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: 3000 words (this part)
Summary: In which calligraphy is for sissies, sly looks don't become Harry, Draco thinks too much, the past always has a way of interfering with the present, and some things never change.
Concrit: Always welcome and appreciated.
08 x What's Eating Draco Malfoy
Draco was flicking a ladybug from the sleeve of his shihakushō when something very fast and very warm collided with him.
"Oof," he said with cautious reproach, then glanced at his attacker. "Oh, it's you," he amended, glaring at Potter, who looked like he'd been running laps around Seireitei all morning. Given Potter's propensity for landing in detention, Draco wouldn't have been surprised.
"Tomorrow," Potter said, taking great gulps of air.
Draco blinked. "Tomorrow... what?"
"Soul burial practise."
Oh, that's right. The lists were supposed to be posted this morning. Draco furrowed an eyebrow. "And this warrants you treating me like a bowling pin... how?"
"Is everything all right, Draco-kun?" asked a deep, pleasant voice, and Draco's stomach flip-flopped. He bowed and backed away from the doors.
"I'm sorry, Captain Aizen," he said, eyes downcast. He didn't have to look up to know that there was a gentle smile upon the captain's handsome face, and his eyes were warm and thoughtful behind his stylish square glasses. He didn't want to look up, for he was sure Captain Aizen could read him like a book.
...So he had a crush on his teacher; big deal. Virtually all the girls in the calligraphy class did. That Draco wasn't a girl was incidental. "My oaf of a roommate accosted me here in the doorway," he added, still bowing.
"Harry-kun, is it?" Captain Aizen asked, turning to Potter, who sketched a perfunctory bow. "Ozu-san tells me your sword skill could be on par with a Division fifth seat in two years if you continue to apply yourself."
"Ozu-san is too kind," Potter said, but he -- predictably -- couldn't fake humility very well; Draco could see a pleased flush on his cheeks.
"Fancy meetin' ya here, Captain Aizen," someone called from the opposite side of the building, and all three of them turned to see a tall, silver-haired man in a captain's haori strolling down the path. He was of a height with Captain Aizen; both stood a head above Draco.
"Captain Ichimaru, what a pleasant surprise," Captain Aizen said. "I don't think you've come to visit me after class like this since you were my lieutenant."
"It's a busy life, bein' a captain and all," Ichimaru drawled.
His lips seemed to be permanently frozen in a knowing smile. Draco didn't care for it much; nor did he care for the way Captain Aizen was looking at this Ichimaru fellow. Not that it meant anything, of course; Draco was more than aware that people with his romantic proclivities were a minority -- both in the living world and here. Still, he decided he didn't like Ichimaru. Not one bit.
"Why don't you accompany me back to the division and tell me all about it," Captain Aizen said, putting a hand on Ichimaru's shoulder. Draco felt an irrational little squirm in his guts. The two captains walked off, taking no further notice of Draco and Potter. The back of Ichimaru's white haori bore the kanji numeral three.
"He makes me uneasy," Potter mumbled, staring at captain Aizen's broad back. "Dunno why. Seems like a nice enough bloke."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Pretending to have extrasensory perception now, are we? It won't make you any likelier to pass Demon Arts this year."
"The damned spells are too complicated," Potter shot back. "It's like trying to recite recipes for Potions."
"Only for you would that seem like an inhumanly difficult feat, Potter."
"Oh, shut up. I didn't come here to argue with you."
Draco remembered Potter nearly knocking him over minutes ago. "That's right, why are you here? I seem to recall you saying you'd only go near the calligraphy classroom when you turned into a total sissy."
Potter scowled. "I told you, it's--"
"I was in the same lesson as you were," Draco interrupted. "I heard what Ozu said. So we're going to practice soul burial; what of it?"
Potter rolled his eyes. "Remind me again -- where are we going to practice soul burial?"
"The living wo-- oh." Draco hadn't even processed that until now.
"Oh," mimicked Potter, but oddly enough, he looked... sympathetic? "I was going to ask you what you were planning, but clearly the answer is absolutely nothing."
"There's still time until tomorrow," Draco pointed out, bristling. Whenever he began to think that perhaps Potter wasn't so bad, as comrades in misfortune went, Potter would go and say something utterly dim-witted and insulting.
"I think we should do it together," Potter said.
He had a sly look on his face that Draco didn't much care for, but it was easy enough to divine the source of it. Potter was concerned Draco would warn his father that Potter had an idée fixe regarding his involvement in their untimely demise. Draco would do that, certainly, and Potter wouldn't be able to stop him either way. In the first few years of Academy training, those with superior Demon Arts skills had an advantage over those without; Draco would have a handy incantation for whatever Potter tried to keep him from doing as he liked.
He looked Potter in the eye. "That may possibly be the best idea you've ever had in your miserable existence."
After all, two conspirators were better than one. In fact, conspiring alone was a sign of madness.
The plan was ridiculously simple. The first-years would be ordered to form groups of three and then disperse, directed by upperclassmen to sites where spirits still clung to the living world. Draco would use the first Way of Binding to immobilise their third from behind whilst Potter kept watch, and then Draco and Potter would find the nearest airport and board the first plane for England. Shinigami were able to use a technique called shunpo to travel long distances in a series of "flash steps", but that wasn't taught until fourth year -- plus it used spiritual energy, and they would have probably starved to death before getting to England all the way from Japan.
If they'd been regular Shinigami, they could just nip on over to Soul Society for a quick meal every time they got hungry, but students of the Academy did not have access to hell butterflies, which Shinigami used to pass between worlds safely. And neither Draco nor Potter were sure they'd be able to eat real-world food. That was another thing: once they defected, they couldn't go back again: the Shinigami Academy was a military school, and they would be guilty of desertion, the punishment for which was death.
Souls could die just as living humans could, but dying in the spirit world was final: there was no Soul Society-within-Soul-Society waiting for the dead. Those who died in Seireitei or Rukongai broke apart into spirit particles and became part of the structures and objects that made up the spirit world. Draco didn't fancy the idea of being a tree.
Deep down, he also didn't fancy the idea of leaving Soul Society. He liked this place, with all its strange and precise rituals, the well-defined pecking order. It appealed to his innate desire for structure and authority, and Soul Society stood in stark contrast to his departed life in that regard. At Hogwarts, both structure and authority existed, but those who flouted rules and undermined authority were viewed as would-be heroes rather than disturbers of the peace. They received wrist-slaps for disobedience, but such punishment was meted out with a peculiar fondness.
No one held with such nonsense here. Rule-breaking was cause for instant disapproval, sometimes even ostracism -- as Draco and Potter had so intimately experienced for the first five or so months of their Shinigami Academy careers. No one blamed them for being ryoka, precisely, but that was only enough for them to avoid outright punishment. And even that had been getting better, hadn't it? Draco had seen Potter talking to their head prefect more than once lately, and Draco himself had had a few conversations unaccompanied by looks of fearful loathing.
In Seireitei, even the lowest peasant from the worst district of Rukongai -- and possibly even a ryoka -- could attain high rank, but first he had to prove his worth. That didn't hold as much appeal for Draco, who in life had been accustomed to unquestioned privilege thanks to his family's influence. But the Academy had given him something he had always lacked in life -- a clear goal for which to strive. A part of him didn't want to leave that behind.
However, it was his duty to return with Potter, to make sure that his father was all right. Perhaps there was something to the locals' distrust of ryoka after all -- no true Shinigami would abandon post for a family that was no longer his, strictly speaking. The world of the living lay open to those from Soul Society in some ways, but in others it ceased to exist; the price paid for death was the loss of life, after all. And there was so much more to life than having a physical body. Draco would never get to embrace his mother again, to smell the rosewater she used to dab behind her ears, to feel her soft hands stroking his hair whenever he was ill and she sat, stoic and vigilant, by his bedside. But he wanted to see her, nonetheless -- logically he knew that it was just his way of clinging to a life he could no longer live, but he didn't care.
It was probably a bit pathetic that he would choose his family over a promising future, but Draco had always put family first, and he had no reason to stop now.
One of the students meant to attend that morning's soul burial practice had broken her arm the night before, and that turned into a blessing for Draco and Potter. The other students in their group split up into threes, leaving the two of them alone.
"I guess it can't be helped," one of the upperclassmen said, approaching them. "My name is Itō; I will take you to your site. Since you are at a disadvantage with only two people, you will get to go first."
Draco barely had time to hear the murmurs of discontent from the other first-years - Itō grabbed him and Potter like a pair of sacks and flash-stepped away. Moments later, he deposited them in a cat's alley behind a large rubbish bin. Out on the street, there were cars, people's voices, snatches of music. It overwhelmed Draco for a moment; he had forgotten how noisy the living world could be. He had never liked going to London for that reason; he'd always wished he were allowed to let his parents Side-Along Apparate him to Hogwarts instead of having to take the Hogwarts Express.
Itō folded his arms and nodded at them. "Your targets are a middle-aged woman and an elderly man. She was in a car accident a few blocks from here, and her spirit ran away. He died in his sleep, but his spirit wandered off before the Shinigami arrived. You have forty-five minutes."
With a whoosh, he disappeared. Draco and Potter looked at each other.
"Should we look for them?" Potter asked. "Perform the soul burial before we leave?"
Draco shook his head. "They're probably monitoring the area. Once we send them off to Soul Society, Itō will be back for us even if forty-five minutes aren't up." He saw that Potter was still hesitating. "Look, Potter, there are plenty of Shinigami who can come and send them off; we're not the only ones for the job."
"All right," Potter said, looking unhappy.
Maybe, like Draco, he also wanted to know what it was like to perform a soul burial. They had received real swords before going through the senkaimon -- the spirit gate that gave safe passage through the severing world between Soul Society and here. Draco's sword was tucked into the sash around his waist -- he wasn't expected to fight with it, of course; the end of the hilt was used to perform soul burials. He understood the theory of it well enough, but he had wanted to see it for himself.
"Maybe we can find them together," he said. "Perform the soul burials and then escape."
Potter glanced at him. "No, you're right about Itō," he said. "It's better to have a head start."
They set off towards the street. The plan was to find the nearest shop that sold maps and find their way to the airport -- Draco quietly hoped there would be some form of transportation they could take there. The easiest would have been to ask someone, but they were spirits, and very few humans would be able to see them.
Humans, Draco thought as he walked by a skinny boy with bright orange hair. If they're humans, then what am I?
"I think that kid could see us," Potter said behind him.
"Huh?" Draco turned around, looking in the direction Potter was indicating. The orange-haired child had walked on. "Him?"
"Yeah. I think he noticed the way we're dressed." They were both clad in their white-and-blue Academy uniforms, but even in modern Japan, such garb was hardly unheard-of -- perhaps not common, but nothing unusual for a couple of kendo enthusiasts. Draco wished he knew more about Japanese Muggles. Then he wished he could wash his mind out with soap.
"Well, he's not from Soul Society, or he'd have said something. Must be one of those Muggles who can see ghosts," Draco said. "Come on, we're wasting time."
From a bookshop they nicked a map that told them they were in a place called Karakura Town, at least an hour away from the nearest airport -- by train. On foot, it would take them several hours, and they decided to head for Tokyo Station, which, at least according to the map's information section, had a train going to the airport.
But two blocks later, they couldn't keep going. They stood on the pavement next to a ramen shop, neither of them able to take another step forward. Potter stretched his hand out, but his fingers bent against an invisible barrier.
"Ouch," Potter said, jerking his fingers away. "It's harder than steel."
A human girl in a school uniform walked past them, but no barrier stopped her. Draco watched her figure recede, trying to think of a way to get out of this, but his Demon Arts lessons had never mentioned anything remotely close to it.
There was a familiar whoosh next to them, and Itō appeared by Potter's side. He was grinning, which Draco thought was strange -- they'd tried to desert. Surely the barrier must have been put up because someone at the Shinigami Research Institute was monitoring them and figured out what they were doing.
"Wrong way, boys," Itō said. "You'll want to split up if you hope to complete the exercise, too."
"Why can't we go that way?" Draco asked. They hadn't been intercepted -- this barrier had been here all along, and the Research Institute wonks must've informed Itō as soon as the boys reached it. "What if our targets are there?"
"Impossible," Itō said, rapping the air with his knuckles. "These reishi barriers block anything that's made of spirit particles. We set them up around each training site -- would be nice if we could use them to protect whole cities, but their maintenance requires too much spirit energy."
"Why do it for training, then? Does the brass think people will run away?" Potter asked with an innocent look.
"No, nothing like that," Itō replied. "There was an incident some forty years ago when a trio of first-years ran into really bad trouble during this exercise -- someone had let loose a pack of Hollows at their training site. Thing is, upperclassmen sweep the sites before any of you greenhorns are let through, so no one was expecting Hollows. It turned out fine, but ever since then, we put up barriers so that no Hollows can enter while training is in progress. It also means no spirit beings can leave, either -- which includes your targets."
"Well, that's reassuring," Draco said. The map hidden in his sleeve was beginning to stick to his sweat-slicked arm. "I suppose I'll go east, then. Potter, you go west."
Potter had the good sense not to argue.
That evening, the atmosphere in their room was even gloomier than usual. The last memory Draco had expected to have of these bare walls had been at least somewhat cheerful, tinged with nervous excitement in which their animosity towards each other had been temporarily forgotten.
But now Potter sat atop his futon, staring straight ahead, his eyes those of a caged animal. Draco could relate. Until the morning's fiasco, he hadn't realised how badly he really wanted to see his parents again -- Soul Society was a better place than most, but Draco still didn't belong here. He hadn't expected to feel crushed by failure -- of course, he hadn't expected to fail, either. The disappointment he felt was a tangible measure of what he really wanted.
"There won't be any reishi barriers when we graduate," Draco said, more for his own benefit than for Potter's.
"Yeah, in five years," Potter spat, eyes flaring up. "What are you, the patron saint of patience?"
"There's no need to be an arse," Draco said with dignity. "It's not my fault--"
"Oh, shut up, Malfoy. Nothing's ever your fucking fault; that's all that matters to you, doesn't it? That nobody blames you for anything. Fuck you." Potter snatched up his bath-towel and stalked out.
"As you were," Draco murmured to the empty room, feeling an odd mixture of ruefulness and relief.
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