Author's Note: First of all, everyone should give sarafyna-chan a round of applause; CtC now has fan art! zephypoi . tumblr . com (REMOVE THIS)/post/116041093377/my-attempt-on-harry-from-continuing-the-cycle-by#notes (I'm sure you all know the difficulties of getting a link to stick; take out the spaces and the (REMOVE THIS) and go admire the pretty picture!
Chapter 16; From bad...
"—it was one of Orochimaru's men."
A deadly stillness settled over him, profound enough that even the ever-twisting motion of his magic paused before agitating once more, just a little more of that deadly hot-cold clash Harry had mostly balanced a long month ago. The air closest to him turned frigid enough for his uneven breaths to emerge as puffs of steam, but Harry was too distracted to notice or correct his loss of control.
That name again. Orochimaru. It was always Orochimaru whenever it would most inconvenience Harry.
(He couldn't think about Birdy. Had to tell himself that that man, that ANBU, didn't matter to him at all. That he was just another distrustful ninja. He had to make himself believe that it didn't matter that, however much Harry had ever gone out of his way to unnerve the man, the ninja had never turned bitter or hateful. That the quiet courtesy meant nothing, when even at his most unhinged Harry still noticed just how very much his mere presence so deeply unnerved the man.
Harry had to convince himself that the death of this man meant nothing.)
The anger at being trapped didn't fade so much as it was drowned by the newer, grief-tainted feeling, sharp and somehow nearly as profound as what he felt when he lost Sirius. And just like that time, he was immediately supplied with a target for his vengeance. (And this time, he knew the proper way to cast the Cruciatus.)
There was more trouble to this, Harry knew. He had fled their custody the very same day that Sparrow –the shinobi he always gave most of his willing attention to– had been killed; of course there would be those who thought that he was involved. All the more because it was Orochimaru's plot, Orochimaru's agent.
(First he would go after the hand that had carried out the deed, and then the mind that controlled the hand. A message had to be sent, here…)
Resolved, Harry rolled his neck bonelessly and licked his lips, regarding the four shinobi outside his chakra-and-ink prison with half-lidded eyes and frustrated hostility. At some point, Jackal had moved back to stand with Owl; in an odd role reversal, the medic-nin was masked and more heavily armed, while Jackal appeared to only have a single pouch strapped to his thigh and a hitai-ate around his upper arm. Inoichi stood closest to Harry, now, but still more distant that the young ANBU had been; the mind-reader's expression suggested that he was picking apart every nuance of Harry's behavior, spotting all the ways he was unlike the broken thing they'd seen last.
For one long moment, Harry couldn't decide what he desired more; to wipe all knowledge of himself from the interrogator's mind, or to say every single terrible thing he hadn't yet said, including all the ways he could torment and break the man. How much did it take to give a ninja nightmares?
Harry didn't look at any one of them in particular when he spoke, voice raspy and low, calm with the terrible promise of his anger lurking just below.
"Who was it? Who killed Birdy? I want a name." An unmistakably rude scoff snapped his focus onto the Toad Summoner, exactly where he had been the entire time, a scornful expression on his face; even before he spoke, Harry's lips were lifted to bare a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth at him.
"And why exactly do you want to know that?" Harry took a step closer to the edge of his prison, hissing quietly at the mocking tone; no one had dared to speak to him like that in years—Jiraiya laughed, then, and Harry thought that something didn't quite sound sincere about it, but— "Oh, no, don't tell me that a brat like you thinks he can go against someone that can kill ANBU?"
Harry snapped his fangs aggressively, magic curling out of him—and he noticed his loss of control this time when the shinobi's breath became visible from the dropping temperature. His eyes caught on the mind-reader, the most familiar face, and Harry smiled with sharp teeth and flashing eyes. It wasn't really a smile, and Inoichi could tell. "Birdy was my favorite, Inoichi. I am weak, correct? What could I do? Tell me a name, Inoichi." Harry held the man's gaze, voice low and sweet with a mild compulsion. "Tell me who killed Sparrow."
The Yamanaka's mouth remained pressed into a tight line, but his thoughts just barely opened up, just enough; the dossier of a Konoha genin –yet another traitor from within the village itself–, a young man with gray hair, dark eyes and round glasses. A name—Yakushi Kabuto. It wasn't much, but it was more that he had before. Now he had a place to start.
Harry broke eye-contact, face placid and passive to fight the predatory cast it wanted to take. His voice wasn't quite as even when he spoke, eyes trailing over the dark script on the ground as his magic felt it out, slithering into the cracks in the construct, searching for weakness. "You will not even give me a name? Hurtful, Inoichi, so hurtful."
When the silence continued to hold, Harry glanced up –dull-eyed, most of his focus on the…tightening? structure of the cage–, just in time to see his captor frown at the hand signals flashing between Owl and the Yamanaka. It wasn't an uncommon action for them, Harry remembered, but the attention Jiraiya paid to it had unpleasant connotations when the man's chakra spiked and the cage's weight increased. The unexpected pressure made Harry groan, an arm wrapping around his middle as he glared at the Summoner through his hair, sick fear from old memories roused by the sensation. They were heavy like the wards that had blocked him from his animagus form.
"Trying to seal me up tight?" Harry rasped, octave rising as he went on, magic under tight rein as he pushed it into the structure around him. His breath came faster, shallow. "The last one to try was greater and more terrible than you, and I killed him for it. Did you have any hope that this could hold me?"
He didn't wait for an answer he wasn't sure would come, nor did he look at any of them; Harry readied himself and pulled, his magic ripping through every hairline fracture it'd found in the not-ward, all at once.
The cage imploded.
Harry laughed quietly, humorlessly, from his new perch crouched atop the roof of a nearby building, eyes keen to locate where the four shinobi had scattered to. Jackal and Inoichi had also taken to the rooftops, flanking him from a distance that could've indicated either caution or mere coincidence. Owl was nowhere to be seen, but Jiraiya was still on the street, not far from the torn ground that had been his construct; he appeared slightly scorched but otherwise unharmed, face inscrutable as their eyes met.
'Where was Owl?'
As if summoned by the thought there was a flare of chakra behind him, a scattering of leaves and a sudden presence where there had been nothing –so fast and close, unexpected, but familiar enough that the reflex to Apparate was absent–, a strike to the back of his head, a wash of chakra—
Harry slumped, numb and disconnected and nearly unconscious, only the firm arm of the medic-ANBU keeping him from toppling from the edge of the roof face first. Fear swelled sick and bitter as the woman lifted and cradled his limp body, because he couldn't move, and even if he Apparated away now it would mean taking the woman with him, which defeated the purpose of getting away…
"I have him," she called to them in an almost-steady monotone, abstract mask close to his face and the only thing he could see through mostly-closed eyelids. "We should hurry, Yamanaka-san; his chakra resistance may have lessened the effectiveness of the technique."
In a flash the three shinobi stood around them; Harry would have tensed at the sudden proximity, but he felt removed from his body, almost… Almost exactly like the state he willingly induced most of his time as Voldemort's prisoner. So, so distant. The parallel, once made, refused to be ignored; his breath hitched and his eyes burned, but he couldn't even twitch—
"Where are you taking him?" Jiraiya's deep rumble was disquietingly close, but all Harry could see was the pulse beating –too fast– in Owl's neck. Venom tricked from his fangs, sharp and sour where it pooled on his tongue, mind screaming bitebitebite!
Inoichi sighed, just as close but more familiar, not so much increasing Harry's anxiety as giving him a focus. He needed to move, he had to get away—! "I'd like to get him back to the Hospital and find out what he's been doing… But he's not going to want to cooperate with us after this, and will probably teleport as soon as he's conscious again. I don't know if any of the T&I cells will hold him, after seeing what he's capable of." His voice quieted at the end, likely turning his head to look at the scorched ground below them.
"T&I it is, then," Jiraiya said decisively; Harry's skin prickled with the force of the attention paid to him, positive the Toad Summoner hadn't shifted his gaze away even once. "If Owl-chan can keep the boy out for a while longer, I can fix up a barrier he won't be getting out of." He paused, and his voice was lower, more serious. "I have some questions for him, too."
T&I, T&I… Torture and Interrogation. (Would it be dark? Impossible to escape? Would they chain him?) Harry just barely saw Owl's hand move to rest on his forehead and pulse yet more chakra; he must've briefly lost consciousness, because she was running, then, and he was curled up in her arms, cradled like a child. Her hand was at the base of his skull, chakra pulsing in pattern, constantly trying to put him back to sleep. His head felt stuffed full of cotton and thorns, eyes watering, a dull pain where her hand rested, like a brand.
'Fire Scales," Harry thought, fighting to open his eyes, struggling to feel anything. 'Pretty, help me…' He was getting desperate. If it meant avoiding being trapped again he would Apparate, tagalong or not, and there was only one place he would go. The snakes in the Forest would kill Owl, though, and Konoha would blame him for it and—
The phantom pulled itself from the unrested chaos of his magic, a ribbon of warmth that phased through his skin, an orange blur through eyes that could barely open. It hissed wordless alarm and anger, but Harry could only think 'help me', and it lunged, fangs gleaming, noncorporeal but familiar sharp pain as they sank into the thin skin of his neck.
(Just like before, when they first met and Harry was hysterical and unmovable and insensate—)
His magic surged through his body, tore through the subtle chakra that webbed from the medic's hand. Harry jolted at the unfamiliar pain and felt the sudden drop in speed as Owl missed a step, and suddenly everything was sharp and clear again. Not calm, never calm, but familiar.
Her palm still held his head; her arms still cradled his body. Harry rolled his neck and licked his lips, scented her fear and watched her through wide-open snake eyes. Cold and reptilian. "You will regret that," he told her openly, giggling raspily, because they had stopped running and he could see the other three, and Owl was frozen and their faces were priceless.
Fifty feet, straight up.
Owl jerked, her arms around him tightening briefly before slackening, and Harry squirmed, a boneless slither that left him free to slash his claws across her mask as he kicked off her chest and Apparated again, landing on another rooftop. A bare second to locate the three shinobi, just long enough to see Jiraiya leaping to catch Owl— No, he wasn't done with her!
He snatched her from the air, the displacement nearer to a rumble than a snap with the violence of his movement, robes billowing and enfolding the ANBU as he twisted to grab her shoulders in long, clawed fingers. Harry saw Jiraiya's face –set with grim determination as he leapt towards them– and grinned, the expression closer to hysterical than maniacal.
Owl folded the moment her feet touched solid ground, her knees hitting the tile of the slanted roof and vomit leaking from beneath her mask as she retched violently. Harry laughed breathlessly and reached down to pat the back of her head (right over where she'd had hers on him), darkly amused and still wanting to do more.
"You really should not have done that to me, but realize, I could have always done worse," Harry dropped to his knees and draped one arm over the woman's slim but strong shoulders, leaning in close enough that his breath brushed her ear. "I could have taken you where none of your fellows could have caught you, and left you to go crunch." He giggled, still breathless, and she shuddered and dry heaved again, feverish head rising from her body in waves.
"Get away from her," Jiraiya's deep voice was all authoritative command. Harry remained just where he was, clawed fingers scraping armor and skin as they curled, eyes lifting to see the three other ninja standing before him on the peak of the shallowly slanted roof.
"Or you will do what, exactly?" Harry hissed, head tipping in mean curiosity, twitching slightly when the warmth of his phantom companion twisted around his throat like a choker—a susurrus of threats falling from its forked tongue like sweet poison. "Do you know what I will do to you if you try to seal me up again? The Dark Lord did for eight months; kept me trapped by the very strongest wards and broke me apart, and I did more than kill him for it. I unmade him." He bit the inside of his cheek and bared his fangs, felt the rusty smear over them and saw Inoichi's barely-banked apprehension. "Do you want to be unmade?"
Even as he spoke, Harry realized that he had just implied in a very large way that he was, had been, something inhuman, and very nearly smiled for it. The connotations with the translated word for 'ward' would only add more fuel to the fire of the 'demon' school of thought, and 'unmaking', well…
(It wasn't even a lie; he was hardly what one would consider human anymore, and Voldemort had been called a demon more than once.)
Harry licked his fangs clean and pushed off Owl, the woman still so weak from the brutal string of Apparations that she almost toppled, barely catching herself with an unsteady hand planted before her. Jiraiya didn't appear to have an answer for him, so Harry looked to Inoichi with half-lidded eyes and simmering anger that continued to stir up currents of cold air around them. Pretty moved uneasily around his neck; Harry lifted a hand to run soothing fingers over its head, and then continued the motion by shielding his mouth with them, struck by an idea as he watched the shinobi.
"Pretty," he whisper-hissed, hiding the movement of his lips behind long, dark claws. "Go to Jackal now. Stay with him—be my eyes." This encounter had to end soon, and Harry would not allow himself to be captured, not while there was work to do.
Pretty obeyed, a quick streak of red-orange that only Harry could see across the moonlit rooftop, even if he didn't watch. He tapped fingertips over pale, faintly bloodstained lips and backed a couple steps away from the slowly-recovering woman, robe dragging quietly over smooth clay tile. Unblinking yellow eyes went from Inoichi to Jiraiya and back again, barely looking at the youngest ANBU; Pretty was wrapped around Jackal's throat like a noose of liquid flame.
"Your Hokage is still keeping me a secret," It wasn't a question; it was the only answer, the only reason why Jiraiya was surprised to see him when he was so obviously, furiously, familiar with Orochimaru. "Keeping you from telling what really should be told," Eyes gleaming, voice low—a mean smile threatening to appear at the corners of his mouth. "Secrets can kill, you know."
"They can also save lives, Harry." Inoichi took a single step forward, palms open and empty, face arranged into a mask that was open and full. Both were lies. "Can you imagine the number of people who would have come for you had the Hokage not kept you hidden? He wants you safe, Harry. Please, just come with us."
The laugh that tore from his chest broke halfway through. "This place is rotten with spies and traitors," The voice that passed his own lips was one he didn't recognize, low and…no. No, that wasn't true, he did know it. That was the voice of Harry Potter, but. "And now I have a rat to hunt, and that cannot happen within a new prison."
Jiraiya moved then, a shifting of stance, his chakra a sharp building pressure like thick humidity; Owl finally pushed to her feet, swaying, but turning to face him; Inoichi slowly lowered his hands, shoulders falling in something that felt less like resignation than readiness. Jackal…didn't move at all, but the look in his pale eyes was…assessing, and wary.
Harry knew he'd been angry just a moment ago, furiously so, ready to hurt, but.
(No. No, not now.)
Something shifted. Like he had taken a step back and to the side. Like Harry was watching it all from over his own shoulder, connected by just a thin, tenuous thread.
The body curled in on itself, a pale, thin, fragile thing; wide, wide open yellow eyes watching the shinobi through a curtain of hair. They were bigger and stronger than the body, so it could only look at them sideways. Familiar action. It looked smaller when it stood like that. It sounded smaller, too, when the voice came. A whisper, weak.
"He took Birdy," the body said, tracks of moisture leaking from the eyes, strands of hair stuck to thin cheeks; the shinobi did not move, but the body swayed as if it were dizzy, fighting sleep. It trembled. "He took Birdy from me, so I have to take something of his, and you will not stop me."
And the body staggered—Inoichi lunged forward—Harry slotted back into place—
Harry panted into his knees, folded into himself atop the Hokage's Tower, venom-heavy breath washing over his face as he tried to control the hitching pain and stutter in his chest. His throat hurt. The shaking took a lot longer to stop, made worse by the flickers of old memories better left forgotten that had been dredged up. His head hurt. His chest hurt.
He hadn't meant to do that. He hadn't meant to drift. Not like that. He had just wanted to get away without having the ninja howling for his blood more than they already were.
Pretty was right; it was too soon. But Pretty wasn't even here right now, because Harry needed them to be his eyes. And too soon or not, the ninja wouldn't wait. Plans were shaping, nearing completion, and they were Orochimaru's. Harry couldn't walk away from that now, because he owed the man he so-resembled retaliation for Birdy.
Retaliation, revenge, was something Harry could do half-dead, as he had already proven. It wouldn't even be as difficult this time. He just needed to…move.
It was only dim awareness that the shinobi would most likely be searching for him that got Harry moving, clumsy and stiff, coordination absent because body and mind hadn't had enough time to mesh together again yet. He stood. His claws drew red welts over his cheeks when he went to scrub the itch of dried tears from them—they healed when his magic dripped heavily from his head, down, like cold egg. Disillusioned.
He needed to find someplace safe, just for a little while. Just long enough for Harry to forget the sensation of tearing in his chest and chains holding him captive. Wards trapping him.
Someplace safe. Where does a secret hide?
The sewers hidden beneath the farthest parts of the village were surprisingly clean, Harry found. Much cleaner than the ones beneath Hogwarts, full of rat skeletons and centuries old snake musk. The few inches of standing water wasn't even stagnant, though Harry still felt a vague relief that there were ledged depressions in the walls, so he wouldn't have to sit in it—the water was cold in the dark underground.
While he waited out the breakable feeling that continued to linger in his head, Harry felt along the tether that connected he and his companion. That, at least, felt strong, the steadiest thing he could claim to have as his own. It was a comfort, one his magic folded around easily.
It was almost surprising, how quickly he was able to make use of the connection to see what Pretty did. Then again, maybe not. He already had so much practice escaping his own head and getting into others; this was a natural progression. And he had permission. Pretty wanted him there, Harry could feel it; it felt like rapture to his companion, to have his presence overlay theirs.
Together, they watched, and listened.
Gray, predawn light did little to dispel the shadows that clung to the corners of what must've been the Hokage's office. Perhaps to spare his aged eyes, the space was only lit with a few candles when the four shinobi were shown in; he appeared small within the barricades of paperwork occupying his desk. Like every other human so far, when the leader looked, his dark eyes did not see the flame colored phantom collaring one of his own. He certainly did not see the slitted yellow eyes the snake watched him with.
Perhaps Sarutobi Hiruzen had already been forewarned, or perhaps it was the appearance of this group in particular, but he put aside a piece of his endless paperwork and immediately gave them his full attention. His face was unreadable.
Jiraiya stood closest to the desk and his leader –a lacking of formality that suggested familiarity or just flagrant disregard–, looking if nothing else than like a small boulder, arms crossed, his face carved from stone. Inoichi stood a step behind and to the side, a hand pinching the bridge of his nose in an unusual show of lax manners, while Owl and Jackal remained even farther back. Pretty could still taste the sour stench of bile clinging to her; Harry could feel the quaver in her chakra that had still not steadied from his attack. Jackal contained a stillness that was almost shock.
"Harry came back." Inoichi offered without prompting, casually in a way that wasn't causal at all, speaking into his palm because he was still pinching his nose, eyes closed. The tension and silent accusation in the room –wholly Jiraiya's doing– was palpable to even those without bodily presence.
"So he has," the Hokage murmured, the wrinkles around his mouth deep as he observed Jiraiya's somewhat charred appearance, the splotches of mild, pink burns on his hands. Those keen, dark eyes took in the taut posture of his soldiers; Inoichi's apparent tension headache, the way Owl kept listing where she stood, un-masked Jackal's complete shut down. Jiraiya's seething betrayal. "Where is he now?"
"Whereabouts unknown," Inoichi sighed, finally removing his hand from his face and straightening his posture. "Within the village, most likely. He expressed a great desire to hunt down and kill the one responsible for the death of ANBU Sparrow."
Whatever feeling the Hokage had about that piece of news was not apparent on his face, and Pretty's senses were not so keen as Harry's as to distinguish them by scent alone. His voice was quiet and firm when he ordered: "Report."
They did, report. It gave Harry flashes and echoes of the Death Eaters coming before Voldemort at the beginning of the first war; an exact description of events, uncolored by personal adjectives and opinions. It took rather a lot of enjoyment out of spying on them, and Harry paid very little attention as Jackal, Inoichi, and Owl traded off. Throughout, the Hokage's face was fixed into grim lines, changing only a few times: About Harry's uncovered, apparently controlled eyes; when Jackal said Harry had been to see the boy-child demon-vessel; how Harry had broken out of Jiraiya's… seal?; what Harry did to Owl; when Harry had accidentally slipped outside his body—Inoichi hypothesized, complete dissociation?
"Owl," said the Hokage, plainly ignoring the white-haired man's dark glare pointed at him. "As you came the closest to him, do you have anything to add?" Unsurprisingly, the question was more a command. The only woman in the room was still lax-shouldered but no longer swaying; she was pulling together nicely, Harry noted with quiet spite.
(He should have done more to her—worse to her. He still could. He still wanted to.)
"Physically, he seems to have improved. Discounting the estimated weight of his robe –which is snakeskin, with no evidence of curing– it felt as if he had gained fifteen to twenty pounds." Owl paused and tilted her masked head in Inoichi's direction; a muscle in her arm twitched, curled her smallest two fingers. Angry, but hiding it. "I cannot know for certain, but I believe that the sedation caused his unbalance and attack on my person. His body was highly resistant to my chakra, and I may have overloaded the technique…causing an unknown quantity of it to affect his brain. He spoke to me when he woke. He said that if he had wanted to kill me, he could have dropped me where no one could've caught me. His voice had shifted into a higher register by then." She hesitated, but no one else moved to speak. Pretty was more invested in her words than Harry; his companion's ire and focus butted up against the ice of Harry's apathy, disinterest. "He could have hurt me at any time, afterwards, but didn't; I wouldn't have been able to stop him, and I think he knew that."
He could have, and of course he had known—Harry wasn't stupid. The only thing more stupid than killing her would've been killing her right in front of her fellow ninja.
(Would she get the scratches he left on her mask repaired? He rather hoped not. He liked the thought of leaving his mark.)
It seemed that Toad Summoner Jiraiya could hold his tongue no longer. From the impression that the man had made during their encounter, Harry was surprised he'd held out as long as he had. Jiraiya seemed the type to become direct and impatient when impassioned.
"Who is this boy, Sarutobi?" His tone was nothing like the loud, brash, mocking inflections he'd aimed at Harry, nor even the grim seriousness he had spoken to the other three ninja with. This was dark, angry—hurt, underneath. Maybe even betrayed. "Who is he, and how long have you known about him?"
"Jiraiya," Sarutobi sighed, and was cut off. Who was Jiraiya to the Hokage that he could get away with such blatant disrespect? Maybe this man had been worth the attention in following after all, though after being trapped like that all Harry wanted now was to hurt him. Torture by a hundred bites; the snakes would be glad to help.
"He looks like he could be Orochimaru's—" The man flung out his arms and then buried his fingers in his thick mane of hair. His eyes were shut, breathing deep and fast; Pretty felt Jackal's pulse pick up dramatically. The others seemed to be discreetly averting their eyes. "How did I not know about something like this?"
"No one did." The old man said, dark eyes fixed as if seeing something far in the distance, before they landed with heavy weight on the other three. "You are dismissed. Have your written report compiled and submitted to me as soon as you can. Owl, you are off the roster until a medic confirms your chakra has settled. Moroihiro-kun, consider yourself on-duty until the Exams are complete. Inoichi-san, please be thorough in your contribution to the report. Thank you all for your discretion."
The two ANBU bowed at the waist; Inoichi saluted with a fist over his heart, and as one they turned to leave Jiraiya and the Hokage alone. Before Jackal –Moroihiro?– and Pretty were completely over the threshold, the Toad Summoner's deep voice carried one last time.
"Sensei, tell me everything. Please."
That answered one mystery. Orochimaru and Jiraiya shared a teacher; they had been teammates.
Time passed differently in the dark.
It must have been hours since Harry had oh-so-carefully disentangled himself from his companion. His last glimpse through the phantom's eyes was of Jackal, seated on a bench inside a building that was actually a hidden barracks, holding his mask between his hands. Hesitating, until another ANBU –female, dark purple hair, vaguely mammalian mask with three narrow red crescents reaching in from forehead and cheeks– came in and flashed a handsign and then a beckoning gesture.
Pretty attempted to cling, but Harry had spent long enough watching. His body was uncomfortably vulnerable with so much of his magic and consciousness stretched along the bond.
The cool water swished around his ankles, dragging at his robe as he followed the tunnels farther and farther. It would've been quieter to fly above the water, or even to slither through it in his other form, but Harry couldn't bring himself to care about that. Why not just walk? The sensation of moving through standing water like this was…new. He liked it.
He was calm, and his mind was quiet.
He was calm, so when he felt something –someone– on the peripheral edge of his magic, Harry didn't reflexively hide. Yellow eyes fell half-lidded, nearly glowing in the deep purple-black that surrounded them, fangs flashing once as something that could almost be a smile split his lips. The presence, the someone with chakra, was moving quickly. Towards him, from behind. Following the path he had walked.
Something shivered through his veins, made his heart race. Excitement. They were coming fast, and they were alone.
Harry almost hesitated, then –just for a spilt second, but why, he would've known immediately by the feel of their presence if it was someone he'd encountered before–, almost too late to twist out of the way of the hail of throwing-stars, barely catching the one aimed at his throat with the sleeve of his robe. It hit the scales and fell by his feet with a quiet splash. His blood shivered hot. His eyes widened, his lips parted, and he was laughing high and loud and ecstatic while the ANBU lunged forward with a short, sharp sword aimed for his heart.
Apparently the pitch blackness and narrow quarters didn't hinder the shinobi any more than it did Harry.
The charge was a feint; the ANBU –boy-child, body no taller than Harry's; old scent of too much blood soaked in to ever wash out; no scent of fear, excitement, anger, only sweat and weapon oil– leapt back, landing atop the water without even a ripple. The boy flashed through a short sequence of hand seals that churned his chakra and turned the water into spikes like the Greater had once used the earth. Harry cocked his head, and a pulse of magic took the shinobi's chakra from the water and killed the technique, splashing them both when the spikes fell.
The little ANBU paused for a second, hands still together in the last seal; Harry tilted his head the other way, slowly, and smirked. His mind was blissfully empty. The boy moved. The sword came back out.
It wasn't a feint this time.
The razor sharp blade met with a shining, silver shield, shattering into a thousand glittering pieces with a sound like chimes, and Harry grinned wickedly at the boy over the top, heedless of the brief, sharp pain and hot blood running down his cheek from the sliver of steel imbedded in his flesh. The boy-ANBU had enough time to release the hilt, but not enough to complete his leap back as Harry's cape split up the center and snapped out like two scaly wings, grabbing the shinobi and wrapping him in a painfully tight cocoon.
Harry was almost tempted to let him go again, just for another round; his breath came high and fast, skin almost electrified, a fine quiver in all his limbs. It was fun. But he knew better. This was the shinobi's playing field; if Harry let the boy go like that, he might –might– be able to run away and escape. Better not to chance it.
Now, who was he fighting?
With an easy twist of magic Harry dissolved his shield –Voldemort had memories of using that shield to deflect muggle bullets during raids, during days just into adulthood, caught places he oughtn't have been…– and leaned in close to his captive, forked tongue nearly touching the mask as he tasted the air. Still no fear; still no attempt to speak. The darkness of his claws was a pretty contrast against the stark white –pale green circle around the left eyehole–, and Harry let his hand linger a moment to admire the sight before he pried it off to see the face beneath.
The boy spit poison at him.
Harry hummed and licked his lips –sweet, the faintest burn in his throat–, and spared the flicker of concentration it took to wrap the edge of his cape over the shinobi's mouth, too. And still, no fear from the boy. No anything from the boy. His expression was completely blank, almost so that he looked sleepy, drugged. Deep brown eyes were flat: Through the windows of his soul were an arrangement of thoughts that Harry had never seen before.
"You are…quite the curious thing," Harry murmured, a line forming between his eyes as he attempted to read beyond the tactical action plans, orders, scenario instructions… Attempted to find anything that indicated individual thought, feeling, or desire. He failed. His eyes narrowed to yellow slits, and he drew out far enough to observe the strange-ANBU's face –sandy blond hair going dark with sweat, a pinch around the eyes that might've been pain, skin paling and going cold, damp– before deciding it was worth one last glance.
Harry found something like a barrier, constructed of chakra not the boy-shinobi's own, that when prodded made the boy choke and almost seize. Interesting. He withdrew, and sighed.
"Well," Harry said to the boy's flat eyes and blank face, mildly perturbed now that the fight's adrenaline had gone. "You are much too interesting to do away with. Lucky you." Even that didn't get a reaction. It took less that a thought to knock his captive unconscious, and once done Harry lowered him to the ground, making sure he was securely upright against the wall before he withdrew the support of his cape. It would do no good for him to drown.
If it didn't already feel so much like he was waiting for something –something that would happen soon– Harry would've gone digging in the boy's head immediately. That barrier was hiding something, including a great deal of the boy's memories, but it felt very strong: It would either take time that he did not currently have, or brute force that could very well destroy the boy's mind alongside the barrier. He was curious as to how something like that could even exist. If he could use it himself to make up for his complete inability to protect his own mind with Occlumency.
Harry huffed moodily and swished a foot through the water, excitement well and truly gone, but not exactly disheartened by a new project. Even one he couldn't immediately work on. He regarded the boy –if he was older than fourteen, Harry would eat one of those throwing-stars– and carefully fitted the mask back over his face, then completely wiped the last two hours from his memory. Better too much than not enough. No one needed to know where Harry had been, or what he was capable of. Not yet. Let them wonder about the spent and broken weapons –the thought made his lips twist into a smile–, but Harry had no desire for yet more suspicion piled on his shoulders.
Maybe this would make them rout out some of their traitors.
A flick of clawed fingers as he left tied a tracer around the little-ANBU. Harry would find him again later; it was past time to see the sky again.
High in a familiar tree and with only the most rudimentary of notice-me-not spells to turn away curious eyes, Harry sprawled languidly along a branch, one leg swinging slowly in open air as unfocused yellow eyes stared up through a canopy of vibrantly green leaves. He had only ever been her once before, nearing three months ago according to the ninja, but the draw, once noticed, wasn't something worth fighting. The tree that stood on the Academy's ground had soaked his blood into its roots, now contained traces of his magic. The familiarity drew him, kept him calm even while he felt the shinobi everywhere.
He had to hide just enough to avoid their attention while he waited. It was easiest to do so while he was stationary, because the ninja were almost inhumanly paranoid and he had already garnered two double-takes and one thrown kunai while under both Disillusionment and notice-me-not.
If he would've emerged from the sewers during the nighttime hours, Harry might've been able to gather the resources necessary to fashion himself a disguise, one that would have allowed him to blend in with the masses, the civilians. To be seen and yet overlooked. The perfect way to hunt down Yakushi Kabuto. But it would have taken time and secrecy to acquire what he needed to construct so thorough an illusion.
Voldemort's memories came through once more, and provided him with a reason for his previously instinctual aversion to the idea of casting illusion spells over himself. They would not have worked, at all, without a very strong focusing anchor to hold it. One of the rituals the Dark Lord preformed long ago –and then forced on Harry, as well– made his body highly resistant to most offensive magic, the side effect of which was apparently a failure of standard illusions to settle. Harry was actually extraordinarily lucky he could Disillusion himself as well as he could.
Of course he had tried to form an illusion over himself after that realization, but it dripped from his skin like oil, a sensation like insect legs and an itch that lingered unpleasantly. It wasn't an experiment he cared to repeat.
Precious stones always made the best foci, but the citizens of Konoha did not appear to have them in excess. He had seen one person wearing a jade pendant that might've been sufficient to cover his skin color. Might've.
So for now Harry was stuck, unable to hunt down Birdy's killer until at least nightfall.
A breeze tugged at his hair, at the trailing edges of snakeskin hanging from the branch, and Harry turned his head, eyes to the East. Waiting. On the very edges of his perception was a sensation, the suggestion of a feeling, like whispers from the Veil. The leaves trembled around him; the air grew cool and still.
He had the feeling…that he wouldn't have to wait much longer.
A/N: Here's my long note; I figured you guys had waited long enough for this chapter than to want to read my rambling at the beginning, so here we are now. Once more I'm going to reassure you guys; if it takes me twenty freaking years, this series (two stories) will be done. That's the only promise I'm willing to make regarding this monster.
My excuses for your long wait: This chapter is a COMPLETE re write. I trashed the first version, because it was HORRID. I like this better, how about you? Also, I am taking classes that will land me a career in the medical field. MEDICAL. My brain is so full of terminology and anatomy I'm surprised it's not leaking. (hey guys, hey guys, i'm gonna watch people sleep for the rest of my life and get paid for it. think about it. this is me doing that oh my god.) (i may be a bit loopy; i took my EKG final today). Reason three; what I learned about the direction the Naruto manga went killed me (can we say AU? Yes we can!), and then I went and lost myself in the Supernatural fandom. And then Marvel Cinematic Universe. So.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. I realize there might be a pretty pronounced change in style here, but I tried; eventually the chapters previous to this will undergo a cleanup to smooth it all out, but that's a huge project and I'd really like this story to continue to move forward. Like I said, in school right now so I can't promise when the next chapter will come, only that it will. Thank you all for reading, and a HUGE thank you to my reviewers; I can honestly say that it was you guys and your lovely feedback and squeeing that got me moving again.