Carry Our Burdens.
Chapter Thirty-Eight.
Perception and Bonds.
Edit: 06.10.11

[We just now get the feeling that we're meeting for the first time]

"Julie, what is your shinobi name?"

Every person in the clearing turned wide eyes to Luna at those words. Even the shinobi looked stunned, as the students would have seen if they bothered to look anywhere but at Luna. The new shinobi woman still wore her mask and her head turned slightly from Captain Sloth to Luna and back to Captain Sloth. If Luna's question wasn't enough to make the students suspicious, the lack of immediate response confirmed it.

"We were intending to do this soon in any case," Sloth said, waving a hand in lazy nonchalance.

The woman sighed and reached up, removing her mask and letting it hang from her slender fingers. The first thing Hermione noticed was that she looked incredibly young, even younger than the other shinobi, the second thing was that she had the same eyes as Mouse and Dove, the same eyes that Julie kept hidden behind her thick glasses.

"My shinobi name is Lynx," she answered. "Yes, I am also Julie Saito."

Surprisingly, it was Ron who was accusatory. "You lot said that there wouldn't be any more secrets."

"We're not children, Weasley-san," Sloth answered, "Your version of secrets and our version are very different. We cannot refrain from doing things that will help us carry out our mission to the best of our ability. In this case, we chose to keep Lynx among you as a student. Was there really any chance that you would have told us everything that you were planning?" When there was no answer he continued, "No, you wouldn't have. Lynx has been valuable for us in knowing what you all plan to do so that we can work with you without stepping on your toes too often. You barely trust us as it is and –"

"And now you've ruined that trust further," Harry interrupted.

"How so?" Lynx asked suddenly as she crossed her arms and leaned against a tree. There was a slight smirk on her face. Hermione thought she was pretty in a deadly killer kind of way.

"You told us that there would be no more secrets and yet, you were in disguise around us all the time," Harry accused.

"Don't think of it as a secret," Lynx said, "Think of it as neglecting to mention something. We never told you that I wasn't a student. We never lied to you about who I was."

"A lie by ommission," one of the other students said.

"But a lie is not a secret," Sloth said absently. "Regardless of how you feel about this, Lynx is here and she was undercover as a student and it's because of her that we've been able to keep track of you all and know what you need. It's because of her that we have been having these lessons to get you all prepared for your battles with real shinobi."

"Speaking of battles with shinobi," Fox cut in. "What were you all thinking going out there to fight the enemy without telling any of us?" He didn't soundtoo angry.

"We're ready," Fred (or George) said firmly. The other students nodded and murmured their agreement with the statement.

"Ready my ass," Peacock said, taking her mask off and flipping her hair over her shoulder. "If we hadn't been there you all would be dead on the lawn right now."

The students fell silent, some looking in the direction of Hogwarts as if they could see the dead bodies litering the grass through the trees that hid the clearing.

"Have a little confidence," Fox said suddenly. "Sloth, how long did it take your group to get there?"

Sloth removed his mask as well, "Dove was there first maybe two minutes after they came out the door. The rest of us got there fifteen seconds or so later."

"So for two minutes and fifteen seconds they are fine," Fox said charitably.

"Make that closer to one minute and fifteen seconds," Peacock muttered, "There was about a minute where the enemy didn't notice them."

"So for a minute and fifteen seconds, they were perfectly able to take care of themselves. That's far better than what it would have been two months ago." He gave the students a lopsided grin. "A few more weeks and they'll be just as good as us!" This declaration was accompanied by a chorus of disbelieving snorts from the shinobi. "Or at least able to not be a liability."

"A minute and fifteen seconds isn't going to do anyone any good," Wolf grumbled. "We'll just be stuck watching their backs and ours. Dove didn't even get a chance to step away from Potter during the fight. If he had, Potter would be dead right now."

"Regardless, we work as a team, not as indeviduals. The wizards were certainly a help in the battle. It was much easier to... take care of an enemy if they were stunned than if they weren't, right?" Fox said logically with a cheeky grin. A few of the wizards smiled slightly at the indirect praise. The shinobi gave grudging nods of agreement. "Then we should be thanking our little wizards, not telling them off. They were just doing what we've been training them to do." He smiled brightly. "Even we had to have our first battle some time. Ours were just less dramatic than this one."

"I doubt that," Panda grumbled, flipping a knife between her fingers lazily.

"Anyway," Sloth said, "Now that we've taken care of all that business, it's time that we got the students back to Hogwarts before anyone notices that they're gone."

"I'm sure someone's noticed by now," Slug muttered.

"Make that before Umbridge notices," Fox amended.

Of course, no one thought they had half a chance of getting the students back before that happened.

[This time, baby, I'll be bulletproof]

The students were once more safely in their common rooms, classes having been canceled for the day and wild rumors flying around about what had happened out on the school grounds. By the time the students managed to force their way outside the bodies had been removed but bloodstains remained on the grass. Less than an hour later the bloodstains, too, were gone, as if the skirmish hadn't taken place at all.

And so, once more in the room that they had made their headquarters, the shinobi took the time to unravel the things that had happened since their last meeting that morning with their masks removed and civilian clothes on for the first time in days.

"If they had figured Hanabi out at any other time, we would have had a full blown riot on our hands," Kiba observed from his place sprawled out in a lazy chair.

"They did well," Sakura said quietly. When she received several bemused looks she added, "For being basically genin level."

"They're not good enough yet. If those shinobi were any higher level it would be student bodies out there," Hanabi said, massaging her temples as if she had a bad headache. She leaned over and rested her elbows on her knees.

Naruto turned to Hinata, "How did you not notice them slip out?"

She grimaced daintily, cradling her forehead in her hand. "There are hundreds of students. I couldn't watch them all at once."

Naruto gave her a concerned glanced as she ran her fingertips over her forehead, her eyebrows furrored as she kept her eyes cast to the ground. Then he glanced over at Hanabi, who was still pressing her fingers to her temples. On a hunch he looked at Neji too, who sat as stiff as a board beside Tenten on a couch. His hands were clasped together in his lap and he stared straight ahead.

Shikamaru beat him to the question. "What's wrong with your eyes, Hyuugas?"

The three cousins turned to him, three pairs of questioning, identical eyes.

"Shika, what are you talking about?" Ino asked, touching his arm gently.

"Our Hyuugas here are having trouble with their eyes and they're not telling us what's going on. So, out with it," he explained. "Keeping things from the rest of the team will only get us killed."

Hanabi answered first, compelled to answer her captain's command by the habits drilled into her as an Anbu. "I don't know about Hinata-nee and Neji-nii but... the magic here looks like a lot like chakra, only brighter, so it hurts after you look at it for a long time." At his nod she continued. "At first I didn't think anything of it but after I kept using my Byakugan is started getting harder to see through things and to see for very far and then I started getting bad headaches after I used it. But that's all."

"Hinata-chan? Neji?" Naruto prompted.

"We've experienced something similar to Hanabi," Neji answered after glancing at his cousin. "Although since we've been here longer and we've been using our Byakugan more frequently, it causes more pain, like a migrane except only around our eyes. So far it has led only to disorientation, dizziness, and headaches but we're concerned that it may get worse if we continue to use it."

"Is it worse if you have stronger eyes?" Sakura asked, coming over to touch a glowing hand to Hinata's temple.

Neji glanced at Hinata and Hanabi and they both shrugged. "Perhaps," Neji answered.

"Why didn't you tell me about this before?" Naruto asked.

"It would have been one more thing to work around. It's no unbearable and you need us to be able to use our Byakugan without worrying about anything. Knowing you, you'll overreact about it now that you know and insist that we don't use it," Neji answered dryly.

It seemed like Naruto hadn't heard him. "Of course you can't use it any more!" he exclaimed, jumping up to begin pacing. "I can't believe none of you told me this before and I had Hinata and Hanabi using their Byakugan during the first and everything."

"Naruto," Shikamaru said. The other captain stopped and looked at him. "Stop pacing and worrying. Regardless of how the situation has been handled before, we know what's going on now and we can take measures to deal with it. Sakura, do you know what's going on?"

"Other than the obvious idea that the strength of the magic is just straining their eyes? No," she answered, trailing her fingers over Hinata's eyes one more time and then moving to Hanabi, who submitted to the healing probing with minimal fidgeting. "Have you ever felt something similar when looking at chakra?" she asked the three. They all shook their heads. "So then it's something about the magic."

"And we won't be able to figure that out right now," Shikamaru stated. "We have other things to think about first, like why we even had this pointless battle." He glanced over at Sasuke when no one was watching him and the Uchiha tensed, uncomfortable with the nonverbal demand.

He took a breath. "I may know why," he said. All eyes shifted to him immediately. "When we were leaving the Ministry after Kiba's trial I was approached by one of Orochimaru's shinobi and given a note that said I should meet him at the Shrieking Shack at midnight tonight or... it was implied that there would be attacks on Sakura with the intent of capture."

"So this might have been an attempt to grab Sakura?" Ino clarified. "They didn't do a very good job."

"They didn't figure in that the students might attack. They did manage to get Sakura outside of the school," Hanabi pointed out.

"Sasuke," Naruto asked quietly, so the others couldn't hear him, "can I see the letter?"

The Uchiha slipped the folded paper from his pocket, unfolding it silently and handing it over. Naruto peered down at it in silence as the rest of the group mulled over the new information. The blonde leader must have read it three times before the rest noticed that he had the note in question in his hands.

"Did you recognize who gave you the note?" Kiba asked.

A bit annoyed by the insuinuation that he would know any of Orochimaru's henchmen, and regardless of the fact that he did, he answered with a short negative.

Naruto read the note allowed and Sasuke watched as eyes immediately flicked to Neji when the note mentioned him and how he shifted slightly and cast his eyes at the ground. The Hyuuga's hand went to his left shoulder automatically and Tenten grabbed it before it could get there, squeezing his fingers lightly and giving him a smile. He kept his eyes on the ground, his eyebrows furrowed as if in deep thought. There was more uncomfortable shifting when the note mentioned Shikamaru's team and the hint that Orochimaru was very well versed in their tactics and personalities.

"I think he should go," Shikamaru said at the end of the note. When the others gave him disbelieving expressions he added, "with backup, of course."

"Who for backup?" Ino asked, examining her nails. "You can't send Naruto, Sakura, Tenten, or Neji, obviously. You can't go because you're our captain. Hanabi can't go –"

"That leaves you and Kiba then," Shikamaru said, sounding a tad smug.

She quirked one perfectly plucked eyebrow at him. "I think not. It's going to be a trap and I'm not going to walk right into one willingly."

"I could just drag you there," Kiba offered.

"I don't need either of those morons," Sasuke deadpanned. "They'll get us killed even if there isn't a trap."

"Regardless," Sakura interrupted, "why do you think he should go, Shikamaru?"

"I'm curious about what Orochimaru wants."

"Is that all?" Ino asked. "I thought you would at least have some more intelligent reason than that."

"This is the second time Orochimaru has approached me," Sasuke said quietly.

The others quieted. "It is?" Shikamaru asked. "Why didn't you tell us before?" Sasuke didn't answer and the others knew the reason why: embarrassment. "Fine, whatever. This is the second time. Do you think he actually wants something or that he just enjoys playing with you?"

"Probably both," he answered.

"Probably," Shikamaru repeated. "You should go and take Ino and Kiba as backup. Naruto?"

"I agree," Naruto answered. "I want to know what he wants."

[I'm on the edge with you]

Everyone went to bed that evening after fending off a barrage of questions from teachers, accusations about their ability to do their jobs, groups of children asking what happened, and the whole DA club finding out where their rooms were and banging on the door, demanding to know why they were attacked. They were given the "it's Hogwarts, do you need another reason?" answer and promptly kicked out by Ino and Sakura.

Well, almost everyone went to bed.

"You should be sleeping," Sasuke said as he heard the footsteps that he knew belonged to Sakura coming up behind him.

"You should get an hour too," she answered, climbing over the back of the couch and settling beside him. She was cradling a mug of tea on her hands and drew her knees up to her chest.

"I need to leave in a little while if I want to be there on time. Where are Kiba and Ino?"

"Sleeping. I told them I would wake them up when they were needed," she answered. She looked down into her mug and and swirled the contents. "I don't like you doing this."

"I'm not exactly while about it either," he answered dryly.

"He can do this to you because of me," she said quietly.

He slipped a finger under her chin and made her meet his eyes. "It's not just because of you. It's not your fault that he threatened me with you." He gave her as much of a smile as he could manage. "Besides, I'm not in any danger. I'll have Ino and Kiba and, as annoying as they are, they are decent enough shinobi. At least I hope they are, they did get this far."

She laughed slightly. "They're loyal and smart when they need to be. I'm not really worried about that." She grabbed his hand. "I'm more worried about you. Are you going to be okay facing him?"

"I've faced him before, I'll be fine."

She held their joined hands on her knees, playing with his fingers absently. "I just want you to be safe."

"We're shinobi, we're Anbu, safe shouldn't be in our vocabulary," he reminded less gently than he meant to.

A pink eyebrow quirked. "A girl can dream, can't she?" She sighed. "Just, promise me that you'll be safe."

"I can't promise that."

"Then..." She paused, looking up at the ceiling as if the words she wanted were written there. "Promise me that you'll do your very best to come back to me."

He smiled, wide than he had before, more sincerely. "I always do my very best to come back to you. You're all I have to come back to anyway."

"Oh hush," she said.

Her eyes flicked to his face and the smile faded from his face. As their faces neared and Sakura set her tea mug aside, he wondered how she could tell him to hush. She was what brought him back, what he always looked forward to when he got home from missions without her. She was all he had to come back to because she was all that he thought about.

[Written in the stars a million miles away]

Shikamaru stood outside of the room he had to himself on the balcony, watching the forest with glazed eyes. He leaned his elbows on the railing and clasped his hands in front of him. There was a light breeze, just enough to be comfortable.

"Shouldn't you be sleeping?" he asked suddenly.

"Not yet," came the answer. "I'll never know how you know I'm here."

"Call it intuition," Shikamaru said, turning his head every so slightly when his former captain appeared beside him, placing his hands on the rail. "No matter how close you get, you can't walk silently."

"Close enough to fool anyone but you."

Shikamaru didn't answer. It was true, in any case. He looked up at the stars. "So what do you think of Sasuke's note?"

"I think that Orochimaru knew that someone would read it allowed if Sasuke showed it to us," came the answer.

The Nara turned sideways, leaning his hip on the rungs of the railing. "So that's why you can't sleep. You're still going to let him mindfuck you even when you're this far away from him." He said it was a statement, not a question.

"I wouldn't say that."

"Of course you wouldn't. You would never admit to someone getting under your skin," Shikamaru answered, realizing a split second later that Orochimaru had literally gotten under Neji's skin.

"I'm here, aren't I?" Neji said. "That's as close as I'll get."

"Why come to me?" Shikamaru asked.

Neji sighed and looked away. "Do you even really need to ask that?"

"Sometimes I like to hear people state things instead of assuming that I know their words before they can say them," he answered, crossing his arms.

"Then all I can say is that I don't know."

"Unsettled by everything?" Shikamaru guessed. "Orochimaru getting you and Tenten and coming back and the problems with the Byakugan and the letter and everything?"

"You forgot to add Hanabi to that list," he answered dryly.

Shikamaru just smiled. "I thought that she wouldn't be quite as important as the other things."

"Family is always more important than all those other things," Neji reminded.

A harsh laugh escaped Shikamaru before he could stop it. "Your clan isn't exactly one that puts the family above the mission."

"I am not my clan," Neji answered shortly.

"And neither is Hanabi, or Hinata for that matter. So why is Hanabi such an issue for you?"

"I would just like to know why Hokage-sama chose her for this mission. She should have known that it would be hard for her –"

"She's a big girl now," Shikamaru reminded.

"She's sixteen," Neji replied tightly. He frowned and looked down at his clasped hands.

"She's Anbu; she can handle herself."

"I suppose." Neji looked up at the sky. "I'll just have to remember that, I guess."

"So tell me about the Byakugan issues," Shikamaru said to change the subject. Sibling issues weren't really his forte, seeing as he had none.

Neji laughed. "You aren't very good at transitioning."

"They aren't necessary. Point A to Point B is all that's required. So tell me, when did you start noticing it?"

"There was pain almost immediately when we got here," his former captain said. "The magic doesn't look like chakra. It's full of color, kind of like soap bubbles. It's constantly moving but not in any one particular direction. It's all of the place. It's does the same thing in the people that it does in the castle. At first Hinata and I just thought that it was causing us pain because it was so bright, brighter than chakra, but then we noticed that we noticed that we were dizzy and fuzzy right after and that it was worse when we used it for a long time."

"But that's not the reason you think it's causing problems. Your Byakugan still works fine when you're in it, right?"

"After a few months it started getting harder to keep track of things when we were using it. Hinata said that she was missing things, like her blind spot was larger. I couldn't see as far. Both of us were getting fuzzy while using it. We would get lightheaded and the smaller lines would get blurry. Just before I... left... Hinata teared up and it was... blood."

"Blood?" Shikamaru asked, surprise. "Why didn't you tell Sakura about this?"

"We were going to but then things happened and I suppose she just decided not to in the rush of everything. She probably couldn't get a word in with everything going on, you know how she is."

"How is it now?" Shikamaru asked, peering at his friend's eyes as if he could tell what was going on just by looking at them.

Neji's mouth quirked up in a small smile at the concern. "Still bad. Mine is a little better because I spent time away from the magic and everything and Hinata tried her very best to not use hers but after you get to a certain strength with the Byakugan is starts seeping into the way you see things regularly. Hinata told me yesterday that she still tears blood every few weeks and that she's starting to get larger gaps while using it."

"That's why she missed the defense group leaving the Great Hall," Shikamaru noted.

"Yes. She was looking for other students and they were in one of her blindspots. She has more than one now with all of this." Neji crossed his arms and looked down at the grass. "I didn't have the problem with the blood until today."

Shikamaru reached over and grabbed his friend's face, suddenly struck by the need to peer closely at his eyes. He turned Neji's face this way and that and the Hyuuga let him even though he was just smiling while Shikamaru did it, knowing that he wouldn't see anything. "When did that happen?"

"A few hours ago."

"Did Hinata?"

"Yes. If we use it for long periods of time it's worse."

Shikamaru sighed and released his friend's face, pulling his hand quickly back to his chest as if embarrassed. He looked down at the ground for a moment and took a step back when he noticed the proximity of their bodies. "I wish you would be more careful."

"I am careful," Neji protested mildly.

"Not careful enough," Shikamaru argued.

"I am as careful as I can be considering who I am and what I do," he responded. "You know this, you know that we can't stop just because something hurts or something goes wrong. If I'm in the hospital for a few months after this, at least I'll know that I gave all I could while I was here."

"I think you've given quite enough already."

"Worried about me, Shikamaru?" Neji teased lightly.

Shikamaru didn't answer, gazing up at the stars again and wondering if, perhaps, they could answer all his questions. He decided that they were much more quiet than the clouds. Stars were mysterious, whispering things.

[You're the only thing I wouldn't change in this place]

Ino closed the door quietly, peering out the crack until she could see no more. When it clicked shut she let out a near silent breath of relief and turned around, smoothing her hands down her pants. "Do you think she believed us?"

"Of course she did," Kiba answered from where he lounged on the bed, throwing a ball up into the air and catching it just before it hit his face.

She lunged over and snatched it out of the air. "What do you think about this?"

"I think that it's a good thing we have as good of backup as Uchiha," Kiba answered.

She groaned in aggravation. "We're the backup, Kiba," she reminded.

"Are we?" he asked teasingly. She threw the ball at his face. It bounced off his forehead and rolled away under a chest of drawers. "That wasn't very nice."

"Well I don't feel like being nice."

"I don't feel like being nice either." And that was all the warning she had before he suddenly jerked to a sitting position, grabbed her wrist, and pulled her onto the bed with him, rolling her underneath him and grinning down at her from his new vantage point. "I'd say we have about an hour and a half before we have to go anywhere. What do you say we think of this as our last moment together before we die?"

"We're not going to die," she answered dryly.

"Fine, fine. I was just trying to make it more romantic," he said, sounding wounded. "But if you would prefer to think of it another way then go ahead. I'll keep my delusions while I can."

[Confess your love as well as your folly]

Hinata was sitting on the bed with her back to the door, looking over a scroll that Sakura had lended her when she heard the door click open. She didn't bother to turn around. She already knew who it was.

"Hey," Naruto said quietly, sitting on the bed behind her. He wrapped one arm around her waist and propped himself up with the other, resting his chin on her shoulder. "What are you reading?"

"Just a scroll on healing from Sakura. It's all based on chakra control."

He laughed humorlessly. "Well that's something that you don't have to worry about. Speaking of problems –"

"We weren't speaking of any problems, Naruto-kun," she said quietly.

"Well since you brought it up," he went on, "when were you going to tell me about the Byakugan?"

"Eventually," she answered in a whisper as she rolled the scroll back up and held it loosely in her lap.

"Did Neji tell you to keep it from us?" he questioned as calmly as he could.

"No," she answered, "We decided together. It just wasn't the right time for it, Naruto-kun. Please don't be angry." She turned to she could see his face. "It was for the best for the mission that we didn't tell you."

"What about what's best for you?" he asked rhetorically. "You're hurting because of this and you didn't tell me. I thought I told you that I want to you tell me when you're hurting so I can help you."

"Sometimes it's better that I hurt than I tell you things," she answered softly.

He fell quiet, stunned, as he looked at this tiny woman that had captured his heart. She turned back and looked down at her hands and the scroll, turning it this way and that as if it held the world's secrets. "Why do you say that?" he asked after a while of silence.

"You know that Tsunade-sama doesn't really like all of us being on the same team, Sasuke-kun and Sakura-chan, Neji-nii and Tenten-chan, you and me. It is better if you don't show favoratism and it's easier for you if I just don't mention anything that could give you that temptation. It's better this way."

"Hinata, look at me," he said quietly. When she did he kissed her very gently. When he pulled away he said, "I know that it's difficult for us to be on the same team but I just want to keep you protected whenever I can."

She smiled in her soft way and turned completely, leaning against his chest and resting her head on his shoulder. "I know you want to, but I'm not completely defenseless. I did get this far. Let me handle myself sometimes. Don't worry. I know what I'm doing."

"What if I don't want you to have to handle yourself?" he protested lamely even as his hands came up to rub her back absently.

A soundless laugh blew across his throat. "I want to be able to handle myself. I can handle myself. Please don't change the way you're doing this mission because I'm having trouble. I put all I can into these missions. It would hurt me if you tried to make things easier for me." She looked up mischievously. "And you don't want me to be hurt, do you?"

He laughed and pulled her into a tight hug. "When did you become so manipulative, little fox?"

"Since people stared listening to me," she answered. She didn't give him time to feel sorry for her though, closing the gap between their lips again and then snuggling back against his chest. "Thank you, Naruto-kun, for protecting me. Thank you for listening."

[No dawn, no day, I'm always in this twilight]

Sasuke looked up at the hill that the Shrieking Shack rested atop, pulling his gloves higher up on his arms and glancing back once to be sure that Ino and Kiba were hiding in the woods, ready to see his signal or to hear it through their mics. He took a breath and walked up the hill, always glancing around for enemies. When none showed it did not release his tension, only added to it. He reached the door and, before he could knock or kick it open, he wasn't sure which one he preferred, it was yanked open and a witch stood there, her hair a mess of crazed tangles around her face. She stood back and motioned for him to come in.

Stepping past her carefully, and certainly not putting it past one of Voldemort's people to hit him with a killing curse when his back was turn, he entered into a hallway and then was motioned down it by the woman behind him into a large main room which held a handful of enemy nin and wizards and the two dark lords themselves.

"Sasuke," Orochimaru hissed lovingly, his ridiculously long tongue flashing out to wet his almost nonexistent lips, "so glad you decided to come." When Sasuke remainded taciturn he went on. "Wondering why you're here yet?"

"Not really," he answered blandly.

"Of course not. The Nara told you to come though, so you did. He's curious about what I want," Orochimaru said. "I told you that I'd be keeping in touch."

"You implied it, yes," Sasuke allowed, ignoring the comment about Shikamaru. Anyone with half a brain could have guessed that Shikamaru was the one who sent him. Naruto would have told him to just blow of the shack before he even got there.

"Do you remember what I asked you to do for me so long ago, Sasuke-kun?" Orochimaru asked.


Voldemort spoke up, his voice not quite as much a hiss as Orochimaru's but certainly no more pleasant. "You are very insubordinate for your current position."

"I can't be insubordinant if I'm not a subordinant," the Uchiha deadpanned.

Orochimaru just laughed. "You haven't lost your wit then, Sasuke-kun. Now, what information do you have for me on your little team and friends?"

"None that you haven't already gotten," Sasuke answered.

"None?" Orochimaru repeated. "Do you have so much faith in my spies or so little faith in your teammates?"

"They tell me nothing," he lied.

An unpleasant smile stretched Orochimaru's already thin lips. "I know a lie when I hear one, Sasuke. What do you really have for me?"

"Nothing," he insisted.

Orochimaru's smile fell from his face and he sat down in the throne directly behind him. There was no chair for Voldemort. "I am surprised with you, Sasuke. You're normally not so stubborn. Perhaps we've been apart for too long and you've forgotten what it's like to be in the prescence of true power." He raised a hand.

The woman from before was still standing behind Sasuke and, before he could do anything about it, she shouted a word and a stream of green light shot from her wand and hit him in the back and he was suddenly overtaken by excruciating pain. He fell to his hands and knees, his teeth clenched and his hands fisted on the floor. It felt as if his insides were being burned while still under his skin.

"Yes, there are parts of wizarding society that aren't so useless," Orochimaru said conversationally as if the most powerful wizard of the time wasn't standing right beside him. "The crucio curse is particularly lovely."

"I thought you said something about true power," Sasuke said from between gritted teeth. He looked up at Orochimaru defiantly. "This feels like borrowed power to me."

Orochimaru frowned and waved his hand again and the spell intensified. The woman was giggling madly to herself. Sasuke let his head drop again as he fought to dull the pain with all the years of Anbu teaching and personal necessity that had instilled the ability to ignore pain within him. He took a breath and lurched to his feet, dusting his hands off on his pants. He failed in appearing completely casual but the looks on the wizards' faces were quite enough reward for the added burst of fire in his abdomen.

"Borrowed power," he repeated grimly as he clenched his hands to hide the shaking.

For a moment there was complete silence. Even the curly haired woman had stopped her laughter. Then Orochimaru just tipped back his head and laughed at the sky. No one joined him. The wizards were looking at Sasuke with something like utter awe and hero worship. Voldemort remainded impassive. But Orochimaru laughed as if he had just been told the most amusing story in his life.

Suddenly he stopped. "Release the spell." It stopped. "The wizards needed a little lesson on your kind's stubbornness in the face of their torturousspells." He cut his eyes noticeably at Voldemort who ignored him. "Why do you think I brought you here?"

"To ask me for information," Sasuke said, a little dizzy from the spell.

Orochimaru suddenly stood. "No, not at all." He smiled evilly. "I brought you here to die. Goodbye, Sasuke."

With that, Orochimaru and Voldemort and all of the wizards and enemy shinobi were gone, vanished without even the trail of smoke left from a teleportation jutsu.

And then the Shrieking Shack exploded.

[Author's Note]

Lyrics belong to The Script, La Roux, Lady Gaga, Tinie Tempah, The Hush Sound, Mumford & Sons, Florence + The Machine,

Yes, I added a lot of romantic bits in here for all of you who have been asking for them.

Yes, I left out Nejiten because there was just too much Neji if I put it in there.

Yes, there is some onesided Shikaneji if squint.

Yes, I do like that pairing.

No, it will not become a bigger part of the story.

Yes, I am finished with pre-answering your questions.

I find it rather difficult to write non-raunchy moments between Kiba and Ino. They're rather raunchy indeviduals. My comfort zone has been suitably invaded.