Merry Christmas everyone! Happy Holidays and Happy New Years! Also, Happy Valentines!
[Ahem. Let us forget I haven't updated in months, shall we? Yes. We shall.]
[I had the hardest time with some major writer's block. This is the result of me struggling through it, and the product is not exactly what I imagined. However, I'm back in the groove of things, so expect more timely updates! I'm getting there—almost at the high point of this story…at the final conflicts and resolutions!]
For those still reading, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BEING SOMEWHAT PATIENT and THANK YOU FOR THE CONTINUING SUPPORT.
Warning: More talking.
Chapter 14: The Question of Peace.
That crazy bastard is probably worse than all of'em combined. Being an asshole is one thing, but betraying everyone who fought with you, for you—fighting your comrades—that's not right at all. If people who don't care about their friend are lower than trash, than what does that make a person who kills his friends?
But you know what? We all are some degree of screwed up in the shinobi world. When I look at Sasuke, I know he represents all of us; he's us unfiltered and unrestrained, acting on raw emotion. I know how that feels: to have nothing but hatred and anger pulling the strings of your body. There are no thoughts, hopes, fears or memories, even of the things that brought you to the edge and made you implode.
Ahhh, damn, everything has gotten so complicated!
Naruto woke up straddling a warm body. His left arm was elbow deep in a hot, pulsating stomach. The warm spurting blood and the muscles squirming around his fingers made him nauseous.
"Naruto," said his victim. For the first time in years Naruto saw lucidity in those eyes. "Don't."
Lily Luna Potter sat in a chair by Naruto's bed, swinging her feet back and forth. She had given herself the job of Naruto's personal nurse, though there wasn't much to do but stare at his sleeping figure. Unlike the others, Naruto was clean and uninjured, having been in the safety of the kitchen and the house elves when the wolves and the shinobi attacked. Still, she would slip out of her chair and check the progress of the memory vial, and she did it so often enough that it seemed like there was no progress at all.
Jill and Madam Pomfrey were treating Scorpius, Gerry, George and Anne, none of whom had even stirred since they had arrived. The miracle that was the Room of Requirement transformed itself into a large hospital ward, equipped with everything from potions to cure baldness (Jill, finding it, laughed at the pure absurdity of it all) to tools that helped grow internal organs. Madam Pomfrey had muttered at one point, "It's better equipped than the Hospital Wing."
Naruto lay still as a stone on his bed, and only the slight movement of his chest told his caretakers that he was still alive. Lily watched him intently, as if she could will him awake. If he woke up, she reasoned to herself, he would know what to do, being one of them. He'd be able to fight them on equal grounds, and he'd save them all. He just needed to wake up before it was too late.
Sighing, Lily glanced at her brothers and cousins with almost a resigned interest as they huddled over a large map of the Hogwarts ground. They were speaking rapidly, anxiously, excitedly even, as they tried to pinpoint all the location of the barrier seals. Professor Slughorn stood by them glumly; the shock hadn't left his aged face and he seemed infinitely older. Once in a while he suggested something, a charm, a potion or knowledge of the grounds, but with each word he spoke he seemed to become gloomier.
Indeed, Potion Master Horace Slughorn felt his heart get heavier and his stomach turn anxiously, as if he were participating in some clandestine activity. In the back of his mind, he knew that for every second passed, every word he spoke, and every idea he contributed, he was expediting the demise of his students, both in front of him and those still clutches of their invaders. The memories of two former wars made his old eyes water, and he sighed, lamenting their misfortune, his misfortune particularly, as he had thought the chance of him becoming involved in more fighting and hostilities, in another war, was next to none. He did not want to outlive more of his students.
He looked over at Naruto and Lily, and decided it was time for him to check the memory vial. He walked to the bed slowly, and smiled when Lily perked up and watched him with large, expecting eyes, reminding him of a meerkat. Her round brown eyes did not even blink as they watched him check the vial. "You can see it's getting less and less as time passes," the old professor told her with an approving nod, "At this rate, it won't be long until the potion's effect is completed."
"And he'll wake up?" she asked wistfully.
"That's the hope anyways," Slughorn sighed. He glanced at his older students scheming over the map and frowned sadly. "I am too old for this, and they are too young."
Lily looked at Slughorn curiously. He seemed so sad to her, so burdened, wearing an expression that she had seen before on her father, who would never tell her why he looked so upset. She suddenly felt the need to comfort the old professor, as she could have comforted her father had she the chance. "I don't think so," she said finally, trying to sound as emphatic as possible. "I mean, we've survived this far and we escaped. You should have seen us in the dungeon professor—we were brilliant." She wasn't quite sure if that was comforting, so she smiled at him, encouragingly.
"I don't doubt that," answered Slughorn with a grim smile, "You Potters and Weasleys are always so capable. But, you are not invincible, and these people, these shinobi, Ms. Potter, are not your average wizards. They're not even your average criminal."
Lily pouted slightly, and insisted, in her childish way, "'Well, it'd be stupider not to do anything right? We can't just sit here and wait for people to save us, Professor, then we'd be waiting forever and who knows what they'll do to people in the Great Hall. And just sitting here safely—that'd be just cowardice, don't you think? I'd feel horrible if I had to do that. Besides, even if you're too old and we're too young, we can do lots because maybe they won't be expecting us too."
Slughorn eyed Lily with mild surprise, and then grinned sadly at her. He summoned a chair and slowly sat down, exhaling sharply when he put a bit too much pressure on his left hip. With a resigned sigh he continued, "I wish there was more I could do."
"I think you've already done a lot, professor," reassured Lily with a bright smile, "You've been super helpful with the veritaserum and all. And you know all about the memory potion!"
Slughorn beamed at her, "You're quite like your namesake you know, your grandmother Lily. I was very fond of her."
Lily brightened, but her reply was drowned out by a loud high pitched noise that sounded like nails on chalkboard. She trembled, grimaced and clutched her ears.
Everyone else in the room froze momentarily, and covered their ears as the sound became harsher and harsher. Then it suddenly stopped, as fast as it came, and the silence fell again. They looked around, alarmed and bewildered.
"What was—" James began, but a loud boom cut him off.
"Sound like something big fell…" Hugo said quietly.
"What's going on?" said Jill fearfully.
Then the high pitched noise came back, but it toned itself down in to a lower pitched humming, which then turned into coherent, audible words, conveying a horrific message in a monstrous voice: "We have 675 children with us. If you want this number to remain unchanged, bring us Uzumaki Naruto. You have thirty minutes."
Those words came from the bloody mouth of the last Uchiha, at least the last naturally living Uchiha. It was a sincere request, borne from that rare moment of lucidity when the darkness that created the blood-eyed demon abated, and sanity came through.
It startled Naruto, because at that point, he was convinced that Sasuke was gone forever.
Anger flared up in Naruto, and any sympathy Naruto could have had was eaten up by that fire. "Don't?" he growled, "Don't what?"
Was he begging? Was the Uchiha Sasuke begging to be spared? After all he's done? Naruto's anger stirred more violently at the thought.
But it was selfish anger he was feeling. He wasn't angry because he believed that Sasuke didn't deserve to beg and didn't deserve to be spared—if there was anyone in the world who would spare Sasuke, it was him, only him. No, what he was feeling was the bitter feelings of remorse, laced with sentimental indignation. Why now? Why now? Naruto had never wanted to come to this. He had screamed, begged, cried for Sasuke to regain some sense, to give him a reason to not to do this. But why now, when it was too late?
Naruto's heart skipped a beat at those words, and all that anger then melted into sorrow.
"What?" he said again. This time his voice was confused, vulnerable and full of pain. He couldn't believe what he was hearing, all the while he was screaming at the back of his head 'Why are you speaking now? It's too late, asshole…too late…'
Sasuke's impassive face seemed almost peaceful, even with the blood that flowed from his eyes and stained his lips. Naruto knew he had very little chakra left.
"Yeah. " He coughed. "Moron. I should be dead already. Can't…do anything right…"
"You idiot! You're seconds away from death and you're still trying to insult me!"
"I can…'cause…I'm still alive."
Naruto frowned, deeply confused.
"Anything…that happens from here, Naruto." Sasuke looked into Naruto eyes but there was no emotion there, not even hatred. "It's all your fault. Everything."
"We have 675 children with us now. If you want this number to remain unchanged, bring us Uzumaki Naruto. You have thirty minutes."
Startled, Naruto jumped up quickly and looked around. He became vaguely aware of a reality happening elsewhere.
Sasuke started to cough. Naruto looked at him and felt a stab of pain at the pitiful sight of a dying Uchiha.
Catching his breath, Sasuke continued in a raw, raspy voice, "You see. You'll kill as much as I do. Heroes can be murderers too. You just have other people die for you."
Naruto scowled and turned away, not that the sight was better. He felt sick at the sight of the bodies sprawled all around them.
But something wasn't right; this memory…it was messed up. It didn't happen like this, but he couldn't quite put a finger on what was out of place. He cursed violently—he was exactly where he started! Why couldn't he remember? What was wrong with him?
He had wanted to know if he had killed Sasuke, and by the way this memory was turning out…it seemed like he might have. No no…that wasn't right either; there was something else to it. Yes, he remembered now—the fight, the second fight, the dead, and the chakra that burned even into the very fabric of reality.
Then there was horror, anger, and such sorrow! So many deaths, all because of him! And the gratification of the most desperate and cowardly wish, a plea made in a rare moment of fear and self pity: "I want to escape."
"We have 675 children with us now. If you want this number to remain unchanged, bring us Uzumaki Naruto. You have thirty minutes."
He grimaced: that voice again, from a place he barely remembered. Whatever it was, someone wanted him and they were going to kill children to get him. If he only knew where it was coming from!
"Are you going to let them die for you again? Like everyone else has?"
"Shut up Sasuke," Naruto shouted fiercely, turning to the dying Uchiha again, "Don't say another word!"
"Your morality was always more important than other people, Naruto."
"I'm warning you…"
"Naruto, the hero, the chosen one, stepping on the—"
"Then don't stop, Naruto. Because you did. So…everything that has happened, that will happen, is your fault. So next time, finish it."
No. Naruto realized none of it happened like this. Everything was wrong.
A cold laugh. "Yes, everything is wrong."
Stunned, Naruto looked down at Sasuke, who was now propped up on his elbows, grinning maniacally at him.
"What is this?" asked Naruto, "How did you know what I was thinking? Wait—is this your genjutsu?"
"No." Sasuke shrugged. "Not mine."
"— It's yours."
Naruto understood then: it was his fault, and guilt was a powerful thing.
Then Naruto blinked, and he felt the world shift in a vicious rush of wind. When his eyes opened again, he was met with a sight Kakashi-sensei drenched in blood, supporting a heavily injured Sakura. All around them on field were the dead soldiers. The smell of rotting flesh and old blood filled his nostrils, and he could have thrown up on the spot.
"He did this to spite you," said Kakashi, his one eyes set intently, even accusingly on Naruto. No, he knew he was just imagining that. Kakashi-sensei would never do that. "Not all of them are dead, though they would be better off so."
"Sakura-chan? Is she alright?" He rushed to her side, though really there was nothing he could do.
Kakashi looked down at Sakura and said, at length, "He knew what would hurt you the most, Naruto."
A charged silence followed the awful announcement. For several moments no one said anything, stunned by sheer horror of what that message entailed.
"So they've resorted to this…" Slughorn's muttered finally, his voice trembling.
"No," Rose breathed, shaking her head, "They can't…"
"What do we do?" asked Hugo, "We can't let that happen!"
"We also can't hand Naruto to them," added James.
Jill, frowning uneasily, lifted her head a little and said, "Why can't we?"
James turned and looked at her, aghast; his eyes were wide with disbelief, as he couldn't understand what would possess her to ask such a question. His lips curled with indignation.
"What are you saying?" he barked, "That we just hand him over to them?"
Jill swiveled her chair forward to face James, her expression assuming a fierce defiance, which was such a novelty on a usually mild mannered person that every seemed surprised, especially James. "And what are you saying?" she asked sharply, "That we let them kill innocent students to protect Naruto?"
"W-Well no but—" James sputtered angrily, "We—no! We can't give them Naruto. You heard the headmaster—it's game over if we do!"
"But we don't know that for sure!" Jill shot back sternly, "But we know for sure now our classmates will die. OUR classmates James, OUR friends, if you haven't forgotten! We can stop it. Let them take Nat—Naruto, let his people worry about him."
"Some Gryffindor you are," James snarled, "At the first sign of threat you want to surrender!"
"This has nothing to do with being a Gryffindor," Jill cried furiously, "It's not like they want to kill him, but they will most certainly kill the students if they don't find him."
"We don't know that they won't kill Naruto…" said Hugo uncertainly, "It's likely they won't, but…I'm not willing to bet on it."
"And you're forgetting something Jill," said Rose solemnly, "They're not going to leave even if they get to Naruto."
"But they won't kill us either."
James let out an incredulous snort. "Oh, that's just…" he trailed off, shaking his head, at a loss for words. He glared at Jill and shouted furiously, "Cowardly! Just cowardly! How can you even think about turning in a friend? Especially to the likes of them!"
"You can get yourself killed defending your morals," said Jill, icily, "But I don't want you to make the decision for the kids in the hall."
"He's our friend, Jill, remember that? We played exploding snaps together! YOU doted on him when we first met him! You were so into that big sister act that it annoyed the rest of us! Just a day ago we were drinking butterbeer together at the Three Broomstick! How can you even think—"
"Because they're going to kill innocent students!" shouted Jill, desperately, tears in her eyes, "They're going to kill our classmates! But Naruto is…is one of them!"
"So what?" Al interjected hotly, "Now because he's a shinobi we're not his friends anymore?"
"Stop twisting my words!" she snapped, "You know I'm right! He's not the person that we thought we knew. You know he's not. We don't even really know him, the real him—I mean, we just learned his real name. How do we know what he'll be like when he regains his memories? What if he is one their side? And-and they think we're holding him captive? I don't want to take that risk or make that sacrifice, James. We need to protect our own; we need to protect the students."
"We need to protect the Wizarding World!" James snapped, "The entire world will be in danger if we give him up!"
"Oh you love this James don't you," cried out Jill, throwing her hands up, "Having to make this decision to save the world! Like being a hero much?"
James was so shocked and offended by the accusation that he could only stare at her, his mouth ajar with angry words he couldn't verbalize. Lily spoke up furiously in her brother's defense, "That's not fair Jill! You shouldn't say stuff like that!"
Jill looked surprised to be admonished by the second year, but she did not seem apologetic. She looked at James in the eye and asked, "When this is all over James, and if we survive, will you be okay with letting someone in the Great Hall die? Knowing that you could have saved them?"
James held Jill's intense gaze, but he did not respond.
"Let me remind you," Madame Pomfrey interrupted darkly, "Ten minutes have passed. And Ms. Shelser is right, Mr. Potter. Despite what the headmaster said, I don't want to pay with the lives of the students for protecting Naruto."
"No we'll be paying the fate of the rest of the Wizarding world instead," muttered James bitterly,
"Well," Madam Pomfrey began, angrily, "Mr. Potter, listen here—"
But James would not listen. He glared at Jill and insisted, "He can't be on their side. You heard Professor Veralong, he can't—"
"How do we know that what the Headmaster said was right?" Jill cut in impatiently, "Even he said he's not the best seer and that he sees possibilities."
"You're willing to take the chance?" asked Al, "With everything we've seen, you're really going to take that chance? 'Cause he's been right so far."
"She's not being unreasonable," said Rose quickly, ignoring the betrayed look that James was giving her as she spoke, "She's right: we can't let them kill our classmates. We've got to do something about it, even if it isn't giving them Naruto."
"Thank you Rose," Jill said pointedly.
James deflated a bit, and released a long, troubled sigh and messaged his forehead. "Do you think I want them to kill students? Of course not! But what are we going to do? What can we do? Give them a fake Naruto?"
Rose looked at James with a meaningful frown, "Well…I mean…that's an idea…"
Horrified, Madame Pomfrey exclaimed, "Offer up someone else as Naruto? It'll mean death for that person!"
"It would work," mumbled Al thoughtfully, "I mean, just have to fool them long enough so that we can release the barriers and have a chance of escape. We can use a Polyjuice potion."
Madam Pomfrey opened her mouth to protest, but her words stopped by a chorus of shrill cries and blood curdling screams erupted all around them. Their faces blanched at the sound.
"No!" Jill cried frantically, "They can't have! We have more time! Thirty minutes shouldn't be up yet!"
"It isn't," Pomfrey said as everyone turned to her for confirmation.
They could now hear several of the wolves barking, whining and growling over the rising volume of the screams. Howls suddenly pierced the air, and the floor underneath them trembled.
"What's going on?" Al shouted above the noise.
Then with a loud 'pop', little Nellie appeared in the room again, face glowing with an excited smile.
"Masters!" she squeaked happily, "Masters! Something amazing has happened! The ghosts are here! Peeves, Bloody Baron, Gray Lady! And so are other wizards! Fighting!"
They stared at the small elf in disbelief, trying to grasp this sudden and incredible change of luck.
"Other wizards?" said Rose, "Did the aurors find a way in?"
"Nellie thinks they are professors! But Nellie is not sure…Nellie and others like Nellie only saw little bit!"
James sprinted towards Nellie and demanded, "Take me there Nellie!"
"Me too!" said Al, rushing forward, who was followed immediately by Rose and Hugo.
"I wanna come!" Lily cried, running after them.
"You two stay!" James shouted, pointing at Lily and Hugo, earning angry cries from the both of them.
"No way!" Hugo cried, "Why do we have to?"
"It's because we're the youngest, isn't it?" Lily asked spitefully.
Rose smiled sympathetically and said, "You guys stay here and watch Naruto! If something happens to us, it'll be your job to make sure he's safe!"
With that, before Jill, Madam Pomfrey, Lily, Hugo or Slughorn could get in another word, Nellie popped the three of them away.
The portkey brought the shinobi and the wizards to their first stop: India, specifically a bustling port town called Tuticorin. The Japanese experts had explained that because of the instability of Japan's magical fields, they were hesitant to create a portkey that travelled as far as the British Isles. They apologized profusely for the short layover, especially to Kakashi, who merely shrugged them away.
A short Indian witch then explained to the British party and the shinobi: "Tuticorin has the largest portkey terminal after Mumbai. We could have gone to Mumbai, but we would able to keep a lower profile here. We are primed to leave in two hours, so please do not wander far."
The Indian Party immediately sent out word to their Ministry. They were to alert all the magical ministries, especially to the Ministry of Magic in London, of the new dangers and to prepare for conflict. Kingsley specifically asked for aurors to get to Hogwarts immediately to either install guards or assess the situation if the school had already been infiltrated.
Mount an offense, was his grim message, and stand on your guard. We are being invaded.
Unfortunately, in the two hour period, there was nothing much they could do.
"More waiting…" Ron mumbled to Harry and Hermione, "You'd think the world wasn't at stake with all this waiting…"
Hermione nodded in agreement, but she didn't find it as upsetting as her husband for she had always wanted to visit India, a land of great culture imbued with ancient magic. The native witches and wizards were even a more colorful and eccentric bunch compared to their British counterparts, though in a way that muggle Indians didn't find too strange. Like Japan, the mysticism and superstition that still existed in India acted as a cover for the magical community and enabled them to move around a little more freedom, although this stretch of road where the terminal was located was, assured their Indian host, a muggle-free area.
The shinobi looked terribly out of place, however, especially the one-eyed Kakashi and the covered up Shino, partly due to their attires that were so unsuited for India's sweltering heat. People who saw Hinata seemed curious, but it was a passing interest to most. They seemed to conclude that she was blind.
"Confounding charms on snakes and such," someone was explaining to Patrick of the USA group nearby. The Americans were going back to Washington D.C., where the Magical government ruled along with the muggle one. Their layover was only half an hour. Patrick, the highest ranking member of the present Americans as the President was still unconscious, had already offered Kingsley all the manpower he needed to fight off the shinobi, as well as political support in this coming conflict.
Hermione caught sight of Sakura, who looking around with unveiled amazement at the foreign scene before her. The expression on the young's girl face was of childish wonder, and she was so taken in by her environment that Kakashi had to call her name twice to get her attention.
Curious, Hermione looked at the other shinobi, who responded to their new environment in different but all amusing ways. Hinata smiled pleasantly at everything, and once in a while showed marked interest in the booths that sold tinkling gold trinkets or colorful little toys (thereby surprising the owners who had thought her blind). Shino stood like a statue amongst the moving crowd, though the heat was making him perspire furiously and he seemed terribly uncomfortable.
What seemed to really amuse the shinobi as well as other non-native wizards was the sky traffic of majestically gliding flying carpets, carrying stately looking Indian wizards. The carpets were elaborate and splendid in design, each with its own quirk, statement and artistry. It was a magnificent aerial art show, and would have been quite wonderful if it didn't give the viewer such a bad neck ache.
Kiba and Akamaru attracted a lot of attention from the people, especially young kids who came to fearlessly pet the giant dog.
One passing Indian witch asked Kiba, disapprovingly, "Did you cast an enlargement charm on your dog?"
Kiba, who had no idea what an enlargement charm was, shrugged and glanced at Teddy Lupin who was standing nearby, watching the scene with mild amusement.
"Don't think so, ma'am," said Teddy.
The witch looked surprised and replied, "It is dangerous to have a dog that large in such populated area."
Kiba snorted. "Akamaru is gentle unless you provoke him, and he's not stupid enough to be provoked by idiots."
The witch looked at him oddly, and Kiba realize that even though he could understand her (thanks to the necklaces), she could not understand her. Teddy, also realizing, translated Kiba's comment, word for word. The witch suddenly turned red and nearly stomped away. Kiba laughed.
"I don't think these people have fully realized who they really are…" said Harry, laughing at the innocent curiosity with which the natives regarded the foreigners.
"It'd be pandemonium if they knew," said Hermione, smiling.
Ino had joined Hinata in looking at the trinket booths, while constantly looking at Kakashi and Uzuki just in case they might get in trouble for being negligent, while Temari pretended not to be interested. The portly Chouji was eying the food vendors, though the presence of the second in command, the ever so serious looking Shikamaru, kept him in his place. The scarred nose man, Iruka, stood diligently by Kakashi, but he looked at everything with great amusement and seemed itching to explore. Sai's comely appearance had earned admirers of the passing Indians, though he did not seem to notice. Instead, he leaned against a wall and was sketching furiously in book with brush and ink.
"Didn't know shinobi could be artists…" mumbled Ron, "Surprising, isn't it?"
"Why would it be?" said Hermione pointedly, "Shinobi is a job, Ron. I'm sure you being an auror do not mean you can't play quidditch."
"I have a feeling for some the distinction might be a little blurry," mumbled Harry, and Ron nodded eagerly in agreement. Harry, spotting Sakura coming towards them, nodded at Hermione, his eyes looking past her. Hermione turned around.
"Hello, Hermione-san," she greeted pleasantly.
Hermione smiled and returned the greeting.
"May I speak to you about something Hermione-san?"
"Of course," Hermione said, "What is it?"
She glanced at Harry, who nodded knowingly and turned away, pretending to be in deep conversation with Ron. However, Hermione knew that he was listening in—the former hero of Hogwarts was very good at casual eavesdropping.
"Kakashi-sensei told me to coordinate with you to set up a medic team," said Sakura, "You must have field doctors in your country."
"Yes we do," said Hermione, "And I will help you do that, it's a great idea. I assume you will lead the team for the shinobi then?"
"Yes, but I am the highest ranked certified medic-nin here," said Sakura with a hint of pride in her voice, "The others have their specific mission."
"You want to recruit medi-witches and wizards?"
"Yes, but since I do not know the way medicine is practiced here, I'd like assistance. Otherwise I am very skilled in emergency care and triaging."
"I don't doubt that," muttered Hermione, almost sullenly, "We will give you full participation, Sakura."
Sakura bowed slightly as she said her thanks, and she lingered in place for several seconds, eying Hermione expectantly. When the older witch said nothing in return, Sakura looked a bit disappointed, though it only showed for an instant on her face, and she turned to leave.
Hermione realized that Sakura had wanted to continue their earlier conversation. When she called her name, Sakura turned back to her almost immediately, her face brightened and hopeful.
"Yes, Hermione-san?" Even her voice seemed a pitch higher.
"About what we talked about before," continued Hermione with a kind, motherly smile. "I was thinking about it…and I've come to realize Peace shouldn't be a goal."
Sakura seemed shocked by this. "Why not?"
Hermione walked closer to her, leaning in slightly, as if she was about to impart some secret. "Well, I mean, peace is such an abstract and vague concept, Sakura. It's deceptively simple. In reality, no one knows how to achieve it, or what to do with it when we believe we have achieved some degree of peace, if at all."
"But, why shouldn't be strive for it anyways? Isn't some degree of it better than none?"
"Of course," said Hermione quickly, "What I mean is—if you fight with the goal of peace in mind, the act is not only hypocritical, but dangerous as well. Peace can become forced, and in that way we only get a false peace, a veneer of stability while there is much evil, instability and chaos underneath. What ends up happening is people becomes deceived into contentment while the world festers and become worse than ever."
"Then what should be our goal, if not peace?"
"Well, peace comes about when things are fair and right in the world, right? It is an end product of a world working right, I suppose, though that sounds very elementary. At least it should come about in that way. Perhaps, trying to level inequities and protecting the rights of all men and women and creatures in this world." Hermione nodded, satisfied with her own words. "If you are too preoccupied with peace, you can create more chaos in order to achieve it—then what would be the point or value of that 'peace' if it were earned on sufferings of those you are supposed to protect?"
Sakura looked doubtful. "But sometimes we are forced to fight for it."
"Oh yes, I'm not saying we are not supposed to fight to protect justice and equality." Hermione paused, trying to think of a better way to explain what she wanted to say. "Take, for example, two groups of people who are always warring and bringing chaos to the land. If I decided to instill peace by either killing off one or both groups, what kind of peace would that be?"
Sakura considered the scenario carefully and said, "So, you mean the ends don't justify the means?"
"Well…" Hermione continued with a shrug, "Yes, I suppose, but more than justification. The end becomes worthless because of the means. I do admit it is a little idealistic."
Sakura nodded, looking even deeper in thought. She looked up at Hermione with determined eyes and asked, "Then does that mean your world hasn't achieve peace, either?"
"You mean the Wizarding world?" Hermione laughed. "No way. It's better now you see. Used to be so much worse. We got to where we are now by fighting fiercely and bravely for our rights. But there is so much more to fight for. So much more. "
"So it'll never end?"
Hermione was taken aback by that question and by the bitterness that tinged it.
"Maybe," Hermione answered carefully, "But that is no reason to stop fighting, if that is what you are thinking. You can't feel overwhelmed and give up."
"Oh no," said Sakura quickly, shaking her head, "I can't even think that—stop fighting and giving up. No way! I've been around Naruto too long for that." She looked around at her comrades sadly, "We all have. Besides, he'll never allow me to give up."
"He sounds like a wonderful person."
Sakura smiled, and almost seemed excited, "You have no idea, Hermione-san. He's amazing! He's the reason we're all doing this. He wants to achieve peace, Hermione-san. He told me he wants to break the cycle of hatred and bring real peace."
"Hm…the cycle of hatred," mused Hermione, "It's a great goal, almost philosophical. It sounds so very difficult though." Hermione was reminded of the way Harry had described this Naruto, who sounded like any carefree teenager, not one with lofty goals and carrying his world's burden on his shoulders. She looked back at Sakura and added gently, "And, I would also like to apologize, Sakura."
"Apologize? What for?"
"Because I judged your people unfairly. For having young soldiers. I still don't agree with it of course, but I'd be a hypocrite to completely denounce it. Sometimes, desperate times call for it, especially in a desperate world. You are all fighting to bring order to your war torn lands, and we can't stand on a moral pedestal and look down on your nations for that. You see, in our desperate times, we did the same."
"You had young soldiers?"
"No, not really; children were forced to become fighters—to become soldiers. I was seventeen when I fought in a war."
Sakura looked really shocked now, and even amused. "You, Hermione-san? Fought in a war?"
"Yes, believe it or not!" Hermione chuckled. "I was quite good, you know. But we were all doing it to protect our future. We were fighting for good, as trite as that may sound, for a better world not ruled by fear and prejudice."
"Yes, that war, we did."
"And you achieved what you wanted?"
"I'd like to think so, though we are not done. We're never done…"
Sakura frowned and said, "The shinobi world have had so many wars. This is our third great war. Yet, in each, we don't achieve much. Perhaps a treaty of peace or ceasefire between two nations that barely last and…" She trailed off and smiled sadly at Hermione, "I see now. Treaty of 'Peace'. A fake peace." She released heavy sigh. "No wonder. We achieved nothing in those wars, did we? Nothing lasting at least. And this war—"
"Isn't the same, is it?" asked Hermione, "From what I've seen and heard, it's sounds like a war for justice. These nations come together to fight for their futures, right? To fight against a veritable threat to the rights and well being of the citizens of your nations? Let me ask you, is it the first time that all five nations are working as one?"
Sakura thought about it and nodded, "Yes. As far as I know."
"Then it's already a different type of war," said Hermione kindly, "I don't doubt the results will be different from your other wars. Besides, this time you have someone like Naruto."
Sakura seemed encouraged at the name, and she smiled softly. "Yeah, we do. Thank you Hermione-san."
"Thank you too, Sakura. You are very thoughtful and perceptive, you know, and kind."
"You should thank Naruto for that," Sakura said, giggling, "He makes me think and he makes me kind." She paused and looked solemn again. "Naruto suffers so much for us. He takes on so many burdens. Sometimes I'm afraid this war would amount to nothing, and we'll just lose him."
"Then, you shouldn't let him take on the burdens alone," said Hermione wisely, glancing at Harry, who was speaking to Patrick and Ron not too far away, "Even if he is the only one who can do something in the end, just being there along the way makes all the difference."
Sakura grinned and nodded. "Yeah, I won't. Naruto won't be alone."
Sakura bowed and returned to Kakashi, her face glowing with an inspired smile. The masked shinobi noticed this new disposition and observed it with amusement and curiosity. He caught Hermione's eyes, and she could have sworn he smiled at her appreciatively. It was hard to tell with that mask, but his eyes seemed to be grateful. Hermione nodded at him.
She looked around and saw Sai furiously sketching, attempting to catch a moment of a street dancer nearby. Akamaru was laying on his back, enjoying the numerous hands scratching its enormous belly while Kiba looked on, irritated (and even possibly looking a little jealous). Teddy was trying to speak to Uzuki, who ignored him with her stony shinobi silence, which encouraged him even more. He was even changing his features to get an emotion out of her, but if Uzuki was moved to humor, she was certainly good at hiding it.
Nellie, bless her little soul, popped James, Al and Rose right in the middle of the chaos. As soon as their feet hit ground again, they were assaulted by cacophony of screams and the hot, putrid breaths of two giant wolves. Screaming, they scrambled backwards, waving their wands as they cast the first spell they could think of. The animals were able to evade their panicked, haphazard attacks and one of them pounced on James and pinned him under one heavy paw, fangs baring and going for the neck. Rose and Al were forced backwards as the other jumped between them and James. Nellie, who had climbed onto Al, squeaked and disapparated away, taking him with her. A panicked, confused Rose called out for them, shocked that they had left her, but the sound of James's scream and a familiar voice shouting "Reducto! Bombarda!" brought her back to the present. She caught sight of two jets of light, one red and the other hot white, hitting the pair of wolves, forcing them to disappear in a cloud of smoke.
The smoke began to thin, revealing a trembling James, struggling for breath and a pool of red collecting under his head. The sight of him blotted out everything else out of Rose's mind, and not even an inkling of curiosity existed about who had saved them. For several seconds she found herself forgetting to breathe.
Finally, she ran to his side, her own hands shaking over as she tried to her mind in order. James was trembling terribly and his quivering hand grasped his neck in an attempt to stem the endless blood. His eyes had become wide and his mouth was ajar with silent, pained gasps.
Rose's brilliant mind immediately know what was happening: either a major vein or artery was severed. Blood was leaving his system too fast, and if it didn't stop in the next minute, James was going to die. Rose froze at the though. Her vision bleared with warm tears at the sight of her suffering cousin. She could do nothing but stare, uselessly shaking, her mouth agape at the horror she was being presented with, a reality she could not fully comprehend. Her frantic mind cried out for help, understanding everything yet knowing nothing. Somewhere in that brilliant chaotic mind, there was a memorized procedure for neck wounds that she had learned from years of obsessive reading, but it was lost in the swirl of panicked thoughts.
James Sirius Potter would have bled to death in the next minute if it weren't for Neville Longbottom who seemed to come out of nowhere, pushing Rose out of the way, pulling James's hands from his neck and pressing his fingers on the on the gaping wound to slow down the bleeding.
Rose, although shocked by the sight of Neville Longbottom, had regained her senses. She looked up Neville, who looked a horrible, bloody mess with his swollen cheeks and cut lips, and started to sob.
"Not now Rose!" Neville snapped at her, "Keep yourself together!"
Rose nodded and quickly wiped her tears away. Her shoulders were scrunched up with tension but her trembling had subdued. "Wha-what do I do?"
A sudden snap near them caught Rose's attention, and she looked up. Just a few paces from them, a tall Slytherin girl had transfigured a large piece of wood into an impressive sized boa, which quickly wrapped itself around an unsuspecting shinobi and twisted him as if he were merely a towel. Rose stared with her mouth ajar, terrified yet impressed not only by the skill of one of her peers, but also by the ease with which the Slytherin girl had conducted the killing. When she turned to them, Rose recognized her immediately—Theodosia Nott, the Slytherin Head Girl.
"Get down!" Theodosia shouted at them. Rose could only blink at her due the suddenness and the confusion, but Neville put an arm around her neck and pushed her head down, shielding himself and Rose from a fiery spell that met dozens of ice spikes headed their way.
Just then, they heard a faint pop, and Al was back again, his one hand grasping Nellie's stick thin arms. He looked angry, but his expression quickly changed to terror when he saw them. Still holding onto Nellie, he ran towards them, pulling poor Nellie with him like ragdoll, and knelt by his brother's side. Theodosia joined them, her eyes widening a bit when she recognized Rose and the Potter brothers.
"What happened?" he demanded, "James? James!"
"He's losing blood," Neville explained quickly, "We need to close up this wound or he'll die."
Al looked up at Neville in shock. Die? His ever so healthy, indomitable brother, die? No. This wasn't happening. Just a week ago he led his team to victory over the Ravenclaws, and he was so strong then, so invincible, so young, and so far from death.
"We need to get him back to the Room to Pomfrey," he said, swallowing his fears, "Nellie!"
Nellie, sniffling and crying from fear, nodded. She took hold of James, and Rose, Neville, Theodosia and Al grabbed a piece of the potato sack dress and disapparated away.
Hugo was pacing the length of the Room, anxious. There was something going on in the Great Hall, something horrible. There was no way he could stay here and sit still! His anger flared at James and Rose for making him stay, for treating him like he was someone so weak! Hadn't it been Lim and him who got them out of the last bind? Besides, they shouldn't have gone down so unprepared like that. Hugo witnessed firsthand what these people could do when he was in the Great Hall, and it was more than setting giant wolves on their targets.
As he was marching towards Lily's and Naruto's bed, a faint pop materialized a group of people into the room. He recognized with great surprise Neville Longbottom, their herbology professor, but he jumped, stunned, when he saw that he, the Slytherin Head Girl Theodosia Nott and Al was supporting a trembling, pale James whose neck was an explosion of scarlet.
Lily screamed her brother's name and rushed to him, abandoning her post as Naruto's guard and nurse. Hugo watched all this, nearly frozen, unsure of what to do as Jill and Slughorn helped Neville get James onto a bed while Madam Pomfrey applied pressure on the neck wound. Rose pulled a nearly hysterical Lily away from the bed.
The old nurse worked quickly, summoning bandages, potions, elixirs, and finally was able to seal the wound so the bleeding stop. James was terribly pallid however, and sweat glistened on his face.
"He's cold," said Jill, her voice shaking slightly.
"Yes, he's gone into shock from the blood loss," said Madam Pomfrey, "But he'll be okay now. Raise his feet!" Neville magicked the end of the bed to elevate, putting James's feet above his head. "I have anti-shock elixirs and blood replenishing potions. He's very lucky you were able to bring him here."
"He'll be okay?" asked Lily in a frightened, high pitched voice, "Will he?"
"Yes, dear, he will," Pomfrey answered quickly as she administered the medicines, forcing them down James's throat.
Hugo finally walked closer to the bed, grimacing at the sight of James's ashened face. He suddenly felt guilty for being so angry moments ago.
"What happened?" he asked.
"A wolf got him," Rose answered, her voice quivering, "It was too fast and…I…" She bit her lips and shook her head. She had lost her composure down there, Rose realized, and that nearly cost her James's life. As Pomfrey worked on James, everyone fell into a grim, tense silence. As James became stabilized, Pomfrey let out a sigh and nodded to them, wiping her blood stained hands on a towel. The previous tension lifted a little at this point, enough for Slughorn to turn the attention on their newest members, Neville Longbottom and Theodosia Nott.
"How did you escape?" asked an astonished Slughorn. Theodosia glanced at Neville, urging him to talk.
"Well," Neville begin, sighing, "I didn't, at first. I tried to fight back, but they got me, as you can see." He let out a humorless chuckle, motioning to his cut lips, bruised eyes and swelling cheeks. "They threw me in a corner with other professors that tried to defend themselves, and I blacked out, but that was a good thing you see. When I came around, they were focused on something else so they didn't notice me moving around in the corner. I had my wand still on me—it was before they took all the wands away. I cast a disillusionment charm on myself."
He paused, and looked around. "I thought to look for the Room, but when I learned you lot were taken somewhere, and I tried to find you all. But instead, I found the ghosts!"
"Ghosts?" said Rose in surprise, remembering now the noticeable lack of the specters earlier, "Where were they?"
"Up in one of the larger classrooms. All of them. See, they had rounded up all the Hogwarts ghosts, every one of them, and trapped them all in this strange circle created by these strips of paper with some Japanese characters written on them. Apparently, they were a little put off by the ghosts and were planning to exorcise them." He almost laughed.
"I see, that's why we didn't see any of the ghosts before," said Al, reflectively, "But there were so many of them in the Great Hall just now."
Neville nodded. "I set them all free of course. Then I snuck around the castle, and was able to get to some of the professors and older students free—like Theo here." He nodded at Theodosia, who nodded back silently. "There's about fifteen of us, plus the ghosts. After I heard them all running for the seventh floor, and catching some of their conversations about escape, we deduced that you all were headed to the Room of Requirement. And from the angry faces I saw, and the lack of dead bodies and the like, I figure you all made it into the Room. Of course, it made it hard for us to get there since they have the seventh floor under constant surveillance."
He paused, looking solemn. "Still, we meant to join you, until that…announcement." He grimaced. "And this Naruto…"
"Is Nat…" mumbled Jill, frowning sadly, motioning to the unconscious Naruto, "That's his real name. He's one of them."
"Not like one of them," Lily quickly corrected, "He's a shinobi, but he's not on their side."
Theodosia looked at Naruto with interest. Neville nodded grimly. "Anyways. Then we decided we couldn't wait anymore and tried a full on offensive, hoping we could confuse them and give the kids the chance to escape. The plan was the get them all in here somehow."
"Somehow," Theodosia repeated, drily.
"Yes, of course," said Jill suddenly, "This room is perfect for a hideout. We could bring everyone in here and they can't get to us in here."
"Exactly," said Neville, "Right now, the other fifteen people and the ghosts are rounding as many students as they can to get to the seventh floor. But…" He turned his attention to Nellie, "If we can get more house elves to help us, we can just pop them in here."
"They're all going to be headed towards a House dorm, whichever is the nearest," Theodosia put in solemnly, "We can have the house elves go there and see if they can pick anyone up."
"Of course," said Neville, "Pretty much search a rescue at this point."
"Well then get to it!" cried Madam Pomfrey, "Hurry up! Get more of the house elves to help us! Get the students in here before any of them gets killed!"
Nellie, who had been crouching by Al the entire time, finally spoke up, "Nellie can do this! Nellie can! Will bring back more elves." She immediately popped away.
"Good," said Neville, "There's a way out of here from this room—a passage to the Hog's Head. If we can ask really hard for—"
"One more thing Professor," Rose piped in grimly.
"None of that here, Rose," said Neville good-naturedly, "We're not in a classroom."
"Yes, sorry, Neville," Rose said quickly, "But, the thing is—we might not be able to get actually get outsdie. You see, they have this barrier surrounding the school."
Neville frowned. "Barrier?"
Rose sighed heavily, and related to him everything they knew, from their escapade for the veritaserum, their hostage, the Headmaster's last message, to Nat really being Naruto and a shinobi, to finally, most importantly, the Barrier cast around the castle. Both Neville and Theodosia looked considerably impressed.
"So no one can go out, or go in," added Hugo, "So they say. But there is a way to…get rid of it."
"It's set by these five paper seals, I suppose they are like charmed papers," continued Rose, "They're place in certain places around Hogwarts, and they have to be destroyed all at the same time for the barrier to go down."
"Then let's get to it," said Neville immediately, looking at them so intensely that they wondered how they could have ever seen Neville as mild mannered. Here was the first time that they realized they were talking to one of the heroes of the Battle of Hogwarts and the not soft-spoken Professor Longbottom.
Kingsley, Harry, Hermione and Ron were the first to arrive in the panicked main room of the Ministry of Magic by portkey. Aurors and officers surrounded them as others started to come appear in the hall. When the shinobi appeared, there was even a louder uproar which Kingsley promptly silenced. Angrily, the minister ordered everyone to remain calm and to await further orders.
He directed the shinobi, along with Harry, Hermione, Ron and several others to the upper floors of the facility where the Auror Department was located. A large team of aurors and officers were already busily running about. When they entered, Jarvis Abbot, deputy head, reported to them immediately, "Sir, Hogwarts has been taken. There's a strange magical force field isolating the grounds and the castle."
"Have you found a way in?" asked Kingsley.
"No sir. We are trying. We don't even know how to neutralize the field."
"You might leave that to us," Kakashi said, stepping up, "We might be able to figure out what kind of barrier technique they are using and neutralize it."
For the first time Jarvis Abbot let his attention shift to the shinobi, specifically to Kakashi who had come forward. Jarvis Abbot was struck by the strangeness and intimidating stature of this masked, silver haired man. It wasn't that Jarvis was considerably smaller or shorter than him. If one were to go by height and built, Jarvis was equal to Kakashi, if not a little bigger. But the air around this man screamed a certain danger, a certain readiness for combat that was far beyond Jarvis have ever experienced. The magic around him was so thick that Jarvis could not only sense it, but could feel it coming out in waves towards him, as if warning him to be cautious. In all honestly, he had no idea what the masked man actually said, which only heightened his apprehension.
"He can't understand you," the Minister informed Kakashi, "He doesn't have the necklace." He turned to Jarvis, eying him carefully, as if he knew what was going on in Jarvis's mind. "Get someone to cast a room wide translation charm, and to get more of those translation necklaces."
Jarvis nodded silently.
"Quickly," said the Minister gruffly, "We have a lot of work to do."
It would go down in the history of Hogwarts as the day the house elves saved the day, for without their help and ability to apparate within Hogwarts hall, more than half the students in Hogwarts would have been gravely injured if not brutally murdered by their foreign invaders. The ghosts, taking advantage of their unwanted guests' almost hilarious fear of them, did everything in their power to hinder and distract the shinobi. However, the shinobi were smart and easy to adapt, and the ghosts soon lost their psychological edge over them, and the shinobi started casting some sort of warding charms with paper and hand signals.
But this was enough distraction for teams of wizards, witches and house elves to carry out search and rescue operations.
The Room of Requirement seemed to expand with every group of frightened, often injured students that were popped into the Room. More beds, medicine, equipments and seats appeared suddenly. A singular dire need for medical attention and safety intensified with each new student that appeared, and the strength of that need seemed to power the Room so much that it was changing and moving continuously, as if it had just awaken from an earlier stupor.
Madam Pomfrey had never been busier. The old woman had to sprint back and forth to take care of different students, who all needed her attention. Jill had her hands full, directing the newly arriving students and running around to get everyone situated. She also started taking head counts and wrote down names, as per Theodosia Nott's suggestion, and had to resort to a Dictation charm on her quill and paper because her hands were need for work. Lily, on her part, did her best to help, but she kept herself near her brother's bed, as well as keeping a sharp eye on Naruto.
In the madness that was that was taking place, Neville pulled Rose, Hugo, Al and Theodosia aside. About fifteen other people joined them, and Al recognized them as peers, usually older students and various professors. At a corner of the room away from all the chaos, Neville explained the barriers cast around Hogwarts to the new comers, whose already tired and dispirited faces became even more demoralized.
"To go this far," muttered Julian Gardener, the stocky Muggle Studies professor, shaking his head, "Why do they want Naruto so much?"
"It doesn't matter," Theodosia cut in brusquely, "The barrier needs to be destroyed or we'll be stuck here forever with them. And they're definitely not going to just let us be."
Neville agreed, and told him that they would split into five teams and go after each seal, and pull them off simultaneously.
"How would we do that?" asked Hugo, "It sounds like we are supposed to be as precise as possible, but how would we communicate with each other?"
"A walkie-talkie or a mobile would be awfully useful right now…" Al muttered. When he saw odd looks some of them were giving him he quickly added, "They're forms of muggle communication."
"We might not have those," said Neville, "But we've got Spreginsto charm."
Rose's eyes widened in recognition. "Of course! That'll work perfectly!"
"What's the—" Flora Thomas, a tall sixth year Gryffindor started to ask, but Rose cut her off, answering, "It's a recently approved communication spell. I've never performed it myself, but I heard it's quite an advanced spell."
"I've done it a few times," Neville said, "It can be tricky, but it's doable. I'll cast the spell on something each of you are wearing that you will not lose along the way, and connect them to each other. We'll be able to talk to each other while we're on the grounds, and coordinate destroying the seals once they're all found."
The group nodded anxiously, each searching for something the Spreginsto charm can connect to. All except Theodosia, who lifted her a little and said to Neville, "I won't be going. I'll stay here and help with the students."
Neville looked at Theodosia, frowning. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure," she replied confidently, "I think they'll need a lot of help here."
Rose looked at Theodosia, surprised and a slightly sad. She had seen Theodosia react marvelously in the Great Hall, and her skills would be useful on the barrier scroll hunt.
"Alright," muttered Neville, sounding a little disappointed, "Take care of them."
Theodosia nodded and left the group and headed towards the beds. Neville looked at the rest, and nodded at them. "Let's do this."
Note: Please expect a chapter in about two weeks!
THANKS FOR READING.