A/N: A decent number of people have been asking me if any new characters from the Naruto universe are going to show up. The answer is no – as much fun as it would be to include some of them, none of the Naruto characters fit into my vision of this story. However, I have started thinking about how things in Konoha would have changed after the Hokage "died." One thing led to another, and I began planning for a sequel to The Professor's Journey. It would be a Harry Potter/Naruto crossover set in Konoha, and it would start after The Professor's Journey ends. Of course, I won't be able to start writing that story until after I finish TPJ.
But I was thinking: since people seem to be interested in the aftermath of the Hokage's disappearance in Konoha, I wouldn't mind writing one-shots that fill in some of the blanks. Whenever I finish a one-shot I could announce it in an author's note for a chapter, and then send the one-shot to anyone who reviews with a valid PM address. That way anyone who wants to can find out what's been happening in Konoha, and I get more reviews!
I know that's a pretty shameless bribe, but I'm really not trying to pressure anyone into reviewing. My goal isn't to make anyone mad, just to accommodate people if they want to find out what's changed in Konoha before this story ends. Let me know if that sounds like a good deal that you'd be interested in, or if I should be ashamed of myself for even thinking about bribing you ;)
Now back to the story!
Disclaimer: I own neither Harry Potter nor Naruto
Chapter 18: Denial and Acceptance
Draco vaguely remembered crying at the funeral of his grandfather, Abraxis Malfoy. The silver-haired patriarch of the Malfoy family had never been particularly close to Draco, merely checking in every now and again to make sure that his grandson was growing into a proper heir to continue the Malfoy line. Nevertheless, when six-year-old Draco had watched his grandfather's coffin enter the earth, his tears had flown freely.
His father, standing upright with eyes as dry as desert sand, reprimanded him immediately. "We are Malfoys, son. We do not share our grief with others; it is for ourselves alone. Do your duty without showing weakness."
Draco had taken that lesson to heart, and in time it became more than parental advice – it became a part of him. Perhaps the only person who had ever seen Draco cry after that day was his mother, and that only once. So when the coffin containing Draco's parents was lowered into the ground, guided by Draco's wand and Draco's will, he didn't shed a single tear.
His throat was tight and his left hand trembled slightly, hidden in the folds of his robes, but Draco's eyes were bone dry. He was a Malfoy, the only Malfoy, and he would not disgrace his parents by showing weakness now.
The coffin in which his parents lay was made of burnished gold and encrusted with jewels – Draco had been forced to cast several Lightening charms before he could lift it with Wingardium Leviosa. The top of the coffin was clear glass, allowing Draco to see his parents' faces one last time before they vanished into the earth. They looked calm… peaceful, even. That was right, and proper. Not even death should rob a Malfoy of his dignity.
Although Draco's part in the funeral technically ended once his parents were safely interred in the ground, in reality his duties had only just begun. Lucius was – had been, Malfoy reminded himself bitterly – one of the most influential wizards in Britain, and there were over one hundred wizards and witches attending his funeral, all intending to honor his memory and pay their condolences to his only son.
At the moment they were all gathered around the open grave, a somber sea of black dress robes and lacy handkerchiefs held delicately to their faces to wipe away polite tears. Draco knew better than to believe any of these shows of emotion, however. His father had been feared, not loved. Lucius had preferred it that way, and had taught Draco to prefer it, too.
It actually made it easier for Draco to suppress his grief, seeing all of these witches and wizards feigning sadness for propriety's sake. Of course he felt no anger towards them – they had their part to play, and he had his. He was the gracious host, accepting their condolences with gravity and poise.
Once the ceremony was over, Draco walked a little way away from the grave and waited for people to approach him. He shook their hands firmly and accepted their good wishes. Many were his classmates, among them Crabbe and Goyle with their fathers, and other prominent Slytherins such as Theodore Nott, Daphne Greengrass, and Pansy Parkinson. The children looked away from Draco, most awkward and unsure of what to say. It was hard for Draco to look them in the eye. For now, at least, he had nothing to say to them.
Draco tried to distract himself from looking back at his parents' grave by scanning the approaching wizards and witches, doing his best to determine what their motives were for attending the funeral. The Slytherin students were there because their parents made them, and their parents came because they had been close with Lucius. But many wizards were only there to satisfy propriety. Some, Draco was willing to bet, were sizing him up, wondering if the son could possibly take up Lucius' leadership positions when he came of age. According to Lucius' will, all of the Malfoy inheritance was to go to Draco – once Draco turned seventeen, everything would be his. The mansion, the gold, and the responsibility. Many of the wizards here had Lucius to thank for their positions, and they wanted to know if Draco would be as reliable as his father, or if they would no longer have a benefactor.
It wasn't until Draco had shaken hands with almost everyone at the funeral that he recognized the wizard puttering in the background. It was Cornelius Fudge. The Minister of Magic kept glancing at him, clearly wanting to speak with him, but hesitated whenever another witch or wizard moved toward Draco in order to share their condolences. Draco had seen Fudge with his father several times, and he knew enough about politics to realize that Fudge must be almost as dismayed at this funeral as Draco himself.
Draco's father had been one of Fudge's primary supporters, and with him gone the Minister was bound to be feeling a little insecure. Draco caught the Minister's eye and gestured off to the side a little, away from the bustling crowd of mourners. Fudge's eyes widened, and he nodded appreciatively, even a little eagerly. Draco moved away, politely excusing himself and taking an indirect path towards the Minister.
There was a rushing in his veins that was almost like the feeling Draco experienced before playing Quidditch. He was alone in the harsh world of Wizarding politics, without his father to catch him if he made a mistake. Draco had nothing but the lessons he'd been taught, yet the future of the Malfoy line rested on his shoulders. He silently promised his parents that he would make them proud.
"Minister," Draco began, sticking his hand out and shaking Fudge's hand firmly. "Thank you for coming. I know my parents would be honored to see you here."
Fudge seemed a little taken aback by Draco's poise, and fiddled with his bowler hat for a second before he responded. "My dear boy… such a tragedy… of course I had to come, to pay my respects…"
Draco inclined his head gratefully, his voice oozing sincerity. "That means more to me than you know, Minister. My father always held you in high esteem."
Fudge was already looking slightly happier, and Draco knew it was because he felt more secure that Draco would not forget about him when he came into his parents' money. Lucius had been right – people were simple, as long as you took the time to determine their motives.
"Words cannot express how sorry I am about your parents," Fudge said, drawing himself up a little straighter. "It must have been so hard for you."
That last sentence made Draco pause. The last month had been like a nightmare, except that Draco had yet to wake up. The week after his mother's death was still a blur; Draco didn't remember much except for Dobby's near-constant presence. The House-Elf had fed him and cleaned his room, leaving quietly whenever Draco gave in to the howling grief.
After a week that had seemed to last an eternity, Draco had mastered himself enough to rejoin the world of the living. But that was when Professor Sarutobi told Draco the news about his father.
The Defence Professor had sat him down, his eyes grave and sad, and told Draco that his father had also been murdered. That was all Draco remembered from that day – he had fainted immediately after, his newly regained self-control shattering in the face of this new tragedy.
In the weeks that followed, Draco felt like a ghost trapped in a mortal world. Food had no taste, and his chest ached constantly as if someone had wrapped iron chains around his heart and squeezed. Without Dobby's gentle, insistent badgering, Draco might not have bothered to eat at all. As it was, he missed the last weeks of school, his exams passing by without a second thought.
There were two things that had brought Draco out of his self-destructive spiral of grief. The first was his parents' approaching funeral – Draco knew it was his duty to attend the service and uphold the Malfoy name. But not even his father's voice telling him that he had a responsibility as a Malfoy would have been enough; at least, not without the second cause.
The second cause was the all-consuming rage that slowly came to replace Draco's grief. The rage burned hotter than any fire, and its focus was the face that haunted Draco every night in his dreams. It was a pale face, skin charred and cracked from fire, with yellow eyes and slitted pupils like a snake. Thanks to Sarutobi, he finally had a name to attach to the face: Orochimaru. Just thinking the name made Draco's blood boil and the edges of his vision tinge with red. A name was all that Sarutobi had given him, along with a promise to reveal the full story when Draco was prepared to face the grim truth.
"Tell me when you are ready to learn more," Sarutobi had said, "and I will share what I know."
Draco had not been ready then. He would think of his mother, collapsing over the handle of a bloody knife, and he would be too scared. But now, after saying his final goodbyes and putting his parents to rest at last, he knew that he would never again allow his fear to overcome his desire for vengeance. All that was left was to see his parents' funeral through to the end, and then Sarutobi would answer all of his questions. That meant that the only thing standing between Draco and the truth was his responsibility to send off his guests like a true Malfoy, starting with Cornelius Fudge.
"It was very hard," Draco admitted, almost surprising himself with how even his voice sounded. "Sometimes I thought it was too hard, that I couldn't bear it alone. But I want to make my father and mother proud of me. They're still with me, even if I can't speak with them."
Even though Draco did believe what he was saying, the small tear that appeared in the corner of Fudge's eye in response to Draco's words couldn't help but make him feel contemptuous. This was a powerful man, supposedly the most powerful in Wizarding Britain, yet he had no shield against sentiment. Now that he was seeing Fudge for himself, Draco was not surprised that the Minister had relied so heavily on Lucius for guidance.
Fudge started to look a little uneasy, coughing apologetically several times before speaking. Draco tensed, sensing from Fudge's demeanor that whatever was coming would be a topic of great importance for the Minister.
"I know this is hard to talk about…" the Minister stammered, "but have you considered… where you'll live? Your closest relative is Andromeda Tonks, but I understand that your father had some… hesitations… about Andromenda's lifestyle…"
You mean she's a blood traitor who chose a Muggle over her own kind, and let her daughter grow up practically a savage? Draco had never met his aunt or his older cousin, Nymphadora, but he had heard his father and mother talk about the family often enough to know exactly how they felt.
"That's right, Minister," Draco said. "I don't think my father would approve of my living with them."
"Then do you have a family that you would like to live with? This isn't, ah… normally a decision that a child would make, but as the Minister of Magic, I have a certain, er… pull, you know…"
Draco interpreted this to mean that Fudge was trying to bribe him by allowing him some say in his choice of foster homes. If Draco was allowed to choose which family to stay with until he came of age, he would certainly be indebted to Fudge for giving him that freedom of choice.
"That is extremely kind of you, Minister," said Draco, playing for time. He had a strong, almost visceral distaste for the thought of going to live with any of his relatives. The closest ones he had were blood traitors, and anyway it seemed like betraying his parents' memories to move in with another family immediately after their funeral. Besides, there was only one person who could give Draco information about Orochimaru, and that was Professor Sarutobi. For now, Draco knew exactly where he wanted to be, and it wasn't with his relatives. He squared his shoulders and faced Fudge, trying to project sincerity tinged with hesitation. "But I was hoping that I could, well… put off that decision for a while. It wouldn't feel right… like I was trying to replace them."
He allowed some of his true grief to show, just for a moment.
"I can see how you might feel that way," Fudge said slowly, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "But you must live somewhere, no?"
"I stayed with Professor Sarutobi while I was… sick," Draco said, not wanting to be more specific about the zombie-like state of depression that had threatened to overwhelm him. "He's the person most qualified to keep me safe, if whoever killed my parents tries to come back. And my House-Elf Dobby takes care of me. I know it's not a long-term situation, but I'd like to stay with the Professor for a while longer."
Until Orochimaru is screaming in agony and cursing the day he ever thought about killing a Malfoy, Draco amended silently. But then he noticed that Fudge was beginning to look distinctly alarmed.
"Minister?" Draco asked curiously. "Is something wrong?"
"No… well, that is…" Fudge didn't meet Draco's eyes, a sure sign that he was thinking about something that he didn't want to share with Draco. "But, er, if it's safety you're worried about, I assure you that the Ministry will be well able to protect you. I'll personally assign Aurors to watch over you wherever you decide to stay."
Draco focused hard on the Minister, trying to read past his words and understand motives, just as his father had always told him to do. He had never been good enough at this skill to satisfy his father, but now the stakes were far higher than his father's approval and Draco knew he wouldn't fail.
"Professor Sarutobi saved my life, Professor," Draco said. "I watched my mother die-" his voice cracked a bit in spite of himself, "-and the murderer would have killed me too if the Headmaster and Professor Sarutobi hadn't stopped him. I'd rather have him protect me than Aurors I don't know. It's not forever, just until I decide where I should live until I come of age."
But this speech didn't reassure Fudge; on the contrary, he looked even more alarmed. Draco had the alarming impression that the Minister was dismissing what he was saying without even really listening, and had been almost as soon as he'd heard Dumbledore's name. Draco knew that whatever was going on, it had to do with how Fudge felt about Professor Sarutobi and the Headmaster. But from the way Fudge hemmed and hawed and chose his words with care, Draco knew that whatever the Minister told him wouldn't be the full story.
"I know you want to be safe, Draco – we all want that. But Professor Sarutobi is… well, he's Dumbledore's man, and although I'm not sure I should tell you this, I'm not sure Dumbledore has your best interests at heart. You know how your father felt about Dumbledore, correct?"
Of course Draco knew how his father felt about Dumbledore. He also knew what Lucius had thought of Fudge. And Draco knew bloody well that it had not been the Ministry that kept Orochimaru from stealing Draco's body and wearing it like a cloak – Draco had figured out that much of the terrifying man's intentions from what Sarutobi had said, and from what he remembered of the night his mother died. No, it had been Professor Dumbledore and Professor Sarutobi who had saved him from a fate much, much worse than death. Even if Professor Dumbledore was a wrong-headed Muggle-lover, he had saved Draco's life. A Malfoy never forgot his debts.
This must be some kind of political struggle, and Fudge was setting himself against Dumbledore. Now Fudge was worried that he would lose his benefactor's son to Dumbledore's influence. Well, Draco wasn't about to allow Fudge's transparent maneuvering to get in the way of avenging his parents. If it was a question of taking sides, Draco knew exactly which one he wanted to be on – he would take the Headmaster and Professor Sarutobi over Fudge in the blink of an eye, even if they were Muggle-lovers and sentimental old men. Not even Lucius had denied that Dumbledore had power, and Draco needed power on his side. Fudge wasn't going to mess this up for him. However, if Draco played his cards right, he could come away from this with the support of both the Minister and Dumbledore – it would be a delicate dance, but Draco knew the steps.
"I'm aware of how my father felt, Minister," Draco said, lowering his voice slightly and looking around quickly, as if making sure that no one was listening. Fudge leaned in a little, his eyes widening, waiting for Draco to go on. "My father didn't trust Dumbledore, and neither do I. But he knew how to use Dumbledore. I need Professor Sarutobi, even though I don't trust him. Don't worry, Minister: staying with him for a while won't make me forget who my true friends are."
Malfoy tried to replicate the smile that he had seen so often on his father's face, the one that bared his teeth and didn't reach his eyes. It was a smile for threatening with.
"And my true friends wouldn't take this choice away from me. If anyone tries to rush my decision, I would be very angry. And I would not forget."
That translated to: "don't take charge and send me packing to any of my relatives, or else I will make it my personal mission to see that you regret it."
Fudge was looking very dismayed at the thought of Draco revoking the support he had always received from Lucius. "Draco, what you must understand is that you're only a child-"
"Not just a child," Draco cut in smoothly. "A Malfoy. That means that I won't be manipulated, not even by you, Minister, and certainly not by Dumbledore." Draco drew himself up to his full height, aware that as intimidating gestures went, his was falling a little, well… short. But it didn't matter if it looked a little funny, as long as it worked. "I just need time, Minister. I won't forget who I am."
"Then let's talk again when you're ready," Fudge said, looking at Draco as if seeing him for the first time. "Perhaps it's forward of me to say so, but your parents would be proud to see you. You're growing more like your father every day. Now, about our next meeting… the end of the summer should work well, no? And, Draco…" he trailed off, a cunning light coming into his beady eyes. "If you happen to see or hear anything… suspicious, while staying with Professor Sarutobi, you will make sure to inform me, all right? The Ministry always rewards initiative and loyalty."
Draco hid a grin. This was very good – if Fudge thought of him as more than a traumatized child who needed to be controlled for his own good, then the Minister wouldn't do too much to get in the way of his plans. For the summer, at least, Draco could concentrate on figuring out the truth, before he had to worry about complications like the Minister's apparent distrust of Dumbledore. Draco stuck out his hand solemnly, meeting the Minister's eyes. "I will absolutely keep my eyes and ears open, Minister. Thank you, as always, for your staunch support of my family. I will not forget your kindness – I give you my word as a Malfoy."
As Draco walked away, he realized that he hadn't felt an urge to look towards his parents' grave during that entire conversation. His grief was still there, coiled up inside the secret places in his heart, but while he had been talking to Fudge the sadness receded, replaced by focus and a controlled exhilaration.
That was the key – he had to stay busy and keep working toward his goal. He'd had his fill of tears… just like his father had taught him, they were an indulgence, a weakness that benefited no one. Draco made a pact with himself as he walked back to the Malfoy Manor, where Dobby was waiting to transport him back to Professor Sarutobi's cottage. He swore to himself, there in the graveyard with his parents and ancestors for generations looking on, that he would not cry again while Orochimaru was still alive.
"Thank you for coming so promptly, Hiruzen." Albus waved the Hokage inside, giving his wand a lazy flick and conjuring an armchair and a small table laden with a pot of tea, a tin of sweets, and two delicate china cups. Hiruzen sank into the armchair with a satisfied sigh. There were undeniable benefits to having a wizard for a friend.
"No need for thanks, Albus – I understand the need for haste perfectly well. The funeral went better than expected, or so my clone reports. Young Draco bid farewell to his parents with courage and honor. Although it is too soon to say for sure, he seems to have moved beyond the first stage of his grief."
"I'm glad to hear it." Dumbledore levitated the teapot and poured himself a cup, then levitated the cup across the desk to his waiting hand. "When I heard your reports, I worried that he might not recover at all. Such a strain on a young mind can have effects that last well into adulthood."
Sarutobi had kept Dumbledore well informed about Draco's condition in the month after his parents' deaths, but the Headmaster did not know more than the general picture. Sarutobi had been keeping an almost 24-hour watch on Draco with the help of his Shadow Clones, and it was quite possible that he knew more about the young boy's state of mind than Draco did himself.
"There will of course be lasting effects," Sarutobi said, shaking his head. "Draco's life was torn apart, and it inflicted a grievous wound on his very soul. At first the pain was too much to bear and still function – now the pain has ebbed somewhat. The scars that remain are still raw, and will be for years to come. Yet Draco is healing, slowly but surely, and already he is finding strength he did not possess before."
Dumbledore raised an eyebrow. "Really? What kind of strength do you mean?"
"Fudge was at the funeral." Sarutobi saw Dumbledore's slight wince, though no one less adept at reading the smallest changes in facial features would have noticed it. "It was only to be expected that he would check in on Draco, since Lucius was the Minister's primary supporter. My Shadow Clone reports that Draco played the Minister like a harp – not only did Draco get Fudge to agree to let him stay with me for the summer, he did it without making Fudge feel threatened. The boy has a keen political mind and a knack for maneuvering to his advantage; if his magical potential is anywhere near that level, he will make an excellent student."
Dumbledore hesitated, coughing apologetically. "I'm not sure that a talent for deception is something I would necessarily want to encourage, Hiruzen. When you said you would take Malfoy in hand, I thought you were thinking more in terms of teaching him about courage, loyalty, and honor."
"I have no intention of turning that boy into a Gryffindor," Sarutobi said firmly, though politely. "Each warrior should develop his or her own strengths into a unique fighting style, and trying to make Draco more like Harry would be a disservice to both of them. In my village we have a phrase to describe what you refer to as a 'talent for deception' – we call it 'seeing underneath the underneath.' It is perhaps the most important quality that separates a mediocre shinobi from a great shinobi, and I did not see Draco exhibit an aptitude for it until very recently. I have no doubt that his drive to avenge his parents is responsible for uncovering talents he never knew he possessed. I saw something like that happen to a young man who suffered through a similar experience to young Draco's – however, Draco is impressing me with his ability to see underneath the surface of things, and then see still deeper. Sasuke's perception was always clouded after his family died."
Thinking of Sasuke made Sarutobi's heart feel even heavier. He wondered briefly how the young Uchiha was doing, but forced his mind away from that path before he could get lost in useless speculation about whether Konoha could have survived the invasion.
"I trust your judgment," Dumbledore said immediately, "I'm just worried that Draco might turn down a darker path than the one you wish to set him upon."
And wouldn't that be a terrible irony. Sarutobi turns to teaching once again, only to create yet another monster using his skills to fulfill a tainted goal. No, this time Sarutobi knew the pitfalls, and he would not let his sympathy for the orphaned Malfoy blind him to the risk he ran by teaching the boy.
Sarutobi took a sip of tea, settling his wayward thoughts. "Your fears are astute and perfectly valid," he said at last, nodding to Dumbledore. "And I will not chance setting another Dark Lord loose in your world – I've already done far too much damage already with Orochimaru. I have several… safeguards… in mind to prevent such an unfavorable outcome. Some of them will require your aid, in fact."
Dumbledore looked relieved to hear that Sarutobi had a plan. "I am at your service."
"Let me just say," Sarutobi added, "that I have a great deal of hope for Mr. Malfoy. Only a few weeks ago I feared that he'd entirely lost the will to live. Dobby fed him, washed him, changed his clothes-"
Dumbledore started so suddenly that Sarutobi thought there must be some threat, so he whirled around and then felt foolish when he saw nothing even remotely dangerous.
"I'm sorry," said Dumbledore, "but did you say that Dobby changed Draco's clothes?"
Sarutobi was confused. "Yes, I did… I don't understand – is that against Wizarding law or custom? I assumed that as he was a servant, Dobby was used to helping Draco with all manner of tasks."
"It's not against the law, exactly," Dumbledore said, his eyes starting to twinkle. "But most House-Elves never handle their masters' clothing directly. It leads to… complications. I am beginning to believe that Dobby is truly extraordinary, even by the standards of an already extraordinary race. Let's get back on topic, however. I agree with you that Draco's current state of mind is very promising, even if his apparent facility with manipulating people makes me slightly uneasy. It is even more impressive that Draco has managed to master himself after suffering a blow that would have destroyed many a weaker person. I look forward to seeing what he will become under your tutelage."
Sarutobi bowed his head, graciously accepting the compliment. "It is this summer and the upcoming school year that will be the most critical. And speaking of the school year, what will be Draco's reception? Do the other students know about his situation?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "Many know that Draco is now an orphan, but that is all. Only Harry, Ron, and Hermione know that the monster that attacked the school was in fact Lucius Malfoy. I have spoken with them, as well as the four Professors who also fought Lucius, and they understand the need for secrecy. It will be hard enough for Draco without the truth getting out, and I don't want the other students viewing him with hatred or fear because of his father's actions."
"I agree with your decision," Sarutobi said after some consideration. "Draco should not suffer for his father's having the bad luck to come to Orochimaru's attention."
The two men sat in silence for a moment, savoring their tea. But there was something unresolved in the air between them, and the tension grew. At last, Sarutobi had to ask what was really on his mind.
"Will I still be teaching at Hogwarts during the upcoming year?"
Dumbledore's expression said it all, and Sarutobi experienced a pang of loss that surprised him with its strength. He would miss the bright, eager young faces in his classroom.
"I'm afraid not," Dumbledore said finally. "The Minister has been demanding your accreditation, which of course does not exist. He has submitted a candidate for the Defence Against the Dark Arts post, and I have no choice but to accept his decision. Dolores Umbridge is not likely to be as effective a teacher as you, but it would not be wise to thwart the Minister at this time."
"Why not?" Sarutobi's blunt question made Dumbledore wince. "Why not stand up to the Minister? I can see immediately that his power is pitiful compared to yours. I can also see that he is a man who only responds to a superior power. Why not make it clear to him that a fight with you is one he cannot hope to win? Kami, if you don't want to confront him, I'd be happy to! One private… discussion… with the Minister, and I guarantee he won't interfere with you again!"
Dumbledore's eyes seemed to see past Sarutobi, and for a moment he looked ancient and infinitely frail. "I've had my fill of trying to fix the world by wielding power," he whispered at last. Then his back straightened, and his voice gained strength. "I once thought that the problems I saw around me were opportunities just waiting for me to come along and put them right. But I paid the price for my arrogance, and I will not make the same mistake again. The Minister and I may differ on many points, but I will not interfere with his job unless his actions directly endanger someone under my protection. That means that I must accept Dolores Umbridge, as well as the Dementors that Fudge means to guard the school. As for you, Hiruzen… I was hoping I could persuade you to see this as an opportunity."
"I think I see where you're going with this," Sarutobi said unhappily. "I'm to hunt for Orochimaru, correct?"
Dumbledore had the grace to look ashamed, since he was asking Sarutobi to perform such a difficult task. "I confess that was my hope. I know you will not want to leave any of your students, particularly the ones you have been training, but I think that this time we cannot wait for Orochimaru to bring the fight to us. If you can find him before he has a chance to settle in somewhere and begin assembling his forces, we will be more prepared for the next fight."
"I'll do my best," Sarutobi promised. "It will be like looking for a needle in a haystack, or it would be if the needle could transform into a piece of hay. But you're right – this is our chance to be proactive and take the fight to Orochimaru."
"There was something else I hoped you could do," Dumbledore said a second later. "You'll be traveling all over Europe, which means you'll be close to many members of the Order of the Phoenix. If you could visit them, talk to them, and teach them a little about how Orochimaru thinks and how he fights, it might go a long way towards evening the field."
Sarutobi beamed. This, at least, was a valuable task he could perform, and one that no one else in the Wizarding World (except perhaps Dumbledore) was qualified to carry out. He would still be teaching, then, but his students would be adults, willing to believe that there was evil in the world and still determined to fight it. Although leaving Hogwarts meant leaving his young trainees behind, he would move on to responsibilities every bit as important.
Genin become chunin, and leave their instructors behind, Sarutobi thought sadly. Why did you ever think this would be any different?
"I think this plan is for the best," said Sarutobi with a hint of regret. "I won't deny it is a prospect that holds small comfort for me, but this has never been about satisfying my selfish desire to teach. I'll depart as soon as the summer ends, which means that Draco and the others have a busy few months in store. They'll be ready to defend themselves and other by the time I leave, or I will be very disappointed – by which I mean that they will deeply regret it."
Professor Dumbledore looked relieved that Sarutobi had accepted his plan, and grateful that it hadn't taken much persuasion. "I'm not sending you out alone. I'm going to assign a member of the Order of the Phoenix with you as a guide and a contact to establish your credentials with the rest of the Order. His name is Remus Lupin, and I trust you'll find him to be more than capable of fending off any Dark Magic you might encounter along your path."
"I look forward to meeting him," Sarutobi said, getting up from his chair. "My thanks for your hospitality, Albus, but I'm afraid I must be going. There's a spoiled orphan waiting for me who is about to become a warrior."
Albus' return smile was more than a little sad. "Ah. The work begins."
"It does indeed."
A/N: Sad news, everyone. I'm working for the rest of the summer and then I start my thesis, so my writing time will be fairly limited for at least six months or so. But I'll keep trucking along, because I love this story too much to let it rest. Next time we head to Durmstrang, where we'll make the acquaintance of one Viktor Krum. I'm excited to try and create a Durmstrang that feels just as real as Hogwarts, and I hope I do justice to a character that never saw much development in canon, but I always thought had the potential to be great. I'm as much of a fan of Krum as Ron is, and I hope that you'll come to share my opinion, even if you don't already. See you next time!