When I was young, there were many things about my own appearance that I didn't like. My big forehead and bubble gum pink hair were two of them. I was teased so often that I developed self-esteem and confidence issues that lasted for years. So when the ANBU infiltrator told me two years ago that I would be given a transformation jutsu to disguise myself while at Hogwarts, I was nearly giddy with happiness.

That lasted until she went on to say that in terms of appearance, plain forgettable features were good and that just slightly ugly features were the best because no one wanted to look at the person or remember them too well.

I wasn't sure if she was being serious or just punishing me for some unknown wrong I had committed, but my ten year old self swallowed my disappointment. After all, I'd just been given a special mission by the Hokage himself! And even if it was technically a D rank mission, it could still potentially be important to the whole village. And so I bowed my head as the ANBU worked to make me into the perfectly forgettable witch I was supposed to be.

The good thing was that my pink hair and bright green eyes were gone. The bad thing was that they were now a dull sort of brown and my hair was so frizzy that it looked like a windblown birds-nest. Another good thing was that my forehead was of a completely normal size and hidden by a thick set of bangs. The bad thing was that now I was sporting a pair of huge front teeth that stuck out to mock me if I tried to smile.

No matter how important the mission was, I still cried a bit then. The ANBU told me gruffly to calm down while she patted my shoulder. Thinking back, she probably took pity on my then because the rest of my appearance was normal and mostly untouched.

Now, as I sat back down on my bed and deactivated the transformation jutsu for the first time in over nine months, I watched in the mirror as Hermione's face disappeared in a puff of smoke and my natural appearance returned. I decided right then and there that a big forehead and a weird hair color were not nearly as bad as I'd thought two years ago. I grinned at my reflection, marveling for a second at the straight white teeth that gleamed back at me.

Oh yes, forehead and hair have nothing on looking like a beaver.

It felt strange to be back in my normal body and without my wizards robes. I also felt slightly lopsided with the weight of my shuriken pouches on my thigh and hip again. My forehead protector was also tied around my hair so that my large forehead was displayed for everyone to see. It didn't make me as self-conscious as I might have been otherwise because after living with my other appearance I'd more or less come to terms with my real body. That and I didn't want to show any persistent shame. I was a ninja, and I had to put personal appearance issues aside. So I walked down the hallway to the classroom with my weapons, my sandals, and my forehead protector clearly displaying who and what I really was.

I still arrived feeling nervous. I hadn't exactly been the been the most talented person in class two years ago, and everyone else had had two years to train while I'd only had a review course last summer. I made a promise right to myself that I wouldn't rest until I was back up to speed. Being petrified for two months hadn't done me any favors, but at least my muscles hadn't atrophied.

My wand was also in a secure holster on my thigh. I didn't have much practical experience fighting with it, but I had a feeling I'd need every advantage I could get.

Head held high, I walked straight into the classroom and looked around to see everyone lounging around, laughing, and talking. I relaxed minutely. At least they hadn't all become serious and skilled ninja while I was away. I scanned room for anyone that looked familiar. I recognized a few people, like Ino, who I hadn't seen since last summer. I would have sat with her, but all of the chairs at her desk were taken. There were a few other vaguely familiar faces whose names I couldn't quite remember but I'd never had many real friends at the Academy, so I wasn't even sure who I was looking for.

Just as I resigned myself to sitting alone in the back, my eye caught sight of familiar spiky black hair. Sure enough, Uchiha Sasuke was sitting in the far corner with his fingers laced together and a brooding expression on his face.

My heart did a small leap, and I felt a flush creep into my cheeks. Oh, I remembered him, and I remembered my crush on him, and I remembered how I'd asked him out several times. He was the dark, brooding hero that caught my imagination and made me feel all gooey inside. Even after graduating, I had tried to keep my obsessive admiration focused solely on him, but a year of seeing neither hide nor had hair of him brought my attentions elsewhere.

They had shifted to the illustrious Gilderoy Lockheart who was exactly the opposite of Sasuke. At the time, Lockheart had seemed like the perfect replacement. He was warm and friendly and golden. Not to mention he was supposed to be brave and powerful, and he didn't mind smiling at his many admirers. It was nice to be smiled at. He'd even complimented me, called me clever. In his books, he'd done so many amazing things, and, most importantly, he wasn't halfway across the planet.

I had been almost as thrilled when I learned that Lockheart would be my teacher as I was when I realized I would be in the same class as Sasuke.

Oh yes, I had been bitten by the fangirl bug yet again. I liked to think that I was older and wiser with this crush. At least I didn't stalk him or ask him on a date, but that was a poor consolation when I found out who he really was.

One thing I'd learned from the whole Lockheart debacle, it was that adoration was just about the farthest you could get from understanding. I didn't understand until it was too late that Lockheart was a fraud, and he had tried to erase the memories of my two best friends.

With that sobering thought, I decided that maybe I shouldn't be so quick to acknowledge any lingering fangirlish feelings I might still have had. Sasuke hadn't given me anything but rejection, and Lockheart…well, I didn't really need to think about him anymore.

Right now I was Haruno Sakura, known for my intelligence, and I wasn't about to make the same mistake twice no matter how good looking the boy in question might be. Besides, unless we ended up on a team together, we probably wouldn't even be seeing much of each other anyway. There was no need to have a crush on someone who I probably wouldn't be seeing much of anymore.



I realized that I'd been staring at him for a long minute now, and I shook my head before walking over. There weren't a whole lot of empty seats, and the spot next to Sasuke was open. As I approached, I realized suddenly that he looked remarkably similar to Harry. He had the same untidy black hair. It even stuck up at the back, just like Harry's did.

I blinked.

No, there might have been something similar in the face and hair, but Sasuke's cold black eyes were so different from the bright bottle green of The-Boy-Who-Lived. And the way he held himself so stiff and closed off was different from the other's slouched, relaxed stance. Minor similarities aside, they really were very different people.

"Hey, will you let me through?" I asked, and the two boys blocking my way let me squeeze past.

I was not so unaware that I could miss the glares from some of the other girls. Oh right, I wasn't the only one who'd had a crush on him. Well, it was too late to move now.

I leaned back just in time to see an orange-blue blur land on the desk in front of Sasuke. I realized a moment later that it was someone else I'd recognized. Thinking back, I recalled that his name was Naruto, the class clown and village pariah. And he was glaring lightning bolts at Sasuke.

"Move," the last Uchiha growled.

There was a chorus of "Kick his ass Sasuke-kun" from the girls around the room. But before any ass-kicking could occur, an unfortunate bump from the boy in front resulted in the two of them pushed into a shocked lip lock. And then they broke apart, spitting and gagging as though they'd both swallowed troll warts.

I tried not to crack a smile too obviously, but I also didn't interfere when Sasuke's fangirls started beating up Naruto. He should probably learn not to pick fights with the other Genin.

Iruka arrived soon after and gave us his introductory speech on being fresh new Genin. I felt another wave of excitement as he began announcing the three man teams. My breath hitched when my name was called, followed by Naruto and Sasuke. Naruto's outburst about being put on Sasuke's team and Iruka's response made me pause.

Three man teams made to balance out. Sasuke was the best. Naruto was the worst. And me? Apart from my intellect and magic, I was about as average as they came. Yeah, but at least I wasn't put on a team with two amazing ninja I'd never be able to work with. It was okay as long as I wasn't the team weakling. As long as I was better than Naruto, I could get by.

Hell no! I will not be left behind on my own team! My inner self contributed.

We separated for an uneventful lunch only to come back to the classroom to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

The other students all filtered out with their respective senseis when they arrived, but for whatever reason, ours had yet to appear. Naruto got bored and started fidgeting and then pacing. Finally, after almost two hours, he slid the door open a bit and wedged an eraser into the crack so that it would fall on the head of any unwary entrant.

He laughed, bouncing back to the desks with a devilish grin. I felt a sudden wave of deja vu. It was so reminiscent of something the Weasley twins would have done that I could only stare. The smile, the awkward happiness, and the disregard for rules reminded me so strongly of Ron and his brothers that I had to open and close my mouth twice before I could respond.

"When you get in trouble for pulling a prank, I'm telling him I'm not involved," I said. "And you can back me up."

"Oh Sakura-chan, you know you're just jealous because you didn't think of it first," he grinned.

"Say that again when you've got detention or whatever punishment our sensei decides to give," I said. "You'll be sorry then."

"Feh, like I care," said Naruto. "I get punished all the time, it's no big deal."

No, I corrected myself, Naruto was nothing like Ron. Ron was tall and kind of quiet, and he wasn't that reckless. I also thought I detected a note of bitterness in Naruto's voice. It made me wonder why he always played pranks if he knew he would be punished. He obviously didn't like being punished, but they weren't acting as a detriment either. Maybe there was a reason he was acting out. I shook my head and decided to think about it more later.

I was lonely, I realized. I was starting to see my school friends because I missed them. It made me wonder if Ron had tried to call Harry yet, and if I should write him a letter. Maybe if the Hokage let me go back to school, I could convince him to let me buy an owl. Even if it wasn't included in the mission funds, I had plenty of my own mission pay from the past two years. I could afford to buy something for myself.

"Pft, like a Jonin is going to fall for such a simple booby trap," Sasuke scoffed, speaking for the first time.

I was going to admit that he had a point, but the words were barely out of his mouth when what had to be our new instructor arrived through the door only to be greeted by a falling eraser and a poof of chalk dust. My agreement died in my throat as Naruto pointed and laughed.

That's him? That's my new Jonin instructor? What the hell?

A sudden feeling of dread washed over me. Oh no. Naruto was the worst student in the class. I was depressingly mediocre. Sasuke wasn't, but maybe Sasuke had a horrible fault that I didn't know about and we were all stuck in some sort of remedial ninja team or something.

My inner self was already angrily writing a new banner 'Team 7: The Incompetent Ninjas.'

Please, please, please be here to tell us that our instructor died on the way here and that we'll get a new one tomorrow or something. Don't be our sensei. Don't be our sensei.

"Hmm, how can I say this?" the Jonin said with a happy one-eyed smile, as the rest of his face was covered by a mask and lopsided forehead protector. "I don't like you guys!"


I wanted to retort that I didn't like him much either, but I still wanted to make a good impression, so I kept quiet. Beggars can't be choosers, and I knew I should be glad to have any instructor at all. I could very well have been doing solo drills until next year.

He led us off to the roof of another building, and we all introduced ourselves. Kakashi, as he was called, predictably told us nothing. But I found out that Naruto was ramen obsessed and wanted to surpass the Hokage and that Sasuke was about as far from Harry-like as it was possible to be. When it was my turn, I didn't say too much about myself. I liked studying and learning, and I disliked people or things that wanted to hurt my friends. My dream was to develop my skills into something useful.

I left it at that. Maybe I'd give them a demonstration later. I wondered nervously what sort of spells might impress them.

When Kakashi, started telling us about survival training, I knew I would get the perfect chance. The 66% failure rate was more than a little alarming, but I'd already decided that I would find a way to make it through, even if I had to stay up all night studying. If I failed, and I didn't even want to entertain the thought, but if I failed, the Hokage would definitely take it as a sign that I was too weak to continue my mission. I would not only be sent back to the Academy I'd left behind two years ago, but I would never get to see Harry or Ron again either. And my magic, the only thing that could really set me apart from being an average nobody, would just be a few petty tricks that could entertain civilians.

I perused the sheet of paper he had given me with a critical eye, trying not to think about the sort of trouble Harry and Ron would get into if I wasn't there to help. It wouldn't matter, because I would be there to help them as I always was.

So just wait for me, and I'll come back, I promised them even if they were too far away to hear.


Note: So here is a transition chapter with some introspection. While Sakura will initially follow the manga series of events closely, she is already starting to branch off from her cannon character. Hopefully, the explanation for her character growth is believable. I have also removed most of the romantic feelings between team 7 characters, since a two year gap makes them pretty much impossible to maintain realistically, and I have no plans for pairings right now. That might change later. We'll see….