, you're on primary guard duty. Rin, I'm pairing you with Hayate so you can heal him if anything goes really wrong, but if your chakra's getting below 40% let me know so I can switch you out. I've currently got three shadow clones going," (there was a collective wince from every shinobi present as they imagined keeping three kage bunshin active for two months,) "So you can have the one guarding the Stone show you the ropes before it dispels, Ibiki."
Kakashi turned to Dumbledore. "I don't see any reason why the students ought to know he exists, actually. Or Hayate, for that matter, but he's too conspicuous to hide for long, and we can't afford to have him away from a medic for too long in case he has another onset of illness. It'd also be unwise to have him henge for too long, since he's suffering combat fatigue already."
Hayate looked supremely uncomfortable. Kakashi could almost sympathize: being injured sucked.
"So- alternating schedule, I guess. One person rests, one with the Stone, two with the charge. Morino, you take a three-quarters day shift with the Stone, I'll take three-quarters day shift with Harry, and Rin and Hayate can switch off for the quarter night shift. Rin, you're with Harry, you're less conspicuous. You should probably try befriending one of the first-year Gryffindors without getting too obviously close to Harry.
"Do you have backstories yet?"
The other three shook their heads silently.
"Ibiki, you don't need one. Stay out of sight as often as possible. If you're caught by a professor who's not in on the secret, say you're..." Kakashi paused, then nodded. "You're the assistant to the representative of the Opal Star broomstick company, which is trying to market school brooms for Hogwarts, and then ask for directions to Dumbledore's office The client will confirm your story if necessary. If it's a student, just ask for directions to Professor Dumbledore's office and don't say anything more. You should probably wear wizard's robes just in case.
"Gekko, you should stay in the Hospital Wing when you're off duty. Madam Pomfrey will keep students away, and we'll know where to find you. If anyone asks he's got a mild case of the Glimmering Consumption, and he can't talk. That's two birds with one stone, since I don't suppose you've learned much English yet?"
"Well, Ibiki, you'll just have to stay out of sight as much as possible. Gekko's set. Rin, I think we'll have to give you an official backstory. You've read the notes on mine?"
"Good. Match that as closely as possible- it will lend credibility to mine as well. Otherwise, keep to the truth. If a girl named Hermione Granger starts asking you questions, deflect them as best as you can, or just refuse to talk, pretend you're offended, or you don't understand her, or whatever. You're from the same 'magic school' as I am, but you specialize in healing. I've been faking them out with genjutsu, but you don't have the right skill set for that. If anyone asks, you're just here to learn the theory of wand work, but you're getting lessons in healing from Madam Pomfrey. That can also work to excuse any random trips to the hospital wing. We are well acquainted with one another, having been in the same classes for several years, and you are also studying under my guardian, Minato-sensei. Any questions?"
Kakashi surveyed his team with a deep feeling of satisfaction. No, they weren't in the best condition, and yes, it would be a while before any of them would be more help than hindrance- but they were Konoha ninja. They were normal. They didn't try to charm staircases or fly on sticks or magic their ceilings. They were sane. They were reliable.
It would be nice to have someone watching his back for a change.
Once upon a time, October 31st had been Halloween in Magical Britain.
Now it was Harry Potter Day.
Witches and wizards carved pumpkins with evil faces to symbolize how He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had been found an empty husk next to the crib of Harry James Potter, and lit candles in remembrance of the brave warriors of the light. Ghosts were given a prominent role as well, for the remembrance of the dead. Live bats had been charmed to existence, for, according to legend, these were the only creatures who had witnessed the events of that fateful night. Black cats, like the Kneazle the Potters were said to have had, were also considered part of the Holiday festivities.
Kakashi wondered if Harry was aware of this.
The green-eyed boy didn't seem too worked up, even considering that this was a holiday. Usually his charge would instinctively shy away from any extra attention due to his unique fame, and fidget uncomfortably whenever anyone brought it up. He didn't even seem particularly upset on what was apparently the anniversary of his parents' deaths.
Although no one actually had the audacity to say, "Happy Harry Potter Day" to the Boy-Who-Lived.
In fact, everyone was giving him a very wide berth, especially the Slytherins.
The general sentiment seemed to be that Harry probably wouldn't appreciate being reminded of his parents' horrific demise at the hands of a vicious Dark Lord, and might even be inclined to take revenge on any enemy that showed up, perceived or actual. When Percy Weasley, one of the Gryffindor prefects, had stood up in the Common Room as though about to make a speech, Ron had (with unusual sensitivity) given his older brother a pointed glare.
Harry... didn't seem bothered at all.
So either he was really feeling no regret, sorrow, grief, et cetera, or else (as Kakashi suspected) he simply hadn't figured out what this holiday was actually about.
That would be an interesting epiphany, when it came.
When the Headmaster stood up from his seat at the Head Table at breakfast on Harry Potter Day, the entire Hall fell to a hush.
Several nervous glances were aimed at Harry Potter- surely the Headmaster wasn't about to make a speech, not right in front of Harry. Not at breakfast. That couldn't really be what he was trying to do. No one would do that. To remind Harry Potter about his parents' sacrifice in the middle of the Great Hall? How could he? But what else could he be doing, then, if not that?
"Today," said the Headmaster in deep, resounding tones, "We welcome several new students to our humble place of learning. They have arrived from the Eastern Magical Community to study our western traditions and I hope that you will give them both a warm welcome as they adjust to a different way of life. I present to you: Mr. Hayate Gekko and Miss Rin Nohara."
And lo and behold, the two came forward- Rin smiling tentatively and looking quite out-of-place with her bright purple face-marks and her leaf headband, and Gekko looking positively zombified with skin wan and waxy, dark purple circles under his eyes, and- though he apparently tried to suppress it- a horrible, wracking cough that sounded like he was coughing up his internal organs.
Kakashi didn't wince, but he couldn't suppress a twinge of dismay. Whatever poison that had gotten Hayate had been bad.
Rin and Hayate both stepped forward and bowed politely. Then, as Kakashi had directed, Rin began to recite their introduction in a faltering, heavily accented voice.
"Hello. My name is Nohara Rin. This one is my classmate named Gekko Hayate. We study from the Konoha School of Magical Discipline. We are- ano- much honored to be invited to study at this school. We are eager to learn the western ways. It will be challenging, so please take care of us. Thank you very much."
The Weasley twins stood up in unison and began a frenzied two-man ovation.
Tentatively, the Hufflepuffs joined in.
And one by one, the others all began to clap (except the Slytherins), and the sound rose into a moderate round of applause.
It wasn't like they were unenthusiastic, Kakashi figured, but they sure as hell had to have been really confused.
Dumbledore raised a hand.
"Miss Nohara and Mr. Gekko will be with us for just until the Christmas holidays, so I think we shall forgo the Sorting process just this once." That had been Kakashi's idea, actually: no one would buy that all three of them had magically ended up Gryffindors. "Miss Nohara and Mr. Gekko will be joining their classmate Mr. Hatake in classes and at meals, and Miss Nohara will be staying in Gryffindor tower. It is, of course, needless to remind you all that our new additions are to be welcomed with warmth and courtesy. Thank you very much. Miss Nohara and Mr Gekko, you may be seated."
Rin smiled politely and she and Gekko both bowed to the Headmaster.
As she walked lightly towards Kakashi (not too quickly for Hayate, of course) and waved cheerfully at him, a chorus of whispers broke out among all of the tables.
Kakashi felt a headache coming on.
"Kakashi!" Rin was skipping toward him.
With an internal sigh for the inevitable, Kakashi scooted over on the bench so there was enough room beside him for one person. Rin blinked momentarily, but (of course) got it within half a second. She paused, waiting for Hayate to catch up to her; he did, his breathing almost imperceptibly ragged. Then she helped him get seated next to Kakashi, her movements subtle but effective. Then she slipped over to the other side of the table and took a seat between Ron and Hermione.
"I-" she began smiling brightly, but faltering with her words. "I am very happy to see of you."
"'See you', no 'of'," Kakashi corrected.
Hermione almost remonstrated, he could tell, but stopped as Rin just rolled her eyes, clearly unhurt.
"Minato-sensei is well," she persisted. "But always wish see you. And Kushina-san, and friends."
"Minato-sensei wants to see Kushina-san?" Kakashi raised his single visible eyebrow.
"I don't mean- stop that, Kakashi!"
"You can speak in Japanese, if you like," Hermione offered. "You guys deserve some time to catch up."
"That would be rude," pointed out Kakashi, looking quite apathetic.
"Then you can translate, can't you? Go ahead."
At this, Rin clapped her hands together and began babbling rapidly in Japanese: "Kakashi, guess what? Kushina-san told me that she and Minato-sensei are going to think about having children after the war is over- but of course, the war isn't over, but still, that's really exciting since before Kushina-san always said that she wasn't cut out to be a mother but I think it would be really fantastic! Oh, and Gai is really eager to see you, he thinks you're on a long-term mission to the Land of Snow but he keeps doing cartwheels around the village square and saying that he'll definitely catch up to you or something, and he said he was even going to do laps around the entire village! And you remember Iruka from the Academy? Probably not. But he made chunin in the exams most recently (even though they're promoting people left and right now) and he's even a squadron leader, and Asuma's older sister got engaged!"
Kakashi gave Hermione a doubtful look. "Do you want me to translate all of that?"
She smiled sweetly.
He sighed. "It was all just silly gossip, you know. My guardian's wife is thinking about having children, and for some reason this is exciting. My classmate Gai is being irrational again. An old acquaintance of ours graduated, and a relative of a friend is engaged."
Was that a flash of disappointment in her eyes? Never.
"And everything... else... is going well?" He inquired of Rin.
"No. There are many more heavy losses than we had foreseen, and it doesn't look like the conditions will improve anytime soon. But Konoha still has the upper hand. We have Tsunade-sama, and Jiraiya-sama, and Minato-sensei, and Kushina-san, and the Hyuga and the Uchiha and all the other clans, after all."
"The final exams this year are harder than we expected," Kakashi said for Hermione's benefit.
"Is it okay if I ask questions? Can you translate?"
"Great! So how long have you three known each other?"
Kakashi translated for Rin's benefit, then answered. "We were in the same classes briefly when we were four and five, and then again when we were eleven."
Kakashi rolled his eyes. "Not relevant."
"What do you study, Rin? And you, Hayate?"
"You call it 'healing,' I think so?" Rin asked tentatively. "Hayate-kun studies-"
Suddenly, without any warning at all, Gekko doubled over. Wracking coughs shook his already thin frame, and the sound was horrible. A grating, ripping sound that emanated from somewhere deep inside his chest.
Kakashi turned in alarm, and Rin was by his side in an instant. "Breathe in your nose, out of your mouth," she coached him. "If you irritate your respiratory passages by coughing it'll just get worse." Kakashi was pouring a goblet full of what he knew to be honey water and pressed it into Hayate's hands. Gradually the fit began to abate, and the coughs slowed to one every two or three seconds. His harsh breathing eased.
"Drink," Kakashi ordered, the instant Rin gave him the glance that meant We're okay.
To the dumbstruck Hermione, Ron, and Harry, he pasted an apologetic look on his face.
"Glittering Consumption," he said with a sigh. "Don't worry, it's not contagious."
Harry knew that it was unreasonable of him, but he still couldn't stifle a small sense of- of-
Well, he wasn't sure what, exactly.
He'd known Kakashi for two months, and they'd become friends. He'd thought so, at least. Kakashi had been warm, and mostly amiable, and witty, even if he had way more than his share of weird quirks and unexplained talents. He'd helped Harry out and hadn't bugged him too much about his scar- treated him like a normal person, didn't have too high expectations, and Harry had felt that Kakashi also appreciated his and Ron's company, and even Hermione's.
He couldn't find the word for how it felt, but...
But now it felt like part of the mask Kakashi always seemed to wear- the mask that Harry had seen first at the opening feast, a car crash he had said- had been stripped off and he'd seen a little something more beyond the mask. But it didn't make sense to him and whatever was behind the mask didn't seem at all like the Kakashi that Harry had befriended at Hogwarts.
It was peculiar feeling, to see that Kakashi had friends from back home.
Of course Kakashi had introduced them as classmates, acquaintances, but it was painfully obvious that they had some kind of common bond. Even with Hayate, there was a flash of alarm in Kakashi's eyes whenever the sallow boy coughed, and a quiet urgency in Kakashi's movements as he silently filled a goblet with water and pressed it into the other boy's hands. The glances he shared with Rin, which said so much and yet were indecipherable to Harry's eyes.
For Harry, Hogwarts had been a fresh start. He'd never had friends at all for the first eleven years of his life, unless you counted Mr. Nibbles and Snowball and Mrs. Figg- Dudley had taken care of that. Ron too, it seemed, had lived quietly, without many other wizarding children nearby except for his older brothers and his little sister. Hermione was a Muggle-born, and Harry would have guessed that she had been the quiet type who- to put it frankly- didn't have too many friends as a child. All of the purebloods seemed acquainted, at least, but in a cold, detached way that followed generations upon generations of alliances and feuds and betrayals and a ridiculously complicated set of social strata.
And... Harry felt a little betrayed. Maybe.
It was disillusioning to realize what a small part of someone else's life you were. He was all too aware, now, what a small part he played in Kakashi's life. There were objectives and bonds and things that Harry was absolutely ignorant of, and the face of the friendly, quirky classmate was beginning to look very much like a mask.
Harry was beginning to understand why Hermione was so suspicious.
Cheers to over 50,000 words! Also, Kakashi is totally D'Artagnan.