A/N: This work was inspired by a Naruto-themed omake chapter in "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" by Eliezer Yudkowsky/Less Wrong. If you are unaware of HPMOR, I highly recommend giving it a try irrespective of your knowledge of/attitude towards the Harry Potter books.
"There you are, Naruto."
Mizuki-sensei, ever the poser, looked down at him from a high tree branch at the other end of the forest clearing.
"I see you've got the scroll. Good work. Now just hand it over to me, and we can talk about your graduation."
Naruto grinned. "Sure. I was just about done with it anyway."
Mizuki suppressed a sneer. The brat had obviously worked hard - the fact that virtually every last inch of the large clearing was littered with shuriken, kunai, scrolls and other training paraphernalia was testament to that - but the odds of that dropout mastering even the simplest forbidden technique were pretty damn low.
"Don't do it, Naruto!" Iruka shouted, bursting in from outside Mizuki's line of sight. Mizuki silently cursed his invariably rotten luck.
"What?!" Naruto exclaimed innocently. "But I've just finished that secret second way of graduating Mizuki-sensei told me about. What am I supposed to do with the scroll now, keep it?"
"Second way of graduating?!" Iruka's eyes, now wide, flickered to Mizuki, then back to Naruto. "Mizuki's been lying to you. There's no such thing. No loyal shinobi would ever ask you to steal from the Hokage. No matter what you do, don't give him the scroll!"
Mizuki started to reach for the enormous Fūma Shuriken strapped to his back. Before he could touch it, however, a fourth figure burst out of the bushes near Iruka.
"Mizuki, you get the scroll! I'll go signal our allies!" the man in a Chūnin jacket shouted before sprinting away.
"Quick, Iruka-sensei, you've got to catch him!" Naruto shouted. "Go! I'll keep the scroll away from Mizuki-sensei!"
But Iruka didn't move. "You're my student, Naruto, and I can't leave you in danger."
"Please just go! I can buy some time here - you know how hard I am to catch! But if he gets backup, they'll beat us both and take it anyway!"
Iruka seemed frozen with indecision.
"Please, Iruka-sensei." Naruto's voice turned serious. "I know how you feel. But if you've ever trusted me as one of your students, then please trust me now."
Iruka said a few words under his breath that were definitely unfit for the ears of young Academy trainees. "Be careful, Naruto." And he ran after the second traitor.
As soon as he was gone, Mizuki turned back to Naruto.
"Well, that was interesting. You just sent him chasing after a clone under the Transformation Technique, didn't you? Are you so arrogant you think you can take me on your own?"
Naruto nodded. "Well, that and I had something to ask you."
"You're the one who framed me for cheating in the written test, right? You wanted to make sure I couldn't pass the final exam, so you set it up so someone saw 'me' reading the test in the teachers' lounge, and got me disqualified. Why?"
"Oh, so you figured that out." Mizuki shrugged. "Well, I was always going to use one of the failed students to steal the scroll for me. But then I got this brilliant idea for how to screw you over at the same time. And you fell for it like a complete sucker."
"But why me?" Naruto frowned. "I always figured you for one of the few people that didn't automatically hate my guts. What did I ever do to you?"
Mizuki laughed. "Oh, this is rich. I suppose I may as well tell you before you die."
"Tell me what?"
"They've all been lying to you, Naruto. For your entire life. Lying to you about what you are and what you've done."
Mizuki raised his voice dramatically. "You're not human. You're a monster. You're Kyubey, the Nine-Brained Demon Fox that attacked Leaf Village twelve years ago!"
Naruto shrugged. "Yeah, I know."
"Come on, it doesn't take a genius to figure out. The Nine-Brained Demon Fox attacks the village around my birthday. Then it disappears, and nobody talks or writes about what happened to it. Not "the Fourth Hokage killed it". Not "the Fourth Hokage drove it away". He does something heroic to it, and then it's gone. And then everyone in the village hates me, like really hates me, for as long as I can remember, and they never ever say why."
"Oh, come on." Mizuki seemed torn between disbelief and outrage. "There's no way you could work it out from just that!"
"Well, after I made that connection, I did some digging through the registers in the Civic Library. You'd be amazed how little attention people pay you if you show them a few ryō and tell them an overworked Jōnin paid you to spend the day looking up boring facts for him. Anyway, did you know that there's been exactly one other person in Leaf Village called Uzumaki? And that she died on the Night of Tragedy? And that she was the container for the Nine-Brains at the time?"
Mizuki endeavoured to replace his jaw. "Uh... well, anyway, that's why. No-one's ever going to take the Demon Fox's word over mine, not with the cheating thing, and not if anything went wrong here. It's perfect. That, and you just piss me off."
"Fair enough. Now what?"
"Now... you die!" Mizuki finally grabbed the Fūma Shuriken from his back, and threw it full-strength at Naruto.
Naruto did not dodge. In fact, he sat perfectly still, watching with interest as the enormous blade flew right at his head. Then he vanished as it made contact.
"Oh, for fuck's sake!" Mizuki snapped. "I've been talking to a clone?"
He jumped down to ground level and started walking towards the scroll, taking care not to step on any of the multitude of sharp things littering the clearing. As he came close to the middle, he heard a voice.
"Let's play a game," announced a new clone, appearing close to where the previous one had been.
Mizuki gave him a look of contempt. "Trying to buy time? Don't bother. I'm taking the scroll, and then I'll have all the time in the world to find you and gut you."
Naruto ignored him. "Round One is called Let's Guess Which Lethal Forbidden Technique Naruto Learned Today."
Now Mizuki stopped.
"If you win, you get to advance to Round Two. If you lose... you die."
There was a soft popping sound, and then something moved in Mizuki's peripheral vision. He whirled around to see a kunai coming at him fast. He wasn't a Chūnin for nothing, though, and he had one of his own ready to deflect in a fraction of a second.
The kunai touched... and then the attacking blade disappeared in a puff of smoke.
"You almost had me going for a second, you little monster." Mizuki started to turn back, then reflexively moved to try to block a second kunai coming at him from the edge of his vision. The same thing happened again.
"But as a delaying tactic, this is pretty feeble. So some of this stuff on the ground is clones in disguise. So they transform back and throw kunai at me when I'm not looking. What are they going to do, annoy me to death?"
Mizuki didn't even bother blocking the third kunai. Then it drew a sharp line of pain across his cheek.
A fourth kunai exploded into mist upon touching his defence.
A fifth bounced off when he blocked, and only vanished after it hit the ground.
"Shadow clones?! How the hell can you make shadow clones?!"
The Naruto clone sitting by the scroll cheered. "All right! You pass Round One. Now it's time for Round Two, the ever-popular Find and Destroy All the Shadow Clones Before Iruka-sensei Comes Back and Kicks Your Ass round!"
Mizuki spat curses at Naruto, several so exceptionally foul that Naruto made a note to go look them up in a dictionary afterwards.
"If you win, you get to take the scroll and escape. If you lose... you die. Oh, and trying to leave the clearing or take the scroll early counts as a forfeit. If you do that, all the shadow clones will throw their kunai at you at once, from every possible angle. In other words... you die."
Mizuki was starting to get pretty tense. "You're bluffing. So you've got four or five shadow clones hidden in this clearing. They're still clones of a pathetic dropout, and I'm a Chūnin instructor. What do you think they can do to me?"
To Mizuki's increasing discomfort, Naruto started to laugh loudly. "Four or five? Oh, that's good. Oh, man, you really know how to tell 'em, Mizuki-sensei."
"Wh-What's so funny?"
"You said it yourself: I'm the Nine-Brained Demon Fox. And what's the Nine-Brained Demon Fox famous for, apart from its amazing intelligence and devilish good looks?"
Mizuki was starting to sweat. "What?"
"Its incredible chakra control, duh. I can sit here making shadow clones all day long with the amount of chakra you'd need just to scratch your nose."
"Now, let's get back to the game. I've got a bet going with the real Naruto on how many wounds you're going to take before it's over."
The next kunai was from a normal clone. The two after that were solid. Mizuki's movements grew increasingly frantic as blades flew at him from every possible direction, always coming from just outside his line of sight, the frequency gradually increasing, with no pattern to help him tell the shadow kunai from the harmless ones. To make things even worse, every fake kunai he blocked vanished in a puff of smoke right next to his face, briefly obstructing his vision.
Mizuki lay whimpering on the ground, too tired and traumatised to move, and bleeding from dozens of small cuts.
"I see you're out of kunai," the Naruto clone commented cheerfully. "Guess I'd better have the clone Iruka-sensei's been chasing duck out of sight and dispel himself."
There was a pop, and the forbidden technique scroll next to the clone transformed into Naruto.
"Thanks. I win the bet, though. He lasted way longer than we expected."
"Yeah, yeah. We should clean up - Iruka-sensei's gonna be here any minute."
Naruto snapped his fingers and the entire clearing was temporarily covered in mist. When it faded a second later, all of the "litter" was gone, as was the bet-winning clone. He pulled the real scroll out from behind a random tree some way outside the clearing. As an afterthought, he also dug the Fūma Shuriken out of the ground and threw it down next to Mizuki's semi-comatose form.
"Oh, by the way..." he whispered in Mizuki's ear. "You were right. There were only five shadow clones."
Iruka-sensei made his appearance a couple of minutes later.
"Naruto! You're safe! Oh, I'm so glad you're safe." He was nearly crying with relief.
Naruto felt a little guilty, but reminded himself that the whole thing had been for Iruka's own protection (aside from the part of it that was about testing out his shiny new technique... and the part that was about getting revenge on a bastard who'd been one smart choice away from murdering some random classmate of Naruto's).
Iruka stared at Mizuki, who was lying in the foetal position muttering "no more... please, no more..."
"What the heck happened, Naruto?!"
"He tried to throw his giant shuriken thing at me, but forgot to let go. After he got over the pain of stabbing himself with all the corners, he had a nervous breakdown over what a pathetic failure of a ninja he was. That made him collapse on top of it, which is how he got all those other injuries." Naruto explained confidently.
"Uh-huh. And what really happened?"
"Aww." Naruto looked sulky. "Fine. I learned the Multiple Shadow Clone Technique from that scroll and made a bunch of clones beat him up. But can you make sure you put that first version in your report?"
Iruka laughed. "You never change, do you, Naruto?"
And the rest of the evening was taken up by an incredulous ANBU receptionist and a whole lot of ramen.