Dawn of the Moonfang
By Tango Dancer


Hi everyone! First off, I deeply apologize for the long wait. I unexpectedly had to move this summer, and then I started on my final year or translation studies, and let me tell you the teachers don't seem to know we have work for all their classes! I've been drowning in work since the beginning of term! But, I am pleased to say that I am on holiday as of tomorrow afternoon, and that I fully intend to spend my free time writing. (I might have suffered a little from writer's block too? hehe)

Anyway, to all of you who wrote me to ask about this story and express how much they like it, thank you very much! Maverick14th, sorry I didn't answer you (I am now), I have a very, very lousy internet access during the week and enjoy it so much during the week-end that I often forget to write back. Also, ShizoFairytale, thank you so much for your support, your PM was what gave me the kick in the ass I needed. I managed to write a paragraph or two in the past week, so here's chapter 23!

Now that I've said what needed to be said... ENJOY!


Chapter 23:

The Captains looked at each other in silent worry. The Captain-Commander had barely finished his sentence when Ichigo had flash-stepped away, and already, they could feel his reiatsu fading away as he stepped into a Garganta.

"You will accompany Shihouin-taichou as back-up and come back afterward to report." Yamamoto said to the man standing in the shadows, who merely shrugged noncommittally and disappeared as well. A few seconds later, the reiatsus of both men had faded to nothing except a few lingering wisps proving they'd been there mere minutes ago.

"Are you sure this is wise, sensei?" Ukitake asked worriedly.

The man didn't answer, and in that instant, they all knew it was a test for the second man. His success, however, depended on the survival of their most prized fighter and beloved comrade. More than one captain wondered with disgust about the things war made them do at that point, and reflected on the unfairness of it all.

o-O-o

He was running even before his feet touched ground. The Garganta closed and faded into nothingness behind him, but he paid it no mind, fully focused on his objective: the castle the enormous reiatsu of which he couldn't feel even as he saw it. It was like it had disappeared, except that his eyes perceived it.

"Careful, Aibou. This is fishy."

He didn't answer. His feet landed on the first stone of the school's front steps, and he staggered briefly as the full strength of the concealed reiatsu hit him like a ton of bricks. How so much energy had been contained and hidden from the Soul Society monitors, he didn't know, but it was most likely one of Aizen's ideas. This smelled more and more like a trap every second going by.

And unfortunately, he couldn't think of anyone other than him the trap could have been laid for. So he did what anyone would do in his position: instead of trying to be stealthy, he came in through the Main Doors.

The scene he came upon seemed completely normal at first sight: teachers seated at the Head Table, students at their respective House tables, like every dinnertime. What wasn't in any way normal, however, was the fact that nobody was eating, and that his father was laying battered and bloody in the middle of the Great Hall, between the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables, the students of which could only stare at his body in horror.

He glanced around quickly, making sure no one was hurt, and couldn't help the quick feeling of relief when he spotted his sisters seated with their classmates. Apparently, whoever had done this hadn't decided to use them in their evil master plan. The doors swung shut with a bang as he stepped over to his father and knelt to his side. Two fingers to his throat told him everything he needed to know, and he nodded to himself in satisfaction. The man, though unconscious, was in no immediate danger. Instantly, a sharp release of breath from the Gryffindor table caught his attention, and he saw that Yuzu was crying tears of relief.

Straightening up, he spread his senses, trying to find out where the attacker was hiding, but the immense concentration of spirit energy in the castle was, as usual, blurring his perceptions, and making it impossible to single out one reiatsu amongst the sea of different power signatures. The one advantage of this, though, was that the castle's energy would serve as a cushion of sort to the wizards and protect them from the tremendous amounts of reiatsu he and his opponent would no doubt release when they got to fighting.

Severus' black eyes were flickering from side to side, a sure proof that he didn't have any idea where the enemy was either, and he frowned.

This wasn't good. If even the excellent spy he knew the Potions Master to be had lost the intruder...

Something flickered at the edge of his field of vision, and before he knew it, he'd shunpoed over to Karin. Zangetsu's blade clashed against the attacker's, and he could feel his eyes widen at his identity.

'Castle's protectin' the wizards, Aibou.' Shiro informed him. "Says its powa' should be enough."

More than enough, if Ichigo had anything to say about it. The castle had, after all, centuries worth of reiatsu stored within its walls, and had apparently grown sentient, which in itself allowed it to have its very own energy. Consequently, if it said it would protect the wizards, he felt considerably better at the thought of fighting here.

"At last we have found you, Kurosaki Ichigo."

Ichigo narrowed his eyes at the dull green-eyed man standing there.

"Ulquiorra."

They sprang apart, landing on opposite ends of the Gryffindor table.

"You seem to have nicely recovered from your stay in Las Noches. Aizen-sama will be pleased."

The hybrid tightened his grip on Zangetsu's handle.

"I don't think he'll be pleased when I tear his head off his body."

Several students silently gasped, while the teachers' eyes widened in horror at his violent statement. He ignored them. Whatever method Ulquiorra had used to bind them, it apparently also muted them. Ichigo gritted his teeth. So much for his cover as a 'mere' Dark Wizard. The Espada's eyes swept over his body, taking in the smallest details, before coming to a rest over the piece of broken mask on his skull.

"The experiment seems to have succeeded."

"Like you didn't already know that."

"You are right of course." Ulquiorra said dispassionately. "But Aizen-sama was unsure as to the result of the procedure on a test subject who was already a hybrid. Inverting the process doesn't seem to have had any lasting consequences, though your reiatsu does seem a little unstable."

Ichigo's eyebrows twitched in annoyance.

"Is there even a point in your being here at all, Ulquiorra?"

The Arrancar's face, inexpressive as it was, clearly said how stupid he thought he was. "Of course, trash. I came here to retrieve you. The process was obviously not completed last time, and Aizen-sama refuses to allow you to wander about unmonitored."

He raised an eyebrow.

"You really think you can take me back?"

"Do not be cocky, trash. You couldn't hold your ground against me in this state."

Ichigo's answer was very clear: he fell into his favorite battle stance and let his eyes glow with reiatsu.

"I won't go down without a fight."

And under the gaze of over a hundred wizards and witches, they darted towards each other, clashing mid-air in a shower of sparks before bursting apart only to attack again. Five minutes later, they were standing at opposite ends of the hall again. Ichigo was covered in small cuts, while his opponent looked completely unharmed. He didn't even have a hair out of place.

"Bankai."

It was something he'd never shown to anyone. Nobody knew he could go into Bankai without going through Shikai first, and it was supposed to be impossible. But he'd done it, and the fact that Zangetsu himself preferred that form made it far easier on his part to accomplish this feat.

"Tensa Zangetsu." The black daito slashed to the side in a wide gesture of his arm, broken chain tingling at the end, and he raised his head to look at Ulquiorra, only now noticing the small flash of surprise in his otherwise dull eyes. A quick inquiry had the spirit of his Zanpakutô informing him that the Hogyoku had changed more than just his mask, and a quick glance down himself confirmed that fact. His uniform had changed from black to a crimson red lined with black, and he now sported a black mask covering the lower part of his face.

"Interesting, Kurosaki Ichigo."

It was all he said, but in a flash, he was on Ichigo, and they were trading blows again. But this time, when they parted, Ulquiorra was healing a deep slash on his arm.

"You have gotten stronger."

He didn't bother answering. Slowly, his reiatsu grew thicker and heavier, and Ulquiorra started losing ground, blood soaking through his white uniform even as he regenerated his wounds. And so, Ichigo wasn't surprised when suddenly, the Espada's green-rimmed black reiatsu started licking his feet and he murmured: "Enclose... Murciélago."

Ichigo raised his reiatsu to match the level of Ulquiorra's exploding one, and made a back-flip which had him landing by his father's body. He grabbed it and shunpoed over to the Head Table, where he dropped Isshin on the smooth wood by Severus' plate.

"Take care of him."

Without waiting for the answer, he turned around, ready to face the threat. He was at a disadvantage, he knew. Ulquiorra was extremely powerful, and he had little to no chance to defeat him without going all out. Problem was, he only had a very flimsy mastery of his Arrancar release, and he was still hurt and weak from his prolonged torture. He just hoped Soul Society would send reinforcements soon, or this might very well be his last fight. To say the least, dying in front of his sisters wasn't quite how he'd wanted to go.

The last remnants of the cloud of dust raised by Ulquiorra's Resurrección dissipated, and he stood a little straighter, gripping the handle of his blade with both hands.

"Are you ready to die, trash?"

"Bring it on, Ulquiorra. I survived Aizen more times than I can count. An Espada like you won't ever be enough to bring me down."

"This fight will be your last."

They readied themselves for their charge, and then, suddenly, they had disappeared and were clashing again, each blow stronger than the last, blood splattering on the walls as the stone floor cracked under the pressure but held on thanks to Hogwarts' reiatsu. It was in times like these that he felt grateful for all the training he'd gone through, and Zangetsu and Shiro's unrelenting pushes to get stronger. Had they not trained so much, he'd already have been broken on the floor.

He remembered, years ago, when even with his Vizard mask on, he'd been unable to even lay a scratch on the one who'd at the time only been the Cuarta Espada. But they'd changed, and his rapid growth rate had allowed him to become powerful enough that he could actually keep up to the released Tercera with only his Bankai. He wouldn't be a match for him once he decided to take things up a notch by going into Segunda Etapa, and could only try and think of a way to defeat him before he did.

Blood splattered all over the floor as Ulquiorra's blade slashed him across the abdomen, and he crashed down into the stone floor right before the Head Table. Wincing in pain as several of his old wounds reopened, he spat out a mouthful of blood and raised painfully to his feet.

"You can't... win... in that state... Ichigo."

His head snapped around, and he saw that his father had come to, and was now seated in Severus' spot, the Potions Master holding him up.

"I can try. They'll send back-up soon anyway." I hope.

"You're still... hurt."

His knuckles turned white from the strength of his grip on Zangetsu.

"I have enough reiatsu." He paused, hesitated. "In case I don't make it, Dad... Thanks for everything. And tell Byakuya I'm sorry."

At the Gryffindor table, Hermione buried her face in Ron's chest. The twins were crying their heart out as they stared at the tall form of their brother, standing proudly despite the blood gushing out of his wounds, while Harry's hand had come to clasping Draco's under the table. They looked at their teacher, a man so full of secrets they'd been fascinated with him ever since he set foot in the castle, and thought that the day they were going to finally learn what he'd been hiding could actually be the day he died in the bloody war he'd so often spoken about.

Because bloody it was, and now they understood what he'd meant when he'd said their neat little Wizarding War had been nothing compared to the violence of his own.

By the Head Table, Ichigo raised his blade, narrowed eyes riveted on the still form of his enemy.

"Come, Ulquiorra. I'll give you a fight you won't ever forget."

He blurred out of sight. For the next few minutes, the two opponents moved so fast no one could follow their movements except for Isshin, and if his obvious worry was anything to go by, things weren't going well at all.

"He can't win, can he?" Severus asked quietly, though all the staff heard him.

Isshin shook his head.

"Usually, he could. But-"

"But?"

"But he just got out of three weeks of captivity and torture. He's not completely recovered yet."

Severus' wasn't the only face which drained of color.

"Torture?" McGonagall repeated weakly. "What happened?"

Isshin shrugged, gaze still on the fight. Ichigo was holding his ground quite well, but it was only a matter of time before Ulquiorra resorted to more advanced techniques, and then...

"He took on four of Aizen's elite to protect half a squad. From what he told me, they only managed to get him out thanks to inside help."

"How..."

Dumbledore never had time to finish his question as suddenly, Ichigo lunged backwards and pointed his Zanpakuto at Ulquiorra, as a thin beam of cracking red light formed around the tip of his sword.

"Bala." The light shot forward with unbelievable speed, immediately followed by another, another and yet another as Ichigo disappeared from sight once again and moved to attack the Arrancar. Eventually, the Espada couldn't dodge them anymore, and one of the attacks caught him right in the chest, sending him flying into the wall from the sheer force of the hit. He crashed violently into the stone, smoke rising from the spots where he'd been hit. Not waiting for him to get back up, Ichigo reached out to point his hand right at him after running it over several of his wounds so that it was covered in blood. A small ball of light started seemingly sucking up the air around it to grow and then...

"Gran Rey... Cero."

He let the light rush out with a deafening sound like a grating vibration, spinning like a razor as it compressed and decompressed, and Ulquiorra's eyes widened upon seeing the torrent of dark crimson light ready to crush him. Right before it engulfed him, he raised his sword, and then, the attack hit, and he was engulfed in a torrent of dust as the ground shook from the force of the impact.

"Wicked!" Ron couldn't help but exclaim, and the students found themselves gaping at the sheer power in the attack and slowly regaining hope, only to falter again as Hermione shook her head sadly, looking at the DADA teacher's swaying body.

"He's exhausted." She said softly. "I don't think he can keep this up for much longer."

Karin and Yuzu felt around with growing distress as they felt the Espada's reiatsu still there and strongly pulsing. Their eyes widened in horror when it suddenly went through the roof, and their brother spat out another mouthful of blood.

"Ichi-nii!"

He didn't listen. Ulquiorra emerged from the now settling cloud of dust, and he let his eyes fall shut in weariness. The white uniform had faded away to nothingness, leaving only two bat-like legs and large leathery wings, two white horns and a whip-like tail. He looked like the devil, or an overgrown bat. And only Ichigo knew the true damage this form could inflict.

"Your mastery of the Hollow Arts is quite impressive considering you have been one for barely over a week." Ulquiorra said. "But it compares not to the power of the only Espada to have ever achieved Segunda Etapa. You will fall to my blade today. Ready yourself."

Ichigo merely sighed in answer, eyes still closed, before suddenly straightening up. And the fight started again.

Five minutes later, the whole hall was at least on the verge of tears as the beloved DADA teacher lay on the ground, a glowing green spear of light the Tercera had called LanzadelRelámpagoprotruding out from his chest, pinning him to the stone floor. Amazingly enough, he was still breathing, though it was shallow and ragged, and despite the heavy blood loss, he was still alive and conscious.

"You might have pushed me as far as to go into Segunda Etapa, Kurosaki Ichigo, but in the end, you are only trash. This is the end."

He rose his Zanpakutô above his head, then brought it down to decapitate his felled opponent.

"NO!"

"ICHI-NII!"

The twins' cries of despair echoed throughout the hall, somehow passing Ulquiorra's soundproof barrier, and they struggled to free themselves of the Kido spell keeping them seated...

Only to freeze in shock as, with a single hand, the youngest captain of the Gotei 13 stopped his blade. Eyes snapped open, burning gold as the sclera turned a demonic black, and when he spoke, his voice had an eerie echoing tone to it which sent shivers running down the spines of the powerless wizards and witches.

"The end? I'm not dead yet, Espada!"

And just like that, he tossed him backwards with such force the push sent the Arrancar crashing into the wall again, and he stood back up, seemingly unaffected by the wounds still littering his body, and the Zanpakutô stabbed through his stomach. He whipped it out of his flesh nonchalantly and tossed it away, before reaching up and behind his back to clasp his fingers around the handle of his second Zanpakutô.

"Hasn't it occurred to you that I was only using half of my power up until now, Ulquiorra?" He fell into a low battle stance, crossing both blades before him as his reiatsu flared around him, surrounding his wounded body in a cocoon of darkness rimmed with crimson. Slowly, his wounds started healing, and the white piece of mask on his face started growing, progressively covering the entirety of his features except for his eyes. Fierce bony teeth formed a terrifying grin where his mouth had once been, and two horns protruded out of it to point forwards.

"Susurre... Muramasa!"

The once neglected Zanpakutô glowed fiercely as, for the first time since he'd chosen Kurosaki Ichigo, he found his true place and was finally able to lend him the vast extent of his immense power. Purple reiatsu exploded outwards, bathing the surroundings in spirit energy before slowly dissipating to reveal the released Arrancar form of the one who'd once been a Vizard. Power hummed all throughout the room as the Zanpakutô sung his happiness at being released and wielded by a man whose voice could actually reach his soul.

Shoulder-length brown hair streaked with white, a testimony of the existence of both Tensa Zangetsu and Muramasa, and Shiro, fluttered down a strong back, black uniform ruffled but whole again, not displaying the tears and blood it had been given by the might of Ulquiorra's blade mere minutes earlier. Glowing yellow eyes shone through the mask, right above the spot where the two red stripes ended, and a big, Gothic zero was tattooed on his collarbone.

Slowly, the newly-released Arrancar raised a gloved hand to his face, examining it with something akin to curiosity, before it turned its head to look at the Tercera, whose eyes had narrowed ever so slightly as he considered his opponent's new form.

"This is no Arrancar's Zanpakutô." He said at last.

Everyone watched with bated breath as the creature merely looked back at him, before suddenly, without the white teeth parting, its voice echoed around the room.

"Indeed. Muramasa used to be another Shinigami's Zanpakutô."

Gasps rang out from the 'Slythindors' as they had taken to calling themselves, seated at the Gryffindor table. Harry and Draco exchanged a glance as their theory was confirmed, while the others merely looked at each other in amazement before turning back to the fight, listening avidly to what was said.

What else had their teacher hidden?

"So you killed his Master to take over his power? How despicable."

There was a pause as the twins stared at their brother with wide eyes, looking stricken at the mere thought that he could ever do such a thing, but not denying it either.

"Oh? And what makes you think I did?"

A singular expression of annoyance flashed through the Espada's dull green eyes for the briefest second.

"Do not make yourself out as dumber than you really are, Kurosaki Ichigo. You know as well as I do that the only way to gain control over a Zanpakutô not born of your soul is to kill its original owner and claim dominance over it. Considering your power levels, I find myself unsurprised by this." He narrowed his eyes. "But you must know that this unstable weapon, not being born of your soul, will seize the first opportunity to turn on you. You can feel it already, can you not? The damage it has inflicted on your Inner World? I originally thought that Aizen-sama's use of the Hogyoku was what made your reiatsu so unstable, but it was actually the stolen Zanpakutô."

He took a step forward, raising his Zanpakutô. "How pathetic."

There was a long silence as they stared at each other silently, gauging the opponent and watching for any hint that they were about to attack. But there was none, and suddenly, there was a strange, alien sound ringing about the entire Hall, and the youngest students shrunk in their seats at the inhumane laughter, tinged with madness, which their teacher was letting out.

"Once again, Ulquiorra... you have it all wrong. Muramasa chose to bind himself to me of his own free will. And if you don't believe it... then I guess I shall prove it to you with the strength he is lending me."

Purple started pulsing around him, quickly mixing with crimson and black, and suddenly, he wasn't there anymore, and the walls and floor were cracking under the force of the combined reiatsus flared high.

Ichigo charged silently, and suddenly, they were both out of the castle through the Main Doors, trading blow after blow and one reiatsu attack after the other. He couldn't help but feel respect for Ulquiorra and knew that, although grudgingly, the Espada felt the same as they were now fighting as equals where there had one day been light-years of difference between them. But he could feel his new-found strength quickly waning, and decided to end it quickly. He let Ulquiorra's Lanza del Relámpago push him back as far back as into the Great Hall, where he started chanting under his breath.

"Limit of the thousand hands, respectful hands, unable to touch the darkness. Shooting hands unable to reflect the blue sky." He was vaguely conscious that the Slytherins, whom he was standing close to, were staring at him like he'd grown another head, befuddled by this strange litany.

"The road that basks in light, the wind that ignited the embers, time that gathers when both are together, there is no need to be hesitant, obey my orders."

Ulquiorra was rushing back towards him, and he briefly paused in his incantation to throw him off himself with a well-placed Getsuga Tensho. The Espada managed to send him all the way across the room and crashing into the wall. His left horn chipped away, and he stood, quickly regenerating it by drawing on the ambient spiritual energy.

"Light bullets, eight bodies, nine items, book of heaven, diseased treasure, great wheel, grey-"

It was time to draw Ulquiorra closer so that he could make it impossible for him to evade the attack. He charged forward, slowly gathering one third of his reiatsu in his blade for another Getsuga Tensho, while keeping another third safe for his spell. The last third went up to his horns. Keeping all three energy attacks invisible was tricky as hell, especially considering the fact that he had to concentrate on keeping them charged but not firing yet and completing the incantation to make the spell as destructive as possible.

He let the Espada get closer, and closer, and closer, and then... with a sickening sound and a sharp pain to his abdomen, Murciélago was stuck in his chest, and they were both crashing to the ground. Ulquiorra stood kneeling over him, and he struggled to stay conscious. He had to complete the process. If he didn't, Ulquiorra would go back to Aizen, maybe taking him back in the process, and Karin and Yuzu -hell, the rest of the Wizarding World would never be safe ever again.

"-fortress tower. Aim far away, scatter brightly and cleanly when fired..."

Crimson light gathered at the tip of his horns, at the same time that both his Zanpakutôs started humming from the sheer power they had been forced to contain for a length of time alien to them. Ulquiorra started, tried to jump away...

"Hado no 91..."

A tan hand clasped his arm, black glove now tattered and torn, and refused to let go even as Muramasa and Zangetsu rose off the ground, two familiar silhouettes wielding them for him – one a dark-haired teenager with a long brown coat, and the other a white-clad, brown-haired man with purple markings around the eyes. Both had clear gray eyes, both were equally determined. And as they raised their blades, ready to release their respective attacks, Ichigo uttered the last words:

"Senjû Kôten Taihô!"

His voice broke as he'd said the last syllable, and they fired, pouring all of their remaining reiatsu into the four simultaneous attacks. Pinned to his spot by Ichigo, Ulquiorra barely had the time to understand what was happening before he was suddenly nailed by a dozen pink reiatsu spears, immediately followed by a powerful Gran Rey Cero which was itself engulfed in the devastating wave of two combined scythes of purple and red-rimmed black spiritual energy.

His arms burned under the strain, and his mask started chipping away at an excruciating pace, but he resisted, clinging to it with all his might. Ulquiorra couldn't make it out of this alive, he just couldn't, because this was Ichigo's last rope, and if even this failed, then he had nothing else left up his sleeve: the last remnants of his reiatsu were being burnt away with the four attacks, his wounds were starting to open up again as he redirected the energy he'd originally used to heal himself to an extent to his offensive, and now...

Black swarmed at the edge of his vision, before suddenly, with a great breaking sound like shattering class, his arm fell back and his mask disintegrated, and he collapsed on the cracked, scorched stone floor.

Well, shit.

He'd finally run dry.

Sounds like the end of the road, eh?

Something tugged at his stomach, and he managed with excruciating effort to lower his eyes to look at it, only to feel fear ensnare his heart in an ice-cold grip at the sight of Ulquiorra's half-charred body standing there, pulling at the handle of his Zanpakutô. The Espada was a terrible sight: he was missing his entire right side, and the rest was pretty much covered in third-degree burns at the least. His remaining leg was obviously struggling to bear his weight, and he looked down at his felled enemy with a strange look, emotionless, admiring, respectful.

"Once again you defy our expectations... Kurosaki Ichigo." His voice was very quiet, barely over a whisper, a far cry from his usual monotones. "I almost regret not getting to see more of your growth. You were a very interesting... creature."

His body was starting to turn into dust.

"That woman... kept talking about this human thing... the heart, she said... it was why she knew you would come."

Ichigo didn't answer immediately. He was focusing on getting himself to sit up. Muramasa and Zangetsu had disappeared once again, as he didn't have the strength to keep them out of his Inner World anymore. Slowly, very slowly, he managed to get onto one knee. Murciélago was still sticking out of his stomach, Ulquiorra's bony fingers wrapped around the hilt, but he paid it no mind, instead choosing to focus on the enemy who'd helped him grow so very much in power.

"What Inoue said was true." He rasped out at last. "We came because of our ties. The human heart... is what links us all together." He paused, looked at the Espada, and his eyes were sad, so very full of deep, deep sorrow that those closest to him felt tears gather in their eyes. "I hope you finally find what makes you whole... Emptiness."

Ulquiorra's eyes widened impossibly in the first true demonstration of emotion Ichigo had ever seen on his face, before suddenly, he relaxed slightly. There only remained his neck and head by now.

"Until my next life then... Cero Espada... Kurosaki Ichigo."

His features dissolved into thousands of tiny spirit particles, and they went to join the others which were already floating around, before gathering and sinking into the ground to form a butterfly. The small black insect flew over to Ichigo and circled his head a few times, then turned and disappeared, bringing a small smile to the lips of the new Cero Espada.

"See you next life."

The barriers had collapsed. Hogwarts' reiatsu settled as she found there was no more danger to her inhabitants and she went back to sleep, exhausted after her extended efforts to contain the mighty power of the man who had saved them all, but not without brushing her mind against his in a comforting caress expressing all of her gratitude. His vision flickered even as his father and sisters, immediately followed by Severus, Dumbledore, McGonagall and the rest of the Slythindors, came running up to him.

"Ichigo!"

"Ichi-nii!"

"Ichi-nii, you okay?"

"Professor!"

"Oi, Shinigami!"

That voice he would recognize anywhere, and he quickly made to stand to tell his sisters to back down even as Karin crouched protectively in front of him.

"What the hell... what took you so long, you moron!" He yelled as loud as he could, glaring with all his might at the smirking Arrancar, which wasn't much since the only thing he felt like he could do at the moment was actually collapsing into unconsciousness.

Grimmjow's aquamarine eyes racked up and down his body, and the grin slipped off his face as he walked closer. Karin stiffened, but made no move to stop him as neither her father nor her brother seemed alarmed at his presence.

"Nice going, Shinigami. Materializing your Zanpakutô spirits to shoot four attacks at a time, brilliant! Wouldn't have done any better."

"Sure, you couldn't if you wanted to." He choked out, before breaking into a coughing fit which sent him right down on his knees, dry-heaving and spitting out mouthful after mouthful of blood. "Shit..."

"Sorry, Shinigami. He'd expected you'd come with back-up. Posted Adjuchas all over the grounds." He paused. "Rest now, Shinigami. Everyone's safe. I'll-"

It was funny, Ichigo would later reflect, how well his once enemy actually knew him. All he'd needed to say was that everyone was okay, that he'd done his job as a protector, and then, all of his strength had abandoned him, and he'd fallen into a dark abyss of complete oblivion.

He didn't hear the concerned shouts of the wizards as his eyes rolled up in his skull, nor the hysterical sobs as his sisters finally took in how badly beaten he really was. He didn't hear them screaming at their father, demanding to know what he'd meant when he'd said their big brother couldn't win "in that state"; didn't see as an orange-haired girl seemingly appeared from nowhere, brought in in emergency by a frantic Grimmjow to heal him from the verge of death, nor the horror in the wizards' eyes as they heard the diagnosis made by a woman with a gentle voice and kind sapphire eyes wearing traditional Japanese clothes. He didn't see the humans look at him with respect for what he'd done.

None of them were dumb enough not to guess that he'd been putting himself in danger by firing off such destructive attacks at point blank. But he'd done it to protect them, protect the safety of their location, protect the society who'd given him so much grief ever since he'd set foot in this foreign country.

He heard none of it, but as he slept away the exhaustion and pain, Grimmjow watched, and his respect grew.

He would make sure what had happened today wouldn't be forgotten.

o-O-o

Inuzuri was quite calm for this period of war. A young child ran forward as a small butterfly reformed into a human body on the ground, and leaned over curiously before turning to a brown-haired woman walking towards him.

"Hey, Momma, look! There's a new one!"

She stopped next to him and looked at the new arrival.

"What beautiful black hair..."

o-O-o

Harry, Ron and Hermione stood in the Great Hall with their Slytherin friends and watched as the twins rushed over to the fallen form of their brother. Isshin was already there, leaning over him, his hands glowing green even as Snape waved his wand in a complicated diagnosis spell, a scroll of parchment getting longer by the second as Ichigo's injuries were listed on it. Around them, the teachers were getting the students back to their dorms, calming them down as many first and second years were in hysterics after seeing their beloved Defense teacher nearly get killed protecting them.

Glancing around, Harry saw that the last students were exiting the Hall, leaving only himself, the Kurosakis, the Slythindors and Snape, along with Dumbledore. His gaze caught Draco's and he hesitated, before reaching out in his most discreet manner. Nobody was about to care anyway as they had more important things to deal with -healing the teacher, for one, and was relieved when long, aristocratic fingers came to rest in his palm before intertwining themselves with his. They had all come very close to dying, he realized, and he tightened his grip a little at the thought that had it not been for the man now dying on the broken floor, they could have disappeared without ever allowing their feelings to blossom into something more.

Draco squeezed back, silver eyes dark with understanding, and Harry let the corners of his lips twitch upwards ever so slightly in the best smile he could manage at the time. Though Draco's carefully blank expression didn't change, his eyes softened, and he nodded once in the direction of the Kurosakis.

They need us.

There was no questioning who 'they' were. Blaise and Theo were standing a short distance behind the two crying girls, watching them carefully, guarding their backs almost, and, steeling himself, Harry tugged at Draco's hand. It was time to man up and face the music.

Kurosaki, they immediately realized, was a terrible sight to see: his hands were horribly burned, his clothes were torn and singed, still smoking from the explosions, and he was covered in deep gashes which kept oozing blood. Even in unconsciousness, his face was twisted in pain. In this moment, he looked nothing like the powerful Dark Wizard who'd single-handedly defeated a dozen Death Eaters without even uttering a single incantation, or the mighty warrior who'd just killed an obviously terrifyingly powerful opponent while still recovering from previous wounds. He looked broken and fragile, but even so, there was still something about him which just screamed danger.

There was a gust of wind, and suddenly, the blue-haired man – what was his name again? was standing there once more, but this time, he was accompanied by a well-endowed young woman with long russet-colored hair and large, gentle eyes the color of thunderclouds. She was very beautiful, he immediately noticed, and seemed like a very kind person. Right now, though, she was very pale, and had eyes only for Kurosaki, whom she rushed over to even as she raised her hands to the blue pins holding her hair in place.

"Souten Kisshun!"

Instantly, a dome of warm golden light started forming over the unconscious body, and Isshin straightened up as did the girls, looking at the newcomer with obvious relief.

"Inoue-san!" Yuzu exclaimed. "I'm so glad you're here! Ichi-nii..." Her eyes teared up again and she bit her lower lip, letting Theo wrap his arms around her. Isshin glared weakly, but soon gave up on pretending to care, and turned back to his son's motionless body.

"Grimmjow-san is the one who came to fetch me." She said gently. "Unohana-san is on her way."

Right as she finished talking, there was another gust of wind, and suddenly, another woman was standing there, clad in a black kimono under a white haori, a sword at her side, long raven hair braided on her chest and sapphire blue eyes immediately zeroing in on the wounded young man. She knelt by his side and ran her hands over his body, eyebrows slightly furrowed in concentration, then murmured something under her breath, and green light similar to that Isshin had produced mere minutes ago started glowing around her fingers and over one of the most serious wounds.

McGonagall chose that moment to come back in and started upon sighting the two women and their strange, flashy healing techniques.

"The Gryffindors are set for the night." She told Dumbledore. "Who are these people?"

"I must admit, my dear Minerva, I know as little as you do. I must surmise, however, that they are healers."

"Thanks you, Albus, I wouldn't have guessed." She replied with a glower. He chuckled in his beard. They stood in silence with Severus, who'd joined them, watching as the two women worked.

"How's Ichigo?" The Transfiguration Mistress asked at last.

"He'll be fine!" Said an unfamiliar, loud voice, and they turned to see the blue-haired man standing right there. How they hadn't heard him, they had no clue, but he was most certainly very stealthy, which was quite paradoxical considering his general obnoxious demeanor. And his hair. "Always is." His face darkened a little. "Hate to admit it's the worst I've seen him in a while, though. Except for that time in Hueco Mundo."

"What do you mean?"

The Gryffindor Head of House jumped again, scowling. It was Karin, this time, flanked by her twin and their boyfriends, and why had everybody suddenly decided sneaking up on her was a good idea?

"Grimmjow? What do you mean by that? What happened in Hueco Mundo?"

He scowled down at her.

"And why should I answer you, brat?"

"Because we want to know what happened to our brother. Please, Grimmjow-san." Yuzu interjected gently, looking up at him with large puppy eyes, and he looked away, obviously embarrassed. Had Ichigo seen him in this instant, he'd have laughed himself silly. The great avatar or Destruction, Sexta Espada Grimmjow Jaggerjacques, was a sucker for his sister's puppy dog eyes.

"Che." He ran a nervous hand through his disheveled hair. "Idiot Shinigami got caught in Hueco Mundo. Aizen loved making him pay for every one of the plans he thwarted." It wasn't much, but it was enough. The girls paled, even as Isshin stormed over.

"We need to get word to Soul Society."

"How long?"

Karin's voice was cold, her eyes, hard.

"What?"

"How long was he tortured?" She yelled in English, and everyone turned to her. Inoue's eyes filled with tears, and she ducked her head to hide her face from view.

"You told them?" Isshin's usually light gaze had darkened with fury as he glared at the Espada.

"They deserve to know." Grimmjow said. "They'd have found out one way or another."

"They shouldn't have to bear that burden!" Isshin shouted furiously.

"Yeah? And how did you plan to conceal that? At full power, he could take Ulquiorra with his eyes closed and his hands tied behind his back! And nothing happened, but he was suddenly back to his skills of seven years ago? Nobody would ever believe that! He's a lot of things, but he certainly isn't a lazy ass! Everyone who knows him knows that his potential is limitless! He would never just regress!"

They made for an intimidating sight, standing tall and challenging each other through eye contact alone, reiatsu simmering around their bodies as it responded to their chaotic emotions. And then, suddenly, Isshin's shoulders slumped in defeat, brown eyes showing all his years.

"He didn't want-"

He was cut off by a snort.

"Please. We all know he'd be willing to keep it a secret if he had been blackmailed into surrendering himself tomorrow. We'd never know until he'd gone. But I absolutely don't intend on helping him commit suicide, and I'll do whatever's necessary to keep him in one piece, whether he wants it or not!"

The ex-Shinigami stared at him, dumbfounded into silence at this odd pledge of loyalty, but the Espada wasn't looking at him, obviously embarrassed by his little outburst. And then, suddenly, he was being smothered in 'The Valley of Gods', as Kon had once dubbed it.

"I always knew you and Kurosaki-kun would be great friends one day, Grimmjow-kun!" Inoue chirped. Obviously, she'd been relieved of her duties, which could only be a good sign that Ichigo wasn't in mortal danger anymore. "You do know he cares for you just as much, don't you?"

Isshin watched with ill-concealed glee as the Espada grew redder and redder, noticing the bewildered wizards staring, before the inevitable happened.

"What the hell, woman! Let go of me before I skewer you and feed you to my Fracción!"

She reluctantly unwrapped her arms from around his chest.

"But you don't have a Fracción anymore, Grimmjow-kun! Unless they followed you to Soul Society? But I didn't see any Arrancars there other than you, and there haven't been any rumors either... Hmm, that's strange, maybe they're hiding because they're afraid the Shinigami will kill them? But they should know that you're still alive... Or maybe it's because they're hungry and they're afraid if they eat a soul they'll get tracked down? In that case, I will cook them my special red bean rice with fried cheese and spinach, I'm sure that'll be enough for them to eat! And then, when they're accepted by the Seireitei, we can all-"

Grimmjow tuned her out with a groan, face-palming. That woman would never change. He then noticed the smug look of the former captain standing near him, and glare.

"What are you laughing at, you overgrown goat?"

"Well..."

And then started a shouting match the likes of which the Wizarding World had never seen, and Soul Society had, regrettably, grown very much accustomed to.


I dearly hope this wasn't disappointing as hell, especially since it took me so long to update. It it was, I sincerely apologize and will you excuse me for a minute I need to go bawl my eyes out in that dark corner over there? I started this story with this scene in mind, and I poured my heart and soul into it^^! No, really, I did a lot of research and all that, I really tried to make it a good fight scene, but then again, that's not really my specialty...

Anyway, shutting up now. Did you like it? Please tell me! I need support right now, so that my Muse keeps coming back!

Again, sorry for the long wait, and thank you for your support!

(And I think I proofread myself, but if you see mistakes... well, you know the drill by now, don't you!)

See you all!


P.S.: Just so you know, you almost didn't get that chapter: my lousy internet access broke down and I spent fifteen agonizing minutes refreshing the page and trying to log in again to see if all my work had been lost or not. Thankfully, it wasn't. So savor this chapter, people. Savor it. You never know when the evil God of shitty internet accesses will decide to strike again!