Hermione sat at her desk, a cup of tea steaming next to her, the spoon she’d left in there after adding her cream and sugar spinning itself around in lazy circles. A memo fluttered in through the gap between the bottom of the door and the carpet, then settled into her inbox, ignored.
Almost five years. It had been almost five years since her closest friend had disappeared. She stared down at the charts and scribbled notes next to a picture of the Lacus statue that had caused this whole mess in the first place.
“It should work,” she muttered. “Why isn’t it working?"
The Lacus, literally translating to ‘transport,’ did exactly what it said on the tin. It transported a witch or wizard to a previously set location. It was different from a portkey in that it worked more like an assisted apparition. None of that pesky spinning about and flying through the air. They were useful because they could go through anti-apparition wards, as they were created on-site with a bit of the area’s ambient magic. This allowed the statue and its wielder to actually resonate with the same ‘frequency,’ if you will, of the area they were trying to reach, therefore fooling the wards.
They had fallen out of popularity almost seventy-five years ago due to how difficult they were to create, along with their unreliability. The problem with magical places is that the power in the area was always fluctuating and changing. Hogwarts, for example, never held the same magical footprint for more than an hour or so due to the constant use of magic on its grounds by multiple wizards and creatures. People had found themselves dumped in the Atlantic Ocean, or just disappeared from the world entirely when using an out of date Lacus. This, Hermione theorized, is what happened to Harriet.
She had been attempting to reverse-engineer the Lacus statue for the past four years, but there were just so many factors to take into account. The wizard who had thrown it had been killed by the backlash, so he was no help, though she had found notes on it in his workshop. It was supposed to have taken him to Thailand, of all places.
Harriet had not been in Thailand. They had checked, thoroughly. The ambient magic floating around after the battle had muddied up her frantic analyzing of the scene while they tried to figure out what had happened. Not to mention the stunner that had hit the thrice-cursed statue right when it activated confusing the issue even more.
Most of the wizarding world believed Harriet to be dead. Hermione and Ron refused to give up. If Harriet was dead, they would know, would surely have felt it. Theirs was a bond born of struggle and magic and deep friendship. Harriet was alive, they just had to find her.
“Oh, hello, Hermione. I see you’ve forgotten about our meeting,” a dreamy voice said.
Hermione’s head snapped up to take in Luna Lovegood, smiling serenely at her from the doorway. She was wearing bright red silk pants with wide legs that pooled over her yellow flip flops, covering her bare feet all the way to her toes. Her top was a loose peasant blouse that matched the color of her sandals, and her earrings were large black hoops with little red tomato charms dangling from them.
“Oh, Luna, I’m so sorry. I don’t know where my brain is today.” Hermione motioned her into the room.
Luna floated over to her desk, walking around it and looking down at the papers in front of Hermione. “Oh, is that the statue that took Harriet away?” she asked.
Hermione swallowed. “Yes.”
Luna tilted her head to the side. “I didn’t know you were so attached.”
Hermione gaped at her. Was she kidding? Harriet, Ron, and Hermione were more than just ‘attached,’ everybody knew that.
“I...love Harriet very much,” she finally settled on, knowing better than to take offense to anything Luna said.
Luna blinked her large, watery eyes at her. “I know that,” she said gently, as if talking to a small child. “I meant the statue.”
She motioned at the paperwork in front of them. “Oh,” Hermione said. “Well, I’m not. Attached, that is.”
“Well, then why are you looking so hard for it?” Luna asked and moved back around the desk to sit in the visitor’s chair in front of it.
Hermione took a deep breath, reaching for patience. “I’m trying to locate Harriet,” she said.
“Then why are you spending so much time searching for a statue, if Harriet is who you seek?”
Hermione opened her mouth, then snapped it shut as a thought wiggled its way into her brain. That was - well, that was a good point. Of course, they’d tried to find Harriet when she went missing, using Point Me spells and Finder’s Amulets and good old-fashioned police work. But there were other ways of finding people, or, more specifically, the paths that people have taken through space and time. They were arcane, and bordering on dark, but, well, Hermione was willing to try anything at that point.
This whole time, Hermione had been focusing on the statue, convinced it was the answer to locating her friend, when perhaps she should have been focusing on Harriet.
“Luna, I’m sorry,” she said, jumping to her feet and rushing to grab her bag and robes, “but I’m going to have to cancel.”
“Oh, that’s fine,” Luna said, standing and making her way to the door. “Do say hello to Harriet for me, won’t you?”
“Andromeda!” Hermione yelled as soon as she stumbled out of the floo and into the woman’s house ten hours later. “Andromeda! Are you here?”
“For god’s sake, child, keep it down,” Andromeda hissed as she entered the living room, hair down and tying a sleep coat shut.
“Andromeda, the protection blanket that Harriet made for Teddy when he was an infant. Do you have it?” she said urgently, grabbing hold of the woman’s hands.
Andromeda studied her, taking in her bloodshot eyes and hair that had become frizzy from all the times she’d run her hands through it that day. “You’ve had a breakthrough.”
“I - yes. Maybe. I don’t know. I need something imbued with Harry’s magic, something she gave willingly and with love for the ritual I found.”
Along with some of her blood and a frankly large amount of blood from the practitioner, she thought to herself, but, well, it was probably best if she didn’t mention that part. People were still a little sensitive about blood magic after Voldemort. Luckily, they had samples of Harriet’s blood stored at the ministry.
Andromeda, who had come from a Pureblood family with enough dark wizards in their closet to make her more than passingly familiar with such things, simply raised an eyebrow. “I believe I have it stored in the attic. Come,” she said, and Hermione followed her up some rickety stairs into a dusty room with a low ceiling, ignoring the creatures that skittered out of sight when Andromeda sent a ball of light to hover near the ceiling.
“Alright,” she muttered and went over into the corner to rummage through a trunk for a few minutes, Hermione trying and failing not to shift from foot to foot with impatience.
“Here we are,” Andromeda said in a soft tone and lifted a blue cotton blanket with what was supposed to be a lamb but looked more like a confused dog embroidered on the front.
“She was so proud of this,” she said and smiled as she ran a hand over the soft material. She then took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders before thrusting the blanket towards Hermione.
“I hope this works,” she said. “Teddy deserves to get another member of his family back.”
Hermione met her eyes and nodded once, firmly, before carefully taking the blanket and apparating home.
She’d come across the spell the first time about six months ago when the Dark Wizard Strike Team was going through the house of a witch they’d apprehended the day before. Hermione and a cursebreaker were given the dubious task of going through the woman’s fairly large collection of books. Some were the darkest of the dark, some were just regular everyday spell books, and others were something in between.
The book in question fell under the last category. It was titled Travelers of the Other Worlds, was extremely esoteric, and consisted of multiple theories on how one could step through the fabric that separated their world from other, divergent realities. At the time, Hermione had dismissed it as theoretical dribble with no sound basis of truth - philosophical or otherwise.
Luna’s words had niggled at something in her memory, however, and Hermione had raced down to evidence and promptly checked the book out. After some careful but frantic turning of pages, she came across the spell she wanted. It was written in a very old version of latin, but roughly translated to Walking the Paths of Those Before You. The author had included it as a possible way of following those creatures who could somehow step through portals into other worlds by following their magical signature.
Hermione ignored that part, as she wasn’t actually concerned with getting to another world. She was interested in possibly discovering the path of her missing friend and following it. Even if that path took her into another dimension.
Thank goodness Andromeda had kept that baby blanket, as the book was very clear on the need for an object imbued willingly with the creature’s magic in a positive capacity. Hermione sat patiently in her living room, supplies and magical items and books spread around her. What did one take on a rescue mission that would take you to an unknown place, possibly in a completely different dimension?
The fireplace flared green and Ron stepped out of it, looking exhausted and dirty and altogether done with everything. He’d spent the last few days chasing an animagus that could turn into a mole all across Scotland, of all places. His wife looked up at him beamed, and for a moment he just blinked before returning her smile.
“Mione, watcha up to?” he asked, carefully stepping over a tent and around a pile of books - the top one sporting the ominous title of Surviving in a Wasteland: Magical Tips and Tricks for the Stranded Witch or Wizard - then leaned down to kiss her cheek.
Her brown eyes met his own, flashing with an inner fire that he hadn’t seen in, well, about four years, actually.
“Ron,” she said a little breathlessly. “I think I’ve discovered a way to find Harriet.”
They appeared in the middle of a rainstorm, because of course they did. The landscape was grey and dreary, consisting of dirt and rock and not much else, and the rain didn’t help its appearance any.
Ginny wrinkled her nose and looked around from where she was standing back-to-back with George, wands out. Hermione cast a quick umbrella charm over all of them. Their auror robes were spelled against the weather, but it was still quite annoying to have the water drumming down on their hoods with such ferocity. Ron was already moving through the security wards they’d agreed to put down immediately upon landing, and Hermione went to join him while Ginny and George guarded their backs.
George wasn’t an auror like the rest of them, but he’d lived through the war, too, and was always a good wizard to have at your back in a fight. He’d also insisted on coming with them when he learned where they would be going. Hermione hadn’t the heart to argue with him. After all, he and Harriet had been in an on-again-off-again relationship since she was sixteen. She was pretty sure George had fallen in love with Harriet when she was fourteen and he’d seen her evade a rampaging dragon with only her broom and her wand.
The aftereffects of living through a war and his emotional unavailability after Fred’s death paired with Harriet’s distraction with Teddy and then the Strike Team had made it difficult for them to commit. When she disappeared, George had been in America, where’d been living for six months, working on opening a Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes in New York. Hermione knew he’d always regretted not truly being with Harriet when he’d had the chance. Hopefully, he’d get an opportunity to fix that soon.
“Well, this place is depressing,” Ginny finally said. “God, poor Harry, stuck on this rock for five years.” Her tone was flippant, but her face was honestly worried.
“Well, she won’t be stuck here for much longer,” Hermione said with false confidence.
She then went about setting up an advanced ‘find me’ spell that had become almost rote the past five years. When she was done, she stared down at the parchment in fascination.
A rough outline of the area they were in had snaked across the page. They were in a place called ‘Earth Country’ - aptly named, that. A little star marking their location had appeared towards the southwest edge of the boundary line, and a red dotted line made its way across the page, heading southeast. When it reached the border, another country popped into existence, this one called ‘Grass.’ It was much smaller than Earth Country, and the dotted lines moved across it, then entered another large geographical area called Fire Country. It continued its meandering way until finally it stopped almost smack dab in the middle. Then a dot appeared, and large letters appeared next to it.
“Village Hidden in the Leaves,” Hermione said. She looked up at the determined faces staring back at her. “That’s where we’ll find Harriet.”
Hari stared at Sakura. Sakura stared back.
“You’re sure?” she finally said.
“Hari, I’m the second best medic in the village. I’m sure.”
“There’s no doubt about it.”
Hari leaned back on the hospital bed and stared at the screen showing an image of her two - two! - unborn children.
“Well,” she said. “I suppose I can expect Shikaku to be even more ridiculous than the first time.”
Sakura grinned at her. “Yep, most likely. You want some pictures?”
“Yes, probably should. I suppose it’s about time to let Shikamaru know, though I’m sure he guessed yesterday when Shikaku tried to carry me up the Tower stairs to the Hokage’s office,” she said a little ruefully.
Sakura snickered and her left hand flew over the keyboard next to them, her right still on the plastic wand that was glowing green and resting on Hari’s abdomen.
“Well, you’re about ten weeks along, now. Almost three months - there’s probably no harm in telling your close family. It’s not like Shikamaru will tell anybody until you’re ready.”
Hari hummed her agreement then sat up and accepted the tissues Sakura handed her to wipe the goop off her stomach. The door opened and Shikaku slouched in. He crossed over to Hari and kissed her forehead. “Sorry I’m late, sweetheart. Did I miss it?”
Sakura smiled wickedly behind his back and Hari bit her lip to keep back a smile. “Yes, but don’t worry, I printed pictures.” Shikaku perked up and reached out to accept the square piece of paper from Sakura, then squinted down at the blobs, head tilted to the side.
“Congratulations, Shikaku,” Sakura said cheerfully. “You’re having twins!”
Hari had a perfect view of his face when the color drained from it and his mouth dropped open in an extremely rare expression of shock. A few minutes later they exited the building, Shikaku still looking a little wide eyed and shaky. He was shooting her furtive glances as though waiting for her to collapse from the strain of being pregnant. When she turned towards the administration building his mouth opened, and she cut him off.
“If you’re about to suggest that I take the day off from work, you should really rethink your next move,” she said in a mild tone.
His mouth clamped shut and she watched as his expression went from petulant to worried to determined. He opened his mouth. Her wand hand twitched. His jaw snapped shut and his shoulders hunched, somehow going from feared jounin commander to whiny child in the space of a moment.
Hari sighed and looped her arm through his, then stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. “I’ll be careful, darling, I promise.”
He grumbled a little, but seemed pleased at the endearment. Her chest tightened a little at just how much she loved him.
“You know, they’re going to be quite the handful if they’re anything like Sachiko,” she said and he slumped over again.
Sachiko had not been the normal sort of Nara so far. She had the brown hair, Nara skin tone, and facial structure, and was shaping up to be a bit of a genius, but she’d apparently gotten Hari’s temper along with her eyes. Shikamaru and Shikaku spent a lot of time staring down at the nineteen-month-old as she wailed and threw her body into contortions on the ground whenever she heard the dreaded “No” word.
Yesterday she’d climbed a tree in an attempt to be like her Aunt Rai, whom she had witnessed leaping from branch to branch in the Nara forest when they were playing in the shade there one day. Shikaku had stepped into the back yard just in time to see her jump for a branch and miss...and then bounce harmlessly a few times on the ground before giggling and attempting to do it all over again. It was their first confirmation that she’d gotten another little something from Hari, as well. Shikaku had made the nanny, who had been making Sachiko’s lunch at the time, break down into sobs.
It was their third nanny to quit...that month. Shikaku pretty much trusted nobody with the care of his daughter outside of Hari, Shikamaru, Neji, and Rai. It was making it difficult for Hari to get anything done, as Jounin Commander trumped Contractor any day when one of them had to take off time for childcare.
Hari had agreed to assist the Village in an overhaul of their Military Police Force as a civilian contractor. The organization was a bit of a joke and had been for years, ever since the death of the clan that had originally run it. Since Hari had been part of a real police force, one that had been created from a government with a totally different perspective than the military-minded Konoha, Tsunade asked her to work with Naruto and Sasuke on rebuilding it from the ground up.
Hari had been ecstatic to put her training and knowledge to use, though every Nara she knew had gotten immediately pouty about it. Apparently, they’d all gotten used to thinking of her as their magical princess, and having to actually wait their turn for her attention was excruciating. She’d gotten more requests for aide as the lady of the Nara clan in the past two months than she had in the six months before that combined. Ridiculous. Still, it was nice feeling wanted.
“Hey, Hari. How was your lunch break?” Naruto asked when she entered the conference room they’d been using as their headquarters.
“Oh, fine,” she said with a small smile and resisted the urge to put a hand to her stomach. That was a sure fire way to announce her pregnancy to all and sundry in a building full of ninja.
“Shikaku took me out for dumplings.” Not exactly a lie - he’d bought some and forced her to eat a frankly disturbing amount of them before he’d walked her to the conference room door.
Sasuke’s eyes narrowed but he didn’t comment and pulled Naruto’s attention back to plans for the remodel of the MPF building. Hari sat down and pulled the draft of the handbook for securing a scene towards herself, ignoring the bickering of the two men as she started scribbling notes in the margins.
They decided to end their days a little early since Naruto had some big meeting to prepare for and Sasuke had to...go do whatever it was Sasuke did. Hari darted out of the building, feeling a little guilty for wanting to avoid Shikaku. She loved him, but she was just not up to him staring down grocery bags like they were the enemy or his fumbling attempts to lift her over puddles at the moment.
She went to the market and spent a good forty five minutes wandering around aimlessly, greeting acquaintances and running her hands over produce before settling on dinner ingredients. She then walked back to the compound, enjoying the late spring afternoon.
Hari’s life was...well it wasn’t perfect, of course, because nobody’s was, really. But it was good. Still, she couldn’t help but feel a little melancholy. Her first three years in the Elemental Nations had been fraught with danger, first as a displaced witch who didn’t know the language or anything about the place she’d landed, and then later as she tried to keep her new family alive. Now that things were calmer, she found herself with more time to miss the people she’d left behind.
Sachiko would never know her Uncle Ron or Aunt Hermione, would never go to a Weasley family dinner, and now there were two new children on their way, and all she really wanted was to apparate straight to her best friends’ house and tell them the news...
“Lady Hari, are you alright?” A gruff voice pulled her from her maudlin thoughts, and she jumped, fumbling the bags she’d been carrying in one hand. She would have dropped them if a pair of shadows hadn’t reached out to steady them.
She blinked over at the man who had appeared next to her in the mostly-empty side street. He was a Nara, alright, though he was shorter than Shikaku by almost a four full inches, making him short compared to most of the men in his clan. Still, he had the brown eyes and olive skin, and his hair was pulled back into a ponytail.
He was putting most of his weight on his right leg, and his hands were held together in a sign as he continued to hold up her groceries. Looped over his right wrist was a cane, and his name clicked in her head. Nara Toshiro. He’d been injured badly on a mission six months ago, and it had effectively ended his career as an active ninja. Hari had helped his family fill out the paperwork needed for him to receive a stipend from the clan that was set up to keep injured and retired shinobi fed and clothed.
Shikaku had expressed concern just last week that he wasn’t dealing well with the change. He was restless and having trouble finding an in-village position that didn’t drive him crazy.
“Toshiro,” she greeted a little stupidly, and was surprised at how wet her voice sounded.
She realized with a start that she was crying. Great, just the impression she liked to make on her clan members. For some reason the thought made her tears fall a little faster. Usually when she cried Shikamaru and Shikaku went all fluttery and panicky, but to her surprise, Toshiro’s only reaction was a slight softening of his expression. He didn’t make a move to come any closer or start looking around for people to kill.
“Lady Hari,” he said in a gruff voice. “Is everything okay with...” his eyes drifted down to her stomach, where she’d laid the palm of her hand as she was lost in her depressing thoughts of her first real family.
“Oh!” she said and dropped her hand, then fumbled with her grocery bags, adjusting her hold so that he could release his shadows. “No, nothing like that. The babies are fine.”
He did the Nara slow blink at her. “Babies?”
Damn, usually she could keep a secret better than this. Now he knew there would be twins...wait, how had he known she was pregnant in the first place? “...Everybody knows, huh?” she said after a moment of thought, and he shrugged.
“Shikaku isn’t exactly subtle about it,” he said and she sighed. “Don’t worry, the clan will keep it to ourselves until you’re ready to announce it. Don’t want a repeat of last time.” His tone was light, but the air around him darkened in a way that Hari had become familiar with the last few years.
Hari discreetly wiped at her eyes, feeling better for the change in subject. Talking about her fumbling, overprotective husband always cheered her up. He moved into step next to her, graceful despite the limp and cane. To her eternal gratitude, he didn’t insist on taking her bags for her. Smart man.
“I’m sorry for worrying you,” she said. “It’s just...hormones, you know.”
He side-eyed her, probably doubting that was the full extent of the story, but didn’t comment. After another moment he spoke again. “I’m surprised Shikaku let you do a whole grocery shopping trip on your own.”
Hari sighed explosively, temper flaring. “Yes, well, I don’t need his permission, do I?”
To her surprise, he let out a low, rich laugh. Usually, people started ducking for cover when she lost her temper, even if her clan members looked delighted while they were doing so.
“You don’t,” he agreed. “Good on you, sneaking out. A Nara will subtly and not-so-subtly start trying to map out your life in a way that we think will keep you safe and happy. You’ve got to be on the lookout. We’re kind of overbearing assholes that way.”
Hari looked over at him in surprise. She had noticed, of course, some of Shikamaru’s and Shikaku’s more subtle approaches to getting her to do what they wanted her to do. Sometimes she let them get away with it, and other times she didn’t, depending on the situation. It had enraged her at first - and still did at times - but eventually, she’d realized that it was almost reflexive. They were strategists at heart, they looked at a situation and saw the paths laid out before them - what could happen, the best ways to prevent disaster, how to keep someone from ending up at point B when point C would make them much happier.
It was infuriating. It was endearing. It was something she knew she had to be firm about when it was important. She also never expected anybody else to mention it out loud.
“Yes,” she said. “I had noticed that.”
He grinned but didn’t say anything else about it. When they arrived at the house, he shifted uncomfortably and took a step back.
“Would you like to come in for a cup of tea?” she asked. “I’ll be taking over and watching Sachiko, but if you don’t mind kids...”
His eyes narrowed and he studied her, probably wondering if she really wanted his company. The truth was, she did. She didn’t want to be alone with just a toddler and her thoughts right then. Toshiro had succeeded in cheering her up, and she was suddenly curious about him. He had always kept to himself, which was fine - Shikaku didn’t force the members of their clan to be more involved than they wanted to be outside of their duties.
“Alright,” he said and followed her up the steps.
“I’m home!” she called as she entered the house and moved into the kitchen, setting her bags down on the table and motioning for Toshiro to sit.
“Welcome home,” Neji said, gliding into the kitchen. He inclined his head at Toshiro, who just grunted in response from where he was sitting, feet stretched out in front of him.
“Sachiko is sleeping. She had...an eventful day.”
Hari sighed and rubbed at her brow. “Do I even want to know?” she asked, knowing she sounded tired.
Neji placed a hand on her shoulder before reaching to grab three cups for tea. “It seems yesterday’s attempt at climbing tall things only to jump off was not an isolated incident.”
Hari slumped. “Bugger,” she said in English, then continued in a language Neji and Toshiro could understand, “It’s probably because her magic kept her from getting hurt yesterday. She thinks she’s safe, but she doesn’t have control of it. She’s going to break her neck if we’re not careful.”
Toshiro perked up. “She has your bloodline limit? I’d heard rumors, but...”
Hari huffed out a laugh. It really was impossible to keep things a secret in this clan. “Yes. She’s showing signs of it, but it’s not something we can formally train her in for a few years, at least. Where I’m from, we don’t begin our education on it until we’re eleven. The parts of ourselves that the power comes from isn’t matured enough until then.”
“Huh,” was Tashiro’s only response.
Neji helped her finish making the tea and then brought the tray to the table, pulling out her chair and then settling in next to her.
“Thank for watching her today,” Hari said once they were all sipping at their tea. “I don’t know how I’m going to find another nanny. You’re leaving for a mission tomorrow, right?” Neji nodded, and Hari sighed.
“Shikamaru is also busy in the Intelligence Department.”
“And Rai is on that escort mission. Ugh, I get why Shikaku ran off the last nanny, but the one before that was perfectly capable,” she grumbled.
“Yes, well. He does tend to have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to you, the twins, and Sachiko.”
His eyes drifted to her stomach before looking pointedly away and she groaned. “Why do I even attempt to keep something a secret in this village?” She sighed, then pulled the ultrasound picture out of her pocket and plopped it in front of him. He picked it up and studied it, then frowned.
“Two little clumps? Yes.” She couldn’t stop the grin that came over her face. “Eito and Natsu are going to flip out.”
Neji’s lip quirked. “Shikamaru will be...”
“An idiot? Yeah, I know,” Hari said and took a sip of her tea.
Toshiro, who had been watching them from under half-lidded eyes, let out a surprised laugh. He opened his mouth to say something, then frowned and turned his head to look fully into the family room. It was located across from the kitchen, and from his position, he was able to see directly into it. His eyes widened, then he stood and blurred out of the kitchen.
Knowing better than to dismiss a reaction like that, Neji was barely a moment behind him, Hari following, wand already in her hand. She entered the room just in time to see Toshiro snatch Sachiko from out of the air from where she’d toppled off the top of the bookshelf.
Hari gasped. They hadn’t even heard her wake up. Damn the sneaky smart Nara gene, anyway. For a few seconds everybody froze, Neji halfway across the living room, Hari in the doorway with her wand raised, and little Sachiko, who was staring up at the Nara cradling her in his arms with an unimpressed expression. He returned it with one of his own.
Finally, Sachiko broke the stalemate when she pointed to the top of the shelf and said, in her most imperious voice, “Up.”
Toshiro was extremely unmoved by her request. “No,” he said.
He ignored the way she was bristling in indignation and walked over to the couch before plopping her down on it. “You aren’t supposed to climb, and you know it. Ah-ah, don’t try to fool me with those sad eyes,” he said, and sank into a chair across from her.
Sachiko’s eyes narrowed at him. She brought her little pudgy finger back up and pointed to the shelf. "Up.”
“Nope,” Toshiro said, popping the ‘p’ and leaning back in the chair, the picture of relaxation.
Sachiko huffed and shuffled towards the edge of the couch. When she got there, however, she was blocked by a wall of shadows. She pressed against them. They didn’t move. Toshiro yawned. Sachiko’s lower lip trembled, and she looked over to Neji, widening her eyes.
“Brother Neji. Help.” Neji took a step forward, and Hari reached out to grab his arm. Sachiko had been overly spoiled by the men in her life and it was becoming a problem. Hari was interested to see how Toshiro handled her daughter who was, admittedly, already firmly in her terrible twos despite being a few months away from her birthday.
Neji sighed but didn’t protest, though he did turn his attention to the window. Coward. Sachiko turned to Hari, who was generally less likely to give in to her whims but was apparently seen as her last hope.
“Momma,” she whimpered. Hari bit the inside of her cheek to keep from reacting.
“Now don’t you go looking for help from them, Sachiko. You know better than to climb, and you’re gonna sit there for a while and think about what you’ve done.”
Sachiko stared at him in disbelief, then down at the shadows still hemming her in, then back at her two family members. Her expression clearly said Why are you letting this happen to me?
She pressed against the shadow. No change. She kicked it, and they still didn’t budge. Hari twitched when she threw her whole body against them, worried she’d hurt herself. Instead, the shadows stretched just enough to lessen the impact before gently placing her back on the couch.
Hari closed her eyes when her adorable daughter promptly threw herself onto her back and started to scream.
“Well,” Neji said, backing out of the room. “I should head home and pack for my trip tomorrow.”
He and Shikamaru lived in a house Shikaku had funded for them as a wedding present. It was a whole two-minute walk away - if you were going at a normal pace. Hari rolled her eyes, then leaned into him and pressed her lips to his cheek. “Alright, be safe.”
Neji inclined his head before leaving the house as quickly as he could without losing any of his usual Hyuuga poise. Toshiro had stood and limped to stand next to Sachiko, who was twisting her body into some seriously impressive shapes.
“Listen. You’ve gotta sit in that circle for two minutes... without the crying. Once you’ve done that, your punishment for climbing without permission will be over, and you can get off the couch. Until then, you’re stuck.”
She glared at him and screamed at the top of her lungs. He shrugged and went back to his chair. Hari, seeing she wasn’t helping the situation, turned and went back to the kitchen to start making dinner. Sachiko’s screams grew louder. Every once in awhile she heard Toshiro’s calm voice reminding her that she only had to sit quietly in the circle for two minutes and then she’d get out.
Hari had chopped all the vegetables by the time her crying tapered off into little whimpers. A few minutes later, as she was putting the rice into the cooker and chicken into the oven, she heard the soft murmur of voices and the crinkling of paper. She gave it another moment before peeking her head into the room. Her lips quirked up at the sight that met her.
Sachiko was curled onto Toshiro’s lap on the couch, her little cheeks still red and wet with tears, but she was calm now. She was watching in fascination as Toshiro folded a piece of paper. As he did so, he narrated a story about a baby crane who had become separated from her family when they were out on a day trip to the pond.
When he finished his folding, a small origami crane sat on the table, and his shadows pooled out onto it, forming the shape of a pond. They picked up the crane and pulled him away from the edge and into the middle, then to the far side. “And when the lost little crane next looked around, she saw that she was now surrounded by frogs...”
Hari leaned against the door jam and crossed her arms over her chest when little frog shadows appeared. She watched as the crane went through her adventures, the shadows a backdrop to the story. Finally, in the end, when the crane had found her way home with the help of a frog, a fish, and a lily pad, the shadows lifted the crane and brought it to a wide-eyed Sachiko. She took it shyly, turning it in her hands and studying the intricate folds.
“Uncle Toshi,” she breathed, stumbling over uncle so it sounded more like "unca," and Hari had to cover a laugh when she turned large adoring eyes on him, and he twitched.
“Sachi, sweetheart. Can mommy I have a hug? I missed you all day.”
Sachiko carefully set the crane to the side, then clambered out of Toshiro’s lap to dash across the room on her pudgy, wobbly feet, her betrayal from earlier forgotten. Hari leaned down and scooped her up, holding her to her chest and kissing the thick, unruly mass of dark brown hair on her head. Hari hadn’t realized how much she could love something until she’d had Sachiko.
“Mommy!” Sachiko said, pulling back. “I got a crane!” she turned and pointed at Toshiro, who was leaning back against the couch and dozing.
“Yes, I saw. Toshiro told you a very nice story. Did you tell him thank you?”
Sachiko’s eyes widened and she wiggled, a clear sign that she wanted down. Hari obliged, setting her on her feet and watching as she ran back over to Toshiro, putting a hand on his knee to get his attention.
He opened one eye and looked down at her. “Yeah?”
She smiled up at him sweetly. “Uncle Toshi, thank you.”
His lip quirked up and he reached out and ruffled her hair. “No problem, kid.”
Hari set Sachiko up with some crayons and a large sheet of paper at the kitchen table and made Toshiro a fresh cup of tea, since his had gone cold. Sachiko had immediately begun drawing a picture for ‘Uncle Toshi’ after ensuring that he sat directly next to her.
“That was impressive,” Hari said after she’d checked the meat and sat down across from Toshiro.
“I’ve got nieces and nephews. I’m used to it.” He studied her, then casually said, “You guys let her get away with those fits?”
“I’m afraid she’s got Shikaku and Shikamaru wrapped around her finger. Neji too, though to a lesser degree. I generally ignore them when it’s just her and I, so she’s not so bad until they come home. Then...”
He chuckled, and sipped his tea. “Pushovers."
“Yes,” she agreed. She bit her lip and studied him for a moment. “Toshiro, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but, I need to ask.”
Toshiro stiffened, but tilted his head to let her know he was listening. “Are you interested in taking a job as Sachiko’s nanny?”
He stared at her, obviously not having expected that, and she hurried to explain herself. “I just...I don’t know what you’re doing now, or if you’re even looking, and it certainly doesn’t pay what missions do, but it’s still higher than a normal nanny job because, let’s face it, it’s half-bodyguard half-nanny -”
“Hari,” he cut in, and she snapped her mouth shut. “You know, with this bum leg, I’m not the fighter I used to be.”
Hari shrugged. “You seem to have control of your shadows still. And you’re a jounin - a limp isn’t going to change the fact that you’re deadly. And you actually know how to deal with kids. It’s...I mean...I know you’re probably brilliant and could be off strategizing or what have you -”
“I hate those damn desk jobs,” he said with a huff, then leaned back, looking thoughtful. “Half bodyguard, huh?”
Hari shrugged, then nodded. “Yes. I mean, it’s only a matter of time before her magic becomes common knowledge, and people get more serious with the kidnapping attempts. There are still bits and pieces of the anti-shinobi group running about, I doubt they’ve completely given up on their dream of possessing a magical person. And, well, any other number of threats. I have some measures in place for protection, and of course, we’ve upped clan security, but, you can never be too careful.”
“What kinda pay are we talking?” he asked when she ran out of steam. Hari told him, and he raised an eyebrow.
“Damn, that’s not bad for an in-village position. Fine. I’ll try it out.” Hari beamed at him, and his expression went sulky when his cheeks turned a little pink.
“No need to be so energetic about it,” he grumbled.
Sachiko held up a picture that was obviously two people holding hands, one much shorter than the other. “Uncle Toshi...Sachiko!” she said, pointing to each of the blobs on a purple and blue scribbled background proudly.
Toshiro’s lips quirked up. “Thanks, kid,” he said, then sighed when both of the females at the table gave him bright smiles.
Any further discussion was left for later when Eito and Natsu burst into the house. “Big sister! You’ll never guess what we did at the Academy today!” Natsu yelled as she pushed her brother out of the way so she could enter the kitchen first.
She paused when she saw Toshiro, and executed a curtsy. “Oh, hello Mr. Nara, I didn’t see you there. I’m Natsu, and this is my brother Eito.”
He raised an eyebrow at her proper introduction, but Natsu still had a little bit of her princess roots in her. “It's Toshiro. Nice to meet you,” he said. Introductions over, they both crowded around Sachiko, complimenting her work and eventually dragging her outside to play.
Hari sighed. “Stay in the yard!” she called and went to start cooking the vegetables.
She’d seen Shikamaru walk past the window from the corner of her eye, so wasn’t surprised when she heard gasps of delight and his groan as he was tackled by two eight-year-olds and a toddler. She smiled and shook her head, and behind her, she heard Toshiro laugh beneath his breath. Sadness from earlier that afternoon forgotten, she asked Toshiro if he’d like to stay for dinner just as she heard Shikaku announcing his arrival home.
Toshiro had been Sachiko’s nanny for three weeks, and so far he hadn’t quit or been run off by her huffy husband. Sachiko loved him, and both Shikamaru and Shikaku had started to wear little glowers when she went on and on every evening at the dinner table about the things they did that day, even if it was mostly babble.
Neji and Hari shared a lot of can you believe we married these men looks, but other than that the transition was blissfully drama-free. Sachiko’s fits had reduced by a large margin, though she still tended to get whiny around her father and older brother, simply because she could. Hari and Toshiro also got along so well that Shikaku had started giving him narrow-eyed looks, though he knew better than to actually say anything.
Hari’s temper was already starting to flare more easily and burn hotter than usual. Every time a Nara popped up to help her with whatever task she was working on they looked a mix of delighted and terrified, since it was inevitable that she’d give them a piece of her mind that always boiled down to I’m pregnant not an invalid what is wrong with this clan, why didn’t I choose the Inuzuka, they’re run by women which means they’ll have about twenty times more common sense than you people.
She was currently sitting across a conference table from Sasuke, who was rolling his eyes at Naruto’s proposal that they just do away with prisons altogether and instead invest in rehabilitation. “Idiot, you can’t just brainwash people into behaving,” he scoffed.
Naruto bristled. “Hey, just because I actually want to help people -”
“It’s not a bad idea,” Hari cut in, knowing if she let them get going that they’d eventually devolve into a wrestling match. Seriously, the two of them just needed to get their shit together and then get naked together. As long as they didn’t forget to include Sakura. Hari spaced out a little at the images this thought process brought forth and was pulled back to the present by Naruto waving his hand in her face.
“Hari, are you okay? You got all red and spacey!”
She cleared her throat and willed herself to stop blushing. “Oh. Yes. Sorry, it’s just - a little warm in here?”
Naruto nodded solemnly. “It is a little. Do you want me to talk to someone -”
“No! No, that’s fine, I can just -” she took out her wand and cast a cooling charm, sighing in relief when the cool air hit her cheeks. Stupid hormones. She wondered if she could track down Shikaku. Maybe he was alone in his office...
“Maybe we should stop for the day,” Naruto said in a concerned tone, and she was once again pulled from her fantasies with a jolt. That was it, she was never getting pregnant again. She’d just have to be happy with the three plus Eito, Natsu, and Shikamaru...okay, so that was actually a lot of family.
“No, sorry, I’m fine. Just...” she trailed off. Her pregnancy was basically the worst kept secret in the village, but most shinobi were too polite to talk about it until she officially announced it, so Naruto just nodded and Sasuke grunted.
“Anyway, rehabilitation is a good idea, Naruto, but I still think we need to have a system for incarceration in place. With the overarching goal of being able to reintegrate into society if possible.” He tilted his head to the side while he thought about it, before nodding.
Before they could continue their conversation, there was a knock on the door, and it opened to reveal Shikaku. She eyed his hips with interest - they looked particularly yummy that day, especially when she remembered the way she’d had her thighs wrapped around them just that morning. He cleared his throat, and her eyes moved to his face. For a moment, he looked amused, but then a serious expression that he only wore when shit was really going down replaced the humor.
She stood. “The kids -”
“Are fine. We have a situation. Lady Tsunade needs you. She asked Naruto and Sasuke to come, too.”
Hari quickly packed her things into her satchel and sighed but didn’t argue when Shikaku took it from her and put it over his shoulder. He was genuinely unnerved by something. It was subtle, but she could tell by the stiff way he held himself and the way his eyes were darting around the room. He settled a hand to the small of her back and she was surprised to feel it tremble.
To her confusion, they didn’t head for the tower. Instead, they went down. When they made it to the street level and turned down a hallway Hari had never seen before, she had to breath through her nerves. Just what was going on? Shikaku opened the door to a stairwell and held out a hand to stop her from stepping forward, entering first in an obvious bid to check for threats.
Sasuke and Naruto, who had been furiously arguing about something behind them, went silent and alert at his actions. Hari frowned and released her wand into her hand after Shikaku waived them through, looking a little sheepish, and she realized he’d done it without thinking. He was shaken. What in the world was going on?
They went down two flights of stairs and Hari was a little annoyed when was out of breath at the bottom. This pregnancy sapped her energy more than the last one had. Though she supposed carrying two was probably more of a strain. Or it could be the two small cakes she’d eaten for lunch under Sasuke’s judging eyes while ignoring the healthy bento she’d packed.
Finally, they came to a thick metal door that Shikaku opened without any strain, and he sent her an almost apologetic look when he slipped through first, holding up a hand while he looked around before motioning them through. Hari’s back was stiff with nerves when she stepped inside.
“Shikaku, what is going on?” she hissed when she took in the grey gloomy hallway lined by dim, stuttering lights.
“This is where we keep people for interrogation,” Sasuke said abruptly and she glanced back at him.
His face could have been carved from stone, it was so emotionless, and from the worried looks Naruto was sending him, she assumed he had spent some time there when he first returned to the village.
“That’s right,” Shikaku said, then let out a breath of frustration. “I’m sorry, Hari, but the Hokage commanded me not to say anything to you. She wants to see your reaction for herself.”
She actually heard his teeth grind together. She reached out and wrapped her hand around his much larger one, which was fisted at his side. After a moment it relaxed, and she threaded her fingers through his. “Whatever it is, it’ll be okay,” she said in her rarely used Harriet Potter, Girl Who Lived voice.
He sent her an inscrutable look but didn’t answer. Okay, maybe nervous wasn’t a strong enough word for what Shikaku was feeling. She’d never seen him scared before. It was disconcerting, and she straightened her shoulders. Whatever it was, she wouldn’t let it hurt him.
They had passed a few doors, but Shikaku didn’t slow until they came to the last door before the end of the hallway. He opened it after letting go of her hand and Hari took in the group standing in the room with trepidation. There were no chairs or tables - it was just a grey cube, the only change in the monotony a pair of black curtains blocking out something on the far wall. Harry assumed there was an interrogation room on the other side of a one-way mirror beneath it.
Tsunade, Inoichi, and a man with deep scars on his face and wearing his hitai-ate on a bandana were standing in a loose circle. They filed in and Hari shifted uncomfortably when everybody’s focus landed on her.
“Hari,” Tsunade said in a hard voice she’d never heard from her before. “This is Morino Ibiki, he works in interrogation. I believe you know everybody else.”
Hari’s eyes darted to her husband but his expression had become unreadable. Was she in some sort of trouble? She greeted Ibiki politely.
“I’m only going to ask you this once,” Tsunade said, and Hari straightened her back in response to the challenge in her eyes. “Did you come through from your world on your own? Are you sure nobody else was with you?”
Hari blinked in surprise, brow furrowing. Out of everything that Tsunade could have asked, that was the last thing she expected. “I - yes. I told you, I was the only one caught in the statue’s spell that I knew of. I looked for my group in all the ways I knew how. It was only me,” she said and looked down at her feet. “If you don’t believe me, ask Ino - she saw everything when she mind walked me.”
Hari’s hand tightened on her wand, grip suddenly slick with sweat, and she didn’t miss the way Ibiki’s eyes flicked towards it suspiciously. “What is this about?” she demanded. When nobody answered, she narrowed her eyes. “Somebody needs to tell me why I’m here.”
Tsunade sighed. “Ibiki, show her.”
Shikaku opened his mouth but snapped it shut when Tsunade glared at him. “I already told you that this is how we’re going to do it. It’s not up for debate.”
Hari reached out and squeezed his arm, not sure what was happening but also not wanting him to get in a fight with somebody that could make his life seriously miserable. He relaxed minutely, but it was obvious he was unhappy about whatever was about to happen.
Her attention was pulled to the curtains when Ibiki moved over to them and, without fanfare, whipped them open. Hari was right, there was an interrogation room on the other side of what must have been a one-way mirror.
When she saw who was in it, her body went numb with shock and her vision swam. Her wand hit the ground with a clatter, and there was surprised shouting - Naruto - when she swayed. She would have fallen, but Shikaku caught her and was holding her up with an arm behind her back.
Eventually, her vision cleared, though she was still shaking in shock and disbelief. Sitting at the small metal table, cups of tea steaming in front of them as they conversed with each other quietly, were Ron and Hermione.