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There May Be Some Collateral Damage

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Ichigo’s sure he didn’t agree to this. Pretty sure. Admittedly, there might have been a point in the meeting with the captains—somewhere between “going undercover in the living world” and “killing an evil maniac”—where he’d nodded off, and the captains are definitely bad enough people to take silence as agreement. But surely he would’ve woken up for this part.

“I’m somebody’s bodyguard?” he demands in horror. They’re currently back in Karakura in Ichigo’s room, because Rukia wanted to dress Ichigo up in weird clothes and lecture him, apparently, and decided that was best accomplished in the privacy of home.

“Yes,” Rukia says with a total lack of sympathy, straightening Ichigo’s tie. “A boy called Harry Potter. Chosen. Special. Targeted by a would-be evil overlord. Sound familiar?”

“Why am I some living kid’s bodyguard? I thought I was just supposed to kill the soul-splitting guy!” Because some guy split his soul into pieces by magic, because apparently magic is a thing in the living world. Though Ichigo isn’t sure why he’s so surprised. After all, he fights dead monsters on the regular; nothing should seem weird to him anymore. And yet.

“You are,” Rukia agrees, now standing back with her hands on her hips and silently disapproving of his appearance. “But the soul fragments are so small you can’t feel their spiritual pressure until you’re practically on top of them—original soul-splitter guy included. We can’t find him. All we know for sure is that he’s determined to kill the kid, so it seemed most efficient to have you stick close to him.”

“…So the kid’s a stalking goat, basically.”

“Exactly.”

“Wow, that’s cold.”

“Take it up with the Captain Commander.”

“Do they even really want me to keep this kid safe?”

“Well, I mean. Ideally.”

Ideally. “Great. Look, even if we assume this guy actually does come to kill the kid, and I actually manage to wipe him out, there are still how many of his soul fragments floating around?”

“Six, at last estimate.”

“This whole soul-splitting thing is so gross I can’t handle it, by the way.”

“Agreed,” Rukia agrees, surprisingly patient. “In fact, everyone in Soul Society agrees. That’s why you’re getting rid of him.”

“Anyway, it’s not like the soul fragments are gonna float over and let me wipe them out. So how am I finding them?”

“The headmaster allegedly has a plan.”

“Headmaster’s a scheming, lying weasel, though,” Renji throws in, wandering in and silently disapproving of Ichigo’s clothes just as hard as Rukia, which takes some nerve. “Got kind of an Aizen vibe, tell the truth. So, yeah. Watch out for that.”

“Urahara and Yoruichi-san are going to investigate where the soul fragments might be,” Rukia explains. “They’ve spent so much time in the living world, it was decided they were best equipped to handle a large-scale search here. I’d put my money on them sorting it all out before you have to. They’ll visit you every so often and update you on their progress.”

“Urahara-san and Yoruichi-san?” Ichigo asks, surprised. “I know why I’m going along with this, but why are they going along with this?”

“According to Urahara,” Renji says, “they’re bored.”

Well that’s the most terrifying thing Ichigo’s heard all month. “This just gets better and better,” he sighs, turning to the mirror. As it happens, he disapproves of his clothes pretty firmly, himself. The tie clashes with his hair something awful. To say nothing of the basic ridiculousness of the robe. “I’m seriously supposed to wear this shit?”

“It’s the uniform. Suck it up,” Rukia tells him. Renji looks sympathetic, but doesn’t actually, you know, back Ichigo up or anything. “Now all you need is a stick thing.”

“…Stick thing?”

Rukia nods earnestly. “They all carry them. I’ve seen pictures. They use them as weapons, so you should make Zangetsu look like one.”

“You want me to talk Zangetsu into looking like a stick? Not happening.”

“Urahara and the former Captain Commander turned their zanpakuto into canes,” Rukia says brusquely. “So you can turn yours into one of these stick things.”

“And the stick things are what, exactly?”

“Magic wands,” Renji explains in apparent glee—whether over the idea of magic or the idea of Ichigo’s pain, Ichigo isn’t sure. “You wave them around, see…and the magic happens.”

So it’s glee over Ichigo’s pain. Good to know.

“By the way, is anybody worried about the fact that I can’t actually do magic?” Ichigo asks, glad this has come up.

“Nope,” Renji says blithely, sprawling back on Ichigo’s bed and mysteriously producing a box of pocky. Dinner and a show.

“Your spiritual strength could easily be mistaken for magic,” Rukia tells him. “They may even be related. So there’s no problem.”

“Except that I suck at kido.”

“Nowhere is it written that you need to be good at magic.” Rukia rolls her eyes like he’s being the unreasonable one. “They just need to be convinced you can do it. Blow something up every so often—you’re good at that.”

Before Ichigo can start yelling at her, Karin interrupts by marching in and staring at him incredulously. “Ichi-nii. Goat Face just told us…are you seriously going to some magic school in England?”

Ichigo points accusingly at Rukia, who smirks. “Scotland, in fact,” she says.

Karin looks from Ichigo to Rukia and back. “And you’re going there dressed like that?

“It’s the uniform,” Ichigo snaps, feeling unfairly beset on all sides.

“You’d better call us every single day,” Karin goes on, ignoring him. “Or Yuzu will cry. And if Yuzu cries, I’m telling everyone we know that you made her cry, and they’ll all beat the crap out of you. Remember that.”

“I’ll call every day,” Ichigo promises. “Or at least every few days. I do get one of the Soul Society phones, right? The ones that get reception on Mars?”

Rukia nods. “One of ours or one of Urahara’s, yes. We’ll want weekly reports.”

“I want weekly reports, too,” Renji says. “So’s I can laugh and laugh that it’s you getting thrown into this clusterfuck and not me. You even speak English?”

“Yes,” Ichigo sighs. At one point, he’d had dreams of getting a job in North America, far, far away from his dad. He’d studied English with a dedication bordering on fanaticism with that goal in mind. Didn’t work out, though. Instead, he gets shinigami, wars, magic schools—and is somehow still living in his dad’s house. “But about that—aren’t there native English-speaking shinigami who should be taking care of this?”

“Yes,” Rukia says, “but they think it’ll take someone captain-class to handle it, and they don’t have anyone that strong who looks young enough to pass. We have two of you, plus I think Commander Kyoraku owes them a favor for something…? In any case, they asked for you or Captain Hitsugaya.”

“So basically you’re saying I have to do this because Kyoraku lost a bet with one of his drinking buddies.”

“Don’t be so disrespectful to the Captain Commander, fool.” Rukia pauses to consider. “But yes, probably.”

“Fuck my life. Why aren’t they sending Toshiro?”

“He refused.”

“What happens if I refuse?”

“You can’t. Captain Hitsugaya has seniority, so if he refuses, it has to be you.”

“They seriously need someone captain-class for this?”

“Probably not, but that’s what they asked for. Now stop whining and turn your sword into a stick.”

Karin and Renji are both laughing by now, and Ichigo wonders what weird shit he could possibly have done in a past life that would’ve earned him…this.

* * *

“Don’t look like that, Kurosaki-san!” Urahara carols. “This mission is going to be a joy and a privilege, and I won’t have you ruining it with your face.”

“…Thanks.”

“I know how you value straightforwardness.” Urahara smiles a worrying smile. “Now. I have paperwork for you.” He dumps a novel’s worth of loose papers into Ichigo’s arms. “You’ll need to read up on this school—it’s a surprisingly complicated place. I’m pleased to tell you, however, that you won’t need to do your own shopping, because Yoruichi-san did that for you—we’re keeping your school things in the shop until you need them. Be sure to thank her when she gets back!”

So that’s where the uniform came from. Ichigo considers the idea of Yoruichi shopping for him. That could go one of two very different ways, depending on her mood. He chooses to believe she didn’t feel like messing with him that day. He has to believe that, or else he’ll cry. “Where is Yoruichi-san, anyway?”

“Oh, she’s out scouting for soul fragments.” Urahara waves his fan in what he clearly feels is an explanatory way, but it sure doesn’t explain anything to Ichigo. “No sense in holding up the party while I hang around here training you for the next two weeks.”

“School starts in two weeks?” Ichigo feels very under-informed about this entire mission.

“Indeed it does! And by that time, you’ll need to be able to pretend to be a wizard. A laughably incompetent wizard, obviously—but since you couldn’t even manage that much at the moment, we have a long way to go.”

Sometimes Ichigo hates Urahara. Never for long, but he’s always pretty sincere about it while it lasts.

Training is predictably awful. Urahara tests Ichigo on everything he’s learned about wizard school every morning—it’s called Hogwarts, what the fuck—and then throws kido at him all afternoon until he’s a bruised wreck. And then he goes home every night to find Karin laughing at him. But it’s still better than that training session when Urahara semi-accidentally turned him into a Visored. At least there’s that.

By the end of two weeks, Ichigo’s so eager to get away from training that he’s almost excited about school. He knows Urahara well enough by now to figure it was arranged that way on purpose.

* * *

On the first day of school, Urahara opens a portal right onto Platform 9 ¾. It’s not a Senkaimon, it’s not a Garganta, Ichigo doesn’t know what the hell it is and suspects Urahara shouldn’t be able to use it. In view of that, the blasé attitude everyone on the platform takes toward it is pretty weird—or at least it is until Ichigo spots a few of them walking through a wall. If you walk through walls, he figures, you probably take most things in stride.

Urahara and Yoruichi lead him through the gate—Yoruichi in cat form, for reasons best known to herself—and Yuzu, Karin, Rukia, and Chad follow along after them. More people wanted to come see Ichigo off to his “super-magic school for magic people,” as Inoue’s been calling it, but Urahara wanted to limit the numbers to attract less attention. (And then he opened a portal right onto the train platform. Ichigo doesn’t even know.) Yuzu and Karin got to come because they’re family, and everybody else played rock-paper-scissors for it. Ichigo’s not sure how, but he’s pretty sure Rukia figured out some way to cheat. Chad’s just lucky.

And so here they all are, making a small spectacle of themselves instead of the giant spectacle that could’ve been. In this crowd, they actually don’t stand out much.

“Call every day, brother,” Yuzu demands tearfully, clinging to the hem of his shirt. “Or if you know you can’t call the next day, at least warn me!”

Yuzu and Karin really didn’t take well to that time Ichigo ran off to train with Shinji for a while, then disappeared into Hueco Mundo for even longer, then almost got killed a bunch of times after that. They’ve gotten…not clingy, exactly. It’s scarier than that. Possessive? Jealous of his time? Vengeful toward anyone who threatens to take him from them, including Ichigo himself?

“Okay,” he sighs.

“And you’re reporting to us every week,” Rukia adds, her arms folded belligerently.

“I know.”

“I’ll be visiting your school over the winter holiday.”

“God, why?”

“Think of it as a progress check. Captain Hitsugaya will come along to see if he needs to take over from you, and Renji will come along because he’ll miss your face by then. You’d better have gotten something done by the time we visit, Ichigo, or I’ll be very upset.”

And when Rukia’s upset, Ichigo gets kicked in the head. “I’ll do my best. But why aren’t you giving this lecture to those two?” he asks, waving toward Urahara and Yoruichi.

“They’re not my responsibility,” Rukia explains. “But you are.”

Well. True.

“Good luck, Ichigo,” Chad says, giving Ichigo a sympathetic look.

“Thanks. Try to keep these lunatics out of trouble while I’m gone, okay?”

Chad nods gravely, planted behind Ichigo’s sisters like a giant wall of pure strength. This is why Chad is Ichigo’s favorite, right here.

“Good, good,” Urahara says, clapping. “But the train is screaming and whistling, which I assume means it’s about to leave without you, Kurosaki-san. Hurry along. Yoruichi-san and I will be dropping in on you from time to time.”

“Yeah?” Ichigo asks, heaving his trunk up onto his shoulder. “And when is that likely to happen?”

“Oh, at any time,” Urahara says, beaming. “When the stars are in alignment. When we feel like it. When you least expect us.”

“Bye, Yoruichi-san,” Ichigo says, ignoring this. “Have fun killing soul pieces.”

“Take care, Ichigo,” she croaks in her cat-voice. “Be good and I’ll save some for you.”

He waves at everybody and turns to board the train in a last minute rush of alarmingly small kids. Some of them don’t seem old enough to be in school at all, let alone scary, magical boarding school. It’s freaking Ichigo out.

He stows his trunk just as they start moving, then wanders up and down the train for an hour, checking out everybody’s spirit ribbons in case there’s something weird about them. They all seem normal, though. White, white, white. Oh, wait—all except for one, right at the back. It’s mostly white, but it has a thread of green so dark it’s almost black running through it. Ichigo’s never seen anything like it, and he doesn’t like the feel of it at all. Things are already interesting in a bad way and he’s not even at school yet.

He follows the ribbon to a compartment and opens the door, then stands there staring at the kid he’s supposed to be…whatever the hell…bodyguarding. Or staking out and watching, anyway. He’s not sure what the green thread in the kid’s spirit ribbon means, but given the way Ichigo’s life goes, it’s definitely something awful.

“Hey,” he says. “Mind if I sit here?”

“Oh. No! Not at all,” says a girl with brown hair fluffed out all over the place, hurriedly scooting over and making room for him. He sits. He’ll need to get to know these kids anyway—the mark and his friends. Might as well start now.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know your name,” A red-headed girl says apologetically. One thing’s for sure—nobody at this school will give him crap about his hair. It’s freaking tame compared to the people in this compartment alone.

“Yeah, I’m new. Exchange student from Japan. My name’s Ichigo Kurosaki.”

They introduce themselves, but he’s not listening. He’s too busy puzzling out what kind of people they are and whether they might try to kill him. They all seem a little dangerous, but not the kind of dangerous Ichigo needs to worry about—they don’t seem the type to screw with you if you don’t screw with them first. With the possible exception of the kid he’s supposed to be protecting, so that’s wonderful.

There are two redheads, a boy and a girl. Siblings. The girl, in particular, Ichigo’s going to be careful not to piss off. Then there’s the fluffy-haired girl, who looks like she takes everything way too seriously, and a boy with brown hair and a soft face and, randomly, the world’s ugliest plant in his lap. There’s also a girl with blonde hair and a kind of floaty expression, like she’s barely in the living world, herself. In fact, she looks unhinged in such a determined way that Ichigo’s almost sure it’s deliberate. And finally, there’s Harry Potter, Ichigo’s new stalking goat, who looks like trouble with a side of barely controlled hostility, and who has something weird about his spirit ribbon.

Kyoraku is going to pay for putting Ichigo through this. And so is Toshiro.

“I thought people from Japan were supposed to have black hair,” says the redheaded boy.

Funny, Ichigo thought people from Britain were supposed to have tact. And so much for no comments about his hair. Didn’t even make it an hour. “You and everybody,” Ichigo tells him. The boy doesn’t seem to know what to make of that.

“Erm…which year are you?” asks the kid with the plant.

“Fifth.” He thinks. Maybe.

“Same as us,” says Harry Potter. So Ichigo guessed right—so far so good. “You seem a bit old to be in fifth year, though.”

“Yeah, well. There was a lot of moving, switching schools, repeating grades. Plus, I look older than I am.” Does that seem plausible? Whatever. Urahara should’ve given him a more thorough backstory to go with the rest of his Hogwarts packet.

“What made you decide to come to Hogwarts?” The fluffy-haired girl asks with scary interest. “A lot of people are, well…avoiding it at the moment. On top of that, it seems a lot of trouble to transfer so late in your schooling.”

Ichigo shrugs uncomfortably. “It was decided for me.”

“Oh.” She blinks. “Why?”

“As a punishment, I’m pretty sure.”

Awkward silence falls, but Ichigo’s getting a feel for these kids, and he figures it’s only a matter of time before one of them has to trample all over it.

“What for?

Points to the redheaded boy for jumping in first.

“My sins,” Ichigo says gravely.

“…What does that mean?” the fluffy-haired girl asks, and goddamn, she may actually be winning the ‘refuses to take a hint’ contest. He stares at her blankly, trying to channel Soi Fon.

“You’re lucky,” the floaty girl tells him when it becomes obvious he’s never going to answer. “I hear that in…Japan, sins are sometimes punished by an encounter with a tiny, pink-haired demon.”

Ichigo turns his stare on her. “Yeah? Where’d you hear that?”

“Oh, the Quibbler,” the floaty girl says, pointing at the magazine Potter’s holding.

The whole compartment looks ready to laugh except fluffy-hair, who frowns and mutters something about horrible journalistic standards. So there’s exactly one person in this compartment who knows what’s what, and everybody thinks she’s crazy. Typical. Really convenient for Ichigo, but seriously—typical.

“The wild Yachiru,” he says. “I’ve heard of that.”

The floaty girl smiles a positively smug smile at him, while the rest of the compartment falls into shocked silence. Ichigo’s torn between admiring floaty girl’s attitude and not wanting to be seen with her in public. It’s the cork necklace, he thinks, that pushes it over the edge. Everything else he could roll with, but the cork necklace is a bridge too far. “What’s your name, again?”

“My name is Luna Lovegood. Luna means moon. Your name is Ichigo Kurosaki. What does Ichigo mean?”

She does have a way of cutting right to the heart of the thing. “One protector. Or it can mean protector of one thing.”

“Which do you prefer?”

“That’s another choice I didn’t get much say in.”

Lovegood frowns, either at his words or his expression. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” He’s introducing this girl to Inoue the second he gets a chance. They can form a club for people who pretend to be airheads while secretly outsmarting the whole room. But he and Lovegood are gonna have a chat later on about her knowledge of shinigami—and specifically shinigami from his corner of Soul Society—because everybody and their mothers promised him that no one would know about that.

“…Anyway,” the redheaded girl says, eyeing them in confusion and concern. “Do you know which—”

The door opens, cutting her off, and a white-blond kid marches in with a couple of goons and sneers at everyone in general. He kind of reminds Ichigo of Ishida on Ishida’s very worst day. If Ishida actually were the weakling he looks like he should be. Also if Ishida had never seen battle and had no clue about the consequences of his actions—and yeah, okay, that comparison is totally unfair on Ishida.

Ichigo has to hand it to the kid, though—he gets half the compartment riled up in ten seconds flat. Old hand at it, Ichigo guesses. It’s easy to wind up people you know. Sometimes, when you know them really well, all it takes is one word to make them fly off the handle.

And that word, in this case, would appear to be dogging, and the blond kid totally nails it. If Ichigo remembers right, one of the Order members can turn into a dog—maybe that’s what that was about.

Ichigo has to remember to tell Komamura about the dog guy.

“Sorry,” fluffy-hair says when the blond boy’s gone. “That was Draco Malfoy. He’s an insufferable, prejudiced little monster, and you should ignore everything he says.”

“Already forgotten,” Ichigo says, because it is. Except for the dogging part. That, he’ll probably have to report to somebody—though he’s still unclear on whether he’s supposed to report to just Soul Society, or Soul Society and Dumbledore (who may or may not be an Aizen understudy), or possibly both of them plus Urahara…maybe he’ll just report to Toshiro and let him figure all the political crap out. He’s good at that, and really, he should be the one here anyway.

Rest of the ride’s pretty tame—they only interrogate him a little more before settling down. Lovegood takes her magazine back from Potter and reads it upside down for a while, then she puts it away and freaking stares at everybody for the rest of the trip. Ichigo’s getting more sure by the second that she’s just fucking with people for the hell of it. And she’s succeeding: everybody’s totally weirded out by the time they have to change into their stupid uniforms and get off the train.

There’s a lady on the platform calling for first years, which isn’t all that helpful to Ichigo. “Think I count as a first year?” he asks Lovegood in passing.

“It is your first year, you know,” she replies absently. “On the other hand, I’m sure your face frightens children, so you should probably stay away from them.” And she wanders off.

“Thanks for nothing,” Ichigo calls after her. She ignores him. Feels like home already.

“Mr. Kurosaki?” comes a stern voice from behind him. He turns to see yet another person he wouldn’t want to piss off—this one probably a teacher.

“I’m Ichigo Kurosaki,” he says.

“Minerva McGonagall, Head of Gryffindor House. I’ll be giving you a brief introduction to the school. I’m afraid we’ll miss the feast—your transfer has been extremely rushed, and we are, I’m sorry to say, a bit unprepared for you.”

Great. This is what happens when he lets Urahara organize his life. “Sorry about that.”

“Yes, well, it’s too late to do anything about it now,” she says brusquely. “This way, please.”

She leads him to a carriage pulled by some winged horse creature that looks halfway between a corpse and a hollow (what the hell), and they head up to the…the freaking castle posing as a school. She doesn’t say a word to him until she’s dragged him impatiently inside, up some stairs, down some other stairs, through a few hallways that don’t connect in any logical way, and up a weird escalator/staircase thing that was hiding behind a statue. At the end of all that, there’s a room full of bizarre—but interesting—crap. There’s also food, which is more interesting to Ichigo at this point.

“So, Mr. Kurosaki,” McGonagall sighs, sitting and gesturing him into the chair opposite. “I understand you’re meant to protect Mr. Potter and save us all and kill our enemies for us into the bargain.”

Oh, so she knows about that. Okay. Well, it’s probably easier this way. “Mostly I’m supposed to kill your soul-splitting guy,” he explains. “Everything else follows on from that, the way I hear it.”

“Indeed.” She looks exasperated, but Ichigo feels that’s not his fault. It’s not like he volunteered for this job. “Please feel free to have your dinner—we’re waiting for the headmaster. He’s giving a speech at the moment, but it shouldn’t be long now.”

Ichigo eats, trying to ignore McGonagall’s suspicious staring. He’s used to it, anyway. And the food’s pretty good, considering how awful everybody always claims British food is. Maybe a little heavy and bland, but totally edible.

“They tell me you’re a grim reaper,” McGonagall says eventually. “I find that hard to believe.”

He doesn’t know how to respond to that. “Sorry?”

“You mean to say that you actually are a grim reaper.”

“Soul reaper, I’m told, is the preferred designation, Minerva,” says an old guy with a cheerful face who just appeared behind Ichigo. Which is straight-up terrifying, because the only other person Ichigo knows who can surprise him like that is Yoruichi, and she’s an assassin. “They do not end lives, but merely…escort the dead to their appropriate resting places.

“Hello, Mr. Kurosaki,” assassin guy goes on. “I’m Albus Dumbledore, headmaster here at Hogwarts. It’s a pleasure to meet you at last. Mr. Urahara had nothing but praise for you.”

Ichigo doubts that very much. Huh. So this is the headmaster. Okay, that explains everything. “Um, it’s nice to meet you too, Headmaster.” He thinks about saying he’s also heard a lot about Dumbledore, then figures it’s safer not to go there.

“I’ve taken the liberty of placing you in Gryffindor House. It seems most convenient, if you are to protect Harry. And it appears someone’s bought you a uniform in the appropriate colors, so everything’s settled. Unless you’d prefer to be officially sorted.”

“Sorted? What does that mean?”

“Oh, we’d place the Sorting Hat on your head, and it would sort through your memories and decide which house would best suit you. The process is completely confidential, of course.”

Yeah, that’s not the issue. Ichigo pictures Zangetsu’s probable reaction to some magic hat poking around in his head. Then he pictures Shiro’s. He shudders. “I’m good with Gryffindor. Thanks.” The last thing his brain needs is yet another personality inside it.

“In that case,” Dumbledore says jovially, “Professor McGonagall will be your head of house. She’ll also assist you, wherever possible, with your mission. However, she may not be able to help as much as she’d like.”

“Our Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher this year is a Ministry mole,” McGonagall explains bitterly. “The Ministry is trying to discredit anyone who so much as suggests He Who Must Not Be Named has returned, and the Headmaster is the loudest voice suggesting it. The mole’s name is Dolores Umbridge, and she must not, under any circumstances, learn about your mission here.”

“Wasn’t planning on advertising it,” Ichigo tells her. “We’re not supposed to interfere in the living world at all, normally. Only reason I’m here is that this soul-splitting guy is technically dead, so he’s one of ours. But the fewer living people who know about us, the better.”

They both nod grimly, McGonagall apparently starting to buy that he’s a shinigami. Then they give him a quick rundown of the school’s rules, history, and structure. Most of it he’d already learned from Urahara’s notes, but it’s nice to have a refresher. Though it does confirm his initial suspicion that everything about this school’s setup is, without exception, a hot mess.

Once they’re done with the overview, they give him his schedule, which is as light as they can make it without it looking suspicious. Then they give him Potter’s schedule, presumably so he can bodyguard better. They’re really efficient. He’s surprised and impressed.

“I think that covers everything,” Dumbledore says when they’re finally done. “Do you have any questions for us at present?”

“Yeah, actually. Potter’s got…okay, so everybody has a spirit ribbon. They reflect, uh, the way people are, I guess. Humans have white ribbons, soul reapers have red ones—it goes on like that. Potter’s ribbon is weird, though. It’s white, but it’s got a nasty-feeling dark green thread running through it. Do you know what that’s about?”

Dumbledore and McGonagall exchange unhappy looks that suggest they know exactly what it’s about, and yet somehow they never bothered to mention it before.

“We suspect,” Dumbledore says, “that Voldemort—the soul-splitter, as you call him—has a…connection, of sorts, to Harry. And you’ve just added to that suspicion.” So that’s how you say the name. Voldemort, huh? Yeah, Ichigo’s never even gonna try to pronounce that. “Minerva, if you could step outside for a moment? I’ll send Mr. Kurosaki out to you presently.”

McGonagall leaves, though she’s clearly not happy about it. Dumbledore waits until she’s gone, then turns back to Ichigo. “It’s not impossible,” he says, “that Voldemort unintentionally split his soul one final time when he killed the Potters, and that that soul fragment attached itself to…well. To the nearest object at hand.”

“Which was Harry Potter,” Ichigo says, wanting to be really clear on this point.

Dumbledore nods sadly.

“Okay, this is a thing I might’ve wanted to know right at the beginning of this conversation, or better yet, before I agreed to come here. Because I did not sign up to kill a kid. I won’t do it.”

“Then perhaps, as a soul reaper, you can find another way,” Dumbledore says. “Merlin knows I’ve had no success. And I’ve been trying, Mr. Kurosaki. I swear to you I’ve been trying.”

He looks older than Yamamoto, all of a sudden, and a million times more tired. Ichigo may not like him all that much, but he can’t help but feel bad for the guy. “I’ll figure something out,” Ichigo says firmly.

Dumbledore smiles a lying fucking smile at him. “I hope so. In the meantime, I’ll have Professor McGonagall keep you up to date on the password to my office. Feel free to come here any time, with any questions or concerns.”

“I will,” Ichigo tells him, while silently resolving never to set foot in here again if he can find a way around it. “Thanks.”

“Professor McGonagall will escort you to your common room. Have a pleasant evening.”

“Yeah.” Because it’s been awesome so far. “You too.”

* * *

Ichigo makes it to his dorm room—dorm room, how the hell did he let them talk him into this?—just in time for a screaming match about whether or not the soul-splitter guy really is up and running around. Good times. And Ichigo managed to walk right into the middle of it, so now everyone’s staring at him.

“Hey,” he says. “Ichigo Kurosaki, nice to meet you. Don’t mind me, just keep on…screaming, or whatever. I’ll be over here.” He heads for the one unoccupied bed.

“No, wait—what do you think about all this?” Potter demands belligerently. Ichigo’s pretty sure stalking goats aren’t supposed to be belligerent.

“Define ‘all this,’” Ichigo sighs.

“Do you believe Voldemort’s back?”

Ichigo shifts his weight so he’s balanced and stable. This is looking like it might descend into a brawl, and he wants to be ready. “You mean the soul-splitter guy?” he asks to buy time.

The climate of the room takes an abrupt turn from hostile to baffled.

“…Soul-splitter?” the redheaded boy from the train asks.

“Yeah. You know, he wants to live forever, so he split his soul into pieces, makes him hard to completely kill off? Like…” he tries to think of a good English-language analogy. “Whack-a-mole.” Yeah, he’s proud of that one. Or he would be, except that now everybody’s staring at him in stunned silence. “What?”

“I’ve never heard that,” Potter says, eyeing Ichigo. “Ron?”

“Me neither,” says the redhead—Ron, apparently. Ichigo should really make an effort to remember the names of the people he’s sharing a room with, at least. “I didn’t even think you could do that. Splitting your soul.”

“Neville?”

“No,” says the soft-faced boy. Neville.

“Anybody?”

“No,” chorus the other two, whose names apparently even Potter doesn’t remember.

“So where did you hear about it?” Potter demands in a fit of towering suspicion.

Looks like Ichigo’s successfully shifted everyone’s negative attention off of Potter and onto himself. Is that good? It seems like a bodyguard kind of thing to do. He’d feel better about it if it hadn’t been completely accidental, though. “It was in the introductory packet I got before I came here.”

Nobody believes him, which is disappointing, because it’s actually true.

“How could your school in Japan have figured out something about a British wizard that the British Ministry of Magic hasn’t figured out yet?” Ron asks, just as suspicious as Potter. “That makes no sense. You-Know-Who’s never even been to Japan.”

“Maybe they’ve seen something like this before,” Ichigo suggests, though he knows they haven’t. “Maybe it’s only a theory. How should I know? I just read the packet.” He honestly doesn’t know how the hell they found out about the soul-splitting thing. He assumes it was a Western European Soul Society investigation, and he’s grateful he had nothing to do with it.

“So you do think he’s back,” accuses the still-nameless boy who was yelling at Potter when Ichigo came in.

“I think he was never really gone.”

“Then you’re mad, too,” the boy says firmly.

“Okay. Nice to meet you, too, whoever you are.”

“I’m Seamus Finnegan,” he says, “and you’re all mad.”

“You could be right,” Ichigo allows, shrugging. “But if you’re wrong, the future’s gonna be full of ugly surprises for you. Never hurts to prepare for the worst.”

Finnegan glares at him, then whirls around and flounces into bed. Neville quietly declares that he and his grandmother believe Potter. Everybody else just silently goes to bed, not looking at each other. Well, Potter does cast Ichigo a few looks that are a mix of grateful and mistrustful. It’s all incredibly awkward.

Ichigo unpacks as much of his stuff as he can in the dark, then gets into bed and waits for everyone else to fall asleep. He’s got a report to give and a rant to deliver. And if he’s quick about it, he can wake Toshiro up at an obnoxiously early hour.

* * *

Harry isn’t at all surprised to hear Ichigo sneaking out of the dorms in the middle of the night. He’d stayed awake waiting for it, in fact. He stays put until the Marauder’s Map shows Ichigo leaving the common room, then he grabs the Invisibility Cloak, wakes up Ron, and drags him downstairs. Ron’s not happy about it, but he’ll survive. Harry enchants a paper airplane note to fly up the girls’ stairs and wake Hermione, which gives Ron time to pull himself together.

“Where’s he gone, then?” Ron asks on a yawn, not exactly giving the impression of great interest.

“The Astronomy Tower,” Harry tells him, holding out the map. “Or I’m guessing that’s him, in that it’s the only name in a language I can’t read.”

“Huh. Maybe the map shows your name the way you’d normally write it yourself?”

“Looks like.”

At this point, Hermione storms down to the common room, tired and furious. “What in the world,” she hisses quietly. “It’s the middle of the night! What do you mean, ‘We have to see what he’s up to’? Who is he?”

“The transfer. Ichigo,” Ron explains. “Turns out he’s in Gryffindor after all. And he walked in our room tonight and right away said that You-Know-Who split his soul into pieces and hid them all over. He said it like he thought everybody already knew. And now he’s gone and snuck out of the dorm, so Harry’s convinced he’s a Death Eater.”

“I.” Harry stops. He supposes that does more or less sum it up. “It seems like a good idea to check, anyway.”

Hermione sighs and puts her face in her hands briefly, like she always does when she thinks Harry and Ron are being especially ridiculous. “Where is he now?” she mumbles, resigned.

“Astronomy Tower,” Ron tells her.

“And you have your cloak, Harry?”

“Right here.”

“Well then,” she drops her hands and straightens up. “I suppose we may as well get it over with.”

She’s come so far since first year.

From the look of the map, it seems Ichigo’s happy to stay in the Astronomy Tower now that he’s gotten there, so that makes things simpler.

“I can’t believe we’re sneaking around the school in the dead of night again,” Hermione complains in a whisper as they start up the Astronomy Tower stairs. “Well, yes I can, of course I can. But I can’t believe we’re doing it already.”

“We’ve a problem, too,” Ron mutters. “If he’s up there meeting people, they’ll all be talking Japanese, won’t they?”

“Not if they’re Death Eaters,” Harry argues.

“What if they’re Japanese Death Eaters?”

“There are no Japanese Death Eaters, Ronald,” Hermione says impatiently.

“How do you know that, then?”

“And I know a translating spell, in any case,” she carries on as if she wasn’t interrupted, just as they reach the entrance to the observation platform, which is where Ichigo is—pacing up and down. And still alone, so far.

“Really?” Harry asks. He hadn’t known there were translating spells, but of course Hermione would.

“I learned it in case I ever met any of Viktor’s friends who couldn’t speak English,” Hermione explains quickly, ignoring Ron’s sour expression. “It’s tricky to learn, but surprisingly easy to adapt for different languages once you have learned it. I checked on how to adapt it to Japanese as soon as we met Ichigo.”

“As you do,” Ron says, sounding fond despite himself.

“It only lasts for half an hour, but that should be plenty of time to get the idea if someone does come to meet him,” Hermione concludes. “Come on, then. He’s as far from the door as he can be—we should go now.”

They quickly slip through the door, closing it softly behind them.

And there’s Ichigo, still pacing, still alone. But he’s ranting (in Japanese) into a mobile phone, which is…it’s impossible, isn’t it? Hermione clearly thinks it’s impossible; she looks shocked. (Ron has no idea what a mobile is, so he just looks confused). Obviously they can’t understand a word, but Ichigo sounds seriously annoyed. It’s a lot more emotion than they’ve heard in his voice until now. Harry nods at Hermione, and she casts the translating spell in a whisper.

“お前らのせいだから you figure out who I’m supposed to be reporting to,” Ichigo snaps impatiently as the spell takes effect. “This Dumbledore guy is—yeah, a little of that, Renji had a point, but I don’t think he’s actually that far gone. No, he’s one of these old guys who’s seen a lot of shit and so he thinks he knows everything about everything—you know the type. Manipulative, too. Weird cross between Urahara-san and Yamamoto, basically. Yes, it’s unholy, and that’s why I’m asking, do I actually have to report to this guy? Besides, it won’t be subtle if I’m running up to the headmaster’s office all the time. Yeah, there are people watching. Seriously, this is a school with spies in it.”

“Report?” Hermione mouths silently, looking worried. Harry and Ron shrug. Harry’s not understanding most of this conversation, but if Ichigo’s wondering if he should report to Dumbledore—he can’t be all bad, can he? Even if it doesn’t sound like he especially likes Dumbledore?

“The stalking goat kid? As far as I can tell, they’re keeping him in the dark and feeding him bullshit, so—right? Picture what I’d be like under those circumstances. Except less violent. Okay, a lot less violent. I do not have rage issues, I just do what needs to be done.”

Harry scowls. He doesn’t like the sound of stalking goat one bit. Ichigo had better not be talking about him.

“You get to hear about it because you should be the one here and we both know it. For one thing, you can actually do kido. For another thing, I just finished high school—do you know how much I wanted to turn right around and do it again? This blows. Oh, don’t even. Wearing a gigai for a few months is not as bad as repeating high school.”

Apparently the spell doesn’t know a translation for kido or gigai. Harry sees Hermione writing the words down in a notebook. Is she actually keeping a notebook on Ichigo? …Actually he’d be more surprised if she wasn’t. Ichigo is more obviously full of lies with every word that comes out of his mouth, even if they don’t seem to be evil lies. That’s the kind of thing that sends Hermione right into a research frenzy.

“Toshiro, there’ll be homework. And they use quills to write with, apparently. Screw that, I’m having Yuzu send me a fountain pen or something. Yeah, I would ignore it, but in just one train ride I worked out that one of the kid’s best friends is seriously overinvested in everybody’s academic development, so I doubt she’ll let me. Fine, explain to me how I bodyguard somebody without talking to his best friends.”

Harry, Ron, and Hermione exchange wide-eyed looks. Ichigo’s supposed to be Harry’s bodyguard?

“Yeah. No, I just—yes. Fine. But send me visitors other than Urahara-san and Yoruichi-san sometimes, because I’m gonna go out of my goddamn mind. I’d even take Kenpachi, that’s how desperate I am. Ha! No. Oh, and I meant to ask you…Wait. Gotta go, I’ve got eavesdroppers.”

Harry jumps, a little guilty, but mostly shocked. How could Ichigo know they’re here? Can he smell them or something?

“As far as I know, they don’t speak Japanese, but I wouldn’t put it past—well, it’ll be awkward as hell, but I think we’ll survive. I don’t get why every single thing about this is so top freaking secret anyway. Yeah, I get that, but—look, the kids didn’t even know about the soul-splitting thing. Exactly. No idea, it’s so fucked up. Sure, I’ll call next week. Tell Rangiku-san to beat up Ikkaku for me. Bye.”

Harry, Ron, and Hermione start edging back toward the door as quickly and quietly as they can—only to be stopped by Ichigo, who’s somehow gotten between them and the door.

“How the bloody hell…” Ron gasps, and Harry elbows him silent.

Ichigo’s eyes narrow, and he stares right at them. But there’s no way he can see them, is there? No one can see them, except possibly Mrs. Norris. Mrs. Norris is a cat, though—it doesn’t count.

Ichigo reaches right out and touches them, then he grabs the cloak and pulls it off.

How?!” It’s Hermione this time. Harry’d like to ask the same thing, actually, but he’s too busy silently gaping.

“Magic cape thing that makes people invisible,” Ichigo mutters, shaking his head and dropping the Invisibility Cloak at their feet. “Why not, I guess. So. Do you speak Japanese?”

After a pause, Hermione straightens up to her full height and lifts her chin. “There’s…there’s a spell.”

Ichigo sighs and scrubs his face. “Of course there is.”

“How did you know we were here?” Hermione carries on bravely for all of them.

“I can tell when people are around,” Ichigo says vaguely. “Why are you here, by the way?”

“We were following you. Why are you here?” Ron demands.

“I was calling my family.”

“This…Toshiro is your family?” Hermione asks doubtfully. “That didn’t sound like a conversation with family. And you can’t use electronics at Hogwarts, so what do you mean you called him?”

“He’s family now,” Ichigo says firmly. “He’s still getting used to the idea, but yeah. And the phone isn’t electronic. Tell you the truth, I have no idea how it works. Whatever acts as the battery never dies, and it gets reception everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. I’d show it to you, but I’m pretty sure it’s a secret, and all the inventors I know are terrifying and carry swords, so. Sorry, you can’t see it.”

“Swords?” Ron repeats dubiously.

“Swords,” Ichigo confirms. “Are we done?”

“No!” Harry snaps, indignant, shaking off his confusion. “What did you mean, about…being a bodyguard? Are you supposed to be my bodyguard?”

Ichigo shrugs, like he’s bored with the conversation. “Yeah.”

“I don’t need a bodyguard.”

“Don’t look at me; wasn’t my idea.”

“But why would…” Hermione frowns up at Ichigo. “This makes no sense. Why would they send someone from Japan to be Harry’s bodyguard? And someone so young. Why not an Auror?”

“What they told me was that they needed somebody the right age to blend in, and I’m the only one near that age who has enough experience. In bodyguarding. Besides, nobody here recognizes me, which is a plus. And I hear my boss has local connections, so. Here we are.”

“You said that Toshiro bloke should be here instead of you, though,” Ron points out, intrigued. “Earlier, when you were talking.”

“He had the right of first refusal. Apparently.” Ichigo scowls resentfully.

“You said that’s what they told you,” Hermione puts in. “It doesn’t seem like you believe them.”

“Yeah.” Ichigo scratches the back of his head, suddenly awkward. “Truth is, I’m like eighty percent sure I’m here because somebody lost a bet. I just can’t tell if it was my side or your side.”

“What does that mean?” Ron demands.

“Just…well, I get things done, but I get them done my own way. And sometimes, it’s not a way that the people who gave the orders had in mind. Assuming I follow orders at all.”

Well, that’s ominous. “And…how do you feel about your orders to keep me alive?” Harry asks uneasily.

“Oh, I’m keeping you alive,” Ichigo says with determination, which is a relief. “But if people start telling me how I should go about it, I’m not gonna take that well.”

There’s a pause while everyone digests that.

“Not exactly popular back home, are you?” Ron murmurs eventually.

Ichigo seems pleased with himself. “Depends who you ask.”

“Only I really don’t need a bodyguard,” Harry says again.

“You sure?” Ichigo asks. “Way I hear it, you almost get yourself killed at least once a year. To say nothing of last year, when you tried to get killed like five times.”

“Four times,” says Ron cheerfully. “Be fair.” He’s actually enjoying this, the traitor.

“And I survived every time,” Harry insists, even though Ichigo’s estimate of his near-death experiences is fairly accurate.

“Whatever. It’s not like they’ll let me go home just because you don’t like the idea,” Ichigo says, rolling his eyes. “And if I’m here, I might as well be doing something with my day. What can it hurt?”

“He makes a fair point,” Hermione points out. “Always assuming he’s telling the truth.”

“Ask Dumbledore,” Ichigo suggests. “Some of this is definitely his fault.”

Harry scowls at the idea of asking Dumbledore anything. Surely Ichigo wouldn’t offer that option if he didn’t mean it, though. Would he? Does he know Dumbledore’s avoiding Harry?

“Or you could ask McGonagall,” Ichigo says, eyes narrowed, studying Harry’s face. “If that’s more your speed. She knows about me, too.”

“…I’ll do that,” Harry says reluctantly. Because he doesn’t need a bodyguard. But if he has to have one, he supposes he could do worse than Ichigo, who generally minds his own business and has never once called Harry a liar—not so far in their admittedly short acquaintance, anyway. In any case, Ichigo seems enough like the Weasley twins that it probably isn’t a good idea to allow him to get bored.

That said, Harry’s never had a long-term bodyguard. He’s not sure what to do with one on a day-to-day basis. “So are we supposed to…be friends with you now, or what?”

Ichigo looks surprised. “Not unless you’re feeling friendly. Just ignore me. I mean, tell me if you’re doing something dangerous so I can be there, but otherwise, don’t worry about it. I’ll be around, but pretend I’m furniture or something.”

Harry’s so uncomfortable with that idea he doesn’t even know where to begin. “…What would you do if we broke school rules? Would you tell, er, whoever you’re reporting to?”

“No,” Ichigo says, rolling his eyes. “They’re not paying me to police school rules, they’re paying me to keep you alive.” He pauses. “Actually, they’re not paying me at all—they’re bribing me. Still. Same idea.”

“Bribing you?” Hermione asks, interested. “With what?”

“My family’s safety,” Ichigo tells her shortly.

Everyone goes quiet. Harry feels a bit awful about all the things he’s been suspecting Ichigo of up until now, when it turns out he’s just keeping Harry safe so somebody else will keep his family safe.

Wait.

“Why can’t you just stay home and keep your own family safe?” Harry asks.

“I can’t protect my family on my own,” Ichigo explains. “You, I can protect on my own.”

Hermione stares. “You mean your family is in more danger than Harry?”

Ichigo waves a dismissive hand. “It’s a question of numbers. My family and friends—they’re scattered around. Potter’s just one person, and I can keep an eye on him pretty easily. When there are a bunch of people in different places, though, I need help. And I can have it, as long as I do things like agreeing to keep an eye on Potter.”

“But not if you don’t?” Hermione asks. She looks horrified, which is exactly how Harry feels.

“Not as much if I don’t.” Ichigo smiles at Hermione, and for the first time since they met him, he actually looks nice. “You don’t have to look like that. It’s only fair, when you think about it. Like an exchange.” He pauses, possibly to see if they have further questions. They don’t. Harry suspects they’re all far too blindsided for more questions at the moment. He knows he is.

“We’re done, then?” Ichigo asks. “Good. Now get lost. I still have to call my sisters before they leave for school. Try not to die on your way back to the common room, Potter. That would be embarrassing for both of us.”

And with that, he walks back out to the middle of the observation platform and pulls out his mobile again. Harry, Ron, and Hermione stare at each other in baffled silence, then duck back under the Invisibility Cloak and return to the common room, at a loss for anything better to do.

* * *

Ichigo’s first morning at Hogwarts continues socially uncomfortable, with the Finnegan kid making snide remarks and then bravely running away, Potter taking it out on everyone, and Granger yelling at Potter for taking it out on everyone. Ichigo tries to make himself as invisible as possible, but he’s a tall guy with orange hair, so there’s only so much he can do. And that’s only the start of the morning’s problems.

It develops that the dining hall ceiling imitates the sky, which seems a strange choice, in that this is Scotland, and Ichigo understands the weather is shitty more often than it isn’t. Also, owls carry the mail into the dining hall, which seems unsanitary. Finally, the kitchen staff tried to throw some Japanese food into the mix, which is…well-meant. Ichigo appreciates what they’re trying to do, he really does, but their take on Japanese food is…odd. It’s not exactly bad, but it’s not exactly Japanese food, either. The rice, in particular, has something off about it, when it seems like that should be the easiest thing to get right. And since they went to the trouble just for him, he has to eat some of it, though he’d really rather stick to the local food. At least he’s expecting that to taste unfamiliar.

There’s a lot of talk over breakfast about owls and newts, and everybody’s acting like they’re exams, but Ichigo was pretty confident they were animals—owls are definitely animals; they just delivered the mail. Which means there are exams named after animals. This is a weird freaking school.

Fortunately, there’s one bright spot to the morning, and that’s the discovery of Ron’s twin brothers. They’re a lot like the very wildest members of the Twelfth Division—the types who try to invent something fun and end up destroying half the compound instead. People like that are really useful, because you can talk them into any damn thing, and they’ll always assume it’s not as dangerous as it sounds.

Ichigo decides he should get to know the twins immediately.

It’s all downhill from the twins, though, because after breakfast come the classes, and they are—wow. Like, Ichigo gets that it’s a magic school, so classes were bound to be bizarre. He just hadn’t remotely guessed how bizarre.

History of Magic is taught by a ghost. Ichigo can’t believe they’re pulling this shit on him. A ghost teaching history. He may cry. But Urahara’s report was right—there’s a little bubble on the end of the ghost’s almost-invisible soul chain. Some kind of magic, apparently, that keeps the chains from eroding and the local ghosts from turning into hollows. Very cool, Ichigo has to admit.

The ghost is lecturing on giant wars, and Ichigo’s finding it interesting only because he had no idea giants were a thing. Knowing that they are, he has to wonder if Jidanbo was a giant when he was alive. Then, too, he has to wonder why they’re not common knowledge, being, obviously, giant, and also, from the sound of it, really violent. How do you hide an entire species of giant, violent, intelligent creatures?

Urahara probably knows. Ichigo takes a bunch of notes, not so much on the class as on things he’s discovering he needs to ask Urahara about at some point.

Things take a turn for the worse, though, when the ghost abruptly pauses mid-droning lecture and spins to face Ichigo. Not satisfied with that, it has to come float directly in front of him and stare into his eyes in apparent horror.

“Why?” the ghost demands.

“It’s not about you,” Ichigo tells him. “It’s not about any of you here. You don’t need to worry.”

“Ah. Good.” The ghost, satisfied and therefore losing interest, floats off and resumes the lecture. The living section of the classroom, meanwhile, dissolves into a hissing mess of whispers. Whoever thought Ichigo could handle any kind of undercover anything was clearly a moron.

After History of Magic is Potions, and Snape gets to join the ranks of all the teachers who don’t like Ichigo’s looks. On the plus side, Snape doesn’t seem to like anybody’s looks, so at least Ichigo doesn’t feel singled out. Nice change, there. In fact, if anyone gets special hatred, it’s Potter. That poor kid—he’s Soul Society’s stalking goat, but he’s his own government’s scapegoat, and apparently he’s Snape’s scapegoat, too. Just all around treated more like a goat than a human. Ichigo wouldn’t trade lives with the sorry bastard for anything.

As for Ichigo, he’s pretty sure he screwed up his potion, but since he didn’t actually blow it up, he’s calling it a success. (Snape calls it a lot of things, none of them even in the ballpark of success, but since Ichigo’s pretty sure Snape can’t be made happy, he’s not taking it personally.)

Ichigo has a free period after that, during which Potter goes to Divination and Ichigo just has to pray he doesn’t manage to trip over a crystal ball and die. As for Ichigo, he goes down to the library to sit very quietly for an hour and work on his suspension of disbelief.

Then there’s Defense Against the Dark Arts. It’s taught by this…creature…wearing a whole lot of pink, and it’s just. Ichigo can practically hear Yuzu crying every time he looks at that sweater. He himself has no particular fondness for pink, but that’s a seriously unfair thing to do to any color.

Then the pink creature starts talking in a freaky small-child voice, and Ichigo cannot force his brain to parse her words. Not that he thinks she’s particularly worth listening to, but she’s the Ministry mole, so he should probably try to pay attention.

He can’t, though. He really can’t. He just stares in fascinated horror until she stops talking and everybody opens their books. He opens his book, too, since apparently that’s what they’re doing. The book quickly proves to be mind-numbingly boring, so he starts writing up his first report instead. It includes a lot of phrases like why would you, and wouldn’t it be faster to just blow up the school, and undue cruelty to substitute shinigami.

The teacher sidles up beside him and stares at his report. Great. The whole point of the exercise was to encourage her not to take an interest in him.

“Why don’t you take notes in English, dear?” she coos.

Ichigo frowns up at her. “My English bad. This way more fast.”

Everyone in class who’s heard him speak English before turns to stare at him. Most of them look like they’re about to start out laughing, so that’s good. Or bad, if they actually do start laughing. That would blow his cover. Granger is also staring at him in incredulous delight, but she, at least, has her hand clapped over her mouth. It’s good that someone understands the game.

“Oh.” The teacher blinks. “Well, I’m surprised people from your…country…would allow you to attend school here without being able to speak a proper—to properly speak the language. You must practice your English, dear. Practice! Do you understand?”

Wow, this lady is an all-around class act. But Ichigo just nods gamely, and she goes away before anybody does anything more than snort quietly. Win.

Neville Longbottom passes him a note that reads, “I want to be you when I grow up.” Ichigo smiles and shoves the note in his pocket to show Renji. This, my friend, this is how undercover is done.

Then the whole class abruptly gets into a screaming fight with the teacher and a riot almost breaks out, so that’s pretty entertaining. Shiro’s downright cheered by it, and Ichigo’s kind of impressed with the teacher’s cast-iron balls—because that’s what it takes to tell a bunch of kids who had a classmate murdered the year before that they live in a world of safety and sunshine. Like. Damn.

Anyway, Potter ultimately gets kicked out—kid really is everybody’s goat—and then, apparently in the spirit of the thing, Ichigo gets kicked out too. The teacher wants him to escort Potter to their Head of House and also get a translating charm for himself. Makes sense. How’s she supposed to spy on him if she can’t read what he’s writing?

By the time Ichigo makes it out the door, Potter’s already running down the hall and yelling at a poltergeist. It’s a pretty sorry day when Ichigo thinks somebody should learn to pick his battles. He trails after them, though, because he’s got no idea where McGonagall’s office is. Also because they’re funny to watch.

McGonagall must not agree, though, given the way she flings open her door and demands to know what the noise is. Which is exactly the moment Peeves notices Ichigo, freezes in panic, and then dives into the ceiling screaming about murderers and death dealers. McGonagall and Potter both turn to stare at Ichigo.

“Ghosts don’t like me,” he lies blandly.

“Yes,” McGonagall says faintly. “So I’d understood. Well, come inside, the two of you, and explain to me why you’re here when you should be in class.”

“I’ve been sent to see you,” Potter grumbles, holding out a note of offensive pinkness.

McGonagall takes the note, frowning, and reads it. By the time she’s finished, she looks about as happy as Potter. She sighs in exasperation and sets it aside. “And you, Mr. Kurosaki,” she demands. “What are you doing here?”

“That teacher thinks I can’t speak English,” Ichigo explains, and despite everything, Potter smirks. “She wants me to get a translating charm or something.”

McGonagall blinks slowly. “You seem to me to be quite proficient in English, Mr. Kurosaki.”

Ichigo shrugs, and Potter looks down and bites his lip against a grin.

“And I suppose you have no idea how this confusion came about,” McGonagall continues, taking off her glasses and pinching the bridge of her nose.

“No idea,” Ichigo says firmly, and then, pretty sure of his footing here, “but I wouldn’t mind if she stayed confused.”

McGonagall gives him a small smile (and Potter laughs outright). “Well. After all, if I gave you a translation charm, how would you ever learn…?”

“Good point,” Ichigo allows, impressed.

McGonagall sighs and replaces her glasses. “Mr. Kurosaki, if you get yourself expelled, that will be of no help to anyone, and I will be extremely annoyed.”

“Understood.”

“Please go back to class now, before you convince me to do anything else ill-advised. Mr. Potter, you stay.”

Ichigo leaves. He feels pretty good about today. So far, it’s only mostly been a disaster.

* * *

Fred and George are, if not connoisseurs of human nature, at least extremely astute when it comes to deducing what they can get away with in which company. And that’s why they’re so interested in the new boy. They have a feeling—and they are very rarely wrong—that Ichigo would let them get away with more than anyone they’ve ever met.

(Always excepting Lee, of course, who’s an honorary Weasley in any case. They’d swap him out with Percy any day of the week. They’d even swap him out with Ronniekins.)

The unsettling thing, though, about Ichigo Kurosaki, is that he watches them with…oh…calculation. They’re used to, say, amusement, fear, and exasperation being aimed their way. Calculation is a new one, and they’re not sure what to make of it.

And when you’re not sure of a thing, the logical response is to test it until you are.

“Say, Ichigo,” Fred begins, sidling up to him at dinner. “We have a business proposal for you.”

Ichigo frowns at them. Of course, Ichigo is in a constant state of frown—it doesn’t have to mean anything. “Business proposal?”

“That’s right,” says George. “You see, we’ve invented a few joke candies, and we need to give them a trial run before they’re ready for marketing. We need test subjects. No real danger, you understand!”

“Certainly not,” Fred agrees. “We would never.”

“And in any case, you’d be handsomely compensated. Double if you end up in the Hospital Wing.”

“And best of all, it would get you out of this dining hall sooner rather than later.”

As one, they turn to look at Harry, who is dealing with the stress of having his sanity publicly questioned with all the grace and subtlety of a rampaging hippogriff.

Ichigo pushes back his plate. “I won’t be your test subject,” he says, “but I am curious about what your candies do. Let’s go.”

Fred and George exchange a look. So he’s curious about their products. Which is curious. Is he a prankster himself? Is he a sadist? Is he—most alarming of all—competition?

They’ll just have to keep poking at him until they find out.

He’s not competition. They figure that out immediately, because he’s not interested in the process of making Fainting Fancies—he’s just interested in their effects. But he’s not a sadist, either, because he looks alarmed when the firsties faint, and manages, somehow, to catch three of them before they hit the ground. Then again, he’s not a prankster, because he’s interested in the results in entirely the wrong way. He doesn’t look like he’s having fun, he just looks…calculating. Still calculating.

He’s a true mystery, is Ichigo. They’d test him more, only Hermione has to ruin everything by storming over just then and threatening them with Mum—which is utterly uncalled for—and Ichigo wanders off to do homework.

(What is Hermione like, anyway? She’s not family. Not yet, at any rate. Ron wouldn’t really, though, would he? Not even Ron, not a rulebook-thumper. Except that yes. Yes, he would. That’s the tragedy of it.)

Oh, well. If they can’t continue their experiment now, they’ll continue it later. One way or another, they will figure out Ichigo Kurosaki.

* * *

Ichigo doesn’t go into day two with a lot of hope, and it turns out that’s wise. Breakfast sees Potter and Granger and Ron all fighting about elves and then sulking. (Because elves are a thing, too. What the hell.)

First class is Charms, and Flitwick talks a lot about the animal tests, and then tells them to go over summoning charms, which apparently everybody else already knows how to do. Ichigo tries to do one and blows up his desk. Rukia, at least, would be proud.

Transfiguration is next, and Ichigo’s simultaneously pleased and worried to see McGonagall teaching it. He likes her, but he also, oh, fears and respects her. She’s got kind of an Unohana vibe, and since there’s basically no chance of his being able to transfigure anything, he doesn’t see this ending well for him.

McGonagall also talks about the animal tests for a while and Ichigo tunes out, at least until she hands him a snail and tells him to make it disappear. He checks to see if she’s messing with him, but she looks really serious. Plus, she’s given everyone else the same instructions, and she doesn’t seem the type to troll her classes.

Ichigo raises his hand and McGonagall scowls at him, so they’re off to a great start. “Yes, Mr. Kurosaki?”

“Could I try this on something that’s…uh, not alive?”

The scowls deepens. “Why?”

“Because Professor Flitwick had us summoning things last class, and Ichigo blew up his desk instead,” Ron informs her gleefully, so at least Ichigo’s made someone happy today.

McGonagall has to turn away and take a moment. Ichigo darkly suspects she’s laughing at him. She does eventually give him a rock to practice on, though.

He doesn’t blow up his desk this time. There’s just a small, controlled fire, and Ichigo counts that as progress. McGonagall doesn’t seem to agree.

Next lesson is Care of Magical Creatures, which features little stick people. Ichigo just accepts this, possibly because his capacity for shock has shorted out. He partners up with the yelling guy—Finnegan—and Thomas, the last guy in their dorm. Thomas turns out to be just enough like Chad to be comforting—he’s quiet and calm, obviously not as badass as Chad, but still easygoing and undemanding and therefore reassuring to stand beside. It’s nice—the familiarity of it in the midst of all the weird that is this school.

Partnering up with them also means Ichigo doesn’t have to be a party to whatever the hell Potter’s up to—getting into sneering contests with the blond boy from the train, taking against the professor for no reason Ichigo can see, and so on. Potter’s blood pressure must be out of control. Ichigo’s getting tired just watching him.

But at least a few people march up to Potter and loudly believe in him on their way to gardening class. That seems to cheer him up. One of those people is Lovegood, though, and as much as Ichigo trusts that she’s got a firm grip on reality, he’s the only one. Anybody else would probably find it worrying to have Lovegood declaring them sane—especially as sane as she is.

She winks at Ichigo when she passes him. He wonders if that was a shinigami-related wink, or a did-you-see-me-mess-with-Potter’s-mind wink. He tries not to worry about it.

In gardening class, the plants only halfheartedly try to kill him and he doesn’t set anything on fire, so he chalks it up as uneventful. Dinner’s also uneventful, unless you count a girl swinging by to yell at Potter for a while, but since that seems to be like an hourly thing, Ichigo’s not sure he should. After dinner, Ichigo does exactly enough homework to keep himself from being expelled, then he goes up to the roof to call his sisters.

He doesn’t think to worry about Potter. Kid’s just in detention with the Ministry mole. How wrong could that go?

In retrospect, Ichigo will wonder how he’d managed to learn absolutely nothing from his first two days at Hogwarts.

* * *

Ichigo continues going to classes and keeping an eye on Potter, waiting for an evil, broken-souled wizard to come and try to murder the kid, but no joy. He also blows a lot of things up and sets a lot of other things on fire, and gets yelled at by every single professor except Binns. And that’s just because Binns is afraid of him.

This might be the most annoying mission Ichigo’s ever been on. Not even in the ballpark in terms of danger, obviously, but just for day-to-day, grinding irritation, he really thinks this has them all beat. He’s not usually a very communicative guy, but on this mission, he’s feeling the need for frequent sanity checks badly enough that he’s taken to calling everyone he knows who might be even vaguely sympathetic and whining at them. At least it’s making Karin and Yuzu happy.

That’s why he gets back to the common room so late on Thursday night—he was busy listening to Ishida expansively insult his intelligence and question the existence of his common sense. And he was enjoying it, so he knows he’s in bad shape.

It’s a surprise to run into Potter and Ron in front of the Gryffindor portrait this time of night. Ron’s hissing something at Potter—a worried, get-your-ass-to-the-Fourth kind of hissing. Ichigo recognizes the style, so he automatically checks Potter for injuries.

The kid’s hand is bleeding. Ichigo walks over and grabs it for inspection without thinking things through—he hardly knows Potter, so this is definitely weird behavior. Still, Potter’s bleeding, and Ichigo’s bodyguard gig may be a cover, but that doesn’t mean he’s not taking it seriously.

“What are you doing?!” Potter demands, tugging at his arm until Ichigo releases him.

“Who did this?” Ichigo asks in a quiet rage, because it’s not just blood. It’s words carved into Potter’s hand. I must not tell lies.

This is not happening to someone Ichigo’s responsible for.

“No one—” “Umbridge!” Harry and Ron say over each other.

That’s right. She’s had Potter in detention.

“She carved shit into your hand?” Ichigo hisses, horrified.

“No,” Harry insists, trying to hide the evidence. Classic.

“Right.” Ichigo turns to give the portrait the password and drags the other two inside. “How’s she doing it? Is she sitting there taking a knife to you or what?”

“No!” Harry says indignantly, like that’s just silly, when he is clearly still bleeding from the hand. “It’s just—it’s a quill. It doesn’t have any ink, it’s—when I put the words on paper, it writes them with my blood.”

“And carves them into the back of your hand.”

“…Yeah.”

Ichigo wonders why he has such a gift for finding the creatively evil sadists. “Where’d she put the quill?”

“You’re not thinking of stealing that quill,” Ron whispers, wide-eyed. “That’s…that’s mental. You’ll be expelled for sure—”

“We should be so lucky,” Ichigo mutters. “Potter. Where.”

“What do you care?” Potter asks sullenly.

“I’m supposed to be your bodyguard. It’s my job to keep you safe, and at the moment you’re freaking bleeding, so I’m going to do my job.”

“So I’m just a job to you.” Potter’s attempting to win the sulking Olympics, but given that people are carving shit into his hand, Ichigo can hardly blame him.

“You’re my duty,” Ichigo corrects. “You don’t understand how seriously I take my duties. Come on, cough it up. My motives shouldn’t matter—do you want that quill gone or don’t you?”

“It’s in her office,” Potter says. “I don’t know where—she always has it out when I get there. It’s a big, black quill. But you’ll only get into trouble—and who knows what’ll happen if you do get rid of it? What if she comes up with something worse?

“Then I’ll get rid of that, too,” Ichigo says confidently, heading up the stairs to the dorm. “Come on. Sleep.”

Ron looks disappointed. “I thought you were stealing the…?”

“When they least expect it.”

“I really doubt she’s expecting it now.”

“Ron,” Harry cuts in, exhausted. “Let it go.” He seems to think Ichigo’s all talk and not actually planning to go through with it.

Ichigo is not all talk. Ichigo, in fact, is something of a king of understatement.

* * *

He’s tried to be good about staying inside his body while at Hogwarts for a number of reasons. Firstly, Urahara claims that wizards can’t see shinigami, but they can obviously see ghosts, and Ichigo finds that worrying. Secondly, it really alarms the Hogwarts ghosts when he runs around in shinigami form, and he’s trying not to upset them. He doesn’t have anything against them; they don’t deserve to be scared. And finally, he hasn’t wanted his dorm mates to discover his still, lifeless body and come to obvious, but incorrect, conclusions. Mainly because they would never shut up about it.

But this time, it’s important that he not get caught by Umbridge. So he ditches his body, heads for Umbridge’s office, and fervently hopes wizards really can’t see shinigami.

I’ve been so fucking bored I think parts of me have actually died, Shiro says in a flat monotone, which is practically polite, coming from him. Maybe the boredom is making him numb. Can a hollow die of boredom? Is that a thing that can happen? It feels like it might happen, partner. I’m feelin it.

I hear you, Ichigo answers with a mental sigh. I keep asking for permission to destroy stuff, and everybody keeps saying no. It sucks. And after this one fun thing, we’re going right back to boredom. Unless we get expelled.

Here’s hopin’, Shiro says—and he and Zangetsu turn obligingly into blades, though Zangetsu has nothing to say. He may actually be unconscious from boredom, and who can blame him?

The office door goes down easy as cardboard, and if there are any alarms on it, they’re silent ones.

Nope, Shiro sighs sadly. Still bored.

They try to take out their aggressions on the quill, but even that’s only minimally satisfying. So they end up trashing most of the room as well, which is, to be fair, a crime against taste surpassing even Kukaku’s wildest flights of architectural fancy. And it’s full of dangerous magical objects, besides. Ichigo tries to tell himself he’s destroying everything in order to limit Umbridge’s future creativity and also to hide the fact that the quill was the target, and that’s partially true. The rest of the truth, though, is that it’s been way too long since he went on a real destructive spree. He is part hollow.

Whatever. The only person who’s going to be sad about this is Umbridge, so there’s no downside.

* * *

Potter, Ron, and Granger come gather around Ichigo at the breakfast table the next morning, all staring and gaping like fish. It’s uncomfortable.

“Can I help you?” Ichigo asks.

“What did you do?” Ron demands. Because apparently they swung by Umbridge’s office before breakfast on the off-chance. Their curiosity really is going to kill them.

Ichigo takes a bite of onigiri to give himself a moment and finds that they’re still doing something weird with the rice, and he still can’t figure out what. “What do you think I did?”

“We think you…you destroyed…” Granger stammers.

How?” Potter wants to know.

“…Magic?” Ichigo suggests.

“Don’t even try that,” Granger snaps. “All the doors in Hogwarts are heavily shielded against magical attack.”

“But not physical attack?” Ichigo asks incredulously, because that is the stupidest thing he’s ever heard.

“You mean you knocked down the door with your bare hands?” Ron asks in a weird scream-whisper.

“I had something in my hands,” Ichigo corrects him. “Now stop talking about it before anybody else shows up and gets interested.”

“But what happened to the…” Granger trails off and checks the dining hall. There’s still almost no one around, but her voice drops to a whisper anyway. “The quill. Did you take it?”

“I don’t take things from people,” Ichigo corrects her indignantly. “I mean, sometimes I chop them up and set them on fire, but I don’t take them. Stealing is wrong.”

Granger’s whole face lights up. For somebody who’s so big on the rules, she sure loves breaking the hell out of them.

“Did you really…?” Ron asks in delight.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ichigo informs him. “Eat your breakfast.”

The twins take this moment to appear in the dining hall and stare at Ichigo in something like awe. They shouldn’t have any reason to know what he got up to last night, but their faces suggest they do anyway. He’ll have to ask them how they managed that. If they can track shinigami…yeah, they’re gonna be all kinds of useful.

After the shaky start, breakfast is blessedly normal right up until the end, when Dumbledore makes an announcement about the destroyed office. So even Hogwarts doesn’t take destruction of teacher’s offices in stride. Good to know.

“As some of you may have noticed, there was an attack on Professor Umbridge’s office last night,” Dumbledore says, looking surprisingly grim, given what Ichigo knows of his feelings about Umbridge. “The professors have studied the site of the attack,” Dumbledore continues over the sudden loud whispering, “and we are agreed that this level of destruction would be impossible for any student—even the Weasley twins.” There’s some strained, nervous laughter. “The power required was simply too great.”

There are a lot of eyes on Ichigo all of a sudden. These kids had better not be planning on careers in espionage.

“In view of this,” Dumbledore goes on, “classes will be cancelled today, as the professors will be investigating to determine the source of the attack. Please remain in your common rooms until your Heads of House inform you that the investigation has concluded. Those of you who had detention with Professor Umbridge today, your detentions will be delayed until her office is repaired. Thank you for your attention.”

Umbridge looks like she might actually pop a blood vessel in rage, which is gratifying. Ichigo wonders who she thinks did it, and whether he’s going to need to protect that person from her.

Ah, well. Tomorrow’s problems.

“Mr. Kurosaki,” McGonagall says calmly, appearing across the table with a neutral expression and murder in her eyes. “If I could have a brief word about your schedule before you return to the common room.”

“Oh. Sure.” Ichigo stands up and notices that Potter’s crew looks worried on his behalf. He frowns at them—he told them he wouldn’t get in trouble, and he won’t. God, they have no faith at all.

McGonagall bundles him into her office and casts a few spells on the door—silencing spells, maybe? Or is she just locking him in?

Mr. Kurosaki,” she says sternly when she’s done. “That attack on Umbridge’s office wasn’t just beyond students—it was beyond human. There were charms overloaded and wards shattered that the best Curse Breaker at Gringotts couldn’t manage in anything less than a month, which I know because I asked him. In fact, I can’t think of a magical creature short of a dragon that could’ve unleashed so much destruction in so little time, and dragons, you will agree, are too large to be guilty.”

Ichigo isn’t admitting to anything until she makes him. He tries looking politely attentive.

Why?” she demands after a long, unhappy silence. “Why would you draw attention to yourself in such a meaningless way?”

“I didn’t, did I?” he asks in surprise. “Nobody’s traced it back to me who didn’t already know about me.”

“Not so far,” McGonagall grinds out. “But that isn’t an answer.”

Well, no sense lying about it. “She had Potter using a quill that…look, it used his blood for ink, and it carved what he wrote into the back of his hand. I’m just saying, I’m supposed to keep him safe from bodily harm, and that is bodily harm. To say nothing of the psychological harm.”

McGonagall sits down abruptly, looking a little pale. “A blood quill,” she whispers. “That’s a Dark artifact. That’s…it breaks several laws to own one outside a school, but in one—Kurosaki, what did you do with the quill?”

“I destroyed it,” Ichigo admits, wincing. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. He hadn’t known it was illegal, so it hadn’t crossed his mind that he was destroying evidence. “Sorry. I didn’t know.”

McGonagall sighs at him in exasperation.

“You could give me a list of Dark artifacts?” he tries.

“I think it’s best for everyone if I avoid doing anything of the kind,” McGonagall says firmly, then mutters something that sounds like sleekit wee shite. Ichigo doesn’t know what that means, but he doubts it’s flattering. “Do you have any further plans to torment the staff?” she continues.

“No.” Not plans, per se. He’s operating on an as-needed basis.

“I see.” She’s dubious, and she’s right to be. But she doesn’t call him on it, and this is just one more reason she’s quickly becoming Ichigo’s favorite teacher. “Do try not to get yourself expelled, arrested, or murdered, will you? Give it your very best effort.”

“It’s my main goal in life.”

She waves him off, looking like a person who plans to spend the afternoon drinking and questioning her life choices. Ichigo feels a little bad about that, but really, he’s doing her a favor in the long run. She’ll see.

After everybody in the common room finishes bombarding Ichigo with questions about what McGonagall wanted (“To go over my schedule. What, did you think she was lying?”), the rest of the day basically turns into a party in Gryffindor. And then, bonus, they get cleared to have Quidditch tryouts in the evening. Everybody’s excited. Ichigo decides to tag along and watch, since from what little he understands of the game, it seems like a prime opportunity to kill somebody.

It develops that Quidditch is like sky soccer with more balls, except a couple of the balls have minds of their own and periodically try to kill people, just because. Because it’s the wizarding world, and they wouldn’t be having fun without at least a fifty percent chance of bloodshed at any given moment.

“What’s the point of this?” Ichigo asks Granger as someone gets attacked by an angry ball and falls off his broom.

“Sport,” Granger says absently, doing her history reading and glancing up occasionally to make sure nobody’s died. “Whatever the point of sport is.”

Ichigo begs to differ. He’s done sports, and it was always a way of working off rage or grief or stress. In no sport ever has the equipment up and tried to kill him, and he doesn’t get why that’s a thing anyone would want. It’s funny—the wizarding world has less overt violence than Ichigo’s used to, but a lot more institutionalized cruelty. Like, attacking someone as a form of greeting is one thing, but blood quills and homicidal sports equipment is something else again. Even Kenpachi would find this school fucked up, and if that isn’t a damning commentary, Ichigo doesn’t know what is.

Karin would love Quidditch. Ichigo silently vows never to tell her a thing about it.

In the end, Ron gets picked for the dubious privilege of having possibly-sentient sports equipment thrown at his head all game long. For whatever reason, he seems really excited about this. There’s yet another party over it. Ichigo makes it about fifteen minutes in before he’s maxed out on human interaction for the day, then he goes to hide on the roof and wait until it’s time to make his calls. He’s calling Chad today. He really feels the need to talk to someone sane and calm for a minute.

Until it gets late enough to do that, he takes a stab at some homework and idly wonders what Umbridge’s next move will be. He hopes it’s a good one, because institutionalized cruelty notwithstanding, he feels kind of wasted here.

* * *

There’s Quidditch practice on Saturday, and Ichigo goes because he feels obligated—bodyguard duties, whatever. The Slytherins also go, because tormenting Gryffindors is both a hobby and a calling for them.

Practice is such a travesty it’s painful to watch. There are endless dropped balls and missed shots and it all culminates in the Weasley twins accidentally poisoning a teammate and everybody running off to the Hospital Wing. The Slytherins laugh and laugh. As they should, really.

The Weasley twins are definitely going to the Twelfth Division when they die, Ichigo doesn’t care that they’re English. He’s calling it now.

After the highlight that was Quidditch practice, Potter and company troop back to the common room, presumably to sulk loudly, so Ichigo decides it’s as good a time as any to hunt down Luna Lovegood and ask her why the hell she knows about shinigami. So he asks around for her. Everybody he asks looks shocked that he’s talking to them, and even more shocked that he wants to find Lovegood, but after more dithering than Ichigo thinks is strictly necessary, someone does finally direct him to the library.

Lovegood’s reading at a table barely visible from the door, just on the edge of the stacks, within sight but not earshot of the librarian. Ichigo’s impressed. Nobody can pick on her because the librarian’s right there, but the librarian can’t overhear any conversations she might have—and neither can anybody else without her knowing about it, because she’s got a clear view down the aisles between all the stacks near her. There’s nowhere for anyone to hide.

Which is good, because Ichigo can’t afford eavesdroppers. He’d been planning on dragging her out to the lake for this talk, but it looks like there’s no need.

Of course, he’d be even more impressed with her if she hadn’t chosen to wear a necklace strung with five giant, glass eyeballs of various colors. But what the hell, no one’s perfect.

“Hey,” he says, pulling up a chair at ninety degrees to Lovegood’s, so they can talk, but also both keep an eye on the door and the stacks.

“Ichigo Kurosaki,” Lovegood replies, eyes drifting slowly to his. “I’m doing homework, you know.”

“I know. Sorry to interrupt, but I kind of have to ask—how do you know about shinigami? How did you know I was a shinigami?”

“…Shinigami?”

“Soul reapers.”

Her mouth opens in a silent oh, and she actually shuts her book. So she thinks this topic deserves her full attention. That’s a relief.

“My mother is a soul reaper,” she explains. “You have a red ribbon like hers.”

Okay, so Lovegood can see spirit ribbons. That’s weird, but Ichigo can’t exactly judge and isn’t going to comment. “You mean your mom had you while she was in a gigai?” Because that would make Luna’s mom just like Ichigo’s dad, and what are the odds of that?

Lovegood tips her head to the side, birdlike. “Gigai?”

“A…a false body. So a shinigami—a soul reaper—can interact with the living world.”

“Oh no, not at all,” Lovegood says in surprise. “She was human when I was born, and then she died, and now she’s a soul reaper.”

“Then…no, I still have no idea how you know about soul reapers. And why do you know about Yachiru?

“My mother is quite the experimenter, you know.”

Ichigo didn’t. He doesn’t see what that has to do with anything, either.

“She’s made an effort to meet other researchers in Soul Society, to pool their knowledge. It’s very frustrating to her superiors, I understand. They want her to stay in one place, but she wants to have conversations with Akon, who is part of your part of Soul Society, isn’t he?”

“…Yeah, he is.” So this is Akon’s fault. Ichigo honestly didn’t see that one coming. He would’ve blamed Urahara before anybody. “Still not seeing how you know all this.”

“Sometimes she comes to the house and tells me about her day,” Lovegood explains dreamily.

“That’s fifteen kinds of not allowed.” Not that Ichigo has a leg to stand on when it comes to what is and is not allowed.

“Oh, she doesn’t know I can hear her. Or see her. I don’t tell her, because I’m afraid she’ll stop coming if I do.”

…And that is one of the loneliest things Ichigo’s ever heard. He wonders if he’d have had the self-control to do that if it had been his mom. He doesn’t think so. He’d probably have opened his mouth right away and ruined everything.

“I lost my mom when I was nine,” he confesses, feeling he owes Lovegood…Luna something for dragging this horrible story out of her. Though the more accurate statement would be I helped get my mom killed when I was nine. “I don’t think I could’ve done what you do—not letting on. You’re kind of amazing.”

She smiles at him, bemused. “No, I don’t think that’s true at all. I thought I was imagining her at first, you know, because I wanted her back so badly. I didn’t dare say anything to her, because if I had, everyone would’ve known I’d gone mad. It took me months to decide that she was real. You wouldn’t have made that mistake. That’s the only difference between us.”

Ichigo stares at her in silence, thinking of the way she all but forces people to think she’s mad these days. Maybe she wishes she’d never cared about other people’s opinions of her sanity. Maybe she’s punishing herself for it.

“You can start talking to her now, though,” he says, starting to get worried. “If that’s what you want.”

“I really can’t,” Luna disagrees, maintaining a faint smile. “She always has a watcher, I suppose to keep her from doing anything improper. If the watcher knew I’d been listening all along, I imagine my mother would be in a great deal of trouble.”

Yeah, she really would. So instead, Luna stays quiet, and listens to her mother talk, and hates herself for not saying anything back when she could have.

Well, this has been a uniformly awful conversation.

“I’m sorry,” Ichigo says. Sorry about Luna’s life, sorry about bringing it up.

“Thank you,” Luna responds gravely. “And what about you?”

“What about me?”

“When did you die?”

“Oh.” Yeah, that’s a logical assumption to make. “I’m not actually dead. I don’t think. I mean, this isn’t a gigai—it’s my real body.”

“A living soul reaper,” Luna says, eyes shining. “So it’s you. My mother’s talked about you. You’re quite famous, actually. Did you really invade Soul Society with a handful of living humans to rescue a damsel in distress?”

Ichigo tries to put the concepts of Rukia and damsel in distress into the same mental space and possibly sprains something in his brain. “Your mom just gets everybody to tell her everything, doesn’t she?” he mutters irritably.

“She does,” Luna agrees, placid. “She’s also very interested in anomalies, and you’re an outstanding anomaly.”

“I’m not that weird,” Ichigo insists, feeling defensive.

“Mm. How many living soul reapers are there?”

“…One,” Ichigo admits grudgingly. “Far as I know.”

“Anomaly,” Luna trills, reaching over to pat him on the head.

“Anyway, she wasn’t a damsel in distress.” Ichigo needs to clear up this misapprehension before Rukia finds out about it and kills him. “She got into trouble for saving my family. I owed it to her to return the favor. That’s all.”

“I like you,” Luna declares. “Now go away; I have homework to do.”

“Ravenclaw, huh?” Ichigo mutters, standing.

“‘Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure,’” Luna singsongs, turning back to her book and shutting Ichigo out.

Ichigo swings by the common room to make sure Potter’s still alive (he is; well done), then he goes for a run to clear his head and kill time until it’s late enough to call and complain about this mission once again to everyone responsible for it, starting with Rukia.

* * *

Breakfast on Monday is loud and unhappy because Umbridge has managed to make herself the Hogwarts High Inquisitor. At that point, Ichigo feels, you should just call yourself the Hogwarts Evil Overlord and have done with it. The title must be soothing to her, though, because her face is almost back to a normal color. Disappointingly.

It’s obvious that Granger would love to blame this turn of events on Ichigo, but the timing’s wrong, and she knows it. This was happening no matter what anybody did.

It’s turning into a real fight now, Ichigo figures. This is just the beginning, and it’s almost a relief. Ichigo doesn’t know jack about politics, but he can fight. It’s what he was made for.

Umbridge doesn’t immediately use her new powers to inspect Snape (too bad), but Potions ends up a fiasco anyway. And it started out so well. Ichigo got an E on his essay, which he can tell is good by the way Snape looks totally annoyed by it. He’s not sure what it proves, exactly, except that he can bullshit with the best of them, but it still feels nice, given what a fuckup of a fake wizard he’s been so far.

In the interest of keeping this unfamiliar success rolling, he’s careful to follow all the directions to the letter when making his potion. It’s a Strengthening Solution, which appeals to him anyway. He wants to get it right.

Everything goes great until it’s time to stir the potion with a wand. Should’ve seen it coming, really—Zangetsu isn’t a wand; Zangetsu is a deadly weapon.

Between them, Ichigo and Shiro and Zangetsu somehow manage to vanish not just the potion, but Ichigo’s entire desk as well. It’s not just invisible—he checks. It’s gone, and so is part of the floor that was under it. He’s lucky he didn’t take out a chunk of his legs. And he has no idea—like, did he destroy the desk, or is it just hanging out someplace else? Is it on the roof? Is it in Soul Society? What the hell?

“Kurosaki,” Snape says in a cold, carefully restrained tone that’s probably stifling a whole lot of screaming. “I have never, in all my years of teaching, seen anything like this. Congratulations, your failure is unique.”

The Slytherins snicker, but that’s because they’re easily entertained and have no feel for when they should be terrified.

“Fifty points from Gryffindor. Stay behind after class,” Snape hisses, then storms off to abuse other people. He knows when to be terrified, and Ichigo’s clearly terrified him. Accomplishment! Five points to Gryffindor.

Or not, because Granger’s terrified, too. She’s staring at Ichigo like he’s come over hollow in the middle of class. She keeps it up long enough, in fact, that he eventually pats down his face to make sure he hasn’t, and Shiro laughs at him. Shiro’s very Slytherin, come to think of it.

Once class is over and everyone’s fled, Snape casts a bunch of spells on the door. Some of them sound familiar—Ichigo thinks they might be the same spells McGonagall cast on her door when she and Ichigo were having real talk about Ichigo destroying Umbridge’s office. Memories.

“Kurosaki,” Snape snarls when he’s done, whirling around dramatically. Ishida would be impressed. “Do you have any idea what you did here today?”

“No,” Ichigo admits, annoyed with himself. “And I was trying to be careful, too. I think it’s the wand.”

“The wand,” Snape repeats slowly. “I’m aware that you’re not human, Kurosaki, but are you now telling me that your wand isn’t a proper wand, either? And, if so, can you explain why you’ve been allowed into my classroom with it—a classroom full of potentially fatal potions ingredients?”

“Can you explain why the fact that I’m not all human is apparently break room gossip in this place?”

Snape scowls. “I was not informed in my capacity as a professor, but because of my affiliation with…other organizations.”

“Oh.” Come to think of it, Urahara’s report did mention that the Order had teachers in it. One of them was even a spy. Was it Snape? That would make sense. Well, now Ichigo feels even more stupid. “Right, you’re that guy. Sorry. I read a lot about this place at once—forgot some of the details.”

“Answer my question, Kurosaki,” Snape demands, unimpressed with apologies.

“My wand is actually a sword—I just talked it into looking like a wand. I don’t know why I was allowed into your classroom with it, but don’t take it out on me, because it wasn’t my idea. I warned them I’d be a disaster.”

Snape looks like he’s developing the headache of the century. “And yet you went through with it.”

“Orders are orders,” Ichigo says blithely, because Snape has no way of knowing that Ichigo obeys orders only when he feels like it and/or at random.

“In that case, I have a new order for you, Kurosaki,” Snape says tightly. Ichigo refrains from pointing out that Snape isn’t in his chain of command, because he figures that’s a good way to end up poisoned. “In fact, you could consider this homework. Find a stick somewhere, sand it down until it looks like a wand, and use it in my class exclusively from now on. You’ll never create a successful potion, but on the other hand, you won’t slaughter us all in an explosive show of incompetence. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Ichigo says, aiming for meek and probably missing.

“I would give you detention, but since, in an ideal world, I would never see your face again, that would benefit neither of us. Instead, I’d like you to write an essay on what went wrong today.”

“…But we know what went wrong, and I can’t write about it. Classified.”

Snape leans across his desk with a crazed look in his eyes. “Then I advise you to be creative.”

So this is going well. Man, if Ichigo manages, after everything, to get himself killed by a guy who’s basically his chemistry teacher, Karin’s gonna be furious.

* * *

What with the whole Snape situation, Ichigo ends up missing lunch. And Potter’s in Divination, so Ichigo hasn’t even got bodyguarding to distract him from the fact that he’s starving. He considers his options, and ends up going to the common room to pick a fight with Shiro, because that’s a reliable distraction.

He’s still busy yelling at a voice in his head when the Weasley twins arrive, at which point Shiro abruptly drops the argument and settles down happily to watch the show. Shiro loves the Weasley twins, obviously. Ichigo would wonder why said twins aren’t in class, but wondering why they’re ever anywhere doing anything is futile. Because no one could stop them, probably.

“Why, if it isn’t Ichigo!” says the one with slightly crazier eyes and stronger spiritual pressure.

“Shouldn’t you be in class?” asks the other one sternly.

“Shouldn’t you?” Ichigo counters.

The twins circle closer, predatory, intrigued by Ichigo’s choice of response. They’re still testing him to see where his break points are, he knows. It’s only fair, though. He’s doing the same thing with them.

“We’ve been hearing some very interesting things about you, Ichigo Kurosaki,” says Twin One.

Alarming things, one might say,” adds Twin Two.

“Destruction of property.”

“Terrorizing the innocent.”

“Entering the school under false pretenses.”

“And possibly a false identity.”

“For shame, Ichigo,” they conclude together.

Ichigo has no idea where they heard any of that, but hats off to their grapevine. “Who are these innocents I’m supposedly terrorizing?”

They like that he didn’t deny the rest, he can tell. Their faces light up like Kenpachi’s when he realizes a fight’s gonna be good. “Poor Peeves,” explains Twin One.

“I’ve never seen a poltergeist cry before,” says Twin Two, trying to look sad, but mostly just looking avidly, alarmingly curious.

“All the ghosts are terrified of you, we hear.”

“Even Binns, and Binns hasn’t noticed the living world in centuries.”

Yeah, well, technically he still hasn’t. “What do you want?” Ichigo sighs, figuring there’s no point in dragging this out.

“We want to know what you are,” Twin One says, leaning forward, intent.

And then they want to know how they can use him, no doubt. “What’s in it for me?”

They weren’t expecting that. “…Lunch?” offers Twin Two.

These guys are uncomfortably similar to all of Ichigo’s favorite people. “I am pretty hungry, but not enough to sell my soul for lunch.”

“How about lunch and an unlimited number of future loud diversions on demand? Just in case you need to blow up more offices, and so on,” Twin One suggests.

Oh, and they’ve gone and offered Ichigo exactly what he wanted from them. Now he has to give them something. Freaking perceptive people. “Deal,” he mutters unhappily.

The twins are delighted. And they manage to produce a decent sandwich, so that’s something. Turns out Twin One is Fred and Twin Two is George, and they’ve got plans for Ichigo. Ichigo’s not sure they’ve noticed he’s got plans for them, too.

“Tell us everything,” they demand.

“I’m supposed to be bodyguarding Potter,” he tells them, mostly focused on his sandwich.

“Right.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“We’d figured that out already, in fact, but it’s good to hear.”

“But what are you?

“Nobody really knows.” And isn’t that the sorry truth. “But I can touch ghosts. Always have been able to. And if I can touch them…”

“You can hurt them,” Fred says, eyes wide with horror and delight.

“I can even kill them,” Ichigo allows.

“Kill them?” George is skeptical. “How do you kill a ghost? Aren’t they dead already, rather by definition?”

“They’re still in the living world, though,” Ichigo explains. “I can send them on whether they like it or not.” Or he can destroy them completely, not that he’s bringing that up in a castle full of them. They’re terrified enough of him as it is.

“Send them on where?

Ichigo decides he can’t justify knowledge of that, and shrugs. “Guess we’ll find out when we die.”

“No wonder they’re afraid of you,” Fred says, though he himself doesn’t seem afraid at all. “Do you have any other superpowers we should know about?”

“No,” Ichigo says firmly. They definitely should not know about his other superpowers.

“And yet you’re bodyguarding Harry,” George puts in. “No offense, but you seem a little young for the job.”

Ah, so they like Potter. Potter has people like the twins worried about his safety. God help him. “I’ve had a pretty eventful life. Guess they figure I’m prepared for most things the wizarding world can throw at me. And I’m young enough to hang around a school without it looking weird.” He pauses, considering how much he should actually tell these two, then figures, what the hell. It’s not like they don’t keep secrets semi-professionally. “Plus, sometimes it seems like every time I turn around, somebody’s saying, ‘Hey, Ichigo, go kill this evil guy who’s trying to take over the world.’ It’s annoying, but it keeps me in practice.”

That stuns the twins into silence for a second, and for that reason alone, Ichigo’s glad he said it.

“They’re not expecting you to kill You-Know-Who, are they?” Fred demands eventually.

Ichigo inconveniently blanks on how you’re supposed to answer negative questions in English. Is it no—you’re wrong, because they are expecting that, or is it yes—that is what they’re expecting? “Well, somebody has to kill him,” Ichigo says, dodging around the whole yes or no problem. “Maybe it’ll be me, or maybe it’ll be one of my…” he hesitates over how to describe Urahara and Yoruichi. “Former teachers. Whoever gets him first, basically.”

“Does Harry know this is your plan?” George asks, intrigued.

“No. I don’t want to get his hopes up—what if it doesn’t work out?” Like, what if they get Potter killed in the process, for example?

The twins beam at Ichigo and he doesn’t know why. “Well said,” they tell him.

Ichigo’s glad this talk went so well. He’s not sure why it went so well, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. A win is a win, and he’ll take it. Free sandwiches and all.

Mission accomplished, he escapes the twins and heads to Defense Against the Dark Arts. It starts out slow, particularly by contrast to conversations with the Weasley twins, but then Granger sasses the teacher and Potter opens his enormous mouth and get himself detention again, and things liven up.

Not that Umbridge has an office to give detentions in at the moment. In fact, she may never. Ichigo hasn’t decided yet. Still, it looks like Potter may be even more of a hot-headed idiot than Ichigo, which is comforting in a backhanded way.

Ichigo’s actually getting used to the way things work in this school, which is, when he thinks about it, horrifying.

* * *

As the weeks pass, it becomes clear that Umbridge’s newfound powers aren’t doing her any favors. She audits a few teachers (including McGonagall, which will forever be a beautiful memory for everyone who witnessed it), but nobody seems impressed. She also keeps giving detentions, but she can’t follow through on them the way she wants to because she’s got no space of her own. This is because once her office gets repaired, Ichigo goes ahead and smashes it again. It gets repaired again. He smashes it again. She moves to a different office, and he smashes that one, too.

Everyone needs a hobby.

After a month, she really starts flipping out. She’s convinced Sirius Black is after her, which Granger assures Ichigo is a source of great delight and amusement to Black himself (the guy who can turn into a dog, it develops), because actually he’s trapped in the Order’s headquarters going stir-crazy. He’s even inviting Ichigo to his house for Christmas, he’s so pleased. Ichigo wonders if he’ll still be pleased when he realizes Ichigo’s bringing along Rukia and Renji and Toshiro. Most people wouldn’t be.

Anyway, Umbridge’s Black-related freakout leads to Educational Decree Number Twenty-Four, which declares that staff must assist in any investigation the High Inquisitor deems necessary until the culprit is apprehended—because apparently a few of the professors were muttering about giving up on the investigation and just having someone share an office with Umbridge permanently. “After all,” McGonagall tells Ichigo sourly after class one day, “it’s not as if this terrifying murderer has done her any real harm, is it?”

That’s swiftly followed by Educational Decree Number Twenty-Five, which states that any student out after curfew is subject to immediate expulsion. Because Umbridge is convinced that Potter’s sneaking onto the grounds and letting Black in.

It means Ichigo has to leave his body in the dorm when he goes to make his phone calls at night, but other than that, he doesn’t get what the big deal is. He’d actually been hoping for better. Something really unforgivable, so he could retaliate with a clear conscience. This isn’t far enough.

Ichigo’s the only one who feels that way, though. Granger in particular seems to be holding a grudge against him over it, which is weird—what’s she so eager to be doing after curfew?

* * *

In view of Granger’s (persistent, determined) grudge, it’s a surprise when she sidles up to him at the beginning of October with a look on her face that Ichigo associates with people saying things like, “So I know we’re outnumbered ten to one, but if we can just herd a bunch of them together and blow them up, we should be fine…”

“Would you—erm.” And now she’s being hesitant. This is seriously out of character and therefore worrying. “We’ve decided, er…would you like to join our study group?”

It takes a lot of effort, but Ichigo manages not to laugh in her face. “Why?”

“It’s…it’s a Defense Against the Dark Arts study group, since we’re not learning anything in that class, and I thought. Well, it’s possible the study group might be dangerous. For Harry. Not likely! But I thought, as his…bodyguard…you might like to be there in any case.”

Oh, okay. That’s why. Ichigo’s glad he didn’t laugh in her face, because it turns out Granger’s actually doing him a favor. “That’d be great, thanks.”

Granger lights up. “This is a Hogsmeade weekend, so we’re going to have a meeting about it at the Hog’s Head. Will you come?”

“Sure.”

“Perfect! Then just follow us to Hogsmeade. Er, you do have permission to be in Hogsmeade, don’t you?”

“I have blanket permission to be where Potter is.” He assumes. It would be pretty ridiculous if he didn’t, given the whole bodyguard cover.

“Then the only one I need to convince is Harry,” Granger murmurs to herself.

“Potter doesn’t want to study Defense?” That seems unlikely.

“Harry doesn’t want to teach Defense,” Granger corrects. “But the truth is, he’s the only one who can.”

If Granger says so. Still, Ichigo can’t help but feel sorry for these kids. All of his teachers were like five hundred years old and had seriously seen it all. These wizard kids are getting Potter instead, and sure, Potter’s allegedly great at Defense, but he’s still a pissed off child who’s making shit up as he goes along. It’d be like Ichigo up and training shinigami.

Looks bad for the future of the wizarding world.

Ichigo tags along to Hogsmeade anyway, mostly because it’s his job, partly out of curiosity. He’s never been to Hogsmeade before; it’s pretty amazing. Also terrifying from a bodyguarding standpoint, because there’s so much casual weirdness going down that it’s tough to sort the dangerous weird from the benign weird. He’d like about a week to hang out here Potter-free so he could get a feel for the place and actually enjoy himself. With company, even. His actual friends, say. That would be awesome. But instead, here he is, bodyguarding a little rage-ball of a kid and stressing out about it. Typical.

They’re halfway across town when they run into the Weasley twins and Jordan, their partner in crime. As soon as the twins spot Ichigo, they practically come to attention. They need to knock that shit off before Granger notices, because if Granger notices, they’re all in for an interrogation. Ichigo scowls at them, eyes flicking to his escort. The twins instantly relax and start hassling their brother like normal.

They really are useful.

* * *

The Hog’s Head turns out to be a gross, dark pub that smells, appropriately, of livestock. Ichigo peers in the door and checks out the denizens. There’s no one there who seems to be actively plotting Potter’s murder, so that’s a relief. On the other hand, Ichigo has to wonder at the wisdom of holding a top secret meeting in a silent pub full of shady people.

Whatever. Not his war. And if it attracts the attention of the soul-splitter guy, so much the better.

“You should sit next to Harry,” Granger instructs him.

“I’m not staying,” Ichigo says hastily. He hates meetings. “I’ll wait out front. Keep an eye out for any murder wizards wandering this way.”

“Murder wizards,” Ron murmurs happily.

“Scream if something awful happens,” Ichigo tells them, then ducks outside and takes up a post by the door before anyone can argue.

Kids make their way past him and into the shady pub in a steady stream. All kinds of kids—the earnest, the curious, the star-struck. It quickly gets to the point that calling this a secret meeting is a joke. Feels like half the freaking school shows up, all side-eyeing Ichigo as they pass. Apparently he’s got a reputation. He’s not sure when or how that happened.

“It’s your face,” Luna says on cue like a mind-reader, casually elbowing him as she goes by. He could almost—but not quite—believe it was accidental. “I may have mentioned it before, but your face makes children cry. That’s why they’re looking at you that way.”

“Thanks, Luna.” She’s like a one-woman crusade to keep him from feeling homesick. “Your opinion means the world to me.”

She beams up at him and then drifts into the shady pub.

She’s almost the last one in. Once the stream of kids dies down, Ichigo anticipates an hour or two of mindless boredom, so he settles in for the long haul, keeping a careful eye on the street and ear on the pub, but letting his mind drift.

“Kurosaki-san!” a voice calls out abruptly, making him jump. “Long time no see!”

“Urahara-san,” he says, because who the hell else would materialize beside him in the middle of Hosgmeade? Oh, wait. “Where’s Yoruichi-san?”

“Hey, Ichigo,” comes a voice from above him. He looks up to find Yoruichi—in human form—perched on the roof of the Hog’s Head. Of course.

“Yoruichi-san. Hi.”

A passing witch gives Ichigo a strange look, at which point he realizes Urahara and Yoruichi aren’t wearing gigai, so it looks like he’s standing in front of a pub talking to himself. In a language other than English. Even in the wizarding world, that kind of thing gets noticed.

“Let’s get off the street,” he says. He waves the other two into the dark alley between the pub and a butcher shop, figuring no one’s likely to question or even look too hard at anything that goes on in there. They follow him without arguing, which is a nice surprise. They’re also laughing at him, but whatever. He’s not asking for miracles.

“Why are you bothering me?” he asks, tired of this conversation before it’s even started.

“So cold, Kurosaki-san, so cold!” cries Urahara. “And when we’ve come to make your life easier, too! Because we have information and we’ve made progress. Unlike you.”

Yoruichi, now stretched out on the roof sunning herself, smirks and reaches down to tug mockingly at Ichigo’s hair.

“I’ve done stuff!” Ichigo insists, indignant. “I’ve kept the Potter kid alive. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to be doing? I even kept him in one piece, which is technically above and beyond. I destroyed a Ministry mole’s office like five times to keep him in one piece!”

“Oh? Well, Yoruichi-san and I recently executed a bank heist,” Urahara says, smugly hiding his mouth with his fan. “So don’t expect us to be impressed with your petty destruction of property.”

Ichigo wishes he were more surprised. “Okay, that sounds like a disaster. Did your bank heist get you a soul piece?”

“Of course it did! I’m surprised you even need to ask. And then Benihime and I destroyed it, and it screamed and bled and carried on—quite rewarding.”

“There was a dragon in that bank,” Yoruichi says dreamily. “I’d never seen a living dragon before.”

“Did you two kill a dragon?” Ichigo asks flatly.

“Killing living things is against the rules, Kurosaki-san,” Urahara says sternly. Which obviously means a lot coming from a guy currently living in exile in part because of his tendency to see rules as amusing but ultimately meaningless obstacles between him and his goals.

“Whatever,” Ichigo sighs. It’s not his job to police these two, thank god. “By the way, the headmaster thinks Potter has one of the soul pieces attached to him. And I think he’s right.”

“Potter?” Yoruichi sits up abruptly. “But he’s still living.”

“Yeah, I’ll need help with that one,” Ichigo admits. “I don’t know what’s going on, exactly, but Potter’s spirit ribbon has a thread of dark green, same color as the soul pieces. I don’t know how to separate them.”

Yoruichi and Urahara turn to look at each other, momentarily serious.

“We’ll look into it, Kurosaki-san,” Urahara says eventually. “As soon as we find a way, we’ll let you know.”

Ichigo nods his thanks. “I also think the headmaster knows more about the other soul pieces than he’s telling us. The kids tell me he keeps a lot of secrets.”

“Excellent!” Urahara snaps his fan closed and smirks ominously. “Yoruichi-san and I are outstanding with other people’s secrets. We’ll just head on up to the castle and discuss things with this headmaster, shall we? And you’ll stay here and continue doing…well, whatever it is you’re doing.”

“Please don’t kill or maim the headmaster,” Ichigo begs. “They would definitely blame me.”

“Have a little faith in us,” Yoruichi tuts, leaping gracefully down from the roof and landing uncomfortably close to Ichigo. “We would never be that sloppy.”

“That doesn’t make me feel better at all, just so you know.”

“Be good, Ichigo!” she says brightly, and Urahara gives an enthusiastic wave. And then they flash step away and are gone.

Ichigo walks out of the alley and takes up his post by the door again, hoping he won’t get back to school to find Dumbledore irretrievably psychologically damaged. He’d feel responsible for that. It wouldn’t actually be his fault, but he’d still feel responsible.

The remaining hour or so passes quietly. Semi-quietly. Wizards and witches make for great people watching, especially that guy with what looks to be a parrot physically grafted to his shoulder. Or maybe growing out of his shoulder. Ichigo can’t decide which would be more disturbing.

Eventually, though, the kids pour out of the pub in an almost perfect reversal of the way they poured in, complete with wary looks at Ichigo. But Luna gives him a nod and a smile, and the Weasley twins give him a conspiratorial wink. At least he’s not a total pariah.

“Ichigo?” Granger calls, poking her head out the door. “The meeting’s over, but could you come in here for a second?”

“…Sure.” He follows Granger into the shady pub, suspicious about her motives.

“Everyone’s agreed to the Defense group,” Granger explains. “And everyone’s signed a contract promising to keep it a secret.” She gestures to an incriminating list. Ichigo nods, not sure why he’s being told all this.

“And I was thinking…well, I was thinking that you should sign it too.” And now Granger’s not meeting his eyes.

“Why? What unholy magic thing will happen to me if I sign that paper?” Ichigo demands, cutting to the chase.

“What—how would—why would you think that I—”

Oh, Granger. It’s like she thinks he hasn’t been paying attention at all. “There’s always some new awful magic thing with you. Plus you’re not looking at me, which means you feel guilty about it, which means this one’s really bad. So what is it?”

Potter and Ron are staring at Granger in fascination now, meaning they hadn’t picked up on this themselves. Which is a disgrace; they’ve known Granger for years. Ichigo has no sympathy for them.

“Anyone who signs the paper agrees to keep the Defense meetings a secret from anyone not on the list,” Granger admits sullenly after a long pause. “In a magically binding sense.”

“Or else…?” Ron looks…entertained.

Granger fidgets. “Or else they’ll end up with SNEAK written across their faces in, erm, pimples or boils…the spell wasn’t very clear. But it should scar.”

“You are vicious,” Ron says, admiring.

“Yeah, I’m not signing that thing,” Ichigo announces firmly. “I have to report to Toshiro tonight, and I don’t feel like disfiguring boils would be a good look on me. Who did you think I’d rat you out to, anyway? Umbridge? She still thinks I can’t speak English.”

“Which is brilliant, by the way,” Ron puts in.

“You’re being weirdly cheerful,” Ichigo points out. “Make it stop.”

“Can’t help it, and it’s your own fault, anyway,” Ron explains. Cheerfully. “There was this Zacharias Smith bloke in the meeting—total wart—but he was terrified of you. All we had to do was say your name and bang! Meek and quiet.”

“Like magic, huh?” Ichigo has no idea who this Smith guy is, but hey, Tatsuki’s always said he’s accidentally terrifying. And if Luna’s right, there’s some problem with his face, too. It shouldn’t be surprising that he doesn’t even need to know people to scare them.

Just like magic,” Ron agrees. The Smith kid must be a dick, because generally speaking, Ron doesn’t get off on terrifying people.

“Ronald,” Granger says sternly. “We’re lucky to have had as many people show up as we did. Every one counts, no matter why they came. I mean, Michael Corner and his friends wouldn’t have come if he hadn’t been going out with Ginny—”

Ron, predictably, flips out. They walk out of the pub in a cloud of babbling about other people’s love lives, their own love lives, how confusing romance is, and so on and so forth. Because that’s clearly the important thing to focus on right now.

It’s a miracle they aren’t dead already.

Chapter Text

To Ichigo’s complete lack of surprise, there’s yet another Educational Decree (Number Twenty-Six—all clubs disbanded) waiting for them on Monday morning. And that, that is why you don’t hold top secret meetings in a shady pub.

“She knows,” says Potter.

“She can’t!” insists Ron.

Ichigo considers explaining that it would almost be harder for her not to know at this point, but he gets distracted when Ron tries to run up the stairs to the girls’ dorms to cry to Granger about it, then immediately slides back down, causing the morning to become hilarious.

To Ichigo, at any rate. Everyone else seems to think it’s all very grim. Though he’d never say so, Ichigo’s downright relieved that Quidditch is cancelled—it makes Potter far less likely to die. If Potter dies, they’ll have lost their first stalking goat, which means Urahara will definitely make Ichigo find the next one.

Plus Ichigo would probably feel guilty about it. He is supposed to be the kid’s bodyguard.

It’s ultimately decided that Defense club is still on, though, Decrees notwithstanding. Sure, it has to happen in total secrecy and absolutely not break curfew, but that was true before. Nothing’s really changed, but that doesn’t stop everyone from freaking out about it all the way to history. And then Potter’s owl crashes class, making it the most exciting history class they’ve ever had. Potter promptly ditches for the greater good or at least the health of his owl, and Ichigo follows after him like a loyal bodyguard or possibly an extremely bored student. Binns doesn’t argue, obviously. He’d never dare argue with Ichigo about anything.

“Why is Binns afraid of you?” Potter demands curtly as they hurry down the corridor.

“Why is Smith afraid of me?” Ichigo counters.

“That’s not the same thing at all,” Potter insists, but he manages a strained smile. Kid is seriously worried about his owl, damn. “Ghosts aren’t afraid of anyone.”

“Well, according to Luna, my face makes children cry. Maybe it has that effect on ghosts, too.”

Potter throws him an exasperated glance, but gets distracted by an argument with gargoyles (this fucking school), and then forgets about Ichigo completely when McGonagall opens the gargoyle door. After some back and forth over whether Potter’s turning into an actual juvenile delinquent, McGonagall (or someone) agrees to nurse the owl back to health. She also tries to make Potter understand that sending top secret messages via defenseless bird is maybe not so top secret. Ichigo wishes her the best of luck with that one.

…How do you doctor birds, anyway? Like, Potter’s owl is pretty big, but some of them aren’t, and it seems like it’d be a real veterinary challenge to do more good than harm. All those tiny moving parts. Huh. Magic, probably.

In any case, because the owl wasn’t done causing chaos yet, it turns out to have been carrying a message from the dog guy. He wants to talk with Potter by means of a fireplace.

“How secure are fireplaces?” Ichigo asks the kids after history lets out, incredulous that this sentence is even coming out of his mouth.

“Well…” Granger pauses. “It depends on the fireplace.”

“Like phones, then.” Amazing—that almost makes sense. “So smart money says a fireplace in a students’ common room isn’t secure at all.”

“I would imagine not,” Granger agrees, worried.

“Great,” Ichigo sighs. “And do we have a secure way to warn dog guy that the fireplace is a no go?”

The kids fidget unhappily, so that’s a no. Ichigo wonders if his bodyguarding mandate extends to the dog guy. He hopes not, because first impressions suggest the man’s determined to get himself killed, and Ichigo likes to limit the number of losing battles he’s fighting at one time.

You’d think that’d be enough for one day, really—the dystopian school rules, the pet maiming, the suicidally reckless family member—but no. Because on the way to Potions, they run into the blond Slytherin boy who’s always winding Potter up for kicks. (As far as Ichigo’s concerned, winding Potter up is a game so easy it’s not worth playing, but the Slytherins are the most easily entertained kids on campus, no joke.)

This time, though, blondie manages to wind up the soft-faced boy—Longbottom—instead, by making cracks about mental hospitals like the class act he is. Turns out messing with Longbottom is the more dangerous proposition, too—sure, Potter rants and raves, but Longbottom goes from zero to attempted homicide with no stops on the way. Who knew? It takes Potter and Ron and the scary authority of Severus Snape to get him to settle. Ichigo doesn’t even want to know what caused that meltdown, because he knows what causes him to melt down like that, and yeah—he doesn’t need any more trauma from other people to add to his own bank of nightmares.

Ron, on the other hand, thinks he wants to know all about it. He’s gonna regret that if he ever does find out.

And naturally, because it’s chaos day, Umbridge decides that now is the time to audit Snape. Not her best call. Partially thanks to Ichigo, she is seriously losing her cool, which Snape has no respect for. It’ll be very fire meets gasoline, Ichigo expects, and he’s pleased with himself for his small part in today’s tragicomedy.

Umbridge starts out with a reluctant compliment, then promptly recommends completely rewriting the syllabus. Snape tries to kill her with his eyes. She speculates on why Snape’s been consistently judged unworthy to teach Defense (which, given that Umbridge is so bad at teaching that Potter’s been driven to take over her class, is a five star hilarious topic). Then she starts asking if Snape spends much time outside at night. He looks at her like she’s losing her goddamn mind (which is not impossible, actually), and tells her he rarely leaves his rooms at night. She asks further Sirius Black-trending questions in an increasingly frantic, high-pitched voice while Snape studies her like a lab specimen and gives bored, monosyllabic answers, and the Slytherins snicker at everyone indiscriminately. Eventually (unfortunately) Umbridge manages to rein herself in long enough to go interrogate the students.

Snape, who was looking pretty bleak during the Defense interrogation, cheers up a bit in his sour way at the Sirius Black freakout. Then, once Umbridge moves on to hassling students, Snape goes and yells at Potter for a while, which always brightens his life (former Slytherin: easily entertained). By the time he makes his way to Ichigo, he’s as close as he comes to a good mood.

“You’ve solved your wand problem, I see,” he says, staring in mild disgust at the weird sludge Ichigo’s cooking up. Whatever it is, it’s not a Strengthening Solution. On the other hand, it hasn’t exploded, so. Victory. Snape leans down like he wants a better look, and murmurs quietly, “If you drive that woman mad, the Ministry will only send another like her.”

“So I’ll start over with the new one,” Ichigo murmurs back. “I’ve got time to kill.”

“You’ve more patience than I would’ve expected, Kurosaki,” Snape tells him, straightening up. “Considering the hash you generally make of your coursework.”

“That boy can’t speak English, Professor,” Umbridge carols across the room. “I’m quite surprised to find you don’t know such basic facts about your own students!”

Snape gives Ichigo an incredulous stare. Ichigo widens his eyes, a silent play along, you know you want to. Snape looks beyond exasperated, but says, “He is capable of following basic instructions. Barely.”

Ron quickly, guiltily turns a laugh into a cough, and Potter shoots him a betrayed glare. The rest of the Gryffindors stare studiously into their cauldrons, trying not to smile. The Slytherins…come to think of it, Ichigo’s never actually talked to any Slytherins, and he doesn’t talk much in class. It’s possible that as far as they know, he can’t speak English. Out of the corner of his eye, he can see the blond boy puffing himself up in glee—he’ll be making something of this at the first opportunity. Kid seriously needs a better hobby.

Eventually Potions ends, and everyone escapes to lunch. Ichigo cannot believe this day is only half over. He misses home, where, admittedly, people are forever trying to kill him, but at least they have the decency to just come at him with a weapon. He’s so over all of this politicking and plotting and shit. All he wants is someone he can swing a sword at without feeling bad about it. Is that so much to ask?

* * *

“How?” Ron demands, shocked, appalled…possibly slightly impressed. “How did you get Snape to play along?

Ichigo shrugs, as if he doesn’t see anything extraordinary in it. Hermione supposes he doesn’t—he hasn’t witnessed years of Snape cutting off his nose to spite his face when it comes to Harry. “He hates Umbridge more than he hates me,” Ichigo explains. “The enemy of my enemy, whatever.”

“The enemy of my enemy…?” Ron repeats, confused.

“Honestly, Ronald,” Hermione sighs. She should know better by now than to be surprised by this kind of thing, but honestly. “‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ It’s a proverb.”

“Snape’s never going to be our friend,” Harry insists. “He’s just a less important enemy.”

Ichigo gives him a sharp look. “He hasn’t been carving shit into your hand, has he?”

Hermione must admit she is charmed by Ichigo’s protectiveness of Harry. Charmed, but also…slightly worried? Even for a bodyguard, Ichigo’s taking a lot of interest, and, well. Historically, people taking an interest in Harry hasn’t ended well. She’s keeping an eye on Ichigo, just in case.

“No! No,” Harry says hastily, probably picturing the hell that would be unleashed on the school if Ichigo were to destroy Professor Snape’s office. “He’s just a horrible, hateful man.”

Ichigo shrugs. “Yeah, well. Some people are like that. Doesn’t mean you can’t use them.”

Hermione hates it when Ichigo says things like this, because in theory, she agrees with him, but something about the way he says it makes it all sound so uncomfortably mercenary. She shakes her head and tunes out the rest of the conversation, turning to her copy of the Daily Prophet. What with the Educational Decree excitement at breakfast, she hasn’t had a chance to read it yet.

There’s nothing overtly sinister today, so that’s lucky. Nothing beyond the low grade, petty evil the Ministry’s taken to projecting constantly, at any rate. In fact, there’s only one item of interest, though it is very interesting. She interrupts the ongoing debate about Professor Snape’s potential usefulness with, “Someone’s robbed Gringotts!”

Again?” Ron asks, shocked.

“Yes. And they were successful this time.”

“Gringotts is a bank, right? There was a bank robbery?” Ichigo asks, suddenly tense. It’s odd, because Ichigo has never shown any interest in the news until now. In fact, Ichigo typically shows very little interest in anything outside of Harry’s physical safety, so this is…well, Hermione doesn’t like it.

“There was,” Hermione confirms slowly. “Something was stolen from the Lestrange vault, apparently.”

“What was it?” Harry wants to know.

Hermione shrugs. “Undisclosed.”

Ichigo closes his eyes as if he’s bracing himself. “Did…anything happen to the dragon?”

“…Dragon?”

“The dragon in the bank.”

Oh, yes. There is a dragon guarding the bank, isn’t there? But how would Ichigo know that? He can’t possibly bank at Gringotts, since he barely remembered that it was a bank. Hermione blinks and skims through the rest of the article. And there it is. “Well. The good news is, the dragon is alive. If that can be said to be good news, in view of the fact that it was set loose inside the bank, went on a rampage, and destroyed quite a lot of property and a bit of Diagon Alley before it escaped to parts unknown. Dozens of casualties, but, surprisingly, no deaths.”

Ichigo rubs his forehead, looking tired.

“Do you…know who was responsible?” Hermione asks carefully.

“They’re not my fault and they’re not my responsibility,” Ichigo says firmly. “If you ever meet them, you can’t hold them against me.”

It hasn’t escaped Hermione’s notice that Ichigo is becoming fast friends with Fred and George. If he regularly spends time with people who set dragons loose inside banks while robbing them, that explains a great deal. Fred and George must seem positively tame by comparison. “Am I likely to meet them?”

“God, I hope not.”

“What would they take from Gringotts?” Harry asks again, eagerly.

“Something awful,” Ichigo sighs. “They’re on our side, though, so that’s good. Both that they’re on our side and that they stole the thing. I mean, I’m assuming this Lestrange is a bad guy.”

“A bad husband and wife team,” Hermione explains, folding the newspaper. “The wife, Bellatrix, is, ah, Snuffles’s cousin. Also Draco Malfoy’s aunt.”

Ichigo appears not to recognize the names of any of these people, which is frustrating, because within the past few hours he’s actually encountered Malfoy and participated in a whole conversation about Sirius. Honestly, Hermione doesn’t think he even tries. “Okay,” he says blankly. “So it’s a good thing when people steal from them, so there you go.”

This is not sufficient explanation, no matter what Ichigo seems to think. “Really, though,” Hermione says. “Who robbed the bank? And how do you know them?”

“Really, though,” Ichigo drawls, looking annoyed. “You need to let this go.”

One day she’s going to hit Ichigo over the head with a plate. She’s going to be forced into it, so she won’t feel sorry at all. She is, in fact, ready to threaten him with that plate right now, but she gets distracted by Harry and Ron blathering about Divination, and then the bell rings, and the moment is lost.

If she didn’t know better, she would think Ichigo had organized that distraction deliberately.

* * *

After lunch, the day’s blessedly calm. Ichigo figures it owes him that, given the way it started. Sure, he spends the evening trying not to watch Fred and George projectile vomit in the common room, but by the standards of Hogwarts, it’s calm.

Or at least it is up until late evening, at which point Sirius Black’s disembodied head shows up in the fireplace. Ichigo knew it was coming, and he’s still not okay with it. He’s so done with the wizarding world.

Black chats with Potter and Granger and Ron for a while like it’s no big deal that a wanted fugitive—and this fugitive in particular, the one the Ministry mole is gunning for special—is hanging out in an unsecured fireplace. Eventually, after some babbling about Quidditch and Defense and who even knows, Ichigo has to cut in and try to impose some logic. Ichigo is trying to impose logic. It’s just wrong on so many levels.

“You do know Umbridge has it in for you, right?” he asks Black.

“Yeah, kid, I know.” Black grins like he doesn’t have a care in the world. “You must be Ichigo. I’ve heard a lot about you. Hear I owe you one for poking this Umbridge toad in the eye for me.”

Ichigo scowls at him. “Yeah, I’m Ichigo Kurosaki, hi. You invited me for Christmas. We can talk then. For now, get the hell out of the fireplace before the Ministry creeps find you, okay?”

Black turns to Harry and gives him a knowing, tolerant smile. “Security people,” he says. “They’re all like this.”

Harry chews his lower lip in worry, but says nothing.

In a minute, Ichigo’s gonna start killing people himself, thereby eliminating the aggravation of trying to keep them safe. How’s that for a security stereotype? “Humor me.”

“Listen, Ichigo, you need to lighten up,” Black tells him. “I’ve never been—” He twists around abruptly, swears, and vanishes.

And then Umbridge’s hand comes groping into the fireplace, and everybody bolts for their dorms.

Ichigo hates being the voice of reason—it’s thankless. Nobody ever listens to the voice of reason, even or maybe especially when it’s correct. It’s so much more rewarding to be the voice of reckless aggression.

* * *

The kids decide to discuss the whole Sirius Black problem the next day in Charms, having clearly learned nothing from the Hog’s Head debacle. Or the fireplace debacle. It’s like they think they’re walking around in a sound-proof bubble, and it kills Ichigo, it really does.

To give them what little credit they’re due, though, the classroom is pretty deafening. Ironic, since they’re practicing silencing charms—but everybody sucks at them, and the place is packed full of ravens and bullfrogs, all with loud opinions about the lesson.

Ichigo’s using his completely unmagical stick instead of Zangetsu, because he doesn’t feel like messily killing a raven today. Not that the raven’s grateful or anything. It keeps trying to pull out his hair and steal his shirt buttons. Halfway through the lesson, he starts calling it Grimmjow.

It’s pouring rain outside, so after class, most everybody heads to a first floor classroom to hide from the weather. The poltergeist’s in there, too, but he takes one look at Ichigo, screams in terror, and dives into the ceiling. Ichigo’s a little insulted. If he wanted that poltergeist dead, no amount of hiding in the architecture would save its ass.

“Now that is just bloody weird,” Ron says, staring after the poltergeist.

“Not the first time it’s happened, either,” Potter informs him. “Between Peeves and Binns…”

“Really, Ichigo, are all ghosts afraid of you?” Granger demands, baffled.

Ichigo shrugs, but he’s spared answering, because the Quidditch team captain bounds over to tell them Quidditch is back on. Her timing’s so good Ichigo’s almost willing to forgive the content of her message. Fucking Quidditch.

The captain’s also in the Defense group, so seeing her reminds Granger of that whole thing, and everyone completely forgets about Ichigo. He’s always appreciated their short attention spans.

Granger’s apparently having a crisis of faith about their Defense club plan, though, mainly because the dog guy thought it was a good idea. And yeah, Ichigo gets where she’s coming from. After all, the dog guy also thought unsecured fireplace conversations were a good idea, and look where that almost got them.

But this kind of tactical math is way too complicated for Potter and Ron. Ron likes to make a plan and stick to it, while Potter lives in a strange reality where people are trustworthy in direct proportion to how much they like him—ergo, the dog guy, who loves him, must always be right, and Granger is threatening his entire worldview by questioning that. Plus, the boys are both stuck on the fact that the Defense club was Granger’s idea in the first place. They can’t handle her changing her mind; it confuses them. And when they’re confused, they have a tendency to shout. Also whine. Ichigo finds himself missing the distraction the Grimmjow raven provided.

And then it gets worse, because it starts involving him.

“Ichigo, do you think we should go through with the Defense Against the Dark Arts group?” Hermione abruptly asks.

Ichigo has no idea why she thinks he should have a say in this. “…I can’t run your cost-benefit analysis for you because I don’t know enough. I mean, on the one hand, all training is good training. On the other hand, eventually you’ll probably get caught and maybe expelled. Then again, getting expelled with training under your belts is better than getting killed at school because you don’t have any. So I don’t know. You figure the odds.”

Granger bites her lip and looks really uncertain. It makes Ichigo uncomfortable when confident people look uncertain—like he’s failed them, somehow.

The bell takes this moment to ring, which is a relief.

* * *

“Hang on,” Ichigo says, because he thought he’d gotten used to this school, but he was wrong. “You’re saying this room can turn into anything you want?

Potter nods, like it’s interesting but not incredible. “That’s what Dobby made it sound like. I guess we’ll see.”

Dobby the elf. The elf who told Potter about a room that can be anything, which Potter’s only excited about because it means they have a place to practice Defense. Ichigo never would’ve accused Potter of lack of imagination before, but now he’s starting to wonder. He can’t decide if he should tell Urahara about this room at the first opportunity, or if he should carefully never, ever tell Urahara about this room.

“Filch is on the second floor,” Potter says, studying his freaky magical map that shows where everyone is at all times, because why not. “And Mrs. Norris is on the fourth.”

“And Umbridge?” Hermione asks, fretting.

“In the staff room,” Potter tells her. “Okay, let’s go.”

Potter leads them to a completely blank stretch of wall opposite a tapestry of a guy teaching, uh, trolls to dance, apparently. Ichigo briefly wonders if trolls are actually a thing, then remembers that one tried to kill Potter his first year. Because that’s Ichigo’s test for whether or not a thing exists: whether or not it’s tried to kill Potter. Sometimes their lives really are upsettingly similar. Anyway, Potter tells them to think about studying Defense, then makes them all walk up and down along the wall three times.

And suddenly there’s a door in the wall. It’s a comfort to Ichigo that even the blasé magic kids are weirded out by that.

The room itself is full of books and cushions and gadgets Ichigo can’t identify, but it also has a corner that looks like it could’ve come right out of Urahara’s shop—it’s got bokken and throwing knives and fighting staffs and…are those shuriken? They’re shuriken. Ichigo can’t even pretend those aren’t his fault, because they’re completely his fault. Apparently his subconscious thinks it’s hilarious.

Actually…yeah, Shiro’s laughing his ass off. His subconscious definitely thinks it’s hilarious.

Granger beelines to the books and Ron beelines to the shuriken (and manages to injure himself with them in short order). Potter just stares around in shock until the rest of the kids start wandering in. Ichigo heads over to the Urahara corner to take the shuriken away from Ron and to prevent any other enterprising students from getting their hands on the knives. Plus, it’s a good vantage point to watch the room from.

The kids vote on a name for their group and do a bunch of other blah blah blah, but eventually they get down to business. Ichigo’s amazed to find that Potter’s not a half bad teacher. He knows his stuff, he’s patient when he needs to be, stern when he needs to be, scary when he needs to be. Ichigo’s impressed. Sure, it’s all How Not to Die 101, but that’s better than the nothing these kids came in with.

At some point, though, Ichigo’s gonna have to prove to them that they rely too much on magic. Magic’s great and all, but you’ve gotta have more than one party trick. Seems to Ichigo that getting a wand away from these kids wouldn’t be too hard. In fact, Potter apparently survived against the soul-splitting guy in June by taking his wand away, and he’s allegedly the baddest badass of the wizarding world. And even he’s a one-trick pony.

Easy advantage, then, having one more trick.

Curfew’s at ten, so the kids practice until nine, and then Potter lets everyone out a few at a time, eyes on his magic map. Ichigo’s starting to have a faint, feeble hope that maybe they won’t get busted for doing this. Weirder things have happened. He and Potter are both still alive, for one thing.

“Wait,” Granger says after everyone’s gone but the four of them. “Just quickly, before we’re out of time…I’d like to see what Ichigo can do. He’s only been watching so far, and—no offense, Ichigo, but you don’t seem particularly good at magic, and you’re meant to be protecting Harry. I’d feel better if I knew you could honestly do it.”

“Ouch,” says Ichigo, but the truth is he’s been waiting for someone to bring this up. All they’ve ever seen him do is accidentally blow stuff up. It’d be weird if they weren’t concerned.

“You did manage to get into Umbridge’s office and destroy it,” Granger allows. “But that only means you have a lot of raw power. We don’t know how well you can use it.”

“You are meant to be my bodyguard,” Potter agrees apologetically.

“No, you’re right. It’s a good idea to check.” Ichigo grabs a fighting staff from the Urahara corner. It’s too dangerous to use Zangetsu, obviously, but Potter’s got a magic stick, so Ichigo should at least get a regular stick. That seems fair. Staff in hand, he walks over to Potter and braces himself for whatever weird magical thing is about to come his way. He can’t explain that normally he wouldn’t be stuck inside his body for this kind of thing, but whatever. He’s pretty sure he can handle their magic even inside his body.

He’d better be able to handle it, or he’ll lose all of Potter’s trust completely and right now. And that’ll make his job a lot harder.

Potter says something magical, and a red light comes at Ichigo. He ducks it, then waits for the next strike. Nothing happens. He stares at Potter in suspicion, looking for the trick.

But Potter’s just standing there, shocked. What, he didn’t think Ichigo could dodge the first strike? Ichigo’s offended by that, so he does what he does best—he attacks.

He runs at Potter, not at superhuman speeds—that seems like cheating—but pretty damn fast all the same, and swings his staff at Potter’s head, just to see what he’ll do.

Protego!” Potter shouts, waving his wand and jumping back, and Ichigo slams into a shimmering shield, like one of Inoue’s. So that’s what protego means. Potter only keeps the shield up for a second, though, before dropping it and firing another red light Ichigo’s way. This time, he does it without saying anything. Ichigo ducks the light, but barely—Potter got him off-balance, throwing up that shield and then dropping it so suddenly. Not bad. Ichigo straightens up and sprints along the edge of the room to the left, looking for something to throw—and there’s a small, round stone, sitting there waiting for him. Ichigo loves this room. He snaps up the stone while Potter keeps up continuous fire—but he keeps missing. A moving target’s hard to hit, and it seems like Potter doesn’t get enough practice at it. Something to work on.

That said, Ichigo’s starting to see how Potter’s survived this long. He’s got that light in his eyes—the look of somebody who loves the fight. He might claim to hate violence, but Ichigo bets what he really hates are the results when it goes wrong. The fighting itself? Potter can tell himself whatever he wants, but he obviously lives for it.

That said, he’s used to an entirely different kind of fight than the one Ichigo’s giving him. He expects someone to stand in place and send spells at him—the fault of all those one-trick ponies he’s been up against. (Ishida had a similar problem, back in the old days before he started sparring against his slightly evil father and half a dozen shinigami on the regular. Low-level hollows don’t exactly have complex battle strategies.) Potter doesn’t know what to do against an opponent aiming to take him down physically instead of magically. He’s fast, but even without flash step, Ichigo’s faster—he’s more practiced, and in better shape.

It’s like all wizards everywhere learned kido and just stopped there. Bad plan, particularly since they need wands to use their kido. You should never be dependent on something that can be taken from you.

Ichigo chucks his rock at Potter. Potter tosses up a shield and stops firing spells…until he realizes Ichigo faked him out with the rock. Then he drops the shield and starts firing spells again. Interesting. So either wizards can’t fire spells through a shield, or Potter hasn’t worked out how yet. And either way…either way, Ichigo figures it’s time to test just how strong that shield is. They only have so long before curfew, after all.

He runs at the nearest wall, jumps up and hits it with both feet to change direction, then charges at Potter as fast as he can without cheating. Potter didn’t see that coming, and almost doesn’t manage to cast a shield in time. But he makes it, barely.

Ichigo’s guessing Potter’s shield is a lot like Inoue’s early-days, pre-war shields, which is to say he’s guessing it doesn’t extend all the way around Potter in a bubble. Running with that guess, Ichigo slams his staff into the shield and runs to Potter’s right, dragging the staff along the shield and drawing up sparks. Potter can’t drop the shield with Ichigo right there, but he also can’t fire through it, so basically he just has to stand there like an asshole and watch, which is making him seriously angry. Kid’s got all the right instincts, at least.

Turns out the shield ends just behind Potter’s shoulder. The staff slides off the edge and falls toward Potter, and Ichigo follows the momentum on in, slamming into Potter’s wand arm with all his weight before the kid has a chance to cast. Potter drops the wand with an angry, pained yelp. Once he’s disarmed, it’s pretty easy to knock him down and sit on him, knees pinning his arms. Just to be safe, Ichigo goes the extra mile and shoves the staff under Potter’s chin to hold his head in place. Of course, he could’ve gone even safer and pinned the kid facedown, but this is a way to test whether it’ll occur to Potter to try to kick him off.

It doesn’t. Another thing to work on.

“Bloody hell,” Ron says loudly.

“Harry, are you all right?” Granger asks, frantic.

“What did…how did you…? You didn’t use any magic at all!” Potter gasps, looking shell-shocked.

“Well, no,” Ichigo says, backing off and standing up, leaning on the staff. He thinks about what happens when he tries to use even completely benign magic, and shudders. “I didn’t want to kill you. That would defeat the whole purpose of my being here.” He holds out a hand and pulls Potter to his feet. Everyone’s staring at him, speechless. So they actually believed Potter’d been assigned a worthless bodyguard. That says a lot about their faith in the people who’re meant to be protecting them.

You should be teaching Defense!” Potter says indignantly, rubbing at the arm Ichigo slammed into. Yeah, that’ll bruise.

“I’m a lousy teacher,” Ichigo tells him, which is…probably true. “Plus, I use a completely different kind of magic from you. Why do think I’m so terrible at yours? I’ve never done any of this stuff before. To teach you the way I was taught, we’d have to start from scratch, and we don’t have that kind of time.” Besides, most of what he knows they couldn’t learn, being human and all.

“You should teach a hand-to-hand combat section, in any case,” Granger puts in, looking a scary combination of disapproving and calculating. “Harry can teach defensive spells, and you can teach physical defense.”

“If you think that’s a good idea.” Ichigo thinks it’s a terrible idea, himself. Though it would probably be the bodyguardly thing to do. “But you all tend to be pretty out of shape, so I can only teach you so much. For anything else, you’ll need to be stronger and faster and have better endurance. That, you have to do on your own time. I can’t do it for you.”

“How did you learn to fight like that?” Ron wants to know. Or he thinks he wants to know. He always thinks he wants to know, does Ron.

“Uh, well. I joined a dojo when I was little. Plus my dad’s attacked me as a wake-up call every single morning since I was, like, ten. He attacks me every time I come home, too, and sometimes at random just because. It built up good reflexes. Then there were some older kids in the neighborhood who didn’t like my hair color, and they’d beat the crap out of me after school if I didn’t fight them off. And a bunch of other stuff happened, I don’t know. It was basically learn or die.”

Now they’re all staring at him in horror. Even Potter, which is ridiculous. Potter’s life is much worse than Ichigo’s.

“Why…why would your father attack you?” Granger demands, scandalized.

“Why does the crazy old jackass do anything?” Ichigo shrugs. “I think he was trying to raise me tough. But it’s hard to tell what he’s thinking. Or even if he is.”

“Is he a boxer for a living or something?” Potter asks.

“He’s a doctor.”

They all go silent and try to process that. Ichigo wishes them the best of luck.

“Do you hate him?” Potter asks, quiet and worried. From what Ichigo remembers of Urahara’s report, Potter’s home life blows, too, because the universe felt that being orphaned as a baby by a murder wizard with a grudge wasn’t bad enough.

“No,” Ichigo tells him, as comforting as he can manage. “He tried his best to raise us; it’s just that his best is lousy. Silly bastard loves us, though.”

Potter looks relieved, and maybe a little jealous. And if you’re jealous of someone for having Goat Face as a father, Ichigo figures, you are coming from a very low place indeed.

* * *

Defense club keeps up, and the kids actually start getting borderline dangerous, so that’s rewarding. The Ravenclaws as a whole have a weird natural aptitude for hand-to-hand, which Ichigo doesn’t get, but it’s awesome. If someone could talk Luna into putting on some muscle, she could even give Soi Fon a workout. Well. In like twenty or thirty years, anyway. The Hufflepuffs, meanwhile, are pathologically incapable of quitting. Seriously, Hufflepuffs never give up. It’s annoying, because Ichigo doesn’t want to beat them unconscious, but he’s also about done with their goddamn surprise attacks after he thinks they’re down. And then there are the Gryffindors and their creative ways of taking out their rage issues on everything and everyone around them.

It’s a lot more fun than Ichigo expected.

The only thing he’s sad about is the lack of Slytherins. He thinks Slytherins would be hilariously passive aggressive and might actually try to poison everyone in the room, and that would be awesome. Not to mention good practice. But when he mentions it to Potter, Potter looks at him like he just spat on the dinner table. Oh well.

Meanwhile, Quidditch gets into full swing, and it’s a maddening combination of boring and terrifying. It really is the stupidest way Potter could find to die on Ichigo’s watch, and Ichigo wishes he would stop trying. Still, Granger’s reassured him over and over that Potter doesn’t need a bodyguard during every single practice, and Ichigo chooses to take her word on that. Mostly because he could really use the free time.

First and most importantly, he decides to check if the Room of Requirement will actually give him anything he requires, or if it’s limited to what the castle has available. Probably option two, but it seems worth testing, so he waits until a rain-free Wednesday evening, when people are likely to be outside, and gives it a try.

He paces back and forth in front of the wall and really requires a piece of the soul-splitter’s soul. Then he opens the door to find a small, mostly empty room with a pretty little antique crown sitting right in the middle of it. Ichigo walks in and shuts the door behind him, because there’s something very wrong with the pretty little crown, and he doesn’t want anyone else anywhere near it. Its spiritual pressure is a dirty, dark green, just like the thread in Potter’s spirit ribbon. Plus it feels nasty in general.

Ichigo tells Zangetsu to turn back into a sword, and they hack the crown into pieces. When it starts bleeding and screaming in a horrible voice made of nightmares, Ichigo figures he made the right call.

Since that was a success, he goes back out the door and tries again, but no dice. The room presents him with a few other things, though, like it’s sorry it can’t help—a locket with nothing weird about it, a cup with nothing weird about it, a ring with nothing weird about it. Nice that it’s making an effort, anyway. After the third time, Ichigo gives up, but he pats the door in gratitude when he closes it. He thinks this room is his favorite magical thing so far.

He takes the broken crown and heads to Dumbledore’s office. It’s true that he was planning to avoid the guy, but this seems like something he should know about, if only so he doesn’t waste time looking for it himself.

* * *

“Mr. Kurosaki,” Dumbledore says, surprised. “How can I help you this evening?”

“Found a piece of the soul-splitter guy’s soul,” Ichigo explains, tossing the broken crown onto Dumbledore’s desk. “Killed it. Figured you’d want to know.”

It takes Dumbledore a second to even start to respond to that. Ichigo’s pleased. He bets it’s not every day somebody stuns Dumbledore silent.

“That…is Ravenclaw’s Diadem. It is…or was said to grant wisdom to the wearer,” Dumbledore explains carefully. “Created by Rowena Ravenclaw—the wisest of the founders of this school.”

“Oh.” At some point, Ichigo needs to learn to ask questions before he starts breaking stuff. What’s he supposed to say now? Sorry I smashed your priceless magical heirloom seems inadequate. “I didn’t know.”

“It had to be done,” Dumbledore reassures him. “Once an object is turned into a horcrux—a container for a soul fragment—there’s no way to recover it. Or in any case, no way that I’m aware of.”

Well, that’s a relief. “Okay. Good.”

“Mr. Kurosaki, where on earth did you find this?”

“In the castle. There’s this room—the Room of Requirement, Potter calls it. It gives you anything you want. Or anything the castle can drag up for you, anyway. I asked it for a soul piece, and it gave me one. Then I asked for more, but it must not’ve had any, because it tried to give me some random stuff instead.”

“Such as?” Dumbledore asks, fascinated.

“A ring. A cup. A locket. After that, I gave up.”

Dumbledore blinks rapidly. “My dear boy, we are almost certain that one of the remaining horcruxes is a ring. It’s possible…”

“You mean the room was giving me hints?” It’s official: Ichigo fucking loves that room. He feels like he should give it candy or something, but that wouldn’t do it any good. What do rooms like? Being dusted, maybe? Ichigo can do that. “That’s awesome. Did you already tell Urahara-san and Yoruichi-san about the ring?”

Dumbledore gets a worryingly glazed look. “I did,” he says, sounding not all there.

Ichigo doesn’t even want to know. “Yeah, okay.” Moving swiftly along. “Do you know which locket and cup it meant?”

Dumbledore’s eyes clear abruptly. “I believe I may. Voldemort wouldn’t settle for just any container for fragments of his soul. He’d want something special. The diadem was an important artifact connected to Ravenclaw, which means the cup is likely the one famously enchanted by Helga Hufflepuff, and the locket a well-known possession of Salazar Slytherin.”

“And they’re…where, exactly?”

“I have no idea,” Dumbledore says brightly. “But at least we now have a place to begin.”

Ichigo knows that Urahara and Yoruichi already destroyed whatever was in the bank. But Dumbledore knows that too, right? Sure, they probably told him. And even if they didn’t, Ichigo doesn’t like the effect their names have on the guy, so he’s just letting it go and hoping for the best. “Cool. I’ll head over to the room again tonight and ask it to show me all the soul pieces at once. I’ll let you know.”

“Thank you,” Dumbledore says earnestly. “But why tonight, if I may ask? Why not now?”

Ichigo shrugs. “Quidditch practice is over in a minute. Potter’ll think I don’t love him if he doesn’t see me hovering around doing my bodyguard thing.”

“Would he?” Dumbledore smiles in that creepy, fake-benevolent, Aizenish way. “But he doesn’t know you’re his bodyguard.”

“He does, actually. Because I told him,” Ichigo explains. “I didn’t tell him why, though—not that it’s hard to guess.”

“Why would you tell him anything at all?” Dumbledore asks. “He and his friends have been known to evade any sort of watch put on them the moment they know about it. For his own sake, it would be better for him not to know.”

This is an obnoxiously Kuchiki attitude, and Ichigo’s annoyed by it.

“I told him because he and his friends crept up behind me in their cape that makes them invisible while I was giving a report. I had to tell them something.”

Dumbledore seems shocked. “You noticed them? The Invisibility Cloak is said to hide the user from Death itself.”

“Well, it doesn’t work,” Ichigo informs him. “Obviously, since that’s not how death works. Death is an abstract concept; you can’t hide from an abstract concept. Apparently you can’t even hide from shinigami. Where’d that stupid story come from?”

“It’s an old legend…the Invisibility Cloak was allegedly a gift from Death to a young wizard.”

“Huh.” Well, Ichigo’s heard of shinigami doing weirder things. Hell, Ichigo’s seen shinigami do weirder things. Maybe the cloak is some proto-version of Urahara’s spiritual pressure masking cloaks. If it is, though, it doesn’t work for shit. “I guess it’s possible. But, actually, it sounds like a shinigami messing with the living. Or, worse, a shinigami experimenting on the living. Either the shinigami lied about what the cloak did, or the kinks weren’t worked out yet. Doesn’t really matter now, does it?”

Ichigo isn’t sure why Dumbledore looks like all his dreams have just been smashed into confetti right in front of him, but that is definitely how he looks.

“Anyway,” Ichigo mutters uncomfortably, “I’ll come back tonight, update you on the thing with the soul pieces. Sound good?”

Dumbledore tries to shake off whatever it was that made him look like his life was over. It works about as well as you’d expect. “Of course, my boy,” he says absently. “Of course.”

Ichigo leaves, thanking any available god and also Kyoraku that at least Dumbledore isn’t his problem.

* * *

“Bottom line,” Ichigo informs Dumbledore that evening, after dinner and a visit to Ichigo’s favorite room in the world, “there’s the crown, a cup, a ring, a locket, a book, a snake, and a kid. The snake and the kid were little stuffed animals, but I’m assuming the room means an actual snake and an actual kid. So it seems like you were right about Potter having a soul piece stuck to him.” Personally, Ichigo thought it was nice of the room to refrain from dragging Potter himself up there, since he’s pretty sure it could have if it’d wanted to. It’s just that awesome.

“The crown has been destroyed,” Dumbledore says thoughtfully. “And if the room showed you a book…it must have been Tom Riddle’s diary, which Mr. Potter destroyed during his second year.”

“Tom Riddle?”

“It was Voldemort’s birth name.”

“Wow. You mean this guy is named Tom, and you’re actually allowing him his delusions of grandeur by calling him that weird unpronounceable name he came up with while high on evil? What is wrong with you? I’m calling him Tom.”

“As you wish, Mr. Kurosaki,” Dumbledore says, looking pleased. Guy is seriously weird.

“Meanwhile, my, uh. Teachers? They destroyed the one that was hidden in the bank. And you know about the ring. Hey, we’re making progress. I’m still not killing Potter, though, so we need some way around that.”

“I truly fear there is no way around it, Mr. Kurosaki.” Dumbledore looks very sad about it all—because he’s given up. He’s a quitter. Ichigo calls it lazy. “You see, there is a prophecy concerning Mr. Potter and…Mr. Riddle.”

“Prophecy?” Ichigo wrinkles his nose disapprovingly. “Yeah, I don’t do prophecies.”

Dumbledore stares. “You don’t do prophecies,” he repeats blankly.

“Prophecies are a cop-out,” Ichigo explains.

“There are true prophecies, Mr. Kurosaki,” Dumbledore insists, now looking like he’s not sure they’re even having the same conversation.

“Okay, fine, but aren’t they mostly self-fulfilling? Plus, you know how sometimes if you really, really believe something’s true, you can make it true? It’s not quite willing it into existence, but it’s close. The power of positive thinking, right?”

“…I’m familiar with the concept.”

“Well, sometimes, if you refuse to believe in something hard enough, you can make it go away.” Ichigo learned that from Karin. He also learned that it only works about one time in fifty, but hey, that’s better than nothing.

“And this is what you plan to do with the prophecy.”

“What prophecy?” Ichigo counters blandly.

Dumbledore sighs like he’s got a headache coming on. Ichigo’s noticed he has this effect on lots of people.

“Good talk,” Ichigo declares, standing. “I’ll let you know if we kill any more soul pieces, you let us know if you kill any more. And I’ll see you around.”

“Have a good evening, Mr. Kurosaki,” Dumbledore answers, his hands lifting slightly, then dropping again, like he wanted to rub at his temples but stopped himself. So he tries to lie even with his body language. Just like Urahara, swear to god.

Only no, Urahara’s worse. Urahara’s got centuries of experience in being a pain in the ass, whereas this guy’s barely cracked his second century. Perspective.

Ichigo escapes Dumbledore’s office, and immediately the ghost of a beautiful, long-haired woman swoops up next to him and starts trailing him to the common room. It’s like the good old days in Karakura, but not like Hogwarts ghosts at all. Hogwarts ghosts generally flee from Ichigo; they don’t come and hang out.

“Can I help you?” he asks the ghost politely. He’s curious about this weird behavior shift.

“You destroyed my mother’s diadem,” she says. So this is Ravenclaw’s kid, huh? Ichigo can’t tell whether she’s mad about him destroying the crown or not. He guesses it depends on how she felt about her mom.

“I had to,” he explains, figuring that’s safe either way. “There was an evil soul fragment in it.”

“Yes, I know,” she hisses, looking fierce. “I heard it cry out as you destroyed it. I didn’t realize…he manipulated me into telling him how to find the diadem, you see. And then he defiled it with Dark Magic. He deceived me. Kill him for me.”

Wow. “…Yeah, the plan is to get rid of him, since he’s basically dead already. But I’m not doing it for you. No offense, but I don’t even know you.”

“I understand,” she allows, reining it in a little. “We are nothing to one another, after all. Still, I appreciate what you’ve done. If you have need of assistance in your quest, feel free to call on the Grey Lady.”

And then she floats off to do whatever it is pissed off ghosts do when they’re trapped in a castle with eternity to burn.

Ichigo shakes his head and keeps walking. Dead people and their issues.

* * *

Ichigo considers telling Potter about destroying the latest soul piece, but ultimately decides he’d rather tell Potter once all the soul pieces have been destroyed. Especially the one inside Potter. No sense getting into the whole thing before then and upsetting the kid for no reason. Or, worse, inspiring him to run off and try to find soul pieces himself.

End result: the kids don’t know anything Tom-related is going on, so they’re all about Quidditch all the time. It’s a trial, particularly since they’ve gotten to the competition part of the season, and enthusiasm for the sport has hit a fever pitch.

They play Slytherin first, and the Slytherins come up with a song to make Ron lose it, because they are the most bored people on campus. This is yet another reason to bring Slytherins into the DA—Ichigo could easily keep them too exhausted to come up with mean little songs. Objectively, the song is stupid, but Ron thinks it’s traumatizing. Point to Slytherin for knowing the target.

Gryffindor still wins despite Slytherin’s best mocking efforts, so that’s good. Although as far as Ichigo’s concerned, the highlight of the whole experience is Luna’s lion hat, i.e., the most embarrassing accessory Ichigo has ever seen in his life. And the low point is when a Slytherin goon hits one of the possibly-sentient balls at Potter’s back like a fucking coward, thereby demonstrating the very reason Ichigo wishes Potter would stop playing this demented sport. (The goon doesn’t know it yet, but his ass will be in the hospital wing before the day is out. Unfortunately for him, Ichigo’s got nothing better to do with his afternoon.)

Like a fool, Ichigo assumes the worst is over after that, and heads back to the common room with Granger. It’s not until much later that he finds out Potter and the Weasley twins attacked some Slytherin players and got themselves a Quidditch ban for life, or at least until Ichigo manages to drive Umbridge into howling insanity and an early retirement.

Everyone’s very, very traumatized. Ichigo tries to feel their pain, but it’s hard, and it would be hard even if he didn’t hate Quidditch with a passion. Like, no one’s dead. No one’s been cut off from their magic. They haven’t even been separated from their loved ones.

He feels strongly that they need to get a grip.

After watching about an hour of moping, he figures he should bail before he says something awful, so he hunts down the Slytherin sneak-attacker and picks a fight. Once the kid’s sufficiently bruised and bloody and sorry about his choices, Ichigo dumps him in the hospital wing and heads back to Gryffindor, where he leaves his body on his bed before going to the roof to call Inoue. He feels Inoue needs both a detailed description of Luna’s godawful lion hat, and also the knowledge that the soul-splitter guy is named Tom. As expected, she’s delighted to hear about both of these things—the hat in particular. She proposes, in fact, to make herself a lion hat, or maybe a kangaroo hat. Possibly a kappa hat. Then she wants to know if kappa are real. (They are, though astonishingly one has never tried to kill Potter. As far as Ichigo knows.)

The chat with Inoue puts Ichigo in a good mood, as Inoue generally does. The good mood lasts all of ten minutes, up to the moment he gets back to the room and finds his body gone. It is never a good feeling, discovering your body’s up and wandered off without you.

Ichigo sighs. This was bound to happen sooner or later, but he was hoping for later. Luckily, he finds his body the first place he checks—the hospital wing. Right next to the Slytherin goon, too. There’s irony for you.

* * *

Ichigo opens his eyes and blinks a few times. These days it takes him a minute to get used to having a body again—for a while his reaction times are slower, and the air feels stifling and thick. It’s annoying, and it’s getting worse every year. He doesn’t need to be told that that’s a bad sign.

He sits up, causing Ron, who was sitting beside the bed, to yelp in terror. “We thought you were dead!” he cries.

“Well, I’m breathing and moving around,” Ichigo points out. “So either I was never dead or I’m a really mellow zombie, and either way, you can calm the hell down. Why am I in the hospital wing?”

“Because we thought you were dead,” Granger says severely. “When we checked on you, we couldn’t find a pulse!”

“Why were you even awake to check on me?” Ichigo asks irritably. “It’s like one in the morning.” He notes that he’s wearing a hospital gown, and starts hunting for his clothes and trying not to wonder who stripped him. At least they left his underwear on. At least there’s that.

“We were going to see Hagrid!” Granger hisses, enraged by his attitude.

Ichigo briefly wonders if he should know who Hagrid is, then decides that, on balance, he doesn’t care. “Okay. And you all decided to check on me because…?”

“We thought you might like to go with us,” Potter explains impatiently. “Hagrid lives outside the castle, and, well. We thought you wouldn’t want us outside without you.”

“Oh.” Ichigo’s surprised and pleased by this show of common sense. “Did you end up going anyway?”

“After we brought you here, yes,” Potter says. Ichigo gives him a disappointed look, and Potter scowls. “We tried,” he snaps.

“I guess you did,” Ichigo allows. “But for future reference, this usually only lasts an hour or two. Next time, wait for me.”

“Fine,” Potter mutters dubiously.

“Thanks for coming back to watch over me, though.” Frankly, Ichigo didn’t think they had the kind of relationship that made for overnight hospital visits. Or…vigils over the dead, if that’s what they thought they were doing. He’s touched that they bothered.

“Really, though, mate, you were dead quiet and dead still,” Ron puts in, eyes wide and horrified with the memory. “And Neville said you’d been like that since he came up to bed. He didn’t know anybody else was in the room at first, but then he saw you, and…he wasn’t sure you were even breathing.”

“And he was too afraid to make sure.” Potter frowns in disapproval.

“Not a lot of point,” Ichigo says in defense of Longbottom, finally discovering his pajamas in a drawer and triumphantly pulling them out. “If I wasn’t breathing when he came up to the room and it took him a few minutes to notice me, I definitely would’ve been dead by then. No sense rushing when you’re dealing with a corpse.” Ichigo pulls his pajama bottoms on under his hospital gown.

“Yes, and about that—” Granger says, then cuts herself off with a gasp when Ichigo exchanges the hospital gown for his tank top. “Ichigo!”

“…Yeah?”

“Where did you get all those scars?!”

“Around. I’m kind of a reckless person, and that leaves you scarred up after a while. Right, Potter?”

“Sure…” Potter agrees, dazed and blinking. Ron looks shocked and appalled, too. It’s like they think Ichigo hasn’t noticed their scars.

“Okay. Now let’s get back to the dorm before anything else stupid happens.”

“What happened to you?” Granger demands, scurrying along in Ichigo’s wake, not to be deterred. “You were dead, Ichigo! No breathing! No pulse!”

“Still warm, though,” Ichigo points out absently. “Seems like a stasis kind of thing. Don’t worry about it; you’ve got bigger problems.”

“Were you hibernating?” Ron asks, morbidly fascinated.

“Sort of.” Ichigo considers. “Not really. And now you can stop asking or I can start lying.”

“Madam Pomfrey will do her nut when she sees you’re gone,” Potter informs him with the wisdom of experience. “She’ll kill you herself.”

“And I’ll run away from her really, really fast, thereby proving that I’m healthy,” Ichigo counters.

“Tried that,” Potter says. “Won’t make a difference.”

“Then I’m living dangerously, I guess.” Ichigo’s just not that intimidated by Madam Pomfrey. Once you’ve been treated by Captain Unohana, no other medical professional can scare you ever again. “I’ll deal with it.”

“Your funeral,” Potter mutters.

* * *

Ichigo’s day starts far, far too early the next morning, considering how late his night was, that it’s Sunday, and that he was awakened by a long and angry lecture from Madam Pomfrey. Probably made worse by the fact that she had to come and find him in order to deliver it.

Still better than any of his dad’s wakeup techniques, though.

It’s not until Tuesday that Ichigo gets to meet Hagrid, who turns out to be a Jidanbo-sized man who’s quite recently been beaten all to hell by somebody. Potter and Ron love him. Granger worries over him. The Weasley twins admire his style. Ichigo’s afraid already, and that’s before the guy’s class starts. A class which involves the freaky hollow-horses from the beginning of term.

Turns out you can only see the horses if you’ve watched someone die. This means that every single friend Ichigo has could see them, but apparently only a handful of kids in this class can. That strikes Ichigo as unfair. So unfair, in fact, that he’s in a pretty foul mood even before Umbridge comes along and starts talking to Hagrid exactly the same way she talks to Ichigo. Like they’re particularly slow dogs.

Seeing as Ichigo is both bored and at the limit of his patience with everything in general, he decides some retaliation is in order. That evening after classes, he gets the Weasley twins to do something creative in the Great Hall, and uses the distraction to break into the office Umbridge is currently sharing with Binns. He then systematically destroys every single thing that belongs to her, while leaving all of Binns’s stuff untouched, just in case Umbridge had started to think she was safe if she shared. Ichigo figures Binns will forgive him for the door. Or at least, Binns will be too terrified to complain about the door.

Umbridge freaks the hell out. Ichigo feels a glowing sense of accomplishment.

* * *

On the first of December, the day after the Weasley twins practically blow up the Great Hall and someone destroys all of Umbridge’s belongings again, there is yet another Educational Decree—Number Twenty-Seven. It gives Umbridge supreme authority over all punishments, and a little group of student thugs to do her dirty work. They’re called the Inquisitorial Squad, answerable only to the Hogwarts High Inquisitor. Malfoy, of course, is the very first person to sign up.

No one but Ichigo Kurosaki finds any of this amusing in the slightest. Ichigo, on the other hand, finds it amusing enough for everyone, and Hermione is never going to forgive him for that.

“This is good,” Ichigo announces the day the Decree goes up. As if it isn’t entirely his fault.

“In what way could this possibly be considered good?” Hermione demands, and she may sound a little shrill, she may, but she thinks she’s within her rights, considering.

“They’re openly breaking the rules,” Ichigo answers calmly. “Means they’re scared. And if they’re breaking the rules this badly, then we don’t have to play by the rules anymore either. Swords drawn, basically. No more lying. Makes things simple.”

Hermione hides her face in her hands so she doesn’t have to see Harry and Ron looking impressed by this logic, the silly fools. “You were the one who broke the rules first, if you’ll recall, Ichigo,” she reminds him, voice muffled.

“No, blood quills were the first broken rule. I just escalated.”

“And now they’re escalating more!” Hermione cries, pointing accusingly, infuriated.

“Yeah, but they’re limited in what they can do. They can’t start killing students—their whole game would fall apart. But I’m not limited. I can do whatever I want.”

Hermione thinks she’s beginning to understand why Ichigo’s employers were happy to ship him off to Scotland for a few years despite his obvious fighting skills. “You are not going to kill anyone,” she orders him fiercely.

“I’m not,” he agrees. “But they don’t know that.”

Hermione gives a stifled scream of rage, because this is what Ichigo’s driven her to. Incoherence.

“You should calm down,” he says with a pleased smirk that Hermione would dearly love to cut off his face. “All this rage must be bad for your blood pressure.”

“Well, well, what’s this?” cuts in Malfoy, who apparently snuck up on them while Hermione was distracted with mutilation fantasies. “You can speak English,” he accuses gleefully. “I’ll have to dock five points from Gryffindor for lying to the High Inquisitor!”

“That hurts me,” Ichigo says in a bored tone. He taps his chest. “Right here.”

Hermione really is going to kill him. She’s going to kill him herself. Malfoy isn’t allowed to steal that privilege. She’s earned it.

“Only teachers can take house points, Malfoy,” Ron snarls. “You’re just a prefect.”

“Oh, but I’m not just a prefect, Weasley,” Malfoy says with a disgustingly self-satisfied expression. “I’m a member of the Inquisitorial Squad. And members of the Inquisitorial Squad, I think you’ll find, have the full confidence of the Hogwarts High Inquisitor, and can dock as many points as we like. So it’s five from the foreigner for lying to the High Inquisitor. Five for contradicting me, Weasley. Five because I don’t like you, Potter. Oh yeah, I forgot, you’re a mudblood, Granger, so ten off for that.”

Ichigo appears to be on the brink of choking on repressed laughter, and Hermione dearly wishes he would.

It occurs to her that under normal circumstances, she would be entirely occupied with hating Malfoy and being concerned about the future of Hogwarts. As it stands, though, most of her mind is far too busy wishing terrible things on Ichigo to have time for anything else. There’s another sin to lay at Ichigo’s feet—he’s ruined her priorities.

* * *

Ichigo understands that no matter how funny this is, if he actually laughs out loud, Granger will kill him. But it’s so hard to resist.

“You can’t take points!” Potter insists, because Potter and reality are barely passing acquaintances.

“I just did, Potter,” the blond kid says, delighted as he can be, gesturing across the hall to the house point…crystal…things. Apparently people actually memorize how high they are, because everybody but Ichigo gasps in shock. “As I said, I’m a member of the Inquisitorial Squad, and the Inquisitorial Squad is the only part of this school the Ministry of Magic considers truly reliable.” He has a little badge in the shape of an I, which he flashes proudly at this point. He’s somehow even worse than Ishida with his freaking capes.

And since this showdown is happening in the middle of a hallway before a meal, it’s starting to attract a crowd. The blond kid, Ichigo’s noticed, seriously loves a crowd. He starts hamming it up even more for the benefit of said crowd, which makes it even harder not to laugh. Just, all the blathering about upstanding members of society versus blood traitory mud bloody blah blah blah—

It is at this moment that Granger snaps and starts screaming out every single one of the blond kid’s character defects for the entire hallway to hear, which charms everyone except the Slytherins.

Nope, wait, a few of the Slytherins seem a bit charmed as well, though they’re trying their best to hide it. Sure, house loyalty is a thing, but on the other hand, the most easily entertained kids in school aren’t going to say no to a good show, are they?

“…and what are you laughing at, Ichigo?” Granger demands fiercely, interrupting her own rant.

“Sorry, sorry.” He waves a hand apologetically. “It’s just, he’s so damn excited about his shiny badge, I can’t.”

The blond kid draws himself up to his not especially impressive height. “Five points from each of you for disrespecting a member of the Inquisitorial Squad,” he hisses.

“Don’t listen to what anybody tells you, kid—that shiny badge is worth every penny,” Ichigo informs him.

“Ten points,” the kid insists.

“Ichigo!” Granger cuts in, shocked.

“What? I think I can get us into negative points by the end of the day. Who believes in me?”

“Oh, I believe,” says Dean Thomas, who sidled up to stand beside Ichigo about halfway through the Granger rant. Dean Thomas is a very quiet asshole, and therefore Ichigo’s favorite kind of person. Ichigo nods approvingly at him, wishing he’d been assigned to bodyguard Thomas. Life would’ve been so much easier.

The blond kid doesn’t quite stamp his foot in rage, but he clearly really, really wants to. Ichigo’s almost starting to like this kid, actually. What’s his name again? Malfoy? He’s the most ridiculous living human Ichigo’s met in a long time.

Sadly, the bell rings for class at this point, and the show’s over. But not for long, surely. Ichigo has high hopes for his Malfoy-based future entertainment prospects.

* * *

After the advent of the Inquisitorial Squad, Ichigo decides the Slytherins can’t be evil, not really. After all, the most obnoxious among them now have an unfair amount of power, and they’re only using it for petty, stupid shit. This means they’re not evil—they’re just brats, and even brats deserve a fighting chance at survival. So the Slytherins need training like everybody else.

Ichigo does understand, though, that Slytherins can’t be in the DA, because they’d rat Potter out so fast they wouldn’t even get one practice in. In view of that, Ichigo decides the best plan is to train them without telling them he’s training them, and the easiest way to go about that is to randomly attack them between classes. Maybe Goat Face wasn’t wrong about everything after all.

The random attacks work out variously. Some of the smarter Slytherins pick up on what he’s doing right away—the tall, skinny kid who can see thestrals, for one. His name is Nott, and Ichigo likes him because he’s a quick study in general. He starts openly asking for pointers after attack number three. Zabini and Greengrass are right behind him—attack four.

Malfoy is never going to figure it out, and he’s never going to forgive Ichigo for it, either. It’s hilarious. He may actually be learning more than the rest combined, though, just because he’s so determined to maim Ichigo. And yeah, at first he tried to hide behind his goons, but it was easy to persuade the Weasley twins to take the goons out of the picture at least once a week. (In fact, the twins seemed delighted to have the excuse.) In the absence of goons, Malfoy tried running, but Ichigo wouldn’t let him. Then he claimed his father would make Ichigo sorry, but Ichigo sincerely doubted that. Finally, he tried pleading for mercy, but since Ichigo’s actually doing him a favor by attacking him, that went nowhere.

Surprisingly, when his back’s completely against a wall, Malfoy’s pretty tough. Utterly vicious, too. As far as Malfoy’s concerned, the rules of engagement are for other people. Seeing as the fights are never Malfoy’s choice, Ichigo guesses he can respect that.

He’s calling the whole experiment a success. Unfortunately, nobody else feels that way, except maybe the smarter Slytherins. And the Weasley twins, who love chaos for the sake of chaos. Also Luna, because she thinks about everything at forty-five degrees to everyone else.

His bodyguard subjects, though, they don’t like it at all.

“What are you doing?” Granger demands about three weeks into the great Slytherin training experiment.

“…Playing with the Slytherins?” Ichigo suggests.

“Their parents are Death Eaters,” Potter tells him severely. “They’re the enemy. You’re supposed to be my bodyguard, and you’re training the enemy.”

“I doubt they’re all Death Eaters’ kids,” Ichigo argues, annoyed. (Though he is slightly amused that Potter recognized random attacks as training.) “And even if they were, if it comes down to a fight, you don’t want boring opponents, do you? Where’s the fun in that? Plus, this is keeping them too busy for their normal petty shit. You should be thanking me.”

There is a long silence.

“Bonkers,” Ron says finally in a hushed, almost reverent tone. “He’s mental. He is howling mad. How have we not noticed this before?”

“Congratulations on noticing,” Ichigo tells him. “And now that we’ve talked that out, it’s time for Defense club, right?”

“How am I supposed to trust you?” Potter asks, hopeless. “You’re practically training my executioners!”

“Wow. I think you seriously overestimate the skills of the Slytherin kids,” Ichigo says. “Also their uniformity of thought.”

“You’re training Malfoy,” Granger puts in accusingly. “He actually does believe everyone not from a pureblooded family doesn’t deserve to use magic, and quite possibly doesn’t deserve to live, either. It’s not hearsay; he’s told me so himself. Repeatedly.”

Ichigo shrugs. He’s had people telling him he shouldn’t exist for most of his life; he doesn’t get that worked up about it anymore. “Yeah, well, prejudiced assholes are easier to take down than anybody. They’re forever underestimating the wrong people for the wrong reasons. You just throw someone they think is inferior at them and sit back and watch the show. Malfoy thinks you don’t deserve magic? Kick his ass. It’ll be funny.”

Granger blinks, momentarily swayed. But then she remembers the thread of her original argument, and scowls. “You’re still training Malfoy.”

“It’s no fun beating up weaklings. I train you too, and I’m telling you, you can take Malfoy down easy. He learns fast, but not as fast as you.”

She looks so confused—like she doesn’t know whether to be flattered or totally enraged. Thing is, as young as these Slytherin kids are, Ichigo bets most of them are still flexible enough in their thinking that they can be talked into dropping or at least easing up on this pureblood supremacy bullshit. After all, Ichigo’s no pureblood wizard, and he kicks their asses every day of the week and twice on Sundays. Nott’s already picked up on the dissonance of that, and so has Greengrass.

In Ichigo’s experience, most enemies are just friends who haven’t had good sense beaten into them yet.

Though Malfoy, admittedly, is pretty resistant to good sense of any kind. He learns fighting skills fast, but obvious social facts seem beyond him. Still, surprise attacking Malfoy is hilarious, and they can’t take that from Ichigo. He needs all the entertainment he can get. Anyway, even Malfoy’s less trouble than, say, Grimmjow.

“We’re gonna be late for Defense,” Ichigo points out. “Which is pretty stupid, since we’re teaching it. Can we save the philosophical debates for later?”

Ichigo gives it even odds that someday Granger’s actually going to punch him in the face. It’ll probably be good for her stress levels; he’s sort of looking forward to it. Sort of also not looking forward to it, though, because Granger studies this shit, and she’ll make sure it seriously hurts.

He could stop messing with Granger and save himself the pain, he guesses. But at the end of the day, that’s just not in him.

* * *

Defense club goes as usual, which is to say Ichigo narrowly avoids being blown up by the Weasley twins, gets buried under a coordinated pack of feral Ravenclaws, and starts to wonder if Hannah Abbott is actually all human, because seriously, how does she keep getting back up?

Good times, basically. Though he’d be enjoying it more if he didn’t know there was another lecture on the evils of Slytherins waiting for him the instant practice was over.

Happily, the lecture gets delayed when the girl Potter has a crush on decides she wants to talk to him alone after practice. Granger and Ron sidle off because they’re good friends, but Ichigo’s allegedly Potter’s bodyguard, so kid gets a chaperone whether anybody likes it or not.

Ichigo’s desire to make Potter feel awkward isn’t quite strong enough to keep him in the room, though, so he lurks in the hallway and half-hopes somebody will come along and bust him for being out after curfew. That would give him a few hours of free entertainment. Maybe he’d even get expelled, and then they’d have to send somebody else to do this stupid job, Toshiro.

But no. Instead, after a boring but not especially long wait, the girl Potter has a crush on comes running out of the room in tears. Ichigo’s no expert on romance, but that doesn’t seem like a great sign.

Potter staggers out a little while later, looking upset and bewildered. Ichigo decides to cut the kid some slack and not comment. He just silently follows Potter in his aimless, curfew-defying wanderings around the castle for the next ten minutes, until Potter eventually says, “She kissed me,” in a traumatized voice.

“…And then burst into tears?” Potter must be some kind of lousy kisser.

“She was crying before,” Potter explains with the careful precision of someone who realizes he has no idea what he’s talking about, and is therefore sticking religiously to the facts. “Because her boyfriend died last year. Cedric. And then she kissed me. And then she started crying again.”

Well, that sounds like a whole lot of nothing Ichigo wants to get involved in. “That sucks,” he says.

“Yeah,” Potter agrees.

“We should go back to the common room,” Ichigo suggests, “so Granger can explain what just happened.”

“Okay,” Potter agrees. Potter’s in a very agreeable mood. It’s the clearest sign of his messed up mental state.

Granger does, in fact, have an explanation for what happened. As far as Ichigo can tell, it boils down to the girl having no business kissing anybody until she’s less of a disaster in herself. That’s not Granger’s conclusion, but it’s Ichigo’s conclusion, given Granger’s premise.

Ron immediately asks Potter if he’s terrible at kissing. Ichigo feels gratified that that was someone else’s first thought, too.

The trio spend the rest of the evening worrying about people’s love lives. It seems like a waste of effort, but it does mean they forget to lecture Ichigo on Slytherins, so for that alone, Ichigo approves. Still weird, though. God knows Ichigo’s never spent much time worrying about his own love life. He’s always had more pressing concerns—what’s the point of worrying about romance when you doubt you’ll be alive to enjoy it? Besides, like so many other things about his life and afterlife, his love life kind of became a foregone conclusion once Rukia showed up.

She’s waiting, he knows, until she can jump him without feeling like a pedophile. Problem is, with shinigami, that could mean anywhere from two to fifty years before he sees any action. But whatever. He’ll start complaining if the wait gets too annoying. The only thing he’s unclear on is whether or not Renji’s somehow part of this deal. Ichigo’s a little unsure about the idea that he might be part of it, but then again, kind of disappointed by the idea that he might not be.

Not that Ichigo’s opinion is required. He figures he and Renji are both planning to shut up and do what Rukia tells them on this issue. It’s easier that way.

So yeah, romantic angsting is foreign to him. He feels like everyone should just calm down and let, say, Luna arrange their love lives. It’s what he’d do, if he’d grown up with Luna. If nothing else, the results would be interesting.

* * *

Ichigo makes it back from reporting to Toshiro early that night, which turns out to be lucky, because no sooner does he get back than Potter has an awful, screaming nightmare of the type you rarely see from people who aren’t war veterans.

This is far from Potter’s first screaming nightmare this year, and no wonder, given what his life is like. But it’s the worst one Ichigo’s seen, probably because it turns out to be less a nightmare and more a horrifying vision of the Weasleys’ dad being murdered. Although Ichigo might wish, as the kid’s bodyguard, that he’d chosen another way to explain this than by saying, “I was there, I saw it…I did it…” in front of Finnegan, who already thinks Potter’s murderously insane.

“I was—it was a huge snake,” Potter rambles frantically on, and Ichigo thinks about the Room of Requirement’s hints. He thinks about rings and cups and lockets. And a little stuffed snake. And a little human doll.

He wonders if Potter’s ever dreamed he’s Tom Riddle. He thinks he’ll save that question for later, though. For a time when Potter isn’t on the verge of a breakdown and also surrounded by potentially hostile roommates.

Or maybe he’ll just save that question for never, because fuck it, he doesn’t want to know.

“You mean you dreamed this?” McGonagall asks when she gets dragged into the room, but Potter insists it was no dream…and, oddly, McGonagall turns to Ichigo for confirmation.

Ichigo nods agreement with Potter. That was definitely not a normal dream. It wasn’t even a normal screaming nightmare—Ichigo’s had enough experience with them to know. And in any case, Potter…Potter has a weird green thread in his spirit ribbon.

“I believe you, Potter,” McGonagall announces, then she hauls Potter and Ron and even Ichigo off to see Dumbledore. Ichigo assumes he’s included because McGonagall expects Potter to need bodyguarding in the near future. And yeah, it’ll be nice if the stalking goat gambit finally pays off, but Ichigo wishes there’d been a little less psychological trauma involved in the process.

Potter tells his story again in Dumbledore’s office, and Dumbledore also looks to Ichigo for confirmation—what the hell?—then proceeds to be just as shady and mysterious and unhelpful as he can be, because this is clearly the time to fuck around with Potter’s trust and confidence. Kid looks like he’s ready to scream from frustration and terror, and who could blame him?

The rest of the Weasleys are brought in to join Ron, expressions ranging from shock to terror. They all sit together in a silent, suffocating limbo that Ichigo recognizes from countless awful nights in the waiting room of the clinic, but thankfully not from personal experience. In this one way, he’s been lucky. His loved ones have always either died outright, or suffered in such a way that he could do something about it. He’s never had to deal with this kind of terrified, helpless waiting.

The teachers are all babbling about floo networks and portkeys and other things that sound like English but mean nothing to Ichigo. He decides to just ignore them, ignore the miserable kids, and try his very best not to think. Or at least that’s his plan until Dumbledore randomly grabs his shoulder and informs him that the Order of the Phoenix can be found at 12 Grimmauld Place. Whatever the shit that means.

“…Okay?” Ichigo really wonders about this man sometimes.

“Have you ever used a portkey before, my boy?” Dumbledore demands, getting all in his face about it. But because Ichigo has learned some self-control, despite what everyone he knows believes, he does not punch the old man in the gut.

“No. Why?”

“We’ll need to use one to make our way to Order Headquarters. As you are Harry’s bodyguard, I’d appreciate it if you were to accompany us. If you’re willing?”

“Yeah, I’ll go.” Potter’s going to need all the help he can get, what with his tainted soul thread talking to him and whatnot. And he’s not going to get it from the Weasleys, because they are, understandably, way too busy with their own problems right now.

It turns out that Ichigo hates portkeys, but he doesn’t hate them as much as he hates the Dangai, so there’s that, at least. The portkey takes them to some dungeon-like hell-hole of a kitchen occupied by a deranged elf and a scruffy drunk who’s apparently Sirius Black.

Ichigo’s been teleported to better places.

As soon as they arrive in the dungeon-kitchen, the Weasleys force Potter to rehash his awful vision in detail—though Ichigo notices that now, now, when he’s surrounded by allies, the kid belatedly decides not to mention that he was the snake in said vision. He’s giving Ichigo a headache.

The Weasley kids obviously want to storm the hospital. Black obviously wants them to not do that, and suggests drunkenness to pass the time, since that’s clearly been working out so well for him. So they sit around and drink, though it’s sadly not as alcoholic as Ichigo had been hoping.

The wait is long, horrible, and awkward—especially for Potter, who’s silently blaming himself more fiercely with each passing second. Ichigo can tell by the way his fidgeting keeps moving him closer to Ichigo and further from the Weasleys, like he thinks the Weasleys might collectively turn on him and attack. Like he thinks they’d be right to.

When they finally get news, it’s that there is no news. Unless ‘well, kids, he’s not dead yet,’ counts as news. Ichigo doesn’t think it does. The waiting turns into an all-night vigil, which Ichigo participates in silently, trying to draw as little attention to himself as possible. This is a disaster he has no place in, and if he actually has to sit here and watch while this family loses their father, he’s going right back to Soul Society and he’s going to choke Kyoraku to death.

* * *

It’s five in the morning when the Weasleys’ mom shows up, exhausted and worn down, but wildly happy despite that, like there’s a light burning inside her.

It turns out no Weasleys are dying today, so Ichigo won’t have to kill Kyoraku after all. That’s the upside. The downside is when Mrs. Weasley thanks Potter for the warning and he looks like she’s just stabbed him repeatedly in the stomach. Still blaming himself for everything, then. Ichigo has a wonderful feeling that this problem, too, will come to bite him in the ass eventually.

Black and Mrs. Weasley start bustling around and making breakfast, and Black eventually counts his guests and comes up with an extra.

“Oh, hello,” he says, startled. “Who are you?”

“The bodyguard,” Ichigo explains. Under normal circumstances, he’d be offended that he sat at a table with a guy all night and didn’t get noticed, but these really weren’t normal circumstances. Plus he kind of blends in with the Weasleys, which is a first in his life. Blending in.

Black blinks at Ichigo, still at a loss, then brightens abruptly. “Oh, Ichigo! I remember you. The security guy.”

That’s right, Ichigo thinks. The one who was absolutely right when you were dead wrong.

Black, of course, makes no mention of that. “Still staying for Christmas?” he asks instead.

“If you’ll still have me—I mean, I know you invited me, but I promised some friends I’d spend time with them over the break. Is it okay if they come here too, or should I go to them?”

“Oh, no problem, they can come here. The more the merrier, frankly,” Black assures him. “This place is under the Fidelius charm, though, so Dumbledore’ll have to give them the address. But they’re welcome any time. For as long as they like.”

So he’s a lonely scruffy drunk. Awesome.

It’s at this point that Potter drags Black off for a secret family meeting, and Ichigo allows it. If Potter isn’t safe in a safe house, he just can’t be helped.

Ichigo figures he deserves a break from bodyguarding long enough to relax and eat some damn breakfast, anyway. Last night sucked.

* * *

Potter, of course, doesn’t know the meaning of the word relax. It quickly becomes apparent that he’s planning to spend all of naptime staring in horror at a wall instead of actually, you know, napping. After half an hour of this, Ichigo feels like he’s obligated to do something about it, both as a bodyguard and as the son of a doctor.

“Okay, what the hell is your problem now, Potter?” he demands, exasperated. Then belatedly wonders if he should’ve tried to sound more sympathetic.

“Nothing!” Potter whispers frantically. “Go to sleep.”

Right. Ichigo will have to work it out himself, then. Shouldn’t be too hard, though; Potter’s pretty transparent. He obviously blames himself for what happened to Papa Weasley. He thought he was the snake last night. So in that case, given the way Potter’s mind works… “Are you afraid you’ll turn into a snake and kill everybody while you’re sleeping?”

Potter starts guiltily, looks away, and says in the world’s most unconvincing voice, “No.”

Ichigo sighs and sits up. The fear of turning into a monster and accidentally killing your friends is one he understands far, far too well. It’s not often he completely gets where Potter’s coming from, but sadly this is one of those times. “Go to sleep,” he tells Potter. “I’ll stand watch—I need the sleep less. Lack of sleep stunts your growth, and I think we can both agree you can’t afford that.”

“Hey,” Potter mumbles, indignant.

“And if you turn into a snake while you’re sleeping, I’ll kill you myself before I let you hurt anybody else.”

Potter studies his face, looking for lies and finding none. Ichigo would kill him if it were necessary—it just won’t be necessary. If Potter turns into a snake, Ichigo will forcibly relocate him until he gets his shit together and stops being a snake. No sense in troubling Potter’s mind with the details, though. Potter might ask him how he’d do it, and Ichigo can’t be bothered to come up with a convincing lie about that.

Once Potter decides Ichigo’s serious about killing him if necessary, he looks heartbreakingly grateful, and falls asleep in a minute flat.

This bodyguard gig is depressing.

* * *

In the afternoon, the kids go to the hospital to visit Papa Weasley, but since they have two magical cops going with them, it’s agreed that Ichigo can stay at Sirius’s place and call Rukia instead of tagging along, so he does that. Which is maybe a mistake, because Rukia is way, way too entertained by it.

“You let your stalking goat escape?” she cries gleefully. “You’re terrible at this.”

“So what, was I supposed to explain that he’s my stalking goat?” Ichigo demands. “They didn’t need me as a bodyguard. Anyway, Tom obviously has a long-term plan going on; there’s no way he’s attacking Potter today. I should be so lucky.”

Rukia laughs at him. It takes Ichigo a stupidly long time to get her to stop laughing long enough to tell her his current location.

He doesn’t mind calling Rukia in the middle of the night and waking her up, but he wouldn’t do that to his sisters, so after that one call, he’s left twiddling his thumbs and fretting until Potter and company get back from the hospital. The whole situation is ridiculous.

But the kids all come back fine, eventually. Papa Weasley’s also fine. Tom didn’t decide to ruin Ichigo’s day by taking this time to attack. Things seem good, so Ichigo can’t figure out why everybody looks freaked out and miserable.

It takes Ichigo an hour to get the twins to admit that Potter’s worried he’s possessed by Tom. Then Ginny Weasley, who Ichigo hasn’t talked to since the train, treats him to a lecture on how Potter can’t be possessed, because she’s been possessed by Tom and knows all about it.

Ichigo immediately re-checks her spirit ribbon—it’s fine, so that’s a relief. He chooses not to mention to her, for the sake of house harmony and also his own personal safety, that there are a lot of different kinds of possession and mind control, and various people may experience them…well. Variously.

Instead, he leaves Ginny and goes to check on Potter, who’s taken to hiding in a room with some freaky magical monster called Buckbeak, because the kid is made of good life choices. But at least he hasn’t managed to sulk himself to death. Yet. That said, Ichigo’s had to reassure him five separate times that he’ll really, honestly kill him if it comes to that. This promise cheers Potter up every time, which conversely is doing nothing for Ichigo’s mood.

Fortunately Granger shows up before the situation can get too stupidly miserable, and she and Ginny join forces to scream Potter happy. Lucky guy. Rukia’s more of a believer in punching Ichigo happy. Sometimes there’s also kicking and stabbing and throwing him into the path of oncoming monsters until he cheers the hell up. And Tatsuki is no better. Potter doesn’t know how easy he has it.

* * *

Rukia, Renji, and Toshiro show up just one day after Granger. It immediately turns into a circus, so it’s lucky that only Black and Ichigo are downstairs when they arrive. It’s a very welcome circus, though, because it takes Ichigo’s mind off of his lousy bodyguard skills.

Besides, messing with wizards is never not fun.

“There is no way you could have found this place on your own,” Black says with flat horror and in the face of the evidence. “This house is under a Fidelius charm. Among other things!”

Ichigo dutifully translates this, then does his limited best to explain what a Fidelius charm is.

“Oh,” says Renji. “Is that what that bubble thing was?”

“We did knock,” Rukia points out defensively, still confused as to what the problem is. She shoves a gift into Black’s hands, as if trying to prove she’s polite. Black accepts it with a baffled stare.

“It looks like they busted through the charm without realizing what it was,” Ichigo explains to Black. “Don’t tell the kids. They’ll be all weird about it.”

I’m going to be weird about it! They broke through a Fidelius charm! You can’t just—no one can just—”

These wizarding types really seem to think that hiding from death is easy. Almost as if someone told them it was.

“Is there food?” Rukia cuts in, apparently fresh out of patience.

“It’s a long trip,” Renji lies, because he’ll do a lot to be fed.

“What are they saying? What are you people?” Black hisses, sounding slightly unbalanced.

Toshiro says nothing, but he’s looking more pleased by the second that he turned this job down. It’s the best argument for being a captain Ichigo’s seen yet—having the authority to delegate the crappy jobs. Toshiro’s the only one here other than Ichigo who can speak English, for whatever random reason, so he could’ve taken charge of this explanation if he’d wanted to, but no. Instead the asshole’s over there being all me no speak this country language.

…Not that Ichigo can say anything about that.

“Look,” Ichigo puts in before this spirals out of control, “ask Dumbledore. He knows all about us, so he can be the one to explain. You’re more likely to believe him anyway.”

Black looks like he has a thing or two to say in response to that, but fortunately the kids take that moment to charge down the stairs en masse with Christmas decorations, and Black bites his tongue. Because this whole house is a conspiracy of not telling anyone under twenty anything worth knowing. Maybe they figure it’s better for kids to die ignorant than live scared. As fucked up as the wizarding world is, Ichigo wouldn’t put it past them.

“Oh!” Granger cries happily. “Are these your friends, Ichigo?”

He allows that they are, so Granger casts her translating spell, and Ichigo does the introductions. Then he does them again when Mrs. Weasley appears. And one more time when Lupin shows up. If anybody else rolls in after that, Ichigo’s letting them figure out who everybody is on their own.

Lupin’s a funny one. He slunk into the house sometime when Ichigo wasn’t paying attention, and now he’s blending like he’s been here all along. Apparently he’s Black’s friend from way back, but he reminds Ichigo of the Visored for some reason. Not any Visored in particular, just, it seems like he’d fit in with them. Ichigo isn’t sure why. Maybe he should read his intro packet again—that might give him a clue.

Soon enough, Toshiro’s chatting quietly with Lupin, which is fine, Renji’s bonding with Ron over food, which is a little worrying, and Rukia has entered into a full-on sisterhood pact with Ginny Weasley, which is terrifying.

But it’s nice everybody’s getting along.

* * *

If Hermione had ever pictured Ichigo having friends, she wouldn’t have pictured friends like this. She should have, though. She sees that now. Given that Ichigo’s favorite people at Hogwarts include Luna Lovegood and the Weasley twins, this group shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Clearly Ichigo prefers spending time with people who don’t respect him at all.

…But no, that’s not quite right, is it? Because for all that his friends are every kind of bossy and irreverent, they do respect Ichigo. Maybe the truth is that he prefers spending time with people who aren’t afraid of him at all, and Hermione can hardly blame him for that.

Rukia is delightful, and she and Ginny are best friends already—they’ve bonded on the strength of a shared love of causing mayhem and blaming others. Renji is a little frightening, but seems good-hearted…a bit like Sirius, that way, but without Sirius’s mood swings. And then there’s the little white-haired boy, Toshiro, who acts much older than he looks and generally makes no sense, but is very well-read and a good conversationalist, when he feels like making conversation. (Of course, when he doesn’t feel like making conversation, he just stares at you with his icy green eyes until you’re sorry you ever approached him.)

It’s making Ichigo seem more like a real person and less like a machine of destruction—the realization that he has friends. And family, too, come to think of it. A father and sisters—he’s mentioned them before, the sisters more fondly than the father. And yet he isn’t spending the holidays with them; he’s guarding Harry, instead. Hermione feels guilty that none of this crossed her mind before, and she finally forces herself to mention it at their Christmas Eve lunch.

“You have sisters, don’t you, Ichigo?” she asks hesitantly, and when Ichigo nods, she goes on, encouraged. “Didn’t you want to visit them for the holidays?”

“I can’t, I’ve got to guard Potter’s body,” Ichigo says, not seeming very upset about it. Ron, the twins, and, disappointingly, Sirius all snicker at the turn of phrase. As usual, Hermione can’t tell whether or not Ichigo meant it the way it sounded. And if she asks, he’ll just pretend he doesn’t understand the question. The prat.

“Well…they could come here, couldn’t they?” Hermione persists. “Like your friends did.”

“No way in hell am I involving my little sisters in the shitshow that is Potter’s life,” Ichigo says firmly. After a moment, he adds, “No offense meant, Potter.”

“None taken,” Harry replies faintly. Poor Harry.

“Surely they could’ve chosen someone else to be Harry’s bodyguard,” Hermione suggests. “It seems a very long-term position to give to someone with a family they miss.”

Ichigo shrugs, frustratingly blasé. “There actually weren’t many options, given how specific the requirements were. If I hadn’t been around to get saddled with the job, it would’ve been Toshiro. And he’s got a lot more responsibilities back home than I do.”

Hermione looks dubiously at Toshiro, who, however mature his behavior, seems far too young to have any responsibilities. But this means he must be the same Toshiro that Ichigo’s been reporting to all this time. How…odd. And Toshiro could’ve been the one to bodyguard Harry. Hermione studies him, considering that. At the moment, he’s giving Harry a cool look, his expression suggesting that Harry’s continued survival is a matter of supreme indifference to him. Hermione’s very glad they got Ichigo instead. And she would never have believed she’d feel that way.

Saddled with the job,” Harry mutters.

“Nothing personal,” Ichigo says absently. “Nobody wants to get stuck with extended duty alone in the liv—so far from home.”

“So…you all live in the same town, then? That’s how you know each other?” Hermione asks, deciding to try a different topic and see if things make more sense that way.

“No,” Ichigo replies. And then doesn’t elaborate at all.

“Then…?”

“I met him through Rukia,” Renji tells her, taking pity, because he’s clearly a better person than Ichigo is. “Rukia and I grew up in the same town.”

“I also met him through Kuchiki,” Toshiro puts in, looking amused, for some reason. “Indirectly.”

“Then…how did you meet Ichigo, Rukia?” Hermione asks cautiously, not daring to hope for much at this point.

“I saved the fool’s life,” Rukia explains, not bothering to look away from her food.

“And then I saved your life,” Ichigo snaps back, rolling his eyes. “We’re square.”

“We will never be square,” Rukia informs him with malicious delight. “I plan to get years of use out of you yet.”

“So wait,” Ron breaks in before the conversation has a chance to get really interesting. “Does this mean you guys are…I mean, are you just friends, or boyfriend and girlfriend, or what?”

Bizarrely, this question seems to stump them. They study each other curiously for a while, then Ichigo shrugs and says, “I don’t know, Rukia. What are you to me?”

“Everything,” she replies promptly.

“There you go,” Ichigo informs Ron matter-of-factly. “She’s my everything.”

Renji chokes on his food, but that’s inconclusive—Hermione can’t tell what it was about that statement that was shocking to him; there are too many possibilities. The delivery alone was shocking. As always, it’s impossible to tell how serious Ichigo is being, and his and Rukia’s untroubled faces give nothing away.

“What is this?” Toshiro asks abruptly, staring at the food Mrs. Weasley’s just served him in confusion. It would appear he hasn’t been following the conversation for a while, which seems…very like him, in fact, at least as far as Hermione can tell from their short acquaintance.

“It’s called toad in the hole,” Ichigo tells him. “I know. But it’s actually good, so this isn’t even—you should taste what they do to rice at the school. It’s not bad, exactly? But it’s not…man, I have no idea. It’s uncanny valley rice.”

“Food is food,” says Rukia, eating happily. “Don’t complain, fool.”

“Three cheers for the outer Rukongai, huh?” Ichigo murmurs, smiling…sadly? “Putting things in perspective.”

“The Ru…kon…?” Ron asks, frowning in bafflement.

“It’s where Renji and I grew up,” Rukia explains, as unbothered as ever. “In Inuzuri. There’s almost no food there. We expected to starve to death.”

“My…acquaintance also grew up in that area,” Toshiro puts in. “She very nearly did starve to death. And now she’ll eat anything, including Inoue’s cooking.”

Ichigo shudders. Hermione wonders who Inoue is, and also what on earth they’re talking about.

“But…Japan is a very wealthy country,” she says, utterly confused.

Renji shrugs. “There’s lousy neighborhoods anyplace you go.”

Well, yes, that’s true, but Hermione wasn’t under the impression that Japan had neighborhoods where children could starve to death. In fact, she’s almost certain it doesn’t. It’s also strange how few of Ichigo’s friends look, well, traditionally Japanese. There’s too much here that doesn’t add up, and it’s making Hermione uneasy.

Mrs. Weasley—who, luckily, missed most of that conversation—managed to walk by in time to overhear the bit about starving to death, and is now surreptitiously sneaking more food onto the plates of all of Ichigo’s friends, which appears to be making Rukia and Renji’s entire Christmas on its own. They’re certainly behaving like people familiar with food shortages.

Hermione is about ready to scream in frustration.

* * *

Ichigo wakes up on Christmas morning to the feeling of his body trying to attack something without his conscious mind approving the maneuver. It takes him a second to work out what set him off—apparently some asshole decided to teleport presents onto his bed.

Fucking wizards.

There is nothing in a single goddamn one of those presents that can possibly make up for the panic attack their delivery almost drove him to. He hates this world so much sometimes.

He hears a shout and a roar from down the hall and smiles in satisfaction. That’d be Renji and Rukia, then. And no doubt Toshiro’s corner of the room is completely iced over. At least it isn’t just him.

“What was that?” Potter demands, because he’s totally unfazed by stuff crashing onto his bed without warning, but people yelling down the hall worries him. For such a high-strung guy, he doesn’t have much in the way of self-preservation instincts.

“That was Rukia and Renji,” Ichigo informs him, “killing their presents to death.”

“Er,” Ron says faintly, peering out from under his covers. “And what had their presents done to them, exactly?”

“Nothing. It’s just that when something randomly fell on their beds they assumed they were being attacked, the way any normal person would,” Ichigo replies. “I almost killed my own presents.”

Potter and Ron give him looks suggesting their doubt that Ichigo has ever even met a normal person. They may have a point there.

As the day began, so it continues—awkward as all get out. It turns out there’s just enough culture shift between Western Christmas and Japanese Christmas to make this experience weird for everyone. Like, in theory Ichigo gets that this holiday is about gift-giving and family, like a less structured New Year’s, but there’s still part of his brain that’s telling him it’s mainly a romantic holiday, so doing all these stay-home, family things seems…off.

Toshiro and Renji are rolling with the whole business pretty well, but Rukia’s given everyone presents wrapped (extremely badly) in pink paper covered with hearts, which at least succeeds in making everyone else as confused as she obviously is. This is doubly unfair on the shinigami, really. They’ve barely finished teaching themselves modern Japanese customs.

After the present exchange weirdness is blessedly over, the Weasleys and Potter go to visit Papa Weasley again, and Rukia somehow manages to convince them that she’s extremely interested in wizard hospitals, and therefore she and Ichigo absolutely need to tag along.

Ichigo quietly demands to know, as they drive to the hospital in an unnaturally expanded car, why Rukia felt they needed to see the place. It turns out she actually is extremely interested in wizard hospitals. Ichigo gives that some thought, then immediately feels like an ass—of course she’d be interested. Her captain randomly coughs up blood some days. What kind of lieutenant would she be if she weren’t constantly looking for a way to fix that?

Getting into the hospital involves sweet-talking a freaky mannequin, and is, therefore, exactly the kind of creepy shit that Ichigo’s come to expect from the wizarding world. Rukia’s delighted by the whole mess, of course, and wants to bring a freaky mannequin back home for her brother. There’s a faint but horrifying possibility that Byakuya might even appreciate that. Ichigo’s trying not to think about it.

Not that he can defend his own choices, either—after they all see Papa Weasley, Ichigo quickly loses track of both Rukia and the kid he’s supposed to be bodyguarding in favor of convincing Mrs. Weasley—and, eventually, any number of interested doctors—that stitches really are an honest-to-God medical treatment, and not just a thing used on clothes. Once they discover that Ichigo’s father is a muggle doctor, he becomes the greatest object of interest on the ward. The Weasleys and doctors bombard him with like five hundred questions so devoid of logic they’re going to give him nightmares, and he eventually staggers out of there completely confused as to how wizards ever survive to adulthood. He’s complaining about this to Ishida at the earliest opportunity. Ishida will understand his pain.

Papa Weasley seems nice, though. A hazard to himself and everyone around him, obviously, but nice.

Unfortunately, when Ichigo and Mrs. Weasley catch up with the kids and Rukia, it’s obvious that something terrible happened in the few minutes they were left alone. All the kids are weirdly subdued, not that that would be a big deal on its own—the kids are prone to random mood swings. The problem is that Rukia’s subdued, too, and that’s not okay.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asks in a low murmur as they leave the hospital.

“Nothing’s wrong with me, fool,” Rukia snaps, rolling her eyes. “It’s a hospital. You’re bound to see terrible things in it, and there’s nothing anyone can do. It’s depressing.”

Ichigo’s suddenly very glad he failed bodyguard duty and wasn’t with them when they saw whatever terrible thing this was. He’s seen more than his share of that kind of awful already. “Got it.”

“When I get home, I’m sending you a gift to pass along to someone,” Rukia informs him. “Take care of it for me.”

“Okay. I thought you said there was nothing you could do, though.”

“I can’t fix it,” Rukia agrees. “But I can make it a tiny bit less crushingly horrible.”

“Fair enough.” Ichigo sometimes wonders if that’s secretly the shinigami job description. But no, it can’t be. Look at all the times shinigami have busily run around making things more crushingly horrible.

“Stop that,” Rukia says sharply, elbowing him in the side. Because she’s basically a mind reader and it’s weird.

* * *

They get back to Sirius’s place to find that Yoruichi and Urahara showed up while they were out, and it’s even more gloriously terrible than when Rukia and Renji and Toshiro showed up. That’s because, unlike the other three, Yoruichi and Urahara need to troll people in order to live. And it’s not like Renji and Toshiro would try to stop them. Obviously, they know better.

When Ichigo walks in, it’s to see Yoruichi clinging to Sirius’s back like a freakishly strong child while Sirius chases Urahara around the living room, trying, without success, to prevent him from messing with every single goddamn thing in the house.

“Don’t touch that!” Sirius yelps. “It’s cursed, you could—or, yes, fine, touch it. Go on and die. See if I care. And would you get off of me?!”

Yoruichi just cackles happily and stays exactly where she is while Urahara twirls the—apparently cursed—letter opener he’s picked up, then makes it disappear up his sleeve, never to be seen again by mortal man, Ichigo’s sure.

“Urahara-san, Yoruichi-san,” he says, tired already. “Why are you here?

“He never seems happy to see us, does he, Kisuke?” Yoruichi asks with a worrying gleam in her eye. “Anyone might start to be offended.”

Ichigo sighs, then hurriedly grabs Granger’s hand when she lifts her wand to cast the translating spell. “Don’t,” he tells her. “You don’t want to know.”

“I always want to know,” she replies blankly, as if she can conceive of no other way to be.

Ichigo, who almost never wants to know, rolls his eyes. “You think that now. Trust me, they’ll find ways to ruin your life even without speaking the same language.” Actually, Ichigo knows that Urahara, at least, can speak English perfectly fluently, and he’d be surprised if Yoruichi couldn’t. If they’re choosing not to, they must have their reasons. Probably twisty, awful reasons, but still, Ichigo feels like he has to respect them.

“Ruin my life?” Granger asks dubiously.

“They have a gift,” Ichigo assures her.

“What are you doing here?” Rukia demands, folding her arms. “I thought you two were supposed to be looking for soul fragments, not slacking off.”

“We are looking, Kuchiki-san!” Urahara insists, pretending to be wounded. “We just needed to consult with Kurosaki-san on a few minor details before continuing our quest. Now seemed like a good time, as we won’t need to break into a school, and you three can distract these wizards while we confer. Assuming that meets with your approval, of course.”

Rukia scowls, but she can’t find anything to legitimately argue with. Renji shrugs and heads to the kitchen, because he’s got priorities. And Toshiro just sighs and rubs his temples the way he always does when he’s forced to deal with Urahara.

“Upstairs, then, Kurosaki-san!” Urahara declares, making annoying herding gestures. Yoruichi finally releases Sirius and bounds up the stairs ahead of Ichigo. So she already knows which room he’s staying in. That’s not disturbing at all.

Ichigo shuts his door on the sound of Sirius angrily demanding explanations. Now that they’ve lost their audience, Yoruichi and Urahara are looking unusually grim, which is unnerving. “Okay,” Ichigo says into the quiet. “What’s up? Did you find more soul pieces?”

“We did,” Yoruichi informs him, then sits on his bed and folds her legs, grabs his pillow, and starts idly kneading it. It’s not a great sign that she’s fidgeting. “But there were complications.”

“Complications?”

“It would appear these magical people have some dangerous hobbies,” Urahara says with the manic brightness that means he’s very, very angry. “The ring the headmaster told us about turned out to be far more than just a soul fragment.”

“It did?” And already Ichigo doesn’t want to know.

“Indeed, Kurosaki-san. It had the power to drag the dead unwillingly out of Soul Society, at least temporarily. And when they were once again freed from the living world…well, there was no predicting where they might end up.”

“Well that’s…” an actual waking nightmare in more ways than Ichigo can count.

“Exactly,” Yoruichi says firmly.

“Where’s the ring now?” Ichigo asks.

“Oh, it’s powder,” Urahara reassures him. “Powder which we’ve scattered across the North Sea. Still, I think Yoruichi-san and I might point this out to the local Soul Society, because apparently they’ve been letting these wizards run wild for centuries, and if they don’t sort themselves out, Yoruichi-san will absolutely sic Soi Fon on them.”

“Harsh.” Ichigo considers his recent conversations with Dumbledore. “But actually? I think the local Soul Society might be part of the problem. Potter’s got this cloak that makes him invisible, and there’s some kind of legend that says it was a gift from Death. It’s supposed to make you invisible to Death, but I can still feel spiritual pressure through it. Anyway, I figured that cloak might be shinigami messing with humans. Maybe the ring was the same deal.”

Urahara and Yoruichi exchange unhappy looks. “Soi Fon it is, then,” Yoruichi decides.

“Perhaps we’ll start with Commander Kyoraku,” Urahara suggests thoughtfully. “And when he’s done with them, we’ll move on to Soi Fon.”

“Psychological destruction followed by physical destruction.” Yoruichi nods approval. “I like.”

Despite everything, Ichigo’s starting to feel a little bad for British Soul Society. They have no idea what’s headed their way.

“But moving away from the problems of the dead and onto the problems of the living, or at least semi-living!” Urahara says, clapping his hands. “This Voldemort character.”

“Did you know his name’s actually Tom?” Ichigo asks indignantly. “His name is Tom.”

“Then it’s no wonder he changed it, is it?” Urahara laughs. “Not exactly a name to strike terror into the hearts of the enemy.”

“The great, prophesied battle of Tom versus Harry,” Ichigo grumbles. “It’s like a bad joke.”

“There, there, once we kill him you can write whatever punchline you want,” Urahara says consolingly, always at his worst when he’s trying to be nice.

“So you got the ring,” Ichigo says, trying to focus. “That’s good. And I meant to tell you guys, I found this…uh…” He chickens out. He can’t bring himself to tell Urahara about the Room of Requirement. The possibilities are just too scary. “This guide kind of thing. And according to that, there are seven soul pieces on top of the one Tom’s got in his body. So eight things we need to destroy altogether: the guy himself, and then a book, a crown, a ring, a cup, a snake, a locket, and Potter. Potter took out the book, you guys took out the ring and the thing in the bank—”

“The cup,” Urahara clarifies.

“—and I took out the crown,” Ichigo concludes. “So that leaves four.”

“There’s one in this house somewhere, Ichigo,” Yoruichi tells him. “Other than the Potter kid, that is. That’s why we’re here. The ring had a thread of spirit ribbon stretching this way, so we knew there was one in this general direction, and now that we’re close we can feel it, but the signature is so weak it’s tough to pin down. Still, we’re almost down to two. Three counting the man himself.”

“And we have good news about Mr. Potter!” Urahara says brightly. “Upon discussion, and after a better look at what Voldemort is capable of and at Mr. Potter himself, we’ve decided that while the two souls—or soul and soul fragment—are sharing a body, they haven’t melded. They couldn’t have without using something like the hogyoku, and this Voldemort character couldn’t manage anything like that. He’s a hack when it comes to soul manipulation. A clumsy hack.”

“So all I need to do is knock them both out of Potter’s body?” Ichigo asks, suspicious of how easy that sounds.

“That’s right,” Yoruichi agrees. “The souls should be distinct, so once they’re out of the body, you can kill one and shove the other one back in.” She pauses for a moment. “In theory.”

Yeah, Ichigo was waiting for something like that. “…And how am I supposed to explain all this to Potter?”

“I always find it easier not to explain anything,” Urahara points out, hiding behind his fan.

“I’m aware of that,” Ichigo agrees sourly. “But let’s assume one of my life goals is to avoid being anything like you.”

Urahara gasps and claps a hand melodramatically over his heart.

“You may not have a choice this time, Ichigo,” Yoruichi says, highly amused at everyone’s expense. “Anything you tell Potter in advance is going to sound so awful he’ll run for the hills if he has any sense.”

“He has no sense,” Ichigo assures her. “None whatsoever.”

“Then his friends will drag him to safety.” Yoruichi shrugs. “Either way, it’ll be easier to strike first and explain later.”

And there’s Yoruichi’s life philosophy in a nutshell. “Fine,” Ichigo sighs. “Are we done here? Because it’d be great if you two could find that soul piece and get the hell out before you make my life any worse than it already is.”

This strains Yoruichi’s fragile tolerance past its limits. She dives off the bed and right onto Ichigo, tackling him to the floor and making a pretty convincing effort to beat him to death. Urahara takes her place on the bed and commences awarding points for style. Sirius bangs on the door and demands to know what the hell they think they’re doing in there.

This is all exactly what Ichigo was afraid of.

* * *

Ichigo Kurosaki is the best thing that’s ever happened to Fred and George Weasley. They were starting to suspect this even before Christmas, but now they know it for sure—because the rest of the circus has arrived. And the circus is amazing.

First, there’s Rukia, who’s as likely to kick people in the face as look at them, and who reminds them delightfully of their own dear sister. Then there’s Renji, who’s lazy and sarcastic and fun, and yet gives the distinct impression of a man who’s killed a lot of people and doesn’t feel bad about it. And finally, there’s Toshiro, who seems the model of politeness, but who somehow causes localized temperature drops whenever he’s annoyed. They’ve caught him rage-freezing his surroundings on three separate occasions so far. They did not even know that was possible, but they’re better people for knowing.

Whatever the hell species they are, Ichigo’s friends are fantastic. But even so, they pale beside Ichigo’s teachers. Ichigo’s teachers are purest chaos in humanoid form, and Fred and George just want to be them.

Reckless, devious, dangerous, and apparently impervious to cursed objects, Ichigo’s teachers haven’t been in the house an hour before they’ve entirely destroyed any sense of order in the place. Mum is more or less prepared for this kind of thing, inasmuch as she’s lived with Fred and George for years, but poor old Sirius’s sanity is taking an especially hard hit. (Not that Sirius’s sanity was ever anything to write home about, but he usually hides it better than this. For Harry’s sake.)

Ichigo’s teachers don’t stick around long, but they fit so much evil brilliance into that small amount of time, it’s inspiring. Tormenting Sirius, who can apparently dish it out but not take it. Messing about with and/or stealing loads of cursed stuff. Dragging Ichigo upstairs and then, from the sound of it, flinging him violently around the room. Chasing Kreacher around the house like cats chasing a mouse, and, ultimately, abducting him—much to Sirius’s confused delight. Causing Toshiro to rage-freeze an entire room with just one murmured sentence. They’re perfect beings.

Ichigo’s teachers have already taught Fred and George so much; it would be selfish to ask for more. They know that, but they’re still so sad to see them leave.

On the other hand, Ichigo seems delighted to see them leave. He’s also been quite adamant about Hermione not casting her translating spell on them, which is a such a waste. He shoves them out the door while saying something sharp in Japanese in response to what is clearly whinging, and the twins would love to know the details, but alas.

Ichigo doesn’t appreciate the riches he has, obviously. The twins may actually have to learn Japanese, just on the off-chance that they’ll run into Ichigo’s teachers again one day.

“We’re leaving too,” Rukia announces as soon as the door shuts behind the world’s most amazing teachers. “Thank you for your hospitality, Mr. Black.” And then Ichigo’s friends all bow to Sirius, who looks utterly taken aback.

“What, already?” Ron demands, turning a betrayed look on Renji, who straightens up, shrugs, and moseys into the kitchen to steal more food. Now that the twins know he almost starved to death at one point, his food obsession makes perfect, depressing sense. They’re not sure they like that. They miss the old days, when it was funny.

“Aren’t you staying for the rest of the holiday?” Ginny asks sadly. She’ll miss her colleague in chaos, and who can blame her? The twins are sad themselves.

“We have to get back to work,” Rukia tells her, apologetic but businesslike. “Because some of us have honest work to do,” she continues, turning scary eyes on Ichigo. “Some of us don’t have months and months free to frolic around Britain.”

“I swear to God I will kick your ass all the way back to So—to Japan,” Ichigo informs her. “You bullied me into this, remember? I was bullied.”

It’s difficult to picture Ichigo being bullied, but if anyone could do it, Rukia could. And what did he almost say before he said Japan? Ichigo is such a fun puzzle. Whatever he is.

“You do realize I’m covering nearly all of your duties until you get back,” Toshiro points out with mild irritation—and they can tell he’s mildly irritated because the floor around him is covered in a light frost. “You’re not the only victim.”

Ichigo is unfazed by any and all random weather changes—he just scowls and snaps, “Do you want to switch? Because we can switch any time.”

“Don’t fight, kids,” Renji drawls, reappearing from the kitchen, arms filled with three huge bags of Mom’s homemade lunches. Even Mom’ll miss these fabulous weirdoes, because they’re the first people since Harry not to take her cooking for granted. “No sense in turning on each other when we should all be ganging up on the Cap—uh, Kyoraku.”

“There,” Rukia says decisively. “Renji’s being more logical than you are, fool. Think about what that means.” And with that, she punches Ichigo viciously in the arm, waves and smiles sweetly at Ginny, and marches out the door, followed by Toshiro, who nods coolly (literally and figuratively), and Renji, who gives Ichigo a cheerful shoulder bump before taking off. Ichigo slams the door behind them, leans back against it, and sighs in apparent exhaustion.

Not big on long, tearful goodbyes, these people.

“Who’s Kyoraku?” Hermione inquires with avid interest. It’s like she honestly believes Ichigo’s going to answer a direct question, despite the fact that, to the best of the twins’ knowledge, that has never once happened.

“He’s sort of my boss,” Ichigo tells her, “but not really.”

Case in point.

“We love your friends and wish to steal them for ourselves, Ichigo,” Fred declares before anyone can pester Ichigo with more questions and drive him away.

“And we’d die to have your teachers teach us to be as unspeakably cool as they are,” George adds.

“Funny you should say that,” Ichigo mutters, looking appalled but also amused. “Though I’m sure they’d love you, too. And that would be the end of this world and the next. I’m going upstairs.”

And he vanishes before anyone can catch him and sit on him and force him to tell stories. Not that that ever works, as aforementioned.

“Honestly,” Hermione huffs, arms akimbo. “You’d think his whole life was classified and he’d been trained to resist interrogation!”

You would, wouldn’t you? the twins silently agree. That’s exactly what you’d think.

* * *

The holidays are finally almost over, but the closer they get to heading back to school, the more obvious it is that Black isn’t dealing with being trapped like an animal in his own house very well. In fact, he’s taken to wandering around looking feral and caged, snapping at anyone and everyone. The man is a tragedy waiting to happen. But then, most people would be, in his place. Especially Ichigo.

Oh, who’s he kidding? Ichigo would never let anybody cage him like this. He’d charge out and attack whatever the threat was or die trying. Not that that’s a good plan or anything. It’s a breathtakingly stupid plan, in fact, but it’s still what Ichigo would do.

“You should destroy stuff sometimes,” Ichigo suggests to Black in a murmured aside the morning everybody leaves. Seems like a good strategy. Ichigo noticed that Black brightened up a lot after Toshiro stabbed that picture of the screaming woman in the entryway. (It had a kind of spiritual energy mixed into the paint. Wizards are disturbing, Toshiro had reported severely, like Ichigo didn’t already know.)

What?” Black snaps, because he’s in a lousy mood anyway and still hasn’t forgiven Ichigo for inflicting all kinds of weird shit on him this holiday, which is fair.

“You’re stuck in this house and it sucks, right? So set something on fire every now and again. Seriously, just—pick the thing you hate most at the moment, and burn it. And if you accidentally burn the whole place to the ground, then hell, they’ll have to move you somewhere else, won’t they? You obviously hate this house with a special hatred. Maybe you can go live with Lupin or something if it’s gone.”

Over the course of that spiel, Black’s face gets lighter and lighter, and by the end he’s grinning maniacally. It’s a little unhinged, sure, but still way better than the homicidally depressed look he was rocking before. “Kurosaki,” he says, “your solution to feeling trapped in a building is to set fire to the building?

“Not while you’re in it, obviously,” Ichigo replies. “But yeah, basically. Whatever works.”

“Wow, kid,” Black drawls. “I’m almost starting to like you again. But now you’ve got me wondering—what works for you when you’re down?”

“Oh,” says Ichigo, “I blow stuff up. Generally.” He’s also given to attacking monsters and invading armed compounds and goading dangerous people into trying to kill him. But there’s no need to go into all of that.

Black nods thoughtfully. After a moment, he says, “Get the hell out of my house.”

“Yes, sir,” Ichigo agrees, and heads upstairs to help Potter pack.

The packing thing goes smoothly at first—Potter nods a welcome at him and shoves a stack of shirts over to be folded, and they work together in peaceful silence. But of course, this is Potter, so it can’t last.

“Last night,” he blurts out apropos of nothing, “Snape told me he was going to teach me Occlumency. When we get back to school.”

“Occlumency?” Ichigo repeats dubiously, mostly because the idea of Snape teaching Potter anything ever is pretty dubious.

“It’s supposed to teach me to block Voldemort from my mind,” Potter explains, not sounding happy about it. Ichigo’s not happy about it either. He’s not sure how you’d go about blocking out somebody who’s attached, leech-like, to your soul. He’s pretty sure it can’t be done, in fact. And if it could be done, it wouldn’t be good for you. Besides, Snape. And Potter. This is the stupidest idea Ichigo’s heard all year, and it’s up against some stiff competition.

“Uh huh,” he says.

“But it seems like…it was really useful, this time. To know what he was thinking.”

And that’s not a happy line of thought, either. “Yeah, this time. Because he didn’t know you could see what he was up to. Now he knows.”

“How would he know?” Potter demands belligerently.

“You had to know about Mr. Weasley somehow. I’m sure the story of your visions or whatever got all around the Ministry, and the Ministry is full of assholes, so no doubt one of them told your soul-splitter guy. And from there, he’ll figure it out fast, because whatever else is wrong with him, he’s not stupid. And then he’ll start using it against you.”

“How?”

“I don’t know. Nonstop horrifying images until your mind breaks? Trying to mess with your memories? Sending you lies—that would be easiest. But the possibilities are endless, with a direct line to your psyche.” Ichigo would know.

“It’s his mind,” Potter insists. “You can’t lie inside your own mind.”

Ichigo likes how he ignored every other possibility, there. This kid’s reality just isn’t like other people’s realities, is it?

“We’re talking about the guy who figured out how to chop his own soul into pieces,” Ichigo reminds him, deciding not to bother swimming against the current. “I’m pretty sure he can send you mental lies if he wants. Probably wouldn’t even be that hard. He must lie to himself all day long as it is.”

Potter scowls at that, but doesn’t argue further. After a while, he glances nervously toward the door, checking no one’s there, then leans in toward Ichigo. “Is that…do you think…? The night I dreamt I was the snake, it. It happened when I was awake, too. When I saw Dumbledore. I, I wanted to attack him for a second. Like I was the snake again. Sirius said it was just a left-over feeling from the vision, and that Dumbledore would tell me if it was important, but…”

Ichigo’s not sure why they’re messing the kid around like this, but he never signed any contract saying he’d go along with it. And he’s never going to get a better lead-in to the subject than this. “Yeah, that’s probably because of your fucked up spirit ribbon.”

Potter’s head jerks back and he blinks at Ichigo, looking shocked, scared, and…a little relieved? Well, makes sense. Any answer is better than no answer at all. “Spirit ribbon?”

“Hard to explain; it kind of identifies the state of your soul. And like I say, yours is fucked up. Tainted with something. Sorry about that. Good news is, my teachers gave me a possible way to fix it. So we’ll try that once we get somewhere with fewer people in earshot.”

“Erm. Why do we need to not have people in earshot?”

“You’ll probably scream a lot,” Ichigo tells him frankly. “But cheer up—they’re almost sure it won’t kill you.”

Potter shakes his head in wonder. “I think I hate you in the strangest way I’ve ever hated anyone. Because the thing is, I almost like you sometimes, but then you start talking, and I remember that I still want to push you off a cliff.”

“You’re welcome,” says Ichigo.

Chapter Text

The instant everyone gets back to school and drops off their bags, Ichigo manages to convince Ron and Hermione that he needs to talk to Harry alone. “Bodyguard stuff,” he says. And they accept that. Harry feels a bit abandoned. Also deeply concerned, because he’s never seen this level of grim purpose in Ichigo’s eyes, and a part of him is wondering if, despite Ichigo’s reassurances, he’s secretly being dragged off to be killed.

He knows he should’ve told Ron and Hermione about whatever scream-inducing thing Ichigo’s planning to do to him. He knows that. But he just couldn’t bring himself to say anything, because he knew he’d sound mad, and he’s so tired of people looking at him like he’s mad.

Ichigo never looks at him like he’s mad. Or, for that matter, like he’s a savior or a liar or a budding Dark Lord, either; Ichigo only ever looks at him like he’s a slightly annoying puzzle. It’s nice. Or possibly Harry’s standards are worryingly low.

In any case, Ichigo’s dragged him to the Room of Requirement before he’s had too much time to overthink things. The room’s as bare as Harry’s ever seen it, which isn’t comforting. Bare and unusually clean, with high windows and…is that padding on the floor? It is.

Oh, help, is this going to be some sort of unholy training session? With screaming? Aren’t the upcoming Occlumency lessons with Snape punishment enough?

“Okay, Potter,” Ichigo says seriously. “We’re testing something out, and if it works, you won’t have Tom in your head anymore.”

“…Tom?” Harry asks faintly.

“Yeah, Tom—soul-splitter Tom Riddle. Pretty sure you’re familiar. He’s the one fucking up your spirit ribbon, so you definitely want him gone. That said, this is probably going to freak you out, so I need you to stay calm and not panic, okay?”

This is not something you ever, ever want to hear from Ichigo. “What do you mean by ‘we’?” Harry demands.

Ichigo ignores him and nods at the air to his left. And then something invisible slams into Harry’s forehead, and he pitches backwards.

He pitches backwards leaving his body behind.

He hits the floor several feet behind his body, which crumples straight down into an ungainly heap on the padded floor. It takes him a few seconds to work out what this means. “Did you just kill me?!

“No,” Ichigo says shortly, and turns back to his left, which is where…Rukia is standing, all of a sudden, dressed in funny clothes and carrying a sword. Isn’t she supposed to be in Japan? Was she wearing an invisibility cloak before? Why does she have a sword? Harry has more questions every second, each more worrying than the last.

Ichigo and Rukia start talking in Japanese, and without Hermione’s translation spell, Harry has no idea what they’re saying. And they seem happy to ignore him. Why not? It’s not like he’s been kicked out of his own body or anything. Not at all. Nothing to see here.

He doesn’t feel brilliant, either. There’s an odd pain in his chest that definitely isn’t normal. He gives himself a once-over and discovers that there’s some kind of…giant, pus-colored bug thing on his chest. No, it’s in his chest. His chest has a small hole with a chain hanging out of it that leads to his body, which would be scaring him under other circumstances, but as it stands, the bug thing’s head is stuck in the hole, beside the chain, and that’s definitely winning the terrifying contest.

“What the bloody hell is that?!” Harry screams.

Rukia scowls at him and snaps something in Japanese.

“She says get a grip,” Ichigo tells him. “That’s a piece of Tom’s soul.”

Voldemort’s soul?

“That’s the one. So we’re gonna go ahead and kill it.” Rukia says something else, waving to the place where Voldemort’s…head is…buried in Harry’s chest. He is never going to feel clean again. “She says she thinks he’s kind of like a tick, so maybe we can set him on fire to get him to let go. Hold still, she’s gonna try something.”

Harry scrambles to his feet and takes a few steps back. “Will this hurt?”

“Probably,” Ichigo answers, unconcerned.

Harry hurriedly takes a few more steps back, but he’s not fast enough. Rukia holds up her hands in a weird position and calls something out, and then, yeah, fire shoots from her palms and hits him right in the chest.

It hurts like being mauled by dragons, and Harry screams until he’s got no breath left to scream with, aware of nothing but the burning, tearing agony. After what feels like hours, it finally stops, and he finds that he’s collapsed on the floor, gasping. That was unpleasantly similar to the Cruciatus. If this is honestly Ichigo trying to help, Harry would hate to see him deliberately causing harm.

“There,” Ichigo says calmly, completely unmoved by Harry’s agony. “It worked.”

Harry opens his eyes, dizzy from pain. But the thing isn’t in his chest anymore, so that’s something—it’s crawling frantically around on the ground beside him instead. It looks like a slightly scorched, evil beetle the size of a bludger. And its head was in his chest for years.

“Hollow.” Ichigo turns to Rukia and says something in Japanese. She steps forward and draws her sword with a smirk, then stabs the beetle thing right through the middle. It dissolves into bright sparks and nothing.

“One more down,” Ichigo murmurs contentedly. “And…hey, your spirit ribbon’s the right color now. See? That wasn’t so hard.”

Wasn’t so hard?” Harry howls in a scream-torn voice. “I’m dead because of you!”

“You are not dead.” Ichigo rolls his eyes. “Don’t be so dramatic. Come over here and get back in your body. You’re fine. Shake it off.”

“Shake it off?

Rukia asks something and Ichigo answers, and then she gives Harry a distinctly unimpressed look. Harry is fed up with these people and everything to do with them.

“No, really, though,” Ichigo says. “Get back in your body. It’s not good for you to hang around outside it too long.”

“How…how do I do that? How do I get back inside my body?” Harry can add this to the long list of questions he can’t believe he’s been forced to ask.

“It’s easy,” Ichigo claims, straightening Harry’s body out from its uncomfortable heap so it’s lying flat. “You just kind of lay down on top of it, and you get reabsorbed.”

It sounds simple enough. Or at least it does until Ichigo ruins everything by adding, “Probably.”

“Probably?” Harry demands in an embarrassingly high-pitched voice.

“Probably,” Ichigo agrees blandly. “We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. Let’s see if the easy way works. Come on.”

Since Harry isn’t exactly seeing other options here, he tries it. Amazingly, it actually does work. It’s painful, which is hardly surprising at this point, but at least he ends up successfully back inside his own body. With his current perspective on life, that seems a great success.

“There you go,” Ichigo says cheerfully as Harry hauls himself to a sitting position and clutches at his aching head. “No more freaky snake dreams.”

Harry blinks and looks up. “That…that bug thing was sending me the snake dreams?”

“It was a piece of Tom’s soul, so, yeah, it was sending you all kinds of nasty dreams,” Ichigo confirms. Only Ichigo, because—Harry checks the room—Rukia has somehow vanished again.

“Where’s Rukia gone?”

“She’s busy,” says Ichigo, as if that’s any kind of answer.

“Oh. Well…” Harry almost asks Ichigo to thank her for him, but then realizes that would mean thanking a person for throwing fire at his chest, and that’s not the sort of behavior that wants encouragement. “All right.” He considers the last thirty minutes. As usual in his life, after months of nothing in particular happening, everything has decided to happen all at once, leaving Harry no time to process it. “So…I’ll never be able to tell what Voldemort’s thinking again?”

“That’s right,” Ichigo agrees, eyeing him.

“Oh. That’s…it’s a shame we didn’t wait a bit longer, then.”

“You mean you wanted that thing to have its head buried in your chest?” Ichigo demands, revolted.

“No! No, it’s just…when I had a connection to him, I knew what he was up to. I was, I was like a spy. And there was this room—”

“Yeah, we’ve talked about this, and I told you why it was a stupid idea,” Ichigo interrupts rudely. “Anyway, it’s too late now. The thing’s dead and gone and I’m not sad about it. Find another way to spy on him. Or, you know, just kill him and get it over with so I can go home.”

Harry has a sudden vision of choking Ichigo to death—and it’s all him, no snake-influence whatsoever. The daydream is so vivid he can almost feel Ichigo’s neck under his hands. Ichigo would knock him out long before he got close enough to do that, though, and he knows it. Which makes the whole thing even more maddening.

And speaking of maddening things. “How am I going to explain this to Snape?”

Ichigo shrugs. “Don’t.”

“I can’t avoid it if he’s teaching me Occlumency. He’ll want to know the state of the thing I’m meant to be blocking out.”

“Um, no he won’t. Because you don’t need that Occlumency thing anymore,” Ichigo informs him. “I just fixed the whole problem. What did you think I was doing?”

Oh. But… “Snape won’t believe that,” Harry says with conviction. “He never believes anything I say.”

Ichigo seems annoyingly unconcerned. “Then I’ll tell him. Not tonight. Maybe after Potions.”

“You’re not exactly his favorite person, either.”

“Then I’ll prove it to him,” Ichigo declares with an unsettling grin, and strides off to create his havoc before Harry can argue with him. Not that Harry really wants to. The idea of Snape suffering even a fraction of what Harry’s suffered this evening is too appealing to pass up.

* * *

Harry falls through the portrait hole after his talk with Ichigo looking halfway to mental, which, fine, isn’t especially odd these days, but this seems worse than usual. He grabs Ron and Hermione and drags them to a corner of the Common Room, babbling, “Ichigo and Rukia just shoved my soul out of my body and then burned a piece of Voldemort out of my chest.”

“You what?” Ron yelps, shocked, because yeah, Harry’s life is bizarre, but getting shoved out of his own body is a new low even for him.

“Apparently Voldemort really did split his soul into pieces,” Harry rambles on, a tad hysterical. “And one of them was…was biting onto me. Onto my soul. It was disgusting.” He grimaces and rubs his chest hard, eyes wild. “But Rukia set it on fire and it let go. And then she stabbed it. And then Ichigo told me I was fine and that I should shake it off.”

Okay, that…does sound like Ichigo, Ron can’t deny it. “What was Rukia even doing at school?” he asks, bewildered.

“I don’t know,” Harry wails. Right, they’re in for nightmares tonight. Ron knows the signs.

“They shoved you out of your body?” Hermione practically shrieks.

Yes,” Harry answers, not much less shrill than Hermione. “It was awful.”

Awful, right. Ron reckons you could call it that, yeah. “But you’re…you’re fixed now, aren’t you?”

“I guess?” Harry does not sound particularly sure about that.

“Then…” And even Hermione is looking all stunned now. “If Voldemort’s gone, then do you…do you still need to learn Occlumency? He won’t be able to get to your mind anymore, will he?”

“Oh, right, I don’t need Occlumency anymore. Or at least, that’s what Ichigo says,” Harry mutters resentfully, and Ron thinks he could sound a bit happier about it.

“Less greasy git, less You-Know-Who gnawing on your soul,” Ron points out, since nobody else seems to have noticed the bright sides to this. It’s worth it, isn’t it? Even if Harry did have to go through a little fire and temporary ghostliness. “That’s good news, yeah?”

“It is if Ichigo’s telling the truth,” Hermione argues, because she always decides to be suspicious at the most inopportune times.

“But he definitely killed something that was hanging onto Harry, didn’t he?” Ron persists. “And if it wasn’t You-Know-Who…I mean, it had to be You-Know-Who. It’s not like there’s anybody else who could’ve left bits of soul stuck to Harry. Unless there’s something you’re not telling us, mate.”

“Yes, Ron, stray bits of soul are forever latching onto me,” Harry snaps, but at this point Ron’s counting it as a good sign that he’s calmed down enough to be sarcastic.

“I suppose Ron’s right,” Hermione allows, and yet, still not sounding happy about it. “It’s only that I’m suspicious because I don’t understand how Ichigo managed it. Or why Rukia was here at all. Or how Ichigo knew about this in the first place.”

The way Ron sees it, Hermione’s problem is that she’s incapable of taking an unqualified win at face value. If a piece of You-Know-Who is dead, as opposed to gnawing on the soul of their best friend and giving him nightmares? That’s a good thing, and Ron refuses to question it. “All turned out for the best,” he tries again.

“…Burned it with fire…” Harry is muttering to himself off to the side, rubbing his chest again.

“Honestly, though. What do we know about Ichigo Kurosaki?” Hermione demands, because if she can’t bring herself to worry about You-Know-Who dying off in bits, she’ll find something else to worry about.

“Not much,” Ron has to admit. He figures insisting he likes the guy anyway won’t win him any points, since even Ichigo’s habit of killing off evil hasn’t won him points.

“We do know that Dumbledore and McGonagall trust him,” Harry says, finally stopping with the chest rubbing and the panicking. “That’s a good thing.”

“We know the ghosts are afraid of him,” Ron puts in, because that is a bit troubling. “And he’s dead frightening at hand-to-hand combat. What kind of wizard even uses hand-to-hand combat? I ask you!”

“And uses it at a level that can beat Harry Potter using magic,” Hermione agrees, while Harry looks embarrassed. “That’s incredible.”

“He knew Voldemort had split his soul even before this whole…thing,” Harry adds, eager to move attention away from himself.

“Can we ask him how he knew about that?” Ron wonders.

“We can ask,” Hermione replies sourly, “but another thing we know about him is that he’s positively allergic to straight answers. He won’t even admit to his favorite foods!”

“Sirius knows something about him and his friends that we don’t,” Harry says. “He was giving them odd looks the entire holiday.”

“Yes, his friends are another issue,” Hermione agrees. “Children don’t starve to death in Japan. I read that adults do, sometimes, but children? That would be very newsworthy, but they made it sound as if whole neighborhoods were starving and nothing was being done about it. I don’t think they’re from Japan at all.”

“…They speak Japanese, though.” Ron’ll give Hermione that there’s a lot to be suspicious of, but if people speak Japanese by preference, surely you have to accept they’ve at least spent a fair amount of time in Japan. “Your translation spell said so.”

“I’m staying up and waiting for Ichigo,” Hermione decides, ignoring Ron’s comment the way she ignores anybody who says a single bad thing about SPEW. “Harry, you must be tired. You should go to bed. Ronald, you watch over him. I’ll make Ichigo explain himself.”

Ron doesn’t expect she’ll have much luck with that, but he wishes her all the best.

* * *

By the time Ichigo gets back to the common room, he’s utterly done with wizards in general and Dumbledore in particular. He’d decided to stick with the plan of courtesy-informing Dumbledore whenever he knocked off a soul piece, so he told him about killing the one inside Potter. And without killing Potter, even! He’d expected at least a freaking smile or something, but no. Guy looked like Ichigo had just murdered his grandmother in front of him. Then he swore Ichigo to secrecy, but wouldn’t specify who he was keeping it a secret from. Just secrecy in general. Tell no one anything ever.

Ichigo doesn’t know what Dumbledore’s damage is, but he knows people who’ve lived like five times longer and yet are only a fraction as fucked up. If he were in a better mood, he’d probably see that as a kind of achievement. But he’s in a shitty mood, so.

Basically, the last thing he needed tonight was to walk through the door of his temporary home and run headfirst into the Inquisition. At least the Inquisition only consists of Granger—there’s that. Although, on second thought, maybe that’s worse than a crowd.

“Harry says you burned Voldemort out of his chest,” she accuses coldly, and goddamn, what does a guy have to do to get some gratitude around here? Like, he understands Potter having mixed feelings about the process—it did look pretty painful—but Granger? Granger should be buying Ichigo goddamn flowers and candy right now.

Also, so much for keeping it a secret. Seriously, what did Dumbledore think was gonna happen?

“Technically,” Ichigo points out, “Rukia did it.”

“Why was Rukia even in the country?” Granger demands.

“She was doing me a favor,” Ichigo answers, collapsing onto the nearest couch with a sigh. Might as well get comfortable; he can tell this’ll take a while.

“So Rukia has magic, too?”

Ichigo snorts with amusement. “Oh, she’s all kinds of magical.”

Granger scowls at him, baffled but unwilling to admit it. “How did you know Voldemort had split his soul into pieces?”

“Like I told the guys on my first day, it was in my introductory pamphlet.”

“I don’t believe you,” Granger informs him.

Well, if she doesn’t like the truth, he’ll try the first lie that comes to mind, see if that makes her any happier. But it has to explain why he knows about souls. Who knows about souls other than shinigami?

“My father’s a part-time exorcist,” Ichigo free-associates randomly, then decides he likes that story and he’s going to stick with it. “He’s training me to be one, too. It really upsets exorcists when people start chopping their souls into pieces, so the local exorcists asked me to investigate that on the side, while I’m bodyguarding.”

“Really?” Granger asks dubiously.

Sure, why not. “Why would I make that up?”

“True,” she allows, and Ichigo struggles not to roll his eyes. “If that’s the case, then…oh. So that’s why ghosts are afraid of you!” She seems pleased to have a plausible explanation.

“Yeah,” Ichigo agrees, pleased with himself for picking such an excellent lie. “They must be able to tell.”

“I didn’t know there were exorcists—I mean, not real exorcists,” Granger burbles on. And that’s okay, because neither did Ichigo. “But I suppose, why wouldn’t there be? There are clearly real ghosts, after all.”

“The Hogwarts ghosts don’t need exorcising, though,” Ichigo tells her for the sake of verisimilitude, and also because it’s true. “They’re amazingly stable.”

“Oh.” She narrows her eyes, thinking that through. “What happens when ghosts aren’t stable?”

“They go on a rampage and try to eat all the souls around them.”

“Ah. Yes, that does sound a bit…completely terrible. Oh, so you exorcised Voldemort! Er, and you pushed Harry’s soul out of his body? Is that sort of thing related to exorcism?”

“Right.” Ichigo can’t think of a way to avoid admitting to shoving souls out of bodies, not with a witness running around. And they can’t replace Potter’s memories—he needs to remember that Tom’s gone. So…does expelling souls seem like a thing exorcists might be able to do?

“Is that what happened when we found your body in stasis?” Granger asks, eyes gleaming with interest. “Were you spirit-walking?

Apparently it does seem like exorcists could do it. “I guess.”

“Wait, does this mean your friends are exorcists, too?”

“We’re all in the same line of work.” Look at all this truth coming out of Ichigo’s mouth. It feels weird.

“Even Toshiro?

Hah, especially Toshiro—or Captain Hitsugaya, as he is also known. But yeah, that’d be pretty messed up if Toshiro were anywhere near as young as he looks. Well, crap. “Even Toshiro. Toshiro’s childhood was Potter levels of lousy, though, so this is actually a step up for him.” Ichigo has no idea whether this is true or not. He’s never asked about Toshiro’s childhood, mostly because he thinks that would be a quick way to die.

“Toshiro is still a child,” Granger informs him severely.

“Granger, you’re still a child,” Ichigo counters, exasperated. “But I’m teaching you how to kill people anyway, because that’s something you need to know right now. The world’s not great about letting people learn things at an ideal pace.” Exhibit A: Ichigo’s entire life.

Granger responds to this by blinking a lot and opening and closing her mouth a few times. It’s not often Ichigo gets a reaction out of Granger other than righteous indignation; this is exciting and new.

“Does that mean,” she says eventually, “that…that you had to learn to kill people at a young age?”

“Well, people were trying to kill me,” Ichigo explains. “Seemed silly not to fight back.”

“…I’m so sorry,” Granger whispers, looking, weirdly, a little teary-eyed. Didn’t she hate him a minute ago?

“Nothing to be sorry about. Sometimes it goes that way. Sometimes…” Ichigo trails off, wondering if he’s really going to say this to Granger, of all people. And then he figures, what the hell, it’s not like she doesn’t think he’s a creep already. “Some of us just have to accept that we’re weapons. That that’s what we were made for. You can decide whether you’re gonna be used to destroy or defend, but you can’t change what you are. A weapon is always a weapon. It exists to cause pain. And if you try to lie to yourself about that, you end up hurting the people you wanted to protect.”

Granger looks utterly horrified. Yeah, he shouldn’t have said anything. But now that he’s started, he may as well finish. “Potter’s a weapon.”

“Harry is not like that!” she insists. But Ichigo can hear the doubt in her voice.

“Potter is a wrecking ball of rage and fear and low self-esteem, and we both know it,” he corrects her firmly. “It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You just need to make sure he stays pointed in the right direction.”

“You want me to manipulate my friend?” she demands.

“Um, no.” What is wrong with these people? “I think you can just tell him the truth. You know, every so often you say, ‘Hey, maybe you should worry a little less about your fellow students’ imaginary Death Eater sympathies, and a little more about keeping me and Ron alive.’ It’ll work because he cares about your safety more than his own. See? It’s perfect.”

“His fellow students don’t have imaginary Death Eater sympathies,” she says severely, totally missing the point yet again.

“His fellow students mostly don’t even understand what Death Eaters do,” Ichigo insists. “And that is not the point. The point is, keep his mind on protecting his friends and off enacting gory, terrible revenge. Get what I’m saying?”

“…Yes,” she mutters quietly.

“Thank God for that,” Ichigo says, standing. “I’m going to bed.”

“Wait—Ichigo! I have more questions!”

“Too bad. I’m fresh out of answers for you.”

Ichigo.” She’s all enraged again. How is that fair?

Ichigo shrugs and escapes. Ungrateful little monsters, these wizard kids.

* * *

“Professor Snape,” Ichigo says, cornering the man in his classroom after double Potions.

“Kurosaki,” Snape replies, immediately suspicious. “I presume this is not about Potions, as you are utterly incapable of—”

“You presume correctly,” Ichigo cuts in before the guy can really get going. “I’m just here to tell you Potter doesn’t need Occlumency lessons anymore because I’ve got that covered. So you get a free night. Congratulations.”

Snape appears speechless.

“Right. That’s all I had to say.” Ichigo tries to escape before Snape can collect himself. He makes it two whole steps out the door before Snape yells at him to get his ass back in the classroom, or words to that effect.

“What do you mean you have it ‘covered’?” Snape demands.

“I mean Potter’s mind is safe. I’ve got it covered.”

Snape scowls and makes uncomfortable eye contact for a weirdly long time. It’s creepy. Or at least it is until Ichigo hears a distant scream and Shiro’s laughter and realizes he’s got company in his head—then it’s just hilarious. It gets even better when Snape starts looking pale and traumatized and jerks his eyes away from Ichigo’s with a gasp.

“Did you just try to get inside my head?” Ichigo asks, thoroughly amused. “Man, that was a terrible idea. It’s not always safe for me in my head; I don’t even want to think about what happened to you.”

Snape is staring at him in shock, looking a little grey. Which, yeah. That’ll happen when you mess with the hollow in somebody’s head.

“Plus, that was seriously rude,” Ichigo goes on. “What if I’d had a deep, dark secret?” He considers. “Another deep, dark secret, I mean. Besides the one you already knew about, and the other one that probably just tried to stab you in the face.”

“What is wrong with your mind?” Snape hisses, horrified.

“So many things,” Ichigo informs him. “But that’s not your business. What is your business is the fact that I clearly know how to get people out of my mind, so it’s only fair to conclude I can help Potter do the same thing.”

“You can’t make Potter’s mind like yours,” Snape insists. “I’ve never seen a mind like yours. I’ve never even heard of such a…mental condition. You aren’t human, and that is not a human mind.”

Okay, so that’s. Accurate. Harsh, though. Very harsh.

Fine,” Ichigo sighs, deciding Dumbledore can screw himself, because why should this be a secret anyway? “I killed the soul piece Potter had attached to him. What do you call ‘em? Horaces?”

“…Horcruxes?” Snape suggests faintly.

“Yeah, that. So, problem solved. He doesn’t need this brain-blocking training, because he’s got no connection to Tom anymore. Dumbledore said I wasn’t supposed to tell anybody, but he’s kind of full of shit.”

“Mind your language, and show proper respect for the Headmaster. Twenty points from Gryffindor,” Snape snaps. He’s just talking on auto-pilot, though, so Ichigo doesn’t hold it against him. Besides, Ichigo’s already dragged Gryffindor into negative house points. Now it’s just a contest (mostly between Ichigo and the Weasley twins) to see how low they can go. The Hufflepuffs are placing bets.

“Is that…a normal state of mind for a grim reaper?” Snape asks eventually, looking seriously disturbed.

“Not exactly,” Ichigo admits. “Still, I wouldn’t mess around with our heads as a rule. Maybe they’re not all as blatantly hostile as mine, but…well. Some are hostile in a sneakier way, and that’s probably worse.” Ichigo imagines invading Urahara’s mind, and shudders.

“…Tell Potter if he’s already fixed the problem he was complaining about, he needn’t waste my time. It’s impossible to teach the brat anything in any case.”

That was the least gracious concession Ichigo’s ever heard. He’s impressed. “I’ll tell him.” In different words, though, because Ichigo’s not in the mood for yelling. “Thanks.”

Snape scowls at him, but Ichigo’s pretty sure it’s just out of confusion at being thanked. Which is sad, when he thinks about it.

* * *

Ichigo swings by the library and informs Potter and company that Occlumency’s cancelled, which Potter and Ron greet with great joy and Granger greets with great suspicion, because it’s her way. That accomplished, Ichigo goes off to find Longbottom and deliver Rukia’s present, because if he doesn’t get that done today, Rukia will beat the crap out of him.

He’s lucky enough to find Longbottom fairly quickly—on the third floor of the castle, on his way to the greenhouses. It’s a nice thing about Longbottom: if he’s not in class, then he’s in the greenhouses, the Gryffindor common room, or somewhere between the two. Ichigo appreciates that kind of predictability in a person. Even if it does make him easy to ambush.

“Hey, Longbottom,” Ichigo calls down the hall.

Longbottom jumps and whirls to stare at him with a hunted expression that Ichigo feels is unjustified. If he were about to test Longbottom’s self-defense skills, he wouldn’t announce his presence, for God’s sake. “I hear you met my friend Rukia in the hospital.”

“…Yes.” Longbottom’s expression, though still hunted, is now developing a hint of some other, less obvious, emotion. Dread, maybe. People have so little faith in Ichigo, it’s depressing.

“Well, she said to give you this.” Ichigo holds out the awkwardly wrapped package from Rukia. You’d think that after decades of practice, she’d be better at wrapping things, but no. Still terrible. Present wrapping must fall under the general category of Art Skills.

“Oh.” Longbottom blinks in apparent shock. Whatever he was expecting, it wasn’t presents. “Can…can I open it now?”

“Sure. I’m kind of curious about it myself.”

Longbottom quickly rips open the package, which is the best thing that could’ve happened to that wrapping job. It’s a book on origami. Ichigo doesn’t get it. Longbottom does, though, or at least, so Ichigo judges from the way he immediately tears up.

“Are you crying because you like it, or are you crying because it’s so awful I need to go beat Rukia up for you?” Ichigo asks suspiciously.

Longbottom laughs a little, quickly wiping away his tears like he’s embarrassed. “No, it’s…it’s perfect. My mum always gives me these—it doesn’t matter. Just. Tell Rukia it’s perfect. Or wait, I’ll…I’ll write her a note. If you could…?”

“Sure, I’ll pass it along.” And he’ll probably end up having to translate it, which is a shame, because he can already tell he doesn’t want to know the details. The terrible thing the kids and Rukia saw during the hospital visit must’ve been Longbottom-related. Great. “Enjoy it, I guess.” Ichigo turns to walk away.

“Aren’t you going to ask what this is about?” Longbottom calls after him, quietly curious.

“Do you want me to?” Ichigo counters without turning back.

“…Not really.”

“Then, no.”

Ichigo reaches the end of the hallway and jumps over the railing onto the stairs a floor below. He finds this kind of thing puts a stop to most uncomfortable conversations. Among these people, anyway. Every single one of his actual friends would’ve followed him right over the railing, but that’s what makes them awesome.

Still, now that Ichigo’s seen Longbottom cry over his presumably hospitalized mother and all, it seems like he should probably start calling the kid Neville.

* * *

Ichigo expects his day to be quiet post-Neville, what with Potter being (hopefully) safe in his afternoon classes, so he goes up to the dorm to read about wizarding medicine for a while. After all that intense Christmas togetherness plus soul fragment killing, he figures he’s earned a one-day break from Potter.

He quickly discovers, though, that quiet just isn’t in the cards.

“Ichigo,” Dean Thomas interrupts after Ichigo’s been reading for maybe ten minutes. Thomas is lurking uneasily in the doorway, and cutting class to do it, which isn’t like him and doesn’t bode well. “Could I talk to you outside for a bit?”

“Sure,” Ichigo agrees easily, standing and dropping his book onto his bed. Thomas so rarely asks anything of anyone, it seems like a good idea to go along, even if this is turning into Uncomfortable Conversation Day. Ichigo silently follows him all the way to the observation deck of the Astronomy Tower. So Thomas likes it up here, too. Even if it is freaking cold and uncomfortable at this time of year, it’s a good place.

Well, that, and it’s really hard to successfully eavesdrop out here.

They stand in silence for a while, but Ichigo knows better than to interrupt. Thomas is trying to work himself up to say something, and it’s best not to sidetrack him. That might kill the conversation altogether. Ichigo knows how it is with the quiet types.

“…It’s about Harry,” Thomas says eventually.

Ichigo figured that might be the case. “Okay.”

“Seamus, you know…Seamus is sure he’s gone mad.”

Pause. Ichigo is still waiting for something that requires a response.

“…Is he mad?”

Ah. “I hate to tell you this, but he’s really not.”

Thomas sighs, disappointed but not surprised. “Things would be much simpler if he were just mad.”

“I know.”

“So, You-Know-Who?”

It takes Ichigo a second, but he eventually remembers that that’s what they call Tom when they’re not calling him that unpronounceable V-name. “Yeah, still alive. Sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“Like I say, he split his soul into pieces. Some of them are dead, some of them are alive. He’s wreaking havoc with the administration in the afterlife.”

Thomas laughs because he thinks that’s a joke. Then he stops laughing in favor of fatalism. “We’re all going to die, aren’t we?”

“Sooner or later.”

“It’s looking like sooner, if You-Know-Who’s around.”

“Not necessarily,” Ichigo argues. “I mean, somebody’s already killed some of his soul pieces. Nothing to say they can’t kill the rest before the guy has time to work his way around to murdering random school kids.”

Thomas gives a noncommittal nod. They’re quiet for a while, looking out over the grounds, contemplating life, freezing their asses off. “How do you know about all this, by the way?” Thomas asks eventually. Cautiously.

“My dad knows people in the business of managing wandering spirits.” This has the advantage of being both true and misleading, and it also checks out with the exorcist story Ichigo fed Granger. He’s getting really good at this lying thing, probably because he’s been spending too much time with Urahara.

“You know the people who’ve been killing the soul pieces?” Thomas demands in a shocked whisper.

“Yes.”

“Wow.” Thomas blinks. “Can I meet them?”

“Trust me when I say you don’t want to. They’re good at their job, but they’re also weird, violent, creepy liars. They visited over Christmas, so you can double-check with Granger on that.”

Thomas smiles. “Yeah, I think I heard a little about that already. You know some strange people.”

“True,” Ichigo admits. Everyone he knows is strange. He’s strange himself. He’s more or less given up on worrying about it.

“…That. That dream Harry had,” Thomas goes on. “What was that about?”

“One of the soul fragments was stuck to him,” Ichigo explains, because why not? He’s taken to dismissing most of Dumbledore’s orders out of hand, anyway. “He was dreaming somebody else’s reality.”

“You-Know-Who’s reality?” Thomas demands, shocked. “He said he was a snake!”

“The snake has another soul fragment stuck to it.”

“So what you’re saying is that Harry’s not mad, but he is possessed?

“Not anymore,” Ichigo says with some satisfaction. “That’s one of the soul fragments my friend killed. Potter’s free and clear. No more snake dreams.”

“…But he was possessed.”

Thomas seems very hung up on this, and Ichigo isn’t sure why. “Well, sort of. It’s more like his soul and the soul fragment were sharing space in his body. The fragment was dormant until this year, when Tom—or You-Know-Who, whatever—got a new body. Apparently Potter’s nightmares got pretty freaky at that point.”

Thomas is staring at him in total horror now. Ichigo doesn’t get why people are so precious about this kind of thing. Soul merging is creepy as hell, but just sharing? No big deal. Ichigo’s been sharing body-space with two other souls for years. Sort of. Technically they’re parts of his own soul—whatever, anyway, it’s not like sharing space is all that unusual, and in a school where ghosts chill in the hallways, you’d think people would learn to relax about it.

“I’m sorry I asked,” Thomas says at last.

“People generally are,” Ichigo tells him.

Silence.

“…Is his name really Tom?”

“Tom Riddle,” Ichigo confirms. “It’s really fucking bothering me, to be honest. What kind of evil overlord is named Tom?

Thomas laughs again, but it seems like he’d prefer to be crying.

* * *

Ichigo comes down to breakfast the next morning just in time to learn there’s been a mass breakout from wizard prison. He’s delighted to hear this, because it might mean his life is finally getting less boring.

Then it occurs to him that he’s a total failure of a bodyguard.

“These people,” he asks, “how likely are they to try to kill Potter?”

“Very likely, mate,” Ron answers wearily, pushing the nearest food dish toward Ichigo in apparent sympathy. “Almost bound to happen, really.”

“That’s not the problem, though,” says Potter, whose priorities have always been strange. “The problem is that the Minister of Magic still doesn’t believe Voldemort is back.”

“That’s politicians for you.” Ichigo shrugs and reaches for the pumpkin juice, which he’s starting to think he’ll miss when he goes home. “Cheer up, though—maybe someday Tom’ll kill the Minister, and it’ll be like he actually died of irony. Tell me that won’t make you smile.”

Maybe it’ll make Potter smile in the future, but not at the moment—at the moment he’s giving Ichigo an appalled look. Whatever. The twins would’ve thought it was funny.

Fortunately, Susan Bones—one of the many Hufflepuffs who never say die—chooses this moment to walk over and interrupt the awkward silence.

“Harry, Ichigo,” she says. “Um. I had a question about practice?”

“Okay,” Ichigo replies while Potter eyes her suspiciously. Ichigo’s intrigued. While it’s true that Bones never says die, this is still the first time she’s willingly talked to him outside the Room of Requirement.

“Could we do more practice?”

This puzzles Ichigo for a second, but then he glances at Granger’s newspaper and notes that a lot of the Bones family are prominently listed as victims of the escapees. Suddenly it all makes sense. “Sure. We can do doubles, if you want. Go for a run at five, head to the Room at six, train until seven, go to breakfast. Then meet up in the evening every day, or at least every other day, have Potter teach you to maim people with magic for a couple hours. How’s that sound?”

“Like you should’ve asked me first,” Potter mutters, but quietly enough that everyone’s allowed to ignore him.

“Yes,” Bones says firmly to Ichigo. “Let’s do that.” And she marches back to her table to spread joy among Hufflepuffs, who are never happier than when they’re being worked half to death.

“I think you’re honestly trying to kill us with exhaustion,” Granger says sourly. “And when exactly do you suppose we’ll have time to do our homework?”

“When you should be sleeping?” Ichigo suggests. She glares at him. He shrugs. “What? Do you want to learn to brew a perfect potion, or do you want to live to graduate?”

“I want both,” she insists.

“Yeah, well, you don’t go to that kind of school. Sorry.” Ron snorts agreement, but Granger looks infuriated. “But hey,” Ichigo goes on, “cheer up and imagine having your very own army of Hufflepuffs. Because it’d all be over once that happened. You could just say, ‘Bring me a nation,’ and they’d do it, no matter what it took. Remember this if you decide to try for world domination, Potter: Hufflepuff army.”

“I am not trying for world domination,” Potter hisses. He doesn’t need to be so cranky about it; it’s just an observation.

“Maybe you should,” Ichigo suggests. “You’d be terrible at it, but hey, still better than anybody else currently in the running.”

Potter actually smiles for a second before Granger ruins everything by announcing that some guy got murdered in the hospital by a plant.

Freaking wizards.

* * *

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Umbridge doesn’t like her students discussing the mass jailbreak of people who killed their relatives. It interferes with her argument that the world would be a paradise full of sunshine if not for all these damn half-breeds hanging around the place. Pureblooded murderers are a real threat to her carefully constructed alternate reality.

So she bans the teachers from talking about anything but schoolwork. As you do.

Ichigo was willing to let that slide, but then the woman gave Lee Jordan detention. Obviously she can’t give the kind of detentions she’d prefer, because Ichigo keeps destroying all her stuff, but she thought about it, and Ichigo won’t stand for that. This isn’t like hassling Potter, which is a political move, even if it is fucked up—this is just random, undirected spite. Besides, Jordan is a good guy who’s managed to hang around with the Weasley twins for years and still mostly retain his sanity, and that’s an impressive feat, worthy of respect. Umbridge hasn’t even had Ichigo around for a year, and already she’s losing it. She of all people should respect the hell out of Jordan. The hypocrisy of it gets to Ichigo.

And of course, the Weasley twins take any attack on Jordan extremely personally. So it was also a stupid move to go after him.

“Hey guys,” Ichigo says to the twins at breakfast. “I’ve decided I’m officially done with Umbridge and her whole oppression, repression, violent racist routine. I mean, she’s messing with Jordan now; that crosses a line. So I’m thinking I’ll take her down. What do you think?”

“We approve,” George replies firmly. “Messing with Lee is like messing with us, and messing with us is like hexing yourself in the face.”

“We are extremely good at revenge,” Fred puts in. “And we also enjoy revenge. So what’s the plan?”

“Well, I’m technically not allowed to kill her,” Ichigo admits, disappointed. It’s easier when he can just kill his problems. He doesn’t do it very often, in practice, but it’s nice to know he could.

“…True,” Fred agrees.

“Because technically we would call that murder,” George goes on.

“And murder is wrong.”

“Or at the very least illegal.”

“Everyone’s told us so.”

“Repeatedly.”

“So yes, technically, we can’t go that far.”

“Can we knock down a wall on her?” Ichigo wonders. “She’s a witch; she could protect herself. It probably wouldn’t kill her.”

“We can’t knock down a wall, unfortunately,” George says, eyeing Ichigo in speculation and alarm.

“They’re incorporated into the school’s wards, and the wards are unbreakable,” Fred explains.

“I mean, how sure are you about that?” Ichigo asks.

They stare at him, incredulous.

“You are honestly—”

“Somehow—”

“Incredibly—”

Worse than we are.”

“I’m actually starting to understand how Mum feels, just a bit. Wouldn’t you say, Gred?”

“I would, Forge, and it’s uncomfortable, and I’m unhappy about it.”

“I mean, there’s reckless, and then there’s—”

“Demented—”

“Suicidal—”

“Homicidal—”

“All right, all right,” Ichigo cuts in impatiently, since they seem willing to go on all day. “So the wall thing won’t work. It doesn’t have to be that big. She’s…well, she’s not all that mentally stable, I don’t think. We could probably just push her mentally until she snaps. Right?” It doesn’t seem as satisfying as maiming her, but it does seem easy.

The twins are staring at him like he’s an undetonated landmine again.

* * *

Eventually Ichigo manages to get the twins to snap out of their stupor and promise him portable swamps and dramatic explosions and generalized chaos, so that’s good. This is Ichigo’s idea, though, so he needs to contribute something to the effort, too. It’s only fair. He just doesn’t know what to do—his innate ability to drive people to madness without even trying is working, sure, but not fast enough.

So he calls an expert.

“You want to psychologically destroy someone,” Ishida says flatly, “and you’re calling me for advice?”

“I have met your dad,” Ichigo points out, stretching up to dust a window frame in the Room of Requirement. “You’ve definitely at least seen people get psychologically destroyed, even if you haven’t done it yourself. And I wonder about that last part. So teach me how.”

“You also know Urahara,” snaps Ishida, “who makes my father look like a rank amateur when it comes to causing psychological harm. Why can’t you ask him?”

“He’s off killing things,” Ichigo grumbles, resentful.

“Urahara’s off killing things and you’re trapped in a school playing mind games with people?” Ishida sounds about as betrayed as Ichigo feels. “What moron organized that?”

“Kyoraku organized that, and if you want to go yell at him about it, maybe shoot at him a couple times, you totally have my blessing.”

Ishida makes a disgusted sound. He has a great repertoire of disgusted sounds, does Ishida; Inoue’s separated them out into like ten different sub-categories. Unfortunately, Ichigo’s ear isn’t as discerning as Inoue’s, so all he’s getting from this is that Ishida’s disgusted, which is more or less his base state, anyway.

“Fine,” Ishida eventually concedes, bad-tempered as ever. “Who are you trying to destroy? What are this person’s weaknesses and fears?”

“She’s a government mole posing as a teacher,” Ichigo explains.

“…Your school has government moles?” Ishida asks incredulously.

“How have I not complained to you about this before?” Ichigo wonders. “Yes. This is basically a military academy that doesn’t take the survival of its graduates very seriously. Also, it’s not my school. I’m just passing through, thank God.”

“How you get yourself into these situations is a constant source of bafflement for me,” says Ishida, sounding a lot more pissed off than baffled. “Fears and weaknesses?”

“She’s afraid of halfbreeds and freaks, and she’s weak to people messing with her control and her skewed sense of reality.”

“Then my advice to you is to be yourself, Kurosaki.” Apparently it’s possible to detect Ishida’s eye-rolling even over the phone. “It sounds like you’re this woman’s nemesis by nature.”

“You’re right,” Ichigo admits, “but I was hoping to speed the process up. Like, she’s creeping toward the edge, but I want to shove her over.”

“Introduce her to your hollow, then,” Ishida sighs.

“The problem is I’m such a freak that normal humans can’t even detect how much of a freak I am,” Ichigo complains. “She can’t see my hollow.”

“It’s a magic school,” Ishida points out, aggrieved. “Surely there’s some way to…I don’t know…show her an illusion of what you look like with the mask on. Maybe you can even give her nightmares about it, then make sure there’s just enough crossover between her dreams and reality that she loses confidence in which is which.”

Ishida can say what he wants about not being good at psychological destruction, but Ichigo calls bullshit. Ishida’s a mind-breaking pro—born and raised. And given Potter’s snake nightmares, Ichigo’s sure Ishida’s right: magic can make this happen.

“Thanks,” says Ichigo. “I’ll try that.”

* * *

“You want us to give someone nightmares?” George demands. “We can’t do that!” Then he pauses, blinks, and turns to Fred. “Can we do that?”

“The daydreaming potion,” Fred suggests.

“Prototype,” George insists.

“We’ll work it out. And if we accidentally poison her, who cares? The trouble is that Ichigo here wants to use his memories as the base. I don’t see how to do that.”

“Legilimency?”

“Not for any length of time. Not a nightmare.”

“Pensieve?”

Pensieve,” Fred apparently agrees, snapping and pointing triumphantly at George. He turns to Ichigo and says, “We’ll need to suck a few memories out of your head; hope you’re okay with that.”

“I don’t want her to see it from my point of view, though. Should I have a friend give you the memories I want her to see, instead?”

“No need—a Pensieve gives you third person point of view. We can just use yours.”

“…But they’re my memories. So how does the third person thing even work?”

Magic,” the twins announce in sync, complete with jazz hands.

The complete lack of any logic ever is starting to make Ichigo tired. “Right. I’m guessing we’re image-only on this, since she doesn’t speak Japanese?”

“That won’t matter,” Fred corrects. “It’s your memory, so if you understand what people are saying in it, so will anyone you give the memory to.”

Ichigo considers this, and decides it makes about as much sense as the third-person point of view thing. He doesn’t bother asking the twins for details, though. He’s had all the jazz hands he can handle for one day. “Can I have the memories back afterward?”

“Not really, no. Not if we’re feeding them to Umbridge in a potion.”

“…So they’ll be completely gone?”

“Nah. Just faded out a bit. Actually used as therapy sometimes, this.”

Well, that’s all right, then. Ichigo can just give Umbridge a bunch of memories he’d be happy to remember less clearly. God knows he has plenty of those.

That’s the bright spot of the week—the twins actively working on Umbridge’s destruction. Unfortunately, it’s the only bright spot. The rest of the week consists of generalized freaking out about prison breaks. And Ichigo gets that, he does. He just wishes the kids would channel more of their energy into training, and less into bitching about everything all day long.

Basically, he wishes everyone could be more like the Hufflepuffs, who are quietly, obsessively training at all hours. Or if they can’t be as cool as the Hufflepuffs, they could at least try for Slytherin. The Slytherins, as the most easily entertained people on campus, are still under the impression that this whole prison break thing is a great joke, and not something they need to worry about. And it’ll continue on that way, Ichigo figures, until at least one of them gets brutally murdered.

He’s impressed by the strength of their ignorance.

Things get even more grim on Thursday, when Granger abruptly decides that Ichigo isn’t taking the situation seriously enough, and forces him to read up on the details of the last war with Tom—he’d only gotten a general outline from Urahara. Granger really should’ve known better, because it turns out Ichigo wasn’t taking the situation seriously enough, and now he realizes it. He’s not playing around in Defense club anymore. These kids need to learn to be killing machines, and they need to learn right freaking now.

Granger seems to regret her choices almost instantly, but it’s too late by then. The Hufflepuffs are on cloud nine, though. As is Neville, who’s come over all Hufflepuff about this. Hell, he out-Hufflepuffs the Hufflepuffs some days. It’s obviously weirding out Potter and company, but Ichigo’s proud.

Potter, meanwhile, continues to fail at prioritizing. At the moment, he seems equally concerned about escaped mass murderers, his Quidditch ban, and his Valentine’s date.

If Potter can’t be bothered to take a proper interest in his welfare, Ichigo doesn’t see why he should have to. Sadly, Ichigo’s sense of duty is far stronger than his sense of fairness, and that’s why he ends up tailing Potter and date to Hogsmeade on Valentine’s Day, when he probably could’ve just gone with Granger for the day and waited for Potter to meet up with them. That would most likely have been safe enough.

On the other hand, mass murderers on the loose, Potter’s fondness for near-death experiences, so on and so forth. Professionalism demands that Ichigo tail Potter on his date.

Potter seems about as happy about this as Ichigo is.

* * *

Potter’s date is also horrified to find they’ve got a shadow, but Ichigo’s actually gotten pretty good at the art of trailing people close enough to save their asses if necessary, but far enough away that he’s not eavesdropping on their conversations. Mostly because he’s so tired of listening to Potter’s conversations. This has the happy side-benefit of making it easy for his bodyguardees to forget about him, and Potter and date quickly do forget—or at least the date does. Potter periodically glances back at Ichigo with a frown, because there’s no pleasing him.

Potter’s date leads them to a coffee shop that’s like…intensely pink and sparkly. Potter casts Ichigo a desperate look as he’s dragged inside, but Ichigo shakes his head unsympathetically. You dig your grave, you have to lie in it. And Ichigo’s not setting foot in that place. Not even to save Potter’s life.

Ichigo wonders if any girl of his acquaintance would ever drag him into a place like that. He’s thinking no, absolutely not. Even Inoue is more drawn to the weird than the insipid. And Yuzu, for all her love of pinks and pastels, would find the decor tacky. She and Yumichika would probably join forces to burn the place to the ground for insulting their aesthetic sensibilities, actually.

Well, Tatsuki might drag him into a place like that just to fuck with him. Yeah, he can see that happening. Real men can handle pink, Ichigo, she’d declare loudly to the entire room. What, is your masculinity so fragile that you can’t deal with a few bows on the furniture? And then Inoue would chime in with something like, She’s right, Kurosaki-kun. Don’t let society dictate to you how to be a man! We all know you’re a strong person, even if you do like pink! And next thing he knew, they’d have gotten Yuzu and Ishida in on it, his entire wardrobe would turn pink and lacy overnight, and his life would be ruined. And Karin and Rukia and Renji would never stop laughing at him.

He leans against the wall of the horrible coffee shop and smiles at the vision of this, while also praying it never comes to pass. The point, though, is that if Tatsuki did that to him, it would be a gleefully malicious, knowing, deliberate choice. Not one made out of blind ignorance of everything about him.

That, he decides, is what’s bothering him about Potter’s date today. They don’t know a damn thing about each other. Ichigo would never date someone he didn’t know anything about, because that’s how people wind up dead in gutters. He knows this because he collects horror stories to warn his sisters with. Also, he’s seen Audition.

It starts raining right then, as if the weather agrees with him. He is now standing in the rain waiting on Potter’s poorly managed love life. This is the worst job he’s ever had, and he worked at Unagiya for months.

Happily, it only takes a few more minutes for the date to come tearing out of the coffee shop in tears. Say one thing for her: she’s reliable.

Similarly to last time, too, Potter staggers out of the building after her looking like he’s been repeatedly slapped in the face with a fish. He checks up and down the street, but his ex-date is extremely quick, and she’s long gone. Potter turns to stare blankly at Ichigo.

“That girl seems to spend a lot of time running away from you, crying,” Ichigo observes. “Maybe you want to consider a new approach. Like, say, dating somebody who doesn’t cry at the sight of your face.”

“I am going to hex your face until you cry,” Potter informs him, going from bewilderment to fury with lightning speed.

“If it’ll cheer you up, you can try,” Ichigo allows graciously.

Bless Potter’s heart, he does try. He doesn’t succeed, obviously, because it’ll be a cold day in hell when Ichigo loses a fight to a human, but Potter’s dedication to the cause is impressive.

It’s basically therapy, anyway. Potter’s such a wacky little ball of rage, a decent fight now and then can only help him. And everyone who’s forced to interact with him, too.

Bottom line is, by the time they roll up (slightly late) to The Three Broomsticks to meet Granger, they’re both in a decent mood. Bruised, scratched up, soaking wet, and covered in mud, but in a decent mood. Luckily Granger’s still there even though they’re late, sitting at a table with Luna and some strange lady. Luna’s the only one who notices them come in, though, so Ichigo nods to her and she nods back, which gets Granger’s attention.

Honestly,” Granger snaps as soon as she catches sight of them. She marches over and casts a bunch of cleaning spells. That’s handy. “The two of you! And Harry, weren’t you meant to be out with Cho?”

“Cho?” asks the strange lady, twisting around and staring with slightly frightening intensity, clutching at her bag like it might escape. “A girl?

“That is a disturbing level of interest you have in Potter’s love life,” Ichigo remarks.

“Yes,” Granger agrees severely—possibly the first time she’s ever agreed with Ichigo. “It is quite disturbing, and also none of your business, so don’t even think about it.”

The woman puts down her bag, looking furious.

“Who is she?” Ichigo asks Luna, who’s ironically the one most likely to give him a straight answer.

“She’s a reporter Hermione’s blackmailed into doing her bidding,” Luna explains.

“Luna!” Granger gasps.

Luna blinks at her innocently, and Ichigo nods to himself. Always good to know you’ve asked exactly the right person. “Wow, Granger. I’d say I didn’t know you had it in you, but actually, I did.”

“No one asked for your opinion!” Granger declares.

“And who are you?” asks the reporter, leaning forward, apparently just as willing to be creepily interested in Ichigo as she was in Potter’s sad, sad love life.

“He’s Ichigo. My bodyguard,” Potter sighs.

The reporter gives a sharp, mean little laugh. “You hired a bodyguard?”

“No,” Potter snarls. “A bodyguard happened to me. He’s bodyguarding me against my will.” He pauses. “Against his will, too.”

Is that sympathy from Potter? Damn, he’s growing as a person.

“Wait. You’re acting as Harry Potter’s bodyguard…against your will?” The reporter looks like her birthday just came early.

“My theory is that my boss lost a bet and put me up for collateral,” Ichigo informs her.

“Difficult to handle, is he?” she murmurs knowingly.

“My boss? Very.”

“I meant Harry Potter,” she snaps, impatient now.

“No, not especially,” Ichigo lies, because he doesn’t like her attitude. “It’s just that I’m not one of nature’s bodyguards.”

“Understatement,” Potter mutters, though he does look pleased that Ichigo lied about how difficult he is.

“Fascinating though Ichigo is,” Granger cuts in sharply, “he is not what we’re here to discuss.”

It turns out that what they are there to discuss is Granger’s plan for a big article, written by the reporter and printed in Luna’s family newspaper, about how Potter’s right about Tom and everyone else is a moron, especially the government. So that should make everyone at the table extremely popular.

Except Granger, of course. Ichigo notices that her name is the only one that won’t appear anywhere in the vicinity of this clusterfuck, despite the fact that it was all her idea. If Hogwarts had a class on being terrifying, Granger would get top marks every time without trying.

* * *

The day Granger’s article comes out in the paper happens to be the same day the Weasley twins start making off with Ichigo’s memories. They must start watching the memories, too, because they take to staring at Ichigo in awe and horror whenever they think he isn’t looking.

“Mate,” George says quietly when they come to collect the third batch, “and I really mean it this time. What are you?”

“With any luck, Umbridge’s worst nightmare,” Ichigo tells him.

“Yeah, no worries there,” Fred mutters, removing Ichigo’s memory of his last fight with Ulquiorra in a thin, silvery strand. It’s funny—all the memories are silver. Ichigo would’ve guessed black or red for most of the ones he’s given. But no one ever said magic had to make sense.

“A few more memories like these,” George puts in, “and you’ll be my worst nightmare, for a start.”

Ichigo is faintly hurt by that remark.

As for the article, it becomes an instant classic as soon as Umbridge announces, in a distinctly unhinged shriek, that she’s banning it. Granger is delighted. Predictably, everyone immediately reads it, and they believe every word, if only because Umbridge told them not to. Ah, spite.

No one suspects that Granger had anything to do with the article, which is the creepiest thing about it. The best thing about it, though, is the way it gets everyone in Gryffindor to finally shut the fuck up about how bad they are at Quidditch.

The Slytherins are taking the article extremely personally, which Ichigo finds disappointing but not surprising. He’s never seen Slytherins furious before, but it turns out that when you name a bunch of their parents as criminals, that gets to them. They’ve completely lost their senses of humor—a tragic turn-around for the most easily amused house in Hogwarts.

Not that Ichigo thinks Potter was wrong to name their parents. Frankly, once people try to kill you, it’s probably your duty to point them out to the general public. Some might even say giving that interview was a brave thing. This is Potter, though, so Ichigo’s inclined to believe it’s really just one more sign of the kid’s borderline suicidal recklessness.

Because of the damn article, Ichigo feels uncomfortable ever leaving Potter’s side. After all, half of Slytherin wants him dead. None of them have gone so far as to actually try killing him yet, but Ichigo doesn’t like their collective tone. In order to convey this dislike, he takes to beating the crap out of anyone who seems remotely serious about their assassination plans.

Still, collective tone aside, individual Slytherins are unusually divided on this subject. The ones whose parents weren’t denounced are pretty apathetic about the whole thing; they’re just going through the motions for the sake of house solidarity. And even among Slytherins whose parents were denounced, there’s a range of reactions.

On one end of the spectrum is Nott, who’s taking it all disturbingly philosophically. That could be because Nott’s a smart guy who’s running a long con, but it could also be because Nott hates his father and is praying for him to be executed. Ichigo can’t tell, so he just keeps training the kid like always. Hoping for the best, planning for the worst.

On the other end of the spectrum is that big kid who hangs out with Malfoy and is possibly actually named Crab, who’s gone quiet and still and cold in a way Ichigo associates with people who are about to seriously lose their shit. So he’s keeping a close eye on that situation.

And then there’s Malfoy himself, somewhere in the middle of the pack, but loudest of them all. He’d obviously love to think of himself as a bold assassin, but really he’s just a mess. Ichigo would feel perfectly comfortable leaving him and Potter alone together, even in a room full of knives.

“I’ll kill Potter for what he’s done to my father,” Malfoy declares boldly and apropos of nothing, confronting Ichigo on his way back from the Great Hall—Ichigo usually makes it to breakfast and back before Potter even wakes up. “And if I have to go through you to do that, I will!

At least the kid’s got self-confidence. Or maybe that’s a bad thing. People always seem to think Ichigo’s self-confidence is a bad thing.

“Will you?” Ichigo asks, curious about Malfoy’s level of self-delusion. “Because you haven’t been doing too well with that so far.”

Malfoy hisses, enraged, and promptly attacks Ichigo. This is progress. Sure, Ichigo hasn’t gotten him to stop talking shit altogether, but at least now he fights while he’s talking. Keeps it from being a totally boring experience.

“Kinda proving my point,” Ichigo observes as he dodges various colored lights before knocking Malfoy’s feet out from under him and dumping him on the ground. The angrier Malfoy is, the funnier he is.

And indeed, Malfoy temporarily abandons strategy and even magic in favor of leaping back to his feet, hurling himself forward, and trying to physically bash Ichigo’s face in. “You don’t know anything!” he screams breathlessly. “You’re nobody! Your family is nothing! I’m a Malfoy! You can’t stand against someone like me!”

Technically, Ichigo comes from nobility on his dad’s side and borderline aristocracy on his mom’s, but this doesn’t seem like the time to mention it. So instead he says, “And yet here I am. Kicking your ass.”

Malfoy howls incoherently and earnestly tries to hurl Ichigo over a stair railing. With no success, obviously, but he gets points for effort.

“I’m just trying to help you out in life, Malfoy,” Ichigo insists, evading an ineptly thrown punch and returning a more effective one of his own. “Because underestimating anyone who’s not a pureblood is gonna come back to bite you. I guarantee it.”

“What would you know? You’re a mudblood,” Malfoy shouts, terrified and enraged with it.

“Yeah, people call me all kinds of things.” Ichigo smiles unpleasantly. “Mudblood. Hybrid. Freak. Monster. You know why they call me all that?”

Malfoy scowls and sends a red light at him—wordlessly. He really is improving. But not enough, because Ichigo still manages to slide around him and twist his arm up behind his back until he yelps and drops his wand. And Ichigo leans in and says, very softly, “Because they’re terrified of me.”

Then he shoves Malfoy away and leaves so the kid can think about that for a while.

It’s time to catch up with Potter anyway. Just because Ichigo left him asleep doesn’t mean the little maniac hasn’t wandered off and found trouble by now.

* * *

Harry is running down to the Great Hall for breakfast, having successfully used the Marauder’s Map to avoid Ichigo (and Ichigo’s enthusiasm for spontaneous training sessions). Unfortunately, Ichigo can usually track him down in under ten minutes, like he has a weird sixth sense, so Harry’s trying to enjoy his freedom while it lasts. He’s in no mood for Malfoy, which naturally means he immediately runs across Malfoy. Malfoy, who is standing on a random landing looking stunned and enraged. This is the look of a person who’s just had a close encounter with Ichigo Kurosaki, and Harry has enough sympathy for that that he’s willing to pass by without comment. But of course Malfoy can’t leave well enough alone, the enormous prat.

“Can’t you control your thug, Potter?” Malfoy demands, and the bitter injustice of that is too much for Harry to handle.

“Control him?” Harry snaps back, outraged. “Control him? No, Malfoy. No. No one can control Ichigo, because Ichigo is a madman. He attacked you, didn’t he? Well, don’t come crying to me about it, because you don’t have to live with him! What, d’you think we’re spared? Do you? We’re the closest people to him! He attacks us all day long. And it’s not just Slytherins and Gryffindors who get attacked, either. He told me he likes Ravenclaws because they have ‘killer instinct.’ And yesterday he jumped over the railing onto a staircase full of Hufflepuff first years, and when Hermione yelled at him about it, he said he was teaching them situational awareness.”

Harry stops, breathing hard. Apparently he’s been needing to get that off his chest for a while. And speaking of his chest, he hasn’t even told Malfoy about getting Voldemort burned out of it abruptly and with no explanation, because that would be awkward, but there’s that as well.

Malfoy is staring with his mouth open. This may be the first time Harry has ever caught him completely off-guard.

“On the bright side,” Harry grates out grudgingly, “I suppose it’s nice that he has no house bias at all.”

Malfoy briefly looks like he wants to laugh, but quickly gets himself under control and scowls instead. “Well, he’s still your…” he trails off, then abruptly changes conversational direction. “He pushed me down the stairs last week and said he was checking my reflexes. Has he ever done that to you?”

“Twice a day,” Harry confirms. “We live in a tower. It’s getting to the point where we’re all terrified of coming down to breakfast.”

“I thought he was meant to be your bodyguard,” Malfoy says indignantly, possibly irritated with the quality of his spy network. “This is not bodyguard behavior.”

“Yeah, he is meant to be my bodyguard,” Harry agrees sourly, allowing his need to complain about Ichigo to override his need to keep secrets from Death Eaters’ children. “So he seems to think it’s his job to make me stronger or kill me trying. And you lot—you’re on the other side, aren’t you?” He realizes he sounds a bit desperate, and he is actually counting on Malfoy to be the voice of reason here. He’s never been this low before, he’s sure. “We’re enemies, aren’t we?”

“Obviously,” Malfoy confirms with a sneer that seems worryingly like an afterthought. “After you went running to the papers with your horrible, cowardly lies about my father, what else could we be?”

Harry decides, for once, to let that go in favor of continuing his more pressing rant. “Well, Ichigo told me he’s training you, too, because if it comes to a fight, I’ll want opponents who aren’t boring.”

Malfoy stares at him, looking more or less exactly the way Harry felt when he first heard Ichigo say that. “He’s mad,” Malfoy concludes eventually. “Utterly, howling mad.”

“That’s what Ron said,” Harry agrees.

“Of course he’d be sorted into Gryffindor.”

“Jump off a bridge, Malfoy.”

“As your enemy, I’m feeling a bit obsolete,” Malfoy says thoughtfully, ignoring Harry. “I mean to say, with friends like that…”

Exactly,” Harry sighs. “But at least he’s not doing anything actually deadly or illegal to us, which is more than I can say for…well. He hates Umbridge, you know. She offends him, somehow. And if he’s doing all this to us, and he likes us…”

“What would he do to someone he hates?” Malfoy finishes, looking equal parts horrified and intrigued. Slytherins.

“She’s a walking dead woman and she doesn’t know it,” Harry confirms. “And the Slytherin thing to do here, it seems to me, would be to side with someone else. Really, anyone else.”

“I.” Malfoy breaks off, blinking. “For once in your life, Potter, you may not be wrong.”

“I still hate you,” Harry puts in quickly, needing to clarify that.

“Oh, I still plan to laugh over your corpse,” Malfoy agrees brightly. “I’m only saying…you may not be wrong. This one time.”

They nod to each other in relieved confirmation of their continuing mutual hatred, and head off about their business. Still, that whole encounter felt strange, and it’s making Harry unhappy. No matter how he looks at it, that was a fairly civil conversation. Ichigo’s driven him so far round the bend that he is actually having civil conversations with Malfoy. Maybe the Daily Prophet is right about him after all: he has gone mad. They just have their timeline a bit wrong.

Also the whole thing about Voldemort not being back. They’re dead wrong about that.

* * *

“Stop. Wait.” Rukia tries to sound stern and not at all like she’s struggling not to laugh. Luckily this is easier to pull off over the phone than it is in person. “Explain to me again why you feel it’s necessary to attack the children.”

“It’s good for them,” Ichigo says sturdily.

Rukia has years of experience in interpreting Ichigo, and she confidently takes this to mean, Because I’m bored to tears and this was the least destructive way I could think of to kill time. It really is a struggle not to laugh. “Aren’t you meant to be killing soul fragments, fool?” Instead of, say, tormenting children.

“I killed all the ones I could,” Ichigo reports, gloomy. “Urahara-san and Yoruichi-san are killing the rest. I asked if that meant I could be the one to kill Tom—you know, the main body—but Yoruichi-san just laughed at me.” He pauses, probably reflecting on the injustice of it all, then continues in a more cheerful tone, “But I think I can get that Umbridge woman to snap and try to kill me within a few weeks.”

“Congratulations,” Rukia says, carefully neutral. “Renji will be very proud.”

“Renji could’ve gotten her to attack him the first week,” Ichigo admits, disappointed in himself for not being as capable of inspiring homicidal rage as Renji. “It’s taking me months.”

“Cheer up,” Rukia orders him briskly. “I’m sure she’ll try to kill you eventually. Almost everyone does.”

Ichigo laughs as if that was a joke and not a simple statement of fact. Then again, Ichigo’s life in general is something of a joke. God knows Rukia is forever laughing at him.

“But back to your new hobby of attacking children,” she says.

“They need the training,” Ichigo insists. “They’re so weak, it’s embarrassing. And it’s not like they’re living safe lives. Sure, we’re gonna kill Tom for them, but his minions will still be running around loose, and we can’t do anything about them—they’re living. So these kids need to toughen the hell up so they can deal with it themselves. Right?”

Rukia sighs, but is unable to actually argue with this. “Somehow I feel there must be a better way.”

“Yeah, I don’t want to hear that from you, violent midget. You definitely trained me by beating the crap out of me every day.”

How to explain the difference between innocent, inexperienced young children and, well, Ichigo? Rukia can’t think of a way that Ichigo would understand. He’s under the impression that everyone is basically like him, and unfortunately (or fortunately), he’s managed to surround himself with friends who support that delusion.

“Never mind, fool,” she sighs, resigned. “Did you give Longbottom his present, or were you too busy beating him up for that?”

“Yeah, I gave him his present. And he cried. I think it was because of your shitty wrapping job.”

“There is nothing wrong with my present-wrapping skills!” she shouts. She doesn’t know what the hell is wrong with Ichigo’s taste, but he never appreciates any of her arts and crafts work. And she works hard at those things! He’s so ungrateful. “Why was he really crying?”

“I don’t know. Because it was perfect or something.” A pause, which Rukia suspects is caused by Ichigo struggling to express emotion in a borderline normal way. “You did good, Rukia.”

The thing is, he so rarely expresses emotion in a borderline normal way that it’s stupidly touching when he manages it. “…Thank you. I’m. I’m glad he liked it.”

“Yeah, well. He did. Man, sometimes it seems like you can’t even come to this school unless you’re homicidal, have a fucked up family life, or both.”

“And these are the children you’re choosing to train through random physical violence?”

“Keeps things interesting.”

For such a smart person, he really is a moron, and Rukia has no idea why she’s so fond of him.

* * *

There’s Defense club the day after Ichigo’s new favorite Malfoy encounter, and the whole experience is weird. For one thing, Potter’s been giving Ichigo side-eye ever since the Malfoy encounter, so presumably he knows about it and has unfathomable Potter-opinions about it. Fortunately, it’s far too late for Ichigo to start caring what Potter thinks.

For another thing, Neville has attained a level of obsessive focus and dedication that is very nearly frightening even to Ichigo, which means Ichigo may have to come up with a speech about reining it in a little. He is so unqualified for that speech. Alarmingly unqualified. God, forget it, he’ll just ask Chad to dictate a speech for him to use, he can’t do this.

And finally, there’s the Ravenclaw girl who sidles up to Ichigo after club’s over, looking furtive. Ichigo’s never had much use for her. She’s somewhere between a Ravenclaw and a Slytherin—not enough calculating, killer instinct to hold her own with the Ravenclaws, not enough feral, self-serving sneakiness to impress a Slytherin. She’s just a weaksauce imitation of a real fighter.

“You’re, er. You’re Harry Potter’s bodyguard, aren’t you?” she asks timidly.

“I am,” Ichigo agrees, unsurprised that this information has made the rounds.

“Oh.” She considers this. “Well, erm. I’ve got a friend—that is to say, what would happen if someone were to, er. My friend has a, a parent working for the Ministry, you know, and this whole DA thing could be very embarrassing, and. If my friend…told the Ministry. About the DA. What would you do?”

“I’d kick your ass,” Ichigo informs her.

“Not me, just…just a friend!” she insists.

“Okay, sure, let’s go with that. I’d kick your friend’s ass.”

“But her mother—!”

“If your ‘friend’ is so damn worried about her mother, she should never have signed up for the club in the first place,” Ichigo says. “Besides, why are you even worrying about me? You signed a magical contract with Granger. Break that contract, and I won’t need to kick your ass. I mean, I will anyway, just on principle. But it’ll be overkill.”

Her eyes go huge with fear. She really is a lousy excuse for a Ravenclaw. “What…what would happen to someone who broke the contract?”

“I have no idea,” Ichigo claims, and it’s sort of true, because he wouldn’t put it past Granger to have hidden some of the gory details from him. “And I don’t want to think about it, because Granger is the most terrifying person under twenty I’ve ever met. Who needs the nightmares?”

The girl shudders and says, “I understand.”

Given the look of sick terror on her face, Ichigo believes she might. As she should. They were all there the day Finnegan insulted Granger’s hair in the middle of a duel and she set him on fire. It’s not the kind of thing you forget.

Granger gets Ichigo’s vote for most likely future Dark Lord.

He does briefly wonder why the Ravenclaw girl chose to talk to him instead of Granger or Potter or Ron. But then it dawns on him—he’s the most approachable. He’s like a teacher, if only in the club, and by virtue of that he’s got some feeble authority and is automatically more available for questions than Granger or Ron. He also willingly interacts with club members outside club hours, which makes him more accessible than Potter. Plus he isn’t part of a tiny, impenetrable clique of three.

Ichigo is the approachable one here. Ichigo is never the approachable one.

He needs to get the hell out of this madhouse before it breaks him.

* * *

Around Easter, Ichigo notices that Umbridge hasn’t been reveling in her power as much as she once did. In fact, she’s more…jumping at small noises and screaming with incoherent rage any time anyone disagrees with her. She’s losing whatever street cred she once had, and even the Slytherins are drifting slowly but purposefully away from her. Pretending, in fact, that they’d never had anything to do with her in the first place. Like cats. It’s hilarious.

It’s not helping Umbridge’s stability that the Grey Lady has taken to silently following her around everywhere for no apparent reason—Ichigo called in his favor. And then, of course, there are the Weasley twins, who consistently go above and beyond, have an apparently unlimited supply of stink bombs, smoke bombs, and slime bombs, and are generally awesome.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Weasley sent Ichigo a chocolate egg for Easter. He has no idea what he’s supposed to send back, but still, the Weasleys in general are high on Ichigo’s list of okay people right now.

The kids, on the other hand, are busy freaking the hell out, as usual. But escaped murderers are so last week, apparently—they’re back to agonizing over Quidditch now, because someone up there hates Ichigo. (Okay, a lot of people up there hate Ichigo.) Aside from Quidditch, exams are in a month and change, which is driving Granger, at least, into hysterics. Then, too, they’re being asked to choose careers for themselves. Given that Ichigo wouldn’t trust these kids to choose his socks for him, he gets why they’re panicking about that one. And on top of all that, they’re fretting over Potter’s sad, drunk godfather.

Who has apparently shaped up a little since Ichigo last saw him. Or at least, so Mrs. Weasley’s most recent letter makes it seem.

“How could he be so irresponsible?” Granger whispers loudly, because they’re still in the Great Hall where Ron got his letter. “Where will the Order move now? I can’t believe he somehow managed to burn down Grimmauld Place, of all the ridiculous—”

Ichigo really does try not to laugh, but a snicker escapes despite his best efforts. And that’s terrible, because it brings Granger’s attention to him with laser-like intensity. “What did you do?” she hisses.

“Nothing!” Ichigo says, then decides that’s too much of a lie even for him. “I just pointed out that if he got bored, he could work off some steam by setting things on fire.”

“Your proposed solution to his boredom was arson?” Granger demands incredulously.

“Is it still arson when it’s your own house?” Ichigo asks.

“Yes,” Granger assures him. “Yes, it most certainly is.”

Ichigo shrugs. “Still doesn’t count,” he decides. “Arson has to be deliberate, right? And this was an accident.” Well, sort of an accident. He’s fairly sure no one can prove otherwise, in any case.

Was it an accident?” Granger asks suspiciously. “Was it really? Because it seems a little convenient that Snuffles and Buckbeak both just happened to be completely clear of the house when it burned down. They’re not even singed.”

“Black must’ve been taking the monster for a walk,” Ichigo suggests. “Or a flight. Or whatever.”

“Don’t call Buckbeak a monster,” Potter cuts in sharply.

“Why not?” Ichigo wonders. “Some of my best friends are monsters. Some of your best friends are monsters. Don’t be so down on monsters, Potter—we’re the most badass people around.”

“…We?” Granger repeats after a long pause.

Ichigo frowns at her. “What, did you think I was normal?”

Everyone stares at him.

“Maybe it’s a sort of English as a second language problem,” Granger tentatively suggests.

Ichigo rolls his eyes and gives up on them. Though the twins, he’s amused to note, are studiously focused on their meals and not making eye contact with anyone. They get him.

* * *

When the time seems right, the Weasley twins take to periodically casting a blink-and-you-miss-it illusion spell on Ichigo’s eyes that turn them black and yellow like his hollow eyes. At this point, Umbridge’s sanity takes an abrupt dive from ‘rapidly declining’ to ‘basically nonexistent’. In fact, by the time she decides to sit in on the Fifth Years’ career consultations, she’s being widely described as raving.

The career consultations quickly become legend. Sadly, Ichigo doesn’t get to experience the wonder first-hand, since Umbridge doesn’t come to his. Apparently she’s afraid to be in enclosed spaces with him these days. So for his consultation, he and McGonagall basically just hang out and chat about his plans to go into medicine, and about the differences between regular medicine and magic medicine. Ichigo explains in detail to McGonagall how truly, deeply messed up magical medicine is, and she laughs at his pain. It’s fun.

Nobody else has fun, though, because Umbridge goes to all their meetings. Rumor has it that she legitimately freaks out on most of the Gryffindors, maybe half the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, and even a few Slytherins. Potter reports that she got about five minutes into his meeting before diving out of her chair, grabbing his cheeks, and screaming about Sirius Black until McGonagall pried her off and kicked her out of the room.

Potter then demands to know what Ichigo’s laughing about, but Ichigo feels it is not yet time to explain.

The Umbridge situation has gotten dire enough and parents weirded out enough that the Minister actually calls Dumbledore in for a talk about it. When you have to call in the subject of your spying to tell you how your spy is doing, mentally? Yeah, you’ve got a problem.

The Minister’s pain is Ichigo’s gain, though. Dumbledore’s the closest thing to a real adult in this whole castle (which says so much about the place), so with him out of the picture, it’s basically a free-for-all, and Ichigo plans to take ruthless advantage of that.

“I need you to sabotage the entire school day,” Ichigo tells the Weasley twins as soon as Dumbledore exits the building. “Seriously, everything short of death. Unless it’s Umbridge. I don’t care if she dies.”

“You really are disturbing in every way,” George points out, though he sounds unbothered by it. “Why today?”

“Because we’re bringing down the curtain on Umbridge while Dumbledore’s out of the way. Ideally she’ll be in a really unstable state by the end of the day, because at dinner, I want you to wait until she’s looking at me, then cast an illusion to make it look like I’m wearing my mask.”

“If I may ask—what is that mask?” Fred wonders, not for the first time.

“Sure, you can ask.” Ichigo applauds the guy for his persistence. “Will you do it?”

“Of course we’ll do it,” George replies, stung. “We just want to know what you’re trying to accomplish.”

“A really public meltdown,” Ichigo says. “If we’re lucky, she’ll chase me out the door and try to kill me right outside where everyone can hear. Then they’ll have to fire her.”

“Interesting what you consider lucky, young monster,” Fred murmurs thoughtfully.

“I’m a results-oriented guy,” Ichigo informs him.

* * *

The twins are hands-down amazing. When somebody asks them for pandemonium, by god, they deliver. The school is awash in swamps and fireworks and probably hallucinogens in the water, given the things people are getting up to. There are random patches of empty darkness, and also patches of darkness filled with glowing eyes and hollow screams (because apparently the twins find Ichigo’s nightmare of a life inspiring.) They’ve even enlisted the poltergeist to help, not that Ichigo sees it himself, since it refuses to come anywhere near him.

The professors, meanwhile, are earnestly pretending they have no idea how to handle any of this. They may not be real adults, but they, too, are on Ichigo’s current list of favorite people.

It’s the best day Ichigo’s had since he got here. It’s probably the best day anybody’s had since Ichigo got here. Umbridge did a great job pissing off and alienating the last of the student body holdouts with that career day thing, and since the chaos is all clearly Umbridge-directed, even the Slytherins are being good sports about the unfortunate side-effects.

By dinner time, Umbridge is sweaty, hysterical, and genuinely on the feather-edge of madness. Her reaction when the twins cast the hollow mask illusion on Ichigo is everything he hoped for plus a few thrown plates. “Monster!” she shrieks, among other, more incoherent complaints. She goes on for quite a while, actually.

The slight, plastic sensation on Ichigo’s face indicating an illusion-in-progress fades quickly, which is lucky, because everyone turns to look at him the instant after it goes. So no one saw what Umbridge saw, and now it looks like she’s having full-on visual hallucinations.

Although, to be fair, today she would hardly be the only one. The twins are scary.

“You’re surprisingly chatty, aren’t you?” Ichigo interrupts eventually, because he said that once to Ulquiorra and then shared the memory with Umbridge, so he figures she’ll recognize the line, and also that she won’t like it.

She doesn’t, if the howl of rage and terror is anything to go by.

“Those weren’t dreams at all, were they?” Umbridge realizes, outraged. “They were memories. You cursed me to see those memories! You’re a monster! A foul beast!

“Guess you found me out,” Ichigo agrees cheerfully. Seriously, finally she catches on. It’s about time things stopped being boring around here.

“It was you,” Umbridge hisses, foaming at the mouth a little. “Oh, it was you all along! Playing the fool! Pretending not to understand! Oh, I see, I see what you’re up to now, you little—”

“Delores,” McGonagall cuts in uneasily, rising from her chair. “I really don’t think—”

“Silence!” Umbridge shouts, whipping out her wand and waving it at the dining hall in general, the whites of her eyes showing all the way around. “Don’t you see? Don’t you see what he’s done? He’s in league, yes, in league with Sirius Black!”

Uh. Wow. Okay, so, still missing the entire point, then. Interesting. Does she think foul beasts can’t come up with plans on their own? That they need some pureblood to order them around? …Yeah, that’s probably exactly what she thinks. Man, this lady.

“Oh, come now!” Flitwick tries, and good on him, getting the voice of reason out there.

“You will be silent!” Umbridge screams, because no one ever listens to the voice of reason. She throws a shield around herself and aims her wand at Ichigo, who holds his hands up in the most non-threatening style he can manage. This isn’t going quite the way he wanted. Like, he wanted her to crack, but he thought she’d have a little more restraint than to do it right here in a dining hall full of kids. (In retrospect, what the hell was he thinking? She’s never shown any signs of giving a fuck about student lives before.)

So he’s in a stupid position and it’s mostly his fault; Rukia will be so unimpressed when she hears about this. In a mostly futile attempt to minimize the damage, he moves away from the tables and into the middle of the hall. Unfortunately, he still can’t dodge anything Umbridge throws at him for fear it’ll hit some kid behind him. He really should’ve lured her out into the hallway before he tried the mask on her. Hindsight—so useless.

“As for you,” Umbridge hisses. “Crucio!

In the instant before he discovers first-hand what crucio means, Ichigo thinks, So you can fire spells through those shields! Potter really needs to learn how to do that.

And then the spell hits him and there’s nothing but pain. It feels like worms are eating his soul chain, it feels like fighting Kenpachi, it feels like Ulquiorra sticking a hand in his chest.

Ah, he thinks with the tiny part of his mind that isn’t howling in agony. This again.

* * *

Minerva wishes with all her heart that Delores hadn’t had the presence of mind to put up a shield before she started torturing Kurosaki in front of the entire school. It will take time to get it down, and by then, Kurosaki will be…

Well, she has no idea what state Kurosaki will be in. She has no idea what the Cruciatus Curse does to soul reapers. But whatever it is, it can’t be good, to judge from all the screaming.

“How long?” she asks Severus, who grimaces, which isn’t encouraging.

“Five minutes at best,” he tells her.

Five minutes of the Cruciatus. She wonders what effect that has on a mind. “We’ll have to do better than that,” she decides.

“I’m open to suggestions,” Severus snaps.

At this point, Delores pauses momentarily, presumably to check on how her torture is progressing. Ichigo remains on the ground where he’s collapsed, which is the first sensible thing he’s done all evening.

Longbottom is screaming, Minerva registers distantly. But of course he would be.

“Well, traitor,” Delores cries, obviously unhinged—not that this is a new development, but it’s never taken the form of flagrant use of Unforgiveables before. “What do you have to say for yourself now?

Incredibly, Kurosaki laughs. A very unsettling laugh, too—it’s a bit maniacal, and has a strange, cold echo behind it; not like his usual laugh at all. Nearly everyone takes a nervous step back. Eventually he stops laughing, props himself up on his elbows, and meets Delores’s eyes, utterly unafraid. “Ow,” he offers.

The boy has no sense of self-preservation whatsoever.

Delores turns positively purple with rage. “Ow?” she hisses. “Ow?

“What did you want me to say?” Kurosaki asks, struggling to stand. “It’s not like I’m sorry for anything. Oh, and it wasn’t Black messing with your stuff, just so you know. It was me.”

Minerva hopes Kurosaki knows what he’s doing, but she doubts it very much.

“Three minutes and I’m through,” Severus murmurs quietly.

“No,” Delores insists. “Impossible! No child could’ve done that, not even a monster child—no, it’s lies. You’re protecting that blood traitor! Sticking together, aren’t you, all of the same bad blood.”

“Whatever, lady,” Kurosaki mutters, now on his feet, but wobbling slightly. “Potter, toss me a stick.”

“But she’s got a shield up, Ichigo,” Granger argues, frantic. “You can’t just go charging through a shield! Especially not when you’re recovering from the Cruciatus Curse!”

“I can’t?” Kurosaki asks idly, catching the stick that Potter, bless him, tossed over with no questions asked. Actually, it’s a mop, but Kurosaki seems pleased with it. Whatever he’s planning to do with it. “Funny. I thought I could.” He angles the mop against the ground and stomps on it, breaking off the head. And suddenly the air turns somehow…thick. Oppressive. To an alarming degree. Minerva sees that most of the younger students have fallen to the floor, and she’s not sure how much longer she can remain upright herself.

“I thought soul reapers weren’t supposed to interfere with the living,” Severus grates out, clearly struggling, himself.

“Well, he is using a stick, not a sword,” Minerva gasps back to him. “I believe he’s attempting to do this the way a human would. It’s possible he hasn’t even noticed this…”

This,” Severus agrees, resigned. “And a fine excuse that will be if he manages to kill us all.”

“Oy, Ichigo,” Ron Weasley calls out weakly. “I dunno what you’re doing, mate, but…you’re kinda flattening us over here.”

“Oh.” Kurosaki looks sheepish, and the weight vanishes as if it had never been. Everyone gasps for air. “Sorry about that.”

“Monster,” Umbridge growls, wand at the ready. “Half-breed. Freak! Crucio!

Kurosaki moves just enough that the spell misses him and hits the mop handle, scorching it slightly, and then he seems almost to blur out of existence, he moves so quickly. He slams into Delores’s shield at a run, and it crumples around him like tissue paper. It is utterly unbelievable.

Incarcerous,” Minerva, Severus, and Filius all cry in unison, and Delores drops to the floor, bound beyond the ability to move more than her eyelids. And her mouth, unfortunately, but Severus puts a stop to that with a quick stupefy, cast in a tone of such malicious satisfaction that Minerva knows he must’ve been daydreaming about this moment for months. Good to find she wasn’t the only one.

Kurosaki turns to face the teachers with a downright disappointed expression. “I had her,” he complains.

Minerva grabs Severus’s wand hand before he can round out the evening by hexing Kurosaki.

* * *

Cornelius Fudge had not been having a good day even before he was strong-armed into making a humiliating apology trip to Hogwarts with Dumbledore. In fact, the past several months of his life have left a great deal to be desired. It was one thing when the mud—ah, muggleborn students started complaining about Delores. That was only to be expected, really, but it wasn’t as if their parents had a vote, was it? Of course not. So any unpleasantness in that camp could safely be ignored.

The half-blood students had been more alarming, having at least one vote attached to each of them. Voters who suddenly took to writing Cornelius in an increasingly—even alarmingly—hostile manner.

When Lucius Malfoy came to the office to question Cornelius’s judgment in permitting a violently unstable woman to educate his heir, it became clear that the situation had spiraled entirely out of control.

Really, though, Cornelius has worked with Delores for years and found her perfectly reasonable. Very strict in her beliefs, certainly, but that could only have been a positive when it came to the embarrassing Potter situation. A little biased, perhaps, on her pet topics, but honestly—who isn’t? Her quirks weren’t enough to cause a scandal. Or so Cornelius had believed.

Given that she’s evidently taken to cursing children—pureblooded children—in the hallways, it would appear he was painfully wrong about that. Perhaps children are a particular weakness of hers. He’s never seen her around children, so he couldn’t possibly have known that, no matter what various parents have taken to screaming at him in ever escalating tones. This is not his fault!

He is, however, being forced to take responsibility for it, as the conference with that blasted Dumbledore has made abundantly clear. After explaining the situation in considerable, unnecessary detail—gleeful detail, one might say—Dumbledore suggested (ordered, really, the sheer nerve of the man) that Cornelius make a conciliatory sort of visit to the school, to sack poor Delores in person and reassure the student body, or some such rot.

He really would have thought that students who could withstand Argus Filch for years would be strong enough to handle a couple of terms with a reputable Ministry employee, but no, evidently not. Instead, they’ve all run crying to their parents, thereby engendering a political disaster.

Cornelius is convinced Dumbledore is silently gloating at him the entire trip to the school. And why shouldn’t he be? One year of bad press is hardly enough to make a dent in the reputation of the Great Albus Dumbledore. It certainly won’t be enough to save Cornelius from this mess. Dumbledore has every right to gloat.

By the time they make it to the Great Hall, Cornelius’s only remaining hope for the evening is that he’ll get a decent meal once he’s dismissed Delores and given his miserable apology speech. It quickly becomes clear, however, that even that hope is too ambitious. He doubts he’ll be allowed any sort of dinner at all. Not when they step through the doors to find the students on their feet and shouting, the professors on their feet and on guard, and Delores bound and unconscious on the floor.

He is seriously considering not running for another term.

* * *

Dumbledore, predictably, rolls in after the action’s over and takes charge like he has a right. He magically seals the doors to the Great Hall, thereby trapping all the witnesses, and starts making the rounds and interrogating everybody. And all the kids (and even the professors) go back to their tables and obediently sit and wait, like everything must be fine now that Dumbledore’s back. It’s annoying. On the upside, Dumbledore brought along some little round guy who’s loudly panicking and careening from person to person like a malfunctioning Rumba, waving his hands in the air and babbling incoherently. Dumbledore should get some credit, Ichigo guesses, for providing the after-party entertainment.

Or at least the guy’s entertaining until Dumbledore introduces him as the Minister for Magic, at which point Ichigo has to deal with the fact that this dude is seriously running the magical government.

…Actually, it explains a lot.

“Minerva tells me we have you to thank for apprehending poor Delores,” Dumbledore says to Ichigo, because he can’t be straightforward to save his life.

“You’re welcome,” Ichigo replies, refusing to engage.

“Assault on a Ministry official!” the Minister burbles in distress.

“She assaulted me first,” Ichigo points out blandly, declining to admit that he’d spent months goading her into it. “And there a ton of witnesses who’ll back me up on that. Some of them even have ‘Noble and Ancient’ tacked on the front of their family names.” Ichigo’s wise to the ways of politicians.

The Minister makes a gratifying wheezing noise and shuts up.

“It does seem a bit outside your job description,” Dumbledore points out.

“What, self-defense?”

Dumbledore gives Ichigo a severe look that suggests he’s a lot less stupid than the Minister, and Ichigo should not even try that bullshit on him.

Ichigo sighs. “Nobody gave me orders on exactly how to go about bodyguarding, sir.” Not that he would’ve listened if they had. “She was a threat, and this was the best I could do from inside the castle.”

“What?” asks the Minister, wide eyes darting from Ichigo to Dumbledore and back. “What is he saying, Dumbledore? Bodyguarding? Whose bodyguard is he meant to be?”

“Oh, whose do you think, you silly man?” McGonagall snaps impatiently, because she is the greatest.

“If you were only working inside the castle,” Dumbledore says slowly, blatantly ignoring the Minister’s increasing hysteria, “then were your…teachers…working outside the castle?”

With suspiciously perfect timing, Yoruichi and Urahara take this moment to burst through the doors of the Great Hall, presumably shredding fifteen magical wards in the process. Yoruichi’s dragging something behind her, Ichigo sees. A body, in fact. The body of a guy with no nose and kind of snake-like features.

Potter gasps in shock and jumps to his feet. “Voldemort!”

There are sympathetic, echoing gasps from all around the room.

So that’s Tom Riddle. He looks very, very dead. Also bloody, and not the kind of thing you want to see in a room where you habitually eat food. His body’s leaving a shiny blood trail across the dining hall floor; no one will ever feel hungry here again.

Yoruichi drags the corpse right up to the Gryffindor table and drops it at Potter’s feet, enormously pleased with herself. Ichigo sometimes wonders if she’s actually a cat who can turn into a human, rather than the other way around.

“Yoruichi-san,” Ichigo says into the awful silence. “I’m sure there were better, less traumatizing ways to handle this.”

“What?” she demands, folding her arms and looking annoyed. “Voldemort is dead, Potter’s safe, and everybody knows Potter was right all along. I call this mission a complete success.”

That’s the moment the silence tips over the edge, and the entire hall explodes into chaos. There’s screaming, there’s babbling, there’s crying, there’s bellowing for order. It is not a smooth finale to a mission, Ichigo doesn’t care how Yoruichi wants to spin it.

Urahara is just laughing like this is the most fun he’s had in years. It probably is, the sick twist.

In the general disorder, most people don’t notice Tom twitching and starting to sit up, but Ichigo, Yoruichi, and Urahara do, because they’re trained to notice things like that, and Potter and Neville do, because Tom’s sprawled out right in front of them. The boys are the first to act—they dive over the table, and Neville stabs Tom in the gut while Potter stabs him in the throat. He’s for damn sure dead now.

Ichigo’s proud of the response time on that—he’s trained the kids well. Also, it’s lucky they were serving steak for dinner tonight, because that attack wouldn’t have worked with a dull knife. Or a fork.

The Hall’s fallen silent again, and everyone’s staring at Potter and Neville, who look pretty freaked out, themselves.

“This is why everyone tells you not to play with your food,” Ichigo informs Yoruichi, who shrugs unrepentantly. The thing with her is, when she’s on a job, she’s utterly professional, and swift and decisive kills are a part of that. But when she’s decided it’s all fun and games, she…yeah, she definitely plays with her food.

“He was mostly dead,” she drawls, like Ichigo’s being unreasonable.

So Tom was mostly dead, and then Potter helped kill him. Seems like too much of a coincidence, really. “Hey, Dumbledore,” Ichigo calls, turning back to the high table. “Think this was your prophecy being met? Because the whole thing seems kind of, you know. Destiny.”

Dumbledore nods, looking numb and shocked and pale. When, really, shouldn’t he be happy right now? Guy’s never happy when he should be happy. “Told you you didn’t need to worry about it,” Ichigo continues, which, perversely, makes the old man look even worse. Weird.

Just then, the collective shocked pause comes to an end, and the Great Hall descends into chaos yet again. Figuring that’s the end of rational discussion for the moment, Ichigo wanders over to the Gryffindor table to kick Tom a few times and make extra sure he’s actually dead.

* * *

It’s a long day, the day Tom gets killed. Everybody has the fun experience of getting interrogated by magic cops, hassled by Ministry officials, and accosted by random, grim-faced assholes wearing all black whose attitudes Ichigo does not appreciate. It doesn’t help that they seem to hate him right back with interest. The fuck is their problem?

It’s midnight before the whole thing gets wrapped up, so everyone’s tired as hell, and Ichigo still has to deal with the kids and their undoubtedly lousy reactions to him leaving. He should probably wait until morning to bail, but he refuses to spend another night in this miserable school if he doesn’t have to. It’ll be such a relief to be back home, where people have a more reasonable attitude toward property damage and don’t get hysterical over every little thing.

“Wait up,” he calls to his former bodyguardees. “I’ve got a couple things to tell you before I let you go to bed.” He notices that the instant he calls out, all the remaining students start blatantly eavesdropping. He expects this sort of thing from the Slytherins and Ravenclaws, but the Hufflepuffs? For shame.

“Things to tell us?” Granger repeats dazedly. It’s nice when she’s confused. Makes her almost not terrifying to be around.

“Yeah. For one thing, keep up your training,” Ichigo warns them. “Tom may be dead, but all his minions are still free and looking for trouble. And also revenge. Potter and Neville did technically kill the guy.”

Neville beams proudly, as he should, while Potter mutters, “Technically,” unhappily to himself.

“You’re supposed to be Harry’s bodyguard,” says Granger, who must be feeling better because she’s back to acting hostile and suspicious. “Won’t you be protecting him from Death Eaters?”

“Nope,” Ichigo announces happily. “I was only a temporary bodyguard. My job was to protect Potter from Tom, and Tom’s dead, so I’m done. I’m not supposed to mess with the living too much, anyway.”

Ron coughs something that sounds distinctly like Umbridge. If he doesn’t have the guts to say it out loud, though, Ichigo doesn’t feel the need to answer him.

“So you’re…abandoning us, basically,” Potter says, stunned.

Ichigo considers this. “Basically,” he agrees. “You’ll be fine, though. Probably.”

“You…you…” Potter trails off into a cry of rage and attacks Ichigo with the still-bloody steak knife he used to kill Tom. Kind of troubling that he refuses to let go of the thing. Ichigo debates the merits of taking it away from him for his own good.

“Mr. Potter, what are you doing?” McGonagall demands, shocked.

“Stab his eyes out, Potter!” Malfoy screams from the Slytherin table.

Ichigo’s glad to see he hasn’t lost his knack for bringing people together. Also, Potter’s gotten a lot faster. Always nice to see improvement.

* * *

Once his housemates have forcibly taken Potter’s knife away and dragged him off to bed, the rest of the goodbyes go fairly smoothly. McGonagall beams at Ichigo almost as much as Snape scowls at him, while Dumbledore still looks too upset and confused to really be processing anything. And the remaining Defense club kids actually seem sad to see Ichigo go. A few even hug him, which he’s pretty sure shouldn’t be allowed.

The Slytherins mostly pretend to ignore him, but the Nott kid waves with a little smirk, and Greengrass gives him a genuine smile, which is frightening.

The Grey Lady oozes out of a wall, smiles and nods at him, and then oozes back into the wall. Ghosts. But at least she’s happy.

Luna gives him her mailing address and tells him to write whenever he’s not busy destroying other people’s belongings and/or perceptions of reality. She proudly informs him that the muggle postman can find her house every single day but Wednesday. He carefully doesn’t ask for any details on that. It does remind him, though, that he needs to hunt down Luna’s mom and explain some things to her, because the whole Lovegood situation is way too depressing as it stands.

The Weasley twins don’t accost him until he’s left the hall, because they are the sneakiest of the Gryffindors. Yoruichi and Urahara see them coming and beam happily. Obviously they can spot their own kind. They wave at the twins and tell Ichigo they’ll wait for him outside, then they saunter out into the night through what’s left of the main doors. The main doors, which appear to have recently been hit by a missile, or something of similar destructive power.

The twins stare longingly after them. Ichigo’s pretty sure they’re the twins’ idols, which is terrifying.

“Will we be seeing you around?” Fred asks hopefully once it’s just the three of them.

“Not anytime soon if you’re lucky,” Ichigo admits.

“Shame,” George says, seeming honestly sad, which is a surprise, given the whole ‘you’re my worst nightmare’ conversation.

“You were the best entertainment we’ve had in years,” Fred agrees. “Our lives will be so empty now. We may quit school, because honestly, what’s the point?”

They seem upsettingly serious about that. It’s weird to see them anything approaching sad, and Ichigo finds he doesn’t like it.

He really isn’t supposed to tell living people about his job. But then again, the twins are…well, as Urahara would say, they’re outstanding at other people’s secrets. It’ll cheer them up, they already know more than they should, and Ichigo’s always been lousy at obeying the rules. So what the hell.

“When you die,” Ichigo tells them, “move on. Don’t hang around here; you’ll just turn into Peeves or something, and it’ll bore you. Anyway, I think you’ll like the afterlife. Sure, it can suck, but parts of it are…I mean, you guys were made for the Twelfth Division.” Ichigo pauses to consider. “Maybe try to learn some Japanese.”

“…The afterlife,” Fred repeats carefully.

“You told us you don’t know what happens to people when they die,” George accuses.

“I lied.” Ichigo shrugs unapologetically. “Twelfth Division. Try to remember that.”

“Hang on. Hang on.” Fred holds up a hand, exchanging a stunned glance with George. “Among the many, many other things wrong with this conversation—if the afterlife is where everyone who’s ever died goes, it must be huge. How are we even meant to find this…Twelfth Division? Especially if it’s for Japanese people.”

“Well…head for the district where the politicians live and ask around for me, I guess.”

“Because everybody knows about you in the afterlife,” George says incredulously.

“The politicians all do, I bet. Politicians don’t like me. And the researchers know me because I’m such a...an anomaly. So yeah. Find me, and I’ll get you a place in the Twelfth Division.” Hopefully Kurotsuchi will be dead by then. Ichigo bets he can talk Ishida into making that so. If not, he can definitely talk the twins into making it so.

“So the mask thing…?” Fred asks in fascination.

“I’ll tell you when you’re dead,” Ichigo replies.

“And he really means that,” George murmurs wonderingly, shaking his head.

“Ichigo,” Fred declares, holding out a hand to shake, “it’s been wild. And for the first time ever, I’m nearly looking forward to death, so thanks for that.”

“Anytime,” Ichigo says, shaking their hands and waving them off. They’re good guys. They almost made this horrible job fun.

Almost, but not quite. Ichigo stretches briefly, as if to shake off the experience, and walks out of Hogwarts, sincerely praying he never has to see the place again.

Well. Maybe he’ll visit the Room of Requirement sometimes.

* * *

“Your Kurosaki ruined everything,” complains a disgruntled soul reaper slumped sullenly in a chair by the fire in his office. He’s the Merlin—Merlin by title, rather than by name or magical inheritance: the head of the British Isles soul reapers. Amusingly, the historical Merlin refuses to have anything to do with him. Goes so far, in fact, as to refuse to die at all, just to avoid him.

Kyoraku Shunsui, Captain Commander of the Japanese soul reapers, sits opposite the Merlin, hands folded over his stomach, smiling benignly. “Did he? Because as far as I can see, he did everything you asked him to do.”

“You knew this would happen,” the Merlin accuses bitterly. “You knew.”

“Now, now. I assigned some of my best people to the job,” Shunsui responds, mildly affronted. “Which means we’re even now, doesn’t it?”

Honestly, a man helps you kill one giant, sea-monster-type Hollow and does a few thousand memory wipes for you afterward, and he thinks he owns you forever.

“They destroyed the Resurrection Stone!”

“Mm. You know how I feel about those experiments of yours. And you know how the former Captain Commander felt.”

“Yes, yes, the living shouldn’t have that kind of power—”

“That kind of power is actively dangerous to the souls of the living. It damages them. As you know.”

“Most souls,” the Merlin reluctantly agrees. “But a precious few souls, it elevates. It would have elevated Harry Potter’s.”

“And to enlighten one soul, you corrupt a thousand,” Shunsui says, his voice dry as sand. “Interesting choice.”

“You ordered them to do this,” the Merlin decides.

Shunsui laughs. “Them? Oh, no. Ordering those three to do anything specific is a waste of breath and a quick way to undermine your own authority. No, they did what they thought was right. Which is just what they always do, regardless of orders, pleas, logical arguments…” He trails off, smiling fondly.

“Weren’t you originally going to choose one of your captains for this job?” the Merlin demands.

“He couldn’t be spared from his duties,” Shunsui says, approximately honestly. Not that it would’ve made much difference either way. If the Merlin thinks he would’ve been happier with the outcome if Toshiro had been the one to go to magic school, he’s tragically mistaken. Toshiro would’ve done nearly the same thing as Ichigo, just with more vicious political maneuvering and fewer outright fights. Shunsui can’t decide whether that would’ve been more fun to watch or not. Each method has its charms. But Toshiro turned the assignment down point blank with extreme prejudice, so Ichigo it had to be.

It’s so nice when they’re still young and naïve and don’t realize they have the right to refuse. It was such a sad day when Toshiro outgrew that stage.

“I could recreate the Resurrection Stone, you know,” the Merlin mutters sulkily, more childish than Ichigo has ever been.

“Of course you could,” Shunsui agrees. “But do you really have the time for that? After all, you let this Voldemort situation blow up in your face; you had to call in outside help to deal with it. After a performance like that, people might start to wonder what it is you’re doing that’s so important it’s keeping you from your duties. And if you begin yet another project, well.” Shunsui beams at the Merlin’s abruptly pale face. “Some parties might suspect that a complete review of all your extracurricular activities is in order. What do you think?”

Apparently the Merlin thinks that he should thank Shunsui for all of his help, declare their debts cancelled, and hastily show him out.

There, Shunsui thinks with satisfaction as the Merlin’s office door slams shut behind him. That’ll teach the pushy brat to be more careful about calling in favors.