Disclaimer: I do not own Bleach or Harry Potter, they belong to Noriaki "Tite" Kubo and J.K. Rowling respectively. I make no profit from this fanfiction, well, besides the joy I find in writing it. =3
Talking in English- "I'm speaking."
Thinking - 'I am thinking'
Talking in Japanese - "I'm speaking Japanese."
~ CH 24 - Que Sera Sera ~
The evening was growing late, yet the majority of the order members were still going strong. Once the plan had been established and all nay sayers silenced by Harry's demonstration, Sirius had decided that the best way to conclude the night was with a celebration. When asked why a celebration, the man's initial answer was 'why not?', though he did eventually explain further. If tomorrow was to be the deciding battle then they should celebrate the end, regardless of the outcome. Whatever would be, would be, but no matter what, it would be the end of their struggle. What better reason to celebrate?
Thanks to Molly's cooking and Sirius's rather large liquor collection, an impromptu party had been thrown together. In Harry's opinion, it had been a stroke of genius. The morale of the troops would raise and morale is an important deciding factor in any battle. The planned attack wouldn't take place till later in the day, so lack of sleep wouldn't be a problem for the late party goers. All in all, Harry was glad to see his friends and comrades enjoying themselves.
Personally however, he still felt as if he was outside looking in. Sure many of them tried to involve him in the merriment, but this just seemed to no longer be his cup of tea. He couldn't find it in himself to freely mingle. When he had been a human teen, he had been socially awkward due to his less than stelar upbringing, but he was at least able to enjoy a party. Now? Something just felt... different.
Harry looked around the crowded and noisy room from the corner he had resigned to. Dumbledore, with an extra twinkle to his eye, listen to a red cheeked Minerva regaling him with some happy tale or another. The duo was joined by several of the others and all seemed to find the story amusing. The twins were, per their usual, entertaining the younger members with some of their latest products. The purple color of Ron's skin clashed horridly with his hair color, but served for a good laugh. Harry even smiled as he watched the boy turn about trying to find the source of the joke.
Ichigo, whom had returned to his body for the time being, was talking quietly with Severus in the corner of the room opposite from his own. The subject matter seemed to be much less light hearted then those of the majority. The intense interest with which the man watched the teen in his explanation was a novelty though, so their conversation must not be going too badly. After their interaction earlier, Harry was rather surprised. Perhaps the glass of Ogden's in the older man's hand played a roll in that.
Harry's eyes landed then on the two young women that had the most influence over him since his return. Orihime covered a giggle as she set down her butterbeer. Hermione had conjured a small contingent of birds that fluttered around the other girl, warbling happily. In turn, Orihime summoned her fey in their humanoid forms to interact with the small creatures. The two were positively glowing in their happiness. 'Unless that's just the effect of one too many butterbeers,' he mused to himself with a smirk.
He didn't turn to face the person he sensed approach, instead letting his gaze linger on Hermione and Orihime as they smiled together. Sirius merely leaned against the wall next to him and followed the direction of his gaze. They stood in silence for a few moments before the man decided to speak. "I won't give you the cliche line that you're a lucky man Harry, that would be a grossly unfair statement for you." Sirius had a lazy smile on his face when Harry finally turned to him. "I will, however, say that you are blessed to have two such beautiful and faithful young women at your side."
Harry returned his gaze to the women. "I know." And he did. Now that he thought about it, these two had come to be his most precious people and the thought scared him. Tomorrow they would follow him into battle. He didn't plan on letting anyone of his friends die, but even the best laid plans could go astray. This is especially true when the enemy holds an unknown threat.
"Something on your mind?" His godfather asked. Had his concern actually shown through to his face? Sirius turned to lean his shoulder on the wall and face Harry fully. "They seem to get along well enough. You could always ask them to share." Harry looked back to him in question. "You might not have to choose is all I'm saying," he clarified with a small shrug and a cheeky smirk.
Harry shook his head in denial. "You are mistaken Sirius. I am not looking to be romantically involved with either."
"Why wouldn't you?" Sirius look near horror struck. His expression was an over exaggerated farce, but it didn't mean his question was in complete mockery.
"You find the best time for a romance is on the eve of a decisive battle?"
"What better time could their be? And if I'm not mistaken, we were talking about two romances."
"You are incorrigible and Hermione was entirely justified in her portrayal of you," Harry replied with a smirk of his own and returned his gaze to the crowd.
Sirius spluttered beside him. "What exactly did the little bird say about me? It's all completely untrue I assure you," He said solemnly before his tone turned playful again. "Unless it was good, of course."
"Of course," Harry replied in mock agreement.
"Honestly though, all joking aside, why wouldn't you make your move on one of the fine young ladies that obviously care for you. If it's to spare the feelings of the other, I believe we've already covered that."
Harry turned back to his godfather once more. "Sirius," he started gravely, "we will be heading out into a battle tomorrow that could claim the live of many. While I do not plan on letting anyone die, no one is infallible. I find it in poor taste to try and insert myself further into their hearts." He quietly added, "If I were to go down, it would only cause them further suffering."
"So you should stop living because you might possibly die? That makes no sense at all," Sirius argued. "Aren't you like some two-hundred year old geezer or something now? Aren't you supposed to be all wise and shit?"
Harry scoffed at him. "I'm afraid your words of kindness have failed to sway me."
Sirius crossed his arms over his chest. "Then perhaps you're just scared of rejection." Harry sent him a flat look. "Or maybe you're scared that it will be your own heart broken, should you loose one of them?" He raised an eyebrow at his godson.
Harry stared into the mans eyes intensely. Was it truly that which he feared? He was loathed to see the two of them join the battle, but was his fear of loosing them holding him back from even joining them in this moment of festivity? Was it the reason he felt so disconnected to all of it. Was he afraid of loosing them all? Loosing himself to heartache should he bring them any further into his own heart? Finally, Harry turned away from Sirius, much to the man's relief. "Thank you Sirius," He said as he pushed away from the wall. "I have ever found wisdom and strength from you advice." He walked away from his godfather to join the two women.
Sirius smiled softly after his godson. "That'a boy," he said softly. He too left to rejoin the party.
"Harry-kun!" Exclaimed Orihime. "You must see what Hermione-chan can do. She can create these cute little birds that sing and leave you feeling so happy. Tsubasa doesn't want to admit it," she not so quietly whispered next to her hand, "but I think he likes them more than anyone else."
The fairy in question, who had until that point been softly stroking the feathers of the small avian next to him, frowned and scoffed. "I have no idea what you're talking about. They are merely a convenient distraction." The fey turned up his nose.
Orihime laughed again and Harry felt a pleasant warmth in his chest at the sound. Hermione kept smiling, but it looked uncertain now, so Harry worked to include her in the conversation. "I remember her using this charm many a time in our schooling together." He turned an amused smirk to her, "though I believe Ron would have different feelings towards the little creatures than most." Hermione blushed.
"Really," Orihime said in surprise, "why?"
Hermione cleared her throat, "I may have, er, sent them after Ron when I was not so happy with him."
Harry pulled over a seat to sit with them. "As I recall, you turned the things into quite the projectile weapon." Hermione blushed harder, so Harry continued in good nature. "Nearly took his head off."
"No," Orihime said in disbelief as one of the birds landed on her finger and warbled happily, "I can not believe it. They are too kawai."
Harry raised an amused eyebrow at Hermione. "Well, I have been known to get creative when angered," she huffed at him.
Now that he let himself open up to them, he found his participation much easier. No longer did he feel quite so disconnected. He felt immersed and it was a wonderful thing. He and Hermione reminiced about some of their antics from their school days together, entertaining Orihime to no end. Orihime shared some of the funny stories from her own classes with Ichigo and Soul Reapers trying to blend in with normal syudents.
The three were joined later by Ichigo and a still purple skinned Ron, gaining the poor boy a loud laugh from the substitute soul reaper. Hermione eventually took pity on Ron and lead him away to fix his little pigmentation problem. The laughter died away after they left and the trio found themselves in an awkward silence.
"Well," stated Ichigo, "I think I'm done for the night. That Severus guy was way too serious. Still think he has a stick shoved up his," he glanced quickly at Orihime, "right, anyways, I was just going to say he's not a complete loss." He gave Harry a funny look then. "Hey Harry, take it easy on the man. I think he could use a break, yeah?" Harry was stunned by the non-condescending use of his true name by the boy, but managed a nod in agreement. The teen nodded back and then turned to Orihime. "Don't let this bum keep you up all night," he told her with a smirk and then got up to leave.
"Goodnight Kurosaki-kun," Orihime called as he left. The boy just sent a wave over his shoulder and disappeared through the doors.
Orihime began to speak to Harry, but just as she opened her mouth, the twins plus Sirius broke out into a jovial song that had the Weasley matron frowning more with each passing verse. Orihime smiled at the trio even though their lyrics sent a small blush to her cheeks. Harry stood and held out a hand to help her up. She looked at him questioningly, but took the offered help none the less.
Once they were through the doors to the hall way, he spoke to her. "I am glad they are enjoying themselves, but their riotous song made a poor atmosphere for quiet conversation."
"Oh, ok." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Um, what did you want to talk about?"
"I was under the impression it was you who wanted to converse," he said as he led her up the stairs.
"Oh, no, I didn't have anything important to talk about. It was just..."
She looked at him shyly as she said,"I was just, well, glad that you actually looked happy."
"Did I now?" His tone was nearly a playful one. Had he really look happy though? Was he happy? He thought back to his interactions throughout the night with his friends and then looked over to the girl on his arm. The answer was yes. He was actually feeling happy and he wasn't afraid to admit it to himself.
Orihime had happily nodded yes to his question. "So, where are we going this time? Are we going to keep Buckbeak company again?"
"No, I'm afraid Buckbeak will have to keep himself company this evening. I was thinking that we could go up to the roof to enjoy a quiet bit of star gazing." Orihime cocked her head at him and gave him a thoughtful look. "Did I say something strange?"
"No, I just thought you would be tired of looking at the night sky," she answered as they rounded the last bit of stairs to the attic.
"The sky in Hueco Mundo was as everything else there, a dreary imitation." He opened the door to the roof and lead her out. "See," he said with a gesture to the sky alighted with stars and the glow of the nearly full moon, "despite the city lights dimming the view, the stars still burn brightly. The night here is filled with a light of its own, bringing beauty not to be had in the land of hollows."
She smiled at him, "I never knew you to be so sentimental."
"Maybe not so sentimental as you might think," he said with a smirk. "Though the sky is lovely, the company I find myself in here is infinitely more pleasing than what was to be had in 'that place'."
She giggled nervously and looked away from him to the sky. "Star gazing, hm?" She released his arm and wandered towards the edge of the roof. Keeping her eyes aloft, she sat down and rested her back against one of the outcroppings. "Come on," she patted the ground beside her. "I'm getting a little tired and it will be much more comfortable to watch from here than standing around."
"If you are in need of rest, I could always take you back to your room."
"No, I'll be fine. Come sit with me." He did as she requested, sitting down carefully beside her. He stiffened a little as she leaned her shoulder into his. "You know," she began softly, "my brother used to like to go outside at night and watch the stars too." Her gaze softened as she continued to stair up at the twinkling lights. "He would even take me out with him on nights that I had trouble sleeping. He would wrap me up in a big, fluffy blanket and we would just sit together, watching the stars." Her gaze fell to her lap then. "I never did ask him what he thought about when he looked at them and now I'll never have the chance." She smiled up at him, surprising him since he had assumed she may just cry a moment ago. "But that's ok, I still have the happy memories of spending the night, curled up in his arms, watching the stars wink at us."
"And you call me sentimental," he said softly.
She laughed and poked him playfully in the arm. "You're the one who asked to star gaze with me after all," she said back to him.
"That I did."
The two looked back up to the night and Harry felt her head lower softly onto his shoulder. He resisted the urge to stiffen up again and tried to relax. He didn't want her to think she was making him uncomfortable and drive her away. He found himself a bit... flustered though. Completely absurd of course, but due to his recent romantically inclined thoughts, he couldn't help the way his body seemed to react.
He chanced a glance down and saw her eyelids drifting lower. Orihime had said she was a bit tired, but Harry wasn't quite ready to let the moment end. "Do you see that star there? The brightest one?"
"Yes," she answered and her eyes became a little more alert again.
"That star is the one my godfather was named for."
"Yes, they call it the dog star due to its prominence in the Canis Major constellation."
She stifled a yawn and then asked, "Is it your favorite?"
"I suppose it is," he answered truthfully. "Though I find it quite amusing that Sirius's parents name him that before they even knew what he would become. It is almost prophetic."
"What did he become?"
"That's right, you probably haven't heard about it," he mused. "He turns into a big black dog."
"A dog?" She asked incredulously, picking her head up to look at him.
"Yes, a dog," he answered with a small smirk tugging at the corner of his lips. "After all that you've seen here, this is the thing you find disturbing?"
She laughed a little, "I suppose you're right, but you have to admit, even by my usual standards, this wizarding world of your is very strange."
"Imagine my own displacement when I found myself in Hueco Mundo."
Her smile dropped and her tone became somber. "It must have been hard for you."
"I won't lie and say it wasn't," he agreed. "Though, I believe it was all worth it in the end. Especially if we are finally able to put an end to Voldemort's reign of terror tomorrow."
"You really care about them, don't you? Your friends that is." She asked, referring to the order members downstairs.
"More than I really should, I'm sure."
She giggled and laid her head back down on his shoulder. "I think it's wonderful that you have people special to you like that. Having precious people who you love and want to protect is the most wonderful feeling to hold in your heart."
"The heart again," he said fondly. "You certainly have a fondness for it." He took a moment to consider if his next words were ill advised. Thinking back to his godfather's words allowed him the strength or the foolhardiness, he was unsure which it was, to say them anyways. "Who is it, I wonder, that hold's yours?"
She answered after a moment's pause. "I have many precious people in my heart." The answer was vague and not what he was really asking after.
"But Kurosaki Ichigo seems to hold a special place," he tried not to let any resentment for the thought leak into his voice, "am I wrong?"
The young woman placed a comforting hand on his arm and once again took a moment before answering. "Kurosaki-kun does hold a special place in my heart. In fact, I love him very much." Harry started to let his emotions cool, disallowing himself be effected by her answer. "I am not 'in love' with him though, if that's what you are asking." A flicker of something, hope perhaps? "Your friend Hermione said it best when she was describing her feelings about you. A girl can love a man without being in romantic love with him, especially if you have been though a lot together. I love Kurosaki-kun deeply, but not like a girlfriend and boyfriend kind of love," she ended nervously.
She buried her face into his shoulder now and he had the distinct impression that she was blushing. If his own nervous anticipation hadn't spiked at her confession, he would have smiled at her predictable innocence. The only thing that he could focus on though was the fact that she was not in love with the substitute soul reaper. Kurosaki's words came back to haunt him then. Had the boy's observations have truly been more clear than his own? Should he dare allow this hope any chance at truth? "And what of me?" He heard himself ask. "What place is there for me in that overly large heart of yours?"
She looked up into his eyes then with a painfully innocent expression, all nervousness and hope. "I..." she hesitated and the color on her cheeks were stained a darker shade. With a small sound that almost resembled a squeak, she turned her face back into the fabric of his robes. Her answer was mumbled, muffled, and rushed.
Harry's shoulders relaxed and he let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. Then, an unexpected lightness came over him and he began to laugh softly. He couldn't help himself. He felt her begin to pull away and brought himself under control. He quickly reached an arm around her and held her to his side. "I'm sorry Orihime, but I'm afraid I do not hear from my shoulders." He lifted her pouting face with a finger under her chin so that she was looking at him again. In a slightly lower voice, he asked, "Care to try again?"
He almost laughed again by the deer in the headlights look she gave him, but he didn't want to upset her further. "I said," she swallowed nervously, "I really like you." Her tone was a very serious one. "Like, like you, like you." She closed her eyes and looked as if she were about to face a firing squad.
He allowing himself a moment to bask in the simultaneous feelings of excitement and contentment that comes with requited feelings. His pause must have made her curious enough to gauge his reaction because a moment later she peaked open a tentative eye. "That is well Orihime," either the smile that he was giving her or his answer must have surprised her since both of her eyes sprang wide open, "for I find that I care for you deeply as well."
Her smile was blinding, even in the dark of night. She snuggled back into his side, closer than even before with her head resting on his chest. He felt no need to mention the glassy appearance of her eyes before she had ducked her head down once again. She, in turn, didn't bring up the fact that his arm pulled her tighter to his side. The silence between them was companionable and, despite their mutual confessions, it felt quite natural.
Orihime giggled happily into his chest, breaking the silence. Harry just smiled fondly at her antics as he stared up at the dog star once again. 'Thank you Sirius.'
Hermione was completely ready to collapse into her pillow. The party was winding down when she left it and it was quite late. 'Or early,' she supposed, 'depending how you look at it.' Back to the problem at hand, she was exhausted, but she had one thing to do before she went to bed. She hadn't seen Orihime since she had come back from returning Ron to his original coloration. She assumed the girl had gone to bed, but that hadn't been the case.
The Black family house may have gotten less dangerous since the order began its inhabitation of it, but that didn't mean it was safe either. They were still coming across dark artifacts that were more bite than bark. She just didn't feel right going to sleep without assuring the girl wasn't in some kind of trouble. So, a quick point me spell and she was on her way to check on the girl.
Her search brought her, surprisingly, to the attic and then out onto the roof. She froze in the doorway at the scene that greeted her. She barely breathed, not wanting to interrupt the intimate moment before her. After coming back to her senses, she began to slowly close the door. The familiar voice of her childhood friend stopped her in her tracks.
"Something you needed Hermione?" he asked quietly without turning to look at her. 'How does he do that?' She thought with a mental curse.
Nothing for it now though, he already new she was there so she might as well join him. "Sorry Harry," she apologized in a semi-whisper, "I didn't mean to interrupt. I was just checking to make sure Orihime was ok before I went to bed." She walked over and sat down across from him and the sleeping girl leaning against his chest.
"I suppose it is quite late," he acknowledged in a soft voice. "As you can see," he gestured to Orihime with his free hand, "she is safe, if a little spent."
Hermione nodded in agreement. "I was just worried that something in the house might have given her trouble. So, what were you two doing out here?" she asked as quietly as she could so as not to wake the girl.
"Looking at the stars," he answered simply.
She wanted to talk a bit more since she had him somewhat alone, but she also didn't want to wake Orihime either. The two were just to sweet looking at the moment. So, Hermione followed his lead and looked up to gaze at the night sky. The sight didn't draw her in though and her gaze lowered back to the couple across from her. Orihime must have fallen asleep against him at some point, but the fact that his arm was around her had Hermione smiling giddily. They made a cute couple.
"Find something amusing?"
Hermione shook her head, not at all surprised that he caught her looking at him without turning his gaze towards her. "I was just thinking what a cute couple you make is all." He didn't comment, so she continued. "I think she's good for you."
Green eyes met brown. "Is that so?"
She nodded, "You were having such a hard time with... showing how you felt, when you first came back that is." Her voice was now just a low, soft tone since Orihime hadn't even stirred since her arrival. "Then, even from the first time you spoke with her again, there was just this spark in you. Like she woke you up. The real you that is, not just the person you had to portray in the afterlife." Hermione smiled sheepishly. "I was even a little jealous to tell you the truth."
"Why would you be jealous of Orihime?"
"She just had you open up so easily and I wished it had been as easy for me is all." She looked down to the sleeping girls face. "She really is a sweetie though. I can't hold it against her."
"Orihime has the rather uncanny ability of reaching out and touching the hearts of those around her with the greatest of ease." He too looked down at her. "It was rather inconvenient in our previous situation though."
"But I bet you don't hold it against her either."
Harry shook his head. "How could I?"
Hermione gave him a smile. She had more she wanted to talk about, things she had been thinking about to strengthen their strategies for tomorrow. The gentle look that Harry was directing at the girl, coupled with Hermione's own fatigue, stilled her tongue. She stood up with a stretch then. Harry looked up to her and she smiled down at him. "Good night Harry. Try to get some sleep before the sun comes up."
"We shall see," he said. "Good night to you as well Hermione." Hermione smiled and began to leave, but his soft voice had her pausing at the door. "And Hermione," she looked back to meet his eyes, "thank you. You are a... very good friend to me."
She smiled at him fondly. "You don't have to thank me Harry. You're like a brother to me and I love you. So thank you, Harry, for coming back to me... I missed you." His eyes widened slightly at her confession and she resisted the urge to laugh. "Goodnight Harry."
It was her turn to be surprised, but she tried not to let it show. It was the first time he had used that nick name for her since he had come back. She turned and left with a light heart despite what she knew they would face tomorrow. Her Harry was coming back to her and it gave her hope for the future.
"I'm afraid we can no longer wait for Kurosaki Ichigo to report back from his post. The fact that he's been missing as long as he has is concerning. With the short bursts of hidden hollow power, it may even be alarming," said Kurotsuchi. "There is something strange going on in area GB-47."
Byakuya looked over the readings before the other captain. "I think it best a Captain be a part of the investigation team. Despite his pending loss of power, anything that can make that boy disappear is disconcerting."
Mayuri rubbed his hands together. "I wonder if it is a new species of hollow?"
Byakuya gave him a sidelong glance. "I will personally deal with this. I find your involvement in this disconcerting as well. You should inform the Captain Commander of the situation while I make the necessary preparations."
The mask like face of the other captain frowned. "And just what makes you think I won't be the one to investigate this mystery?"
"Because there is no need for two captains to involve themselves... yet," he answered and then turned on his heals to leave. The still frowning Mayuri grumbled to himself as he went about gathering up all of his data.
IVX: Fluffy fluffity fluff, hehe. Anywho, see you guys very soon. R&R ...^_~