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you can't be too careful

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Harry doesn’t actually intend to end up mixed up in any of this… ninja stuff. He sort of stumbles into it – the same way he stumbles into a lot of things.

He wakes up with gaps in his memory, a vague notion that he’s on his way to one of the last remaining funerals held at Hogwarts, but all around him is trees and dirt and the sky is the wrong colour for the time of day he expects. For a moment he thinks he’s set the portkey up incorrectly and landed in the Forbidden Forest instead of outside the battered Great Hall. It’s only his third time casting the spell, after all, and Harry does not always pick up new charms as quickly as he’d like…

The trees are all wrong, though. They’re big, yes, but they’re pale and broad and not nearly as foreboding as the ones in the Forbidden Forest. It’s not as dark, either.

Harry’s head hurts.

He reaches up and feels around, carding through his hair until he runs into a swelling lump on his skull. It’s hot, and he winces to touch it, but his fingers aren’t bloody when he draws them away. He rolls his head on his neck. There’s a twinge or two, but the throbbing remains constant. He figures he’s okay.

The empty mason jar he was using as a portkey is discarded next to his knee, glinting innocuously in the light filtering down through the leaves above.

Harry scoops it up along with his wand.

“Alright,” he mutters. His apparition license is also kind of new, but he did get it fairly, and since he doesn’t seem to be on Hogwarts grounds… He twirls his wand carefully. Destination, determination and deliberation.

There is a nauseating yank beneath his belly and a tremendous squeezing, followed by the sense of being forced through a very tight tube – inside out. But he doesn’t get the sudden pain, panic and bleeding of an accidental splinching, and then: crack!

Something fast, sharp and metal goes whistling right past his ear.

Harry twitches and hits the deck. The deck, in this case, is a metaphor for yet more forest floor, and not actually the creaky floorboards of the Burrow like he was hoping.

Somebody is screaming like they’re under the cruciatus curse, and then, abruptly, the sound stops.

Harry rolls and stumbles to his feet. People are moving nearby but not as nearby as he thought – the thing that came whizzing past him was evidently something thrown wide. Embedded in a tree nearby is the culprit, which looks like a prop from an 80s martial arts film. A ninja star, perfectly symmetrical, with a hole in the middle.

He shoves his glasses more securely back up his nose with the heel of one hand and edges between two trees, closer to the evident clash and clatter rhythm of fighting. It becomes quickly apparent that he has apparated into the sidelines of a duel.

The people are heavily – although oddly – armed and armoured, and they move so fast Harry would think they, too, were apparating except there’s none of the weird sucking feeling or the telltale noise. There’s a little smoke when some of them do it.

It’s definitely magic, but he’s never seen magic like it.

He twitches back from another flung projectile.

Right. Time to be sensible. “Protego.”

He means to back away and leave them to their efforts to murder each other. Clearly he’s got the wrong place - maybe the wrong country - and they should just revoke his apparition license on the spot. But first he has to get back to Scotland, so –

Let it be acknowledged, for the record, that Harry is prepared to mind his own business, back away from mortal danger, and go home to see about retaking his licensing exam. He has every intention of being sensible about this: gaping briefly in bewilderment, putting up a shield charm and leaving before he gets involved.

Harry is pretty much done with fighting after the Battle of Hogwarts. There’s been nothing but funerals for weeks.

Except that’s when Harry realises that what he’s seeing is not a duel. There’s five people all in a vicious, magical melee, and four of them are attacking one person. The person’s… small. Short. Slight. Dark haired and pale skinned like Harry himself is, but… not… not fully grown, he thinks. Younger than Harry.

Harry’s fingers clench around his wand until his knuckles go white.

Look, Harry’s never been great about being sensible.

They haven’t noticed him yet – too intent upon killing that kid, whoever he is. He’s moving fast, faster than the rest of them, but he’ll tire eventually. And they haven’t noticed Harry yet.

Maybe Harry’s done with war, but it’ll never be done with him. Maybe he can’t apparate or make a portkey or save half his friends from dying horribly, but now he knows the advantage of surprise.

The full body-bind curse requires less concentration than the stunning spell, and it’s a lot easier to cast silently, so that’s what he uses. It’s just a gentle flick from his wand, standing still on the sidelines, a sharp mental litany of petrificus totalus, petrificus totalus, petrificus totalus

Three down, and –

“You little shit,” says a voice in his ear. It is a huge, deep, growling voice, and the body it comes with is a huge, towering, furnace-hot weight at Harry’s back. There are fingers in his hair, clenching, tugging, pulling it into a fist. “You’re so loud they can hear you breathing in Rock.”

Harry feels his pulse leap in his throat. Behind his glasses, his eyes widen. Icy sweat slicks down his spine.

That’s not apparition. Apparition makes noise. That’s–

He swears, helplessly, and the voice behind him laughs, low and slow and predatory.

Something very cold touches the back of his neck. “You’re going to regret interfering,” whispers that deep voice.

That’s, ah, quite ominous.

Abruptly, there is an awful hhhk sound. It is, Harry realises later, the soundtrack to a chest stabbing: the sighing rush of air leaving a deflated lung and the fleshy sucking noise of something metal pulled away.

The knife at his neck falls with a soft thump to the dirt and the rough fingers go lax. The big warm body behind him sags, boneless dead weight.

“Hi there,” says a voice, soft but strained and in a completely different register. It’s still right behind Harry, but that big boneless body heaves and thuds to the dirt. “Thanks for the assist.”

Harry starts to turn, but there’s more steel at his neck. This time it’s not cold because it’s just been in someone. It‘s also wet.

It smells like raw meat, and Harry’s stomach turns.

“Er,” he says.

“Sorry,” says the voice, still friendly. “You can’t be too careful.”

…Apparently.

“Please turn slowly.”

Harry does. The knife is steady, and he’s very aware of it as he turns.

His new friend is a kid of about fourteen or fifteen, with messy dark hair just like Harry’s. The similarities end there: they’re clearly from very different backgrounds, and where Harry’s glasses are sort of ‘good enough’ and engender a mild squint, the new boy’s eyes are… very sharp.

And very calculating.

He’s pale. There’s blood on his lower lip. The knife in his hand is rock steady, but the rest of him is… less.

“Erm,” says Harry. “I’m Harry. Harry Potter.” There is absolutely no recognition at the sound of his name, and Harry is left feeling both relieved and strangely bereft.

The eyes blink. Narrow. They take him in at a glance, drinking him up, capturing, assessing – “You’re not from here. That’s why you didn’t know not to get involved. Where are you from?”

There are a lot of ways to answer that. He could say Hogwarts, which is in Scotland, so he could also say Scotland. London, sometimes, when he stays in Sirius’s old house. Technically Surrey, if he thinks about where he’s spent most time in his life.

But he’s pretty sure he’s really not from around here. “Er, the UK,” he says, carefully.

The teenager repeats it, and it comes out sounding like “yuu-kei”.

Harry winces. “…Great Britain?”

Still blank.

“Come on,” Harry prompts, hopefully. “You know. Europe?”

He shakes his head.

“I think,” Harry says slowly, “I’m a bit lost.” He also suddenly thinks the Ministry might have given him his apparition license out of some kind of misplaced hero worship. Maybe he can’t do it at all.

“I was going to a funeral,” he adds, feeling stupid. He was meant to take the portkey from Grimmauld Place to Hogwarts, that was all. And somehow now he’s attacked four people and he’s completely lost in an unfamiliar land with a dead body and a strange adolescent holding a knife to his neck.

When Harry gets home he’ll tell Ron and Hermione about this and they’ll be surprised for, he doesn’t know, maybe like five seconds.

“Okay. We’ve got to wait for someone, but then you can come to the border patrol station with us. They’ll have – maps. And things. They’ll know if you’re lying,” he adds sharply.

Harry, who is in fact not lying, would be relieved right now to find somebody who could confirm whether or not he is lying to the stranger with the knife. It doesn’t sound like he has much of a choice, but it’s not strictly a bad idea anyway. A border patrol station sounds fine.

“All right,” he says.

When he gets back he’ll apologise to McGonagall for missing the funeral and she’ll give him one of those severe stares with her mouth thinned down to a single pressed line. She won’t be surprised either.

The other teenager’s just getting paler and paler. His face is kind of grey. Harry drops his eyes. He avoids looking at the cooling body of the dead man in the dirt.

There’s blood dribbling from his side – it’s not gushing, exactly, but it’s a steady dribble that’s really not slowing down at all. It’s soaked through the green padding of his jacket. There’s a dark wet patch on his trousers, too, and as Harry watches the pale wraps on his leg start picking up some of that dark red stain.

“Did you want to,” Harry nods uncomfortably at the bleeding wound.

“Not really.” He looks at the knife in his hand.

“Er, right,” says Harry slowly. He comes to the sudden, uneasy realisation that his new friend does actually see him as a significant threat, even though of the two of them Harry is not the one who just straight-up murdered a man. “Well, I could – go over there somewhere,” he turns his head a little, indicating the abbreviated clearing where the other people are scattered, unnaturally still under the full body bind curse. “And you could…”

“You took them out from a distance,” says his new friend, who is apparently very attached to the whole concept of holding Harry at knifepoint.

“I did,” Harry says slowly. He thinks about offering to hand over his wand, but he’s neither that trusting or that stupid. As it is, it’s still in his hand and the increasingly shocky looking teenager hasn’t asked for it. “I’m not going to hurt you, though.”

“Then you won’t mind staying right here until my partner arrives.” He flashes Harry a smile, which seems easy and habitual on his face. “It’s really not personal.”

Weirdly, Harry’s …getting that. He believes that it is not personal. That’s part of the reason why watching him continuing to bleed like that is so stressful.

“Maybe,” he says, agitated, “you could put pressure on it with your other hand.”

And now the other teenager’s face is a little pained, too. “…No. Can’t.”

Harry glances at his hand. It, too, is… not quite right. “What if I did it?”

A heartbeat’s pause. Low, suspicious: “…Alright.”

“So I’ll just–”

“Yes.”

“Yeah. Erm.”

“In the pouch at my hip.”

“Right.”

Still Harry hesitates. “Er.”

“Well?”

“Right,” he repeats, and then there is a long, awkward silence while Harry wraps his arms around his new, very messy, kind of murderous acquaintance and digs a roll of bandages from his hip pouch. He has to peer awkwardly over his shoulder to do it, which means moving close enough to feel the warmth rising from his body and the quick cool puffs of his breath.

It would be more natural for them to touch. They don’t.

The bandages are sealed in an airless wrap, which hisses quietly when opened.

Then, carefully, Harry moves aside the butchered jacket and peels away the undershirt.

Harry has a strong stomach, but there’s something about seeing a jagged, businesslike stab wound in a teenager’s side that makes him feel, just, really uncomfortable.

For some reason, that squeamishness seems to comfort his companion.

“Hey, you are a civilian You’ve gone white. Can’t fake that.” He sounds much more cheerful. The knife edge doesn’t waver even a little bit. “Don’t try to wrap it, just hold it. It needs cleaning before it’s properly dressed, right? We’re just going to wait. Bit harder,” he adds, unflinching even as Harry steadily increases the pressure with which he’s holding the bandages.

Awkwardly, Harry shifts closer again to apply more pressure. The knife comes with him. “Are you –”

“Harder.”

“Right.” He’s not in a position to argue.

Harry can feel him breathing, muscles shifting and forcing the wad of bandages in and out with every movement. The bandages are soaking. Blood is almost the same temperature as Harry’s fingers, and it’s only the slickness of it that makes him aware that it’s getting all over his hand.

They stand there, awkwardly, for about five minutes. Each one of them is interminable and agonising.

“Wouldn’t it be bad,” says the other teenager in a sort of faint voice, “if he nicked an artery.”

“Yes,” says Harry, with a telltale crack in his voice. “That would be very, very bad. Please don’t faint.”

“I’m not going to faint.”

There’a another looooong silence. Somewhere above a bird chirps thoughtfully. A breeze rustles the leaves. Harry shifts his weight on his feet.

“I’m Uchiha Shisui,” says the teenager.

Like Harry, he seems to be waiting for some kind of recognition of his name. Harry’s never heard it before, so he doesn’t know what reaction he’s meant to give.

He guesses that being given a name is a good thing. Presumably. 

“Pleased to meet you,” Harry says automatically. It’s knee-jerk politeness, and it bypasses both the knife at his neck and his entire brain on its way to his mouth. 

He gets a lopsided smile for his effort, but it seems strained.

“Where is he?”

As though the complaint summons him, an even smaller and slighter body slips through the branches above and drops to the forest floor. It’s both very athletic and completely silent, and Harry follows him with his eyes, surprised and impressed.

They share a lot of similarities in their faces and their build.

“Finally!”

“I was… delayed,” says the newcomer, and Harry notices the blood spattered on his pale face. He seems uninjured, unlike his partner, although he is… of an age with this year’s firsties, possibly. If Harry’s being generous. “What’s this?”

“Civilian, I think –”

Harry jerks when the new one’s eyes burn bright bloody red. His pupils twist into not one but four black spots in the iris, all spinning lazily like a grotesque windmill circling a central wheel. He feels the knife at his neck take a shallow bite into his skin.

“Are you trying to kill yourself?” Shisui asks Harry, almost conversationally. 

That’s both very condescending and incredibly hypocritical. Harry slaps is free hand against the bloody mark at his neck – which Shisui lets him do by shifting the knife. “His eyes–”

The two of them share a look like Harry’s the one who’s ridiculous.

“Civilian,” confirms the shorter one. “You need to work on conserving your chakra.”

“It was one on four. He’s got some kind of rogue bloodline limit. He killed them from a distance, without moving or saying anything, no chakra output –”

“He didn’t.”

“What? I saw them drop, he -”

“They’re not dead.”

There’s a long silence.

“They’re not?”

“Not to rush you or anything,” Harry loudly interrupts the whole lot of nothing that seems to be going on, “but your friend’s bleeding.”

“Ah. Yes,” says the newcomer, quite placidly, and his strong cold fingers peel Harry’s hand away from the injury. He peers at it for a moment then, shortly – “Shisui,” he sighs. “Keep your blood inside your body.”

“I’ll take it under – ow – advisement. Not dead, huh?”

“Some kind of stasis.”

“It’s the full body bind curse,” Harry says, fed up. “Can you please stop waving your knife at me now?”

There’s a considering pause, and then Shisui flips the blade carelessly in his hand and it disappears, apparently to nowhere. He’s probably just banished it somewhere.

Harry feels out the edges of the cut on his neck. He knows exactly one healing charm and he’s not sure how well he can cast it. Hermione always was better at it.

The cut’s not bleeding that badly anyway.

“This is Itachi,” says Shisui, sucking in a breath when Itachi tightens the bandage he’s wrapping deftly around Shisui’s middle. “Itachi, Harry Potter.”

Itachi’s dark eyes flick to Harry and back to what he’s doing. “I haven’t heard of a Harry family,” is all he says.

“There isn’t one,” says Harry blankly.

“Hm,” says Itachi.

Shisui starts talking instead: “Plenty of rogue bloodlines showed up during the war, though. It’s not that strange to think one might appear in a civilian family–”

“And he just happened to interrupt you mission, and he just happened to help you while I was delayed,” Itachi says, giving the bandage one final heave, which crosses Shisui’s young face in a spasm of pain.

“Actually,” Harry interrupts, growing increasingly tired of them being at once both suspicious and utterly incomprehensible. “I’m lost.”

“Can you un-‘curse’ them?” Shisui asks with strained but good cheer, ignoring the tiny canister of pills Itachi slaps into his palm.

“Of course I can,” says Harry. Obviously the full body bind curse is something they’re unfamiliar with, although they definitely seem to have their own magic.

“Take them,” Itachi insists.

“Take what?” The pills have gone somewhere, possibly the way of the knife.

Without even blinking, Itachi produces the exact same container of pills, equally mysterious in provenance, and puts them back in Shisui’s unresisting hand. “These.”

Shisui eyes them.

Take them.”

Harry watches them, waiting to see if he can catch the moment of banishment – if they have wands, they’re using them faster than he can see, or they’re using them in a way Harry’s never come across. Hermione would be fascinated.

Harry is just getting tired – and, now that he’s no longer got a knife to his throat, cranky.

Shisui regards the pills suspiciously for a moment, but then he swallows two dry and hands the container back to his partner, no magic involved. “I told Potter they’d have maps at the border patrol station.”

Itachi’s mouth tugs downward but he nods. “They will. They’ll have some questions about your family as well.”

“They’re dead,” Harry says.

“Hm,” says Itachi again. It’s a neutral sounding noise, but Harry is starting to think it just means ‘I hear you and I don’t want to argue but I don’t believe a word coming out of your lying mouth’.

Itachi looks sideways at Harry, and then at Shisui. “It won’t hurt to walk.”

Harry eyes Shisui’s bandaged side. He isn’t convinced that it ‘won’t hurt to walk’. Harry’s done a lot of stupid things and he’s familiar with many kinds of injuries. That one looks like it will hurt to exist.

Whatever method they were using earlier to disappear and reappear seems like a better bet… but their magic is odd. Maybe it doesn’t work how Harry’s does. Maybe it would be harder on them.

Shisui makes a tragic noise of complaint in the back of his throat. “Yeah, let’s get going. We’ll have to send somebody back for these guys… You’re sure they’re alive?”

“You can take their pulse if you like,” Itachi says, unconcerned with being so doubted.

“T&I will want..." Shisui begins, but cuts himself off. He needn't bother, because Harry hasn't understood any of the conversation about bloodlines at all. "Hell of a bloodline limit,” he mutters.

“Yes,” says Itachi, in a way that Harry can only interpret as grim. “It is.”

They start walking.