A.N. I wanted to show a little bit of what was happening in Konoha while Harry was with Tsunade. Since I didn't show that at all in the last chapter. So first part of this chapter is what was going on there, and then we come back to the timeline where Harry has just returned to Konoha. Thanks.
While Harry was travelling with Tsunade, weeks before his return:
Severus Snape stood in a cellar in the abandoned manor of the Hatake clan. The walls, ceiling, and floor were covered in seals designed to destroy and negate all spying techniques. His lip curled in self-satisfaction, too bad for them that they hadn't thought of condemned souls summoned from Hell.
The forms of the two councilors Koharu and Homura were kneeling on the floor with bags over their faces and their hands tied. The young man, Hatake Kakashi, who he had been following for some time, stood behind them with a naked blade. Snape was certain that any suspicious movement from the councilors would earn them the kunai in Hatake's hands. Snape willed him to do it, to rid him of two of Harry's enemies.
Soon enough others entered the room: The Hokage, Nara Shikaku, Morino Ibiki, Yamaka Inoichi, and the ANBU, Cat.
"Kakashi, after Cat lead me here we were both trapped in Shikaku's shadow and mind walked by Inoichi. Care to explain why these gentlemen followed your orders to use an interrogation technique on your Hokage?" Sarutobi was looking murderous, Snape was pleased to note. Perhaps the man would be pushed to take drastic measures and Snape would be spared planning the assassinations of three people.
"Hokage-sama," Kakashi gave a short bow, departing from his usual casual demeanor, "we needed to make sure you were you, same with Cat and Ibiki. You see, we have either been betrayed again or spied on successfully in your office. I asked them to bring you here and everyone close to the investigation."
The Hokage made no comment, simply looking thunderous at the thought of a leak in their group. "Go on," he finally said.
Kakashi motioned for Cat to take his place behind the two councilors, so he was free to pay attention to the Hokage. A few utilitarian chairs in the room served to sit the newly arrived ninja before Kakashi began, "I have performed a jutsu to make sure the councilors can't hear us. So I will speak openly. Cat followed Koharu and Homura to Danzo's estate. Our recon teams had reported that Danzo hadn't left his home since the village went into lock down. We were wrong; there was a decoy in his home, pretending to be him. Koharu and Homura discovered this quickly, but the decoy tried to kill them, Cat interfered to protect them and the decoy was killed instead. She reported back to me, and considering the pressure you had put on the councilors I felt they were a flight risk like Danzo. I brought them here to my...father's old home; we have this secret room as you can see which might be more secure than your office."
Ibiki hummed in agreement. "There are too many parties trying to spy on the Hokage's office all the time, it wouldn't surprise me if a device or a jutsu was missed by us. Of course, the other possibility is that one of us fed Danzo the information, so he could escape before we closed the noose around his neck."
The blond haired man, Inoichi Yamanaka, shook his head. He looked them all in the eyes. "No, that's not the case. I have mind walked all present, none of you are either imposters like the Danzo decoy or have betrayed the Hokage."
"That leaves only you as a suspect, Inoichi," Shikaku said, showing the discomfort of that thought on his face. "Not that I believe you are, but you're the only one who hasn't been mind-walked."
Kakashi gave them his closed eye smile, "Not to worry, I had my nindogs smell him, it really is Inoichi-san, and also they have been keeping their eyes on him since this whole thing started. Inoichi hasn't been in touch with Danzo or the councilors since the lock-down."
The blond man frowned. "You've been spying on me for that long? Why? I wasn't even part of the investigation then."
Kakashi shrugged. "I had a feeling we would need you at some stage, Inoichi-san, so I made sure you could be trusted."
"Enough." The Hokage raised a hand to stop their discussion. "I am satisfied the group here did not betray me or the village. It is not beyond Danzo to hoodwink all our sweeps to plant some sort of listening device or jutsu in my office. The question is where he has gone. Kakashi, I want you to make contact with Jiraiya, he is already on the case trying to find out Danzo's resources outside the village and possible allies who would've betrayed him to take Naruto. If anyone can pin down Danzo, it's him."
Morino Ibiki shifted in his seat to bring attention to himself. "That's good, Hokage-sama. I wished to speak to Jiraiya-sama myself. The seal we found on Root operatives is beyond me and Kakashi's expertise. Perhaps Kakashi can show Jiraiya-sama the seal, to get his opinion. We need to get around it to learn more."
"No, I don't want Jiraiya distracted. I doubt the seal affects the operatives deeply enough that Inoichi couldn't rip the knowledge we need from them," The Hokage said, and then turned to the hard looking blond. "Inoichi, effective immediately you are reinstated to ANBU T&I. I cannot ask anyone other than you from your clan to do this, none of them are as proficient as you, and none of them have my confidence as you do."
The blond man bowed where he was sitting in acceptance. "Hai, Hokage-sama."
"What about the councilors?" Shikaku brought up. "We already know they worked around you, Hokage-sama, but we don't know exactly how. We need to know how deeply they were involved. Obviously, they were part of Uzumaki's abduction..."
The Hokage nodded and sighed deeply. "Inoichi...interrogate them. Know this that they have served Konoha for decades and know its darkest secrets. No matter what you learn, you cannot speak of it to anyone but me."
"Lord Hokage," Inoichi said in a soft voice, recognizing the pain it caused his superior to order his past teammates to be interrogated. "Politically speaking, we are in a bad situation. With Danzo on the run, if we have the councilors suddenly disappear, the village will be perceived as weak. The councilors are venerated as much as you are, to lose them would be seen as a loss of your power."
Shikaku cursed. "He's right. We shouldn't think that other villages won't learn that our Jinchuriki has been abducted or that our councilors are missing or-" he stopped when he found the Hokage's hand on his arm.
They all watched the Hokage rise from his chair as if he was carrying a heavy burden. He went to stand in front of the kneeling forms of Koharu and Homura and began forming hand seals. Snape watched this raptly, trying to memorize it for Harry's use. In a sudden movement, the Hokage slapped his palms on the councilors' covered heads. A light briefly flickered then disappeared, making the two jerk back.
The Hokage stepped back and intoned, "I have placed a forbidden seal on them. If they leave the village walls...they will be vaporized. After their interrogation, they will resume such duties that we can trust them with. I have heard your advice; we cannot afford to seem weak, for in some ways we are truly weakened. We have taken losses apprehending Root, the number of ninja we can trust has fallen, as much as I hate to say this, Naruto's status as a Jinchuriki was an important counterweight which we have lost."
There was a long silence which was awkwardly broken by Morino Ibiki. "Hokage-sama, we have found some very young Root operatives, some just Academy age. I think with Inoichi-senpai's help, we can deprogram them...we can gain back some of our losses."
The Hokage shot him a smile. "Thank you for the good news, Ibiki. I'd like to give them a chance."
Shikaku stood from his seat as well and as if from silent agreement all others did as well. The jounin commander addressed them, "Hokage-sama, we have been focused inward, but some of the reports coming in from our borders show Lightning village is mobilizing. I would like your permission to take Asuma under my command since he is still head of village security to plan for invasions."
"Ma, they're always after bloodlines and biju," Kakashi noted with a slouch. "If anyone is going to go hunting for Naruto brazenly through our country, it'll be those Lightning bastards."
Cat shifted from her position behind the councilors and bowed to the Hokage. "Sir, Lightning might take this chance to try to kidnap a Hyuuga again. I'm close to the clan heir, I'd like your permission to tell her to be on guard."
"Cat-san," Shikaku said with a light chuckle. "I didn't say Lightning was definitely attacking us, just that it's the best opportunity for them to."
They couldn't see cat's face but the stiffening of her shoulders and slow movement of her head to face Shikaku made them all think she was wearing an arch look on her face. She said, "Shikaku-san, you wouldn't have brought this up if it wasn't more than just a possibility in your mind. I need to forewarn my..." she trailed off, unable to find the word.
Ibiki laughed, "Your little kittens are the words you're looking for."
"Ibiki-senpai, do shut up or should I tell them what my kittens did to you?" Cat shot back. At this the Hokage and Shikaku started chuckling as if they were in the know.
"Peace, children," the Hokage said in mock admonishment. "You're both authorized to take actions you deem fit, Shikaku, Cat. Now, I must get back to the Tower before the other ANBU I gave the slip start fainting from worry."
"That's right, get out of my house the rest of you." Kakashi shooed his fellow Shinobi.
When the room was empty, Snape spoke, "Can you see me, ghost?"
An older white haired man who could have been a relative of Kakashi looked up from the corner of the room he was slumped against. Dull eyes regarded Snape and spoke in a hushed voice, "You can see me?"
"I can and whose wretched ghost are you?" Snape demanded.
The man scoffed, "I didn't think so many years had gone by that no one would recognize me. They used to call me The White Fang."
Snape smirked, having found a new recruit in the dead of Konoha. "Tell me, White Fang, do you want a purpose again?"
"I only want to move on or speak to my son," the man responded despondently.
"My master can give you both those things if you serve him for a time, come with me," Snape whirled and walked through the closed door, with the certainty built from having dealt with desperate men that the White Fang would follow.
Morino Ibiki stood with Cat looking at the live feed of one of his cells. The cell, unlike others, was bereft of torture and interrogation tools. A table and a few chairs, even a small window to let the outside air in constituted the room. Their subject was a young boy, somewhere in the range of pre to early teens, pale as a sheet of paper and emotionally dead.
"Damn Danzo for whatever he did to the kid," Cat swore.
Ibiki sighed, "Systematic emotional desensitization training...he was made to kill another Root agent he thought of as a brother. He didn't talk about it but Inoichi-senpai was able to extract the information." Cat cursed at hearing that and Ibiki continued, "The Hokage would like to rehabilitate the boy as we are trying with other Root members not completely brainwashed into dying loyalty for Danzo."
"So your new job is to fix people not break them down?" Cat asked, amusement coloring her voice. "What about the other kids we found, they get the chance to be rehabilitated too?"
Ibiki nodded and handed a scroll to Cat. "Congratulations, the Kick-ass Kitty-chan brigade has been assigned a mission."
"What?" Cat asked in surprise, her expression hidden behind her perpetual mask. "I know Anko gets them to do stuff to annoy other jounin, are you joining in the fun now too?" She unfurled the scroll and stared at it in shock. "This is a joke."
"No," Ibiki snorted. "I wish it was, but it does make sense. A lot of us have been indulging your brigade and giving them mock missions to mess with people, it's not surprising they have gotten good. This is a perfect solution for what we need now."
"But the Hokagehimself is assigning this mission! This is not just a joke we play on each other anymore, Ibiki-senpai!" Cat protested feeling her protective instincts for the kids come to the forefront.
"Easy, Cat, it's a simple recon mission. What did you expect? That we will send an undercover chunnin to the Academy? The ANBU juniors provide us with just what we need without extending our already stretched resources," Ibiki explained.
Cat shook her head and stuffed the scroll in her combat gear. "Yes, todayit is a recon mission to watch over child assassins, what will it be tomorrow? Those kids are talented but they are still kids."
Ibiki laughed mirthlessly and put a comforting hand on Cat's shoulder. "Cat, we were all child assassins once, so are those cute little ANBU juniors. It's good to see you get so emotionally invested in anything other than work, but don't let that blind you from reality." Switching his friendly tone to one of happy anticipation he informed, "Tiger, Tabby, and Panther of ANBU Juniors will be providing an important service before they are even genin: They will watch the Root kids in the Academy and if someone gets out of hand they will disable them. Get to training them or I will, since they have been informally and very much off-the-books attached to my division."
Cat shuddered at the thought of Ibiki being responsible for teaching Academy students anything. Although, in the last few week of working closely with the man, she had found more depths to him than the scary exterior would suggest. She never would have expected him to be a friend and a concerned 'senpai' figure.
"Fine...Wish I could find Danzo and strangle him," Cat said, truly hoping for a release for her frustrations.
"On a different note, a few friends and I are getting together for dinner tonight, same place as last time," Ibiki said casually.
Cat straightened a little at the code phrase to meet at the Hatake manor's secret room. "Hmm, I'm pretty busy tonight, but I'll try to make it," she said.
Now we return to the current time, Harry has returned to Konoha:
Harry's clone dispelled itself after dinner with Tenten, sending memories of their first day at the Academy back to the original. Harry was sitting deep in the Forest of Death, ostensibly a training area but typically left alone by humans. The truly gigantic trees teemed with life but Harry had found a place amongst them for his own. A tree hollow in a particularly majestic specimen served as Harry's workroom. The hollow was set in the tree at least a hundred feet off the ground, safe from creatures that prowled below, and spells laced the entrance to keep anything else away. The hollow itself was big enough that Harry imagined he could fit the Dursley's house in it easily.
Now that he was away from Tsunade and Shizune's watchful eyes, Harry was ready to attempt the most dangerous endeavor he could think of. He was going to seek out the Demon Fox. Since the Root attack the Fox's chakra had become more and more prevalent in his body and his mind, if the nightmares and dark visions he received were anything to go by. Occlumency, despite Snape's tutoring, was not a permanent solution, Harry had found. Weeks spent in meditation and mental battle against the foreign presence while in Tsunade's care had proven that he needed something new to try.
So he was going to give in to the Demon and let him pull where it had been trying to for the last two months. Unfortunately the clone's memories informed him that he was expected at the Hokage Tower in half an hour. Not knowing how long the fight against the fox would take, he decided to leave his secret meditation tree. Perhaps it would be best to summon some clones to watch over me when I try this, he mused.
That led him to thoughts of Alpha, Zulu, and the Scorpion squad. He had relied on them overmuch recently. Alpha was the first clone he had put so much of his own identity in, and it was just bizarre experiencing the clone's memories of being disappointed in his originator's 'brooding.' Most of the Scorpion squad was designed to absorb knowledge, so their emotions and personal memories did not affect him, except the clone he had set as their leader, hehad interesting training ideas that Harry would put in practice. Lastly, Zulu...he finally had to dispel the girl when she had been alive too long. There was a risk that the more experiences she accumulated, the harder it would be for Harry to absorb her memories back into himself without doing damage to his brain.
A little ache in his heart at the thought of her reminded him uncomfortably that he missed her. The thought that he could miss a clone of himself was weird and it revealed difficult truths about himself.
He had meditated on his memories, reminding himself of the time Naruto had created the 'sexy no jutsu.' While Naruto told anyone who asked that he had created the technique to fight perverts, Harry knew the actual truth. He had seen around the village how people were nice to good looking girls; more importantly, he had seen other children with kind older sisters. The sisters were sweet like mothers, playful like friends, and Naruto always felt a painful emptiness when he saw them. He wished for one - so he made himself one.
She was everything he had wanted in a companion, someone who would smile at him like those other kids' sisters smiled at them. She was strong, so she could protect him; beautiful, so that he knew what it felt like having a pretty girl look at him with fondness; funny, because he wanted a partner in crime; affectionate, so that he knew what it meant. Harry sighed again at his younger self, the boy hadn't simply set out to create the body of a woman; he had set out to create a mother, a sister, a best friend rolled into one. He wanted someone to love, and he'd succeeded.
The longer Zulu took care of him, the more Harry became dependant on her, the more he never wanted her to disappear. He knew that she would lose her chakra one day and would return to his soul.
The feelings of loss at that thought had driven him to what he had been doing. He cast his eyes back at the hollow as he stood at its mouth. All across the walls and floors, scrolls of seals and magical notes were spread. They were the sum of his personal project that he had been hiding in storage scrolls while he was with Tsunade, but here, in privacy he meant to take Naruto's dream to the next step; he meant to create Zulu so she and he never had to fear her losing chakra so much she couldn't sustain herself anymore.
It was immoral, maybe, confusing, definitely, and he felt like Dr. Frankenstein; but he had another person inside him, one that Naruto in his childish need and enthusiasm had given a soul, now it was up to Harry to give her a body.
With a smile at his own silliness, Harry left the hollow. If my other clones only knew what I was up to, I'd never hear the end of it. Scorpion would probably try to make me do push-ups for punishment, Alpha would worry about my sanity and tell me to focus on the Root seal, and Zulu...she'd squeal happily.
Kotetsu had never enjoyed being called to the Hokage office; it always made him vaguely feel like he was in trouble. Given the climate in the village for the last few months of apprehension and tension made him only dread the meeting more.
"You can go in now," the secretary outside the office broke into Kotetsu's thoughts.
With a grunt of acknowledgment the young man entered the office to find it flooded with bright sunlight and clouds of pipe smoke. The play of light and smoke made the Hokage look pretty dramatic, Kotetsu grinned at the thought, as if he needed to be any more scared of the venerable ninja. "Sir," he greeted.
The Hokage looked up from his paperwork and laced his fingers together. "Still enjoying your new assignment?"
"Ah, well, teaching the new generation of ninjas is very rewarding." He grinned.
"You always were a terrible liar and you wonder why I don't give you infiltration missions," the Hokage said with a chuckle.
"I'm not lying!" the reluctant academy teacher protested. "Well, lying much," he added thoughtfully. "Tsunade-hime's boy made my life a lot more fun at the Academy for sure."
"Oh? Tell me about him, I have yet to meet him. I had Gai take him straight to you." The old ninja indicated the chair in front of his desk to invite Kotetsu to sit.
Kotetsu was used to standing in the Hokage's presence; he had never been invited to sit, so he did so awkwardly. "I mostly tested his physical skills today, I wasn't expecting much because he looks delicate, but the kid is definitely Tsunade-sama's student. He used chakra enhanced speed in his fight with Uchiha Sasuke to close the gap faster than the boy could follow and knocked him down. Then displayed Tsunade-sama's famous strength by creating a small crater in the training grounds next to Sasuke's face."
The Hokage frowned in thought. "Did it look like he was comfortable with his use of chakra enhanced speed and strength?"
Kotetsu nodded. "Hai, Hokage-sama. At the speed he moved, his punch should've done more damage than just giving Sasuke a shiner. So he knows how to moderate his strength."
"Hmmm, you said he showed Tsunade-like strength. Did you note if it was natural or chakra enhanced?"
Kotetsu shifted in the chair, wishing he was standing in his usual 'mission reporting' stance. "I felt a chakra pulse from him when he shot off toward Sasuke and another one when he punched the ground on the kid's side. I don't think it was physical speed or strength, the kid has very little muscle mass. It looks like he's been working out off and on, but nothing like Sasuke or hell, even the Hyuuga girl. Frankly, without his chakra, the kid would be a bare step above a civilian child."
The Hokage raised a brow in curiosity. "Hinata?"
Kotetsu mock shuddered and said, "The girl is possessed, I think. I don't know why Iruka downplayed her skills in his reports on her. The few times I've been able to get her out of that silly jacket of hers to do exercises, I've seen corded muscles. She has been giving Sasuke and Yamaka Ino a lot of trouble in Taijutsu, and that's just using the Academy style. If she was using Jyuuken I have no doubt she would be the top Taijutsu cadet." The young man saw a look of sadness pass over the Hokage. Any other time he wouldn't have questioned it but the casual interview with the man had made him relax. "What's up, Hokage, you don't seem happy about that?"
"Hinata is pushing herself to atone for something. I want you to pay personal attention to her, Kotetsu. Extra lessons, introduction to other disciplines than she's used to, anything you can think of. If grief has given her the will to excel, then so be it." The Hokage's dark eyes glittered in the bright sunlight streaming through the window.
Kotetsu swallowed nervously; he hadn't expected the Hokage to take advantage of the girl's grief. "As you command, Hokage-sama," he answered formally, understanding that this part of the conversation had been an order and not a casual suggestion.
"Coming back to your new student...I am glad to hear about your estimation, because if he is truly using Tsunade's strength enhancement, then I know for certain that he is her apprentice," the Hokage dropped the intensity in his tone.
Kotetsu nodded in understanding. "And it would take time to learn something like that, so he's been with her for a while. He can be trusted. But, why would Tsunade-sama neglect his physical conditioning?"
"My old student likes to wander; my guess is that the boy couldn't get more than intermittent physical training in while travelling. In fact, she asked Mito Gai to make sure the boy was sent to the Academy to cover the basics, so it will be your job to get his conditioning up, now did you test him in anything else?"
Kotetsu nodded. "We also went through the obstacle course. He misjudged his landings and distances a little, almost as if he had come off an illness and didn't have the same strength that he did when he'd performed the activity before. He looked pretty pissed a few times...and uh...he destroyed a rock in his path."
The Hokage snorted, "More evidence that Tsunade has been an influence in his life. I remember her breaking through barriers in the obstacle course, instead of finding ways around them. What about ninjutsu?"
"Hinata beat the obstacle course first, but she injured herself on the razor wire - that scared me, she just pushed through when she got tangled, taking the pain. Anyway, Harry ran up to her when he was through and healed the cuts, so the kid knows medic ninjutsu, I haven't tested him in the regular techniques," Kotetsu reported. "Oh, and he likes my kunai swords."
The Hokage looked sternly at his subordinate. "And why did the boy have an opportunity to discover your swords?"
Kotetsu laughed nervously, "I might've told him that if he knocked down Sasuke every fight, I would teach him how to use them?"
"Kotetsu!" The Hokage growled.
Kotetsu leaped out of his chair and put up warding hands. "I know it's wrong, but it's important for the girls to see their idol isn't all that. I'm doing it for the sake of the future kunoichi of Konoha, sir!"
"Bullshit!" The Hokage cursed, surprising Kotetsu. "You are an instructor now, you have to be more mature than pick on a student who annoys you."
"Hokage-sama, he's such a stuck up prick and he won't work with anyone. He has no respect for his peers, even Yamaka Ino who is second to him in Taijutsu but overall the best cadet isn't worthy of his attention, in his eyes. He needsto learn humility," Kotetsu said in a more serious voice, suddenly finding more stable ground for his vendetta against the boy who always glared at him in class.
The Hokage sighed deeply. "You are lucky that your own nefarious purposes coincide with the best interests of the students in your class."
"Nefarious...is such a strongword," Kotetsu muttered sullenly.
"Get out, and report back to me on Harry next week. Tsunade sent him here to fill the gaps in his training," The Hokage paused and fixed Kotetsu with an evil smile, "If she finds out you have been slacking..." He left the sentence unfinished.
Kotetsu paled at the thought of the most violent Sannin on his case. He gave a hasty bow and bolted from the office, Hell bent on figuring out training regimens for his entire class and especially Harry. He was too young to die, even if it was at the hands of a beauty like Tsunade-hime.
The Hokage was in the Missions Room after a long time. The turbulence of recent times meant that he was in his office meeting with senior Shinobi about the investigations and creating strategies to counter other villages when they found out Konoha was without a jinchuriki.
It was a nice break to be back handing out missions to his Shinobi personally at the missions' desk. It was the best way he knew to stay in touch with his forces and to judge how they were growing, where best he could use them later in their careers. In this manner he knew how to read all his Shinobi, from genin to jounin, and this served him well when he asked a few casual questions of Gai's genin team. The expressions that passed over the faces of the children, the exuberance and also the hesitation, told him more than their words: They were all impressed by yet wary of Tsunade's apprentice. Even little Neji seemed to regard the child as someone to be cautious of, and he had been the one to reveal the information about the Sage of Spirits.
The boy arrived on time exactly when the Hokage had summoned him. Sarutobi ignored him for the moment, speaking to teams which were waiting for missions, or just returning. But he was surreptitiously observing him. The boy was as small as Naruto, easily the shortest kid in his class, he wore a green kimono style shirt in the same shade as Tsunade's robes, and gray hakama with black ninja sandals. Sarutobi wondered bemusedly if the symbol for 'gambling' was imprinted on the kimono's back like Tsunade had on her robes. The boy stood quietly and with little movement, apparently content to watch the people around him.
When there was a lull in the traffic to the missions' room, Sarutobi motioned for the boy to come forward. The boy bowed deeply to him and then rose with a small smile playing on his face. Before the Hokage could greet him, the boy raised a hand in the air, his index fingertip alight, and then wrote in fiery characters: You are my sensei's sensei.
The Hokage chuckled good-naturedly and wondered how the boy was performing the fire jutsu to write. "Yes, I am. How is my old student?"
The boy smiled and wrote: She is happy now that she has pawned me off on you, sensei. Shizune-nee didn't let her gamble while I was around, so I am sure she's off somewhere losing a lot of money.
The Hokage's eyes narrowed as realization set of what exactly Tsunade was up to. "'Pawned you off on me?' What exactly did that brat tell you about what you were going to do here?"
A look of confusion passed on the boy's face. He pulled out a scroll from the voluminous sleeves of his kimono and unfurled it. His palm hovered over it and a staff appeared out of it. He held it in one hand and wrote with his other in the air: She said you were my next sensei, since you know how it is to be a shorty without a long reach.
The Hokage rested a hand over his eyes and groaned, cursing Tsunade under his breath. "We will deal with that later, Harry-kun. For now you will attend the Academy. I presume she wanted me to teach you how to use a staff?" At his nod, the Hokage continued, "Damned slacker, running off to gamble and drink, leaving me with her responsibilities."
The boy was smiling and laughing at the Hokage's grumbling, much to the annoyance of the guards and other Shinobi in the room. Seeing that he was being glared at, the boy wrote: She was right, you do love her too much. I didn't think there was anyone who could call her names and get away with it.
The Hokage lost his irritation at those words and a weight lifted off of him, one he had been carrying since his relationship with Tsunade had become strained. If his student still thought she had his love and care, then things hadn't deteriorated as much as he had thought. "I might be the only one in all the elemental nations who can get away with it, Harry-kun. Now, we have to set up a place for you to live, I hope Tsunade or at least Shizune taught you how to survive on your own?"
Letters appeared in the air again: Hai, sensei, I've been on my own all my life.
The Hokage nodded, simply accepting the statement. He had meant to find out more about his past but after he had a greater rapport with the boy. "Very well, you will be given Academy cadet stipend set at war time levels, which should be sufficient to cover all necessities. Harry-kun, by accepting this you are committing to enter Leaf's ninja forces. Others will have an option to drop out of the Academy, you will not."
'I understand, sensei. Shizune-nee explained that orphans were recruited in war time with this offer.'
The Hokage nodded slowly watching the boy's face like a hawk for any sign that he disliked the position the Hokage was putting him in. But the boy's small polite smile seemed accepting. Some found the practice abhorrent, they likened it to preying on the desperation of children, and others thought it was a generosity to give children with nothing else something to aspire to. Sarutobi, in his long life, hadn't decided which side of the argument he was on, but he wanted to make sure there was no reluctance on the boy's part and he found none. "Welcome to Konoha then, Harry-kun."
Sarutobi ordered one of his chunnin assistants to take the boy to the same apartment building Naruto's home had been in and set him up with his finances. He wondered if the boy was going to continue calling him 'sensei' and if he would end up teaching the child, just so that Tsunade's word to her apprentice wasn't broken. Truly, he was disappointed that Tsunade had hoisted the boy on him without asking him. Pinching the bride of his nose he reminded himself that he should take this as a gesture of reconciliation between them: Her trusting him with her disciple, a child she believed in enough to teach her coveted strength techniques to.
After taking care of all the logistics the Hokage wanted him to, Harry returned to the tree hollow in the Forest of Death. By now he was proficient enough to conjure shadow clones with only a mental effort. In a moment, Alpha, Scorpion, and Zulu stood in front of him, all with their specific personality make-ups: Alpha the one to make decisions on his behalf, Scorpion to oversee their training progress, Zulu to be Zulu.
"Damn, boss, it would be really useful if you could just henge into one of us and talk," Zulu whined.
Scorpion poked her. "Don't be an idiot, Zulu, how many times have I told you, he can't do that, the seal and injury are too deeply ingrained in his consciousness. Just be thankful he always imagined us fully functional, although that's debatable when it comes to you."
"So?" Zulu snapped belligerently. "He just has to de-grain it!"
"That's not even a word, Zulu. Stop pissing her off, Scorpion." Alpha let out a long suffering sigh. "We can't risk the boss changing states and accidentally letting the seal be healed."
A low amused laugh broke through their argument and they looked to see the 'boss' laughing at them. He walked to them and playfully messed their blond hair (in Scorpion's case, he messed with his mask).
His clones shot each other happy but nervous looks. Harry wasn't surprised, he had been sullen for a long time, but the fun day at the Academy and winding up the Hokage had put him in a good mood. He couldn't wait to get back to being Naruto and talking his jaw off; his younger self really knew how to have fun. Besides his blond self was in much better shape and after the obstacle course that day Harry was loath to do anything physical in his bishonen form. At least spars with Tsunade were quick affairs, brutalbut quick.
He went to sit against the wall of the hollow and relaxed his muscles, knowing his clones would protect him and bring him back if something bad happened.
"Good luck, boss," Zulu's whisper echoed in the tree hollow.
Harry nodded and gave in to the pull he had been feeling for months.
A wet and dark hallway greeted him. Hot wind blew through, making ripples in the standing water. The wind ebbed and flowed as if it was coming from the lungs of a great beast. Thinking that was probably the case, Harry followed the wind, walking through a network of tunnels.
Finally the hallways opened up to a great room, with gates across from him rising so high that they disappeared in the darkness collecting on the ceiling. In the blackness behind the gates, two red humongous eyes opened.
"Welcome, godling," the voice was so loud that it was a physical force, pushing Harry two steps back. The owner of the eyes seemed to come close to the gates, as red fur, black lips pulled back over pearl white teeth revealed themselves.
"Hello, Demon Fox, greatest of the tailed demons," Harry said, just managing to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
"A polite godling, how unusual, what do you taste like, I wonder."
"I am no god, demon, and if I was, how would you eat me anyway?" Harry asked.
A wave of hot wind blew over him and on its heels a heavier wave of sheer malevolence buffeted him. "I have devoured countless spirits, demons, and kami through eternity. You are ascending, godling, but do not think you are beyond me."
Harry steeled himself against the choking feelings of rage and hate coming from the fox. "Again, I am not a spirit or a god. Now what do you want with me? I've had enough of you interfering with my body."
The fox growled or laughed, Harry couldn't figure it out. "You who command the dead spirits, master of death and so liege of the death god, do not think you are a god? Did you think I would stoop to help a human? I aided you because we are above these mortals. We are kin of a kind."
Harry felt something cold run through his veins, he couldn't accept what the fox was saying. Him? A god?But Dumbledore's words came back to him, that he was already part of some celestial conspiracy to be kept out of his own realm for becoming too powerful. Maybe the fox wasn't lying, but how could he accept it?
So he chose the easiest thing to respond to, "How have you aided me? You keep on trying to heal me which will fix the damned seal on me!"
"Fool! A pitiful seal to lock the tongues of men is no match for me. I was going to burn the seal."
"Yeah, ok, as if I can trust you," Harry snorted.
The great eyes blinked slowly, giving the impression the Fox was taken aback. "Godling, I have been helping you without asking anything in return, such a thing is a show of good will. Why did you listen to my whispers then, the ones that have given you your newest power?"
Harry was frowning suspiciously. "What power? What whispers?"
"The skills of your mother, the biju trapping chakra chains! Did you think you just developed them out of instinct? I whispered her knowledge into your mind."
"No!" Harry was aghast. "That's not possible, I was keeping you out. I was practicing Occlumency. The chain-that was just me trying stuff because Tsunade told me my mother could manifest them."
"I whispered to you all the time, did you not sleep, godling? Did you deafen yourself to my calls even in your rest? She was my container, it was simple enough to show you her ways since I know them so well. Now you understand...let me rid you of the seal on your tongue and aid your ascension." The fox 'smiled' showing rows upon rows of saber sharp teeth.
Harry was shaking his head as if he could deny it by just saying no, but he knew he had been surprised when he had made the leap in his chakra control exercises to creating a chain. He had thought it was inherited instinct from Kushina.
"No, thank you, you've already done more than I want, if you really did give me the knowledge of those chains. I'm going to use my own seal design," Harry said and began walking away.
"Run, godling, if you wish, but I am always here in your mind, in your body. But a piece of advice before you go about your seal craft. Did you not notice that the seal masters invoke the powers and knowledge of gods and demons to create their storage dimensions and such trivial trinkets?"
Harry stopped and turned back. "So?"
The fox growl-laughed, pushing Harry with its hot breath again. "They are part of existence and pay little attention to who supplicates them when it's a human, but if a godling master of death were to invoke their talents...they would notice. Tell me, godling, are you ready to face beings far older and wilier than you in the games played between paradise and hell?"
For the second time in that conversation Harry felt terror grip him and he ran from the gates.