Shikako lost everything, again. Her team, her family, her friends, her world. Everything she'd worked for, everything she'd achieved, gone in an instant. It hurt, and she spent the first few months of her life grieving, feeling too tired to cry.
When she could see properly again she started trying to figure out where she was, fighting through the urge to just go back to sleep. She was alone. There was no twin brother for her to cling to, no islands in the sea of grief. She dragged herself out of the black inch by inch, using her fear of helplessness. That was much worse than it had been the last time she'd been an infant. A lifetime of shinobi instincts screamed in terror at her inability to stand, to hold a kunai.
She couldn't even trust her parents to keep her safe. Her mother (she'd seen no evidence of a father) was a civilian, entirely incapable of defending her daughter from anything more dangerous than a stray dog. Shikako hadn't even figured out how dangerous her new world was yet.
It seemed similar to her first life. Earth, English, and technology all familiar to her. Thankfully she still had her chakra, even if it was different somehow. Yin chakra seemed easier to use, the new energy replacing her yang chakra felt strange and hard to grasp. She had to re-learn control, basic leaf sticking exercises producing odd results like changing the paper into scraps of fabric or smoke. She persisted, practicing until she fell asleep at night and whenever her mother's back was turned.
She thought she was doing a decent job of mimicking normal child development, even without a twin to measure herself against. Enough so as not to raise alarm bells anyway. Her mother's parenting books, filled with helpful timelines of developmental milestones, helped immensely. It wasn't their intended use, but it gave Katherine a clear idea of when she could pick up 'new' skills, once she'd rifled through her mother's papers to find her date of birth.
Among the litany of things she missed from her life in Konoha was the Gelel stone. Intangibility would have kept her safer in a world with guns, even if she hadn't actually seen any in real life. Her normal shadow techniques still worked, even if they were little more unpredictable than she remembered. Sometimes just keeping her shadow still was difficult.
She tried to slip into shadow state without the stone while her mother napped on the sofa. She knew how her chakra felt in shadow state, and she could, if she meditated, still hear the song of Gelel, however faintly. It might be possible, she thought, willing her body to turn to shadow. It happened all at once, like falling off a cliff. One moment she was sitting on her living room floor, the next she was truly one with the shadows.
She slipped under the sofa, revelling in the feeling of freedom. She wasn't trapped by a toddler body that wouldn't do what she needed it to, she was capable of anything.
"Katherine? Katherine?" her mother called, sounding confused. Katherine stayed where she was. Why would she give this up?
"Katherine! Where are you?" her mother sounded panicked and Katherine felt a twinge of guilt for upsetting her.
"Katherine, please, where are you?" her mother sounded like she was choking back tears.
Did she want that? To vanish forever? What would that do to her mother?
Almost before she thought about it, Katherine reformed behind the sofa.
"Here mummy," she called.
Her mother swept into the room within seconds, finding her almost immediately and picking her up gently.
"Katherine? Were you there the whole time sweetie? Didn't you hear me?" Jo said, clutching Katherine's tiny body to her chest.
"Nap," Katherine said.
Her mother let out a sob. "Mummy couldn't find you sweetie, it's been hours. Don't do that again, alright?"
Katherine nodded absently, wondering when her perception of time had got that bad.
Katherine didn't know where she was. Of course, she knew where she was - London, England, early 1980s. But this wasn't the world of her first life, she was increasingly certain. There were subtle differences, a few national boundaries drawn a little differently, a few politicians she was sure had been different.
Then there was the strange energy. It wasn't chakra, that she was certain of. It was tied into some things and not others. In the park nearest her house there was a single oak tree among dozens that felt...different. It felt alive, active somehow, while the other trees were just trees. Just like the trees, some people had the strange energy woven through their bodies, but most didn't. Katherine's body had the strange energy, but no one she encountered regularly did. The people who did tended to flicker on the edges of her range, and when she did catch sight of them they were often oddly dressed. She couldn't follow them, being an appropriately supervised small child, and that was infuriating. Even the special oak tree was out of her range most of the time. The only thing other than herself that had energy she could feel consistently was the night sky. She often found herself staring up at the stars, trying to feel closer to the distant call of their energy.
Katherine didn't know where she was, but it wasn't a place she'd been before. Was it another fictional universe from her first life? Something from her second? Something she'd never heard of? She had no way to know.
In the absence of useful information Katherine started to rebuild all the skills she could. She ran through her morning exercises before her mother woke up, singing in her head. She didn't have anywhere she could test explosive seals without attracting huge and unwanted amounts of attention, so she worked on other things. Working through her seals and adjusting each of them to account for the differences in energy was a slow process, but she managed it bit by bit. Once she could apply a seal by touch it was much easier to use, unimpeded by her imprecise motor control.
The summer before she started primary school Katherine finally had her hammerspace seal working again, along with an illusion seal to cover the seal itself. She tucked a change of clothes into it with a smile, already planning to outfit herself properly. This world didn't seem to have any real security measures, and it only took Katherine a few nights out to identify one of the local dealers and relieve him several of the bundles of cash stashed under his mattress. There was enough left that he wasn't likely to miss it, and having money made getting hold of decent gear less ethically questionable than just stealing the things she needed.
Katherine tolerated school, feeling the hole in life where Shikamaru had been very sharply when she was surrounded by children and had no one to hide behind. She spent most of her lessons sketching out seals or reading under her desk. It was tedious, especially since there were no interesting ninja social dynamics to study, but she managed.
Her dull existence was interrupted by the first proper clue to her location she'd found since her birth.
Her mother didn't seem to notice anything strange about the london street, her eyes sliding over the pub without seeming to notice the oddly dressed people moving in and out. Katherine was focused, noting that almost every person going in and out was one of the rare people with not-chakra, and the building itself seemed to have the energy in every brick. There was some sort of an effect (a low level genjutsu?) around the building, likely preventing her mother from seeing the pub. Katherine memorised the name and location of the strange pub before she was gently pulled onwards.
The pub she'd seen was called the Leaky Cauldron, and the name seemed familiar even if she couldn't quite place it. There was clearly an organised community for energy users, whatever they called themselves. Katherine was desperate to explore, to find out what she could about her new world.
On Monday she said goodbye to her mother at the school gate, then used a transformation behind the bike shed to leave school undetected. She found a phone box and called herself in sick, giving herself a day unsupervised. Katherine used another transformation to make herself look like her teenage self, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt instead of her school uniform.
Katherine took the tube into central london, focusing on her senses in case anyone with an energy signature showed up. The first person of interest she found was a few streets away from the pub, but this one had passable infiltration skills, having actually managed to dress like a normal London business man rather than a tornado in a charity shop. Katherine tailed him until she could slip into his shadow undetected. She stayed shadow state within the boundaries of the man's shadow as he walked through the pub, making straight for the yard behind it.
The man pulled out a stick and tapped several bricks, and Katherine's brain screamed to a halt. That was a magic wand, he'd used a magic wand, this was a wizard - wait, was this Diagon Alley? Was she in the Harry Potter universe? The man stepped forward through the brick arch and out into a busy street. From within the man's shadow Katherine felt a cacophony of sensations - almost everything and everyone on this street was magical and she could sense all of it. The more she felt and saw, the more certain she was. This was Diagon Alley, and she was a witch.
Katherine stepped out of shadow into a small alleyway and slumped against a wall, hiding herself behind a dustbin and coughing. She was very aware that she was a small child in a school uniform - a muggle school uniform even, in a place she shouldn't be, so she threw up her best attempt at ANBU stealth techniques. She adjusted slowly to the magic in the air, taking deep breaths and resisting the urge to cough. It took her a few minutes more to adjust to the onslaught of sensations every time she took her attention away from the small bubble around her. Even the rubbish in the bin next to her was magical, and it was overwhelming. She'd spent her youngest years in the muggle world, isolated from the overwhelming sensation of this much magic.
Katherine peered out of the alley, still hopefully undetectable. She had no idea how reliable her stealth techniques were now that she had to use the new energy - magic as well as chakra, and testing them was too risky. Most of the people she could see were wearing long, flowing robes of some sort, either open at the front like a graduation gown or a more like a long dress. A few were wearing truly odd combination of normal clothes (was that man wearing speedos and a doctors coat?) but Katherine figured that was an atrocious attempt at blending in with muggles.
More importantly, the children she could see were always accompanied by an adult. It wouldn't have been odd in Konoha for children her age to wander the village alone, but it would be here, so she needed to look older. Katherine pictured Shikako at nineteen, dressed in wizarding robes, and transformed.
Katherine spent a few hours browsing through the shops, trying to not look like a gawking tourist while she examined enchanted books, cauldrons, and charmed toys before she realised she needed food and a chance to sit and think.
Katherine concluded Gringotts should have some sort of money exchange, because muggleborn students had to pay for things somehow, but not knowing how it worked would look odd. Pretending to examine a display of broomsticks (and resisting actually examining it) she watched passersby in the windows until she spotted a family dressed normally and heading up the steps of Gringotts.
Katherine followed them through the bank to a counter manned by a human rather than a goblin. Goblins themselves were scattered throughout the building, their magic sharp and completely distinct from the magic of the humans Katherine could feel as she joined the queue to exchange money.
She left the bank with a small pile of galleons exchanged for a wad of notes, and started to look for somewhere to eat.
Katherine settled into the Witch's hat teashop with a plate of pumpkin shortbread and a cup of tea. She needed to process the revelation that she was in the world of Harry Potter. It was a relief to have a clear idea of where she was, and more than that, she was a witch. She was going to go to Hogwarts. The part of Katherine that had been a Harry Potter fan was delighted.
She also knew, roughly, what the dangers were, and the major events at Hogwarts during the time Harry would be there. She needed more information though. How long had it been since Voldemort had been defeated? If she knew how old Harry Potter was she could figure out a proper timeline for future events. She was relatively certain that she was currently in the period between Voldemort's defeat and Harry attending school, given the date and the relaxed atmosphere of Diagon Alley.
She had no idea how powerful wizards were, and she needed to be prepared.
Katherine pulled a spare notebook and started to take notes, in a simply encoded version of konoha script. She remembered bits and pieces, important plot points, where characters were, what the horcruxes were and so on. A lot of what she had was very useful, but she was lacking all the context to fit it into. In Konoha she'd been raised around hundreds of small conversations about politics and being a ninja that had helped her understand the culture and structure of the world she was in. Here, she was going in blind, without Shikaku's guiding hands and lazy explanations. She suppressed the aching burst of loneliness and started figuring out what she needed to know.
Hoping she'd be able to find the right sorts of books in Diagon Alley, Katherine tried to sort out her priorities. She needed to understand wizarding politics, magical culture, details about the Voldemort war, magical methods of combat, anything similar to sealing (runes maybe?) and... Katherine stopped, struck by a thought. Knowing the future wasn't unheard of in this universe. She might be able to pass herself off as a seer, and that might make a lot of things easier. If nothing else she could pretend things she'd learnt through espionage were visions or something.
Katherine met her childminder at the school gates, her purchases hidden in hammerspace, feeling better than she had in months. She had goals, purpose and interesting things to research. She could do magic, and she had a whole society to understand.
Katherine went bed early, claiming tiredness, and curled up in bed with one of her new books. Wizards didn't do paperbacks, so every book she'd bought was a leather bound tome with thick, creamy paper. After a moment's hesitation she'd chosen 'The rise and fall of Voldemort' to start with. Voldemort was the biggest threat, and she didn't know how much about him was common knowledge in the wizarding world. She wasn't even sure how much detail there had been about the Voldemort war in the books she'd read, or how reliable that information was.
She pulled her chakra reading light into her hand, and then hesitated. She was a witch, right? So maybe...
"Lumos," she whispered, pulling on her magic rather than her chakra.
A small light flickered on the tip of her index finger, dimming after a moment. She couldn't relight it, and returned to using her chakra light after a few minutes. Despite the apparent difficulty of magic use, Katherine was still smiling victoriously. She was a witch.
Several hours of reading and note taking later Katherine had some answers and a lot of questions. She knew that Harry Potter was only a few months younger than her, and would be attending Hogwarts in the same year as her. She wasn't sure how the wizarding community knew so little about Voldemort, but there was nothing about his early life at all. To the magical community, he'd come out of nowhere in the early seventies and started gathering power. No one seemed to have tried to investigate his background, and if they had they'd come up with nothing. It was honestly pretty frustrating, but Katherine suspected she'd be able to get hold of better information once she'd got her skills back up to scratch and had a good understanding of magical security measures.
She put the book into hammerspace, finally giving in to exhaustion.
Katherine pushed through the groggy feeling the next morning, managing to hide the book on ancient runes in one of her seal expanded picture books. She'd made them a few months ago so that it wasn't obvious that she was reading so far above her age level. She would never have tried anything like it in Konoha, but people here were fantastically unobservant. Her teachers didn't even notice her reading under the desk or staying in at playtime to read, hiding what she was actually reading was child's play.
By the time her childminder picked her up from school she'd determined that the way wizards used runes was similar to the way she used seals. Wizards, however, limited themselves by being incredibly conservative and unimaginative. Instead of developing their own seal script to express their will, runes masters bent their minds to the form of the runes used by ancient civilisations. Using a script that you neither fully understood nor used naturally was incredibly limiting. Katherine wouldn't be doing that. She would be using the runes expressing magical concepts she didn't already have and disregarding the rest. Which wasn't to say that the book wasn't useful - it had enabled her to create a basic storage seal using magic alone, something she'd been trying for months.
The next book she chose was called 'The Gift and those who have it'. The bookseller had described it as a broad introduction to the sight, and Katherine had hoped it would help her decide whether or not she could use 'seer' as a cover to tell people what she knew. The book indicated that around half of the magical population had some ability in divination, although this was often weak and unreliable. Distinguishing the true predictions from the false ones was often impossible except in hindsight. Seer talent was also very individual, and usually uncontrollable. Prophets, for example, couldn't remember prophesies they'd given, and nothing could make a prophet produce them on command. Prophets were extremely rare, but people who had visions of some sort were relatively common. There were a couple of families that seemed to be known for reliable predictions, but useful predictions were rare.
A reliable seer talent would make Katherine a valuable resource. She was acutely aware of her own vulnerability. All the training in the world couldn't compensate for a five year old body, and she had no idea what a competent wizard would be capable of. The knives she had stored in hammerspace might not be enough to take on a wizard using a wand. Memory spells existed, and Katherine suspected a witch or wizard would be able to erase all evidence of her existence, all her mother's memories of her, very easily. No one would even know she was missing.
On the other hand, wizards (or at least the writer of this book) seemed to be incredibly superstitious about seers. Trying to coerce information out of a seer was generally held to be the height of stupidity. You might get something, but it would be your undoing, seemed to be the general theme. The author advised caution in asking a seer questions, because you might not like the answers, and there might be a very good reason they weren't telling you. Very few people actually wanted to know how they were going to die, and these things had a nasty habit of being self-fulfilling prophesies. If a seer came to you with advice, however, only a fool would ignore it. Katherine would have to do more research, but it seemed like a possibility.
If nothing else, according the book's definition, she was a seer. She had some information about the past, the present and the future, so regardless of the source, she was a seer. Being known as one would probably make a lot of things easier for her. If she'd been able to tell Tsunade about some of the threats without suspicion, or even just say, 'you should prepare to fight edo tensei armies,' and be listened to... Maybe things would have gone better.
A week after her trip to Diagon Alley, Katherine had devoured her stack of books and her mind kept drifting back to Harry Potter. He was the same age as the kids in her class, and he was living in a cupboard. She was withdrawn, more so than she'd been with Shika as a buffer, but she helped Izzie who sat next to her sometimes, and she wasn't oblivious to the children around her. They were very, very young, and no child deserved what was happening to Harry.
Katherine was also aware that she needed goals, needed something to do. Needed someone she could talk to about magic. She'd already filled an exercise book with storage seals filled with food. If she just had a few days to track him down she could give it to him.
Katherine was pretty sure there was some sort of blood protection that meant Harry was safer with his muggle relatives, and it wasn't like she could persuade her mother to take in a random child anyway. Harry probably wouldn't be safe in the wizarding world, he was a really easy assassination target for a Death Eater with a grudge. She probably couldn't get him away from the Dursleys, but she might be able to make things better for him. At the very least, she could tell him about magic and that his parents loved him.
Last time around, she was relatively helpless as a five year old. She couldn't even use chakra enhancement, she hadn't been able to use high-level jutsu, hadn't been sure of herself. This time she was a Jounin of Konoha, could use her favourite techniques, and wasn't going to let being five stop her from fixing things.
Little Whinging was only a short train ride away from her mother's house, but finding time unsupervised so she could visit was a challenge. She could sneak out at night, like she'd been doing for the last year or so, but breaking into a child's bedroom/cupboard wasn't a good way to introduce yourself.
Katherine mulled it over for a few weeks, adding little drawings to the exercise book below the notes she'd made about what each seal contained, in case he hadn't learnt to read yet.
In the end her opportunity came with the end of the summer term. Katherine was supposed to attend a summer activity course during the day, but unlike school she'd be able to drop out without someone starting an investigation. All it took was a phone call, and she had the entire summer free to explore the magical world.
Katherine stayed in shadow state for the train journey to Surrey. She could maintain a henge for several hours, but it was exhausting. Shadow state seemed as easy and natural as her solid form. She emerged out of the shadows just outside Little Whinging train station, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.
She started walking the grid search pattern she'd planned, covering all of Little Whinging. If Harry was here, she'd be able to sense him once she got close enough. Her range wasn't big enough to cover the town quickly, so she was pleasantly surprised when she encountered a magical signature after only a few hours of searching. She walked through the streets of identical suburban houses towards the bright gleam of a magical child, almost certainly Harry.
He seemed to be hiding under a bush in a park close to the centre of the town, while children shrieked around him. Katherine wandered over to the bush the child was hiding under and ducked through the branches, feeling the way the child's magic had twisted them into a shelter.
The boy in the centre of the bush was curled into a ball and sobbing quietly. He had messy black hair, and his face was buried in his arms.
"Hey, Harry?" she said gently, but the boy still flinched, looking at her with wide green eyes. Katherine took in the scar on his forehead, a thin, pale line, and was certain she'd found him.
"How do you know my name?" Harry mumbled, sounding choked up.
"Um, I know things before they happen sometimes. I'm Katherine by the way, can I hide here too? It's a cool place." she said.
"O-okay," Harry said, still not meeting her eyes.
"Do you want to see something cool?" she asked.
Harry looked suspicious, like it might be some kind of cruel trick.
"Watch," she said, waving a hand in the air. She pulled a chocolate bar out of hammerspace, and Harry gasped.
"How did you do that?"
"Magic," Katherine said, smiling.
Harry wasn't sure which he was happiest about, his new friend or magic. He'd never had a friend before, Dudley always chased them away. Harry didn't think Dudley would be able to chase Katherine away.
Katherine had given him a magic book full of chocolate and fruit and sweeties and sandwiches, so he could have food even when the Dursleys locked him in his cupboard. Harry knew exactly how much food was in there, and he had the book hidden under his mattress.
Magic was secret. Magical people hid away from normal people, so he couldn't let the Dursleys know he knew about magic. Katherine had said that was very important, and Harry didn't want to upset her.
She'd started teaching him real magic too! He could take things in and out of his book, and hide things in it. Katherine was teaching him leaf sticking too. She said it was an important first step, even if it wasn't very exciting. Katherine could make leaves fly with a flick of her fingers, and it was the coolest thing Harry had ever seen.
Katherine didn't spend all her free time with Harry. More than half of her free days were spent exploring Diagon Alley, either transformed or in shadow state, and gathering information and resources. Understanding a society was a slow and complex process. Specific information was easy to find, but she didn't really know what she was looking for. She hadn't been born into magical society, didn't have parents gently guiding her through the intricacies of social norms and culture. She had the difficulties a civilian would have had in Konoha, trying to figure out the politics of ninja clans, and she was having to work hard to figure out the lay of the land.
Katherine was spending a lot of time in the Leaky Cauldron, eavesdropping on casual conversations. There was a huge amount of information in her notebooks, gleaned from the assumptions and opinions of pub patrons. Notes on how the muggleborn magicals viewed pureblood witches and wizards, how pureblood wizards viewed muggleborns, and how half-bloods viewed both of them. What jobs people tended to have, how that was influenced by their blood status, how people thought about magical beings. It was honestly fascinating in it's own right, as well as useful.
Katherine was hiding in a puddle of shadow beneath a table in the pub, listening to a conversation between two half-bloods about their pureblood friend when she sensed something she hadn't encountered since she'd been born as Katherine. A person with a chakra signature, achingly familiar, burst onto her radar, stepping out of the floo.
She reformed herself out of shadow beside the large fireplace when no one was looking, getting as close to the familiar chakra signature as she could. It couldn't be him, could it? The chakra wasn't the same, not quite, but it was different in the way Katherine thought her own was - magic instead of yang chakra.
Katherine found herself meeting the eyes of a boy her own age, features unfamiliar but the expression, and shocked recognition on his face familiarly Sasuke.