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~broken~

A little boy with hair as bright as his late Mother’s sat on the riverbank and stared out at the water.

This is where she died.

This is where he killed her.

A month ago.

A month since his world turned upside down and lost all color. Lost all warmth.

His birthday was two days ago. His dad tried to celebrate. His sisters asked where Mommy was. Ichigo didn’t cry anymore.

He ate his cake and opened the presents. He recognized the ones his Mom had gotten him – most of them. Distantly, he wondered what next year’s presents would be like. His Dad had weird taste. After the cake he watched his sisters play for a while then he went to bed. He didn’t sleep. Every time he tried he saw his mother’s blood, he saw the monster’s face, he felt the weight of his Mom’s body sheltering his when she died to save him.

His dad woke him up the next morning by yelling his name and kicking him out of bed. He had a huge smile on his face, like it was a game. When Ichigo tried to hide, his dad picked him up by the collar and tossed him into the hallway.

His dad kicked him at dinner. It didn’t hurt very much, so he must have pulled the kick. Then he asked when Ichigo was going back to the dojo for karate lessons.

They’d been walking home from the dojo when he’d seen the girl he thought was going to fall in the river. The girl ghost, who had been bait. For them, from the monster. He hated going to the dojo. He hated karate.

He didn't answer his dad's question.

This morning his dad kicked him out of bed again. He said it was training, and Ichigo had to get strong and be a manly hero.

Ichigo thought maybe it was punishment, because he killed his Mom with his stupidity. He didn’t say so.

His dad punched him again at lunch, and when Karin yelled at him for it, his dad said it was Ichigo’s fault for not hitting him back.

He couldn’t even hit Tatsuki, and now his dad wanted him to hit him back? Ducking wasn’t good enough?

He missed his Mom so much it hurt to breathe.

~enough~

A short, underfed teen with eyes as bright as his late Mother’s sat in a room like a cell and stared out at the sunset.

He had been abandoned.

Not betrayed, although it felt a little like that. They hadn’t turned on him, those who he had called family of friends.

That had been left to the world he’d entered four confusing, painful years before.

His friends, his godfather, had simply shut him out. Turned away when he needed them to turn toward him. Left him in silence, when he needed reassurance and support. Left him to his nightmares with no one who cared to listen.

After weeks of sending letters and getting no responses, of listening to the muggle news and hearing nothing, of being fed so little he had to steal food overnight, he’d reached his limit. He knew what had happened when Cedric was murdered, when he was tortured and used to bring back the demonic Voldemort. He needed to find out was happening now.

Two days earlier he’d watched Hedwig wing her way toward London, knuts clutched in her talons, to buy a Daily Prophet. She hadn’t come back.

He knew she wasn’t dead. He could feel her, as he had ever since she’d come into his life. She was angry, upset, but she was still there.

They had taken even her from him.

At five in the morning of the third day of her absence, he donned a hooded black robe, then wrapped himself in his invisibility cloak. Silently crept into the garage and slid into the back seat. Three hours later when Vernon drove into town, he had an unnoticed passenger. When he stopped for the second breakfast Petunia didn’t know he had every morning, he never noticed the door to his car open behind him.

It wasn’t a long walk to the train station. Once there, Harry didn’t bother buying a ticket. He dodged on behind a corpulent woman carrying several bags, perching himself on a corner out of the way of other passengers’ feet and elbows.

He hopped off at Charing Cross and wove through the foot traffic to the Leaky Cauldron. Again, he waited until he could sneak in.

All those nights creeping around Hogwarts fighting for his life were really coming in handy.

He didn’t touch the wand stuffed in his pocket. He didn’t know how underage magic was tracked, and he’d already suffered for Dobby. He wasn’t taking any chances. He followed a snooty wizard dressed like a Regency dandy through the back brick wall and out into Diagon Alley.

It looked completely normal. No sign of an impending doom via Dark Lord. It was confusing, but then, so was most of the magical world he’d seen. He hunched down under his invisibility cloak and headed down the walkway, avoiding pedestrians and searching out a newspaper. It didn’t take long.

On a table outside a small café, next to the dirty dishes and the small stack of knuts – someone was a poor tipper – he saw an abandoned newspaper. He peered around cautiously. Nobody appeared to be paying attention. Still he was very careful as he walked past, snatching the paper and whipping it under his cloak before hurrying away, dodging all contact with the shoppers bustling past.

There were times when tunnel vision, common among wizards and witches, was a blessing. He grinned as he ducked into a nearby alley and settled himself down under his cloak to read the paper.

The grin didn’t last very long.

The complete morons. Not only were they not preparing, they hadn’t believed him, or Dumbledore. Worse… worse, they were shredding them both in the so-called news stories.

Both of them, but mainly him. Harry felt his insides turn to ice as he read. He forced himself to see past the first page, the insults, the derogatory commentary on his character and his sanity. For once, he forced himself to look past the surface and see what was underneath.

By calling him a delusional attention-seeking probable murderer, they could, and would, ignore the truth until it was too late. They would give Voldemort the time and space he needed to build up his strength, gather followers, make alliances, and make his move.

When it finally came out in the open, they would do as they had done with Harry ever since he survived the killing curse. Public opinion would turn on a dime, and just as it had after he’d nearly died at the end of the parselmouth year, he’d go from being vilified to being the hero. They’d expect him to put his neck on the block for them again, willingly, happily, to sacrifice himself for the sheep that the day before had called him evil and worthless.

He let his head fall back to rest on the brick wall he was leaning against. The wizarding world was a lot like Ron. Quite willing to be his friend when he was in the spotlight and everyone loved him. Then turning his back, calling him a liar, not even telling him about dragons, for god’s sake, but letting him walk into a death arena completely unprepared.

Thank god for Hagrid.

Second and Fourth year had opened Harry’s eyes to a lot of things. Ron’s fair weather friend personality, for example. The utter abandon with which wizarding folk jumped to the worst possible conclusions, and the tenacity with which they held their mistaken beliefs, not to mention the lengths they’d go to make miserable the life of anyone they felt had somehow wronged them – namely Harry. The idiocy of the magical government, and their complete lack of care for how their stupidity ruined people’s lives.

Albus Dumbledore’s incompetence, as a headmaster, a mentor, and a protector.

He looked back down at the newspaper, phrases popping out at him. His name was being used as a synonym for a liar, a cheat, a madman. Their world, and it was theirs because he had never felt he belonged in it, past that first heady rush of reaching Hogwarts, was about to crumble around their ears, and all they could do was tear down a teenaged boy.

He closed his eyes and tried to think. It was just going to get worse, he knew that. He’d seen it, lived through it before, though being called the next dark lord by a bunch of school children was mild compared to what the adult wizards and witches were doing now. He’d barely survived this past year.

No matter what anyone said, his parents hadn’t given their lives for the wizarding world. They’d died for Harry, so he could live.

Sticking around here, just so these idiots could throw him at a full-powered Voldemort once they finally figured out what was going on, would be spitting on his parents’ sacrifice.

At one time, when he was even younger and a lot more naïve, he would have done it for his friends. But his friends had abandoned him. His godfather had told him to stay in Dursley hell and keep quiet. The only man who he might consider his uncle, though that was iffy given the years Lupin could have approached him and didn’t, was as silent as his friends. Hell, they were even holding his owl hostage.

Time for a new plan.

The newspaper fluttered in the breeze as he left it, his mind already on other things. He had grown up alone, fending for himself, learning from an early age that he couldn’t trust anyone to take care of him. He’d made the mistake of forgetting that in the excitement of a new world and the hope that it would be better.

It hadn’t been.

His friends weren’t the support he’d needed in the last few years, nor the support he desperately needed now. Hermione was too blind a follower of those who had proven not to have Harry’s best interests at heart – Dumbledore – and Ron had proven he wouldn’t be around when the going got difficult.

The going was always difficult around Harry, and it would just get more so.

His godfather had run after vengeance rather than care for him as an infant. Now, when he needed an adult, any adult, to trust, Sirius was hiding. A small resentful voice in the back of Harry’s head whispered that Sirius was doing what Sirius would always do, act without thought, and follow those he shouldn’t – if Dumbledore really cared, he’d have gotten Sirius a trial over a decade ago.

If Dumbledore cared, he would have done something about the Dursleys. Would not have let Snape get away with the crap he had for years. Would not have endangered the entire school by holding the Philosopher’s Stone in Hogwarts.

Would not have thrown Harry to the wolves with the Triwizard Tournament.

No, Harry couldn’t count on Dumbledore, or Sirius, or Lupin, or Hermione, and certainly not Ron. Maybe the twins, but that would bring in Molly, and she followed Dumbledore like he was Jesus.

With no one he could count on in the muggle world, and no one he could rely on in the wizarding world, he wondered why on earth he was staying here.

Ducking back through the Leaky Cauldron and dodging bodies all the way back to the tube station, he thought deeply through two exchanges and a bus trip that dropped him off at Greater Whinging high street, keeping just enough attention focused to ensure no one discovered his presence. It took him an hour to walk back to his Dursley prison, and by the time he finally made it up the stairs to his cell, he had a plan.

Petunia didn’t scream at him for not being around that day, much, but she also didn’t feed him, as had become routine. He waited through the night, ignoring the hunger pangs with the ease of long practice, then once more before dawn, he made his move.

Gathering up his precious belongings, his photo album, his flute, his map, his broom, he dressed in the only clothing he had that fit, his school uniform. He pulled on his latest Weasley jumper, that still fit nicely, and bundled up his hooded robe along with a cap and his wand. Emptying his book bag, he stuffed everything in but the broom. He held that close beside him, then wrapped himself once more in his invisibility cloak and waited in the garage for it to open.

Vernon was as oblivious as always. An hour later Harry was back in London. He snuck into the Leaky Cauldron, followed a pair of chatting women through the alley wall, and ducked into a nook behind a shop. The cloak came off, the robe went on, and he pulled the hood up over his head.

Gringotts was a short walk away. Early in the morning, the lines were short, and soon Harry stared up at a grumpy, beady-eyed goblin.

“I need information about my vault, please,” he said, pushing his hood back just far enough to show his scar.

The goblin narrowed his eyes. “Key,” he demanded.

Harry glared right back. “Check my blood,” he requested, not sure if it would work. To his surprise, the goblin nodded. They stared at each other for a moment before the goblin snorted.

“Give me your hand then, wizard!”

It was a stretch, but Harry could just reach. The goblin grabbed his wrist and yanked it further up, taking Harry up to his tiptoes. He gritted his teeth against the pain and blanked his face.

He was used to bullies, after all. Giving them the satisfaction of a reaction only encouraged them.

The goblin gave him a look that might have been approving, taken with a squint and a large grain of salt. Then he stabbed the steel tip of his quill into the fleshy part of Harry’s palm.

It hurt like a bitch, but he’d had much worse. Like, say, a basilisk putting a fang through his arm. He had a ridiculous pain tolerance level, all things considered.

Harry stared at the goblin as it squeezed his hand, dripping blood onto a small ledger. The goblin grunted once, then brushed the feather end of his quill over the puncture. It healed immediately, though it still ached. Letting go of Harry’s wrist, the goblin picked up the ledger and handed it to him. Then he looked over Harry’s head and barked, “Next!”

Right. Okay. Harry took the ledger over to one of the benches along the side of the bank, and opened the cover.

It was a line-item transaction ledger. Embedded in the underside of the cover was a small gold key. On the top line was a ten galleon fee withdrawal, dated one minute prior. At the far right of the line was a number that was much, much larger than Harry expected.

Good. That would help.

He took the time to look through the ledger and discovered a few things. For one, under his name were the words Emancipated Minor, and the date. Halloween, the previous year.

The night the Goblet spat out his name.

Apparently, he’d become the legal equivalent of an adult that night, and none of the actual adults involved in the fiasco had cared to tell him.

For another, he was relatively rich. The Potter family had one vault, called the Trust vault until Harry was emancipated, then the Family vault. He had one property, a family manor in Wales that was listed as Uninhabitable Due to War Damage, and an entry of a writ of eminent domain, in which a cottage in Godric’s Hollow was taken by the Ministry for a nominal fee of one hundred galleons.

Harry had a feeling he’d been robbed. Considering everything else the Ministry had done to him, this was not surprising.

He read further. The vault held money and a few artifacts. Another vault was listed as Lost when the Manor was destroyed. Yet another thing Voldemort had taken from him. Near the end of the ledger was a list of approved parties to access the vault, entries for each time they had done so, and amounts removed.

Dumbledore. Annually, from 1981 to 1994. He was listed as Wizarding Guardian.

Funny. Harry had never heard of him before he finally got his letter. The old man hadn’t done a very good job of guarding him, either, considering everything that had happened to Harry in his short, eventful life. He wondered if the galleons had gone into Dumbledore’s pocket or Vernon’s, and decided, since he’d never seen any benefit from them, it didn’t matter. They were stolen, regardless of the intended purpose. Another black mark against Dumbledore.

Weasley Matriarch, August of 1992. 1993. 1994. Perhaps for his supplies, although he hadn’t gotten any spending money any of those years as he was still working off the bit he’d taken first year. He also didn’t think his supplies were nearly that much. It looked like her hospitality might be more professional and less heartfelt than he’d ever imagined. He knew she had a lot of mouths to feed, and he was just one more. If she’d asked, he’d have happily given, but she never asked.

Snape, Severus, of all people. Monthly from September until June, 1994. Harry stared at the entry for a long moment, memories of the Shack and teeth and frenzied eyes in a wild wolf, then sad eyes in a defeated man. It would appear he’d subsidized Remus Lupin’s wolfbane potion. Those months he took it, anyway. He guessed it wasn’t part of the Hogwarts employee benefit plan. It might have been funny if it wasn’t pathetic.

McGonagall, Minerva. 1993. The size of that withdrawal made his eyes widen. What on earth would his Head of House need to buy out of his pocket that would cost that much? A house? His breath caught.

A broom.

Of course. Broom charms were proprietary and secret. No matter what kind of skills Master Flitwick had, while he would have been able to strip Harry’s firebolt, he wouldn’t know how to rebuild what he’d torn apart. The firebolt he had strapped to his back under his invisibility cloak wasn’t the one Sirius had bought him.

It was the one McGonagall had bought, using Harry’s money, to replace the one she and Flitwick had destroyed.

On the grand scale, it was a minor, if expensive, betrayal of trust. Given the amount of betrayal he’d suffered at the variety of hands of those who were supposedly on his side, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Fuck them all.

The nebulous plan floating through his mind since he’d seen the Prophet the previous day solidified so suddenly it was a wonder there wasn’t an audible snap. He skimmed through the ledger one more time, concentrating fiercely on the very small print at the end that covered vault regulations, then stood and went back in line – to a different goblin.

He presented the key he’d gotten in the ledger. “I need to visit my vault, please.” His voice was shaking slightly with fury.

The goblin widened its eyes fractionally, then called, “Griphook!”

Harry nodded once then marched off to follow the small figure waving imperiously at him. He didn’t speak a word all the way down the hairpin track to his vault. Once there, he handed the key to Griphook and stood to face the vault. The goblin made a strange gesture at the vault with the key and handed it back. Harry replaced it in the snug opening in the ledger and walked into his vault.

It was enlightening. The Potters hadn’t kept many material goods in their vault, apparently they didn’t trust Gringotts as much as most of the British wizarding did. Unfortunately the loss of the vault at the family manor had destroyed what they’d tried to save. But they’d also been a small family for a long time, and were prepared for an unprepared heir to walk in needing guidance. There was a grimoire, a bottomless, weightless enchanted bag, some hand-written books, an oddly carved mahogany wand that felt warm in his hand and easily performed a shifting spell when he tried it, and many piles of galleons.

One galleon would keep a vault open.

An open vault would avoid paperwork that could be traced.

Thirty sickles would sent a direct message to the next person who tried to help themselves to his inheritance.

Over nine hours later he walked out again. Griphook was still standing there, looking like he was about to explode with temper and spite.

Harry ignored him, got in the cart, and waited for the goblin to join him. He ignored the muttered curses about inconsiderate stupid humans behind him and endured the rocketing trip back to the top. He had to hold his hood on to keep it from flying off, whipping his robe with it, several times. Once there, he turned, handed Griphook a galleon, and said, “Thank you.” Then he got into line one last time, and exchanged a thousand galleons for a mixture of pounds, marks, and francs.

Griphook was still standing there, staring at him, when he exited the bank.

He had one stop to make before leaving. They needed to know what they’d done.

Walking into the offices of the Daily Prophet, he asked for the editor. The girl at the desk scoffed at him. He pushed his hood back just enough to show his scar.

Her reaction was much more impressive than the goblin teller’s, as she squeaked loudly and fell off her stool.

That brought several people up to see what the commotion was about. He smirked when he saw Rita Skeeter’s ugly face in the mix, along with an older man carrying an air of self-importance he would bet was the editor.

He blanked his expression, and pushed back his hood, showing his face. A babble of talk broke out. He held up his wand. Everyone stopped speaking and stared at him. In the silence, it was easy to hear his words.

“This is your fault,” he said quietly. Then he wrapped his fingers around each end of his wand and brought it down hard on the edge of the front counter.

The crack of it breaking was like a rifle shot in the stillness.

He then laid the two pieces of his wand on the counter, a tuft of red phoenix feather poking forlornly out the ragged edge. He saw a flashbulb go off from the corner of his eye, before he turned on his heel and walked out the door. No one stopped him.

No one moved at all.

A quick step around the corner, and the invisibility cloak covered him and the bag carrying all his worldly possessions once more.

He focused intently on exactly what he needed to do from that moment throughout his escape. He would think about the pain later. He had to survive now.

He wriggled out of his heavy robe and pushed it into the bottomless bag before heading once more for the tube station. It was the height of tourist season, so it wasn’t easy sneaking on the tube, weaving his way through King’s Cross, and making his way to the Chunnel train. It was the first summer the new link to France was running, so the crowds were thick, but Harry was determined.

He hid in the toilet for most of the trip, walking out once and, under cover of his cloak, stealing some food. He then walked through the train car as if he belonged there until he got to another toilet, where he locked himself in and ate. It wasn’t sanitary, but he’d lived in much worse… like his cupboard.

An hour or so into the trip, he propped himself behind the coats covering one of the seats and stared out the window into blackness. Underwater was boring, but he couldn’t afford to fall asleep. He couldn’t use magic yet, either. He’d tried the warm wand in the vault, and it had responded to him, but he didn’t know how magic would interfere with muggle technology, and speeding along the bottom of the Strait of Dover wasn’t a good place to find out.

By the time they arrived in Paris, he was ready to fall over. It had been a very long day.

Pushing his cap down on his head, covering his scar and shading his eyes, he tucked the invisibility cloak down into his bag and joined the crowds of tourists, just another teen off on vacation. There followed a series of trains and buses until he was on the border of Germany. He slept through most of the trip.

Once at the border, he fell back on his invisibility cloak long enough to cross over undetected. The train to Frankfurt was less crowded than the one going to Munich, so he bought a ticket and slept through most of that ride as well. By the time they arrived at the Central Station, he was well-rested.

And at the end of his plan.

He couldn’t stay in Europe. The Wizengamot had too long a reach, and Dumbledore was its head. He thought about other English speaking countries, but Canada and Australia had too close ties to England, so he feared their magical ministries would as well. America was an idea, but if he thought of it, he knew Hermione would too. As big as America was, he had a feeling Dumbledore had contacts there, as well.

No, he couldn’t use logic here. While wizards had no logic, Hermione was made of it, and she’d be convinced it would be in Harry’s best interest if she told the teachers everything she could think of to find him.

The last time she looked after his interests like that, it had cost him a firebolt.

Tucked in the back corner of a restaurant at the train station, steadily inhaling his sausages and chips, he knew this was where it all would work, or it all would fall apart.

Leaving a decent tip, he gathered his bag, pushed his hat down tighter on his head, and headed into the terminal. He hopped a train to the airport. Fifteen minutes later he stood in front of the departures board.

The next flight out was heading to the Narita Airport. It sounded exotic. It sounded like something no one who thought they knew him would ever guess.

A trip to the toilet, donning the invisibility cloak, and he was once more on his way.

It was less difficult on an international flight than the Chunnel train. There hadn’t been many places to hide on the train, but there were a lot more people in the airport and on the airplane, though with fewer toilets to hide in. Thankfully, it was also not the most popular flight for that time of day, because there were several empty seats.

Harry curled in a ball in an empty seat through take-off. Once they were off and he caught his breath, he noticed that a lot of people in the back of the plane immediately headed for the empty seats behind them, spreading out and taking up two or even three. That was all right with Harry. He was slender – okay, skinny – and a single seat was fine. He stepped into the toilet long enough to take off his invisibility cloak, then slipped into one of the abandoned seats.

The next twelve hours were oddly restful. He ate everything the stewardess brought. He read through all the literature in English he could find in the back of the seat in front of him. He watched a movie, and that was kind of mind-blowing. He discovered Narita was in Japan, which made sense.

He didn’t touch his wand. If a magical misfire in an underwater tunnel had the possibility to become a catastrophe, he didn’t want to think what it would be several thousand feet in the air going at hundreds of miles per hour.

About a half hour before they were to land, he went to the toilet and disappeared under his cloak. He hid out in a seat over the wing, long since abandoned by a man sprawled over two seats, snoring, eight rows back. After they landed, he trailed along invisibly, ducking under dividers as the rest of the passengers went through customs.

Nobody asked questions at the international monetary exchange booth when he pushed across his pile of European currency and received back a neat stack of yen, along with a small pile of gold, silver, and copper coins, some with holes in them. He thanked the man quietly, returned the bow he was given to the best of his ability, and headed out into his new life.

As he wandered out of the busy airport into the crowded mass of Tokyo, he saw a sign that sparked his interest. Next to calligraphy he couldn’t decipher were translations in German, French, Russian, Bulgarian, and English. Mahoutokoro School of Magic. Welcome and supplies. Enter here.

So he did.

The Japanese equivalent to Diagon Alley could not have been more of a contrast if they’d deliberately tried. The buildings were a mix of modern and traditional, with multistory buildings festooned with electronic signs side by side with lower wooden buildings with sweeping roofs and wooden slatted porches.

Electricity may not work in the British wizarding world, but the Japanese had found a way. Harry felt his lips curling into a grin.

This would work. He would find a way to make this work.

Shrugging his pack more comfortably on his shoulder, he set off to investigate.

He wouldn’t be going to school – there was too much cooperation between major magic schools, and he intended to fly completely under the radar. But that didn’t mean he was going to give up magic. Quite the opposite. He was going to learn it his way.

The first thing he did was head to the international students section of the Mahoutokoro School bookstore. Some searching, a whole lot of reading tiny signs, and the language barrier was no longer a problem. Need to rewire the brain to understand a new language? There was a spell (or a potion, or a charm, or enchanted objects) for that. The only one that was permanent was the spell.

It was expensive, and his brain felt like it was going to explode out of his skull before it was over, but surprisingly quickly, he could speak, read, and understand Japanese. The cultural lessons would take longer to sink in, but at least the hieroglyphics made sense now.

One headache potion with lunch later, he went shopping. Books, to supplement the few he’d retrieved when he’d emptied his vault. Some clothing, to deal with the change in weather from England and Scotland. A different hat, and coat, to blend in with the local population better. Much more comfortable shoes. Mainly, though, he poked around for information.

There were tutors (‘senseis’) and day schools scattered in the major urban areas of Japan. Some were associated with temples, others were masters who took apprentices, and still others were generalists for younger students or specialists for those needing extra help in specific areas of study. He grimly noted several potions senseis for future reference. From the look of it, wizarding students who didn’t go to the major national school were integrated into their mundane – not muggle – communities. Day students went home and mingled with non-magical kids at night. Tutored students went to mundane schools and took magic lessons at night and weekends, and intensively during any mundane school breaks.

From the look of it, the tutored route was harder. Harry hadn’t been to a regular school since primary, so he had a lot of catching up to do. He was foreign, so he wouldn’t fit in well, and might have to deal with bullying, not that it would be any different from Surrey. Or Hogwarts, for that matter. The schools were very competitive, so he might not be able to get into a very good one, but he wasn’t as bothered about that. He needed to disappear, so the middle of the pack was a good place to be.

Skimming down through the directory of senseis he noticed that some of the towns had a larger, more diverse offering than others. A couple of them were suburbs of Tokyo, others centered around Yokohama, Osaka and Nagoya. Major cities had their attraction – it was easier to get lost in a crowd. But Harry was also from a small town and preferred that to a crowded city. Since this was going to be his life, if he had his way, he wanted some measure of peace. He looked at the short list of smaller cities with a large roster of magical senseis, closed his eyes, and let his finger fall on one.

Karakura it would be, then.

He bought a tour book of Japan, magical and mundane, a city guide to Karakura, and a train ticket. He hoisted the bag with everything he owned in it over his shoulder, and set out to start a new life.

~failure~

Isshin Kurosaki sat at his desk in his clinic, staring down at a picture of his wife, beaming up at him. Masaki had been so full of life. Fiery, and loving, and strong. He didn’t understand why her strength had failed her.

He cursed how his strength continued to fail him.

The twins were going to be okay. The girls missed their mother, and didn’t understand what was going on with their brother, but their daddy was still his crazy self, and they were reassured by that. They were too young to see how he was falling apart, just as they were too young to see what was wrong with Ichigo.

It was his fault his bright, cheery, beautiful son was now a mute shadow with eyes full of pain. The month after Masaki died under that damned Hollow, Ichigo had nearly faded away. He kept finding the boy camped out on the river bed. He had a horrible foreboding feeling that one day he would be too late, again, and his son would be in the river, instead.

He couldn’t lose his son, too.

He went to Urahara, much good as that did him. The man was a scientist, not a father, and his advice was geared more toward mod souls in gigais than human children in crisis. He’d even gone to Ryūken, but given how he was fucking up with Uryū in the wake of Sōken’s death, even if he’d gotten anything out of the man beyond a grunt and a glare, it probably wouldn’t have been worth much.

So he did what had been done to him, when he was a kid. Time to toughen the boy up. Get him working on his situational awareness. Train him to react and fight back. Push and push at him until he pushed back.

It always worked that way with Shibas. It would work that way with Ichigo, too.

He forgot, in his own pain, that his son was much more a Kurosaki than he was a Shiba.

~escape~

Sirius Black stared at Hedwig, glaring back at him, and felt as encaged as the poor owl.

Moody had stomped into Grimmauld the day before, barking like a mad seal that ‘the boy was gone’ and turning Molly into a banshee that would give his dear departed mother’s portrait a run for its money in the howling department. Sirius had been sorely tempted to hex them both.

Then Moody explained, and he felt the bottom of his world drop out from under him.

Once more, he had trusted Albus Dumbledore. Once more, he’d found himself imprisoned, though this time in a house he hated almost as much as he’d hated Azkaban. Once more, he’d let his godson down.

Only this time, Harry hadn’t taken it. He’d done what Sirius should have done. He’d done a runner and gotten the hell out of this mess.

Reports came in through the day and the picture just got darker. Bill risked his job – and his neck, given the temperament of his employers – to check things out at the bank, and found out Harry had cleaned out his vault.

Leaving thirty pieces of silver. Most of the purebloods didn’t get it. Hermione sobbed like a broken-hearted mourner. She understood, and tried to explain it to Ron, who, being thick as a plank, couldn’t figure out what she was talking about. The twins got very quiet, staring at the adults around them when they thought no one was noticing, like they were measuring them for caskets. Random members of the Order squawked like the useless chickens they were.

Remus told him not to do anything stupid, and to trust Dumbledore.

Sirius gave up on Remus.

It was hard to do. Remus was his last living friend. But Remus, for all his intelligence, could be very stupid.

They had trusted Dumbledore. It lost them Harry.

Sirius was done. It was time to implement the bug-out plan.

He’d snuck into Gringott’s over a year before and made some major changes he hadn’t told anyone about. He’d reaffirmed the heirship and blood adoption he’d performed with James’ permission when Harry was three months old. He’d taken up his Lordship with no issue, given that while he was an escaped prisoner he wasn’t a convicted criminal, having had no trial. Goblins were good with little details like that. Finally, he consolidated all the Black vaults into a single account and given his account manager a code word that would instantly transfer the entirety to a secure, anonymous account in Zurich, with two owners… himself and his godson.

It was the work of a moment to charm a piece of parchment impervious to tampering and write a single word on it. He folded it and wrote his account manager’s name on the outside.

Using his great-grandfather’s wand, he gently charmed the second talon on Hedwig’s right foot, making her ruffle her feathers, and stared at her.

“Will you please take this to Gringott’s, then find your wizard boy?”

Her glare intensified until it felt like a scalpel then softened. She gave a very quiet bark and bobbed her head once. Harry was right. She was a brilliant owl.

He opened the cage.

Hers.

And his.

~events~

The first the people gathered at Grimmauld Place realized there was a problem was when Arthur left for work and didn’t come back afterward.

They found him wandering around the square, wondering where the house went.

Then Dumbledore tried to floo in and the fireplace shut down. Completely.

Kreacher disappeared. So did Buckbeak.

And Sirius Black, as Remus discovered when he tried to track him down to find out why the shutters had closed and wouldn’t open again.

Molly discovered Kreacher when they all tramped down to the front hall to try to get Arthur back through the wards and into the house. Well, she found his head, now mounted on the wall with a smile on his wrinkled face. Her shrieking triggered Walburga’s, and the walls – and their ears – rang for some time. She only stopped screaming when she ran outside to hurl herself into Arthur’s arms, and discovered she couldn’t remember where the house was either.

Then Moody found a compelling reason to be elsewhere, though he couldn’t think of the reason nor the place. Remus found himself packing and walking out the side door, without conscious thought. The twins dragged their trunks out, then the front door swelled like a balloon and spat out Ron, Ginny, and their trunks as well.

As soon as the last living person departed, the house shrank back on itself until, with a dull pop, it disappeared.

The next morning’s Daily Prophet carried a front page picture of Harry Potter snapping his wand and leaving the British wizarding world, figuratively flipping them the bird. The opinion pages fully supported his decision and cheered him on. The ‘reporting’ essentially applauded the boy for not letting the door hit his ass on the way out.

In a small town in Devon, a set of grieving parents celebrated the expulsion of a boy they saw as a killer, one who had survived when their own had not. Just down the way, in a tall crooked house with floating plums in the front garden, a young blonde girl cried, and made plans to relocate to Canada. Her father agreed – there were many unexplored areas in the vast lands of North America, and there might be any number of undiscovered magical creatures there.

In a forgettable backwater village in Surrey, two monsters went hunting, carrying out clandestine orders to do so. The orders were not countermanded, because the woman sending them out didn’t care if some muggles got in the way. Potter might still be hiding there, after all, and better to be safe than sorry. An elderly squib, four teenaged boys in a bully gang, and an unpopular married couple running out to find their son’s body, were the unfortunate victims of roaming rogue dementors. Their work done, they returned to their fortress home, and awaited their next orders.

The incident never made the wizarding papers, as the Quibbler had shut down and the Daily Prophet was too busy celebrating their successful efforts to run a child out of his home. The local muggle newspaper noted it in a story as a ‘crime of unknown origins’ but the story quickly fell off the front page into obscurity. The mindless bodies were put in long-term health care facilities, and eventually died with few mourners.

Since Harry was gone, Dumbledore didn’t expect any reports from Figg, and so didn’t notice when she went missing. By the time he realized there was something amiss, it was too late. He never located her. He had too much on his plate to try very hard.

The kneazles were rounded up and taken to the local animal shelter. One overheard a human worker talk about putting them to sleep. That night, the kneazles broke out, covering it by opening all the kennels and blaming it on animal activists – Mr. Tibbles had learned how to write by sitting on his owner’s lap and watching her for years. He also used to read her journal, for fun. No one saw any of those kneazles again.

The Order of the Phoenix was in disarray, not an uncommon state of affairs, with no meeting place, no bankroll, a leader that was too busy fighting off the press and the ministry to pay much attention, and a load of members who found themselves out on the street.

The Burrow was full to bursting that night, and for several nights to come.

By the time the school year started, and Dolores Umbridge gave her welcoming, threatening, triumphant speech, it was a whole new world.

One with neither Harry Potter nor Sirius Black in it.

~ connection ~

Uryū Ishida stared down at the blood dripping from his fingers. He’d come here, as he always did, to practice what his grandfather had taught him. In his grandfather’s memory. To avenge his grandfather’s death.

Yes, he would kill Hollows, and he would get better at that. But he would also kill Shinigami, if he ever had the chance. They were as much to blame for his grandfather’s, his sensei’s, death, as the gang of Hollows that killed him.

He’d gone to his father. That had been useless. Ryūken had turned away from him. Brushed off his grandfather’s death. Ridiculed his ambitions, his need to train, his pride. Told him to forget what he’d been taught, that he was worthless at it, that he should concentrate on something that would make him a living and not fill his head with dead dreams.

Uryū walked out on him, feeling torn but determined. He was the Last Quincy, and he would not repudiate that. He would make his grandfather proud.

He drew another bow from blue particles in the air, ignored the pain from the blood dripping on to the grass, took aim, and fired.

It was late when he turned to walk home. He knew his father would reprimand him, if he spoke at all. He was in no hurry to hear it. One frigid dressing-down per day was about his limit. Standing and staring up into the few stars beginning to show in the twilit sky, he shrugged and turned east instead of west.

He kept walking until he came to the river. He didn’t go there very often, too busy with school and training and reading and trying to stave off nightmares. It was peaceful. Maybe he should come more often.

Except he wasn’t alone. A boy about his age sat on the river bank, staring into the water. His posture was slumped, and if his back hadn’t moved to show he was breathing, Uryū would have thought he was dead. There was no sign of a chain, so he wasn’t a ghost, and no sign of a mask, so he probably wasn’t a Hollow. He was also leaking an impressive amount of spirit energy.

Still, he was cautious as he approached.

The boy paid him no attention.

He was a very still boy. The air moved his bright orange hair around but he didn’t even blink. His arms were wrapped around his knees, and he was staring at the water like all the secrets of the world were held beneath it.

Uryū moved closer and sat down on the grass. He recognized the expression on the boy’s face. He’d seen it every time he looked in the mirror ever since his grandfather was murdered.

“Who did you lose?” he asked before he could censor himself. In the silence that followed, he wondered if he should leave.

Then a very small voice answered, “Mom.”

He nodded, shifting to sit slightly closer to the boy. “My grandfather,” he offered, also staring out at the water.

Another long moment of silence, oddly peaceful, then the boy took a deep breath and muttered, “Monster killed her.”

Uryū considered where he was. Thought of the spirit energy pulsing out of the boy. Decided he probably wasn’t a Shinigami. Wondered what he was. Perhaps he, Uryū, wasn’t the Last Quincy after all.

“They’re called Hollows,” he said.

The boy turned his head a fraction, eyes leaving the water and settling on Uryū with an intensity he could actually feel.

“I am a Quincy,” Uryū continued. “You may be one, too.”

“Is that why the monster came after me? Is that why I killed my mother?”

With a jerk, Uryū turned to fully face him. A swift glance up and down confirmed this was a human boy. Guilt and grief hung off him, but he was no Hollow.

“I wasn’t strong enough to help my grandfather,” he confessed, his own guilt meeting its match in this lost boy. “Just like you weren’t strong enough to help your mother. We’re not strong enough. Yet.”

“Would you help me get strong?” the boy asked.

Uryū nodded. Then he reached out, took the boy by his hand, and pulled him up from the grass.

“Meet me here tomorrow. We will get stronger together.”

The boy stared at their clasped hands, then squeezed once and let go. “My name is Ichigo Kurosaki. My mother’s name was Masaki. I will get strong for her, and to protect my little sisters.” It was a vow.

Uryū met it with his own. “My name is Uryū Ishida. My grandfather was my sensei, and his name was Sōken. I will get strong for him, and to protect those I love.”

With that, Uryū turned and headed home. For the first time since his mother got sick and his grandfather was murdered, he felt like he had a friend. He looked over his shoulder.

Ichigo was sitting back on the grass, staring at the water. But his back was straight, and he didn’t look quite as crushed.

Maybe there was hope for both of them. Together.

~beginning~

That night when Ichigo got home, his father tried to hit him. He ducked.

His little sisters ran to him and hugged him.

He hugged them back.

~reinvention~

Karakura was a mid-sized city bisected by a wide, calm river. It was dotted with large and small businesses, schools, several temples, one major hospital, a church, many housing tracts, and some truly beautiful parks. It didn’t have a municipal airport but it had a central train station, and trams that ran throughout the city.

It also had an atmosphere that was absolutely drenched in magic.

Harry stepped off the train, hoisted his bag further up his shoulder, and wandered around, getting a feel for the place. He was honestly surprised by the dense magical feeling in the air. It felt like Hogwarts, only spread out over several miles. No wonder there were so many senseis here. It was a natural place for wizards and witches, or spellcrafters as Japanese traditionalists called them, to settle and grow.

It was also overrun with ghosts.

The first time he saw a little girl wandering around with a thick chain hanging out of her chest, he stumbled over his own feet. Absently apologizing to the housewife he’d nearly knocked over, dipping his head at her mild glare, he immediately forgot the living human in his interest in the dead. The little girl was looking for someone, tear tracks on her cheeks, a hopeless look on her face. When she noticed Harry staring at her, she brightened and ran over to stand practically on top his toes. She beamed up into his face.

“Mister! You can see me!”

Not wanting to speak out loud to someone probably no one else around him could see, he nodded mutely.

“Yay! Can you help me find my mommy and daddy, Mister?”

He cleared his throat. Sighed. As quietly as possible, he answered, “I’m sorry. I can’t.” Even if he had any experience being a medium, he had a suspicion the girl’s parents were either dead and gone, or alive and couldn’t see her. Being invisible to people who should love you would destroy the little girl. It had nearly destroyed Harry, from the time he was a little boy.

Big brown eyes stared at him in despair, fat tears gathering up then rolling down her cheeks. With a heartbreaking whimper, she turned and ran away from him, right through the people walking along the sidewalk, none of whom appeared to notice anything at all.

So, unlike the ghosts of Hogwarts, these ghosts not only had chest-chains, but they didn’t make whomever they ran through feel like they were dunked in cold water. Harry shook his head. Muggle- no, mundane ghosts.

He had so much to learn.

Trying not to meet the eyes of the several ghosts wandering around, and to not run into any more living people, Harry eventually found his way to the business center of the city. The first thing he had to do was come up with identification. Find a hotel for long enough to find a place to live, then find a place to live. Figure out what he was going to do for high school. Find some magical senseis.

Magic was incredibly useful when dealing with life's hurdles.

Money was even better.

He found the same Mahou symbol he’d first noticed at the airport discretely displayed on the windows of several businesses scattered throughout the city as he walked. After locating a bank, staffed by beings called Kanedama rather than goblins, he walked in and exchanged bows with a new accounts executive.

The being, he couldn’t tell if it was male or female, was reserved but polite until it saw the sheer amount of galleons Harry wanted to deposit. An hour later, he had a new deposit account/vault, a beginning investment account, and for a small consideration, new identification. Getting that had led to even more discoveries no one had bothered to tell him.

“Black-sama?” he asked, confused, as the Kanedama counted galleons so quickly its fingers blurred.

“Ah, yes,” it responded. Its voice was unexpectedly deep for a rather short, slender being. “According to our records,” it paused while one hand left counting coins to type on a chunky computer to the side of its desk. Harry was frankly astounded at both the manual dexterity and the ability to multi-task, “your legal name is Hadrian James Black Potter. You are the biological son of James Potter and Lily Potter nee Evans, named holder of the head position for clan Evans, the adoptive son of Sirius Orion Black, the current holder of the clan head position for Potter and heir to the clan Lordship for Black.” It blinked large black eyes at him and tilted its head to one side. “This must be the truth as read in your magic, were you perhaps unaware of this?”

“Completely,” Harry muttered back, in shock. Sirius was a Lord? He was Sirius’ heir? His adopted son? And again, nobody said a damned word?

Plus, his name was Hadrian? Really?

He could see why people called him Harry…

His attention was brought back to the present by the Kanedama clearing its throat gently. “Which name do you prefer to use on your documentation, Black-sama?”

They would be looking for a Potter. They might be looking for a Black. Would they look for an Evans? “Which gives me the most legal protection?”

The Kanedama closed its eyes and hummed in thought. Its hands never stopped whirring, counting coins. Harry had a lot of galleons. As they were counted they were set aside on a square dark grey section of the desk that seemed to absorb them. There was a rising number displayed along the bottom of the square, so Harry could see the running tally. He looked back up to meet the Kanedama’s narrowed, thoughtful eyes.

“Black for potential power. Potter for current position. Evans for anonymity. Black will give you the most fear. Potter the most respect. Evans the most comfort.”

So that left it up to what he really wanted, didn’t it? Now, and later. Of course, he could always switch when he was older, better educated, fully qualified… could defend himself better… he sighed. When it came right down to it, he was trying to hide, but he also didn’t want to deny who he truly was.

“Of course, if you should so desire, you qualify for identification under each of your clans.” The Kanedama smiled at him. It looked like it was laughing at him.

Harry rolled his eyes. Easy decision to make. “Knock yourself out,” he said. Then he spent some time explaining and debating colloquial idioms between English and Japanese. He came away learning as much from the Kanedama as it learned from him.

He also had legal identification under Evans, Potter, and Black. He looked down at the ID cards and passports. He felt like a character in a spy movie.

The next week was a constant whirlwind of activity. Hadrian Black bought a small house in a quiet neighborhood a short distance from the river and began exploring investment options. Rian Potter enrolled in Karakura High, with appropriate extra tutors to bring him up to grade level in pre-calculus, political science, English and Japanese literature, economics, Japanese and international history. Harry Evans used the list of contacts he’d purchased via the Mahoutokoro School bookstore to set up tutors in beginning Runes – Asia and Europe, Spellcasting Chants, and Magical Beings, intermediate Battle Magic, Transmutation, and Potions, and comprehensive Charms and Hexes.

He was very glad for Pepper-Up potion and thankful he’d learned to get by on very little sleep from a very young age.

In the midst of turning his brain to jelly trying to catch up on four years of missed schooling, adapt to a very different culture, and wrap his mind around a new way of approaching magic, he made sure to make time to train up his body. One thing he’d learned from the basilisk to the tournament was that he didn’t ever want to be overwhelmed like that again. Thankfully, Karakura had martial arts dojos in abundance, and there were also all those parks.

The first karate class he took nearly killed him. He didn’t know his muscles could stretch that way. The second one was easier. By the fifth, it began coming naturally. By the end of the second week, he felt like he’d been fighting that way all his life.

All that running and dodging was serving him well.

Karate wasn’t the only thing that came naturally. He discovered a kendo dojo almost by accident, drawn by the clacking of the wooden swords. He watched for a little while, and came back the next day to sign up for lessons. He didn’t know if it was the lingering effects of Gryffindor’s sword, or something genetic like his ability to fly a broom, but within a month he was joining advanced classes. His sensei singled him out for one-on-one instruction.

After Harry beat the snot out of a few jealous classmates, high school life got a little easier. He was lonely, as his classmates had already formed their own cliques for the most part, and he was a foreigner, an outsider. He was also seldom around, unavailable to hang out other than attending study groups. He quickly got the reputation as a loner, friendly enough but distant. Weird. Sometimes violent, and not someone to fight against.

Not that much different from Hogwarts, really.

But if he was solitary in the mundane world, he wasn’t in the magical world. He was building solid relationships with his senseis, in the dojo and in the magical tutoring sessions. Given the life he was trying to build, he made bridges where he needed them. He was passing his classes, so he grit his teeth, ignored the whispers, shut out the suspicious looks, knocked down the bullies, and went on with his life.

If, late at night, he missed his friends so much it ached, he would just work harder the next day. When he was too tired to stay awake, he couldn’t dwell on what he’d lost.

Sometimes he would have strange dreams, of a weird room, of shelves with glowing bottles on them, once of a hungry snake and a vaguely familiar man, a few times of a mutant creature screaming at and cursing huddled shadowy figures. But they were muted and unfocused, as if seen through a dirty window from a long distance. He ignored them, as well, and got on with what was important. Classes, learning, training, living.

At the end of the fifth week since he began his new life in Karakura, he came home from tutoring to an incredibly welcome surprise. As he walked up onto his porch and reached to unlock his front door, a ruffled, somewhat dirty ball of white feathers hit him in the face so hard it knocked him on his ass.

Sheer joy burst through him, not all of it his own. The ball resolved itself into a slightly underweight, exhausted but exhilarated owl. Hedwig’s bright gold eyes burned into his and her talons clutched onto the front of his jacket, her head coming in to rub against his cheek then dart back out so she could look at him again, before giving a hoarse little bark and leaning forward to preen his hair.

A small, constant strain on his magic he’d been fighting since she’d been taken from him suddenly eased. It was so good to see her again.

So good to have his first, best friend beside him.

He cooed over her, bringing her inside, perching her on the back of a dining chair. He brought her water and searched for something to feed her, serving some herring up on a plate and promising her lemming as soon as he could find some, and a perch fit for a queen as soon as he could buy one. As she ate, he carefully groomed her, brushing away the dust, removing the tiny twigs and burrs that had gotten caught in her feathers on her long flight to find him.

She fell asleep as soon as she finished eating.

From the moment she woke up, Harry had a new shadow. Fearing, perhaps irrationally, but then, it wasn’t paranoia if they were really out to get him, that someone would wonder about the owl-out-of-place and trace her back to him, he convinced her to watch over him from a distance, coming to him when they were alone or at home. She wasn’t too happy, but then, given how hard she’d fought to get to him, she would only be happy if she was glued to his shoulder for the rest of her life. So they compromised.

There were a lot of lovely trees in Karakura. Hedwig sat in most of them.

Harry found her presence amazingly reassuring.

She also helped him in learning his magic, as it turned out. With her there, Harry was calmer. His connection to his magic was stronger, less stressed. That in turn made his magic more stable, and made it easier to learn and use new spells.

One difference between European and Asian magic was the use of chants, or spell phrases, to achieve particular results. Harry had an odd knack for it, but he had a hard time practicing it at home, so he went looking for places in the woods surrounding the town.

Hedwig actually led him to one training ground that quickly became their favorite. It was out of the way, next to a waterfall, surrounded by trees and bushes, and very private. They couldn’t get to it very often, with how busy Harry was, but they went whenever they could.

One Saturday afternoon, two months after arriving in Karakura, they found out they weren’t the only ones to use that clearing. The events of that afternoon opened up a whole new world to Harry, and eventually gained him two little brothers.

~ found ~

A few weeks after Uryū met Ichigo, his mother died. She’d been sick for weeks, and he hadn’t even been allowed to see her. After losing his grandfather, and his father’s cold rejection of him, Uryū needed to focus on something else. Anything else. It felt like his world was collapsing.

As he had been there for Ichigo after Masaki had died, so now Ichigo was there for him after Kanae died.

Shortly after meeting his new friend, he had taken Ichigo to the glade where his grandfather had taught him. Ichigo was quiet, staring around at the waterfall, the rocks, the rushing white water. Uryū pushed his classes up his nose and reached out to take his hand.

“Sit with me. We start by meditating.”

Ichigo tried. The other boy was naturally energetic, when he wasn’t weighted down by grief. He also seemed to be a kinetic learner, unlike Uryū, who learned best by study, analysis, then application. When he tried that with Ichigo, he could keep up, but he had a very hard time connecting theory to action. So Uryū had to find other ways to explain things to his new comrade.

It turned out that was a good thing. The old adage that one learns by teaching was true. Forcing himself to look at Quincy techniques from a complete beginner’s perspective, to show rather than tell, to walk Ichigo through the paces rather than handing him a book, honed Uryū’s own practice to a razor’s edge.

The main problem they ran into was Ichigo’s lack of control. He was leaking reiatsu steadily, and it would only get worse. So before they started shaping it, Uryū gave him one exercise after another to help Ichigo find, isolate, and begin to rein in his power. It took him about a week to actually recognize his power and start to structure it. That was pretty good.

Twelve days after they began, Uryū thought Ichigo was ready to start reishi manipulation. He met his friend in the glade, holding a small velvet sack in Quincy blue he’d sewn, with a drawstring tied in a bow.

Ichigo looked at him, wide-eyed.

“Take it,” Uryū urged him. Then, rolling his eyes slightly as Ichigo stood there and stared at his gift, he added, “well, go on, open it.”

Inside was a small silver Quincy Kreuz on a sturdy chain, matching the one wrapped around Uryū’s right wrist. It had belonged to his mother, he thought, since he’d found it in her drawer, one afternoon when he’d snuck in to visit her. She’d seen him, smiled at him, and nodded, so he knew she approved. Ichigo let it spill into his hand, then held it up, catching the light.

“It’s pretty. What does it do?”

Uryū grinned at him.

Then he showed him.

Ichigo was a quick study. He had more than enough power to form a bow, in fact, until he got it under control, the bow was twice as tall as he was. But he ran into a wall when it came to Heilig Pfeil. He simply couldn’t form the standard arrows. Uryū wracked his brain to figure out how to get around it, but eventually he just went with what they had. He could figure it out later, when he knew more, when Ichigo had better control. Until then, they’d just have to work with the fact that the only thing Ichigo could draw was a thick bolt shaped like a Seeleschneider.

That he used like a sword.

It was the weirdest thing Uryū had ever seen, but the very fact that it was there, and that it worked pretty well as a sword, made him reconsider some of the traditional teachings his grandfather had given him. Perhaps it was time to be a little creative. Build on the past. For a weapon the present Ichigo could actually wield. Because everything he’d ever read said that Seeleschneider were weapons used with reishi, not weapons made with reishi, but the long broadsword-looking thing Ichigo kept manifesting looked a lot like one.

Still, he knew nothing of swordsmanship. Determined to do his very best for Ichigo’s benefit, he did some research. That led them to a kendo dojo, where Ichigo sucked up technique like a sponge, and Uryū worked on his stamina. The senseis there were a bit enraptured by Ichigo’s innate talent, and impressed by Uryū’s determination, if not his skill. One recommended a complimentary skill set, and with his recommendation, the boys joined a dojo with a sensei that specialized in koryū martial arts.

Uryū had no idea that, in training Ichigo to be a great Quincy, he was actually following a parallel path to the one used by cadets in the Shinigami academy. Many years later, when he discovered that, he waited for Ichigo to stop laughing his fool head off, and shrugged. By then, he had accepted a few very select exiled Shinigami as friends, and wasn’t as apt to want to kill them all, nor spit on their training practices.

For the present, Ichigo was settling into kendo practice while Uryū was improvising training exercises, when a stranger started to walk into their clearing. Quick as a thought, the boys dissipated their weapons and ducked into the bushes.

The stranger was a foreigner, a teenager, dressed like a high school student. He had black hair that looked like he needed to brush it and bright green eyes behind rounded glasses. He was carrying a backpack over his shoulder and a stick in one hand.

He was leaking reiatsu, too, but it was strange. It wrapped around him instead of extending into the environment. It was also not the usual color, and with a weird density to it that made the air feel thick. Beside him, Ichigo opened his mouth, and Uryū quickly covered it to keep him from making any noise.

Then the stranger put down his backpack, set his feet, and said something in another language. Not Japanese, nor English, nor German, from what Uryū could tell, though it could be one of the Romantic languages, maybe Spanish. He waved his stick…

And one of the rocks in the clearing turned into a turtle.

He wondered if he was seeing things, until the newly-made animal moved. He ignored Ichigo’s excited, muffled noise, although he would get the other boy for licking his hand. Later. For now, he leaned forward, peering intently at the stranger with the magic stick.

Uryū was used to spellcrafting. Quincies were the descendants of some of the most ancient spellcrafters in Germany and Japan, after all. But this was different. The spirit energy the stranger used didn’t come from his surroundings, like Quincy spellcrafting power did, but seemed to come from within him, welling up like water following canals from his torso down his arm and through his stick.

It was the strangest thing Uryū had ever seen.

He turned to meet Ichigo’s huge brown eyes with his own narrowed blue, and a silent accord was reached.

The stranger didn’t stay very long. He turned the turtle back into a rock, then turned a stick into a snake. He then spent some time talking to the snake, an incredibly creepy experience that saw both boys cringe back into the security of the underbrush. Then he turned the snake back into a stick, and whistled softly. A gorgeous white owl with black spots on its wings flew down, and they played an odd form of aerial fetch with the stick that had been a snake. Then the owl flew away, and the stranger followed.

Uryū and Ichigo followed along behind.

~foundling~

Harry was being stalked. He was kind of used to it, what with Hedwig shadowing every step. Now there were a couple boys, no more than nine or ten, creeping along in his wake.

They were a little hard to miss. One had hair as messy as his own, only bright orange. The other one was taking notes.

He had a feeling they were some of the local wizarding children. Maybe he was their homework. Or maybe it was a more mundane case of watching the suspicious foreigner, something he’d gotten a lot of since he’d come to Karakura. Still, they were sort of playing tag, so he could at least play along.

There was one way to see if they were local kids spying on the foreign guy, or baby wizards hoping to learn something.

Ghosts.

Magical people could see ghosts, so Harry made a point of not ignoring the multitude of spirits he encountered in the next few days, for a change. Instead, he spoke to them, when he wasn’t in plain sight of people who could have him carted off to the insane asylum for talking to himself. He patted little ghost boy and ghost girl heads. He bowed to ghost businessmen and waved back at ghost school girls.

The boys were intensely interested. They looked from him to the ghosts and back again, the little brunet made a lot of notes, and the little strawberry blond barely restrained his bouncing. They were wizard kids, all right.

The next time he went to the clearing by the waterfall to practice, and they hid in the bushes, he called them on it.

~ foundation ~

“You might as well come out,” the stranger said, looking right at where they were hidden in the bushes. “I know you’re watching me.”

Uryū nearly had a heart attack. How had he known? They had been so stealthy! He turned to Ichigo, only to find his best friend was in the process of crawling out of the bushes. Dragging Uryū by the hand as he did.

Uryū nearly had his second heart attack in ten seconds. “Ichigo!” he hissed.

“He’s not going to hurt us,” Ichigo assured him, based on absolutely nothing that Uryū could see. “What are you, mister?”

“Don’t you mean, who am I?” the stranger asked, bemused, as he put his stick in his sleeve and turned to face them.

“He means,” Uryū tried to be strong and unafraid, “are you a medium or a Shinigami?” His fingers twitched, and his Kreuz fell into place. Beside him, Ichigo got the hint, and dropped his own Kreuz into his palm.

“Shinigami?” the stranger asked.

Uryū didn’t take the chance on it being a question, and brought up a bow immediately, Heilig Pfeil nocked and ready to fly. Ichigo brought forth his own Seeleschneider broadsword thing and took a ready stance.

The stranger ignored the burning reishi weapons aimed at point-blank range, and settled onto a handy rock, staring at them. “What’s a Shinigami? There are Death Gods? Really?”

“Soul reapers,” Uryū spat. He hated the bastards that had murdered his people, and hadn’t come to his grandfather’s aid when the Hollows killed him.

“Never heard of them,” the stranger said. “My name’s Harry. I’m a wizard. Who, and what, are you?

Uryū was figuring out how to answer that when Ichigo dispersed his weapon, tugged on his sleeve, and wandered over to plop on a rock next to the newly-named Harry. Such a strange name. Fitting for such a strange person.

“Wizard?” Ichigo asked, as Uryū reluctantly allowed his bow to dissipate and followed his less-cautious best friend over to perch on the rock beside him.

Ichigo could be very impulsive. Uryū feared it would get him in trouble one day. He would have to make sure that didn’t happen. Like now, he’d stick beside him and protect him from those that would hurt him. He glared at Harry, who opened his mouth to answer when they all felt it.

Hollow. Big one.

Ichigo and Uryū were immediately on their feet, weapons manifested, searching for the enemy, trying not to let their hands shake. Harry drew his stick.

The Hollow came in fast, chuckling and cackling like a demon. It looked like a wax monkey, half melted, with more arms than it should have, all ending in paws tipped with long claws. Uryū loosed arrow after arrow, slowing it down. Ichigo whirled with surprising grace, cutting into its long arms, slowing it further.

“Bombarda!” Harry cried.

The Hollow’s head exploded, taking its mask with it.

In the silence that followed, the particles that made up the soul collection within the Hollow sparkled, shifted, lifted away into the sky. All three boys stared after it until it was gone.

“So,” Harry said, his voice as rock steady as it had been before they were attacked, “want to tell me what that thing was?”

The following discussion of Hollows, Quincies, wizards, and magic in all its forms took them until late in the afternoon. It ended in Harry’s kitchen, over dango and juice, as the foundation was laid for a friendship forged in common curiosity, common enemies, and common outsider status.

~home~

It had taken much, much too long.

Escaping Britain, even with the goblins’ well-compensated assistance, had taken Sirius nearly three weeks. Once in France, he’d stayed in a Black family hunting cottage, shaking off the nausea at the thought of exactly what, or whom, his ancestors had hunted, until he could get the resources, identification, and unbreakable muggle-anchored disguise together to get off the Continent. Then he started scrying.

He’d placed the strongest tracking charm he could on a living magical being, embedding it in the base of Hedwig’s talon so it wouldn’t slough off, as it would with feathers, or chance breaking, as it would when anchored to the body. He had keyed it to his own blood, so only he could activate it. He’d layered it seven times, one gentle coating after another, so as not to hurt the owl but still make her a beacon he could follow to find his godson.

It should have shown like a torch.

It barely glimmered. It didn’t flicker like a candle, it was steady as it should be, but it was also very weak. However, it was also stationary.

She had found him. Sirius grinned, relieved and slightly manic. Beautiful, talented, strong, wonderful Hedwig. She had found Harry, and now so too would Sirius.

It would just take a while, because Harry was, apparently, somewhere at the ends of the earth.

Magic didn’t track well over water, a bad thing when one was heading across an ocean. Due to this limitation, his scrying wavered. The closer he got, the clearer it would become. When he began, he basically had a cardinal direction and that was it.

The next two months were spent skulking into foreign ports via stowing away on strange ships. At every port he landed in, Sirius would scry again, adjust his trajectory, and find another ride. Sometimes it was a bus. Sometimes it was a train. Many times it was the back of a lorry, not that the drivers ever knew that. One particularly hair-raising time, it was in the passenger seat of a convertible driven by a blonde who didn’t want him to leave.

Azkaban put some rust on him, but it didn’t take away all his skills. The ol’ Black charm still bagged the birds. Sadly, he didn’t have time for birds.

He had a boy out there who needed him, so he ditched the blonde somewhere in the back hills of Romania, and caught a trawler across the Black Sea, snickering silently over the name.

The years in Azkaban hadn’t done much for his sense of humor, either.

Still, it was a very long journey. India alone took over a month. The locals were friendly, the food nearly killed him, and there were a lot of open flat-bed trucks to hop on. He stowed away on a fishing boat in the Bay of Bengal, was promptly discovered, then bribed the fisherman with more money than they’d make in five years to sail him across to Burma. He’d slept with one eye open that whole trip, and a magical perimeter ward that would knock out anyone who got too close.

Fishermen were scary.

So was Burma, in fact. Not only was there some kind of civil war going on, but getting over the border to Thailand required more money and effort than he expected by a long shot. He couldn’t even confound the bastard border guards, because the Thai mages were everywhere, and they were a whole other level of terrifying. Thankfully he was through to Laos in just a couple days, during which, again, he barely slept and kept moving as fast as he could. He caught his breath in Vietnam, sleeping for two days straight. When he woke, he took the time to scry more deeply than he had before, as the images were becoming clearer.

The main problem he had was getting around China. The Chinese mages had suffered under Communism, separating completely for self-protection, and setting up lethal wards that strongly discouraged any strangers coming by, muggle or magical. As much as he was really starting to hate boats, the tracking signal was strong enough now he could trace Harry over water, if only barely. So he resigned himself to a whole lot of bribery, very little sleep, and a long journey somewhere southwest of China.

The South China Sea was not the place to be in late fall, but he survived it. He spent most of the trip hanging over the railing, and he lost ten pounds in a month, but he made it. They made landfall in Taiwan and he nearly kissed the sand after he ran… staggered… off the boat.

A day later he’d managed to wash the smell of fish out of his clothes, and finally pinned down a location for his Harry.

Japan.

Thank god he wasn’t in China, because that would take a miracle to invade, and why the hell did he pick Japan?

Of course, neither Dumbledore nor anyone under his command would every think of it, so that, right there, was a perfectly valid reason.

He lucked out a little on the last leg of his journey. Taiwanese wizards were locked in a nasty, long-standing war with the Chinese mages, and one of them wanted out. Sirius agreed to finance the rental – or theft, really, but any port in a storm, or any boat in an emergency – a rather nice little yacht, and they got the hell out of town. Several days of choppy waves, weak tea and saltine crackers later, the Taiwanese wizard whose pseudonym Sirius never bothered to remember disappeared into the wilds of Japan. Sirius found an anonymous hotel room in Makurazaki, and broke out his scrying bowl again.

From there it was a game of hopscotch, played by train. He couldn’t exactly balance the bowl on his lap as he went, since that would scare the muggles and get the Japanese mages hacked off at him. So he’d pin down a direction, buy a ticket, get to a town, hop off, find a park, cast a notice-me-not, scry, and hop back on the train before the local equivalent of aurors showed up. He didn’t know if they’d actually arrest him, since the law in Japan was a bit more relaxed than it was in England. It had to be, with the muggles and the wizards living cheek by jowl. Essentially, as long as the muggles didn’t notice, do what thou wilt.

Still, he was an escapee from prison, and even though Japan had no extradition treaty with the British Ministry for Magic that he knew about, he wasn’t willing to risk getting carted away when he was finally so close to his goal.

And so it was, early on a bright Saturday morning nearly eight months after Harry made his escape, Sirius showed up on his porch.

Their greeting went about how Sirius expected. Harry opened the door, looked at him with wide eyes, then slammed the door shut in his face.

Sirius waved a wandless episkey over his broken nose to straighten it out, wiped away the blood, and knocked again.

This time when Harry answered the door, he socked Sirius in the jaw. Knocked him flat on his butt. Then he slammed the door shut again.

Sirius sighed. He hadn’t had this much trouble even from the worst of his exes. Still, the kid had a point. Sirius had fucked up, and he would take his punishment like a man.

The third time he knocked, Harry pulled the door open with a snarl only to look out into empty space, confused. Then he looked down into the most piteous puppy dog eyes a grimm could give. Padfoot even whined, very softly, and hung his head, to give The Eyes a better angle of attack.

“Oh, for god’s sake,” Harry grumbled, then turned on his heel and walked off.

He left the door open. Padfoot took advantage of the fact and bounced in after him. Harry glared over his shoulder. The bounce turned into a slink, and The Eyes came back out again.

Hedwig gave him a welcoming bark, and Padfoot gave her a happy yip in return. Harry sighed, stared at his owl as if asking what on earth she was thinking, then sat down at the kitchen table and started doing homework of some sort. He completely ignored Padfoot.

This went on for three days.

Sirius finally broke when Harry brought home a dog food dish and filled it up with kibble.

The ensuing conversation was unpleasant for Sirius and cathartic for Harry. In the end, it boiled down to a young man who might eventually forgive, would never forget, and still loved his godfather enough to try. Sirius would spend the rest of his life doing his damnedest to be worth it.

“By the way,” Harry gave him a gimlet eye over breakfast a few weeks after his arrival, “were you ever going to tell me you adopted me? Lord Black?”

Sirius choked on his eggs. “Well, you see,” he fumbled.

Harry’s glare intensified.

“I didn’t think I’d survive the war,” Sirius admitted glumly. “Jamie wasn’t so sure, either. Adopting you was insurance for both of us. It was supposed to make sure, whichever one of us made it, you’d have somebody to take care of you. A dad.”

The glare dulled, and Harry turned back to his toast. “Didn’t work out so well.”

Sirius swallowed the lump in his throat and whispered, “Because I was stupid.”

Silence met that blatant truth. Most of their conversations followed paths like that. But he was still there, and Harry wasn’t kicking him out, and he didn’t have to stay as Padfoot around the clock, so it was getting better.

Harry was constantly busy, and Sirius couldn’t exactly follow him around – he left that to Hedwig, the Feathered Stalker – so he found other things to do. He opened up a local bank account, tied to the vaults in Zurich, and got his estate in some order. It was fun, reinstating Andromeda and assigning her to take up the Wizengamot seat, nullifying Narcissa’s marriage to Pasty Malfoy and Bellatrix’s marriage to Stinky LeStrange, then bankrupting both the bastards by enforcing certain clauses in the marriage contract that reverted dowry and interest in the case the Malfoy and LeStrange heads did anything endemic toward Black Family Interests … as determined by the current Head of the Black Family.

As far as the current Head was concerned, the fact that the current heads of the Malfoy and LeStrange family were breathing was endemic to his interests.

After he broke the LeStranges, he tossed Bellatrix out of the Family for being a psychotic follower of a Dark Lord… given that wasn’t actually against any of the familial norms, Sirius used the justification that she had made threats against him when they’d shared a corridor in Azkaban. That was fun.

The best part was that he could do all this stuff from Karakura, through bank intermediaries on different continents, and none of the idiots who were trying to find him had any way of discovering where he was located.

Since he had no interest in actually interacting with any of his family members, and he retained control of the family fortune so no bloody manipulators or idiot lords on either side of the conflict could benefit from it, he did everything from a distance. No contact with anyone. Andy would fuck with the politicos, Bel would hopefully get offed by her Voldie, Cissy would be out on the streets with her albino, Grimmauld would be razed to the ground, and he would be far, far, far away from them all.

As would Harry.

A diplomatic dispatch came through the bank at least twice a month, asking for his assistance in returning Harry to Hogwarts and once more opening his home and purse to The Cause. After burning the first several to ashes and sending them back made no impression, he prevailed upon Hedwig to poop in the shreds and sent those back.

She was happy to help.

The next one carried a letter, from Hermione, to Harry. Sirius handed it over, reluctantly.

Harry looked at it. Left it on the counter for a few days. Finally opened it. Got most of the way through the first page of what looked to be a multi-page missive, made a sound uncannily like one Hedwig would give before regurgitating a ball of mouse bones, and wandlessly incinerated the letter without burning his own fingers.

The ashes of that were sent back to them with a boil-hex attached.

Sirius made himself available. He helped Harry’s two cute little minions, the orange-headed one with the big brown eyes and the nervous brunet who could use his glasses as a perfect deflection shield, to learn his kind of magic while he learned about theirs. He put energy into his investments and taught Harry how to do the same, in the few spare minutes the kid had between muggle school, magical school, kicking ass school, and homework.

It was the best his life had ever been.

Even as a kid, he’d had to deal with his psychotic bitch of a mother and the evil expectations of the House of Black – he was changing that with this generation. Even at Hogwarts, he had to see his baby brother turn into a death muncher, and dealt with Snivellus on a daily basis. Afterward, while there had been Remus and James and Lily – not thinking about the Rat, ever – there was still the war and the constant uncertainty. Then there had been betrayal, and death, and a decade of hell, and his own weakness that he was working to make up for.

Now, now was good. Damned good.

More to keep up with any search for him and to stay abreast of the public opinion regarding Harry than for any sentimental reason, he’d taken to picking up a copy of the Daily Prophet at the magical section of the Karakura Public Library. It wasn’t shelved with the other major international newspapers, although the Quibbler showed up there, publishing out of Alberta, Canada. The photos of the Jackalope babies peeking out of their burrow were very cute. No, the primary news source for the British wizarding world was shelved right next to the American National Magical Enquirer in the tabloid section.

Sirius felt that was appropriate. He’d believe in feral little grey alien/house elf hybrids before he believed most of the so-called news in the Prophet. After all, he grew up with Kreacher.

The issues were a few weeks behind, but that was fine. The Prophet headlines finally reflected some measure of reality when the Department of Mysteries was broken into and several members of the public – Order, no doubt – along with some upstanding members of the Pureblood community – death munchers, no doubt – got into a fire fight that destroyed half the Ministry building and led to a duel between Voldemort and Dumbledore that graphically illustrated to the citizens of wizarding Britain that Harry wasn’t so damned delusional after all.

For weeks afterward, the clarion call was there in moving text, screaming for his son to come back and save their collective asses.

Sirius didn’t bother telling Harry.

Harry didn’t ask.

~cessation~

It wasn’t working.

At least, he didn’t think it was.

Isshin was adapting the strategies his own father and brothers had used on him to get him out of his moodiness when he was a kid. Shake it up, keep the boy moving, come at him from all angles, be unpredictable until the budding warrior could predict him in spite of himself. Rouse him from sleep with a yell and a carefully-modulated attack, wait for him after school and jolt his adrenaline, watch for those moments when Ichigo’s shoulders drooped and his attention faded, then come at him from the side or the back with a kick or a punch.

He’d expected a few days or even a week of surprise, then the Shiba hard-headed-ness and fire to kick in. He’d yell, Ichigo would yell, he’d strike, Ichigo would strike back. He’d let Ichigo win enough times to build his confidence then knock him on his ass to keep his Shiba arrogance in check. Over time, and quickly if experience had any say in it, Ichigo would learn by doing. His strength would rise, he’d gain and sharpen skills, and his situational awareness would become second nature.

Instead, the boy was weak.

Days rolled by, and he still seemed constantly surprised by Isshin’s training attacks. He ducked and ran away instead of fighting back. His instincts weren’t kicking in.

He even quit going to the dojo for karate. Isshin hadn’t been happy at all about that.

Dinner had started as it always did, now. Karin stared into the plate Yuzu sat in front of her, giving her twin a bare glance and smile before playing with her food. Ichigo thanked Yuzu in a disgustingly soft little voice, like a little girl himself. Yuzu looked around the table with her big, sad eyes, making sure everyone was taken care of, as she had ever since Masaki … as she’d started to do at every meal.

Isshin couldn’t stand it. He jumped up and squeezed both his girls tight, chanting about how wonderful Daddy’s girls were, then launched an attack directly over the table at Ichigo. Time for the boy to wake up.

Karin screamed at him. Yuzu whined a little about all the spilled food. And Ichigo? The idiot boy took in on the chin and nearly went through the wall. And that was with Isshin pulling the punch so much it was barely a love tap. Then the boy had the nerve to give him big watery eyes, like a baby. Isshin sighed, impatient and disappointed in his only son.

“What are they teaching you at that dojo, boy?” he asked, ignoring Karin’s weak fists battering on his back. Yuzu’s frying pan was a surprise, but she was pretty short, so she could only hit him on the thigh, so that didn’t do any harm. He glared at Ichigo, still curled up in a ball on the floor. “That little Tatsuki girl still kicking your butt every match?”

Ichigo finally uncurled, cringing back like he expected to get spanked or something. He took a deep breath then said, voice quivering a little, “I don’t go to that dojo anymore.”

Isshin’s jaw just about hit the floor. “Why the hell not?” he growled out.

“I hate karate,” Ichigo said. “We were coming home from karate when the monster killed Mom.”

A flash of pain hit Isshin in the gut, guilt making him turn his face away from his son. “It wasn’t the karate that got your mother killed, Ichigo.” It was Isshin’s own inability to protect his family that left his children motherless.

He heard shuffling, but no verbal response, and he finally forced himself to look back at his son.

Who, sometime while Isshin had been catching hold of his composure with his fingernails, had left the room. Well. Shit.

Yuzu was staring down the hall with a despairing look on her face, while Karin was glaring at him. He sighed. Screwed that one up, damnit, but he couldn’t believe the boy just quit like that. He gave his girls a goofy grin neither seemed to appreciate, then urged them to eat their dinner. He didn’t go after Ichigo. When he got hungry, he’d come down. Shibas were stubborn, but he was young, and Isshin would work him out of it.

In the weeks and months that followed, Isshin did what he could. He did his best to break his son out of his weakness by upping the intensity of his training. No time was safe, not dinner nor breakfast, wake-up time or homework time, his boy walked by, and Isshin tested his reflexes. Eventually, he was bound to start fighting back.

Instead, he became practically invisible. While Isshin was pretty damned impressed that a ten year old boy could be so stealthy, he was training a Shinigami, not a ninja. The boy couldn’t hide forever.

Things were pretty hectic at the clinic for a while, as the summer madness hit, then the snowy season slammed them, and the urgent care needs and patient counts rose. It was good for his bank balance but he didn’t see much of his kids. Many nights, in fact, he actually slept in a cot in his office, so he could be close to the overnight patients he cared for. Karin and Yuzu seemed to be doing okay, and Isshin often found Ichigo with the girls in the afternoon. But the boy had gotten sneaky, and was usually gone before Isshin could kick him out of bed. Some months passed before the rush passed. The new year started. Spring arrived.

Isshin finally noticed something odd.

His boy was coming in from school very late, sometimes even missing dinner. He was gone almost all the time. Not only did it make it hard for Isshin to train him, but the girls were missing him, too.

Kicking himself, mentally, for not noticing sooner, he went to the river to retrieve his errant son.

Only Ichigo wasn’t on the riverbank.

That night, the boy came home for dinner, and Isshin launched a backfist at his head that got his attention. Then he asked where Ichigo was spending so much time. Sprawled on the floor, again, would the kid EVER hit back? Ichigo mumbled something about the library and fled up the stairs.

How had he and Masaki managed to breed such a little coward? This would never do.

It was eight months and three weeks since Masaki… it had been a long enough time since losing his mother, that the boy should have been able to channel his grief in some productive way. As far as Isshin could see, the only thing Ichigo was doing was going to the library and turning into a nerd. His grades were exceptional, but grades wouldn’t save him when his ass was on the line. Given his bloodlines, and all the crap that Aizen would bring down in the near future, he needed to be a warrior, not an egghead.

With less time needed at the clinic, and his finances in relatively strong position, he could take a little time to follow the boy. Spring some ambushes in places he didn’t expect, like on the way home from school or coming out of the damned library. Maybe he’d even drag the brat back to the dojo and not let him leave until he could land a punch on anybody, even a little girl.

What he found when he followed was not at all what he expected.

Ichigo wasn’t going to the library. Instead, he was heading into the woods, alongside Ryūken’s kid. Isshin ghosted along behind him.

Was he… he couldn’t be doing Quincy training, could he? Ryūken said he’d told Uryū to stop that after his grandfather and mother were killed. He slipped closer, glad for once that his reiatsu was so weak he could only sense others, not be sensed in return. Although it looked like Uryū was a sensitive, because he looked over his shoulder a lot more than Isshin expected.

They got to a small clearing with a short waterfall and a bunch of rocks. Damn. They WERE doing Quincy training. Isshin stared in disbelief as Uryū manifested a pretty healthy bow, and Ichigo manifested what looked like a cross between a long arrow and a cleaver.

This was bad. Very bad. If the Shinigami ever did find them, and Isshin knew his luck wasn’t good enough that he would be able to hide his family forever, they would kill his boy. He had to do something. He had to stop this. Had to train Ichigo to be a proper Shinigami, then maybe he’d survive Yamamoto’s army, and have a hope against Aizen when he made his move. He was crouching in the brush, trying to figure out a way to approach this without traumatizing Uryū and getting Ryūken on his ass, when someone else entered the clearing from the far side.

It was a boy, as well, but older, maybe fourteen or a short fifteen. A foreigner. He looked like a normal human, maybe a Fullbringer. He had spirit pressure, but it was off-kilter. It seemed to flow, chaotic like a Fullbringer but pulsing evenly, a little like a Quincy. Ryūken said there weren’t any other Quincies around, and Isshin didn’t think the teen was a Shinigami. There was something very strange, uneven, about his reiatsu.

Then it hit him, and Isshin nearly choked. The teen himself was neutral, but he carried the taint of evil. Something had latched onto his soul like a leech. Something dark enough to qualify for hell gates. It made him smell like a filthy Hollow.

There was no way he was letting that creature anywhere near those boys.

He may not have all his powers back, but he had a century or so of training behind him, and he would use it to protect the innocents here. Isshin threw himself between the evil soul and the boys, attacking the teen full-strength. He barely laid a beat down on the Hollow before a bear came out of nowhere and knocked him out of the fight.

With a snarl he pushed the animal away. It wasn’t a bear, but a dog nearly big enough to be a bear. Isshin punched it in the chest and whirled on the Hollow.

Only to see the boys standing in front of it, reishi weapons trained on him. Trained on HIM! The one protecting them from it! They were protecting the Hollow!

Well, they would just have to be shoved out of the combat zone, while he took out the threats. Then he and they would be having a long talk about taking the side of evil over the side of good, and he would smack his boy all the way back home before getting his head screwed on straight and teaching him to fight the right way.

As these thoughts streamed through his head, Isshin kept fighting. He slapped the kids over into the bushes, ignoring the yelps and thumps. Ichigo, at least, should be tough enough to take a little bounce like that. Then he fought on two fronts, as the bear-dog came back in and the Hollow pulled out a weapon, some kind of stick, and began throwing weird kidō at him.

To his utter shock, he lost.

The Hollow was a damned smart fighter, and the damned bear-dog just wouldn’t stay down. Finally Isshin ended up prone, wrapped in tensile steel ropes that came out of nowhere, head ringing, body aching.

He failed.

The Hollow would kill his son, like Grand Fisher had killed… he would lose his son now too, and little Uryū too. He prayed that Ryūken would take care of his girls, and that they, at least, would live full lives.

Then a boot stuck into his ribs and rolled him over, and he saw a bloodied, pissed-off adult he’d never seen before. The boot raised again, and the teen yelled, “No, Sirius! I think he knows the kids!”

The boot lowered again, thankfully not on his face. The stranger backed up enough for Isshin to see the teen waving his stick over Ichigo, who was being held by Uryū.

“Don’t you dare, you damned Hollow! Leave my son alone!” Isshin howled.

Everything in the clearing froze, except for the stick that kept a slow, steady movement over Ichigo’s ribs. If it hadn’t been coming from a Hollow, Isshin would have thought it was some kind of healing kidō.

“Son?” the stranger asked, sounding incredulous. “You attacked your own son?”

“All the time,” Ichigo said wearily.

“No!” Isshin protested. “That’s training! I don’t know who you are, but that,” he tried to point with his chin at the Hollow masquerading as a teenager, “is a Hollow!”

“Don’t be stupid,” Uryū barked, sounding impressively pissed off himself. “Harry is a human!”

“Well, wizard,” the stranger said, then morphed into the bear-dog.

Isshin nearly had a heart attack.

The bear-dog morphed back into the stranger, who was staring at Isshin like he was something to be scraped off the bottom of his shoe. Isshin glared back in response.

“Why do you think I’m a Hollow?” the teen asked, finally putting his stick away.

Ichigo was ignoring his father, and patting his ribs like he was testing them. Had he been hurt just by that little shove? God, how had Isshin ended up with such a wussy son?

Isshin scowled and looked over at the Hollow. “You can’t mask that kind of energy, Hollow.”

The stranger who could turn into a dog kicked Isshin, hard, in the ribs. It didn’t break anything, because he had a damned sturdy gigai, but on a normal human, that would have caved in at least three ribs. Isshin turned his glare on the man, who now had a stick of his own, pointed directly at Isshin’s heart.

“What energy?” the teen asked, putting himself between Isshin and the boys in a pseudo-protective stance, cutting off any chance Isshin might have had to get the kids out of danger.

“Coming out of your head,” Isshin finally growled, after another heavy kick to the exact same spot. That was going to bruise.

With an inquisitive look, the teen pointed with his free hand at the Hollow mark on his forehead. “Is it coming from here?”

Confused, Isshin nodded hesitantly. Perhaps it was a parasitic Hollow? If it had burrowed into a human, the teen might not even realize he’d become infected. Before he could toss out that idea, the bear-dog-man made a sound like a growl deep in his throat.

“Enough of your questions, asshole,” he snarled.

Isshin scowled harder at him for cursing in front of children, then was surprised by the Hollow-teen’s muttered, “Language.”

The strange man blushed a little, then glared harder down at Isshin. “Who are you and why are you attacking these boys?”

Again before Isshin could get a word out, Ichigo answered for him. “He’s my father.” His son sounded incredibly tired.

“Your dad attacks you like this?” The man stared between Isshin and Ichigo like he couldn’t understand simple Japanese.

“Constantly.”

The ropes suddenly tightened, stealing Isshin’s breath. Dots started to swim in front of his eyes and he gasped out, “No, I don’t!”

Silence fell, and Uryū said, “Perhaps you should loosen the bindings slightly before he passes out,” in an utterly uncaring tone of voice. He sounded so much like his father!

Thankfully, the kidō ropes stopped trying to squeeze him into paste, and he could draw breath to defend himself, verbally at least. “I’m training him. He needs to learn to defend himself.”

“So you’re, what, just going to keep beating him up until he hits you back?” The man sounded disgusted now.

“It’s not like that!” It really wasn’t. It’s how Shibas learned, by getting it pounded into their heads until they got it.

“It’s exactly like that,” Ichigo put in. Everyone looked at him. He refused to look at any of them, staring down at the ground.

“I’m not going full out, for god’s sake,” Isshin huffed. “I’m barely tapping you.”

“That’s where all the bruises come from.” Uryū sounded horrified.

“You get bruised in training!” Isshin cried. This was ridiculous. “I’m working on his reflexes, his awareness. He’s getting better, but he has to learn to fight back. We’re working on that.” Ignoring the snorts of disbelief and insulting muttering from the teen and the man, and the death glares from Uryū, he peered the best he could at his son. “I’m doing this for you, Ichigo. To make you stronger. I’m there for you!” He wasn’t as flamboyant as he usually was when he gave declarations of support, but there was no portrait of Masaki to cry to, and it was hard to flail his arms when they were strapped to his sides by steel rods. Plus, his ribs hurt.

Ichigo added another shock to an afternoon full of them when he said, “No. You’re not. Go away.”

He was looking directly at Isshin when he said it, with Masaki’s eyes, and damn. The boy meant it.

Isshin barely felt the steel ropes dissolve. Eyes still locked with the son that was publicly repudiating him, he staggered briefly before retreating into the trees to catch his breath and try to figure out what to do next. He didn’t go far, stealthily creeping around to a different part of the brush, shamelessly eavesdropping. He had to find an opportunity to rescue his son from the… wizard Hollow? Whether the boy wanted to be rescued or not.

The ensuing conversation nearly broke him. Ichigo described their training sessions, but he made it sound like Isshin was abusing him. Admittedly, he honestly hadn’t noticed that he’d given the boy a concussion… or apparently, a couple of them… but he hadn’t broken any bones. He’d been trying to toughen him up, but according to Ichigo…

“He blames me for getting mom killed.”

The man-bear-dog actually growled at that, while the teen Hollow made a sound like somebody punched him in the gut. Uryū put his arm around Ichigo’s shoulder again. Shock rang through Isshin’s head for a moment, and he came back to the conversation to hear Ichigo say, “He told me so himself. He’s right. It was my fault. This is my punishment.”

The various shouts and growls of disagreement masked Isshin’s own moan of pain. No. No, that’s not what he meant. He’d meant it was his own fault. But he hadn’t explained, hadn’t had time. Ichigo had left, and Isshin had no idea the boy had taken it like that.

No wonder his son never hit back. He thought he was being punished for murdering his mother.

He thought he deserved it.

Isshin sank to his knees behind the tree and lost his breakfast. How had he fucked this up so much? Eventually he settled enough to listen in again. The man was speaking.

“You’re still just a little boy,” the man said quietly, sounding like he understood the pain of an abusive home. And wasn’t that a kick in the head, and not one with the strength pulled, when his own son thought he was stuck in an abusive home? Isshin nearly vomited again, but he bit it back and listened a little more.

“Any time you need me,” the teen started.

“Us,” the man butted in.

“Us,” the teen amended, “call and we’ll be there. If it gets bad, or you ever feel threatened, come to us. Call us.”

“We’ll be there for you. Anything you need.” The man was somber, and sounded as though he was making some kind of vow.

“That goes for both of you,” the teen added. “I’ve seen your bruises, too, Uryū. If either of you ever need a place to run, come to us.”

Oh god. Isshin shuddered, then pulled himself away from the tree and staggered back home.

Not only did his son think he was the worst father ever… Ryūken’s kid had the same attitude about his own father.

He had no idea what to do now.

He had plenty of time to think about it. For months after that, every time he saw Ichigo the boy was wrapped up in his sisters. Other than that, the kid might as well have been a ghost. Though Isshin had an easier time seeing ghosts, depleted as he was, than he did finding his own son.

Still, he knew he had to do something about Ichigo’s training. Had to make sure he knew, at least, to hide the Quincy crap when the Shinigami found them. He’d do it first thing… if he ever got the chance to pin the kid down long enough to teach him anything.

~mending~

Life was getting better. He had a best friend who was brilliant even if sometimes Ichigo had to push him a little – Uryū was good at thinking but could think too much. He balanced Ichigo out when Ichigo probably should think and acted instead. He had a big brother, who was teaching him how to use his spiritual energy in ways even Uryū had never heard of. Sirius-ojisan had taken them into Tokyo one weekend, and he and Uryū had gotten wands. Now they had tutors for things he’d thought only existed in fantasy novels.

He had a problem with potions, but charms were weirdly easy, and he had a real knack for battle magic. That was okay, though, because Uryū was great with potions, and had a talent for transmutation. They both did pretty well with spellcasting, because it was a lot like the Quincy kidō. They all met at the clearing, or at Sirius’ house, and it was neat that he had a new uncle who helped with his mahou homework. It was nice to have an adult in his life who treated him like a kid and not like a punching bag.

He’d also met the Coolest Owl in the World, and she let him pet her feathers. Hedwig was amazing.

He and Uryū still spent the most time together. At the library, doing homework, at school, at the kendo dojo he’d dragged his friend off to join – and hadn’t it surprised Uryū when it turned out he was not bad with a sword, even if it came as naturally as breathing to Ichigo – and the martial arts dojo, doing mahou, working on Quincy craft. Of course, they still had things they didn’t share, like Uryū and his major fascination with sewing… or Ichigo’s own fascination with English literature, especially Shakespeare. Sirius was always happy to give him books he hadn’t read yet. He got a kick out of the little Japanese kid who loved the Bard, as he put it.

His sisters were doing okay. Karin had turned into a major football hound, and they went to all her games. They made their own cheering section, him and Uryū and Yuzu and Harry and Sirius. His dad was usually busy, but that was okay, because his dad didn’t know how to cheer right. He got all loud and embarrassing. Sirius got pretty loud and silly too, but for some reason, it felt like that was just who Sirius was, while his dad was putting on a show.

His dad still kicked or punched him every chance he got, but now, he also told Ichigo how to block or hit back. Every time he explained, though, he looked impatient or disappointed. Ichigo tried to spend as little time as possible at home.

That worked out pretty well. Yuzu had a big-brother crush on Harry, and both he and Sirius adored the girls, so the twins spent most of their time with Sirius when Ichigo had to train or study. He lied to his dad, told him he was baby-sitting, and Isshin believed him.

Well, either believed him, or was too busy, or didn’t care enough to check.

Either way, Ichigo didn’t care. The girls were safe, they were starting to learn a little mahou – Yuzu loved the housekeeping charms, while Karin had a knack for hexes – and Ichigo could relax, knowing there was an adult wizard, plus Harry, plus Uryū and him, all there to make sure no monsters got to Karin and Yuzu. They all went back home for dinner every night, and were there for breakfast every day, and other than that, they watched over each other, supported each other, protected each other. They were family, even if they hadn’t all been born as one.

Uryū’s dad was kind of like Isshin, only instead of beating him up, he ignored him. That was okay, too, even if Ichigo sometimes wanted to punch the man because of the sad look Uryū would hide behind his glasses. But Uryū had them, and they would never make him sad. Yuzu fed them, and Karin dragged them all out to help her train, and Sirius played jokes that made them all laugh, and Harry made sure everyone got their homework done and explained everything they couldn’t understand, and Ichigo was as happy as he could be.

He still missed his mom, and always would. But the empty hole that had tried to eat his heart was filled up with others now, and that was good.

It’s not to say it was perfect, of course. There were still idiots in the world.

“Hey, pipsqueak! Stop dying your hair so you look like me! You’re stupid!”

Yeah, there was that.

Some bullies a couple years older than him tried to beat him up.

He broke one’s nose and sprained the other’s elbow.

Then he picked up a nearby tree branch and beat the snot out of them.

He hadn’t known he was carrying around quite so much resentment over his dad’s treatment until he realized how relaxed he was after beating up the bullies.

Then the sensei called his dad, and his dad made a big fuss about him finally learning his lessons. The next time Isshin kicked him out of bed Ichigo kicked him back.

Right in the crotch.

His dad stopped kicking him.

Didn’t stop punching him, but he didn’t kick him for a long time.

Of course, Uryū found out about the bullies, and gave them a second beating for messing with his best friend. Other idiots who might have thought it would be okay for them to pick on the nerds learned very quickly how stupid that would be. Word got around.

The teachers were confused. He and Uryū had been tied for top student in the grade for the past two years, but they also got sent out more for fighting than any other kids their age. Most of them decided to encourage the academic accomplishment and shrug off the fights.

Other things changed, too. He seldom saw Tatsuki, since he wasn’t at her dojo any more, and she was in a different class. She found a friend in a ditzy girl with long hair who sometimes stared at Ichigo in a way that made him shiver, so he avoided them both. It was fine. His life was full. He was really busy. He had friends, and sisters, and he wasn’t worried about the past.

He was too focused on living every moment, every day … to honor his mother and protect those he loved.

~ surveillance~

Some things stayed the same in Karakura. Some changed.

Ryūken Ishida watched his son grow stronger as a Quincy than he ever expected the boy would. Kurosaki’s son was another surprise. Masaki’s talents bred truer than Isshin’s. He kept his distance, stayed in the shadows, and waited for the day it would fall apart and he would have to step in to save his son.

He would wait a very long time.

Orihime Inoue lost her brother, but gained a best friend in Tatsuki Arisawa. She learned to fight, she helped her best friend with schoolwork, and they paired up with a couple of boys named Keigo and Mizuiro in school. They were a fun group, and she had a good life. If she watched a bright-haired, brown-eyed boy a little more than she should, and wished for something else, well, a girl could always dream. Even if nothing ever came of it.

Uryū helped Ichigo control his monstrous reiatsu from the time he was ten, and Ichigo was highly motivated, swimming in guilt that the monster who had killed his mother had come after him. Due to Ichigo learning to use his spiritual power instead of overflowing with it, the kids around him weren’t affected. Nobody showed signs of strange powers. Hollows stopped flocking to Karakura following the scent of free-flowing reiatsu.

Yuzu could see dim outlines of ghosts, but ignored them to focus on her charms mahou. Karin had the same problem Ichigo had, in that ghosts looked as solid as real people. Ichigo and Uryū taught her how to recognize them and recommended she ignore them completely. She was happy to do so, not wanting to be seen as the weirdo talking to thin air.

Unbeknownst to any of them, Hedwig the Feathered Stalker and Ryūken the shadow-walker weren’t the only ones keeping watch.

~improvise~

This was not at all how Kisuke Urahara expected things to go. The last time he’d been this wrong-footed by the tide of events, a century ago, Sōsuke Aizen had mutilated the souls of eight Shinigami, gotten himself and Tessai exiled and nearly executed, and set up what should have been the eventual hybrid boy that would end him, incidentally destroying the Hōgyoku along the way.

Instead, the boy was more Quincy than Shinigami, Isshin and Ryūken were going bald or grey – greyer – wondering what the hell was going on, and kami knew what Aizen was doing now.

Kisuke’s instinct was to stay away – far away – from the drama, try to cover any possibilities that might impact the Visored or his allies, and cover his ass, as he always did. That instinct was sadly thwarted by the regular and unwelcome presence of Isshin Kurosaki every time he couldn’t find his children.

He thought about recommending bells, given how often the man camped out in his Shōten, but Yoruichi would claw his face to shreds at the implication that the brats were cats and cats should wear bells. Yoruichi was scary. His best friend in the world, of course, but still, scary.

So he had to do something. Not to get things back on the expected track, because that wasn’t going to happen. That track had been blown to smithereens a few years back, and there was no hope, and no need, to rebuild it. Little Ichigo needed to be hidden from the Gotei 13 now, not brought to their attention at just the right moment. The kid had manifested a Quincy sword – and wasn’t that a kick – before he’d heard his Zanpakutō or found his Hollow, and that alone would get him killed before he could be of any use in the fight against Aizen.

He stared down at the Kurosaki family, gathered at Masaki’s grave marker for the two-year shōtsuki meinichi. The little mother, Yuzu, laid out food, while the tomboy Karin stood guard. He could see so much of Masaki in Yuzu, and so much of Isshin in Karin. Isshin bounced around like a manic beach ball, impressing no one, but the man had always been a bit of an idiot.

Witness his failures with his son.

Speaking of Ichigo, the boy hovered by his sisters, keeping a watchful eye on them, avoiding his father, and keeping his head bowed toward the altar. He was looking a lot healthier than he had in the weeks after Masaki’s death.

His new friends were good for him.

It wasn’t what Isshin would want, because he hated the foreigners who he considered had usurped his place in his children’ lives, and he wasn’t too sure about the Quincy kid either. Kisuke shook his head and pulled his hat down further over his eyes. Isshin was blind to the reality of who his kids were, especially his son, and always would be. He wanted a Shiba, thought he could mold – or beat – the kid into one, and refused to change his approach when Ichigo turned out to be a male version of Masaki. Yeah. Dim.

Kisuke would help, as Isshin had pleaded, even if Isshin never recognized it as such.

A few days later, he strolled up to a well-kept house in a middle class neighborhood… much better than his own… and clacked his geta up the stairs. Rapping politely on the door with the handle of his sword cane, he smiled politely when suspicious green eyes stared up at him. He gave a polite bow to the teen mahou user, along with his most charming smile.

“Good day! My name is Kisuke Urahara. I am a family friend of the Kurosakis, and I would like to speak with you on matters of great importance.”

His tone was probably a little too cheerful, but it got him a half-smile from the teen, even as those bright green eyes didn’t lose an ounce of suspicion.

“Please come in,” his host invited, his voice surprisingly deep.

Kisuke upped the amps on his smile, stepped through the door and out of his geta, and looked up to see not one, but four wands pointed at him. Three in front, and one behind. He cleared his throat. Before he could speak, the adult in the group said, “The wards say you are a dead man. Care to explain?”

Ah. Crap. He hated wizard kidō. If it was sophisticated enough, and this schema obviously was, it could differentiate between live human bodies and gigai with souls stuffed into them.

“Please don’t shoot me,” he pleaded, hands up in a non-threatening posture, eyeballing the Quincy kids holding their wizard wands in rock-steady hands. “I am an exiled Shinigami in an artificial body known as a gigai, and I am a friend.”

Thankfully, Ichigo-kun had better reflexes than Isshin knew, because as soon as the word Shinigami came out of his mouth, Uryū-kun turned red and tried to kill him. Ichigo-kun knocked the wand up toward the ceiling, the teen threw up a shield to absorb whatever curse would have taken Kisuke’s head off, and the adult kept his wand trained on the interloper. Kisuke stayed very still.

“You make quite the coordinated team!” he complimented. “I swear I am not a threat.”

Ichigo-kun put his arm around his shaking friend, either to comfort him or hold him back, Kisuke couldn’t tell which. The teen slipped around him and walked through to the kitchen, gesturing them all to follow.

The adult kept his wand pointed at him. Really, the distrust.

Smart bastard.

A few moments and a round of introductions later, tea was being served along with dango, and four pairs of eyes were telling him to get on with it before Uryū-kun started hex practice with himself as target. He inhaled the aroma drifting up from his tea, gave an appreciative hum, took a leisurely sip, and stopped teasing before the kid actually cracked.

“There are many things you must know, for your own safety. Some of these things are not my secret to share, but in the spirit of cooperation, I will break one confidence to gain yours.”

They looked at him. He drank more tea.

“Okay,” Harry-kun nodded, “what threat is it that you need to warn us about? And how does it directly impact Ichigo?”

Sharp. Kisuke liked that. “Would you prefer the long version or the short version?” He hoped for long. It really was excellent tea, and the dango was delicious. Yuzu must have cooked it for them.

“I’d prefer the long version,” Harry-kun admitted, and Kisuke cheered, only to sober immediately as he continued, “but I have the feeling you’re a story-teller, and this is important. Give us the short version.”

It was a little odd that the teen in the room was the one calling the shots, but Kisuke had done his homework, and he knew as much as he could discover about the Boy Who Lived to Vanish, the Missing Savior. Looking into eyes that were much older than should be seen in such a young face, Kisuke nodded once and swallowed the last of his dango.

“There are two areas of concern. The first is that Isshin is a Shinigami who left the service of Soul Society without permission, and if he is ever found, the fact that his son is a Quincy could lead to execution orders on his entire family.”

Ichigo-kun and Uryū-kun immediately started babbling, while Sirius-san started making evacuation plans. Only Harry-kun kept his eyes locked with Kisuke, and his voice cut through the noise like a knife, silencing everyone. “Does that mean Ichigo is also a Shinigami?”

“No!” Uryū-kun immediately protested. “He’s a Quincy! I’m not the last!”

“How could I be a Shinigami if Shinigami killed Quincies and I’m a Quincy and how does that work?” spilled out of Ichigo-kun.

“Half-blood, huh. That makes it complicated, doesn’t it?” Sirius-san stopped thinking about running away and started thinking about sheltering in place.

“His mom must have been a Quincy,” Harry-kun half-asked, and Kisuke nodded in response. Harry-kun continued, “Then if he got his Quincy powers from his mother, perhaps he got Shinigami powers from his father. If so, he could train in both, and that would give him more options to protect himself, as well as taking attention away from the fact that Uryū is also a Quincy.”

Kisuke’s nod was slower, and his grin widened. Very sharp. He could work with this.

“We’ll get back to that,” Harry-san said, hands coming out to rub through orange and black locks, calming both boys. “You said there was a second problem?”

He set his teacup down, just in case the response he got was explosive. “You carry the shard of an evil soul attached to your own, and I offer you my services to remove it from you, integrate it with the other shards scattered around like discarded socks, and konsō Voldemort’s spirit.”

Sirius-san jerked at the name of the evil spirit, Harry-kun looked green at the idea of carrying an evil symbiont, and the boys looked confused.

“What’s a konsō?” Ichigo-kun asked.

“What’s a vole da wort?” Uryū-kun asked.

Kisuke waited for the babble to die down again before answering. “One duty of the Shinigami is to konsō spirits, or send them on to Soul Society, before they turn into Hollows or are eaten by a Hollow. Voldemort,” he paused for Sirius-san’s reflexive shudder, “is a very evil spirit that tore itself into multiple parts, no doubt the only reason he didn’t turn into a nasty Hollow, and hitched a ride in Harry-kun’s scar.”

The boys immediately looked at Harry-kun with utter fascination. Harry-kun rubbed his forehead and looked even greener. Sirius-san jumped up from his chair and wrapped Harry-kun up in a hug from behind.

“We’ll deal with the Shinigami if they show up, and we’ll train up Ichigo however we can, but right now we have to get that damned horcrux out of my son!” Sirius-san was a hair’s-breadth from hysterical.

“Language,” Harry-kun automatically chided, and Kisuke coughed over his tea.

“Shall we, then?” He rose and led the way to the back garden, the others following in various states of disbelief and confusion.

It was a lovely little garden, with an apple tree and several flowering bushes alongside quite a complete herb garden, many of the plants being magical. Kisuke nodded approval. It was a good place, seeped in love and mahou and nature. Evil was repelled by such surroundings. He turned, motioned Sirius-san to stand behind Harry-kun, then muttered an enhancing kidō chant to strengthen the konsō, and poked Harry-kun in the scar with Benihime.

The effect was immediate.

The scar burst open and a smoky essence burst out, trapped in a cage of glittering spiritual energy. The mutilated soul screamed in rage and agony, then jolted as thin streams of black smoke suddenly popped into being inside the cage, swelling the essence until it took the form of a scarred, tormented man. It solidified into a figure out of a nightmare, with wild red eyes, a face distorted by the horcrux kidō until it looked like it had melted, claws for hands, and a snake-like body. Kisuke kept the cage solid, ignoring the sounds of retching from the children and the frantic noises from the adult as he fussed over the unconscious teen, whose pale, still face showed a trickle of blood and what looked like tar dripping from the remnants of a much-reduced scar.

Then a gate descended, one that brought with it a pall of fear and intimidation. Skeletal hands opened tall doors as it neared the cage, then a single huge bone arm shot out. Kisuke timed it precisely, dropping the cage exactly as the bony fingers wrapped around Voldemort’s desecrated soul and dragged it into the depths of hell.

They all needed some hot tea after that.

Harry-kun was, of course, fine, after he woke up and washed his face. Ichigo-kun and Uryū-kun climbed up on the sofa with him, bracketing him as closely as possible as if to both support and protect him. It was adorable.

Sirius-san shook his hand and told him he was in his debt. Kisuke would take advantage of that sometime. It was good to have powerful figures owe him. Plus, the boys now thought he was cool, and Harry-kun was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. That was more than he usually got.

He could work with that.

~confrontation~

That night, dinner at the Kurosaki household got strange. Yuzu did her usual magic with the food, Karin set the table, Isshin came flying in praising them both extravagantly. Ichigo ducked a punch, waited for everyone to be served, then dropped his bomb.

“When were you going to tell us that you were a Shinigami, dad?” he asked, then ate a bite of rice.

Isshin went completely silent.

“Or is that not the kind of training you think I should get?”

Ichigo had sat his sisters down after school, before his father came in from the clinic, and told them everything that had happened that afternoon. He didn’t keep secrets from them that could place them in danger. They already knew about Quincies, and that they were Quincies, and that Shinigami killed Quincies. Finding out their father was a Shinigami was a shock, but they’d calmed down and were waiting to hear what their dad had to say before they came to any conclusions.

“Who told you that?” Isshin asked, his voice like ice.

Ichigo stared at him. He waited a little while, hoping for something more, but his dad just glared at him.

Really? That was it?

“Does it matter? It’s the truth, isn’t it?” Ichigo pushed a little.

“There are things…” Isshin’s voice trailed off, and he shook his head. “You don’t need to know some things.”

“Do I need to know how to protect myself and my sisters from the Shinigami?” Ichigo asked, his own voice going cold.

Isshin looked torn, then shook his head. “I will take care of my family. You’re just a kid, and a pretty weak one, at that. You can’t even keep up with basic self-defense, how do you think you can protect your sisters? What you should do is stop that Quincy nonsense. That will get you killed by the Shinigami faster than anything else.”

Ichigo couldn’t believe his ears. Here he was, offering his dad the chance to come clean, to give him some training, to protect his family, and all he got in return was that he should stop the training he was already doing?

“Now who told you about me?” Isshin leaned over the table, looming over Ichigo as if he could intimidate him.

After seeing the gates of hell that afternoon, Isshin was not about to faze Ichigo. He shook his head.

“You did,” he lied, “by your reaction when I said it.”

The twins kept silent, eyes going back and forth between their father and brother like spectators at a tennis match.

“You’re not strong enough for Shinigami training,” Isshin dismissed him, turning back to his dinner. “When you can hit back instead of ducking and running away like a little girl, I’ll think about it.”

So, that was a no, then.

The next week Ichigo added another sensei to his raft of teachers. Three times a week he spent part of the evening at Urahara’s training ground beneath his Shōten, adding standard Shinigami kidō to his spellcrafting, learning to konsō spirits and adding that to his repertoire with Uryū and Harry. Many times his best friend came along, and sometimes his sisters did, too, taking training from Tessai in kidō and beating up Jinta when he was too mean to Ururu. Jinta developed a bit of a crush on Yuzu until he pulled Ururu’s pigtails too hard and made her cry… and Yuzu smacked him with a frying pan.

Four more members joined Ichigo’s family-by-choice.

Training got more intense as the months went by, and he began to hear whispers. He had been meditating alongside Uryū for almost three years by then, so when he dropped into a trance and found himself in a park surrounded by skyscrapers, he wasn’t completely surprised.

The albino twin who stared at him with creepy yellow eyes over the blade of a Khyber knife the size of a surf board was a bit of a shock. The old man in sunglasses and a coat blowing in the breeze behind him was another one.

The old man stepped down off the pole he stood on and glided down to stand next to the albino. His mouth moved but Ichigo couldn’t hear him.

“Don’t waste your breath,” the albino drawled. “Baby can’t hear anything yet.”

“My name’s Ichigo,” Ichigo informed him, “not baby. What’s yours?”

The albino dropped the huge sword.

Ichigo picked it up.

“Zangetsu,” the albino whispered. Ichigo heard him clearly.

“Nice to meet you, Zangetsu,” he bowed politely, though he kept a firm hold on the sword.

The albino spluttered. The old man looked like he wanted to laugh.

“Are you my Zanpakutō?” Ichigo asked, eyes roving from his pasty twin to the old man. The albino answered first.

“Yup!” Then he smiled evilly. “Now it’s time to fight me, to win the right to wield me in battle!”

Ichigo looked down at the sword he still held. He could barely lift it. Carefully, he shuffled it behind him. Then he looked the albino in the eye, smiled gently… and kicked him as hard as he could in the crotch.

Staring down at the moaning ball of pain, Ichigo glanced up at the old man, who’d lost his fight to keep his composure and was now laughing his head off. “Are you also my Zanpakutō?” he asked calmly.

“No,” the old man answered when he finally caught his breath. Ichigo was happily surprised that he could now hear the man’s words. “I’m something else. You’ll learn eventually. Right now, you need to deal with him.” He gestured toward the albino, just starting to uncurl, then smiled at Ichigo. “I will be here when you need me.”

Then he disappeared, only to reappear standing on top a pole a very far distance away.

Ichigo thought he was weird, but at least friendly. His Zanpakutō, though? Needed an attitude adjustment, as Harry niisan would say.

Before Zangetsu could catch his breath, Ichigo managed to raise the humongous sword high enough to smack him over the head with it. Then while the albino was still dizzy, Ichigo jumped on top of him and pinned him in a wrestler’s hold. He didn’t let go until Zangetsu yelped, “Uncle!”

Then Zangetsu said some words that would have Harry getting on his back for language, before he climbed shakily to his feet and bowed to Ichigo.

“For now, King, the throne is yours.” He didn’t sound happy about it.

“Don’t be stupid.” Ichigo poked him in the forehead. Zangetsu’s eyes crossed trying to follow the finger, then glared after he got poked. “You’re my Zanpakutō. We’re partners. We’re going to get strong together, and we’re going to protect Yuzu and Karin, and Uryū, and Harry, and Sirius and Kisuke, and Tessai-san, and Ururu, and even that idiot Jinta, you got that?”

Zangetsu looked a little dazed at the litany of names, then shook his head and gave Ichigo a fierce grin. “Let’s get to work, then!”

They did.

It was pretty funny the first time Zangetsu materialized on the training ground and Urahara was so shocked he dropped his hat.

Along with Uryū, who considered Ichigo a brother by then, they adapted their fighting style to fulfill Sōken’s dream of the Shinigami and Quincy fighting side by side, only with a Wizard along to support them.

The Hollows never stood a chance.

~purify~

If anyone had told him, a mere four years and some months earlier, that he would be patriarch of a ragtag, immensely talented, gorgeous family of five, Sirius would have called them nutters and hexed them for feeding him pipedreams. Yet here he was, ensconced in a normal, not haunted house, in a mixed muggle – mundane and magical neighborhood, father-figure to his son, two younger boys, and two even younger girls. He was best friends with a crazy inventor poltergeist in a person-suit… and the first time he’d called Kisuke that, the laughter had nearly brought the walls down, loudest of all from said poltergeist. He was uncle-babysitter to two of the strangest kids he’d ever met, and good friends with a braided man who could break him in half with one finger. He went to movies, owned a working television and more than one computer, banked with demons who loved him due to an unexpected knack for investments, and to his everlasting surprise, one day several months after working with his son’s senseis, he’d been handed a writ of immunity from extradition and Japanese citizenship.

The Japanese ministry loathed the British ministry, and even if it was never publicized, they loved the fact that they’d seen justice done when the Brits were too stupid and prejudiced to do so. The fact that Sirius had tipped a few Karakura bigwigs to a few juicy stock options hadn’t hurt.

Still, there he was, an integral part of Harry’s life, with a new best friend who would have put the Marauders in their heyday to shame, and a bunch of the cutest kids on the planet called him Ojisan. True, Isshin sometimes invaded and yelled at everybody for a while, but a silencing charm and a tight binding hex took care of that. Yuzu would pat him on the arm then smack him with a frying pan, Karin would ask pointed questions about where he’d been her last football game, then Ichigo would look at him with big sad brown eyes until Isshin shuddered and went away again.

It was kind of entertaining, in a sad way. The man wanted to be a father, he was just shit at it.

Then there was the little archer’s dad. Uryū had a very dark sense of humor that Sirius shared, and also happened to be the second most adorable kid on the planet – right behind Yuzu and tied with Ichigo. Sirius felt very protective of all the kids, and had more than one silent staring contest with the gray-topped long drink of water who’d fathered then essentially abandoned Uryū.

Maybe it was some buried guilt Ryūken wouldn’t admit to, or maybe it was the charm Sirius put on his eyes to make little tiny lightning flashes light them up, but in five years, Ryūken had never even introduced himself. He’d pop up, lurk in the shadows, stare at them until Sirius stared him down, then disappear again for a while. Sirius guessed it was his way to be protective, to watch over the kids. It might have been heartening if it wasn’t so damned creepy.

Not to mention the fact that he didn’t talk to his son, either. That was pathetic.

Nevertheless, Sirius did his best, and the kids seemed to appreciate it. They were always underfoot, anyway. And he loved it.

A distinctive knock came to the door and Sirius wandered over to let Kisuke in. His friend was looking unusually fatigued, and Sirius quickly brought tea and some of Yuzu’s manjū.

No bad mood could ever survive Yuzu’s desserts.

As expected, Kisuke’s face lit up at the plate, which he then fell on like a lion on a fresh kill. Sirius watched him, one brow climbing higher on his forehead, until he had to ask.

“Starving much?”

“Been too busy to eat,” Kisuke got out between bites. The plate was soon shiny clean. Kisuke sat back with a replete sigh.

“What has your knickers in a twist?” Sirius prodded.

“Don’t wear ‘em,” Kisuke cheerily replied.

“Much too much information,” Sirius rebutted, then leveled a stare at him, upping the lightning bolt charm until Kisuke raised his hands in surrender.

“Stop blinding me, Siri-kun.” The hands dropped, and so did his expression. He looked distracted and depressed.

This would never do. Sirius was running through a mental checklist of pranks he hadn’t yet sprung on his latest, greatest victim – er, buddy – when Kisuke sighed and brought a small box out of his pocket. He laid it on the table and stared at it.

“What’s that?” Sirius asked when no further information was forthcoming.

“My most incredible invention, and the end of the world,” Kisuke answered, and for once, he didn’t sound like he was joking.

Sirius sat upright. “I like this world. You are not going to end it. How can I help?”

Kisuke reached over and flipped open the top of the box. Inside was a lumpy purplish rock. Sirius stared at it.

“It’s the Hōgyoku,” muttered Kisuke.

“What the hoagie-cue when it’s at home?” Sirius reached forward to prod it with a finger, then stopped. It was churning with magic. Destructive, chaotic, dark magic.

“Hōgyoku,” Kisuke repeated, then asked, “What do you feel?”

“Evil,” Sirius answered immediately. “Why the holy fucking hell would you mess around with black magic like this?”

Kisuke stared at Sirius, head cocked to the side, before answering softly, “It wasn’t meant to be black magic. It was meant to be a tool to help understand the barriers between Shinigami and Hollows. I have used it to stabilize the souls of friends who have been forcefully Hollowified.”

“It wasn’t meant to be, period. There was an artifact, back in England, that felt something like this, only much weaker. It was called the Mirror of Erised. Showed people what they most desired in the world, and drove most of them insane. I came across it once, in school, before it disappeared. Harry got caught by it too, when his idiot headmaster brought it out of storage to taunt Voldemort. This hoagie-rock feels like that mirror, only even stronger, deeper, darker. You need to destroy it, Kisuke, before it destroys you.”

“Or the world,” Kisuke sighed again. He glanced up at Sirius then back down at the rock. “It’s not the only one, but it’s the complete one.”

“There’s another one of these evil things around?” Sirius’ voice rose by the end, and he shook his head, reining in his disbelief. “Shit, it’s even nastier than a horcrux.”

Kisuke folded his hands on the table, stared at the evil rock, and told Sirius a tale, of betrayal and treason. Of undeserved exile and coming apocalypse, and of a vicious megalomaniac hiding behind a gentle smile. Of Sōsuke Aizen, Kaname Tōsen, Gin Ichimaru. Of Tessai and Yoruichi, of the Visored who used to be Shinigami. Of the experiments on pure souls and adjuchas that would lead to an invasion that could kill the Soul King and destabilize three worlds. Of the end of days, if Kisuke couldn’t find a way to disarm the firing pin, his completed Hōgyoku.

Sirius stared at his friend, at the end of a long, twisty, hopeless rope, and looked back at the rock.

“Maybe you’re looking at this from the wrong angle,” he offered.

Kisuke tipped his hat back and grey eyes met grey eyes. A smirk started to grow on his face. “What recommendation do you have, my most devious friend?”

Sirius smirked back. “If you can’t kill it… drain it dry and crush it to dust.”

After a moment of dead silence, the kitchen rang to the sound of Kisuke thumping his head on the table. “Out of the mouths of children and fools…”

“Let’s get started then, shall we?” Sirius cheerfully urged, ignoring the insults as usual and wanting that evil rock out of his house before the kids got home.

For the second time in recent years, the peaceful back garden became the scene of an exorcism of the magical sort. Sirius provided the Latin and the wand, Kisuke provided the protective kidō and leant his strength when the Hōgyoku fought back. In less time than it would take to tell it, the rock was drained, the evil dissipated, the threat averted. The dust that had been the rock was vanished, and with it, the fear that they were holding on to the key to the end of the world as they knew it.

Kisuke was so damned happy, Sirius gave him free rein of the firewhiskey. They were singing bar songs in a mishmash of English and Japanese when Harry got home.

Sobering jinxes stung.

~promising~

1999 was a banner year for Harry. He graduated from Karakura High, blushing all the way through the party Sirius threw him that somehow took over a full corner of the training grounds under Urahara’s Shōten. Everyone in Karakura who Harry liked came, which didn’t include anyone actually from Karakura High, as he’d never been able or truly willing to shed his outsider status.

He didn’t dare let any mundanes get too close. Not when he went out fighting monsters every night with a team of kids using a magic wand and kidō and swords and bows made out of blue lightning.

The party crowd included his adoptive little brothers and sisters, the Shōten four, a few of the wizards and witches he’d befriended when sharing tutors, a couple of the Kanedama he’d worked with at the bank, and some interesting friends of Kisuke’s whose magic felt like a strange mix of Shinigami and Hollow. Harry had met them individually over the years, but didn’t know them well. The one blonde girl was kind of bitchy, but a guy he thought was her older brother kept her somewhat in check, and she reined it in around the younger kids after Harry cursed her mouth to disappear a few times. There was also a pretty brunette in a sailor suit, and a tall, good-looking guy with long wavy blond hair who carried the background hum of music with him wherever he went.

Harry wanted to get to know those two better. Much better.

The party was a blast, with music, dancing, food, and friendly faces. Harry couldn’t help but contrast it, for a moment, to the constricted, gloomy life he’d left in England. Then Ichigo bounced up to him offering a little plate of yōkan, and Karin pulled the girl with green hair and goggles onto the dance floor, and the moment of angst was lost forever to the fun to be had then and there.

When Tessai asked him, in a rare moment of quiet, what he intended to do next, Harry grinned at him.

“Stay here. Keep my garden. Learn more magic. Oversee investments.” He paused, then said in all seriousness, “Protect my little brothers and sisters.”

Tessai gave him a proud pat on the back that nearly put him on his face in the sand.

~found~

Ichigo had just turned thirteen when the self-made family gained a new member. It started, again, at the river. Under a bridge. This time, with bullies.

He’d noticed the very tall, dark-skinned boy with the shaggy brown hair in class, of course. Even if the boy never talked, he was impossible to miss. He was a full head taller than every other kid in class. The first day after class, Ichigo and Uryū noticed that some of the same older idiots who had tried, failed, and learned not to attack them a few years before had a new target.

The big guy ignored them and walked away.

Before they could follow him, Uryū cut them off, Ichigo stopped their retreat, and the two beat the snot out of the half-dozen who thought it would be fun to beat up the younger students.

Most bullies would get the hint that the new kid was under the protection of two who, though a couple years younger, could and certainly would hand them their asses if they kept it up. Not only were these particular bullies too stupid to figure that out, but the next time, they brought friends. They did at least try to keep it from Ichigo and Uryū, by ambushing the new kid, dragging him under a bridge where they thought they were hidden, and tying him to a chair. They hadn’t decided if they were just going to beat him to a pulp or if they would actually kill him. They’d been building up to that for years.

Before they could find their tiny minds to make them up, hell arrived via the feet and fists of two very pissed off protectors.

When all eleven of the would-be thugs were unconscious, bleeding into the mud, Uryū pulled the phone off one of them and called an ambulance. His father, estranged as they were, was a doctor, and he was particular about medical protocol. Plus, he didn’t want any of the idiots to accidentally die and send them all to court. It would be a bother.

Ichigo made his way to the tied-up boy. For once the shaggy hair was pushed back, and big, shocked dark brown eyes stared up at him.

“Hi, I’m Ichigo. Don’t mind the trash. We’ve taken it out for you.”

Once the ropes were loosened enough, the big guy got up, staggering a little until Ichigo dragged an heavily-muscled arm over his shoulder to steady him.

“What’s your name again?” he asked. He was terrible with names.

“Sado Yasutora,” he rumbled so quietly Ichigo could barely hear him.

“Chad,” he guessed, then started to drag the much taller boy over to Uryū, “this is Uryū. Uryū, this is Chad. See? I can be polite!”

Uryū shook his head, pushed up his glasses, then threw the phone he’d used to call for aid to the ground and stomped on it. “Nice to meet you, Chad. Let’s get out of here before the police or the ambulances arrive.”

It was the start of a beautiful friendship. Chad quickly got used to being called Chad instead of Sado, and over juice and rice balls in the park Ichigo and Uryū pulled his story from him.

It was sad. He was an orphan and an outsider. The only thing he had from his family was a coin on a chain his abuelo had given him, and a promise to use his strength to defend, not attack. He told the story of bad men attacking his abuelo, and his abuelo refusing to strike back at those weaker than himself.

It took a lot of convincing, over several weeks and eventually pulling in the whole family, before he understood that he could also defend himself as well as others. Harry was the one who got through to him.

“My mom and dad died to protect me. If I didn’t do my best to survive, then I would be wasting their sacrifice, as if it was nothing. Uryū’s grandfather died for his principles, Ichigo’s mother died protecting him. They all wanted us to live. Your grandfather loved you. He would not want you to die because you refused to defend yourself.”

Chad still didn’t completely agree, too steeped in grief and needing to honor his grandfather’s memory. Ichigo finally found the key. “If you can’t fight for yourself, we’ll fight for you. I’ll fight for you.”

Uryū nodded, and so did Harry. Sirius beamed at them all, pride all over his face, making Ichigo feel proud at finding a solution.

“And I will fight for you,” Chad finally whispered.

With that, another lost boy joined the family.

~triumphant~

A year after his duo of little brothers – even if Chad was a foot taller than himself and Ichigo was catching up fast – became a trio, Harry hit another milestone.

He was a master. Not just A master, but a triple master.

Runes, that he could speak like a third language – after English and Japanese, before Latin and the French Sirius was still trying to cram into his brain. Battle magic, due to a natural bent that had saved his life since he was a toddler and a lot of practice tutoring Ichigo. And, ironically, potions, in main part because of spending all his time with the kids, being shamed by Uryū’s burgeoning skill, by Yuzu’s constant cooking, and even flashing back to his early experiences with the Dursleys. Who knew being forced to cook before you were tall enough to reach the burners would leave a person with a lasting talent for ingredient preparation?

Still, he hadn’t planned on it. He’d just gone in to sit for his adult credentials, Asia’s equivalent to the NEWTs, determined to make his senseis and Sirius proud after all the intensive tutoring they’d given him.

The runes tests, Asian and European, had been a blast. He’d had to translate a few pages of archaic, historic, and modern runic texts, then for the fun of it he’d created wards with runes from each period, six in all, woven them together, then invited his proctors to unweave them. Not only could his two proctors not undo his work, they couldn’t figure out most of it. They called in a couple more teams, and by the time the test period was over, every other freakin’ rune exam in the building was on hold because all the proctors were in his room, poking at his ward scheme.

He walked out of that one holding a master’s certificate and guild membership. Good way to start his exams!

Spellcasting Chants was next, and after five years of being corrected by a young Quincy and three years of having a couple Shinigami kidō masters springing pop quizzes on him, it was easy. He’d never be the best at it, because he was simply too powerful, and he’d begun training too late for the fine control needed for most of it. Still, he could do them all, even if some of them were overpowered enough to make his proctors’ eyes pop out. No problem with that exam.

Magical Beings was a bit of a challenge, because while he could handle the kappa by bribing it with a cucumber, the juvenile Zennyo Ryūō spoke a variant of parseltongue, and all it wanted to do was argue. And make it rain. The proctors weren’t impressed at getting completely soggy. Still, it was a pass.

Battle Magic was, again, a lot more fun than he’d expected. The written test was all about strategy, and he’d had an amazing tutor who had pounded that into his head until he could come up with strategy on the fly in his sleep, or maybe in a coma. Spending the past five years leading small group attacks against Hollows – not to mention his previous experience with a basilisk, a dragon, numerous death eaters, and Snape – had ingrained survival tactics and end game possibilities into his soul. Perhaps literally. He’d find out when he died. Anyway, the real kick had been the demonstration part of the exam. A duel between himself and one proctor became a two-on-one, then just like with runes, more proctors started showing up, and the battle royal that followed was one for the books. Harry completely forgot he was in a simulation as the gang of proctors came at him at full force. When it was over, he was the last man standing.

No one died, although a lot of people needed medical assistance. He walked out of that one with a master’s certificate and a guild membership, too, along with several phone numbers of proctors who wanted to train with him. He wondered if Urahara’s basement would survive.

He was still snickering about that when he entered Transmutations, which was probably not the best idea. The battle-axe main proctor thought he wasn’t taking things seriously. Sadly, she told him so, leading his mind directly to the Sirius-pun, and another snicker escaped before he could stop it. She upped her game, and he strained to keep up. He was able complete the alchemical creation of cinnabar, but his silver elixir was weak. At least he aced the written exam. He was happy to scrape the equivalent to an Exceeds Expectations and escape the room.

Potions started bright and early the next day, and he was able to relax again. One thing he’d learned from Yuzu, Uryū, and his very patient sensei, was that he had the instinct for potioneering, he just got too tense. He joked – truthfully – that his early training, if he could call it that, called more on his survival instinct than his potioneering instinct. His sensei gave a short, pithy, utterly disrespectful rant about the uselessness of his previous teacher, to which Harry heartily agreed, hoping somewhere Snape’s ears were burning. Then his sensei started him over at the beginning. Harry spent the next five years working his butt off to lose old bad habits and gain good new ones. It showed in his comprehensive exams, as once more, he got a perfect score on the written test, then simultaneously brewed Felix Felicis and Wiggenweld Potion. Then for fun, he showed them how to brew Heartbreak Teardrops, giving credit to Gred and Forge as credit was due, and finished it off with a little something he invented to counteract cataracts, as a favor to his sensei, who had begun to develop them.

They loved it. A third master’s certificate, and another guild membership, were his. He wondered if there was a way he could get a pensive account of the moment when Snape realized he was no longer the youngest Potions Master in the guild to have attained his Mastership… and that it was now Harry Potter. That would be freakin’ hilarious.

The fifth and last day of exams brought Charms and Hexes. It was probably his favorite subject, but not nearly his strongest. His main problem was the way it was taught and tested. He was trained to integrate several different ways and types of magic, whether it was for combat or working in the garden. Isolating, honing to precision, then demonstrating single charms or hexes was actually quite difficult for him, and it showed in his results. Another Exceeds Expectations exceeded his own expectations.

Then it was over, and the party was epic.

This time, he got Lisa’s phone number, and a date with Rose.

Unfortunately, there was one expected fallout to posting his exam scores. The International Confederation of Wizards was still headed by Albus Dumbledore, and since Harry tested under his legal name but still wanted to protect his godfather, he took them as Hadrian Potter, not Black. He only used Evans in the mundane world.

He’d warded his home, the Shōten, Chad’s apartment, the Kurosaki clinic and home – when Isshin was out of town – and the clearing where he did most of his training, against Phoenix intrusion, but he couldn’t ward all of Karakura. Consequently, one afternoon a few days after his credentials were confirmed to the ICW, he was walking home from the grocery store when a ball of flame carrying a very old man in a robe showed up on the sidewalk.

Harry dropped his grocery bag, sketched a rune containment field with one hand and an extra-strength notice-me-not with the other, then before Dumbledore could form a word, hit the bastard with a transmutation that turned him into a turnip.

Fawkes made a sound a lot like laughter. Harry shook his head at the silly bird.

Then he picked up the turnip, wiped the containment field, and tossed the turnip to the phoenix, who caught it in a talon.

“Get him out of here before I pickle him and serve him for salad,” Harry told Fawkes.

A flash of flame later and the interloper was gone. Harry was still steaming when he got home. Later that night he was explaining who Dumbledore was to his appalled crew of five little brothers and sisters, when an envelope appeared above the table.

A howler.

Sirius froze it with a spell, then Ichigo planted a fist in the developing mouth, breaking it in several pieces. Harry was impressed.

“Never seen that way to deal with it. Nice job!” he complimented. Then he tightened the hell out of the wards until nothing could squeak through without his prior approval. He wouldn’t take the chance the crazy light-ish lord might kidnap one of the kids and use them as leverage. Apparently the idiot hadn’t figured out that Voldemort had been dead for the past three years.

Maybe he wanted Harry back to deal with the remaining death munchers. As far as Harry was concerned, he could keep wanting, and take care of his own problems.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it.

The diplomatic pouch came through a couple days later, with an apologetic note from the banker. They were under pressure to release residence records, but the Japanese ministry was backing them in retaining client privacy. Sirius was disgusted, but Harry was furious.

Inside the pouch was an official document of the British government, essentially recalling Harry to Britain.

Harry used it as a poop catcher under Hedwig’s perch. She happily obliged by depositing quite the mess, topping it with a regurgitated ball of rodent bones, before Harry folded it back up and returned it to the sender.

The British minister, some popinjay named Scrimgeour, laid a formal complaint against him to the Japanese ministry. The Japanese ministry, in return, filed a restraining order on behalf of their citizen and told the Brits to stay away or there would be hell to pay.

Scrimgeour sent a team of aurors. Four were eaten by the Tsuchigumo guarding the borders from invaders. One died of a heart attack. One was allowed to escape, to return to London and give pensive testimony.

Britain stopped trying to invade Japan over Harry Potter. As Scrimgeour told Dumbledore – as reported in the Daily Prophet – ‘the Japanese are fucking terrifying and if you want him so badly, you can go get eaten by the goddamned tiger-spider-demons!’ Billing themselves as a family newspaper, they cleaned the verbiage up a little, but the meaning was clear.

So, of course, Dumbledore had the bright idea to send a couple private citizens.

Ron Weasley never made it through customs. It’s a bad idea to use racially-bigoted language about and in front of foreign officials on their own soil who speak better English than the one making the comments.

Hermione Granger-Weasley smacked her idiot husband on the head and tried to talk her way in. Bossiness and arrogance were not quite as offensive as outright bigotry, but that kind of attitude still doesn’t fly well with customs officials who are already disposed toward refusing entry. Association with idiots isn’t a crime, but it can result in an international portkey right back where they came from. And it did.

When they tried to send letters, the owls got all confused and went back home. Eventually Harry started feeling sorry for the owls, and sent a note via the bank. It was simple and to the point, and it was a howler that shook the dust off the Burrow.

“PISS OFF.”

Eventually, when their hearing returned, the Weasleys as a whole decided it was a good idea to leave Harry alone. The twins were heartbroken, and viciously pranked their siblings and mother for years. Their father hid in the shed, until he was bitten by a prank-cursed rubber duck. After that, he spent a lot of long days in the office. Hiding.

When the twin to that howler went off in Dumbledore’s office, it caused a fire that had Fawkes cackling for days, destroyed the last few useless tracking instruments the old man had been trying to tune to find Harry, and destroyed eight hundred years’ worth of portraits, whose inhabitants were forced to seek sanctuary in other paintings. Those were mostly in dusty, forgotten hallways that effectively rendered the combined wisdom of the previous headmasters and headmistresses moot, as there was no one to hear it.

Eventually, Dumbledore would also get the message. Or die trying. Harry didn’t care which.

~wistful~

Violet eyes stared out at the bustling town in the Living World. She had been asking for this assignment for some time, and Captain Ukitake had finally given it to her. He’d been kind when he told her, “It’s not very exciting, I’m afraid. Perfect for an unranked Shinigami getting a little Living World experience.” Still, she had been over the moon to finally get her way.

Be careful what you wish for.

Sure, there were a few plus souls she could perform konsō for – it was always nice to see the poor lost things dissolve and head up to Soul Society where they belonged.

Hopefully they wouldn’t end up in the far districts of Rukongai like she had. She could say from experience she wouldn’t wish that on her worst enemy. Sometimes, she had looked around the richly-appointed home of the family who had adopted her, and wondered. Would she have succeeded in going all the way through the Academy? Would her sister have survived, if she hadn’t abandoned her as an infant and married a nobleman? Would Byakuya Nii-sama ever actually look at her? Would Renji ever forgive her for abandoning him?

A Hollow sounded in the distance, and she was happy for the distraction. By the time she got there, it was gone. No sign of spiritual pressure anywhere.

She sighed. It was a cushy posting, with very few Hollows to fight, as something in the town apparently scared them off, but it was SO BORING.

Well, there were a few perks. She had an allowance, and there was ready access to the wonders of Chappy the Rabbit here. But one could only revel in the sparkly amazement of Chappy for so long before even it got a little stale. She immediately sent a mental apology to Chappy for thinking ill of him, and swept her eyes over the townscape.

There was another perk. Some of the humans were really, really cute. There was a group of them walking along, happy, some sort of celebration. She listened closer.

Ah, it was the one man’s twentieth birthday. Harry. A weird name for a very cute man. He was surrounded by family, glowing at the attention. The love was so thick it was practically palpable.

What she wouldn’t give to have that feeling in her life.

She only realized she’d been staring too long when the cute man shook his head and said something directly at her. It took a moment to understand.

“Sorry. I don’t date dead girls.”

She was so embarrassed she nearly fell off the telephone pole she’d been standing on. By the time she got her balance, and her composure, back, the group had turned a corner and were out of sight.

Well. Boring was better than humiliating.

Rukia hunkered down on a fence and kept watch, ignoring the blush on her cheeks until it finally went away.

She couldn’t wait for this posting to be over.

~incredulity~

It was not turning out the way Sōsuke expected it to, and that was… astonishing.

He had always played the long game, and he had always won. Things were going along perfectly.

The experiments in the Rukongai went very well, and the ones in Hueco Mundo were promising. The fall of roughly a third of the Gotei 13 was blamed on exactly who he chose, and the thorn in his side that was Urahara was cast out, left vulnerable. Then after decades of work, the idiot savant hooked up with a wand-user, of all things, and broke the Hōgyoku! How the hell was he supposed to steal it, in a grand unveiling to the Seireitei that would sow confusion and angst in its wake, then use it to complete his own Hōgyoku, now that Urahara-the-moron destroyed it?

He realized he was gritting his teeth, and stopped immediately. Ulquiorra gave him a glance that might be considered inquisitive for a zombie. He ignored it.

The hybrid was born, then left vulnerable, as intended… only to turn out to be very Quincy with little Shinigami, and that wouldn’t work for what he needed. The brat had an inner Hollow, and what does he do? He makes friends with it.

What was WRONG with these people?

The Kuchiki girl was in place, but there was no need to send Fishbone D to wound her. Urahara wouldn’t have to pop her in a draining gigai, because the Hōgyoku was already destroyed. She wouldn’t have to infuse the hybrid Ichigo with her Shinigami powers to kick start his, because he’d been using his Zanpakutō for two years already… a Zanpakutō that was a Hollow, and his friend.

Un-be-lievable.

So he’d been forced to improvise, and while he was an amazingly brilliant strategist, he wasn’t that great thinking on the fly. Hence his attempt at making an Arrancar with an incomplete Hōgyoku that resulted in a droopy bat with very low mental capacity following him around like a fan-girl.

He would not be doing that again.

Realizing he was gritting his teeth again and Ulquiorra was rubbing his chin against his knee like a cat wanting to be petted, he blew the trailing lock of hair out of his face, tossed the plan out the window, and started over.

He was going to kill them all, for the sheer inconvenience they were causing him.

Plus, Ulquiorra was drooling on him.

If he wasn’t above it all, he’d have torn his hair out by now.

~renegade~

He’d promised her revenge for what was taken from her, even if she never knew it. Here, now, as his taicho’s plans were falling around him like rocks in a landslide, Gin saw his opportunity.

They had been sneaking away from the Seireitei in pairs for years, sometimes him and Aizen, sometimes him and Tōsen, a few times Tōsen with Aizen, though not often, because Tōsen irritated the hell out of the taicho with his constant whining about justice and the unwieldy stick up his ass. After the epic failure that was the creation of the first arrancar, something that still made Gin laugh out loud when he was very far away from Aizen and very sure no one could hear him… or in the captains’ meeting when no one would know why he was laughing, that was also fun… Aizen had shelved the plans with the Hōgyoku and stepped up his trips out into the wastelands of Hueco Mundo, looking for naturally-occurring arrancar.

They’d found at least three. One was a self-proclaimed king who set his minions on one another for sport. The others were a man and a child, so powerful they were constantly surrounded by the mountains of corpses caused by the crushing force of their massive reiatsu. Whichever they picked would require more muscle than just two of them could provide, even when one of them was Aizen.

It was hard for all three to get away at the same time, so it seldom happened. Finally, in the midst of the wreckage of his plans for Karakura, the moment arrived.

Gin had bided his time, gathered his strength, waited and watched for an opening.

He was a snake, and a snake knew when to strike.

Aizen trusted Gin as much as he trusted anyone, which was to say not much, but more than he trusted Tōsen. When they ended up on the battlefield of Barragan’s court, slaughtering his army like the weaklings they were, Gin saw his chance.

Tōsen got distracted, and Gin ducked forward as if to cover his back. The serrated edge of a Hollow’s carapace flew through the air under Gin’s blade, and what bad luck that it just so happened to take Tōsen’s head off at the neck.

That caused a moment’s distraction, which was all Barragan needed. He spat out some kind of mist, and Aizen turned to face it. Gin closed in as if to support him, then grabbed Kyōka Suigetsu with one hand and stabbed Shinsō upward with the other. He ripped his Zanpakutō out and fell back, scuttling as fast as he could while dodging both Aizen’s blade and Barragan’s poison.

Then Aizen froze, with the strangest expression on his face. He looked down, and Gin watched with him as his chest dissolved rapidly away.

Gin didn’t stick around too closely after that. Ignoring Barragan’s jeering, he got as far away as he could and still keep an eye out to make damned sure Aizen actually died. When his taicho was dust, blowing away to mingle with the sands of Hueco Mundo, Gin opened up a Senkaimon and escaped back to Soul Society.

Back in his barracks, unseen by anyone, he took a deep, relieved breath and fell onto his futon. Finally. Finally, it was over.

He would never be able to wash out all the blood that stained him, but he was finally free.

Aizen was reported missing the next day by his devoted slave Hinamori. It took a couple days for anyone to notice Tōsen was missing, as he wasn’t nearly as beloved by his lieutenant. Komamura made a fuss, though, so Hisagi went looking, thinking his captain was on one of his pilgrimages out in the Rukon. When he didn’t find a trace he came back, panicked.

It was all pretty funny to watch.

The ensuing investigation brought to light all sorts of unsavory things, most of them about Tōsen, painting him as a traitor and a bad, bad man who had led an innocent, naïve Aizen astray. There were even scandalous rumors of an affair, complete with bondage gear, that sent Hinamori into hysterics.

Gin had fun planting those.

The Sixth began an investigation, of course, with Byakuya-hime throwing his weight around. The egg on his face as the investigation stalled out and the days turned into months, then years, before it was forgotten, was yet another source of amusement.

Eventually, Gin felt enough peace in his heart to ask Rangiku to marry him. She laughed, told him no, then dragged him away for the most incredible sex he’d ever had. She wasn’t the marrying kind, she told him.

That was okay. Living together was even more fun.

~reflection~

Jūshirō Ukitake stared down at the screen on a small, hand-held device he’d gotten many years before from his good friend Kisuke Urahara. Shun-kun had always chided him for not having enough fun, but he had plenty.

He just didn’t tell Shun-kun.

Right now his best friend was off being mentored by Yama-jii, preparatory to becoming Captain Commander Kyōraku. Jūshirō already had a raft of pranks ready for after his ascension. Jūshirō honestly couldn’t wait until his sensei retired. He was tired of Yamamoto killing off anything or anyone that was different or new. He also wanted to protect the Visored, who he knew live in Karakura. He had argued for mercy, for tolerance, for inclusion, from the Bounts to the Quincies to the Mod Souls to the Visored, and lost. Every. Damned. Time. He wouldn’t lose those arguments with Shunsui.

Plus, he had a soft spot for Shibas. Even when they were Kurosakis.

It was nice that he had some privacy without fearing Shun-kun would come bouncing in – with no warning – to drag him off to drink sake and play games. It gave him the chance to catch up with events in the Living World. It was better than a soap opera. Even better than Gin-kun’s hilarious rumor-mongering.

Aizen had always been creepy, and there had been something… off… about Tōsen. People flinched from Gin, but Jūshirō found him rather heartbreaking. The poor boy had never had a chance. He hoped he’d find happiness with Ran-chan.

Back to Karakura-viewing, then. He had been following along since before Shinji-kun and the others were cursed and exiled. In the last decade so much had been happening it was hard to keep up with it all. He had waited until things calmed down before posting Rukia there, even if it meant being caught between two whining Kuchikis, one begging to go adventuring and the other doing everything he could to keep his little sister wrapped in cotton batting. There had been days when Jūshirō had longed for a couple very large corks, to cut off the endless stream going in both ears.

Still, he had a reputation as the saint of the Seireitei for a reason, and he made very good use of it.

He smiled as he watched young Ichigo fighting side-by-side with young Uryū. They were a pair to be reckoned with, and teamed with the strong Fullbring boy and the astonishing Wizarding hero, Karakura Town was in very good hands. Since the 13th was nominally responsible for watching over it, that made him quite happy. That assignment also allowed him to keep the activity logs clear of any mention of them, to cover for them and protect them.

On a personal note, he was proud of them all. The Lost Boys, as he’d thought of them before they found one another, were now the Defenders of Karakura. Each had found his place, and together, they protected the living and each other. He looked forward to seeing where their lives led them, and greeting them when they finally came to Soul Society.

Which reminded him… he had a small task to undertake. A little disposal mission, to keep his favorite children safe, in the unlikely chance they were noticed before their time.

At mid-morning the next day, he made a slight detour on his way back to his office after his medical appointment with Retsu-chan. No one questioned him as he entered the 12th, after all, he and Captain Kurotsuchi had an uneasy truce centered around experimental medicines to treat his illness. Jūshirō smiled gently at the abused members of the Research Division that he passed, then smiled at them again on the way out.

Eighteen hours later, Mayuri Kurotsuchi was the unfortunate victim of his own scientific curiosity, as an experiment failed catastrophically. Falling debris bisected the madman from his crown to his crotch. His body dissolved, but nothing could be done due to the extensive damage to his brain.

If only the systems sustaining his back-up brain hadn’t been offline due to a coding virus they’d just discovered earlier that morning.

With no viable brain, and no back-up brain, the glop that had been his body never re-formed. Captain Kurotsuchi was dead.

Other than the spontaneous party that broke out in his division, no one really cared. No one missed the insane bastard anyway, and Nemu-chan was a more-than-competent replacement.

Sipping his tea out in the garden, watching the koi play in the water and waiting for his best friend to come join him, Jūshirō smiled behind his cup.

He wondered how Shunsui would react to a recommendation to reinstate Kisuke Urahara…

~END~!