Authors: furiosity & incapricious
Fandom: Harry Potter & Bleach
Genre: Crossover | Drama
Rating: R [overall] (this part: PG)
Pairing: Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy
Disclaimer: JKR and Kubo own. We only play. You do not sue.
Length: 3500 words (this part)
Summary: In which there is waiting but no kitchen utensils, Harry ponders the meaning of life, Draco sees pink kittens, and a man walks out of a painting. Sort of.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
05 x Under Pressure
The holding room was perfectly square, according to Harry's highly scientific method of measurement: four steps from the door to the window and four between the sleeping mats on either side of the window. He could even cross it in two and a half giant strides, though the stupid flip-flops made that difficult.
"This is ridiculous," Harry said, finishing his nine mincing steps -- a bit of a change to the method -- towards the window. The sky was clear and full of stars. "It's been hours."
Malfoy lay on his mat, staring up at the ceiling. "Poor Potter, stuck in a place where no one knows how wonderful and famous you are. Can't snap your fingers and have it all your way," he said in a grave monotone. "An utter tragedy, if you ask me."
"This has nothing to-- I never used to do that!"
Malfoy raised his head for a moment to cast a sceptical glance at him.
"I didn't," Harry said. "You're the one who was always trying to use your Dad to impress people. I didn't ask for--"
"Fuck you," Malfoy said, sitting up. "You are not allowed to mention my father again."
He was stuck in the afterlife, sharing a room with Malfoy. They had called it Soul Society, but clearly this was hell.
"Lucius Malfoy, Lucius Malfoy, Lucius Malfoy," Harry chanted. "Lucius Malfoy is an evil bastard."
Malfoy stood and raised his arm. "I warned you," he said.
"Oh, please," Harry snapped. "Think you can shoot spells from your fingertips now?"
"Ye lord! Mask of ... bone and flesh, flutter of wings!" Malfoy closed his eyes, his lips moving soundlessly.
"Good luck with that," Harry said, rolling his eyes. He could cast a Protego with his bare hands, so Malfoy's pitiful attempts at attacking him were doomed to fail. It had felt so strange, using magic without a wand -- it has simply flown into his hand, like a guiding spirit.
"Ye who bears the name of--" Malfoy declaimed with a triumphant smirk, but the door slid open, and he hastily dropped his arm.
A young woman in a white outfit cut like Hisagi's, but with sleeves, stepped into the room.
"What are you doing?" Her eyes swept the room, pausing briefly on both boys, and then settled on Harry.
"Nothing," Harry said. The woman's lips tightened a fraction, and Harry wondered if he'd used the wrong honorific again. Or something. Speaking a language you didn't know was confusing.
Malfoy glared at him: it was a look his mother must have made him practise from an early age. "I was just practicing for the entrance exam," he said.
Harry snorted. "You were not!"
"You know the Demon Arts already?" the woman asked, ignoring Harry.
Malfoy clasped his hands behind his back. "Only a little."
"I see," she said. "It's 'mask of flesh and bone' not 'bone and flesh'. The Ways of Destruction are very particular."
"How foolish of me," Malfoy said with a prissy little bow, his eyes downcast. "Please forgive my impertinence."
It was all so ludicrous. Malfoy was being polite, of all things, and the woman actually believed his lies! Harry wasn't going to stand for it.
"Excuse me," he said, "But he was actually trying to attack me just now."
"Why would he do that?" the woman asked.
"Because he's a git."
"He insulted my father," said Malfoy.
The woman frowned at Harry. "To defend family honour is retaliation, not an attack. Please refrain from provoking your companion."
"Provoking? He--" Harry began, but the woman dismissed him with a wave of her hand.
"The examination committee will assemble tomorrow morning. Your dinner will arrive shortly; after that, please rest well in preparation."
As she began to glide out, Harry grabbed the door before she could slide it shut. "What's the entrance examination like?"
Her face remained expressionless. "You may not know ahead of time. You will be either prepared or not prepared."
Harry stared after her as she disappeared down the corridor. "Thanks for the tip," he muttered.
"Was that the legendary Potter charm in action? Pathetic. No wonder you had to settle for a Weasley," Malfoy said with a smug face.
"I didn't have to settle for anyone," Harry retorted. "At least I had a girlfriend, unlike you."
Malfoy's self-satisfied grin wavered, but Harry didn't particularly care why. He sank down onto his mat and turned to face the wall. Ginny. He had barely thought of her since waking up in that forest, and now he could only wonder what she was feeling -- losing first her brother, then her boyfriend, in a matter of hours. He remembered deciding not to interrupt her in the Great Hall, thinking they'd have hours, days, even weeks in which to be together -- years, maybe. What a joke. He hadn't even had one day. If only he'd known.
Thoughts of what might have been turned into bittersweet memories, and then into dreams, starkly vivid -- of going back to finish his seventh year at Hogwarts, of Auror training, of chasing Death Eaters to the ends of the world, of Ron laughing, of Hermione scolding him for forgetting to write, of Christmases and birthdays and pick-up games of Quidditch, of Ginny holding an infant boy...
When Harry woke, his eyes were wet. For a moment, he wondered if all of it -- Rukongai, Soul Society, Shinigami -- had been a bad dream, but then he saw Malfoy's motionless figure across from him, his blond hair fanned out across the thin pillow. Harry wiped his eyes hastily. Dreams like that would keep him going, he decided. As soon as Takabe had told him that Shinigami could walk amongst the living, Harry had known what he must do. Become a Shinigami, and then return home as soon as he was allowed to enter the living world. It didn't matter that he was a spirit -- wizards could see ghosts, couldn't they, and though he would never have the life he'd dreamed of, at least he'd be near people he cared about. And he would see that Lucius Malfoy was brought to justice.
Harry's stomach gurgled, and he wondered about the food the Shinigami woman had promised last night. Food. Sleep. Was there anything different about being dead, when you had enough spirit power? If he got a cut, would he bleed? With a fingertip, he traced a vein from his wrist to the crook of his elbow -- there was a pulse, subtle but unmistakable. Then a hunger pang turned into a full-on cramp, and Harry realised he needed to eat, or he'd just pass out during the examination.
He glanced at the door. Perhaps he could go outside and ask someone for some breakfast... He saw a small tray next to the door and scrambled towards it, then brought it over to his mat. The tray held one covered bowl and chopsticks, which Harry had no idea how to use -- the Dursleys hadn't exactly been the most adventurous eaters, and Hogwarts had only served foreign food once that he could remember.
Harry took the cover off the bowl. It held rice covered in a deep brown sauce with chunks of grilled... something on top. Something... fishy. No matter; it was food, and as long as he ate quickly, he would hopefully be done before Malfoy woke up and witnessed Harry Potter clumsily shovelling cold rice into his mouth with a pair of chopsticks. Not that he'd have anyone to tell, but still. It was the principle of the thing.
The first part of the entrance examination turned out to be a psychological evaluation. Apparently, not everyone was mentally cut out to be a Shinigami, even if they had spirit power.
"And what about this one? What does it look like?" Harry's examiner, Nakane, asked. She was holding up a large card with a multi-coloured blob on it.
Privately, Harry thought it looked rather like a child had eaten crayons and then been sick all over the card. But he didn't want to say that; what if being unable to see anything in a blob meant he'd be a crap Shinigami?
"Um. It's very colourful," he said, stalling for time. He wished he had his glasses, even though he had no trouble seeing. But perhaps glasses would enable him to see more detail. "A... mask? Yeah, there are the eyes, and there are the teeth. It's a mask. No, a person at a masquerade. Wearing a mask. Yeah."
Nakane's expression didn't change as she moved the card to the bottom of the stack in front of her. What did that mean? Had he answered correctly? He was sweating.
Nakane brushed a loose strand of dark hair away from her face and pulled another card out of the stack. "What about this one?"
"A rabbit," Harry said confidently. That one was obvious. That had been card number twenty. Please let her stop at twenty, Harry pleaded silently.
Nakane pulled a sheaf of paper from the inside of her shihakushō -- that was what the Shinigami robes were called, Harry had learned. A garment for a dead soul. Ominous. Nakane placed the papers in front of him and handed him a pencil, smiling. "Please answer all of these questions, Harry-kun. When you have finished, please bring your answers to me."
Harry nodded mutely and watched her walk towards the three mats laid out at the far end of the room. Tall and slender, she didn't look a day over twenty, and she was overseeing an examination for new Shinigami? Was she a teacher, too? Nakane sat down and nodded to him, indicating the papers. Right. Examination.
At first, the characters looked like meaningless squiggles to Harry, but as he focussed, he found that he could read them, just as he'd been able to speak Japanese without trying. He wondered what triggered the ability -- he had still retained his English knowledge, as he and Malfoy had discovered yesterday.
Not that being able to read and interpret the characters was going to do him any good -- what the hell was he supposed to make of "leap circle tree rushing spicy bird"? Then he realised the writing was vertical and from right to left -- completely arse-backwards, in other words. But he got used to it rather quickly.
You are walking through West Rukongai's Inuzuri district when you hear a scream. How do you react?
1. I keep walking. Inuzuri is a dangerous district, and screams are perfectly normal there.
2. I investigate the source of the scream, because there could be a Hollow menacing the citizens.
3. If my mission parameters allow it, I investigate. If they don't, I keep going in order to complete my mission.
4. I would never accept a mission that sent me to a horrible place like Inuzuri, so it is impossible to answer this question.
Each of the answers had a square for a tick mark next to it, and Harry hesitated, pencil gripped tightly. What would a Shinigami do in that situation? Wait... hadn't Takabe said that defeating Hollows took priority over everything else? With some confidence, Harry ticked the box next to #2. Surely the old man had known what he'd been talking about. Next question.
If you see a crack in the road, you feel compelled to walk along it.
Harry blinked, trying to think. He couldn't recall such a compulsion. But what if Shinigami were supposed to want to walk along cracks? Maybe it indicated some personality trait that was important in channelling spirit power. Sod it. I know nothing about being a Shinigami, so I might as well answer honestly.
Answering honestly was a lot easier -- and a lot less stressful -- than trying to guess what the right answers were. Besides, this was only part one of the examination; Nakane had said so. Even if Harry failed miserably, maybe he could still become a Shinigami based on his other results. Still, he hadn't expected vague blobs and trivia; he'd thought there would just be a test of his spirit power.
Ten pages later, he came to the last question.
What is the meaning of life?
The paper gave no possible answers, no boxes to tick. Harry blinked at it. The meaning of life? Was he supposed to write an answer? Was there an answer? Was it a test within a test? Was he, as a spirit being, supposed to know more about this than a living person? But he had resolved to answer honestly.
So he wrote, I don't know.
Then he rearranged the pages and stood up. Or, rather, tried to -- he had been kneeling on the mat with his legs folded underneath him, and now his feet and legs felt nonexistent. He hadn't planned to sit that way; he had just arranged himself like that upon being shown to the mat, sort of on instinct. The afterlife seemed to have a marked shortage of chairs and tables.
Harry managed to struggle up and then stood there, swaying a little, pretending to go over his examination paper one last time. Once he got some feeling back in his lower extremities, he stepped gingerly over to Nakane, who accepted the test with a nod. "You have completed the first phase of your examination. Once Malfoy-kun finishes, we will move on to phase two. You are free to do as you like as long as you do not disrupt your friend."
"He's not my friend," Harry said automatically, looking to the far side of the room where Malfoy was sitting, chin in hand, studying a card. He pointed at it and began to talk rapidly, but Harry couldn't hear what he was saying. They must have been using some sort of silencing spell. Still, he felt gratified that Malfoy was still on the blobs. They must have given him a lot more cards to look at, because Malfoy was clearly not normal.
The wall behind Malfoy held a mural depicting a squadron of Shinigami with their swords drawn, surrounding an enormous bone-white creature with long, sharp teeth and a writhing mass of tentacles.
"Is that a Hollow?" Harry asked quietly.
Nakane nodded and gestured towards it. "You may go and have a look."
Glad of the opportunity to get his blood moving again, Harry walked towards the mural, studying the details. He had wanted to have a better look at the Hollow, but he found himself more fascinated by the Shinigami. All of them wore the shihakushō, but some also wore white coats over the black. One of them even wore a pink flowery kimono, grinning at a white-haired Shinigami from under the wide brim of a conical straw hat.
Their swords were all different, too -- up until now, Harry had only seen the long, slightly curved Japanese blades, but the painted swords boasted a variety of shapes and sizes -- Harry couldn't name any of them if he tried; he'd never paid much attention in History of Magic lessons when Binns had covered ancient Muggle weaponry. Some of the Shinigami leaned on polearms, others brandished staves, and yet others seemed to be holding... empty hilts. One dark-haired, surly-looking man had a snake coiled around his feet, and the snake was looking into his eyes with... devotion. Harry didn't understand any of it.
"--it's a cat," Malfoy said. "A... stylised cat. Kitten."
Harry froze and tried to pretend he hadn't heard. He must have accidentally crossed the boundary of the silencing spell.
"A pink-and-blue calico," Malfoy said. "Definitely."
"What does this one look like to you?" asked Malfoy's examiner -- a fair-haired, round-faced woman who reminded Harry of Alice Longbottom.
"Hmm. One time, when I was small, I made a frog explode. Accidentally, of course. It sort of looks like that. See, there are the entrails, and there are the shredded remains of its legs and--"
Abruptly, Harry was pulled backwards, cutting off the sound of Malfoy's voice. Nakane had put an arm round his shoulders and was guiding him back to his mat. "Harry-kun, if you can't stay on your side of the room, then you must stay in your seat."
"Sorry," Harry said. "I didn't mean to listen in, honestly. But if he's still doing the pictures, won't I have to wait a really long time?"
Nakane smiled. "Draco-kun did the written portion first; he and Shima-san will be finished shortly."
"Oh," Harry said, disappointed that Malfoy wasn't failing spectacularly. Yet. He glanced at the examiners' mats and noticed a newcomer -- a man in a straw hat and a pink kimono over his shihakushō. He sat cross-legged atop the middle mat, reclining against the wall, apparently asleep.
"Who's that?" Harry asked. "If it's not too much trouble to answer," he added hastily, noticing Nakane's eyes narrow slightly. He was getting better at this Japanese politeness thing. Something about the newcomer's appearance nagged at him, but he couldn't figure it out.
"That is Kyōraku Shunsui, captain of the Eighth Division," Nakane said. "He will be overseeing the final part of your examination while we score your assessments."
"A captain? How come?" Harry asked. Hisagi had been a lieutenant, and the way he had talked about his captain had made it seem like captains were a really big deal.
"It is one of the duties of the Gotei 13 captains, and he has not overseen an examination in quite some time," Nakane replied. Was it Harry's imagination or had her voice risen ever so slightly? "I believe he was intrigued to see two ryoka be tested."
"He doesn't look intrigued," Harry remarked. "He looks asleep."
Captain Kyōraku lifted his head. "There are many things in the world that appear one way but are actually another," he said. He had a deep, mellifluous voice, and his tone held a hint of sarcasm worthy of Severus Snape.
"Sorry," Harry said, flushing. Then he noticed Kyōraku's swords. He had two -- one long, stretched out on the mat next to him, and one short, still attached to the wide belt at his waist. And Harry realised why he'd felt like he'd seen Kyōraku before. "You... you're in that mural," he said, blinking. "I thought it was just a picture--"
Kyōraku waved a hand, hiding his face underneath the hat. "I've asked Takabe-kun to paint over that ugly old thing, but he seems to think it's a masterpiece."
Harry considered the honorific. So captains were equals with the Headmaster? Or was the Headmaster Kyōraku's inferior?
"So do you really fight with two swords, then... sir?" Harry asked.
Kyōraku smiled languidly and tilted his hat back a bit. "Katen Kyōkotsu likes to see both sides of a problem."
Harry had no idea what that meant. "Thank you," he said, just because it seemed like he should. "Sir."
He heard footfalls behind him and turned to see Malfoy and his examiner walking towards the mats, where Kyōraku perked up.
"Shima-san, does this mean we've come to the good part?"
Shima regarded him somewhat coolly. "The next part of the examination will determine how much spirit power these ryoka children are able to withstand."
"Not yet, then," Kyōraku concluded. He pushed the hat down over his eyes and leaned against the wall again.
Harry simply must have been imagining things, but he could have sworn that Nakane and Shima exchanged amused glances just then. He glanced at Malfoy, who was regarding Kyōraku with wide eyes, and realised that both Malfoy and Kyōraku were wearing pink. Harry fought the urge to snigger.
"Bring it in," shouted Nakane.
The large double doors slid apart, and two sullen-looking boys in white shihakushō with blue accents appeared, pulling along a monstrous metallic contraption that resembled a medieval torture device. It looked rather like the Giant Squid, if the Squid were made of metal. The machine sported a variety of dials and levers all over the tentacles and emitted a constant, low-pitched humming noise. On top of its "head", etched in shiny red paint, were the words Shinigami Research and Development Institute.
"Harry-kun, Draco-kun, stand in the middle of the room, please," Shima said. Harry's imagination must've been running wild today; the somewhat sadistic gleam he thought he saw in her eyes reminded him quite vividly of Bellatrix Lestrange.
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