A.N. This is set around a year before Naruto graduates in manga canon verse.
Naruto was sulking and more than a little disappointed as he lay under the hot summer sun, he had failed the academy graduation exam a second time. He'd come to one of his favorite spots to daydream about becoming an 'awesome' ninja and going on adventures. He was lying on an awning of a house near the walls of the village, which let him see over the wall into the surrounding lands. He knew he wasn't allowed to leave the village and go exploring without a chaperon. Unfortunately, having no family or caretaker, that meant he could only leave when he was an adult himself or a ninja on a mission from the Hokage.
A scowl colored his face, tensing the whisker-like marks on his cheeks. He smashed a soft fist into the slats of the awning. "Why won't they pass me?" he shouted to the world. He sighed and sat up to stare out at the forest and the winding paths that led to the village gates. Fairly soon his favorite pass-time gripped him and visions of glory, war, and 'awesomeness' filled his mind.
Naruto was enjoying a particularly contrived daydream where the old Hokage was putting the hat of office of the Kage on his head when a commotion jerked him out of the illusion. Outside of the village walls he saw shapes flickering in the trees, and identified them a moment later as the elite shinobi, ANBU, pursuing another ninja. The chase brought the fleeing ninja into trees directly across from him. Naruto watched excitedly as the mask wearing ANBU closed on the position, but his excitement turned to horror when the fleeing ninja vaulted over the wall and landed on his awning. Naruto backpedaled on his hands and knees but the shinobi grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and placed a kunai against his throat.
"I'll kill the kid, step ba-" the escaping ninja didn't get to finish his threat as a ninjato pierced the side of his neck and skewered him. The cat mask wearing ANBU slid her sword out and Naruto, who had fallen on his behind released from the ninja's grasp, was showered in blood.
Naruto watched the blood spurt out from the hole in the man's neck in horrified fascination. The ninja's body fell to its knees and then slumped sideways. The small awning was surrounded by other members of ANBU but Naruto hardly noticed.
"G-ghost," he stammered. On the awning besides him and the cat masked ANBU was the transparent form of the man who had just been killed staring down at his own body.
The transparent man looked at him, his eyes the only thing visible on his masked face widened. "Master of Death! Spare me!" he screamed, bowing suddenly on his hands and knees. Before Naruto could respond the man's form began to disappear and he started howling at him to save him.
"Uzumaki-kun," the cat masked woman called Naruto, seeing his pale face. The blond boy was staring at something in fright and had seemingly forgotten to breathe. "It's alright, the man will not hurt you," she said, placing a hand on the small boy's shoulder.
The contact jolted Naruto out of his stupor and he nodded absently. "Who was he? Why'd he try to kill me?"
"An enemy of the village. He threatened you to stop us from capturing him. The fool didn't know that he signed his death warrant when he put you in danger," the cat masked woman answered.
"The Torture and Interrogation department will not be happy, Cat-san, they wanted him alive," a horse masked ANBU said as he gathered the body up with another comrade.
The cat masked ANBU did not deign to reply, choosing instead to pick up the boy bodily and leap away from the awning. She was surprised that the boy did not make a fuss but simply clutched to the front of her white cloak. She jumped roof from roof, deciding to take the boy home where he might get over his shock.
She set him on his feet when they reached his apartment building but held on to his hand to guide him up to his rooms. "Kitty-chan?" he said softly; the ninja ignored the nickname hearing the hesitance in the usually boisterous child's voice.
"Yes?" she encouraged, entering his unlocked apartment.
"Um, are ghosts real?" he asked, picking at his blood covered orange jacket.
The elite ninja frowned behind her mask. She walked to his kitchen to wet a towel, delaying for time to think. The child remained standing in the entrance of his apartment, too shocked to take any action on his own. She sighed mentally and kneeled in front of him to wipe off the blood on his face with the towel. "No, Uzumaki-kun, ghosts aren't real. You are training to be a ninja, right? You should be brave because a shinobi's life is filled with death. You should not fear it. It is simply how things are."
She helped him out of his jacket and motioned him to enter his own apartment and sit on the small couch. He seemed to be thinking hard on something and was not perturbed outwardly by the blood that still remained on him. The red of it stood out starkly on his bright blond hair.
"I saw something..." he trailed off as if he wanted to say more but thought better of it.
"Naruto...Naruto!"The cat masked woman forcibly shook the boy. He blinked at her as if he was just waking up and seeing her for the first time. "You should take a shower and get this blood off. I will take care of your clothes." She coaxed him toward the bathroom.
When she could hear the water running, she took the soiled clothes and started a wash. Then she went to the boy's closet where a handful of copies of his daily wear hung and grabbed a clean set. She smiled in amusement at the orange jacket and pants costume which the ANBU had stocked the closet with when Uzumaki Naruto had moved into this apartment his first time. Keeping a watch on the hyperactive tyke was made far easier by his bright wardrobe. With a wry smile she thought that after all it really hadn't been necessary to make Naruto easier to find; he was loud, brash, and making trouble every second he could. Following the trail of pranks was simple enough.
Her smile turned sour, however, when she thought back to why she was in the apartment. By terrible chance the ninja they were after had stumbled upon Naruto, and if it hadn't been for his clothes, she wouldn't have known from afar which child the man had taken hostage. As it was, the mere sight of the color had given her enough information to know she had no choice but to escalate the capture mission to an assassination mission. The Hokage would have little mercy for any ANBU who failed to protect Uzumaki. That is besides the danger of what was sealed inside the child escaping as he died.
A shudder went through her at the thought of the nine-tailed demon fox rampaging. Though lost in her thoughts she sensed a presence and her hand went to her sword. She watched the entrance and the window of the apartment warily before an ANBU landed on the terrace outside the window and she relaxed her stance in recognition. The other ANBU entered with a bag of food.
"Kid looked like he was in shock. Hard to believe anything could make the brat speechless. Thought I'd get his favorite food for him. A full stomach always makes me feel better, and the boy loves his ramen," the man said, placing the bag on the low table.
The cat masked woman nodded slowly. "Good idea... Anyone see Uzumaki at the scene?"
The man shrugged. "Too soon to tell. We weren't exactly being stealthy. I didn't notice any villagers at the site. Lucky the kid likes to hang out in out of the way places. No one was home at the time, but we'll have to explain to the owner why there's blood on his awning." His head snapped to the bathroom. "Sounds like he's done. I'm out. Just feed him and put him to bed."
"Do I look like his mother?" the woman demanded, annoyed at the casual order.
The man laughed. "Put the claws away, Kitty-chan."
He jumped away before she could retort. She had a feeling that the nickname Naruto had just given her was going to become widespread. Unlike Naruto, however, she could hurt her teammates for their disrespect.
"Ramen!" the boy exclaimed, apparently catching a whiff of the food. The light in his eyes which had dimmed came dazzling back. He sat himself down in front of the bowl only in his towel and dug in.
The woman smiled in half exasperation half amusement behind her mask. "Naruto, go straight to bed after eating."
He nodded absently, being too busy slurping down the food. The woman shrugged and slipped out of the window to jump off the terrace. She had to report what had happened after all.
"Kitty-chan!" Naruto yelled for her.
She looked over her shoulder and cocked her head to the side to signal she was listening.
"Thanks for saving my life! I'm going to be an ass kicking ninja just like you, see I already have whiskers like you!" He pointed happily to the whisker-like marks on his cheeks and grinned cheekily at her.
"Ah," she said seriously. "So you've discovered the secret to my powers. With the magic of those whiskers you will be Hokage in no time."
He thrust his chest out in pride and shouted, "Believe it!"
With a quiet chuckle the woman sent chakra to her legs and in a powerful leap bounded away.
Although the cat masked ANBU's ministrations and the food had gone a long way to settle Naruto, he couldn't shake the weird feeling that had settled over him. He felt disconnected, as if his body was someone else's. The words 'master of death' rang in his head, pulling at some forgotten memory. It made him feel strange and oddly sad. He thought about the ghost and wondered why he'd seen it if no ghosts existed. With these thoughts he no longer remembered that he had failed the graduation test that day and that his dreams had been put on hold for another whole year.
Feeling strange still he fell asleep and dreamt of people and powers he had never seen or heard of before.
Naruto had been tossing and turning, feeling the tumultuous emotions of the boy in his dreams. A dark haired boy was holding out a stick shooting red light at a man with snake-like face, amid ruins. The red light pushed back the green light streaming of out the snake man's stick. The red light finally connected with him, tearing the stick in his hand and throwing it back at the boy. The boy reached with his other hand and caught the snake's man's stick. A triumphant smile graced his tense features before his expression changed to horror. The snake man exploded destroying everything around him including the boy.
Naruto woke up with a start and sat up in his futon breathing heavily. He was drenched in sweat. The weird disconnected feeling from the last day came over him and didn't leave him. Vertigo hit and he leaned over to throw up on the floor of his bedroom. Another disconcerting sensation gripped him like something was crawling beneath his skin and he jerked back, slamming himself against the wall on accident. He blacked out from the impact.
When the boy woke next he gasped in surprise at his surroundings. The last thing he remembered he had been dueling Lord Voldemort in Hogwarts. He thought furiously, trying to remember everything, despite how dizzy he felt. He had killed the Dark Lord...he was sure of it. He had disarmed him and as soon as he'd caught the Elder Wand, Voldemort exploded - the heat, the force waves, and his own skin peeling at the magic unleashed, burning...yes, he remembered burning - and, dying. Yes, he had died. Harry was sure he must have died. He had been too near Voldemort.
The rank smell of vomit assaulted his nose and pulled him away from his thoughts. He looked around the room, for a short time not recognizing it, until a stream of memories broke into his mind and he screamed in sheer agony. And, once again, the boy lost consciousness.
It was a day and night later that he woke up with nearly a decade of memories of a boy named Uzumaki Naruto and a village hidden in the leaves. Harry Potter sat up in a panic. He stumbled out of the futon and dragged himself to the restroom he remembered from Naruto's memories. Relieving himself and washing his mouth of the taste of vomit, he stared at the reflection looking back at him.
A tanned face with the brightest yellow blond hair he had ever seen and suspicious blue eyes looked back at him. He worked his jaw; making faces at himself in the mirror to prove to himself he really was some blond haired, blue eyed little kid. It didn't feel different than being under the effects of a Polyjuice potion. There was no trouble or knowing where his extremities were.
"Hello?" he said to himself, testing if his voice had also changed. "My name is Harry." He frowned at the mirror recognizing the voice of the child from his memories. "Something is very, very wrong here. What the bloody hell is going on?"
Shaking his head as if it would dispel the situation, Harry took off the smelly clothes and stepped under the shower. Everything was so small, he noted in mild curiosity. He really was in a titchy little body. As he washed himself something grabbed his attention under the soap suds on his hands. He washed away the soap to stare in shock at the palms of his hands. In very faint but defined way there were lines on his palms making a triangle with a circle and a line inside it. It looked like the symbol of the Deathly Hallows was simply a natural birthmark.
"Curious...very curious," Harry mumbled to himself.
He dried himself quickly so he could explore the Hallow marks more. The shower had gone a long way to clear the cobwebs in his head and he was able to keep the oppressive pressure of memories, he had no recollection of, at bay. Clothes had been laid out already on the arm of a small couch in the living room. He dressed himself in the unfamiliar yet familiar gear of black T shirt and boxers under a pair of orange pants of very durable material. He left the orange colored jacket of the same material off, imagining it would be really hot.
His stomach complained of hunger but he ignored it in favor of tracing the mark on one of his palms. "Damn it, wish Professor Dumbledore were here to explain what is going on." The words were just out of his mouth when a figure appeared in the living room. With his mouth open, Harry stared at Albus Dumbledore in his fill professorial glory looking at the room and him in open suspicion.
"Who are you young man, and how is it that you have the power of the Master of Death?" Professor Dumbledore demanded.
Harry continued to gawk at the semitransparent form of the man for a long moment. "Professor, it's me. It's Harry!" He shot to his feet, beside himself in joy that he had somehow the power of the resurrection stone to call the dead.
Professor Dumbledore speared him with an unamused look over his half-moon glasses. "Young man, do not play games with me, you look nothing like-" he paused for a moment as if a thought had struck him. "Harry, if it is really you, where did we meet the last time?"
Harry smiled in relief. "I think it was inside my mind, sir. We were in a...sort of version of King's Cross. You told me about my choices to either move on or go back. I went back."
The old wizard's expression went through quick changes that Harry couldn't quite follow. He watched him raise a ghostly wand and tap his spectacles. A shimmer of light passed over the lenses as the man studied him through them. "Dear Merlin, it is you!" he finally gasped out and a huge smile broke over his face. "My boy, where have you been? Why didn't you contact us sooner? We have been searching for you for near a decade. Your soul disappeared after your last duel with Voldemort."
"It did?" Harry blurted. "I don't know what happened, professor. The last thing I remember is Voldemort blowing up and burning...and then I think I died."
"You most certainly did," Dumbledore said, more to himself than Harry. "We should have thought of this possibility. I should have known this could happen."
"What? What happened? I have no idea what's going on!" Harry implored.
Dumbledore sighed and ran his hand through his beard as he was wont to do in life as well. "Harry, you were reincarnated. And if my guess is correct, you were reincarnated as soon as you died, sent into this realm of existence. It is not without precedence, but usually there is a reason for a soul to be reborn."
"So...I'm not just possessing this boy's body...I'm-" Harry snorted in disbelief. "I'm him? Or he's me...I mean...you know?"
"Yes, yes," Dumbledore nodded. "You were simply born again, this time as this boy. But what is truly fascinating is that as soon as I was called I instinctively knew I was being summoned by the Master of Death. How extraordinary! I always thought that title was just that, a title, but it seems there is true authority in that mantle."
Harry frowned, not liking this revelation particularly. "What do you mean, Professor? What does it mean for me? And shouldn't I have gotten to choose if I wanted to be resurrected? I mean, if I died I'd much rather be with my family for the first time in my life...or death...or whatever it is."
"Life after death," Professor Dumbledore corrected gently. "I understand this is frustrating, Harry, but we are all subject to the cosmic powers of existence. I do not know why this happened, but I suspect it is because all the Hallows accepted you as their master. I am beginning to fear that you may have been granted power beyond the ken of men."
"Professor?" Harry rolled his eyes, beseeching him to be clearer simply with his aggravated body language.
Dumbledore shook his head. "I don't know, Harry. It is just the beginning of a suspicion. If you truly are master of death in some sense, then your power would be that much greater beyond the veil as it were. Perhaps, by throwing you in a cycle of rebirth you are being kept from exercising the scope of your authority."
Harry blinked slowly as anger filled him. "You're saying someone is responsible for this? That this is just a power play?"
"Harry," Dumbledore began in a calming tone. "I do not know anything for certain. I would not have even shared my suspicions with you, except that apparently I cannot refuse a command from you, be it implied or overt."
"You have to do as I say?" Harry asked in confusion. "That's...strange."
"Indeed, but now you can see why your power might be a threat to the order beyond the veil." The old wizard suddenly laughed. "Never a dull moment around you, my boy. Now if I may suggest something, summon your mother and father. They have been distraught and haven't been able to live without knowing what has happened to you. Give me some time to seek them out to explain what has happened. It is probably best we keep your...reawakening under wraps as much as possible."
Harry nodded slowly in consideration. "In case there really is someone out to get me on your side of the veil, then they would be watching my loved ones."
Dumbledore had an expression of pride on his face. "Yes, exactly. Now, tell me, how have you been?"
Harry slumped back on the couch and Dumbledore conjured a ghostly chair for himself. "I don't know...exactly," Harry began. "I haven't been aware of my previous live, really, until I think a few days ago. I saw a man killed in front of me, his ghost appeared to me and called me Master of Death. That triggered something inside my...new self...I guess that's what I'd call him. He had nightmares and-"
"Who had nightmares?" Professor Dumbledore asked, his eyes shining with interest.
"Ah, my new self, his name is Uzumaki Naruto...weird name. He...or I suppose he's me, so I had nightmares from my final battle with Voldemort. And that seems to have reawakened me."
"Hmm, yes, I suppose that makes sense," Dumbledore mused, looking heavenward in thought. "That was the moment you reclaimed the wand, the last of the Hallows. It is a significant moment of your life. I must say it is strange to see you in the form of a blond, blue eyed child."
Harry laughed softly. "That's not even the half of it, this kid, he's really odd. I'm still looking at all his memories. It's almost driven me crazy. It feels as if it is someone else's mind, yet it feels familiar. I think I haven't done anything he has, but I can almost taste everything he's eaten, everything he has touched, every moment of happiness and lots and lots of moments of loneliness. I don't think he's a very happy kid, professor."
Dumbledore frowned and asked, "Family?"
Harry rolled his eyes up dredging up memories. "He's...alone. Orphan. At least that's what he's been told. Doesn't know who his parents were or are."
Dumbledore smiled sadly. "I would have wished you had known a mother and a father if you had to be reborn."
Harry waved the concern away. "I think that would make this situation even more difficult to handle."
"Yes, perhaps. You think of only Lily and James as your parents. It would be bizarre to say the least to have another set. I sense a little suspicion in you about the truth of what he knows about the status of his parents." Dumbledore left the statement, simply implying the question.
"I don't know...there are oddities about his life. He...or I should say 'I' have been living on my own from a very young age, but I also have these elite soldiers watching out for me. Before my awakening I didn't think much of them, I didn't think their presence had anything to do with me. I thought they were simply there, guarding this village. But - there are far too many small clues that don't add up. They know me, even though they don't meet with me directly. Why would they know a random orphan living by himself?" Harry shrugged in confusion.
"To my knowledge, Harry, resurrected souls are placed in a new realm because of their particular strength. After moving beyond the veil, some of these intricacies have been revealed to me as I have taken an interest. Perhaps there is something to this Uzumaki that hasn't been revealed to him, or perhaps, he simply did not have your eyes to see the clues." Dumbledore smiled. "It seems, Harry, that your life will always been an adventure."
"No kidding, professor. You'll love this part. My new self is learning to be a ninja. This village is a ninja village. And I call their head, the supposed most powerful ninja in this nation, grandfather or old man." Harry laughed at the ridiculousness.
Dumbledore did not share in the humor. "Assassins?" He frowned. "What in Merlin's name are you doing here? Is this head assassin truly your grandfather?"
Harry shook his head. "I don't get that feeling. I'd be living with him otherwise, I expect. He's the only one who has been kind to me is what I can tell you from the memories I've been able to absorb. This boy, Uzumaki, is not very well liked. Why? I don't know."
"This is quite disturbing; I don't see you as an assassin. You have killed when necessary or by accident, but this is not you." Dumbledore frowned.
Harry shrugged. "I don't know, professor, they aren't like ninjas I've ever known about. Of course, I only know about ninja from sneaking Dudley's video games and playing Mortal Kombat."
"Well, video games can hardly be an accurate source of information, but I cannot say mine are any better. How are they different?" Dumbledore leaned forward in his ghostly chair.
Harry sighed and rubbed his temples. "Trying to process these memories and judgments Uzumaki made. It's very hard...hard to think. Sorry, professor, give me some time."
Dumbledore nodded and lost himself in thought for a moment. "I am concerned about your observations, Harry. If you truly are under guard and the head of these ninja is also someone who is looking out for you, while leaving you to raise yourself, then I have to agree there may be something about young Uzumaki that you do not know."
Harry nodded. "Sort of like my first life, eh, professor?"
Dumbledore chuckled. "Indeed. But with us both having learned from that experience, I think your first order of business is to gather intelligence. You cannot rely on the memories and impressions of a child. You must bring your own experience to bear on this. Also, as we know now, a summoned soul is in all senses your servant. Take advantage of that. A source of knowledge who cannot betray the secret that you are a reborn soul would be priceless."
Harry breathed in relief. "Thank you, professor. I was feeling very lost. Now I can do something about it. Who do you think I should summon?"
Dumbledore gave a very uncharacteristic shrug. "I am afraid I have no knowledge of this realm of existence, Harry. I say go out, look at history books, find out the names of both important people and those whose names you can simply find in the local cemetery. If you speak to both those who were in high places and those in low places in life, you will be able to form a better picture of where you are."
"That makes sense." Harry grinned. "And what do I do about this ninja business?"
Dumbledore raised a brow and smiled. "Use the lessons you learned playing Dudley's video games, I suppose."
Harry laughed. "Guess I can't expect you to figure out everything."
"Speaking of figuring things out," Dumbledore motioned to Harry's hands. "I see the mark of the Hallows. I suggest you explore your powers. You have used the resurrection stone's abilities, the death stick and the invisibility cloak remain."
"Thank Merlin! That means I can probably still do magic. Alright, professor, I will work on my end. Would you please speak to mum and dad, and find out why I was resurrected?"
"Of course, my dear boy. Even if I wasn't compelled to help you, I would do so. Good bye." The aged wizard faded from sight and Harry was left alone with an empty stomach and a mind full of questions.