Hanging by a Moment
Chapter Fourteen: The Sealing

Hogwarts School
December 24th

Naruto didn't return to Severus' rooms until late. He'd stayed outside for a while, surveying the area, mentally calculating how long sealing would take and how much damage it would do his core. After realizing he would take a major hit unless he had his reserves to draw from, he'd had a little chat with Kyuubi. When he'd come back to himself after that conversation, the sky was getting dark and his stomach informed him that he'd missed dinner.

Severus was sitting on the couch when Naruto entered, staring into the fire. Naruto hesitated. They'd been fine that morning, but he hadn't forgotten their conversation about Sasuke, or the way he'd managed to poke at a wound that was obviously still raw and open for Severus. For a moment, Naruto wondered if he should make his way to his Slytherin dorm room. But he thought of the cool gray walls and the solitude and took a step forward. He didn't want to spend the night alone. Just knowing that Severus was on the other side of the wall would be enough.

"Severus," he said.

Severus turned towards him, dark eyes tired and thoughtful. Naruto thought that Severus was be ten times less scary if he stopped glaring at everyone all the time – without the hard, angry look in his eyes, he looked less like a monster and more like a man. Naruto liked it, even as he absently wondered what had caused the change.

"Naruto," he said, just as quietly. "Your adoring fans keep you long?" The jibe sounded half-hearted.

Naruto shrugged and slid into the armchair across from Severus. "They were pretty quick actually," he said. "I think Dumbledore said something to them, because the Aurors gave in pretty quick." Or maybe I'm just too used to Ibiki's interrogation techniques, if they can be called that, he thought wryly.

"Probably," Severus said. "Those imbeciles would jump off a bridge if Albus asked it of them." He sounded disdainful and Naruto snorted.

"As if you wouldn't do the same," he said, knowing that Severus' loyalty to Dumbledore went deeper that most.

Severus' brow furrowed for a moment, and then he seemed to realize Naruto was teasing him. His face relaxed. Naruto counted it as a victory – weeks earlier, Severus would have snapped something angry and stormed away if Naruto said something like that.

"Yes, but unlike those foolhardy idiots who would go diving off of the highest bridge they could, I would choose one only a few feet from the ground."

Naruto smiled. "I doubt Dumbledore would expect less from a Slytherin," he said. Severus sniffed haughtily in agreement.

"So if those imbeciles didn't keep you, why return so late?" Severus asked, trying to sound like he didn't care about the answer in the least. Naruto knew better.

"I had a talk with Dumbledore," Naruto said. "I thought of a way to protect the school from Sasuke and his followers." Naruto didn't miss the way Severus tensed at Sasuke's name. "I'm going to seal the school, once I get my strength back."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Seal it?" he asked dubiously. "Like a ward?"

Naruto nodded. "Yeah, except this one would be shinobi-specific."

"It's effective?" Severus asked.

Naruto nodded. "Very," he said. "I've used it before on my home and no one's gotten in that I didn't want to get in."

"You're sure it won't interfere with the wards already around Hogwarts?" Severus persisted, a frown on his face. Naruto recognized the look – it was the one Severus adopted before he spent hours making a Potion, or when something went wrong with his studies that he didn't expect.

Naruto shrugged. "Pretty sure," he said. "But there's always a chance. I'd rather take it then leave us open for pillaging. You can be sure Sasuke's coming back as soon as he can."

"I would think he'd be more wary, with you here," Severus said, sounding irritated.

Naruto shook his head. "Sasuke doesn't know when to quit," he said quietly. "If anything, I'm making it worse." He hesitated, then said, "We like to one-up each other. Sasuke will see me being here as a challenge and he'll respond."

Severus shook his head. "You do have normal relationships, I presume?"

Naruto laughed. "My friends aren't normal, but yeah, usually my relationships with them are. Sasuke's the exception."

Severus watched him carefully. "Yesterday night—"

"Severus," Naruto said. "I wanted to apologize for what we said yesterday." He could feel his face heating up. "I didn't mean to push at you. I just—I've seen Sasuke's side of things too long to accept people hating him easily." He shrugged, a little self-deprecatingly. "He's still my friend."

Severus sighed. "He shouldn't be," he said. "You have every right to hate him, Naruto, as you know. If not for what he's done recently, then for what he did in the past to you."

Naruto shook his head. "I can't just throw it off that easily, Severus," he said. "Sasuke had his reasons. Even if you don't believe that there's good in him I do, and that's all that matters." His looked at Severus defiantly.

Naruto had been told by numerous people to give up his quest for Sasuke's return: Sakura, Jiraiya, Kakashi, Tsunade and, at some point, all of his other friends had given him speeches on the subject, lengthy monologues about how Sasuke couldn't be saved and, most importantly, didn't deserve to be saved. Naruto didn't agree with that. He didn't think he could ever really agree with that. Sasuke held a part of his heart, would always own it, and for that reason alone Naruto would continue to try to reach him.

Besides, he didn't want to live in a world where people got what they deserved. If everyone got what they deserved, then those children deserved to die at the battle. Harry deserved to lose his mother and father at a young age. Konoha had deserved to have Kyuubi attack it. Naruto had deserved a childhood without any friends or parents. Sometimes good people had bad things happen to them, and sometimes bad people got good things they didn't deserve. That was life. Naruto would never turn his back on Sasuke because he believed that even if someone didn't deserve it, a second chance should be offered to them anyways.

Severus sighed, looking resigned. "I suppose you'll continue being hard-headed no matter what I say," he murmured. "In that case, I would like to request a promise from you, Naruto." He looked down into Naruto's eyes, his own expression serious and cold. "The next time you meet Uchiha, you will not let your affection for him hinder the battle."

Naruto couldn't help it. He laughed. Severus raised an eyebrow. "I'm shinobi, Severus," Naruto told him. "I won't kill him, but I would never let him hurt anyone else, no matter who he is to me."

Severus nodded. "I had to be sure," he said. "Compassion is one thing, weakness is another."

Naruto smiled. "Compassion is rarely weakness, Severus, not when it's used on people who deserve it."

Severus shook his head. "It is a wonder you weren't sorted into Gryffindor," he remarked dryly.

Naruto shrugged. "I probably could've been," he said. "Although I think the choice was between Hufflepuff and Slytherin at the end."

Severus made a face and Naruto laughed. "Hufflepuff," Severus muttered, shaking his head.

"There's nothing wrong with Hufflepuffs," Naruto told him, mock-sternly. "You're letting your bias get the best of you, Severus. How unlike you." He grinned.

Severus snorted, but then his face turned serious again. "You plan on using your ritual in the next few days?" he asked.

"Yes," Naruto said, sensing the mood change and turning serious again.

"What has to be done in order to set it up?"

"I have to make five separate seals," Naruto explained. "Four on each corner, and one at the center of Hogwarts. Dumbledore's agreed to find the locations for me. The center seal ties the rest together to form a barrier."

"Does it require a lot of chakra?" Severus asked.

Naruto smiled. Perhaps Severus should have been in Ravenclaw, he thought. "Yeah," he said, not voicing the thought aloud. "But I should be up for it the day after tomorrow. My power reserves will have recovered by then."

Severus looked like he was about to say something, then stopped. Pursuing his lips, he stayed silent for a moment, then finally said cautiously, "If you need any assistance . . . ."

Naruto grinned. "I don't, thanks," he said. He watched Severus' lips thin, then added, "But if you want to come watch, I wouldn't object."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Why would think I want to watch?"

Naruto shrugged, still grinning. "Oh I don't know. It might be a fun experience for you, Severus. How often do you get to see a seal-master at work?"

Severus snorted. "If you count as a seal-master, then it must not be a very impressive rank."

Naruto's eyes narrowed. "I'll have you know, it's the highest rank to achieve in sealing!" he protested. "It cost me blood, sweat and tears to get it!"

"Well, maybe I better come watch then, if only to see if you are as good as you say you are," Severus said, smirking.

Naruto glared at him. "Snob," he muttered, turning on his heel. "I'm going to bed, before you can insult my obviously awesome skills."

His back safely turned away, Naruto grinned as he heard Severus snort behind him. It was good to be back.

The halls were mostly empty as Severus prowled down them, but he kept a wary eye out. After the attack, he found that his senses were still on edge. He tensed at every unexpected bit of movement, watched shadows out of the corner of his eye. His wand was always close in case of emergency.

The students that remained were all in bed. Very few had decided to stay at Hogwarts – indeed, only those with nowhere to go or grievous injuries decided to stay. Except, of course, for Draco Malfoy, but Severus suspected his parents would be back tomorrow to pull him out of school. Zabini would likely get the same treatment by his mother. Severus knew why they'd stayed of course – to make sure Naruto was alright. He found that he was constantly surprised at the ease with which Naruto made friends. And always with the most unlikely people.

Like you, for example, a little voice said smugly in the back of his head. Severus grimaced.

He heard footsteps down the hall and tensed, hand on his wand. He saw the light of a lumos spell ahead and waited silently. He relaxed a little bit when he saw a familiar mop of messy hair, then scowled. Still silent, he stepped forward, blocking the hallway.

"What have I told you about wandering the halls at night Potter?" he asked with irritation.

Potter looked up, his eyes wide and innocent. Severus snorted. He'd seen that look before on his father's face and on his godfather's face – hell, even on Naruto's face. It had stopped working on him a long time ago.

"Is there some particular reason you're endangering your life right now?" he asked, scowling.

"I can protect myself, Professor," Potter said, his jaw set stubbornly.

Severus nearly groaned aloud. Gryffindors, he thought with disgust.

"Potter, in case you are blind and stupid – which is entirely possible – I will inform you about the shinobi that currently can enter this school whenever they please. The shinobi that the Headmaster was not even able to defeat without assistance." He added a scowl at the end.

Potter just stared at him. "Voldemort isn't going to send them back like this," he said. Severus winced at the casual use of the Dark Lord's name before he could stop himself.

"Please enlighten me as to why he would not, Mr. Potter," he said, sneering heavily.

Potter had the audacity to roll his eyes. "He wants the school, but he wouldn't be stupid enough to take it with Dumbledore in power. And he wants Dumbledore killed publicly, obviously. Otherwise it's not a triumph for him."

Severus raised an eyebrow, almost impressed. That was quite logical thinking for a Potter. "And what about yourself?" he asked, playing along.

Potter shrugged. "He wants to kill me himself," he said, with a remarkable lack of bitterness. "So I'm safe. Or as safe as I can be, anyways." He shook his head, then said, "Can I ask you something sir?"

Severus sighed. It seemed he was doomed to have a conversation with Potter. "What?" he asked.

"Is Naruto alright?" Severus tensed. "I mean, he looked like death warmed over when he finally got out of the Infirmary and then today at dinner . . . ."

Severus scowled. "The brat is just stressed," he said, reminding himself that Potter and Naruto were friends and therefore Potter deserved the information. "He'll be fine in a few days."

"Are you sure?" Potter asked. Severus wanted to snarl at him. "I mean, I know he and that Sasuke guy were close—"

"Potter," Severus said, "Naruto will be fine. Now go back to your bed and stop wandering the halls. Also, twenty points from Gryffindor for being out beyond curfew." Severus felt a little bit better for the point loss and the scowl Potter gave him for it.

"How rude, Severus," said a voice from above them.

Severus jumped, his hand on his wand before he could stop it, and looked up. Blue eyes stared down at him in amusement and Severus relaxed instantly. He noticed, out of the corner of his eye, Potter doing the same. It seemed the brat had learned something from his reckless stunts over the past few years.

Naruto leapt from the ceiling, landing delicately on his feet. He was dressed in his strange black clothing instead of robes, and he looked far better than he had when Severus had left to patrol. His eyes gleamed.

"Honestly, Severus, cut him a little slack. You never took points from me for being out late, did you?"

"Keep your nose out of someone else's business, Uzumaki," Severus snapped. Naruto grinned instead of taking offense. Severus took it as another sign that Naruto was mentally unstable. "I can take however many points I like from Gryffindor."

"So biased, Severus," Naruto chided him, still grinning. He turned to Harry and then, unexpectedly, took his face in his hands and pinched his cheeks. "Aw, little Harry, were you worried about me?"

Potter was glaring at him. Severus felt a bit of amusement. "See if I ever do it again," he muttered, his voice distorted because of the cheek pulling. Potter made a face. "Stop that," he said, pulling his head out of Naruto's grip.

"But you're so cute, Harry darling!" Naruto cooed, still smiling.

Potter made a face. "Stop calling me cute," he muttered. "I'm not cute."

Severus, for one of the first times in his life, agreed with something Potter said.

Naruto's grin turned sly. "Bet Draco thinks you are," he said casually.

Potter's head snapped up, his mouth open with shock, and Severus shook his head. Draco and Potter? Draco had to have better taste than that. He had to.

"Malfoy? As if," Potter scoffed, as if it was more absurd for him to fall for Draco, when it was really the other way around.

Naruto shook his head. "Poor, blind Gryffindor," he said sadly. "Draco has the hots for you. He wants to carry you away to bed and say naughty things in your ear! Aw, he's blushing!" Potter's ears were very red. "Are you telling me no one's said naughty things in your ear yet, Harry dear?"

Potter's entire face was red now. "Not in front of Snape," he muttered.

Naruto's face softened a little. Severus sighed. Why Naruto had a soft spot for the goddamn Boy-Who-Lived, he would never know. Of course, he didn't understand why anyone had a soft spot for Potter. If you asked Severus, Potter was nothing more than an annoying little brat who got away with too much. Maybe he wasn't as arrogant as his father, but Potter instead had an arrogance that was all his own, and it lead him to believe that he really could survive anything when he couldn't. And it infuriated Severus to no end.

"Go back to sleep, Harry," Naruto said, patting Potter on the head. "I'm fine, and Severus is right - it's dangerous out here."

Potter sighed. Severus bit the inside of his cheek. Why was it the brat listened to other people when they said the same thing Severus had said? It was infuriating.

"Alright," Potter muttered. "But only if you're sure you're fine. You looked half-dead today, Naruto-"

Naruto waved a hand. "Don't worry about me," he said, smiling slightly. It didn't quite reach his eyes. "Now, off with you! Shoo!"

Potter bit his lip but nodded, turning to go back the way he came.

"You're always so mean to him, Severus," Naruto said, more seriously than he had before. "Does he really deserve it?"

Severus sneered. "He's an arrogant, selfish boy who needs to learn that not everyone will fall at his feet for something he did as a child."

Naruto smiled a little. "You don't know him very well if you think he likes the attention," he said. "He hates it, Severus."

Severus sniffed. "He certainly never seemed that way to me."

Naruto raised an eyebrow. "Well, trust me then, as someone who has actually spoken with him as a friend instead of a teacher. He hates it, Severus. And it's not fair of you to be so horrible to him."

"Why is everyone on Potter's side?" Severus snapped, more angry than the situation really warranted. "What is so special about that brat?"

Naruto shrugged, nonchalant, but his eyes were burning. "He's a good kid, Severus," he said, tone even. He hesitated, then added, "And I know what it's like to be hated for something you have no control over and it sucks."

Severus' brow furrowed, his anger leaving him. "What-" he started, but he was talking to empty air. Naruto had disappeared.

Severus stepped blearily into his sitting room. He hated mornings. He'd never been able to train his body to wake up early, and mornings always seemed to make him lethargic and tired. He hated that feeling. It made him itchy to think that his reaction time was lessened, that there was more of a chance he'd be attacked. Severus yawned heavily, then scowled.

It was his tiredness that kept him from noticing right away. However, as he approached his door, he became aware of the truly atrocious sound coming from the right side of his sitting room. A right side, Severus noted, that hadn't existed last night. A right side that now, apparently, included a kitchen, which Severus' private rooms had never had before.

A kitchen in which Naruto was cooking and singing horribly off-key.

For a moment, Severus could only stare. Then he took a deep breath. Naruto, oblivious to his presence, continued to sing, cheerfully horrible at it, and flip bacon strips in a pan.

"What, pray tell, are you doing?" he said loudly.

Naruto didn't have the courtesy to act surprised that Severus was there. "Cooking breakfast," he said.

Severus glared at his back. "That kitchen," he said slowly, "was not there last night."

"Oh, I asked Hogwarts if she minded giving me one," Naruto said. With his back turned, he was immune to the glare Severus was giving him. "I thought it would be fun to cook breakfast for a change, you know? After all, it's Christmas morning!"

"And that caterwhauling?" Severus asked silkily. "Was that also necessary?"

Naruto turned around finally to give him a glare. He pointed his spatula at Severus. "My singing voice," he said evenly, "is beautiful and perfect. Obviously."

"Your singing voice," Severus said, deadpan, "sounds like a cat getting mauled by a dog."

Naruto pouted at him and turned back to his bacon. Severus sighed. "I suppose you want me to sit down and have breakfast with you here then?"

"Well, if you're so offended by my mauled cat sounds, then you can go have Christmas breakfast in the Great Hall for all I care," Naruto said petulantly.

Severus smirked. He sat down at the small table in the kitchen. "Can you even cook, Naruto?" he asked.

Naruto huffed. "I'll have you know, I can cook just fine!" He paused, then added a little sheepishly, "Well, most things anyway."

Severus sighed. "You'd better not burn my bacon, Uzumaki," he said sternly.

Naruto gave him a sunny grin over his shoulder. "Wouldn't dream of it, Severus," he said cheerfully.

Severus watched as Naruto continued to cook. Eventually he started to whistle, and then he went back to singing, still off-key. Naruto always continued to surprise him. Two days ago he'd been in the midst of a huge battle and been on the edge of dying. He remembered Naruto's somber face the night that they discussed Sasuke Uchiha and wondered how that person could possibly be the same boy currently dancing ridiculously in front of him, pretending his spatula was some kind of—what did the Muggles call it? Ah yes, a microphone.

"Why are you so happy?" Severus asked as Naruto put the bacon on a plate, next to scrambled eggs, hashbrowns and breakfast potatoes. Naruto froze.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

Severus frowned at him. "Two days ago you came face to face with a man you share a long and complicated history with, Naruto," he said. "You were severely injured. Several students have died and you've taken the blame for it on your shoulders, despite anything you try and say to the contrary. In a day or so you will attempt to do a difficult sealing that will drain you quite a bit. And yet, here you are, singing and dancing and cooking in my kitchen."

Naruto looked at him. His eyes were dark and very, very blue. "Would you rather I cry about it, Severus?" he asked. There wasn't bitterness in his voice, just a sort of resigned sadness. "Would you rather I mope and groan and brood about how unfair everything is?" Naruto shrugged. "Life's not fair. I know that. People die, shit happens. I don't like it. But if I don't laugh and dance and sing afterwards, then I'll lose myself in how shitty life is. And that doesn't help anyone."

Severus was staring, he knew, but he couldn't stop.

Naruto smiled a little at him. "I can mourn them," he said. "I can feel pain about other people dying or being hurt. I do. But I've learned that I can't wallow in it either. I need to keep going forward. And so I laugh and I dance and I sing." He shrugged. "Simple, really."

"You should have been a Gryffindor," Severus said quietly. Naruto laughed.

"Really, Severus," he said, "you should know that the Houses are just the extremes."

Severus raised an eyebrow. "Yes," he said, "although I was unaware that you could discern that."

Naruto shrugged. "How can one person be only cunning or only brave?" he asked. "Or just smart or just loyal? People don't work like that. There's always more. Something—underneath the underneath, if you will." Naruto smirked, looking amused. Severus got the sense that he was missing something. "I've known plenty of people who're smart and loyal and cunning and brave. And a while other list of things too."

Severus smirked a little. "Sometimes we do tend to rely too much on our Houses," he acknowledged.

Naruto laughed. "I know!" he said. "Whenever I meet someone here, it's always, Hello my name is blank and I'm in this house, as if that explains everything about them."

"For many wizards that is true," Severus said. "Albus has expressed his wish to change the Sorting ceremony for quite a few years. Since they were sorted so young, many wizards never outgrow the house mentality. They believe that the world is divided in terms of the houses."

Naruto was silent for a long time. "Yeah, that's true," he said finally. "You know," he added nonchalantly, "wizards are kind of messed up."

Severus snorted. "As if shinobi aren't?" he asked sardonically.

Naruto's lip tugged up at the corner, a bittersweet grin. "Yeah," he murmured. "We are, aren't we?"

"You have everything you need then?" Dumbledore asked, brow furrowing.

Naruto shrugged, looking down at the carefully drawn map of Hogwarts, where Dumbledore had marked out all of the key places he'd need to finish the seal. "This should be enough," he said. "The corners are simple - I can do those today, within the hour. The center, though, that's harder. I can still do it today, but it'll take a while to make it and for the chakra to settle afterwards."

Dumbledore nodded, looking thoughtful. "And how will you feel afterwards? Shall we have Madame Promphrey on call?"

Naruto grinned a little. "I'm tougher than I look!" he exclaimed. Dumbledore raised an eyebrow, peering at Naruto intently over his half-moon glasses. Naruto rolled his eyes. "Yes, alright, it might be a good idea to have her nearby, just in case. But I'll probably be fine."

A hand came down on Naruto's shoulder and he looked up to see Severus staring down at him. "You will not exhaust yourself, do you understand me?" he asked severely.

Naruto grinned at him. "Aw, you care about me! How cute, Severus!"

Severus scowled and removed his hand. "No, but mopping up your depleted body would be more trouble than its worth."

Naruto rolled his eyes, turned to Dumbledore, and said in a stage-whisper, "He's bluffing, he totally cares."

Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling and Naruto winked at him. He could feel Severus' irritation.

"Are we done playing immature schoolboys, or shall I give you two a few more minutes?" Severus asked icily.

"I think we've had our fill of it for today, Severus," Naruto answered cheekily, grinning widely when Severus rolled his eyes. "Now, I better get cracking! You two, shoo," he said, waving his hands at Severus and Dumbledore. "I'll let you know when I'm doing the final seal, now go!"

Severus glared at him and Naruto could read the you'd better not do anything stupid in his face as clearly as if he'd said it. Then he turned on his heel and stomped away. Dumbledore shared a smile with Naruto before turning to leave as well. Naruto took and a deep breath and took out one of his scrolls, unsealing it with an easy movement of his hand. He was pleased that his chakra didn't strain to do so - he'd noticed in the last day or so that his chakra levels were, more or less, back to normal.

He picked up his brush and dipped it into a pot of ink. Taking another deep breath, he brought his hands together and murmured under his breath. The ink glowed for a moment, then faded back to black. Another breath. Carefully, Naruto began drawing the seal on the ground.

The seal for protection was unique - it had taken Naruto a long time to master because it was extremely intricate. It required at least four seals, usually five - one for each corner of the place to be protected, one for the center, to tie everything together. Places could be protected with just four, but the fifth was what lent power to the sealing, made it nearly unbreakable. It was also the most complex of the five seals.

Naruto hummed under his breath as he made the first seal with quick, deft strokes. It had been a while since he'd done a protection sealing, but he wasn't a seal master for nothing - he had a good head for remembering them. Naruto laughed a little under his breath - Jiraiya had been so surprised that Naruto, who was so bad at remembering everything else, was so good at memorizing seals.

Naruto finished the seal with a flick of his brush, then sat back on his heels, surveying it for any mistakes. Seeing none, he placed his hands on the ground, just outside of the seal, and murmured a ninjutsu. The seal glowed bright blue for a moment and Naruto felt it lock into place. He grinned.

One down, four to go.

Draco stared down at the letter in his hands, heart constricting as he re-read it for the tenth time.

My Son,

I am pleased to hear that you are unhurt after the regrettable battle at Hogwarts during the past break. Your mother and I would like for you to visit home before the holidays end, so that we may spend time with you and make sure that you are alright. I have spoken to Headmaster Dumbledore, and we will pick you up through the Floo on December 27th.

Your Father

Draco swallowed.

He knew why he was being summoned home. He had no doubt that his parents wanted to make sure he was alright, especially after he insisted on staying at the castle. But he also knew that his father was aware that Naruto was in his house - and also aware that he and Naruto were friends, of a sort.

He had no doubt his father would ask him to spy on Naruto, to report every move he made. Draco dropped the letter on his bedside table and sat down, his head in his hands. He didn't want to go back home. It would only mean having to lie, having to keep a mask up for his father and mother. It sounded exhausting.


Draco looked up to see Blaise standing in the doorway. He smiled wearily. "Hey, Blaise," he said.

Blaise frowned and came over to sit with him on the bed. "What is it?" he asked.

Draco hesitated for a moment. "My father wants me to come home for the rest of the holidays," he said, attempting nonchalance.

Blaise's stricken face told him he hadn't managed as well as he'd hoped. "He's going to tell you to spy on Naruto, isn't he?" he asked.

Draco sighed. "Yes," he said.

Blaise eyed him. "You're not on the Dark Side, are you, Draco?"

Draco tensed, then looked over at Blaise, who had been his best friend since they were three. Blaise, who met his eyes steadily, no condemnation in his face. Draco sighed.

"No, Blaise," he said. "I'm not." He quirked an eyebrow. "And you?"

Blaise shrugged. "Never have been," he said easily. Draco blinked in surprise. "My mother doesn't approve of Voldemort. Neither do I." He grinned. "Plus, the Light Side's more fun."

Draco snorted. "Why is that?"

Blaise wrapped an arm around Draco's shoulder. "Well, they have Potter, don't they? And you know the shenanigans he gets into - it's like something out of a bloody soap opera." Draco frowned.

"Soap opera?" he asked, nonplussed.

Blaise waved his free hand. "Muggle thing. Horribly full of drama."

"You know Muggle things?" Draco asked, torn between horror and fascination.

Blaise laughed. "My mother is a secret Muggle-fanatic. Anyways! The Light Side also has Naruto, in case you've forgotten, and he's plenty interesting."

"If by interesting you mean deranged and possibly insane," Draco said, "then yes."

Blaise laughed again, tugging Draco into a hug. Draco tensed. Slytherins did not give hugs. Perhaps someone had Imperio-ed Blaise.

"I'm glad you're with us, Draco," Blaise said. "I'd hate to have to fight you."

Draco, despite himself, smiled a bit. He was glad too.

Naruto wiped an arm over his forehead, surveying the huge seal in front of him.

He'd finished the outer seals a few hours ago and had since been working on the final seal. Dumbledore had led him to an abandoned chamber deep in the school, which he proclaimed was the heart of Hogwarts. Naruto had then spent three hours working on the very complex center seal.

He eyed it carefully, surveying it for mistakes. The four others weren't as strict, but the center seal had to be perfect, since it tied everything together. If there were mistakes, even tiny ones, then the protection would be weakened, or wouldn't work.

He couldn't see any. Naruto exhaled heavily and put his hands on the outside of the seal. He took a deep breath, then withdrew his mind, seeking for the constant itch in the back of his head that was Kyuubi.

Lend me some chakra, he thought.

And why should I?

Naruto rolled his eyes. Just do it, fox-man.

A growl. Very well, brat.

Naruto's blow overflowed with chakra. His muscles ached with it and he winced - his body was too full. He needed to get rid of it quickly so he didn't damage himself. He took another deep breath and murmured the ninjutsu under his breath. As he said the final syllables, light burst out of the seal, so bright that it was blinding. Naruto could feel the chakra pouring out of him into the seal and gasped.

In England, Sakura wiped a hand over her face, surveying an empty street. Beside her, Hinata sighed.

"We've been here for a week," she whispered. "I don't think Naruto's here."

Sakura had to agree. They'd surveyed the better part of England for a few days, then focused on the huge city called London. But there was still no Naruto. Sakura, after weeks of searching the Outside, was beginning to feel desperate. They hadn't felt or seen anything of Naruto.

Sakura frowned as she felt, suddenly, something flicker on her senses. She turned her head, seeing if anything strange was happening, but there was nothing.

"Do you feel that?" she asked Hinata, who looked just as confused.

"Yes," she said, Byakugan flicking on. "It's-Sakura, it's chakra."

Sakura stood up straighter. "Chakra? From one of the team?"

Hinata shook her head. "It's-it's like aftershocks. Someone's doing something that requires a huge amount of chakra. When you use that much-"

"It creates aftershocks, I know," Sakura said. "Is it-"

"It's Naruto," Hinata confirmed. "I can see the Kyuubi's chakra mixed in."

Sakura jumped up, whooping with joy. "We found him!" she cried. Hinata smiled at her.

"Not yet," she reminded Sakura. "But I think I can followed the aftershocks to find the main attraction."

Sakura grinned at her and then swept her in a hug. "Hinata, you're amazing!" she cried. Hinata blushed. "We need to send a summons to the others!"

Gotcha, Sakura thought smugly. You just wait, Naruto. We're coming!

Sasuke stood outside the Forbidden Forest. Carefully, he put a finger forward. It met an invisible barrier.

A ghost of a smile on his face. "Touche, dobe," he whispered, then disappeared in a flurry of leaves.

Naruto wobbled on his feet as the chakra settled slightly. He blinked as he was caught around the waist and led to a chair.

"Did you wait outside the whole time?" he asked Severus, grinning wearily.

Severus eyed him seriously. "Do you need to me to call for Madame Promphrey?" he asked.

Naruto shook his head. "Nah. I'm fine, I just need some rest to replenish."

Severus frowned. "You probably should have waited if it took so much out of you," he said, reprimanding.

Naruto rolled his eyes. "If I'd waited any longer, who knows what Sasuke would have done," he argued. "Now they can't come in."

"So it worked?" Severus asked, eyeing the fading signs of the complex seal.

Naruto grinned. "Yes!" he exclaimed. "I felt it lock into place."

Severus turned to look at him. Naruto blinked, caught off-guard by the look of-well, something like respect in Severus' eyes. Naruto almost blushed, rubbing the back of his neck.

"Well done," Severus said quietly.

Naruto smiled at him. "Thanks."

Author's Notes: Don't kill me? I'm sorry it's been over a year! I've been involved with other fandoms and other projects and real life! I promise I won't abandon this story or leave it that long for another update. I'm hoping to finish this up in the next few months (hopefully). I hope you guys enjoyed this! Next chapter will see the return of the students and (dun dun dun) Team Rescue comes to Hogwarts! Reviews, as always, are appreciated!