Prologue: Dreaming other Dreams
The weather was lovely, and Sakura took the time to appreciate the early morning sunlight as she walked down the familiar path to the Academy. The street vendors were setting up their stands, and she spotted shopkeepers opening the doors to their stores and lingering outside for a moment to enjoy the morning air before they ducked into their respective shops.
The village was peaceful and before the mid-day bustle broke the silence that reigned this early, it reminded her oddly of Hogsmeade. Well, except for the scale – Konoha was a lot bigger than the small wizarding village had been.
Stretching as she walked, Sakura made her way over the Academy yard and to a door at the back of the building, as she'd done every morning for several years now. As always, she stepped into the room behind the door and found it empty. Nobody else used the library this early, and Sakura occasionally wondered if any of the students in her class even remembered that it existed. She wouldn't have been surprised to find that they'd forgotten about it entirely – they'd only visited it as a class once, and that was back during their first year.
Fishing out the scroll she'd been studying yesterday, she sat down by one of the small tables and pulled out her notes. What was called Fuuinjutsu in this world was remarkably similar to what had been known as Ancient Runes in her old world, when she'd been Hermione. The similarity wasn't in the way the Fuuinjutsu seals were written, because the seals resembled kanji more than runes, but in the theories of their use.
Not that the books and scrolls she'd found available on the subject went into much detail. The scroll she'd found yesterday that now lay in front of her was the most advanced volume on Fuuinjutsu she'd come across here – and she was very familiar with this library and what it contained. The public library had even less information on the subject, but Sakura wasn't sure if that was because Fuuinjutsu was considered too dangerous an art for anyone below the rank of genin (or perhaps chunin or jounin) to learn much about or if the lack was just a consequence of a general disinterest in the subject.
She had a difficult time imagining the latter to be the case though, since this was a village full of experienced shinobi who by all rights should be interested in anything that might keep them alive. Pursing her lips, Sakura diverted her annoyance and set to work.
The scroll had the most basic of all seals – what Sakura suspected was the Fuuinjutsu equivalent of the basic number runes, even though there were only five such seals where the number runes were zero to nine. In ascending order of power, the five seals trailed down the scroll with a short explanation for what they represented:
Earth (the hard and solid), water (the fluid and flowing), fire (the energetic and forceful), wind (the free and growing). The last seal was the Void. Though the descriptions of what the Void represented were vaguer than for the other seals, as Sakura understood it, it was what was beyond the "normal" world. It was the energy and power of chakra in its purest form, untouched by the elemental affinities she'd read about.
Sakura placed the notes where she'd drawn the stylized number seals next to the open scroll, and pursed her lips. A demiguise for zero, a unicorn for one, a graphorn for two, a runespoor for three, a fwooper for four, a quintaped for five, a salamander for six, the symbol of the unknown for number seven, an acromantula for eight and a hydra for number nine.
She spent some time just staring at both texts with narrowed eyes, and then let out an explosive sigh. Even if the theory behind their use was similar, she couldn't figure out if the runes had exact equivalents in the seals. Maybe number seven was something like the Void seal, but she based that thought more on her lack of information than any real clue about the truth of the matter, which was perfectly illogical and therefor useless.
Glancing down at her wrist-watch, Sakura sighed again. She'd wasted twenty minutes on the exact same thing she'd spent yesterday on, and she'd gotten nowhere. Think rationally, she heard an echo of her first mother admonish her, and at that she took a deep breath. 'I have no more information today than I had yesterday, I have no way of acquiring more information on Fuuinjutsu right now, and I can't force knowledge from nothing. It's time to move on to something else, at least until I manage to acquire enough new information to do further research.' Sakura exhaled slowly, looked blankly at the scroll for a moment, and then got up to put it back on the shelf she'd found it.
She had about forty minutes until classes started and since she was only managing to frustrate herself with her lack of progress, she might as well eat breakfast. Stretching, Sakura stood from the chair and made her way back out again, wiping a few leaves from the bench by the library door before sitting down. She usually ate a lot in the morning, preferring to spend the lunch break reading in the classroom when everybody else had disappeared out the door, and she usually didn't eat again until classes were over. Compared to some of the constantly dieting little girls in her class she was a little on the heavier side, but a lot of that was pure, solid muscle - something dieting didn't help one gain.
Sakura finished her sandwiches and moved on to the small bowl of vegetable soup, glad to find it warm still. Her mind turned towards the girls in class again, and she held back a contemplative frown. She still hadn't managed to figure out if they actually wanted to be in the Academy, or if they'd just assembled some rose-colored myth of what it supposedly meant to be shinobi and then decided they wanted to live out that fairytale. Admittedly, that thought applied to the boys in her class equally, as they seemed to focus more on the thought of going on "cool missions", "kicking ass" and "saving princesses" than actually training. Case in point: the dead-last in her class, one Uzumaki Naruto, was constantly going on about becoming Hokage, but skipped so many lessons that she'd be shocked if he managed to graduate with the rest of the class.
Not that what the kids in her class got up to was any of her business, Sakura reminded herself as she finished the soup and leaned back on the wall with a satisfied sigh. She'd worked up quite a tan this way, though that hadn't really hadn't been her intention. With so much free time and a lack of close friends, she also spent a lot of time training in the sun, which had tanned her skin further.
It was hard to relate to children so many years younger than she was, and not only because of their shallowness and lack of discipline. Harry and Ron had been similarly undisciplined – but they'd had attributes that compensated for that, something she hadn't found in the children in her class yet.
Though admittedly, she hadn't looked very hard.
As she packed away the sandwich wrapping and the plastic bowl to be thrown away later, a replay of Ron's self-sacrificing chess game in their first year flashed before her eyes, as well as Harry's decision to save that Delacour girl in the second task... among other mental images. Her boys had been temperamental, impulsive and occasionally thoughtless – but they'd had so much heart, and skill at applying that heart in battle, that she hadn't been able to stop herself from admiring them. It wasn't like they'd been unwilling to practice and improve their magical skills either, they'd just disliked doing homework. Harry especially had always been eager to improve his magical skills and that eagerness had only been enhanced by the danger they were in.
But she was probably being uncharitably harsh, Sakura conceded, since she and her boys had been in the sort of danger that had made improving themselves a priority. The students in class didn't have something to push them the way she, Harry and Ron had been pushed by one disastrous event after another. Perhaps becoming apprenticed under a jounin would rectify that, as real-life shinobi missions with all that entailed should hit everyone with a dose of reality (including herself, admittedly, since she didn't know much more about shinobi life then the kids she trained alongside).
She rounded the house with that thought still in mind, and then immediately had to contain a sigh when she clapped eyes on the most annoying member of her class. "Forehead girl," Ando Ami said with a sneer that twisted her childish features into something ugly, throwing the long purple bangs on the left side of her face over her shoulder. The girl's childish taunts might have hurt her, had Sakura actually been an insecure pre-teen. But since she was not, Ami was kind of like the fruit flies Sakura kept having to wave away from the fruit bowl in the kitchen – terribly annoying, but not much more than that. Especially since she couldn't really figure out why all the girl's taunts seemed aimed at her forehead. It was a bit on the larger side, but at least this time around she didn't have the noticeable buck teeth that had earned her the charming epithet 'Beaver the Bookworm' the first time she was this age.
"Aren't you going to say anything? Is that forehead of yours covering any brain cells at all, or just there to be a billboard for your to-do notes?" As taunts went, that one was actually pretty good. At least compared to the kind of inane insults the girl usually threw around.
Despite that half-amused thought, or perhaps due to the frustration at her lack of progress on her current topic of research, Sakura let herself slip a little. It was a completely childish impulse, but Sakura didn't quite care. "Why don't you quiet down and give that hole in your face some time to heal shut?" That was something Lavender had once said to her, back when she had been an insecure preteen.
Nara Shikamaru, who had apparently been sleeping on the lower branches of a nearby tree, snorted quietly and Sakura watched Ami's face turn a shade of red better suited for a tomato. 'Damn it.' She should have kept quiet and ignored the girl, the way she usually did. Just staring blandly at Ami whenever she decided to try and poke fun of Sakura's forehead or her weight or whatever she'd decided to hone in on that particular day usually worked pretty well. It was a strategy she'd learned as Hermione, and one she should have kept to, no matter how annoyed she was today.
"You shut up!" Ami said, voice suddenly a lot higher in her anger, and Sakura watched with an internal roll of her eyes as the girl puffed up and tried to look down her nose at Sakura. It was a pretty miserable attempt, since Sakura was about two inches taller than her.
"I don't feel like dealing with you right now," Sakura said with a sigh and then turned to walk through the Academy door. Behind her she heard Ami spluttering, but since the girl's Taijutsu and projectile skills were absolutely atrocious, she didn't even bother watch her back as she walked away. She'd hear her steps if Ami stepped closer or the rustling of cloth if the girl decided to start throwing kunai around.
Sakura was completely unsurprised when neither of the two happened and she made her way to the classroom unmolested. Passing a few fellow early bird students, Sakura turned her thoughts to the team placements they were supposed to be assigned after the final test today. She wasn't sure if the other students were aware that the contents of the final examination was a matter of relatively public record, but she'd made sure to practice the possible E-rank Ninjutsu techniques required for a passing mark. The written portion of the test she was even less worried about – if there was one thing she'd taken with her from one persona to the next, it was her head for studying and memorizing information.
The slightly worrying thought that the test would possibly require more than a few bunshin, kawarimi, kakuremino or nawanuke made Sakura's brows draw together as she sat down at the row of seats at the very back of the classroom. It had been 'her' chair for years now, when she realized that securing her score somewhere in the middle of the class was more likely to ensure she stayed overlooked, as was seating herself in a most unobtrusive spot. In that, at least, she'd changed. As Hermione, the thought of not showing her accomplishments to the world had been blasphemy. Though she'd struggled with the intentional lowering of her grades, she'd found she rather enjoyed being accomplished by herself, taking the lessons in what it meant to be a shinobi to heart. Subtlety. Secrecy.
Hm. Perhaps she hadn't changed that much after all. Taking lessons to heart was something she'd thrived on as Hermione.
Mentally shaking away her straying thoughts, Sakura turned her focus back to the worrying thought that her relatively small chakra reserves might actually stop her from graduating. She'd practiced almost obsessively with the leaf exercise to try to push the limits of her chakra output, but that exercise required a lot of hard work over a long period of time with very little result to show for it.
The classroom was filling up with students, and Sakura tried to stave of the building tension by massaging her temples. Worrying herself to a headache wouldn't do her any good.
"- Sasuke-kun!" Ami's voice rang out above the din and Sakura opened one eye just in time to see the purple-haired girl dive into the seat next to Uchiha Sasuke, closely followed by an equally loud, if slightly less obnoxious, blonde. The two girls immediately started bickering about whose 'rightful place' the seat next to their precious Rookie of the Year was, and Sakura pinched the bridge of her nose at the high-pitched shrieks the two girls were emitting.
"It's too early for this," Shikamaru muttered, sliding into a seat in the same row as Sakura and immediately crossing his arms and laying his head down on the table. Sakura wasn't quite as annoyed by that behavior as she was by the two shrieking pre-teen banshees, but she still frowned a little. She was starting to despair finding anyone who actually cared about studying. Or even just taking this whole shinobi business seriously.
"Early? There is no good time for this kind of behavior," Sakura said quietly, watching with some measure of sympathy for the Uchiha boy as the two girls began pulling on his shirt as they shouted to each other over his head. Sasuke was one of the few students seemingly taking the path they were on as seriously as she did and as arrogant as he sometimes acted, she pitied him for having to deal with his so-called fangirls' behavior every day.
Honestly, Sakura couldn't quite understand why the boy hadn't just punched them both out yet, since his repeated attempts to convince them to leave him alone didn't lead to any long-term changes in the fangirls' behavior. Perhaps it was some naïve sentiment about how one 'shouldn't hit girls' – the kind of idiotic view Sakura thought should be discarded the moment one decided to become a shinobi. What were all these can't-hurt-girls, princess-saving kids going to do when faced with an enemy kunoichi? Invite her to a pillow fight? It was one thing not to hit a defenseless civilian girl, but there were no defenseless kunoichi.
Sakura was snapped out of her thoughts when Iruka walked through the door, breaking up the argument with a sharp glance and then moving to stand in front of the desk. It took a minute for the noise to fade into silence, but that was a good while shorter than it usually took for the class to pay attention unless Iruka shouted them all into submission. Which was admittedly rather effective, as the chunin teacher's temper was an Academy-wide legend.
"Today you will be tested to see if you have what it takes to become a genin," Iruka began, and just like that, everyone in class was leaning forward with intent expressions on their faces. The teacher smiled, a tad grimly. "The first of the two exams you will be performing today is a written test covering what you've learned during the years you've been Academy students."
"What? We can't remember all of it!" "Yeah! We're not machines, you know!" "Sensei, that's just cruel!" Only about a third of the class seemed intent on complaining, and Sakura felt fairly certain that none of the loudest complainers would actually pass the test. It was fairly obvious that they were letting their mouths run without actually thinking through what Iruka had said. Of course the exam wouldn't be on every little thing they'd ever learned here – that would make the test the size of two dozen very thick books, and would take weeks to complete even if they worked all day, every day.
"Troublesome," she heard Shikamaru murmur, and had to agree. How was it that these children had decided to become shinobi and yet they couldn't be bothered to take a moment to think before yelling at the top of their lungs? 'But I guess weeding out the people who aren't ready for genin duties is what this examination is about,' Sakura supposed as she watched Iruka tear into the loudest of the complainers.
When they were suitably cowed, he cleared his throat. "After the written portion of the exam, you will be taken to another room for the practical part." He turned to the other chunin who's just stepped into the classroom. "Mizuki, if you would?"
The light-haired chunin nodded and picked up a pile of papers from the desk in front of the chalk board. When he reached her row, placing two sheets of paper in front of her, he leaned forward a little. "I have no doubt you'll ace this, Sakura-chan," he murmured, and Sakura nodded a little hesitantly.
She'd never gotten a solid grip on that particular teacher's personality, but he'd always been kind to her. It seemed like all the teacher's had had students they'd considered their favorites, Iruka-sensei with Naruto (though that wasn't always obvious, she'd seen them eating at a food stand a few times), Suzume-sensei with Ino and Mizuki... with her.
Or that might have been the case, had she been a little more social. As it was, her impression of him had more to do with the way he'd sometimes give her a tip or two when they were practicing Taijutsu forms, something he didn't do for any of the other students unless they asked for help. Maybe his behavior had something to do with the way some of the other children treated her – assuming that she was badly affected by it wouldn't be a stretch of the imagination had she been any other student.
Skimming over the first page exam questions, Sakura agreed with Mizuki's assessment: she was going to ace this. The first section was mostly about different kinds of jutsu and when their use was appropriate, a little about proper care for weapons and a larger section about first aid. The last section took up most of the second paper, and Sakura's brow furrowed. This one question was twice as difficult as anything else on the test had been. It wasn't the kind you could complete just by following the instructions properly or calling to mind the contents of a lecture; this question required you to combine basic trap-making skills with Genjutsu theory, and theorize a tactical maneuver in which to use the first two...
Sakura frowned, even as she carefully penned her answer. 'This isn't an Academy-level question.' What it was, however, was a chance to actually go all out on a test, since this was hopefully her last time here. And she hadn't gone all out in years.
Mizuki collected the papers a good 90 minutes later, occasionally snatching one from under a student's nose, while Iruka gave two students who'd apparently tried to cheat a scolding lecture. She couldn't hear what he was saying, but from the two boys cowed postures, it must have been sufficiently blistering.
Iruka straightened and stepped back to the front of the room. "Alright, everybody!" Sakura was slightly surprised that the students who'd begun talking actually immediately quieted down. "Mizuki-sensei and myself will be waiting in the next room over. You will enter the room in alphabetical order with five-minute intervals..."
Sakura stepped out of the Academy with a spring in her step, headband resting snugly against her forehead, and decided to celebrate. She'd made the required three Bunshin and had been surprised by how easy it was, mostly because she'd expected the test to require her to actually do something with those Bunshin. She'd been concerned that her current level of chakra wouldn't be enough for that. As she wandered towards her house, she wondered if this kind of examination was the Academy standard even during war-time.
She sure hoped not. Even Kiba – one of the most disruptive students in class, who turned in the least amount of work and whom Iruka lectured at least once a week – had passed. And he was now a part of Konoha's military. That was not a reassuring thought.
Stepping into the small yard outside her and her mother's house, she toed off her sandals just inside the door and called in through the partly open window, "Mother?"
Faintly, she heard, "In the backyard!" and moved towards her mother's voice. Their house was small and scruffy, but Sakura liked it. Something about the atmosphere reminded her of Ron's house. Maybe it was all the little dents in the walls, with memories attached to every single one, or perhaps it just the feeling of a well-used and well-loved place.
Haruno Sayuri was a large woman, the occasional grey strand standing out in her otherwise short pink hair. When she stood up from her crouch, she towered over Sakura. She casually brushed the dirt from her hands, flicking a few seeds into the soil she'd been preparing. "How did it go?"
Sakura tapped her forehead and Sayuri smiled, unsurprised. "This calls for strawberries," she said, wiping her hands on a small, grimy towel hanging at her waist. Sakura nodded, following her mother to the kitchen.
When they were seated at the small kitchen table, strawberries with milk in front of them both, Sakura admitted, "I didn't think it would be so easy."
Sayuri cocked her head, looking amused. "Easy for you, perhaps." Sakura shook her head, because she couldn't recall seeing anyone without a headband – though admittedly, she hadn't been looking very closely. She said so and then explained the test, and when she was done Sayuri sat back. Her mother's brows were raised, and she looked thoughtful.
"That was not the test during my stint in the Academy," she said thoughtfully, tapping blunted nails against the tabletop. "We had to perform all E-rank techniques we'd learned, run an obstacle course and the written portion of the exam took five hours." Her voice was a little flat, and Sakura winced. Now she almost felt embarrassed at how proud she'd been to pass.
Sayuri snorted. "It's not like it's your fault. I'm sure Hokage-sama has his reasons." She finished off the last strawberries in her bowl and then looked up again, "And team assignments are tomorrow?" Sakura nodded, following her mother's lead in finishing her strawberries.
"Can't really give you any advice for that," Sayuri said, throwing the bowls into the sink. Sakura wasn't sure how she managed to keep them from breaking every time she did that, but could never hold back an automatic internal flinch at the expected crash.
Sayuri had been a genin hopeful in her day, but for some as of yet unexplained reason she'd resigned after completing the final exam. Sayuri had never brought up the subject voluntarily and Sakura had never pushed, no matter how curious she was. After her graduation, Sayuri had gone into construction and aided by her well-trained body, she'd climbed up the ladder in the company she worked for until she became some kind of 'middle manager'. It apparently involved going to different construction sites, making sure nobody was screwing up, yell at them if they were and only then help with the actual building. I'm not wasting these muscles, Sayuri had once told her when Sakura asked why she wasn't doing desk-work, like most managers presumably did.
"Your father would have been grumpy for weeks if he'd been here to see you wearing that," Sayuri said as they washed up, indicating her hitai-ate, and Sakura wasn't sure whether to grin or grimace. Haruno Ken had been a hard-working accountant, but had died in a freak accident when Sakura was six. It never seemed to pain Sayuri to speak of her dead husband, but though all she could see in her mother's eyes was fondness whenever she spoke of him, Sakura didn't much like it when the subject of her father was brought up.
Admittedly, that was only because it was her fault he was dead.
A/N: ...Where have all the good Naruto/HP fics gone? I don't even skim the crossover archive very often these days, because it's all just '[ninja] goes to Hogwarts' and frankly, that's been done to death. I suppose this story is my reaction to that disappointment. New life needs to be breathed into it, yeah?
Anyway, what do you think of the premise of Effloresco Secundus? And Sakura's mother, OC though she is? I have quite a bit of this story written and I can tell you that the focus is on Team 7, that it's detailed, slow-paced and that I'm having lots of fun writing it.