A/N: I wasn't planning on an Author's Note for this chapter, but it's necessary, now.

I received a review last chapter that requested that I bash Dumbledore, informing me that it would improve the story if I did.

The first thing: bashing is lazy storytelling.

The second thing: never ask me to bash.

The third thing: bashing is immature and pointless.

Everything else is explained at the following web address. seigyoku-wolf. deviantart journal/Bashing-and-Shipping-380902288
Of course, remove the spaces.

It the reviewer had logged in, I may not have decided to call them out on this, but this is an issue I've seen author's comment on in other stories, and I felt that I needed to put a stop to it now, rather than allow the situation to possibly grow and cause me future problems.

Bottom line: I hate bashing, and it is one of the few things that are liable to make me loathe a story or writer. I will never write it, and I would very much appreciate it if you refrained from asking me to do so.

EDIT: There was also a second anonymous review that brought another issue to my attention. Please, please, PLEASE stop asking for me to add this character or that. I've already decided who goes when, where, and why. I have this story planned out meticulously, and it's annoying to see long reviews, get my hopes up, and then realize that it's just one long stream of begging to add in whichever character the reviewer most favors. So please, stop. I know you all want Obito, or Naruto, or Orochimaru. Maybe you'll see them. Maybe I'll write them. But maybe I won't. I know where I put them, when I put them, and why I put them there and then. A few of my friends know when, where, and why (and while I doubt they'll be telling, they can assure you in the reviews that I have planned it all out).

But begging won't do anything. All it will serve to do is annoy me, and that puts up creative blocks for me (and while I can work through them, they mean it takes me longer than it should to write a new chapter). I will still write. I will still follow my schedule. But I will end up spending more time on this story than I should, and that means I won't be able to work on my other stories as much as I'd like to.

o.o.o.o.o

Last time: "Uchiha." The word was low and resigned; there was a small hint of exasperated amusement as well, for some odd reason. "It appears that Deidara was right after all."

o.o.o.o.o

"Deidara?" Itachi raised an eyebrow at Sasori's comment. "You've met with him?"

"Her." Sasori corrected, a small smirk arriving on his face at Itachi's surprised expression. "Deidara's a girl in this life. Her name is Luna Lovegood."

"I… see." Itachi spoke slowly, attempting to digest the information. "Did you find Tobi as well? If you and Deidara are accounted for, then he is the only one remaining."

Sasori snorted, a noise that Itachi had never heard him make before, though eleven to twelve years were enough time to change a person significantly, he supposed. "Had we run into Tobi, Deidara would have caused an incident large enough to land herself in Azkaban."

"He would have?" Itachi knew that Deidara and Tobi had been partnered before, but he'd never really looked into their relationship much beyond what was obvious.

"She." Sasori corrected again, and then leaned back, arms behind his head. "Deidara told me that her last thoughts before blowing herself up in the first life were an apology to Tobi for taking him out with her. She'd grown to care for him, and to learn the truth later… she saw it as an enormous betrayal on his part, particularly once she learned that he had hid his Uchiha nature from her."

Itachi nodded, mulling it over and revising his opinion of Deidara, if only slightly. "That makes sense, I suppose."

Sasori nodded. "Now, if I could ask some questions as well?"

Itachi motioned for the redheaded man to continue.

"You mentioned the others? Who might that include?" Sasori set aside the marionette, a feminine model with a petite figure, and folded his hands in his lap, leaning forward in anticipation of the coming information.

"Konan, Nagato, Kisame, Hidan, Kakuzu." Itachi listed off. "Zetsu is a pair of twins now, however."

Sasori nodded. "Who is Nagato?"

"Pein." Itachi clarified. "They will be arriving shortly, I believe."

"Actually," The door slid open, revealing the slightly pointed face and slicked-back hair of one Draco Malfoy. "Kakuzu and I've been standing at the door for the past minute or so."

Sasori made a face. "…Why?"

Hidan shrugged, plopping down on a seat at random. "Because I felt like it, and 'Kuzu's too lazy to argue with me or some s***."

Itachi raised an eyebrow even as Kakuzu walked in and settled himself down next to Hidan.

"I can't really be bothered to care why he doesn't give a f***, a'right?" Hidan lounged back and rolled his eyes. "Seriously."

"Or rather, you can't be bothered to think." Kakuzu spoke smoothly, his voice cultured and slightly deeper than most boys his age already.

"Oh, shut up." Hidan's voice was higher, with a slight whine to it, seemingly not there by choice.

"Knock-knock?" A blue head popped in, grinning widely. "Hello, boys!"

"Kisame." Itachi motioned to the seat next to him with a slight smile on his face.

"Getting a little cramped, huh?" Shiro-Zetsu commented as he strolled in, his 'brother' coming in right behind.

"There are some existing enlargement spells." Konan offered as she came in. "I'm not very skilled in their use, but we could likely ask a prefect."

"My brother is the current fifth-year Gryffindor prefect." Sasori offered. "He's got a better opinion of me that he does of Fred and George, so he may be willing to help us out."

Heads turned in his direction, eyebrows rising all over.

"Your brother?" Nagato prompted.

"You would know him as Percy Weasley." Sasori explained, ignoring the frowns that crossed the faces of the older members that had encountered the boy before. "And yes, I am aware of what he acts like."

"I suppose…" Nagato glanced around the room, looking for any objections.

"I'll have to henge, since it's a Weasley, but I don't really care." Hidan shrugged, still lounging and covering more space than strictly necessary. The enmity between the Weasleys and Malfoys wasn't exactly legendary, per se, but it was well known enough that he did not have to explain himself further.

"I'll go fetch him, then." Sasori stood and slipped out of the room.

There was a short pause, a lull in the conversation, which was then broken by Kisame.

"He seems more laidback than before."

"Most of us do." Shiro-Zetsu pointed out. "We're living in a country without a shinobi system. No child soldiers, and it's been decades since war last touched its shores."

"Before this devolves in another heated political debate…" Konan's voice was soft and fairly sweet, still childish, but there was a warning in her tone, one that spoke of the many times the situation had occurred before.

The door opened at that point, and Sasori came back in and sat in his prior seat. His spot in the doorway was taken by a gangly fifth year that held a large amount of familial resemblance. The physically older boy appraised the room, eyes staying on the boy he knew as Cedric Diggory for a second, and then nodded sharply.

"I see you've already gotten started on making good connections for the future, Ronald. It's good to know that you haven't followed Fred and George's example." Percy spoke with a level of arrogance that was, to those who had not yet met him, somewhat insulting. To those who knew him, it was simply his normal demeanor.

"Right." Ron wasn't fazed, just gestured around the carriage in a way that was nearly as condescending as Percy, though the elder Weasley didn't seem to notice the insult. "If you would…?"

"Of course."

The spell was, to Percy, a mildly difficult one, but it was nothing too impressive. As a result, he was a little surprised at the intensity of the gaze that the younger of the Chang sisters kept trained on him. He knew the older of the two, as she was in his house, and only a year lower, and had heard stories of the younger one's eccentricities on occasion.

"Is something the matter, Miss Chang?" Percy asked, once he had completed the spell, slightly uncomfortable under her stare.

Cho just sat back, a small, pleasant smile on her face. "Nothing at all, Prefect Weasley."

Percy paused for a second, then nodded, and then did so again to his brother. "I'll be going, then. Corridors to patrol and such."

He left quickly, the door sliding shut silently behind his disappearing form.

"…Does your brother always sound like he's got a stick up his—"

"Shut up, please." Sasori's voice was mild and pleasant, seemingly completely unbothered by Hidan's crude comment, and he even turned to them with the sweetest, most innocent smile any of them had ever seen him wear.

It was utterly terrifying. That sort of smile did not belong on Sasori's face, past, present, or future.

Most of the ride passed without incident, characterized by murmured conversations and a short time where Konan and Sasori showed their paper and wooden creations in a small show to the rest of the Akatsuki.

Then the door opened, a young girl with bushy hair standing in the opening, looking around somewhat bossily. "Excuse me, but have any of you seen a toad? Neville's lost his."

"I'm afraid we haven't." Konan answered her, shaking her head slowly. "But we'll inform you if we do. If I could ask, what's your name?"

The girl answered promptly, and even somewhat imperiously, though they could tell that it was more out of a sense of fear of not fitting in than out of true thoughts of superiority. "I am Hermione Granger. The boy next to me is Neville Longbottom. Might I ask your names as well?"

"I am Cho Chang." The young Asian girl introduced the rest of the occupants of the carriage, noticing how both Hermione and Neville tried to catch themselves and keep from staring at Berilo and the Haejigoku twins. Cho then looked at Neville, smiling kindly. "If I may suggest asking a prefect to aid you? This is the sort of situation that they are meant to aid in, after all."

"Ask for Percy Weasley." Ron suggested, his lidded gaze travelling over the girl. He quirked an eyebrow. "Muggleborn?"

"And if I am?"

Oh, a belligerent one. Though given her status, it was a bit of a given that she would be somewhat defensive.

"Nothing at all. Idle curiosity, I suppose." Ron gave her a bland smile, one that broadcast his complete and utter ambivalence to her blood status.

"Actually, it does mean something." Draco broke through. He stopped slouching and sat forward, motioning for the two to come in. "You're first year, right? And muggleborn to boot. People are going to take that at first glance and try to use that against you."

"What are you trying to say?" Hermione didn't seem happy with his words, but the expression on her face implied that she had already expected it. Neville hovered behind her, nervous and uncomfortable.

Draco smirked, his lips curling up into an expression that promised trouble. "Crush them. Keep your blood status hidden for as long as possible when you talk to someone. Feel them out, find their ideals. They might be pureblood bigots, and trust me when I say that I know what people like that are like; my parents fall into that category, and they expect me to be the same."

"Are you?" Had Hermione been a cat, her fur would have been slowly raising at this point, but as it was, the bushy nature of her hair did its best.

The grin that he shot back was nearly blinding. "I'm talking to you and giving you advice, aren't I? What do you think?" He laughed at that for a short moment, but grew serious again rather quickly. "I'm not going to lie, though: I'm not going to be friendly to you in public. I don't want my parents to find out I'm a 'blood traitor,'" He spat the word out without humor. "And get disowned. So if I mock you for your blood status in public, try not to take it personally."

"You think the pureblood ideology is—"

"Bullsh*t." Draco snorted at her affronted expression. "But I play along. And I know that no one in this room is going to tell. Most of the people in this room I've known for a long time, and you don't seem the type, seeing as it benefits you to keep it a secret. As for Longbottom…"

Neville seemed to shrink in on himself as eyes turned to focus on him.

"It benefits him as well." Draco shook his head, going back to his earlier speech. "Anyway, figure out how people feel about blood status first, and then decide what to do from there. If they like muggles and are fairly liberal in their views, then it doesn't really matter to tell them. If they're not… well. Best thing to do in that case is evade questioning and play to your strengths. Talk about some aspect of magic that you're good at. Maybe Quidditch, or potions, or whatever it is that you can sound like an authority on. Politics are probably your best bet, because then it sounds like you know people in the Ministry, since it's rare to find someone who cares about most policies unless they know someone that's involved."

Hermione blinked at him, her mouth just slightly open. Most of the carriage was staring at him in surprise… except Blaise, who was reading a newspaper and muttering numbers to himself.

"I… I see." Hermione stammered, and then shook her head to clear it once it was obvious that Draco was done talking. She turned to Ron again. "You said to ask for Percy Weasley, right?"

Ron nodded, face lacking in emotion, and then pointed behind him, the direction that would be the right when one first stepped out of the apartment, the way that lead to the back of the train. "The prefects' carriage is down that way. Ask an older student for directions if necessary."

"I would avoid the Slytherins, though." Chernobog laughed when Hermione and Neville stiffened at his voice, the tone striking some primal fear in their cores. "I've lived in that house for two years, now, and not all of them are as willing to help as they would lead you to believe. Just felt that I should give you a fair warning."

"R-right." Hermione walked out quickly, just slow enough that no one would say she fled, and Neville was right behind her.

Heads turned toward Chernobog, who seemed unreasonably pleased with himself.

"That was mean." Byelobog pointed out.

"And you're surprised?"

The rest of the train ride passed without incident.

o.o.o.o.o

A large genin team. Or an ANBU team, even.

That was what the Houses sounded like, Itachi decided. While Kisame had talked about them in depth before, Professor McGonagall's description brought up images of the camaraderie that Konoha taught to its shinobi. Granted, it was on a much larger scale than any small shinobi team, but the concept was the same. Then again, Kisame's stories had implied that the system served to alienate the houses from one another, and that many had begun to gain less pleasing stereotypes than the ones they had originally held.

Hidan and Kakuzu had already separated from Itachi and Sasori, with Hidan claiming that it was because there were people present now that would tell his father if he went 'cavorting about' with a Weasley.

Sasori muttered something about his brothers saying that they needed to fight a troll to get Sorted, just barely loud enough to set off a chain of whispering among the terrified first years. Judging by the look on the redhead's face, this was precisely the effect he had been hoping to incite.

"How sly of you." Itachi murmured, English so as not to cause suspicion amongst the magical folk around him.

Translation: You're going into Slytherin.

"My brothers actually did say that, and in a fair bit more detail, at that."

Translation: Am not.

They both knew that they only wanted to be in Gryffindor due to their families, and that was probably the only thing they had going for them.

When they entered the Great Hall, it was to the condescending smirks and distantly intrigued stares of older students, all of whom were eager to get the best pick of the malleable first years. As speeches were made and names were called, the teens played their part to the letter, cheering for each new student as they came, making the first years feel welcome and, above all, tying the first of the many strings that made up house loyalty.

The shinobi doubted that the budging manipulators even realized what they were doing.

Harry watched with interest as the people he knew, even the ones he had just met, were Sorted. Hermione was first, and she seemed to be trying to take Draco's words to heart. She walked as calmly as she could, and though there was worry on her face, it wasn't written on it quite as plainly as it was on most students' faces. Harry and Ron clapped along politely as she was Sorted, not knowing enough of her and her history to guess where she might have gone.

Neville was next, and the bumbling boy did somehow enter Gryffindor as well. In contrast to Hermione just minutes earlier, Neville was obviously panicking as he made his way up, and forgot to pull the Hat off on his rush to get to the table. The laughter caused him to flush bright red, but the table didn't turn him away. It would never turn a student away.

Draco was next. Unlike most students, who had to visibly fight the urge to run and hide under the scrutiny of hundreds, he fairly swaggered his way up to the table, a smirk on his face.

You're not exactly the brightest of your compatriots, are you?

Tch. I already know I'm not a Ravenclaw, if that's what you're saying. Despite the fact that his eyes were hidden, Hidan rolled them anyway. And just because I'm not conventionally smart doesn't mean I don't have things that I am good at. Like languages. And theology.

And yet I still would never put you in Ravenclaw.

F*ck you.

The Hat seemed to get tired of it all at this point, and decided to just get it all over with. Through a quick process of elimination, it came to the conclusion of—

"SLYTHERIN!"

As befitting a Malfoy.

The fateful name came just a few spots down the list. McGonagall herself seemed to realize what she was incurring when she spoke the name, when she said those two simple words: "Potter, Harry!"

Harry walked forward slowly, calmly, and allowed no fear or apprehension to cross his face. He felt none anyway, but to show even false anxiety was to invite the doubts of the populace.

Oh? Another one of you shinobi. Mind letting the walls on your mind down?

Itachi, no longer Harry, lowered the shields that his mind carried naturally by this point.

Well?

The Hat seemed to laugh. I can see that you want Gryffindor, but you're too evenly spread for that. I could probably put you in any house, but it would really be for the best if I put more thought into this than I am used to.

Not Slytherin, please. Such a simple request, and one that the Hat was only too happy to fulfill.

The Hat would have nodded, had it had the capability to do so. Tired of the life you lead as a shinobi, I see. No more backstabbing and the like. Just as well, I suppose. You may have the cunning and such, but your ambition, in the sense that Slytherin takes it, is… lacking.

Itachi agreed silently.

Now… do you want me to take your previous life into account? I can tell that you want to leave your old life behind, turn over a new leaf, so to speak, but you also cling to some of those memories. The loyalty you showed to your village would make for a good Hufflepuff.

Itachi frowned mentally, though his face, to the outside world, remained surprisingly clear. You already know my preferences.

Yes, I do. The Hat seemed unusually resigned. Honestly, you would fit better in Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff, given your prodigious nature, and given the loyalty you displayed in your past life.

But? Itachi could sense that there was more.

But you would be happier in Gryffindor. The Hat admitted.

Ah. So…

The Hat sighed, and then yelled loudly enough that even Itachi, with his many years of surprises and loud noises, was taken aback. "GRYFFINDOR!"

The applause from the table below the red and gold banners was nearly deafening as Harry made his way down. They were obviously happy to have gotten the famous boy, though he ignored the cheering as best he could and took a seat next to Byelobog… who was, for whatever reason, sitting next to the Weasley twins.

"Surprised?" Harry asked, upon seeing the expression on the paper-white boy's face.

Byelobog grinned, mirth dancing in his eyes. "I really shouldn't be."

It was a while before the next relevant name was called, the name of one Ronald Weasley.

The Hat drooped down, and then sighed audibly in his ear.

Another one? I'll ask the same as I would for all your compatriots; please remove your mental shields for the time being.

Of course.

There was silence for several seconds as the Hat scanned over more information than it did with most students, and sighed at the end.

You want to go into Gryffindor.

Yes. Sasori knew what was coming.

You would really be better off in Ravenclaw or Slytherin.

Sasori knew enough of the Hat's purpose to know what it wanted, though he couldn't resist teasing it a little.

Not Hufflepuff?

Don't be ridiculous.

Sasori couldn't quite help the slight smile that curled over his lips, though he dropped it quite quickly in favor of returning to his planned argument.

Your job is not only to Sort students where they go, but also where they would be happiest and most well-cared for.

You are not a child to be coddled.

Am I?

There was silence for several seconds, broken by the Hat's raw chuckles. You're not exactly convincing me that you are not Slytherin material, you know.

I know. Sasori spoke simply, and then continued anyway. But I also know that I'm right, and I know that if nothing else, I can say this:

Would a man without bravery be willing to turn himself into a puppet? Moreover, willingly self-castrate without any painkillers other than a slight local anesthetic?

Painkillers would have made him too woozy to do the procedure, after all.

There was a pause. You are rather… adamant about this.

Am I wrong?

…No, no you are not. And given that I am meant to Sort children where they will thrive best…

I am not a child.

No. The hat agreed, sounding rather sad. No, and it has been far too long since you were.

So? Sasori was aware that he sounded rather petulant, but couldn't quite bring himself to care. Where do you put me, oh mighty Sorting Hat?

You get your wish. You go to "GRYFFINDOR!"

The first thing Ron did upon sitting down at the Gryffindor table, right next to Harry, was smirk at Fred and George and say a line that he had been hoping to use for ages.

"I told you so."

Almost immediately after, Blaise was called to the stage.

And another. The hat sighed. Shields down, please.

After several seconds of searching, the Hat seemed to balk in horror. You think this life is your chance at redemption, and yet you already killed two men?

They deserved it. Kakuzu tried to sound nonchalant, but this subject, and in his mind at that… the words came out much fiercer and angrier than intended.

The Hat didn't comment, simply continued to make its decision, thankful that this particular 'subject' wasn't going to argue against the house best suited for him.

Ravenclaw is a close second, but you would fit best in "SLYTHERIN!"

Blaise sat down between Chernobog and Draco, ignoring the light jibes that came from both, and focused on Dumbledore.

The mention of the Forbidden Forest had the newest shinobi occupants looking around at one another and their supposedly older compatriots, trying to decide who would go and see the viability of the possible training grounds first, or whether they had even been explored yet. The two Zetsu halves assured them, quietly, that the Forest had been explored already, but that they stayed out due to not wanting to incite the anger of some of the residents.

The mention of the third floor corridor, however, had all the shinobi looking at one another in askance. This had not occurred before, they assured on another. This development was… unprecedented.

They would decide on what to do soon.

Percy, the prefect that they had already interacted with several times, was the one to lead Gryffindor table up to its dormitories. He was slightly pompous, yes, but he seemed to mean well.

"You did ask him for help with your toad problem, right?" Ron asked Hermione and Neville, his intrigued look appearing slightly uncaring due to his perpetually half-closed eyes.

"Er… yes. We did. He seemed pretty eager to do his prefect duties, actually." Hermione explained. She started off rather hesitant, but seemed to gain momentum in even that short sentence.

Ron nodded, satisfied, and then decided that the girl deserved at least a little warning. "A word to the wise: Percy may be a reasonable authority figure, but not all my siblings are quite so kind. Keep your head down around Fred and George."

"Who?"

o.o.o.o.o

A/N: A little shorter than normal, I suppose, but it's actually moving the plot along somewhat, as opposed to just backstory like the introductory chapters.

If you were wondering about Sanka (likely), Sasori's keeping him a secret for now.

If you were wondering about Diamond and Jashin (unlikely), they won't be showing up much anymore. Maybe once every dozen chapters, if that. And they'll rarely get involved beyond Peeves-like tricks (Diamond, on occasion) and keeping Hidan alive (Jashin, permanently).

If you were wondering about a character that hasn't shown up yet, I'm not even going to bother.

A lot of you are probably wondering about my House choices, and if you really want to argue, I guess you can, but the Hat did most of my explaining for me. Personality-wise, Itachi/Harry and Sasori/Ron probably would have fit better into Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff/Slytherin than in Gryffindor, but part of the Hat's job is to put students where they most belong… and that includes making sure that they're happy where they are. You could put the most Hufflepuff kid ever into their perfect House, but it means nothing if they're miserable there.

And yes, characters ARE going to slowly get more involved, but for now… well, you see how it is.

Ja ne,

Phoenix