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Part 2


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.


Part 3

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