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Part 2


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.


Part 3
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