Author's Notes & Responses: Harry's databook ninja skills would put him at about average for a graduating Genin, sitting near 14-16 points total, which is also the average total for the Rookie Nine of Naruto's class (16). Check out for some comparisons.
Of some interest here, is that Harry and most of his classmates are a couple years younger than Naruto's generation upon graduation. This is due to the still recent Third Shinobi War and the war-time curriculum that the Academy is still under during Harry's time, which would rather fast-track them (I believe Lin made mention of this back in an earlier chapter). This curriculum will be switched to a peace-time one very soon, but it isn't important for Harry, so I doubt it will ever get mentioned in the story properly.
Meh, I'm not completely happy with this chapter. Ah well. I've stared at it for a month straight, time to move on for now. So: Duck! Duck! Goose!
o- The Beginning of Team Four -o
Harry returned to the Academy the day following his tests and graduation along with the rest of his graduating class to receive their team assignments. Dressed in a pair of long dark shorts and the green kingfisher jacket given him by Minato's team, Harry affixed his shiny new hitai-ate over the scars on his forehead, pulled his hair into a messy ponytail at the back of his head and ran out of the tower with Minato's call of good-luck behind him, his geta clacking softly against the ground.
The classroom was rowdy, which was not terribly unusual for a bunch of shinobi kids - Primary school back in England and never been quite so loud and rambunctious - but it was especially loud as Harry slipped into the room. Freed from the demands of schooling and tests and lessons, Harry's classmates were thoroughly enjoying their newfound freedom. Harry dodged an elbow and ducked under a random kunai and slid along the wall of the classroom looking for a relatively safe place to sit that hadn't been claimed, guarded or booby-trapped. Finally spotting Kabe, Idate and Lin towards the back of the room, Harry made his way to them.
"Hey," he greeted, sidling up to Kabe's solid bulk. Behind the larger boy were a couple of boys arm-wrestling at their table, two others cheering them on.
Kabe's eyes flickered up at him, carted around his head at Harry's change in hair style, and then he grunted a greeting before returning his attention to whatever mischief Idate and Lin were cooking up. Harry peered around their shoulders to the shadowed space between them and found a little yellow and green frog curled in the bottom of a small basket in Lin's hands.
Harry's eyebrows rose up beneath his hitai-ate at the sight.
"What exactly is your plan?" Kabe asked the other two. The frog seemed relatively calm, though it kept turning around in tight circles, as if it were restless from the noise around it. Its skin was bright and glossy, as if coated with a fine sheen of wax or water which gave it a distinctly slimy look.
"It's for Chouga-sensei," Idate quipped, putting the lid back on the little basket before the frog got too agitated and struck out at them or escaped.
"She's a parting gift," Lin said with a somewhat manic grin.
"You know, to show our appreciation for Chouga-sensei teaching us the last few years," Idate said.
Harry eyed the three for a moment before looking down at the little basket in the girl's hands. "She?"
Lin nodded happily and skipped away from them, down the shallow steps of the classroom towards the teacher's desk at the front. She wove through the chaos of the classroom with remarkable ease, even managing to pull another girl's hair as she slid by and causing said girl to round on one of the boys behind her with a righteous right hook. The innocent, utterly unprepared boy collapsed across the desk with a very dazed expression.
Idate crowed in laughter behind Harry's shoulder and he could even hear Kabe chuckling.
Harry just shook his head and grinned.
The three boys watched over the heads of their oblivious classmates as Lin slid the basket onto the desktop, shifting a big red apple that was already sitting there so that the two were arranged neatly together. With everyone so distracted with their own things, no one seemed to even notice her.
"Is it poisonous?" a quiet voice asked next to Harry.
Harry stiffened at the unexpected voice and whipped his head around to find Itachi hovering at his elbow, his dark eyes intent on Lin as she sidled out from behind the desk.
"I'm not sure," Harry answered, nonplussed that the Uchiha already knew what was going on. "It looked harmless."
But looking harmless didn't say much for the frog's potential to be deadly and the vague look Itachi shot him said as much. Harry merely shrugged, turning his hands up at his sides in his own gesture. The younger boy seemed to sigh out silently, a sure sign of disappointed exasperation - likely at Harry's failure to gather adequate information - and turned away. Harry watched him glide down the row of desks to sit next to the window at the far end.
"How in the hell do you do that?" Idate asked.
Harry turned to the taller boy. "Huh? Do what?"
"Understand his not-speak?" Idate said, gesturing towards the young Uchiha sitting in the center of a circle of silence at the end of the desks. "I swear you just had a whole conversation with him and you didn't say a word!"
Harry blinked and shrugged, which caused Idate to throw his hands up in frustration. "See! How do you know Uchiha-ese? Your not a part of their stuck-up clan! See?"
Harry didn't see and as Idate continued to gesticulate wildly, he turned to Kabe with a look of question. The tall, bulky boy just shrugged himself and the two turned back to watching Idate throw his arms around and grumble about weird Uchiha prodigies.
Chouga arrived then, and he brought his large, meaty hands together with a resounding clap that somehow managed to cut through the ruckus and bring a semblance of control to the class of recent graduates. The classroom scrambled for seats and Harry ended up next to Itachi, with Kabe and Idate on his other side. Lin, who hadn't quite made it back through the rowdy throng, was a row ahead.
"Congratulations," Chouga began, starting a round of self-satisfied hoots and cheers from the new Genin. "Now please pay attention as I call out your team assignments."
Harry wasn't sure what he expected out of a jonin instructor, but the man who collected them was not it.
Harry's team had been called in the middle of the pack. Chouga listed off the teams in order of team numbers, from one to nine, and Harry watched as Kabe was included on Team Two with an Aburame and the Hyuga boy with the bandana. Lin went to Team Three, and then Chouga called Harry and Itachi's names.
"You two are on Team Four," Chouga continued after calling their names, gesturing to where the two boys sat beside each other, "along with Inuzuka Hana."
Harry scanned the class and found the girl and her puppies right next to Lin a row ahead. The Inuzuka girl turned enough to give the two boys a nod and small enthusiastic wave before Chouga began speaking again, listing off teams five through nine.
"Congratulations!" Chouga said happily. "Please wait here as your jonin instructors come to collect you!"
Three teams had already been collected, and more filtered out as they waited, Chouga issuing more congratulations and farewells to his students - some of whom he'd been teaching for years - as they all filtered out of his classroom. He was also collecting little gifts some of them gave him, sweets and ornaments of thanks. Chouga let them all stack up on his desk, burying the little basket with Lin's frog in the process. Harry noticed Lin strung taught as a bow while also hanging her head in disappointment. She probably would not be able to see Chouga's response to finding a slimy frog amongst his pile of gifts, something that Harry knew the girl preferred - seeing her victims' reactions. She was further disappointed when her jonin-sensei arrived to collect her and her team and Chouga waved them out of the classroom with a wide happy grin.
Harry just shook his head and sent a mild look of suffering to Itachi, who completely ignored him save for a flick of his dark eyes that acknowledged Harry's presence.
Harry's new Team Four did not have long to wait before a tall man of some noble standing silently entered the room on the heels of Idate's Team Five. Harry was distracted by the tall boy's immediate insulting of his fellow, a boy with markings next to his eyes named Minoji who had been one of Idate's rivals in their long-distance yard runs. Minoji and the third boy on the team were both already rounding on Idate as they stampeded out of the door.
"Team Four!" Chouga called, and Harry's attention zero'd in on the tall jonin standing near their teacher.
Harry recognized his clan immediately, it was quite easy with the man's tell-tale pale eyes. He was otherwise somewhat nondescript and didn't look quite like what Harry thought of a jonin. He wore more traditional clothes in various shades of grays and browns that wrapped around his torso, tied by an obi and barely revealed a shirt of armor netting beneath his collar. His brown hair was long and pulled back lowly, revealing his hitai-ate around his forehead and making his very pale eyes stand out in his face.
"Hyuga Hizashi, Team Four," Chouga introduced, and with a silent gesture from their new instructor, the newly minted Team Four trailed him out of the Academy. Harry and Itachi were rather silent as they followed the tall man, but Hana bounded after him with energy.
"Hizashi-sensei, where are we going?" Hana asked, hot on his heals, her three gray puppies bounding after her. Hizashi gave her a silent, unreadable look and didn't slow down his stride at all. Hana kept up with him with relative ease, her longer legs making this an easier task than it was for the boys, both of whom were considerably shorter.
Hizashi led them silently off the Academy grounds and down the road. The three new Genin trailed after him like little ducklings and Harry and Itachi exchanged puzzled looks while Hana asked for the second time where they were going. They weren't going for a mission, they had left the missions office far behind them, and the Genin-favored training grounds were off towards the mountain, but they were walking away from that direction.
As they turned a corner and Hana asked about their destination for the third time, Hizashi paused and turned to regard them.
"We will have tea at Hosyu's," he said, gesturing to his side. Harry followed the direction to a little tea house situated between a civilian tailor's and a three story apartment block painted a minty green.
"Tea?" Hana asked incredulously, staring a little cross-eyed at the shop. She rounded on her instructor. "What about training? And ninjutsu? And missions? What about our missions, Hizashi-sensei!?"
Hizashi regarded her with an unreadable expression. "Will you join me for tea, Inuzuka-chan?" he asked formerly.
Hana just blinked at him, caught off guard by the man's formality, the stripes on her face making the expression look like a wild animal caught in surprise.
Hizashi repeated his invitation to Harry and Itachi, addressing both by their family name in turn. Harry merely nodded, his motion edging into something of a bow.
"I would be honored by your company, Hyuga-sensei," Itachi replied.
Hizashi nodded at Itachi, eyed Harry for a long minute and then turned his expectant gaze onto Hana, who was gaping at Itachi as if she had never seen anything quite like him before.
Harry rather got the feeling that they had suddenly all become a part of some ceremony that he had no knowledge of, and which Hizashi and Itachi both knew all the motions and proper words for. Hana's shared ignorance to the pattern did allay some of his trepidation, however.
Hizashi, having seemingly given up on getting any kind of proper response out of the girl, turned and led them into the tea shop.
Tea with Hizashi was a strange affair. The man went through the motions of preparing the tea, commenting on the flowers at the table, the scroll of calligraphy hanging on the wall next to them and serving the green tea in a way that spoke of long years of familiarity and ceremony. Harry watched him and Itachi, who seemed equally familiar with the ritual, with care wondering if drinking tea with such formality was a clan thing. Harry had only ever gulped down the thick, bitter tea that Kakashi and Minato drank in the mornings. Kushina had taken tea in the afternoons sometimes, and would share it with Harry, but they usually just sat on the back porch amongst the garden beds, sipping through a kettle of light tea and polishing off entire packets of chocolately biscuits between the two of them.
Harry had seen Kushina host Mikoto once or twice though, and what they had done over a long afternoon on the back porch was very similar to the carefully practiced motions of Hizashi.
Throughout the tea ceremony, Hizashi asked them questions about themselves, things like what they did when not training, or what their favorite foods were, or places they liked to go, and what they did when at home. Harry learned a few things about both his teammates from these questions. Hana's family was one of the clans of Konoha and had a very close relationship with dogs. All of them were given a puppy as a partner, and somehow Hana had gotten the three Haimaru brothers, three identical boy pups with gray fur and white bellies. She rattled off their names proudly, but as the three were in a pile of limbs and tails and noses, it was rather difficult to tell which was which.
Harry revealed that he wasn't from Konoha, initially, which seemed to surprise them all quite a bit.
"Aren't you related to the Hokage, though?" Hana asked, as if relation to a Hokage demanded one be from Konoha.
"He married my cousin," Harry said. "She took me in when my aunt sent me here."
Hana stared at him with open shock, clearly having had no idea of Harry's family at all.
"I did not know Hokage-sama was married," Itachi commented.
Harry merely nodded, and in an effort to turn the conversation away from him and his family - Kushina - he asked their new instructor if he was married.
"Yes," Hizashi said. "And I have a son, Neji, who is now two years old."
He said this with a strange mixing of pride through a frown.
With that, Harry learned that all of them had a younger sibling of a relative age, Hana and Itachi both had little brothers and Harry had Naruto and Hizashi, his son.
Itachi already knew, but Harry told his new teammates that his dream, goal and drive was to protect his precious people, and that was why he was a shinobi.
"That is a noble reason, Uzumaki-kun," Hizashi told him. "Many choose to be shinobi for the same reason, to protect something that they care about."
Harry's eyes flickered to Itachi, who had started at the Academy because it was expected of him - like all in his clan - before he eyed the other two members of his team, both members of their own clans. "Is that why you are shinobi, Hyuga-sensei?"
Hizashi nodded. "I am shinobi to protect my family, my clan and my village, and to protect our future."
Hana had an odd look on her face, as if she were only now considering the reasons of why and wasn't sure she liked them.
"Why did you become a shinobi, Hana-chan?" Harry asked her.
Hana's somewhat twisted facial expression cleared into a wide, confidant grin that stretched the stripes on her cheeks. "What else would I be?"
Harry supposed that her response was a lot like Itachi's had been when Shisui had asked them why they wanted to be shinobi.
"When will we start missions, Hizashi-sensei?" Hana demanded as the plate of light snacks on the table emptied and she apparently got bored of the get-to-know-each-other session.
Hizashi took his time, setting his tea down on the table in front of him before settling his hands on his lap and gazing at the girl across from him.
"There will be no missions until you have passed my final test," Hizashi told them.
They all stared at him.
"But we've already graduated!" Hana protested. "You can't give us more tests!"
"I may, and I will," Hizashi said. "You may have passed the Academy tests, but my word is the final say. If you do not pass my tests, then you will return to the Academy without your hitai-ate and will have to retake the graduation exams."
This announcement did not sit well with any of the new Genins, though Itachi probably hid it the best of them all, and Hana was by far the most vocal about her ideas on the matter.
They parted ways very shortly after that, with Hizashi's formal farewells, and instructions to meet him at the Fifth Training Ground at eight in the morning to commence his final tests of them.
"Well," Hana said mutinously as they watched the Hyuga glide down the road away from them.
"What do you think it'll be?" Harry asked his two teammates, who were flanking him.
Hana curled her lip at the tea house they had just exited. "Probably to have tea."
Harry considered this. "I don't know," he said, "that seems a little silly. Shouldn't he test us on shinobi stuff?"
"I don't see why he needs to test us again at all," Hana said. "We've passed the graduation exams and I'm sure the Academy gave our results to him. He should already know we're ready! We've been training for years!"
Harry watched the girl continue to grumble through her scowl, her facial expressions open and sharp as she ranted. He glanced at Itachi, curious what the other boy thought, but Itachi was still watching the road that Hizashi had disappeared down, his expression reflective. It was more emotion than the other boy usually showed. Harry reached out and lightly tapped one finger on the corner of the boy's shoulder, which made the Uchiha whip his head around. Harry had already retracted his hand, and raised one eyebrow in question at the other. Itachi regarded him silently for a long moment before offering a one-shouldered shrug.
Well none of them had any idea what the test would be.
Harry sighed, eyeing the growling girl on his left and then the super-silent Uchiha on his right. Hana was a long-limbed girl, older than Itachi but close to Harry's age. If he recalled correctly, she was a year behind him, while Itachi was even younger. Still, Hana was a good half a head taller than Harry. Her coltish body was covered by a pale jacket that she had belted at her waist with the sleeves rolled up to her elbows. It was long enough to drape over her hips and the slim shorts she wore.
"Should we go check out the Fifth Training Ground?" he suggested.
Hana huffed. "Somebody probably already has it signed out."
Harry shrugged as if to say, who knows? but Hana wasn't paying any attention to his body language. Instead she gave one last growl at the end of the road, before whirling on her heels, her pony-tailed hair flaring around her head. Harry ducked her hair, and watched her stalk off in the opposite direction that Hizashi had gone. Her three puppies bounded after her with happy yips and the occasional play-wrestle.
Harry turned to Itachi and shrugged again. Itachi remained silent but his head tilted just slightly to the side, as if waiting for Harry to say something. Harry slipped a senbon from the folds of linen wrapped around his forearm and held the needle up between them. Itachi's eyes flickered between him and the senbon and back.
"Sansangogo?" Harry asked simply.
"Every new Genin team is tested by their jonin-sensei," Minato told him that evening when Harry asked about it. "Most usually pass."
Harry was not particularly comforted by this assessment.
"But what is the test on?" Harry asked. "How can I study for it if I don't know what it's about?"
Minato gave him a small smile over Naruto's head, who was perched on his father's lap and happily using the Hokage's desk as a drawing surface for a particularly neon green crayon. Minato hadn't yet noticed that the toddler was scribbling wildly across official looking documents and not the plain sheets of paper put there for the boy's entertainment.
"You'll do fine, Hisui," Minato said. "I have every faith that your team will pass the test."
Harry pouted, pulling at his bangs in frustration and exasperation at the lack of information. Small twinges of pain had him letting his hair go and he inspected his hands critically. He and Itachi had spent some time playing their targeting game before parting ways. During their increasingly daring and elaborate attempts at throwing senbon at their targets, they had taken to using the trees and their slowing increasing skills at tree walking in conjunction with acrobatics and throws - Harry had managed to take his fair share of tumbles as he pushed himself past his skills. His left hand had taken the brunt of his injuries as he scraped it down the rough bark of a tree to turn himself around and save his head from a personal meeting with the ground.
The rough gouges in his palm and across his fingers and his broken nails were already healing, but still tender. Harry poked at the wounds idly, flexing his hand.
"Did you clean it?" Minato asked.
Harry glanced up at the blonde to see Minato watching him over Naruto's head, his eyes sharp and watchful, his brow tinged with concern. Harry nodded and as if to prove it, held his hand up to the other.
"It's already better," Harry told him. Minato inspected his hand silently and Harry saw his face filter through concern, critique and satisfaction. Harry dropped his hand back to his lap once Minato nodded his acceptance.
"You are healing quickly, Hisui," the blonde told him.
Harry knew this already, but it wasn't anything really new, and Minato knew that, so neither of them said more about it.
Giving up on needling data out of Minato about the nature of his looming test, Harry asked about the strange ritual over tea that Hizashi enacted.
"Ah," the blonde said, surprised and nodded. "The tea ceremony. The Hyuga would practice it and teach it to their members, of course."
Harry thought about this. "It seemed very complex."
"It often is," Minato agreed.
"You don't think the test will be about tea, do you?" Harry asked.
Minato grinned and then noticed Naruto's neon green scribbles on his paperwork.
Harry arrived at the Fifth Training Ground thirty minutes early and with two rice balls still in hand for breakfast. He lounged near its gate, eyeing the patch of forest beyond. He could hear the sound of running water somewhere out of sight, and the mountain that the Hokage's faces were carved into ran up behind all the trees. The gate was a wooden, slatted thing attached to a running wall of chain links that curved around and disappeared into the trees, seemingly enclosing the bit of forest into a semi-circle butted up against the mountain. Harry debated entering or waiting at the gate for his team, and settled against the gate with a sigh.
Maybe he hadn't needed to run all the way there.
Harry was just finishing his final rice ball when Itachi arrived, strolling along the path that wound between the backside of the Third Training Ground and led to grounds four, five and beyond them, along the tall village walls, the sixth.
Harry licked the last traces of rice from his fingers and waved.
Itachi leaned up against the fence beside him without a word. Harry used the time to ensure that the thin wrap of linen bandages around his left hand were secure. Itachi watched this in silence, having been present when Harry had gotten the injury. The wounds were healing well, but the scabs were a little tender and Harry didn't want it to interfere with whatever test Hizashi had for them.
By the time Hizashi arrived, promptly at eight, Harry and Itachi were playing a pick-up game with Harry's collection of senbon between their knees. Harry glanced at the man as he rounded the bend from his cross-legged seat. Harry's motion cued Itachi into their teacher's presence and he looked over his shoulder from the crouch he was in, his fingers frozen over the interlocking pile of senbon.
"Where is Hana?" Harry asked quietly, more to Itachi than to their approaching team leader. Itachi did not dignify Harry's question with a response, instead standing and offering their instructor a quiet, "good morning, Hyuga-sensei."
"Good morning, Uzumaki-kun, Uchi-"
Hizashi's greeting was interrupted by a loud holler, "I'm here!" followed by Hana, careening down the path in a wild sprint, one pup under an arm and the second two racing after her. She skidded to a stop in front of them, gasping for breath but grinning happily to have arrived close to on time.
"Good morning, Inuzuka-chan," Hizashi greeted after a long minute, his voice betraying not a drop of anger or disappointment in her mad dash and tardiness. In fact, his tone was just even, without much inflection at all.
One of Hana's puppies nosed at the pile of senbon and snuffed. Harry reached out to pat it once on the head, a gesture that had the pup spinning on its paws and growling at him. Harry watched the little pup for a long minute, more amused by it than anything. Its hair was standing on end and its big eyes were narrowed cutely in a snarl. One of its brothers tackled it suddenly, and they both sprawled over the senbon and rolled across the ground, growling and yipping and chewing on each other's ears.
Harry began picking up his scattered senbon.
"Your test is this:" Hizashi said, wasting little time now that their greetings were completed. The three Genin perked up in varying degrees of tenseness and anticipation. Hizashi held up two strips of white linen gauze between his fingers. They stared at the fluttering pieces of fabric, confused.
"I will post these at the far end of the training ground," Hizashi said, gesturing behind him at the gate. "I will be guarding them, and each of you must work to retrieve a flag and return here. If by noon, you have failed to do this, you fail my test and you will be sent back to the Academy."
Harry was silent along with this teammates. Hana managed to speak first.
"You're missing one. There's three of us."
Hizashi's face shifted into something that was almost a smirk, the most emotion they had seen from him yet.
"There are rules applied to this test," Hizashi continued, raising one finger in the air before them. "Rule number one, in order to pass, you must retrieve a flag back to this point."
Hizashi ignored Hana's mumbled, "well, duh."
"Rule number two," he said, raising a second finger, "the test ends at noon."
Harry eyed the sky and the still low light of the morning. The sun had risen, but the tall trees still shrouded it, making it seem earlier than it was. By noon the sun would be directly overhead and they would be able to see it without difficulty, even through the thick canopy.
Hizashi raised a third finger. "In order to pass, you must come at me with intent."
Hana huffed, eyeing the flags in his hand with sharp, determined eyes. Harry glanced at Itachi and saw the boy looking down the length of fencing that enclosed the training ground. He sighed. He was going to be facing steep odds with Hana's fierce determination and Itachi's natural ability.
Hizashi did not add a third flag to his collection, and all three of the Genin noted this.
Hizashi told them that they had to give him a thirty second head start to hang the flags at the opposite end of the grounds, and then the Hyuga entered the training ground and disappeared.
Itachi began counting aloud immediately.
Harry stared moodily at the two strips of linen, flapping lightly in the breeze. They had been tacked to the highest point of a branchless, half-dead tree that towered over the vague clearing. Situated at the far end of the little forest of the training ground, edged on one side by a narrow, bubbling stream, the clearing was mostly very light brush and rough, long grass and butted up close to the ground's encircling fence. In the very center was a cragged old tree that was once clearly very tall and rather majestic, but now was just cracked and old, though it was still very tall and competed with the towering fire country trees surrounding it. It looked like it had been struck by lightning.
At its base was Hizashi, standing tall and poised and watching the clouds in the sky over his head or the birds flying over, apparently completely oblivious to Harry's glower from the tree line.
Behind the jonin, muffled and mutinous, was Hana, tied to the tree with so much rope that Harry could barely see her beneath it all. Her puppies were equally tied, collared and leashed to the girl's feet looking as rebellious as their owner.
"We could have used her for this," Itachi murmured very quietly, his chin hovering over Harry's shoulder.
Harry glanced at the younger boy and then back at the display before them. They could have used Hana. Neither of the boys were proud enough to think that they could take on a jonin nor distract one for long. But with Hana they could have tag-teamed Hizashi while the third worked to retrieve the flags. They had to get Hizashi away from the tree.
"We'll have to free her," Harry said, almost as quietly as Itachi had spoken. "We don't have a lot of time left, it's almost noon."
"We will need a distraction."
Harry considered this. "I can do that."
Itachi shifted and Harry could see the boy looking at him from the corner of his eye. Harry pulled a few tags from his hip pouch and smirked.
Itachi eyed the tags and then nodded, a slight twitch and curve of his lips revealing his own smirk. "Traps?"
Harry nodded and pinned one of the tags to a nearby tree with a senbon.
"Can I set them off?" Itachi asked, inspecting the scriptlines on the tag.
Harry nodded. "With just a touch of chakra."
Itachi's eyes raked over the tag. "A flash?"
"And bang," Harry said with a grin, and held out three more tags to the boy. Itachi took them and glanced at their instructor and teammate by the tree.
"I'll set them off and lure him away," Itachi said.
Harry shook his head with a small smirk, making Itachi look at him strangely. "We both will," Harry said, smirk turning to a grin. "I don't think a jonin will fall for an obvious lure."
Itachi was silent, so Harry pulled another tag from his hip pouch, this one different than the flash-bang tags he had already handed over. Itachi's eyes read over the scripts quickly and Harry could see the dawning realization of Harry's hacked plan in his eyes.
"Ready?" Harry asked.
Their plan went off without a hitch until Hizashi put his hand through Harry's chest.
The jonin had not fallen for the trio of Bunshin clones that Itachi utilized as distractions, but Harry's seal clones were of a different sort and instead of being sort-of illusions that could not take nor deal damage, Harry's clones were of a solid variety that could deal damage very well, thank you, but couldn't take hits at all.
Hizashi ignored Itachi's clones completely as soon as he swung an arm through one, though the jonin seemed to have taken the swing only as a courtesy. Harry's trio of seal clones closed in just behind Itachi's, charging straight through the illusionary clones and took the jonin by surprise. It wasn't much of a surprise, and Hizashi saw the difference between their two types of clones very quickly, but it was just enough for Harry to drop another flash-bang tag at the jonin's feet, just as the man's hand went through his chest and dispersed the clone.
Itachi's and Harry's clones had only gotten the jonin as far as the edge of the tree line and another Harry was only a pace from the tied-up Hana when Hizashi sent a kunai into his last clone and a second straight at Harry.
Harry ducked under it and dashed the remaining distance to the pole-tree.
Itachi - the real Itachi, not any of his visual clones - utilized the split second opportunity to dash at the jonin from the opposite direction. Hizashi kicked up a heel at the incoming Uchiha, but Itachi dropped to the ground and slid right under the man's leg.
Itachi then activated the flash-bang tag that Harry's clone had dropped under the man's feet.
It didn't have a concussive force, being a tag that only let loose sound and light, but it was a loud bang and the flash lit up the clearing like lightning in the dark. Having expected the light, Harry closed his eyes just as he saw Itachi's fingers close in on the tag, so his sight was saved from the bright flash, though his ears rang in the aftermath of the tag's bang.
Harry opened his eyes just in time to aim the slice of his kunai through the ropes around Hana. As the girl regained her feet, Harry put the handle of the kunai between his teeth and began scrambling up the tree. In his peripheral vision, he saw Hizashi walking calming towards the girl, with Itachi left behind him, trussed up like a pig and left squirming near the tree line, his dark eyes narrowed on the man's back.
"That was a dirty trick!" Hana yelled at Hizashi. Harry was curious what he had done, having not seen the encounter that had resulted in the girl's capture.
"Give me a few!" Harry asked of the girl, his hands and feet scrambling to find purchase on the limbless tree. His ability to tree climb with chakra was iffy at best, and he didn't even try, so Harry had to really focus and use both hands and feet to make his way up it. He heard Hana's puppies yip and growl below him, and her loud challenge to their teacher, but Harry was more focused on his climb and the two flags over his head.
Hana called out the name of some technique below him, but Harry couldn't split his attention enough to see what she was doing, or how she was doing agains Hizashi. Just as he neared the top of the tree, he heard Hana yell out and he risked a glance downward. Hizashi had flung her by a foot away from the tree, one of her puppies curled in her chest as she flew across the clearing. She crashed through the brush near Itachi and Harry's eyes darted to the jonin at the base of the tree.
With no apparent effort at all, Hizashi leapt to the tree and ran up it as if he were not held down by gravity at all. Harry grit his teeth around the kunai and climbed up the last meter with an edge of desperation. His fingers closed around the flags just as Hizashi's head came into his line of sight on the other side of the tree. Harry didn't waste any time, and pushed himself backward as hard as he could, flinging his body out into the air.
Hizashi looked rather surprised by this action, which was probably the only thing that gave Harry time enough to knot the flags around the kunai's circular hilt, flip in the air, and throw it towards his teammates on the ground.
It thunked home in the dirt in front of Itachi's nose, whose bonds were being sawed through by Hana. As soon as his hand was free, Itachi grabbed the kunai and flags and sprinted into the tree line. Before he even made it past the first tree he flung the flagged kunai into the trees.
"Get to the gate!" Harry called at the girl, who was staring after Itachi and the thrown kunai.
Hana whipped her head around just in time to see Harry crash to the ground, and the clone disperse.
Itachi did not stop running after he threw, and far ahead amidst the trees, Harry dropped from a tree and pried the flung kunai from its target. The flags tied to it fluttered at the motion. As soon as it was loose he sprinted away, a fair distance ahead of the running Itachi. With his back to the others, Harry took the time to slip one of the flags free of its knot and wrap it around the bandages already on his hand. It blended in, and he knotted the remaining flag further around the kunai's handle, disguising the loss.
Hizashi, who was perched regally atop the tall tree, ran right back down it, his eyes on Hana as she finally scrabbled to her feet and sprinted after the departed Uchiha.
Harry - the real Harry - kept pace ahead of Itachi, the flagged kunai gripped in his hand. His longer legs and quicker pace slowly allowed him to pull ahead of the younger boy, but just as he thought they'd won, that he'd be able to reach the gate, Hizashi dropped down in front of him like a gray shadow.
Harry hadn't even noticed him catch up.
Harry skidded in full sprint and just before he ran headlong into the man he twisted on his toes and flung the kunai back through the trees towards Itachi. The torsion of the movement at that speed caused him to tumble and roll roughly, and he collided with the raised roots of a tree. Gasping through the sudden pain from the rough landing, Harry saw Hizashi leaping through the trees after the flagged kunai. Harry winced and forced himself to his feet. Starting a little slow as he ensured all his limbs were still working, Harry returned to his sprint through the trees towards the gate.
His fall had allowed Itachi to catch up and nearly by-pass him just as Hizashi dropped to block the Uchiha's path as he had Harry's. Itachi did the same thing Harry did, and flung the flagged kunai backwards to Hana. She didn't catch it out of its throw, and it thunked into the bark of a tree. She ripped it out of the tree as she went past, hardly slowing down. Running behind the two boys, Hana had clearly picked up on their plan and as Itachi stumbled awkwardly from his throw and Hizashi jumped over the boy's head towards the girl, Hana sprinted right at the man. Instead of leaping up to avoid Hizashi's block, she dropped to the ground and skidded at his feet, kicking up dust and leaves.
From out of the little cloud her puppies scattered, dashing through the brush. Harry saw that one of them had the flagged kunai its his jaws and he grinned.
"He's coming!" she called.
Harry glanced over at Itachi through the trees, then risked a quick look behind him to Hana, who was sprawled across the ground and looked to be trying to hack up the dust she had stirred up. Hizashi's gray form loomed in front of her, his pace easy and almost lazy as he disregarded her and followed the dogs sprinting through the underbrush.
Hana crawled to her feet and ran after him.
The puppies dashed in a crazy zig-zagging pattern, their look-a-like hides making their mad dash an effective cover. Their small bodies allowed them to dash under brush and roots that Hizashi was unable to follow through, slowing the jonin down somewhat.
Harry knew it wouldn't last though.
Harry pulled kunai between the fingers of his right hand and purposefully ran straight at a tree in front of him. With his velocity, Harry was able to run a fair distance up its side before he lost any control and just before gravity grabbed hold of him again he kicked off the tree and flipped in mid-air.
His kunai sailed back through the trees with good aim and towards the trailing jonin. Hizashi ducked two and pushed the third aside with the flat of his hand, but Hana gained a half stride of distance on the man. Harry pulled another kunai and faced him down.
Hiashi slowed his run into a steady walk forward and Hana circled around him, her eyes a little wide as Harry squared off with the jonin.
Harry knew he couldn't beat him. Hizashi was a jonin, but Harry was determined to buy Hana enough time to get the flag to the gate, so Harry's focus was deterring the man from stopping her.
It wasn't easy.
Hizashi had a fluid sort of taijutsu that made landing a hand on him nearly impossible and the man kept spinning around Harry to his back. Harry felt rather ineffective and the feeling was very aggravating. Still, every time Hizashi slipped past Harry's defense to go after the other two, Harry would put himself back between them.
And then Hizashi got hold of his wrist and tossed him straight up into the canopy. Harry crashed through the branches and winced as he got tangled in the interwoven limbs of the thick canopy. He nearly went crashing right back down through them all, but managed to reach out and grab hold of a branch to stop his fall. He dangled by his arm, a good long distance from the forest's floor, which was distinctly devoid of one Hyuga Hizashi.
Off in the distance he heard a surprised yelp from Hana that was closely followed by her cursing. Harry sighed and reached up to add his second hand to the branch over his head. It took some maneuvering and a rather daring jump, but Harry made his way back to the ground. He ran off in a jog, noting the silence of the training ground and concerned by it. He found Hana halfway, strung up by her ankle from a tree as if she had stepped into a trap. Harry stared at her for a long minute before she caught sight of him and yelled for him to let her down.
Harry pulled a kunai, twirled it once around his fingers to give her a minute to assimilate his intent, and then flung it through the rope holding her over the ground. She fell with a startled yelp and barely landed on all fours, saving her head from the injury.
"Come on," he said, before she could yell at him. She grumbled but kept on his heals as he ran towards the gate.
They emerged from the tree line a little warily as it was still very silent. Harry eyed the sun over their heads and scowled but then he caught sight of Itachi and Hizashi. Hizashi was stood before the ground's gate, his arms crossed over his chest. Itachi was squared off with the man, a few paces apart with Hana's trio of puppies trussed up together just behind him. Itachi had the flagged kunai clutched tightly in one fist.
Harry made a gesture to Hana to circle around them in one direction and Harry went the opposite way. As he skirted around the two, Harry eyed the sun that sat high over them, and he slipped a kunai from his pouch.
Hizashi's eyes flickered between the three arrayed around him but he focused on Itachi and the flagged kunai in his fist. The young Uchiha just stared straight back at him, not yet moving and seeming to completely ignore his two teammates to either side of him. Harry suddenly broke into a sprint towards the gate, a move that Hana copied. Itachi jumped backwards, over the dogs' heads and putting more distance between himself and the jonin. Hizashi didn't really move, but leaned slightly towards Harry as if considering him the first target of the three.
But as Harry and Hana neared the gate behind him and Itachi threw the flagged kunai towards the girl, Hizashi moved against his leaning and intercepted the kunai before it neared her. She let out a disappointed cry.
Harry just kept going and crashed through the gate.
He panted, using the slatted gate to help hold him up after the long sprint through the ground's trees. Hana was little better, breathing harshly as she glared at the jonin for his interception of the flags. She had slid to her knees, staring up at Hizashi. Beyond them, Itachi was also breathing hard, watching them with unreadable, dark eyes.
Hizashi looked around him at the three, then up at the sun directly over head. "You've failed," Hizashi said blandly.
"But we almost got it!" Hana cried.
"Almost does not complete a mission," Hizashi told her seriously, his voice edging into cold. "Almost is not good enough when you are tasked to guard your client from robbery or death. Almost is not good enough when you must sneak into a lord's manor and escape with information without alerting them to your presence. Almost is not good enough when your team and your Hokage and your village depend on you to complete your mission."
The Hyuga stared down at the girl and then said harshly, "You've failed your mission."
"No we didn't."
Hizashi blinked and looked up at Itachi. The Uchiha had strolled forward easily and cut the puppies loose from their ties. Then he straightened and pointed back behind Hizashi to the gate and to Harry. When the jonin's white eyes met his, Harry held up his wrapped left hand. He slowly reached up with his other and unwrapped the flag from the rest of the bandages around his hand. He let it flutter in the breeze from his fingers.
"Hey! When'd you do that?" Hana asked as she stared.
"The first time I got hold of them after Itachi threw them into the trees," Harry said.
"You've had one the whole time?"
Harry shrugged at the girl and watched Hizashi's face.
"So, you pass?" Hana asked him with narrowed eyes.
"No, we all do," Itachi said surely.
"Oh?" Hizashi said. "Are you sure about that?"
Itachi merely nodded so Harry explained. "You never said that we each had to have a flag to pass, just that we all had to work to retrieve it and that a flag had to come back to the gate by noon. We've all worked to retrieve the flag," Harry gestured to his teammates, and then waved the linen flag in his hand, "and we got a flag back to the gate."
Hana grinned widely. "Mission accomplished!"
Hizashi was silent for a long minute and Hana's smile slipped a little as he dragged it on.
She tried again. "Mission accomplished, right Hizashi-sensei?"
Finally, the Hyuga offered them a small, satisfied smile and he nodded.
"Well done, Team Four," he said, making Hana's grin break out wide again. "You pass."
Harry grinned as well and as he looked over his team, even Itachi wore a small, satisfied smile.
"The test is about teamwork," Minato confirmed when Harry had finished telling him every minute detail of his team's victory. "He probably would have passed you even if you didn't succeed in gaining the flags, so long as you all three worked as a team."
"But we did get the flags," Harry said. "One of them, anyways." He was quite proud of this fact.
Minato nodded a wide smile on his face.
"It sounds like you did well, Hisui," Rin's voice came from her place in the kitchen. She had promptly kicked both Harry and Minato out of the area when they had tried to help. Kakashi hadn't even tried, though if it was from refusal to cook or knowing that the girl wouldn't have allowed the help, Harry wasn't sure. Rin's head suddenly appeared around the wall between the kitchen and the table where the boys all sat, tucked up under the stairs to the second floor. She grinned brightly at him. "You all worked together to accomplish your mission."
"You could have utilized your clones more effectively, though," Kakashi commented idly. Harry eyed the young jonin rather petulantly. Kakashi was seated on the booth of the table right next to Harry, his covered eye facing him so Harry barely saw a sliver of his face at all. Harry stuck his tongue out at him, sparking a startled laugh from Minato, who was sitting across from the two white-haired boys.
Kakashi eyed the Hokage briefly before turning to regard Harry through his one eye, but by that time Harry's tongue had retreated and he was watching Minato laugh with satisfaction.
"Your Fuin Bunshin are solid," Kakashi continued, as if Minato hadn't started laughing out of the blue. "You could have used them more efficiently."
"I didn't really know they were that different from the Academy's clones until I saw Hizashi-sensei's fist go through Itachi's Bunshin and they didn't disperse."
Kakashi turned to Minato, "Aren't solid clones dangerous?"
Minato nodded slowly, his lips still twitching a little in mirth. "Hmm, some yes. The Kage Bunshin are dangerous. They use up a lot of chakra and most can't create more than a couple of them. But Uzushio's Fuin Bunshin variation, while solid, are just a little different."
"How so, Minato-sensei?" Rin asked, leaning absently against the edge of the wall.
The blonde regarded Harry for a moment. "Harry, would you create one Fuin Bunshin, please?"
Harry nodded and moved Naruto from his lap to the bench between he and Kakashi. The jonin eyed the toddler a little warily, which Naruto returned with a happy gargle and a wave of a fisted, slobbery cookie. Kakashi leaned further away, but couldn't go far with the low dividing wall to the kitchen in the way.
Harry slipped a single tag from his hip pouch and reached over to lay it on the floor beside the table. His clone poofed into existence with a trailing bit of smoke. Across from him, Minato created a typical Konoha Bunshin clone and the two stood shoulder to should beside the table. Then, Minato made a handseal Harry had never seen before and with a mumbled, "Kage Bunshin," created another clone, which stood along with the other two.
Everyone regarded the three. Besides two being Minato, and one being Harry, there were no distinct differences between them all. From appearances, they were all clones and they could not be distinguished. Minato's Kage Bunshin then waved his hand through the regular Bunshin's shoulder, making the illusionary clone shimmer like a faint heat wave.
"The center is, of course, the Academy taught Bunshin clone," Minato commented. "They are visual clones, and are classed as illusions, because they are not solid. As you can see, physical objects can pass through them without disrupting them."
Minato gestured to the clones' feet. "Note that these illusionary clones have no shadows."
"But the other two do," Harry said.
"Yes," Minato agreed.
Minato's Bunshin then returned the gesture, and waved its hand through the Kage Bunshin's shoulder.
"Likewise, a Bunshin cannot affect anything physical around it," Minato commentated. "But a Kage Bunshin is able to affect its physical environment, or opponents."
The Kage Bunshin Minato reached out and stole the Hokage's cup of tea from the table, smirking slightly. It raised the tea cup in a mocking salute, which had Rin and Harry both chuckling.
Then the blonde struck out like lightning, his fingers darting out to strike the Kage Bunshin square in the chest. It dispersed with a pop, the tea cup tumbling from its fingers. The Hokage caught it easily and raised it to his lips with a smirk.
"But a Kage Bunshin is easily dispersed when its chakra system is disrupted," the blonde said. He gestured with the tea cup at the last Minato clone. "But I could do the same with the Bunshin, and I would be wasting my efforts. I cannot disrupt its chakra system, as it does not have one, and it cannot harm me anyways."
The Bunshin waved at them all with a somewhat silly grin and Minato waved it away. It shimmered and faded and was gone. The Hokage turned to the Harry clone, who regarded the blonde a little warily.
"Harry's Fuin Bunshin is somewhat in the middle of the two," Minato said. "It is solid," he reached out and pressed his fingers against the clone's arm, not hard enough to dispel it, but hard enough to push at it so it rocked backwards on its heels. The Fuin Bunshin steadied its balance and reached out to pluck the tea cup from Minato's fingers, demonstrating its ability to affect the physical environment just like the Kage Bunshin. Minato let the Harry clone steal his tea with an approving nod.
"But unlike the Kage Bunshin, it does not have a perfect copy of the original's chakra system," Minato said with a gesture at the clone's body. "A Kage Bunshin contains an equal fraction of the original's chakra, which is what makes them so dangerous. Most people do not have the capacity to split their chakra so much. The more Kage Bunshin clones made, the more fractionated the shinobi's chakra becomes, which limits the amount available to each. For many shinobi, fractioning their chakra more than two or three times cripples them considerably."
"You mean a Kage Bunshin is able to use ninjutsu?" Rin asked, surprised.
Minato nodded and clarified, "they can use chakra in all its forms."
"But a Fuin Bunshin can't," Harry said, remembering this element from his studies of the technique.
"And we can make our usual Bunshin look like they are using chakra," Rin said. "Even though they aren't using anything."
"Exactly," Minato gestured to the Harry clone again. "A Fuin Bunshin does not have a chakra circulatory system like the Kage Bunshin. It cannot use chakra in any way. It also does not fracture the shinobi's chakra like the Kage Bunshin, though I do believe it uses more chakra to create than our illusionary clones."
"So a Hyuga would be able to tell the difference," Kakashi said. Harry turned to find the boy with his Sharingan uncovered, the red eye fixated on the Fuin Bunshin still holding Minato's tea. Harry stiffened at the sight of the red eye but he didn't recoil. Instead he rather forcefully sucked in air and then let it all out again. Kakashi's eyes flickered from the clone to Harry beside him, his expression unreadable. Slowly, the older boy let his Sharingan eye close and he reached up to draw his hitai-ate back over the eye. Harry watched this all rather stiffly, his reactions beyond his full control. Kakashi continued to regard him through his normal, dark eye for a long minute before turning his face far enough away that Harry was no longer in his field of vision.
"The Sharingan is unable to copy Fuinjutsu techniques used through tags," Kakashi volunteered softly.
The dining room and kitchen was silent for a while, broken only by Naruto's distracted, happy sounds from between Harry and Kakashi. Harry forced his breathing to more regular patterns and systematically uncoiled his muscles from their sudden stiffness. He hadn't had nightmares of red eyes in a long time, but that didn't mean he forgot about them. But moreso, seeing the Sharingan in Kakashi's face was a sudden and stark reminder of Obito's loss and with how rare it was for Harry to see Kakashi's - Obito's - Sharingan at all, it always managed to surprise him terribly and he'd stiffen up at the rush of emotions and memories the sight brought with it.
With Kakashi's reactions to Harry's own, he rather thought that the young jonin remembered Obito every time he used the Sharingan, too.
"So," Harry ventured into the silence, "Hizashi-sensei will be able to see through my clones, but a Uchiha won't be able to copy the technique?"
Minato turned from his gaze out of the window that overlooked the front garden beds. Harry knew that one of the Ducks was perched out there in the tree, a silent, shadowing guardian as they dined at the row house that evening. Harry was actually pretty sure that at least two ANBU were present tonight, as he'd seen their shadows flanking them as they made their way through the village to Kushina's house. He'd only caught a look at one Duck-shaped mask though.
"I'm sure they could copy the pattern of the seal on the tag if they got a look at the scripts," Minato said, his voice betraying nothing of the stifled exchange between the two white-haired boys across from him. "But once you succeed in creating the clones without the use of the paper tags, I highly doubt that they'd be able to recreate the technique unless they had some training and knowledge of fuinjutsu. Fuinjutsu is notoriously difficult to copy, especially Uzushio's variety."
"That is a strong asset," Kakashi commented, then, "And while Hizashi-san would be able to see through your clones, he would have had to activate his Byakugan to do it. Until he did so, you could have utilized them as further distractions when you were racing for the gate."
Harry huffed, not really interested to hear any criticism on his team's total win against their jonin instructor. He was still a little too proud of having actually won the game to be willing to hear Kakashi tell him how he should have done something or could have done it better. Nor was Harry at all interested in the other boy telling him that Hizashi probably had let them win. Harry knew that already, but he didn't care.
"Also," Minato said, "while the Kage Bunshins retain and return their memories to the original when they are dispelled, the Fuin Bunshins, like the Bunshin, do not do that."
Minato reached over and simultaneously plucked his tea cup out of the clone's hands and poked it hard enough to dispel.
Harry regarded the remnant bits of chakra smoke and wondered what it would be like to suddenly receive a bunch of memories from a clone.
"When do we get to start missions, Hizashi-sensei?" Hana asked the following morning as she skidded to a stop before the rest of her team. Team Four had met again at the gate of the Fifth Training Ground, with Hana sprinting down the path just barely shy of late, calling out to them as soon as she could see them.
"Soon," Hizashi answered after he had prompted her through proper greetings, "but not today."
"Aww," Hana slumped.
"And probably not tomorrow," Hizashi continued, regarding the girl as she leaned against the fencing in her disappointment. "Likely not the day after, either."
Unmoved by his genins' visible despair at ever getting a mission, Hizashi herded them all into the training ground and told them to warm up with three running laps of its perimeter, commenting how training was just as important as mission experience.
The three genin didn't bother to complain against this much as they started out on their run, though Hana grumbled for the entire first lap of it.
Training with Hizashi was a mix of the predictable and the entirely unexpected. Harry was used to the idea of running and spars and practicing kunai throws or chakra control exercises - they were expected sort of training activities, the like of which he had grown used to from the Academy. Hizashi directed or led them through these familiar training exercises every morning, and after a week, Harry was able to see a vague pattern to the physical trainings.
But there were times every other day that Hizashi had them train in something that completely took Harry by surprise, like calligraphy or the tea ceremony, or long afternoons arrayed around the low benches of a cherry tree park when their teacher told them about history and legend and tradition.
Hizashi also had a penchant for organizing games with the other genin teams. It was not unusual for Team Four to be put up against one of the other passed genin teams, like Lin's Team Three, for an afternoon of capture the flag, or ninja tag. Harry did not really need Hizashi's explanations of what sorts of skills these games were making them learn and practice.
One late evening at the tower, found Harry crouched over a couple of Kushina's sealing scrolls with Naruto curled on the futon at his back. The toddler's warm body pressed against his lower back and Harry could feel the boy's steady breaths as he slept. Outside the tall, narrow window that overlooked the mission's office wing and the Academy building beyond, was the darkness of early nighttime, scattered with the lit windows of the village's still awake residents. Rain pattered heavily against the glass, interspersed with distant rumbles of thunder and the flash of lightning as it struck through the forest around Konoha.
Harry was currently studying the next step to his Fuin Bunshin technique, which would allow him to create the clones without the use of the paper sealing tags. The theory and technique was scrawled out across the scroll over his lap, detailing the steps and methods to transfer the seal that he drew out on the tags onto his skin, and how to make such a seal a permanent addition to his arsenal.
Satisfied that he had the theory down, Harry looked around his room for his inks, wanting to draw the scripts in none-chakra laced ink onto his forearm in order to practice before he added blood to the inks. Not seeing his ink pots, Harry finally remembered that he had left them in Minato's office earlier in the evening.
Harry set the scrolls aside and slid off the futon silently, eying the sleeping toddler to make sure that Naruto didn't wake. When Naruto just rolled and continue to sleep, drooling on quilt, Harry slid down the ladder and out of the door on bare feet.
He padded softly over the polished wood floor in the dark, eying the sliver of light coming from the ajar door to Minato's office at the end of the hall. The rain sounded dimly on the roof overhead. Just as he reached the door, though, he heard voices and he paused, not wanting to interrupt a meeting or debriefing. He sidled up to the door quietly and peered through the narrow space as someone spoke - and then a pained moan sounded out into the room and Harry's breath caught in his chest.
Harry hovered breathless at the door, idle curiosity making him linger. With one eye pressed close to the very narrow crack, Harry could just make out the figures in the room, or at least a small portion of the room. He recognized Minato immediately, hovering over a smaller, hunched figure in an ANBU uniform. The ANBU's mask was dangling from its ties at the teenager's belt and Harry recognized it's shape as one of the Ducks, though at the angle it hung he could not tell if it was the scratched mask of Duck Number One or not. His hair and build did not help Harry to distinguish him, and both Ducks had short, black hair and were of a similar size and build. He could not see the teen's face, either, as the ANBU had his back to Harry, and he was curled in on himself as if in great pain.
Minato had one hand on the ANBU's shoulder, gripping the muscle between neck and arm and it seemed like it was only this hold that kept the teen from toppling right over onto the floor.
"I don't know if it is a result of the cells, or if he did something else," Minato said quietly. Harry could hear the emphasis placed on the word he, and knew that the blonde spoke of somebody in particular, somebody important, not that it helped Harry identify him at all.
The unnumbered Duck grumbled out something, but Harry only caught a reference to some sort of internal battle or sickness. The teen made some gesture with his arm that Harry couldn't see, sharp and angry.
"I fear the side effects of this," Minato said. He spoke as if he had made the statement before, and was only repeating his concern.
"I've survived this long," Duck said wryly.
Like the two Ducks' hair and build, their voices were similar enough that Harry could hardly ever tell them apart, though their speech patterns were usually distinctive. The pain laced through the teen's voice, though, made it rougher and Harry could not place to which Duck it belonged.
"Still," Minato continued.
"Would Tsunade-hime be of help?" another voice asked. Harry felt his body freeze at the familiar voice that came from some corner of the office that he couldn't see. Minato glanced up past the slouched Duck to whomever had spoken.
"It is possible," Minato said slowly. "Her knowledge of medicine is extensive."
"And she was Orochimaru's teammate for many years," the other said.
Minato seemed to consider this. "She may know enough about such cell graphs to assist." He looked down at Duck's bowed head. Duck was trembling, Harry could see even from his distance through the rather dimly lit office. "This is probably the most extensive case that I've ever heard of."
There was silence for a stretch in which Minato steadily held Duck through his tense shaking and Harry considered the probability of being able to sneak away without the three shinobi in the office hearing him move. He already hardly dared to breathe.
"I will retrieve her," the third said finally.
Minato looked up at whomever it was with a cheery sort of smile, even though it was a little tight and small through his obvious worry for Duck. "Thank you for volunteering, Shisui-kun," Minato said.
The familiarity of the voice and the name finally clicked into place for Harry and he wondered how he hadn't identified Shisui right away. But then the older teen sidled into Harry's narrow range of view and he was able to catch sight of the ANBU uniform that he wore. Shisui still had his mask on, shaped into something vaguely similar to the Ducks' masks, but painted a different pattern with red stripes streaking down from the temples to the corners of the jaw below the ears.
"I'll leave immediately," Shisui said. The Uchiha made to move towards one of the office's windows, clearly intent on following through with his statement, right now, but Minato shook his head once and Shisui stopped.
"I need you here, Goose," Minato said, his voice laced with meaning. Harry wished he could see Shisui's face, but the Uchiha did not remove his mask, and he barely moved at all, not revealing anything of what he was thinking or feeling.
"I understand, Hokage-sama," Shisui said.
Duck let out a derisive sort of chuckle that had the other two looking at his bowed head. "Bastards are always scheming," Duck commented tightly. He was still trembling, and Minato was still holding onto him.
"Precisely why I need you two in the village right now," Minato said. "I will send another team to fetch Tsunade-hime, or at least to deliver a missive inquiring on her knowledge in this."
Shisui offered a respectful acknowledgement, even as Duck's body finally stilled from its constant shaking. Minato reached out and pulled Duck upright with a strong grip on his arm, his face revealing both concern and slight relief. Shisui reached out towards Duck, but his hand hovered over the shorter ANBU's right shoulder, as if afraid to touch him. Instead he shifted in order to drop his hand against Duck's left shoulder blade.
On very careful, quiet feet, Harry slowly slid back down the hall away from the office. The storm outside helped to hide the sounds of his movements and it wasn't until he was closer to his own room than the office that Harry finally dared to breathe again and he dashed back into his room as quickly as he could, shutting the door behind him with a barely-heard click. He leaned back against the door and eyed the still asleep toddler atop the raised platform, letting the strange conversation in Minato's office replay itself in his mind. Worry gnawed at him.
What was wrong with Duck?
It was the very next day, three weeks after their graduation, that Team Four received its first mission.
"Yes!" Hana crowed, pumping her fist over her head. "Missions!"
Hizashi chuckled and there was something dark and promising in the sound that made Harry eye their teacher with some trepidation. Still, the three genin trailed their instructor into the Missions Office with vibrating anticipation.
The office was a continuous stream of teams and shinobi all coming or going, picking up missions or returning to report their completion. Harry sidestepped a pair of chunin not much older than him, grumbling about their looming trek to Suna for a delivery missions and a rather bloodied but satisfied jonin who cut in front of Team Four and the team of three chunin in front of them to deliver his report of success so he could retire to the hospital.
Minato was at the missions desk for the afternoon, a pile of paperwork that threatened to tower higher than the carefully stacked missions scrolls next to it. As one of the other desk attendants - a young chunin Harry didn't know, received the jonin's mission scroll to file away, Harry identified the third figure behind the desk as Genma. Genma gave the chunin team in front of them a wide grin around the senbon in his mouth. The smile was returned with a chorus of familiar greetings.
"Genma," one of the younger chunin said as he sidled up to the desk. "Give us something good, ok?"
"Yeah, no more gate guarding," another said.
"I thought you liked the guard missions, Izumo-kun," Genma said with a smirk.
Izumo was the shortest of the three chunin, though barely, and had his hitai-ate wrapped around his head like a bandana that pushed his hair down over his ears and one side of his face, nearly hiding one of his eyes completely. He frowned at Genma's words.
"How about an escort mission," one of the others said, reaching up to scratch at a scar that crossed over his nose.
"No, no," the third cut in, "those are boring!"
"How're they boring, Kotetsu?" Izumo asked, staring at him with a disgruntled frown. "At least we get out of the village a while on them."
"Give us something with some action, Genma!" Kotetsu said, ignoring Izumo entirely, which only caused the other to growl lowly at him.
Harry watched the interaction with amused fascination. The three chunin were in their early teens, older than Harry and his team, but considerably younger than Genma, who was practically a full grown adult. Kotetsu and Izumo stood shoulder to shoulder, bantering endlessly even as they carried on a conversation with Genma about their missions. The third - the one with the scar over his nose - stood barely an arms length away from them and seemed to spend half his time glowering at the pair, then he'd turn and make a comment to Genma along the same lines as his teammates.
"I have a mission for you three," Minato cut in.
His voice silenced the four chunin immediately, who all turned to regard their Hokage. Minato just leaned lazily over the desk on his elbow, propping his head up with a fist and smiled at the team of chunin.
"I have a mission that requires speed and skill in target acquirement," Minato told them. "And will also require your abilities to guard and escort. You won't have to leave Hi no Kuni for this one."
The three chunin looked between each other and then back at the half-smirking blonde Hokage.
"Alright," Izumo said with some hesitancy. "What is it?"
Minato's smirk morphed into a satisfied grin and he plucked a mission scroll from out of the middle of the pyramid stack before him. The rest of the scrolls trembled at the sudden absence of one of the pile's supports, but the tower didn't fall. Genma eyed it with some trepidation, however, even as Minato tossed the pilfered scroll to the trio of chunin.
Harry eyed the scroll as Izumo caught it. Like the rest of the scrolls in the pile, it was perhaps a hands breadth from end to end and its diameter was rather narrow compared to a few of the others - one of which on the bottom of the pile, was quite thick, belaying the length of its contents. Izumo's mission scroll was edged in yellow and the chunin eyed it for a long minute before breaking the seal and pulling it open. His teammates flanked him and read the scroll's contents over his shoulder.
"Whoa," Kotetsu commented.
"Do you know where she is?" the third asked Minato, who shook his head, no.
"Alright," Izumo said, rolling the scroll back up and slipping it into one of the many pockets of his flak vest.
"Locate the target and deliver the missive," Minato ordered them. "Escort the target back should you recieve an affirmative response."
The three chunin gave a chorus of "Yessir."
Genma marked something down on the papers spread before him, and then gave the three chunin a grin and a shooing motion. "Get on then, don't be late!"
The three chunin left with a mildly chaotic mix of insults, grumbling and speculated plans.
Harry watched them leave, wondering about their mission and the she they were looking for. Tsunade?
"Team Four," Genma greeted them with a wide grin. His senbon clacked from one side of his mouth to the other. "Mission time?"
"A D-rank, please," Hizashi said politely.
Somebody elbowed Harry in the ribs and he whipped around to Hana, who gestured with her head towards the pile of mission scrolls. Giving up on the departed chunin team, Harry gave his attention to his team's upcoming first mission and felt anticipation stir in his belly.
Genma plucked one of the blue-trimmed scrolls off the top of the pile, glanced at it briefly, and then handed it over across the table. Itachi, who was standing closest to the table of the team, received it silently.
"That's a pretty standard D-rank," Genma commented. "The storm last night downed a few trees and the parks are littered with loose branches and leaves." He gestured to the opened scroll in Itachi's hands. "That's for Komen park in the market district. It needs some straightening up."
"What? Clean-up?" Hana exclaimed, pulling the scroll from Itachi's hands to stare at it in blatant disappointment. "What kind of mission is this?"
"A D-rank," Genma told her, smirking a bit gleefully at the girl.
Hana let out a sound like a drenched cat, and Harry eyed her a little warily, wondering if she was going to rip the mission scroll apart in her ire.
"Let's go," Hizashi said, standing aside to gesture his genin towards the door.
Harry pulled at Hana's sleeve, and she reluctantly followed even as she continued to glower at the scroll. Harry gave a parting wave to Minato as they all filed out the door.
Harry contracted Minato's supervision to apply his very first Uzushio seal to his skin. This was more for the blonde's sharp eye as a second opinion on the correctness of Harry's carefully copied seals than because Harry thought the man would want to supervise Harry for safety reasons.
Minato inspected the stack of two dozen copies of the seal script Harry handed him. They were each perfect copies of each other, drawn in plain black ink, blank of power. They were merely practice seals so that Harry knew he'd be able to trace the seal's design without mistake when he had to do it under the pressure of permanency.
"These are well copied," Minato congratulated. The blonde inspected Harry carefully and then his blue eyes tracked over the carefully presented sealing implements that Harry had arrayed before his knees. Minato rose and rounded the desk to kneel in front of Harry's position and sat the stack of copied seals in front of him. He didn't touch any of the sealing tools, but Harry could tell that he was still inspecting them all carefully. Harry just sat on his knees and waited him out, letting his own breathing even out and the anticipation in his gut settle as much as it would.
"Ok," Minato said softly. "Are you ready, Hisui?"
"Talk me through it once more," Minato instructed.
Harry let out a semi-impatient sigh, which sparked a wry smile from Minato, but Harry did as asked.
"The Fuin Bunshin script is centered on this kamon," Harry began, pointing to the spiral that sat at the center of the seal array. He then traced his finger over the curving line that skirted around the circular spiral and trailed away from it like a ray of the sun. There were two of them, one to either direction opposite each other, mirrors of each other in appearance but not in content. "These trailing scripts control the amount of chakra drawn and filtered. Ah, they are basically the substitutes for the handseals that most of Konoha's ninjutsu uses."
Minato nodded. "And the symbols?"
Harry pointed to each of the four symbols in turn that sat at cardinal points to the kamon at the center. "Nature, shape, body, replication." Harry then pointed out the thin line that circled through each of the symbols, connecting them and crossing the two radiating arms. "This is the containment line that draws them together."
Minato was silent long enough that Harry looked up from the array to the blonde's face. Minato's eyes were intense, tracking over the array very carefully and Harry had a stark appreciation for the man's careful analysis of his work. The consequences of screwing up a permanent inking array could be severe, and the easiest way to mess up was to miss a detail, or draw the scripts in the wrong order. Since this was Harry's very first skin inking, he was both nervous and excited.
"Ok," Minato said finally. "Let's see it."
Harry gave the blonde a grin and Minato rocked back to sit on his heels in imitation of Harry's posture. Harry focused down on the tools before him letting the instructions and method filter across his mind as he took three careful, steady breaths.
Harry picked up the bamboo brush in his left hand, cradling it familiarly in his fingers. He raised it over the inking stone, which had already been prepared with his blood, naturally laced with his chakra. He dipped the brush into the red liquid, dabbed it once on the stone's edge to rid it of excess, and carefully brought it over his inner right forearm. With another controlled exhale, Harry dropped the tip of the brush to his skin and began the much practiced pattern of the seal array, beginning with the spiraling kamon that centered over the pulse point in his wrist.
As he inked it, he felt the blood tingle on his skin, drawing chakra from both his blood as well as up through his skin, powering the array with a latent sort of energy. He drew the two rays around either side of his wrist until their end points were just a hair's breadth from each other. With the final thin stroke that encircled the kamon through the four cardinal symbols, the entire array lit with power and seared into his flesh.
Harry grit his teeth against the prickling pain and heat, watching as the black ink flashed with the green light of his chakra, lighting up the array that stretched delicately around his wrist. It settled quietly, the green light fading away to reveal the pattern etched across his skin in bright green ink. It was the same color as his eyes.
Harry reached out with the fingers of his left hand to trace around the edges of the seal, careful of the tender skin left behind. Regarding the fresh seal, Harry pulled his thumb up between his teeth and bit hard enough to draw blood. He drew the kanji for the number three directly in the center of the kamon.
The seal lit up again, tender and sore, but brilliant in light and three clones poofed into existence around him. Harry eyed them with a wide grin, immensely satisfied. They were just like Harry's tag-based Fuin Bunshin, solid but without chakra. They'd be able to dole out damage, but not any sort of chakra technique. They were even restricted from water walking and tree climbing. But they could hit.
"How does he react?" Minato asked him, inspecting the trio of clones. Not once during the use of the seal did he feel the struggle of the pull-push on his chakra that the handseal reliant techniques caused. With the regulation of chakra amount drawn into the scripts of the seal, his chakra reacted easily to the seal's activation. The tag seals had been relatively easy, requiring only a trickle of chakra to activate, with the number of needed clones built into the drawn seal. Neither was like the Academy's Bunshin, where Harry had to carefully regulate his chakra in order to match the number of clones he wanted while simultaneously molding that chakra into the right form - it was too much when he was also struggling with the stupid fox in his head.
Harry finally shrugged in response to the blonde's question and sat his brush down onto its rest.
"There is no reaction," Harry told him. "Not like when I try techniques with handseals and I have to regulate my chakra actively. Then when I pull chakra from the chains, he pushes up against them, and then I have to push him back down and the technique fails or he pushes too hard and too much chakra comes out, like he's pushing a wave of it back at me."
Minato regarded him after this explanation with a combination of mild concern and no small amount of amusement.
"You are using all of your chakra to hold him, aren't you, Hisui?"
Harry shrugged, unsure. "Maybe. Probably. I don't know."
"I doubt that with the use of one of the Academy techniques that you would use enough chakra to afford him an opening to escape," Minato speculated. "I suspect he is just making things difficult. Kushina often commented how he did so."
Harry thought about that. "You don't think he'll get out?"
Minato gave him a wide grin. "I trust you will be able to hold him, Hisui."
"But will I ever be able to do ninjutsu?"
Minato reached out and laid his good hand on Harry's shoulder, giving the muscles there a comforting squeeze. "Yes," the blonde said simply.
Harry let out a long breath, comforted by Minato's words and trust but also feeling like he had a lot of work ahead of him.
"As you grow and practice, your chakra capacity will expand," Minato said. "If you can hold him now without him pushing against you while you are at rest, than I have no doubt that you will be able to perform powerful ninjutsu when you are older."
Harry huffed. "But what about now?"
Minato chuckled and rocked back on his heels. Harry pouted at the man.
"Kushina once told me that she at first used every ounce of her power to hold the fox in," Minato said softly. "Because she was so scared that she would fail and he would escape her. But then she learned how to condense her hold on him and make the cage more efficient so she could also use her chakra to fight outside of her body."
"The chakra chains?"
Minato nodded. "I remember seeing her use them once when she was young, before she gained the fox though I hadn't known that at the time. But there were many years where she did not use them at all. It wasn't until much later that I saw her use them again."
Harry sat back on his heels and let his eyes wander over the sealing tools in front of him, Minato's words rolling through his mind. It was comforting to know that Kushina had gone through much of the same struggles that he was now and to know that she overcame them to become a powerful shinobi gave Harry a lot of hope. He turned his wrist over on his knees and watched as the newly inked seal let out a faint shimmer across his skin.
"That is a well done seal, Hisui," Minato said.
Harry beamed, staring at his very first Uzushio seal, permanently marked across his skin.
Harry did not see the trio of chunin return to the village, nor Tsunade's medical check on Duck, but Harry did see Tsunade if only because she was loitering in Minato's office one evening when Harry returned from picking Naruto up at Mikoto's.
With the office door ajar, Harry had no qualms about walking right in and the lone chunin aid remaining in the reception office barely gave him a glance.
Harry paused as he caught sight of her and Naruto gabbed into his ear from his position of imitating a monkey on Harry's back. Lounged comfortably in Minato's chair, Tsunade eyed him over her raised cup of sake.
"How was your day, Hisui-kun?" Minato asked.
Harry pulled his eyes away from the medic to give Minato a rather weary smile. "It's a game day," Harry told him, which caused Minato's eyes to light up in obvious mirth. "Capture the flag against Team Two," Harry continued, trying to let Naruto down onto the floor. The little toddler just clung tighter to Harry's neck, lifting his legs up high under Harry's arms in protest of the idea.
As if the choking hold Naruto had on his neck wasn't enough the toddler chanted, "No, no, nonono."
Harry sighed and just sat down right where he was, halfway into the office. He crossed his legs in front of him and Naruto didn't even move, clinging tightly to his back, his legs still tucked tight up under Harry's arms.
"Stay there, then," Harry commented easily, reaching up to grip the boy's little feet and give them a shake.
Naruto's grip didn't loosen, but neither did he let go. The toddler tucked his wild head of hair into the back of Harry's neck and started blowing weak raspberries along his spine. Harry rolled his shoulders against the almost tickle.
"Who won?" Minato asked, watching the two with fond amusement.
"Team Two," Harry said, disappointed. "They've got a Hyuga and an Aburame, and they took Hana out almost right away. The Haimaru pups were still whining at the Aburame at the end of the game. I think he gave them flees or something. Then Kabe nearly gave me a concussion and putting a defensive Hyuga against an offensive Uchiha was just pointless. They went on forever and the Aburame got our flag before I stopped seeing double and I'm pretty sure they cheated."
Minato chuckled, the sound nearly drowned out by Tsunade's barking laugh. Harry just glowered at them.
Tsunade gave the two boys a casual medical check-up, with Naruto refusing to leave his Harry-perch all the while, even when Minato tried to coach his son into this arms. Naruto seemed to think it all a game, giggling madly and nearly cutting off Harry's air with the tight grip he had around his neck. Harry sat on the edge of Minato's desk. Tsunade worked around this, though she grumbled about stubborn kids.
"Well, your weight is lower than it was last time," she told Harry, eying him intently. "You've dropped a full stone." She turned to Minato. "What did he do to muck it up now?"
Harry frowned at the implication that he was at fault, but Minato's serious, contemplative expression stopped him from voicing his objections. Instead, he watched the Hokage's face as Minato looked Harry over.
"It could be from the night of the kidnapping," Minato said finally, prompting Tsunade to return her regard to Harry. "He activated the curse seal that night."
Harry blinked, surprised. He had?
"Didn't you have a Fuja Hoin on that?" Tsunade said, her voice accusing. "I told Jiraiya to check on it, that lout!"
"It wasn't there," Harry told her. Tsunade's eyes narrowed at him and he continued. "Jiraiya said it wasn't there. I think the fox ate it."
Tsunade did not look convinced. "Ate it?"
Harry shrugged one shoulder. "Well, it ate the snakes, I guess the Fuja Hoin went with them."
"More likely the Fuja Hoin simply broke when you sealed the fox, Hisui," Minato corrected. "It is not the most stable of seals, and while it could potentially hold back Orochimaru's cursed seal, such a powerful force as the nine-tails would very likely burn it out completely."
"So he's vulnerable to Orochimaru's juinjutsu?" Tsunade asked.
Minato did not immediately respond, which made Harry feel a bit nervous.
"I –" Harry stopped, swallowed and then started again, taking considerable comfort from Naruto's heat wrapped around his back. "I used the curse seal?"
Minato's gaze softened and he reached out to grip Harry's shoulder.
"You drew on the nine-tails' power when you chased after Naruto," Minato told him. Harry felt horrified. He hadn't realized – he had assumed the haze was from the blows he had taken, from his anger and desperation – but the fox?
"He did not escape, Hisui," Minato insisted, leaning down in order to look straight into Harry's eyes. "You used his power, through the curse seal, but the nine-tails did not come out."
"But – "
"You held him."
Harry sucked in a breath that was terribly shaky but he nodded. Minato's fingers on his arm tightened and then let go. Naruto finally let go of Harry's neck only to crawl into his lap and reattach himself to the front of his jacket, balling the material in his fists. Harry wrapped his arms around the toddler.
"We don't know a lot about how Orochimaru's curse seal works," Minato began, settling against the desk close enough that his elbow brushed against Harry's shoulder. "It appears to gather a foreign chakra at the expense of the user's own, forcing a sort of transformation at the same time, though if the changes were meant to occur, or if they are a side-effect of the foreign chakra, we do not yet know."
Harry sat in silence, his head bowed over Naruto's, taking in the toddler's scent and heat for comfort as Minato spoke.
"As far as I can determine," Minato continued, "The nine-tails utilized the pathways of the juinjutsu in order to push some of its power outside of Hisui's hold. Or, because Hisui inadvertently activated the juinjutsu, because the fox had – eaten – the curse seal, the foreign chakra gathered was that of the fox's instead of whatever chakra the juinjutsu would otherwise have gathered."
Minato rocked to the side, pressing his body into Harry's shoulder. Harry glanced up at him through the fringe of his bangs, catching sight of his kind expression. "What do you think, Hisui?"
"I'm not sure," Harry said after a minute in silence. "I – I didn't feel like the fox was in control, but –" Harry frowned, trying to sort out his memories of the night that Naruto had been kidnapped. It was over half a year ago now, and Harry's memories of the night had been hazy from the start anyways.
"I don't remember thinking –" Harry stopped, realizing how odd that sounded, even though it made sense in his head. He hadn't really thought out his actions. He had made no plans or considered tactics. He had just chased them all down and reacted.
"The snakes were swallowed by the fox," Harry started over. "And are deep in the well with all the water now, and I can't ever hear them hissing any more, but the nine-tails hisses at me often enough. When they took Naruto, the waters came up out of the well, little rivers like serpents, and one struck me here," he pressed a hand over the spot that Orochimaru's curse mark resided behind his shoulder. "And then the sky was all red and I wasn't thinking anymore, just running."
Minato's good hand came up to rest heavily atop his head and Harry leaned into the man, ridiculously happy for the support, both physically and emotionally.
"An emotional trigger?" Tsunade asked. "Or a response to a desperate bid for power? That kind of weakness is just what Orochimaru would look for, would cultivate." She gave Harry something of a scolding look. "You'd play right into his hands, drawing on power that isn't your own –"
"Enough!" Minato snapped. Harry heard the woman's jaw snap shut at the quick, icy tone. Harry watched the two from behind the thin curtain of his bangs. Tsunade was staring at the blonde, her face a myriad of emotions too complex for Harry to decipher. She had her arms crossed over her chest and didn't seem to be pleased. In contrast, Harry could blatantly tell that Minato was angry. His eyes were lit like iced water and even though his slouch against the desk put his head lower than the woman standing over him, Minato still managed to stare her down.
The two clashed glares for a while with Harry tense and still under Minato's arm. Despite the comforting and familiar heat radiating from the toddler in his arms, Harry could feel the icy chill that wafted off Minato, as if the man had turned himself into a glacier and was blowing out arctic winds into the room. Finally, Tsunade let out a sound from the corner of her mouth and looked away.
"Can you remove the juinjutsu?" Tsunade asked into the silence, still not looking at them. Instead she was staring idly out of the windows to the village laid out below.
"Perhaps," the blonde said slowly, his fingers curling into Harry's scalp. "The curse seal is sunk deep, and we know that its application is extremely dangerous, killing more of its victims than not. Jiraiya and I figure that its removal would likely be even more dangerous, with an equal or greater threat of death and in the least, would cause a great deal of pain. We do not know what its removal could cost."
Minato pulled Harry closer to his body, effectively hugging both of them to his side. "We have been very hesitant to remove it without more information, and now, with the nine-tails seeming to have tied itself around it -"
Tsunade was silent for a long time and then said hesitantly, as if wary of speaking the words, "it may pose too great a risk not to, with the fox."
Minato did not refute the statement and Harry curled tighter into the man's side, holding Naruto close to his chest like a teddy bear to the point that the boy's blonde hair tickled at his nose. As much as he disliked the curse seal Orochimaru had left on him, marking him, Harry feared its removal more, especially now. It had been so painful on receiving it, that Harry never had any doubts that its removal would not be equally painful.
He no longer even knew where the snake in his head was anymore, swallowed as it was. He feared the fox would come out with the snake and that he wouldn't be able to hold one back while the other got taken away and then the fox would be lose again and Kushina was no longer there to help him put the fox away again.
"I will contact Jiraiya," Minato said quietly, then, "I know you can hold him, Hisui."
Harry wasn't sure if he believed the blonde's words. Sometimes, when Minato said them, it sounded as if he were trying to will it to be so.
Harry spent most of his tenth birthday on his hands and knees pulling weeds out of old man Mori's garden. Beside him, in a mirroring position, was Itachi, the younger boy silent as he used a kunai to cut through a particularly stubborn fibrous weed. Hana, a ways off to their left, had both her hands dug into the dirt around a scraggly little shrub while one of her puppies had hold of a stem and was tugging at it in a distinctly unhelpful manner. Another lounged at her knee half asleep and the third was behind her, happily digging a hole into the garden dirt. Somewhere on Mori's roof above them, lounged Hizashi in the shade of the large tree that shadowed half the house and garden.
They'd taken a number of D-rank missions over the past couple weeks, none of them any more exciting than another. While Itachi silently soldiered through the chores and Hana's grumbling only increased with each one, Harry was beginning to feel quite bored of them all and was almost ready to join the girl in her grouching. Pulling weeds was no more fun than cleaning up after storm damage, and they'd taken missions to collect firewood, paint fences, gather herbs for an old lady who ran an herbal shop, swept the market streets free of debris and trash and even hunted down a runaway cat.
The D-rank missions made Hizashi's training interesting and the once a week training games were the highlight of the genins' weeks by far.
Faced with a stubborn weed with deep roots, Harry rolled up his jacket's sleeves and got a good grip on the plant. His force nearly toppled him backwards when the weed's roots came free of the soil, and Harry's arms cartwheeled against gravity. He glowered at the weed and tossed it into their growing pile at the edge of the garden. Harry was just about to grab the next when Itachi's hand snaked out and gripped his wrist.
Startled at the sudden touch, Harry stared at the younger boy, whose eyes were riveted to his arm. Harry followed the other's gaze and realized that the boy was inspecting the fresh new seal that was scrawled across the inside of his right wrist. It was no longer tender and the surrounding skin had faded from raw red to his normal pale tone. The brilliant jade color of the ink stood out brightly against his skin, a nearly perfect match to the color of his eyes.
"A seal?" Itachi asked, studying the seal with rather intense eyes.
"My Fuin Bunshin," Harry told him, letting the boy twist his wrist around to an awkward angle. "So I don't have to use the tags."
Itachi was silent for a long minute and then released Harry's arm. "I have not seen a seal like that before, nor known them to be inked on the skin."
"It's an Uzushio thing," Harry said, surprised by the Uchiha's admission of ignorance. Itachi had an inordinate amount of knowledge in his head about Konoha's history and clans. Harry had thought he would know something of Konoha's once ally, Uzushio and their prominent Uzumaki clan. Maybe not.
Itachi nodded as if that explained it all, and turned back to the weeds without another word or glance. Harry watched the younger boy's bent head for a while, idly noting how Itachi's brown-black hair was tied in a low ponytail that left his bangs free to frame his face and shade his eyes.
"Has your father given you another fire technique?" Harry finally asked, also returning most of his attention to the weeds.
Itachi was silent long enough that Harry figured the Uchiha wouldn't be responding, but then the boy gave an affirmative and explained the basics of his new fire ninjutsu that let him spit out many little balls of fire that he could manipulate into a rapid-fire attack.
Harry and Itachi passed the rest of the tedious mission with talk of ninjutsu and tactics, which drew Hana in as well, though she seemed less capable of splitting her attention between the conversation and the weeds and the boys ended up doing more of the work while her puppies dug random holes and covered them all in dirt.
Harry eyed the chunin's face, something about it being very familiar to him, but the twisted angry expression made it difficult for Harry to place him.
Author's Commentary: OK! That got long...
Harry's Team Four went through a few different variations in my head before it settled into this configuration. It was always going to be Itachi, and it was always going to be Four (a rather unlucky number), but the girl flip-flopped between Lin and Hana (and there was a brief moment early on where Lin was an Aburame) but I decided to stick with all canon characters for Team Four. The instructor changed half a dozen times as well before coming back to Hizashi. Tsume was considered for a moment, but was discarded because she was only a special jonin, but it sure would have been amusing as all hell to stick Itachi with her... I suppose Hana will do to satisfy my amusement.
Also, random aside, amongst the mentioned four passing Genin teams from Harry's class, there are actually only three original characters, and one of them is a jonin instructor. You'll be seeing the lot of them pop in and out with them being Harry's peers and all, so here's another data book entry:
DATA BOOK ENTRY: for fun. Enjoy.
Name: Ky Li Lin
Rank/Ninja Registration #/Age: Genin/012087/10 yrs
Height/Weight: 139cm (4ft 7in)/38kg (84lbs)
Dream: To be the best & first Kunoichi in her family.
Quote: "He's a centipede! Isn't he beautiful?"
Ninja Skills: Ninjutsu: 1, Taijutsu: 2, Genjutsu: 1, Intelligence: 2, Strength: 2.5, Speed: 1, Stamina: 3, Handseals: 2, Total: 14.5
Team: Team Five: Hiai Tejina (OC), Minoji, Shibire, Ky Li Lin (OC)
From the Crystal Ball: Snape!
Harry, who had been sparring with the Uchiha Clan's greatest prodigy in ocular illusions for years, noticed the mental intrusion immediately. He responded like he had learned to do with Itachi: in kind.
Harry was generally rubbish at casting genjutsu except at the most basic of levels. He was, however, quite adept at noticing them - or at least that something was off. He was also not very good at breaking complicated genjutsu with any speed or grace and on some occasions, not at all. What he could do, though, especially with ocular illusions, was draw the caster into his own head - which was so often exactly where they were trying to go - and turning his mindscape against them.
He had done it to Itachi plenty and even had caught Shisui twice before the two Uchihas had retreated from the challenge to no doubt find some other, super crafty way.
Harry did it again with this Professor Snape, meeting the man's dark eyes boldly, squarely and calmly.
Snape had nothing on the general creepiness of Orochimaru (despite their eerily similar dispositions), or the full intimidation level of a Konoha jonin's killing intent; jonin like Hizashi, Fugaku and the Fourth Hokage when faced with a threat to his family and village.
Snape's attempts to intimidate dimmed to a very small candle in comparison to the flaming, fiery fury of the Nine-tailed Demon Fox.
Snape did have a remarkably powerful presence for someone who otherwise seemed like a civilian. For a civilian magic user, Snape's delving into ocular techniques was probably the most interesting and useful skill Harry had yet seen in his short time. And the man was just intriguing anyways, once he got past the dungeon-creepy-crawliness of him.
Lin, of course, would probably love the man.
Despite Harry's confidence and experience though, there was very little that could have prepared him for the force of Snape's intrusion into his mind.