Chapter 14: Getting Ready for the Worse

"I'm bored," Draco said for the umpteenth time as he scratched Akamaru behind the ears. "I can't do any magic around here, or else your owners will freak and probably try to use it as another excuse to kill me again. And I can't just leave this place, with everyone in the Wizarding world thinking the entire Malfoy lineage is dead, and it has to stay that way or else it will be."

Draco rubbed the huge dog's fur, thinking about the events that had come to pass and wondering how much worse his situation could have been if Dumbledore hadn't offered to use his mysterious 'power' over the mercenaries to prevent them from attempting to kill him should they decide to ignore Ino's support for him. Or maybe what it would be like if Voldemort and his Akatsuki had caught him.

He shuddered and immediately decided to appreciate how well his life currently was, compared to what it had been the year before and what it could have been now. He had the only slightly unwilling protection of mercenaries, which was further secured by Dumbledore's influence over them. His own personal quarters were modeled after home, large and spacious, and the castle provided for his every need and whim.

Plus, he was alive.

Dumbledore was rather helpful, supplying Draco with small trinkets, some helping him understand the Japanese language so that the Hachinin didn't have to speak in English all the time, and others helping him pass the time.

But it was still boring. He had long since solved all of the Muggle 'jigsaw puzzles' that he had been given. Plus, these were children's games.

He sighed, starting to lean back, but jerked straight up at the sound of a door getting kicked open. Akamaru immediately got up to his paws with a wagging tail, barked, and ran towards the arrival. Definitely Kiba.

"Heya, Malfoy," he said, with an armful of food. He looked around the empty room and sniffed, his nose twitching almost imperceptibly to those who weren't watching him closely, almost automatically aware of their his friends' absence. "Where is everybody?"

Malfoy winced inwardly, once again reminded of Kiba's condition. Just looking at him brought chills up his spine, imagining the snarling, salivating monster he would soon become, and his ability to draw on his werewolf attributes—the canine-like demeanor, the uncanny sense of smell, and his unnatural speed and strength...—only served to heighten his wariness. If Kiba was able to use his werewolf senses without even becoming a werewolf, did this mean he was always going to be contagious, even in his human form?

"They left. Something about training," he muttered, watching Kiba, barking and yipping, wrestle with his dog on the ground.

"Oh yeah, in the forest," he said with a nod. Draco frowned.

"Why are you all... dusty?"" he asked Kiba.

"I was spying on girls," he said, raising his eyebrows and giving him a toothy grin. "If you crawl through the pipes and stuff in the walls, you can get anywhere. Care to join me next time? Fun and informative."

"No," Draco said quickly, shaking his head. He had a feeling that the werewolf would rather shut him up in one of those 'wall pipes' and keep him stuck in there.

Kiba shrugged. "Then don't complain when you've got nothing to do," he warned.

"Yeah, I did—wait, how did you know I was bored?"

"Sixth sense," he said casually. "You smell like you've been indoors way too long. Hn, anyway, I need to bring them their dinner. Are you coming? Might learn something useful."

"Um, sure," Draco said. Wait minute... Kiba mentioned a forest... "Wait, where are they exactly?"

"The forest," Kiba said, pointing out of the conveniently placed window to the forest where the sun was beginning to set.

"You're... you're bloody crazy!" Draco said. "And your friends are training there?! There are... there are giants and werewolves and spiders and other monsters inside there! And the sun is beginning to set!"

"Well, I'm not sure about those other creatures anymore, but I'd say the werewolf is standing here," he said, the grin on his face twitching slightly, as he scratched his ear with forced casualness. "But I guess if I get them their dinner, there will be a werewolf in there."

Draco winced, feeling stupid. He looked back up at Kiba, who was still rubbing the back of his ear where the faint scar ended. He looked away quickly after seeing the scarred mess that was at once and ordinary looking throat. There were some jagged marks under his chin and, from the looks of it, his skin had been torn past his neckline and possibly down past his collar bone.

Which meant that when he got bitten, it hadn't been a clean nip. It looked more like he had been thrashed by a hound of dogs of some sort, with his neck torn up the way it was.

"'Sides," Kiba said enthusiastically, "you're in safe hands! If you're going to die, then it's only because I'm killing you. No way am I just going to let some monster chew on your bones before I do!"

Draco gulped nervously. These "Muggles"—he wasn't quite sure what else to call them—were dangerous!


Kiba was right about one thing—he didn't get attacked by any magical creature in the forest. And it seemed that the mercenaries were out to get him, whether it was on purpose or not.

Draco found this out when Kiba and Akamaru, who were both leading him through the forest, lunged and tackled him to the ground. At that very moment, there was a whistling sound as dozens of dark objects passed by overhead.

'Great Merlin, it's touching me!' Malfoy thought frantically, his entire body freezing up as it came into contact with his greatest fear. 'It touched me!'

Kiba jumped up to his feet shouting at the perpetrators.

"Are you guys trying to KILL us?" the brown-haired mercenary snarled at the dark clearing as he ran forward. "You nearly ruined the food! I brought you guys dinner!"

As Draco approached the clearing, he saw Naruto and Neji breathing heavily, though both of their attention was now on Kiba. The rest of the group was present as well, watching in safety from behind various trees. The only one not present was Shikamaru.

"Hey!" Naruto said, turning his back on Neji to wave at the new arrivals. "Sorry about that! Didn't see ya!"

"Even if you didn't, Neji did!" Kiba said, pointing an accusing finger at Neji. Draco squinted in the darkness, this being one of the few times he had ever seen Neji out of his now-usual outfit of Muggle sunglasses, hat, and a cane.

"Yeah, I did," the man admitted easily, without a single moment's hesitation.

He had, at first, thought the Hyuuga was blind, but after some time, he had finally remembered his voice to be the assassin whose mask had no face from their first meeting. It seemed that Neji, their 'surveillance system' had, perhaps, other means of seeing.

It was here that he realized that Neji's eyes were pale, which supported the 'blind' theory.

"You're staring," Neji said bluntly.

"You wouldn't know I was staring if you weren't staring back at me," Draco answered automatically, though he immediately reprimanded himself silently for possibly egging on a killer.

"Your logic is undeniable, but, in my currently unique case, it is untrue," Neji said calmly, without any hint of venom in his voice.

Draco stared at the man, mouth slightly agape, unsure of how to respond to this show of non-unfriendliness. "Um... okay," he said. "Lesson learned."

Oddly enough, the man actually seemed rather content with that answer.

"So why am I here again?" the wizard asked Kiba.

"Well..." Kiba said slowly, a grin growing on his face. "You were bored."

Draco stared at Kiba, his eyes widening in horror of what was to come.

"...No. Absolutely no bloody freaking way... You can not be serio—!"


He was burning.

Naruto clutched his stomach. He was positive that he was not conscious, from the fact that he seemed to be currently floating in the middle of darkness with the ground nowhere in sight. However, he also knew that this was no ordinary dream, from the burning pain in his stomach.

Clenching his teeth, he struggled to move his hands from their protective position over his stomach to lift the front of his T-shirt. What he found—or didn't—was what he had feared.

The seal that had been on his stomach was gone.

Naruto jerked awake, falling out of his hammock with a loud thud. "Ow!" he yelped, rubbing his head.

It was the fourth time that night he had had that dream, and he had woken up in the middle of the night several times already that past week. He looked around. The room was still rather dark, but bits of sunlight crept through the window. It was probably about five in the morning, far earlier than he needed to be awake.

Naruto didn't bother climbing back into the hammock, not feeling that rest was worth another nightmare like that. He leaned back against the stone wall, sitting on the cold cobblestone floor. He really didn't want to go back to sleep. The dream of the Kyuubi still unnerved him, despite the fact that he had already woken up. Was it just a dream, he wondered, or was it a sign that the Kyuubi was starting to break through?

Naruto cautiously lifted up the front of his shirt to peer down at his stomach, where the seal of the Kyuubi had been and still remained, and let out a relieved sigh.

"It doesn't matter how hard you wish," a voice said, floating past the doorway. "You will never have abs as great as mine."

Naruto immediately dropped the front of his shirt and looked up to see Sai standing in the doorway. "Well at least I don't go around in short shirts just to show off my belly," he grumbled, pulling down his shirt immediately. "What do you want?"

"Sleep," Sai said, without his usual scathing remarks. "But because of you and your furry, demonic little problem, it seems I will not be able to do so until I do a small touch up."

He pulled out a bottle of ink and an ink brush. "I believe the seal is weakening again," he said.

"That would explain a lot," Naruto mumbled, remembering the frightening dreams he had been having as of late. Sai sat down across from him, and Naruto lifted the front of his shirt, where the seal of the Shiki Fūjin was, slightly faded at the edges but appearing overall fine. "Hn, it looks completely normal to me," he said. "Are you sure it's your seal?"

"It is definitely my seal that is weakening," Sai said, "or else I would not have had the same dream of death, destruction, and that demon as you did. Everyone else's seals begin to fade and become much lighter when they are weakened or after use, so it is easier to know if their seals need to be re-inked. My seal on you, however, is drawn directly over your old seal, which doesn't fade at all. When my seal begins to fade, you can't tell how faded it is because it's the same color underneath."

"...Then why don't you move the seal to a different spot?" Naruto asked bluntly.

"As usual, your intellect has failed to shock me," he said. "Everyone else's seals drain your abilities. My seal serves two purposes. The first is to drain your chakra when it overflows as well—though to a lesser extent in comparison to everybody else's. The second purpose is to increase the strength of your original seal, because without it, none of the other seals would work at all and we would have a rogue demon running about pillaging villa... cities."

Naruto nodded as Sai retraced the seal on his stomach, deep in focus and probably in no mood to talk. Although Sai claimed that reapplying a weakening seal was just a simple matter of retracing the marks with a mix of chakra and ink, Naruto wanted to avoid any mistakes as much as possible.

After several moments of tense silence, Sai finished, recapping his ink bottle and putting his supplies away.

"It will dry in a few minutes," Sai said.

"Thanks," Naruto replied. He waited patiently for the ink artist to leave but quickly realized that he wasn't going to. "...Uh, you need something?"

"I'm just making sure you do not end up smearing any of my hard work," Sai said idly. "I will stay until it is completely dry."

"Oh. Okay."

They both looked around in an awkward silence.

"You know..." Sai said suddenly.


"Shikamaru is gone."


"He left. Last night, he didn't go to bed, and none of us realized it."

"You've got to be kidding m—!" Naruto began, immediately getting up to his feet when Sai clamped a hand over the blond's mouth and forced him to sit back down on the ground.

"There is nothing we can do about it," Sai said, glancing at Naruto's stomach to make sure his seal hadn't been smeared with the sudden movement. "It's a mission."

"A mission? Without us?" he said, confused.

"One for Dumbledore, apparently," he said. "He left a note on his chair. It read, 'On a mission for Dumbledore.' That was all he had written, but it was rather self-explanatory, don't you think? He'll probably be back in the morning."

"So he didn't even tell us where he went?" Naruto asked, looking enraged.

"He doesn't want us following him," he repeated. "Which means that it's probably dangerous, he was told to work alone, or he would simply rather work on his own."

Naruto didn't say anything in response to that.

"...He stinks," he muttered.

"He only has us avoiding him like the plague so that Dumbledore would not be able to get any closer to us than he already is."

"He still stinks."

Sai frowned. "Your seal is dry now. I'll be goin—"

"Wait," Naruto said, before the older shinobi could leave.

"What is it?" he asked, starting to look a bit tired.

"Just a quick question... why do you think Neji's Byakugan is screwing up?" Naruto asked.

"I believe it may a combination of various factors," Sai said, "though there is no evidence to support any specifics."

"Why don't you get evidence? Talk to Neji. Ask him about it."

Sai frowned.

Naruto knew that Sai actually had a distinct dislike for Neji, and vice versa. He just didn't know why. "You ask him. I'm pretty sure he's figured it out by himself by now."

"Is it about Tenten?" Naruto asked.

Sai's aloof posture stiffened slightly. "I told you before, it's a combination of things. And if you don't want to ask the source directly, then I don't think you're likely to get any answer soon. Neji is the one with all of the answers, not me."

"But you know something."

"I know a lot of things," Sai quipped, ending the conversation as he closed Naruto's door and left.

Alone in his bedroom, Naruto pulled his shirt back up again to stare at the seal on his belly again, a bold inky darkness against his tanned skin. Several other seals painted his body, one corresponding seal for each member of his surrogate family. He smiled grimly at the idea that he shared a mark with everyone in a group, the only one with a 'special connection' to each person.

"Stupid demon..." he murmured, climbing back into his hammock with heavy eyelids, no longer fearing sleep now that Sai ensured him several more nights rest until the next seal weakened. "Making me wake up over something so small..."

Had he been more awake, he probably would have heard the nearly silent whisper in the corner of his room.

"I knew it..."


"I just don't get it," Naruto later muttered, relaying the story to some of the others later that morning. "Sai's so...weird."

"Well... he doesn't like Neji all too much," Sakura said thoughtfully. "Maybe he just doesn't care about whether Neji's Byakugan gets better or not."

"That's just too cold for Sai. He might not be real...uh, nice, but... well, he's better than when we first met him. He's not that mean."

"Yeah he is," Sakura muttered.

"I know!" Ino said. "Maybe he's jealous of Neji because he liked Tenten too or something!"

They both stared at her and rolled their eyes.

"Not everything revolves around love, you know," Sakura said bluntly.

"Ah, figures," a new voice said. They all looked up to see Shikamaru standing by the doorway, yawning. "You guys are always here."

Ino looked up at him and immediately turned away, turning slightly red. Shikamaru looked away as well, looking rather embarrassed. Naruto and Sakura exchanged glances, unsure of whether to leave the room or not. Shikamaru seemed to notice this and sighed.

"I have nothing personal in my intentions," he said before they would leave the kitchen, which was more like the living room where they just talked when Shikamaru would be in the actual living room staring out the window and filling the room with smoke. "I need to know where Kiba is. And Sai too."

"Kiba and Akamaru... they're probably at Hogsmeade," Sakura said. "Kiba mentioned tagging along with some of the students, since we're supposed to be making sure they stay out of trouble anyway."

Shikamaru paused, looking a bit troubled by this information. "And Sai?" he asked.

"Somewhere in the castle," Naruto said. "I think I pissed him off today, though I don't know why."

Shikamaru sighed. The day he realized he needed to discuss a part of his plan with certain individuals, they were all gone. In addition, the first person he would ask for help locating a missing person was Kiba, the one he was actually looking for, who was in another village. And the second person, Neji, was... up in his tower, like he usually was.

"That's... probably not good," Shikamaru said, trying to lessen the tense atmosphere practically emanating between himself and Ino. "Ah, by the way, I have new positions for you all in the castle. You all stay in your general posts in the castle, but Sakura, after hours when you're finished doing whatever it is that Pince has us do whenever we go to the library, you patrol the second and third floor. Ino, you and Neji are to stay in the Divination Tower after hours. Neji will do the surveillance. At times that his sight goes out, you make sure it's completely safe for him, keeping him out of dangers that he would not be able to avoid, like sharp objects and things that may fall on him, or may obstruct his movement. After you do that, you will patrol the general grounds of Hogwarts, but stay off of floors four to seven. Stick with the towers. Naruto, you and your kage bunshins will go throughout the entire school, except for the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh floor."

Naruto nodded. "So I guess Kiba, Akamaru, and Sai split the top ones then?" he asked.

Shikamaru frowned. "No. Kiba and Akamaru are outside on the grounds, mostly the area bordering the Forbidden Forest, as well as the inner parts of the castle."

"Wait, Sai has to patrol all four floors?" Sakura said incredulously. The others looked surprised by this as well. Was Shikamaru losing it?!

"What about me?" Naruto asked. "I could handle it. The headaches aren't that bad when all the information comes back. I can live with it!"

"That's something I'm going to discuss with Sai," Shikamaru said uncomfortably, trying to keep his voice sounding calm and collected.

"Did he piss you off or something?" the jinchuuriki asked incredulously.

"I just need to explain to him why he's in charge of so many floors, and wide ones to boot," Shikamaru said. "You guys, on the other hand, are not involved with this, and I have no reason to divulge these confidential matters to you—" He faltered slightly at Ino's glare.

He and Ino met eyes for a long moment. No one said anything as they abruptly broke eye contact at the same time.

"Ahem... right. Well..." Shikamaru paused after clearing his throat, looking at them all with an expression of awkwardness written all over his face. "See you guys later, I guess."

The moment he shut his door, Ino hit her head against the table.

"God," she mumbled, her voice muffled by the wood in front of her face and by the hair that covered her head like a curtain over her face. "Like I want to kill myself... or that jerk."

"You might feel guilty about breaking up with him at a time like this, but the rest of us just feel awkward whenever you two end up in the same room," Naruto muttered. "Can't tell who has it worse: you two or us."

"You didn't really have to break up with him..." Sakura said, trying to comfort her friend.

"It's a lot easier to avoid him if we weren't going out," Ino replied, sighing.

"Well, we could always disobey orders and hang out with him anyway," Naruto suggested.

"Probably shouldn't. Shikamaru probably has another set of intentions in his orders that he hadn't told us," Ino said, "but he's right about having us avoid him. He doesn't want Dumbledore to know that we're still conspiring against him, and since he's the only one who usually comes in direct contact with Dumbledore... Well, since Dumbledore seems to be able to see things in a person's mind through eye contact, Shikamaru is in most danger of letting him know. So we relocate that memory so that Dumbledore can't find it. And the more time he spends with those present at that meeting—all six of us—the more likely it is that our presence would trigger his memory and move it back to where Dumbledore would find it."

"Well, all the more reason we ought to figure out how Dumbledore reads minds and how we could counteract it, right?" Sakura said. "Oh, and, by the way, I managed to narrow the possibilities down a bit. I know for sure that whatever he uses, it's Dark Magic, or at least some obscure form of it."

"Great," her friend joked, running her fingers through her hair. "That's only, what, half the library left to go?"

"More like two-fifths," she sighed. "Two-fifths light, two-fifths dark, and one-fifth on Muggles. I also found that half of the information on Muggles is pretty good for a laugh if you're into pretty stale, sad humor. Most of that section is either completely inaccurate or incredibly outdated. They still think that Muggles believe electricity is some sort of divine power."

"Speaking of divine powers that nobody really understands," Naruto said, "there's supposed to be some Quidditch practice thing I keep hearing about. Malfoy mentioned it before. Something about broomsticks and balls. That's all I got before I started dozing off."

"And, speaking of which, where is Malfoy anyway?" Ino asked.

"He's passed out in his room," Sakura said. "Don't you think fifteen miles was too much for an out-of-shape wizard?"

"Nah," Naruto said, shaking his head. "We managed to do it, and we're way out of shape. I don't think it should have taken that guy, what, twelve hours to finish? Besides, he managed to get that far eventually. And plus, now that he's all conked out, we can't listen to him complain about how his life fell apart and how he has nothing to do all day long. Surprise! He's got something to do now: run fifteen miles, pass out, recover, and run as soon as he can move again. We've got a schedule for him!"


Kiba and Akamaru were having the times of their lives in Hogsmeade. It was a feeling of freedom that he hadn't felt since the day they had come to Hogwarts. It seemed that the only time Hogwarts' wards were let down were during the weekends during the Hogsmeade trips, allowing Kiba to run around the village wreaking havoc on candy shops and anything that had free samples.

Chewing on licorice wands, Kiba and Akamaru roamed around Hogsmeade, taking in the sights and occasionally hitting on girls and sometimes showing off his impressive scar, telling them the dramatic tale of his great battle against eight powerful wizards. Considering how the scar was on his neck of all deadly places, they were rather impressed.

'Women,' Kiba thought gleefully to himself, his mood better than it had been in weeks. 'No matter where you go, they're all generally the same...'

Of course, he bought a book from Zonko's, which was having a 'closing sale'. There wasn't any particular reason for buying said book. He just felt like it. Apparently, the store was being bought by some new company and the old man wanted to get rid of everything by January. He bought a large box of tea for Neji. He'd probably like that. He mentioned something about tea readings for his class, whatever that was.

So, Kiba walked into what seemed to be one of the most popular places in all of Hogsmeade, with his box of tea occupying the chair next to him.

"Hello, you must be new around here," a woman said, approaching him. "I'm Rosmerta. What would you like to drink today?"

"Um..." Kiba briefly ran through a mental list of all the beverages he knew of. ...Water, soda, and beer. At a popular place like this, with so many students, they'd probably actually ask for an ID, so no alcoholic beverages... Sodas were a Muggle drink. "Water?"

The woman smiled. "So you can make your tea?"

"Huh?" Oh. Kiba looked down at his box of tea. "Nah, I hate tea. It's too bland for me."

"Well, water seems a bit blander than tea," Rosmerta said. "Might I recommend butterbeer? It's a drink common to all seasons, it's of low cost, it has only a smidgen of alcohol, and it's delicious."

"Um... sure," Kiba said. "It's not made of real butter or anything though, is it? Like, melted butter stuck in a cup and mixed with beer... or something?"

"Merlin no!" she exclaimed, laughing at his 'joke'. "Goodness, that would taste horrible wouldn't it? What made you think such a thing?"

"Well, the 'butter' and the 'beer' must have thrown me off a bit," he said, shrugging. She looked puzzled by his logic, so Kiba quickly changed topics. "Yeah, I'll have it. How much will it be?"

"A sickle and three knuts," Rosmerta said. Kiba handed her a Galleon and took the change. Moments later, he received his order, and a sparrow. Kiba looked at the small messenger bird named Baki that his friends had bought back during the summer and unrolled the tiny inch-wide scroll and read the short message.

Go back to Hogwarts soon when you're done doing whatever it is that you're doing. -Shikamaru

Kiba sniffed slightly, wrinkling his nose.

The word 'THREE' immediately popped into his mind.

Parchment. Grass. Mustiness. And tinge of magic in all three scents.

He stuffed the message back into his pocket and allowed the bird to fly away and then angrily turned around to the three people standing behind him. "Do you mind—?" he began to say in English, only to find that there was no one hovering over his shoulder.

He frowned. There was definitely someone there, but...

Kiba got up and left the Three Broomsticks, shaking his head. He could finish the drink on the way back to Hogwarts anyway. Plus, even if someone had been reading over his shoulder, he doubted they were able to read the Japanese scribble very quickly.

It was a quick jog for Kiba and Akamaru back to Hogwarts, even with the large box of tea under one arm and the bottle of butterbeer that preventing him from running on all fours. Of the entire team, Kiba was completely aware that physically, he was in better shape than most of them. It was a fact that he held dear, considering the fact that that was what he was best for: sheer strength, great stamina and brute force.

As a matter of fact, considering how every single one of his techniques depended on his physical fitness, strength, and speed, anything less than 'most fit' would completely crush his pride. On the other hand, it rather stung that Sakura, as thin as she was, was physically more powerful than anyone in the group.

He smelled Shikamaru and glanced around. Odd... their leader was nowhere in sight—ah, spoke too soon. There was Shikamaru coming around the corner. Kiba wrinkled his nose. Was he a bit off today? This was the second time his nose had made a mistake. Of course, he was still adjusting to his fluctuating senses.

"Hey," Kiba said. "You wanted to talk with me?"

"New arrangements," he said. "Instead of you just randomly roaming the halls, I want you to patrol the grounds outside—near the lake, near the forest, near Hagrid's hut, so long as it's outside the castle and within Hogwarts' boundaries, it's your territory. Outside, you could mark as much territory as you want. Filch has been complaining about how someone's pet is peeing in the hallways."

"And you think that 'someone's pet' is me?" Kiba asked.

"Not too many other non-canine creatures mark their territory," Shikamaru answered. "Plus, it's acidic. I don't think any other creature in this world can corrode substances with their piss. Just... mark your territory outside or in the bathroom like any other person—not in the castle for god's sake."

"It's not just for the sake of marking territory," Kiba said with a grin. "It annoys him too. And Ms. Norris, but only when I hit her once."

Shikamaru nodded and paused, as if unsure of whether to say what was on his mind, until he finally pulled himself back together and regained his lazy composure.

"...After the first month, symptoms will begin to appear every night: less of a need to sleep, greater endurance, and a bit more brute strength. In the second month, those symptoms that become active at night also occur during the day, you'll experience a sudden increase in your ability to track scents, and around times of the full moon, your hair will thickens a bit at night. At three months, you should probably have finished adjusting to your new physiological abilities as they lessen slightly and finally stay at one level without any sudden changes. Like finishing puberty. Except there are few obvious physical changes. And, in the fourth month, you experience your first transformation," he said.

Kiba stared.

Shikamaru uncomfortable shifted from one foot to another. "That's how it generally is for werewolves," he said, in case Kiba's silence was because this was all too big for him to deal with and understand at once. Might as well get it over with in one go though. "Though it's not exact."

"So... if I'm a werewolf, I'll have my transformation thing in December," he said thoughtfully. "I always wanted to turn into a raging beast around my friends! ...Merry Christmas, guys. I'm gonna eat you!"

Kiba laughed but was surprised that it didn't feel totally fake. He was honestly rather amused with himself, in fact.

"According to the school records for teachers' eyes only," Shikamaru said, ignoring the joke that he actually found somewhat depressing, "there was a student attending Hogwarts some twenty years ago. His classmates were completely unaware that he had lycanthropy because every night of the full moon, they would send him to a place called the Shrieking Shack—"

"At Hogsmeade," Kiba said suddenly, remembering the little shack on top of a desolate hill—a popular location for tourists to watch from a distance.

"Yes. There was a secret tunnel leading to the Shrieking Shack. It was on our map. They sent him there and kept him inside until it was safe for him to leave. There was only one near-death incident when another student fell victim to a prank and was nearly attacked by the werewolf student."

"So... that's our solution?" he asked. "Keep me locked up until it's safe?"

"If you don't like the idea—" Shikamaru said hastily.

"No, no, it's fine," Kiba said, a grin growing on his face. "Perfect, in fact! We won't get caught. This is good! Very good..."

For a minute, Shikamaru actually looked rather pleased with himself and with Kiba's easy acceptance of the situation, but the moment was lost when he recovered his 'I'm-too-lazy-to-have-facial-expressions' look.

"Before you go," he said to Kiba, "where's Sai?"

Kiba paused, lifting his head slightly in the air and taking a whiff.

...Okay, that didn't work.

He tried again, taking several deeper breaths, and pointed north. "You could check the astronomy tower. I smell a freakishly large amount of ink in that direction."

Shikamaru nodded and left. Once Shikamaru's back was turned, Kiba's grin faded slightly. He wasn't all too happy spending the night in some dusty old shack that smelled like sweat, fur, drool, and mustiness. Though throughout his entire life, he had adjusted to these natural smells, the Shrieking Shack smelled almost overwhelmingly strong.

But Kiba didn't mind praising the genius. Shikamaru was stressed out. He stank of fear, but at least it wasn't of him, like with the wizard, or for him, like with his friends. He cocked his head to the side, however, realizing what Shikamaru smelled most strongly off.

'He smells...' he thought to himself raising an eyebrow in curiosity at his leader's back, '...like he's been doused in magic.'


"So let me get this straight," Sai said. "You want me to practically dedicate my very existence to patrolling these floors?"

"Not your existence."

"But my time."


"All of it."


Shikamaru frowned. That was surprisingly easy. Perhaps frighteningly so. Even by Sai's standards. "You have a condition," he said bluntly.

Sai shrugged. "Not a condition. A question," he replied. "You're the smartest, strategy-wise, out of our entire group, so I will not completely doubt your judgment. But you're separating me from the group, isolating me. Is this on purpose? Are you spiting me because you've become distant from everyone else?"

He stared back at the older shinobi, feeling slightly more than just annoyed. He distanced himself from them? It was the other way around! "Sai—"

"I apologize," Sai said, not looking sorry at all. "You misunderstood my words. And I wasn't done with my speech. I was just making a... an 'expressive pause', meant to give you a moment to think to yourself."

"Over the two years I've known you, I never know you were a speech person."

"Then I suppose Naruto must be rubbing off on me for the worse," Sai said. "I know that you aren't much of a vengeful person. You aren't spiting me by isolating me, just because the others are coming to you less and less for issues both personal and vital to our survival. But what I do know is that you have some sort of secret purpose behind all of this. You do have an ulterior motive right? One you're not telling me?"


"Cannot tell me," Sai said. "I know. It's completely understandable. We are not idiots. Well... correction: I am not an idiot. Can't speak for everyone else after all... I'm not asking what you're planning to do. In all likelihood, you probably can't tell me and this is a situation in which we cannot be allowed to know, or I won't want to know. So I'm not going to bother asking. I just want to know and make sure that there is an advantageous ulterior motive to sending me to the top floor, right?"

"Right," Shikamaru said, nodding.

"And so, as long as you have one, you might as well tell me what you really want me to do, since I'm not to know the situation. If I cannot be allowed to know the complete details situation, I would like my orders to be at least a little bit more detailed," he said.

Shikamaru shrugged, knowing that even this emotionally disfigured shinobi might not like these commands...

"There's nothing really specific... You don't have to spend the nights here or anything—though if you can at least on occasion, then feel free to do so. Just... spend as much time away from the others as much as possible. You are not to speak to them. You will not communicate in any way to anyone unless it is an extremely important issue. Avoid company at all costs."

"So basically, I'm doing to myself what interrogators usually do to psychologically torture prisoners of battle?"

"...Yes. If you want to put it that way, then yes," Shikamaru said, nodding.

"Are you sure you aren't spiting me for some reason?" Sai asked him.


"Where do you think Shikamaru was last night?" Naruto asked.

"Not sure," Sakura answered. "I wasn't even aware of the fact that he had left."

"Has that owl always been there?" Ino said suddenly.

"Don't change the subject," her friend chided. "This is important."

"No," she insisted. "I'm serious. Where did that owl come from?"

"What owl—? " Naruto said, turning around. "Oh. ...Where did that owl come from?"

The tawny brown owl, having finally captured their attention, flapped from its perch in the living room to the kitchen table where the three were chatting.

"Oh, it brought us the newspaper," he said, picking up the headlines. "Uh..."

Terror at the Ministry Continues – Exploding Ministry Official Case Still Unsolved!

Naruto winced at the picture of the front cover, which was decorated with pictures of the bodies. It reminded him of Deidara's clay explosions, only it was obvious to the trained eye, such as a shinobi's, that this person's cause of death had been different from Deidara's usual technique. This person had been blown up from the inside, probably centering around the stomach area.

"Ow!" Naruto said, dropping the newspaper and snatching his hand back as the newspaper owl pecked him hard on the hand.

"It wants something, and I'm sure it's not your thanks," Ino said. "Anyone here going to pay the bird?"

"I'm not paying any money for an English newspaper," Naruto snorted. "I can barely read that stuff for ten minutes before I get a headache. Plus, half the junk is just propaganda!"

The owl hooted sharply, looking both shocked and annoyed that it hadn't and wasn't going to be paid for its services. Offended, it flapped its wings and, picking up the newspaper, soared out of a conveniently placed window.

"Huh... well that was random," the blond muttered. "...And why do we have a window here?"

As if on cue, the window disappeared.

"What was that...?" a person asked, yawning as he struggled to enter the room without collapsing from the aches he must have been experiencing from the laps he ran.

"Malfoy...!" Ino said with a grin. "You're conscious!"

"Really now...?" he said. "I wasn't aware of that. But was that an owl?"

"Yeah," Sakura said. "Was it yours?"

"I don't have one anymore," he said, dragging himself to a seat at the table with as much dignity as he could maintain.

"It looked like a public one," Naruto said. "It had the newspaper and stuff."

"Oh," he said, looking around. "...Where's the newspaper?"

"It left."

"The newspaper?"

"The owl. With the newspaper."

"Why the bloody hell would it do that? And you paid for it?"


"Ugh..." he mumbled. "Great. My only connection to the outside world was that newspaper, and now the post-owl flew off with it..."

"Hey, we're connected in the outside world," Ino said. "What about us?"

"Yesterday, you guys forced me to run how many hours again?" he asked. "I'm sorry. I can't remember, I lost count. Excuse me if I'm in too much pain to talk to you sadists..."

"I remember. It was twelve," Naruto answered. "Twelve hours and forty-six minutes."

"Oh joy," Draco said sarcastically.

"Well, if you weren't so out of shape, you could have shortened it to at least ten," Naruto said.

"Out of shape?! Let's see you guys do it!"

"We did. In six hours. At a slow and unsteady pace so we wouldn't lose you in the forest to get eaten by some sort of giant man-eating slug or whatever."

"...Oh," he mumbled.

"Say," Sakura said. "That owl came here because you subscribed to the newspaper, right?"

"Yeah," Draco said.

"So... if an owl can find you, what stops Voldemort—oh, don't wince, it's just a name, you loser," Sakura said. "Anyway, what stops him from sending you an owl and figuring out where you are that way?"

He shrugged. "How should I know?"

"Well then aren't you putting us in danger?" Naruto asked, looking annoyed.

"Look, guys, don't gang up on him," Ino said. "If You-Know-Who wasn't bright enough to use an owl to find out where Harry Potter lived, then he isn't going to use an owl and find out where Malfoy, of all people, is."

"I guess you've got a point," Sakura said. "If it's that easy to track a person down using their age-old communication methods and he hadn't even thought of using it, then Voldemort's an idiot. Malfoy. Stop. Wincing. For god's sake, it's just a name!"

"You can't just say that!" he said.

"Why can't Sakura say 'Voldemort'?" Ino asked suddenly, feeling annoyed with Malfoy's fear of a word. "No, seriously. I'm curious. Why not? A name is a word or a combination of words by which a person, place, thing, or object of thought is designated, called, or known as. And 'Voldemort' pretty much falls under the category of name. It's not a verb. I can't Voldemort you. And it's not some magic word either. If I wave a wand and say 'Voldemort-o!', no one is going to fall over dead."

"It's just... not... done..." he said, gritting his teeth and struggling to control his flinches at his name.

"I. Just. Did. It," she replied smugly. "Now it's done."



"There's something about these two..." Naruto mused, watching the heated conversation with fascination.

"Yeah," Sakura said. "It's like they're related or something."

"Yeah, we're related," Ino retorted, overhearing their conversation. She rolled her eyes. "He's the brother that I've never had and still don't want!"


It was dark in the living room. Shikamaru looked at the ancient grandfather clock that always went off at every hour, scaring the living hell out of all of them each time it sounded.

He stood up and took a closer look at the clock. Fifteen minutes to two in the morning.

Before leaving, he quickly paused to scribble a note on the wall.

October 3
You have two days to change your quarters to your liking because it will eventually become increasingly difficult to change your surroundings for the next several months until you find yourself unable to adjust it magically at all.
P.S: Naruto, unless you are absolutely serious about that keeping that hammock for good, I suggest you trade it for something easier to rest in.


No doubt some of them would be annoyed by the short notice. Shikamaru wondered vaguely if anyone realized that he was leaving every night.

Whether they cared or not didn't matter, he told himself, but if they were so inept as to not notice his disappearance every night... well, he couldn't possibly call them cut-rate shinobi, but he would have to say something about their alertness level.

Opening the glass case of the grandfather clock that no one understood quite why Shikamaru kept, he removed a small sack from behind the pendulum that swung back and forth inside.

Equipped with the green powder in the small sack and the black powder in his makeshift backpack, he left in the closest fireplace connected to the Floo network to head to his destination.


My Thinking Corner

I can't imagine Shikamaru and Sai really super getting on each other's nerves. I can't think of any fault that Shikamaru has, aside from his laziness, which hasn't been much of a fault lately, in the manga and in this fanfiction.

Anyway, I think that there may be a misunderstanding of sorts, concerning Asuma's death. This did not go quite the way it did in canon. For instance, when several members of the Akatsuki directly attacked Konoha, they were at relative peace, and none of the shinobi were with their entire teams during the battle..

Hidan and Kakuzu did not fight Asuma's Niju Shotai team under the same conditions as they did in the real manga. Kakuzu actually fought Kiba back in their last moments in Konoha, and Shikamaru and Asuma fought Hidan. That's when Asuma died, but Shikamaru still continued the fight, in a slight state of shock but otherwise fine.

Moments later, he and Ino met up, while Chouji was still elsewhere. Ino, at first, is horrified to see that Shikamaru's covered in blood, but he dazedly tells her that it's not really his. He never specified from whom the blood had come from.

The ironic part of this all is that I had written the prologue far before I had read this chapter, and when I did read the chapter, all I did was add Kakuzu and Hidan to the story and adjust it so that it all fit better. Which means, yes, if it didn't happen in the manga, I would have killed Asuma anyway, though I would never have though of Shikamaru being a smoker (thought it was a Sarutobi thing and that it'd be Konohamaru).

OH! You know what's funny? On FFnet, the Document Manager has a limited amount of time you can keep a document saved on there. Well I exported a chapter to do some fixing ups and... I currently have "60s and 22s" days left. And one "-137". Yes, folks, that's negative one hundred and thirty seven days left to get rid of my exported chapter. Glitch, anyone?


Review Responses

Lachwen: "Again, Yay! XD. I can't wait to read Neji's reaction to Lavender's flirting lol (will he even have any idea what is going on? lol). Thank you very very much for updating - as always, this story is a great read!"
You'll be seeing tonight in the next omake. ;) Thanks for the review! The next Chapter is coming out tonight (in celebration of New Years).

phppsmss: "i'm starting to pity shikamaru"
Lol, just starting? Well, hardship is good for character, or else we wouldn't love Naruto so much. Everyone in Konoha has some sort of dramatic past or dramatic present going on anyway.

dark672: "That omake was too long for my taste's. The chapter was good"
I honestly actually have no idea what length it should be, but I hope the next one is better! And thanks:)

Eowyn: "I was just thinking. If Dumbledore has to make eye contact with Shikamaru to read his mind, maybe a pair of mirrored sunglasses would help?"
I responded to this, didn't I? Mm... I think it was in the last chapter.

Mm, a pretty short list of anonymous reviewers, but it's been less than a week since my last update, so... yeah, I'm about


Omake: Failed Attempt No. 11

"Okay," Lavender said to herself, taking a deep breath. "Eleventh time's a charm..."

She climbed up the ladder and back into the Divination Room, where her class had ended some time ago and her current Divination professor was scratching away at his cluttered desk in his office at the back of the room.

Though his back was to her, he paused a moment, still ignoring her, to put his sunglass and hat back on, much to Lavender's curiosity. If he takes it off when no one's around, does that mean he's just shy or he's covering something?

She had seen that his eyes were a pale, creamy white color, so she had assumed for a while that he was blind. However, the few times that he would go to the board and write upon it in chalk, his handwriting was always straight and perfect and rarely looked any bit out of order.

However, on occasion, when he was in the back of the room at his desk, she would notice him sometimes feeling around for various objects on his desk, trying to look busy as Yamanaka continued a lesson in his place.

"What do you need, Miss Brown?" he asked idly as she approached him.

"I was just wondering..." she said slowly, "if you could help me with my divination reading?"

"Why would I do that?" he asked.

Lavender stared at his back. "Because teachers usually tutor students in need?" she suggested, puzzled by his different method of teaching from other teachers.

"No, I meant why would I help you in specific?" the professor amended.

"Because I'm a student in need!" she said angrily.

"So are the various twenty-four other young women who come up every day between classes to ask me to give them 'private tutoring sessions', and the three whom actually managed to convince me to stay for just one tutorial session did nothing but bat their eyelashes prettily at me and giggle like morons," Professor Hyuuga said, looking rather irritated.

"I wouldn't act like that!" Lavender said, outraged, though that had been her exact intentions.

"You have absolutely no reason to come up here requesting assistance with your divination otherwise," he said. "I am wondering just why you of all people would possibly be asking me for 'extra help' when you, of all my students, currently hold top marks among the small handful who truly have a talent for my branch of divination."

"You mean...?"

"Next time you lie, make sure it's believable," he said idly, still not turning around to face her. "It's hard to convince someone that you require tutorials when you're the best student."


"However, should you come again requesting tutorials with the characteristics I am looking for, I will indulge you and spend my valuable time tending to your academic needs."

The next thing Lavender knew, she was rudely dismissed, and as mollified as she was by the news that she was, for once, the best student in a class, it still peeved her that her attempt to get close to him had failed so miserably.

"That..." Lavender murmured to herself, "...probably could have gone better."

But Lavender Brown was nothing, if not persistent, and she would get him to open up to her if it was the last thing she'd do.


Is that short enough for an omake now? Maybe I shouldn't call it an omake... maybe just a side story or something...