Iruka woke up to the sight of a large beaked creature peering into his face. He shrieked, jumped out of bed and dashed up the wall before his eyes mocked him by revealing that the 'beaked creature' was actually a man. A very pale man with a rather poisonous air about him, the 'beak' was actually a rather impressive nose. The man wore a very nasty scowl on his face. Iruka had to suppress an instinctive urge to do or say something inappropriate. Baiting mean authoritative figures had been a hobby of his when he was younger. Somehow, he didn't think now was the best time to give in to the impulse.

For a moment, they both stare/glare at each other. Then, the door slammed open.

"Iruukaa-Senseeeiiii!" A shrill voice thrilled.

Iruka blinked, "Naruto?"

"Sensei!" Naruto ducked under some grasping hands. His small form darting to the wall Iruka was crouching against.

Iruka quickly hopped down, not really crazy about experiencing one of Naruto's tackle/hug against gravity.

"Eeeh? What happen to your hair? And why are you in dress? Did they put you in a dress, sensei? There are some really, really old people here, older than the Old Man and probably older than rocks! They tried to put me into a dress too but I escaped!" he beamed proudly, showing off his own boxer clad self.

It was then Iruka noticed his current 'dress' state. Someone had removed his chuunin uniform and vest, along with all his weapons, scrolls, bandages and hair tie. He ran a hand through his loose hair, scowling at the way it obscure his vision.

"Excuse me," a smiling old man with a ridiculous amount of facial hair wondered up to them. Iruka wondered if the man ever tripped over his own beard.

"Uwaah! It speaks!" Naruto screeched, pointing rudely at the old man.

Iruka reflexively whapped him on the head, "Show some respect, Naruto," he bowed to the person, "Sorry for his rudeness, but we are a bit stressed at the moment, we would like to find out a few things,"

"Of course, of course," the old man smiled indulgently, "My apologies for the late introduction, I am Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This is Professor Snape, our potions master and I believe you've already met Madam Pomfrey," he twinkled at Naruto and a pinched face woman who glared accusatively at Iruka, "The nurse of this hospital wing."

"I see, well, my name is Iruka, also a school teacher," he placed a hand on Naruto's shoulder to stall any form of Hokage announcements, "and this is my student, Naruto,"

The sour looking man, Snape muttered something to the woman who frowned, and said something stiffly to Dumbledore. The old man nodded and smiled at them, "I believe my staff would like to know what kind of teacher carries weaponries on their person."

The sour looking man moved like a fighter, but the others telegraph their movement like civilians, Iruka may not know who these people are, but civilians are often disapproving of the type of knowledge taught in ninja schools. So he kept his face pleasant and mild.

"One who cares for the safety of their students, Headmaster Dumbledore,"

Play up to their similarities, don't give them a reason to hate or suspect. Iruka smiled and projected harmlessness, ordinary chuunin teacher here, with a delinquent student. Nothing to see, so please move on.

The twinkly eyes almost sparkle with glee, "I see, it is rare to see such dedication. Perhaps you could tell us more about your school?"

Visions of students throwing knives at a target, doing chakra exercises, practicing their hand seals-

"STOP!" Iruka dashed backward, Naruto fall limp under his pull, all the better for Iruka to hold on to him. Iruka swept his other hand out, catching a tall vase. A shower of water and glass halted in front of the old man, captured in an invisible shield.

All three had their sticks out, both Iruka and Naruto continued to move backward, having noted the wide windows showing sunlit skies and green forests. If they could just make it out…

The man, Snape, whipped his stick; Iruka dashed one of the bed partitions in the way of a sizzling blue light.

"Naruto!"

"Kage bunshin no jutsu!"

Several clones popped into existence, charging the three people. A quick shout and a fizzle burst several of them, but the resulting chakra smoke made it almost impossible to see. Iruka went through his own hand seals, a bunshin Naruto and Iruka appeared, with a nod, they headed for the doors. Civilians geared towards doors and stairways as naturally as ninja does towards windows and roofs. With a final glanced back at the disappearing bushin, Iruka leapt after Naruto out the window.

000000

The forest was densely covered, offering a good amount of shelter. The 'dress' he had on was well insulated, but Iruka was more concerned about Naruto's nearly naked form. They had been in the forest for about two weeks now. Thankfully, food was not a problem; the forest was a treasure trove of animal and plant life. He shared the cloth of the dress, making a shirt out of the shortened hem; he could line it with rabbit fur later, if it gets colder, if he had to. The trees surrounding them indicated a four season type of weather.

Neither blinked at the sight of giant spiders trooping out of the under brushes, those were common enough in the Forest of Death that Iruka was not overly concerned. He had to prevent Naruto from dropping a rock on the trooping spiders 'just to see what happened'. Fortunately, Iruka had his vast experience as a pre-genin sensei to draw on. Having looked after twenty pre-genin at once did wonders for one's situational awareness. Iruka just managed to flick a small pebble, knocking the falling rock out of course and into some bushes. The look on Iruka's face clearly said, "Do that again and I'll drop you into the spider's nest myself'. Naruto had the grace to look sheepish.

Five days ago they had encountered some half man, half horse thing that tried to shoot them out of the trees with arrows, now that's something not native to Konoha, observed Iruka. He tried not to think about the future too much. Concentrating on day to day survival was easy enough. Shinobi were taught to survive in any kind of environment after all, and with the abundance of food and nice weather, this was practically vacation for them. Iruka was more worried about the seal that brought them to this place. This strange world of half and half things and mind invading old men was not native to any part of the Five Countries. The looming castle structure was too distinctive not be remarked on the maps.

They had covertly explored the little huddle of houses squatting at the other end of the forest, and found shops selling things not found in their world. The papers he'd scrounged up from sidewalks and bins contained odd looking words and more remarkably, moving photographs. Those had thrilled and enchanted Naruto even as Iruka's heart sank. It made him doubted his hasty retreat from the castle. Perhaps he should have paused to listen to the old man? Or at least, perhaps he should have projected an air of calm and naivety to gain access to whatever knowledge they might have on the seals that brought them here. Iruka brooded with what-ifs for a while, some ninja he was, unable to keep his head clear for pre-emptive thoughts.

He wondered darkly what Kakashi the Wonder Ninja would have done in his place. Probably whip out a porn book and pretend not to be bothered by the dimension wide transplant, thought Iruka gloomily. He really didn't like that super elite ninja man. Too bad Dumbledore had chosen that particular day to try and negotiate with the Strangers in the Trees, as the centaurs dubbed them. Iruka was in a foul mood. When the old man tried to mind read him again in the middle of a negotiation, he signalled for Naruto to activate a specially designed trap. That was the end of any visits from the castle.

Until now that was.

It was the sour looking man, Iruka noted, good, if it had been the mind reading old man again, he would have done something drastic. Sic Naruto on him or something. He waved Naruto back, the boy was eager for action, but Iruka was the better negotiator. Relatively speaking. He tried not to think about how he had messed up the first two encounter with that mind reading old man. Hidden clones surrounded the forested area ready to burst in at the slightest signal from Iruka. He dropped into the clearing before the man, palms up to show no weapons. Not that he needed one, they both knew that.

"Where's the boy?" the man's smooth voice was thick with accent, but the words clear enough.

"He's around," said Iruka casually, "What do you want?"

"Straight to the point, I see," Snape sneered; black eyes flickered to his bare feet, "Do you fancy yourself a woodland creature?"

"Why have you come?"

"To speak with you, none of the others were fluent enough in your language,"

"Well," Iruka idly scratched his ankle with a big toe, "You aren't so hot at it yourself,"

"The headmaster is more fluent than me, however you've made it clear you wouldn't speak with him."

Iruka grinned, the tree sap had been a pain to harvest, that coupled with two dead rabbits and a huge ball of spider web Naruto had stumbled into three days after their foray into the forest had yielded spectacular results. Actually, he had planned to go along with the next negotiator back to the castle. Iruka didn't really want to live in the forest forever, interesting though it was. Staying in the forest was never really an option. They needed to find a way back and the best source of information was locked up within a language barrier and a wall of stone.

"The man still goes into a mild spasm whenever he brushes by a spider web," there was a suspicious twitch on the dour looking mouth.

Iruka grinned back, "Well, that'll teach him not to simply pry into other people's mind,"

That earned him a strange look.

"What?"

"Are you an occlumens?"

"A- what?"

"Have the ability to block mind readers,"

"Hmm… wouldn't you like to know," actually, Iruka had no special mind defence skill. However, he does know what it felt like to have his mind broke into. After that incident with Mizuki, some clan leaders had not been satisfied with Naruto's innocence. Iruka had volunteered his mind to Inoichi's inspection, to see for himself what had actually happened. So, yeah, he knows what it's like to be mind raped thank you very much.

Snape looked a little intrigued, but cautious as well, he had no wish to end up like the headmaster, however open and Hufflepuffish the expression, the man before him had proved that he could kill. The Order of Phoenix aurors had recovered some oddly shaped weapons from the throat of a Carrow, wearing a Death Eater mask at the site of some summoning circle. Fudge would have some trouble explaining that.

The Oriental language was one of the several that Severus could speak relatively fluently due to some heavy text translating work he had had to do in his youth. Some items could only be bought in its native country, and knowledge of the language almost always guarantees a discount. So, Severus had learned, and kept the memory of it in the recesses of his mind. It never occur to him that one day he'd use this obscure language to negotiate with a mild manner known killer down from a tree, who walks barefoot in the forest like a pixie and dressed in robes cut off at mid thigh.

"Do you know why you are here?"

Mild brown eyes sharpened, "No, I do not, my student and I were having lunch together, when some kind of light appear and swallow us both,"

He was hiding something, thought Snape, "Shall I tell you then? I saw the circle on the floor," he was taking a chance here, revealing information, "they were preparing a ceremony for a demon summoning," there was no change in the body language and expression, that itself was telling, "What do you make of that?"

The man was hiding something, thought Iruka, so this was how they would play, information for information. To see who was more adept at sifting through the lies and grasped the truth, he shook his head, "I do not know any demon in my village," that was the truth, he knew of the demon inside Naruto; "Perhaps they made a mistake? Summoning is a complicated subject, not something taught at school,"

"Not even your type of school?"

A challenge, Iruka acknowledged, "Summoning contract is a jealously guarded secret, I'm afraid even I knew very little of it," true, he knew only one, the flying squirrel contract. "Tell me, what kind of knowledge does your school impart? A poison maker like you must have some interesting tales,"

The air around the man grew dangerous, "Do be careful how you speak, Mr. Iruka," his voice low and silk like, "Some might misinterpret your words for what they are,"

"I'm sorry, I don't mean disrespect," the words were humble, but Iruka's body language were rigid, "Poison makers are much respected and valuable people to my village, and are accorded a great deal of honour for their art,"

That stumped Snape a little. He had been valued for his skill of course and his… 'contributions' were always needed, by both sides of the war. But this was the first time his skill had been called an art by someone outside likeminded potion masters. The respect was real, not came begrudgingly from the goodies-goodies of the Order, nor coloured with sly enviousness from those who came from the shadow of the snake. This was respect for actual art, as such garnered by artists and sculpt makers.

"You come from an odd society, Mr. Iruka," he said at last.

"Please, just Iruka will do," he smiled, and called up, "You can come down now Naruto,"

A rustle, then an army of Naruto descended and Severus saw what had happened to the rest of Iruka's robes. The blonde child could not be more than ten or eleven, a tiny child even by Asian standards. The rest of the blonde kids glared at him even as one ran to the teacher. Severus kept his hands visible. For a village that allowed its teachers and children to carry weapons and to treat poison makers with respect, had to be a place which prized knowledge for its combative usefulness rather than academic purpose.

"How does he do that?" Severus could not contain his curiosity any longer, "the doubles I mean. I can possibly create the same effect using a doppelganger potion, but only two,"

Iruka smiled, ruffling the blonde head, causing the plump whiskered cheeks to puff up, "Naruto's special that way, even I can't pull off more than five, on a good day,"

It was a warning; we were more than what we appear.

Severus inclined his head in acknowledgement, "You will be staying with me at my quarters, the headmaster wishes to speak with you, later of course," he added to stall any objections, "You are not quite my height, but robes can be easily altered," he eyed the frayed edges of the torn up hem.

A faint blush clung to the tanned cheeks, "Ah well, Naruto left without much, so we had to do a bit of adjustment,"

"Fair enough," he turned with a swirl of robes, "Come with me," he strode fearlessly through the little blondes, noting the shoeless feet, the healthy flush of cheeks and wary eye. The child was no stranger to hard living.

After a while, a series of pops was heard, Iruka appeared beside him, stepping easily on the wooded floor, while the child darted monkey like in the trees. They made it out of the forest in good time, Severus was thankful that Iruka was not prone to small talk. Once they past the trees, the boy dropped beside them with a wild grace.

As they walked across milder lawns and grassy area, the boy, Naruto bounced around energetically, whipping his head about, large blue eyes taking in sights which he did not have the pleasure of looking while running away. Severus could feel a headache coming up. He hated bouncy, energetic children.

As if in response to his thoughts, the blonde boy spoke up, "Hey, hey, mister, who are you?"

Severus scowled darkly, but the boy was undaunted.

Iruka chuckled softly, "Naruto, it's rude to ask for someone's name without giving your own first,"

"Right! I'm Uzumaki Naruto! My favourite colour is orange and my favourite food is ramen! I like miso ramen best, especially Ichiraku ramen, ramen is even better when Iruka-sensei pays for it. I don't like Sasuke-teme and Sakura-chan is the prettiest girl in the village! Why just the other day I saw her with a new haircut, and it was awesome and-"

Severus actually paused and stared at the blonde kid, his jaw slowly dropping open at the influx of happiness. Standing three feet away, Iruka tilted his head back and laughed.