Hello readers, old and new, reviewers and otherwise! So most of you know that it's been forever since I updated this story… but recently I was in the mood to finish up this chapter, so here it is. I am very sorry to say that Pridian Moon is on indefinite hiatus. The fact is that my interests have shifted somewhat—this story has been a part of my life for about 5 years now, and I'm just not prepared to put forth the sort of time and commitment it will take to finish it. This doesn't mean it will NEVER be updated again—I will quite probably return to it, but please don't expect any sort of update anytime soon. It's just not a priority anymore. Also, I am moving it to the crossovers section of ffnet. For future reference.

As always, I love talking to my readers and I still check my ffnet account regularly, and I will reply to PMs and emails and such (if I haven't replied to you in the past it was because I was waiting to release the latest chapter, the latest of which of course didn't exist). If you have thoughts or perspectives on this story or are interested in "adopting" it, please don't hesitate to drop me a PM. Thanks for sticking with me all this time! I love you all!

NOTE: I have taken liberties with the HP-universe hag creatures. By my definition for this story, hags are semi-living, animated corpses and have the ability to control atmospheric moisture (fog), decomposition and rotting materials, and insects. I don't know how accurate this is to Rowling's version, so please suspend your disbelief at the door.

Chapter 25

Kakashi's hair stood on end as he faced the hag, his mind reeling and senses muddled from the overwhelming smell of rot. The shinobi's hands blurred as he formed the seals for an escape jutsu, retreating safely into a tree. The hag cackled as a dense fog rolled in through the trees, obscuring Kakashi's vision of her. He flicked a hail of kunai through the fog, hearing several embed in solid wood.

The hag just cackled. "No use hiding up in trees, boy; the moths can see you."

Kakashi froze as something fluttered past his face, then something small and solid hit his cheek. A moth, he realized with a feeling of dread, and he wasn't entirely surprised when, seconds later, a swarm of the insects exploded from the fog. Kakashi's hands flashed as he called a wind jutsu that tore through the crowd of moths and cleared a shallow bubble of fog around him. Kakashi swore. He sent four bunshin clones into the forest below. After some seconds of quiet, he heard the sound of kunai striking wood and the dull snap, then thump, which meant one blade had struck flesh. Another dozen of the same sound followed the first.

It was quiet. Kakashi listened intently through the fog, his ears twitching when he heard his bunshin alight on a neighboring tree branch.

"The threat has been neutralized," the clone reported, and Kakashi noticed the happy glow of blood in the bunshin's cheeks; he had always pondered at the way the act of killing seemed to bring such color to a shinobi's face.

"You confirmed the body?" Kakashi intoned.

The bunshin gestured to an indistinct pile of rags and grayish flesh just visible through the clearing fog. "It's confirmed," the bunshin answered in a clipped tone that was nothing but business. "The body has no pulse."

Kakashi nodded and dismissed his clones, casting a perplexed look towards the small heap of rags. What had the sinister old woman wanted from him? He had certainly done nothing to incite such a violent encounter. The silver-headed shinobi poked through the remains with distaste. The hag was definitely dead. It looked as though she had already been half-dead when Kakashi killed her, in fact. He shrugged, trying not to retch at the smell, and headed off towards the castle.

He blinked hard at the sting he felt below his eye, and brought a hand up to examine the small wound. It came away sticky with a trace of blood. He swore again. "Moths? Damn these wizards. Moths." He briefly examined the tiny gashes in the fabric of his very expensive dress robes, massaging the bridge of his nose between thumb and knuckle.

"Strange magic." he mused aloud. Why would the outlandish old woman send a swarm of razor-sharp moths to dispatch of him, an innocent ball-goer who had done nothing more provocative than venture into the woods, as opposed to some of the more potent magic Kakashi knew wizards were capable of?

A snide little voice with orange goggles wormed its way inside Kakashi's head. "Well, she was old," Obito pointed out from inside Kakashi's head, "she was probably suffering from violent dementia. Senility, you know. Though one would think she could have gotten her point across with a batch of fresh-baked cookies instead of, you know, jumping into the murder aspect of a relationship."

Kakashi crinkled his nose unhappily, but nonetheless allowed himself the guilty pleasure of conversing with the fake voice inside his head. "Why was she in the woods, anyway? And what could she possibly have wanted with me?"

"She was probably looking for a friend, 'Kashi. You know—someone just as dysfunctional in human relationships as herself. Case in point, you."

The voice quieted as Kakashi reached what should have been the edge of the forest. But instead of the expected scene of twinkling lights and amorous young witches and wizards, there stretched just another overgrown swatch of woods. Frowning again, he took a cautious step forward, wondering where he had taken a wrong turn. His foot caught on something as he did so, and then, in a flash, Kakashi's head collided with the leaves and he was looking at his feet pointed skyward, a gnarled tree root trailing from around one ankle. He barely had time to register the growing scent of rot before something dark and slender shot at him from the underbrush. He seized it before it could complete its beeline towards his face, but it crumbled in his fist. It was the remains of a tree root. Rotten through, but still sharp and strong enough to puncture skin with what was apparently a sharp end, for immediately after Kakashi felt something thick dig into the space above his collar bone, causing him to cringe in agony.

In the short time of that one gesture, two more spears of wood punctured him in the thigh and shoulder. His hands flew into the seals for a substitution jutsu, relocating Kakashi several yards away from the continuing attack.

Panting and clutching at his shoulder, Kakashi watched as the attacking spears of wood tore into the log that had taken his place. He huffed. What was going on? The hag, or whatever she was, had already been confirmed dead.

Then it struck him: the smell of decay, the state of decomposition of the body, the maggots…the hag was an animated corpse; she was already dead, and Kakashi couldn't kill her. He considered his options hurriedly. If he couldn't kill her, he could trap her, or run. Both were fallible. But he wanted information.

The hag's ghastly screech rose high over the trees. "Clever boy, not as clever as he thinks if he thinks running does him any good."

He looked to his feet and saw more dark tendrils advancing towards him, and the whole forest floor was carpeted by a writing layer of insects and decay. He retreated up a tree, trying not to notice the beetles and spiders that swarmed over his hands as soon as they hit the bark. "Is this an assassination?" Kakashi yelled into the blinding fog, "Or a random act of violence?" He pricked his ears, hoping the response would allow him to pinpoint the hag's location.

But the rattling voice that came back to him rolled off the trees from a hundred directions. "'Tis all the same to you, clever dearie. Now come down out the pricky trees like a good lad."

"Who sent you?" He leapt to a neighboring tree, a kunai around each index and middle finger. A spear of rot wood arced soundlessly past the branch he had just stood upon.

"Oooh, a very angry man, dearie. A very angry man. Is the clever lad dead yet?"

Kakashi tried to wipe the sweat from his eyes. His sense of smell was so overwhelmed with the earthy smell of decay, he couldn't find the direction it was coming from. The fog was rolling up around him again and the moths were suddenly fluttering around his face. The mist was thick enough to be visible, gathering up in heavy billowing waves that obscured Kakashi's vision completely and turned everything to a miasma. The air nearly dripped with it, making Kakashi feel clammy and wet even in the cold December air and binding his clothes against his body. His dress robes became heavy with moisture, dead weight upon his limbs.

He felt his seldom-used wand poking at his hip inside his pocket.

He let out a frustrated breath and created four dust bunshins. The branch dipped with their added weight.

"Find her, spread out." Kakashi told them under his breath. "When you find her, try to keep her occupied. Send me a signal pointing me in her direction." They all disappeared immediately into the mist, leaving Kakashi to wait with the insects and rot piling up around him. He counted the seconds in his head. What could kill an undead being? If stabbing it didn't bring it to its end, he would have to do something more drastic. Burn it to ashes, perhaps, or blow it apart. But the air was too moist to burn anything—he wouldn't be able to draw sufficient heat out of the air to create the katon jutsu. He chewed his lip.

Kakashi barely flinched as a kunai embedded itself into the tree trunk. Wasting no time, Kakashi wrenched it out of the bark and shot in the direction the kunai had come from. He came upon them in seconds—the fleeting figure of Kakashi's clone and the hulking shape of the hag standing out in the fog.

His hand dove into his kunai holster and came out with a length of steel wire, which he tied to the handles of two kunai. He let them fly at the hag.

The creature let loose a shriek that made Kakashi's ears ring as the wire wrapped firmly around her arms and legs, binding her in place.

"Stupid wicked boy!" she screeched. The moths, which he hadn't noticed in some minutes, began attacking him with renewed fury, but he disregarded their sting.

"Who sent you?" Kakashi rasped, a kunai in each hand.

But again a tendril had wrapped around his ankle, and before he could hack it away many more shot up to bind him to the place he was standing. A strangled yelp escaped him as something sharp pierced his leg. It was time to end this.

He formed the seals for a katon jutsu, hoping against hope it would work, but all it did was make a loud noise and engulf him in a cloud of hot steam. He ached for an exploding tag.

"Damnit." He swore as he felt another sharp organic thing pierce his body. The wounds were not debilitating on their own, but he was beginning to feel the fuzziness of loss of blood. Two of his clones were rounding on him, hacking away at the binding vines, but he barely noticed them. He reached for his wand.

The shinobi tore through the spells he had learned so far, suddenly wishing he had attended more of his classes. What was the name of the exploding spell? He had read it in Curses and Counter Curses, vol. II. The hag had cast off the steel wires that bound her and was lurching to her feet, a grotesque and unnatural sight that made Kakashi's eyes widen in alarm. He could see her eyes for the first time. They were shrunken like raisins in their orbs and keenly focused on him.

It came to him. "Expulso!" The explosion that ensued deafened and blinded him for a few seconds. The shockwave hit him squarely in the chest, wrenching him painfully out of the confines of the tangles that had wrapped around his legs and throwing him flat on his back to the ground. When the brightness faded from his eyes, he saw the mass that was the hag, now considerably more ragged and smoking, approaching him still.

"Expulso!" He turned away this time, but the blast still deafened him, as though the explosion had stolen and devoured all the sound in the world. The hag was still moving. So again, and twice more, Kakashi cast the spell, until all that was left of his adversary was a scattering of smoking rags.

Kakashi pushed himself to his feet and the world lurched, but he stayed upright. His feet were lead weights at the bottom of his legs, and no more graceful. His chakra was noticeably depleted.

Teetering, and clutching at his wounds, he sent his remaining clone up into a high tree to spot the edge of the forest, and started off that way. He had only been walking minutes before he saw the light of the edge of the forest glowing through the trees.

Drawn by the sound of the explosions, no less than two dozen students and professors were gathered at the edge of the forest when he emerged from the darkness. Gasps and hushed voices sounded around him, and he was vaguely aware of well-intentioned fingers grasping at his robes, but he pushed them all off, intending to make his way—however slow it had to be—up through the castle and to bed.

All was in a haze, a swirl of darkness and colors of bright ball gown dresses and twinkling lights that danced in the hedges. His limbs were heavy, the tips of his fingers numb and stiff from the loss of chakra and blood. He could hardly believe it. A number had been done on Hatake Kakashi. And by an old half-dead woman, no less. Pakkun would never let him live this down.

"Kakashi Hatake! What in Merlin's name have you done?" Kakashi knew that shriek. Professor McGonagall was upon him suddenly, and he knew his bid for a night without harassment was up. His feet left the ground and he was removed to the infirmary, and he didn't even have the energy to raise a proper hell about it.

Boxing Day and the day following were spent rather listlessly in the hospital wing, full of splints and bandages and foul-tasting potions that never seemed to do what they were supposed to, and upon bothering to become lucid Kakashi was very much surprised and somewhat flummoxed to find a modest collection of wrapped packages piled on his bedside table.

"That nice girl Hermione brought them over," Madame Pomfrey tutted—she was always tutting at him, "Along with Harry Potter and their friend Ronald. It was very kind of them, dear. They said you hadn't even noticed they were there Christmas morning and they wanted to make sure you had them before the holidays were over. It was very nice of them, wasn't it?"

Kakashi only grunted, which seemed to peeve Madame Pomfrey, so she went away, which suited him just fine. He looked at his pile for a little while before opening its contents, and even slept for a little while, too, until he felt the time was right to investigate further.

None of them were bombs.

After having made this important assessment, Kakashi felt confident enough to work his stiff and still somewhat bruised fingers under the wrappings of the first package. It was from a Beauxbatons girl with an utterly unpronounceable name, and it was a bottle of fine French vin rouge, with love note attached. Kakashi harrumphed at it and moved on to the next one.

There were several gifts from admirers that Kakashi didn't know he had and was none too pleased to find out about, and a book from the Granger girl, predictably. There was also a rather delicious-looking and magically still-warm pie from a Mrs. Weasley—Ronald's mother, Kakashi remembered, and a Potter Stinks badge from some jokester.

All in all, it wasn't the worst Boxing Day Kakashi had ever had. It really wasn't. But he was glad to be rid of the hospital wing when he was finally allowed to leave nearly two days later, on threat of severe bodily harm should they keep him any longer.

Whispers seemed to follow him through the hallways after that. Kakashi learned that he had made somewhat of a spectacle on the night of the Yule Ball, having apparently burst from the underbrush looking half-dead, bloodied, and slightly singed, and that a thorough investigation was being carried out on the remains of the hag. He was interrogated by officials and students alike, and even the normally unimpressed Reeta Skeeter deigned to submit Kakashi to a comprehensive—and completely falsified on Kakashi's part—interview.

The evening of his release found him reclining, somewhat stiffly, in a common room armchair by the fire, a letter from Gai in one hand and kunai spinning in the other. He was vaguely aware of the murmurings of his peers from across the room.

"Are you feeling better, Kakashi-san?"

Kakashi started. He wasn't accustomed to all this earnest, fretful attention from his peers, and it was beginning to make him uncomfortable.

"You really should put that away," the worry was evident in Hermione's voice as she and her two friends took it upon themselves to settle in adjacent chairs to Kakashi's. "Someone might get hurt."

He shot her a glower.

"He's just been attacked by a bloody hag, Hermione," Ron said out of the corner of his mouth. "Let him spin his knife if it makes him feel better."

Kakashi snorted. "I don't need to be made to feel better, Weasley. I'm spinning my kunai because Professor McGonagall seems to feel that punishing me is no longer sporting, so I can bring out my weapons with impunity. For now."

"Oh." Ron shut his mouth.

"Hatake," Harry spoke up in that serious way of his. "We just wanted to know if you know what happened."

"Well of course I know what happened. I was there, wasn't I?"

"But Kakashi-san, hags don't normally go that close to Hogwarts from the Forbidden Forest. And they certainly don't attack students unprovoked. It says so in Hogwarts, A History. That hag attacked you for a reason."

"Mm. And I suppose you want me to tell you who sent it, so you can figure out if it might be a threat to a certain other someone?" He sent a deadpan glance in Harry's direction.

Hermione looked at him somewhat guiltily.

"Stop it," Harry said, "It's a valid concern."

"I never said it wasn't. Well, I don't know, Potter. I'm fairly certain someone sent it after me. But I don't know who, and I don't know why—there was no time to torture it out of her, you see, before I was forced to blow her up—so there's really no point asking me."

"Did she say anything useful at all?"

Kakashi looked at the girl sidelong. What was the use of being confrontational anymore? All in all, Kakashi realized, it really was somewhat exhausting to be so ill-tempered and unpleasant to be around all the time. The truth always took less breath than lies. And what sort of quarrel did he have with Potter and his friends that he should go to all the trouble to withhold information from them just because he could? He let out a frustrated breath. "All she said was that it was a 'very angry man.' I really don't know anything else." He folded up the letter from Gai—which was not a Howler, and which proclaimed that the war had not yet come to an end—and straightened himself up. "I'm going to bed, now, if that's alright with you. My head is hurting from all those potion fumes that Pomfrey woman gave me. I think they got into my mask."

Harry got to his feet, as though prepared to seize Kakashi's arm should he suddenly collapse. Kakashi gave him a tired glare. "Look Hatake, if you need anything, let someone know, will you? I know you don't like to do that sort of thing but you nearly died, so don't be ridiculous."

Kakashi snorted. "I didn't nearly die. Don't be so dramatic."

"You fought a hag."

"Yes, but that doesn't mean I nearly died—I've been in dozens of closer calls than that. I just had a bit of trouble. It's very hard to find a hag in the woods, apparently." Kakashi made his way stiffly to the stairs.

"Goodnight, then." Hermione called after him. "If you need anything—"

"I know." Kakashi snapped. He disappeared up the spiral staircase.

Ron smirked. "Cranky as ever."

"Honestly, Ron, you'd be cranky too." Hermione looked somewhat ruffled. She lowered her voice. "Harry, what did you tell Sirius?"

He shrugged. "I just told him the truth. He was concerned, of course. Wants me not to leave the castle." He laughed uneasily. "He still doesn't trust Hatake. He seems to think he set the whole thing up."

Hermione wrung her hands in her lap. "But why? What motivation could he possibly have to set something like that up? You know he hates attention."

"Who knows?" Ron said. "His reasons have never made sense since the moment he got here. No reason for them to start now."

Hermione ignored him. "You were there, weren't you, just before he went into the forest. Did he say anything odd?"

"He barely said anything. Just went gallivanting off somewhere, told us not to follow him."

Harry ran a hand through his mop of hair. "We should have stopped him."

The red-haired boy snorted. "You know perfectly well he wouldn't've let us. Bloody well may have stabbed us before he let us stop him."

"What do you think happened to his date? Astrid, wasn't it?" Hermione said. "I hope she wasn't with him."

"He said she had gone to the bathroom—I don't think she was around when he was attacked."

Hermione looked somewhat bothered. "It seems odd that she didn't stay to visit him in the hospital."

Harry just grunted. A silence stretched between them, so the soft conversations between other students in the common room came into focus—they were all about homework and gossip and other things that seemed to magnify the weight on Harry's own shoulders. The night outside was gloomy and starless, so the vast expanse of snow that covered the grounds outside the window seemed flat and gray. "I still don't think Hatake set it up." Harry said after several moments. The fire crackled off to the side, as though in agreement. "And another thing, if the attack was somehow orchestrated by someone, I don't think it was aimed at me."

"But how can you say that for sure, Harry? Kakashi doesn't have anyone after him, not like you—"

"But he does. He's got enemies just like I do. He told me, remember? It's supposed to be some great secret, but he told me anyway. Probably to make a point."

"But not in this hemisphere." Hermione took a breath, lowering her voice another notch. "The man who is supposedly after Kakashi-san should still be thousands of miles away. And if he isn't, if he somehow discovered his location, why would he send a magical creature after Kakashi instead of coming after him with his own Eastern magic? It doesn't make any sense."

Ron chortled suddenly.

"Honestly, Ron, I don't see what could possibly be funny—"

"I was just thinking that maybe it was one of Harry's raving fans, trying to get Hatake out of the way. For the tournament, you know." He snickered. "Makes a bit of a statement, doesn't it? Send a horrible ugly hag to make fillet out of the competition."

No one said anything for a moment. Hermione chewed her lip.

"Oh come on." Harry tried not to look too scandalized. "You can't possibly be considering that. I don't have any raving fans." Ron gave his friend a look that spoke volumes to the contrary.

"Well, what other explanations do we have?"

"Sirius has another theory." Harry said. Hermione raised a brow at him. "He's been tracking this giant bird for awhile now. Some sort of great hawk. He think it's someone's animagus. He's been talking to it, too, in his own animagus form."

"He's been talking to it?"

"Yes. And Sirius says that all he's been able to figure out is that the bird is not from 'around here,' but he doesn't know what that means yet. He says it was here on the night of the Yule Ball."

No one said anything for a few moments. Finally, Hermione spoke. "Well. That does seem suspicious, doesn't it?"

All eyes were on him. And there was that bulbous, swiveling, blue one planted in the middle of Mad-Eye Moody's ruined face, looking directly at him. "Great Northern Hags." The professor said, emphasizing each word with a tap of the chalk under each corresponding word on the chalk board. "Now we all know what happened this Christmas Day. Our own exchange student from the East, Kakashi Hatake, has acquired the prodigious distinction to be the first student ever to be attacked by this brand of hag on Hogwarts' grounds."

That eye settled on him once again. It took all the will power in Kakashi's body to keep from twitching—or running out the door.

"Hags of this sort are normally found to the north. They use their control of atmospheric moisture—that's fog for the dullards of you lot—and an exceptionally strong aroma to muddle the victim's senses and attack, eviscerate, and devour him. So. Who can tell me what Mr. Hatake here did right?"

Hermione raised her hand. "Excuse me professor, but I thought the investigation is still ongoing, surely we shouldn't be talking about it like th—"

"Constant vigilance!" Moody barked, his gravelly voice reverberating oppressively around the classroom. "What's more important to you, Granger? A dogmatic admiration for administrative red tape? Or the truth? The truth, which may one day be your only source of aid, your only ray of light in a very, very dark place." He looked at her questioningly.

"Um, I suppose—"

"Of course the truth is more important!" he bellowed. Hermione shot a horrified look at Harry. "Never forget that, you students." He paused for effect. "So! Pray tell, who can tell me what Mr. Hatake did right?"

Gazes were leveled uncomfortably at feet and at various corners of the room. Kakashi sat with his arms crossed over his chest, slouched very low in his seat, trying very much to look unbothered by this developing discussion of his fighting abilities.

"Oh, for the love of Merlin. He kept his head! Didn't you, Hatake? You didn't run screaming into the forest, you didn't fall sobbing to the dirt, and you didn't stop to pray to whatever deity you may or may not pay lip-service to. No. You kept quiet and you listened, didn't you boy? Because listening was the one sense the hag allowed you." His eyes fell piercingly on Kakashi's once again. "Isn't that right?"

"No." Kakashi said. "First I ran, and then I listened."

For a moment, the room held its breath as a look of anger settled momentarily on Mad Eye Moody's face. But it passed as quickly as it had appeared. "Fair enough. And I'll overlook your cheekiness, too. So the first order of business was to tip the scales in Hatake's direction by disappearing from view. But Mr. Hatake didn't know that hags have an exceptional sense of smell, and that they can use the forest insects as their eyes and ears. So in fact what he really did was make his first mistake. Do you see how important it is to know your enemy, students?"

A few heads bobbed, which seemed to satisfy the auror.

"His mistake was to allow the Hag to leave his sight. So what was your strategy, Hatake? I understand you have a preference for your eastern magic. Your jutsu, I think they call it."

Kakashi scowled. This discussion was beginning to cross over into unwelcome territory. "I didn't have a strategy. I shot a few spells into the forest as I ran away. It was pure luck—and in a life-or-death situation, luck is more powerful than knowledge any day."

"That's true, but luck is a fickle creature liable to betray you as quick as the wind. And don't lie, boy. I have a talent for detecting liars. You don't believe in luck, and you certainly wouldn't have based your strategy on it. Who can guess what Hatake's first instinct would have been?"

Hermione raised a tenuous hand. "If I had been him, I suppose I would have started with fire."

"Go on."

"Well, I would think corpses—I suppose that's what hags are, in essence—really aren't terribly vulnerable to…traditional means of killing things; that is, traumatic flesh injury that would make a normal living being lose blood. But they can be burned."

"That's very correct, Miss Granger. But there Hatake made a second mistake—or at least an oversight. Fire spells and indeed fire jutsu as well would both have been ineffective in the dense atmosphere of moisture the hag would have created around herself. So he was without strategies on the two most important counts: where the hag was, and what he could do to dispatch her."

Kakashi met Moody's intense gaze with defiance.

"So Hatake. The odds were very much against you. I'm really quite curious, so why don't you enlighten us all—what did you do? You've been keeping it very much a secret."

Kakashi's face said clearly that his lips were firmly buttoned under the dark material of his mask.

"Oh, come along, boy. No harm in saying. I'd wager quite a lot of these students could really learn from this; you could even inspire one of them to save his own life one day."

The shinobi's silence filled the room for a few uncomfortable moments. "Trade secrets, Professor."

The auror's eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly. "Certainly. You make no secret of your stinginess with your information. But indulge us. Was it jutsu? Or was it magic?"

"I don't remember. Took a nasty bonk on the head, you know."

"This is new ground you're treading, Hatake. Only a few times in history have Eastern and Western magic come together in a man this way. Surely you can indulge the little scientists in us all, and give us an insight into the workings of the two within your fighting style."

The shinobi's palms had become slick with sweat. Something seemed off about this conversation—something even beyond the invasive subject matter. The class could sense it too, he knew, the way they all sat stiffly in their seats, even the inquisitive ones seeming to show more anxiety than the sort of intense curiosity Moody was clearly trying to inspire in them. The silence lingered heavily in the room, seeming to distort the space between Kakashi and Moody's piercing magical eye.

"Fine." The auror's voice snapped them back to reality. "You tell us when you're ready, lad. I don't mean to make you feel uncomfortable." He turned back to the chalk board. "The expulso curse. A fitting choice on Hatake's part to dispose of his attacker—it produces a strong explosion without the use of fire or any heat-based source, which would have failed against the hag for reasons already stated. Who can tell me the source of the expulso's power?"

"It creates a powerful pressure difference within the target, Professor. The explosion occurs when the target's mass attempts to reestablish its equilibrium."

"That's correct, Granger. And since Hatake seems to have brought expulso into style, that's what we'll be working on today. Wands out, everyone, and partner up."

In the ensuing shuffling of papers and book bags, Kakashi made a move towards the door.

"Trying to make an early escape, are we lad?" Predictably, he was intercepted.

"I'm feeling slightly ill, sir." Kakashi drawled.

"Ah yes. You're still looking a bit green about the old gills, as they say. Perhaps a trip to the hospital wing is in order."

The shinobi nodded.

"Well. Off with you, then. We need you in fine fighting condition for the second task. Got any sort of plan yet?"

"Not yet. I still have time for that. Nearly two months still."

"Right." The auror clapped a large hand on Kakashi's back, nearly knocking him off his feet. "Well. Keep at it, boy. And if you feel the urge to reveal your secrets, you know where to find me." The auror flashed a crooked smile and let Kakashi go gratefully on his way.

The Forbidden Forest was Kakashi's immediate destination. He went straight to the spot of his attack, without even a cloak to protect him from the bitter winter cold. There was not a trace of what had transpired there just a few days ago save for a few singed trees. His hands flew together into the seals for a summoning jutsu and slammed them to the ground, no longer caring that his chakra was still too low for comfort. This attack had left him vulnerable—if he were to be involved in another fight for his life, he would not survive it without sufficient chakra.

"Oh good, you're alive."

"No thanks to you, Pakkun." Kakashi said, standing over the small dog that had materialized on the ground by his feet.

"You don't look too good, brat. Don't tell me that creature in the forest got the better of you."

"The hag? No. She was a challenge after I lost sight of her but it was nothing I couldn't—"

Pakkun cut him off with that growling guffaw of his. "Well I was talking about your date, 'Kashi. Who were you talking about?"

Kakashi scowled. "I appreciate the humor, but I haven't summoned you to exchange jokes."

"Right. Ever the stoic, Hatake. So what is it you want me to do?"

"Someone's after me, and I want to know who it is. There was chakra in this area just before I was attacked and it could still be here. I want you to find it."

The pug looked at him with doleful eyes. "Well, don't get your hopes up. Remember last time? I chased that scent halfway across Britain and it still came to nothing. Do you have anywhere for me to start?"

"I have a hunch."

"Pfft. Well. I guess that's better than nothing. Spill it."

"Start by watching Mad-Eye Moody. See if he ever crosses paths with our shinobi friend. And don't check up with me until you find something—you could be tracked."

"Will do. And hey, take care of yourself, kid." With that the pug disappeared into the forest, and Kakashi was left alone with the silence of the trees.

A/N Well, that's it for now. The last part of this chapter was really challenging for me for some reason, so I'm not really satisfied with it. But I hope you all didn't think it was too terrible. (It was one of those 4 AM sections, you know the ones). Goodbye for now, please review, and a very fond and sincere thank you for reading!