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There May Be Some Collateral Damage

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Ichigo’s sure he didn’t agree to this. Pretty sure. Admittedly, there might have been a point in the meeting with the captains—somewhere between “going undercover in the living world” and “killing an evil maniac”—where he’d nodded off, and the captains are definitely bad enough people to take silence as agreement. But surely he would’ve woken up for this part.

“I’m somebody’s bodyguard?” he demands in horror. They’re currently back in Karakura in Ichigo’s room, because Rukia wanted to dress Ichigo up in weird clothes and lecture him, apparently, and decided that was best accomplished in the privacy of home.

“Yes,” Rukia says with a total lack of sympathy, straightening Ichigo’s tie. “A boy called Harry Potter. Chosen. Special. Targeted by a would-be evil overlord. Sound familiar?”

“Why am I some living kid’s bodyguard? I thought I was just supposed to kill the soul-splitting guy!” Because some guy split his soul into pieces by magic, because apparently magic is a thing in the living world. Though Ichigo isn’t sure why he’s so surprised. After all, he fights dead monsters on the regular; nothing should seem weird to him anymore. And yet.

“You are,” Rukia agrees, now standing back with her hands on her hips and silently disapproving of his appearance. “But the soul fragments are so small you can’t feel their spiritual pressure until you’re practically on top of them—original soul-splitter guy included. We can’t find him. All we know for sure is that he’s determined to kill the kid, so it seemed most efficient to have you stick close to him.”

“…So the kid’s a stalking goat, basically.”

“Exactly.”

“Wow, that’s cold.”

“Take it up with the Captain Commander.”

“Do they even really want me to keep this kid safe?”

“Well, I mean. Ideally.”

Ideally. “Great. Look, even if we assume this guy actually does come to kill the kid, and I actually manage to wipe him out, there are still how many of his soul fragments floating around?”

“Six, at last estimate.”

“This whole soul-splitting thing is so gross I can’t handle it, by the way.”

“Agreed,” Rukia agrees, surprisingly patient. “In fact, everyone in Soul Society agrees. That’s why you’re getting rid of him.”

“Anyway, it’s not like the soul fragments are gonna float over and let me wipe them out. So how am I finding them?”

“The headmaster allegedly has a plan.”

“Headmaster’s a scheming, lying weasel, though,” Renji throws in, wandering in and silently disapproving of Ichigo’s clothes just as hard as Rukia, which takes some nerve. “Got kind of an Aizen vibe, tell the truth. So, yeah. Watch out for that.”

“Urahara and Yoruichi-san are going to investigate where the soul fragments might be,” Rukia explains. “They’ve spent so much time in the living world, it was decided they were best equipped to handle a large-scale search here. I’d put my money on them sorting it all out before you have to. They’ll visit you every so often and update you on their progress.”

“Urahara-san and Yoruichi-san?” Ichigo asks, surprised. “I know why I’m going along with this, but why are they going along with this?”

“According to Urahara,” Renji says, “they’re bored.”

Well that’s the most terrifying thing Ichigo’s heard all month. “This just gets better and better,” he sighs, turning to the mirror. As it happens, he disapproves of his clothes pretty firmly, himself. The tie clashes with his hair something awful. To say nothing of the basic ridiculousness of the robe. “I’m seriously supposed to wear this shit?”

“It’s the uniform. Suck it up,” Rukia tells him. Renji looks sympathetic, but doesn’t actually, you know, back Ichigo up or anything. “Now all you need is a stick thing.”

“…Stick thing?”

Rukia nods earnestly. “They all carry them. I’ve seen pictures. They use them as weapons, so you should make Zangetsu look like one.”

“You want me to talk Zangetsu into looking like a stick? Not happening.”

“Urahara and the former Captain Commander turned their zanpakuto into canes,” Rukia says brusquely. “So you can turn yours into one of these stick things.”

“And the stick things are what, exactly?”

“Magic wands,” Renji explains in apparent glee—whether over the idea of magic or the idea of Ichigo’s pain, Ichigo isn’t sure. “You wave them around, see…and the magic happens.”

So it’s glee over Ichigo’s pain. Good to know.

“By the way, is anybody worried about the fact that I can’t actually do magic?” Ichigo asks, glad this has come up.

“Nope,” Renji says blithely, sprawling back on Ichigo’s bed and mysteriously producing a box of pocky. Dinner and a show.

“Your spiritual strength could easily be mistaken for magic,” Rukia tells him. “They may even be related. So there’s no problem.”

“Except that I suck at kido.”

“Nowhere is it written that you need to be good at magic.” Rukia rolls her eyes like he’s being the unreasonable one. “They just need to be convinced you can do it. Blow something up every so often—you’re good at that.”

Before Ichigo can start yelling at her, Karin interrupts by marching in and staring at him incredulously. “Ichi-nii. Goat Face just told us…are you seriously going to some magic school in England?”

Ichigo points accusingly at Rukia, who smirks. “Scotland, in fact,” she says.

Karin looks from Ichigo to Rukia and back. “And you’re going there dressed like that?

“It’s the uniform,” Ichigo snaps, feeling unfairly beset on all sides.

“You’d better call us every single day,” Karin goes on, ignoring him. “Or Yuzu will cry. And if Yuzu cries, I’m telling everyone we know that you made her cry, and they’ll all beat the crap out of you. Remember that.”

“I’ll call every day,” Ichigo promises. “Or at least every few days. I do get one of the Soul Society phones, right? The ones that get reception on Mars?”

Rukia nods. “One of ours or one of Urahara’s, yes. We’ll want weekly reports.”

“I want weekly reports, too,” Renji says. “So’s I can laugh and laugh that it’s you getting thrown into this clusterfuck and not me. You even speak English?”

“Yes,” Ichigo sighs. At one point, he’d had dreams of getting a job in North America, far, far away from his dad. He’d studied English with a dedication bordering on fanaticism with that goal in mind. Didn’t work out, though. Instead, he gets shinigami, wars, magic schools—and is somehow still living in his dad’s house. “But about that—aren’t there native English-speaking shinigami who should be taking care of this?”

“Yes,” Rukia says, “but they think it’ll take someone captain-class to handle it, and they don’t have anyone that strong who looks young enough to pass. We have two of you, plus I think Commander Kyoraku owes them a favor for something…? In any case, they asked for you or Captain Hitsugaya.”

“So basically you’re saying I have to do this because Kyoraku lost a bet with one of his drinking buddies.”

“Don’t be so disrespectful to the Captain Commander, fool.” Rukia pauses to consider. “But yes, probably.”

“Fuck my life. Why aren’t they sending Toshiro?”

“He refused.”

“What happens if I refuse?”

“You can’t. Captain Hitsugaya has seniority, so if he refuses, it has to be you.”

“They seriously need someone captain-class for this?”

“Probably not, but that’s what they asked for. Now stop whining and turn your sword into a stick.”

Karin and Renji are both laughing by now, and Ichigo wonders what weird shit he could possibly have done in a past life that would’ve earned him…this.

* * *

“Don’t look like that, Kurosaki-san!” Urahara carols. “This mission is going to be a joy and a privilege, and I won’t have you ruining it with your face.”

“…Thanks.”

“I know how you value straightforwardness.” Urahara smiles a worrying smile. “Now. I have paperwork for you.” He dumps a novel’s worth of loose papers into Ichigo’s arms. “You’ll need to read up on this school—it’s a surprisingly complicated place. I’m pleased to tell you, however, that you won’t need to do your own shopping, because Yoruichi-san did that for you—we’re keeping your school things in the shop until you need them. Be sure to thank her when she gets back!”

So that’s where the uniform came from. Ichigo considers the idea of Yoruichi shopping for him. That could go one of two very different ways, depending on her mood. He chooses to believe she didn’t feel like messing with him that day. He has to believe that, or else he’ll cry. “Where is Yoruichi-san, anyway?”

“Oh, she’s out scouting for soul fragments.” Urahara waves his fan in what he clearly feels is an explanatory way, but it sure doesn’t explain anything to Ichigo. “No sense in holding up the party while I hang around here training you for the next two weeks.”

“School starts in two weeks?” Ichigo feels very under-informed about this entire mission.

“Indeed it does! And by that time, you’ll need to be able to pretend to be a wizard. A laughably incompetent wizard, obviously—but since you couldn’t even manage that much at the moment, we have a long way to go.”

Sometimes Ichigo hates Urahara. Never for long, but he’s always pretty sincere about it while it lasts.

Training is predictably awful. Urahara tests Ichigo on everything he’s learned about wizard school every morning—it’s called Hogwarts, what the fuck—and then throws kido at him all afternoon until he’s a bruised wreck. And then he goes home every night to find Karin laughing at him. But it’s still better than that training session when Urahara semi-accidentally turned him into a Visored. At least there’s that.

By the end of two weeks, Ichigo’s so eager to get away from training that he’s almost excited about school. He knows Urahara well enough by now to figure it was arranged that way on purpose.

* * *

On the first day of school, Urahara opens a portal right onto Platform 9 ¾. It’s not a Senkaimon, it’s not a Garganta, Ichigo doesn’t know what the hell it is and suspects Urahara shouldn’t be able to use it. In view of that, the blasé attitude everyone on the platform takes toward it is pretty weird—or at least it is until Ichigo spots a few of them walking through a wall. If you walk through walls, he figures, you probably take most things in stride.

Urahara and Yoruichi lead him through the gate—Yoruichi in cat form, for reasons best known to herself—and Yuzu, Karin, Rukia, and Chad follow along after them. More people wanted to come see Ichigo off to his “super-magic school for magic people,” as Inoue’s been calling it, but Urahara wanted to limit the numbers to attract less attention. (And then he opened a portal right onto the train platform. Ichigo doesn’t even know.) Yuzu and Karin got to come because they’re family, and everybody else played rock-paper-scissors for it. Ichigo’s not sure how, but he’s pretty sure Rukia figured out some way to cheat. Chad’s just lucky.

And so here they all are, making a small spectacle of themselves instead of the giant spectacle that could’ve been. In this crowd, they actually don’t stand out much.

“Call every day, brother,” Yuzu demands tearfully, clinging to the hem of his shirt. “Or if you know you can’t call the next day, at least warn me!”

Yuzu and Karin really didn’t take well to that time Ichigo ran off to train with Shinji for a while, then disappeared into Hueco Mundo for even longer, then almost got killed a bunch of times after that. They’ve gotten…not clingy, exactly. It’s scarier than that. Possessive? Jealous of his time? Vengeful toward anyone who threatens to take him from them, including Ichigo himself?

“Okay,” he sighs.

“And you’re reporting to us every week,” Rukia adds, her arms folded belligerently.

“I know.”

“I’ll be visiting your school over the winter holiday.”

“God, why?”

“Think of it as a progress check. Captain Hitsugaya will come along to see if he needs to take over from you, and Renji will come along because he’ll miss your face by then. You’d better have gotten something done by the time we visit, Ichigo, or I’ll be very upset.”

And when Rukia’s upset, Ichigo gets kicked in the head. “I’ll do my best. But why aren’t you giving this lecture to those two?” he asks, waving toward Urahara and Yoruichi.

“They’re not my responsibility,” Rukia explains. “But you are.”

Well. True.

“Good luck, Ichigo,” Chad says, giving Ichigo a sympathetic look.

“Thanks. Try to keep these lunatics out of trouble while I’m gone, okay?”

Chad nods gravely, planted behind Ichigo’s sisters like a giant wall of pure strength. This is why Chad is Ichigo’s favorite, right here.

“Good, good,” Urahara says, clapping. “But the train is screaming and whistling, which I assume means it’s about to leave without you, Kurosaki-san. Hurry along. Yoruichi-san and I will be dropping in on you from time to time.”

“Yeah?” Ichigo asks, heaving his trunk up onto his shoulder. “And when is that likely to happen?”

“Oh, at any time,” Urahara says, beaming. “When the stars are in alignment. When we feel like it. When you least expect us.”

“Bye, Yoruichi-san,” Ichigo says, ignoring this. “Have fun killing soul pieces.”

“Take care, Ichigo,” she croaks in her cat-voice. “Be good and I’ll save some for you.”

He waves at everybody and turns to board the train in a last minute rush of alarmingly small kids. Some of them don’t seem old enough to be in school at all, let alone scary, magical boarding school. It’s freaking Ichigo out.

He stows his trunk just as they start moving, then wanders up and down the train for an hour, checking out everybody’s spirit ribbons in case there’s something weird about them. They all seem normal, though. White, white, white. Oh, wait—all except for one, right at the back. It’s mostly white, but it has a thread of green so dark it’s almost black running through it. Ichigo’s never seen anything like it, and he doesn’t like the feel of it at all. Things are already interesting in a bad way and he’s not even at school yet.

He follows the ribbon to a compartment and opens the door, then stands there staring at the kid he’s supposed to be…whatever the hell…bodyguarding. Or staking out and watching, anyway. He’s not sure what the green thread in the kid’s spirit ribbon means, but given the way Ichigo’s life goes, it’s definitely something awful.

“Hey,” he says. “Mind if I sit here?”

“Oh. No! Not at all,” says a girl with brown hair fluffed out all over the place, hurriedly scooting over and making room for him. He sits. He’ll need to get to know these kids anyway—the mark and his friends. Might as well start now.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know your name,” A red-headed girl says apologetically. One thing’s for sure—nobody at this school will give him crap about his hair. It’s freaking tame compared to the people in this compartment alone.

“Yeah, I’m new. Exchange student from Japan. My name’s Ichigo Kurosaki.”

They introduce themselves, but he’s not listening. He’s too busy puzzling out what kind of people they are and whether they might try to kill him. They all seem a little dangerous, but not the kind of dangerous Ichigo needs to worry about—they don’t seem the type to screw with you if you don’t screw with them first. With the possible exception of the kid he’s supposed to be protecting, so that’s wonderful.

There are two redheads, a boy and a girl. Siblings. The girl, in particular, Ichigo’s going to be careful not to piss off. Then there’s the fluffy-haired girl, who looks like she takes everything way too seriously, and a boy with brown hair and a soft face and, randomly, the world’s ugliest plant in his lap. There’s also a girl with blonde hair and a kind of floaty expression, like she’s barely in the living world, herself. In fact, she looks unhinged in such a determined way that Ichigo’s almost sure it’s deliberate. And finally, there’s Harry Potter, Ichigo’s new stalking goat, who looks like trouble with a side of barely controlled hostility, and who has something weird about his spirit ribbon.

Kyoraku is going to pay for putting Ichigo through this. And so is Toshiro.

“I thought people from Japan were supposed to have black hair,” says the redheaded boy.

Funny, Ichigo thought people from Britain were supposed to have tact. And so much for no comments about his hair. Didn’t even make it an hour. “You and everybody,” Ichigo tells him. The boy doesn’t seem to know what to make of that.

“Erm…which year are you?” asks the kid with the plant.

“Fifth.” He thinks. Maybe.

“Same as us,” says Harry Potter. So Ichigo guessed right—so far so good. “You seem a bit old to be in fifth year, though.”

“Yeah, well. There was a lot of moving, switching schools, repeating grades. Plus, I look older than I am.” Does that seem plausible? Whatever. Urahara should’ve given him a more thorough backstory to go with the rest of his Hogwarts packet.

“What made you decide to come to Hogwarts?” The fluffy-haired girl asks with scary interest. “A lot of people are, well…avoiding it at the moment. On top of that, it seems a lot of trouble to transfer so late in your schooling.”

Ichigo shrugs uncomfortably. “It was decided for me.”

“Oh.” She blinks. “Why?”

“As a punishment, I’m pretty sure.”

Awkward silence falls, but Ichigo’s getting a feel for these kids, and he figures it’s only a matter of time before one of them has to trample all over it.

“What for?

Points to the redheaded boy for jumping in first.

“My sins,” Ichigo says gravely.

“…What does that mean?” the fluffy-haired girl asks, and goddamn, she may actually be winning the ‘refuses to take a hint’ contest. He stares at her blankly, trying to channel Soi Fon.

“You’re lucky,” the floaty girl tells him when it becomes obvious he’s never going to answer. “I hear that in…Japan, sins are sometimes punished by an encounter with a tiny, pink-haired demon.”

Ichigo turns his stare on her. “Yeah? Where’d you hear that?”

“Oh, the Quibbler,” the floaty girl says, pointing at the magazine Potter’s holding.

The whole compartment looks ready to laugh except fluffy-hair, who frowns and mutters something about horrible journalistic standards. So there’s exactly one person in this compartment who knows what’s what, and everybody thinks she’s crazy. Typical. Really convenient for Ichigo, but seriously—typical.

“The wild Yachiru,” he says. “I’ve heard of that.”

The floaty girl smiles a positively smug smile at him, while the rest of the compartment falls into shocked silence. Ichigo’s torn between admiring floaty girl’s attitude and not wanting to be seen with her in public. It’s the cork necklace, he thinks, that pushes it over the edge. Everything else he could roll with, but the cork necklace is a bridge too far. “What’s your name, again?”

“My name is Luna Lovegood. Luna means moon. Your name is Ichigo Kurosaki. What does Ichigo mean?”

She does have a way of cutting right to the heart of the thing. “One protector. Or it can mean protector of one thing.”

“Which do you prefer?”

“That’s another choice I didn’t get much say in.”

Lovegood frowns, either at his words or his expression. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” He’s introducing this girl to Inoue the second he gets a chance. They can form a club for people who pretend to be airheads while secretly outsmarting the whole room. But he and Lovegood are gonna have a chat later on about her knowledge of shinigami—and specifically shinigami from his corner of Soul Society—because everybody and their mothers promised him that no one would know about that.

“…Anyway,” the redheaded girl says, eyeing them in confusion and concern. “Do you know which—”

The door opens, cutting her off, and a white-blond kid marches in with a couple of goons and sneers at everyone in general. He kind of reminds Ichigo of Ishida on Ishida’s very worst day. If Ishida actually were the weakling he looks like he should be. Also if Ishida had never seen battle and had no clue about the consequences of his actions—and yeah, okay, that comparison is totally unfair on Ishida.

Ichigo has to hand it to the kid, though—he gets half the compartment riled up in ten seconds flat. Old hand at it, Ichigo guesses. It’s easy to wind up people you know. Sometimes, when you know them really well, all it takes is one word to make them fly off the handle.

And that word, in this case, would appear to be dogging, and the blond kid totally nails it. If Ichigo remembers right, one of the Order members can turn into a dog—maybe that’s what that was about.

Ichigo has to remember to tell Komamura about the dog guy.

“Sorry,” fluffy-hair says when the blond boy’s gone. “That was Draco Malfoy. He’s an insufferable, prejudiced little monster, and you should ignore everything he says.”

“Already forgotten,” Ichigo says, because it is. Except for the dogging part. That, he’ll probably have to report to somebody—though he’s still unclear on whether he’s supposed to report to just Soul Society, or Soul Society and Dumbledore (who may or may not be an Aizen understudy), or possibly both of them plus Urahara…maybe he’ll just report to Toshiro and let him figure all the political crap out. He’s good at that, and really, he should be the one here anyway.

Rest of the ride’s pretty tame—they only interrogate him a little more before settling down. Lovegood takes her magazine back from Potter and reads it upside down for a while, then she puts it away and freaking stares at everybody for the rest of the trip. Ichigo’s getting more sure by the second that she’s just fucking with people for the hell of it. And she’s succeeding: everybody’s totally weirded out by the time they have to change into their stupid uniforms and get off the train.

There’s a lady on the platform calling for first years, which isn’t all that helpful to Ichigo. “Think I count as a first year?” he asks Lovegood in passing.

“It is your first year, you know,” she replies absently. “On the other hand, I’m sure your face frightens children, so you should probably stay away from them.” And she wanders off.

“Thanks for nothing,” Ichigo calls after her. She ignores him. Feels like home already.

“Mr. Kurosaki?” comes a stern voice from behind him. He turns to see yet another person he wouldn’t want to piss off—this one probably a teacher.

“I’m Ichigo Kurosaki,” he says.

“Minerva McGonagall, Head of Gryffindor House. I’ll be giving you a brief introduction to the school. I’m afraid we’ll miss the feast—your transfer has been extremely rushed, and we are, I’m sorry to say, a bit unprepared for you.”

Great. This is what happens when he lets Urahara organize his life. “Sorry about that.”

“Yes, well, it’s too late to do anything about it now,” she says brusquely. “This way, please.”

She leads him to a carriage pulled by some winged horse creature that looks halfway between a corpse and a hollow (what the hell), and they head up to the…the freaking castle posing as a school. She doesn’t say a word to him until she’s dragged him impatiently inside, up some stairs, down some other stairs, through a few hallways that don’t connect in any logical way, and up a weird escalator/staircase thing that was hiding behind a statue. At the end of all that, there’s a room full of bizarre—but interesting—crap. There’s also food, which is more interesting to Ichigo at this point.

“So, Mr. Kurosaki,” McGonagall sighs, sitting and gesturing him into the chair opposite. “I understand you’re meant to protect Mr. Potter and save us all and kill our enemies for us into the bargain.”

Oh, so she knows about that. Okay. Well, it’s probably easier this way. “Mostly I’m supposed to kill your soul-splitting guy,” he explains. “Everything else follows on from that, the way I hear it.”

“Indeed.” She looks exasperated, but Ichigo feels that’s not his fault. It’s not like he volunteered for this job. “Please feel free to have your dinner—we’re waiting for the headmaster. He’s giving a speech at the moment, but it shouldn’t be long now.”

Ichigo eats, trying to ignore McGonagall’s suspicious staring. He’s used to it, anyway. And the food’s pretty good, considering how awful everybody always claims British food is. Maybe a little heavy and bland, but totally edible.

“They tell me you’re a grim reaper,” McGonagall says eventually. “I find that hard to believe.”

He doesn’t know how to respond to that. “Sorry?”

“You mean to say that you actually are a grim reaper.”

“Soul reaper, I’m told, is the preferred designation, Minerva,” says an old guy with a cheerful face who just appeared behind Ichigo. Which is straight-up terrifying, because the only other person Ichigo knows who can surprise him like that is Yoruichi, and she’s an assassin. “They do not end lives, but merely…escort the dead to their appropriate resting places.

“Hello, Mr. Kurosaki,” assassin guy goes on. “I’m Albus Dumbledore, headmaster here at Hogwarts. It’s a pleasure to meet you at last. Mr. Urahara had nothing but praise for you.”

Ichigo doubts that very much. Huh. So this is the headmaster. Okay, that explains everything. “Um, it’s nice to meet you too, Headmaster.” He thinks about saying he’s also heard a lot about Dumbledore, then figures it’s safer not to go there.

“I’ve taken the liberty of placing you in Gryffindor House. It seems most convenient, if you are to protect Harry. And it appears someone’s bought you a uniform in the appropriate colors, so everything’s settled. Unless you’d prefer to be officially sorted.”

“Sorted? What does that mean?”

“Oh, we’d place the Sorting Hat on your head, and it would sort through your memories and decide which house would best suit you. The process is completely confidential, of course.”

Yeah, that’s not the issue. Ichigo pictures Zangetsu’s probable reaction to some magic hat poking around in his head. Then he pictures Shiro’s. He shudders. “I’m good with Gryffindor. Thanks.” The last thing his brain needs is yet another personality inside it.

“In that case,” Dumbledore says jovially, “Professor McGonagall will be your head of house. She’ll also assist you, wherever possible, with your mission. However, she may not be able to help as much as she’d like.”

“Our Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher this year is a Ministry mole,” McGonagall explains bitterly. “The Ministry is trying to discredit anyone who so much as suggests He Who Must Not Be Named has returned, and the Headmaster is the loudest voice suggesting it. The mole’s name is Dolores Umbridge, and she must not, under any circumstances, learn about your mission here.”

“Wasn’t planning on advertising it,” Ichigo tells her. “We’re not supposed to interfere in the living world at all, normally. Only reason I’m here is that this soul-splitting guy is technically dead, so he’s one of ours. But the fewer living people who know about us, the better.”

They both nod grimly, McGonagall apparently starting to buy that he’s a shinigami. Then they give him a quick rundown of the school’s rules, history, and structure. Most of it he’d already learned from Urahara’s notes, but it’s nice to have a refresher. Though it does confirm his initial suspicion that everything about this school’s setup is, without exception, a hot mess.

Once they’re done with the overview, they give him his schedule, which is as light as they can make it without it looking suspicious. Then they give him Potter’s schedule, presumably so he can bodyguard better. They’re really efficient. He’s surprised and impressed.

“I think that covers everything,” Dumbledore says when they’re finally done. “Do you have any questions for us at present?”

“Yeah, actually. Potter’s got…okay, so everybody has a spirit ribbon. They reflect, uh, the way people are, I guess. Humans have white ribbons, soul reapers have red ones—it goes on like that. Potter’s ribbon is weird, though. It’s white, but it’s got a nasty-feeling dark green thread running through it. Do you know what that’s about?”

Dumbledore and McGonagall exchange unhappy looks that suggest they know exactly what it’s about, and yet somehow they never bothered to mention it before.

“We suspect,” Dumbledore says, “that Voldemort—the soul-splitter, as you call him—has a…connection, of sorts, to Harry. And you’ve just added to that suspicion.” So that’s how you say the name. Voldemort, huh? Yeah, Ichigo’s never even gonna try to pronounce that. “Minerva, if you could step outside for a moment? I’ll send Mr. Kurosaki out to you presently.”

McGonagall leaves, though she’s clearly not happy about it. Dumbledore waits until she’s gone, then turns back to Ichigo. “It’s not impossible,” he says, “that Voldemort unintentionally split his soul one final time when he killed the Potters, and that that soul fragment attached itself to…well. To the nearest object at hand.”

“Which was Harry Potter,” Ichigo says, wanting to be really clear on this point.

Dumbledore nods sadly.

“Okay, this is a thing I might’ve wanted to know right at the beginning of this conversation, or better yet, before I agreed to come here. Because I did not sign up to kill a kid. I won’t do it.”

“Then perhaps, as a soul reaper, you can find another way,” Dumbledore says. “Merlin knows I’ve had no success. And I’ve been trying, Mr. Kurosaki. I swear to you I’ve been trying.”

He looks older than Yamamoto, all of a sudden, and a million times more tired. Ichigo may not like him all that much, but he can’t help but feel bad for the guy. “I’ll figure something out,” Ichigo says firmly.

Dumbledore smiles a lying fucking smile at him. “I hope so. In the meantime, I’ll have Professor McGonagall keep you up to date on the password to my office. Feel free to come here any time, with any questions or concerns.”

“I will,” Ichigo tells him, while silently resolving never to set foot in here again if he can find a way around it. “Thanks.”

“Professor McGonagall will escort you to your common room. Have a pleasant evening.”

“Yeah.” Because it’s been awesome so far. “You too.”

* * *

Ichigo makes it to his dorm room—dorm room, how the hell did he let them talk him into this?—just in time for a screaming match about whether or not the soul-splitter guy really is up and running around. Good times. And Ichigo managed to walk right into the middle of it, so now everyone’s staring at him.

“Hey,” he says. “Ichigo Kurosaki, nice to meet you. Don’t mind me, just keep on…screaming, or whatever. I’ll be over here.” He heads for the one unoccupied bed.

“No, wait—what do you think about all this?” Potter demands belligerently. Ichigo’s pretty sure stalking goats aren’t supposed to be belligerent.

“Define ‘all this,’” Ichigo sighs.

“Do you believe Voldemort’s back?”

Ichigo shifts his weight so he’s balanced and stable. This is looking like it might descend into a brawl, and he wants to be ready. “You mean the soul-splitter guy?” he asks to buy time.

The climate of the room takes an abrupt turn from hostile to baffled.

“…Soul-splitter?” the redheaded boy from the train asks.

“Yeah. You know, he wants to live forever, so he split his soul into pieces, makes him hard to completely kill off? Like…” he tries to think of a good English-language analogy. “Whack-a-mole.” Yeah, he’s proud of that one. Or he would be, except that now everybody’s staring at him in stunned silence. “What?”

“I’ve never heard that,” Potter says, eyeing Ichigo. “Ron?”

“Me neither,” says the redhead—Ron, apparently. Ichigo should really make an effort to remember the names of the people he’s sharing a room with, at least. “I didn’t even think you could do that. Splitting your soul.”

“Neville?”

“No,” says the soft-faced boy. Neville.

“Anybody?”

“No,” chorus the other two, whose names apparently even Potter doesn’t remember.

“So where did you hear about it?” Potter demands in a fit of towering suspicion.

Looks like Ichigo’s successfully shifted everyone’s negative attention off of Potter and onto himself. Is that good? It seems like a bodyguard kind of thing to do. He’d feel better about it if it hadn’t been completely accidental, though. “It was in the introductory packet I got before I came here.”

Nobody believes him, which is disappointing, because it’s actually true.

“How could your school in Japan have figured out something about a British wizard that the British Ministry of Magic hasn’t figured out yet?” Ron asks, just as suspicious as Potter. “That makes no sense. You-Know-Who’s never even been to Japan.”

“Maybe they’ve seen something like this before,” Ichigo suggests, though he knows they haven’t. “Maybe it’s only a theory. How should I know? I just read the packet.” He honestly doesn’t know how the hell they found out about the soul-splitting thing. He assumes it was a Western European Soul Society investigation, and he’s grateful he had nothing to do with it.

“So you do think he’s back,” accuses the still-nameless boy who was yelling at Potter when Ichigo came in.

“I think he was never really gone.”

“Then you’re mad, too,” the boy says firmly.

“Okay. Nice to meet you, too, whoever you are.”

“I’m Seamus Finnegan,” he says, “and you’re all mad.”

“You could be right,” Ichigo allows, shrugging. “But if you’re wrong, the future’s gonna be full of ugly surprises for you. Never hurts to prepare for the worst.”

Finnegan glares at him, then whirls around and flounces into bed. Neville quietly declares that he and his grandmother believe Potter. Everybody else just silently goes to bed, not looking at each other. Well, Potter does cast Ichigo a few looks that are a mix of grateful and mistrustful. It’s all incredibly awkward.

Ichigo unpacks as much of his stuff as he can in the dark, then gets into bed and waits for everyone else to fall asleep. He’s got a report to give and a rant to deliver. And if he’s quick about it, he can wake Toshiro up at an obnoxiously early hour.

* * *

Harry isn’t at all surprised to hear Ichigo sneaking out of the dorms in the middle of the night. He’d stayed awake waiting for it, in fact. He stays put until the Marauder’s Map shows Ichigo leaving the common room, then he grabs the Invisibility Cloak, wakes up Ron, and drags him downstairs. Ron’s not happy about it, but he’ll survive. Harry enchants a paper airplane note to fly up the girls’ stairs and wake Hermione, which gives Ron time to pull himself together.

“Where’s he gone, then?” Ron asks on a yawn, not exactly giving the impression of great interest.

“The Astronomy Tower,” Harry tells him, holding out the map. “Or I’m guessing that’s him, in that it’s the only name in a language I can’t read.”

“Huh. Maybe the map shows your name the way you’d normally write it yourself?”

“Looks like.”

At this point, Hermione storms down to the common room, tired and furious. “What in the world,” she hisses quietly. “It’s the middle of the night! What do you mean, ‘We have to see what he’s up to’? Who is he?”

“The transfer. Ichigo,” Ron explains. “Turns out he’s in Gryffindor after all. And he walked in our room tonight and right away said that You-Know-Who split his soul into pieces and hid them all over. He said it like he thought everybody already knew. And now he’s gone and snuck out of the dorm, so Harry’s convinced he’s a Death Eater.”

“I.” Harry stops. He supposes that does more or less sum it up. “It seems like a good idea to check, anyway.”

Hermione sighs and puts her face in her hands briefly, like she always does when she thinks Harry and Ron are being especially ridiculous. “Where is he now?” she mumbles, resigned.

“Astronomy Tower,” Ron tells her.

“And you have your cloak, Harry?”

“Right here.”

“Well then,” she drops her hands and straightens up. “I suppose we may as well get it over with.”

She’s come so far since first year.

From the look of the map, it seems Ichigo’s happy to stay in the Astronomy Tower now that he’s gotten there, so that makes things simpler.

“I can’t believe we’re sneaking around the school in the dead of night again,” Hermione complains in a whisper as they start up the Astronomy Tower stairs. “Well, yes I can, of course I can. But I can’t believe we’re doing it already.”

“We’ve a problem, too,” Ron mutters. “If he’s up there meeting people, they’ll all be talking Japanese, won’t they?”

“Not if they’re Death Eaters,” Harry argues.

“What if they’re Japanese Death Eaters?”

“There are no Japanese Death Eaters, Ronald,” Hermione says impatiently.

“How do you know that, then?”

“And I know a translating spell, in any case,” she carries on as if she wasn’t interrupted, just as they reach the entrance to the observation platform, which is where Ichigo is—pacing up and down. And still alone, so far.

“Really?” Harry asks. He hadn’t known there were translating spells, but of course Hermione would.

“I learned it in case I ever met any of Viktor’s friends who couldn’t speak English,” Hermione explains quickly, ignoring Ron’s sour expression. “It’s tricky to learn, but surprisingly easy to adapt for different languages once you have learned it. I checked on how to adapt it to Japanese as soon as we met Ichigo.”

“As you do,” Ron says, sounding fond despite himself.

“It only lasts for half an hour, but that should be plenty of time to get the idea if someone does come to meet him,” Hermione concludes. “Come on, then. He’s as far from the door as he can be—we should go now.”

They quickly slip through the door, closing it softly behind them.

And there’s Ichigo, still pacing, still alone. But he’s ranting (in Japanese) into a mobile phone, which is…it’s impossible, isn’t it? Hermione clearly thinks it’s impossible; she looks shocked. (Ron has no idea what a mobile is, so he just looks confused). Obviously they can’t understand a word, but Ichigo sounds seriously annoyed. It’s a lot more emotion than they’ve heard in his voice until now. Harry nods at Hermione, and she casts the translating spell in a whisper.

“お前らのせいだから you figure out who I’m supposed to be reporting to,” Ichigo snaps impatiently as the spell takes effect. “This Dumbledore guy is—yeah, a little of that, Renji had a point, but I don’t think he’s actually that far gone. No, he’s one of these old guys who’s seen a lot of shit and so he thinks he knows everything about everything—you know the type. Manipulative, too. Weird cross between Urahara-san and Yamamoto, basically. Yes, it’s unholy, and that’s why I’m asking, do I actually have to report to this guy? Besides, it won’t be subtle if I’m running up to the headmaster’s office all the time. Yeah, there are people watching. Seriously, this is a school with spies in it.”

“Report?” Hermione mouths silently, looking worried. Harry and Ron shrug. Harry’s not understanding most of this conversation, but if Ichigo’s wondering if he should report to Dumbledore—he can’t be all bad, can he? Even if it doesn’t sound like he especially likes Dumbledore?

“The stalking goat kid? As far as I can tell, they’re keeping him in the dark and feeding him bullshit, so—right? Picture what I’d be like under those circumstances. Except less violent. Okay, a lot less violent. I do not have rage issues, I just do what needs to be done.”

Harry scowls. He doesn’t like the sound of stalking goat one bit. Ichigo had better not be talking about him.

“You get to hear about it because you should be the one here and we both know it. For one thing, you can actually do kido. For another thing, I just finished high school—do you know how much I wanted to turn right around and do it again? This blows. Oh, don’t even. Wearing a gigai for a few months is not as bad as repeating high school.”

Apparently the spell doesn’t know a translation for kido or gigai. Harry sees Hermione writing the words down in a notebook. Is she actually keeping a notebook on Ichigo? …Actually he’d be more surprised if she wasn’t. Ichigo is more obviously full of lies with every word that comes out of his mouth, even if they don’t seem to be evil lies. That’s the kind of thing that sends Hermione right into a research frenzy.

“Toshiro, there’ll be homework. And they use quills to write with, apparently. Screw that, I’m having Yuzu send me a fountain pen or something. Yeah, I would ignore it, but in just one train ride I worked out that one of the kid’s best friends is seriously overinvested in everybody’s academic development, so I doubt she’ll let me. Fine, explain to me how I bodyguard somebody without talking to his best friends.”

Harry, Ron, and Hermione exchange wide-eyed looks. Ichigo’s supposed to be Harry’s bodyguard?

“Yeah. No, I just—yes. Fine. But send me visitors other than Urahara-san and Yoruichi-san sometimes, because I’m gonna go out of my goddamn mind. I’d even take Kenpachi, that’s how desperate I am. Ha! No. Oh, and I meant to ask you…Wait. Gotta go, I’ve got eavesdroppers.”

Harry jumps, a little guilty, but mostly shocked. How could Ichigo know they’re here? Can he smell them or something?

“As far as I know, they don’t speak Japanese, but I wouldn’t put it past—well, it’ll be awkward as hell, but I think we’ll survive. I don’t get why every single thing about this is so top freaking secret anyway. Yeah, I get that, but—look, the kids didn’t even know about the soul-splitting thing. Exactly. No idea, it’s so fucked up. Sure, I’ll call next week. Tell Rangiku-san to beat up Ikkaku for me. Bye.”

Harry, Ron, and Hermione start edging back toward the door as quickly and quietly as they can—only to be stopped by Ichigo, who’s somehow gotten between them and the door.

“How the bloody hell…” Ron gasps, and Harry elbows him silent.

Ichigo’s eyes narrow, and he stares right at them. But there’s no way he can see them, is there? No one can see them, except possibly Mrs. Norris. Mrs. Norris is a cat, though—it doesn’t count.

Ichigo reaches right out and touches them, then he grabs the cloak and pulls it off.

How?!” It’s Hermione this time. Harry’d like to ask the same thing, actually, but he’s too busy silently gaping.

“Magic cape thing that makes people invisible,” Ichigo mutters, shaking his head and dropping the Invisibility Cloak at their feet. “Why not, I guess. So. Do you speak Japanese?”

After a pause, Hermione straightens up to her full height and lifts her chin. “There’s…there’s a spell.”

Ichigo sighs and scrubs his face. “Of course there is.”

“How did you know we were here?” Hermione carries on bravely for all of them.

“I can tell when people are around,” Ichigo says vaguely. “Why are you here, by the way?”

“We were following you. Why are you here?” Ron demands.

“I was calling my family.”

“This…Toshiro is your family?” Hermione asks doubtfully. “That didn’t sound like a conversation with family. And you can’t use electronics at Hogwarts, so what do you mean you called him?”

“He’s family now,” Ichigo says firmly. “He’s still getting used to the idea, but yeah. And the phone isn’t electronic. Tell you the truth, I have no idea how it works. Whatever acts as the battery never dies, and it gets reception everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. I’d show it to you, but I’m pretty sure it’s a secret, and all the inventors I know are terrifying and carry swords, so. Sorry, you can’t see it.”

“Swords?” Ron repeats dubiously.

“Swords,” Ichigo confirms. “Are we done?”

“No!” Harry snaps, indignant, shaking off his confusion. “What did you mean, about…being a bodyguard? Are you supposed to be my bodyguard?”

Ichigo shrugs, like he’s bored with the conversation. “Yeah.”

“I don’t need a bodyguard.”

“Don’t look at me; wasn’t my idea.”

“But why would…” Hermione frowns up at Ichigo. “This makes no sense. Why would they send someone from Japan to be Harry’s bodyguard? And someone so young. Why not an Auror?”

“What they told me was that they needed somebody the right age to blend in, and I’m the only one near that age who has enough experience. In bodyguarding. Besides, nobody here recognizes me, which is a plus. And I hear my boss has local connections, so. Here we are.”

“You said that Toshiro bloke should be here instead of you, though,” Ron points out, intrigued. “Earlier, when you were talking.”

“He had the right of first refusal. Apparently.” Ichigo scowls resentfully.

“You said that’s what they told you,” Hermione puts in. “It doesn’t seem like you believe them.”

“Yeah.” Ichigo scratches the back of his head, suddenly awkward. “Truth is, I’m like eighty percent sure I’m here because somebody lost a bet. I just can’t tell if it was my side or your side.”

“What does that mean?” Ron demands.

“Just…well, I get things done, but I get them done my own way. And sometimes, it’s not a way that the people who gave the orders had in mind. Assuming I follow orders at all.”

Well, that’s ominous. “And…how do you feel about your orders to keep me alive?” Harry asks uneasily.

“Oh, I’m keeping you alive,” Ichigo says with determination, which is a relief. “But if people start telling me how I should go about it, I’m not gonna take that well.”

There’s a pause while everyone digests that.

“Not exactly popular back home, are you?” Ron murmurs eventually.

Ichigo seems pleased with himself. “Depends who you ask.”

“Only I really don’t need a bodyguard,” Harry says again.

“You sure?” Ichigo asks. “Way I hear it, you almost get yourself killed at least once a year. To say nothing of last year, when you tried to get killed like five times.”

“Four times,” says Ron cheerfully. “Be fair.” He’s actually enjoying this, the traitor.

“And I survived every time,” Harry insists, even though Ichigo’s estimate of his near-death experiences is fairly accurate.

“Whatever. It’s not like they’ll let me go home just because you don’t like the idea,” Ichigo says, rolling his eyes. “And if I’m here, I might as well be doing something with my day. What can it hurt?”

“He makes a fair point,” Hermione points out. “Always assuming he’s telling the truth.”

“Ask Dumbledore,” Ichigo suggests. “Some of this is definitely his fault.”

Harry scowls at the idea of asking Dumbledore anything. Surely Ichigo wouldn’t offer that option if he didn’t mean it, though. Would he? Does he know Dumbledore’s avoiding Harry?

“Or you could ask McGonagall,” Ichigo says, eyes narrowed, studying Harry’s face. “If that’s more your speed. She knows about me, too.”

“…I’ll do that,” Harry says reluctantly. Because he doesn’t need a bodyguard. But if he has to have one, he supposes he could do worse than Ichigo, who generally minds his own business and has never once called Harry a liar—not so far in their admittedly short acquaintance, anyway. In any case, Ichigo seems enough like the Weasley twins that it probably isn’t a good idea to allow him to get bored.

That said, Harry’s never had a long-term bodyguard. He’s not sure what to do with one on a day-to-day basis. “So are we supposed to…be friends with you now, or what?”

Ichigo looks surprised. “Not unless you’re feeling friendly. Just ignore me. I mean, tell me if you’re doing something dangerous so I can be there, but otherwise, don’t worry about it. I’ll be around, but pretend I’m furniture or something.”

Harry’s so uncomfortable with that idea he doesn’t even know where to begin. “…What would you do if we broke school rules? Would you tell, er, whoever you’re reporting to?”

“No,” Ichigo says, rolling his eyes. “They’re not paying me to police school rules, they’re paying me to keep you alive.” He pauses. “Actually, they’re not paying me at all—they’re bribing me. Still. Same idea.”

“Bribing you?” Hermione asks, interested. “With what?”

“My family’s safety,” Ichigo tells her shortly.

Everyone goes quiet. Harry feels a bit awful about all the things he’s been suspecting Ichigo of up until now, when it turns out he’s just keeping Harry safe so somebody else will keep his family safe.

Wait.

“Why can’t you just stay home and keep your own family safe?” Harry asks.

“I can’t protect my family on my own,” Ichigo explains. “You, I can protect on my own.”

Hermione stares. “You mean your family is in more danger than Harry?”

Ichigo waves a dismissive hand. “It’s a question of numbers. My family and friends—they’re scattered around. Potter’s just one person, and I can keep an eye on him pretty easily. When there are a bunch of people in different places, though, I need help. And I can have it, as long as I do things like agreeing to keep an eye on Potter.”

“But not if you don’t?” Hermione asks. She looks horrified, which is exactly how Harry feels.

“Not as much if I don’t.” Ichigo smiles at Hermione, and for the first time since they met him, he actually looks nice. “You don’t have to look like that. It’s only fair, when you think about it. Like an exchange.” He pauses, possibly to see if they have further questions. They don’t. Harry suspects they’re all far too blindsided for more questions at the moment. He knows he is.

“We’re done, then?” Ichigo asks. “Good. Now get lost. I still have to call my sisters before they leave for school. Try not to die on your way back to the common room, Potter. That would be embarrassing for both of us.”

And with that, he walks back out to the middle of the observation platform and pulls out his mobile again. Harry, Ron, and Hermione stare at each other in baffled silence, then duck back under the Invisibility Cloak and return to the common room, at a loss for anything better to do.

* * *

Ichigo’s first morning at Hogwarts continues socially uncomfortable, with the Finnegan kid making snide remarks and then bravely running away, Potter taking it out on everyone, and Granger yelling at Potter for taking it out on everyone. Ichigo tries to make himself as invisible as possible, but he’s a tall guy with orange hair, so there’s only so much he can do. And that’s only the start of the morning’s problems.

It develops that the dining hall ceiling imitates the sky, which seems a strange choice, in that this is Scotland, and Ichigo understands the weather is shitty more often than it isn’t. Also, owls carry the mail into the dining hall, which seems unsanitary. Finally, the kitchen staff tried to throw some Japanese food into the mix, which is…well-meant. Ichigo appreciates what they’re trying to do, he really does, but their take on Japanese food is…odd. It’s not exactly bad, but it’s not exactly Japanese food, either. The rice, in particular, has something off about it, when it seems like that should be the easiest thing to get right. And since they went to the trouble just for him, he has to eat some of it, though he’d really rather stick to the local food. At least he’s expecting that to taste unfamiliar.

There’s a lot of talk over breakfast about owls and newts, and everybody’s acting like they’re exams, but Ichigo was pretty confident they were animals—owls are definitely animals; they just delivered the mail. Which means there are exams named after animals. This is a weird freaking school.

Fortunately, there’s one bright spot to the morning, and that’s the discovery of Ron’s twin brothers. They’re a lot like the very wildest members of the Twelfth Division—the types who try to invent something fun and end up destroying half the compound instead. People like that are really useful, because you can talk them into any damn thing, and they’ll always assume it’s not as dangerous as it sounds.

Ichigo decides he should get to know the twins immediately.

It’s all downhill from the twins, though, because after breakfast come the classes, and they are—wow. Like, Ichigo gets that it’s a magic school, so classes were bound to be bizarre. He just hadn’t remotely guessed how bizarre.

History of Magic is taught by a ghost. Ichigo can’t believe they’re pulling this shit on him. A ghost teaching history. He may cry. But Urahara’s report was right—there’s a little bubble on the end of the ghost’s almost-invisible soul chain. Some kind of magic, apparently, that keeps the chains from eroding and the local ghosts from turning into hollows. Very cool, Ichigo has to admit.

The ghost is lecturing on giant wars, and Ichigo’s finding it interesting only because he had no idea giants were a thing. Knowing that they are, he has to wonder if Jidanbo was a giant when he was alive. Then, too, he has to wonder why they’re not common knowledge, being, obviously, giant, and also, from the sound of it, really violent. How do you hide an entire species of giant, violent, intelligent creatures?

Urahara probably knows. Ichigo takes a bunch of notes, not so much on the class as on things he’s discovering he needs to ask Urahara about at some point.

Things take a turn for the worse, though, when the ghost abruptly pauses mid-droning lecture and spins to face Ichigo. Not satisfied with that, it has to come float directly in front of him and stare into his eyes in apparent horror.

“Why?” the ghost demands.

“It’s not about you,” Ichigo tells him. “It’s not about any of you here. You don’t need to worry.”

“Ah. Good.” The ghost, satisfied and therefore losing interest, floats off and resumes the lecture. The living section of the classroom, meanwhile, dissolves into a hissing mess of whispers. Whoever thought Ichigo could handle any kind of undercover anything was clearly a moron.

After History of Magic is Potions, and Snape gets to join the ranks of all the teachers who don’t like Ichigo’s looks. On the plus side, Snape doesn’t seem to like anybody’s looks, so at least Ichigo doesn’t feel singled out. Nice change, there. In fact, if anyone gets special hatred, it’s Potter. That poor kid—he’s Soul Society’s stalking goat, but he’s his own government’s scapegoat, and apparently he’s Snape’s scapegoat, too. Just all around treated more like a goat than a human. Ichigo wouldn’t trade lives with the sorry bastard for anything.

As for Ichigo, he’s pretty sure he screwed up his potion, but since he didn’t actually blow it up, he’s calling it a success. (Snape calls it a lot of things, none of them even in the ballpark of success, but since Ichigo’s pretty sure Snape can’t be made happy, he’s not taking it personally.)

Ichigo has a free period after that, during which Potter goes to Divination and Ichigo just has to pray he doesn’t manage to trip over a crystal ball and die. As for Ichigo, he goes down to the library to sit very quietly for an hour and work on his suspension of disbelief.

Then there’s Defense Against the Dark Arts. It’s taught by this…creature…wearing a whole lot of pink, and it’s just. Ichigo can practically hear Yuzu crying every time he looks at that sweater. He himself has no particular fondness for pink, but that’s a seriously unfair thing to do to any color.

Then the pink creature starts talking in a freaky small-child voice, and Ichigo cannot force his brain to parse her words. Not that he thinks she’s particularly worth listening to, but she’s the Ministry mole, so he should probably try to pay attention.

He can’t, though. He really can’t. He just stares in fascinated horror until she stops talking and everybody opens their books. He opens his book, too, since apparently that’s what they’re doing. The book quickly proves to be mind-numbingly boring, so he starts writing up his first report instead. It includes a lot of phrases like why would you, and wouldn’t it be faster to just blow up the school, and undue cruelty to substitute shinigami.

The teacher sidles up beside him and stares at his report. Great. The whole point of the exercise was to encourage her not to take an interest in him.

“Why don’t you take notes in English, dear?” she coos.

Ichigo frowns up at her. “My English bad. This way more fast.”

Everyone in class who’s heard him speak English before turns to stare at him. Most of them look like they’re about to start out laughing, so that’s good. Or bad, if they actually do start laughing. That would blow his cover. Granger is also staring at him in incredulous delight, but she, at least, has her hand clapped over her mouth. It’s good that someone understands the game.

“Oh.” The teacher blinks. “Well, I’m surprised people from your…country…would allow you to attend school here without being able to speak a proper—to properly speak the language. You must practice your English, dear. Practice! Do you understand?”

Wow, this lady is an all-around class act. But Ichigo just nods gamely, and she goes away before anybody does anything more than snort quietly. Win.

Neville Longbottom passes him a note that reads, “I want to be you when I grow up.” Ichigo smiles and shoves the note in his pocket to show Renji. This, my friend, this is how undercover is done.

Then the whole class abruptly gets into a screaming fight with the teacher and a riot almost breaks out, so that’s pretty entertaining. Shiro’s downright cheered by it, and Ichigo’s kind of impressed with the teacher’s cast-iron balls—because that’s what it takes to tell a bunch of kids who had a classmate murdered the year before that they live in a world of safety and sunshine. Like. Damn.

Anyway, Potter ultimately gets kicked out—kid really is everybody’s goat—and then, apparently in the spirit of the thing, Ichigo gets kicked out too. The teacher wants him to escort Potter to their Head of House and also get a translating charm for himself. Makes sense. How’s she supposed to spy on him if she can’t read what he’s writing?

By the time Ichigo makes it out the door, Potter’s already running down the hall and yelling at a poltergeist. It’s a pretty sorry day when Ichigo thinks somebody should learn to pick his battles. He trails after them, though, because he’s got no idea where McGonagall’s office is. Also because they’re funny to watch.

McGonagall must not agree, though, given the way she flings open her door and demands to know what the noise is. Which is exactly the moment Peeves notices Ichigo, freezes in panic, and then dives into the ceiling screaming about murderers and death dealers. McGonagall and Potter both turn to stare at Ichigo.

“Ghosts don’t like me,” he lies blandly.

“Yes,” McGonagall says faintly. “So I’d understood. Well, come inside, the two of you, and explain to me why you’re here when you should be in class.”

“I’ve been sent to see you,” Potter grumbles, holding out a note of offensive pinkness.

McGonagall takes the note, frowning, and reads it. By the time she’s finished, she looks about as happy as Potter. She sighs in exasperation and sets it aside. “And you, Mr. Kurosaki,” she demands. “What are you doing here?”

“That teacher thinks I can’t speak English,” Ichigo explains, and despite everything, Potter smirks. “She wants me to get a translating charm or something.”

McGonagall blinks slowly. “You seem to me to be quite proficient in English, Mr. Kurosaki.”

Ichigo shrugs, and Potter looks down and bites his lip against a grin.

“And I suppose you have no idea how this confusion came about,” McGonagall continues, taking off her glasses and pinching the bridge of her nose.

“No idea,” Ichigo says firmly, and then, pretty sure of his footing here, “but I wouldn’t mind if she stayed confused.”

McGonagall gives him a small smile (and Potter laughs outright). “Well. After all, if I gave you a translation charm, how would you ever learn…?”

“Good point,” Ichigo allows, impressed.

McGonagall sighs and replaces her glasses. “Mr. Kurosaki, if you get yourself expelled, that will be of no help to anyone, and I will be extremely annoyed.”

“Understood.”

“Please go back to class now, before you convince me to do anything else ill-advised. Mr. Potter, you stay.”

Ichigo leaves. He feels pretty good about today. So far, it’s only mostly been a disaster.

* * *

Fred and George are, if not connoisseurs of human nature, at least extremely astute when it comes to deducing what they can get away with in which company. And that’s why they’re so interested in the new boy. They have a feeling—and they are very rarely wrong—that Ichigo would let them get away with more than anyone they’ve ever met.

(Always excepting Lee, of course, who’s an honorary Weasley in any case. They’d swap him out with Percy any day of the week. They’d even swap him out with Ronniekins.)

The unsettling thing, though, about Ichigo Kurosaki, is that he watches them with…oh…calculation. They’re used to, say, amusement, fear, and exasperation being aimed their way. Calculation is a new one, and they’re not sure what to make of it.

And when you’re not sure of a thing, the logical response is to test it until you are.

“Say, Ichigo,” Fred begins, sidling up to him at dinner. “We have a business proposal for you.”

Ichigo frowns at them. Of course, Ichigo is in a constant state of frown—it doesn’t have to mean anything. “Business proposal?”

“That’s right,” says George. “You see, we’ve invented a few joke candies, and we need to give them a trial run before they’re ready for marketing. We need test subjects. No real danger, you understand!”

“Certainly not,” Fred agrees. “We would never.”

“And in any case, you’d be handsomely compensated. Double if you end up in the Hospital Wing.”

“And best of all, it would get you out of this dining hall sooner rather than later.”

As one, they turn to look at Harry, who is dealing with the stress of having his sanity publicly questioned with all the grace and subtlety of a rampaging hippogriff.

Ichigo pushes back his plate. “I won’t be your test subject,” he says, “but I am curious about what your candies do. Let’s go.”

Fred and George exchange a look. So he’s curious about their products. Which is curious. Is he a prankster himself? Is he a sadist? Is he—most alarming of all—competition?

They’ll just have to keep poking at him until they find out.

He’s not competition. They figure that out immediately, because he’s not interested in the process of making Fainting Fancies—he’s just interested in their effects. But he’s not a sadist, either, because he looks alarmed when the firsties faint, and manages, somehow, to catch three of them before they hit the ground. Then again, he’s not a prankster, because he’s interested in the results in entirely the wrong way. He doesn’t look like he’s having fun, he just looks…calculating. Still calculating.

He’s a true mystery, is Ichigo. They’d test him more, only Hermione has to ruin everything by storming over just then and threatening them with Mum—which is utterly uncalled for—and Ichigo wanders off to do homework.

(What is Hermione like, anyway? She’s not family. Not yet, at any rate. Ron wouldn’t really, though, would he? Not even Ron, not a rulebook-thumper. Except that yes. Yes, he would. That’s the tragedy of it.)

Oh, well. If they can’t continue their experiment now, they’ll continue it later. One way or another, they will figure out Ichigo Kurosaki.

* * *

Ichigo doesn’t go into day two with a lot of hope, and it turns out that’s wise. Breakfast sees Potter and Granger and Ron all fighting about elves and then sulking. (Because elves are a thing, too. What the hell.)

First class is Charms, and Flitwick talks a lot about the animal tests, and then tells them to go over summoning charms, which apparently everybody else already knows how to do. Ichigo tries to do one and blows up his desk. Rukia, at least, would be proud.

Transfiguration is next, and Ichigo’s simultaneously pleased and worried to see McGonagall teaching it. He likes her, but he also, oh, fears and respects her. She’s got kind of an Unohana vibe, and since there’s basically no chance of his being able to transfigure anything, he doesn’t see this ending well for him.

McGonagall also talks about the animal tests for a while and Ichigo tunes out, at least until she hands him a snail and tells him to make it disappear. He checks to see if she’s messing with him, but she looks really serious. Plus, she’s given everyone else the same instructions, and she doesn’t seem the type to troll her classes.

Ichigo raises his hand and McGonagall scowls at him, so they’re off to a great start. “Yes, Mr. Kurosaki?”

“Could I try this on something that’s…uh, not alive?”

The scowls deepens. “Why?”

“Because Professor Flitwick had us summoning things last class, and Ichigo blew up his desk instead,” Ron informs her gleefully, so at least Ichigo’s made someone happy today.

McGonagall has to turn away and take a moment. Ichigo darkly suspects she’s laughing at him. She does eventually give him a rock to practice on, though.

He doesn’t blow up his desk this time. There’s just a small, controlled fire, and Ichigo counts that as progress. McGonagall doesn’t seem to agree.

Next lesson is Care of Magical Creatures, which features little stick people. Ichigo just accepts this, possibly because his capacity for shock has shorted out. He partners up with the yelling guy—Finnegan—and Thomas, the last guy in their dorm. Thomas turns out to be just enough like Chad to be comforting—he’s quiet and calm, obviously not as badass as Chad, but still easygoing and undemanding and therefore reassuring to stand beside. It’s nice—the familiarity of it in the midst of all the weird that is this school.

Partnering up with them also means Ichigo doesn’t have to be a party to whatever the hell Potter’s up to—getting into sneering contests with the blond boy from the train, taking against the professor for no reason Ichigo can see, and so on. Potter’s blood pressure must be out of control. Ichigo’s getting tired just watching him.

But at least a few people march up to Potter and loudly believe in him on their way to gardening class. That seems to cheer him up. One of those people is Lovegood, though, and as much as Ichigo trusts that she’s got a firm grip on reality, he’s the only one. Anybody else would probably find it worrying to have Lovegood declaring them sane—especially as sane as she is.

She winks at Ichigo when she passes him. He wonders if that was a shinigami-related wink, or a did-you-see-me-mess-with-Potter’s-mind wink. He tries not to worry about it.

In gardening class, the plants only halfheartedly try to kill him and he doesn’t set anything on fire, so he chalks it up as uneventful. Dinner’s also uneventful, unless you count a girl swinging by to yell at Potter for a while, but since that seems to be like an hourly thing, Ichigo’s not sure he should. After dinner, Ichigo does exactly enough homework to keep himself from being expelled, then he goes up to the roof to call his sisters.

He doesn’t think to worry about Potter. Kid’s just in detention with the Ministry mole. How wrong could that go?

In retrospect, Ichigo will wonder how he’d managed to learn absolutely nothing from his first two days at Hogwarts.

* * *

Ichigo continues going to classes and keeping an eye on Potter, waiting for an evil, broken-souled wizard to come and try to murder the kid, but no joy. He also blows a lot of things up and sets a lot of other things on fire, and gets yelled at by every single professor except Binns. And that’s just because Binns is afraid of him.

This might be the most annoying mission Ichigo’s ever been on. Not even in the ballpark in terms of danger, obviously, but just for day-to-day, grinding irritation, he really thinks this has them all beat. He’s not usually a very communicative guy, but on this mission, he’s feeling the need for frequent sanity checks badly enough that he’s taken to calling everyone he knows who might be even vaguely sympathetic and whining at them. At least it’s making Karin and Yuzu happy.

That’s why he gets back to the common room so late on Thursday night—he was busy listening to Ishida expansively insult his intelligence and question the existence of his common sense. And he was enjoying it, so he knows he’s in bad shape.

It’s a surprise to run into Potter and Ron in front of the Gryffindor portrait this time of night. Ron’s hissing something at Potter—a worried, get-your-ass-to-the-Fourth kind of hissing. Ichigo recognizes the style, so he automatically checks Potter for injuries.

The kid’s hand is bleeding. Ichigo walks over and grabs it for inspection without thinking things through—he hardly knows Potter, so this is definitely weird behavior. Still, Potter’s bleeding, and Ichigo’s bodyguard gig may be a cover, but that doesn’t mean he’s not taking it seriously.

“What are you doing?!” Potter demands, tugging at his arm until Ichigo releases him.

“Who did this?” Ichigo asks in a quiet rage, because it’s not just blood. It’s words carved into Potter’s hand. I must not tell lies.

This is not happening to someone Ichigo’s responsible for.

“No one—” “Umbridge!” Harry and Ron say over each other.

That’s right. She’s had Potter in detention.

“She carved shit into your hand?” Ichigo hisses, horrified.

“No,” Harry insists, trying to hide the evidence. Classic.

“Right.” Ichigo turns to give the portrait the password and drags the other two inside. “How’s she doing it? Is she sitting there taking a knife to you or what?”

“No!” Harry says indignantly, like that’s just silly, when he is clearly still bleeding from the hand. “It’s just—it’s a quill. It doesn’t have any ink, it’s—when I put the words on paper, it writes them with my blood.”

“And carves them into the back of your hand.”

“…Yeah.”

Ichigo wonders why he has such a gift for finding the creatively evil sadists. “Where’d she put the quill?”

“You’re not thinking of stealing that quill,” Ron whispers, wide-eyed. “That’s…that’s mental. You’ll be expelled for sure—”

“We should be so lucky,” Ichigo mutters. “Potter. Where.”

“What do you care?” Potter asks sullenly.

“I’m supposed to be your bodyguard. It’s my job to keep you safe, and at the moment you’re freaking bleeding, so I’m going to do my job.”

“So I’m just a job to you.” Potter’s attempting to win the sulking Olympics, but given that people are carving shit into his hand, Ichigo can hardly blame him.

“You’re my duty,” Ichigo corrects. “You don’t understand how seriously I take my duties. Come on, cough it up. My motives shouldn’t matter—do you want that quill gone or don’t you?”

“It’s in her office,” Potter says. “I don’t know where—she always has it out when I get there. It’s a big, black quill. But you’ll only get into trouble—and who knows what’ll happen if you do get rid of it? What if she comes up with something worse?

“Then I’ll get rid of that, too,” Ichigo says confidently, heading up the stairs to the dorm. “Come on. Sleep.”

Ron looks disappointed. “I thought you were stealing the…?”

“When they least expect it.”

“I really doubt she’s expecting it now.”

“Ron,” Harry cuts in, exhausted. “Let it go.” He seems to think Ichigo’s all talk and not actually planning to go through with it.

Ichigo is not all talk. Ichigo, in fact, is something of a king of understatement.

* * *

He’s tried to be good about staying inside his body while at Hogwarts for a number of reasons. Firstly, Urahara claims that wizards can’t see shinigami, but they can obviously see ghosts, and Ichigo finds that worrying. Secondly, it really alarms the Hogwarts ghosts when he runs around in shinigami form, and he’s trying not to upset them. He doesn’t have anything against them; they don’t deserve to be scared. And finally, he hasn’t wanted his dorm mates to discover his still, lifeless body and come to obvious, but incorrect, conclusions. Mainly because they would never shut up about it.

But this time, it’s important that he not get caught by Umbridge. So he ditches his body, heads for Umbridge’s office, and fervently hopes wizards really can’t see shinigami.

I’ve been so fucking bored I think parts of me have actually died, Shiro says in a flat monotone, which is practically polite, coming from him. Maybe the boredom is making him numb. Can a hollow die of boredom? Is that a thing that can happen? It feels like it might happen, partner. I’m feelin it.

I hear you, Ichigo answers with a mental sigh. I keep asking for permission to destroy stuff, and everybody keeps saying no. It sucks. And after this one fun thing, we’re going right back to boredom. Unless we get expelled.

Here’s hopin’, Shiro says—and he and Zangetsu turn obligingly into blades, though Zangetsu has nothing to say. He may actually be unconscious from boredom, and who can blame him?

The office door goes down easy as cardboard, and if there are any alarms on it, they’re silent ones.

Nope, Shiro sighs sadly. Still bored.

They try to take out their aggressions on the quill, but even that’s only minimally satisfying. So they end up trashing most of the room as well, which is, to be fair, a crime against taste surpassing even Kukaku’s wildest flights of architectural fancy. And it’s full of dangerous magical objects, besides. Ichigo tries to tell himself he’s destroying everything in order to limit Umbridge’s future creativity and also to hide the fact that the quill was the target, and that’s partially true. The rest of the truth, though, is that it’s been way too long since he went on a real destructive spree. He is part hollow.

Whatever. The only person who’s going to be sad about this is Umbridge, so there’s no downside.

* * *

Potter, Ron, and Granger come gather around Ichigo at the breakfast table the next morning, all staring and gaping like fish. It’s uncomfortable.

“Can I help you?” Ichigo asks.

“What did you do?” Ron demands. Because apparently they swung by Umbridge’s office before breakfast on the off-chance. Their curiosity really is going to kill them.

Ichigo takes a bite of onigiri to give himself a moment and finds that they’re still doing something weird with the rice, and he still can’t figure out what. “What do you think I did?”

“We think you…you destroyed…” Granger stammers.

How?” Potter wants to know.

“…Magic?” Ichigo suggests.

“Don’t even try that,” Granger snaps. “All the doors in Hogwarts are heavily shielded against magical attack.”

“But not physical attack?” Ichigo asks incredulously, because that is the stupidest thing he’s ever heard.

“You mean you knocked down the door with your bare hands?” Ron asks in a weird scream-whisper.

“I had something in my hands,” Ichigo corrects him. “Now stop talking about it before anybody else shows up and gets interested.”

“But what happened to the…” Granger trails off and checks the dining hall. There’s still almost no one around, but her voice drops to a whisper anyway. “The quill. Did you take it?”

“I don’t take things from people,” Ichigo corrects her indignantly. “I mean, sometimes I chop them up and set them on fire, but I don’t take them. Stealing is wrong.”

Granger’s whole face lights up. For somebody who’s so big on the rules, she sure loves breaking the hell out of them.

“Did you really…?” Ron asks in delight.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Ichigo informs him. “Eat your breakfast.”

The twins take this moment to appear in the dining hall and stare at Ichigo in something like awe. They shouldn’t have any reason to know what he got up to last night, but their faces suggest they do anyway. He’ll have to ask them how they managed that. If they can track shinigami…yeah, they’re gonna be all kinds of useful.

After the shaky start, breakfast is blessedly normal right up until the end, when Dumbledore makes an announcement about the destroyed office. So even Hogwarts doesn’t take destruction of teacher’s offices in stride. Good to know.

“As some of you may have noticed, there was an attack on Professor Umbridge’s office last night,” Dumbledore says, looking surprisingly grim, given what Ichigo knows of his feelings about Umbridge. “The professors have studied the site of the attack,” Dumbledore continues over the sudden loud whispering, “and we are agreed that this level of destruction would be impossible for any student—even the Weasley twins.” There’s some strained, nervous laughter. “The power required was simply too great.”

There are a lot of eyes on Ichigo all of a sudden. These kids had better not be planning on careers in espionage.

“In view of this,” Dumbledore goes on, “classes will be cancelled today, as the professors will be investigating to determine the source of the attack. Please remain in your common rooms until your Heads of House inform you that the investigation has concluded. Those of you who had detention with Professor Umbridge today, your detentions will be delayed until her office is repaired. Thank you for your attention.”

Umbridge looks like she might actually pop a blood vessel in rage, which is gratifying. Ichigo wonders who she thinks did it, and whether he’s going to need to protect that person from her.

Ah, well. Tomorrow’s problems.

“Mr. Kurosaki,” McGonagall says calmly, appearing across the table with a neutral expression and murder in her eyes. “If I could have a brief word about your schedule before you return to the common room.”

“Oh. Sure.” Ichigo stands up and notices that Potter’s crew looks worried on his behalf. He frowns at them—he told them he wouldn’t get in trouble, and he won’t. God, they have no faith at all.

McGonagall bundles him into her office and casts a few spells on the door—silencing spells, maybe? Or is she just locking him in?

Mr. Kurosaki,” she says sternly when she’s done. “That attack on Umbridge’s office wasn’t just beyond students—it was beyond human. There were charms overloaded and wards shattered that the best Curse Breaker at Gringotts couldn’t manage in anything less than a month, which I know because I asked him. In fact, I can’t think of a magical creature short of a dragon that could’ve unleashed so much destruction in so little time, and dragons, you will agree, are too large to be guilty.”

Ichigo isn’t admitting to anything until she makes him. He tries looking politely attentive.

Why?” she demands after a long, unhappy silence. “Why would you draw attention to yourself in such a meaningless way?”

“I didn’t, did I?” he asks in surprise. “Nobody’s traced it back to me who didn’t already know about me.”

“Not so far,” McGonagall grinds out. “But that isn’t an answer.”

Well, no sense lying about it. “She had Potter using a quill that…look, it used his blood for ink, and it carved what he wrote into the back of his hand. I’m just saying, I’m supposed to keep him safe from bodily harm, and that is bodily harm. To say nothing of the psychological harm.”

McGonagall sits down abruptly, looking a little pale. “A blood quill,” she whispers. “That’s a Dark artifact. That’s…it breaks several laws to own one outside a school, but in one—Kurosaki, what did you do with the quill?”

“I destroyed it,” Ichigo admits, wincing. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. He hadn’t known it was illegal, so it hadn’t crossed his mind that he was destroying evidence. “Sorry. I didn’t know.”

McGonagall sighs at him in exasperation.

“You could give me a list of Dark artifacts?” he tries.

“I think it’s best for everyone if I avoid doing anything of the kind,” McGonagall says firmly, then mutters something that sounds like sleekit wee shite. Ichigo doesn’t know what that means, but he doubts it’s flattering. “Do you have any further plans to torment the staff?” she continues.

“No.” Not plans, per se. He’s operating on an as-needed basis.

“I see.” She’s dubious, and she’s right to be. But she doesn’t call him on it, and this is just one more reason she’s quickly becoming Ichigo’s favorite teacher. “Do try not to get yourself expelled, arrested, or murdered, will you? Give it your very best effort.”

“It’s my main goal in life.”

She waves him off, looking like a person who plans to spend the afternoon drinking and questioning her life choices. Ichigo feels a little bad about that, but really, he’s doing her a favor in the long run. She’ll see.

After everybody in the common room finishes bombarding Ichigo with questions about what McGonagall wanted (“To go over my schedule. What, did you think she was lying?”), the rest of the day basically turns into a party in Gryffindor. And then, bonus, they get cleared to have Quidditch tryouts in the evening. Everybody’s excited. Ichigo decides to tag along and watch, since from what little he understands of the game, it seems like a prime opportunity to kill somebody.

It develops that Quidditch is like sky soccer with more balls, except a couple of the balls have minds of their own and periodically try to kill people, just because. Because it’s the wizarding world, and they wouldn’t be having fun without at least a fifty percent chance of bloodshed at any given moment.

“What’s the point of this?” Ichigo asks Granger as someone gets attacked by an angry ball and falls off his broom.

“Sport,” Granger says absently, doing her history reading and glancing up occasionally to make sure nobody’s died. “Whatever the point of sport is.”

Ichigo begs to differ. He’s done sports, and it was always a way of working off rage or grief or stress. In no sport ever has the equipment up and tried to kill him, and he doesn’t get why that’s a thing anyone would want. It’s funny—the wizarding world has less overt violence than Ichigo’s used to, but a lot more institutionalized cruelty. Like, attacking someone as a form of greeting is one thing, but blood quills and homicidal sports equipment is something else again. Even Kenpachi would find this school fucked up, and if that isn’t a damning commentary, Ichigo doesn’t know what is.

Karin would love Quidditch. Ichigo silently vows never to tell her a thing about it.

In the end, Ron gets picked for the dubious privilege of having possibly-sentient sports equipment thrown at his head all game long. For whatever reason, he seems really excited about this. There’s yet another party over it. Ichigo makes it about fifteen minutes in before he’s maxed out on human interaction for the day, then he goes to hide on the roof and wait until it’s time to make his calls. He’s calling Chad today. He really feels the need to talk to someone sane and calm for a minute.

Until it gets late enough to do that, he takes a stab at some homework and idly wonders what Umbridge’s next move will be. He hopes it’s a good one, because institutionalized cruelty notwithstanding, he feels kind of wasted here.

* * *

There’s Quidditch practice on Saturday, and Ichigo goes because he feels obligated—bodyguard duties, whatever. The Slytherins also go, because tormenting Gryffindors is both a hobby and a calling for them.

Practice is such a travesty it’s painful to watch. There are endless dropped balls and missed shots and it all culminates in the Weasley twins accidentally poisoning a teammate and everybody running off to the Hospital Wing. The Slytherins laugh and laugh. As they should, really.

The Weasley twins are definitely going to the Twelfth Division when they die, Ichigo doesn’t care that they’re English. He’s calling it now.

After the highlight that was Quidditch practice, Potter and company troop back to the common room, presumably to sulk loudly, so Ichigo decides it’s as good a time as any to hunt down Luna Lovegood and ask her why the hell she knows about shinigami. So he asks around for her. Everybody he asks looks shocked that he’s talking to them, and even more shocked that he wants to find Lovegood, but after more dithering than Ichigo thinks is strictly necessary, someone does finally direct him to the library.

Lovegood’s reading at a table barely visible from the door, just on the edge of the stacks, within sight but not earshot of the librarian. Ichigo’s impressed. Nobody can pick on her because the librarian’s right there, but the librarian can’t overhear any conversations she might have—and neither can anybody else without her knowing about it, because she’s got a clear view down the aisles between all the stacks near her. There’s nowhere for anyone to hide.

Which is good, because Ichigo can’t afford eavesdroppers. He’d been planning on dragging her out to the lake for this talk, but it looks like there’s no need.

Of course, he’d be even more impressed with her if she hadn’t chosen to wear a necklace strung with five giant, glass eyeballs of various colors. But what the hell, no one’s perfect.

“Hey,” he says, pulling up a chair at ninety degrees to Lovegood’s, so they can talk, but also both keep an eye on the door and the stacks.

“Ichigo Kurosaki,” Lovegood replies, eyes drifting slowly to his. “I’m doing homework, you know.”

“I know. Sorry to interrupt, but I kind of have to ask—how do you know about shinigami? How did you know I was a shinigami?”

“…Shinigami?”

“Soul reapers.”

Her mouth opens in a silent oh, and she actually shuts her book. So she thinks this topic deserves her full attention. That’s a relief.

“My mother is a soul reaper,” she explains. “You have a red ribbon like hers.”

Okay, so Lovegood can see spirit ribbons. That’s weird, but Ichigo can’t exactly judge and isn’t going to comment. “You mean your mom had you while she was in a gigai?” Because that would make Luna’s mom just like Ichigo’s dad, and what are the odds of that?

Lovegood tips her head to the side, birdlike. “Gigai?”

“A…a false body. So a shinigami—a soul reaper—can interact with the living world.”

“Oh no, not at all,” Lovegood says in surprise. “She was human when I was born, and then she died, and now she’s a soul reaper.”

“Then…no, I still have no idea how you know about soul reapers. And why do you know about Yachiru?

“My mother is quite the experimenter, you know.”

Ichigo didn’t. He doesn’t see what that has to do with anything, either.

“She’s made an effort to meet other researchers in Soul Society, to pool their knowledge. It’s very frustrating to her superiors, I understand. They want her to stay in one place, but she wants to have conversations with Akon, who is part of your part of Soul Society, isn’t he?”

“…Yeah, he is.” So this is Akon’s fault. Ichigo honestly didn’t see that one coming. He would’ve blamed Urahara before anybody. “Still not seeing how you know all this.”

“Sometimes she comes to the house and tells me about her day,” Lovegood explains dreamily.

“That’s fifteen kinds of not allowed.” Not that Ichigo has a leg to stand on when it comes to what is and is not allowed.

“Oh, she doesn’t know I can hear her. Or see her. I don’t tell her, because I’m afraid she’ll stop coming if I do.”

…And that is one of the loneliest things Ichigo’s ever heard. He wonders if he’d have had the self-control to do that if it had been his mom. He doesn’t think so. He’d probably have opened his mouth right away and ruined everything.

“I lost my mom when I was nine,” he confesses, feeling he owes Lovegood…Luna something for dragging this horrible story out of her. Though the more accurate statement would be I helped get my mom killed when I was nine. “I don’t think I could’ve done what you do—not letting on. You’re kind of amazing.”

She smiles at him, bemused. “No, I don’t think that’s true at all. I thought I was imagining her at first, you know, because I wanted her back so badly. I didn’t dare say anything to her, because if I had, everyone would’ve known I’d gone mad. It took me months to decide that she was real. You wouldn’t have made that mistake. That’s the only difference between us.”

Ichigo stares at her in silence, thinking of the way she all but forces people to think she’s mad these days. Maybe she wishes she’d never cared about other people’s opinions of her sanity. Maybe she’s punishing herself for it.

“You can start talking to her now, though,” he says, starting to get worried. “If that’s what you want.”

“I really can’t,” Luna disagrees, maintaining a faint smile. “She always has a watcher, I suppose to keep her from doing anything improper. If the watcher knew I’d been listening all along, I imagine my mother would be in a great deal of trouble.”

Yeah, she really would. So instead, Luna stays quiet, and listens to her mother talk, and hates herself for not saying anything back when she could have.

Well, this has been a uniformly awful conversation.

“I’m sorry,” Ichigo says. Sorry about Luna’s life, sorry about bringing it up.

“Thank you,” Luna responds gravely. “And what about you?”

“What about me?”

“When did you die?”

“Oh.” Yeah, that’s a logical assumption to make. “I’m not actually dead. I don’t think. I mean, this isn’t a gigai—it’s my real body.”

“A living soul reaper,” Luna says, eyes shining. “So it’s you. My mother’s talked about you. You’re quite famous, actually. Did you really invade Soul Society with a handful of living humans to rescue a damsel in distress?”

Ichigo tries to put the concepts of Rukia and damsel in distress into the same mental space and possibly sprains something in his brain. “Your mom just gets everybody to tell her everything, doesn’t she?” he mutters irritably.

“She does,” Luna agrees, placid. “She’s also very interested in anomalies, and you’re an outstanding anomaly.”

“I’m not that weird,” Ichigo insists, feeling defensive.

“Mm. How many living soul reapers are there?”

“…One,” Ichigo admits grudgingly. “Far as I know.”

“Anomaly,” Luna trills, reaching over to pat him on the head.

“Anyway, she wasn’t a damsel in distress.” Ichigo needs to clear up this misapprehension before Rukia finds out about it and kills him. “She got into trouble for saving my family. I owed it to her to return the favor. That’s all.”

“I like you,” Luna declares. “Now go away; I have homework to do.”

“Ravenclaw, huh?” Ichigo mutters, standing.

“‘Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure,’” Luna singsongs, turning back to her book and shutting Ichigo out.

Ichigo swings by the common room to make sure Potter’s still alive (he is; well done), then he goes for a run to clear his head and kill time until it’s late enough to call and complain about this mission once again to everyone responsible for it, starting with Rukia.

* * *

Breakfast on Monday is loud and unhappy because Umbridge has managed to make herself the Hogwarts High Inquisitor. At that point, Ichigo feels, you should just call yourself the Hogwarts Evil Overlord and have done with it. The title must be soothing to her, though, because her face is almost back to a normal color. Disappointingly.

It’s obvious that Granger would love to blame this turn of events on Ichigo, but the timing’s wrong, and she knows it. This was happening no matter what anybody did.

It’s turning into a real fight now, Ichigo figures. This is just the beginning, and it’s almost a relief. Ichigo doesn’t know jack about politics, but he can fight. It’s what he was made for.

Umbridge doesn’t immediately use her new powers to inspect Snape (too bad), but Potions ends up a fiasco anyway. And it started out so well. Ichigo got an E on his essay, which he can tell is good by the way Snape looks totally annoyed by it. He’s not sure what it proves, exactly, except that he can bullshit with the best of them, but it still feels nice, given what a fuckup of a fake wizard he’s been so far.

In the interest of keeping this unfamiliar success rolling, he’s careful to follow all the directions to the letter when making his potion. It’s a Strengthening Solution, which appeals to him anyway. He wants to get it right.

Everything goes great until it’s time to stir the potion with a wand. Should’ve seen it coming, really—Zangetsu isn’t a wand; Zangetsu is a deadly weapon.

Between them, Ichigo and Shiro and Zangetsu somehow manage to vanish not just the potion, but Ichigo’s entire desk as well. It’s not just invisible—he checks. It’s gone, and so is part of the floor that was under it. He’s lucky he didn’t take out a chunk of his legs. And he has no idea—like, did he destroy the desk, or is it just hanging out someplace else? Is it on the roof? Is it in Soul Society? What the hell?

“Kurosaki,” Snape says in a cold, carefully restrained tone that’s probably stifling a whole lot of screaming. “I have never, in all my years of teaching, seen anything like this. Congratulations, your failure is unique.”

The Slytherins snicker, but that’s because they’re easily entertained and have no feel for when they should be terrified.

“Fifty points from Gryffindor. Stay behind after class,” Snape hisses, then storms off to abuse other people. He knows when to be terrified, and Ichigo’s clearly terrified him. Accomplishment! Five points to Gryffindor.

Or not, because Granger’s terrified, too. She’s staring at Ichigo like he’s come over hollow in the middle of class. She keeps it up long enough, in fact, that he eventually pats down his face to make sure he hasn’t, and Shiro laughs at him. Shiro’s very Slytherin, come to think of it.

Once class is over and everyone’s fled, Snape casts a bunch of spells on the door. Some of them sound familiar—Ichigo thinks they might be the same spells McGonagall cast on her door when she and Ichigo were having real talk about Ichigo destroying Umbridge’s office. Memories.

“Kurosaki,” Snape snarls when he’s done, whirling around dramatically. Ishida would be impressed. “Do you have any idea what you did here today?”

“No,” Ichigo admits, annoyed with himself. “And I was trying to be careful, too. I think it’s the wand.”

“The wand,” Snape repeats slowly. “I’m aware that you’re not human, Kurosaki, but are you now telling me that your wand isn’t a proper wand, either? And, if so, can you explain why you’ve been allowed into my classroom with it—a classroom full of potentially fatal potions ingredients?”

“Can you explain why the fact that I’m not all human is apparently break room gossip in this place?”

Snape scowls. “I was not informed in my capacity as a professor, but because of my affiliation with…other organizations.”

“Oh.” Come to think of it, Urahara’s report did mention that the Order had teachers in it. One of them was even a spy. Was it Snape? That would make sense. Well, now Ichigo feels even more stupid. “Right, you’re that guy. Sorry. I read a lot about this place at once—forgot some of the details.”

“Answer my question, Kurosaki,” Snape demands, unimpressed with apologies.

“My wand is actually a sword—I just talked it into looking like a wand. I don’t know why I was allowed into your classroom with it, but don’t take it out on me, because it wasn’t my idea. I warned them I’d be a disaster.”

Snape looks like he’s developing the headache of the century. “And yet you went through with it.”

“Orders are orders,” Ichigo says blithely, because Snape has no way of knowing that Ichigo obeys orders only when he feels like it and/or at random.

“In that case, I have a new order for you, Kurosaki,” Snape says tightly. Ichigo refrains from pointing out that Snape isn’t in his chain of command, because he figures that’s a good way to end up poisoned. “In fact, you could consider this homework. Find a stick somewhere, sand it down until it looks like a wand, and use it in my class exclusively from now on. You’ll never create a successful potion, but on the other hand, you won’t slaughter us all in an explosive show of incompetence. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Ichigo says, aiming for meek and probably missing.

“I would give you detention, but since, in an ideal world, I would never see your face again, that would benefit neither of us. Instead, I’d like you to write an essay on what went wrong today.”

“…But we know what went wrong, and I can’t write about it. Classified.”

Snape leans across his desk with a crazed look in his eyes. “Then I advise you to be creative.”

So this is going well. Man, if Ichigo manages, after everything, to get himself killed by a guy who’s basically his chemistry teacher, Karin’s gonna be furious.

* * *

What with the whole Snape situation, Ichigo ends up missing lunch. And Potter’s in Divination, so Ichigo hasn’t even got bodyguarding to distract him from the fact that he’s starving. He considers his options, and ends up going to the common room to pick a fight with Shiro, because that’s a reliable distraction.

He’s still busy yelling at a voice in his head when the Weasley twins arrive, at which point Shiro abruptly drops the argument and settles down happily to watch the show. Shiro loves the Weasley twins, obviously. Ichigo would wonder why said twins aren’t in class, but wondering why they’re ever anywhere doing anything is futile. Because no one could stop them, probably.

“Why, if it isn’t Ichigo!” says the one with slightly crazier eyes and stronger spiritual pressure.

“Shouldn’t you be in class?” asks the other one sternly.

“Shouldn’t you?” Ichigo counters.

The twins circle closer, predatory, intrigued by Ichigo’s choice of response. They’re still testing him to see where his break points are, he knows. It’s only fair, though. He’s doing the same thing with them.

“We’ve been hearing some very interesting things about you, Ichigo Kurosaki,” says Twin One.

Alarming things, one might say,” adds Twin Two.

“Destruction of property.”

“Terrorizing the innocent.”

“Entering the school under false pretenses.”

“And possibly a false identity.”

“For shame, Ichigo,” they conclude together.

Ichigo has no idea where they heard any of that, but hats off to their grapevine. “Who are these innocents I’m supposedly terrorizing?”

They like that he didn’t deny the rest, he can tell. Their faces light up like Kenpachi’s when he realizes a fight’s gonna be good. “Poor Peeves,” explains Twin One.

“I’ve never seen a poltergeist cry before,” says Twin Two, trying to look sad, but mostly just looking avidly, alarmingly curious.

“All the ghosts are terrified of you, we hear.”

“Even Binns, and Binns hasn’t noticed the living world in centuries.”

Yeah, well, technically he still hasn’t. “What do you want?” Ichigo sighs, figuring there’s no point in dragging this out.

“We want to know what you are,” Twin One says, leaning forward, intent.

And then they want to know how they can use him, no doubt. “What’s in it for me?”

They weren’t expecting that. “…Lunch?” offers Twin Two.

These guys are uncomfortably similar to all of Ichigo’s favorite people. “I am pretty hungry, but not enough to sell my soul for lunch.”

“How about lunch and an unlimited number of future loud diversions on demand? Just in case you need to blow up more offices, and so on,” Twin One suggests.

Oh, and they’ve gone and offered Ichigo exactly what he wanted from them. Now he has to give them something. Freaking perceptive people. “Deal,” he mutters unhappily.

The twins are delighted. And they manage to produce a decent sandwich, so that’s something. Turns out Twin One is Fred and Twin Two is George, and they’ve got plans for Ichigo. Ichigo’s not sure they’ve noticed he’s got plans for them, too.

“Tell us everything,” they demand.

“I’m supposed to be bodyguarding Potter,” he tells them, mostly focused on his sandwich.

“Right.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“We’d figured that out already, in fact, but it’s good to hear.”

“But what are you?

“Nobody really knows.” And isn’t that the sorry truth. “But I can touch ghosts. Always have been able to. And if I can touch them…”

“You can hurt them,” Fred says, eyes wide with horror and delight.

“I can even kill them,” Ichigo allows.

“Kill them?” George is skeptical. “How do you kill a ghost? Aren’t they dead already, rather by definition?”

“They’re still in the living world, though,” Ichigo explains. “I can send them on whether they like it or not.” Or he can destroy them completely, not that he’s bringing that up in a castle full of them. They’re terrified enough of him as it is.

“Send them on where?

Ichigo decides he can’t justify knowledge of that, and shrugs. “Guess we’ll find out when we die.”

“No wonder they’re afraid of you,” Fred says, though he himself doesn’t seem afraid at all. “Do you have any other superpowers we should know about?”

“No,” Ichigo says firmly. They definitely should not know about his other superpowers.

“And yet you’re bodyguarding Harry,” George puts in. “No offense, but you seem a little young for the job.”

Ah, so they like Potter. Potter has people like the twins worried about his safety. God help him. “I’ve had a pretty eventful life. Guess they figure I’m prepared for most things the wizarding world can throw at me. And I’m young enough to hang around a school without it looking weird.” He pauses, considering how much he should actually tell these two, then figures, what the hell. It’s not like they don’t keep secrets semi-professionally. “Plus, sometimes it seems like every time I turn around, somebody’s saying, ‘Hey, Ichigo, go kill this evil guy who’s trying to take over the world.’ It’s annoying, but it keeps me in practice.”

That stuns the twins into silence for a second, and for that reason alone, Ichigo’s glad he said it.

“They’re not expecting you to kill You-Know-Who, are they?” Fred demands eventually.

Ichigo inconveniently blanks on how you’re supposed to answer negative questions in English. Is it no—you’re wrong, because they are expecting that, or is it yes—that is what they’re expecting? “Well, somebody has to kill him,” Ichigo says, dodging around the whole yes or no problem. “Maybe it’ll be me, or maybe it’ll be one of my…” he hesitates over how to describe Urahara and Yoruichi. “Former teachers. Whoever gets him first, basically.”

“Does Harry know this is your plan?” George asks, intrigued.

“No. I don’t want to get his hopes up—what if it doesn’t work out?” Like, what if they get Potter killed in the process, for example?

The twins beam at Ichigo and he doesn’t know why. “Well said,” they tell him.

Ichigo’s glad this talk went so well. He’s not sure why it went so well, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. A win is a win, and he’ll take it. Free sandwiches and all.

Mission accomplished, he escapes the twins and heads to Defense Against the Dark Arts. It starts out slow, particularly by contrast to conversations with the Weasley twins, but then Granger sasses the teacher and Potter opens his enormous mouth and get himself detention again, and things liven up.

Not that Umbridge has an office to give detentions in at the moment. In fact, she may never. Ichigo hasn’t decided yet. Still, it looks like Potter may be even more of a hot-headed idiot than Ichigo, which is comforting in a backhanded way.

Ichigo’s actually getting used to the way things work in this school, which is, when he thinks about it, horrifying.

* * *

As the weeks pass, it becomes clear that Umbridge’s newfound powers aren’t doing her any favors. She audits a few teachers (including McGonagall, which will forever be a beautiful memory for everyone who witnessed it), but nobody seems impressed. She also keeps giving detentions, but she can’t follow through on them the way she wants to because she’s got no space of her own. This is because once her office gets repaired, Ichigo goes ahead and smashes it again. It gets repaired again. He smashes it again. She moves to a different office, and he smashes that one, too.

Everyone needs a hobby.

After a month, she really starts flipping out. She’s convinced Sirius Black is after her, which Granger assures Ichigo is a source of great delight and amusement to Black himself (the guy who can turn into a dog, it develops), because actually he’s trapped in the Order’s headquarters going stir-crazy. He’s even inviting Ichigo to his house for Christmas, he’s so pleased. Ichigo wonders if he’ll still be pleased when he realizes Ichigo’s bringing along Rukia and Renji and Toshiro. Most people wouldn’t be.

Anyway, Umbridge’s Black-related freakout leads to Educational Decree Number Twenty-Four, which declares that staff must assist in any investigation the High Inquisitor deems necessary until the culprit is apprehended—because apparently a few of the professors were muttering about giving up on the investigation and just having someone share an office with Umbridge permanently. “After all,” McGonagall tells Ichigo sourly after class one day, “it’s not as if this terrifying murderer has done her any real harm, is it?”

That’s swiftly followed by Educational Decree Number Twenty-Five, which states that any student out after curfew is subject to immediate expulsion. Because Umbridge is convinced that Potter’s sneaking onto the grounds and letting Black in.

It means Ichigo has to leave his body in the dorm when he goes to make his phone calls at night, but other than that, he doesn’t get what the big deal is. He’d actually been hoping for better. Something really unforgivable, so he could retaliate with a clear conscience. This isn’t far enough.

Ichigo’s the only one who feels that way, though. Granger in particular seems to be holding a grudge against him over it, which is weird—what’s she so eager to be doing after curfew?

* * *

In view of Granger’s (persistent, determined) grudge, it’s a surprise when she sidles up to him at the beginning of October with a look on her face that Ichigo associates with people saying things like, “So I know we’re outnumbered ten to one, but if we can just herd a bunch of them together and blow them up, we should be fine…”

“Would you—erm.” And now she’s being hesitant. This is seriously out of character and therefore worrying. “We’ve decided, er…would you like to join our study group?”

It takes a lot of effort, but Ichigo manages not to laugh in her face. “Why?”

“It’s…it’s a Defense Against the Dark Arts study group, since we’re not learning anything in that class, and I thought. Well, it’s possible the study group might be dangerous. For Harry. Not likely! But I thought, as his…bodyguard…you might like to be there in any case.”

Oh, okay. That’s why. Ichigo’s glad he didn’t laugh in her face, because it turns out Granger’s actually doing him a favor. “That’d be great, thanks.”

Granger lights up. “This is a Hogsmeade weekend, so we’re going to have a meeting about it at the Hog’s Head. Will you come?”

“Sure.”

“Perfect! Then just follow us to Hogsmeade. Er, you do have permission to be in Hogsmeade, don’t you?”

“I have blanket permission to be where Potter is.” He assumes. It would be pretty ridiculous if he didn’t, given the whole bodyguard cover.

“Then the only one I need to convince is Harry,” Granger murmurs to herself.

“Potter doesn’t want to study Defense?” That seems unlikely.

“Harry doesn’t want to teach Defense,” Granger corrects. “But the truth is, he’s the only one who can.”

If Granger says so. Still, Ichigo can’t help but feel sorry for these kids. All of his teachers were like five hundred years old and had seriously seen it all. These wizard kids are getting Potter instead, and sure, Potter’s allegedly great at Defense, but he’s still a pissed off child who’s making shit up as he goes along. It’d be like Ichigo up and training shinigami.

Looks bad for the future of the wizarding world.

Ichigo tags along to Hogsmeade anyway, mostly because it’s his job, partly out of curiosity. He’s never been to Hogsmeade before; it’s pretty amazing. Also terrifying from a bodyguarding standpoint, because there’s so much casual weirdness going down that it’s tough to sort the dangerous weird from the benign weird. He’d like about a week to hang out here Potter-free so he could get a feel for the place and actually enjoy himself. With company, even. His actual friends, say. That would be awesome. But instead, here he is, bodyguarding a little rage-ball of a kid and stressing out about it. Typical.

They’re halfway across town when they run into the Weasley twins and Jordan, their partner in crime. As soon as the twins spot Ichigo, they practically come to attention. They need to knock that shit off before Granger notices, because if Granger notices, they’re all in for an interrogation. Ichigo scowls at them, eyes flicking to his escort. The twins instantly relax and start hassling their brother like normal.

They really are useful.

* * *

The Hog’s Head turns out to be a gross, dark pub that smells, appropriately, of livestock. Ichigo peers in the door and checks out the denizens. There’s no one there who seems to be actively plotting Potter’s murder, so that’s a relief. On the other hand, Ichigo has to wonder at the wisdom of holding a top secret meeting in a silent pub full of shady people.

Whatever. Not his war. And if it attracts the attention of the soul-splitter guy, so much the better.

“You should sit next to Harry,” Granger instructs him.

“I’m not staying,” Ichigo says hastily. He hates meetings. “I’ll wait out front. Keep an eye out for any murder wizards wandering this way.”

“Murder wizards,” Ron murmurs happily.

“Scream if something awful happens,” Ichigo tells them, then ducks outside and takes up a post by the door before anyone can argue.

Kids make their way past him and into the shady pub in a steady stream. All kinds of kids—the earnest, the curious, the star-struck. It quickly gets to the point that calling this a secret meeting is a joke. Feels like half the freaking school shows up, all side-eyeing Ichigo as they pass. Apparently he’s got a reputation. He’s not sure when or how that happened.

“It’s your face,” Luna says on cue like a mind-reader, casually elbowing him as she goes by. He could almost—but not quite—believe it was accidental. “I may have mentioned it before, but your face makes children cry. That’s why they’re looking at you that way.”

“Thanks, Luna.” She’s like a one-woman crusade to keep him from feeling homesick. “Your opinion means the world to me.”

She beams up at him and then drifts into the shady pub.

She’s almost the last one in. Once the stream of kids dies down, Ichigo anticipates an hour or two of mindless boredom, so he settles in for the long haul, keeping a careful eye on the street and ear on the pub, but letting his mind drift.

“Kurosaki-san!” a voice calls out abruptly, making him jump. “Long time no see!”

“Urahara-san,” he says, because who the hell else would materialize beside him in the middle of Hosgmeade? Oh, wait. “Where’s Yoruichi-san?”

“Hey, Ichigo,” comes a voice from above him. He looks up to find Yoruichi—in human form—perched on the roof of the Hog’s Head. Of course.

“Yoruichi-san. Hi.”

A passing witch gives Ichigo a strange look, at which point he realizes Urahara and Yoruichi aren’t wearing gigai, so it looks like he’s standing in front of a pub talking to himself. In a language other than English. Even in the wizarding world, that kind of thing gets noticed.

“Let’s get off the street,” he says. He waves the other two into the dark alley between the pub and a butcher shop, figuring no one’s likely to question or even look too hard at anything that goes on in there. They follow him without arguing, which is a nice surprise. They’re also laughing at him, but whatever. He’s not asking for miracles.

“Why are you bothering me?” he asks, tired of this conversation before it’s even started.

“So cold, Kurosaki-san, so cold!” cries Urahara. “And when we’ve come to make your life easier, too! Because we have information and we’ve made progress. Unlike you.”

Yoruichi, now stretched out on the roof sunning herself, smirks and reaches down to tug mockingly at Ichigo’s hair.

“I’ve done stuff!” Ichigo insists, indignant. “I’ve kept the Potter kid alive. Isn’t that what I’m supposed to be doing? I even kept him in one piece, which is technically above and beyond. I destroyed a Ministry mole’s office like five times to keep him in one piece!”

“Oh? Well, Yoruichi-san and I recently executed a bank heist,” Urahara says, smugly hiding his mouth with his fan. “So don’t expect us to be impressed with your petty destruction of property.”

Ichigo wishes he were more surprised. “Okay, that sounds like a disaster. Did your bank heist get you a soul piece?”

“Of course it did! I’m surprised you even need to ask. And then Benihime and I destroyed it, and it screamed and bled and carried on—quite rewarding.”

“There was a dragon in that bank,” Yoruichi says dreamily. “I’d never seen a living dragon before.”

“Did you two kill a dragon?” Ichigo asks flatly.

“Killing living things is against the rules, Kurosaki-san,” Urahara says sternly. Which obviously means a lot coming from a guy currently living in exile in part because of his tendency to see rules as amusing but ultimately meaningless obstacles between him and his goals.

“Whatever,” Ichigo sighs. It’s not his job to police these two, thank god. “By the way, the headmaster thinks Potter has one of the soul pieces attached to him. And I think he’s right.”

“Potter?” Yoruichi sits up abruptly. “But he’s still living.”

“Yeah, I’ll need help with that one,” Ichigo admits. “I don’t know what’s going on, exactly, but Potter’s spirit ribbon has a thread of dark green, same color as the soul pieces. I don’t know how to separate them.”

Yoruichi and Urahara turn to look at each other, momentarily serious.

“We’ll look into it, Kurosaki-san,” Urahara says eventually. “As soon as we find a way, we’ll let you know.”

Ichigo nods his thanks. “I also think the headmaster knows more about the other soul pieces than he’s telling us. The kids tell me he keeps a lot of secrets.”

“Excellent!” Urahara snaps his fan closed and smirks ominously. “Yoruichi-san and I are outstanding with other people’s secrets. We’ll just head on up to the castle and discuss things with this headmaster, shall we? And you’ll stay here and continue doing…well, whatever it is you’re doing.”

“Please don’t kill or maim the headmaster,” Ichigo begs. “They would definitely blame me.”

“Have a little faith in us,” Yoruichi tuts, leaping gracefully down from the roof and landing uncomfortably close to Ichigo. “We would never be that sloppy.”

“That doesn’t make me feel better at all, just so you know.”

“Be good, Ichigo!” she says brightly, and Urahara gives an enthusiastic wave. And then they flash step away and are gone.

Ichigo walks out of the alley and takes up his post by the door again, hoping he won’t get back to school to find Dumbledore irretrievably psychologically damaged. He’d feel responsible for that. It wouldn’t actually be his fault, but he’d still feel responsible.

The remaining hour or so passes quietly. Semi-quietly. Wizards and witches make for great people watching, especially that guy with what looks to be a parrot physically grafted to his shoulder. Or maybe growing out of his shoulder. Ichigo can’t decide which would be more disturbing.

Eventually, though, the kids pour out of the pub in an almost perfect reversal of the way they poured in, complete with wary looks at Ichigo. But Luna gives him a nod and a smile, and the Weasley twins give him a conspiratorial wink. At least he’s not a total pariah.

“Ichigo?” Granger calls, poking her head out the door. “The meeting’s over, but could you come in here for a second?”

“…Sure.” He follows Granger into the shady pub, suspicious about her motives.

“Everyone’s agreed to the Defense group,” Granger explains. “And everyone’s signed a contract promising to keep it a secret.” She gestures to an incriminating list. Ichigo nods, not sure why he’s being told all this.

“And I was thinking…well, I was thinking that you should sign it too.” And now Granger’s not meeting his eyes.

“Why? What unholy magic thing will happen to me if I sign that paper?” Ichigo demands, cutting to the chase.

“What—how would—why would you think that I—”

Oh, Granger. It’s like she thinks he hasn’t been paying attention at all. “There’s always some new awful magic thing with you. Plus you’re not looking at me, which means you feel guilty about it, which means this one’s really bad. So what is it?”

Potter and Ron are staring at Granger in fascination now, meaning they hadn’t picked up on this themselves. Which is a disgrace; they’ve known Granger for years. Ichigo has no sympathy for them.

“Anyone who signs the paper agrees to keep the Defense meetings a secret from anyone not on the list,” Granger admits sullenly after a long pause. “In a magically binding sense.”

“Or else…?” Ron looks…entertained.

Granger fidgets. “Or else they’ll end up with SNEAK written across their faces in, erm, pimples or boils…the spell wasn’t very clear. But it should scar.”

“You are vicious,” Ron says, admiring.

“Yeah, I’m not signing that thing,” Ichigo announces firmly. “I have to report to Toshiro tonight, and I don’t feel like disfiguring boils would be a good look on me. Who did you think I’d rat you out to, anyway? Umbridge? She still thinks I can’t speak English.”

“Which is brilliant, by the way,” Ron puts in.

“You’re being weirdly cheerful,” Ichigo points out. “Make it stop.”

“Can’t help it, and it’s your own fault, anyway,” Ron explains. Cheerfully. “There was this Zacharias Smith bloke in the meeting—total wart—but he was terrified of you. All we had to do was say your name and bang! Meek and quiet.”

“Like magic, huh?” Ichigo has no idea who this Smith guy is, but hey, Tatsuki’s always said he’s accidentally terrifying. And if Luna’s right, there’s some problem with his face, too. It shouldn’t be surprising that he doesn’t even need to know people to scare them.

Just like magic,” Ron agrees. The Smith kid must be a dick, because generally speaking, Ron doesn’t get off on terrifying people.

“Ronald,” Granger says sternly. “We’re lucky to have had as many people show up as we did. Every one counts, no matter why they came. I mean, Michael Corner and his friends wouldn’t have come if he hadn’t been going out with Ginny—”

Ron, predictably, flips out. They walk out of the pub in a cloud of babbling about other people’s love lives, their own love lives, how confusing romance is, and so on and so forth. Because that’s clearly the important thing to focus on right now.

It’s a miracle they aren’t dead already.