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[personal profile] metisket

The last chapter, in which Ichigo decides he's been holding back too much, and stops doing that.

Obviously, there are explosions.

Bleach and Harry Potter do not belong to me. SADNESS.


Chapter 3


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.


Part 2
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