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Part 3

There’s Defense club the day after Ichigo’s new favorite Malfoy encounter, and the whole experience is weird. For one thing, Potter’s been giving Ichigo side-eye ever since the Malfoy encounter, so presumably he knows about it and has unfathomable Potter-opinions about it. Fortunately, it’s far too late for Ichigo to start caring what Potter thinks.

For another thing, Neville has attained a level of obsessive focus and dedication that is very nearly frightening even to Ichigo, which means Ichigo may have to come up with a speech about reining it in a little. He is so unqualified for that speech. Alarmingly unqualified. God, forget it, he’ll just ask Chad to dictate a speech for him to use, he can’t do this.

And finally, there’s the Ravenclaw girl who sidles up to Ichigo after club’s over, looking furtive. Ichigo’s never had much use for her. She’s somewhere between a Ravenclaw and a Slytherin—not enough calculating, killer instinct to hold her own with the Ravenclaws, not enough feral, self-serving sneakiness to impress a Slytherin. She’s just a weaksauce imitation of a real fighter.

“You’re, er. You’re Harry Potter’s bodyguard, aren’t you?” she asks timidly.

“I am,” Ichigo agrees, unsurprised that this information has made the rounds.

“Oh.” She considers this. “Well, erm. I’ve got a friend—that is to say, what would happen if someone were to, er. My friend has a, a parent working for the Ministry, you know, and this whole DA thing could be very embarrassing, and. If my friend…told the Ministry. About the DA. What would you do?”

“I’d kick your ass,” Ichigo informs her.

“Not me, just…just a friend!” she insists.

“Okay, sure, let’s go with that. I’d kick your friend’s ass.”

“But her mother—!”

“If your ‘friend’ is so damn worried about her mother, she should never have signed up for the club in the first place,” Ichigo says. “Besides, why are you even worrying about me? You signed a magical contract with Granger. Break that contract, and I won’t need to kick your ass. I mean, I will anyway, just on principle. But it’ll be overkill.”

Her eyes go huge with fear. She really is a lousy excuse for a Ravenclaw. “What…what would happen to someone who broke the contract?”

“I have no idea,” Ichigo claims, and it’s sort of true, because he wouldn’t put it past Granger to have hidden some of the gory details from him. “And I don’t want to think about it, because Granger is the most terrifying person under twenty I’ve ever met. Who needs the nightmares?”

The girl shudders and says, “I understand.”

Given the look of sick terror on her face, Ichigo believes she might. As she should. They were all there the day Finnegan insulted Granger’s hair in the middle of a duel and she set him on fire. It’s not the kind of thing you forget.

Granger gets Ichigo’s vote for most likely future Dark Lord.

He does briefly wonder why the Ravenclaw girl chose to talk to him instead of Granger or Potter or Ron. But then it dawns on him—he’s the most approachable. He’s like a teacher, if only in the club, and by virtue of that he’s got some feeble authority and is automatically more available for questions than Granger or Ron. He also willingly interacts with club members outside club hours, which makes him more accessible than Potter. Plus he isn’t part of a tiny, impenetrable clique of three.

Ichigo is the approachable one here. Ichigo is never the approachable one.

He needs to get the hell out of this madhouse before it breaks him.

* * *

Around Easter, Ichigo notices that Umbridge hasn’t been reveling in her power as much as she once did. In fact, she’s more…jumping at small noises and screaming with incoherent rage any time anyone disagrees with her. She’s losing whatever street cred she once had, and even the Slytherins are drifting slowly but purposefully away from her. Pretending, in fact, that they’d never had anything to do with her in the first place. Like cats. It’s hilarious.

It’s not helping Umbridge’s stability that the Grey Lady has taken to silently following her around everywhere for no apparent reason—Ichigo called in his favor. And then, of course, there are the Weasley twins, who consistently go above and beyond, have an apparently unlimited supply of stink bombs, smoke bombs, and slime bombs, and are generally awesome.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Weasley sent Ichigo a chocolate egg for Easter. He has no idea what he’s supposed to send back, but still, the Weasleys in general are high on Ichigo’s list of okay people right now.

The kids, on the other hand, are busy freaking the hell out, as usual. But escaped murderers are so last week, apparently—they’re back to agonizing over Quidditch now, because someone up there hates Ichigo. (Okay, a lot of people up there hate Ichigo.) Aside from Quidditch, exams are in a month and change, which is driving Granger, at least, into hysterics. Then, too, they’re being asked to choose careers for themselves. Given that Ichigo wouldn’t trust these kids to choose his socks for him, he gets why they’re panicking about that one. And on top of all that, they’re fretting over Potter’s sad, drunk godfather.

Who has apparently shaped up a little since Ichigo last saw him. Or at least, so Mrs. Weasley’s most recent letter makes it seem.

“How could he be so irresponsible?” Granger whispers loudly, because they’re still in the Great Hall where Ron got his letter. “Where will the Order move now? I can’t believe he somehow managed to burn down Grimmauld Place, of all the ridiculous—”

Ichigo really does try not to laugh, but a snicker escapes despite his best efforts. And that’s terrible, because it brings Granger’s attention to him with laser-like intensity. “What did you do?” she hisses.

“Nothing!” Ichigo says, then decides that’s too much of a lie even for him. “I just pointed out that if he got bored, he could work off some steam by setting things on fire.”

“Your proposed solution to his boredom was arson?” Granger demands incredulously.

“Is it still arson when it’s your own house?” Ichigo asks.

“Yes,” Granger assures him. “Yes, it most certainly is.”

Ichigo shrugs. “Still doesn’t count,” he decides. “Arson has to be deliberate, right? And this was an accident.” Well, sort of an accident. He’s fairly sure no one can prove otherwise, in any case.

Was it an accident?” Granger asks suspiciously. “Was it really? Because it seems a little convenient that Snuffles and Buckbeak both just happened to be completely clear of the house when it burned down. They’re not even singed.”

“Black must’ve been taking the monster for a walk,” Ichigo suggests. “Or a flight. Or whatever.”

“Don’t call Buckbeak a monster,” Potter cuts in sharply.

“Why not?” Ichigo wonders. “Some of my best friends are monsters. Some of your best friends are monsters. Don’t be so down on monsters, Potter—we’re the most badass people around.”

“…We?” Granger repeats after a long pause.

Ichigo frowns at her. “What, did you think I was normal?”

Everyone stares at him.

“Maybe it’s a sort of English as a second language problem,” Granger tentatively suggests.

Ichigo rolls his eyes and gives up on them. Though the twins, he’s amused to note, are studiously focused on their meals and not making eye contact with anyone. They get him.

* * *

When the time seems right, the Weasley twins take to periodically casting a blink-and-you-miss-it illusion spell on Ichigo’s eyes that turn them black and yellow like his hollow eyes. At this point, Umbridge’s sanity takes an abrupt dive from ‘rapidly declining’ to ‘basically nonexistent’. In fact, by the time she decides to sit in on the Fifth Years’ career consultations, she’s being widely described as raving.

The career consultations quickly become legend. Sadly, Ichigo doesn’t get to experience the wonder first-hand, since Umbridge doesn’t come to his. Apparently she’s afraid to be in enclosed spaces with him these days. So for his consultation, he and McGonagall basically just hang out and chat about his plans to go into medicine, and about the differences between regular medicine and magic medicine. Ichigo explains in detail to McGonagall how truly, deeply messed up magical medicine is, and she laughs at his pain. It’s fun.

Nobody else has fun, though, because Umbridge goes to all their meetings. Rumor has it that she legitimately freaks out on most of the Gryffindors, maybe half the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, and even a few Slytherins. Potter reports that she got about five minutes into his meeting before diving out of her chair, grabbing his cheeks, and screaming about Sirius Black until McGonagall pried her off and kicked her out of the room.

Potter then demands to know what Ichigo’s laughing about, but Ichigo feels it is not yet time to explain.

The Umbridge situation has gotten dire enough and parents weirded out enough that the Minister actually calls Dumbledore in for a talk about it. When you have to call in the subject of your spying to tell you how your spy is doing, mentally? Yeah, you’ve got a problem.

The Minister’s pain is Ichigo’s gain, though. Dumbledore’s the closest thing to a real adult in this whole castle (which says so much about the place), so with him out of the picture, it’s basically a free-for-all, and Ichigo plans to take ruthless advantage of that.

“I need you to sabotage the entire school day,” Ichigo tells the Weasley twins as soon as Dumbledore exits the building. “Seriously, everything short of death. Unless it’s Umbridge. I don’t care if she dies.”

“You really are disturbing in every way,” George points out, though he sounds unbothered by it. “Why today?”

“Because we’re bringing down the curtain on Umbridge while Dumbledore’s out of the way. Ideally she’ll be in a really unstable state by the end of the day, because at dinner, I want you to wait until she’s looking at me, then cast an illusion to make it look like I’m wearing my mask.”

“If I may ask—what is that mask?” Fred wonders, not for the first time.

“Sure, you can ask.” Ichigo applauds the guy for his persistence. “Will you do it?”

“Of course we’ll do it,” George replies, stung. “We just want to know what you’re trying to accomplish.”

“A really public meltdown,” Ichigo says. “If we’re lucky, she’ll chase me out the door and try to kill me right outside where everyone can hear. Then they’ll have to fire her.”

“Interesting what you consider lucky, young monster,” Fred murmurs thoughtfully.

“I’m a results-oriented guy,” Ichigo informs him.

* * *

The twins are hands-down amazing. When somebody asks them for pandemonium, by god, they deliver. The school is awash in swamps and fireworks and probably hallucinogens in the water, given the things people are getting up to. There are random patches of empty darkness, and also patches of darkness filled with glowing eyes and hollow screams (because apparently the twins find Ichigo’s nightmare of a life inspiring.) They’ve even enlisted the poltergeist to help, not that Ichigo sees it himself, since it refuses to come anywhere near him.

The professors, meanwhile, are earnestly pretending they have no idea how to handle any of this. They may not be real adults, but they, too, are on Ichigo’s current list of favorite people.

It’s the best day Ichigo’s had since he got here. It’s probably the best day anybody’s had since Ichigo got here. Umbridge did a great job pissing off and alienating the last of the student body holdouts with that career day thing, and since the chaos is all clearly Umbridge-directed, even the Slytherins are being good sports about the unfortunate side-effects.

By dinner time, Umbridge is sweaty, hysterical, and genuinely on the feather-edge of madness. Her reaction when the twins cast the hollow mask illusion on Ichigo is everything he hoped for plus a few thrown plates. “Monster!” she shrieks, among other, more incoherent complaints. She goes on for quite a while, actually.

The slight, plastic sensation on Ichigo’s face indicating an illusion-in-progress fades quickly, which is lucky, because everyone turns to look at him the instant after it goes. So no one saw what Umbridge saw, and now it looks like she’s having full-on visual hallucinations.

Although, to be fair, today she would hardly be the only one. The twins are scary.

“You’re surprisingly chatty, aren’t you?” Ichigo interrupts eventually, because he said that once to Ulquiorra and then shared the memory with Umbridge, so he figures she’ll recognize the line, and also that she won’t like it.

She doesn’t, if the howl of rage and terror is anything to go by.

“Those weren’t dreams at all, were they?” Umbridge realizes, outraged. “They were memories. You cursed me to see those memories! You’re a monster! A foul beast!

“Guess you found me out,” Ichigo agrees cheerfully. Seriously, finally she catches on. It’s about time things stopped being boring around here.

“It was you,” Umbridge hisses, foaming at the mouth a little. “Oh, it was you all along! Playing the fool! Pretending not to understand! Oh, I see, I see what you’re up to now, you little—”

“Delores,” McGonagall cuts in uneasily, rising from her chair. “I really don’t think—”

“Silence!” Umbridge shouts, whipping out her wand and waving it at the dining hall in general, the whites of her eyes showing all the way around. “Don’t you see? Don’t you see what he’s done? He’s in league, yes, in league with Sirius Black!”

Uh. Wow. Okay, so, still missing the entire point, then. Interesting. Does she think foul beasts can’t come up with plans on their own? That they need some pureblood to order them around? …Yeah, that’s probably exactly what she thinks. Man, this lady.

“Oh, come now!” Flitwick tries, and good on him, getting the voice of reason out there.

“You will be silent!” Umbridge screams, because no one ever listens to the voice of reason. She throws a shield around herself and aims her wand at Ichigo, who holds his hands up in the most non-threatening style he can manage. This isn’t going quite the way he wanted. Like, he wanted her to crack, but he thought she’d have a little more restraint than to do it right here in a dining hall full of kids. (In retrospect, what the hell was he thinking? She’s never shown any signs of giving a fuck about student lives before.)

So he’s in a stupid position and it’s mostly his fault; Rukia will be so unimpressed when she hears about this. In a mostly futile attempt to minimize the damage, he moves away from the tables and into the middle of the hall. Unfortunately, he still can’t dodge anything Umbridge throws at him for fear it’ll hit some kid behind him. He really should’ve lured her out into the hallway before he tried the mask on her. Hindsight—so useless.

“As for you,” Umbridge hisses. “Crucio!

In the instant before he discovers first-hand what crucio means, Ichigo thinks, So you can fire spells through those shields! Potter really needs to learn how to do that.

And then the spell hits him and there’s nothing but pain. It feels like worms are eating his soul chain, it feels like fighting Kenpachi, it feels like Ulquiorra sticking a hand in his chest.

Ah, he thinks with the tiny part of his mind that isn’t howling in agony. This again.

* * *

Minerva wishes with all her heart that Delores hadn’t had the presence of mind to put up a shield before she started torturing Kurosaki in front of the entire school. It will take time to get it down, and by then, Kurosaki will be…

Well, she has no idea what state Kurosaki will be in. She has no idea what the Cruciatus Curse does to soul reapers. But whatever it is, it can’t be good, to judge from all the screaming.

“How long?” she asks Severus, who grimaces, which isn’t encouraging.

“Five minutes at best,” he tells her.

Five minutes of the Cruciatus. She wonders what effect that has on a mind. “We’ll have to do better than that,” she decides.

“I’m open to suggestions,” Severus snaps.

At this point, Delores pauses momentarily, presumably to check on how her torture is progressing. Ichigo remains on the ground where he’s collapsed, which is the first sensible thing he’s done all evening.

Longbottom is screaming, Minerva registers distantly. But of course he would be.

“Well, traitor,” Delores cries, obviously unhinged—not that this is a new development, but it’s never taken the form of flagrant use of Unforgiveables before. “What do you have to say for yourself now?

Incredibly, Kurosaki laughs. A very unsettling laugh, too—it’s a bit maniacal, and has a strange, cold echo behind it; not like his usual laugh at all. Nearly everyone takes a nervous step back. Eventually he stops laughing, props himself up on his elbows, and meets Delores’s eyes, utterly unafraid. “Ow,” he offers.

The boy has no sense of self-preservation whatsoever.

Delores turns positively purple with rage. “Ow?” she hisses. “Ow?

“What did you want me to say?” Kurosaki asks, struggling to stand. “It’s not like I’m sorry for anything. Oh, and it wasn’t Black messing with your stuff, just so you know. It was me.”

Minerva hopes Kurosaki knows what he’s doing, but she doubts it very much.

“Three minutes and I’m through,” Severus murmurs quietly.

“No,” Delores insists. “Impossible! No child could’ve done that, not even a monster child—no, it’s lies. You’re protecting that blood traitor! Sticking together, aren’t you, all of the same bad blood.”

“Whatever, lady,” Kurosaki mutters, now on his feet, but wobbling slightly. “Potter, toss me a stick.”

“But she’s got a shield up, Ichigo,” Granger argues, frantic. “You can’t just go charging through a shield! Especially not when you’re recovering from the Cruciatus Curse!”

“I can’t?” Kurosaki asks idly, catching the stick that Potter, bless him, tossed over with no questions asked. Actually, it’s a mop, but Kurosaki seems pleased with it. Whatever he’s planning to do with it. “Funny. I thought I could.” He angles the mop against the ground and stomps on it, breaking off the head. And suddenly the air turns somehow…thick. Oppressive. To an alarming degree. Minerva sees that most of the younger students have fallen to the floor, and she’s not sure how much longer she can remain upright herself.

“I thought soul reapers weren’t supposed to interfere with the living,” Severus grates out, clearly struggling, himself.

“Well, he is using a stick, not a sword,” Minerva gasps back to him. “I believe he’s attempting to do this the way a human would. It’s possible he hasn’t even noticed this…”

This,” Severus agrees, resigned. “And a fine excuse that will be if he manages to kill us all.”

“Oy, Ichigo,” Ron Weasley calls out weakly. “I dunno what you’re doing, mate, but…you’re kinda flattening us over here.”

“Oh.” Kurosaki looks sheepish, and the weight vanishes as if it had never been. Everyone gasps for air. “Sorry about that.”

“Monster,” Umbridge growls, wand at the ready. “Half-breed. Freak! Crucio!

Kurosaki moves just enough that the spell misses him and hits the mop handle, scorching it slightly, and then he seems almost to blur out of existence, he moves so quickly. He slams into Delores’s shield at a run, and it crumples around him like tissue paper. It is utterly unbelievable.

Incarcerous,” Minerva, Severus, and Filius all cry in unison, and Delores drops to the floor, bound beyond the ability to move more than her eyelids. And her mouth, unfortunately, but Severus puts a stop to that with a quick stupefy, cast in a tone of such malicious satisfaction that Minerva knows he must’ve been daydreaming about this moment for months. Good to find she wasn’t the only one.

Kurosaki turns to face the teachers with a downright disappointed expression. “I had her,” he complains.

Minerva grabs Severus’s wand hand before he can round out the evening by hexing Kurosaki.

* * *

Cornelius Fudge had not been having a good day even before he was strong-armed into making a humiliating apology trip to Hogwarts with Dumbledore. In fact, the past several months of his life have left a great deal to be desired. It was one thing when the mud—ah, muggleborn students started complaining about Delores. That was only to be expected, really, but it wasn’t as if their parents had a vote, was it? Of course not. So any unpleasantness in that camp could safely be ignored.

The half-blood students had been more alarming, having at least one vote attached to each of them. Voters who suddenly took to writing Cornelius in an increasingly—even alarmingly—hostile manner.

When Lucius Malfoy came to the office to question Cornelius’s judgment in permitting a violently unstable woman to educate his heir, it became clear that the situation had spiraled entirely out of control.

Really, though, Cornelius has worked with Delores for years and found her perfectly reasonable. Very strict in her beliefs, certainly, but that could only have been a positive when it came to the embarrassing Potter situation. A little biased, perhaps, on her pet topics, but honestly—who isn’t? Her quirks weren’t enough to cause a scandal. Or so Cornelius had believed.

Given that she’s evidently taken to cursing children—pureblooded children—in the hallways, it would appear he was painfully wrong about that. Perhaps children are a particular weakness of hers. He’s never seen her around children, so he couldn’t possibly have known that, no matter what various parents have taken to screaming at him in ever escalating tones. This is not his fault!

He is, however, being forced to take responsibility for it, as the conference with that blasted Dumbledore has made abundantly clear. After explaining the situation in considerable, unnecessary detail—gleeful detail, one might say—Dumbledore suggested (ordered, really, the sheer nerve of the man) that Cornelius make a conciliatory sort of visit to the school, to sack poor Delores in person and reassure the student body, or some such rot.

He really would have thought that students who could withstand Argus Filch for years would be strong enough to handle a couple of terms with a reputable Ministry employee, but no, evidently not. Instead, they’ve all run crying to their parents, thereby engendering a political disaster.

Cornelius is convinced Dumbledore is silently gloating at him the entire trip to the school. And why shouldn’t he be? One year of bad press is hardly enough to make a dent in the reputation of the Great Albus Dumbledore. It certainly won’t be enough to save Cornelius from this mess. Dumbledore has every right to gloat.

By the time they make it to the Great Hall, Cornelius’s only remaining hope for the evening is that he’ll get a decent meal once he’s dismissed Delores and given his miserable apology speech. It quickly becomes clear, however, that even that hope is too ambitious. He doubts he’ll be allowed any sort of dinner at all. Not when they step through the doors to find the students on their feet and shouting, the professors on their feet and on guard, and Delores bound and unconscious on the floor.

He is seriously considering not running for another term.

* * *

Dumbledore, predictably, rolls in after the action’s over and takes charge like he has a right. He magically seals the doors to the Great Hall, thereby trapping all the witnesses, and starts making the rounds and interrogating everybody. And all the kids (and even the professors) go back to their tables and obediently sit and wait, like everything must be fine now that Dumbledore’s back. It’s annoying. On the upside, Dumbledore brought along some little round guy who’s loudly panicking and careening from person to person like a malfunctioning Rumba, waving his hands in the air and babbling incoherently. Dumbledore should get some credit, Ichigo guesses, for providing the after-party entertainment.

Or at least the guy’s entertaining until Dumbledore introduces him as the Minister for Magic, at which point Ichigo has to deal with the fact that this dude is seriously running the magical government.

…Actually, it explains a lot.

“Minerva tells me we have you to thank for apprehending poor Delores,” Dumbledore says to Ichigo, because he can’t be straightforward to save his life.

“You’re welcome,” Ichigo replies, refusing to engage.

“Assault on a Ministry official!” the Minister burbles in distress.

“She assaulted me first,” Ichigo points out blandly, declining to admit that he’d spent months goading her into it. “And there a ton of witnesses who’ll back me up on that. Some of them even have ‘Noble and Ancient’ tacked on the front of their family names.” Ichigo’s wise to the ways of politicians.

The Minister makes a gratifying wheezing noise and shuts up.

“It does seem a bit outside your job description,” Dumbledore points out.

“What, self-defense?”

Dumbledore gives Ichigo a severe look that suggests he’s a lot less stupid than the Minister, and Ichigo should not even try that bullshit on him.

Ichigo sighs. “Nobody gave me orders on exactly how to go about bodyguarding, sir.” Not that he would’ve listened if they had. “She was a threat, and this was the best I could do from inside the castle.”

“What?” asks the Minister, wide eyes darting from Ichigo to Dumbledore and back. “What is he saying, Dumbledore? Bodyguarding? Whose bodyguard is he meant to be?”

“Oh, whose do you think, you silly man?” McGonagall snaps impatiently, because she is the greatest.

“If you were only working inside the castle,” Dumbledore says slowly, blatantly ignoring the Minister’s increasing hysteria, “then were your…teachers…working outside the castle?”

With suspiciously perfect timing, Yoruichi and Urahara take this moment to burst through the doors of the Great Hall, presumably shredding fifteen magical wards in the process. Yoruichi’s dragging something behind her, Ichigo sees. A body, in fact. The body of a guy with no nose and kind of snake-like features.

Potter gasps in shock and jumps to his feet. “Voldemort!”

There are sympathetic, echoing gasps from all around the room.

So that’s Tom Riddle. He looks very, very dead. Also bloody, and not the kind of thing you want to see in a room where you habitually eat food. His body’s leaving a shiny blood trail across the dining hall floor; no one will ever feel hungry here again.

Yoruichi drags the corpse right up to the Gryffindor table and drops it at Potter’s feet, enormously pleased with herself. Ichigo sometimes wonders if she’s actually a cat who can turn into a human, rather than the other way around.

“Yoruichi-san,” Ichigo says into the awful silence. “I’m sure there were better, less traumatizing ways to handle this.”

“What?” she demands, folding her arms and looking annoyed. “Voldemort is dead, Potter’s safe, and everybody knows Potter was right all along. I call this mission a complete success.”

That’s the moment the silence tips over the edge, and the entire hall explodes into chaos. There’s screaming, there’s babbling, there’s crying, there’s bellowing for order. It is not a smooth finale to a mission, Ichigo doesn’t care how Yoruichi wants to spin it.

Urahara is just laughing like this is the most fun he’s had in years. It probably is, the sick twist.

In the general disorder, most people don’t notice Tom twitching and starting to sit up, but Ichigo, Yoruichi, and Urahara do, because they’re trained to notice things like that, and Potter and Neville do, because Tom’s sprawled out right in front of them. The boys are the first to act—they dive over the table, and Neville stabs Tom in the gut while Potter stabs him in the throat. He’s for damn sure dead now.

Ichigo’s proud of the response time on that—he’s trained the kids well. Also, it’s lucky they were serving steak for dinner tonight, because that attack wouldn’t have worked with a dull knife. Or a fork.

The Hall’s fallen silent again, and everyone’s staring at Potter and Neville, who look pretty freaked out, themselves.

“This is why everyone tells you not to play with your food,” Ichigo informs Yoruichi, who shrugs unrepentantly. The thing with her is, when she’s on a job, she’s utterly professional, and swift and decisive kills are a part of that. But when she’s decided it’s all fun and games, she…yeah, she definitely plays with her food.

“He was mostly dead,” she drawls, like Ichigo’s being unreasonable.

So Tom was mostly dead, and then Potter helped kill him. Seems like too much of a coincidence, really. “Hey, Dumbledore,” Ichigo calls, turning back to the high table. “Think this was your prophecy being met? Because the whole thing seems kind of, you know. Destiny.”

Dumbledore nods, looking numb and shocked and pale. When, really, shouldn’t he be happy right now? Guy’s never happy when he should be happy. “Told you you didn’t need to worry about it,” Ichigo continues, which, perversely, makes the old man look even worse. Weird.

Just then, the collective shocked pause comes to an end, and the Great Hall descends into chaos yet again. Figuring that’s the end of rational discussion for the moment, Ichigo wanders over to the Gryffindor table to kick Tom a few times and make extra sure he’s actually dead.

* * *

It’s a long day, the day Tom gets killed. Everybody has the fun experience of getting interrogated by magic cops, hassled by Ministry officials, and accosted by random, grim-faced assholes wearing all black whose attitudes Ichigo does not appreciate. It doesn’t help that they seem to hate him right back with interest. The fuck is their problem?

It’s midnight before the whole thing gets wrapped up, so everyone’s tired as hell, and Ichigo still has to deal with the kids and their undoubtedly lousy reactions to him leaving. He should probably wait until morning to bail, but he refuses to spend another night in this miserable school if he doesn’t have to. It’ll be such a relief to be back home, where people have a more reasonable attitude toward property damage and don’t get hysterical over every little thing.

“Wait up,” he calls to his former bodyguardees. “I’ve got a couple things to tell you before I let you go to bed.” He notices that the instant he calls out, all the remaining students start blatantly eavesdropping. He expects this sort of thing from the Slytherins and Ravenclaws, but the Hufflepuffs? For shame.

“Things to tell us?” Granger repeats dazedly. It’s nice when she’s confused. Makes her almost not terrifying to be around.

“Yeah. For one thing, keep up your training,” Ichigo warns them. “Tom may be dead, but all his minions are still free and looking for trouble. And also revenge. Potter and Neville did technically kill the guy.”

Neville beams proudly, as he should, while Potter mutters, “Technically,” unhappily to himself.

“You’re supposed to be Harry’s bodyguard,” says Granger, who must be feeling better because she’s back to acting hostile and suspicious. “Won’t you be protecting him from Death Eaters?”

“Nope,” Ichigo announces happily. “I was only a temporary bodyguard. My job was to protect Potter from Tom, and Tom’s dead, so I’m done. I’m not supposed to mess with the living too much, anyway.”

Ron coughs something that sounds distinctly like Umbridge. If he doesn’t have the guts to say it out loud, though, Ichigo doesn’t feel the need to answer him.

“So you’re…abandoning us, basically,” Potter says, stunned.

Ichigo considers this. “Basically,” he agrees. “You’ll be fine, though. Probably.”

“You…you…” Potter trails off into a cry of rage and attacks Ichigo with the still-bloody steak knife he used to kill Tom. Kind of troubling that he refuses to let go of the thing. Ichigo debates the merits of taking it away from him for his own good.

“Mr. Potter, what are you doing?” McGonagall demands, shocked.

“Stab his eyes out, Potter!” Malfoy screams from the Slytherin table.

Ichigo’s glad to see he hasn’t lost his knack for bringing people together. Also, Potter’s gotten a lot faster. Always nice to see improvement.

* * *

Once his housemates have forcibly taken Potter’s knife away and dragged him off to bed, the rest of the goodbyes go fairly smoothly. McGonagall beams at Ichigo almost as much as Snape scowls at him, while Dumbledore still looks too upset and confused to really be processing anything. And the remaining Defense club kids actually seem sad to see Ichigo go. A few even hug him, which he’s pretty sure shouldn’t be allowed.

The Slytherins mostly pretend to ignore him, but the Nott kid waves with a little smirk, and Greengrass gives him a genuine smile, which is frightening.

The Grey Lady oozes out of a wall, smiles and nods at him, and then oozes back into the wall. Ghosts. But at least she’s happy.

Luna gives him her mailing address and tells him to write whenever he’s not busy destroying other people’s belongings and/or perceptions of reality. She proudly informs him that the muggle postman can find her house every single day but Wednesday. He carefully doesn’t ask for any details on that. It does remind him, though, that he needs to hunt down Luna’s mom and explain some things to her, because the whole Lovegood situation is way too depressing as it stands.

The Weasley twins don’t accost him until he’s left the hall, because they are the sneakiest of the Gryffindors. Yoruichi and Urahara see them coming and beam happily. Obviously they can spot their own kind. They wave at the twins and tell Ichigo they’ll wait for him outside, then they saunter out into the night through what’s left of the main doors. The main doors, which appear to have recently been hit by a missile, or something of similar destructive power.

The twins stare longingly after them. Ichigo’s pretty sure they’re the twins’ idols, which is terrifying.

“Will we be seeing you around?” Fred asks hopefully once it’s just the three of them.

“Not anytime soon if you’re lucky,” Ichigo admits.

“Shame,” George says, seeming honestly sad, which is a surprise, given the whole ‘you’re my worst nightmare’ conversation.

“You were the best entertainment we’ve had in years,” Fred agrees. “Our lives will be so empty now. We may quit school, because honestly, what’s the point?”

They seem upsettingly serious about that. It’s weird to see them anything approaching sad, and Ichigo finds he doesn’t like it.

He really isn’t supposed to tell living people about his job. But then again, the twins are…well, as Urahara would say, they’re outstanding at other people’s secrets. It’ll cheer them up, they already know more than they should, and Ichigo’s always been lousy at obeying the rules. So what the hell.

“When you die,” Ichigo tells them, “move on. Don’t hang around here; you’ll just turn into Peeves or something, and it’ll bore you. Anyway, I think you’ll like the afterlife. Sure, it can suck, but parts of it are…I mean, you guys were made for the Twelfth Division.” Ichigo pauses to consider. “Maybe try to learn some Japanese.”

“…The afterlife,” Fred repeats carefully.

“You told us you don’t know what happens to people when they die,” George accuses.

“I lied.” Ichigo shrugs unapologetically. “Twelfth Division. Try to remember that.”

“Hang on. Hang on.” Fred holds up a hand, exchanging a stunned glance with George. “Among the many, many other things wrong with this conversation—if the afterlife is where everyone who’s ever died goes, it must be huge. How are we even meant to find this…Twelfth Division? Especially if it’s for Japanese people.”

“Well…head for the district where the politicians live and ask around for me, I guess.”

“Because everybody knows about you in the afterlife,” George says incredulously.

“The politicians all do, I bet. Politicians don’t like me. And the researchers know me because I’m such anomaly. So yeah. Find me, and I’ll get you a place in the Twelfth Division.” Hopefully Kurotsuchi will be dead by then. Ichigo bets he can talk Ishida into making that so. If not, he can definitely talk the twins into making it so.

“So the mask thing…?” Fred asks in fascination.

“I’ll tell you when you’re dead,” Ichigo replies.

“And he really means that,” George murmurs wonderingly, shaking his head.

“Ichigo,” Fred declares, holding out a hand to shake, “it’s been wild. And for the first time ever, I’m nearly looking forward to death, so thanks for that.”

“Anytime,” Ichigo says, shaking their hands and waving them off. They’re good guys. They almost made this horrible job fun.

Almost, but not quite. Ichigo stretches briefly, as if to shake off the experience, and walks out of Hogwarts, sincerely praying he never has to see the place again.

Well. Maybe he’ll visit the Room of Requirement sometimes.

* * *

“Your Kurosaki ruined everything,” complains a disgruntled soul reaper slumped sullenly in a chair by the fire in his office. He’s the Merlin—Merlin by title, rather than by name or magical inheritance: the head of the British Isles soul reapers. Amusingly, the historical Merlin refuses to have anything to do with him. Goes so far, in fact, as to refuse to die at all, just to avoid him.

Kyoraku Shunsui, Captain Commander of the Japanese soul reapers, sits opposite the Merlin, hands folded over his stomach, smiling benignly. “Did he? Because as far as I can see, he did everything you asked him to do.”

“You knew this would happen,” the Merlin accuses bitterly. “You knew.”

“Now, now. I assigned some of my best people to the job,” Shunsui responds, mildly affronted. “Which means we’re even now, doesn’t it?”

Honestly, a man helps you kill one giant, sea-monster-type Hollow and does a few thousand memory wipes for you afterward, and he thinks he owns you forever.

“They destroyed the Resurrection Stone!”

“Mm. You know how I feel about those experiments of yours. And you know how the former Captain Commander felt.”

“Yes, yes, the living shouldn’t have that kind of power—”

“That kind of power is actively dangerous to the souls of the living. It damages them. As you know.”

“Most souls,” the Merlin reluctantly agrees. “But a precious few souls, it elevates. It would have elevated Harry Potter’s.”

“And to enlighten one soul, you corrupt a thousand,” Shunsui says, his voice dry as sand. “Interesting choice.”

“You ordered them to do this,” the Merlin decides.

Shunsui laughs. “Them? Oh, no. Ordering those three to do anything specific is a waste of breath and a quick way to undermine your own authority. No, they did what they thought was right. Which is just what they always do, regardless of orders, pleas, logical arguments…” He trails off, smiling fondly.

“Weren’t you originally going to choose one of your captains for this job?” the Merlin demands.

“He couldn’t be spared from his duties,” Shunsui says, approximately honestly. Not that it would’ve made much difference either way. If the Merlin thinks he would’ve been happier with the outcome if Toshiro had been the one to go to magic school, he’s tragically mistaken. Toshiro would’ve done nearly the same thing as Ichigo, just with more vicious political maneuvering and fewer outright fights. Shunsui can’t decide whether that would’ve been more fun to watch or not. Each method has its charms. But Toshiro turned the assignment down point blank with extreme prejudice, so Ichigo it had to be.

It’s so nice when they’re still young and naïve and don’t realize they have the right to refuse. It was such a sad day when Toshiro outgrew that stage.

“I could recreate the Resurrection Stone, you know,” the Merlin mutters sulkily, more childish than Ichigo has ever been.

“Of course you could,” Shunsui agrees. “But do you really have the time for that? After all, you let this Voldemort situation blow up in your face; you had to call in outside help to deal with it. After a performance like that, people might start to wonder what it is you’re doing that’s so important it’s keeping you from your duties. And if you begin yet another project, well.” Shunsui beams at the Merlin’s abruptly pale face. “Some parties might suspect that a complete review of all your extracurricular activities is in order. What do you think?”

Apparently the Merlin thinks that he should thank Shunsui for all of his help, declare their debts cancelled, and hastily show him out.

There, Shunsui thinks with satisfaction as the Merlin’s office door slams shut behind him. That’ll teach the pushy brat to be more careful about calling in favors.


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