For Cornelius Fudge, Lord-Commander of the Legion of Myrddin.
2 AUGUST 1995
AFTER ACTION REPORT
We must report, sir, that our mission was unsuccessful. Potter, as far as we are aware, remains at large at present time.
Despite arriving at No.4 Privet Drive ahead of the standard DMLE task-force, we were unable to dispose of Potter. We were assailed in the entrance-hall by the Muggle patriarch bearing a Muggle-produced hunting rifle. All three members of the household were incapacitated, and disposed of in the ensuing controlled demolition.
Other combatants joining into the fray include Squib resident of Privet Drive, Ms. Arabella Figg. Figg fled before being captured or incapacitated by LM operatives.
Vernon Dursley, 46, Muggle businessman, D.
Petunia Dursley, 36, Muggle housewife, D.
Dudley Dursley, 15, Muggle child / schoolboy, D.
Legionnaire 1st Class Warner Hext, 28, WIA.
Deputy Field-Commander Harper Love, 45, KIA.
After controlled demolition of No.4 via premature detonation of gas lines, search attempts were undertaken across Surrey and Greater London. No trace of Harry Potter was found. Potter is assumed to be at large somewhere in the territorial boundaries of England, no Floo activity nor apparition activity has been detected with his magical signature anywhere within the United Kingdom.
3 August 1995
Bayankalashanmai, Qinghai, China
Ranma Saotome was trying his best to keep his emotions in check—men don't cry—men don't cry—
The Jusenkyō Guide was staring at him with some trepidation as he was preparing breakfast for the two guests and himself.
"So, the curse is… permanent. No cure?" Ranma asked, frowning.
"None that we know of. We strongest civilization in the valley, except for Musk and great mythical Phoenix Kingdom. We try for many years, find Jusenkyo cure. Never find one, so probably not one. You consult with Elder Cologne, she help you maybe. Joketsuzoku lead by women, men do okay, but not warriors. Mostly bureaucrats and historians."
Ranma quietly processed this information, "How does the curse work?"
"Cold water turn you into girl, Hot water turn you back to boy. Could not tell you threshold for temperature or anything like that. Magic very strange, almost circumstantial when it happens."
Ranma's limbs went numb as he fought back another wave of emotion. The Jusenkyo Guide quietly said, "Holding in emotion like that, not good for soul. It okay to be upset, curse not always most fun thing. You still young, you manage, I think."
Ranma looked up at the man and nodded. "Yeah, I gotta take this like a challenge—like every challenge I've done before!"
The older man nodded, "That very smart idea. What you think about women and the ways of martial arts?"
"Pop always tells me that girls can't be good at the art, that they're… too emotional. Too irrational. I dunno if I believe that, I've met plenty'a girls in my life that were damn strong and damn effective, but…"
"You still have nagging feeling in head that this curse make you no good enough. That no you can't be best martial artist."
"You no worry about that. As I tell you, Joketsuzoku strong civilization of female warriors. Unbelievably strong, beat Musk Dynasty in great war years ago, keep peace in valley too against Communist Party."
The Guide nodded sympathetically to Ranma, "You go visit the Joketsuzoku before go back to Japan with Panda. They help you, tell you more details about curse, give you advice on how conquer it." He glanced through the doorway at the slumbering panda.
"Maybe leave Panda here. No good if you get on bad-side of Joketsuzoku."
Ranma glanced at his father's panda form and nodded, "Fair enough."
The Guide pulled off their food from the stove, and placed some meat and rice on Ranma's plate. Ranma thanked the Guide, and began to consume some of the first actual food he'd had in days. The Guide watched the young man-presently-woman consume food without a breath in-between bites. Obviously, the kid had been through a lot.
6 August 1995
Heavenly Zenith, Joketsuzoku Matriarchy
The disappearance of Harry Potter, and the circumstances it was based on, deeply concerned Elder Cologne of the Joketsuzoku.
Though she couldn't care any less about the stability or peace of the British nation, given their previous attitudes towards both her civilization, and that of China at large, she did care a great deal about the madness of authoritarianism and the madness of serial killing mages running free to harass and subjugate entire groups of people before them like petty kings and conquerors.
While she was brooding about the situation, one of the village warriors entered her home.
"Esteemed Elder—there is an outsider at the gates, asking for an audience with you."
"An outsider? Asking for me?" Cologne asked, standing up from her seated position, and walking with her staff over to the warrior.
"She says she was told to come to our village by the Honorable Guide."
"Ah, so I see. Well, if she was sent here by the Honorable Guide, then I see no reason not to let her in. Permit her passage, and bring her to me."
The warrior bowed deeply, "Yes, Esteemed Elder."
She departed, and returned a few minutes later with a short redheaded girl, she was barefoot and wearing a stained and dirty gi.
The girl bowed deeply, "It is a pleasure to meet you, Esteemed Elder."
Cologne smiled, "Such formality, there is no such need for that right now, child. Come in, come in."
She grinned, "I am Cologne, High Elder of the Joketsuzoku Matriarchy—what is your name?"
As she approached, the Elder gestured to a chair, "Sit down, Ranma, let us talk."
Sitting down, the girl was silent, before the Elder said, "So, you are Jusenkyo victim… hmm…" She observed the girl for a moment, "Ah, Nyannichuan. A very common one in the civilizations around here."
"How did you know?" The girl asked in surprise, and the Elder grinned, "Your body language is a little rough, even for our rural standards, child. Now tell me, how did you come across the Springs of Sorrow?"
"Well…" The boy-turned-girl frowned, "I've been on a training trip since I was six, learning martial arts and stuff. My old man found out about… Jusenkyo, when he was gambling in Chongqing. He thought it was the ultimate training ground, and we ended up goin' there as the last stop before we returned to Japan."
He frowned, "The Old Man ignored the Guide and pretty much goaded me inta' fightin' him on these bamboo reeds stickin' up from the springs, and I kicked him so hard he went flyin' into one of the springs—he popped out as a panda, and then while I was arguing with the Guide, the old man hit me and I went flyin' into one of the other springs."
He grabbed his breasts, "And now I'm stuck with these stupid things."
Cologne chuckled some and nodded, "You're very fortunate, child. Do you know that any of the springs around it would've made you turn into an animal like your father? Consider it a blessing that your curse only changes your sexual organs, and not your species."
"I'm sorry, Elder." Ranma frowned, "It's just that my old man's been fillin' my head for years with stuff like girls are weak, girls can't handle the Art, stupid stuff like that. I know he's wrong but it's hard ta get away from it."
Cologne nodded, "I'm sure the Guide told you—but men in our civilization do not fight. They are the caretakers. For every female priestess or healer, there are seven or eight men in that same role—alternatively, for every male warrior, there are typically 30 or 40 female warriors. Mousse, a charge of mine, is one of the only male warriors in the village, and is only permitted such a right because he is the only son of one of the Lesser Elders."
"How do… ya live with it? Always changin' sexes?"
"Well, that's not really a question I can answer, child. There is someone who can, however. Our most respected Battle Mistress, Jin. However, first… you must take the time to freshen up. Your clothes are abhorrently dirty, and you smell like one of our stables."
Ranma blushed, and the old woman waved her hand, "I apologize, I have no tact sometimes—but yes, you look like you've been having a rough time for the last few months. Please, I will gather you some new garments to wear, but go bathe."
Twenty minutes later, Ranma descended the stairs, wearing a towel wrapped around his waist. "No hot water, huh?"
"Well, we are in the middle of a tribal civilization, sonny. Our hot water is mostly used for other purposes." She said, "Also, for reference in the future, you may want to cover your breasts up when you're in your female form."
Ranma realized his indecency and covered himself up.
Cologne laughed, "It's nothing I've never seen before, sonny—but I'm sure in other civilizations, I'm sure they'd be just a little bit scandalized." She rolled her eyes, "Foreign men and their delicate eyes."
Cologne handed him a folded stack of clothes. "With your status as a foreign warrior, I deem it a necessity that you wear the clothes of a warrior too."
Ranma looked at the clothing. It was a black silk blouse, dark green cloth pants, a dark green chest-plate, two hard leather arm-guards, and a brown leather belt. Ranma whistled, "This looks really nice."
Cologne nodded, "It is the standard attire worn by our great warriors. I borrowed it from my great-granddaughter's wardrobe, but I am rather certain she won't notice it's missing."
Ranma quickly changed, and Cologne provided him with a pair of shoes. They soon emerged into the bustling village, and made their way towards the far-end, where a large wooden building and a clearing were standing. In the clearing, over two hundred young women were standing performing exercises and training regimens at varying levels of expertise.
Cologne gestured to a lavender-haired girl performing a rapid combination of masterful martial arts moves on a wooden dummy. "That is my great-granddaughter, Shampoo. She's the village champion." She beamed with pride, and Ranma nodded. "Awesome. I'd love to spar with her."
"I wouldn't advise it yet, sonny. You're an outsider, and if you defeat her in combat… there could be some negative legal repercussions."
"Ah." He decided not to approach the topic further.
They approached an older woman standing next to some other older women, watching the various young women practicing. She noticed their approach and bowed. "Elder Cologne! To what can I owe this honor?"
Cologne smiled, "Pleasure to see you again, Jin. Come with me, let's go inside and discuss this in private."
Jin nodded, and looked at the young woman wearing a warrior's uniform. Saying nothing, Jin followed Cologne and the girl inside.
Sitting down around a table, tea was served by one of the men who worked as staff in the building. Cologne said, "Jin, this is Ranma Saotome—he has been afflicted by the Nyannichuan spring, and he is having a bit of trouble dealing with it psychologically."
"Ah, I see." She sat back and looked at her cup of tea. "So, you've come for…advice."
Ranma nodded, and Jin said, "Well… before we begin speaking on that, I wish to know who you are first. Ranma Saotome, tell me about yourself."
Ranma went into his explanation of the last ten years of his life, and Jin nodded. "That would explain why the Elder permitted you to wear what you're wearing. It's incredibly rare for an outsider to be allowed to wear a warrior's breastplate. But it is a pleasure to see an outsider with such experience."
She grinned in a manner identical to Cologne.
"Well, where shall I begin?" Jin leaned back in her chair, "I was born about 60 years ago, here in the village. I was born a male, destined from birth to be nothing more than a simple bureaucrat or a historian… but I wanted to be something more than that."
She looked off out of the window at the legion of young women.
"When I was fifteen years old, our tribe was attacked by the Communist Party of China. I was denied the right to be a warrior as a male, since I wasn't an epitome of strength and capability. Men are only permitted to be warriors if they exhibit the right number of traits."
"Our armies defeated the forces of Mao Tse-tung and his cadre of villainous cohorts, but we suffered a grave price. Thousands of our comrades in arms died fighting against Communist imperialism." She seemed upset, before she sighed.
"The Great Elder," she placed her hand on Cologne's hand, "she offered me a chance to train as a warrior in case the Communists should return. I submerged myself in the Nyannichuan spring, and have been using our special soap ever since."
Ranma said, "Really? You did it voluntarily?"
The older woman nodded. "I had to think about it, but I ultimately decided that giving up my manhood for the service of my tribe was an acceptable sacrifice. I wanted to be the best I could, and I think I've done well, as Battle Mistress. I have trained nearly two full generations of warriors for the Joketsuzoku civilization, to be ready to take on our enemies."
She smiled and looked at Ranma, "Your curse mostly boils down to your willpower. Many Jusenkyo victims have gone insane because they cannot handle the… deep abyss that the curse makes them contemplate. Lots of people, in our culture and others, are protective of their self-image and masculinity at the time they're cursed, and the disassociation involved with the curse slowly drives them mad."
She sat back, "You cannot allow it to conquer you, Ranma Saotome. You will have to stare into that abyss that is your psyche and soul, and you will have to find out what you want to be. You are afforded a fantastic opportunity, to be whatever you want."
"But I'm a guy!" Ranma protested.
Jin laughed lightly, "I mean, maybe half of the time, sure… but the other half of the time you're just as woman as Cologne and I are. And that's not a terrible thing!"
"It's not a terrible thing?! But it isn't me, it's some girl who drowned two thousand years ago!"
Jin shook her head, "Those are just stories we come up with to startle foreigners who stick their nose where it doesn't belong. I mean, yes, theoretically speaking the curses are caused by the deceased, but the curses themselves don't… make people assume the forms of the people who died, mostly. You look like the girl you would have been if you'd been birthed that way. The newer cursed springs maybe, but that's just because the magic hasn't completely saturated itself yet."
Ranma settled down and frowned, crossing his arms.
Cologne said, "Ranma, we're not saying you have to be a woman. What we are saying is that there isn't anything you can't do as a woman that you can already do as a man. You haven't changed, you just have the ability to decide what sex organs you prefer to have."
Ranma opened his mouth, and then closed it again. The two women smiled, and Jin said, "Listen, you should stay for a few days… I'd really like to see you battle Shampoo, and I'd really like to show you that your curse is… well, anything but."
Cologne nodded, "That is a very good idea. As Elder, I invite you, honored outsider, to enjoy our hospitality for a few days, and take in the things our tribe offers. I'm sure we can show you the merits of the strength in women."
Ranma thought about it and then nodded. "Alright, alright. Ya've won me over, old crone. If anything, martial arts is the rock of stability in my life."
"Join the club, dear." Jin said with a shit-eating grin.
"Delightful!" Cologne clapped her hands together, "Now, Ranma Saotome—why don't you show us exactly how strong of a warrior you are?"
Three days later
9 August 1995
Ranma turned to see her friend Shampoo standing there, grinning ear to ear.
"Shampoo! Is your practice over already?" Ranma blinked, looking up at the sky.
"Yes, The Battle Mistress called an end to today's session because today is the Festival of the Sun! Are you participating in the Grand Tournament? I have been very eager to take you on in a formal combat situation, our light spars aside."
Ranma shook her head, "The Council couldn't get together in time to debate your great-grandma's proposal. I'll have ta sit it out, but I'm still lookin' forward to watchin' ya crush all the other girls. Shouldn't be more than a small work-out for ya."
Shampoo laughed and the two young teenagers walked through the village together. Ranma said, "Are you interested in getting something to eat first, before your moment of triumph?"
"Yes, working out always makes me hungry."
The two walked to the marketplace, and decided to simply share in some fruit. Bartering with the local produce grower who'd come from one of the fertile valleys to the West in Xinjiang, the old man seemed satisfied by the trade, and parted with some coins in exchange for apples for the young women.
The conversation mulled about in neutral for a while as they ate, frequently discussing their kata and practice strategies, before Shampoo approached with a question.
"Are you planning on staying here with us?"
Ranma stopped eating for a minute, setting her apple down. After some thought, Ranma shook her head.
"It's pretty nice here, but I hafta go back to my old man eventually. I've been travelin' for so long, I think I'm ready to head back home now, to Japan."
Shampoo nodded, "You're homesick. I understand. When I was younger, Great-Grandma took me to a neighboring tribe, and left me there for an entire year to learn some of their tactics and strategies. I remember missing home terribly."
As they sat there, a great gong rang out in the village, indicating that it was now time to begin the Festival.
Ranma and Shampoo parted company, and Ranma started walking towards Cologne's home.
She stopped as she saw Koryu, one of the warriors she'd met over the last few days, approaching her.
The tall, dark-skinned Amazon said, "Warrior Ranma—the Elder Cologne requests your presence at the Festival Grounds. You have been invited to sit with her as a spectator of the Great Festival."
Ranma blinked, "Me?"
"Uh, sure. Lead the way, I guess."
After a brief ceremonial lighting of a great torch at the far-end of the village center, the sound of a bell ringing echoed across the field of fighters. In an instant, the mounting tension broke, as the dozens of girls sprang into battle, attacking each other indiscriminately. The show of epic proportions impressed the young martial artist.
Cologne said, "So, Ranma Saotome—have you been enjoying your time here?"
Ranma watched the fighters and nodded. "This has been really enlightenin'. My old man was so wrong about women, y'all are two steps crazier than the craziest martial artists and monks I've met on this stupid training trip."
Cologne laughed, "You're quite strong—stronger than Shampoo is. Though I must profess—your martial arts style is familiar, but I cannot quite remember which one it is."
"It's the Saotome School of Anything Goes Martial Arts. Though, I don't think we've been practicing the art for a long time, the old man tells me that he started learning it when he was a bit younger than me from the original grandmaster."
Cologne looked distant, and muttered 'interesting, he had students…' under her breath before checking her pocket watch.
"Despite this… you still intend to return home to Japan?"
"Yeah," she accepted a cup of tea from a servant, and took a drink. "I've got unresolved issues with the Old Man I need to work out. I wanna know about my mother, and I wanna know about my family. As long as I can remember, it's just been me and the old man travelin' across China and Japan."
"That is an understandable cause, Ranma."
In a matter of about twenty minutes, Shampoo had made mincemeat of most of her competitors. Despite the best efforts of one or two rivals, they found themselves eating a fresh helping of bonbori, crashing into the dirt, unconscious. Attentions turned to the "victory" prize, a large pile of fruit, vegetables and other foods donated from local villages to be a "feast" for the champion—only to find half of it consumed by a large panda, with him still stuffing his face as the Jusenkyo Guide was shouting in panic, trying to get the large animal to stop.
Ranma blinked in surprise and muttered, "Oh shit."
Cologne tensed, "Ranma… please tell me that isn't your father." She glanced at the martial artist in worry, whom looked annoyed at the Panda.
"Even as a panda, I'd know the old fart anywhere. That's him, alright."
Cologne sighed, "This is bad—the laws of the village—your father will have to battle Shampoo. If he wins, he'll be required to marry her. If he loses… well, he'll be killed for being an outsider."
Ranma quietly watched Shampoo angrily cross the field towards her father, and said, "And if I intervene?"
"You could… take over his obligation, but…"
"I won't hurt her." Ranma said, rising and leaping off the stand onto the dirt. Cologne quickly made her way to follow. As she approached, she found the Jusenkyo Guide trying to keep the situation calm.
Shampoo turned and said, "Great-Grandmother! This fat panda took my prize! I demand justice!"
Genma let out a 'growf' and Ranma glared at the old man and said, "Elder Cologne, on behalf of my father," He looked at the Elder, "I accept responsibility for his decisions. I will volunteer myself to stand fer him in battle."
Cologne seemed reluctant before nodding. "Your request is accepted, Warrior Ranma. Please, Warrior Ranma, Warrior Shampoo—step into the battle arena."
Ranma walked without saying anything, with Shampoo watching her quietly. She looked at her Great-Grandmother and mouthed 'father?'— Cologne didn't say anything either—just looked very upset at the panda staring at his son with a dumbfounded look.
Ranma stood in the arena, and faced Shampoo. The two bowed, and Cologne said, "No finishing moves. First one to leave the arena by any means will be declared the loser. Ready?"
The two girls nodded, and bowed to each other.
The fight lasted thirty seconds. Without the obligation of going "easy" for kata and sparring, Ranma very quickly dispatched the comparatively undisciplined Shampoo. A few openings made for a very easy exploitation of her defense, and Shampoo was quickly tossed from the ring, landing in the mud below.
Looking up at Ranma, who was standing on the edge of the arena, she climbed back up and stood a couple feet from the martial artist. Stiffly bowing once, Shampoo said, "You did good. Maybe someday, we will do this again—but you know what I have to do now."
Ranma nodded, "I know."
She leaned in and kissed Ranma's cheek, before hopping out of the arena and disappearing from the village square entirely.
Cologne hopped up into the Arena and said, "You have twenty-four hours to get as far away from here as you can, Ranma Saotome. I am sorry that you must bear the burden of your father's idiocy." She glared at the panda who was still staring in shock at the events that had transpired over the last few minutes. "Despite this,"
She produced a small brown package and handed it to Ranma. "Please, take these. These are a few uniforms Shampoo and I had tailor-made for you—at least let them remind you of better days."
Ranma accepted the package and bowed respectfully to the Elder. "I'm sorry, Elder."
"Apology accepted, sonny. Now get going. You don't have long."
She walked over to the Panda, and stared at him for a few moments before saying, "Come on, old man. We need ta leave. Trust me when I tell you, you don't want this civilization coming after you. I'm pretty good, but they've got endurance to my strength."
The red-head and the panda soon departed the Joketsuzoku capital, with the large wooden gates clattering shut behind them.
As their forms disappeared into the distance, Cologne lit her pipe and smoked it quietly. She shook her head and cast a glance to Jin.
"One of the finest warriors I have seen in my three hundred years."
"You know Shampoo will never beat him, right? She'll find out about his curse and—"
"We will cross that bridge when we arrive at it, Jin. In the meantime, we shall see how my Great-Granddaughter fares… for now."
She leapt from the watch tower, with Jin close behind.
Outskirts of Xi'an, People's Republic of China
The early evening sun was dipping beyond the horizon as a sweaty redhead and a haggard looking panda came to a stop in a rock formation. Looking around, Ranma said, "I think we're safe for the moment—we've still got another 17 or 18 hours before she comes for us."
Ranma rounded on his father, "How could you be so dense?! You've pissed off an entire civilization's worth of people, and it falls on me again to take care of yer shit, Oyaji!"
"You know how many people you've pissed off over these last ten years?! D'ya care to wager, Oyaji?! It's been hell on Earth tryin' to deal with all these damn people who you've ripped off!"
Genma let out an argumentative growf from his maw, and Ranma shook his head, "I'm done bein' your whippin' boy, you ungrateful old ass!"
Ranma used his fist and slammed it into the rock-face, creating a large dent and sending micro-fissures up the face of the rock.
"Now, let's get a fire goin' and eat before we move on. I don't wanna stay here that long." Ranma muttered, before digging around his pack.
Overhead, seemingly from nowhere, a bright flash occurred, and the sound of something crashing into hard rock could be heard. Ranma and Genma looked astonished at each other first, and then at the sky where the noise had come from. Ranma backed away from the face of the rock wall, and took off at full sprint, scaling up the stone.
Upon reaching the top, he turned and shouted down, "Come on, Oyaji! I think I see where the noise came from! Get yer fat butt up here!"
Genma growled and leapt up into the air, grabbing Ranma's hand as the teenager hefted the full-sized panda up onto the rock in one swoop. Dusting himself off, the panda let out a growf, and the two martial artists took off for where they could see the faint glow of fire and smoke.
Arriving at the outskirts of the small crater, Ranma got first survey of the area. A human body was laying in the bottom of the crater, limp and seemingly lifeless.
Sliding down the crater towards the person, Ranma arrived and observed the body. The person was a young man very close to Ranma's age. He had long, messy black hair, and had a lightning-bolt shaped scar on his forehead. Picking up the boy, Ranma leapt up onto the rim of the crater, and shifted him in his arms.
Genma approached, and Ranma said, "Who the hell survives falling from the sky like that?"
Genma shrugged, and Ranma looked uncertain for a moment before replying.
"We should probably keep moving. He'll wake up eventually, but I think we should get out of Xi'an as fast as possible. We're not goin' ta be able to run forever, but I'll be damned if we're gonna get stuck in China fighting to the death."
He shifted, and said, "Take him."
He handed the unconscious body over to Genma, and dug out the map from his backpack. Opening it up, he looked at the map of China carefully.
"We're here, just east of Baoji… We should probably head for Zhengzhou, there." He tapped the map with his petite finger, and said, "Sound good to you, Oyaji?"
Genma gave an affirmative nod, and Ranma folded the map back up.
After three hours of marching from Baoji to Xi'an, the first semblance of civilization since Heavenly Zenith was a welcome respite. After setting up camp and 'acquiring' water from a store in-town, Ranma was back to his male form, and Genma back to a human form.
The unconscious person was laying on Genma's bedroll, breathing slowly.
Genma said, "I wonder where he came from."
Ranma shrugged, "I dunno, Oyaji. Pretty damn strange."
As the two were busy repacking their supplies, the young man on the bedroll shifted, and awoke. Opening his eyes slowly, he peered around the small campsite, before slowly sitting up, rubbing his head.
The pain in my head felt worse than the night I had to grow back that bone that the pillock Lockhart had erased from existence. It was like I'd taken a Bludger right to the back of my skull, it stung and burned like no tomorrow.
Opening my eyes, I found myself in an unfamiliar setting. Last I remembered, I'd been arguing with Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon after saving 'Big D' from a dementor, and getting promptly expelled from Hogwarts. I remember the immediate letter from Mad-Eye Moody, telling me to prepare for a firefight, and then… nothing.
And then I wake up here.
Sitting up, I rubbed the back of my head and noticed two humans standing on the far-end of the campfire. A tall man wearing what looked like the martial arts uniforms I'd seen on films that the Dursley's were watching, and a boy around my age wearing what looked to be exotic armor.
The boy turned around and noticed I was sitting up, watching him carefully. He spoke with a grin.
"Ah, you're awake! Good to see yer still in the land of the living. We were gettin' worried you were dead or somethin'."
I shook my head. "No, I'm not quite dead… just very confused."
"You took quite a fall from the sky," the older man said, before walking over. "It's quite a surprise you survived that."
"I fell from the sky?" I asked in surprise, and the man nodded.
'What in Merlin's name is going on?' I thought to myself, before the boy said, "Do you have any idea where you are, or where you came from?"
"Where I am? No, I don't—but I do remember where I came from. England."
"England? If yer from England, how come yer speakin' Japanese?"
"I'm speaking Japanese?"
I blinked and realized that he was telling the truth. I tried to say some words in English, but what came out of my mouth didn't match what my brain was telling me.
"Hoguwartsu. Ingurando. Sukottorando. Pottā."
I looked in confusion at the younger one. "When I woke up this morning, I was speaking English, and now I wake up in the evening and I'm speaking Japanese? I've never spoken Japanese a day in my life—my mother may have but… I haven't ever!"
"Huh," the boy said, "Well, look. We're kind of in a bind, and we need to know if we can count on yer help."
"What do you mean?" I said, and the boy sighed, "A few days west of here, there's a old civilization, thousands of years old… and my old man over there sorta pissed 'em off. I had to fight a duel to defend his honor and to save his bacon, and now we're bein' hunted by a very powerful martial artist."
"Where are we, even?"
"Central China—a city called Xi'an, in fact." The older man said, adjusting his glasses. "Do you have any athletic experience?"
I hesitated to tell the truth.
"Tell me this," I sat back, "Do you believe in magic?"
"Magic?" The older man said, "Definitely—we're of mage blood ourselves."
"We are?" The boy asked, looking at the man with a surprised look.
"It's a story I'll explain to you later, boy."
"Okay, well—I'm a mage, and I play a sport where I fly around on a broomstick. I've got pretty good endurance, but I'm sure whatever I can do, you guys can do blindfolded. You look like very competent fighters."
The boy grinned, "Heck yeah, we're good at what we do. Name's Ranma Saotome—this is my old man, Genma."
I grasped his hand and he yanked me up onto my feet. I said, "My name's Harry."
That didn't sound very right to my ears.
"Hari." He said, using the Japanese form of my name. "Good to meet you."
"Either way," he continued, "You've involuntarily signed up fer a training course in martial arts. We need to get ya fast enough to keep up with us as we make our way to Japan."
"I see," I said, before looking at the older man, who was looking at his son with deep thought.
"I agree with you, Ranma." The man said, before turning to me. "My name's Genma Saotome—I am one of the two Grandmasters of the School of Indiscriminate Grappling. It is a very old school of martial arts thought, where we forge our own pathway with different forms of martial arts coming together in a blend that throws our enemies off. Speed and strength training are just the core of what you'll experience. We will refrain from… the more advanced topics, but getting you through the essentials is key… unless you'd rather walk away and figure it out on your own."
The latter option didn't seem like much of a choice—I didn't know China, and didn't have any friends anywhere nearby.
I shook Genma's hand.
"I accept your offer, Mister Saotome."
"Good to hear," Genma said with a nod.
Ranma smiled, "Well, welcome aboard, hope yer ready to sweat yer ass off." He chuckled and said, "So, we're gonna camp here for a few hours, get somethin' to eat, and then hit the road again. I wanna put as much distance as I can between us and them before she starts her hunt."
"Who is it we're running from?" I asked, and Ranma shrugged.
"Her name is Shampoo—she's a warrior from the tribe I told you about earlier. There was a problem that my old man started, and I had to take the brunt of it—she's got ta hunt me to my death now."
"To your death? Why?"
"If an outsider defeats a member of the tribe in combat, she must either kill him, or be permanently dishonored. As much as I like her, I can't just roll over and die—that'd be unsportin'."
There was a palpable silence for a few seconds, before Genma said, "Ranma, Hari, I'm going to going get us some food from town. I'll be back in an hour or so." He looked at me and said, "Ranma, go ahead and get him started on some katas, and we'll work from there."
He leapt off and quickly vanished from view with a cloud of dust behind him, and Ranma nodded. "Alright, ready to get started?"
I nodded and stood up, and followed Ranma a few feet away from the campsite. Ranma stopped and said, "Okay, first thing—before we start, we bow to each other. It's just good manners."
He bowed to me, and I copied his motion, and he nodded. "Now, let's begin…"
After showing me first position, we went through each step of the different kata, with him explaining the function and purpose of the kata, and what each step represented. After returning to starting position, Ranma had me try to flow it all together in one series of motions. Despite having to make some minor adjustments to my stance, he gave a nod of approval.
"It's a start, Hari." He seemed pleased, and said, "I want you to keep practicing your kata until it is basically second nature to you. This will mark the start of your martial arts journey. In the coming days, as we head towards the coast—you'll start learnin' basic functions of the Art, and expanding your cardio. Endurance and strength trainin' are just as important as learnin' to punch and kick."
He waved his hand, "Practice your kata until the old man comes back with dinner."
I nodded, and he went to tend to the fire as I continued to practice my kata, with Ranma occasionally injecting a reminder to keep to form, and occasionally coming over to nudge me back into position.
I'm not afraid to admit I got lost in it. The longer I did it, the more it felt like I was moving through water, and the less I felt rooted to the world, though I could still feel the hard earth underneath Dudley's hand-me-down sneakers. After what felt like years of practicing the kata, a male hand on my shoulder snapped me from my reverie.
Ranma was looking at me with a smile. "Yer takin' to this far better than I thought ya would. But that's enough for now, you should eat, get yer energy up for tomorrow. We've got a long ways to go."
Genma had somehow procured a significant portion of food—white rice, fresh beef, and some vegetables. Preparing and portioning the food didn't take very long, but as I began to eat, I noticed an occasional twitch coming from both Ranma and Genma, and a hint of movement out of my peripheral vision. I also noticed that portions of my meal began to disappear, and Ranma was beginning to look annoyed.
Focusing on the sudden flurries of movement I snapped my hand and clasped onto the wrist of Genma Saotome. The old man looked surprised and Ranma said, "He stopped you, old man."
Genma nodded and said, "Took long enough—I was wondering if he'd ever realize where all his food was going," He patted his own stomach with a grin.
Ranma pointed his chopsticks at his father, "He's already skinny as hell, Pop. Don't make the kid starve, we need him to actually be able to train, not shamble behind us like a zombie."
Genma sniffed airily, "Well, he managed to stop me cold, I'm quite impressed." He said, "I won't take anymore from him, I promise."
I was able to finish my meal with minimal intrusion from there on, but I thought about the speed in which Genma was able to effect stealing food off my plate. If I hadn't such keen eyes from years of Quidditch, I doubt I'd pick up on the incredibly minor twitches of muscle that the two had been having.
After finishing our meals, the two began to pack up the camp. Genma handed me a pack he'd brought back with him from town, and filled it with a large number of items from his and Ranma's pack—it was very heavy, and Genma explained why he gave it to me.
"We carry our lives on our backs—so you'll share in a bit of that. We'll gradually increase the weight on you as your strength training continues."
Overladen with our supplies, we left the small plateau behind and made our way east.
August 12, 1995
Just about days of marching and camping could take its toll on anybody. Food scavenged from cities and water taken from streams and lakes that dotted Central China, and the existential dread of knowing that the two companions of mine were being hunted (though Ranma didn't seem to consider Shampoo a significant threat, just an annoyance).
After arriving in Wuhan, we tried our best to sleep. Ranma and I were unable to sleep for our own reasons—mine were thinking about what was now in the past, and Ranma—I wasn't sure what he was pondering on, but he seemed deep in thought about it. After a couple hours of tossing and turning, Ranma nudged me and offered to show me more of the katas for the Saotome School, and help me with my basic moves.
Punching, kicking and blocking were easy as they came, as Ranma explained the psychology behind the School of Indiscriminate Grappling—if one kept their enemies on edge, and never gave up the style they preferred, they'd always have at least one advantage over their rival.
The more practice we did, the more fluid it felt. Ranma still got more blows in on me than I on him, but I got lucky every once in a blue moon, and was able to take more direct hits from the martial artist. Practice made perfect, after all.
Eventually, Ranma and I finished practicing, and finally made it into the land of sleep.
The following morning, as the purple sky was beginning to beget the sun, we departed Wuhan for a neighboring town—Jiujiang.
I didn't ask many questions, and spent most of my time focusing on breathing and keeping myself going in an attempt to pace with the Saotome duo.
The days began to melt together—Jiujiang, Nanchang, and Jinhua melted by in a blur of breathing exercises, kata performances, sparring matches and intense training.
Three days after our arrival in Wuhan, we'd made it to Taizhou, and this was where things got interesting in a way that reminded me much of Hogwarts.
While eating at a restaurant in town, the wall of the building suddenly blew apart, and a stoic purple-haired female figure in an outfit similar to the currently-female Ranma, stood in the gaping hole. Dust particles lingered in the air, and concrete chunks had gotten into everyone's food in a twenty foot radius of the wall, including knocking one Chinese businessman on the head.
She leveled her weapon (which looked like a large stick with a sphere at the end) at Ranma, and said something in a tongue I didn't quite recognize.
Ranma swore loudly and upended the wooden table at the young woman, before nabbing me around the collar, and yanking me into a bridal carry, and ramming us through the wall. Specks of stone exploded around us and dust floated out onto the street, as Ranma moved away from the building. Genma was behind as the strange girl was in hot pursuit. Ranma tossed me like a sack of potatoes to Genma, who quickly set me down on the sidelines.
The Saotome duo turned and went on the offensive, with Genma playing the part of a distraction, taunting Shampoo, while Ranma geared up to deliver a incapacitating blow. Dodging a number of attacks, Shampoo delivered a sharp whack to Genma's jaw with her weapon, sending the man flying through the side of a bank. As dozens of Chinese yuan bills fluttered in the breeze, I watched as Ranma and Shampoo continued to trade blows.
Leaping into the air, Ranma penetrated Shampoo's defense and delivered a punch that sounded off like a gunshot, sending the purple-haired girl flying back to the ground, with the sound of more concrete exploding.
Dropping back down, Ranma looked around at the carnage and said, "We need to get scarce—fast."
We fled Taizhou without delay, leaving behind minimal trace of our existence there, other than some grainy and severely damaged CCTV footage.
We arrived in Okinawa, 7 hours later. The fisherman who had orchestrated our escape from China had been compensated with some of the yuan that Genma had scooped up from the ground outside of the bank, and the two of them seemed almost relieved to be free of China, and back home in Japan. Genma's tension hadn't gone away, and he seemed even more antsy than usual.
"Keep moving," Genma said, pushing past us on the beach we'd arrived on, moving up a sand dune.
Ranma looked bewildered, "Pop, don't you think we should get some rest? Hari can't keep up with us like this, he's gonna collapse from exhaustion once the adrenaline wears off."
"No, no… we need to keep moving." Genma didn't look in our direction, just kept staring off into the distance.
Ranma looked at me with some concern before he shrugged.
"Okay, Pop—where are we going now? You said somethin' about Tokyo, but?"
"Yes, Tokyo is our ultimate destination. In the mean time… Nagasaki is our next goal."
August 21, 1995
Four days of swimming. I barely know how I survived it all. Maybe it was my magic, maybe it was just the several days of cardio training I'd been getting, but I made it to Nagasaki with my lungs still around, though I was waterlogged and feeling sluggish.
Genma refused to let us rest, and instead insisted on us making it to Saiki, on the other side of the island we were on (Kyūshū). This trip was another grueling seven hours of traveling, and by the time we arrived at the small hotel in Saiki that Genma was renting, I was about ready to just roll over and die.
I slept all day, and all night. I'd eaten some lunch with Ranma around twelve, and then woke up again at three o' clock in the morning. Performing my kata in the bathroom while Ranma and Genma's combined snores shook the room, I sighed and took a hot shower—my first since I'd awaken in China.
I ended up laying in the bath tub as the water pelted me. Every muscle in my body felt like a hippogriff was standing on it. As the pain radiated up and down my legs and arms, I felt a very strong wish that Hermione was here so she could come up with some pain-relief potion or something that was in a textbook somewhere.
Sighing, I managed to summon just enough energy to turn the water off. Opening the curtain, I clawed my way out of the tub, and managed to find my feet as I stretched the pain out of the muscles. Grabbing my clothes off the floor, I changed back into them, and walked back into the main room of the hotel room. Ranma was just getting up and was stretching and doing his own kata, while Genma snored like Hagrid during the cold season.
After an hour of practice and trying to get our bodies awake and to shake off the cobwebs of sleep, Genma awoke and we made quick work to decamp from Saiki for the next town on our trip. Genma's hurry and need for celerity was rather concerning to the two of us. The man whom had normally been stoic or had given useful advice during our days in China, was now reserved and almost… cowed, by something.
After another water-logged day in the cold Sea of Japan, we arrived in Tokushima around midnight. Camping outside of town, Ranma and I chatted for awhile, as Genma was sleeping restlessly. I looked at my friend and said, "He's hiding something. There's something… that's troubling him deeply."
Ranma looked at his father and shrugged, "We've had to do a lot of stupid stuff to keep ourselves safe durin' this trip. Pop's always been kinda' obsessed with it, becomin' a man amongst men, and I dunno why he's so… fixated."
I laughed a bit, "Sounds like the people I dealt with back home—it was always riddles and half-truths, never the full truth."
Ranma shrugged, "I'll never lie to ya, Hari."
"I'm glad to hear that, Ranma. And likewise to you."
"But I do wonder what is going on in his head right now, and what's got him so spooked," Ranma said, staring at his father, scratching his neck. "He doesn't scare easily, and that's what's got me a little worried."
The following morning gave us some answer about what was going on. I was awoken from another night of dreams of Voldemort and Dumbledore dueling to the death by a sudden burst of energy coming from the dying flames of our camp site. Opening my eyes, a familiar method of communication was instantly recognizable—Fire Talking, the same method I'd used to communicate with Sirius during Fourth Year.
From within the fire, an old woman's head was briefly visible from within sparkling purple and green flames. She had a very stern face, and looked weathered beyond her years. She opened her mouth to speak before water was quickly splashed on the flames, severing the connection, and drenching Ranma in the process.
The annoyed martial artist rose and was ready to start a fight with his father before he noticed the spooked expression on Genma's face, and I assume, my own.
"What was that, Mister Saotome?" I asked the man with a look, and Genma shook his head.
"A very old nightmare… one I hoped I'd have more time to avoid before it came looking for me. We have no time to waste." He muttered, before quickly kicking dirt over the makeshift fire.
Ranma and I looked at each other, and Ranma looked curious and I looked back at the fire pit, "Fire Talking. An old woman was trying to make contact with us—but she doesn't look familiar to me, so I don't think she's… looking for me."
"No… she isn't." Genma said with a deep sigh. "There is a very long story that I'll have to tell you both at a later time, but for now, we need to leave."
A tense silence lingered for a moment before Genma let out a frustrated grunt, and began walking away, towards Wakayama.
The sun was dipping past the horizon behind us as we sat down in our camp in Wakayama. The tension hadn't gone away the entire journey, and the palpable silence lingered for a few moments before Genma sighed and spoke. "I owe you both an explanation."
"Yeah, Pop. What the hell is going on, and who was that woman you and Hari saw?"
"That woman, Ranma, is my great-aunt… my grandfather's sister. Do you remember how I said back in China that we are kin to mages?"
"Yeah, kinda. That was a couple weeks ago though, Pop. But I remember."
"Well, you see, the Saotome family is very old, and leads a very long tradition, dating back thousands of years to the first priestesses of Japan… our family are, I guess you could say, the magical equivalent to the Emperor. The women of the family have governed Magical Japan with near absolute power for centuries."
"What does this woman, yer great-aunt, have ta do with any of it?"
I looked between the two, and Genma said, "Tokoyo Yukiko, a battle-axe of a woman, and one of the most traditional and harsh Tokoyo to govern Japan as far as anybody I know has cared to remember. She and I haven't been on speaking terms in over thirty years."
"Thirty years!?" Ranma looked surprised, "What the hell did you do to piss her off?"
"Married your mother." Genma said simply, shaking his head. "Your mother was a couple things that were… seen as objectionable by my great-aunt. First, she was a hafu-someone who is half Japanese, half foreign… Her father was an American infantryman, assigned to occupation duty in central Japan after the end of World War II. Secondly, she was a commoner-her mother was a simple seamstress. Anyway, we fell in love despite the protestations of my family, and your mother and I conceived a child out of wedlock at a very young age. After Yukiko found out and tried to kill her, we had to flee to Tokyo where we lived under the protection of the Grandmaster."
"It's been… oh, about 35 years since then. We were depressed for some years, and decided to try again for another child in 1978, and you were the result. Your mother… had a lot of issues after giving up her first born, and never quite recovered from them. Right about the time we left for China, your mother…"
Genma stopped for a moment before continuing.
"…passed away. Ever since the birth of your sister, my great-aunt has been trying to destroy this branch of the family with… prejudice. My sister has been running interference for some time, but Yukiko is… very insular."
"You have a sister?" Ranma asked, surprised, "How much of our family am I not aware of, old man?!"
"So why are you back in Japan then, Mister Saotome?" I asked the older man.
Genma replied, "I have a promise to keep to an old friend, we made an agreement when we were young men, and that promise is absolutely necessary to keep the school from disintegrating now that the Old Master is…" He coughed, "gone."
Genma didn't seem all that convinced in his words, which made me wonder about what he wasn't sharing. It boiled my skin a bit, as this was typical of the people I'd dealt with—always hiding the truth behind walls of vagueness or lies. But then again, this wasn't my business; this was between him, his son, and the skeletal woman in the fire.
By Merlin's beard, what was I getting into?
August 29, 1995
Outside Tokyo, Japan
The early morning sky roiled with the distant sounds of thunder from afar. I wondered briefly it was going to rain today—the sky's occasional bursts of light and distant rumble of discontent seemed to agree with that.
The pot of instant coffee percolated on the small campfire we'd been tending to overnight. Ranma and Genma were sound asleep still, so I took the time to enjoy the peace of nature—it really was beautiful, when we had time to rest, and when the weather or Chinese martial artists weren't trying to ruin it.
The two eventually were roused from their slumber by the continued grumble of Mother Nature, and looked like the dead as they rose. We'd become quite addicted to instant coffee during our journey—one of the only things keeping us in the land of the living during all-day and into night marches up the cost to get to Tokyo as soon as possible.
I offered the two dreary-eyed men a cup, and they accepted with gusto, downing their cups in a matter of thirty seconds or less.
Ranma was still in his female form from the previous night's bath, and commented, looking up at the morning sky, "I guess I shouldn't bother heating up a kettle of water."
"That's why I didn't do that for you, Ranma," I said, shrugging. "It looks like heavy rain more than likely, so why bother?"
Ranma nodded, and said, "How much cash do we have left after our odd jobs?"
I reached into the pocket of my mud-splattered jeans, and pulled out a billfold, and started counting. "Well, let's see… Hamamatsu plus whatever odd jobs we've gotten in between our stops; we've got about… 40,000 yen."
"So, Genma, if you don't mind me asking—other than escaping your psychopathic great-aunt… Why are we going to the Nerima ward?"
"Well, this ties into that commitment I made to my friend—" Genma sighed, sitting on one of the makeshift chairs we'd erected around the campfire.
"After Ranma's mother and I were exiled to Tokyo by my great-aunt, I became a disciple of the Art with another boy my age—Soun Tendō; both of us learned from Happousai, the Grandmaster. We were inseparable through out adulthood, and we both planned to have families and eventually bring our families together to forge a new, greater school of thought."
"Well, after Ranma's mother passed, and Soun's wife, Yoshiko, passed, we've been barely in contact. He has three daughters… I don't quite remember their names, so you'll pardon me, but they were very sweet children."
"Welp," I said with a shrug, "I'm up for an adventure. Let's get going, before the sky opens up."
The storm didn't hold off for long. The sky ripped open and sheets of rain drenched the three of us to the bone—and to make matters worse, the two had gotten into another of their infamous fights, though I understood why Ranma was so indignant. Genma's 'agreement' that he'd made with his best friend was in fact, a marriage contract—Ranma was somehow beholden to marry one of the three daughters of the Tendō Training Hall, and merge the Saotome and Tendō families together to unite the Art.
I kept an eye on them, trying to keep up in my own way and prevent incidents of collateral damage. Ranma eventually gained on his father, and slipped through Nerima's side-streets away from him. Arriving near the central market, Ranma pivoted on foot and began to scream at his father.
After flipping Genma over a stop sign, Ranma proclaimed his intent to return to China.
"I have to make things right, and patch up all the shit you caused, Old Man. This is no time for fiancees."
I winced as Genma delivered a sharp blow with the aforementioned stop sign to the back of Ranma's head that would have killed a lesser human being. With Ranma now unconscious on the ground, Genma picked him up with his paw, and slung him over the shoulder. He turned to look at me, and I raised my hands in surrender.
"Hey, I'll follow you two where ever you want to go. It's not my place to meddle in your affairs."
Genma let out an appreciative growf, and we made our way to the Tendō Dojo.
We finally arrived at the Tendō Dojo. Despite the fact that Ranma had woken up and was now violently screaming at his father and raining blows down on his panda back, Genma proceeded onwards, and went through the entryway despite me reaching for the bell to announce our presence.
We soon ran into a young brunette wearing a mint and white formal attire (I'm pretty sure it's called a kimono), and an older middle-aged man whom I supposed was Genma's friend, Soun. Two more girls joined them in the walkway, one standing at the same height as her father, and the other being shorter than I was.
Genma placed Ranma before them with minimal fanfare. I could see the embarrassment cross Ranma's face briefly, before he dropped his head.
"I'm Ranma Saotome… sorry about this."
"At last, you're here!" Soun exclaimed with a smile.
The whole situation was pretty damn funny. Soun wrapped Ranma in a tremendous hug, only to realize that Ranma's proportions were a little off. He seemed stunned for a moment before the kimono girl reached in and started grabbing Ranma's breast, only for Ranma to quietly murmur, "Please, stop that."
After Soun expressed his disbelief in the idea, the kimono girl once again poked and prodded Ranma's breasts again, before proclaiming with finality, "Ranma's not a boy, he's a girl!"
Soun then, in a rather dramatic fashion that I swear wouldn't be out of place on some Hogwarts professors, collapsed onto the floor, and had to be carried into the next room and placed on a futon to allow him some time to wake up.
A quiet tension had settled over everything, before the tall matronly woman brought some smelling salts from the next room in to wake the Tendō patriarch. After awakening him, the kimono girl rounded in on him—"This is all your fault, Daddy. Can't you tell the difference between a boy and a girl?"
Soun replied, "I thought my friend Genma's son was a boy."
Nabiki once again, for the third time in less than twenty minutes, violated my friend's personal space, grabbing him by the breast again, exclaiming, "Does this look like a boy to you?"
I reached over and gently took her wrist into the best grip I could muster without hurting her and said, "I would appreciate it if you didn't touch my friend on the chest anymore, miss."
She seemed startled at the firm grip I was giving her, and withdrew her hand. Ranma quietly thanked me under his breath, and the girl went back to verbally needling her father over it.
The shorter sibling with the longest hair of the three eventually spoke up.
"Stop it, Nabiki! Now leave her alone, a guest is a guest!"
Akane smiled and placed a hand on Ranma's shoulder, "My name's Akane. If your Dad's a friend of mine, then you must be a martial artist, right?"
Ranma nodded, and Akane grinned. "I've always wanted a friend who I could spar with. Come on, let's go to the Dojo."
Ranma rose, and looked at me. I waved him off dismissively. I said, "You go off with your friend, Ranma. I'll stay here with Genma and the lot."
Ranma disappeared down the hallway with Akane yanking him by the arm, and I turned to face the Tendō patriarch, who was still reeling from his fall.
The kimono girl, I guess her name was Nabiki, cleared her throat as if she were an Auror interrogator, "And who might you be? You've not said very much."
"I am Harry, and I'm simply a student of Mister Saotome—he is teaching me the Art."
Soun spoke up, "I am glad to hear that he has seen to teach more students the ways of the Art. It is a useful tool." The older gentleman sat up and rubbed the spot on the back of his head where he'd taken his dramatic spill.
"You're welcome to stay here as well." He turned to his eldest daughter, "Kasumi, dear, would you show this young man to the room where he will be staying? It'll be the same one as the Saotomes."
Kasumi nodded, "Yes, father." She stood up and looked at me, "Follow me, please."
I followed behind her, scooping up Ranma and Genma's packs, which had been discarded by the entrance way to the family room. After climbing the stairs, she lead be down the small hallway to a sizable room with minimal furnishings.
"You'll be staying here with Ranma and her father. If you don't mind me asking," She gave me a quizzical look, "Are those the only clothes you have?"
Dudley's hand-me-downs were bad, but the last several weeks had made them worse. The sneakers were held together with duct tape, and the shirt had several gashes in it from moments where Shampoo and Ranma's firefights had skirted against Genma and I while we were playing 'keep the civilians safe'.
"Yes, ma'am—" Kasumi nodded with finality.
"I'll see to it we get you a proper wardrobe—in the mean time, I may have to find a short-term solution. And it may not be the most optimal…" I could see the cogs turning behind her eyes, and she nodded. "How tall are you, Hari?"
"Hrmm," Kasumi thought, and exited the room without saying anything else. I decided to go down into the garden and practice my kata, while Ranma was distracted with the other girl—Akane.
I noticed as I returned down stairs, that Genma had returned to his human form, and was speaking animatedly with Soun. He noticed me entering into the garden and gave me a quiet nod, before the conversation with Soun continued. Tuning their murmurs out, I focused on the flow of my kata.
Ranma had gotten me to understand like… waves. They will always come and go, but their cycle is eternal; and the more so one treats it like the flow of water, the better off one will be.
After about ten minutes of practicing, I was broken from my concentration by the female form of Ranma tapping me on the shoulder. I turned and looked at him and he gave a nervous smile.
"What's wrong, Ranma?"
"Well, nothing major I guess—though I do wanna say that you're doin' excellent on your forms. Erm, somethin' havin' to do with Akane, I guess."
"Already? She seemed nice enough." I took a drink from my water canteen, and Ranma shook his head.
"I just sparred with her, and we had a fun time doin' it, but… she said as she was leavin' that she's glad I'm not a boy."
"Bloody hell," I muttered before letting out a sigh. "Well… you could admit it as soon as possible, or try to keep it a secret—but I'd just admit it, to be honest."
Ranma sighed and nodded, "Yeah, probably not a bad idea. I'm gonna do it after dinner, I guess." He wiped some sweat off of his face and sighed. "Wanna go clean up?"
"Yeah, that's fine by me," I replied, and the two of us headed to the WC to clean up. Ranma had to explain to me how a Japanese bathroom worked—the ofuro was different than that of a western washroom like back in Britain; there were two parts to it, the 'washing part' was typically done on a stool outside of the ofuro, and after rinsing and ensuring one was clean, climbing into the ofuro and 'relaxing and warming' yourself in it.
It was a little strange to get used to, but after scrubbing ourselves down, Ranma and I relaxed in the furo together, him back in his male form.
Not much was said at first, before Ranma sighed and said, "Is this gonna blow up in our faces like everythin' else?"
"It's hard for me to say, Ranma," I replied, looking at my friend, "I don't really have a stake in all this. I mean, you know," I shrugged. "I'm just an outsider to it all."
"Right," Ranma said, looking at nowhere in particular, "Well, there isn't much left to do than ta just admit the truth, get it all over with." He rose to leave the furo. He paused, one foot out of the tub. Turning, I noticed Akane, standing in the doorway of the ofuro, completely nude with only a towel covering part of her anatomy. Her eyes had glassed over, and she simply closed the door, as Ranma and I shared a worried glance.
Moments later, a piercing shriek could be heard coming from just outside of the washroom.
"…You might want to go take care of that." I said, looking at the door.
Ranma sighed, and disappeared from view. I sunk further into the ofuro—I wasn't quite ready to come out of there yet, and this wasn't my fight. Ranma and this girl, Akane, they'd have to figure out their differences, on their own.
After another five minutes, I got out of the furo, dried off, and put some of my clothes back on—the ones that weren't eighty-percent shreds. Heading downstairs, I noticed Genma in the middle of explaining his and Ranma's arrival in China, and their eventual cursing. There was minimal attention paid to me in my half-dressed form as I took a seat next to Akane at the table.
Genma eventually finished his long explanation, and Soun replied, "The legendary grounds of the cursed springs, their true horror has been shadowed in mysteries, until today, that is."
Ranma seemed indignant at the flippant way Soun was addressing the whole matter.
"What do you mean, true horror!? This is all your fault, old man. If you hadn't dragged me to a place like that, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now!"
"Ranma," Genma grabbed his son by the lapel, "You sound like a girl!"
He hurled Ranma into the koi pond as if making a point, and said, "Were you not prepared to lay down your life for the sake of the art?"
"My life yes, and there ain't nothin' wrong with girls! In case you haven't noticed, old man, I'm stuck being one half my life anyway!"
Ranma drenched his father in a bucket of water, and both the panda and the girl began to trade blows in place, trying to wrestle with one another. I slapped my hand on the table, startling Nabiki and the other Tendōs.
"That's enough, you two! There is no reason to get so angry at each other over a simple mistake—it's silly!"
"I suffer for you, but the young man is right," He poured a hot kettle of water over Genma's head. "Cold water turns your curse on, but hot water changes you back—" Ranma ducked away from the water, and said, frustrated, "Hot water, not boiling!"
Soun sniffed and chuckled. "Your situation, despite the revelations, aren't nearly as bad as we thought—allow me to formally introduced you to my daughters," He went down the line of the three—"My oldest daughter Kasumi, she's 19. My middle daughter Nabiki, she's 17, and my youngest daughter Akane, she's 16. Pick any one you want, she will be your new fiancée."
Ranma and the three Tendō daughters stared deadpan at Soun. Akane shouted, "Whoa, whoa, just a second—we're going to be auctioned off to him? How is that fair?"
"Well," Kasumi began with a smile, "I think the choice is obvious here, Akane is the perfect fit."
"Couldn't agree more," Nabiki chirped, and Akane looked at her sister with betrayal in her eyes.
"Me, why me!?"
"Because you hate boys, don't you?" Nabiki deadpanned at her sister, and Kasumi nodded, "Well, you're in luck Akane, Ranma's half-girl."
"What makes you think I wanna marry a pervert?"
"Hey, what do you mean pervert?"
"You saw me in the nude, you letch!"
"You walked in on us! We had a sign out that said knock first! How is it my fault you don't read the damn signs!?"
Akane's face turned red, and she stalked out of the room grumbling to herself, and Soun nodded. "Then it's settled—Ranma and Akane will marry."
Ranma was glaring hot coals at his father, who was doing his best not to look at Ranma.
I had a feeling that this would be a sore point for everyone later on.
The sound of someone knocking on the screen door to the bedroom I shared with Ranma and Genma woke me from a dead sleep. I never slept well, sometimes I got a good night, sometimes not. Sighing, I got out of my bed roll, and headed toward the screen door, past the slumbering forms of Ranma and Genma.
Nabiki Tendō stood in the doorway, holding a bundle under one arm, and giving a smirk. "Say, I think you and I got off on the wrong foot yesterday. What do you say I give you a tour of Nerima?"
I raised an eyebrow, "Why're you being so nice suddenly? Yesterday you were acting like we were an imposition."
Nabiki shrugged. "I figured you'd want to see a little bit of our slice of Tokyo. That, and well, Kasumi, Akane and I spent some time getting your outfit together, and Kasumi suggested I take you out to see the Ward—so I will. Here,"
She pushed the small bundle towards me, and gave a brief smile—though it looked like more of a smirk.
I observed the bundle in my hand. I frowned a bit and looked at her, latent feelings I'd set aside stirring again in the middle of my belly.
The sight in the mirror nearly made me stop breathing.
In the reflection, someone smiling ear-to-ear, who was almost certainly a girl, was standing, waving. Two smiling figures, a quiet auburn-haired woman, and a smirking dark-haired man, beamed at her with pride.
There was a stillness in the air as I approached the mirror and placed my hand on it with some degree of shock and awe.
After Dumbledore arrived and sent me back to the Gryffindor dorms, the weight building up in my chest let loose, and I cried the entire way back, silently choking out the tears from beneath the weight of what I saw.
No, no, no, no no no
I didn't know where I was going, but I knew I had to find someone to give me some support.
The memory is a haze of tears and snot, but I remember Hermione embracing me close, stroking my hair. An unspoken truth had crossed us both as we laid there together, me crying into her.
Hogwarts had magic—ancient magic. No male could ascend the girl's dormitory stairs. It was impossible to do so, and the result would simply trigger the defense mechanism—the stairs would give way to a twisty-bendy slide that would lead to the offender having their arse on the ground.
But it let me up, without a question.
I cried into Hermione's nightshirt, letting go of years of repressed memories and feelings; feelings I wasn't certain I wanted.
She, ever my rock, laid there and comforted me into the night.
As I drifted into sleep, she whispered quietly to me, "Merry Christmas, Harry. Boy or girl, you'll always be my friend."
That weight in my chest from that night was building again, and I wasn't sure I was ready for that kind of breakdown without the one thing in my life that kept me tethered to the ground.
I needed to play this off, play it off like a joke.
"A blouse? And a skirt?" I said, nervously, "Why?"
"You and Akane are very close in size, and Daddy is extremely tall compared to you, so…" she shrugged.
"Right," I nodded slowly, feeling a little sour at being cornered.
Nabiki knocked me on the shoulder. "Don't worry about it too much, Hari. It's just clothing."
"Heh, yeah… just clothing…"
Dressing up in the clothes wasn't too difficult, I'd had some experience in the matter, so what was easy for me would be hard for… a normal person. After what felt like an eternity, I made my way downstairs, with Nabiki, who was wearing a very small smile on her face, standing at the bottom of the stairs.
"Wow, you clean up good, Hari."
I had the good grace to blush a bit at her compliment. Gone was the serrated and mud-splattered t-shirt and jean combination that I'd gotten as a hand-me-down from Dudley, replacing it was a mint-coloured blouse, black knee-length skirt, and a pair of black socks, all on loan from Akane.
"I look silly," I said, feeling a little irritated at the bubbling feeling I felt in my stomach.
"No, you look fine—though your hair is a little messy," Nabiki reached and played with my hair a bit, pushing it out of my eyes and latching a beret up to keep it from falling back to where it was.
"But it works for you."
I felt my cheeks get hot again as she walked past me into the genkan.
Hermione grinned ear to ear as she looked over me. A tucked away classroom on the fifth floor of Hogwarts had become a place for her and me to get away to spend time together. Our relationship was… complicated, if I could put a word to it.
By third year, we were still trying to navigate our feelings for each other, but the realities of the situation with Sirius Black, and Voldemort, kept me from actualizing it. Here, I was free as a bird. Hermione would toss me outfits to try on and model to see what I liked and didn't like.
We only did this a couple times before the school's security tightened. After that one night we spent together, I never went back to that fifth-floor classroom where we stashed everything away. Maybe someday, another girl who isn't sure about herself will find it and help herself cope.
But Hermione would always say the same thing, every time I tried on something new.
"It wouldn't look good on me, I'm very plain. But it works for you, Harry."
A kiss on the cheek or lips always followed, but that was our thing. She and I treated each other like a queen.
The warmth in my chest grew a little stronger, but this wasn't the feeling of nervousness or anxiety—this was a feeling of… attraction? Maybe?
Nabiki dropped a pair of low-heeled black shoes in front of me, and I had to keep myself together to suppress a genuine smile.
"Go ahead and put them on—you should look about the same shoe-size as I do. I think these heels will go good with your outfit."
I didn't say anything and slipped my feet into the heels, and Nabiki helped me secure them. Opening the door, she motioned for me to go first. I stepped out onto the road, and Nabiki quickly took lead.
Walking in heels, even these low ones, was a remarkable difference from the shoes I've worn in my life.
It was far easier than I thought it'd be. Hermione had complained relentlessly last year about how difficult it was to walk in heels after the Yule Ball… I didn't dare ask to try, but now that I was doing it… This didn't seem all that hard at all, really.
I said to Nabiki, "This is going to end badly—"
Nabiki gave a brief laugh, which had a slight hint of friendliness to it.
"Hari, if I didn't know you were already a boy, I'd say you were just a tomboy. So, calm down. Your clothes were tattered. If there's anything worse than crossdressing, it'd be walking around in rags. Take some pride in yourself and don't be such a dummy!"
The butterflies in my stomach didn't stop, but Nabiki's words soothed me some, and made me feel a little better about the whole thing.
The market district in Nerima was home to most of the ward's shops and restaurants. Even though it was a little early, school was out of session for another few days, and so hordes of teenagers were meandering along the walkways, frequenting local establishments.
"Over here, this cafe." Nabiki pointed, "I have a meeting with some friends here—won't take too long. You can even sit with us."
Nabiki entered the cafe and I followed her over to a small table. Two other girls were sitting, conversing quietly. They moved to stand up as Nabiki approached and Nabiki gestured for them to stay sitting. She smiled confidently, and the air around her transformed from being remote, yet friendly, into one of control and ice. The ambient temperature in the room dropped a few degrees, I thought.
"Good morning, ladies."
She pulled a chair out for me, and motioned for me to sit in it. I sat down, and she helped push my chair in, before taking her own seat. The two girls looked at me in interest, before the darker haired one spoke up.
"Good morning, Nabiki—uh, who is your friend?"
I opened my mouth to speak, before Nabiki gently placed her hand on mine, and gripped it. "This is my new friend… Natsuko. She just moved here from England. She's very shy, so she doesn't talk very much."
"Wow, England?" The same girl said, "That's great!"
Nabiki turned to face me with a smile, "Natsuko, this is Rina," she gestured to the black-haired girl, "and this is Makoto," she gestured to the other girl, who had long honey-colored hair. "They're my… lieutenants."
I bowed my head in greeting, and looked at Nabiki questioningly. Nabiki waved her hand, "I'll explain later, Na-chan."
The butterflies started flapping hard again, and I felt myself blush again. The new name made sense, I guess—I can't look like a girl and have a name like Harry… But why did I like it when she called me that… Na-chan?
Nabiki ordered me a coffee, and I decided to quietly drink it while listening to their conversation in detail. I didn't learn very much, I was too busy transfixed by Nabiki. She was a very pretty woman, and had a flair for fashion I'd never seen in any girl since Hermione (as often as she got around to that given her austere nature at Hogwarts. I'd seen some of the stuff she wore in the Muggle world, and found that she maybe… overcompensated for her time in Scotland.)
The conversation broke up as Rina and Makoto left to do their own thing. Nabiki took a deep drink from her cup of coffee, and fixed me with a smirk.
"You seem interested in something."
I broke eye contact with her and said, mostly into my coffee, "What's with this Natsuko stuff?"
"You needed a proper Japanese name," she sipped it again, staring back at me with the same intensity I had given her.
"But why? Why the outfit and the name and—"
"It's all in good fun, Natsuko. Alright, look—Kasumi and I figured if you were going to be stuck wearing girls' clothes for a few days, you might as well have fun. Are you having fun?"
"Yeah, I guess I am," I said, uncertainly. "Just being able to go out and talk to people without them staring at my forehead," I touched the place where my scar was covered by my bangs, "Is a miracle."
"Well, good. You're very pretty, I should have you know." Nabiki said without looking at me.
We soon emerged back onto the street, with Nabiki leading me again through Nerima. As we walked down the street by the canal that ran through the middle of the district, Nabiki asked, "So, tell me about yourself."
"I'm fifteen and I'm from England. I can't really talk about much else right now, Nabiki, for reasons that are… beyond me." I scratched the back of my neck, and said, "But I'll tell you when I get a chance. All you need to know now is that there is a very big reason I left England, and I don't really want to return."
A glum thought crossed my mind: "Except for her."
"You're fifteen huh? You don't look it… you know," Nabiki said, with a thoughtful expression on her face, "I'm very resourceful, and so is my father. I can get you documentation to let you go to school with Akane, Ranma and I. Mister Saotome already plans to enroll him in Furinkan, that's the high school we go to, but you're… kind of a gray area, because you're just a random vagrant. You're too young to attend, technically, but I can arrange something for you."
A distant thought took me to Hogwarts, before the sound of a distant bird snapped me back to reality.
"Yeah, I guess that'd be okay. I'd rather be around you, Ranma and Akane than be on my own."
A sly grin spread across Nabiki's face, and she nodded. "I'll take care of everything for you."
After a couple hours, we'd seen most of the ward, and Nabiki took us back to the Tendō Dojo. As we arrived at the gates to the Dojo, I grabbed Nabiki by the arm and said, "Nabiki… thank you. This is the most normal day I've had in my life... ever."
Nabiki gave another odd smile, and she nodded. "You're welcome, Natsuko."
I laughed some, "You're going to call me that forever, aren't you?"
"Maybe, maybe not. We'll see." She said nonchalantly, before stopping. "Hey, wait, give me a second!"
She dashed indoor, and returned a few minutes later with Akane, Kasumi, and a film camera.
"I wanted to show you off before you got all comfortable—isn't my date beautiful?"
Kasumi smiled, "Oh, I knew you'd look good in that! Wasn't I right, Akane!"
Akane looked at her sister and nodded, "Yes, you were." Nabiki handed the camera to Kasumi, and said, "Let's get some pictures!"
I spent the next few minutes having pictures taken in front of Nabiki's film camera.
I asked her, "Are you gonna do anything with these pictures?"
"Probably not, but I figure you'd like some mementos of your first day exploring the ward. That, and, you're very pretty! I think we should immortalize how good you look!"
I blushed, though I felt like I was going to puke from how hard the butterflies in my stomach were flapping, like someone was making a noxious potion with the contents of my stomach.
It'd been far too long since I'd felt that lurching queasiness in my stomach, and I wasn't sure if I liked it or not. Stepping through the genkan, I slipped the heels off and retreated away from the trio of girls. I noticed Genma was playing shogi with the Tendō patriarch, and Ranma was in their dojo complex, meditating.
Walking along the wooden path, I made my way over to where Ranma was, and took a seated position in front of him, and followed him in meditation. The feeling in my stomach was difficult to subside, and meditation just left me too alone with my own thoughts. Opening my eyes, I simply sat there, thinking.
"I can feel your anxiety from here," Ranma said, not opening his eyes. "Wanna talk about it?"
"I think, maybe, I don't know—" I said, not sure about how I was feeling. "Meditating isn't helping like I thought it would."
Ranma opened his eyes and looked at me for a moment. "You look… nice. Is this the reason why you're so freaked out?"
I nodded, and said, "I'm… kind of afraid that I'm enjoying myself. I had a wonderful day with Nabiki, and… I don't know, I think I might like this! That's freakish!"
"What, dressing like a girl?" Ranma asked, leaning back, laying his palms on the wooden floor of the Dojo. "That's not freakish at all. I'll tell ya the same thing that woman in China told me—there's not much of a difference between girls and guys other than the sex organs. Do you think ya might wanna be a girl?"
"Yeah, I think… maybe?" I scratched the side of my neck, "I mean, I wasn't really planning on this, but I dunno, I've had thoughts about it before. That's normal, maybe?"
"I dunno, neither one of us really had a solid childhood, I guess." Ranma said, looking up at the ceiling. "If this is what makes ya happy, then all power to ya. You do look a lot like a girl like that, I doubt anybody's gonna clock ya as anything but. I'll support ya one-hundred percent of the way, kiddo."
Ranma grabbed my hand and said, "You've been a tremendous help to me and my old man, and you're the closest thing I've had to a best friend since… I guess Ucchan… and I won't stand to see ya miserable. Ye can count on me. But just 'cause you're livin' as a girl don't mean I'm gonna go easy on you. You're still gonna train yer butt off."
My stomach wasn't twisting anymore, and I wrapped Ranma up in a big hug. "Thank you, Ranma. I don't think I'm ready yet, but I appreciate the vote of confidence."
He grinned, "No problem. Besides, maybe you'll help me figure it all out too. We're both, uh, ships lost at sea, I think."
I hugged him tighter, the weight in my chest draining. Maybe the emotional needs I had with Hermione weren't tied to just one place, I could find them in the comfort of others. Ranma was becoming more and more like a brother to me. I could depend on him when it came down to it. I loved him, but only as a brother.
"Now, all this sappy stuff aside, do you wanna get some practice in?"
"Sure thing, Ranma. Let me get out of this stuff. I'll be back."
For once… I felt…
September 1, 1995
Mister Ito had come through again— Nabiki admired the forged birth certificate of Saotome Natsuko, and was impressed at how similar it was to an actual birth certificate. Not a single thing about it gave away that it was a false record. Joining it were falsified school records from other parts of Japan, and her 'basic resident identification card' which served as a form of identification that typically wasn't necessary.
Pleased to no end, she slipped the documents back into an envelope, and headed down stairs.
The house was empty, save for Akane and Soun.
"Where is everyone?" Nabiki asked her father, and the older man smiled, "Genma said he had errands to attend to today, and your older sister is out with ah, uh… Natsuko?"
"Oh, good! Here, Daddy, look at this," she summoned the envelope and handed it to her father. Soun looked inside the envelope and glanced at the documents.
"Very impressive, they look real—Mister Ito?"
"Yeah, he did a masterful job."
"I should say so, he is the brand-name in less than legitimate documents. I know plenty of local and national officials that use him when they need to expedite work." Soun shook his head and handed back the document of envelopes to Nabiki. "I hope that this helps them with getting everything squared away and his son and ward registered."
He cleared his throat as he stood a few feet away from the two women.
"Your Highnesses," he bowed, "Someone has filed documentation relating to a member of the Spiritual Family."
"Which one, Hiro?" The younger of the two asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Yours, Your Highness. I have a copy of the documents here, if you wish to look at it. This person is, as far as the documents show, a younger daughter of the former Prince Yamagata."
"A third child?"
"Yes, ma'am. Born not long after Ranma. It is obviously a forgery, that it went without reporting for so long."
The younger woman relieved Hiro of his folder, and glanced at them with the older woman over her shoulder. She read through the document before whistling to herself, and looking at the older woman. They shared a brief lingering moment of eye contact before she looked at the man again.
"Hiro, how many people know of this?"
"Less than five, ma'am."
She shook her head, "I want this put on the back-burner, and a gag order put into place. Her Majesty is in no condition to be briefed on this, particularly where my brother is involved. The Princess Tohoku and I will investigate this independently."
Hiro nodded, "I thought you would think so, ma'am."
He bowed to the two, "Your Highnesses," and quickly made his departure, leaving the two women alone.
The Princess Tohoku said, "Hanako… if he's already back in Japan, then Auntie is already aware of his presence."
"Even in her lucid periods, Mother, she can't do very much to impede his progress. And if he's in Tokyo already, there is absolutely nothing she can do. Her power grows ever weaker by the day, and she has never been on speaking terms with the Tennou. After what happened during the Olympics, she and the Shouwa Emperor haven't been on speaking terms, and I believe she has repeatedly referred to The Emperor in… less than kind terms."
The Princess Tohoku nodded, and sighed, "We will play it by ear then."
"That's all we can do. Auntie… can't last much longer," Hanako said with a shrug, before clapping her hands together. "In the meantime, I must attend a meeting with the Chinese ambassador, something about magical activity in the Qinghai region."
"Natsuko, are you alright? You've been very… melancholic since we left the Dojo." Kasumi's voice punctured through my cloud of thoughts. I glanced at the older woman and sighed.
"I'm sorry, Kasumi, I… today is just a little bit of a difficult day for me."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
If Ranma and Genma were magical, then the Tendo family probably was too. I looked at her and said, "I mean, maybe. I'm not sure… first… um, do you know anything about magic?"
Kasumi smiled, "Not much, but I do know it exists, and forms a tremendous backbone to our nation and people. I was never interested in the practice of alchemy or anything to that extent, but I learned a lot of spiritual rituals from my mother. That's about as far as my familiarity with the whole concept goes. Does this have to do with magic?"
She nodded in her sage way, and looked at me with a firm, maternal expression, "Why don't we go sit and enjoy some breakfast while you tell me what's troubling you."
It wasn't a question—it was a thinly-veiled command. Relieved to have the power of decision relieved just this once, I capitulated and followed her closely.
We entered a small establishment, and the elderly manager grinned as we entered. "Kasumi, my dear! It is a pleasure to see you!"
Kasumi smiled, "The pleasure is all mine, Mister Tanaka. No customers yet this morning?"
"No, dear. I'm sure they'll trickle in as the hours wane on. Who is your friend?"
"Ah, yes, excuse me. Mister Tanaka, this is Natsuko."
I bowed much in the same way Kasumi did to the older man. "Pleasure to meet you, sir."
"So polite! Not many children have those manners these days." Mr. Tanaka laughed and said, "Please, both of you, take a seat. I'll grab some menus," he dashed off, and Kasumi and I found a table.
Placing menus down, Mr. Tanaka smiled and said, "Take your time. I'm sure the young one isn't sure what she wants yet."
"Thank you, Mr. Tanaka," Kasumi smiled soothingly, before placing her menu down. "Once we order, we'll discuss your problem. Have you ever had okonomiyaki before?"
"Nope, during our journey through China and Japan, it was mostly cheap meat and white rice."
"Oh, you're in for a treat." She waved for Mr. Tanaka to return, and ordered two orders of okonomiyaki, I wasn't paying much attention to what kind or flavor or anything, I was just trying to keep the knot in my stomach from tightening.
"Alright. Natsuko… let's begin. From the very beginning, if you're okay with doing that."
I sighed and said, "Alright, well… I'm a… mage, I guess. My parents were also mages, when I was a baby, they were killed by a tyrant named Voldemort for standing up to them and leading a resistance against his reign of murder."
I sighed, "After they died, I was sent to live with my… non-magical aunt and uncle. There are a lot of bad memories there."
"When did you first think you were a girl?" Kasumi asked intently, and I felt a bit like a deer in headlights.
"Well, I… I'm not sure. When I was young, I used to see all these girls in the schoolyard with long hair and ribbons in their hair and I just kinda liked the way that looked. Every time my hair would get long, my aunt would cut it all off with a pair of scissors," I gestured with two fingers violently, before shaking my head,
"But my magic kept growing it all back. I didn't really bother trying anything else, because they loved to find excuses to starve me or hit me."
Kasumi gasped, and I said, "It's okay, Kasumi. That was years ago… anyway… right about the time I was 11, my cousin's birthday comes before mine, I got dragged along to the zoo with him, and you know, I was really feeling very depressed about the whole arrangement. I met this… python. Did you know I can converse with snakes? It's a very rare power that only certain… dark wizards can attain."
"Really?" Kasumi said, "You can speak to snakes?"
"Yeah, I'm not sure if I can still do it. Something… happened that erased my ability to speak English, so I may not understand it anymore."
Kasumi nodded, and I shrugged. "Anyway, I got the snake to start moving and interacting, so my cousin runs over and shoves me onto the ground. My glasses get broken, and he starts banging on the glass like an idiot. I got angry, and…"
I gripped my tea mug closely and said, "The glass disappeared, and my cousin fell in. I got knocked around a bit, dragged by my hair, and starved for a few days… anyway, the week before my birthday—a letter appears in the mail slot. I don't get to read it, of course, my uncle takes it and shreds it. And then more come, like a thundering horde. So many letters, flying everywhere."
I laughed a bit at the memory of Uncle Vernon tripping over dozens of letters that were flooding through the fireplace.
"Anyway, he absconds with us to a holiday on the Isle of Wight, which is a place in the South of England. While we're there, we're woken up at midnight on my birthday by this big lovable oaf of a man. Rubeus Hagrid, one of the finest men I've ever had the pleasure to meet. He tells me that I'm a wizard. Which, you know, is this tremendous thing to tell a boy who has been nothing but a house prop for the first decade of his life."
I shook my head, "Anyway… September 1st is the first day of class at Hogwarts, the school I went to for magic… it's the day I met my best friends, and it's the day that I always looked forward to… because it meant getting away from the abuse. I guess, even though I'm not there anymore, the feelings linger."
"There's a girl," Kasumi said quietly, and I looked at her sharply.
"There's nothing wrong with that, Natsuko. I won't pry, that's your business," she said with a smile, "Did she… help you?"
"Yeah, she was the one who gave me all the support I needed during the first few years I struggled with my identity. I owe her the world. Maybe I'll find a way to bring her here."
After our food was delivered, I spent the remaining time we were there explaining the gap leading up to my exile from England. I didn't mention the things I saw in the Mirror of Erised, and I didn't mention what we'd done on the eve of the Third Task, after everything was said and done.
At the end, Kasumi rose from her seat, came around, and gave me a tremendous hug.
"I promise you that you'll always have a place here, Natsuko." She let go and returned to her seat. "I promise that here, you will have a family. A genuine one. I will see to it. I know you may miss your friends, this Hermione girl sounds like she may have been more than that… but… I will do my best to make sure you are happy here."
I smiled at her, "Thank you, Kasumi."
"It is my pleasure. Now, allow me to spend today indulging you like a little sister. I was never able to do this for Akane and Nabiki, so please, allow me to do it for you."
I felt myself blush some and said, "Yes, ma'am."
Kasumi grinned ear to ear, a far cry from her usual soft matronly smile. There was something deeper to it.
My head was whirling.
Who knew that being a girl required so much effort?
First, Kasumi had taken me to a specialty shop in a neighboring ward. The small shop seemed unimposing, but the sign out front indicated its use—it was a shop meant for males who wanted to take the appearance of women.
"H-How did you find this place, Kasumi!?" I asked, glancing up at the sign.
"Phone book, and a few internet searches," she gestured with her fingers like she was typing on a keyboard. "I'm not so old fashioned I don't have a computer, Natsuko."
We entered the establishment, and a woman stood at the counter. She seemed to brighten at the sight of Kasumi entering the building, but played it off nonchalantly.
"Welcome, how can I serve you today?"
"Yes, my young friend here," Kasumi pushed me forward some, "is in the market for some breast forms."
The girl looked me over and then gave a brief nod. "I'm sure we can find something that suits your needs. Have you ever given thought to what size you'd be interested in?"
I blinked, "Um… no, not really… This is all very new to me."
"It's okay, honey. I understand," the young woman smiled, patting me on the shoulder. "We'll try a few sizes out, and you can decide which one you like best."
She pushed me into a small dressing room, and soon arrived with a stack of boxes.
"Forgive me for my rudeness," she said, "I'm always so excited when I get new customers… my name is Mako, I'm the owner of this establishment."
"That is a very pretty name. It suits you. Now, Natsuko, to determine what size is best for you, we must try on a few. I need you to remove your blouse."
I discarded the garment onto an offered hanger, which she mounted on the small peg on the door. Looking me over, she tapped a finger to her chin.
"How old are you, Natsuko?"
"You're very skinny for 15… hopefully when you start hormones, you'll fill out some and you won't need these," she gestured to the two breast forms in the box, "anymore. Do you have any female relatives?"
"None that are living, my mother died when I was a baby."
"Adoptive one, but he's a male."
"Ah, well, no telling then. If you do ever find a relative of yours that's a woman, observe her dimensions. If you go on estrogen this young, you'll probably get within a few band measurements on her."
"How do you know all this stuff?"
"I'm not only the owner of a shop for a certain type of clientele, dear. I'm a medical student, I just run this place for my mother when she's out of town. She's going to be so pissed she missed a young one. She loves helping the young girls come out of their shell."
"Are there a lot of… girls like me?"
"Ones that are actually transgender? Yeah, but a very small minority of our clientele is like you. A lot of them are just adult men who like to get off on being made to look pretty." She made a jerking motion with her hand, and I blushed visibly in the mirror, and started giggling.
She smiled, "There you go! I knew I'd get you to laugh!"
She shook her head, "Anyway—first, I need to figure out a band size for you… every girl has one, let me get a couple bras to try."
She left the stall and returned with a handful of bras. Hanging them on the side of the dressing room stall, she helped me try one on.
After what felt like forever, she finally clapped. "I think we have a winner! How does it feel?"
"Empty on the front," I patted the empty cups, "but it fits pretty well."
"Fantastic, as for the empty front, that's why you're here, dear." Mako said with a snort, before having me take the bra off. She took the pile of discarded bras and left. She returned with another handful of them, with them arranged from smallest to largest.
"Okay, the first one we're going to try is an A-cup. This is the smallest one I can give you. Honestly, it won't be much different from being flat chested, but if you just want something small for aesthetics, you can't go wrong."
She helped me put on the bra, but it seemed a little easier this time. I'd not worn one when Nabiki took me out, and I hadn't one on today, but a couple times taking one on and off made it seem trivial enough with enough practice.
She then showed me how to insert the false breasts into my bra, and after some fiddling, we finished. She had me looked at myself in the mirror, and put my blouse back on to see how it looked under clothes.
Looking at myself for a moment, I felt a twinge in me, before I shook my head.
"Too small?" Mako raised an eyebrow, and I said, feeling the swarm of butterflies in my stomach "Well… if I'm going to go full steam on it, I should go full steam."
Mako nodded, "I understand. As I said, it's only marginally above being flat-chested. Here, let's try something else…"
She procured two more breast forms, these were much larger. She also snatched the emerald-green bra off the wall.
"Here, try these. This is… a C-cup. It may be a little troublesome for a young girl like you, but I don't know, maybe you'll rock this look."
I fussed with the clothing and forms for a little longer, and looked at myself in the mirror. This felt right, like it was where it should be.
I looked back at Mako and said, "I like this. It feels right."
She took me out of the dressing room and I looked over at Kasumi for affirmation. Kasumi gave a smile and a nod, indicating that yes, I did look very nice.
She paid the total for the forms, along with a couple other things at Mako's suggestion, and Mako said, "I hope you found everything satisfactory, Miss Natsuko."
I felt a twinge of genuine happiness, and gave a wide grin to her. "Thank you, I did."
We stepped back out onto the city street, and I wrapped Kasumi up in a big hug. "Thank you," I mumbled, as I broke away.
"It's my pleasure. I'm always happy to see my little sister happy. Now, come on, we've got many other stops left on our trip today."
The other stops on our day included several clothing stores, and one cosmetics store. The bags piled up, and I found myself with enough clothes to last me years.
Skirts, shorts, jeans, blouses, t-shirts, tanktops, sports bras, one-piece swimsuits, dresses, and undergarments—everything, and Kasumi didn't seem to care how many times I objected to her spending a lofty sum on me. The assortment of cosmetics to try out didn't help my feelings of guilt.
As we made our way home, Kasumi seemed happy, and said, "Did you have a good time today, Natsuko?"
I blushed, "Yes, Kasumi. I can't thank you enough for all this—I'll cook and clean and—"
"Shh," she said, stopping and looking at me. "I did this for you as a gift. Please just accept it. If you want to help around the house, I won't say no because I appreciate help, but don't feel like you must do it because I spoiled you today."
"Thank you, Kasumi."
We arrived at home, and Kasumi called out a hurried greeting, and we went upstairs to drop everything off. Kasumi said she had go start dinner, and instructed me to go through my purchases and change out of the borrowed outfit into something I liked.
I dug through my purchases, and came up with a simple black t-shirt and a matching skirt. I didn't bother with trying to hide my maleness, as the skirt betrayed nothing. As I was observing myself in the mirror, a knock came on the door.
"Come in," I said, and the door slid open to reveal Nabiki. She opened her mouth to say something and then stopped.
"Nabiki! Kasumi took me shopping today, how do I look?"
She gave her traditional sly smile, "You look very nice, Natsuko. I just came to see you, see how you were feeling."
"Kasumi is a very therapeutic person. If she was a therapist, I'd probably be tripping over myself to have her be my shrink." I said, and giggled some, and sighed, "I'm sure that there will be adversity in the future—it's a given, considering my life, but for now, I'm going to try to enjoy it."
Nabiki nodded, "That's a very wise outlook. Anyway, I have news for you later tonight, but we'll do it in front of the whole family."
I smiled, "I look forward to it."
As she closed the door behind her, I stared at myself in the mirror. Memories of the last night Hermione and I had spent together played back in slow-motion. I'd spent the whole summer building up the resolve to carry on, the emotional walls to keep it all in.
I could feel it failing.
The warmth of her body, the gentle curves, the smell of her hair—everything about her intoxicated me to my very soul, but neither one of us were ready yet.
It had been a messy and nervous affair, neither one of us understood how sex worked, and how… to do it, but we'd managed, and taking precautions was Hermione's specialty. After the thing was said and done, both of us had realized that we'd gone too far. We were rapidly crossing the point of no return, and it was no surprise to me that that was where it came to an end.
Cedric's death shortly afterwards, and the summer of isolation I'd spent back at 4 Privet Drive left the wounds of our relationship to fester. She acknowledged me as a girl, and always would, but neither of us knew what sexuality we were yet, and we decided that for better or worse, we would… put our feelings aside until we knew the truth.
I never got to tell her that I knew the truth—that I was a girl, and that I wanted her.
And I was afraid, because I think… I might… be interested in this other girl too.
Oh, dear… what was I getting into?
After dinner had concluded, and the bowls and plates had been sent away, Kasumi returned to her seat as Nabiki stood up, a manila envelope under her arm.
With the cool air of the businesswoman she was, she spoke.
"As we all know, we have some new guests here, and the next school term is fast approaching. One person has no legal documentation to tie them to this Earth, let alone Japan. I have taken steps to rectify this situation." She opened the manila envelope and tossed the documents onto the table.
"Complete records for one Saotome Natsuko dating back 16 years to the summer of 1979."
Genma seemed shocked. Taking the papers and looking over them, he gave a nod of approval. "These are very convincing forgeries, Nabiki—are you sure they'll pass scrutiny?"
"Of course, I'm sure. Mister Ito never fails. On that note, as well… there is another small matter to take care of."
She drew out a small card from the pile and whipped it at me. I grabbed the projectile out of midair and looked at it. It was a plastic identification card. A grainy photo of myself on the first day I went out as Natsuko was on the front, with the details marking me as Saotome Natsuko, and a female.
"…An ID?" I looked at Nabiki in surprise, and she nodded.
"You're nobody, legally speaking, as I said. I got a particular contact with great skills to work their magic and forge an identity for you: Saotome Natsuko. That way you fit in with the party of crazies you came in with."
"Anyway, as I said, I pulled some strings, and you're legally 16 now, you'll be attending the same year and class as Ranma and Akane." Nabiki said.
Ranma seemed more thrilled than everyone else in the room was. After dinner passed, Ranma had collected me and taken me to the Dojo, only to wrap me up in a big hug.
He said, "I've always wanted a sibling, though I wish I'd-a known you far earlier than I do now. Even if it's all fake tricks and schemes, I'll be your big bro."
"Gee, Ranma, getting soft, aren't you?" I laughed.
Ranma blushed and I nudged him.
"I'm just teasing you, you big dummy… Thank you, that means a lot. I never had siblings either, just a cousin who liked to torment me by beating me up every moment he possibly could—having a caring sibling or family member like you is a godsend."
Ranma's already bright and quite genuine smile seemed to grow even stronger, and I knew that I'd undertaken a mission—if I couldn't save the world, or didn't want to save the world, maybe I could be there as a presence to help Ranma come out of his shell. A lot of what Genma had done to his son seemed to weigh on his shoulders worse than the things I'd dealt with on quite a few occasions.
With family behind us both, maybe we could end up somewhere better?
"She's a very resilient old hag. Her magic is literally consuming her alive and she's still resisting the sedatives they're feeding her. Great-grandmother was how old when she had her?" Hanako asked, serving tea to her mother.
"127, if I remember correctly. For most people, after you pass a century, the number of years barely matter anymore, particularly where magic is concerned." Her mother replied, taking a drink from her cup.
"Well, she's not that much younger than great-grandmother was when she passed. I feel horrible wishing for a member of my family to… you know, die, but she's just getting worse. I'm afraid she may cause some very serious headaches soon. Are you sure you don't want to be Tokoyo?" Hanako said quietly.
"Dear," Her mother replied with a smile, "I am turning 80 this year. I have zero interest in becoming Tokoyo this late in life. If your father was still alive, I'd say maybe, but with him gone, I'd just rather enjoy my retirement now. Gardening and Kanpō-igaku are peaceful passions I never got to experience when I was younger. I will come serve you as an advisor if you so wish, but I'm sure your brother can serve that purpose just as well as I can."
"Genma's kind of an idiot." Hanako said with a roll of her eyes.
"What do you think of this newest member of the family?" her mother said, casting a glance down at the sheets of paper on the table.
"Well, I'd want to meet them in person, but… good on Genma for taking in a wayward soul. I can't really blame him—he was just like that once upon a time. It's curious that they fabricated birth records and the like, but I'm sure once, uh, Auntie is gone, we can sort everything out and see what we can do to make that solid."
A man rushed through the room with an alarmed expression, and a quick sonic boom shook the kitchen.
"We should probably do something about that." Hanako said with a cough.
My first day at Furinkan High School began with dense fog and humidity. The weather in Tokyo had been some sort of chaotic the last few days. After a high-octane sparring session between Ranma and Genma had ended up with both Saotomes taking a soak in the koi pond, I'd realized that this day, and this school, would somehow surpass the sheer insanity of the combined four years at Hogwarts.
Nabiki had left early to deal with whatever racketeering she was involved with, and I'd been left to walk to class with Ranma and Akane.
"I don't want you around me, Ranma. We're strangers, okay?" Akane huffed as she affixed her eyes to the distance, past the lengths of trees and buildings, to somewhere else entirely.
"Fine by me. who'd be interested in hangin' around a tomboy like you anyway?" Ranma snarked back, before vaulting off the chain-link fence that ran along the canal, onto the road, only to be promptly splashed by an old woman watering the sidewalk.
After that, we had to take a minor detour to the local physician's office, so Ranma could douse himself in some hot water.
Dr. Ono seemed like a genuinely nice guy, even though he scared Ranma and I out of our skin by sneaking up on us without warning. The man had to have some experience in martial arts, given that he hadn't made a noise before startling the snot out of both of us. Suppression magic, or just great silence and skill—either way, it commanded some form of respect.
After getting him some hot water, the three of us had quickly continued our morning commute. Akane had a lingering blush on her cheeks (and it didn't exactly take a team of Aurors to figure out why). As we neared Furinkan, Ranma asked the obvious question.
"You sure seemed to like him—I thought you hated men?"
Akane's blush faded and she got a sour look on her face—and she said, "I don't hate men, I hate boys."
As if on some unseen cue, the doors to Furinkan High exploded open, and a horde of young men—most of the school's athlete population, it seemed—came thundering towards us. Akane slung her pack behind her at Ranma, who caught it with a loud THUNK against his chest. She then pushed full-tilt towards the horde of boys, slowly clearing through them like they were merely speedbumps.
I was awe-struck at how easily she was dispatching a horde of young men, and as the last one fell, she was breathing heavily, and wiped her brow.
"Honestly, don't they have anything better to do?" She glanced at Ranma, who blinked.
"This, uh, happen often, Akane?"
"Often enough, though it gets wors—" Her explanation was interrupted by a bolt of thunder, and the arrival of another challenger. A rather tall young man wearing a blue and black uniform stoically looked towards Akane.
"Oh, Tendō Akane—thou art a magnificent rose. Your victories against these boors is a testament to your strength. I would date with you."
Akane promptly planted her foot in Kunō's face, sending him to the ground. She shook her head, and said, "We should get going, we're going to be late if we take any longer." Ranma tossed her bag back, and we moved inside as another bolt of thunder ripped across the darkening sky, with a torrent of rain soon following.
We arrived at class just a few minutes late, and the authoritarian personality that was the teacher sent us into the hallway with buckets full of water—did the Japanese think this was a suitable punishment for tardiness?
Ranma asked, "So what's the story with this Kunō guy? He seems like a real creep."
"Well," Akane sighed, "it's kind of a long story. A couple years ago, the school held this really big speech competition, and Kunō was one of the entrants… He gave this big speech where he decried the boys who were flirting with me at the time, declaring that in order to date me, they'd have to defeat me in combat… and ever since, it's been… what you saw this morning."
Ranma asked, "And the teachers don't care?"
I snorted, "From my experience, teachers and staff at schools either never believe you, or don't care enough to intervene. Load of morons, more or less."
"His father is the Principal, and nobody really tries to stop his eccentric behaviour. He's… got some issues that nobody really wants to address." She said uncertainly.
"So, every day for two years, you do this—fight a whole legion of boys, and then that idiot?"
"And I win every time… somehow, I'm not sure. Maybe he's going easy on me." Akane said with a nod.
"Well, with girls, even macho ones like you, they always like to go a little easy." Ranma replied with a smirk.
"Well, you've never seen me at full power; why don't you take me on for real sometime instead of that leaping out of the way stuff you did the day we met?" She replied with a scoff and a glare.
Ranma shook his head and said, "Uncute or not, I… I can't fight a girl for real. Maybe it's just my old man's words about honor rattlin' around in my skull, but I just have hang-ups. What if I hurt you?"
Akane said with a frown, "I'm not made of porcelain, Ranma, I'm pretty strong, you've seen the concrete blocks I've been breaking-"
A noise from down the hall distracted the conversation and our attention. The tall poetic moron that had accosted Akane earlier that morning was approaching at a rapid pace.
"Kunō?" Akane asked with a raised eyebrow.
The aforementioned boy shouted with a grand declaration, "You are engaged to this charlatan?! I will never allow it, Tendō Akane! This is a matter of honor and I will not permit such a lecherous boor to take you without first besting me in combat! Have at you!"
While Kunō swung his bucket towards Ranma, the classroom window practically burst as a large group of kids began to clamor and shout at Ranma and Akane about this engagement that the upperclassman was referring to.
Ranma, who was by now adept at avoiding sudden contact with water, dodged the two buckets as they sailed past him. Landing away from the pooling water on the floor, he glared at him.
"I barely know who you are, buddy. But if you want to fight, fine. But not here, we'll do this elsewhere."
Ranma knocked a window open, and jumped up onto the windowsill.
"Keep up if you can, Kunō."
He dove back-first out of the third-floor window, disappearing. Kunō dived through the open window after him. Akane and I poked our heads out to see the two heading for the school's swimming pool. We looked at each other as Ranma began to shout in worry, hitting the water and disappearing in a tremendous splash. Kunō followed shortly afterwards.
"Is… uh, Kunō, always this insane?" I asked, concerned about the sheer insanity.
"Today isn't even one of his bad days, actually. Some days you can't even tell if he's open for business, if you catch my drift," Akane commented with a frown. "we should really go help Ranma. The teachers here are so used to the craziness they've gotten used to it. I'll have Yuka get our missed work. Come on."
Akane and I quickly made our way downstairs and out to the pool. The upperclassman was nearly unconscious at the edge of the pool. We noticed wet prints leading away towards the baseball field. We followed them further, to see Ranma in his female form lingering in a tree.
"Did you bring any hot water?" I asked Akane, who blinked in surprise and swore.
"No, I forgot. Damnit. If Kunō sees him like that, we're going to be dealing with more… unique problems."
"Like, hitting on him and doing the same stuff he's doing to me-kind of unique." Akane shook her head, and shouted up the tree, "Hey, you, perv."
"Who you callin' a perv, you sexless tomboy?" Ranma reddened, seemingly ready for an argument with Akane.
I interrupted to keep that from happening, "Ranma, we should probably scatter before that moron wakes up and comes lookin' for you. If he thinks you're a hot redhead, he's gonna start hitting on you like he does Akane."
Ranma's face got a shade of green on it with that thought, and he quickly tried to put his pants back on. Of course, trying to balance on a tree at the same time is always a pain, and Ranma gave a rare demonstration of complete lack of coordination, falling off the tree branch onto the ground with an unceremonious THUD.
Finally wrestling his pants back on, Ranma stood up and said, "We goin' back to the Dojo?"
Akane sighed, "Yes, I'd like that, actually. D'you mind if we stop to eat first? I left the lunch Kasumi packed me in the classroom."
"Ah, damn, same. Did you grab my bookbag?" Ranma asked, and Akane nodded, offering the bag to Ranma.
"We grabbed our stuff before we came looking for you, Ranma."
"What a wonderful way to start things off," Ranma mused, "mass chaos."
I had to laugh, before I said, "Would you like to hear about my first year of school? I promise, this is nothing."
An abridged version of First Year was what Ranma and Akane got over hamburgers. The two teenagers were looking at me in shock and I waved dismissively at their expressions.
"Honestly? It got worse from there. For me, I got used to the chaos, and learned to live with it more than without it."
"It's a miracle you survived all that, no wonder you seemed like someone who could handle themselves when we met, Natsuko." Ranma shook his head. "How much worse did it get?"
"Second year there was a big snake running around the school trying to kill people; Third year… there were a lot of problems going on at once, truth be told, but it ultimately boiled down to my godfather being wrongfully accused of murdering my parents and him escaping from prison and, well, fourth year involved a tournament that got revived for the first time in two centuries, and someone snuck my name into the running and..."
Memories of Cedric's dead body flashed through my mind again and I shook my head.
"Nothing. I don't really want to talk about it, if it's all the same to you both."
Ranma and Akane looked at each other with concern, and I shook my head to get rid of the brooding thoughts—I didn't need to think about that right now.
"Anyway…" I said, trying to change the subject, "Do you have any plan, Akane, on how to deal with the creep?"
Akane shrugged, "It's not really all that easy, his father is the principal, like I told you—and the Kunō family are new money and have some really shady ties to some shady people. Even Nabiki warned me to not piss off Kunō too much."
"Shady people like… terrorists, or shady people like… gangsters?"
"Honestly? I couldn't tell you," Akane said with a shrug, "Some people theorize he's got ties to the Triads, some say he's got ties to the Yakuza, some say he's got ties to Aum Shinrikyo, and some say he's got ties to foreign terrorists like the ones where you're from, Natsuko."
"IRA?" Akane said, trying to remember. "I'm not sure."
"Ah, I see," I replied quietly.
There was a moment of silence before I shook my head. "People like that shouldn't get free passes for their transgressions, his father being a powerful man or not. Aren't you Tendōs old money?"
"I mean, I guess? We haven't been really part of that kind of society for a few generations, according to my father. We served in the court of the Tokugawa shōgun, at least, that's what he always tells me; after the Meiji Restoration, our family dedicated ourselves to teach the Art. That's why our Dojo is so large compared to everything else."
"Huh," I said, thinking. "Old nobility, even more strange. Japan really does have a lot of families who can trace their lineage back generations… that's insane. Either way, you don't have any connections to deal with Kunō?"
"None I know of, our family's pretty big on honor and stuff, some gangs like the Yakuza believe they're honorable, but as far as I know, no ties to gangs or anything." She said with a shrug, "Nabiki probably has some connections, but I doubt she'd be inclined to deal with Kunō like that, considering he's one of her regular customers."
"Not really? I mean, Dad's a government official but he's mostly a low-level councilman for the Liberal Democratic Party, and Kasumi doesn't do much beyond household chores."
"Well, I think we're going to need to be careful around Kunō; Who knows what kind of nonsense he'll be trying to do."
"Letter for you, Saotome." Nabiki dropped the envelope in front of Ranma, who was standing on his hands against the wall of the Dojo.
"To the Aquatic Mystery Girl? Is this supposed to be for me?"
"Kunō has no idea your boy and girl halves are one and the same, so he came to me for some information about the 'mysterious maiden of the school pool', and I had to give him something, and because I happened to mention I may know a little bit about the mysterious girl, he practically begged me to bring you the letter." She said, folding her hands behind her back.
Ranma returned to a seated position and opened the letter. "Meet me beneath the lone tree near the baseball field at Furinkan High School at 5 o'clock, signed Tatewaki Kunō."
"What does this idiot want from me?" Ranma sighed, crumbling the letter up.
"I'm not sure," Nabiki said with a smirk, "but it sounds rather important, doesn't it?"
Ranma folded his arms in annoyance before shrugging. "Well, I guess I have to go, don't I? Maybe see what this idiot wants and put an end to his dreams once and for all."
"I'd be careful if I were you, Saotome," Nabiki warned before leaving the Dojo behind. Ranma shook his head and went back to his exercises. He had some time to kill before he had to meet Kunō.
After a quick swap of sex and putting on his Joketsuzoku warrior's outfit, Ranma stood quietly underneath the cherry blossom tree located near the Furinkan School baseball field. The sun was beginning to slide behind the horizon, and Ranma glanced up at the visible clock from the front of the school.
"He invites me here, demands it even, and he's late? What a jerk!" Ranma exclaimed, shaking his head. He noticed someone approaching from the distance.
The figure soon became clearer to the martial artist, and it was in fact Tatewaki Kunō, approaching in his usual blue kendo uniform. Standing a few feet away from him, Kunō spoke.
"The time is now 5:36, and the sun is at its most beautiful before it sets past the horizon." He said as he gestured to the heavens.
"Where's the stick you're always waving around?" Ranma replied in a questioning manner.
"I have no need for that today." He seemed amused.
"Pretty confident, ain't ya?" Ranma smirked, and Kunō laughed.
"Confident enough to do this."
He whipped his hand forward in a fluid motion, and tossed something in Ranma's general direction. The martial artist snatched it out of the air with minimal effort, only to notice a few small rose petals dancing in front of his eyes. Looking at what he'd caught, Ranma froze up—it was a bouquet of a dozen red roses.
Ranma looked up at Kunō as the kendoist was walking away. Kunō stopped and turned to face Ranma one last time.
"I love you. I would date with you."
Ranma's stomach dropped like a stone off the face of a cliff, and his knees gave out as he watched Kunō's figure retreat towards the sun.
"Kunō did what?" I stared at the frustrated face of Ranma from my mirror. Ranma snorted, "The fucker said he loves my girl-half. Baited me out there and gave me a dozen roses and said he loved her. I'm gonna hurl. What kinda creep thinks somethin' like that's romantic anyway!? And why me!?"
I turned to face him, and spoke plainly, "Ranma, your female half is very attractive, of course men are going to act that way. A little cold water turns you into a busty red-head. I can only be jealous."
With a frown, Ranma asked, "Is this the kind of weird shit girls go through, boys bein' creepy and stuff?"
"Yeah, Ranma." Akane said from the door. "This is exactly what we go through. Nabiki told me about the letter you'd gotten from Upperclassman Kunō, and I wanted to see how everything had gone. He… confessed to you and gave you roses?" She giggled.
"When he confessed to me, he only gave me orchids. Should I be jealous, or calling wedding planners?"
"Bite me, Tendō." Ranma raised a middle finger at Akane. He shivered with discomfort and said quietly, "Either way—it's still bugging me, I feel uncomfortable."
"That's what the hentai bastards at Furinkan do. Don't worry about it too much, Ranma. I'll see what I can do about getting you hooked up into our support network."
"…You have a support network?" I raised an eyebrow.
"Of course—do you think I'm the first girl that Kunō and the Hentai Horde have harassed? There was a girl, Kiki; she was a master fencer, and she got harassed so much she transferred to the all-girls school in Setagaya."
"Rough. So, the rest of the girls at the school band together to support each other?"
"That's basically what it is, yes. To keep the perverts, and sometimes my sister from messing too much with us. I absorb the brunt of the attentions, but sometimes they try some of the… weaker girls at the school, and they learn, quick." Akane darkened at the statement, and I wisely didn't say anything—some things were better left unsaid.
Ranma went to the Dojo to meditate. Meditation, if done properly, always provided a means of leaving troubles on the ground and ascending, even if only briefly, to a higher state of existence. It was not always the miracle cure that many people claimed it was, but it did the trick, particularly when one had struck nerves or anxiety.
The sound of someone entering the Dojo broke Ranma's concentration, and he glanced up to see Tendō Kasumi standing in the doorway with a concerned look on her face.
"Oh, uh, hey Kasumi, what's up?" Ranma asked, and the brunette shrugged.
"I was thinking about something, but you need to keep an open mind and not raise your voice, okay?" She sat down in front of Ranma, and the boy nodded.
"Furinkan High School has always had a problem with boys being a little… fresh with the girls. I'm a little concerned about my baby sister losing her cool and hurting somebody, or something bad happening to your sister."
Ranma briefly saw in his mind's eye Tatewaki Kunō, standing authoritatively over Natsuko, rambling on about the virtues of maidenhood, and how he would pluck the raw flower from the bushes. His face turned a shade of red and Kasumi placed a hand on Ranma's.
"Ranma, focus. Don't let whatever you're thinking continue." She considered his eyes intently for a moment.
"I have an idea on how to keep things manageable, and maybe it will help you understand Akane better." She said.
"What is it?" Ranma questioned, raised an eyebrow, and Kasumi folded her hands in her lap.
"Attend school as a girl."
"Excuse me?" Ranma asked, blinking in confusion.
"Attend Furinkan as a female, as your girl half."
"But why?" Ranma threw his hands up, standing up. "All that'll do is give her the ammo she needs to label me a perv!"
"Well the idea would be, Ranma, that you would be nobly defending Akane and Natsuko's honor to the boors of the school, and understanding the female condition, much like a martial arts challenge. I doubt Daddy and Mr. Saotome would decline to allow such a thing. Akane may be a little recalcitrant, but I'm sure I can… bring her over to see it our way."
Ranma fixed her with a quiet stare and said, "Am I gonna have to wear a dress?"
"Maybe, I've got some friends I can speak to, but at first, yes." Kasumi said with a nod, "But the dress isn't that bad, it's very aerodynamic; Did you know the designer of those uniforms was a martial artist?"
"What?" Ranma raised an eyebrow, and Kasumi nodded.
"When I was a first-year student there, we had to wear these awful uniforms with short-skirts, I think some wards still mandate them—I think Minato's one of them. Anyway, we got our first female principal, and she went to task redesigning everything, the uniforms were designed by her personally with the intent being that a martial artist, of which most of the students are in some form or another, should be well-prepared, even if the martial artist is a normally prim and proper yamato nadeshiko."
"Holy shit, that's actually cool." Ranma said in awe, "I'm just not fond of uniforms, is all." He didn't look at anything in particular, and Kasumi smiled.
"I can have it arranged and keep it from being corrected, your name won't be changed in the registrar, and you may consider me at your disposal in terms of support. I'm here to help everyone in this family, including the Saotomes."
Ranma's face hardened before he sighed. Kasumi had a point—protecting Akane and Natsuko was a tremendous benefit, and maybe cozying up to Akane and her friends wasn't the worst idea in the world.
"Okay, Kasumi. I trust you. Go ahead and change the registration," He said with a brief sigh. "But how are we gonna tell the old man and your dad?"
"Oh, leave that to me," Kasumi said with a dazzling smile, "I have my ways with him, and I'm sure your father will fall into line like a domino."
The smile, Ranma noted, wasn't quite characteristic of the Kasumi he'd come to know in these past days. The normally radiant and peaceful façade was replaced by… something that was almost predatory. He wasn't sure if he was impressed or mortified, but he felt something.
"I don't need his protection, Kasumi!" Akane ground out to her older sister, glaring at her as Kasumi explained her plan.
"That may be true, Akane, but wouldn't it be nice to have another ultra-powered martial artist on your side? One who understands what lecherous young men are like and lends you a hand? You have to be tiring of the fights every morning."
Akane puckered her lips like she'd taken a bite from a lemon. "I guess you're right, Kasumi… and you say he agreed to this?"
"Once I explained to him the benefits, he seemed to agree. I also said that you two could use this opportunity to understand each other a little better—I'm certain that, with enough time, everyone will be satisfied by this arrangement."
But how do we explain why 'Saotome Ranma'"—she used air quotes around his name—"dropped several centimeters and became a girl overnight?"
"You should know very well by now Akane, that the people at Furinkan have this… reality distortion field around them. They barely notice what goes on in front of their nose, let alone what goes on in other people's lives. How do you think someone like Principal Kunō could take over from Principal Himura?"
"Fair point," Akane said, tapping her finger to her chin. "I suppose I can make it work. Should I go talk to him about it?"
"I'd wait until I speak to the fathers. Just please make sure you keep Ranma safe from Nabiki; She's just as likely to prey on him as the Kunō boy is."
The temperature in the family room had dropped several degrees since Kasumi had made her proposal to the two fathers.
Genma was the first to speak.
"I see merit in the idea."
Sōun blinked and looked at his friend in shock. "Saotome, you think this is a good idea?"
Genma nodded. "Let's consider the facts on the ground- from what Kasumi has told us, Furinkan High School is a place of moral bankruptcy. The men there have no discipline and no regard for the rules of the arts they practice. As well, the fact she has mentioned instances of… sexual harassment, well…" He shook his head.
"And with that, I think Kasumi has an excellent point. Also, wouldn't this allow for our kids to bond much better than if Ranma attended as a boy? Your daughter has hang-ups about men, and based on the last few days…"
Sōun gave a sigh, and spoke in a low tone. "You're right, Akane has… had some issues with men, and I suppose the Furinkan male population hasn't helped her impressions." He looked at Kasumi and asked, "And you said you've already spoken to Ranma about this?"
"He seems to take it as a challenge," Kasumi said with a smile, "He wants to be the hammer of justice that strikes the perversion to its core."
"That is precisely the wisdom I have tried to impart on him through the Saotome School. I will grant my permission." Genma declared with a gentle tap of his hand against the table, as if to emphasize his point.
"Fantastic!" Kasumi clapped her hands together.
"Huh," Ranma said, laying on his futon. "I'm surprised they went for it so easily. Then again, Pops has his moments where he's not a complete asshole."
Ranma lifted his head and asked Kasumi, "So, what now?"
"I go change your registration, we make sure you have some uniforms for tomorrow, and… that's about it. You go in, and everything should fall into place."
"How are we gonna explain my sudden sex change?" He asked, and Natsuko spoke up.
"Truth be told Ranma, I've been feeling this very strange magical energy at the school… almost like wards, but not really." She supplied with a shrug.
"I've felt it too. It… creates a sort of reality distortion field," Kasumi said with a shrug.
"What's that?" Ranma asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Let me put in another way. It… makes people less likely to consider things that catch their attention. It's supposed to help with magical users and martial artists who rely on magic, of course. But, it can have side effects."
"Oh, wow, that's pretty useful," Ranma muttered, scratching his head. "and nobody'll question it?"
"Nope, and if they do, we'll play it off by saying it's a relative, or something to that effect." Kasumi said with a shrug. She looked at the young martial artist and asked the lingering question, "Having any second thoughts, Ranma?"
"Not really, I guess. Back in China, I had this conversation with this super important warrior in the tribe Pops pissed off. She told me that I can't let my girl half… drive me crazy. I gotta learn to accept this, so I'm gonna take this head on. The Blue Thunder," he said with a mocking sneer, "ain't gonna know what hit 'im."
"I'm sure he won't." Natsuko said with a quiet laugh.